Thursday, July 27, 2017

Book Review: Doorways and Debts by J.P. Michaels

Hello, dear readers. Please give me a moment to blow the dust off of this thing. It's been sitting for nearly a year and needs a bit of a tidying up. I had plans to move my blog to my own website but things have some cases, they have NOT happened...and here we are. I can't promise to be better at this blogging thing, but I'm certainly going to make an effort.

As an independent author, I know how hard it is to get your name out there and to get recognition and reviews for your books. Because of this, I want to support as many other independent authors as I can. My goal is to read and review at least four books a year, starting in 2018, written by self-published and little-known authors. It may be a lofty goal, especially looking at my busy schedule, but it's something I feel is important enough to make time for. That being said, if you know of an independent author or are one yourself, send titles (or books!) my way. I'm starting a list to go through.

Before I begin I will say these thoughts and opinions are my own. They are not a representation of how anyone else I know who has read the book feels about it. My reviews may sound harsh at times, especially given that I know for 100% certainty that my own books are far from perfect. However, I feel it is important to be honest and to help each other along this rather arduous and isolating road of being an IA. None of my comments are meant to be malicious, neither are they meant to blow sunshine. They are meant to help grow, refine, and encourage. I can only hope others would do the same for me.

This first review is of a book called Doorways and Debts by J.P. Michaels. I was actually in the middle of another IA's book when I received this one, but chose to make this title a priority since I would be seeing the author again in a month. When I sold my book at the Mutton and Mead Medieval Festival in Turners Falls, Mass last month, I had the pleasure of meeting J.P. in person. We were able to have a great, albeit short, conversation in which we agreed to a book exchange. Because I was slow and stupid busy, it took me about six weeks to get through. Having finished it just last night, I wanted to get the review done while thoughts and feelings were still fresh on my mind.

Format and Grammar
J.P. writes in a block format that is sometimes hard to follow. Instead of starting new paragraphs each time a new character speaks, there could sometimes be up to three different characters speaking in the same paragraph. Many times, I had to go back and read things over to be sure of who was speaking and when. Another thing that made me pause at times were the paragraphs that were little else but definitive statements. He did this. He did that. She came from here. She went there. Sometimes it was just a laundry list of what the character was doing, and that made reading certain sections a little tedious. He also tended to get caught up in describing characters to minute details, even sometimes, characters who were only used very briefly. It may be a personal preference, but I like basic descriptions of characters that leave room for personalization through imagination as I read. It matters little to me the exact height or weight of a character. Short, tall, average is really all I need to know. Several times I was taken off guard by incorrect words, such as "wonder" instead of "wander," and little things like that. However, I've had a few similar instances in my own books, so I can't really be too picky about that.

I want to know more about this world than I was given. To be fair, this is a side story to J.P.'s main series entitled The Legacy of Jiraiya, but it left me feeling like I was jipped on this fantasy world he created. There are clear indications that this place is not like our world. There are lions that walk on their hind legs, orcs, dwarves, elves, even creatures that look like talking rocks. There are allusions and brief mentions of a war, but other than that, this great big fantasy world is very limited. I was disappointed that we didn't get to explore things a little more. For most of the book, we are inside an inn and its different levels that have a bar, a restaurant, and a spa. Different, certainly, but not expansive.

This is where my review may come across as harsh, but as I said, I'm going for 100% honesty in hopes of helping people grow in their craft. The plot of this book was very thin and not very engaging. The first few chapters where we are getting to know the main characters and find out about this magical doorway that leads to another world got me so excited about what was to come...only to find out that the rest of the book follows only two of the five characters we're initially introduced to as they do odd jobs to pay off this mysterious debt that is keeping them all from returning home. That's it. There is very little conflict, and when there is, it is addressed and solved rather quickly and tidily. There was no villain, no antagonist at all, really, and that was disappointing.

I love these characters. J.P.'s strongest feature in this book is definitely his ability to create endearing characters. Though the book mainly focuses on two young teenage boys, Andy and Roger, we also get to meet Ed, Tom, and Jack. They are all distinctly different from one another in personality, though not always in voice. For as young as they are, they have a bit of a Dawson's Creek syndrome to them in that they speak a lot older than they are. That doesn't do much to tarnish who they are, however. I got a clear Goonies vibe from the group right from the beginning. I loved the relationship between Andy and Jack especially. There is always one kid in every group of friends who ends up the butt of the joke, even if it's not meant to be mean, and I loved seeing the "leader" of this pack come to the rescue and stand up for his friend even against his other friends.

Mister Gravoa was a fun character to meet. His pattern of speech instantly made me think of Gru from Despicable Me which, whether intended or not, made me love him all the more. As a mentor, he watches over all five boys from afar while still managing to be involved. No easy task when it comes to teenagers.

The three girls we are introduced to-Laurel, Nicole, and Marie-are all very different from one another and just as endearing as the boys in their own individual ways. I could see bits of myself in each of them, just as I'm sure boys/men would see bits of themselves in each of the boys. There was a brief scene at the end of the book between Laurel and Mister Gravoa that actually made me quite sad. It was beautifully addressed and I'm sure it was the reaction J.P. was going for.

Final Thoughts
This is a good book for pre-teen/young teens if they need a casual read. There are a few swears within, so if that is something you're worried about, be aware. I always encourage parents to read the books their children want to read first, simply because you just never know what can be hidden within the pages nestled between a pretty cover and a back-of-the-book summary.

The Legacy of Jiraiya Website
Read the Prologue
Amazon Page
Facebook Page


  1. So glad to see you blogging again! I'm looking forward to seeing your other book reviews.

    This seems like a very fair review. A lot of the points you criticized here are the kind of thing that drive me nuts, too, especially those moments where the story grinds to a halt so the author can spend a whole paragraph describing a character in detail. At least the characters here are distinct and well-defined! That's something that can be very tricky for new authors.

    C.S. Lewis wrote that the exciting possibilities that grab our attention early in a story can sometimes get lost in mere plot when the story actually gets underway. A pity that seems to be the case here. But good on you for reviewing it! I know this series never would've come to my attention otherwise.

    1. I'm excited to be blogging again myself, though I'm hoping to soon switch platforms. We shall see. I'm also excited to be reading other IA's books. I'll be reading them slowly, purposefully reading something tried and true in between each book, but it will get done. I have a nice list waiting for me.

      I'm glad you think it's fair! I love nothing less than telling someone their work needs, well, work. I also know that I would want someone to be honest with me about imperfections within my own series. I can't grow if people ignore the flaws in favor of keeping me happy and my ego inflated. I want mistakes, plot holes, and continuity issues pointed out to me, so hopefully that's what other authors are hoping to get from me in return.

      Man, is that true or what? I struggle with that myself. Thankfully, I have an amazing editor who keeps me in track with that and isn't hesitant to tell me when I need to be reined in.



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