I recently saw a tweet that BestChickLit.com was looking for reviewers for a blog tour and signed up to read Sunspots by Karen S Bell, and I don’t really know how to begin to sum up my opinion of the book, other than to say I was staggered by how bad it was.
There were elements of the plot which might have made for a good story- character exploring past lives, character realising they have been betrayed by their dead lover, women surviving abusive relationships… but the novel was in need of such a brutal edit that this just made me conclude that the author couldn’t decide what story she was writing, and this left me feeling confused, often bemused and at one point outraged.
Outraged is a strong term, so I will deal with that first. I found the authors depiction of gender and sexuality quite alienating. At several points at the start of the novel the character professes her expectation that she will find a rich man to settle down with. Each to their own, and I will save my value judgements about this, but it didn’t make me warm to the character. The moment I felt truly shocked was when the main character is having dinner with her potential love interest and decides that he must be gay:
“All he wanted was a dinner companion- this was really about fine cuisine. As for the intense longing in his eyes, that probably had more to do with lust for my clothing, makeup, and hairstyle choices. Hello stupid! Where was your gaydar?”
Hello stupid, you do realise that being gay and cross-dressing are two different things? And that you are potentially offending members of both communities with that sweeping misunderstanding? (My boyfriend says saying hello stupid there sounds mean, I am echoing it for effect, but I do think it’s a really ignorant thing to suggest). She then goes on to say “He was…making me seem like some radical feminist- an oversexed Samantha type.” I think I died a little at that point.
The author repeats the offend-your-potential-audience-while-adding-nothing-to-plot-or-characterization trick by including a character with a speech impediment in a later chapter. As far as I can see this is so she can work in a cheap joke at the expense of people with speech impediments (unless she wants us to think her main character is a total bitch who it’s impossible to sympathise with-in which case, bingo!) This also makes the text nigh on impossible to read so that the author has resorted to including glosses in the text in square brackets in case the reader can’t understand what she’s written eg:
“My mother wath an alcohowic but not in the normaw [normal] thenthe [sense]”.
No editor worth their salt would ever have let the above get past them.
The novel is about 100 pages longer than it needs to be due to an overzealous use of description which knocked my ability to suspend any disbelief as the descriptions were so unintentionally hilarious (a scintillating salsa, anyone?) or downright boring (a goodly proportion of the book is taken up with tedious descriptions of precise holiday itineraries or inventories of household contents, spiced up with a few extra adjectives and narrative). The worst thing though was that the author references a film in almost every other paragraph to save her the effort of creating a scene herself. I guess she would argue that this is because her main character used to be an actress. Maybe, if it had been done once or twice, but in reality it was just lazy. I won’t give away the ending of the novel, but the fact that it’s a reference to and quotation from the film Pretty Woman instead of creating something new and original says it all.
I suppose that I should be glad that the references to films were maintained consistently throughout though, because it’s the only constant in the characterisation of the main character. No, wait, she’s pretty irritating all the way throughout. That was consistent too.
There were so many other things wrong with this book, from bad sex which added nothing to the story (the main character has sex with an unnecessary side character, “when he was done, he jumped up, zipped up his pants and realized his mistake. He must have felt he’d had sex with a corpse.” Nice) and a weirdly anachronistic feel (you can’t place this book in time, the main character uses skype to chat to people but has to rely on her answer machine to see if her love interest has called, even though she has a mobile). There was a weird summary of Anna Karenina which was totally at odds with the novel I know, “A clinging insecure women who gave everything up for her count- her own son even- and then he tossed her away in boredom and annoyance”. No, I’m pretty sure that’s not what happened.
I am frankly staggered by the number of 5 star reviews this has on Amazon and Goodreads. I notice one is from the author, but it really makes me wonder if the other readers who left gushing comments actually read the book. I can honestly say that if I hadn’t been reading this to review it I wouldn’t have made it past the second chapter.
I’m looking forward to seeing what my fellow reviewers think of this book. You can read more about the blog tour and author below in this press release from BestChickLit.com
Sunspots by Karen S. Bell
Sunspots follows the healing journey of a young woman thrown into the horror of losing a spouse. It is a love story of loss and redemption and the ghosts that haunt our lives and our houses. Skirting the genres of magical realism and romance, Sunspots, explores the existence of the afterlife and the paranormal. The story takes the reader on a path of high emotion as the narrator, Aurora, uncovers her husband Jake’s secret life and her own internal conflicts as she matures to self-awareness.
The novel’s tone vacillates from irreverent humor to solemnity as Aurora relates her previous life with Jake and her present challenges. The title refers to the solar maximum which became the backdrop for Aurora’s conception when her hippy parents went to Canada to observe the Aurora Borealis. In name and in spirit, Aurora is connected to the observable and unobservable energy around us. With the help of friends, family, and the ghost of Viola Parker (her home’s original owner), Aurora accepts her fate and the secrets revealed about Jake’s true character. She realizes that in this life she will finally break the cycle of pain caused by her love for this man, Jake Stein, through the centuries.
Walking with Elephants was my debut novel in 2010, although I am not new to writing. I was a theater critic and celebrity interviewer for a weekly tabloid in Jacksonville, Fl and I earned a Master’s in Mass Communication from Oklahoma State University. For 15 years I worked in Corporate America as a technical editor/editor/writer. I experienced first hand the politics and intrigue that goes with that territory and the balancing act that comes with being a working mother. I salute all those mothers who are the glue that holds their families together while pursuing the nine to five brass ring. That experience was the inspiration for Walking with Elephants.
With my second novel, Sunspots, I continue to be in awe of the magical and wondrous phenomenon called life. As an observer and obvious participant in feminine values and approach to our human challenges, I bring this perspective to my work. Fascinated by the mysteries of the unseen forces that perhaps play a role in guiding our choices, I search for answers in the mundane as well as in the cosmic forces that surround us.
I am working on my third novel and live in Ponte Vedra, Fl. with my husband and our two furry kids.