January Reviews: 19 Fabulous Novels #amreading #amreviewing

  • What Have I been reading and reviewing in January?

19 Books! I’ve had a wonderful January. I’m sure I have broken some kind of record; I’ve never read so many books in one month in my life, and I’ve enjoyed them all thoroughly. This may have been due to the fact that I’ve been in bed a good few days with the flu, and enjoyed many cosy evenings reading by the fireplace, whatever the reason, I feel very inspired!

I’ve experienced passion, adventure, crime, love, fear, terror, madness, heartbreak, loss, forgiveness, distress, happiness, and laughter. I’ve travelled to the Scottish Highlands, an idyllic Irish island, The English countryside and London, Maine, New York, Boston, US small towns, an enigmatic lake in US, the wilds of Alaska.

So, I’ve had plenty of fun!

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  • The books I didn’t review.

I’ve read and reviewed 19 books. I’ve also started many others, but didn’t get past the ‘look inside’ pages, because I didn’t enjoy reading, so I didn’t finish, and therefore didn’t review.

I don’t review the books I dislike, for two reasons:

1) I didn’t finish them, so it seems unfair, who knows if the book improved?  Perhaps I wasn’t in the mood for that type of book on that particular day?

2) I don’t like sending negative messages into the world. What’s the point?

You may say ‘to warn readers’. Readers can read blurbs and 10% of the book for free, so in less than five or ten minutes, they’ll know if they want to buy it or not.

I’m not on a crusade to save readers, they are perfectly capable of saving themselves!

My aim is to point out the positive aspects of the books I enjoy, hoping that others will enjoy them, too, and I’m also supporting other authors.

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  • Why do I read?

1- To Unwind. A cup of tea or glass of wine depending on the day, and a book I enjoy is a wonderful end to a busy or boring day.

2- To Learn. I read to observe how other writers write. I check out everything! From formal aspects such as the blurb, the acknowledgements, whether the chapters have names or numbers, or both, to linguistic and literary aspects such as the use of dialogue tags, adverbs, prologue or epilogue, characterisation, plot development. I usually highlight along the way, so I go back and have a look later. It’s easy to do with the kindle app.

3- To Research. I read to try to understand why I (and other readers) enjoy reading the books I/they read. What makes a book compelling? It’s like an assignment. The best way to learn to write is not necessarily to read books on writing, it’s to read books critically and with an observant and open mind. I’m not only reading, I’m also learning to write, which is an ongoing process. And believe me, every single page I read teaches me something about my own writing process.

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Going back to my reviews. There are far too many reviews to include in one post, so I’m going to be posting them over various days and weeks.

This is a peek of the reviews I’ll be posting:

The retelling of Beauty and the Beast set in the Scottish Highlands, two erotic romances, a disturbing tale of horror and madness, two romantic comedies, a sweet Christmas themed love story, a courtroom thriller, an Intense romantic trilogy set in Manhattan, an action packed romance set in Alaska, A disturbing psychological drama set in the UK, a contemporary family drama set in an American small town, A heartwarming love story of two families who have suffered loss through cancer, a romantic family drama set in Ireland, Crime fiction set in Maine, A historical romance set in Edwardian England, a sweet and humorous office romance, two thriller suspense novels.

Here are two of my favourite this month:

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I’m penning mostly shorter, more concise and quicker reviews, because I need more time for reading and my own writing, and I believe they’re more helpful to readers and authors.

In some cases, I’ll be including short author spotlights or interviews, with my review.

If you’re very impatient and want to read my reviews straight away, my reviews are all here on amazon 

They’re also posted to my Facebook page Lucy Shares Lovely Books, where I let readers know what I’m reading, what I’m reviewing, and news about book promotions.

What have you been reading in January?

The Value of Negative Reviews

Please take the poll at the end of this post!

I was prepared for the inevitable. You can’t please everyone, and if your novel challenges traditional ideas on love, marriage, and literary archetypes, some readers are bound to disagree.

