A few reviews back (well… like 40!), I reviewed Save Me by Lisa Scottoline and this is how I felt about it:
But I decided to give her another try, because there are plenty of authors who have books that are misses — even the ones I love dearly. There were two books of Scottoline’s that sounded fascinating to me so I bought those in trade paperback and just finished one of them, Look Again. I really wanted to like the next Scottoline book I read because she actually took the time to respond to the negative review of Save Me that I posted on my blog (well… I assume and hope it was really her who did it. It could be an assistant or just an adoring fan.).
So I have to be upfront and admit right away that I hated Look Again even more than I disliked Save Me. Some of the problems in the book are the same but to a greater extent. But first, let me start with the good, and that is the premise of the book. Ellen Gleeson, human interest reporter extraordinaire, returns home from work on snowy winter night and sees a “Have You See This Child?” card in her mail. It takes her breath away because the child on the card looks exactly like her three-year-old son Will. But Ellen thinks — knows — it’s not Will because she adopted Will after he was abandoned by his birth parents at the hospital after a terrible heart defect is fixed. Still, the reporter in Ellen can’t help but wonder: Is this her child? The journey she takes is a legal and ethical and moral one, and it gets a whole lot of dicey and scary for Ellen and all of the people involved.
So let’s be upfront here. This entire review is a spoiler for the book because I hated it so much I can’t censor myself and the things I didn’t like without spoiling them. You have been warned. That said, let me move on. I think it’s pretty clear that Will is the child on the card, and spoiler alert: he is the kidnapped child whose parents put his face on the card.
Doesn’t that sound like a great premise? It’s got the element of motherhood (and I think 30- and 40-something women are propbably Scottoline’s target demographic) mixed in with a crime murder mystery/thriller. I was expecting this book to be great but to be honest, I hated it from the first page. The biggest reason wasn’t plot. It was partially character and it was almost totally editing. I want to find out who Lisa Scottoline’s editor is and slap her upside the head and ask, “Did you actually read this book?” There are so many poorly edited places and parts of the story that it makes your head spin.
Wondering what a few of those things are? Here, let me share them with you (for the record, I tried to bulletpoint this but WordPress just could not handle the way I wanted it to look so I apologize that this looks like I can’t write a paragraph/don’t know how to format:
Scottoline relies to heavily on telling and not showing. This happens almost immediately. For instance, on page three (yes! 3!), Ellen has the following conversation with her nanny:
[Connie] asked, “How was your day?”
“Crazy busy. How about you?”
“Just fine,” Connie answered, which was only one of the reasons that Ellen counted her as a blessing. She’d had her share of babysitter drama, and there was no feeling worse than leaving your child with a sitter who wasn’t speaking to you.
Color me crazy, Ellen Gleeson, but if your sitter’s response to you is “fine” after you ask her how her day with your son was, that’s not “speaking to you.” You’re too busy telling us that your nanny is exceptional that hey! You don’t show us it. Not to mention this is just weird and awkward dialogue, and that is a pet peeve of mine. Unfortunately there is a lot of weird and awkward dialogue throughout the entire book.
See the last sentence above re: dialogue. I can’t stand it when authors write terrible dialogue. I think there is no excuse for it. We all speak, and we all speak to countless different people in different capacities every day. So there’s no excuse. Read your freaking dialogue out loud and most of the problems will disappear. Listen to the natural rhythms in everyday conversation and convey those in words.
Hello non-sequiters. I mean, this conversation actually takes place between Ellen and her boss:
Marcelo lifted an eyebrow. “Back home, many people have two names, like my brother, Carlos Alberto. But I didn’t think that was common in the States.”
“It’s not. He’s Brazillian.”
Marcelo laughed. He popped the soda and poured it fizzing into the class. “I live in town.”
The first time I read this, I had go back and read it again, and I actually laughed because “I live in town” makes zero sense. I mean, it makes sense because it’s a real, complete sentence, but it doesn’t make sense in the context of their conversation about a cat and a brother with two names.
The relationships in this book are terrible and so petty, forced, and fake. For instance, Ellen and Sarah (who totally is a see-you-next-Tuesday) fight like ridiculous school children, and Ellen and her nanny Connie just have the most jagged, forced conversations. Further, Connie (in what I am supposed to believe is deep love for Will) totally tells Will what to do when he asks his mom something. Dear nanny, when mom is around, mom is he boss. Even her relationship with Marcelo is really weird, and seriously? They get down and dirty when Ellen is convinced that Will is in dire danger? Yeah. I totally do the same thing.
I know many novels ask you to suspend your disbelief, but there were a lot of places where I had to take it one step too far. One example of this is the sex scene I referenced above. Another scene is when Ellen randomly faints, with no build up, and then is, literally one freaking page later, going sledding with her son. What! If I fainted at work, and I had a boss as invested in me as Marcelo is in Ellen, there is no way that I’d just get to leave. Another one: at Amy’s funeral, Amy’s friend Melanie from rehab has apparently forgotten to check her text messages from dead Amy, who she has called “the queen of texting,” until Ellen reminds her. Melanie says, “Whoa, weird. I didn’t. I totally forgot.” Dude. If my friend Megan doesn’t text me every few days, I worry she’s dead. I wouldn’t forget for a few days simply because we text a lot. It’s something you’d remember to do from the queen of text.
There’s just some things that slip under the radar, too, that point to shoddy editing. For instance, at the end of the novel when Ellen discovers that Bill isn’t Will’s real dad, she concludes that the real dad is Rob Moore, the killer, and she says she never noticed that they had the same crooked smile. BUT I CALL BANANAS on that crap because in the first part of the book she looks at a picture of Amy and the Beach Man, wondering if the Beach Man could be the baby daddy (this is back when she thought Amy was the bio mom) and she specifically points out that the two share the crooked smile. Ugh! Really, editor?
And the last thing that I’ll rant about, because this is getting really long and angsty, is that Ellen reminded me so much of the mom in Save Me. In fact, there is a particular scene that was almost lifted exactly from Save Me: Ellen is raging mad at Sarah for doing something she didn’t like. (Rose is mad at Kristen for doing something she didn’t like.) Ellen storms over to Sarah’s apartment in a fit of rage and bullies her way inside. (Rose storms over to Sarah’s apartment in a fit of rage and bullies her way inside.) Ellen yells and berates Sarah. (Rose yells and berates Kristen.) Sarah is defensive and stoic. (Kristen is defensive and stoic.) Sarah’s disabled husband comes out in a wheelchair and Ellen feels like a douche. (Kristen does a bad job of hiding her prenatal books and Rose sees them and feels like a total douche.) Ellen cries and apologies. (Rose gets upset and apologizes.) Seriously, it was actually kind of weird how similar these two scenes were to each other.
And thus ends my rant. I will probably read the other Scottoline book because it’s too late to return it, thanks to Barnes and Noble’s dumb two-week return policy, but I will read it with low expectations. Maybe I will be surprised (but I probably won’t).