A coming of age, dark, humorous, romantic thriller. A twenty-first century Cinderella. The protagonist, seventeen year old Mia Dent, is overweight, unhappy, dormant at school and a crutch for her alcoholic mother. Together they live on a dangerous West London estate. On route to school one morning Mia spots Flynn Mason; he is the catalyst to change. In Mia’s imagination she constructs a personality and a back story for Flynn. She fantasizes about them together. Following a second sighting she begins to purposely seek him out. In the background The Wolf is abducting young women and whilst Mia watches Flynn the watcher becomes the watched.
Let’s start by saying, I had high hopes for this book. After all, on Goodreads it had 36 reviews with an average of 4.25 stars (out of 5). To me, that said something.
Having read the first 100 pages of this story, I’m sorry to say that this book wasn’t for me. The premise of this book sounds amazing, but for me the execution is poorly done, and I have to wonder how people were able to overlook all the issues I found in this book.
Let me be very clear: this writer has a great story idea here. I can understand why people feel drawn to it. It’s the execution that needs work, and there lies the focus of this review. After all, the 36 raving reviews already highlight everything that’s awesome about this book. So, if you are sensitive about this book and you’re not ready to read, what I feel are, objective points from a reader and editor’s point of view, I suggest you stop reading now. I’m not writing this review to bash the story or the author – my only intention is to shine light on the things that I feel need improvement so this book can really shine. So… let’s dive into the (nitty gritty) details, shall we?
For a story that describes itself as “A coming of age, dark, humorous, romantic thriller. A twenty-first century Cinderella”, I have to say that I had a completely different expectation going in than what I actually got. A dark, yet humorous Cinderella-story about an overweight girl who’s crushing on someone, while being watched by an abductor? Heck yes! I expected drama, self-reflection and, in the end, a great love story. What the story offered was a psychological and emotional traumatized main character that was hard to relate to, characters and situations that didn’t make sense and an immature “romance” of the creepy kind (not at all a Cinderella story in my book).
The book dealt with a lot of subjects: a kidnapping, a murderer, bullies on the street, an infatuation (borderline stalker) and a teen who has a troubled relationship with her mother. It reminded me of one of the first stories I ever wrote when I was a teenager. Don’t get me wrong: I love drama. Still do, to this day. But I’ve also learned that it needs to make sense. With this book, it felt like the author tried to push several subjects into an already cramped up book. If this book was part of a series, it would’ve worked better, because really, it’s like the old saying: the devil is in the details. The more subjects you use in your story, the more page time you need to give them, in order to really pull your reader in and make it a believable story.
Characters and storyline
The first chapter worked well: I was intrigued to see what Mia had gone through. But as soon as we start to learn more about her life in the flashback chapters that followed, my interest faded.
All the drama that happened to Mia was so overwhelming that it made the whole story unbelievable to me. I kept thinking: ‘This should make sense, but this doesn’t happen to anyone. Ever.” The way Mia handled certain situations made me dislike her as a character and that feeling only grew stronger once Flynn came into view.
This story itself is definitely for mature audiences only. There are some graphic scenes of (verbal) abuse and rape, unsuitable for younger, or sensitive, readers and there’s no lack in curse words.
The way the story was executed, however, would be something only younger, or inexperienced readers would find acceptable because it depicted an unrealistic view of how things work in this world. As this isn’t fantasy, I expect a level of realism – a story that’s been dramatized but in theory is still possible to happen in real life. To get to that level, the author has to investigate on how things work.
I found quite a few issues in this book that made me question whether or not the author has given this book rounds of (professional) editing, especially developmental and line editing, before hitting that publish button.
At one point Mia gets a nosebleed and one of the adults present tells her to tilt her head back. Definitely bad advice, because that will cause blood to run into your throat which can then make you cough or choke, and if you swallow a lot of blood, you might vomit.
