Book Review: Undertow by Callie Kingston

ImageTitle: Undertow

Author: Callie Kingston

Genre: Paranormal Romance / Fantasy

Rating: 1 Star

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Description/Synopsis: While she sleeps beside a log on the wild Oregon coast, a rogue wave pulls Marissa into the sea. Now she dreams each night of a merman who rescues her. Obsessed with returning to this beautiful creature, she again risks her life in the frigid ocean.

Will Marissa remain lost forever in the eddies of her mind, or can real love save her from the abyss? Sometimes, the dangers which lie within are the deadliest.

WARNING – SPOILERS WILL ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – DETAILED REVIEW BELOW

I don’t know where to even begin with this one. Judging by the description and the way this book was categorized you’d immediately think this book was about a young girl who falls in love with a mermaid. You’d be wrong. According to reviews, this book is about something far different (I’ll get into that). Not having read the reviews however, I went into this book with no idea of what I was getting into.

The story started out strong. I made it a habit to leave myself notes as I read so I would remember all the little things that stuck out at me about the story, and for the first two pages all those notes were positive. The author seemed to have a way with using subtle hints in the text to influence the reader about how the main character felt. These little cues in word choice stuck out at me as being extremely well written.

However, by page three my notes started taking a drastic turn. It started with an extraordinary burst of emotional drama by the main character when she discovers that her boyfriend may be cheating on her. Now, I can understand a woman getting upset that her boyfriend is cheating on her – come on, who wouldn’t? However, the evidence she finds is circumstantial at best, literally two words: “Miss you.” Suddenly the main character is flipping out on her boyfriend talking about how suddenly all his behavior over the past few weeks makes sense.

My reaction to this was a very slow “W. T. F.” people just don’t react that way unless they’ve had suspicions for a long time, and going into this story we weren’t provided with any of that information. Suddenly I found myself taking a step back from the character thinking “This woman is completely irrational.” It doesn’t help that her stupid boyfriend says the one line you should never say to a woman: “Don’t get all crazy about this.” Seriously? I could let that slide though as her boyfriend just being an ass. It happens. Unfortunately, this absurd situation didn’t end there. The main character pops in with the most cliche relationship line ever: “I thought you were different. You’re as bad as all the rest. Worse!” How many times have we all heard that.

I rolled my eyes. That is never a good sign. Now at this point I realized that the ENTIRE reason this woman is sitting on a beach wishing she could die is because of her boyfriend and that one conversation.

(Let’s have a moment of silence here)

Really? I lost all respect for the main character in this moment. As far as I was concerned she was now some whiny teenager that was so dependent on her boyfriend for her happiness that suddenly she couldn’t live anymore once she found out he *might* have had another girl on the side. (It was never really cleared up whether he had actually been cheating or not.. since she never actually let him speak.) Please understand that I’m not saying that to be mean. I was once a suicidal teenager. I’ve been there – but I was abused for years before I got to that point. This snot of a girl was willing to throw in the towel over a single relationship. It irritates me. Greatly.

At this point I decided to swallow down my anger and keep reading, hoping this was going to get better. It didn’t. This is where I first started to notice the author’s predisposition for writing long, poetic sentences that were so absurdly colorful in the starkness of the rest of the text that I just stared at them and went “What?”. One example was this gem: “One deception after another, in brilliant colors, like each scene was painted with unearthly crayons, her mind shuffling through them like a deck of cards. And at the bottom, the face of a little girl.” (Page 4).

Take a moment. Read it over. Forget the fact that this is a ridiculously long run-on sentence and the punctuation is just plain wrong. At this point I’m not even sure what she’s talking about. These strange poetic, overly colorful blurbs are all over the place in this book. I can honestly say that in my opinion, the writing is awful.

From this point on things just got… I guess unbelievable is the word I’m looking for. We learn by page 4 that this girl, who I was assuming was a teen (and it was later confirmed that she was 17 years old) had several tattoos. (which her mother didn’t approve of). I don’t know if any of you have ever been in a tattoo shop, but without parental permission you can’t get a tattoo (let alone several) at 17 years old. Most certainly you can’t get tattoos that run the entire length of your calf (which would take several sittings to do). It’s absurd.

