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If you can't say something nice about somebody ...

I'm about to publish two book reviews, a good one and a bad one. I'll start with the bad news.

I wrote this one a month or so ago, and have spent the time since then dithering about whether to publish it. I was conflicted about it, because I don't like to write negative reviews. I enjoy writing glowing reviews about books that I love, and I like to support fellow authors, especially self-published ones, who need it the most. But generally speaking, I won’t torch another author, even if I think they suck. If I read a book I don’t like, or I think an author has no skills, I keep my mouth shut. Like Mom always said, if you can’t say something nice about somebody, don’t say anything at all.

There are exceptions to every rule. In the end I decided to put this one out there as a service, because I think the author needs it. I want her to get better because I think she could be good if she tried a little harder, but she needs to hear the truth, for once.

But only here, on my blog. I won't put it on Amazon. That's the compromise I reached with myself.

I managed to finish Amanda M. Lee’s Any Witch Way You Can, but it was a struggle.

I wanted to like this book. I really did. Halloween was coming up, and I wanted a short, fun read to get me into the spirit. The book does have its good points, and a lot of promise. After another draft or two, and a bit of attention by a competent editor, and it could become something special.

However, although it’s clear that this book has been cleaned up grammatically since the first round of reviews came out, it still reads like a first draft. I don’t think it is, but I do think Ms. Lee either 1) self-edits without bothering to study her craft and polish her skills, or 2) has had a lot of sunshine blown up her skirt by well-meaning “editors” who are unwilling or unable to tell her the truth.

Regardless of the cause, the truth is that this book is so riddled with rookie writer mistakes that I got jerked out of the story at least once on almost every page.

For one thing, Ms. Lee seems to be under the misconception, common to beginning writers (yes, I went through the same stage), that one needs to come up with as many ways to say “said” as is humanly possible. Her characters almost never say anything. They whine, grumble, grate, snap, rage, scoff, command, or admit. They wonder, snicker, sigh, giggle, hiss, growl, bellow, offer, explain, soothe, shriek, tease, warn, threaten, or shoot back. And they intone. Yes, they intone. I’m not kidding. If they do happen to say something, they say it with an adverb. In fact, almost all of Ms. Lee’s verbs have an adverb attached to them, but that’s another issue.

Here’s an example. Check out this little exchange:

“We’ll get lost,” I argued.

“It will be too creepy,” Thistle offered.

“You guys are no fun,” Clove grumbled.

“God help me,” Mark sighed ruefully.

Here are a few more groaners I found:

“Who’s Marcus?” I asked curiously.

(In case we didn’t realize she was curious.)

“Maybe,” she said noncommittally.

(As opposed to saying “maybe” with certainty.)

“He’s not real,” Edith practically bellowed as she gestured emphatically …

(Wow. She managed to get two adverbs in there.)

“I wonder what they’ll be fighting about tonight,” Clove wondered aloud.

(What a wonderful sentence!)

“That’s a good question,” I hesitated.

(How does one hesitate a line of dialogue? Same goes for snicker, giggle,

and nod, all of which appear as dialogue tags with alarming frequency.)

She was understandably curious, which I understood.

(Please. You gotta be kidding me.)

Had enough? Me too. And all that was only from the first few chapters.

Another problem with the book is, as several other reviewers have pointed out, the incessant bickering of the characters, to the point that the bickering (which the author is fond of calling snarkiness) becomes more important than the plot. Ms. Lee admits freely that her characters aren’t for everyone, and by this I think she meant to say that other fans of General Hospital will enjoy the book more than those who don’t watch the show. I say other fans, because it’s evident that Ms. Lee is herself a devoted aficionado of the show. After scrolling through her blog posts for the Michigan newspaper where she works, it became obvious to me that not only does she watch General Hospital regularly, but she spends a lot of time thinking about it and writing about it. I can only conclude that her devotion to a soap opera has led her to the belief that actual people interact with each other the way soap opera characters do, and this manifests in her fiction as constant overinflated interpersonal drama and pages-long arguments about trivial matters such as where to eat lunch.

Um, could we get back to the plot, please?

Okay, to be fair, I think this was Ms. Lee’s first book, at least as near as I can tell from the scattered info I was able to glean from the Internet (oddly, Ms. Lee has no website). Maybe, in the ten or twelve books she’s written since then, she got better.

I’ll never know. I consider myself a hero for finishing the first book of this series, but I’m not masochistic enough to keep doing it to myself; so I’ll never know for sure if, at some point along the continuum, she started to get better. My gut feeling is that she didn't. Why would she bother to change anything? She has thousands and thousands of happy readers that don’t care about the sloppy writing. Why mess with success?

And that’s the truly sad part, because, as I said way back at the beginning of this diatribe, she really does have promise. Unfortunately, without incentive to improve, she never will, and that’s where I come in. I want to give her incentive.

Amanda M. Lee may never be confused with Harper Lee, but with just a little bit of time and care devoted to honing her skills, she could become her own star.

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