wendy oconnell

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Smashwords book reviews by wendy oconnell

  • Lastborn on Nov. 06, 2011

    “Lastborn” starts with a scene so horrific you question the goodness in humanity. The first chapter pulled me into the novel. The character in this scene yanked me into his dark place filling me with huge amounts of sympathy for him. This character made me read the book. The other main character fell short for me. She could have been drawn out more. Often, at emotional times within the book, she felt stiff. This could have been due to a large part of telling rather than showing. For example, if a character is angry, don’t tell me – show me. Allow me to feel her anger bubbling up inside her and then, what does she do with it? Showing emotion also builds characters. For example, when I was a kid, I always knew when my mother was angry. Her lips would tighten, her eyes got this weird wide stare, and she may even let a word like ‘damn’ fly. You should know my mother almost never cussed. My point is something like this could have built the character of Nara-Ya into a fully fleshed being. Mom, with a switch in hand, could have been a little less fleshy. The two main characters together made an interesting dynamic set-up. This is an old Shakespearean trick, throwing two opposite characters together in the same scene to make a dynamic contrast. Look at Juliet’s nurse and her mother or look at Hamlet and Laertes. In the end, for this trick to work, both players have to struggle between what they think is right, and what they think is wrong, then act or fail to act because of it. The main character of Nara-Ya failed to struggle in the same way as Donavan. She failed to act on her own accord. An interesting character that can be compared to Nara-Ya, but did show the struggle within her self was Suzanne Collin’s Katniss in “The Hunger Games.” Katnis had a big choice to make and when she made her choice it was powerful, because she made it. Nara-Ya never made any choices she wasn’t pushed into, but Donavan did and it made him a stronger character. Character believability should be must in a story. However, even though the character of Nara-Ya didn’t work for me, the setting and plot did. The setting changed from urban to rural contrasting the different worlds of Nara-Ya and Donavan. It enhanced their characters, but really highlighted Donavan because it showed the place he was born out of contrasting the setting that shaped him later. “Last Born” has simple plot with themes of hope, and love examining humanity’s true nature. Perhaps, at times the change in setting, the swarm of secondary characters was a bit overwhelming, but Forde created two different worlds for two different people. Some of the secondary characters seemed unnecessary, but I stayed focused on the simple plot – a universal message, which promoted a non-violent means of problem solving. That, along with Donavan makes the book worth reading however be aware the pacing is slow. It took me a long time to read it. Slow pacing could be due to three factors, one, the characters often waited on things to happen, and in those periods the plot dragged. A second reason could be due to passive writing. When action presents itself at the beginning of a sentence, the reader is propelled into the writer’s world. The last reason could be the lack of subplots. Some of the secondary characters were interesting, and some of their problems were hinted upon, but never flowered into a real subplot. The character of the mythical unicorn seemed misplaced without more of an elaborate story line that wasn’t told from another character’s perspective. He could have been interesting if shown in a stronger light. I would recommend this book simply because of Forde’s universal message of passive-aggressive problem solving, even though this way is sometimes unrealistic, it is still noble. The character of Donavan is worth getting to know and the ending made for a dynamic exit, if not heartbreaking one. I should say no more, thus give her ending away. And sometimes in the end, the ending is your final choice in deciding whether the book was worth reading. If that is the case, “Lastborn” is worth reading.
  • Monday and the Murdered Man on Dec. 21, 2011

    This book made me laugh. The premise is quirky and intriguing. However, it’s not unusual for a ghost to want revenge for his own murder. Shakespeare started that a long time ago with Hamlet’s ghost. But to borrow it, throw in an urban landscape, with a detective much like Phillip Marlowe from the 1930s, well that’s just rich, thug making creativity through a new kind of magnifying glass. Sweet. Other than Zach Monday, the hero of the story, the rest of the cast left a vivid impression on your mind. They reminded me of the cast from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” Let me explain further by using a line from the book and not spoiling anything for you. “She rewarded me with a laugh, but she didn’t loosen up one notch. I was hoping to put her at ease and relax her. She held the smile, but her eyes were sharp on me and her body language said ‘control, control, control,’ I guess Charming Zack isn’t so charming as far as Alexandra Sycorax is concerned.” Again, very funny book, it continued to make me chuckle with its colorful cast and strange premise, but about sixty percent of the way through it there was a bump. I won’t go into details, but it had something to do with death. It felt very confusing for the next several chapters; therefore, unnecessary. There seemed to be a number of ways Andy Kirschbaum, the writer, could have reached his very clever plot end without being confusing for so long.
  • A Lovely, Indecent Departure on June 28, 2012

