Please note that this was an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. The Kindle app version was pretty crappy in terms of formatting both on my iPad and on my phone. Clearly it was a rushed job, and I hope that it will be fixed before the published version is released. There seems to have been some fancy capitalization of the first few words of each chapter which is never a good idea, not even in the print version, and this didn't translate well, plus several chapter numbers were missing (chapters 46, 47, and 48 for example). I know people complain about the Smashwords's meat-grinder process, but the kind of sloppiness in evidence here is the very reason Smashwords is so anal about ebook formatting!
The blurb for this book (and this one isn't alone in this) is laughable: "With each death, her foreboding grows. Is she next? And can she find out in time if the country's beloved candidate is what he seems...?" Well yes, of course she can, otherwise why are we reading about her instead of about the person who can achieve these goals? Big Publishing™! LOL! Do they really think their readers are so gullible and clueless? I hope not, but if not why let their blurb writers get away with unoriginal and tedious blurbs like this?
This is why I self-publish, but the blurb, like the cover itself, has nothing to do with the author, so it doesn't factor into my review (other than to mention it here). The problems with this book are not the blurb or even the endless gushing recommendations for other books contained in the beginning (like I care!), but the story itself which is so implausible as to be worthy of a parody.
This is evidently book 2 in the Newsmakers series, which I did not realize when I chose it for review. With rare exceptions, I'm not a fan of series and I certainly have no intention of pursuing this one. It just doesn't spark any enduring interest in me and the main character isn't very engrossing, or realistic. Nether does she make me care what happens to her. Note also in passing that there are other books with this same title, such as The Candidate by Josie Brown, by Samuel L. Popkin, by Tracey Richardson, The Candidates by Bette Browne, and so on. A different title would have been a wiser choice.
This book manages to feel rather like it's written in first person voice, which is far from my favorite. It actually isn't in that voice, but it's written in present tense, which I think contributes to the feeling. It's worth noting from a writer's perspective: immediacy without first person! Who knew? I hope YA authors are paying attention! Anyway, to give you a taste, I'm writing my review in the same voice. So I'm reading, for example, "She drives south on the New York State Thruway and then exits and heads west to the village of Woodstock," instead of something like, "She drove south on the New York State Thruway and exited at Woodstock." It felt weird, and reminded me often that I was reading a novel, preventing me from full immersion in the story.
Other than that - which strikes me as odd - the writing itself is technically not bad in terms of grammar and spelling - once I got by this clunker, that is: "chemistry that sparks." No, electricity sparks, not chemistry! The story moves fairly quickly, but at times I feel like it's so improbable that I don't see how it moves at all. For example, the central theme of this book, as is apparent long before main character Erika Sparks starts putting two and two together, is mind control, but the source of this isn't from modern studies and techniques, but from an antique Chinese philosophical treatise. More on this anon. This strikes me as a poor plot device.
Worse than this though, is that I find it hard to believe that a reporter of Erika Sparks's purported stature and insight isn't onto this long before she actually starts thinking about it. It makes no sense either that she is the only one who notices it. The whole thing is presaged by information we get early (and on more than one occasion) that one of the candidates for the upcoming presidential election was a prisoner of Al Qaeda in Iraq for several months and managed to miraculously "escape". Perhaps if she had no meandered through far too much distraction, none of which contributed to the story, and all-too-often bogged it down, she would have got there faster?
This makes me suspicious of 'The Candidate' from the off. The real mystery here is why no one else is, especially since it's exactly the same plot device that's employed in the first season of the Homeland TV show which I quit watching after I realized that every season is the same as last, with a twist or two and a character change. This book doesn't follow that show exactly, but it's the very same idea. It feels very tired, and there's far too much telling and nowhere near enough showing.
I have to disagree with Erika over her medical knowledge. She's a bit too casual - or the writing describing her behavior is. If you're considering applying a tourniquet, then you need to be fully aware that you're simultaneously considering sacrificing the limb below the tourniquet. It's important therefore to try and save as much of the limb as you reasonably can, and include the joint if you can. If you can't, you can't, but to have her blindly apply the tourniquet above the joint without telling us something along the lines of "this was the wisest decision" is misleading, and it makes her look inept or ignorant. That's not a good look for a news reporter!
That Erika is rather slow in the mental acuity department is one of the saddest things about her. She's also a very weak character until the great escape at the end of the book, which is what makes me quit reading in disgust at 92%, because it's completely ludicrous, and utterly unbelievable. Additionally, she's easily manipulated and rather vapid - in short, not the kind of woman I look up to or want to read about. She presents herself far more as a "desperate housewife" than ever she does as an award-winning and popular news reporter.
One example (of many) of her dependency on others is when she responds to Josh, her pointless and brief love interest, showing up to take her out: "It must be Josh. Who is exactly the person she needs right now to pull her out of this dark mood. Well, Erika soon gets shot of this guy that she feels is so important at this point in the story! Caprice much?!
