Showing posts with label twins. Show all posts
Showing posts with label twins. Show all posts

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Missing Melissa by Alretha Thomas

Rating: WARTY!

Until I was about sixty percent into this, and on balance, I was feeling quite positively towards this novel despite some issues that were annoying, but in the last forty percent, much of which I started skimming because it became boring, it really went downhill for me and this served merely to amplify the problems I'd encountered earlier. Note that there are some spoilers in this review. It's necessary to include these in order to explain the issues I had with the story.

The premise is twins, which is pretty much an overdone idea at this point, and this one was not done well. There were writing problems, plotting problems and the occasional grammatical problem for example where the author wrote, "You know he was too through when I turned Clay down after Clay had asked him for my hand in marriage.” I have quite literally no idea whatsoever what that sentence even means!

In addition to that, the writing was largely conversational with very little descriptive prose, so it failed in creating a world I felt I was living in with the characters. It was more like a sketchy first draft than a completed novel. It wasn't bad, it just wasn't very good. The actual abduction, when we learned the details of it, made little sense, and I'm talking about the mechanics of it and the lack of witnesses, not the plot behind it. The total lack of witnesses to an event that took place on a weekday made no sense. That some people who were involved who knew things yet never came forward made no sense.

One of my immediate problems was with the psychic communication between twins, which in reality is the fiction here. Yes, identical twins share their genome which means there will be many similarities between them, and not just in their appearance, but in the kind of people they are and the choices they make in life, not just with regard to their appearance and clothing, but in regard to the kind of job they do, the neighborhood they choose (or are forced) to live in, the kind of hobbies or interests they have, and the kind of friends they gather around them. There's nothing psychic here - it's just genetics.

The author went the psychic route though, having one twin communicating in dreams with the other, urging the other to find her. This this made no sense even if we allow - for the sake of the story - that such psychic communication is possible (it's not). The story here is that at the age of around three, one of the twins, Melissa, was taken in a car-jacking, and was never found. Now, almost twenty years later, and for no reason we're ever offered, the remaining twin, Madeline, has one or two dreams where her sister is supposedly trying to reach out to her and is begging for her help.

The problem is that when we find the second twin, she's unaware she even had a twin sister, so there's no way she could have been calling out for help! The dreams made zero sense. The crazy thing is that everyone she told these dreams too accepted them on face value without questioning their validity at all. That way lies madness, and I'm not talking about the early eighties English ska band, either!

Another issue I had with this was the use of the word 'beautiful" or derivations of it. The word occurred some thirty times in a three hundred page novel, so it popped up every ten pages on average, almost always in connection with describing Madeline. It was employed as though this was a valuable character trait instead of what it is: a cheap veneer employed thoughtlessly and even cruelly, by bad writers. It's insulting to women to have an author list that, as though without it a woman is lacking something. It's even worse when that author is female. It cheapened the whole story, and made Madeline look pathetic.

We were told frequently how smart Madeline was, but never shown it, which made this yet another cheap trait tacked-on amateurishly by the author, presumably in some sort of attempt to offset the 'beauty' remarks and depict Madeline as something other than the somewhat dumb blonde, clothes-addicted stereotype she was. Madeline did not behave like a 22-year-old college graduate, especially not one who graduated with honors. She did dumb things. One example was in going to meet irl with someone she "met" over the Internet without telling anyone, or having anyone back her up. In short, she's not smart, she's a moron.

This author, buying into the trope spewed out by so many other authors, also decided that finding her long-lost sister wasn't sufficient validation for this girl. Instead, she had to have male validation! Fine, but if you're going that route, then at least do your characters the courtesy of having it unfold realistically and organically from the story and the characters interacting within it. Don't force it down out throats, and sure as hell don't have is start with the cop hitting on her with cheap disrespectful comments to start out the 'relationship"! For goodness's sake!

The cop is an authority figure here, and he's hitting on Madeline from the off, yet neither she nor anyone else, not even the author, sees anything wrong in this. Nowhere in this story of an abducted young girl is a cautionary note or a point of order raised about relationships as exemplified here in his inexcusable conduct. Madeline simply did not ring true. If she was so "beautiful" then how come she didn't have a boyfriend already? She didn't, and no explanation was forthcoming for why not or for why she seemed so reticent about getting involved with the cop!

