Tag Archive: book reviews

How to Write Respectful Reviews

Writing book reviews is always a hot topic with writers. We realize reviews can make or break book sales, but as reviewers there are times we just can’t offer a glowing recommendation. What then?

Do we stay mum? Or write honestly and hope for minimal fallout?

Heather and I have always embraced the write-an-honest review stance; and we support other authors who strive to do the same thing. Today we are sharing some of our tips for turning a lackluster review into a helpful commentary about storycraft and not something that makes the author feel like we knifed them in the back.

how-to-write-respectful-low-star-reviews

1. Make opening a dialogue your primary goal:
Book reviewers understand they must entertain; if they don’t, people aren’t going to read their blogs. But for some reviewers, the mission to entertain overrides common courtesy. Their negative reviews are fodder for insults in the name of writing amusing copy. When you perceive reviewing as a form of discussion, you approach the process differently. You try to make the review about something bigger: the book’s role in society, the way the writer uses language, how the writer tackled a plot twist, or if they made you think about something differently. These are all valuable aspects of literary culture and worthy of discussion even when a book doesn’t live up to your expectations.

2. Use specific examples:
If you have a point to make, make it! Don’t skirt the issues with indistinct chatter. If the story feels too derivative of another famous story and that made it impossible for you to remain engaged, say that! Don’t say that the book was “boring” or it “put you to sleep.” These comments are too vague and don’t convey what your real complaint is. Besides it’s likely someone reading your review will love retold stories, and they will jump at the chance to read the book you didn’t enjoy. That helps turn your review into a potential sale for the author. Best of all, you stayed true to yourself and your honest opinions while doing it.

3. Distinguish between writing mechanics and your opinions about those mechanics:
Both aspects are important, but one is objective (the book has typos or it doesn’t) and the other is subjective (typos throw you into a whirlwind of revulsion). I can enjoy and even rave about a book with some mechanical issues; however, too much data dumping makes me crazy! Break the two issues apart. Describe the mechanical problem and then give your opinion of how prevalent and disruptive the issue was to your enjoyment of the story.

4. Fact check like your life depended on it:
If you want to comment on any emotionally charged topic (race, religion, etc.), make sure you can support your claim with some hard data. When in doubt, stop writing and start researching. If you don’t have time to learn more about the subject, talk about your impressions in an open-ended way. Ask questions of your readers and invite someone closer to the topic to comment. You might learn your interpretation was correct, or that you were dead wrong. Either way, you have opened a meaningful discussion about the subject, and perhaps that’s exactly what the author intended by broaching a challenging topic.

5. Never make it personal:
A book review is not about the author. Never speculate that the author’s real life is bleeding onto the page, or attempt to make the actions of the characters a reflection of the writer’s state of mind. I know many wonderful people who write ghastly horror stories with high body counts; yet I can assure you they are not secretly planning to do anyone harm. Except maybe Stephen King. I’m sure they would love to take a great big bite… out of his bank account.

6. Back away from rebuttals:
When you write a low-star review, someone might come gunning for you. This someone might be the author, or the author’s fans. The best policy is don’t engage. You have written your review, let it stand. If you feel you must say something, thank the person for reading your review and leaving you a comment expressing the wide range of opinions a book can generate. Even if the person comes back and does their level best to drag you into a fight, don’t do it. If you stay silent, the angry person should eventually move on to the next reviewer.

You didn’t think your bad review was the only one, did you?

7. Link with caution:
You took the time to write a review and you want people to read it. That’s normal, and I bet you drop blog links everywhere you go. But stop for a moment and think. How will your link look to other people? When I go on Amazon or Goodreads and see a rating with a solitary sentence (usually something overly sensationalized) with a “read this review at my blog” style link, I immediately dismiss the review as link bait. Any links on Amazon or Goodreads should include at least a paragraph to show the review is genuine.The absolute worst possible link is the one that looks like the review was written to boost the reviewer’s book sales. Be mindful of reviewing any books in the same genre as your own work. Any negative reviews might be perceived as unfairly running down the competition.

8. Don’t review a book you haven’t read:
Every so often this situation crops up in force. It often revolves around a book some group wants to ban and I consider it a form of reviewer fraud. No matter how much you know  you will hate the book, or how many people have told you unpleasant facts about the book, stay away from rating or reviewing the book. That’s not to say you can’t review a book you didn’t finish, you absolutely can, as long as you’re clear about where and why you put the book down.

9. Avoid reading books you suspect you’ll hate:
I read reviews all the time, and I’m just as likely to be put off by positive review as I am caustic one. That’s because I look at the reasons the reviewer cited, not the number of stars. I know my reading taste and I understand what factors will bother me. I take care to avoid reading those books. Just as you shouldn’t review a book you haven’t read, why bother reading a book you’re sure will disappoint you? Just so you can write a negative review? Take the higher road — life is too short to be that reviewer.

Honesty is the best policy when reviewing, but it’s not the only consideration. Show respect, and be polite, especially when the review isn’t packed with praise.

Do you write reviews of books you didn’t like? Let’s hear your thoughts (pro or con) in the comments.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/book-reviews/respectful-book-reviews/

What We’re Reading: SHADOWSHAPER

Fall Reads

shadowshaper_coverSHADOWSHAPER by Daniel José Older

Paint a mural. Start a battle. Change the world.

This is the author’s first YA book, and it’s urban fantasy at its finest. When I classify this book as an urban fantasy, I mean that the city setting of the novel is almost a secondary character. Brooklyn is alive and critical to this story; I loved the neighborhood descriptions. From an all-age Latin dance club, to the community newspaper offices, to Coney Island, I understood how much the lead character, Sierra, loves her city. And I could relate to the protagonist’s pain as she watched her streets slowly change and become more gentrified. The setting in this book jumped off the page, and wrapped me in the textures and energy of New York.

