The Brave Free Books

I've been checking out a few e-books offered for free online.  One of the popular marketing techniques for getting people to read and talk about your e-book is to offer it for free for a period of time.  In the case of self-published e-books, this usually seems to be for several months, followed by a low price ($2.99 seems to be the most popular price point, or $0.99 if the work isn't a full novel) being attached.  Ideally, the free copies downloaded create word-of-mouth that brings people in to actually buy copies after the free period expires.  (And some self-publishers just want people to read their work, so they keep their work available for free.)

Some traditional publishers also offer particular books either heavily discounted for a short promotional period, or actually free.  The latter mostly seem to be for the first volume in a series, offered briefly when a later volume is just coming onto the market.

One place I've found for those offers is Barnes & Noble's "Free Fridays" .  Every Friday, a free book is available for download to a Nook e-reader or Nook app for a week.  Categories vary from week to week: epic fantasy, romance, urban fantasy, mainstream lit, suspense, inspirational, etc.  So it's a bit of a potluck, but I've downloaded a few Nook books from the Free Friday offerings, and generally find them worth reading.

Well . . . not always.

EVERYBODY'S DAUGHTER by Michael John Sullivan is a Christian time travel fantasy, wherein a troubled father travels back in time to Jerusalem about the time of Jesus' arrival and subsequent crucifixion.  He's followed by his teenage daughter, but the daughter arrives at a different time, when her father is nowhere to be found.  (This is not their first trip back to Jerusalem.  In an earlier book, Necessary Heartbreak, they apparently went back together and met Judas Iscariot, among others; the father still carries some of Judas' silver in his pocket from that earlier trip.)

The book unfortunately opens with a howler of a first sentence: "Jingling the silver coins between his fingers that he had retrieved so many centuries ago[...]".  The writing, on a sentence level, gets better after that, but I had trouble with the characterization and plotting of the book.  The characters seemed inconsistent, especially some of the secondary characters.  Ideally, plot flows naturally from characters' actions as they react to the events around them.  I got the impression that Sullivan had plot points planned, and he forced his characters to move towards those plot points whether they wanted to or not. 

The big choking point came with trying to figure out just when the father and daughter had made their separate arrivals in Jerusalem.  For most of the book, it appeared that they had arrived at least months apart.  I also wondered if the father and daughter's presence might have created two separate timelines.  But if the last few chapters Sullivan seems to be saying they were not only in the same timeline, but only a few days apart.  My suspension of disbelief was blown out the window.

(Sullivan's portrayal of Jesus is also a very "Godly", Sunday-school version.  When I read portrayals of Jesus, I always prefer they be more human, with smelly armpits, dirty feet, and flashes of temper and despair.)

I wanted to like the book.  I didn't.

(Since the Free Friday offering, the price on the ebook has gone back to $3.47)

From the general free listings at B&N, I also tried one of the "always-free" books:

KILL-BASA: NEW FLAVORS IN ZOMBIE HORROR by Sean Graham is a collection of five zombie stories.  Most are very pulpish, with slam-bang non-stop action.  "Dummies" gives a more traditional, non-Romero style zombie story.  "Lee's Decision" has Robert E. Lee making a Faustian bargain to win the Civil War.   But neither story impressed me, despite the attempt to put a twist on the idea of zombies.

The one story that did impress me, a bit, was "Ten Count".  It was a Romero-style zombie story, a meme that's getting really stale.  But it impressed me because the characters in it weren't cartoons or cardboard, which was where the other stories mostly failed.   But it needed polish, it needed still more depth to the characters.  It impressed me because it had potential, but it also disappointed because it could have been harder-hitting, even moving, with a bit more work and development. 

Sean Graham's had a number of other short stories published in small press venues.  I'd like to see him get a little more experience and practice before I try his work again.

I've got a few more of the Free Friday offerings and a couple of other free books sitting in the Nook app on my smartphone.  I may make "The Brave Free Books" a semi-regular feature here.

No comments: