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Monday, August 30, 2010

Why I write only 5- and 4-Star Book Reviews

People are beginning to wonder why I only write four- or five-star reviews. The answer is simple. No, it's not to flatter or placate authors. I only review books that I love and that inspire and excite me. I am not a professional literary critic. I am a writer and avid reader and I want to write about books I feel good about. I know how hard it is to write a book, how time-consuming, and how exciting.

The writing process is a lot of sweat, interspersed with moments of elation and deep satisfaction. Once a book is finished and you find out that someone else likes it as well, that readers are inspired by it, that it means something to them, then, somehow, everything comes together. You forget all the heartache, the ripped-out hair, the self-doubt, and you bask, for a moment, in that warm feeling of being understood by someone, accepted, you delight in the knowledge that you have touched someone. That, to me, is worth more than the sale of books (which I like too, of course. I'm not Mother Teresa - oh, by the way, did you know she just turned 100? Talk about inspiration! Happy Birthday!)

Anyway, because I know how good it feels to receive a positive review, I enjoy doing this for other authors as well. I don't write book reviews on demand, because then I would have to review books I may not like and would have to give a lower score. And I don't want to do that.

There are enough reviewers out there who give 1- or 2- or 3-star reviews and that's fine for them. A negative review as long as it is respectful and sensitive can be very helpful for an author. (I am not talking about those insulting diatribes that attack an author personally or make unreasonable assumptions. I'm not talking about reviewers who are failed writers and take it out on those who still have the courage to write. You know what I mean.)

But for me:
4-Stars: I love it and have perhaps a suggestion how it could be made even better.

5-Stars: I love it. It's well-crafted, language and content are in sync. It may not be absolutely perfect, but I'm excited, it gives me joy and means something to me.

Happy Writing!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Author interviews

I was fortunate to be interviewed by two wonderful authors.

David Wisehart

Jess C. Scott

Click the links and find out!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Some thoughts on book reviews

I have been reading a lot of book reviews lately, mainly because I’m looking for reviewers for my novel Love of a Stonemason and also because I have been reading a lot of new and independent authors, wrote some reviews myself, and like to get someone else’s opinion.

I came to realize that writing a successful review requires talent and effort just like writing the original novel, story, or poem. As readers we all have likes and dislikes and we often have a gut reaction to a book. We either love it or hate it or we like the beginning and not the end or vice versa. Reviewing a book, however, is not just expressing one’s likes or dislikes but the reviewer needs to approach a work with a certain impartiality and objectiveness, in order to write a fair review.

While reading reviews, I came to realize, this “rule” is not always adhered to. One thing the reviewer shouldn’t do is review apples, if he hates them and loves oranges instead. (Excuse my bastardization of the phrase.) If a reviewer for instance reviews a romance, when he really doesn’t like that genre and loves thrillers instead, he is likely to be unfair. That sounds like a no-brainer, but believe me, I read reviews that did exactly that. Now, there are of course certain elements of good writing that apply to all genres but there are differences, for instance in pace, between a romance and, let's say, a thriller.

I think the first thing a reviewer needs to ask himself or herself is: What is the intention of the author? What is the book about? And how well did the author fulfill his intention? If the book is a romance, the focus is on relationships and you won’t find a lot of blood and gore as in a thriller. It may proceed at a more leisurely pace and that’s okay for a romance. So if you are disappointed that there is no murder in the second paragraph of a romance, that’s your problem, not the author’s. Okay, I’m exaggerating of course.

Here is an example that may show what I mean. I read a review of a novel that I know well. It was a generally favorable review. The novel was what I would call a romantic psychological thriller (my own term). The main character was a troubled, insecure, young woman, who is the victim of a satanic cult and has severe psychological problems. She is confused about what’s real and what is merely in her imagination. She doesn’t trust herself or anybody else.

One of the reviewers was irritated by the fact that the woman came across as a helpless victim and it irked the reviewer that she didn’t have more backbone. The reviewer obviously likes strong, tough women characters. That’s fine but that’s not what this novel was about. The intent of the author was to show the young woman as extremely vulnerable and confused. In the course of her development, she did grow stronger but it was a long and arduous process.

Another example: A reader wrote a review of my own novel, Love of a Stonemason. The core of the novel is the relationship between a young painter and her boyfriend, a sculptor. The story takes place in three different countries. One of the complaints of the reviewer was that there wasn’t enough description of the different locations. The reviewer didn’t know those countries and didn’t feel he or she knew them after reading the novel. Now, that could be a valid complaint. It’s very important that the reader gets a sense of the environment.

However, what puzzled me was the fact that the very thing the reviewer criticized was the feature all other readers (at least until now) praised. They liked the vivid descriptions and the concrete, sensuous details of the environment, as seen through the eyes of the painter. One reader, who had never been outside of the United States, said she felt she was actually travelling to these places.

I tried to make the scenes as vivid as possible, but again, my intention was NOT to write a travelogue but to give enough information for the reader to get a feeling for the place. Of course, there is a lot more to these countries than is described in my novel. I hope I stirred up some curiosity and if anybody wants to get to know these places better, they can always read a Lonely Planet book or other travel guide or, what’s even better, take a trip there! (Okay, that may be too much of a strain on one’s budget.)

These are some thoughts on reviewing from the point of view of an author. I am not an expert on reviewing and I admire anybody who takes the time to read a book and then tries to write something intelligent about it. I believe there are as many different opinions about a book as there are readers.

If anybody is interested, one of my favorite novelists, Joanne Harris (author of Chocolat, Blackberry Wine, Coastliners, The Lollypop Shoes) has some excellent advice for reviewers in her article Everyone’s A Critic: an Idiot’s Guide to Reviewing. In fact, I believe it should be required reading for anyone attempting to write serious reviews (see item 4).

Comments and feedback appreciated!