Indie Review: What We Saw

 I have a bad habit when it comes to reading books: I read ahead.

I’m not one of those people who read the last page first, but I do tend to skip paragraphs sometimes, or look to the bottom of the page when I get to the end of a chapter so I can see the cliffhanger. I always go back and read what I glossed over, but sometimes I just can’t help myself. And it’s not a common thing: it only happens when I can’t wait to find out what’s going to happen next. I take it as an indication that I’m so into the book that I want to read it faster than I’m capable of doing.

This was the case with Ryan Casey’s new release–and first novel–What We Saw.

I’ve mentioned Casey on the blog before, with a review of his short story collection, Something in the Cellar. What We Saw is in the same vein–a nice suspense story with a few twists. Casey is really damn good at writing tension, and this book is chock full of it. When I got to the end of Chapter 7–even though I’d suspected what would happen–I had to put the book down for a minute to catch my breath. After that, it never lets up–I read more than half the book in one sitting. This is the kind of novel that readers search for: it grabs hold and doesn’t let go until that final page–and even then, it keeps you thinking.

What We Saw concerns two young boys, Liam and Adam, cousins on summer break who are (for differing reasons) living with their grandparents. Liam’s parents make a small appearance and there’s much talk (which I won’t spoil) about Adam’s family. The grandparents are colourful characters as well, and there’s another child, Emily, who serves as a call to action and a love interest–but really, it’s the boys’ story. They want to be detectives, spending their time solving mysteries around the campground–and their aspirations get them thrown head first into a mystery that’s much much bigger than them.

To go into too much detail would spoil the plot. Suffice it to say there’s a missing girl (not Emily), hints at violence around the campground, and some untimely deaths. There’s no lack of suspects, either–the campground seems filled with people who are up to some sort of mischief, and they boys have a lot to keep them on their toes. There’s a lot that would make this a great mystery book, but it’s much more than that.

The great thing about this book is that it’s written from a ten year old’s point of view. This creates a special kind of tension, where the narrator knows more is going on than meets the eye, but can’t quite put his finger on it because he’s just too young to understand. He’s neck deep in “grown up stuff,” and though he wants to help and understand, he’s kept at arm’s length by virtue of his age. This isn’t for a lack of trying–it’s just because he’s never had to deal with these kinds of things before. In that, What We Saw is a terrific example of a coming of age novel, though that’s not the focus.

What all of this does is help keep the mystery fresh. Casey is able to add details that, if the protagonist were an adult, would make the mystery easy to solve–and if you go back through the book reading it through the eyes of an older person, those clues were there all along. But because you’re reading the book through the eyes of someone so young, you feel like you’re reaching after something that’s on the tip of your tongue. You know what it probably means, but you’re just not sure…and it’s not until the end of the book that Liam is able to string it all together.

I don’t know if this was intentional or not, but it seems to be a very effective way of stringing the tension along. The tension is real not only because the characters don’t know what going to happen next, but because they don’t understand why people would do such things; they’ve still got a foot in their childhood, and their naivety is colouring their approach to the situation. Better still, all the adult characters have adult motivations. The children can only guess at them, and this adds a lot of uncertainly to their deductions. They quickly realize that they’re over their heads, but not before it’s too late to walk away. This raises the stakes considerably: it’s like you’re blindfolded at the top of the first hill on a roller coaster and have no option but to fall to the bottom, hoping you don’t fall off the rails.

But besides the characters and the mystery, the thing I get most from this book is how genuine it is. The characters act like children; the adults act like adults; there was nothing in the book that asked me to suspend my disbelief. The characters are emotionally involved, and the stakes are very real. This sounds like a list of things that should be in every novel, but browning through the stacks at any bookstore will show you how many books lack this kind of attention. Casey has tied everything into a nice package, and the result is a well rounded story that feels very real.

Which, of course, makes all the tension all that more powerful.

There’s a lot to like about What We Saw, and it’s an impressive first novel for Casey. This is a writer to keep an eye on–you can expect great things down the line.

You can find Ryan Casey at his blog and on Twitter. Pick up What We Saw on Amazon for Kindle and in Paperback, and at Barnes & Noble in paperback. Don’t miss out on this book if you don’t have a Kindle–Amazon has Kindle Apps that run on your PC, Android and Windows tablets, iPhones/iPads, and even from the cloud on their website! And don’t forget to check out his other releases Silhouette and Something in the Cellar here.

