06 December 2013

Review of Stones of Remembrance by Julie Presley

Stones of RemembranceStones of Remembrance by Julie Presley

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’ll start by saying that I don’t usually read books that have no fantasy or sci-fi elements to them, but I picked this one up because I used to know the author years ago when we were teenagers, and it’s her first novel, and I believe in supporting new authors.

There is a lot to like in this book. I really wanted to love it; I really wish I could rave about it. Unfortunately, it falls prey to first novel syndrome. A good editor could make this book shine, but right now it’s a bit of a mess.

Allaya (or Ally) is trying to recover after the death of her sister, who was also her best friend. As my sister is also my best friend, I found this hard to read, but very real. I can only imagine what it would be like to lose her, but it might be a lot like when Ally says it was “torture trying to function like a normal person.”

Finnegan (or Finn) is running from God. This bothers me. I dated a guy who was running from God, and it was awful. He said I was his “angel” and I felt like I was the only reason he wanted to have anything to do with God. It was not a healthy relationship. The Bible says, “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers,” (2 Corinthians 6:14 NKJV) and I learned first-hand what this means: if a team of two are yoked—or harnessed—together, but pulling in opposing directions, nothing gets done and everybody is frustrated and exhausted.

You may have heard the maxim, “Show; don’t tell.” It’s oft misunderstood and there is much argument over it. Many a new writer either doesn’t know how to show, or simply gives up. However, the point is to pull the reader in, and telling feels distant. Showing makes the reader feel. I didn’t feel much in Stones of Remembrance. Julie Presley tells us what her characters are feeling rather than showing it through actions and body language. After reading “Ally was sad” a few times, I don’t care anymore. I want to feel her grief.

Omniscience is great—if you’re a god. Harder to pull off in a novel. Experienced authors get around this by writing each chapter from a different character’s point of view. This works well for a really long story where not everything can be shown from one character’s POV. Even though Stones of Remembrance isn’t epic-length, if Julie Presley wrote each chapter from either Ally’s or Finn’s POV, this would have worked quite well. She didn’t. The POV switches within a chapter—often, within a scene—sometimes, within a sentence. This doesn’t work. At all. It’s called head-jumping, and it’s very confusing for the reader. Who’s doing what now?

Awkward wording is hard to put a finger on, but there’s a flow to well-written prose that I just didn’t feel here. Also, consistency is key. When Ally makes coffee for Finn, he shouldn’t be sipping decaf, then taking a drink of tea minutes later. Where did he get the tea? She made coffee. Proofreading is important, kids.

Let’s talk dialogue tags for a minute. Some people like the tried and true “said.” Some people think that’s boring, and opt for the more colourful “yelled,” “screeched,” “murmured,” etc. Whatever floats your boat, but please don’t use words that aren’t dialogue tags in place of dialogue tags. Ally and Finn “resign” and “blush” their lines of dialogue. How on earth do you “blush” a sentence? You can’t. Not in English. This could easily be fixed by making it into two separate sentences: “Hi,” she blushed becomes “Hi.” She blushed. Remember, dialogue tags are not always needed.

And the voice of God? While I do believe that He can communicate in many ways, and a voice in my head—or even an audible voice—is definitely within His abilities, I don’t think He does that very often. In this novel, He does it all the time, and I don’t see that as very realistic, especially since Finn doesn’t want to hear Him. God doesn’t force people to hear His voice.

The ending feels rushed and way too easy to me. It’s not exactly a spoiler to tell you that they get married, right? It is a romance novel, after all. While their wedding vows made me smile, the wedding itself came way too quickly for my tastes. Maybe it’s just me. After all, I knew my husband for a few years before we even started dating, and then we were engaged for a year and a half before we got married. Ally and Finn may have been childhood friends, but they haven’t seen each other for years at the beginning of this novel, and they’ve changed a lot in that time. They need more time to get to know each other again, and they don’t get that time. I don’t see this as a very good basis for a relationship.

I really wish I could recommend this book, but I just can’t. Unless you really don’t care about anything I just laid out, and you just want a feel-good read, this is not the book for you. It is a feel-good read, though; no doubt about that. I just wanted more.

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