Book review: Heist Society.

Noticing a theme here, are we? ¬†ūüėČ

For the next of my heist research novels, I turned to (what else?) YA. ¬†When writing UTROL earlier in the year, I briefly debated knocking ten years off everyone’s ages, but there’s far too much suspension of disbelief that would need to take place for that to read in any realistic format.

Like The Heist, it took me a sold two efforts to get into the book — as in, I put the book down for over a month — something that really surprised me. ¬†Because really, the hook of any heist should be something of a page turner. ¬†Especially in the YA genre. ¬†In this instance Kat (Katerina Bishop) comes from a family of n’er do wells, who have been conning and running schemes for years (it’s mentioned she was on a job when she was 5, which seems like very poor parenting). ¬†Everyone needs an origin story, but we only get bits and pieces of Kat’s before she leaves the school she’s attending (where she escaped to get away from a life of crime).

Things I liked? ¬†Go big or go home. ¬†Why shouldn’t there be a teen with more or less unlimited wealth? ¬†Why shouldn’t 15 year olds regularly interact with grown men and crime bosses without hesitation? ¬†Why can’t a group of kids knock off a major museum? ¬†Why wouldn’t they visit (what felt like) 17 countries in a week? ¬†Who needs adult supervision? ¬†Ahem. ¬†In reality, there were a few terms and ideas I picked up for UTROL, ¬†and I loved how the group had chemistry, and lots of inside jokes/events that we, as the audience, are never given any further details on. ¬†Character development was a bit meh, but there were plenty of fun moments, even if the pacing at the start was a bit difficult to get into. ¬†Similar to Ocean’s 11, what works is that we know no one will be killed. ¬†This is a heist with high stakes, but not everything on the line. ¬†I have threats in my own manuscript, but as of now (spoiler alert), I’m keeping everyone alive.

Stuff that needs work? ¬†$7.99 feels high for a book that can be read in one or two sittings (even if it took me 9 or 10). ¬†$4.99 feels much more in line. ¬†Within the book itself, the ‘twist’ was one I saw coming a mile away — and was based on a ¬†decision that felt WILDLY out of character for our protagonist. ¬†Also, as mentioned above, there is simply a bit to much suspension of disbelief to really ground the book. ¬†Ms. Carter, I think you could’ve done better. ¬†Given the feedback on Amazon/Goodreads, I seem to be in the minority, with most readers enjoying the novel.

¬†Unfortunately, while there are other books in the series, given their price point, I’m not in any particular hurry to pick them up. ¬†I like Kat as a protagonist, but I’m not really invested in her life. ¬†Damn not having a library.

Have you read the series?  What do you think?

Book review: The Heist.

We’ve already established¬†I wasn’t wild about my first outing with Gabriel Allon. ¬†However, given the reviews for The Heist (another novel in the same series by author Daniel Silva), and writing a manuscript where an art heist is the central activity, I thought, “Okay, why not?”

Wow, past Courtney, great job. /s

Unfortunately, this ‘adventure’ with everyone’s favorite Israeli/painter/spy/assassin/man who knows everyone everywhere, while the first 15% of the novel does actually have to do with a stolen Caravaggio, the book then veers sharply into politics. ¬†The book wasn’t a page turner, in fact, I tried valiantly on three separate occasions to finish the book. ¬†In the end, I skipped SWATHES of novel after Gabriel goes back to Israel (for reasons I don’t remember and really don’t care about). ¬†Although part of a series, which I realize that fans of said series would have some investment in Gabriel, his wife (who is STILL nothing but meaningless arm candy/mother to be/vessel for carrying twins), and Gabriel’s career path, however, as a casual reader, the only thing I cared about was the plot, which was convoluted and certainly not the heist or recovery I expected it to be.

Reading the reviews on Goodreads, it appears I am not alone, and is perhaps my thoughts are best summed up by this account: “And before I knew it, my fun art heist caper was gone, and had been replaced by a dreary political thriller.”

For $9.99, I wildly overpaid for this novel, and it will be my last purchase supporting this author. ¬†Perhaps if I had access to a library, I could check out books and skim through them, however, I’m not about to pay for another.

Did I pick up a few things for my novel?  Yes.  Could I have found these details elsewhere? Also, yes.

I’m also befuddled how this book has a 4.1 on Goodreads and a 4.5 on Amazon. ¬†Perhaps Mr. Silva has his audience and people are willing to show up for the previous 13 BOOKS in this series. ¬†No, thank you.

