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The Milestone Tapes Paperback – February 19, 2012
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Top Customer Reviews
How wrong I was.
I write science fiction with aliens and explosions so that's the kind of thing I'm drawn to when I read. However, while I'm more than happy to explore outside my genre, reading chick-lit is definitely right down the bottom of the list of weekend activities I enjoy... the experience hovering somewhere between being waterboarded and stung to death by millions of tiny scorpions. Further, the Milestone Tapes is also a writer's debut novel and I know from experience that, regrettably, so often a young writer's debut novel just isn't their best work.
So when I saw that Ashley was a new author to the Kindleboards, and she mentioned in a thread that she hadn't had any sales of her debut novel yet... I had my reservations, but against my instinct I decided to help her out. Her cover was beautiful, her book was cheap and she conducted herself professionally in the threads she posted in so I thought, hey, why not... I'll buy a copy, read the first bit of it, say how it wasn't my thing, give the book a short three star review and be done with it. I went into this work feeling like I was just going through the motions; I thought reading this was going to be a chore, feeling only slightly mollified by the knowledge that I only had to force my way through enough of it to write a review and then I could walk away.
All that went out the window when, at about 2:40am on a week night, I suddenly realized what time it was and just how deeply I'd been sucked into the world of the Chamberlands.
First of all, the book is quite long given the premise, and this surprised me. I read a few pages then procrastinated for about a week and a half, casting my eyes longingly towards that scorpion pit in lieu of reading, before deciding I should just get it over with... but when I did I couldn't put it down.
This 'all at once' thing might not work for everyone. The book's not a light read, especially the first part; Ashley pulls no punches emotionally and The Milestone Tapes details clinically, precisely and elegantly the subject matter, and does so with a quiet grace that echoes the events it is portraying... made all the more tragic by the fact you *know* what's coming. I'm a bitter and jaded cynic hardened by years on the Internet, twisted and emotionless to my blackened and empty core, and yet... I found the quiet grace of Jenna's extremely well researched, tragically believable journey towards the untimely end of her life haunting and intensely emotional, especially the end of book one.
The Milestone Tapes is subtle in the way it handles things; there's no fate of the world at stake here... no dramatic hijinks and just-in-the-nick-of-time rescues, just painful and humiliating death slowly creeping up on one woman's life for the first half, then the blossoming life of her daughter in the second. This works to the novel's advantage, giving it a grounding in the real world and sometimes -- just sometimes -- make you wonder if the writer isn't writing this as a therapy novel, working from painful experience. I don't know the answer to that and the fact that the book inspires such thoughts is to its benefit.
I used the highlight function to draw attention to lines I really enjoyed... and there were a lot more of those than I originally thought possible in a work like this. I can't share them directly, but when enough people highlight a section that part will show up at the bottom of the book's page on Amazon... so *eventually* she'll see what I liked.
The prose is elegant, tight and descriptive -- flowery in places, and sometimes slightly melodramatic to my eyes, but in such an emotionally driven piece this really isn't to be unexpected. Some things that stood out:
- The descriptions of the results of the mastectomy were quite chilling.
- Ending to book one. Yeah... that was to be expected. I didn't cry, stop looking at me like that. I didn't!
- Book two, February. I laughed, then smiled.
- The epilogue was great.
That said... there *are* flaws and when you're reviewing you're a critic, and the role of a critic is to be critical. I found a scattering of typos; nothing too distracting, nothing that would be caught by a spellchecker, but I did notice the occasional missing word or missing piece of punctuation (period or space usually), or other mistakes that slipped through the review process (a bowl of 'icy' instead of 'ice', for example). There were also a few awkwardly phrased sentences where I thought an additional proofread would be the last little bit of spit-polish that the story needed. It seems a shame to have crafted this wonderful, engaging tale without ironing out the bugs; in a lesser story I would have just ignored them, but The Milestone Tapes is good so my tolerance for avoidable, simple errors was reduced.