The book developed a fantastic new magic system called shadowshaping, infusing spirits into artworks to make the art come alive. The author expanded on the history and laws of the magic system gradually, and by the end of the book I believed. It seems perfectly logical for a secret society to be bonding the spirits of their late family and friends into public murals. I think this is some of the best magical realism I’ve read in a long time.

More importantly, this book is packed with outstanding character diversity. Sierra is Afro-Latina and her Hispanic family is realistically depicted. I appreciated how the author remembered to include all the extended family dynamics so common in Hispanic culture. Sierra’s family relationships are complicated, she fights with her aunt who likes to downplay their race, and she worships her godfather who embraces it. She even respects and reveres the local Hispanic business owners who serve as her community elders. All these characters reminded me of people I have encountered in my own life. Sierra’s friends are just as interesting and diverse, including two of her best friends who are involved in a same-sex relationship with each other.

I gave this book 4 stars on Goodreads and honestly I wanted to give it more, but there were a few murky plot issues that kept me from giving that last star. It’s a perfect pick for even younger teens. There are some scary moments and one make-out session between Sierra and her boyfriend, but it’s not extreme. For a reading group looking for a good book to start a discussion about writing inclusive characters and for weaving strong, but non-preachy messages into young adult fiction, this book is a great fit. And it’s perfect if you’re craving a slightly spooky read for a cold night.

Story Blurb:
Sierra Santiago planned the perfect summer vacation. She would paint a huge mural next to the junkyard near her Brooklyn home. She would hang out with her friends. She would finally talk to the new cute guy from school, a fellow artist named Robbie. But the murals in her neighborhood begin to move, and weep tears. Later a reanimated corpse crashes the first big high school party of the summer, and he seems to be looking for Sierra and Robbie. Sierra’s in trouble and Robbie knows more than he’s saying. Everyone is leaving Sierra in the dark about a troubling family secret, and that could get her killed.

Sierra and Robbie are shadowshapers, people who can infuse ancestral spirits into paintings, music, and stories. And someone is systematically killing off all the shadowshapers to gain their powers. It’s up to Sierra to stop the killer. To do that, she must decipher her grandfather’s riddle and defeat an army of reanimated dead. If she fails, it might mean the end of all the shadowshapers and the enslavement of the spirit realm under the power of a madman.

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/book-reviews/what-were-reading-shadowshaper/

Reviewing a Friend’s Book on Amazon?

ReviewingIt makes sense that when your book comes out, you turn to your writer pals for a jump-start on those much-needed reviews. Except a few months later you notice those friend reviews on Amazon are gone, along with most of your other good reviews. And those were from people you’ve never even heard of. Worse of all, an email to Amazon confirms they not only know about all the missing reviews, they removed them.

In the last few months Amazon launched a fresh wave of review purging and a number of authors were hit hard. These purges have been going on for several years, one of the first rounds I ever heard about was way back in 2012.

The reason these authors were targeted?

Amazon felt the reviews showed signs of the author having a relationship with the reviewer. Amazon never discloses how they define a relationship, perhaps they just ran a Google search of the two names together. Remember everything you and I have ever done since the dawn of time is being indexed 24/7 by robots. Chances are your name has been linked to your writer friend’s name any number of times, in a tweet, on Facebook or in a blog post. For Heather and I, the shared history stretched on for dozens of Google pages.

Let me start off by saying I feel it is unwise to review a friends’ book on Amazon. It is against their reviewer rules, and I do not believe my review is worth the risk. I would not want to be the person that sets off Amazon’s alarm bells and causes my friend to lose half their reviews in a single day. Plus, an ongoing climate that encourages authors to review their friends’ books will only breed more suspicion and reaction from Amazon. If you want to review a friend’s book, I suggest you put that review on a platform other than Amazon or Goodreads.

If you don’t agree with my personal review philosophy, and you also don’t want to shove your writer friends into the oncoming path of the next Amazon review bulldozer, I’ve isolated the four types of review content that sets off my inner red flags. I think it’s safe to say that if they stand out for me, they might stand out for others. Perhaps even those potential buyers the reviews were aimed at enticing.

Tip 1:
Think about the demographics and write for the buyer.
As a parent shopping for kid’s books, nothing triggers my reservations faster than reading a review all about the book’s theme, prose and characterization. It’s a clear indication this reviewer is not a typical consumer of kid’s books. If they were, they’d mention the aspects of the book parents care about. They would say if the story has cute illustrations, or teachable moments, and what age child enjoyed the book. If the aim is to write a review to help the author sell books, tell the buyer things that help them make an informed choice, not what you noticed as a fellow writer.

Tip 2:
Tone it down a notch.
Unfortunately, some people think every review needs to convince buyer this book is the next Pulitzer. Consider mentioning elements other readers might not like, for example if the book has triggers for abuse victims, graphic sex or child murders. By including these aspects you’re actually doing the other author a big favor. Even if these story issues didn’t make you drop the book in horror, someone else will! And that person might leave a 2000 word 1 star review to demonstrate their shock and outrage. Plus, overly gushing reviews almost never sound realistic.

Tip 3:
Don’t exchange reviews.
Even if the other author is not a close friend, reciprocal reviewing, even with sincere and honestly written reviews, can make both parties look bad. And it’s something Amazon is especially against. I realize big publishing houses do this all the time, but it’s an unwise practice for everyone else. There are many other ways to support your fellow writers besides reviews.
Here are six ideas just off the top of my head:

  1. Support their book launch party on Facebook, or other social media.

  2. Offer to give their book away in a contest on your blog. Offer to give them copies of your books for a contest giveaway on their blog if they prefer.

  3. Help out with a book signing in your area, or help promote the event with your local contacts.

  4. Offer to interview the other author for a newspaper.

  5. Encourage your book club to read their book.

  6. Buy a copy (or two) for your local library.

Tip 4:
Disclose any connections.
If you don’t know the author personally, but have an innocent connection to them or with their book, you should disclose it. That means if you won the book in a contest, received an ARC from the publisher, live in the same small town, or share the same agent or editor, say so. This makes it possible for anyone reading your review (perhaps an Amazon employee) to weigh that information and act accordingly if they deem it necessary. It’s better to have a single review thrown out, than to create lingering suspicions of misconduct that might end up tarnishing all the reviews.

