Stopped Reading REVIEW: A Smudge of Gray – Jonathan Sturak

A Smudge of Gray: A NovelA Smudge of Gray: A Novel by Jonathan Sturak
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’m conflicted about writing a negative review of this book. I stopped reading, which is usually a 1-star (I didn’t like it) review, but the merits of this book still pushed me towards a 2-star rating (It was OK).

The reason for my conflict is that I dislike the style of Sturak’s writing, but I acknowledge that he has a way with words and that there are almost no mistakes in his prose.

Let me first state what I liked about the book:
The cover is brilliant, I think. Ominous and eye-popping despite the lack of bright colours. Clearly a professional cover.
The blurb is also good. Good, clear prose, and a concise conflict that interested me.

Which is why I’m disappointed in the content of the book itself and stopped reading at the end of chapter 10.

Like I said, Sturak has a way with words, but instead of form following function, function was definitely subservient to form. Sounding a bit too pleased at his ability to write a simile or metaphor, Sturak’s convoluted prose strangles the story like kudzu vines killing a tree by taking away all sunlight.

I read part of the sample before I downloaded the book (for free) and was at first captivated by the prose, but after a while I started to long for the clear, concise prose Sturak used in his blurb.

Make no mistake, Sturak can write. I enjoyed the flowery descriptions: “A subway station bustled, infected with morning commuters.” The images were wonderful, however, the descriptions often tended to run several paragraph and dragged down the pace of the story.

Meanwhile the characters are unsympathetic without fail. Trevor Malloy is an arrogant and sadistic hitman, and his wife Laura is described in loving detail as a ‘housewife, a homemaker and babysitter when the kids weren’t in school’ with ‘a hourglass figure’ with the ‘naive look of an auburn-haired Hollywood star from the 1940s with her simple elegance’ who ‘spoiled her children’ and was in turn ‘spoiled by her husband with a large bankroll, which offered her a life filled with salon trips and a closet filled with designer clothes’. She behaves unsympathetic, complaining that she ‘doesn’t understand why her husband bought a trampoline’ when all the children do ‘is jump on that trampoline the minute they got home’. In all the interaction with the children and her husband she comes across as a whiny insecure hellion.
Brian Boise is an overworked detective who’d rather spend time crawling up the career ladder than with his haranguing wife and non-descript sullen kid constantly complaining about Boise’s lack of attention. His colleagues are rude, obnoxious turds who belittle and ridicule him.

Along with the drawn-out descriptions that reeked of verbal diarrhoea, Sturak has a tendency to talk down to his readers as if they are totally ignorant of the world around them:

Katie and Kevin jumped from the trampoline and ran toward their father at the back patio. Their dad was tall and wore a dark gray suit with black onyx cufflinks securing his French cuffs. He was wheeling a 20″ Travelpro Rollaboard carry-on featuring toughened nylon waterproof ball-bearing inline skate wheels and a Checkpoint-friendly laptop compartment–the ultimate addition to the frequent business traveler. The kids hugged him tenderly, just as two kids did who adored their father.

Like we need the retailer’s description of his luggage and the pointers that the kids adore their father.

Brian lowered his voice as lovers did when they expressed their feelings verbally.

This is a detective trying to convince his wife that it’s a good career move to solve a copycat murder case.

The verbosity extends to the use of alternative speech tags for the simple ‘said/whispered/yelled’, but often missed the ball:

“I want spaghetti!” Kevin shouted.
“I want hot dogs!” his sister contradicted.

To contradict is to deny the truth (of a statement) by asserting the opposite, and hot dogs are not the opposite of spaghetti.

“All you do is jump on (the trampoline) all day long.”
“Not all day, Mom. We have school,” Kevin clarified.

Kevin’s reply is a retort, not a clarification.

One of his gloved hands gripped his proverbial briefcase.

I wondered to what proverb or idiom the briefcase referred, but evidently Sturak means that the briefcase always accompanied the character.

The silhouette of an inert figure holding a briefcase stared at him.

Inert means lacking the ability or strength to move, it’s not a substitute for ‘motionless’.

…, the tingle of adrenaline flowing through his amplified veins.

Amplification is the increase in volume of sound, not an increase in physical volume of matter. Though sometimes used to describe the intensifying of feelings (amplified hearing) or concepts (amplified political unrest), or enlarging upon or adding detail to a story or statement, the widening of veins is not amplification.

The verbose prose also tends to dramatise everyday inanimate objects in a way that irritated me:

On the nightstand, a clock blared “11:57.”

The clock is not making any sound, so blaring is odd.

Without warning, the car propelled on the track, and just like that, chaos ensued.

This is a description of a leaving subway train during normal ‘rush hour’. The departure of a subway train is usually preceded by doors hissing shut and the soft tug when the train starts moving, so it’s not shooting forward ‘without warning’. No ‘chaos ensues’, but rather the normal bustle of a subway station continues.

This time he dropped the cake on the floor. It detonated.

The sponge cake ‘detonates’? Since ‘detonate’ means ‘causing to explode’, the description goes awry. Sponge cake, even if flung at a tile floor, rarely explodes and never causes anything to explode.

The third floor elevators sat in tranquility, but then an abrupt ding sliced through the silence. The shining doors opened as Trevor strolled off.

Quite a dramatic description for an elevator arriving and a passenger getting off.

Large maps of the city were sprawled across the walls.

Sprawling is a horizontal action (sitting, lying, falling), not a vertical one.

(Character opens a top drawer.) Inside, a 9mm pistol, silencer, and ammunition glared at him.

So a pistol stares at him angrily or fiercely? While I concur that a pistol might have a menacing or ominous vibe, glaring requires eyes, something a gun lacks.