If there had been a reference back to the car-jacking, that would have been something. If there had been a bad incident during her college years that would have worked, but we got nothing. It's like the author didn't think-through Madeline's character at all and her beta readers either didn't think ti through either, or were afraid to point this out to her. Madeline didn't work as a character, and what was offered was unappealing and uninteresting. I can't recommend this.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

My Sister's Voice by Mary Carter

Title: My Sister's Voice
Author: Mary Carter
Publisher: Kensington
Rating: WARTY!

This book about a deaf woman was not written by a deaf woman and in my opinion, it shows. She definitely has a better understanding of the problems which deaf people face (and it's not being deaf that's the problem) than most people do, but it seemed to me that she had garnered her knowledge from one or two sources and thereby gained a peculiar perspective on it which she might have modified somewhat had she interviewed or read more widely.

My Sister's Voice features the old trope of twins who were separated at an early age, in this case, at three. One of them is named Lacey, and she's deaf. She rages more than once that she's not 'hearing impaired'. Her argument is that she is not impaired at all, but that phrase doesn't say that she's impaired, merely that her hearing is, which is true, so her rage seems disturbingly psychotic. This also betrays the book's stance on deaf culture and language. Why go into so much detail about the semantics of deaf communication, and then fail so miserably here to grasp the real meaning of that particular phrase?

As you will learn if you read this however, Lacey is indeed psychotic, or at best, in need of serious anger management. She's so warped that she hopes to have a deaf child. That's truly sick to wish on your child a world of silence when there is so much beauty and wonder in sound. In some ways Lacey's anger is understandable, because the level of lies promulgated by her family is horrendous (as horrendous, in fact, as it is inexplicable).

Lacey was the one given up to an orphanage, where she grew up wild and hostile. Now she rides a motorbike and is a paint artist, but she has the life she wants. She's doing what she wants, she's her own boss, she has a devoted boyfriend who she doesn't appreciate, she's financially independent, and she keeps her own hours. She observes, "I’m happy to be a Deaf woman. I love my life. I love my culture, my language, my people. I’m happy," so whence all this rage and anger? The author did a really poor job in giving it credibility, especially given how ridiculously over the top it is.

Her twin Monica grew up with parents in a wealthy setting, and has become a motivational speaker, holding workshops and promoting her book about self-actualization. Deep down, however, she's no better-off than is Lacey. Neither of them knows the other exists until one day, Lacey gets an anonymous note left in her mailbox which tells her "You have a twin sister. Her name is Monica. Go to Benjamin Books. Look at the poster in the window."

Lacey goes there thinking one of her friends, of whom she has many, is pranking her, but she sees the book cover on a poster, and starts raging that someone stole her identity! Her behavior is immature at best and psychotic at worst. It's certainly not at all realistic. I really didn't like Lacey, and Monica was frankly hardly any better. The latter comes off as a character with whom it's very easy to empathize initially, but later we realize that she's just as creepy in her own way as is Lacey. Like two peas in a pod, you might say.

The impression I had here was that each of these two girls was incomplete without the other, which was frankly pathetic given how much effort the author had put into trying to establish how fiercely independent Lacey was, and how proud she was of her deafness and the culture which she had adopted and which she viewed as her real family. It just didn't ring true to me, and this assertion that she could only be whole with her twin was a complete betrayal of the purported independence which had been assigned to her via the deaf culture motif.

One problem I had with this book apart from the unlikeable main characters, is that it roams around with the PoV. It's not in first person thank goodness, so at least it has that going for it, but we move from Lacey's PoV to Monica's, and then we have a weird flashback to their mom's PoV, which was really jarring, and this gave away a huge spoiler for how this novel would end.

I had mixed feelings about how the author presented the situation of the deaf community, too. On the one hand, she got so much of it right, but the perspective she presented was rather narrow, as though all deaf people feel the exactly same way about their circumstances and life, which I found insulting. Yes, they may all be deaf to some extent or another, but this doesn't mean they're all the same or all view their lives and circumstances in the same way. I think they deserved better than they got here. This novel made the community seem completely homogeneous, like clones, rather than a community of individuals who happened to have a physical trait in common. I don't think that approach serves anyone, no matter which kind of community they're in.

The author could also use a tutorial on metal sculpture. At one point she talks about soldering steel, but that's a recipe for disaster. You weld steel. You solder chips on a circuit board.

Lacey was too much of an extremist to either make sense or to be endearing. As I said, she despises the term 'hearing impaired' because she's part of a group whose adherents reject hearing. Her problem, though, is that she is far too hostile and partisan. I get that someone in her position might harbor a lot of anger, especially when she discovers that she's 'the rejected sister', but her behavior borders on being psychopathic and certainly isn't true to how her character was established at the beginning of this story.

