Reflections on Reviewing Novels

Buried within this reflection on my reviewing practice is a review for the novella: The Curse of the Owl by Qatarina Wanders.

There’s this in-between where I often struggle with reviews. It’s important to me to maintain a steady level of integrity. I’ve lost a few fellow indie authors’ support by offering 3 stars instead of the 4-5 stars they seek. I think there’s some kind of unspoken agreement about that, but I just can’t abide it. Especially when giving 3 stars is already a reach. I want you to come here, see what I had to say about a book, decide to read it based on that saying, and trust I was honest. If you go into a book and find I over or under-stated, you won’t come back and see what I had to say.

I don’t know if readers don’t consider books rated under 4 stars. I will. Three stars to me means: good book, worth it. 4 stars is great, and 5 is couldn’t put it down, stuck in my head, changed my life kind of story. Sometimes I’m a little looser with the last, but all of this means 3 stars is still a good book. All that said, I understand that’s not a view everyone holds, so sometimes I go 4 if I’m hovering at 3+.

This is something that happened with my recent read. The Curse of the Owl starts with pages of info dumping. Paragraphs of explanation between single lines of dialogue. I recognize it because it’s a thing I’ve just learned not to do (in that, I have done it, and now recognize to not do it). It’s also a point I find with many indie authors doing it on their own (of which I am one. I don’t have the budget for legit editors, so I make do with reader feedback and numerous go-overs). My point: indie books are often published sans the final few edits. This doesn’t make them bad books. It definitely does not mean the stories aren’t good. It just means the ratings are always there, which doesn’t mean they’re not worth reading.

For The Curse of the Owl, I left this review:

This fast read is fun and interesting, with a unique take on the supernatural world I am curious to learn more about. With a pair of kick-butt protagonists, I found the stakes real and relatable. There is definitely enough here to turn into a full-length novel. While I found the front 40% a great heap of info dumping, the action sequences through the back half were exciting and page-turning. This novella seems a great set-up for the main series I have added to my TBR.

I understated and over-stated, just a little, all the things I said I wouldn’t to maintain a level of integrity. If I wasn’t reviewing this for a service, I would have put it down in the first few pages. That thought alone should warrant this short book unworthy of 4 stars, yet that is what I gave it. The ending did pick up. It was exciting. There were multiple cool action sequences. It’s a prequel to a series about the daughter and niece of the characters told here. Like so many indie books, I wasn’t satisfied. I wanted more. I wanted everything to get developed and told, not just washed over.

Happy Reading 🙂

CMM

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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TEN-ZERO-NINE

Some book availability updates:

TEN-ZERO-NINE is the psychological thriller sequel to my Rishi’s Wish series. A short, fast-paced read that will leave you biting your nails and afraid to turn the lights off. Get it free here:

Some things you can’t take back.

All Steve wanted was to find the balls to tell the girl of his dreams how he felt.

And he finally had.
Today was that day. A day engineered with no distractions. A day for just the two of them. No roommates. No cowardice. No second-guessing that the friendship they’d built over the last year wasn’t more.
Today was the day his hellish existence would move into the light.

Snatched away by four simple words, Steve’s day turns dark. From one second to the next, taking his future in his hands turns to a speeding train bearing down on him.

Each day more torturous than the last, he’s forced to watch his love slumber through a dangerous experimental procedure. A procedure that has never worked. A procedure that turns her from his friend into subject 10-0-9.

When she wakes, when she finally comes to, the first to survive, Steve wants to take it all back. The nightmare he’d been living was nothing compared to this.

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 🙂

From the Start…

From my own experience and from what I often hear from other writers, there’s a tete-a-tete that happens between what we want/think our stories should be, and what the story itself has in mind. Right away, when writing KILLING GAME, that became my truth. Daniel was meant to die from the outset–this much necessary point to show Desiree the severity of her situation, and the even more daunting idea of consequence–but continued to live. Dimitri came to life to force that point when the first character refused to stick to his script. So much of that happens in so many stories I hear about. These tales have a life of their own, and any good creator allows them their necessary space.

Sometimes, an idea just isn’t that great. Sometimes, the market knows best.

I purposefully wrote Rishi’s Wish sans a real love interest. Sure, it’s one of the main points that makes Urban Fantasy what it is, but I decided I didn’t want to use it. At least not right away. I wanted this clueless girl to stumble and fall and pick herself up on her own. I wanted her to figure out that playing meek and quiet wasn’t a sure path to the right thing just falling into her lap. Does she receive help along the way? Sure. Are there those who wish they were in a relationship with her? Yes, but it’s not the main focus of the story. Not even the third focus.

Even so, reader feedback showed me these love connections are so important. While I’d wanted the romance to stay periphery, comments suggest this is an impossibility. I have team-Hamal and team-Daniel conversations frequently. Readers want Dee to fall in love.

There is a quick almost-togetherness in book 1. Hamal does pine. Daniel has doubts. Pollux shows interest. Maybe I did lay the groundwork more than I meant to…

This quote from book 1 sums up what I was trying to say. Ironically, this scene got cut:

“Careful your solitude doesn’t create emotional ties that wouldn’t exist if given other circumstances.”

-Daniel to Dee, cut scene from KILLING GAME

That’s ultimately why I never tie these characters together. I was pointing out how not real, or if you don’t like that, how situational their feelings are. Hamal is the only person Dee has ever met with who she can discuss the strange things happening to her. He’s the only person she knows that can truly help her. He’s the only one who’s ever given her any information.

When Dee is further isolated, Daniel is the only one to talk to. While she never sees him as more than a friend, her uniqueness pulls Daniel towards her. Just as that same oddity pulls everyone near her close. Is she some amazing personality people can’t help but love? Gods, no. She rarely shows her personality, so busy toeing the line, hiding, afraid someone will decide to kill her. That no one knows what to make of her, that no one knows how to interpret what they think of her, these feelings are mistaken for like, lust, and in some cases, love.

Not forever though

There is a love story intertwined here, but it doesn’t start to show its face until Born To Die. Hopefully, readers won’t be too mad at me for this, after having their hopes pegged on one or another character. Dee still has a ways to go. She still has to decide which path to walk. Not until then will she be ready to sit with someone as her partner.

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