Most of the time, I read my reviews, but I missed one because I'm busy writing the rest of the Chest of Souls series.
This Amazon review was brought to my attention by two of my pre-readers. Both were concerned, but only one suggested I address it.
Amazon used to have a way to leave comments on another person's comment. I guess I either missed that memo about their change, or I simply don't know how to do it.
So, here is what I would have written to her IF I could have simply answered her on Amazon:
Thank you for reading all nine novels. If anyone that reads this would like to know my side of the story, follow this link (which would lead them here, to this blog.)
Here, they would all read the following.
I once entered a book into a writers contest. Although that book has done extremely well for me (278 reviews of which 80%+ are 4-star and higher), a judge claimed that she couldn't accept (or find believable), how fast the couple in the book falls in love.
My question to anyone that is reading: did that make her review right?
My answer: It was her opinion. To her, yes, it was not only valid, but it was also completely spot on and everyone should feel the same way.
Here is what I know: we are the sum of our reaction to our life experiences. If someone has a negative experience in their background, I'm not in charge of writing 'carefully' so it doesn't trigger them.
I understand that I can't and won't please everyone. Any writer that is holding out for universal approval will be vastly disappointed.
I rarely address reviews because I'd rather be writing. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and I won't lose sleep over someone that doesn't like my work. A recent example from a person that downloaded the first (free) book to the series: I hate cliffhangers. What that person doesn't understand is how ratings work - unless they are a troll, which has accounted for some. Note: TKA is not a troll.
I welcome both kinds of reviews - good and bad. Thankfully, through God's grace, I have received a lot more good than bad. I have hundreds of reviews and 90% are rated 4 and higher.
You can stop reading now, or, you can read her review and my responses to her critique below.
Her review is in black. My response is in red.
T.K.A. (name of the person who posted review)
2.0 out of 5 stars
TKA's rating. Thankfully, she leaves her explanation, which helped me understand her better.
Violent, dark, not my definition of clean, not for everybody
This is what she thinks everyone should know and what she wished she had known before reading.
TKA: Reviewed in the United States on March 15, 2021
This took place last month. It was her first review ever.
How do I know this?
I can click on the reviewer's name and see what else they've reviewed.
You can see what a person likes/dislikes. It was empty. This means she was emotionally involved enough, she felt she HAD to respond.
TKA: This review is for the entire Chest of Souls series, as I read all nine books.
This is where I realized I needed to contact Amazon. They packaged what they thought was a completely finished series into one package.
Chest of Souls begins with five prequels. I would recommend reading these first if you like chronological order and to understand the final six books (two have already been released).
Note: I contacted Amazon. I noted that they've also done the same thing with another of my series (Stoddard Sisters). Hopefully, this will be changed soon. Thank you, TKA! It is because of your review I've done this.
UPDATE 22 April 2021: have heard nothing back from Amazon other than they are 'checking into it' and will get back to me 'soon.' I had to send them screenshots of what I was talking about. They agreed it was valid. Evidently, they have no idea what to do about it - yet.
TKA: I was told it was a "clean" read that "everyone" would enjoy. My experience with it was therefore extremely disappointing.
I assume that she read other reviews and that is who 'told' her.
Maybe most people, like myself, consider 'clean' to be without sex. Thankfully, in the next paragraph, she defines HER idea of clean:
TKA: As far as the "clean" aspect, I don't wish to go into details, but suffice to say the plot deals with elements that would definitely get this series an R rating if it were made into films.
For her, 'clean' is violence-free or, at least, not as violent as what I have written. There is violence in this entire series, but it is not gratuitous. There is always a reason for the violence - mostly, self-preservation while the characters try to fight their way to freedom.
This series has been compared to Lord of the Rings by other readers. It deserves the same rating as the theatre version of LOR or Hunger Games.
Author behind-the-scenes insight: I based this series on the fall of Sodom and Gomorrah in the Old Testament.
The prequels and then the first nine books of this series is everything that leads up to and then about the destruction of the city-state of Sogo, billed as the most wicked city in the world. I deliberately made it as wicked as I could. To do so, I studied scriptures. Surprised? As my aunt once said, 'There isn't anything new since the Bible was written.'
TKA: Not something I would recommend to any child or teenager, and even as an adult I felt horrified and sickened. I can't say much more without feeling really triggered, so let's move on.
I rate the books 13+. On the other hand, I have a friend that read these books to her boys when they were pre-teens. One became a Marine. They still enjoy the books.
TKA: The series is also brutally violent and dark.
At times, it is brutally violent. So was Sodom and Gomorrah, so was the Roman Colesium, so is war.
Dark? That's her opinion.
My basic theme is always good vs evil in COS (Chest of Souls) and that, despite anything evil throws at you, it can be overcome.
Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
My characters do something - sometimes the unthinkable, sometimes they make mistakes that cause others pain, some end up paying the ultimate price. This series shows what a group can do together when they are united in purpose to take action against the impossible.
TKA: The author pulls no punches and seems to take a sadistic delight in tormenting her characters, only barely sparing them as is necessary for plot purposes.
As an author, I can't afford to pull punches. I do paint my characters into corners. Like most authors, I do it on purpose. I'm not a sadist. It. Is. My. Job. to keep you reading.
TKA: As someone with lived experience of domestic abuse, I was especially put off by the fact that Talon's father is emotionally and physically abusive of him. It made reading about him extremely unpleasant, even if he was technically a protagonist. There were reasons given in the plot for his actions and attitude toward his son, but it didn't really mitigate the fact that he was a horrible father who brought up really bad memories for me.
This, I suspect, is the bullseye as to why TKA gave this book a 2-star rating. I'm surprised she chose to continue reading after the first chapter in book one.
