A friend of mine told me about Jefferson Smith's "Immerse Or Die" site. If you haven't heard of it: Mr. Smith accepts submissions of indie novels. He reads them during his 40-minute treadmill workout. If he hits 3 "WTF moments" in 40 minutes or less, the book fails the test (dies). If he makes it all the way through his workout without switching to another title, the book has successfully engaged him. Either way, he posts a report that includes how long the book survived and what was wrong (or right) with it.
Along with these reports, Smith's site includes an article called "The 5 Most Common Writing Mistakes That Break Reader Immersion." I highly recommend it. It's a terrific read, factual and non-malicious. And it's where I heard about this novel, because Edith J. Pace posted a comment there.
Now, I have a soft spot for the name Edith, possibly because I'm a huge Edith Wharton fan. And I have a lot of sympathy for someone who admits without sounding whiny
that she's baffled as to why her books aren't selling.
So I decided to give one of her novels a Preview Review.
Ms. Pace is not a Goodreads member, so far as I can tell. She doesn't have an author page, anyway. My first recommendation to her, even before I read her work, would be to change that. Establish a presence on GR. Set up an author page. Do some giveaways. Write some reviews.
Also, only two of the books she has available on Amazon are listed on GR. She should definitely update her info here.
And the title of the book I'm reviewing seems to have a major typo on both the Amazon and the Goodreads listing. It's really just called In The Crosshairs,
but it shows up as In The Crosshairs II.
That makes it sound like a sequel, and people aren't as likely to pick those up. I could tell from the description that it was a standalone work, but not everyone is going to look that far.
Speaking of the description, let's take a look at that:A what-if tale provoking thoughts about resources available if all amenities were lost due to invasion, hurricane, flood, fire, rebellion and in this case, an invasive takeover by rebellious madmen determined to challenge all we hold dear and sacred.
Ouch. That first sentence is much too long. It's also impersonal and preachy. Readers are looking for something inviting. We want a story.
And we don't like being told what to do. I felt a little huffy when I was told what kind of thoughts this novel would provoke. I couldn't help thinking, I'll be the judge of that, thank you.
I'm no judge of cover art – I have no visual skills. This cover seems fine to me. But that title-typo and summary are off-putting, which means there are two barriers standing between this novel and a reader who has a lot
of books to choose from.
But I'm made of stern stuff, at least if I've only committed to trying to read the preview pages available. So I shall persevere. Let's open this book...Cathy Farrington smiled inside the scratchy wool scarf tied across the bottom half of her face.
Hey. That's pretty good. Short and to the point. Makes me want to keep going. Okay.Her own breath flowed in a pulsating warmth against her cheeks.
Could have done without the "own," but it's not fatal. Let's keep going. Where is she? Why is she smiling?Never, in all her girlhood imaginings, would she have dreamed she could sit like this, freezing, in a deer blind.
In one paragraph we've learned that Cathy is a grownup, probably at least middle-aged – we don't tend to think about our childhood imaginings until we're safely past them. We know where she is, and that she's surprised to be there. Pleasantly
surprised. Why is that?
A perfectly good start. I want to keep going. I can't copy and paste, so from here I'll just share significant stuff.The Texas sky was a pre-dawn ebony dome.
I like it.She felt as if she could see half of the world from the height of the wooden tower.
That's a decent sentence. It also introduces civilians like me to the fact that a deer blind is a tower. Cathy didn't like the dark. She never had. It made her feel claustrophobic. She could remember sleeping with a nightlight long into her teen years, until her parents insisted she was "too old for that nonsense." She had been obediently ashamed of her childish fear but had never gotten rid of it.
"Obediently ashamed" is very well done. And this is sympathetic without being mawkish. Still liking what I've seen so far.
Oh, this is sad. Her husband has "teased" her in the past by turning off all the lights and grabbing at her from a shadowy corner, laughing at her screams. He thought she was exaggerating and she never told him otherwise. She never told him how her heart pounded, how her throat constricted, how her eyes stretched, sightless in the void.
Eyes stretching is a little iffy, but I'm not feeling persnickety, the way I am when a writer pushes my patience right from the start with spelling errors and clumsy phrasing.It was then, with a sense of accomplishment that she found herself sitting alone in the black of a winter's night, 25 feet above the ground.
That comma after "then" shouldn't be there. This should be something like, "So it was with a sense of accomplishment..."Earlier the day before, they had driven the two hours to the lease and had cleaned the wasps' nests out of the blinds. Today was the opening day of the season and the early norther had attracted more hunters than usual.
I like the bit about the wasps' nest, but what the heck's a norther? Is that a typo, or something I haven't heard of?
(Remembers her handy-dandy laptop dictionary.)norther: noun. A strong cold north wind blowing in autumn and winter over Texas, Florida, and the Gulf of Mexico.
