Review of “Hail Storm” by Brett Arquette

I finished “Hail Storm” by Brett Arquette. It was a techno-thriller that I obtained as the result of a solicitation on Goodreads by the author. The premise is that a revenge-seeking techno-genius has a fleet of ships and a number of highly-developed drones capable of just about anything. For some reason, his ship is staffed by video-game teenage outcasts. He is bent on taking revenge on terrorists on the top-ten list. I had a lot of issues with this book, but I do have to admit parts of it were very enjoyable and very well done, particularly the drone strike at the conclusion of the book. He did have an outstanding video as a promotional tool.

The edition I reviewed was copyright 2016 by Brette Arquette, Classroom Edition, First Printing (Rev 3).

Here is the review I posted on Amazon:

I received an unsolicited free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. I gave the book three stars because there were some aspects of the book I liked very much, and many aspects that I did not like. I must add here that techno-thrillers are a little bit out of my wheel-house, and I am an infrequent book reviewer. The positive aspects will be first.

The discussion and use of the drones in this book were very well done. I found the author’s use of drones plausible. The scenes involving drone strikes were well-written and compelling. I enjoyed the final drone strike near the end of the book. The author is well-versed in the use of drones. The use of North Korea is certainly current given recent events. The author provided a link to a promotional video. This was very well-done and is worth looking at.  The video can be accessed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wwGMKIeNZfA

The characters in the book are poorly developed. I found no character that I could identify with in any way, and the characters seemed cardboard. The first emotional involvement I had with the book came when the main character, Hail, was running a drone strike in North Korea. A North Korean guard comes close to seeing the drone, and Hail must face the moral dilemma of whether or not to kill him. That was a great example of “show, don’t tell,” and the book needed a lot more of that to make sure the reader is invested enough in the story to continue reading. Outside of the main two characters in the book, none of the minor characters were memorable.

The story is a little bit preposterous and difficult to believe as well. The story is interrupted with long technical discussions about the drones and nuclear power that could have been condensed. There are also needless details about the restaurants and the shopping mall on Hail’s container ship that added nothing to the story. I found the cute comments on naming military operations a bit tiresome. There is a lot (probably too much for me) backstory. I found the backstory on “The Five” was only presented after the unexplained term “The Five” was used at least twice without explanation.

In summary, I believe this book has possibilities and some readers will find it entertaining. The concluding drone strike is particularly well done. I hope the author is able to develop stronger characters and prune the needless technical details in future books. The author is imaginative, and is at home with technical details. I have a feeling future efforts will be stronger.

Advertisements

Book Reviews

I didn’t plan to write book reviews in this blog, but it just seemed to be a good idea to try a few. They are an important part of the literary market, including thrillers, that I just can’t ignore them. I try not to read any reviews before picking up a book to read.  I do like to form my own opinion. I have taken to reading them after I complete a book. I find them useful to reinforce anything I didn’t like about the book that the reviewer did notice, or perhaps to highlight an aspect of the book that I felt to be well done and the author agreed. I feel this makes me a sharper thriller reader. This should make its way into my writing as well.

As I struggle to write a review on a book I just finished, a few thoughts come to mind. The first is negativity. These books were published. That is a big deal, even self-publishing.  Someone must like them. Negative feedback can be very valuable to an aspiring author or even to a well-published author. It makes them better. It can also be crushing. Making the negativity public does not do a lot of good for very many people. It may save the time of a reader who avoids the book based on my review. Until I establish myself as a credible reviewer, however, I doubt if people would avoid a book simply because of a bad review by yours truly. Until I establish myself, a reader will not see a lot of negativity here. I do promise to cite any issues I did not like however, but I will also highlight parts I enjoyed or thought were particularly notable in some way. After all, this is simply my own subjective opinion based on my own personal background and tastes. I can’t really say a book is inherently “bad”, just that it didn’t work for me.

A second issue is which books do I review. My reviews will not all be current best sellers. I will look at some of these as I learn about the craft, but I will also look at older books and books I came across in some semi-random fashion. I pick up old books from a wide variety of book sales and check out any unusual bookstores I come across in my travels. If I find a new thriller in my local library, I will check it out. This is certainly not a methodical process, and I will try to disclose how I came upon the book I am reviewing.

A third issue is being careful about spoiling a book for a reader. Too much information can ruin a book. Talking about whether or not a villain gets killed in a book would certainly spoil the book for a reader. Even talking about whether or not a character is in a particular book might spoil an earlier book in a series. That makes summarizing the plot of a book a lot more complex than it appears on the surface. Hopefully, I won’t write any inadvertent spoilers.