    Review: A Lovely, Indecent Departure, has a well-crafted plot line and is written in a bold prose that leaves little room for frill. The sentences were often active and called for my attention. It was the different style of writing that drew me into this story. Listen to the first three lines. “Look there comes the girl. She is treading alone up the sidewalk. Looking like anyone else of the noontime crowd blissfully strolling the strip mall. But she is not one of them, and never has been.” Nothing strikes me as passive in those three lines, but it’s more than that it’s the sense of mystery right out of the ordinary. Right away, I know this story could be extraordinary and the reader in me pushes past those three lines because I want to know who this woman is and why she will never be one of them. The woman turns out to be Anna, and she takes her son away from his father, a man who turns out to be mean-spirited. It turns out she has plenty of reasons for doing this, but the way the story unfolds in the perspectives of Evan, the father, the sheriff, Monroe and Anna it becomes fragmented through the different characters. And there is the lacking detail in the prose which I can only describe as writer, Ernest Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory. The theory basically means that writing should be evident from the surface story because the real meaning is below. So, I think if Gilbert was operating along the lines of this principle it might make sense because by the time I got to the end of this story there lacked a certain understanding of Anna, that I desperately wanted to get. And the chill factor in the Hemingway theory wasn’t going to get me there. I do know that I was looking for what kind of desperation does it take inside a person to steal one’s child from another parent and Anna was written in such a way that I was never able to dive into her soul. Let me provide an example from another book I just finished reading. Look at the next two passages. The first is from a novel called Decorations in a Ruined Cemetery by John Gregory Brown. It’s told from three perspectives and it has a great deal of mystery. This particular passage is told from a wife about her former husband. She’s talking to her step-daughter, Meredith. “There are women who make much worse choices than the ones I made who don’t pay that kind of price. In your short life you’ve lost a mother twice, Meredith, and maybe that’s as bad as what I feel. I’m sure it is. But I can’t help being angry at you for letting your father do this. Lord knows that even in your quiet way, you’ve got more sway with him than a wrecking ball on a house of straw. Didn’t you think to tell him that you just wouldn’t go?” Now, look at how the prose is stripped in A Lovely, Indecent Departure and how the emotion and depth feels missing. “Oliver watched them. Are we poor? He asked. She looked at him. Do you feel poor? He shrugged. I don’t know. What does it feel like? Like you have very little to be happy about. Oliver thought about it. He picked at some dried glue on the lantern. Did you ever feel that way? He asked. Not now I don’t, she said. When. Not so long ago.” But, Anna doesn’t explain to Oliver when she felt poor. The reader is just supposed to get it. In Brown’s book there is a lot of mystery, but eventually it unravels and the characters choose to feel a certain way with the circumstances given to them. It’s very clear how the speaker feels in the first passage, but Anna is not forthcoming in her dialogue to Oliver. I found this frustrating and when I went back and read the summary I realized Gilbert is looking for answers to a large extent from the reader - what would you do? Okay, let me digress for a minute much of my opinion is I like fully fleshed out characters and Gilbert’s writing style didn’t really allow for it. With the exception of Monroe, the characters were borderline flat and so, it was a trade off I suppose. Monroe, the sheriff, had a painterly feel to him, but he was no Picasso. I would place him with the Impressionists and then stand five feet back from his portraiture. I found myself indifferent to him, and because he became a key element in the ending of the story, I found myself indifferent towards the ending. Overall, I would recommend this book simply because my opinion is subjective, and this is a book that is written in simple prose and done well.