Review: Through Violet Eyes

ThroughVioletEyes

Synopsis

In a world where the dead can testify against the living, someone is getting away with murder. Because to every generation are born a select few souls with violet-colored eyes, and the ability to channel the dead. Both rare and precious—and rigidly controlled by a society that craves their services—these Violets perform a number of different duties. The most fortunate increase the world’s cultural heritage by channeling the still-creative spirits of famous dead artists and musicians. The least fortunate aid the police and the law courts, catching criminals by interviewing the deceased victims of violent crime.

But now the Violets themselves have become the target of a brutal serial murderer—a murderer who had learned how to mask his or her identity even from the victims. Can the FBI, aided by a Violet so scared of death that she is afraid to live, uncover the criminal in time? Or must more of her race be dispatched to the realm that has haunted them all since childhood?

Review

Ah, quarantine, you have brought me to some new stories, and Through Violet Eyes was one of them.

It wasn’t a good story. Fair warning: This book was dreadful and I’m hoping to spare you the misery of reading it, so this review is brimming with spoilers. If you actually want to read Through Violet Eyes yourself and be surprised, turn back now!

Through Violet Eyes portrays itself as a mystery tinged with a sci-fi/fantasy element: In this universe, there are people whose eyes are – you guessed it! – violet, and these folks can communicate with the souls of the deceased. This has potential to be interesting if combined with strong characters, a decently planned plot, and solid, creative execution of the premise. Woodworth just doesn’t deliver.

For one thing, there’s little that’s remarkable about the main characters beyond just straight-up weirdness or lameness. Although each undergo some level of character growth, those developments are so predictably induced and so shallowly conveyed that the reader reaps little satisfaction and enjoys scant emotional connection with the characters in question. Natalie Lindstrom is a young Violet who works for the government like just about every other Violet does for at least some portion of their life. At the moment, the suits are using her amazing powers to channel dead witnesses for jury trials. Her frequent contact with the deceased has caused Natalie to lead a restrained, overly cautious (read: paranoid) life in the interest of postponing death as long as possible.  Dan Atwater is an FBI agent who basically committed manslaughter on a person of color but is now back on duty. So logically, after such a massive blunder, Dan is assigned to guard an extremely valuable lead, Natalie, in a serial killer case in which the victims are all people who can talk to the dead.

The progression of Dan and Natalie’s romance is completely calculable. Although Natalie begins the book pining over her childhood sweetheart, Evan, whom she has not spoken to in eight years, she quickly falls in love with Dan in a matter of weeks. Dan, too, feels the love in that same time span. And when I say “weeks”, I mean less than a month – or at least, that’s what I’m assuming because Woodworth is really unclear about the passage of time. Let’s ignore the time span, though, because time is sometimes inconsequential. The real issue is that, from the beginning, everyone can guess that Dan and Natalie are going to end up together, and there’s little to the story of how that happens. It’s the kind of love story you’d expect from mediocre fanfiction. Their romance consists of fluffy carnival rides, climbing stairs, and flying. (Like, a lot of flying. Seriously, Dan’s superiors have no idea how to coordinate their agents to save some fucking taxpayer money and fuel.)  Dan learns to love again after his divorce, and Natalie learns to live a little and not be terrified of the carousel. It’s a win-win for both of them.

Secondary characters are not bestowed with the attention they deserve either. Those who are important enough to warrant a number of dimensions greater than two are deprived. Too often, characters aren’t fleshed out. Most of the supporting characters are already dead or are on their way there. The rest are just there to help without being characters in their own right, often while serving as diversity tokens. Sid Preston, the obnoxious reporter who’s been stalking Dan and Natalie as he researches the case of the Violet killer and whose only contribution to the case is a license plate number, arguably receives as much or possibly even more attention than Serena. For playing such an important role in the story – saving Natalie’s life, assisting Dan with contacting Sondra, and ultimately killing Dan while possessed – she’s just there to help and be a friend to the deuteragonists. That’s all. Oh wait, and she’s black – a fact that Woodworth feels the need to point out every third sentence when she’s on the page. Don’t get me wrong: Serena’s blackness is not the issue, nor is acknowledgement of her blackness. The problem is that she is repeatedly described as “the black woman” or “the black man” (the latter in reference to her appearance in a disguise) at a frequency that borders on annoying while little else is established about her character. It’s one thing to illustrate a character; it’s entirely another to continuously reiterate their race while also saying nothing about their race. What else would readers need to know about her? Who she is as a person? How her blackness is a part of her identity? Her motives for doing things, for joining Simon’s group? Nah. What relevance do those things have to the white people in the story? Serena, a former CIA associate and now a member of a cryptic group known to some as a cult, has the capacity to be one of the most intriguing characters of the story, but Woodworth suppresses that potential by pigeonholing her into the dreaded “magical negro” trope.

