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

Review: Babel, by R.F. Kuang

Speculative Fiction, YA Fantasy

3 Stars

What a unique book this was in so many ways. I’ve never given more than 1 star to a book I didn’t, technically, finish. Honestly–probably–if the library hadn’t been about to take it back, I would have read it more leisurely and maybe not have been so bogged down in the following points.

Here’s what happened:

There is so much nerdy goodness in this book I absolutely love. Unfortunately, it was dispersed amongst the “real” story I found distracting from this talk of entomology and its uses and function within the magic system. Then, as I got into the real account, I’d be bumped back into the scholarly. While I liked both aspects of this book, I didn’t like them together. I was bored. Looking back at the first 30-40% at the halfway mark had me wondering why we needed so much to get us to this point. I wished for a story about the evolution of the word pairings only, or on the other side, a drama about Oxford students amidst colonial and social strife. Both aspects of the book were equally extraordinary. I can’t say that I’ve read a book that so nuanced the multifaceted psychology of those of underprivilege and those with. Each of Kuang’s characters perfectly highlighted an aspect those of us who can’t know too easily skip when contemplating the nature of existence from another’s perspective. And yet…

Like The Secret History, we follow a group of “friends” thrown together by their shared collegiate aspirations. At least in Babel, we’re given a clear picture of events, how they transpire, and why. The use of third person versus the single first-person telling of the former helps to give us more depth and breadth, which I appreciated much more than Tartt’s novel of similaresque theme. Yet, I enjoyed History more, which really has to do with my previous point of this meshing of too many things.

At about 65%, I skipped to the end and read the epilogue. This was enough to satisfy me so I felt I could say I read this book. Despite my basically DNFing this book, I can’t give it less than three stars. There really was so much good. I think I was just too impatient to settle in with it all?

Has anyone had a similar experience with this book or any other? I’d love to hear about it.

Happy Reading! 🙂

CMM

C.M. Martens’ Favorite Books

It definitely helps to know someone’s tastes when following recommendations, so I thought I’d put up some of my favorites. It was way harder than I thought to narrow this down. There are way more books on this page than I meant there to be…

Top 10

In no particular order:

  1. The Name of the Wind (Book 1 of the Kingkiller Chronicles) by Patrick Rothfuss
  2. Dune by Frank Herbert
  3. Hero (book 3 of Epic Saga) by Lee Stephen
  4. Empire of Silence by Christopher Ruocchio
  5. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
  6. Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
  7. Empire of the Vampire by Jay Kristoff
  8. Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer
  9. The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter
  10. Blood Song (Book 1 of the Raven’s Shadow Series) by Anthony Ryan

Almost made the top list

  • House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  • Evo Nation Series by K. J. Chapman
  • The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
  • Echo Series by Kent Wayne
  • 14 by Peter Cline
  • In Her Name Series by Michael Hicks (especially book 5)
  • The Host by Stephanie Meyer
  • The Legion & the Lioness by Robert D. Armstrong
  • Heretics of Dune by Frank Herbert
  • The Lightbringer Series by Brent Weeks
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry
  • Battlefield Earth by L. Ron Hubbard
  • Hyperion by Dan Simmons
  • Wyvern by A. A. Attanasio
  • The Dragonian Series paired with the Moonbeam Series by Adrienne Woods
  • Stain by A.G. Howard
  • Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Huge fan of:

  • Mercy Thompson Series by Patricia Briggs
  • First seven books in the Anita Blake Series by Laurell K. Hamilton
  • Anne Rice
  • Science Fiction
  • The Arthurian Saga by Mary Stewart
  • The Fever Series by Karen Marie Moning
  • The rest of the Dune books, including everything his son wrote
  • A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin (though I almost threw the last one)
  • Geodyssey by Piers Anthony
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  • Nighthawk by Marie Frances
  • Supernaturals: A Ghost Story by David Lynn Goleman
  • Xenogenesis Series by Octavia Butler
  • S. by J.J. Abrams
  • Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
  • To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini

I’m not a fan of:

  • …Brandon Sanderson books. I typically find them dull, though the concepts are always fantastic. I think I’ve given 3 stars to every book of his I’ve read, except the first Mistborn book which was a 4 star. So, I guess it’s not that I’m not a fan, I just don’t love him like everyone else I know…
  • …Stephen King. Not even The Dark Tower Series. So many words for no reason, though I did enjoy Misery and Pet Cemetary.
  • …The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. Sorry, Scott. I just don’t *shrug* Maybe because I’d already read Anita Blake and just couldn’t do another supernatural cop-mystery-who-done-it series? Maybe I’m just sexist when it comes to this kind of book…

Books I re-read over & over

  • Dune
  • Enemies by Tijan
  • Made of Steel Series by Ivy Smoak
  • Fever Series by Karen Marie Moning
  • Stain by A.G. Howard
  • The Burning Series by Evan Winter

Your Thoughts

I’d love to hear your comments on any of the above 🙂

One Word

What is One Word?

Essentially, instead of making New Year’s resolutions, One Word is a word you divine from the universe to guide you through the year. In past years, I’ve had simplicity and patience, for example. Check out Jon Gordon to get all the details.

Finding my word

This year, I really struggled to find my WORD. I felt completely blank about it over the weeks I was trying to be open to hear it. When I realized the word wasn’t blasting through my head like it had in previous years, I paid more attention to the constant feeling I had about it. Following this vague sense, I looked up and researched through my limited vocabulary down a deep rabbit hole.

First, it was INTENTION

Intention was where I started. But that wasn’t focused enough.

Intention to attention… but that’s more than one word, and not exactly what I felt.
I needed intention to relate more with sourcing my purpose, with ensuring I take action towards a goal that is wise and fitting and not ruled by pride and ego.


I’ve read that yoga can mean “work.” Intentional action. So, I started looking up definitions of yoga. At this point, I was pretty sure YOGA was my WORD, but I wanted to make sure I wasn’t just creating something of my own making from the hints the universe handed out.

Yoga: a union between the self and the divine, or more accurately to realize my identity with the Divine; to know and tune into my intrinsic nature.

No, that doesn’t sound terrifying at all.

Yoga is (according to Patanjali):

Equanimity of mind in success and failure.
Discretion in work.
The remover of misery and destroyer of pain.
The most supreme self.
Serenity.
The giver of infinite happiness.
Complete control over patterns or modifications of the mind.

Yoga is a lot. Much more than ONE WORD. So, I kept digging, trying to slim this all-encompassing way into a piece I could focus on. The YAMAS is where I found my WORD.

SATYA

…”absolute truth”, but Satya also refers to the virtue of being honest in thoughts, in actions and in words during everyday life…

https://styleoga.it/en/meaning-satya-yoga/

Impeccable truth. Clear, truthful intention. Satya is my One Word.

The actual doing…

Of course, how to go about achieving even the slimmest level of this is my current task. Journaling has become my job this last week as I try to dissect my brain patterns, try to cess out the things that make me not be SATYA (is it a verb? can it be a verb?) and find a way towards it.

Have any suggestions? I’d love to hear them. I’d especially love to hear if you have a word to focus on for the year.

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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