One thing which concerned me about Lacey's behavior - aside from how hostile and combative she was - is related to the parts of this book where Lacey reads lips. She isn't very good at it as she freely confesses (it's not an exact art!), but it seems strange to me that she would confuse some of the phrases which she does confuse. This happens a couple of times and on each occasion, we're offered three options as to what the person might have said to her. I know this was intended by the author to be amusing, but to me it was stupid and condescending, and it made Lacey look even more stupid than she'd already proven herself to be. At one point early in the novel, I read this:

The guessing game began. He either said: “You have a small bass.” Or: “You have a nice ass.” Or: “You’ve stained the glass.”

What the guy said was obviously (given the context) the third one, which has 'the' in it, which makes a very distinctive use of the lips and tongue, and which doesn't appear in either of the other two phrases. There is no way Lacey could confuse these, and especially not confuse 'bass', 'ass' and 'glass'. I'm not a lip-reader (I don't even pay lip service to it!), but even to me, looking in a mirror and saying these three words, they are not confusable. 'Glass' and 'ass' are, admittedly, similar, but not 'bass'. Unless the person whose lips are being read is curiously immobile about the mouth, I don't see that someone who can read lips, even inexpertly, would confuse these three, especially not in a given context.

Naturally, the twins actually meet, and this is written in such a weird way that it really spoiled the story for me. Lacey initially plans on angrily confronting this 'identity thief', never once considering that she might actually have a look-alike out there. In a world of seven billion people, most of us do have a look-alike somewhere, and that person has no dishonest intent towards us. It's because of things like this that Lacey repeatedly comes across as juvenile, and not very smart.

After they meet, Monica begins emulating Lacey just as she did as a young child, and not in a very nice or complimentary way. She's downright creepy and scary, and the 'reason' for this, which was revealed in a flashback, doesn't excuse her stalker-ish behavior. It's like she hasn't grown up at all. Plus, the premise that each would have forgotten the other, given their close three year history together, is frankly just not credible. In the end, this pervasive lack of credibility was the biggest problem with the whole story.

After her inexplicable initial knee-jerk rage, Lacey suddenly decides she doesn't want to meet this woman until she's ready. Then she decides she does, and when the two meet they're best friends with so much in common despite their entirely different backgrounds, but immediate after this idyllic day, Lacey rejects Monica, demanding that her twin reject her parents before Lacey will have anything more to do with her, and even after Monica does this, Lacey still rejects her. Lacey is just a jerk, and her ridiculous behavior becomes more and more incredible with each turned page.

Monica is just as bad, lusting after Lacey's friend Mike even as she puts up with her deadbeat boyfriend Joe, from whom she cannot seem to self-actualize her freedom. Her emotions are all over the place lending them little credibility, so intelligent characterization and realistic motivation are largely non-existent here - or at any rate, inconsistent at best. Monica's behavior at times make no sense, and suggests schizophrenia.

One of the major inconsistencies was in Lacey's PoV, which seemed to swing like a pendulum according to authorial whim. I mean she's so completely at home in her skin, so we're told, that I expected her to be sporting a 'proud to be deaf' bumper sticker on her motorbike, but she's insanely angry at her orphan circumstances and vacillates nonsensically between adoring Monica and wanting nothing to do with her. I didn't get how these extreme personalities can co-exist in one person. Maybe that's why Lacey was psychotic! LOL!

Another problem was in how the author seems like she's intent upon building Lacey up as this kick-ass character, and then suddenly turns her into Jell-O. For example, on one occasion, when Lacey sneaks a visit to her parents' country cabin to spy in them, she's afeared of fainting because she hasn't eaten in a while? Honestly? Way to undermine the kick-ass part of her! Not all girls are wilting violets! In fact, very few of them are.

The ending let down the rest of the story, which by this point wasn't much of a let-down as it happened, but it was poor and predictable. The 'revelation' about Aunt Grace was not a revelation to me, and I'm the kind of reader who doesn't usually figure these things out. The ending was too sugary and the reason for mom giving up one of the kids was also absurd. "It was very shameful in those days"? Seriously? The kids are under thirty years old. Single moms have been around for decades longer than that and have long been accepted by everyone except the church. This was one more thing in a long line of things which didn't ring true in this story and which taken together, constitute the reason why I am rating this negatively. It was far too unrealistic to be taken seriously.