Reviewed by: BigAl
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Approximate word count: 70-75,000 words
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Born in Malaysia, Jeremy Chin graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia journalism school and subsequently built a career in IT, first in Southern California and later in London, and back home in Malaysia.
“Timothy Malcolm Smith, a young Creative Director at a cozy ad agency in East Central London, has warmed the hearts of an entire nation with his creativity and charisma, and is being hailed as one of London’s best creative minds ever. Having arrived at the pinnacle of fame in England, Timmy has shifted his sights beyond his home shores, to New York City. Since he began his career in advertising, it had been Timmy’s ambition to one day set foot in the Big Apple unannounced, and astound the city within days of his arrival, not with his mind, but with his feet.
Training in secret from the time he was a young boy, Timmy diligently perfected his running time till he was within reach of some of the world’s best. He had never before run in competition, and for many years held but one aspiration close to his heart, to win his maiden race, the New York Marathon.
With every Brit in the country tuned in to watch him, Timmy flew like the wind through the streets of New York, and built an insurmountable lead. On the cusp of victory, with an entire nation holding its breath, Timmy did what all his countrymen had come to expect from him. The unexpected.”
My thoughts on Fuel are varied, inconsistent, and probably contradictory.
With few exceptions, when I start a new book, issues with writing style are apparent early, within a couple chapters, if not a couple paragraphs. It is rare to encounter significant improvements as the book continues.
At a higher level, the structure of most novels is like a three act play. The characters and story might pull you in during Act I, but then many sag in the middle, making it a struggle to stay interested through Act II. If I were to graph many different aspects of how I relate to a story – interest, entertainment, or my emotional attachment to the characters and story, for example – the normal graph would quickly hit some level in Act I, sag a bit in Act II, and then climb to a level somewhat higher than Act I during Act III.
My reaction to Fuel was much different from the norm. I got off to a shaky start. The first thing to give me pause was describing a company this way:
Common Grounds Coffee had been around for ages. They’d been around longer than penicillin. Longer than tea bags. Before sliced bread.
Do we need more than the first sentence? If so, do we need all three comparisons and do they even work? I have doubts about the first two. While I like the last, some may find it a touch too clever. On a positive note, what this example does have is an attempt to say something without relying on the same old clichés (unless “been around for ages” qualifies). That is more than I can say about several other instances of clichés I encountered in the first portion of the book, this example being one of the more egregious:
But the partners were also gravely aware that their ship had entered uncharted depths, and that their vessel was now more a sunken treasure than a ship. They needed to pull a Lazarus to fish Common Grounds out of the deep.
We’ve got rabbits being pulled from hats, room made for the new guard, and dragons being figuratively slain, all within the first twenty-five to thirty percent of the book. It doesn’t get much more clichéd than this.
In my mind, Fuel was headed for a review of three stars, at best. And then something happened. I found that I started to care about the characters and rather than being a slog, Act II is when I started enjoying the read and caring how the story was going to turn out. If the clichés were there, I didn’t see them. I didn’t notice the author telling me the same thing three or four times. Act II read like a four star book.
Then I hit the last part, Act III, and things changed again. Here the tone of the book went from that of an interesting story to inspirational, almost spiritual. Some of the events that happened here would have had me yelling “I call BS” if they’d happened earlier, yet given the different tone or feel I accepted them without question. The emotion drenched finish left me feeling that I’d just read a five star book, until I started thinking back to the struggle at the beginning and reviewed my notes. As I said at the beginning, my thoughts on Fuel are varied, inconsistent, and probably contradictory.
Uses UK spelling conventions. A small amount of adult language and situations.
No significant issues.
Rating: **** Four stars