On September 10, 2016, after the awards banquet for the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Conference, I bought a pile of books from some of the local authors hosting tables at the book sale that night.
Today, I officially finished all but *one* of the books in this pile. The task felt like such an accomplishment that I decided to share a list of my book reviews, so my Thought Candy readers can see how I fared with my haul.
Because I need to be honest here: reading self-published books and/or books published by small presses is often torture. And other than the three books on the top of my pile (Transformation, Restoration, and Revelation, by Carol Berg, which all had a traditional publisher), the rest of these titles were either self-published or released by small presses — what people call “indie books.”
Indie books tend to overwhelmingly fall into my “strongly dislike” category. I’m a literary omnivore, and I often read across genres, but I am a cutting and judgmental reader — which is the polite way of saying that I am an asshole when I read. I can put up with grammar errors, because those exist in every book — but cliche-ridden books with clunky prose, plot holes, factual errors, and poorly drawn characters flip on my Satan switch. And once reader-me lands in Satan mode, I want to smash things and curse and watch the world burn. My inner toddler runs amok, and I become Lucifer’s female twin.
Because few things are as torturous as reading a book I strongly dislike.
The nice thing about my brain is that I can also be really generous with books. I can overcome bad first impressions, and keep reading a book until it “gets good” and becomes enjoyable. I can forgive a lot of plot holes and dull storytelling, as long as the writing is strong and I’ve bonded with the characters. Bad covers don’t scare me away. Neither do bad titles or bad book descriptions. I can forgive a book with sloppy font choices or lazy proofreading, as long as the writing is engaging. I am a literary glutton for words, even if I am rather demonic.
So here are the links to my Goodreads reviews for each of these books, listed in the order in which the book appears in my photograph above. (The highest ranking on Goodreads is five stars.)
1. Transformation, by Carol Berg. Five stars. I LOVED this book!!
2. Restoration, by Carol Berg. This is the final book in the Transformation trilogy. The second book in the trilogy (Revelation) was not nearly as good as the first one, so I decided I will read Restoration in late summer or fall. Based on what my friend Ronni told me after she finished Restoration, I predict that I will give this book three stars.
3. Revelation, by Carol Berg. Three stars. This is the second book in the Transformation trilogy.
4. Legs: A Short Story, by Travis Heermann. Three stars. Reviewed on Amazon only, because there was no listing for this on Goodreads.
5. The Never Prayer, by Aaron Michael Ritchey. Three stars.
6. Antler Dust, by Mark Stevens. Three stars.
7. Beneath Wandering Stars, by Ashlee Cowles. Three stars.
8. The Dragon Waking, by Grayson Towler. Four stars.
9. Christmas Spirit, by Julie Cameron. Three stars.
10. The Rampart Guards, by Wendy Terrien. Three stars.
For any of my Thought Candy readers who love my third novel, Mark of the Pterren, I highly recommend the first book on this list — Transformation, by Carol Berg. The story reminded me of Terrence Davin and Rafael Rennon. Transformation is a fantasy with a medieval setting, a tale of two men — a prince and a slave — who come to love each other like brothers. One of those men is a winged warrior, though his wings appear later on in the story.
For anyone curious about books that feature really horrible ableist tropes, then please note that Legs: A Short Story, Beneath Wandering Stars, and Christmas Spirit all have particularly egregious ableist story lines, in which the disabled characters are only a plot device and a demeaning stereotype. To say that a character is a plot device is not a good thing — it means that the writer put a disabled character into a story for the sole reason of forwarding the plot for the able-bodied characters. A plot device disabled character has no agency — no authentic feelings or goals. These characters only exist in the story because the writer needed something to happen for the able-bodied characters, and using a person with a disability was a means to an end.
You might wonder why I still gave these novels three stars, if the stories were so horribly ableist. My answer is a bit complicated. First, I must say that I forgive indie authors more than I forgive traditionally published authors. Even though it’s a myth that all publishing houses hire editors for the novels they publish, and many traditionally published authors never receive content editing or even copyediting for their work, I still hold traditionally published titles to a higher standard. It’s unfair, I know. But that’s the truth.
Second, ableism is not something we talk about, or teach writing classes about, in American culture. I made terrible ableist mistakes in my first novel, The Etiquette of Wolves, in my portrayal of a character who uses a wheelchair. That character only appears in two chapters, near the end of the book, but my portrayal of that disabled character was no less egregious than what these three authors did in their books. Those writers only made the same mistakes I did, and I messed up not because I had a desire to be malicious — my errors were due to my ignorance. I have the hardest time forgiving myself for what I have done. It’s much easier to forgive these other books.
Third, any piece of art can fail in one way, but succeed in other ways. I cannot reduce my opinion of a book to one subject alone. Even big mistakes in a book do not necessarily mean that the entire book is a mistake.
Those are my three biggest reasons to explain why I can still give a book full of ableist tropes a three-star review. I wish I could wave a magic wand and vanish All The Ableism from All The Books. But alas. I have no magic wand.
We can never fix anything unless we first know something is broken. And no one can become a better writer unless we can see what is wrong. Ableism is not something many people recognize or see as a problem — not in our everyday lives, and certainly not in our stories. It’s such an insidious evil because ableism hides in plain sight. Or, even worse — ableism masquerades as The Good, or as Truth, or as The Way Things Should Be.
I’ve finally started to see ableism in life, and in literature — but I still have a long way to go. Taking my time reading this pile of indie books was actually an important part of my journey, an activity I’m really glad I had a chance to engage in. No story I write will ever be perfect. I will never be perfect. But I would like to keep getting better, with the words I write, and with my time on this earth.