Tuesday, August 23, 2011

POSSESS, by Gretchen McNeil -- Kirkus review is available

Kirkus (the review people) have released their review of Gretchen's book, and you can read it here. I'm going to dissect what they think, giving running commentary. It'll be fun!
Debut author McNeil redefines the fallen-from-grace tradition in this paranormal tale of warring angels, demonic possessions and first loves.
See that? The opening sentence says she "redefined the...tradition," you can't beat that with a stick! That is a great way for a review to open. I'd love to be a redefiner! So far, excellent!
In the wake of her father’s murder, Bridget Liu hears the voices of departed souls and performs exorcisms with two of the priests from her parochial high school. Porcelain figurines thrash about and shatter under the influence of otherworldly entities in a doll shop, where Bridget begins to understand benevolent spirits are trying to reach her amid a cacophony of evil. The unlikely assistance of her 8-year-old brother sheds light on the muddled messages they transmit, and even tougher to believe is the ease with which Bridget scores a visit with her father’s killer, a schizophrenic psych-ward inmate to whom the specters direct her.
Ok, this is just filler, telling you the plot--which you probably already know: demons, possession, exorcism, all that. Good stuff, paranormally good stuff. Nothing worrisome here.
Their convoluted warnings about the ill intentions of a priest don’t leave much room for surprise, despite a planted red herring.
Ok, this is the first "ouchie" for me. Basically, saying, "Gretchen, you told us something and we picked up on it too early or too easily. Your attempt to fool us was not met with success." And to that I say...  So?

Not bad as a critique, IMHO.

But now, we come to the real hit they deliver...
Weak character development among supporting cast members such as Bridget’s school friends undermines any sense of loss when one turns up dead, though Bridget’s blossoming romance with a baseball player from another school flutters the heartstrings appropriately.
"Weak character development," is a stab in the heart of any writer. Gretchen, I'm terribly sorry for that! Ugh. I feel your pain. "...Undermines any sense of loss..." UGH! Come on! That's just sort of mean!

Now, read that last bit, "...Flutters the heartstrings appropriately." Sweet! They liked (well enough, and thankfully) the emotional depth displayed. That's the kind of thing that, I think, every author struggles with, and Gretchen pulled it off! Kudos!

But...not willing to let things end on a positive slant, they conclude with...
Readers for whom spooky encounters and brushes with violence suffice in the absence of rich characterization and fool-proof logistics will race through the pages.
Aww, come on! Another stab in the freakin' heart! But you know what? Screw 'em. They're going to be jaded, reviewers get like that after a while. It's all about what the reader thinks; and there's lots of positive press out there for POSSESS, so I (and you, and Gretchen) should not let this knock the wind out of the sails. I still plan on picking this up and reading it--and giving my own, open impression (I'll also get my wife to read it too...she's what you call "voracious" when it comes to reading paranormal stuff!)

Looking back, as a whole, on this review, the overall tone is still more positive than not. And that's the bottom line.


  1. You know, I would read this. Warring angels are cool. What kills me is that agents say this idea is old. Angels, demons, vampires, wereanimals...they're all getting old...but still being published and still selling. Go figure. :)

  2. If it's still selling, then agents and publishers are still acquiring them. Yes, the genre may be getting stale for some, but the buying public is all that matters. Their dollars run everything. Sure, everyone wants to see new ideas, new paradigms created--but we all can't be the ultimate source of creative goodness. Sometimes, a story will use old tropes, that will happen. Any agent that truly believes it's not worth their time or effort to look into a paranormal manuscript because it's "old" is doing themselves a great disservice and clearly hasn't stood before the impressive displays of CURRENTLY SELLING NOVELS at their local brick and mortar store.

  3. I'd read it! I think overall, it's a good review. Personally I don't care much about characterisation for secondary characters. Just call me shallow! :)

  4. Aren't most "Secondary characters" supposed to be place-filler, throwaway characters anyway--just there to advance the plot? I mean, we all can't go Tolkien on a character just so it has depth when the critter will only be mentioned in four lines....