Yes, it’s happened to me. I’ve received a one-star review 😦

My debut novel is my baby, and I really do mean my baby. I have three children and three grandchildren I adore, and they know my novel is my baby, too. It was born out of years, months, and hours of toil, strife, hard work, and immense joy. I love it. Every word, paragraph, page, and chapter, has been filled with love and care. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. It just means that I love every single letter of it.

I had told myself many times, “it will happen, you can’t please everyone, and everyone is entitled to their opinion, which needn’t be the same as yours”.

It’s a ‘small’ consolation to remind myself that all writers have had negative reviews and criticism. The following article gives famous examples of writers knocking other writers.

My favourite is Mark Twain’s, although I don’t agree, at least not entirely! He wrote the following statement in a letter to Joseph Twichel (13th September, 1898):

Everytime I read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ I want to dig her (Jane Austen) up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.’

I can imagine, petite and demure Jane, shivering in her grave replying, “Vanity working on a weak head, produces every sort of mischief.

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I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.

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“Vanity working on a weak head, produces every sort of mischief.”

So, what did I do?

After reminding myself how all writers will experience it, I consoled myself with my positive reviews. I looked up the topic on the Internet, moaned and groaned, and then spent the evening making biscuits with my grandson, my best friend and colleague, Gabriela, and her son, who is my grandson’s age. Then we ate them all!

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Now, after a delicious break, back to my predicament, and the main topic of this post.

So, once you get a negative, one-star review, what do you do?

(I’m talking about ‘normal’ one-stars, real readers who just don’t like your novel, not trolls or catfish, they’re another matter).

First, face up to the fact that home is lovely and cozy, and your friends and family are supportive, but, well, once you publish your novel, it’s the real world out there, and there are lots of people with diverse opinions, and backgrounds, and agendas, and you can’t please everyone.… and finally, so what? It’s happens to all of us!

There are some interesting opinions in various articles in the Huffington Post  and according to Beth Bacon, there are 5 Ways For Authors to Handle Bad Reviews, See more opinions here. 

My conclusion, after reading and pondering, is that all is not bad. There are positive aspects to bad reviews.

There actually is life after a bad review! 

(Yes, I know, some people find consolation anywhere…It’s nice to be one of those, you know, you’ve got to laugh to keep from crying….look on the bright side of life… Monty Python and all that, illustrating us about the meaning of life… )

Monty Python

Look on the bright side of life!

Seriously, there are some positive aspects to getting bad reviews, and I’ve discovered a few, after much reading, and ranting…

  • In the first place, be thankful. People who bother to write reviews feel strongly about your book. They have read it (we presume, unless they state otherwise), and taken the time to write an opinion. That in itself merits our attention as writers, although you needn’t write a thank you letter…
  • Secondly, a book with lots of reviews has real legitimacy, even if some are negative. In fact, if some are negative, it balances the positive. When potential buyers see only five-star reviews, they could be suspicious. But let’s not overdo it, a couple of one or two-star reviews are enough to reassure the buyer that the feedback is honest and authentic, because, no-one can be 100% perfect author!
  • Thirdly, it gives browsing shoppers a range of perspectives, making them more likely to buy it, if they don’t agree with the one-star, and less likely to buy it if they do agree with the one-star. That’s great! In the long-term, you’ll get less one-stars, because readers who might have not liked it, won’t buy it in the first place! And, let’s face it, no-one wants readers to read their book if it’s not their type of novel, because reading should be a pleasure, and I’d hate to give someone a hard time reading.
  • Fourthly, when you run out of ideas for a blog post (which I hadn’t, but I might have), you let off steam, and you get to write a blog post all about it!

To wrap up, as Stephen King famously wrote (loosely paraphrasing someone else, I believe…)

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“You can’t please all of the readers all of the time; you can’t please even some of the readers all of the time, but you really ought to try to please at least some of the readers some of the time.”

So, writers should be prepared, open, and unfussed by a few complaints.

Finding ‘some of the readers‘, you will be pleasing ‘some of the time‘, may be the key, but that’s the subject of another post.