I get that having a friend stop by gives a person a good feeling, and that wouldn't have been so bad had it not been accompanied by everything else, but as it is, it's merely one more example of yet another female character needing to be validated by a guy or rescued by him like she's some maiden tied-up in front of a dragon, needing St George to gallop in and save her. Worse than this, there's YA-style triangle, or at least the makings of one, which is not only totally unnecessary - the story would have been better without any romantic entanglements - but which serves only to make her look like she's at best, a ditz and at worse, callous.
On that score, this book hosts what is an ongoing problem with obsession with women's looks. In some ways I can see a male author zeroing in on this (not that that makes it justifiable), but what disturbs me is that so many female authors do the same thing. I read on one page after another: "She's a reasonably attractive young redhead in her early twenties," and "By the way, you're much prettier in person," and "thunderstruck by the singer's beauty," and "His wife, Margaret, is an attractive woman in her forties," and "Claire is a raven-haired, Stanford-bred beauty."
My question here is what does any this have to do with the story? There's no comparable description of the men like this. If there had been, it would at least not have been so biased, but it would still have been guilty of reducing someone's entire worth to their looks alone. These people are not models. If the novel is about runway models or female actors, it would have offered some grounds to address their looks, but this novel isn't about any such topic, and it was nauseating to read all this.
So why does this author put so much stock in women's looks? Is it because she thinks this is all women have to offer? Is it because she believes that men have so much more to offer? Or is it because she's simply selling-out to people who think this is how women ought to be portrayed in novels? Frankly it's despicable, and I think it's shameful for anyone - and for a female author in particular - to bring women down to this shallow depth of skin. This is the main reason why I'm rating this negatively. Women deserve better. It's not the only reason, by any means as we shall see.
One of those quotes about beauty is what a guy says to Erika ("By the way, you're much prettier in person"). This by itself isn't a problem, because this is how some people think and worse, how they behave. The problem in that particular case is that this is spoken by Erika's new love interest before he's anything more than a new acquaintance, and she never calls him on it. Instead she actually basks in it.
This obsession with skin-depth evidently extends throughout the series. When I go back and look at the blurb for the first book I read this: "Beautiful, talented, and ambitious, Erica grew up dirt poor..." Again with the beauty. And note that the beauty precedes all her other "qualities" because it's quite obviously the most important! You can argue that this is in the blurb, and therefore has nothing to do with the author, but clearly the author has the same idea judged by what's in this book.
Erika is investigating one of the two candidates for the presidency, and she's growing ever more suspicious of him. Well into the novel, I discover that she's begun reading a memoir he wrote about his time as a prisoner in Iraq. Wait, what? She's been covering this guy for many months, and she's only just now, reading his memoir? Worse than this, she visits Iraq to follow-up on his story - and she's the first reporter to do this? No, that's simply not credible. Nor is this: "inhaling a plate of eggs and sausage and potatoes." I hope that's beef or turkey sausage because you can't get pork sausage in the Middle East - not in a hotel anyway! It's against Muslim dietary laws.
Another fail was the number of things which are launched with great fanfare in this novel only to sink out of sight faster than the Titanic (unless they all feature prominently in the last eight percent!). Erika has her teenage daughter with her. This kid serves no purpose whatsoever other than to lard-up the story. Erika had fought for custody, we're told, even though her daughter is her last priority. Erika is a bad parent, period. She spends no time with the kid, and this is raised as a point of contention, but it's never pursued. On the other hand her daughter is unnaturally clingy and juvenile for her age, so perhaps Erika has a point. LOL! The real point here though, is why include the kid in the story? She serves no purpose other than to be an annoying distraction.
On top of this is the ongoing nonsense with Erika's fiancé, who never actually appears in this story, but is dealt with through constant references and an occasional phone call. Again, I saw no reason to have him in this story at all. At one point Erika gets pissed-off with him and starts dating guy number two (at least that's how he's treated!). She leads him on and then summarily ditches him, which again serves no purpose other than to offer one more reason to detest Erika - and I need no more reasons at this point.
Another issue is this ancient book of philosophy which seems to be such a crucial topic at one point in the book and then it disappears from the story entirely. We're presented with these purportedly ruthless and obsessed villains who are assassinating anyone who gets in their way, yet when this "critical" book appears, and a guy starts translating it, the two of them ignore it completely! There's no theft of the book and no assassination. There's no interest in it whatsoever.
The villains are a joke, BTW. They're more like naughty, immature, high school bullies than ever they fit the role of evil behind-the-scenes manipulators. It was as sad as it was pathetic, and the ending (at least the part I read before I quit in disgust) is just not credible. This is a woman who has been held in captivity for a week tied to a chair. She's been constantly blindfolded, injected with god knows what, sensory-deprived, (and all this after coming back from two touristy days in Iraq with PTSD?), yet she plots her escape and executes it flawlessly and ruthlessly, taking out two guys on the way despite being shot in the leg? I'm sorry, but this is when I quit. It was absurd and completely implausible. I wish the authors all the best with their careers, but I cannot recommend a book that feels like I'm reading poor fan fiction.