That's on me, then. Fair enough. Go on.when she had pressed him about the cost, he had become very irritated, telling her "hunting was a man's business."
He's such a charmer!
The author is using quotation marks a little too liberally. They don't belong here. It should either be:He became very irritated. "Hunting is a man's business," he'd huffed.
or just leave out the quote marks and keep the text the same.
Yeah, see – she's doing it again in the next paragraph:The fact that James insisted she come because the "important people were all taking their wives this time" did not influence her in the least.
Same thing. Either leave out the quote marks or rephrase it slightly so it's a direct quote. I'm still interested in the story, and the character is sympathetic to me, but this is weakening the writing.
Okay, now she's thinking about holiday preparations, and visits from their two older sons. Some nice characterization...
...oh, ouch. Big fact typos partnered with some clunky phrasing and I feel like I ran headfirst into a rail:James wouldn't discuss Paul, except to snort derisively, "the squalor of Africa's slums will cure him from sucking eggs!."
It's a good thing that wasn't in the first paragraph, or even the third, or I'd be outta here.
Okay, I like the stuff about her third son, Taylor – but this sentence is a little awkward:At sixteen, Taylor's uncompromising independence was James' most frustrating enigma.
I know what you mean, but I just don't think you're supposed to say it like that. The rest of the paragraph is great, but I'd tighten that up. Maybe his independence "never failed to baffle James" or something.
...okay, the rest of this chapter is good! Except I guess it's the prologue, because the next part is "Chapter One," and it starts with someone receiving a phone call from the president. Let's see if the author can handle this complete change in tone and material..."How did he take it?"
"Like the rest of us have taken this death sentence, Malcolm. With a resigned horror."
Hmm. Maybe lose that "a."
Uh-oh. She underlined a word instead of italicizing. Please don't do that.
And his eyes shouldn't glint "wetly." That's gross. Also redundant.
Worldwide killer disease...decent premise...maybe say "lethality" rather than "lethalness"...oh, and projectile vomiting is sudden by definition, no need to specify that...
I have no idea if this medical stuff would set off any alarms in a better-informed reader, but it seems fine to me...Ken became conscious of his heartbeat pounding against his eardrums. He wondered without any concern whatsoever, what his blood pressure was. With people dying right and left, spiking blood pressure levels didn't seem very important anymore.
I like this sentiment, but take that comma out after "whatsoever," or put one in after "wondered."
...hmm. I like the information in this paragraph where the captain is briefing everyone, but it's way too long. Put in some paragraph breaks.
...and I think the bit about the extremes to which the marauding hordes are resorting should be delivered crisply, rather than in a whisper. I honestly don't see how any of this could be a shock, especially to a military man. Good stuff, though.
Speaking of men – I think considering how few people are left at all, some of the top muckety-mucks at this important meeting would be women. Not a ton, but some.
...ooh, nice chapter ending! Didn't see that
coming! (And neither did Ken!)
Chapter two – looks like we're back to Cathy...
...and wow, is life way more of a bummer than it was when last we saw her in the deer blind.
This is good stuff – a complete social breakdown, after an initial trauma-bonding among survivors. But when you're talking about the gangs that now dominate the streets, try to steer clear of phrases like "the sound of their rumbling, roaring approach evoked sheer terror in the hearts of those hiding in their own homes." Rumbling, roaring = nice. Sheer terror evoked = overdone.
Did you hear that? That was the sound of me engrossed enough in reading the rest of the chapter that I didn't feel like typing anything. The prose isn't luminous; it's a workhorse. It does its job of carrying the story. I'm interested in what happens to Cathy, so I kept reading.
Next chapter (this is a long preview!): back to Ken, guy who was in a meeting with the President when last we saw him.
Oof:"Don't underestimate American ingenuity, Hal."
If the guy were supposed
to sound like a stuffed shirt, that would be okay to have him say. I'm not sure he is.
Oh. Oh, dear. She just had one character deliver a message from a ham radio operator about what's going on with this plague. And now the guy she reported this information to just picked up the sheet of paper she'd jotted everything down on and is repeating it. And
it's information we got in the previous chapter, from a different point of view.
Okay. We did
just get a little new info. But the author should have divvied it up so it didn't feel like an info-dump. That was a fumble, and it came at the very end of the preview.
As did the line, "There's got to be a way to stop this madness, Hal!" This is supposed to be taking place now, and people haven't talked like that since creepy Cold War science fiction movies.
Any musician will tell you to start and end strong – and if you have to pick one, pick a strong ending. That's all plenty of people will remember of your performance.
Still – I was interested enough to get to the end of these preview pages. That isn't always the case by a long shot.
I'd like to see what happens to Cathy, and if she ever finds her family. I will put this book on my shopping list. If I finish reading the whole thing, I'll give you a full report.Between two and three stars, so I'll round up to three.