As I mentioned before, we don’t know how readers (or Amazon staff) are judging book reviews for a lack of neutrality, but these tips are a common sense approach based on my experience as a reviewer, and as a review reader.

Have you ever had your reviews purged by Amazon? Or do you worry about a purging wave hitting your own book’s reviews? Tell us about your experiences, or send us more reviewer tips in the comments.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/reviewing-a-friends-book-on-amazon/

Book Review: One of the Guys

oneoftheguysONE OF THE GUYS by Lisa Aldin

Publication date: February 10, 2015. It’s out just in time for Valentine’s Day.

The Story: Tomboy, Toni Valentine, would take horror movies, monster hunts and burping contests with her three male best friends, Lock, Cowboy and Ollie, over high heels and makeup any day. But when a summer prank goes wrong, Toni is sent to the Winston Academy for Girls, and it turns out Hell looks a lot like a place where you wear a plaid skirt, and learn to be ladylike.

At her new school Toni meets Emma, a girl with boyfriend troubles. Trying to bond with her first female friend, Toni volunteers one of her male BFFs as a pretend date to make Emma’s boyfriend jealous. When word spreads across the school about Toni’s access to good-looking guys, Toni and Emma form a Rent-A-Gent service. It’s a plan that can’t end well, not when Toni is secretly in love with Lock, the company’s most sought-after escort.

The good: This book didn’t make the mistake of focusing all the attention on the crush. Yes, Toni wants to understand her first brush with teen love, but she’s also mindful of losing her best friend by changing the terms of their relationship. Toni worries about school, her friends problems and her uncertain relationship with her new stepfather. I appreciated the author’s efforts to round out Toni’s character, and to create a history for all three boys. Also, this book looks like a standalone, something that makes me happy. I’m getting sick of books that don’t have a resolution at the end.

The bad: The characters are all seniors in high school, immersed in the big rush to get admitted into a prestigious university, yet everyone in the story reads younger. A lot younger! I would have found these characters more believable as sixteen-year-olds. The story gets slow in the last third, but by then I was firmly invested and wanted to see it to the end.

I enjoyed this book, which says a lot since contemporary YA romance is not my first choice as a genre. It earned four stars on Goodreads from me. It was a quick, lighthearted read, with interesting supporting characters and a solid, if predictable, plot. If you’re looking for a contemporary YA romance, this is a good pick. Frankly, I liked it better than Isla and the Happily Ever After and just as much as This Is What Happy Looks Like. Although there is a small amount of underage drinking, and the mention (no descriptions) of sex, I would still give this book a PG13 rating, making it suitable for younger teen readers.

Disclaimer: NetGalley provided me with a free digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/book-reviews/one-guys-book-review/

What We’re Reading: Friday Reads Bonus Edition

Starting in 2015 the WriteOnSisters will be doing their best to add more book reviews to the the blog. Today we jump-start that commitment with this bonus Friday Reads review of two Young Adult books.

Robin’s Pick: THIS IS WHAT HAPPY LOOKS LIKE by Jennifer E. Smith

I’m no15790873t traditionally a big fan of love stories, but this one got to me. This is a smart funny book that opened with a clever hook and just kept right on delivering.

When Ellie O’Neill gets a misdirected email asking her to walk a pet pig, she quickly responds back to clear up the mistake. What follows is an exchange of emails that soon has Ellie confiding her biggest dreams and aspirations in a total stranger. Over time an online relationship evolves and Ellie counts on her mystery friend for moral support and guidance.
When the summer brings a movie company to Ellie’s small Maine town, she and every other teenage girl is talking about the film’s star, Graham Larkin. What Ellie doesn’t know is Graham is her longtime pen pal. He’s come all the way from California to arrange a meeting with the witty, charming, “real” girl he’s fallen for. Of course Ellie has secrets of her own and being thrust into the spotlight of a teen hottie’s paparazzi-filled lifestyle is the last thing she needs.

This book has all the feels, solid friendships, loving parents and even a pig named Wilbur. Ellie is everything a teen girl should be: smart, funny and self-assured. She is never willing to change who she is or what she wants for Graham’s sake. Graham is a nice guy who respects Ellie and wants what’s best for her. Together they make a few mistakes and show some poor judgment but overall these are kids any parent would be proud of.

As I said, I’m not a huge romance fan, but I wanted these two to work things out and get their happy-ever-after. This book is sweet and well-suited to even younger teen readers.

 

Heather’s Pick: RED RISING by Pierce Brown

BookCover-RedRisingLike Robin blogged about here, I too have had a string of disappointing reads. Even “Best Of” lists don’t guarantee I’ll love – or even like – the book. But with fingers crossed, I selected RED RISING from Goodreads Best Of YA Fantasy list.

I was not disappointed. This book is a tour de force, a mix of HUNGER GAMES and DIVERGENT, but with a world so unique and a story so well crafted that it can’t be shelved under “just another YA dystopia”. Nope. This novel is epic.

It takes place hundreds of years in the future on Mars. The main character, Darrow, is the lowest caste of human – a Red. He lives and works miles underground in the mines preparing Mars for human inhabitation, until he discovers that Mars has been inhabited for decades, maybe centuries, and the Reds aren’t preparing it for civilization, they’re simply slaves. Thus begins the journey of turning Darrow, a powerless Red, into an impressive Gold (top caste) so that he can infiltrate and take them down.

It’s a classic underdog-takes-on-the-world story.

A lot of people die in this book. There’s violence and cruelty. But there’s also redeeming transformation when our hero figures out how to overcome instead of surrender to the Golds’ worst characteristics. In my opinion, this is what makes the book great. It’s not just exciting plot twists, duplicitous characters and clever reveals, though I enjoyed all that too, it’s that the hero grows. This makes Darrow a hero worth rooting for!