I did not write Tasut to be likable or a good father. The character was given a task by diety (train the Champion) and he is totally committed to doing anything/everything he is asked by Father of All (who is the Heavenly Father, God, diety, of this series).
TKA: I also found the characters lackluster and sometimes downright irritating. Talon and Brenna, the two main characters, I absolutely were not rooting for because they were so obnoxious.
Every reader has an opinion.
TKA: Brenna's superpower is literally that she is the most beautiful woman in the world and every man is instantly attracted to her. She is also extremely jealous, selfish, and superficial, and I quickly tired of her getting into trouble with her antics.
Brenna's superpower is the ability to pretty much do anything. Period. It is why she needs Talon, who is her conscience.
Also, Brenna is very superficial. I wrote her that way, in part, because she is a teenager for most of the series.
NOTE: I used some of my memories from that era in my own life. My journals reminded me how deeply a teenager could love/hate/obsess. Am I Brenna? Yes and No. I am not, nor ever was, physically beautiful. However, I have been obsessed with a crush, hated with a purple-eyed passion, and loved beyond all imagination.
TKA: Talon was a nice enough guy, but he was also very one-note as though he only existed to be Brenna's love interest, and really his only outstanding character trait was being freakishly muscular.
Again, this is her opinion.
I can tell the readers that Talon is not a "one-note" character. He is unselfish, honest, true, chaste, willing to die for the woman he loves (or not die, in one scene). He is a totally committed man and will pull his men through a knothole backward just to keep Brenna alive because he loves her. I consider him to be the better half of the relationship.
TKA: The world also contains this special tea that characters drink to remain young and beautiful indefinitely, so even the main characters' parents continue to be youthful and attractive as their children grow up. It really felt like high fantasy Baywatch at points and it was just too weird and soap opera-ish for me.
BTW: in case readers/fans do not know, high fantasy would have elves, unicorns, etc. This is not high fantasy. The reference she made to Baywatch is a nonplus to me. Soaps? Again her opinion.
The explanation for the tea and why it is necessary: those with sacred callings from Father of All needed to be in their 'prime' for as long as it took them to accomplish their mission in life.
TKA: I also feel that the author did not do the best job of handling the dynamics and character arcs for some of the other characters in the book.
Other reviewers have written just the opposite. Including stating that I don't have secondary characters - that I treat them all the same.
TKA: There is one character, the youngest of three adult sisters, who is so unbelievably stupid and self-centered that she puts the other characters in mortal peril more than once, and just doesn't care. In a very dangerous world where everyone fights just to stay alive, she is an incredible liability and I do not know why her sisters placed her in a leadership position in a secret organization that she repeatedly threatens to destroy with her ineptitude.
Thank you, thank you! Why? Because Haddy drove me NUTS to write! I'm an organized person (an asset when writing a twenty-novel series) and she was all over the map! I tried killing her - more than once.
TKA: It seems like the author was trying to play her for laughs, but the attempt at humor fell flat for me as all I saw was a disaster waiting to happen in a very serious situation. I think the worst part of it all was that she never changed. I would have been willing to put up with her behavior at first if it had led to her having some sort of turn-around and character growth, but she was her same obnoxious self throughout all nine books. I'm really surprised she survived that long with how flippantly she treated her situation.
Haddy was not a joke. She was the bane of the Ryn sisters! Thankfully, I can report to anyone that reads this blog post that the story I began a decade ago, will finally have a finish. Haddy features in these books.
TKA: I was also very disappointed in the character arc for the oldest of the three sisters, one of the few characters I actually liked and empathized with. She was also, for some reason, the only main character who did not drink the youthfulness tea, and was described as plain. (Maybe the author felt like she didn't have anything to lose by aging?) Personality-wise, she was grounded, calm, and wise, someone I identified with and sympathized with. I don't want to spoil too much, but basically early on in the story her character arc gets resolved incredibly brutally, and, I feel, unfairly.
As far as what happened, in her opinion, was unfair, bad things happen to good people every day.
Note: Loni does drink the tea. All Eyes are required to do so. The tea does not make you pretty, nor does it cure diseases.
As far as Loni being plain: all three sisters come from different mothers. Loni was the daughter of the least attractive and most violent. Loni, I will point out, was also violent (she rips out an antagonist's throat), she is a highly-trained assassin - one of many that protect Brenna, who is destined to save the world from Sogo. Loni is second-in-command of the Eyes.
TKA: I almost felt like the author was sending the subconscious message that only beautiful people are allowed to succeed, and anyone who does not look like a supermodel does not have enough other good qualities to keep them in the game for long.
I think I have a good mix of both.
I feel TKA gives the wrong impression here. She skipped over the fact I have a very diverse cast that includes those with special needs (one is in a wheelchair, two are blind, etc.) She didn't even bring up Wyn, one of the main characters, who begins the story as a cross-eyed, knock-kneed, clumsy, puny, orphan.
My characters show growth and the readers get to grow with them. Though it is a sad fact, most people prefer beautiful to plain when they read, especially fantasy.
TKA: On a technical level, I think the author did a pretty good job, hence the two stars. The writing is tight, I couldn't find any plot holes, and she does do a great job using prose to describe environments and action (graphic as it may be). I can tell she also had a lot of fun crafting her fantasy world and all of the creatures and concepts it contains.
A wonderful approbation! I love the world I created and worked very hard to craft a story I would read (and have read - many many times).
TKA: I just found the storyline so distasteful and traumatic, and the characters so annoying, that even the best prose in the world couldn't make me like them.
The fact TKA was able to stick with a storyline so 'distasteful and 'traumatic' for nine books is astonishing.
Thank you, T.K.A., and may you have good reads wherever you go!