If my reviews make a difference to some reader, I will be very surprised. I am doing this to force myself to read in a bit more critical manner so that I can improve my own writing. In addition, I will certainly enjoy a lot of books along the way. That can’t hurt.

Revising a First Draft

I have to admit it. I finished a first draft of my novel. That should be cause for celebration, but I finished it a while back and haven’t made a lot of progress on it since then. I kind of stopped cold. I read it and am not at all happy with it and feel I have to do an awful lot with it to get it to the stage where I feel it has a chance for other people to like it.

Why have I stopped? Each time I attend the Thrillerfest in NYC and listen to the pros, I feel my work is lacking in a lot of very fundamental areas: plot and characters to name a few. There are also many “minor” but probably still fatal flaws.

The plot is weak. There are some internal inconsistencies, and some parts that don’t really have to be in there. If I read a list of fatal plot flaws, I can usually check off most of them. I know I have to keep it moving faster, start “in media res” to get a reader interested in the first three pages, and raise the stakes for the protagonist a whole lot. I have many scenes that do not move fast and repeat themselves. These have to go. I start with backstory. That has to change. My stakes are nowhere on the level of some of the decent thrillers I have read recently. My stakes must be increased.

My characters are not diverse and tend to be one-dimensional.  Most  major characters are men. I need some strong woman characters, not to mention people representing other areas of diversity. I do have some Asians, so all diversity is not lost, but I need to do better here. My characters are not very likeable. My antagonist needs to be more evil. I need much better character development in my story. The characters are so one-dimensional that one reader complained that she got the characters mixed up–a great perception and one that needs to be addressed. Some characters may need to be eliminated or collapsed into each other to make the story less complex.

I took a pretty good break from writing to gather my thoughts a bit. I read a lot of thrillers both recent and some classics. I learned a lot and dove into some craft books. There were also some other reasons for not writing, both good and bad. I imagine all readers wrestle with self doubt and the need to deal with the things that life constantly throws at you.  I believe I am ready to start up again with the coming of the new year, but I have no delusions about the task ahead of me. I know I need a hearty dose of self-discipline, but I have to get back to the joy of writing and creating again.

I am not sure of exactly how I plan to move forward. I wrote the first draft from a pretty weak outline, and the story took itself to a very different place than I had originally intended. I spent a lot of time writing from the seat of my pants and managed to set word goals each day. That worked for me. The second draft is a different beast entirely, and I am not sure how to move forward. I believe I need to spend some time thinking about character development and get my plot a lot tighter. The characters sort of emerged from the first draft without a whole lot of thought. I believe that is my first step. My next step will be to tighten the plot and increase the stakes. The painful process of deleting scenes looms ahead of me.

As I conclude this blog entry, I believe I have to get on a positive note and celebrate what I have done so far.  I actually wrote a 120,000-word first draft of a novel. A lot of people don’t even get that far. I learned a whole lot in the process, I even made a few new friends. How bad is that? I’ll let you know how the second draft goes. It will be better. If anyone has any suggestions on how to move forward with the second draft of a first novel, please feel free to comment. I know it will not be easy.

Darkest Hour

We went to see “Darkest Hour” at a nearby theater. We found it very enjoyable. It was a very cerebral movie about Churchill’s conflict over whether or not to negotiate with Hitler prior to Britain’s entry into the war. There was not a lot of “action” in the traditional sense, but the conflicts experienced by Churchill, both internal and external came through loud and clear. Gary Oldman, the actor who played Churchill was outstanding, and channeled Churchill in an astounding fashion. The flawed nature of one of the greatest leaders in world history, was evident, but not overplayed.

While I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, I had three issues. The first involved the king, who initially did not support Churchill, but gave him his support toward the end of the movie. It was not clear to me how this conversion process took place, and it seemed too sudden. My second issue involved the scene on the London tube, at which Churchill cemented his final political position by interacting with some of the people of London. That seemed just too cute to me, but it was a very well-done scene. I was very curious if this scene was based on reality or of it was a bit of poetic license. In any case, it was a really good scene. My final issue with the movie was that although I felt Mr. Oldman’s renditions of Churchill’s speeches were academy-award level, I felt that Churchill’s speeches, heard on audio, in the context that most people in the world heard them, were more stirring. Mr. Oldman’s speeches were pretty close, however, and trying to equal one of the best speeches in world history is a formidable challenge.

All in all, this was great entertainment, with a healthy dose of learning thrown into the mix. I loved it.