If you love epic fantasy or political intrigue or action thrillers or all three, this book is for you. I’m actually going to read it again so I can study the expert plotting of the story. Yep, it was that good.

Update: RED RISING was voted Goodreads Best YA Debut! Yay! I’m not the only one who loved this book.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/book-reviews/friday-reads/

What We’re Reading: Goodreads Best of 2014

Like most writers, we at WriteOnSisters are all big readers. The end of the year brings reflection and a sense of accomplishment; we have navigated another fun and rewarding year of books and blogging. To do something a bit different this month, we decided to pick books off the Goodreads Best Books of 2014 list.

Robin’s Pick: ISLA AND THE HAPPILY EVER AFTER by Stephanie Perkins

isla-and-the-happily-ever-after for webThis is the third (and reportedly last) companion book in the Anna and the French Kiss series. This time we follow high school senior Isla. Super smart, but socially awkward, the shy little Isla finally attracts the attentions of Josh, the slacker, bad boy artist she’s adored from afar since freshman year.

Although opposites, the pair fall madly in love and the book is really about their rocky path to a Happy Ever After ending. On the plus side the book is set in a host of wonderful locations: Paris, New York, and Barcelona. I found the few chapters set in Barcelona represented the best of the book’s settings, and I really enjoyed that section. Also all the lead characters from the first two books make cameos for a handful of pages at the end of this book, which I’m sure delights fan of the series.

I had high hopes for this book, but sadly it lacked enough action or conflict to keep me interested. Granted any book that tells me up front it ends in a HEA isn’t aiming to keep me on the edge of my seat, but I do expect a bit more than I got in the way of plot. I’m willing to concede lots of other readers found Josh very crush worthy and Isla adorable, so if you’re already a fan of the series, my bet is you will want to see it to the end. However, don’t expect to be as entertained by Isla’s journey as you were by Anna’s.

Heather’s Pick: RED RISING by Pierce Brown

BookCover-RedRisingLike Robin blogged about here, I too have had a string of disappointing reads. Even “Best Of” lists don’t guarantee I’ll love – or even like – the book. But with fingers crossed, I selected RED RISING from Goodreads Best Of YA Fantasy list.

I was not disappointed. This book is a tour de force, a mix of HUNGER GAMES and DIVERGENT, but with a world so unique and a story so well crafted that it can’t be shelved under “just another YA dystopia”. Nope. This novel is epic.

It takes place hundreds of years in the future on Mars. The main character, Darrow, is the lowest caste of human – a Red. He lives and works miles underground in the mines preparing Mars for human inhabitation, until he discovers that Mars has been inhabited for decades, maybe centuries, and the Reds aren’t preparing it for civilization, they’re simply slaves. Thus begins the journey of turning Darrow, a powerless Red, into an impressive Gold (top caste) so that he can infiltrate and take them down.

It’s a classic underdog-takes-on-the-world story.

A lot of people die in this book. There’s violence and cruelty. But there’s also redeeming transformation when our hero figures out how to overcome instead of surrender to the Golds’ worst characteristics. In my opinion, this is what makes the book great. It’s not just exciting plot twists, duplicitous characters and clever reveals, though I enjoyed all that too, it’s that the hero grows. This makes Darrow a hero worth rooting for!

If you love epic fantasy or political intrigue or action thrillers or all three, this book is for you. I’m actually going to read it again so I can study the expert plotting of the story. Yep, it was that good.

Caryn’s Pick:  SKIN GAME by Jim Butcher

BookCover-SkinGameI adore Harry Dresden. He’s my favorite type of male protagonist: smart-mouthed, sarcastic, irreverent, flawed… and hot. Oh! And he just happens to be a wizard!

Jim Butcher’s newest installment is number 15 in the well known urban fantasy series: The Dresden Files. I haven’t read them all, mostly I’ve bookended the series, a few at the beginning and now this last one.

The story begins on a mysterious island where Harry has been ordained as the warden of a frozen prison for some of the Underworld’s most notorious creatures. Butcher paints a vivid world to wander through, not over-doing description, but bringing you into his fantasy world with skill and aplomb.

Harry is also saddled with the dubious job of being the Winter Knight to Mab, the Queen of Air and Darkness. Mab trades Harry’s skill to pay off one of her debts and forces him to help a group of supernatural villains break into a high-security vault. The one in Nevernever. It’s a smash and grab job to recover an important artifact in the vault that just happens to belong to Hades, Lord of the Underworld. But Harry suspects that there is another game afoot that no one is talking about. And he’s dead certain that he and his crew will not survive the experience.

I’ll admit a lot has happened to Harry since the first few books, when he was a struggling private eye type, not a semi-supernatural string-puller who hangs out with deities on a regular basis. It seems that Butcher is now writing something more like… epic urban fantasy, rather than paranormal investigation.

I didn’t find the antagonist terribly threatening or scary, more like a mobster than a supernatural creature, but the other monsters? Definitely. Butcher has the uncanny ability to dream up creepy beasts who do terrible things to humans, and wizards too. The kind that will give you nightmares.

Butcher had me intrigued, wondering what the valued commodity hidden in that vault was and why they are so desperate to steal it. The ending has an interesting twist, and the book definitely kept me hooked until the very end.

I have a confession to make: I always thought this was a YA series. Maybe it’s because it’s written in first person like so many YA novels and the tone is similar too. So when I read an explicit sex scene (which turns out to be a dream…I hate that!), I took pause. The early books seemed safe for a YA reader but now that I’ve done a little research I understand it is an adult fantasy series…more of an adult Harry Potter.

Overall, I recommend this book, and the entire series. One of these days I might just snuggle in and catch up on Harry’s escapades over the last few years. Did I tell you how much I love Harry? Oh yeah. I did.

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/book-reviews/reading-november-goodreads-best/

Could Your Book Make the 10% Mark?

