My thoughts on Book Reviews

Book Reviews: How I Do It

A couple of years back, I started reviewing books but didn’t get very many posted, as I found it stressful. Most of the reading I do is from self-published, freshman, indie authors who rely on reviews to help get their books get read by a wider audience. Was my opinion worthy of influencing the career of a new author? Were my thoughts insightful enough to lead prospective readers down the right path?

I decided NO, and left reviews for others.

Yes, I tend to overthink things.

I’ve since decided to start this review thing again but feel the need to explain my point-of-view. Reading other reviews of those I’ve rated has left me feeling like maybe I’m on another planet. That is another reason I stopped posting my thoughts, but that’s just cowardly, so here goes another attempt…

First of all, I believe reviews are for readers. A review is to help someone decide whether or not they should spend their hard-earned money and invest their valuable time on a book. Reviews can truly be helpful for this. A review or two has helped me decide whether or not to buy a book. There’s even been a painfully negative review here and there that pushed me to read something when I felt the reviewer’s voice was overly harsh or seemed absurd to my point of view. This latter situation is why I stopped reviewing books myself, and, strangely enough, why I’ve decided to start reviewing again.

I think critiques and reviews are not the same thing.

I think many people believe negativity equates directly to intelligence – that finding the bad or interpreting something as inferior highlights a knowledge base above others. Inversely, if “we” like something “bad” it makes us stupid. I don’t like this. I must be too nice; not finding pleasure in saying anything that might hurt someone’s feelings. So much of it is in the approach; in the nature of the language used. I used to not post reviews under 3 stars. I stopped doing that, understanding after publishing my own books that the volume of rating matters as much as the level. Getting some 1 & 2 star reviews is healthy; a majority of them are a clue to reevaluate the writing. Still, I stay respectful and constructive, understanding throughout that my review expresses my opinion. My favorite book is someone else’s least favorite and thank god for that.

Many books I’ve really liked, despite feeling they could have been polished a bit before hitting the public eye, are worthy of reading. Depending on the kind of problems, that might mean I rate it 3 over 4 stars, though usually a 3 star comes from story problems. If I liked the book but thought it needed more development in some way, if I found myself skimming through large sections to get to the next part, the book will be 3 stars. If I forced myself to finish but couldn’t have cared less: 2 stars. 1 stars from me typically mean I DNF’d (did not finish).

5-star rating system

I continue to struggle with what to give 5-stars, versus 4-stars, versus 3. Part of me thinks a 5-star rating should be a rarity. 5-stars is the best, right? 5-stars means there’s very little, if any, room for improvement. 5-stars is for those favorite favorites.

Despite this argument with myself (still ongoing), I’ve started to toe the line. Inconsistenty equals problems. Reviews are to be helpful, not to prove my literary genius. This change of heart came after an author responded to a 3-star rating I gave alongside glowing comments. If reviews are to help convince others to read something I’m suggesting is worthy, maybe my star ratings should better reflect that.

Basically, after all this contemplation on how to best be fair to authors and their stories, I’ve decided on a compromise between my initial thoughts and my comparison of other reviewers. To reiterate, If I love a story, but genuinely think there should have been a little more development in a major case, it will get 4-stars. 5-stars go to those with very little missing. 3-stars will still signify a book worth reading but with some hiccups I couldn’t ignore.

–Goodreads’ 3 stars = ‘liked it’ while Amazon’s 3 stars = ‘it’s okay’. These are not the same thing to me. I think I tend to rate more in line with Goodreads, but because I think Amazon is more helpful to sales, I’ve been trying to gear my system to this.—

How, and Why, I Like A Story

Typically, why, and if, I like a book is based on emotion and gut. Even as I like “smart” stories and intelligently crafted characters, plots, and themes, my reviews are typically based off of my first response, emotional feelings rather than logical deductions and comparisons or deep study of nuance. If the book made me happy to read, I like it, even if I agree there may have been “better” ways the story might have been crafted, explained, structured, etc. In comparison to other reviews I’ve read, I’m definitely generous when it comes to structure, language usage, and engineering problems that most people are hung up on. One reason for this, I think, is that I read very fast, so tend to skim over “problems” that others, literally, trip over (like minor spelling and grammar errors). Secondly, I’m interested in the story. Crafting is difficult, and while I can see the argument that if you can’t craft or hire an editor, you shouldn’t publish, sometimes a story just wants to be told and we’re too impatient to figure out how to circumvent the world of capitalism needed to learn craftsmanship. If your story is engaging and real enough for me to slip down your rabbit hole, I’ll like your book, even if I can see where an editor, or a critical thinker, might have helped you immensely.

