The Lyons Orphanage review
You go through a lot of cycles with your book from start to finish, to publication, to distribution about how you feel about it. When I first released the book, I was pleased with it and with the majority of the reviews being positive, I was still pleased with it. It’s not until I started writing new books that I resented my first book a little bit; I could see my writing getting better and began to think that my first book, while not terrible, would not have deserved to have had a publisher on board.
With that in mind, for the first time in a couple of years, I decided to read through my first book, The Lyons Orphanage, again and try to review it as any other reader would. I have shared some thoughts below as a reader and some other thoughts in italics to act as a writer’s commentary of my own evaluation. Of course, it is hard to review the book without thinking about the feedback I had received for it but will try to convey my thoughts below.
The story is fairly unique with the main character Sam being able to read minds, located in an orphanage set in modern times. The opening chapters are a bit of an exposition dump with most details about the orphanage revealed right away through Sam telling us rather than the reader finding out gradually. This does at least give us an early picture of the orphanage and Sam’s life with certain small details becoming more important than they seem as you reach the latter stages of the book.
A few reviews have discussed the setting of an orphanage in a more modern setting. The idea (which I explained in the sequel) was that this orphanage was one of a kind, that while all others went away, this one was seemingly allowed to remain, primarily because it was privately owned. Knowing what happens afterwards, what the events in the early pages of the book are foreshadowing, it is easier for someone like me to appreciate the slow-burner which is my book. I know I have planted that information there for the reader to make them question why but not all of it can really be taken in without reading it a second time.
The author pays a lot of care and attention to building up the characters and their thought processes although some of this could be achieved more organically. There is a tendency for characters to state the obvious or to reinforce what an action would already tell the reader or even say out loud the point that had just been explained to the reader in a block of text just before. The book suffers from a case of telling rather than showing.
This was a fairly common piece of feedback on the book and while it didn’t stop people enjoying it, it was one of those points that keeps the book from achieving a higher standard. This was in my mind before I started reading through again so I expected to see it but even so, I couldn’t believe how much unnecessary text there was. I feel as though choosing the first person narrative meant I tended to tell rather than show. This is something I feel like I have addressed in my latest writing.
This point does at least mean the characters are well-built and given plenty of background and personality. The friendships and alliances that make up the plot come about organically and the connection between the characters never feels forced. Even when the dynamics of the relationships change, it is never a sudden swing from one side to the other.
This was a common piece of positive feedback I received regarding the book. Conversations range from important plot points to simple, seemingly inane chat which all help to build up the relationship between characters naturally. Conversations that only involve important plot points don’t build friendship, just a necessity for the characters to interact with each other.
The plot developments aren’t exactly unpredictable, the reader should at least be on edge and know something must be up, but the way the reader has to follow Sam through his own perspective, to reach the answers and slowly discover the truth makes the journey more appealing than the reveals.
With plots like these, I feel that sometimes it is the small details that make it more appealing. You may suspect something to be up and you may suspect who you know is in the wrong but the questions still remain of how and why someone could act in a certain way. My intention was more to cause misdirection and conceive elaborate ways for characters to conceal information rather than trying to convince the reader that a trustworthy character might not be all they seem.
A small complaint is how often everybody in the story refers to the children as orphans all the time rather than children.
This was something that hadn’t occurred to me before and I think only one person mentioned it in a review but I now can’t get past the fact how the children are never simply referred to as children. It started to annoy me each time I read it. I actually maybe find it a bigger complaint even though it seems slightly innocuous.
The majority of the book seems to be there to set up relationships and build towards the more action-packed finish of the book. It is up to each reader to decide if they think the build-up to the end chapters makes the pay-off worth it in the end or not. While some of the plot points may be predictable, the sheer scale of the details behind the goings-on; about how much ground had to be covered for all the schemes in the plot to fall into place and that, rather than any big reveals, may be more enticing to the reader.
With the ideas I had for the plot and setting, there was only so much action and drama I could fit into the book particularly as the main character is a 13 year old boy who can’t go anywhere unless he is told to. Therefore, the best use of my time in the early stages of the book was to plant the seeds for the final few chapters for everything to kick off. Some information becomes obvious while there are small details which provide clues that not everyone will see or remember. It could well be a book that is best read a second time in order to piece it all together.
Ultimately, The Lyons Orphanage is a book which shows there is potential but also room for improvement as some reviews would suggest. It is certainly not a book for everyone and the slow start may put some off but others might find it is worth sticking with it. Some like it all while others feel the strong characters pull the story onwards to something better than the source material.
This is an honest review of my own book. If I wanted to try and sell it to anyone reading, I could have gone fully positive. Instead I want to give people an honest account of what they may and may not like about the book. If you would like to see for yourself or even to see if the blurb strikes you, The Lyons Orphanage, is still available to buy on Amazon with reader reviews to compare against mine; there are more reviews of the book on Goodreads.