I borrowed Looking Into the Sun by Todd Tavolazzi from a friend who had purchased the ebook version from Amazon for the Kindle. When he purchased the book, he read the book’s description to me, and I said that it sounded intriguing, to say the least. When he finished reading, he sent it to my Kindle App, and I began reading with a sense of excitement that I rarely get when reading the first book from a new author.
(Score is determined by calculating the mean average of the scores of the five criteria I judge novels by)
Storyline: The storyline as reported in the book description hooked me immediately. Itwas supposed to tell the story from the perspective of those most impacted by the Syrian conflict currently raging in the middle east: the civilians. It promised to show how the children in Syria are the ones suffering, which is something that all thinking people are sure to know.
Unfortunately, Tavolazzi not only failed to deliver on his promises, he completely ignored the story he claimed to be telling. Instead of telling the story through the eyes of the Syrians, he told it through the eyes of a freelance journalist. The few redeeming qualities the book possessed (decent action and pacing) were cast in sharp relief with the news stories that the journalist uploaded to the freelance writing organization that he teamed with. Obnoxious, repetitive, and adding nothing to the story, you can skip every “news story” in the book and miss nothing. Even worse, the story is never truly about the children and the random statements like “I need to get these kids out of here” come in at seemingly random intervals, and never really fit what is going on around the protagonist.
I give the storyline 1.5 stars.
The book’s description has been changed since I first read it. Now, instead of saying that the story is in the eyes of the Syrian civilians, it clearly states that the story is told in the eyes of an American journalist.
Characters: The protagonist is a freelance journalist named Angus Conn, who is chronicling the events in Syria. Tagging along with Angus is Jake Westin, a Hollywood pretty boy who is researching an upcoming movie role-as a journalist-and the man paying for Angus’s trip. While there are definitely some points where Angus and Jake show some great potential (such as Jake’s anger or Angus’s heartache), they are never really explored in depth, leaving the reader feeling as if they learned anything about the characters. While Jake walks away completely changed by his experiences in Syria, it seems forced in much the same way as the children are forced. As for Angus, he would be better cast in a supporting role.
The one redeeming quality of Tavolazzi’s characters is the supporting cast. Amala has a very interesting backstory and Gary is downright frightening. Because they are supporting characters, though, neither receives as much time as the irredeemably bad Angus, or the overdone Jake.
I give the characters three-stars, purely because of the supporting cast.
Setting: The setting is Syria, the real world country currently embroiled in a three-way civil war. Unfortunately, this promising setting never really comes to life, and I found myself trying to figure out where the characters were on several occasions. There was very little time spent creating a “mental picture” of the area, which I found slightly disappointing.
However, it is clear that Tavolazzi kept the setting in his mind at all times and he never deviated from it. I give 3.5 stars to the setting of Looking Into the Sun.
Plot: This is the true low point of Looking into the Sun. As I mentioned above, the story was never truly about the children, and the plot suffered for it.Sure, the action scenes necessary for a novel taking place in a war-zone are exciting enough, but the fact is, the plot does not function as a cohesive whole to make a specific point.
I am not sure if the theme is too broad (“war is hell,” for instance) or too narrow (“war is especially hard on civilians”), but either way, I felt that I was hit over the head with a baseball bat of a theme, rather than cleanly cut by a razor sharp edge of a well-sharpened plot. I give the plot one star.
Resolution: The resolution of the story would be great…if the previous 95% of the novel was rewritten. Instead of resolving the story that he wrote (American’s attempt to escape war-torn Syria), Tavolazzi resolved the story he claimed he set out to tell. However, it did function as resolutions are supposed to, giving us an idea of what happened after the plot ended.
Jake made his movie, Angus saved the kids, and they started a foundation for orphaned children from the war. I give the Resolution three stars.
Final Grade: With grades of 1.5, 3, 3.5, 1, and 3, Looking Into the Sun scored 12 points. This makes for a final grade of:
As much as I would love to write a great review, I simply can’t. Some will love this story, and others will agree with me. If I could tell Todd Tavolazzi one thing, it would be this: you did a great job for a first-time novelist. I hope that you will take the criticisms I have given in this review and use them to improve and come back better than before. There is definitely talent there, and certainly a love for people that you can leverage into a great writing career. Keep at it, and (as I always say) never stop learning.
My Grade: The jury is out