Lastly, spoilers are not necessary for a review. I’m not sure why that’s a thing. There is a book blurb for that. An essay is something that explains detailed points, critiques, argues, and analyzes. That’s not a review. The point is to explain why someone else should read the book without making it unnecessary for them to read it.

If you don’t like how I present my reviews, well, I have nothing to say about that. I like books. Books make me happy, and sometimes I like to tell people I liked a thing so maybe they’ll find the same joy. If you don’t like a thing that I liked, that’s okay. If there’s a How to Review like a Reviewer so You’ll No Longer be a Poser Reviewer memo, I’ll gladly take a look at that.

I’ll review your book! Email me a pdf with a release date (so I can give myself a deadline): cindy_martens@ymail.com

Happy Reading! 🙂

CMM

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Book Review: The Witch’s Revenge: Myth and Magic, Book 1

Book Review

The Witch’s Revenge: Myth and Magic, book 1

By: S.W. Millar

Urban Fantasy
4 stars

My name is Henry Stone.

Twenty-four hours ago, I was a regular twenty-one year old with a regular life. Over-protective parents, annoying best mate, about to graduate from uni and start a Masters in Creative Writing.

All that changed when I witnessed something I was never supposed to see, and it got my parents killed.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, I discovered I can do magic. Not the rabbits out of top hats kind, either. I know it sounds crazy, but I’m a witch. A real one.

Now I’m on my way to a top secret training academy for supernatural assassins—known as The Covert Executioner’s Network (COVEN)—with nothing to my name except the clothes on my back, my parents’ wedding rings, and a sworn oath to avenge their deaths.

I’d say wish me luck, but I think my luck has already run out.

I really enjoyed S.W. Millar‘s The Witch’s Revenge. The Magicians meets Shadowhunter Academy, it was a ride of constant excitement. A straightforward magic system, with plenty of eggs laid for future adventures, I’m looking forward to more. Give me demons, Mr. Millar!

Henry Stone is an oft-times infuriating protagonist, but I find that true of so many main characters. Wanting to slap them is often part of the fun of reading these suspenseful adventures, and I found it true here. Lots of angst, of past trauma poisoning the present, lovers of The Dresden Files will definitely like Millar’s debut. Well-paced, The Witch’s Revenge will keep you flipping pages long after you should have gone to bed. Even after, if you’re like me, you’ll be wondering about his nuggets of reference to Camelot and sorcerers and demons…I’ll be waiting in anxious anticipation for book 2.

Happy Reading 🙂

Book Review: The Space Between Worlds

Book Review

The Space Between Worlds

By: Micaiah Johnson
4.5 Stars

Multiverse travel is finally possible, but there’s just one catch: No one can visit a world where their counterpart is still alive. Enter Cara, whose parallel selves happen to be exceptionally good at dying—from disease, turf wars, or vendettas they couldn’t outrun. Cara’s life has been cut short on 372 worlds in total.

On this dystopian Earth, however, Cara has survived. Identified as an outlier and therefore a perfect candidate for multiverse travel, Cara is plucked from the dirt of the wastelands. Now what once made her marginalized has finally become an unexpected source of power. She has a nice apartment on the lower levels of the wealthy and walled-off Wiley City. She works—and shamelessly flirts—with her enticing yet aloof handler, Dell, as the two women collect off-world data for the Eldridge Institute. She even occasionally leaves the city to visit her family in the wastes, though she struggles to feel at home in either place. So long as she can keep her head down and avoid trouble, Cara is on a sure path to citizenship and security.

But trouble finds Cara when one of her eight remaining doppelgängers dies under mysterious circumstances, plunging her into a new world with an old secret. What she discovers will connect her past and her future in ways she could have never imagined—and reveal her own role in a plot that endangers not just her world but the entire multiverse.

You had me at Multiverse.

This book really did have fabulous characters and a smart world. Cara was fun to follow, and even more fun to cheer on. After finishing this book, I wanted to go back in and see all I’d missed the first time through (it’s back on my TBR).

