The One: A Novel by John Marrs

I rate this book 4 out of 5 stars and no, it was not self-published.

A simple DNA test is all it takes. Just a quick mouth swab and soon you’ll be matched with your perfect partner—the one you’re genetically made for. That’s the promise made by Match Your DNA. A decade ago, the company announced that they had found the gene that pairs each of us with our soul mate. Since then, millions of people around the world have been matched. But the discovery has its downsides: test results have led to the breakup of countless relationships and upended the traditional ideas of dating, romance and love. Now five very different people have received the notification that they’ve been “Matched.” They’re each about to meet their one true love. But “happily ever after” isn’t guaranteed for everyone. Because even soul mates have secrets. And some are more shocking than others…

This book is about five different couples and their experiences with “Match Your DNA.” Five different couples equal ten different names for me to keep track of and that annoyed me. Initially. I have problems remembering names in the real world, and I don’t need that kind of stressor during playtime. However, the author does such a great job of dropping gentle reminders that I was able to relax and enjoy the ride, and bonus, I didn’t need to worry about my notetaking skills.

These couples have different lifestyles and their stories cover the full spectrum of love, danger, and emotional fulfillment. Imagine falling in love with a serial killer or embracing love with the bookworm next door. This book will take you for a ride that is fun, disturbing, heartbreaking, and satisfying. Well, I am not going to spoil your fun, but this is a book that will keep you reading.

Word of caution! Do not skip chapters to find out what will happen to your favorite couple or you might miss a few surprises.

The characters are well-developed, the premise is plausible, and the plot moves in a steady pace. The ending is… well you need to read to find out.

Characters You Hate to Love

I am currently taking a writing class entitled, “Characters,” by Gotham Writers. Their classes are expensive so I have high hopes for this class. Anyway, one of our assignments is to write about a character that draws us in whether or not we like them.

I spend a considerable amount of time reading. Those of you who have read previous blog posts already know that I prefer reading self-published fiction for many different reasons. However, it is rare that I have read an unforgettable character from a self-published author. Why is that? I don’t know, but exploring this assignment has given me a little insight into myself. I have a very dark side. As a writer, I am inclined to embrace this, but as a mother, I am uncomfortable with it.

In the last year I have read three novels that had protagonists that should have been repulsive and dislikable, however, not only did I find myself liking the serial murderers in these books, I also hoped that they would evade capture for their crimes. The characters and books I am referring to are: The unnamed character in Normal by Graeme Cameron, Joe Goldberg in You by Caroline Kepnes, and Dexter in the Dexter series by Jeff Lindsay. All three of the main characters in these books were serial killers. I should be repulsed by these men as human beings. I was not then, nor am I now. I liked them.

I suppose there are numerous theories and psychobabble why such a phenomenon happens. By phenomenon, I am specifically referring to how a law-abiding and caring citizen such as myself who is repulsed and shocked by violent, true-life crime, can find empathy and root for fictional bad guys like Joe Goldberg and Dexter Morgan. I believe it is a side effect of truly remarkable writing.

I do not think I am deranged or abnormal in any way. Rather I think the writer has found “the power of the pen” and has the enviable talent of creating unique characters that bridges the gap between reading and in-person interactions (or tv viewing as is this case). In other words, I felt these characters’ charisma by reading about them. Even though I could not see them, I still felt the allure of their personalities.

When I watched You, the movie, I saw Joe’s charisma. The same goes for Dexter Morgan. I also felt these two characters’ charisma when I read the books. (I watched the movies and then read the books. I know… it should have been the other way around). However, in the case of the book, Normal, there was no TV show but I still felt this character’s undeniable charisma. Where does such good writing come from? I don’t know, but I want it.

Normal by Graeme Cameron

I try only to review books by self-published authors. However, once in awhile I come across a traditionally published book that sticks with me. This is the case with Normal by Graeme Cameron.

I give this book 4 out of 5 stars and here’s why.

The story is written in first person which gives you a chilling view of how the killer thinks. He begins by telling you all of the things he learned about his latest victim prior to killing her.

“I’d learned some interesting things about Sarah. She was eighteen years old and had finished school back in July with grade-A passes in biology, chemistry, physics and English.

…That morning, Sarah had spent just under half an hour in the bath and just over five minutes cleaning her teeth. She had no fillings or cavities, but the enamel on her upper front teeth was wearing thin from overbrushing. She also applied toothpaste to the index and middle finger of her left hand in a vain attempt at stain removal.”

He ends the summary of this victim with, “Oh, and I knew three more things. I knew that her last hot meal was lasagna, her cause of death was a ruptured aorta and her tongue tasted of sugar and spice.”

How did he learn all of this about the victim? By talking with her, of course. He’s a cold-blooded bastard. No doubt!

The opening made me initially dislike and loathe this man. He was weird, showed no empathy for his victims, and I looked forward to the moment of his capture. As the story progressed, my feeling towards him changed. I had become fond of him. I desperately wanted him to live happily ever after with his newfound true love.