I’m sure many readers will probably delight in Sturak’s wordiness, but I couldn’t be bothered to drag myself through garrulous blathering with literary pretensions where I expected a tense thriller.

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Stopped Reading REVIEW: The Killing League by Dani Amore

The Killing LeagueThe Killing League by Dani Amore

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Well, I managed to get to 29% of the Kindle version of The Killing League until the lack of verisimilitude deflated my suspense of disbelief.

I had high expectations of this book, due to the enticing blurb, but the story failed to deliver. The characters were described to provide a visual image, but I got no sense of their internal emotions beyond what Ms. Amore told me they were feeling. The writing is not unskilled, and some of the descriptions were quite visceral, but when someone fires a gun in a forest and:

The smell of cordite hung in the air around them.

That’s a huge red flag that someone doesn’t know what they’re writing about. Cordite hasn’t been used firearm ammunition since second World War and the triple-based gunpowder that replaced might have a acidic metallic smell that might be picked up by extremely sensitive noses, but only if someone fires boxes of ammunition in a closed space, like a small room or a badly ventilated shooting range. In the open air? No chance that a smell will hang around after firing one round.

Of course, Ms. Amore is probably not the only writer who mistakenly uses cordite with post-WWII ammunition, but there was more to The Killing League that failed to engage me.

The lack of characterization was grating. None of the characters was even faintly interesting. Not the serial killers, who seemed derivative and unoriginal, nor the protagonists Mack and Nicole, who are both bland and superficial.

The pace was sluggish because the writer felt compelled to fill whole scenes with descriptions or explanations that were not necessary for any mildly intelligent reader to figure out for themselves. Dialogue was often pedestrian and interspersed with dragging descriptions:

“Hey Boss!” Antony Toffol, her sous chef, called out as she started inventory on the wine selections.
“Yeah,” she said. He stood with the door to the kitchen open. Nicole smelled the olive oil, garlic, onion, rosemary, shallots, paprika and black pepper that were being used in various incarnations.
“Someone dropped off a card for you,” he said. “It was under the door when I opened up — it’s over on the receptionist table.”
“Okay, thanks,” she said.

I don’t like to ‘force’ myself to read. There are so many books still to be read, that I couldn’t justify wasting my time on this one. Sorry, Ms. Amore, but the second star is merely because the formatting and editing seemed professional. The story itself didn’t rate more than 1 star for me.

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Stopped Reading REVIEW: YA martial arts story.

Girl Fights BackGirl Fights Back by Jacques Antoine
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

As a martial artist, I was interested in this series after reading the premise. Jacques Antoine failed to deliver, however. Apart from various formatting/editing errors, I was mostly irritated by the lack of emotional depth due to the consistent ‘telling’ instead of ‘showing’ and the random ‘head-hopping’.

The protagonist is a 17-year old girl who undergoes a dramatic transformation after a series of traumatic incidents. I read about 30% of the book, but the story failed to engage me. The martial arts scenes were well-written but too long. After each traumatic event, we are told how Emily feels, but despite the insistence of the author that Emily understands the devastating effects of what happens to her, they don’t affect her.

My suspension of disbelief was finally shattered when Emily changes her appearance by dressing in her step-mother’s dresses, cutting her hair and applying make-up when she goes back to school after the most important person in her life dies and her whole identity turns out to be a deliberate lie.

Wait, what? She’s 17, her whole world is turned upside down, people get killed and the killers might be after her and she goes back to school? Not just that, but she changes her appearance from unnoticeable to extremely noticeable? And suddenly everybody wants to be her friend? And she laughs and jokes with them less than a day after getting chased by killers and watching her father die?

While we’re repeatedly told about the emotional roller coaster the characters seem to experience, they behave and talk as if they have Asperger’s Syndrome. Not a single scene shows any emotional affect.

I understand how the author probably created a kick-ass teenage heroine that other teenage girls could empathize with, but in my opinion that would require a heroine who would also feel doubt and fear and anger and sadness. Emily Kane comes across as an autistic martial arts genius.

If that floats your boat, this book might be something you enjoy, if you can also get past the formatting/editing issues and the ‘head-hopping’, but Emily Kane failed to engage me.

1/5 stars.

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Stopped Reading REVIEW: Thriller

The Cleaner (John Milton #2)The Cleaner by Mark Dawson
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I rarely stop reading books, especially if they have a good premise and an awesome cover. Dawson’s grammar is pretty good too, and the formatting is fine.

So why did I stop reading?

Well, I ran into a wall of needless exposition 10% into the Kindle e-book.

The story was gearing up pretty good, protagonist gets second thoughts about his job, doesn’t shoot a young witness, gets dressed down by his superior and quits.

All is well up to this point, but then, when the protagonist has gone, his superior pulls out the protagonist’s human resources file and starts going over what should be familiar knowledge to the superior, resulting in several pages delving into the protagonist’s back story with all the charm of reading someone’s job application resume.

Why? Why ruin the pace with this clunky exposition?

I see this often happen in mediocre books and shows, where the author/director assumes the audience are morons who have to be spoon-fed information they cannot glean from the protagonist’s actions. And the fact is that the audience (readers/viewers) are way more intelligent than they get credit for.

I’m sorry to give this book a 1-star rating, but I can’t abide lazy writing. I don’t need a protagonist’s resume, I need them to be interesting. I don’t want to run into a wall of exposition that drags down the pace to a standstill, I want to read what’s going to happen next. John Milton sounded interesting until I got too much information in the worst way possible.

Too bad. Great cover, great premise, good formatting, lazy writing.

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