 

Love it or hate it, the new Amazon Kindle Unlimited just made it easier for avid readers to sample a huge number of books while paying a fraction of the total cover price. The new program will give subscribers access to over 600,000 titles, many of them Indies, but also some big name authors. This is an all you can read buffet program, with no unit cap, a marked change from the Prime lending program. All this access will cost readers $9.99 a month in the US.

Some writers are thrilled; you can already find them using the URL in their marketing campaigns, others not so much.

The thing I noted about this new program is authors only get paid if the reader gets past the 10% mark of the book. That’s right, downloading the book is no longer the defining act; it’s reading that counts toward achieving a royalty payment. This is another big change from the Prime program where the loan of a book always resulted in a small author payment, usually about $2.00 in US dollars per each loan. This means how a novel opens and if it manages to hold the reader’s interest just got even more important.

Novel beginnings aren’t a new topic for this blog, from prologues to opening sentences the Sisters have a lot to say about literary first impressions. And we’re not shy about the books we don’t like or why in our reviews.

However, this time I’m doing something different.

I decided to give a group of authors I’ve never read before a test drive. I wanted to see how many of the books I picked at random would stand a chance of getting me over the 10% threshold for their share of the money pie. I’ve selected some Indies, and some traditionally published books from a few different genres. After reading the first 9% or so, I tried to honestly evaluate why I would or would not want to read beyond that point. I selected only books that appealed to me from their descriptions. I did not read the samples, or any reviews before selecting these books. I had no preconceived notions about this group of authors; and I gave each one of them a fair chance at converting me into a fan or critic. I’m not revealing the names of the books because I have no desire to cause these authors problems just because I wouldn’t finish their books.

Here are the five books I would gladly put down before the 10% mark and why I feel the author failed me as a reader. Please note, I read more than these five books, however I’m focusing on these as the best examples.

Book 1: I was so excited by the blurb on this adventure book, and I couldn’t wait to read it. However the book starts with a 53 word sentence so convoluted I needed to read it twice. It followed that with a second sentence of 41 words. The two massive run-ons created the first paragraph and managed to insult women, as well as the English language. I am not a short sentence snob. I do read a lot of classics, so I know (and love) long sentences. However, 53 words is a tad long even for me. To make sure this wasn’t a fluke I kept reading, although I found the protagonist’s disrespect for the women characters distasteful. I couldn’t stop myself from counting the longer ones as I read. In the back of my mind I kept wondering if I would find a sentence that broke 60 words. Sadly I did, a 65 word mess showed up. When I read back-to-back overly long sentences I start feeling like I’m reading a text book. I can’t enjoy myself when I need to reread for clarity after every few lines.

Book 2: The concept on this mystery blew me away, and I went into it with high hopes. It started with “Once upon a time” and I wanted to stop reading right there! I made myself press on for the sake of literary science, but honestly even if the author meant this as quirky and ironic, the line left me cold. I love it when a writer knocks me down with a great original first sentence, however it’s not usually a deal breaker for me if they don’t. After this unpromising first line, the book’s prologue consisted of a rather long info dump. For newer writers, an info dump is when books use pages and pages of exposition to fill the reader in on backstory details before a single bit of action takes place. It’s a bit like trying to cram an elephant into a shoe box; the pages are densely packed with facts the reader has no context for or any reason to care about. Without regrets I moved on.

Book 3: This time I picked something from the historical fiction group. This book was set in an era and location I love to read about. Unfortunately the author started using modern terms almost immediately. The writer coupled this stylistic decision, with some faulty historical research (wrong century), and this bad fact played a small but consistent role in the main plot. I write historical fiction too, so I know it’s easy to make a mistake. However, I do expect most writers to keep it together and try to stay in the target historical era. At least for the first few chapters. For me the best part of any historical novel is it immerses me in another time and place, if I’m constantly being jerked out of the fantasy by the writer’s modernism’s or research mistakes, I move on.

Book 4: Of all the books I picked up for this post I wanted to love this one the most. The idea of this book, a paranormal thriller, seemed interesting and original, something that’s not easy to do in paranormal. However, it opened with one of the big cliché opening no-nos. It started with a battle, the protagonist is cornered, things look bleak and it fizzled. The protagonist wakes up. That’s right, it’s all a dream folks. Ugh! This is more common than it should be, there are tons of advice posts out there warning people to avoid a fake opening hook, so why oh why are we still having this problem? Of the five this is the one I might still finish, that is if I can forgive the overused, unoriginal opening that promised something it didn’t deliver: action!

Book 5: I picked up a contemporary romance for this last one. I don’t tend to read romance, but I’m trying to read more of them. The story felt predictable, a Romeo and Juliet vibe, but the couple seemed okay, ordinary but likeable. I read to the 10% mark mostly waiting for something more to happen. In the end what really got to me was that about 75% of the sentences started with the pronoun I. Of course in first person point of view you do see a lot of these, but I found myself bored by the lack of sentence variation. I don’t expect every book to read like a literary masterwork, but this one is too predictable and simplistic for my taste.

And there you have it, five book openings that couldn’t hold my attention as a reader.
How about you? Would you read past 10% or would you move on knowing another 599,999 books awaited you?

 

Read more posts by Robin here.

 

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What We’re Reading: Summer Romance

As summer sweeps in with its balmy breezes and hot temperatures what’s more wonderful than a steamy summer romance? Heather and Robin initially cringed when I suggested this theme, neither of whom would be considered a fan of the romance genre in general. And I’d have to agree to some extent. Many romance books embody female protagonists falling prey to misogynistic males who overpower them with their unbelievable good looks and bulging muscles. So our challenge was to find a story or author who doesn’t characterize women as femme fatales, one-dimensional and powerless to control their destiny; objectified, and even denigrated by an irresistible sexy guy. Stories that challenge sexual prejudice and the oppression of females in our male-dominated society; that embrace a healthy image of the female body and credit women as the amazing people we are. So here’s to teenage love. That first crush, that overwhelming feeling that awakens a sleeping tigress—one who isn’t afraid to chart her own destiny, who sees men as equal partners in life, in spite of her raging hormones.