The final question I’d like to address is:

Should authors respond to negative reviews, or indeed any reviews? Most people say no, some say yes, have a look here, so I’ll take the question a step further:

Should authors take the initiative and interact with readers?

I have mixed feelings about this.

Firstly, although I’m aware that reviews are written for readers, not authors, we all know authors read them, and I love the idea of being in touch with my readers.

Secondly we always complain that we don’t get enough reviews, so why not respond to the people who actually take the time to write a review? Wouldn’t it be polite? and encouraging for other possible reviewers?

Finally, Id like to share my one-star review with you (as it appears on Amazon.com):

Just could not get into this. Jane’s character is stilted and wooden and I’m VERY disappointed at how Rochester is depicted. Such a pity. I expected more from it. The use of multiple voices to tell the story is distracting and actually a trifle boring. Just not well written or in keeping with the spirit of the original. jejune.

This is the reply I was thinking of writing:

Thank you for taking the time to read my novel and write a review. I really appreciate both. I’m sorry that you were disappointed in Jane and Rochester’s portrayal, and that it didn’t work for you. Although I can’t say it’s agreeable for me to read disappointed comments like yours, I prefer a negative review than no review, and I’m sure your review will help readers to decide whether or not this book is right for them, so thank you again.

Should I reply? Why or why not?

Please comment or take the polls and help me decide.

The first one refers to my specific reply, and the second poll is more general. Thank you!

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Later on in the evening: I’ve read some wonderfully enlightening comments from experts on this topic (see below), because they’re both writers and reviewers, and I’ve decided I’m not replying on a sales platform. You have convinced me it’s just not the best place to interact with a reader. However, please feel free to continue commenting and voting, either way. I’ll have a look at the results and write up a summary of your votes and opinions in a few days’ time. Thank you for helping me with this one!

Checklist for Writing Book Reviews

I have already written two posts with advice on reviewing: What do Readers need to know? 10-Point Guidelines for Reviewers  and  How to Write a Useful Book Review, on this occasion, I’ve prepared a  checklist to go through when writing, and before finishing a book review, to make sure all the main points are included.

The order of the items on the checklist is not meant to suggest that they should be addressed in this sequence in your review.  A checklist is a list of things that need to be done, it is not a suggestion for a review layout.

Checklist for Writing Book Reviews

1- Have you told the reader about the genre and style? Whether it’s a fun, easy or quick read, or a novel which will require effort, concentration or rock your world view? Will they be challenged, or amused, or shocked, in some way?

2- Have you mentioned the setting, and how it affects the plot and characters?

3- Have you spoken about the writer’s use of language? Does the writer use appropriate grammar, vocabulary, and style? Think about the quality of the descriptive elements, dialogue, and point of view.

4- Are events, characters, and themes, mostly ‘told’ or ‘shown’?

5- Have you told Readers whether the characters come alive? Do we know what they want, think, feel, and look like? Do we care what happens to them? And the secondary characters, do they feel real?

6- Have you told readers about the quality of the plot? Are there enough twists and turns, or tension and interest, to keep the reader interested? Does the action move forward towards the climax?

7- What about the conclusion, does the novel end acceptably? In spite of this does the reader want to know more about the characters and events? Is there a sequel?

8- Have we told the reader about the novel’s strong points? Something which makes it unique, innovative, or special?

9- Are there any weak points which will affect the reading experience?

10- Would you like to inform the reader about any sensitive aspects, such as the portrayal of violence?

11- Finally, have you been clear, impartial, fair, and concise?

I have not included a plot summary in the checklist. I don’t think it’s necessary to offer an exhaustive summary of the events and characters, because readers usually have that information in the blurb. The aim of the type of reviews I propose is to help readers decide whether it’s their type of book or not.

Although I make mental and written notes while I’m reading, and I write my review without a specific plan, I like to go back to my checklist while I’m writing and once I’ve finished, to make sure I haven’t left anything out. It helps me to focus, and I hope it will help you, too.