A great journey into what we think we’ll do for personal gain, then what we decide when family and our self-respect are on the line. Cara faces this, must decide to stay the course to earn her climb up the ladder, or risk it all to do what’s right.

And, multiverse… I know for me, there was nothing else to say.

Happy Reading 🙂
~CMM

Book Review: Empire of Dragons

Book Review

Empire of Dragons, Cursed Empire: Book 1

By Rachel Schade

YA fantasy, royal/guard, enemies to…, betrayed, morally grey
5 Stars

One empire. An age-old hatred. Two girls risk everything—even their souls—for their people.

Revenge failed her…

After slaying the former empress, Lo vowed to never kill again. But when her path crosses with a mysterious thief, she begins to work as a vigilante—and to develop forbidden feelings—leaving her with an impossible choice.

Revenge fuels her…

Since her mother’s death, Jalie has been a hopeless prisoner in her own palace. Until a goddess grants her a brutal gift that could be the key to her freedom…if she can get past the soldier tasked with guarding her. As tension brews between them, he challenges everything she’s ever believed about her enemies.

There are two ways to get me to read a book. Say time-travel or say dragons. I dropped my entire TBR to read this dragon book, and I was not disappointed.

There is no “good” guy in Empire of Dragons, and I love it for that. The slow burn, forbidden royal/guard subplot was perfectly crafted, and the other–well, I had all the feels for the poor sod who just couldn’t undo past decisions. At least, that’s how I looked at it. While I didn’t necessarily like Lo, I appreciated her story, and her twitchy thief was the perfect compliment to her.

Excellent world-building, with just the right amount of magic to make it fun. I appreciated the direct god-sourced power and the tease of a possible conflict between said gods that may or may not be influencing events (this is just my reading too far between lines I have no business peering at. We’ll see if I’m even close or over-examing).

The conflict is real. It’s complicated. Each character is both right, and wrong, in their view of events, and the world. Each of them is stuck in the worldview of their own personal trauma. And isn’t that true of all of us? The only way I see this working out without everyone dying is for them to swallow their pride and look at everyone with the same compassion they expect for themselves. This is why I love fantasy. Looking at real issues–real, everyday events–just with dragons.

The next book in the series is one I’m genuinely looking forward to. Luckily, I only have a few more weeks to wait. If you love fierce female characters with angsty-forbidden love undertones, dragons, and systemic conflict, pick up Rachel Schade‘s Cursed Empire series.

Happy Reading 🙂

Book Review: Prophecy, book 1 of The Canellian Eye

Book Review

Prophecy: The Canellian Eye, book 1

By: Caroline Noe
4 Stars

Destiny can be savage.

The towering monolith of Erulia’s Prophecy stood for millenia in the watery paradise of Canellia, its warning unheeded.

That time is long past.

In the wake of dying twin suns, this generation faces extinction under the onslaught of an Ice Age.

Then, in the depths of despair, a child is born, bearing a singular birthmark: the symbol of their foretold saviour, Jehul’s Eye.

In a bid to find New Canellia, the Chosen youth launch into space, following their Prophet, Quaylan.

But where is he leading them?

“Long ago, when the stars were young and everything was possible…”
This second line of the book caught me, and while I’m not sure the author meant for me to take so much out of it, I did. It encompasses both the heart-swelling hope and nostalgia we often think when looking back, but infuses the sentiment with the reality of how ridiculous that can be.

“…when everything was possible…” It’s kind of a silly idea, yes? Was the universe different, fundamentally, when it was young that made things possible then that aren’t now? An entire philosophical discourse is reflected in that half sentence. At least for me.

I feel the main characters are tasked thus so. An impossible task blended perfectly with blind faith and pure grit. A wonderful grand scheme that is as fun to read as it is real and clever.

I was especially taken with the world and people of Canellia. The perfect use and creation of, what I imagined as, an elvish origin tied into a sci-fi world that was simply fantastic. The insane travels, the hardship of the first phase of their mission that is as exciting as it is heartwrenching. All followed by the reality of frustration that blending into a new world and culture would bring, multiplied by the questions of if their god and prophet can really come through.

Science Fiction fans who want a touch of something new, read this. People who love stories that revolve around social issues, read this. Love watching the convoluted way prophecy unfolds? Read it for that too.

Also, this book is why you should have more faith in indie authors 🙂

Happy Reading 🙂
~CMM