The Secret of Atalaya: A Carolina Cousins’ Mystery by Rhonda S. Edwards. Book Review.

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The cover of the book is intriguing and draws one into the story. It gives a promise of mystery and discovery.

The premise of this story is fascinating. The history of the Gullah slaves and the Florida Seminoles was new to me.

There are a few sections where the history of the area is related in interesting detail. The author has obviously done a great deal of research.

The editing, as far as spelling and punctuation, is flawless.

Unfortunately, there were some serious problems:

The germ of this story could have made for a fascinating mystery especially if the author had chosen to write it from three viewpoints, the modern viewpoint of the children discovering the relics, the historical viewpoint of the person who hid them in the 1930s,  (We never really find out why) and the historical viewpoint of the escaping slaves whose identity tags are found. We get a snippet of this on pages 39 to 42 when the author writes a few paragraphs from the point of view of Archer in the 1930s.

I would love to give everyone fours and fives but for my reviews to have any credibility, I have to be honest and forthright. I hope that I’m also being helpful. Read below for details on suggestions to improve this book.

The author was interviewed on November 2, 3016.

A copy of this book was generously donated by the author to my Little Free Library.

Areas That Could Be Improved

The book opens with a long page and a half of telling, basically an info dump. (Pages are 10 x 8 in size.) In the first one and a half pages, we are introduced to Eric, Aunt Savannah, dad, Ashley, mom who was also later called Winni, Katie, Cally, Nick Junior, Anne, grandma Prudence, and grandpa. Most of these characters are not essential to the story.

Here are some tips on how to deal with this.

http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/unnecessary-characters/

I was hoping this was a early pages mistake but it actually was stylistic. In most of the book, nothing much happens. There is too much unnecessary detail about things that have nothing to do with the mystery. For example here is a section from chapter 2.

Eric and his mom said goodbye to Ashley. Ashley not only worked as a cashier at a local grocery store, but had and rolled into summer courses at Northeastern community college. She would not be coming except for the occasional weekend visit.

None of that information is important. Neither is Ashley. Here are two excellent sites on dealing with info dump.

https://www.quora.com/What-are-ways-to-avoid-information-dumps-when-writing-the-first-chapter-of-a-book

https://ellenbrockediting.com/2014/07/03/novel-boot-camp-lecture-3-how-to-avoid-info-dumping/

Every arrival and departure is told in painstaking unnecessary detail such as, Eric jumped out to grab his MP3 charger that he had left earlier in the week. Then he checked to see if he placed the cooler in the back, closed the passenger door, and finished loading his mom’s car.

Halfway through the book we are still spending time on such things as this: Savannah grabbed her purse, Katie grabbed her book bag, and they moved to the door with Eric and Cally. “We’ll see you later. Buy, Jesse,” called Savannah and she closed the door behind her.

As they travel, the story turns into  family reminiscing and a history and geography lesson. We spend an entire chapter collecting seashells. By the end of Chapter 5 (out of 12), all we have done is seen a glimpse of Atalaya. Nothing about the “mystery” has unfolded. When readers see the word mystery in a book title, they have certain expectations. The mystery solvers need to be challenged, have goals and obstacles. Unfortunately, the actual mystery took about five pages.

http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/unnecessary-scenes/

On page 27 (out of 45) we finally get a hint of a mystery when Katie is overwhelmed by a feeling that there was a presence in the room. On page 29 the mystery finally begins. The children accidentally film a ghostly image in the master bedroom. They believe that there is a reason for it and a mystery to solve that is theirs alone. No one questions the existence of a ghost contacting them. We expect things to take off from this point on but on page 31 we pause for a trip to the beach where they pack two bottles of frozen water per person placed in an insulated bag. Since Eric and Katie didn’t care for water, Crystal Light tropical punch was added to some bottles before freezing. This helps everyone stay hydrated during the day.

Characters use unnatural dialogue such as 12-year-old Eric saying, Hey this thing has a built-in microphone and a memory stick so that you can transfer to a computer for emailing, printing, or sharing. This will be super to use when we go beachcombing, on the daytime tour of Atalaya or our trips to the educational center at the State Park.

I describe these not to embarrass the author, but to help others avoid these mistakes and, hopefully, help the author to avoid them in the future. Most writers have been guilty of many of these in early drafts. I know I have. The trick is to fix them before publication.

I recommend buying and using a couple of good books on plotting such as those mentioned here.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

 

2 thoughts on “The Secret of Atalaya: A Carolina Cousins’ Mystery by Rhonda S. Edwards. Book Review.

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