Send any good heist novel recommendations my way…

Book Review: The Portrait of Molly Dean.

I requested The Portrait of Molly Dean via NetGalley (which, full disclosure, was given to me for free in exchange for an honest review). ¬†With an art and mystery angle, I knew it was one that would be good research for the heist book I’m currently working on.

To start, Ms. Kovacic does an impressive job of pulling the audience straight into the world of these characters. ¬†We quickly are immersed in not only the buying and selling of art, but more specifically, art in Melbourne, Australia. In addition, a few chapters in, we get some insight to Melbourne in the 1930s. ¬†With two simultaneous timelines, it’s easy to follow the actions (even if we know one character is moving closer to her – not spoiler alert – death). ¬†Our protagonist, Alex, is a no-nonsense woman who deals in art and, in her research and due diligence for a recently purchased. stumbles onto a bit of a mystery with one Molly Dean, the subject of a painting. ¬†In a well integrated 1930s timeline, we walk the last footsteps of Molly Dean. ¬†Overall, the story is interesting and very well researched, with lots of wonderful details that truly create reveal the unique voice of the author.

Unfortunately, and only because it’s one of the biggest problems in my own writing, is that nearly all the characters sound the same. ¬†Furthermore, we spend an inordinate amount of time with Alex. ¬†Maybe it’s because I’m more used to reading books with more ensemble types casts, but in Portrait, we’re pretty much with Alex 70% of the time. ¬†If she had a little more personality, that would be great, but in my mind, she ends up much as an audience insert — some readers might be happy with that, but I found the device a bit boring. ¬†With the problem of everyone using the same ‘voice,’ the discussions of whodunit become almost like Alex speaking to herself (or us). ¬†Anyway, I didn’t mind too much and continued reading.

Overall, my biggest problems with the book are the cover and price. ¬†For all the research Ms. Kovacic did (and really, it is a staggering amount), the cover, which I assume to be the title, looks NOTHING like what was described in the book. ¬†I think the publisher missed a huge opportunity here, and am quite shocked it was approved. ¬†I realize we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but really… ¬†Additionally, $9.99 seems high for a debut author. ¬†Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lovely novel, however, I think the price point seems quite high for a book that I finished in three sessions. ¬†My final issue is a bit nit picky, but the book is HEAVILY focused on Melbourne, to the point that it’s almost alienating if you’ve never been. ¬†Even having visited last summer, I still thought the heavy handed references were a bit much. ¬†Although the artist and portrait are (surprise) Australian, I think the author would have done better to make this somehow a more universal book, by perhaps choosing a different artist/subject.

Would I read another book featuring Alex?  I suppose so, but I would feel comfortable checking the book out from the library or paying under $5.

Have you read this book yet?  Will you check it out?

Book Review: The Rembrandt Affair.

Finally moving beyond the world of Victoria and steampunk, it’s time for me to start reading thrillers and heists, as I work my way through the rough draft of Under the Rain of Light, an Ocean’s 11 style manuscript I’m in the process of writing. ¬†In addition to some video content (see previous posts), I downloaded The Rembrandt Affair by Daniel Silva just after my birthday. ¬†For a cost of $9.99 this is well outside of my usual purchase point, however, without access to a library (sobs), this is really my only option. ¬†The book comes very highly rated on both Amazon and Goodreads, so I figured I would be in for a Dan Brown style novel, with twists and turns and some art stuff.

For serious, what is this cover?

I’m not going to lie, the book took a solid effort for me to get into. ¬†Like, I was more than willing to drop out at 11%. ¬†Knowing how much I had paid, I forced myself to continue. ¬†Things got better for awhile, but overall, I had to skim to the end. ¬†So, what were the highs and lows?

Pros

  • Well researched. ¬†I learned some helpful things for my book, which I appreciated. ¬†It was clear Mr. Silva can put together not only a location, but also a relatively believable story (with some degree of suspension of disbelief).
  • Unique and well developed art history points. ¬†I’ll definitely tip my cap to any author who can find an interesting point in history and do something creative with it. ¬†In the case of the Rembrandt, the art and its provenance follow an interesting trail, and I rather wish the author had stayed with this primary storyline instead of jumping into the world of global espionage.