In another scene Mia had to undress fully, while she was just being detained. That didn’t make sense to me, but at first I thought perhaps it’s because they want to check if she’d been raped. That didn’t happen, which furthered my confusion. She wasn’t arrested, or convicted of anything, so why is she being detained? And then there’s the Red Flag with the camera in the corner. In that same room, Mia, a minor, was forced to undress in front of the camera. Not cool, and certainly not realistic.
Then the issue with Mia being asked for a DNA sample (weird, but okay). Mia asks what would happen if she refused. The forensic scientist tells her that he has the legal right to take one. That is simply not true. The police can require Mia to give a DNA sample only if they’ve arrested her for a criminal offence that carries a possible jail term – which she wasn’t because she was only detained – or if they intend to charge her with one of those offences. If she was just a suspect, and this is a way to get more evidence to arrest her, then the police can only ask Mia to give a sample voluntarily, and if she refuses – which she clearly did – they can only get a sample from her if they go to a judge and get a court order – called a “compulsion order”.
There were several of scenes that, in my opinion, hadn’t been investigated. Yes, these might seem like small things and I understand there might be (slight) differences in laws from one country to the next, but, as said before, the devil is in the details. As we don’t know where this story takes place, only when, the reader will fill in those blanks. If you want your book to be taken seriously, you need to focus on those details. It was these kind of scenes that made the story unbelievable to me, and it felt like they were only added to fuel the dramatization so we’d feel bad for Mia and what’s she’d gone through.
I’ve found several issues with story structure, but to not make this any longer than need be, I’ll only highlight one: Earlier I touched the subject of a minor being questioned without an adult present. As I read further into that particular chapter, called ‘The Grilling’, it was on the fifth page that we learn Flynn had been there the whole time. At that point we don’t know if he’s an adult, only that he was Mia’s one phone call when she arrived at the police station. A page later, we learn that another person is sitting there, one Jim Pascoe (Flynn’s solicitor friend), presumably the adult. The fact that we don’t know who’s present in that room as the interrogation starts is quite a fail in the writer’s world; you need to paint an accurate picture for the reader to avoid confusion (For five pages I thought Mia, as a minor, was being interrogated without a lawyer present). This is a lack of structure and this is a tell tale sign of a story being a first draft and/or not having read by (critical) beta readers, a critique partner and/or a professional editor.
Grammar / Story telling
There’s a lot that I could add to this subject, but I want to show you by posting this one scene from the book:
“Oh my God,” whispered Mia deciding Jay was more beautiful than she remembered. Cutting in between him and another passenger Mia boarded the train and lent into Jay. It was ecstasy; his spicy cologne and the heat from his body. While Mia rested her head against his chest Flynn wondered…was this schoolgirl resting her head against his chest? Mia had a thought! It was a bit sick. She could follow him. That would be totally weird. No; not that weird; it was a little Amelie; it wasn’t like she was stalking the boy. At Sloane Square Mia hopped off and recklessly ran at the escalator. Jesus thought Flynn; her body’s doing a reverse Mexican wave.
I didn’t edit anything about this scene. This was the way it was written. As a professional editor, I can spot a lot of issues straight away. The use of commas, or lack thereof; the use of semi colons; paragraph issues; the switching between POV; the confusing Jay/Flynn issue (as stated under Characters) and the way they described each other.
Point of view
This book didn’t have one clear Point of View. Some chapters were written from 1 POV, mainly Mia or The Wolf, others from multiple POV. Chapters that concerned multiple characters, changed POV between those characters within the same paragraph, which made the reading experience a bit difficult.
Mia Dent (17) is the main character. She comes across as depressed and quick to judge as portrayed in this scene:
“A twenty-something, Eastern European bloke with hawk eyes wanted access. He was handsome in an unhappy way. Mia decided he was a Syrian refugee. He carried unimaginable pain in his heart.”
