Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Tag the Sex Toy

I know I’ve touched base on referring to toys in a review. And I mentioned that feather lined hand cuffs could be considered toys. Didn't see it?Click:   Furry Cuffs

I’ve also mentioned that I like a good conversation, even a difference of opinion. No one really responded to the particulars of that post. Someone got a smile out of it, but no one dove in to debate any of my opinions. Quite by happenstance, a question and discussion floated my way that made me rethink my stance. Or more pointedly, refine it.

What is considered a toy? What makes the difference? Could something, instead, be considered a tool? If a tool, when?

I don’t endorse any toys – to do that I would have to have some experience with them and this blog is no place for such discussions, pro or con. However, in researching what could be considered toys, I saw mention of dildos like the Whopper Dong or the Wet Wabbit for vibrators. There are massaging devices, anal vibrators, Ben Wa balls, strap on dildos, prostrate massagers and pleasure wands, all made of some form of plastic or glass. There are nipple and breast toys that have nothing to do with the BDSM culture – they’re for enhancing the pleasure. There are vibrating nipple stimulators, little suction cups, and even a nipple erector set – whatever that does. They even have pussy pumps. Imagine! What these all seem to have in common is the focus of increasing the pleasure of the coupling. They are toys. Freely used on either protagonist in the story without any other purpose than increasing the power of the big O.

Then there are the tools of the trade. The ‘trade’ being a fetish, commonly found within the BDSM lifestyle. Nipple clamps fall in line there but they oftentimes have chains and they have a purpose that is more than just simple pleasure. A point is made – excuse the pun. These tools are inherent to the lifestyle – in effect – making them fall under the umbrella of BDSM. What do I mean?

You can have and use toys without BDSM but you can’t have BDSM without its toys/tools.


So the candy ball gag, the electro shock kit, the ropes, the blind folds, the sex slings and the bed restraints as well as whips and fur lined paddles, or the bondage bar, are tools, not toys.

I can only speak to the reviewers of Whipped Cream/LASR – I now believe that when we code our reviews with the unique qualities of a story, any device used in a BDSM scene does not have to have the additional label of ‘toys’. It’s implied and expected. If anything, the word FETISH can be added to cover the use of the distinctive tools used in the lifestyle.

And in case you were wondering why I say to use the word Fetish for the tools, just look online. I found something called the Fetish Factory and it has LOADS of stuff that truly can only be categorized as tools for the lifestyle. I mean, cock rings? Chastity devices for men or women, a Hannibal Head cage, for goodness sakes! Or, ::gasp:: an enema plug? I’d never classify that as a toy – ever.
In doing this post, I’ve refined my ability to tag my review a bit clearer and with more accuracy. Although, in truth, if I read a book where the Dom actually used a Hannibal Head cage, I’d find a way to mention it in the body of the review. Readers should get a warning for something that could be considered hardcore especially for those who only read light or mild BDSM.  I know I wouldn't want to be surprised by some of the things I saw today during my research. 

Ok, now will someone talk to me about this post? I was red as a tomato researching for it, never mind actually writing all this stuff down.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Play the Match Game

Remember Match Game back in the 1970s? Ah, that Gene Rayburn was a kick.
And I just dated myself. LOL

However, it's not a game that I'm referring to with that post title. Nor is it very humorous. In my archives, I did a post called The Rapunzel Effect. One of the comments inspired a reply from me that truly created a spark of emotion.

I was talking about reviews rated a three on the LASR or Whipped Cream review sites. That rating isn't necessarily a bad thing at all. It's what I term a summer read: something fun, it helps to pass the time in an enjoyable manner. Sometimes a reader doesn't want a heavy hitter, just an infusion of romance. Short stories do that but they also tend to see more three ratings than not.

Why do I think 3 has a bad rap? Easy - it's because of how the review is written. The Rapunzel Effect addresses that so I'm not going to repeat myself.

What I am trying to point out is this: The rating has to match the review.

A review simply cannot have the words: excellent, perfect, great, in the conclusion of the review where previously, the writer was blasting negatives throughout. The review will not be taken seriously--especially if the reviewer decided to give a four or better rating.
The reader is going to come away scratching their head, "I thought the reviewer hated the book.(?)"