Cons

  • A wife who is utterly pointless. ¬†So, having to cut a fair share of characters in my day, the charming Chiara pretty much just takes up space and add nothing of value in almost every scene she’s in. ¬†Don’t get me wrong, I like a nice married fictional couple, but only when they are true partners. ¬†In most of the book, the only comments surrounding Chiara are about her looks. ¬†Like Benicio del Toro’s character in The Usual Suspects, her presence is almost entirely pointless and if you cut her dialogue, I don’t think much of anyone would notice.
  • Exposition city, population this book. ¬†Let’s say you needed to learn about a certain topic through research or character dialogue. ¬†In The Rembrandt Affair, the reader is treated to exposition dumps rather than character driven conversation. ¬†For the first third of the book, the characters go from place to place getting buckets of information. ¬†I think readers are more evolved than that.
  • FAR too much politics. ¬†Look, thrillers tend to have a bad guy/antagonist, which is all part of the genre. ¬†And with an Israeli protagonist, we’re going to probably have a bit of a unique approach than say, a Brazilian lead. ¬†However, I found the amount of politics in the book to be wildly off-putting. ¬†Dan Brown manages (I think) to skirt this issue by using religious fanatics, cults, or mentally unstable individuals which I far prefer. ¬†I could literally see through the pages to the author inserting his politics into the storyline. ¬†It’s not as if I don’t do this in my own work (Juliette was always going to be a feminist), but Mr. Silva’s in your face political insertion are something I absolutely want to avoid.
  • A lack of developed characters. ¬†Sure, it’s a series. ¬†Yes, I’m supposed to know ‘the team.’ ¬†However, I found almost every character in the book to be woefully without depth. ¬†How am I supposed to care about what happens to them if I’m not really involved with them? Spoiler alert: I didn’t.
  • Treatment of women. ¬†Yes, some of the women are resourceful and admirable in this book, but this is overwhelmingly a man’s world, run by men, manipulated by men, led by men. ¬†As I work on my heist novel, I have three prominent lady characters. ¬†It is imperative to me that they are more than a pretty face. ¬†Each is wildly talented in their own way, and have important roles in moving my plot forward. ¬†In Mr. Silva’s book, women very much take the role of supporting characters, responding and reacting to the men, but not forcing things forward. ¬†I think he can do better.
  • Price point. ¬†This book is worth $4.99 at best. ¬†I’m genuinely disappointed to have paid $10 for it.

Sadly, I think I will be purchasing another of the Gabriel Allon novels. ¬†More for research than anything else, I think it’s important to get another dose of this particular genre fiction (and hopefully understand what it is that I’m missing). ¬†Clearly, given the overwhelming majority of people who LOVE not only the series, but also this book particularly, I am in the extreme minority.

Do you have any heist/thriller authors to suggest?  Did you read this book and enjoy it?  Why?

Some reviews.

Ahem, I’ve had some down time this week, where my brain was not able to coherently put words together, thus I was able to increase my reading and television watching pursuits (mostly under the name of research).

The Best Offer


So, I watched this with a view towards the Heist book. ¬†BTW, you can follow some of my ‘research’ via my Pinterest board for the manuscript, if you want to. ¬†While I did see the ‘twist’ coming from a literal mile away, I enjoyed the ride and thought the characters were all interesting. ¬†While the pacing was a bit slow, the locations were stunning (like, I want to live in Geoffrey Rush’s apartment) and the acting was fabulous. ¬†It’s one to recommend for your parents (and I mean that in a good way).

The Last Panthers

Meh. ¬†Another one for my Heist research. ¬†While the pilot episode starts big (a jewelry heist, completed almost to precision), my interest quickly waned to the point that I didn’t finish watching. ¬†No offense to foreign productions, but I think they sometimes suffer from what keeps more mainstream shows interesting (in this instance, better casting, faster editing, and more precise pacing). ¬†Whereas in my book (and Danny Ocean’s team), I want you to root for the ‘bad guys’ (i.e. the guys who want to steal a painting), in The Last Panthers, there is really nothing engaging about a single member of the team. Perhaps if I keep watching I would’ve got a backstory or something, but honestly, at the twenty-minute mark, I didn’t care about any of them. ¬†Also, I understand the idea of shooting something ‘gritty,’ but think there should be a difference between straight up ugly and stylized. ¬†Pass.

The Pisces

I don’t like to knock another author’s work, but sometimes it’s called for. ¬†With a frankly obnoxious protagonist and overall representation of women that is categorically disturbing, an overuse of the word ‘cock’ and (spoiler alert) an avoidable death of a dog (honestly!!!), I skimmed through this ‘merman erotica’ (no, seriously) on the first afternoon of my flu. ¬†Of course, the book is not presented as merman erotica, but that’s more or less what it turns into (with some terrible antiheroes along the way). ¬†The ending is also a¬†¬†¬Į\_(„ÉĄ)_/¬Į where I’m fairly certain the writer gave up and the editor didn’t seem to care. ¬†It’s rare that I would actively avoid an author based on one novel, but that’s what The Pisces was for me.