Fortunately the areas needing just a little more polish seemed concentrated in clumps, though, which suggested that the section I was reading was added in when the book was nearly complete so was just missed in the review process. These occurrences were fairly uncommon and almost to be expected in a work of this length, so they didn't distract me from the flow of the narrative... but I did notice them.
I felt the story lingered too long on the first half. The story was, of course, about the titular tapes... but they didn't show up for a while and some of the scenes, such as finding the float on the beach, were cool but unnecessary. I tend to be brutal with my editing, so if I had my way... honestly I would have cut some scenes, or even compressed the first half of the book into the prologue, leaving the entire work about Mia's life, using the tapes as a device to look back at Jenna's experiences through Mia's eyes. As it stood I was dreading the the half-way change in protagonist for a number of reasons but it's handled smoothly (and with manly, manly tears).
I did think Gabe was "too perfect", as was Bryan, Mia's teenage love interest. I know, I know... it's chick-lit. Unrealistically perfect male romantic interests are par for the course, almost a required feature, but still. As a male reader, I found his character to be sometimes hard to relate to. He was obviously wealthy, worked in an interesting field and was very good at what he did, was a perfectly loyal husband, was loving towards Jenna and their child to the bitter end and never did anything wrong the entire book... and was very handsome to boot.
While I'm sure that person exists somewhere, for us mere mortals the strain of watching your beloved wife wither and die as you sacrificed everything you'd spent your life working to achieve would probably drive us to do at least one stupid thing during that time... or at least drink a lot more. I find stories of ordinary, flawed people doing extraordinary things despite it all more engaging than reading about perfect people always doing the right thing, so I would have liked to see the strain of what was happening effect him a little more than it did... to show the effects his grief were having on his life aside from a little tiredness and job changes, but the story is not really about him. It's about Jenna and her daughter.
I thought it was a bit odd that the cost of Jenna's multiple treatments and hospitalizations didn't get mentioned, and in my mind this represents the loss of a potentially engaging story element. The Chamberlands had money, clearly, but they are also both freelancers and self employed; it's assumed they had health insurance, I suppose, but... Jenna's decline seems to be a journey without external stress, where Gabe stoically stand by her, her sister finds time to reconcile with her despite her own troubles, and her child goes largely unaware of what's happening. I hinted to this above, but I feel there needed to be more external stress in this story... and a mountain of crippling hospital bills could very well have been that little extra 'thing'.
Expanding on this slightly, I think this story could have been more tragic if, while the disease destroyed Jenna's body, it also ravaged Gabe's personality; he could have gone from successful, clean cut, perfect husband to a bankrupt and bitter loner buried in debts accrued trying to save someone he loved but ultimately died, and I think that would have shown that when someone suffers as Jenna does, that darkness can begin to creep out of the person and drag others down with them. It's a missed opportunity, but the story works as-is and, again, it's chick-lit, so the way Ashley chose to write this tale is absolutely forgiveable... even for soul-less misanthropes like myself.
I felt the decision to make the protagonist for the first half of the book a writer to be a dangerous choice... but one that ultimately paid off. Writers writing about writing in fiction is a minefield; it can become self-indulgent and whiny, where the "self-inserted-author-avatar" struggles with writer's block and procrastinates by writing reviews instead of working on their own looming deadlines (uhh...), etc etc. Fortunately Ashley navigates this minefield with the same grace seen in the rest of the novel and nothing like this happens at all. Never once did I get the impression that Jenna's profession as a writer was merely a way for her to say "Look! Look! I'm a writer too!" and undue time is not spent on what she writes and why; instead, Jenna's profession added to her character and to the work as a whole so I'm storing that one under 'dodged a bullet there'.
Some tapes were not read "on screen" or even mentioned; three of them in fact, out of ten. I'm stuck between thinking this is sequel bait, or perhaps a deliberate choice on the author's behalf, but I kind of felt that there was an unspoken promise made when the premise of this book was laid down that we, the audience, would get to hear all ten tapes. We were guests in the minds of first Jenna, then Mia, and so it seems a little... unfair... towards the audience to be denied those experiences.