The story continues and the text is riddled with huge time-jumps. One example would be when the main character is sitting on a beach as the tide comes in and suddenly she’s chest deep in water the next sentence. Then she’s only in a few inches of water the sentence after that. I’m sorry, I grew up on the Southern Coast of Oregon where this book is based, and the tide does not come in that fast. (Fast, yes, but not THAT fast.) This is later evidenced again as the main character goes from getting out of her car to ordering food, to leaving a tip and walking out in less than a paragraph. It was almost as if the author was trying to skip over what she considered “the boring bits” without even attempting to use them to her advantage. A little internal dialogue probably would have helped in times like these.

Another sore sticking point with me was the entire reference to Oregon. I’m sorry, I grew up in the EXACT location this book was based. I lived there for 19 years, and I know quite a bit about the area. Unfortunately, though the author reportedly also lives in that area, it seems she didn’t do her research. Some of the things she wrote into this book just aren’t true. Most of these have to do with local legends (which I hope I can safely assume she fictionalized for the sake of writing this book), others had to do with locations in relationship to each other.

At this point, my hackles are pretty much raised. I tried so hard to keep reading this book – I almost gave up at 9%, but made it to 13% before I gave up. I think my biggest pet peeve about this entire book however, was that the main character was clearly off her rocker. She kept going on and on about how terrible her life was and how depressed she seemed to be, all the while being outwardly cruel and snotty to everyone who crossed paths with her. At one point I actually wrote in the note: “This chick isn’t depressed, she’s just plain apathetic.” It seemed like she was filled with this hatred of everyone and every thing, but all the while she was almost obsessed with this idea that a merman had saved her from drowning. She lied to her friends and her new boyfriend, and spoke of what I considered paranoid delusions: that she was meant to find the merman, and someone must have snuck into her hotel room to leave her clues.

This is when I gave up. Clearly at this point any person in their right mind would see that this main character was completely insane. She had an awful personality, hated everyone, was paranoid, and obsessed with a mythical creature after simply dreaming that he existed.  This wasn’t romantic, it wasn’t well written, it was god awful.

Now, that being said, in researching  links for this article, I went back to Amazon and Goodreads and read some of the reviews. I was completely bewildered by all the 4 and 5 star ratings this book got. So I started looking for some reasonable explanation of how people got through this mess. What I came to learn through my reading is that this book may have been grossly miss-represented as a paranormal romance / fantasy. From what I understand, a lot of people considered this a very dark, psychological fiction, and reportedly the main character may actually be insane. I can’t attest as to whether this is true, but it would certainly explain some of what I read.

I have to push that aside though. The only opinion I have going into a book is generally my own, and as an author I know that it is my job when writing a novel to make sure that what I’m writing is represented in such a way that my meaning can’t be misinterpreted. The main character’s obvious personality disorder aside, the book simply wasn’t well written. It wasn’t clear, there was a lot of “telling” instead of “showing”, grammar was wrong, punctuation was horribly misused, and entire sections of events were left out.

I am utterly baffled by the reviewers that said this was “well written”. I obviously live in an alternate dimension from them. It’s my only explanation.  I awarded this book 1 star because I couldn’t force myself to read any more. It’s not often that I can’t get through a book (It’s only happened twice before), but in the event that a book is that boring or that ill-written, my only course of action is to close it and mark it as a FAIL.

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: Undertow by Callie Kingston

  1. ugh, how unfortunate! I’m not sure if I buy the “insane” defense– it would take some quality writing for me to buy it?

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    • I think I’m in the same boat as you. Luckily I got it FREE (thank goodness for those Daily free books at Amazon) so no wasted money on my part, but aside from the fact that the main character was a lunatic as far as I’m concerned, the writing just plain wasn’t any good. It’s a shame. It showed such promise in the first two pages, I really thought it was gong to turn out to be good.

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