Recommendation: This book wasn’t really for me, but if you like self-help and memoir and don’t mind some scatter, then this will be a solid, quick read for you.
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First off, let’s give some applause for Anne Riley because, even though I mention in my Review Policy that I’m not big on self-help books, she was a brave, adventurous soul and still asked me to give her self-published book a read.
But, as I feel the need to be totally honest on my blog, this book didn’t exactly knock my socks off. Elusive Little Sucker walks through Anne Riley’s search for happiness. Career, family, friends. Creativity, discipline, strength. Riley tries quite a few paths on her search, picking up little clues along the way but always feeling that something is missing. That little feeling pushes her to try again and search harder, until she finally understands how to be happy and what to do with it.
Anne Riley is a competent writer but her status as an author is still amateur. At times she has difficulties staying within her stories. She’ll jump out for an explanation or a comment that isn’t totally necessary and suddenly the flow is interrupted and you’ve got to make an effort to get back into it. And, as most writers, Riley can be caught out by a cliché every five to ten pages. It’s not terrible, but the grass is always greener on the other side (wait…..damn it). Still, when she’s in the midst of her stories, there’s no doubt that Riley can write. She’s got those little details that turn your average day into something worth remembering and she has a good, discriminatory eye for choosing stories that matter and ignoring the ones that don’t.
The bigger problem with Elusive Little Sucker is that it stands somewhere between a self-help book and a memoir. It has advice in it (and usually pretty solid advice), but it is derived from Riley’s specific life experiences and isn’t necessarily applied on a larger scale. So you end up with an extremely personal narrative that you might have difficulties fully connecting with. There’s a reason why self-help and memoirs are usually separate, and it is because of this overly personal touch. One page you’re reading advice and thinking how/if you can apply it to your life and the next page Riley is trying to explain the details of her work and it just feels jostling and unbalanced.
The thing I do absolutely love about Elusive Little Sucker is the fact that Riley respects the time that her readers devote to the book. The majority of self-help books are extremely repetitive in nature. After all, do you know many people who could honestly write down 300 pages of advice without just saying the same things over and over? And even if they could, would you really want to read all that? For this genre my answer is always no. But, everybody feels the need to make that 250-350 page range that publishers swoon over. After all, who would spend money on a book that is smaller than a breadbox? (He asks peeking around, shyly raising his hand). Well, Riley knows that is all nonsense that just dilutes a book’s quality. So, she doesn’t bother with it. Elusive Little Sucker is slim, at about 100 pages, and shouldn’t take more than a couple evenings to read. Riley doesn’t repeat herself. She tells her stories, she makes her points, and then she moves on. Why? Well, because she thinks you’ve moved beyond the kindergarten level of needing everything said ten times consecutively before you can understand it (“Dylan, will you turn off the computer. Dylan, turn off the computer. Dylan. Turn off the computer. Turn it off. Dylan. Turn. It. Off” – me everyday I worked at a summer camp). And I, for one, really appreciate that. After all, if I think I need the advice repeated to me, I can always just read the book again.
So, there you have it. It’s not a perfect book by any means and Riley’s not an amazing author (at least not yet). But, it’s higher quality than most of the self-published books you’ll come across. Besides a weird malfunction with my kindle where it decided to drop the tail end of consecutive Ls (who real y needs al those Ls, anyways?), the grammar and spelling are spot on. It probably could have used an editor to tighten in the focus and decide whether it wants to be a self-help or a memoir, but then it also would have ballooned into the obnoxious, repetitive norm. So, really, I’d call it a draw with traditionally published self-help books….which means that I didn’t really like it. But, if that’s your genre, you can spend $7 in worse places.