 

How to write a useful #book #review

Anyone who reads a book can and should write a review, no guidelines are necessary. However, the following suggestions are meant for readers and writers who wish to review more professionally by offering a more reflective and critical response to their reading to other potential readers.

The suggestions in this post should be read alongside a previous article posted last week: What do readers need to know? 10-Point Guidelines for Reviewers’

  • Choose a book.

Sounds simple, but it isn’t. Although we should all read outside our comfort zone and explore all types of books, if you are planning to write a thorough review, it’s advisable to choose a book you’re comfortable with carrying out an in-depth reading. Don’t torture yourself!

Three simple things will help you decide:

  1. Check the blurb.
  2. Read the first pages.
  3. Read other reviews.
  • Read the book.

Sounds simple, too, but again it isn’t. Remember you’re reading in order to write a review, not only for pleasure. You will need to concentrate more, and look out for salient and specific features.

Read the guidelines I posted last week first.

If you make notes as you go (highlight the text, or write brief notes) it will save you time later. Include superficial aspects such as names and events, and more complex aspects such as your feelings and reactions to what you are reading.

It’s advisable to finish reading as soon as possible, preferably within days, although you may need to read the whole book, or parts, again.

  • Write the review.

This is the most complex part of the process, but if you have taken enough notes as you read, and write it soon after reading, it will not take too long.

Use your notes to write up your review.

Check the guidelines to make sure you have all the aspects covered.

You may now realize that there is important information you have not checked, go back and do so.

You may discover that there are other aspects not mentioned in the guidelines which you’d like to incorporate, do so.

Be honest, respectful and constructive. There may be aspects you did not like, or considered inappropriate, by all means say so, and even offer suggestions, but there is no need to be offensive.

Write the review as soon as possible after reading, and let it rest at least a few hours, if possible a day or two.

Go back and edit, rethink, recheck notes, and prepare the final version.

All reviews are useful, but if they are too short, their usefulness is limited, on the other hand, if they are too long, many potential readers will only read the first lines, or skip them altogether. Between about 50 and 250 words would be sufficient information for a potential reader.

Reviews should be as clear and concise as possible to help the reader make their choice as to whether it’s a book they will enjoy, or not.

  • Publish the review.

Publish your review in as many places as possible including the online platform where it is sold, such as Amazon, other social networks for readers and reviewers, such as Goodreads, on your blog, inform other bloggers, link or post your review to Twitter, Facebook, and any other social media you use.

The more places it is published the more useful it will be to a greater number of readers.

Inform the author.

Never before have readers been able to contact writers directly. Take advantage of this unique opportunity to tell them what you think about their work. Most authors love to know what my readers think.

I hope this post. together with last weeks’ Guidelines, help you plan and carry out your own reviews. It has helped me sort out my own thoughts on this matter, but I’d love to read your opinions on the subject.

I’ll be sharing this tomorrow on #MondayBlogs, on Twitter. Post from your blog and retweet others!

PS. There’s a brand new hashtag all about books and book reviews: #TuesdayBookBlog join in and share your reviews and views on reviewing!

What do readers need to know? 10-Point Guidelines for Reviewers

  • Who should review?

Anyone who reads can and should review a novel.

It’s relatively easy to say if you liked or didn’t like a book and why you did so, and that’s helpful for potential readers. Short and simple reviews such as, ‘a page turner, I really enjoyed it’, or ‘Don’t waste your time and money on this book’, could be helpful, taken with other reviews, but on their own they are insufficient, because they give scarce and subjective information, which lacks any objective support or argumentation.

On the other hand, some readers, especially those of us who also write, or want to review professionally, need to think about how we go about writing our reviews more efficiently.

I’m hoping the following guidelines will help me, and other readers, reviewers, or writers to cover all aspects of the novel to be reviewed, as impartially as possible, in order to produce a both a descriptive and critical review.

  • Who is the review for?