Caryn’s Pick: THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green

The_Fault_in_Our_StarsYes, I went there. I don’t consider myself a fan of this author, but I decided to revisit my assessment in response to the current craze for THE FAULT IN OUR STARS. I rushed to read it before venturing into the theater in an attempt to immerse myself in the full experience. And I’m glad. The story is profound and philosophical and not typical YA fodder, but death will do that to you.

Hazel Grace Lancaster is clinically depressed, and why shouldn’t she be? Diagnosed with end-stage cancer she struggles to breathe, drowning in her own bodily fluids, shackled to an oxygen tank. She attends a weekly support group where she meets Augustus Waters and the two fall in love. When Hazel shares her fascination with a novel called An Imperial Affliction, she draws Augustus into a quirky mission to track down the author, seeking answers, after the book abruptly ends in a cloud of ambiguity.

I wanted more romance, more passion. Greene, through countless TV interviews, claims the book is a love story and not about cancer or death, but I’d strongly disagree. I’d hoped that I’d finally get past all the cancer-talk and just enjoy the love story, but I couldn’t manage it. In truth, the word cancer is used 100 times, and death/dying/dead…103 times! Some critics have claimed that Green’s dialogue and interactions are atypical of teenagers, and honestly, I’ve thought so in his other works. But another insightful critic, herself a cancer survivor, claims that facing death at an early age makes one grow up fast, tending to deal with life in a more adult fashion. I bow to her on that point. The teens speak intelligently and honestly, painfully so.There’s no doubt that it’s a major tear-jerker, and I liken it to this generation’s Love Story. That book hit me hard. I intimately identified with the characters, being a college student at the time and my boyfriend (who I eventually married) played on the college hockey team.

Overall, I found this story unique. The author artfully examines life, death, and love, with sensitivity, intelligence and honesty, and most importantly, integrity. Hazel and Augustus are good people and they didn’t deserve the terrible hand the universe dealt them. So grab the tissue box and settle in for a sad, yet profound, read.

Heather’s Pick: THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS by Ann Brashares

BookCover-SisterhoodAs Caryn stated above, romance is not my genre. There are only two novels on my bookshelves I’d consider teen romance – SLOPPY FIRSTS by Megan McCafferty and THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS by Ann Brashares. But really, those aren’t even straight-up romances, they’re coming-of-age stories with love interests. Nevertheless, they reflect the type of teenage reader I was – one who wanted realism in love stories, not that love-at-first sight BS. Even in high school I’d seen enough crash-and-burn lust fests to know they don’t usually work out. I wanted to read about relationships that would help me navigate the murky waters of real love. And I wanted to relate to the characters, and insta-love just wasn’t how I rolled. Both of these books fit the bill. I read them well over a decade ago, but recently reread the SISTERHOOD so that’s the one I’ll talk about…

This book is the perfect summer read because it’s literally about summertime, specifically the first summer four best friends spend their school-free months apart. Two of the four (Lena and Bridget) have romantic subplots.

Lena goes to Greece to visit her grandparents. She has absolutely no interest in meeting boys, yet her grandma tries to set her up with a family friend, Kostos. But… “Lena knew boys: They never looked beyond your looks. They pretended to be your friend to get you to trust them, and as soon as you trusted them, they went in for the grope.” (pg. 60) No way was Lena getting involved with Kostos. And she doesn’t. In fact, they have an awkward encounter and she alienates him. But slowly Lena sees that the boy she pushed away is a genuine guy, and that she likes him. Now it’s up to shy Lena to make a move.

I love this romance because it’s not the cliché impossibly-hot-guy-pursues-girl-who-plays-hard-to-get or impossibly-hot-guy-wants-girl-but-it’s-forbidden. It’s the more realistic girl-likes-guy-but-is-scared-to-tell-him. We’ve all been there! At least I have.

Bridget, on the other hand, falls instantly for her college-age soccer coach and pursues him with joyous abandon. And it pays off – even though coach-player relationships are forbidden, he gives in to her seductions one night. It’s implied but not explicitly stated that she loses her virginity to him. She didn’t expect the experience to be so emotional, but it is. And when he states it can never happen again, Bridget is broken.

This was the most real thing my young self had ever read. Such a painful yet common experience.

So if you want a summertime story full of realistic romance and true love in the form of friendship, read THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS. It still makes me swoon and cry – in a good way.

Robin’s Pick: THE SELECTION by Kiera Cass

the selection cover for webI picked my book due to the overwhelming popularity of the series, book three is already out. The Selection centered on America Singer, a young woman from a caste based society. She’s a five, part of the artist class, and she is a singer. Sorry, but names are an issue in The Selection. As a five America is far removed from the ones and twos of the upper class, but not as bad off as a eight the lowest class. When the government holds a lottery to pick 35 women to win a chance of marrying the national prince, America wants no part of the reality show inspired contest. She has no desire to become the nation’s future queen, because America is secretly in love with Aspen, a boy from the servant class (a six) who is someone her family would never approve of. Since the lottery would help her family financially, she enters and is horrified when she’s selected. She must give up everything, Aspen, her family and even her job as an artist. She travels to the palace where she meets the other 34 contestants and Prince Maxon. While she should be able to enjoy all the privileges of the palace, like having enough food to eat for the first time in her life, America just can’t just forget Aspen.

What I liked about this book was it managed to avoid insta-love, something I despise. America is already in love with Aspen when the book opens, and her affection for Maxon is slow growing and believable. It also managed to show marriage as something challenging and filled with comprises, even the happy couples are far from perfect. I also liked that America managed to hold on to her own identity and moral code while being thrust into her new lavish surroundings. It also provided a valid reason for why America avoided having sex with Aspen: it’s against the law to have sex before marriage.