Compounding Woodworth’s fumbling of Serena’s character with regards to race is Dan’s spotty past. Prior to the events of the story, Dan shot an unarmed person of color in a case of mistaken identity, believing he was the suspect that had killed a couple of other police officers that night. He and the remaining two officers were charged and subsequently acquitted of murder. Dan was then somehow reinstated as an officer of the law and released back into the wild with a badge and a firearm in tow. No anti-bias training, no anything – just a trial, an acquittal, and a divorce. Look, I understand that the issue of racially-charged police brutality wasn’t as prominent in the media back in 2004 (then again, I was seven, so maybe I just wasn’t paying attention), but the way Woodworth handles the matter seems… insensitive. The whole matter is resolved with a fuzzy, feel-good moment of forgiveness when Dan’s and Allen’s spirits collide and they each understand the other’s perspective of the fatal incident. I mean, yeah, on one hand, forgiveness and empathy are often good things. Yet, the way Woodworth settles this conflict sugarcoats the awfulness underlying the event: a (white) law enforcement officer is not held to higher ethical standards for his occupation, his remorse is used as a get-out-of-jail-free card, and the victim is a person of color who was basically assumed to be the bad guy because he “looked like the suspect”. Big yikes. Call me a nitpicker, but one heartfelt moment doesn’t really make up for all of that shit and the systemic racism seething just behind the curtain. At this point, it’s quite fair to say that Woodworth is ignorant on matters of race – and this is coming from a white girl.

Woodworth manages to pound out a mystery plotline – albeit a lackluster one – but overall, his writing style is rankling and often straight-up odd. No, I don’t mean “odd” in either the whimsically charming or the rivetingly bizarre senses, but rather in the “cringe” context. Let’s start with the sex. For one thing, there is a scene in which Dan, upon witnessing Natalie doing yoga in the morning, gets an erection. When she steps out of the room to take a shower, he actually fucking talks to his penis aloud. Guys, do you really do this? Is this a thing that I’m just not privy to? Because I’m trying to imagine talking to my nether regions and it’s just… weird. Also, I don’t know what planet Woodworth lives on, but here on Earth, pubic hair is rarely “downy.” Yet for all his explicit descriptions of breasts, pubic hair, and erections, Woodworth shies away from a detailed sex scene when our two heroes finally succumb to their attractions and begin their relationship with a night of lovemaking. Given how awkward Woodworth generally is on matters of sex, though, it’s probably best that he spared readers the details. Woodworth also has no idea how to write about gay characters. The only non-heterosexual is a dead fifty-something guy who’s described as “squirrelly-looking” and who inhabits Natalie’s body without her consent to attempt to rape Dan. This incident is used as a plot device to demonstrate how Violets can be inhabited against their will, particularly when sleeping, and to further Dan and Natalie’s blooming romance by letting Russell Travers spill the beans about Natalie’s sexual feelings for Dan. There are literally a million different ways that Woodworth could have accomplished this goal without painting the only homosexual character in the book as a perverted rapist. Additionally, Woodworth turns to disabilities for adjectives, which he uses pejoratively or flippantly. Natalie is described as repeating a mantra “like an autistic eulogist”. Dan, at one point, attempts to cry Natalie’s name in “a Down’s syndrome slur”. Is it really that difficult for Woodworth to   crack a thesaurus and pick some words that aren’t insulting? He totally could’ve gone with “a drunken slur” and just left out the “autistic eulogist” part. Those faux pas are totally avoidable, and yet Woodworth careens head-on into them with zero regrets.

The bottom line is that Through Violet Eyes simply is a bad book. A hackneyed plot, feeble characterization, and some seriously gauche handling of basic social issues bury anything positive about this story. Hopefully, this review has spared you all from wasting precious reading time on such an unworthy piece. Countless other books are calling your names!

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Cover image and synopsis are from BarnesandNoble.com.

Book Review: Alien Minds

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The Blurb

On my seventeenth birthday, I wake up in the hospital to find I just survived a sketchy but terrible accident. My parents stand by my bedside—both are beautiful, wealthy, and super-nice. They tell me that once I leave the hospital, I’ll attend the prestigious ECHO Academy, where I’ll churn out equations for the government along with my mega-smart peers.

So, I’m living the perfect life.

Then why does everything feel all wrong?

My parents, my house and even ECHO Academy…none of it fits. Plus, what’s up with Thorne, my brooding yet yummy classmate who keeps telling me I need to remember my true past, which seems to have included a lot of us kissing? That’s one thing I’d really like to remember, except for the fact that I’m pretty sure Thorne is hiding a ton of nasty secrets of his own, including the fact that he may not be from this world. But considering how my own past seems alien to me, it’s not like I can judge. Plus, Thorne has dimples. That’s a problem.

