Or at least, I think it's special and I hope you do, too!
Gretchen Powell of Honey I Shrunk the Gretchen, one of my most favorite blogs, published her debut novel in December of last year. The book has only been available for purchase for about a month now, but it has already generated over 30 five-star reviews on Amazon!
That makes me almost famous, don't cha know!
I was so excited, I picked up my cell phone and called Clayton downstairs to share the good news. (Getting out of bed, opening the bedroom door and then walking downstairs to tell him face-to-face was just too lengthy of a journey at the time).
And let me just preface this review by saying that Gretchen giving me a shout-out of thanks in no way, shape or form influenced my opinion of the book ... especially when you consider that I didn't even see the acknowledgements page until after I had already finished it.
Gretchen (or "Gretch" as I like to call her when no one else is around or when I'm home alone pretending like we're actually friends) sent me an advance copy of Terra in late November, but thanks to my stint in jury duty and the holiday chaos that immediately followed, I regretfully didn't get around to reading it until this weekend. But I read the book in less than 5 hours and am bursting at the seams to talk about it.
I have to be honest, I'm not a huge fan of self-published books. In my rather formidable experience working in the self-publishing industry, most of them are just not good (for lack of a better term). Sad, but true. Of the thousands of books the company I worked for published every year, only about a handful were well-written or had a story line suitable marketing purposes. That's just the nature of the beast: when it comes to self-publishing: absolutely anyone can publish anything they want, how they want it.
Can you imagine the pressure myself and the rest of the literary publicists were under? "Hi, would you like to review a copy of this book? It's about angels. Do you like angels? The author couldn't even spell 'angels' correctly most of the time, but there's a unicorn on the cover and, um, that's pretty neat, right?" Not having a vetting process for the books we publicized wasn't doing the authors or the company any favors. Trying to publicize bad books was just bad publicity for us publicists.
Yeah, try to wrap your brain around that sentence.
So when I was approached to write an honest review about a self-published title, I felt like a deer in headlights. Experience has taught me that reviewing this book would most likely not bode well for either Gretchen or myself. I was afraid that I would have trouble getting through the entire book, and I was doubly afraid of hurting Gretchen's feelings when I had to tell her that I lit my Kindle on fire and then ran over it with my car.
Well, clearly you can't judge a book by it's cover (Oh, how I love a good cliché) because here's the thing about Terra, it's not good—it's great.
Did you enjoy The Hunger Games? That's fantastic, but Terra is nothing like The Hunger Games.
Admittedly, when I read the opening pages of the novel and was introduced to Gretchen's heroine, Terra, I was fearful that this book was going strongly mimic those of Suzanne Collins. I thought, "Terra is venturing out before dawn to scavenge in the woods surrounding the walls of her settlement? That sounds oddly familiar ... Oh wait, she's looking for metal and plastic scraps? Why? Wait, metal and plastic scrap are like, their currency? WHAT DO YOU MEAN SOCIETY IS SPLIT IN TWO AND THE RICH PEOPLE LIVE IN THE SKY!?"
Yeah, I was hooked.
I'm not even a big fan of dystopian-themed novels and I certainly do not have any science fiction novels on my reading list, but you can't escape the intrigue of a futuristic society trying to thrive on a dying planet. The idea of the human race roaming the earth when it's near uninhabitable is captivating and the speculative nature of Terra is fascinatingly realistic. (Warning sirens every time it rains because the ozone layer has been obliterated and it rains acid? Brilliantly scary.)
Since my trying to summarize the plot of Terra will probably end up sounding something like this: "It was just SO GOOD, you guys. SO GOOD!", I'll steal the plot summary from Amazon:
In the distant wake of a plague that has decimated the Earth's population, humanity is split in two. The rich and powerful live in skycities that float overhead, while those who remain on the ground have gathered in settlements strewn across a dying planet. Eighteen-year-old Terra Rhodon makes her living as a scav, scouring the earth for discarded scraps and metals to recycle for profit. While on a routine scavenging run, she discovers something that shocks her home settlement of Genesis X-16.
Terra suddenly finds herself asking questions no one will answer. Her search for the truth ultimately leads her to Adam - a beguiling boy with a secret that has the power to change humanity's existence forever.
I think one of my favorite things about Terra is the fact that after reading Honey I Shrunk the Gretchen for over a year, I've gotten a pretty good sense of what Gretchen is like as a person. I am blown away that such a bubbly, joyful person is capable of imagining such a dark, desolate society. The dichotomy of her writing style is surprising as it is impressive. There were several instances when I looked up from the page I was reading and so desperately wished I could give her a high-five. The creativity in this novel is just awe-inspiring.
The character development is commendable, too. I normally tire of fictional heroines rather quickly because oftentimes it feels like the authors are trying too hard to prove that the female lead is brave or tough, self-sufficient, independent, ect., but I think Gretchen definitely found the balance for creating a likeable character who was just as courageous as she was sensitive and well, human. In fact, I think it was Terra's vulnerability that had me rooting for her because Gretchen did a fantastic job of showing readers WHY she behaved and reacted certain ways rather than just describing WHAT Terra did.
I'm a huge word nerd and simple, creative prose gets me excited faster than watching Channing Tatum ride down a water slide backwards. My favorite descriptive text in the whole book is from Terra's walk through a glass terminal in one of the sky cities and her observation of a night sky that was vastly different from the one she was used to as a ground dweller:
It’s dark outside, but the air is crisp and clean. I inhale deeply as I take in my surroundings. The stars. From beneath the Transfer terminal’s glass ceiling, they didn’t look too special, but out here… The stars glitter from outside the crystal clear UV filter, like cosmic confetti sprinkled across the night sky. The terminal sits on a hill overlooking most of the colossal city; Korbyllis blazes beneath us with so many lights that it looks like it’s on fire.
I can't. I just can't. That wording is just too perfect. Confetti reminds me of sprinkles and sprinkles remind me of cupcakes and anytime I can be reminded of cake while I read is a win-win.
Well done, Gretchen. Well done.
For more information about Gretchen Powell, her blog or Terra, visit here:
**I received absolutely zero compensation for this review and this post is my true, honest opinion of Powell's work. Had she given me a large cake or a basketful of puppies, I might have been inclined to pad the review and suggest that Gretchen Powell be our first woman president or take over for Ryan Seacrest on American Idol. Unfortunately she did not give me those things, so I can only honestly assess her work as an author.