What I didn’t like about the book is the love triangle. It felt stale even thought it was handled in a plausible way. Also, most of the secondary characters, including Aspen felt a bit flat to me. Maybe this is a hallmark of romance fiction, but I knew much more about America and the prince, and very little about America’s best friends or Aspen. Frankly Aspen was not very interesting to me, and I couldn’t wrap my head around why America was so crazy about him. Also, I would have liked more on the political subplot and to know more about the way the classes were set up. The book reads quickly, I read it cover to cover in a few hours and found myself needing more plot. And the ending made me feel a bit cheated. I think the author held back too much for book two. If you want a quick, light romance that you don’t have to think much about, this might be the perfect summer read for you.

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What We’re Reading: Sci-Fi

May always makes me want a long slow read. A book I can sink my teeth into. Something that pairs nicely with the last lazy days of spring. When I can still enjoy an hour or two by a sunny window, and the kids are still deeply involved with school friends and functions enough to let me. All too soon summer will crash into my house, bringing with it the frantic preparations for backpacking trips, and long car rides for exhilarating and exhausting days beachside. We’ve selected Science Fiction for our monthly read. We hope you find something here to match your mood. Spring only lasts a blink of an eye, so slow down and savor it.

Caryn’s Pick: ONE SECOND AFTER by William R. Forstchen

One Second AfterI love SciFi but don’t seem to read much of it, so I had to go on the hunt for a book this month. I chose One Second After by New York Times bestselling author, William R. Forstchen.

Dr. Forstchen has written over 40 books, many on military history and military technology. Before it even debuted the novel was cited on the floor of Congress as something every citizen in the U.S. should read…“a dire warning of what might be our future…and our end.” Well! That got my attention!

The story takes place in the small North Carolina town of Black Mountain where one man struggles to save his family and his town, after the U.S. loses a war. A war based on EMP­­—Electro Magnetic Pulse…which means setting off a nuclear warhead miles up over land. The electromagnetic field generated destroys every computer…in a single second! Cars, trains and planes crash immediately. Water and electric power grids fail, medical equipment, phones and radios cease to function. The small town in which the story is set reverts to a barter economy and its shops soon run out of food and medicines. America is thrust back into the Dark Ages. This story is a truly realistic look at a weapon that the Wall Street Journal warns could shatter America. And you can’t help but wonder what you would do in such a situation.

Some of the prose ventured into the “corny” in my opinion, as he loves to have his characters sing the National Anthem at any number of turns and often quotes scripture and literature. He frequently cites scenes from movies as a way of showing how his characters can’t believe this is actually happening to them, and that got a bit tiresome. The story starts out slowly and I would have enjoyed a bigger bang when the EMP hits, but I guess his point is that it took a while for people to truly grasp the dire nature of the situation and it’s global impact. The emerging “love story” seemed awkward at times, but I figure that’s not exactly his forte. The second half picked up and the ending was sad, but riveting, appropriately dismal, with just a touch of hope thrown in to keep us from feeling totally depressed. The other major criticism I have is that the writing could have benefited from another edit. Problems like “could of” and “should of” instead of could have and should have; and when did it become okay to use OK, as in “Everything will be OK.”? I can see it in dialogue sometimes, but he used it excessively, and IMO, incorrectly, to the point of distraction. Lots of repeated words occurred on the same page. And two characters have the same name: Jen and Jennifer. But the message is important and well worth the read.

This is a book everyone should read. Sort of like what Edward Snowden is telling us. Our country has a lot more problems and issues to resolve than the average citizen understands. Wake up America! There is more danger lurking out there than you could ever imagine!

 

Robin’s Pick: THE 5th WAVE by Rick Yancey

5th Wave The 5th Wave takes place on present day Earth during an alien invasion. Cassie an average American sixteen-year-old girl, finds herself alone and searching for her family. She has already survived the first four waves of an attack which devastated the world and killed off about 90% of the population. The setting and world building are typical of most dystopian literature. The aliens are unseen, only the passing mention of their ships hovering in the sky creates any sense of atmosphere. To be honest, I was hoping for something with a more traditional sci-fi feel, and with more “science.” This is by no means a new take in alien invasion literature, but it’s not one of my personal favorites. The story opens rather slowly, and I didn’t find it particularly interesting until over a 100 pages in. I found both male leads engaging in different ways. However, Cassie the lead female protagonist, never connected with me. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I will say the book broke one of my reader rules and hurt a lot of young kids. This is something Yancey did in the last book I read by him too. Review here. However both times it was plot related and not gratuitous.

If you’re looking for a book with lots of action, blood, gore, and death, but light on science and world building this might be the perfect book for you. And should you find it highly entertaining, you’ll be happy to hear the second book will be out in a few months.

 

Heather’s Pick: STARTERS by Lissa Price

BookCover-StartersSome would say this novel falls under the dystopia category, but I’m putting it in sci-fi because the concept relies on some pretty crazy future tech.

Sometime in the future, after a biochemical war killed everyone between the ages of 20 and 60, the only people left alive in America are kids (called Starters) and old people (called Enders). Some Starters have Ender grandparents to look after them, but most are orphans who live on the street (like the main character Callie and her brother), or in horrible orphanages that sell kids into slave labor. Meanwhile the Enders work middle-class jobs or live off their retirement riches. Starters aren’t allowed to work, at least not legally. Which leaves Callie, who needs money to pay for her little brother’s medicine and get them off the street, exploring the only option available to her: renting her body to Enders who want to experience being young again. How does that work? They put a Starter’s brain to sleep, and through a neuro-chip allow the Ender’s brain to take over the Starter’s body, essentially living in it for the duration of the rental period. So creepy!

This novel is a fast-paced action adventure that doesn’t hit you over the head with the deep sociological issues at the root of the story, yet never lets you forget them. Some reviewers wanted more “depth” with regard to exploring these issues, but I appreciated how the author allows the reader to experience them as the plot unfolds instead of preaching them. There’s also a romance that thankfully plays into the plot instead of detracting from it.