Fortunately, the digital world provides remedy (as it tends to do). Either these tapes were sequel bait, or they and the story behind them would be released as short stories, or something akin to this. In any event, I expected to read all ten tapes and was surprised that nearly half of them were absent entirely... not even mentioned. I would have preferred to have some of the more fluffier scenes edited out and the rest of the tapes put back in, but I suspect Ashley has her reasons for this.
I went into this book expecting -- almost wanting -- to hate it and came out really, genuinely impressed by the quality and strength of Ashley's writing. While there are flaws in The Milestone Tapes, there's nothing here that really made me roll my eyes or mutter, 'Oh jeez, really?', so I think my final result for this book is 4.5 stars... which, on Amazon, I'll choose to round up to 5. Ashley has done mighty fine work here, and the fact that someone who represents possibly her most potentially hostile audience -- someone who, at least initially, was just begging for the flimsiest excuse to switch off the Kindle and call it a day -- managed to not only finish it, then award this story the best possible score Amazon allows, shows the universal appeal of The Milestone Tapes.
At the end of the day, despite some minor niggles, this is a cracking story by a new writer who I know will go far in the self-publishing game.
I look forward to reading more of her work and I'm reluctant to end the review by recommending this story to women who like chick-lit, because I genuinely feel that it should be recommended to *anyone* who enjoys a great story. I write that because, well, that's what The Milestone Tapes is; a cracking read by a young, talented author who has crafted an engaging, realistic, tragic tale with an uplifting ending that really draws you in there and keeps you there.
I found the idea of making milestone tapes is a great idea even if you don't know you are dying. My great grandma passed away when I was a senior in high school and I was so close to her. After reading this book I wish she would have written down things or even made tapes so that I could go back and listen or read her words. I am sure any person would love to go back and read what their parents left them.
When it comes right down to it I have to give this book 5 stars and it will be a book that I will always keep and I am sure I will read it over and over again. I recommend this to anyone who knows what is feels like to lose a loved one!
There are a lot of high ratings for this book, which, along with the beautiful cover (seemingly rare these days among self-published and e-book authors) and the intriguing premise, led me to give it a go. I'm not sure if the 4 and 5 star ratings are because this is the author's first book, but I really can't agree with them. I am struggling to give it these 2 stars.
[Unspecific spoilers may follow. To view full review with spoilers, see[...]
The story was tackled moderately well, though I thought going into it that Jenna's story would be more of a prologue than a full half of the book. It left Mia's story feeling a bit rushed, and we didn't get to hear all of the tapes. I assumed from the outline of the book that we would get to hear all of the tapes, or get an explanation as to why we didn't hear all of them. It was a bit of a let-down. Mia's milestones also seemed hurried, and not everything can be explained away by how fast young love moves. Everything happened to her within a couple of months, and it just seemed unrealistic to me. The epilogue was well done, though.
The writing and lack of editing was ultimately what let me down. I originally thought that this file had been badly converted from PDF, but then realised I'd downloaded it straight from Amazon. There were so many glaring typos and omitted words that it became incredibly distracting. Added to this were mixed metaphors (children were 'under toe', not 'under foot' or 'in tow'), sentences that were mixed up or had extra random words added in, and misuse of words (e.g. cankerous instead of cantankerous, some verbing of nouns). This will probably seem offensive, but at some points I felt like the author was a very high level non-native speaker of English. There were a lot of errors a native speaker (especially a writer) shouldn't have made (e.g. 'tipped toed', 'dapping' instead of 'dabbing'). I stopped several times to decide whether or not to abandon the book completely, but I wanted to see where the story went.
The dialogue often seemed forced or unnatural, and a lot of descriptive passages could have been edited out. Funnily enough, some of the best prose was used in describing buildings and decor, and I think those sentences would have been better used to describe the people. I was stuck imagining Jenna as Ginnifer Goodwin.
I would recommend this book to others, but only if it undergoes another couple of rounds of severe editing. The author shows promise, but desperately needs a good editor.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Needs more editing. Numerous typos distract from story !