Here's a review of one of my favorite stories. It's a four book rating but the writer mentions something that justifies it being a four. I also think if it hadn't been included, I would have expected a higher rating, but that could be my personal prejudice.
GOING OVERBOARD

A reviewer cannot give a gushing and glowing report and use those same positive words yet give a three rating. That makes no sense! There has be something that prevented it from getting a higher score. The reviewer has to say so. Has to. Otherwise, how can a reader trust the rating?
Here's an example: DON'T FENCE ME IN

Don't even get me started on how the review doesn't even give a potential reader any insight. That's a different post. But, see what I mean?
She claimed it was 'well researched' and 'solid'. So, why didn't it rate higher?

A better example of a three rating is this: BEHIND THE BENCH

Sure, something wasn't quite perfect for her, but the fact that the reviewer enjoyed the reading experience was not lost on me.

Now in this example, the reviewer hated the book. The tone of the review and the rating totally matched. I don't advocate this type of harsh and in depth microscopic carnage but the writer certainly was eloquent in her distaste. LOVE IN THE TIME OF DRAGONS.

By the same token, whenever a reviewer gives a reason for a three book or cherry, they need to do it with respect and civility. Reviews are not supposed to make an author bleed.

If authors are seeing a lot of negative and scathing comments regarding their work, and the majority of those are rated threes, it's not a wonder that poor little number 3 has had a bad rep. It's not fair. It's a generic paint brush tactic that is tarnishing everything.

A three rating can be a good thing, TEXT ME
- when the review is written right. Need a Refresher? REVIEWS CLASS #2

Make the rating match the review. Make sense. And play nice.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Yes, Furry Cuffs Are Toys Too!

I've been a bad reviewer. 
It was a shock to realize that I dropped the ball.
It was more of an embarrassment to realize that it wasn't even on my radar ... and it should have been.

And this post is why I have that 18+ age restriction on my blog because sooner or later it was going to apply.

BUTT PLUGS!
DILDOS!
FURRED HANDCUFFS!
NIPPLE CLAMPS!
WHIPS (with feathers?)!
ROPES (asanawa,kinbaku, shibari)

**waggles brows** Got your attention, didn't I.

Reviews aren't relegated to only sharing an opinion.  Information is shared as well to inform a reader of possible topics that might hit their Squick Button.(read - gross them out or upset them)

Some review sites don't have a list of tags that highlight features within a book that some readers might find objectionable. It's left up to the reviewer to include it in the body of their review.

Really?   Yes, really. 

I admit, explaining about toys wasn't on my To-Do list and I am due a wet noodle.  You see, when I used 'anal play' as a tag for the list, I assumed that it encompassed or included through inference any sexual aide that might come into play in that area.  Boy, was I wrong.   Fingers might get a pass from some readers but a multi-speed vibrator butt plug with a remote control infrared beam signalling device might push them over the edge and they'll stop reading the book to go take a TUMS or something - and, worst case scenario - refuse to finish reading the book.

Some publishers will list warnings with the blurbs on their sites and that's great.  But for those readers who don't actually visit the publisher but instead base their purchase on their favorite and/or a respected review website, the responsibility of the reviewer is hefty.

It's not just toys that need to be mentioned, what about rape?  How sensitive will a reader be if it's inferred or actual?  Retelling or active?  What about furry sex?  How close can a reader get to shifter love and not throw up?  Where do they draw the line?  Reviewers might mention it if it affected them and made them squeamish but what about those reviewers who weren't bothered by it and consider it no big deal?  Will they think of  writing about it?  To make mention of  something that didn't  faze them?  Human nature being what it is, possibly not.

So, this post is geared toward raising your awareness of what kind of information would benefit a reader.

Whipped Cream Reviews has a list for its reviewers to choose from, but it's by no means all inclusive. The reviewers for that site have the additional task of adding more descriptive tags because sexual play has gotten so inventive and creative.  The more the doors open up, and readers get a spotlight eyeful on the BDSM scene as well as other kinds of genre that push the sexual envelope, the more aware they have to be about adding the toys that go along for the ride.  