Now, I understand that Mia is prone to creating stories around the people she meets, as she did also with Flynn whom she called Jay in the beginning. I love that idea, but it’s also very hard to execute because you need to be able to let your readers experience this from Mia’s point of view. To her, this is very normal, but most readers don’t think like her. I thought Jay was a completely different person, and I couldn’t understand why Mia was swooning over some guy named Jay when in fact the love story was to be revolved around Flynn and her.
Now, if this psychological aspect would’ve been given the main focus of this book, and we dive deeper into Mia’s head and the psychology behind it, I might’ve been on board. But unfortunately, the story contained many more focus points (as stated under The Writing), which hurt the execution of this interesting subject.
One of the first things we learn about Flynn Mason (20), is that he has a restraining order against Mia, but he comes as soon as she calls him from the police station. That was the first question mark I had about their relationship. The scene that explained this later in the book reminded me of a reversed Stockholm syndrome.
Then, when they actually have their first real talk, Mia continues to want to touch him, as though he’s not real and she wants to make sure she’s not dreaming. What struck me as bizarre was how Flynn responded to her. He knew she’d been following him, and at one point in that first meeting he noticed he cared for her. That didn’t make sense. She hadn’t done anything yet, that would make it logical for him to care for her.
This was a DNF for me. I’ve given it 100 pages – A more than fair share of pages to make a story latch on (especially, when you consider that most publishing houses only look at the first few pages). I skimmed the remainder of the book, just to see if the story would improve but nothing made me rethink my decision to DNF this book.
Does this make my review less valuable? Some people would say it does, but I would disagree. I think a lot can be said about a DNF. About the reader, for sure, but also about the way the book’s been written. There’s room for improvement.
And yes, this review is personal, of course it is. You might agree with what I wrote, or you might throw it away in anger. That’s your prerogative. However, I feel I’ve added quite a bit of objective notes that will make the story better, and that’s always been my focus on reviewing Indie books. I’m here to support and cheer for Indie Authors and their books, but I do expect a level of professionalism. After all, writing a book is one thing, publishing it is a business. If you ask money for your book, a reader may expect a good story.
With every book I feel you need to be able to decide whether or not you want to spend your precious time reading the complete story or move on to the next book. After all, there are so many books out there, time is too precious to waste on a book that just doesn’t click with you.
So, is this book enough for me to continue reading this author’s work?
Sadly, no. I wish I could say yes to every Indie author and their books. This author has an amazing story plot, great story ideas, all wrapped up in this one book, but it sadly doesn’t execute well. I feel this book is the mash up of 3 or 4 different books, and had they all been given their own book – a series if you will – and they’d edited with professional help, they would’ve been freakin’ amazing.
Yes, I am a critical reviewer, I know this, and I know this review might not sit well with some people. I’ve learned that most people won’t post a review unless it’s positive. I’m not like that. I wan’t to be fair to the story, and to the author. Most writers whose books I betaread or review tell me that my comments helped them improve, that I’m finding things they hadn’t seen or heard from others before, and this is solely the reason why I am sharing this review: I want to help. I believe every Indie author can become a professional author, but they’re only as good as the objective and straight-forward help they get from others and the professional people they work with before publishing the book.
This review was written in the most respectful and objective way possible, but yes, my disappointment that this book didn’t meet my expectations has seeped in between the words. Perhaps you can agree with my points, perhaps you can’t. Both are totally fine.
If you want to read this book, I’d advise you to go and use the Look Inside feature on Amazon. See if it appeals to you, because I found the first few chapters exemplary for how the rest of the book’s been written.
Petra is a published Indie author. She’s been writing all her life, but only dared to publish a book when she started writing the Somnia Series. She’s a motivational coach for (Fantasy) writers, offers all kinds of services on her own Dutch platform www.fantasyschrijfcoaching.nl, and uses her author’s website to help other writers achieve their writing goals. She loves using her platform to promote other Indie Authors who have the courage and determination to make their books worth your (reading) time.