 

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Quick Update

Just want to write a quick note saying that I’ve decided to take the plunge: The Ancestor and Other Stories is now available only through Amazon as part of their KDP Select program!

I’ve been toying with this idea for a while now, and although there are pros and cons on both sides of the board, I’ve decided that the potential for exposure will greatly outweigh the lack of other stores to buy it in. After all, I’ve been making sales on Amazon, but nothing has gone through on Kobo yet.

The biggest challenge I’m facing as a first time self published author is getting my name out there. Sure, I could tweet my books and beg people to buy it all I want–but that’s not going to get me anything but blacklisted. I need honest readers to pick it up, leave reviews, or tell their friends. And KDP Select can help with that.

The most appealing thing, I think, is the five promotional days. Ryan Casey just had a fabulous success over the weekend with his promotion, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me think twice about trying it myself. Of course, he’s already out there; I’m still testing the waters, so it may not be as effective for me.

But it’s better than just staring at all the folks in the swimming pool, waiting for someone to invite me in. 🙂

Slow and Steady: ROW80

This week’s been a bit different, you will have noticed. Last weekend I spent a lot of time doing my cover image for The Ancestor and Other Stories, and planned to do a blog post Monday about the process. That got split into two, which you can find here and here. After that post, I wanted to concentrate on getting my book released–my personal deadline was October 23–so I didn’t have much time for a post on Wednesday, opting for a simple update and inside look at my next project. No post Friday.

This morning is the Sunday check in for ROW80, so that’s what I’m here for. An odd schedule this week, but there you are. Hopefully back to normal next week.

So, an update: I had the day off on Friday, so I had some solid time to devote to writing. Before 10:00 AM, I’d plowed through 3000 words, and finished the first four stories of the sixteen planed for this phase of the project. In a rough draft, mind you, but still.

I also worked out a kink in the story that was bothering me, and wrote myself out of that corner I mentioned last time (I think). The characters are also coming out a bit more, and I’m learning about their habits and personalities. (My characters tend to start as an idea or even an archetype, and develop as I write into fully fleshed beings). I’m learning who the major players are–not necessarily the ones I’d thought, which means a bit of plot restructuring!–and this will make things easier going forward.

A Quick Note

This weekend, fellow writer/blogger Ryan Casey did a promotion through KDP Select for his book Something in the Cellar. There was a great response, pushing the book to #1 of the lists in the short story category. If you haven’t picked it up yet, you can do so here. It’s a great book, and I’d certainly recommend it.

The reason I mention it is because I’ve been thinking a lot about KDP Select over the last week–and specifically, about an article by Mark Coker of Smashwords about Amazon’s treatment of indie writers. Check out his article Amazon is Playing Indie Authors Like Pawns. It’s a very enlightening article, if not for the content itself rather than the comments. Coker is a direct competitor to Amazon, and although he says he supports the Kindle store, he seems to put KDP Select in a corner. The comments get even more enlightening: they mostly centre around the Shamshwords “Meatgrinder,” and how difficult it is to get a quality product out of it. Coker’s response is generally that people aren’t using it right if they’re having trouble, but I won’t get into that…

My point is that there are two very different distribution options highlighted here. KDP Select gives you great visibility and promotion on the biggest eBook retailer out there, but keep you tied to it exclusively. Smashwords gets you out to numerous retailers, providing a wider visibility, but has an arduous application/formatting process that some writers claim mangles their work. Smashwords also requires you to put their name on your copyright page–ostensibly they say it’s only as a distributor, but many readers would easily mistake that page as meaning Smashwords is the publisher, not the author.

Personally, I’ve kept away from Smashwords, mostly because of Meatgrinder. I’ve stayed away from Amazon because of the exclusivity requirement. But, as a writer trying to build a platform and get some visibility for my work, I know something needs to be done besides the regular Amazon store and the Kobo store.

Anyway, Ryan’s success with KDP Select (which isn’t restricted to this past weekend’s promotion,) is making me seriously consider pulling The Ancestor and Other Stories from Kobo, and offering it through KDP Select. I’m also considering giving Smashwords a shot with The Astrologers–because it’s the only way to get a $0.00 price point into the Amazon store without a lot of price-matching mumbo-jumbo.

I haven’t made up my mind yet, but lok for some new adventures around the corner!