Friday, April 26, 2013

Book Review: The Photo Traveler by Arthur J. Gonzalez

The Photo Traveler

Author: Arthur J. Gonzalez

Purchase on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Synopsis: Seventeen-year-old Gavin Hillstone is resigned to being miserable for the rest of his life. Left alone in the world after his parents died in a fire when he was four, he was placed in foster care, which for him meant ending up in an abusive home with an alcoholic adoptive father.

Gavin’s only escape is in taking and creating images. His camera is his refuge from the unending torture and isolation of daily life in his “family.”

Until he learns by accident that he isn’t alone in the world after all. His father’s parents are still alive and living in Washington DC.

When he takes the plunge and travels 3,000 miles to find his grandparents, he learns that they—and he—are part of something much bigger, and more dangerous, than he could ever have imagined. Something that has always put his family at risk and that will now threaten his own life, while forever changing it. 

He learns that he is one of the last descendants of a small group of Photo Travelers—people who can travel through time and space through images. But his initial excitement turns to fear, when he soon discovers that he and his grandparents are being pursued by the fierce remnants of a radical European Photo Traveler cult, the Peace Hunters. What Gavin has, they want!

His adventure will take him to past eras, like The Great Depression and the Salem Witch Trials. Gavin will have to discover who he really is and must make choices that spell the difference between life and death for himself, for the relatives he now knows and loves, and for the girl he will come to love.

For Gavin Hillstone, life will never be the same.

Brought to you by TeamNerd Reviewer Annabell Cadiz

Warning: There will be spoilers and you should assume ranting of some sort.

Review: Up front I will confess that I did not actually read The Photo Traveler in its entirety. I got to about 150 pages in then decided to skip to the last two chapters. I stuck to the book for as long as I could but my patience ran out.

Gavin was one of the hardest characters to like and since the entire book is narrated from his point of view, the story faltered because of it. I can understand what the author attempted to do through his character. Gavin grew up in a foster family with an abusive, alcoholic foster father and a foster mother too afraid to ever stand up to him and a foster sister who is spoiled, so he is lonely and finds solace in taking pictures. He has no friends and feels trapped. I could understand why Gavin always felt so angry and suspicious. The problem is that Gavin throws temper tantrums like an eight-year-old throughout the entire book! He’s supposed to be seventeen (possibly eighteen??—can’t remember which) but reads like a twelve or fourteen-year-old in dialogue and actions. I could never feel any real connection with him or care about what he faces because he can’t stop acting like the world owed him something. He’s incredibly selfish, angst-ridden, and childish. He makes a TON of stupid, reckless decisions that not only affect him, but those around him and never thinks about that long enough to actually stop committing the same stupid acts. I seriously wanted to kick him, HARD!

There aren’t any characters I liked in the book. None of them were developed well-enough to find any real connection with and they lacked real depth. The villain-type characters were too ridiculous to take as a serious threat.

Then there’s the plot. I like the concept of the plot—being able to travel back in time and to the future through photos—but the mess of execution killed the idea as soon as it’s presented. Gavin discovers he has biological grandparents he never knew about and runs away from his foster home to find them. Once he gets there he quickly throws one of his temper tantrums, despite how they invite him to live in their home, and he storms out. When he gets back he starts demanding answers from them and the grandparents take him into a photograph to show him the truth of what their family is. Gavin just accepts everything without much of a fight and right from the beginning, he makes dangerous mistakes that put his life in danger, his grandparents life in danger and those who befriend him. He nearly gets killed more than once but never learns his lesson!

There were also a lot of inconsistencies within the concept. Gavin’s grandparents take Gavin into a photo the first day they meet. They claim only a few chapters later that they can’t travel through photos anymore and haven’t done it for a long time, which made absolutely no sense. They continue to claim they can’t travel between pictures but kept doing it throughout various scenes in the book. Gavin travels into a picture to see his parents and somehow they instantly recognize who he is but it’s a picture BEFORE Gavin is ever born, how would they know what he looked like in the future?? Gavin’s mom also claims he has her eyes but she’s pregnant with Gavin when he travels back in time to see them, so how would she know that?? Gavin parents also tell him if he travels to the same picture more than once they wouldn’t know him, so how would they be able to recognize him in future pictures??

The romance between Gavin and Alana didn’t work. Now that was probably because I didn’t read a good chunk of the book but I did go back to skim through chapters to make sense of the ending better. The romance came off as a mixture of The Time Traveler’s Wife and Timeless except it lacked depth and actual romance and made Alana come off as a ditz.
The pacing was choppy because certain aspects to the plot happened too quickly while other aspects were dragged out too much. The dialogue fell flat and the characters were one dimensional. The ending literally ended right in the middle of a scene in the middle of a conversation! That is not an ending. It’s a scene left unfinished. And the big twist that takes place wasn’t so much a twist, just creepy and weird.

The Photo Traveler is a debut novel and as such isn’t the worse debut novel I’ve ever read. The concept is a good one but that’s the only element that works for the book.

Perhaps as the series progresses, the execution will get stronger as will the characterization. 

There’s always hope.

Best of luck to the author!

About the Author: THE PHOTO TRAVELER is young adult author Arthur J. Gonzalez’s first novel. Arthur was born and raised in Miami surrounded by his loud Cuban family. He graduated from the University of Florida, where he acquired his coffee obsession and his chocolate hoarding antics. He’s the proud father of one baby girl, Sookie–his miniature schnoodle dog. Arthur is a self-professed goofball who spends 98% of his life laughing. He’s now working on his second novel.

Where to Find the Author

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