**Disclaimer: This book was sent to me by the author. As always, all opinions are honest and my own.
As the disclaimer read, S.G. Holster gave me a free e-copy of her novel Thirty Seconds to Die. Until then I had yet to hear of this series. But I enjoy new book experiences and plunged right into the book.
Title: Thirty Seconds to Die
Author: S.G. Holster
Series: Thirty Seconds to Die #1
Successor: Terrible Lies (not yet released)
Published: January 8, 2013
Links: Amazon | Goodreads
Book description (courtesy of Amazon):
"For Lexi, life had always been - normal. But it only took one moment to change everything. Her life quickly becomes the opposite of normal when Ren Miller moves to the small community where she lives. Mysterious, handsome, and dangerously charming, Lexi discovers Ren is no stranger. They've met before - in another life.
When Ren pulls her into his bizarre world of past lives and secret societies, all bets are off. They become the targets of the Sentori, an ancient, secret society who believes it must protect the sanctity humankind by killing those like Lexi and Ren, those who are reborn.
In an effort to protect Ren from the Sentori, Lexi is forced to enlist the aid of the most unlikely of all allies. Her decision ignites a series of events that lead to a heartbreaking decision and a devastating conclusion.
If your life was all you had to give, wouldn't you give it to save the only person you ever loved?
THIRTY SECONDS TO DIE draws the reader deeply into a story of danger and flight, of love and hate, and of the extraordinary power of the spirit - human or otherwise."
a little introduction:
Through reading Thirty Seconds to Die, I was naturally curious about the author and looked up the basic info.
S. G. Holster is a debut author. This is her first novel, self-published.
A little on self-publication before I begin...
I won't lie in revealing my hesitation when it comes to self-published novels. When I read, I enjoy complex, yet clean, language. I stay away from the self-published area since there are bound to be inconsistencies and flaws when only one person works on 300 pages all by his or herself. However, the resources are there, and I will review this book on the same level as any other non-self-published novel since I figure that is how the author would appreciate her book to be viewed as.
And thus begins the review...
In a nutshell, reading Thirty Seconds to Die was like trying to chew on a really tough, overcooked piece of meat (vegetarians/vegans, excuse my metaphor and just visualize with me). The book is really hard to chew on, and even harder to swallow. And after you've chewed long enough, you'd honestly prefer to give up and spit it out rather than keep on trying. That is what reading this novel was like for me. I wanted so badly to simply give up, but I'm no quitter. I was anxious to see what Holster was trying to do with this novel, and that meant I had to finish it.
With novels that are replete with issues, such as this one, it's easier for me to look at them in terms of the bigger picture ideas and the smaller picture details.
When I began Thirty Seconds to Die, right off the bat it reminded me of Twilight (which I've only read about 50% of, but nonetheless, that beginning 50% shared quite a few resemblances). For Lexi, picture Bella except...no, I guess you can just picture Bella. Enter stage right: mysterious new guy who immediately seduces the female lead only with the single glance. Obsession ensues.
As I read further, the story went in the spiritual direction, differentiating between the body and the soul. (The Host, anyone?) However, this entire aspect of the novel was entirely confusing to me. I don't want to spoil anything, but I don't understand how souls can collectively move through generations. It's attempt to narrow such a free-flowing concept of the soul failed miserably for me.
The most interesting conceptual part of the story was the part about the Inuit myths of the Aurora Borealis. Unfortunately, that portion is fairly short-winded. The rest of the novels centers around meant-to-be-lovers rather than the culture.
I'll keep this short. Holster's characters are flat. After 364 pages I can say that I all I got from Lexi is that she is an average, Ren-obsessed girl who cries a lot. According to the text she is supposedly really smart, with a high GPA (Ivy-league potential status). But we, the readers, never get to see that. We only get the obsessive virgin, who cries a lot. Did I mention she cries a lot?
"I nodded my head fighting off tears"
"I paused wiping a tear"
"I turned my head away from him choking back tears"
"I felt tears welling up"
"tears flowed down my face"
"the tears started to stream down my face"
"I wiped the tears away"
"the tear soaked strands of hair from my face"
"I felt a tear escape"
And you get the picture.
Ren. He had this righteous attitude that bordered on unrealistic. I wanted something more than just a strong self-righteousness that stemmed from deep-seeded pain. Been there, read that. Not intriguing in the least.
There were quite a lot of characters too. All forgettable.
The writing is probably something I felt the most strongly about. I appreciate various types of writing- from Jane Austen's elegant complexity down to Rick Riordan's clear, conciseness. Holster's writing, however, aside from any typos/grammatical errors (so many comma splices!), is very rough. As I read, I wanted to plunge through the novel with a machete to cut out all the fat. Too much extraneous, long-winded sentences.
Because the writing was so heavily flawed, I found I couldn't enjoy the story even if I wanted to.
More about writing in the next section
It's the small things
When it comes to writing a great novel, the small things matter just as much. All of these "small" issues I had dealt with the writing.
Here are examples of a few sentences that distracted from the focus of the story:
Lexi: "Everything I was feeling felt so right."
This is where I want my machete. How about "Everything felt so right."
Character who's name I don't remember: "I've been wanting to meet you for a lot of years."
Say that line out loud to yourself and you'll see how awkward it is.
Lexi: "My scalp shrank as his ominous footsteps echoed through the large room."
I'm assuming her scalp didn't literally shrink. But then again, I don't know what a symbolic scalp-shrinking means either.
Lexi: "my heart beat unevenly"
So, is the left side beating harder than the right side? Is it beating faster? (but that's not really uneven)
Overusing certain words.
I don't like reading a novel and immediately being able to decipher what the author's favorite words/phrases are. Thirty Seconds to Die could probably be told in varying 20 sentences.
"he asked lifting my chin"
"He held my chin in his hands"
"I shivered at his touch as he lifted my chin"
"He lifted my chin to meet his kiss"
"He lifted my chin to kiss me"
"turned my chin to look at him"
"My mom sounded suspicious"
"My mom was growing suspicious"
"everyone looked suspicious to me"
"I scanned for anyone suspicious"
"everyone looked suspicious to me right now" (almost exact sentence as the previous)
"We'd still be on constant alert for anyone who looked suspicious"
"my eyes still scanned the surroundings for anyone who looked suspicious"
"I looked at him suspiciously" (yeah, adverb change doesn't make it any better)
"She looked very suspicious"
"I could tell Ren was suspicious"
I even did a search for the word "grin." And after doing the math, you see the word approximately once for every 10 pages. Yeah, that's a lot of damn grinning going on.
But I think you get my point. Yes, these are small issues, and maybe I'm being a bit nit-picky about the specific sentences, but writing is all about the language. If you have issues with the language in a novel, they're no longer small issues.
Great novels aren't just about great concepts. They are stories and the way they are told impact the story greatly. Holster's writing degraded her story significantly.
S.G. Holster's story takes an interesting cultural reference, combines it with some flat, unrelatable characters and unexciting writing. The novel itself would be significantly more compelling if the writing were more concise.