The story continues with the killer loading Sarah’s body parts into his van. He is discovered by Sarah’s best friend, Erica. The matter-of-fact and business-as-usual manner in which he abducts her is almost (but not quite) entertaining. He locks her in the basement in a cage with future plans to kill her, but he doesn’t because she fascinates him.

The author did a wonderful job of fleshing out this character and pulling me into the plot. There are several unexpected plot twists that I found blissfully entertaining, sometimes humorous, and always terrifying. I’m not sure what disturbs me more: the fact that I was entertained or that I liked this weirdly sinister killer.

The first-person narrative may be unsettling for some readers. Sometimes it reads (almost) like stream of consciousness. I loved it as it gave me a view of the killer that may not have been possible otherwise.

Normal is a dark and twisted thriller that perfectly blends humor, fate, and romance into a bizarre but fascinating read. I would have given this story 5 stars, but I am not a fan of its ending which is an abrupt cliff hanger that is concluded in the next book, Dead Girls. Nonetheless, I highly recommend to all fans of serial killer murder mysteries.

Where Sleeping Dragons Lie by Cristina Rayne

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Where Sleeping Dragons Lie by Cristina Rayne is an amusing story that is lost in an underdeveloped plot and an unconvincing romance.

Briana is a rare book collector and discovers an old book left behind by her late grandmother. She’s intrigued because it is written in a language that she has never seen before and has a picture of an unusual key. A handsome store patron, Taron Hildebrand, recognizes the book and claims that it is a lost family heirloom and offers a substantial amount for its return.

Taron then suddenly abducts Briana when an unexpected visitor arrives at the store. Once outside, he turns into a dragon and flies away with Briana clutched in one of its claws.  

Eventually, they end up at Taron’s castle in England where he explains the origins of the book and reason for abducting her. Briana discovers that she is descended from a powerful witch and Taron is a dragon prince banished to her world through a secret portal.

Although the book kept me entertained, there were times that I chuckled at its absurdity. The plot needs to be expanded to soften the paranormal transitions.  For example, Briana and Taron are calmly discussing the book and its contents when Taron suddenly kicks the door shut, abducts Briana, transforms into a dragon, and flies away with Briana clutched in one of his claws. She calmly accepts that dragons are real and soon after finds herself lusting after his naked torso. Too much, too fast, becomes too silly.

The courtship was unfulfilling and not what I expect from a paranormal romance. It felt more like a crush than a love story.

I rate this book 3 out of 5 stars. This book has a lot of potential that is lost in an immature plot and undeveloped romance. It also fulfills one of my biggest pet peeves: a novella being sold as a full length novel.

Homemade Book Covers

As I browse Amazon’s kindle store, my subconscious sifts through all of the unappealing book covers and stops only on those that present eye-catching covers. Why is that? Well, because readers really do judge a book by its cover, and I am no exception.

There are thousands of self-published books in any given genre. To stand out and attract readers, your book needs a cover that reflects the quality of its contents. Amateur book covers that scream, “self-published” are not a successful sales tactic.

Amazon doesn’t distinguish between traditional and self-published books when providing search results. An unprofessional book cover that is surrounded by books with eye-catching covers will not seduce many readers.

Unfortunately, too many independent authors ignore the importance of a professional book cover. This may be due to lack of funds or possibly a rush to publish. Either way, and regardless of the reason, homemade book covers can ruin sales and unduly influence potential readership.

The Back Cover and Why It’s So Important

So, You’ve Finally Finish Your Book. Now What?

Many self-published authors spend months writing, obsessing over, and finally completing their book only to overlook the importance of a professional and polished back cover.

As a voracious reader of self-published books, I spend several hours a week on Amazon scanning the back covers of newly released novels. If the back cover is poorly written or has grammar problems or misspelled words, I will mentally tick it off as “not worth my time” and move on to the next book in line.

The back cover is the first thing that most readers will see making it one of the best and cheapest advertisement tools that an author can have.

 So, what am I looking for when I read the back book cover?

First, and foremost, I am looking for something wonderful to read. I often read for three to four hours in one sitting, and I don’t want my precious reading time wasted.

Here is what I look for when I am choosing a book:

  1. The back cover should be about two to three paragraphs of the most engaging plot points. You have about 250 words to convince me to read your book so make every word count. Rambling for four or five paragraphs is not convincing. When I see a long and disjointed synopsis, I skip it and move to the next book choice.
  2. The synopsis must be free of misspelled words and grammar errors. This is very important. If you can’t write a few easy-to-understand paragraphs that are error free, there is no way I am going to waste my money and buy your book. Not only is your back cover a sales tool, it is also an example of your writing style and knowledge of good writing techniques.
  3. Sell the narrative arc without deceiving your reader. I will never read another book by an author who intentionally dupes me into buying a book with a misleading book synopsis.
  4. Don’t write a detailed author bio on the back book cover. Focus on the plot not the author, I don’t care about the author if the plot doesn’t interest me.