So if you’re looking for an action-packed YA sci-fi that also makes you think, check out STARTERS by Lissa Price.

 

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A to Z Book Challenge

A2Z-BADGE [2014]This April, the Write On Sisters are participating in the A to Z Blog Challenge. That means on each day in April (except Sunday) we write a blog connected to the letter of that day. It all starts tomorrow, April 1st, with Jenn blogging the letter A (Anthropology and Culture in Writing), and continues with Robin blogging B (Boys & Books), and Caryn blogging C (Creative Writing Prompts). Lucky me, next Monday I have the letter F and get to blog on this topic: “Dropping the F-Bomb in YA Lit.” Fun times!

To get in the spirit of things, I thought I’d make a fun little A-Z list of YA books I’ve read and would recommend. This turned out to be harder than expected! Especially for the letter Q and X! So some of the books below are still in my “To Read” pile. Anyway, here goes…

A – ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD by Kendare Blake – Do you like ghosts, a good mystery, and a ghost hunter who reluctantly teams up with a male witch and a cheerleader to save the day? Bring it on!

B – BURN MARK by Laura Powell – I love my characters tough and conflicted, and these heroes have those qualities in spades. It’s been ages since I’ve been compelled to read a series, but because I love the characters, this book broke the streak.

C – THE COLDEST GIRL IN COLDTOWN by Holly Black – Just when you think vampire stories have been done to death, this book emerges with a bloody fresh new world to explore!

D – DANGEROUS GIRLS by Abigail Haas – This is one dark murder mystery. At first I thought the twist ending didn’t work, but then paid closer attention to the tense and dialogue the author used and realized not only did it work, it’s pretty brilliant.

E – THE EYE OF THE CROW by Shane Peacock – It’s fun to see Sherlock Holmes as a boy, and I kept picturing a young Benedict Cumberbatch throughout this book.

F – THE FAULT OF OUR STARS by John Green – I often find Green’s characters pretentious and annoying, but these two teens weren’t. I totally got into their story and cried my eyes out at the end.

G – GIRL, STOLEN by April Henry – A blind girl is kidnapped and what follows is a realistic and scary plot to free herself.

H – HOW TO SAVE A LIFE by Sara Zarr – A pregnant teen moves in with the family who is to adopt her baby, but isn’t sure if she can give it up. I can usually predict the ending of these types of stories, but this one kept me wondering until the last page.

I – I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER by Dan Wells – This book pulls off something pretty incredible: it’s both scary and touching.

J – JERK, CALIFORNIA by Jonathan Friesen – A main character with Tourette’s Syndrome sets out on a cross-country quest to learn the truth about himself.

K – THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO by Patrick Ness – I could not put this creepy, adrenaline-pumped book down, but damn that cliffhanger ending!

L – LESSONS FROM A DEAD GIRL by Jo Knowles – Read this book if you want to delve into the dark side of female friendships and abusive human nature and come out the other side realizing you’re not alone.

M – THE MAZE RUNNER by James Dashner – I’m a sucker for mysterious stories and this one delivers, though with a cliffhanger I didn’t appreciate.

N – NICK & NORAH’S INFINITE PLAYLIST by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan – Can you believe I’ve never read a book that starts with N! I’ll have to read this soon.

O – ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST by Ken Kesey – The only book on the high school reading list that engaged my easily distracted teenage mind.

P – PROXY by Alex London – A dystopian world where wealthy kids have poor kids called “proxies” to take their punishments for them. Weird concept; great book.

Q – QUICKSILVER by R J Anderson – Can’t find a Q for your alphabet book list? Type in “Quicksilver” and you’ll have a couple dozen options. I’m reading this one.

R – ROT & RUIN by Jonathan Maberry – Despite the long set up, this book rewards with a well-envisioned zombie apocalypse, exciting plot twists, and a hot samurai! For all those adults reading YA, Tom Imura is the 30-something heartthrob you can lust after without feeling like a dirty old cougar.

S – THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL by Soman Chainani – More MG than YA, but I couldn’t resist the fairy tale training academy idea. So much fun! Plus a surprising amount of emotional punch.

T – THIRTEEN REASONS WHY by Jay Asher – Sorry world, but I hated this book. We’re supposed to feel for the main character who committed suicide, but what she does to the people left behind is bullying too. I found it unbelievable that they participated in her sick game when most of them didn’t do anything bad to her.

U – UGLIES by Scott Westerfeld – One of my favorite books ever! Strikes at the heart of our beauty obsessed culture with wit and adventure.

V – V IS FOR VILLAIN by Peter Moore – This book is coming out in May 2014 with a lot of buzz. Fingers crossed because I love a villain hero!

W – WARM BODIES by Isaac Marion – I enjoyed this fresh take on a zombie tale. The premise – zombie falls in love with human and turns his death around – is imaginative, bone-chilling, and heartwarming.

X – X-IT by Jane George about a teen in the 80s club scene that sounds interesting, but it’s hard to find, though available on Kindle via Amazon. So authors, if you want to increase chances of your book being read, make the title start with X. There are all kinds of challenges to “read a book from every letter of the alphabet” and X is usually blank.

Y – YOU by Charles Benoit – I have the sneaking suspicion I’ve read this, but am not sure. I read so many books I’m beginning to forget. Either way, this sounds intriguing, and I’m a sucker for a story that dares use the 2nd person tense. So I’ll pick it up again just to be sure.

Z – ZOMBICORNS by John Green. Yes, that John Green wrote a zombie book. I know, weird right? I haven’t read it yet, but it’s available for a legal free download under creative commons license here.

So out of 26 letters, only 6 are books I haven’t read yet. Well, maybe 5, because like I said, YOU sounds so very familiar. How’s your list? Can you fill it in from A to Z?

 

For more blog posts from Heather, click here.

 

 

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