The type of review I propose is aimed at potential readers, that is, people who are looking at the reviews in order to decide if it’s their type of book or not, on sites such as Goodreads, or Amazon, etc.

But, who are these ‘potential readers’? When we write our review, we will never know who they are or what they want to read, but we can discuss the reasons why people read.

  • Why do people read fiction?

Basically, there are two reasons for reading novels:

  1. To escape, relax and enjoy ourselves, or
  2. To be jolted, shaken, and surprised. In other words, as Kafka put it, to be stabbed!

According to Kafka, In a letter written to a friend, he said, “I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us… we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us. That is my belief.

Novelist, Grahame Greene, one of the most insightful 20th century authors, originally divided his fiction into two genres: thrillers such as, Our Man in Havana, which he described as ‘entertainments’, and literary works, such as The Power and the Glory, which he described as ‘novels’. Greene, eventually dropped the ‘entertainments’, and referred to them all as ‘novels’. In fact, in his autobiography, Ways of Escape, he referred to Brighton Rock, originally labeled as an entertainment, as “perhaps one of the best [books] I ever wrote.”

Am I proposing there are two types of readers who are completely different? Those who read for pleasure or those who are in search of intellectual stimulation? Definitely not.

Although there are ‘straight entertainment novels’ and ‘straight literary novels’ most books have a mixture, and most readers also read both types of books at distinct moments in their lives, or even days. I myself alternate historical and contemporary romantic novels, with books which challenge and shake me out of my comfort zone.

  • Point 1

It would be very useful to inform the reader, which of the two aims the book reviewed fulfills, and to what degree. Is it purely for enjoyment, purely literary in nature, or for both pleasure and intellectual stimulation?

  • Point 2

It would also be helpful to inform the reader of the genre, which is another tricky question. Identifying genres can be stifling and restrictive, and as with all classifications there are different taxonomies, and sub-genres, and, of course, most novels cannot be cast in only one mould. The Guardian has a comprehensive a-z list here, there is also another useful list on Writer’s Digest , which will help us identify genres and sub-genres.

  • Point 3
  • What makes a good book?

If we are going to judge whether a book is worth reading or not, we should decide which characteristics makes a book fall into these groups.

There is no easy answer, but an answer must be attempted, or else we can’t continue with our review.

According to Ava Jae, the writer’s job is to entertain and draw an emotional response from the reader, which will make them turn each page impatiently.

But how do writers achieve these aims?

I suggest, we do so by means of the following crucial elements:

  • Point 4.

Language. Whatever the novel conveys, it is done through language, which is both a cognitive and aesthetic endeavour. The reader should be told whether the language is used grammatically, and if the style is appealing. This is obvious, but unfortunately, many books with potential, are ruined by linguistic errors, or by a stiff, wordy, or inappropriate use of the English language.

  • Point 5.

Characterization. Readers should be told whether the characters come alive, because if they don’t care about the characters and what happens to them, they will not be motivated to read their story.

  • Point 6

Plot: Readers need to know if there is a solid plot which moves the story forward, with loops, twists and turns, inspiring them to keep reading.

  • Point 7.

Action: Readers want to know about the action in the novel. Action is related to character and plot. Kurt Vonnegut once said that every character should want something, even if it’s just a glass of water. The characters’ goals will move the action forward.

  • Point 8.

Creativity. We should tell readers if they will be drawn into the story by its originality, or by an innovative aspect or approach, which may even modify the way they consider certain aspects.

  • Point 9.

Entertainment. Readers should know how they will be entertained by the narrative. Will they be challenged, or amused, or shocked?

  • Point 10

Finally, bearing the previous aspects in mind, the review should be as clear and concise as possible, to help the reader make their choice, as to whether it’s a book they will enjoy, or not.

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Hope this helps you. It has helped me to sort out my own thoughts on this matter, but I’d love to read your comments on the subject.

There will be a follow-up post on, ‘How to Write a Useful Review’, next Monday.

I’m also going to post this on my twitter on #MondayBlogs for the first time. Check it out!