And worst of all, why does it feel so yucky to work on these calculations for the government? It’s all supposed to be part of ECHO, but my heart tells me that I’m helping something truly terrible come to pass. Thorne seems to think that kissing him again will release my real memories.

Maybe it’s time to pucker up.

Review

Read: March 2019

Rating: 1 star out of 5

*Thank you to Edelweiss+ for the free digital ARC.*

Honestly, I expected little from Christina Bauer’s Alien Minds – and this book lived up to my expectations. I plowed through Alien Minds quickly, simply because it was tedious and jejune and I wanted to be done with it. 

Alien Minds plays host to a plethora of flaws, least of which is the sloppy editing. Although the writing is legible, Bauer’s strong suit clearly does not lie in grammar and spelling conventions, nor does her editor’s strength lie in noticing and correcting them. Several words are missing letters, have their letters transposed, or contain letters that transform them into different words altogether. Take, for example, Meimi yammering into her “smart witch” (smart watch) and explaining her “thughts” (thoughts) to the reader, and Thorne’s name being spelled “Throne” at one point in the book. Errors like that, while obvious, are easy enough to parse out, but missing or jumbling words in sentences are more difficult to deal with. 

Bauer also has a penchant for doling out the wrong amount of detail for the wrong subjects. Lush imagery and meticulously crafted lore are well and good, but it seems to me that Bauer gives more thorough descriptions of trivialities like clothing and appearances than of more important aspects of her story, particularly background information. Yes, I know Meimi is suffering from amnesia. Yes, I understand that some things will be left out as a result. That said, Bauer frequently just dumps readers into a scene, blathers about the sartorial choices of nearby characters or what color the walls are, decides, “Fuck it!” and then careens onward through her haphazardly assembled plot. To make matters worse, she tends to gracelessly insert information, frequently at inappropriate points in a scene. These interruptions compound with negligible buildup to events, adversely affecting the flow of the story overall. (Side note: In a futuristic science fantasy novel, never use the word “modern” when describing architecture. No one knows what “modern” means in the context of two-and-a-half centuries in the future.)

The characters themselves have little appeal. Characterization is anemic from the start, and there’s little character development to remedy that. Meimi is purportedly an adroit scientist, but readers don’t really get to experience her problem-solving – they just see the results. She’s portrayed as a perfect girl, a state of being established less by actions and events and more by statements about Meimi. Furthermore, Meimi is the queen of patent observations. More than several times she notes something completely obvious in the stupidest way possible. Thorne, her extraterrestrial love interest, isn’t a huge improvement. The son of an alien emperor, Thorne’s character centers around being in love with Meimi and dealing with his daddy issues, but mostly around being in love with Meimi. In fact, Thorne’s callow, near-constant exultation of Meimi is a major irritant. Thorne also has a creepy habit of smelling Meimi. Not catching a whiff of her scent in passing and remarking that she smells nice, but legit purposefully sniffing her. And when you sleep next door to someone, even if you’re concerned about their safety, it’s definitely obsessive to sleep on the floor directly in front of the door, not to mention imprudent. What if Meimi tries to run from danger and she opens his door and trips over him? Just sayin’. Their instalove romance is dull and moves way too fast. In one scene, while Meimi is still suffering from amnesia, Thorne purchases undergarments for her. Slow the fuck down, dude, she only kinda remembers you. Thorne is also overprotective of Meimi and, much to my vexation, calls her “my girl” about one million times throughout the book; Meimi, meanwhile, repeatedly chooses the term “yummy” to describe Thorne. This romance is so contrived that it would be fitting for Thorne to forgo the rose bouquet and instead gift Meimi an entire fucking bushel of corn. 

So much of the story focuses on instalove that the supporting characters are glossed over, and the antagonists aren’t well-constructed either. Zoe and Chloe Fine are useful but only superficially entertaining; the Hollow’s backstory is glossed over. Vargas, a Merciless soldier charged with marking society outcasts for execution – often with the unwilling aid of his poor Pokemon, Marro – is little more than a death-hungry lech with muscles and a pea brain. Dr. Godwin is basically the alternate-dimension Dr. Doofenshmirtz: he’s genuinely evil but completely cheesy and absolutely not subtle.

When all is said and done, I wouldn’t read this book again, nor would I recommend it. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have read it in the first place if it hadn’t been free. It’s definitely not my cup of tea, but if Alien Minds is yours, by all means, please read it.

You can also read this review on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2737340812

Cover is from BarnesandNoble.com.