What have you been reading or watching recently?

Book review: How to Stop Time.

Are you sensing a theme here?

Yes, universe, I’m listening. ¬†I realize it might (finally) be time to dust off the Fates and do something with the project — if only for my own vanity (and the hours I’ve already put into it).

Ahem. ¬†As with Eternal Life and The Next Together, this bulk of this book dwells somewhat in the past and in my opinion, the novel suffers for the decision. ¬†I get the need to ground these ‘eternal’ beings in the past, but the modern storyline in each of the novels pays the price for the time spent before ‘now.’ ¬†While Ayah may allude to what’s happened in her many years on earth, with the exception of a pivotal moment in her life, she doesn’t dwell on her previous versions. ¬†Her actions are focused on her current life (and with good reason). ¬†While the author did a relatively seamless job moving between the times, eras, names and personalities of the protagonist, unfortuantely, for someone who’s been alive for 400 years, his life is a bit depressing.

With a cover that makes no sense and a title that doesn’t really connect to the story, I feel Mr. Haig is already at a loss. ¬†The overwhelming focus on the United Kingdom didn’t do a lot for me, and while I could overlook some awkward pacing, the horribly abrupt and OUT OF NOWHERE — and yet somehow entirely I saw it coming — ending was a terrible way to close things out. ¬†This is not a matter of my comparing this book to my own, it’s that I’m shocked an editor (or the publisher) would let the novel be released with such a disaster of a climax. ¬†The protagonist (and supporting characters) deserved better. ¬†So, of course, does the audience.

Give this one a pass.

 

Book review: The Next Together.

What?

Two reviews in a row?

The Next Together by Lauren James popped up on my radar last week (which makes me think the Fates project might be getting some energy next year). ¬†As research for the book, the idea of different time lines and the idea that two ‘souls’ (for lac of a better word) were destined (or programmed…) to be together was one I thought worth researching. ¬†While Ayah does allude to the fact that certain presences return to her life, her soul mate has only appeared once before. ¬†In The Next Together, we follow four storylines across history — moving to an end we cannot quite grasp because it’s totally set up for a sequel.

Overall, it was a quick read, although I don’t think the storylines all worked. ¬†Furthermore, even in a fictional world, simply because you were in love in the past, does not necessitate an ‘insta-love’ in the future. ¬†Thus, the relationships all seemed a bit of a cheat. ¬†In my own novel, for example, while Ayah recognizes an important man from her past, she struggles in telling him about what happened between them. ¬†After all, she wants things between them to develop naturally and not because they might be destined for one another. ¬†She doesn’t want to force him into a decision, and at the same time feels he is owed the truth (whether or not he wants to accept it).

As a quick side bar, for young novelists (this is debut fiction from Ms. James), you can’t just have ‘World War III’ and sort of gloss over it all. ¬†As with above, this felt like very lazy writing, and I was rather surprised an editor wouldn’t have wanted a dramatic change in this decision.

Similarly, as I desperately try to incorporate more diversity into my books, this book was White People Town‚ĄĘ¬†throughout. ¬†There are lesbian grandmothers (yay!), but everyone else is unmistakably white bread. ¬†I would’ve loved any character or section of history that was less focused on Western struggles. ¬†For example, in the Crimea section, why not transport the couple to another part of the world? ¬†Or, why did the relationship always have to be male and female? ¬†As with above, the choices felt lazy and not inclusive.

And a final note, safe sex is important — especially if one is writing a novel geared towards young adults. ¬†While I’m not clutching my pearls from the keyboard, some (any!) discussion of birth control or even a chat about ‘we just started bonking, maybe I don’t want to get pregnant’ would have been a welcome approach. ¬†The ‘but I’m desperate for your babeh’ plot line felt a bit contrived.

I suppose it wasn’t all bad, and the book offered an excellent incorporation of modern elements –e-mails, lists, and notes, all of which were very creative. ¬†Props on a great title and excellent cover as well.

Overall, I’m surprised the novel is so well received. ¬†I would pass on this novel, and while mildly curious about the sequel, would not go out of my way to find it.

Have you read The Next Together?  What were your thoughts?