I'm still amazed that I finally earned my 18+ restriction.  I don't know if I should be impressed with myself or not.  I certainly hope I've not shocked you too much.  But, it needed saying.

Any other shocking toys out there to add to my short list?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Broken Record is Annoying

If you're a fan of those golden days when music was playing on spinning vinyl, you'll understand the reference. It was devastating and annoying when your favorite often-played 45 got a scratch and the same word or note would repeat over and over and over again.

It was grating on the nerves then and I assure you, repetitive words in a review bring forth the same teeth grinding reaction.

No one realizes it while in the midst of writing a review. The focus is getting those thoughts down and making your point. Once you do that, however, it's time to take a second look.

I've been helping out with basic editing lately and I discovered how easy it is to repeat the same word in one paragraph, even to miss the doing of it altogether. I realize it probably made sense initially, and even authors have to be wary of that same pitfall. After being bombarded with one particular word, I simply could not ignore the fact that it needed to be addressed and fixed.

The word that whomped me on the head was STORY.

 The most frequency that I've encountered it in one paragraph comprised by four sentences was FIVE TIMES! Story, Story, Story, Story, Story. Okay! I get it!
Reviewers should avoid anything that looks like this:
This story is a great stand alone. For readers of other stories in the series, they get to see the Bloomberg brothers again. If this is the first time a reader has read one of Ms. Snazzgarden’s stories, they’ll be in for a treat because the author’s sense of humor is back. This story has got them all beat because it’s over the top funny and this is one story that is going on my keeper shelf.
After writing your review, please re-read it with this in mind - don't repeat the same word in the same sentence or paragraph. What are some alternate options?

Story, Tale, Book, Novel, Novella, Saga, OR, this romance, this adventure, this mystery, this drama.

If it's a funny romance, the word 'yarn' might even be applied.
If it's a novel plus book, then the word 'epic' might be used.

I do believe that a reviewer can use the same word twice in one paragraph easily, depending on how it's used, and it'll be fine. Three or more isn't acceptable, especially now that you have the list of alternatives I've provided.

If you believe that none of the listed options work for you, try this link and see if you can find one that does. STORY OPTIONS
One word that gives me trouble is "Characters". I've used: personalities, hero, heroine,villain, or the person's name.

It still gives me conniptions sometimes because in this instance, Mr. Thesaurus isn't helpful at all. I wouldn't mind some suggestions on how to get around my character issues. **VBG**

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Dot your i's and Add those 's's

The title alone would make an editor cringe.

Yeah, it's been quite awhile since I've posted because I've not found any new twists to add to what I've already said.

However, I just found an interesting blog that does pertain to something I've touched upon in the past - punctuation and grammar. Punctuation is a bit of a weakness for me so I had to take a look at what this knowledgeable person had to say. I found ONE thing that completely grabbed my attention and I'm wondering if my visitors will be equally as interested.

Only one way to find out.

Here's the link: Grammar Update

A few things confused me - but part of the process of writing - whether reviews or books or school papers - is learning and growing.

Did you find anything of value in this? I'd love to know.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Me, Myself & I - Three's a Crowd

What in the world does the post title have with reviewing?

Let me digress for a moment. George Orwell in 1946 wrote an eloquent treatise on the English Language

** ii) Never us a long word where a short one will do.

(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.**

I've included a link for you to enjoy at your leisure. What is there to enjoy? I found it humorous that he calls the word ROMANTIC a meaningless word. Not that I agree. lol

But, why have I included this link to Mr. Orwell's writing? Because of example #(iii).
Again, I ask you, "What is a review?"

The answer I'm looking for is, "An opinion."

Right.

So, when a reviewer is writing their review, sharing their opinion, would it stand to reason that the phrase, "In my opinion" is redundant? Isn't the whole review your opinion? Think about that.

The following may seem trivial and for many reviewers it's not even on their radar. It ties into the previous point.

A reader knows, for example, that Xeranthemum is writing the review and I'm writing my opinion about the book so anything included are my thoughts, viewpoints, rationalities, justifications, feelings and observations.

Why then would I use "When I as a reader ..." or "I myself..." ? I'm already writing as me, wouldn't the reader know that?

Can someone explain to me why using those terms might be acceptable? Is there another way to express them that wouldn't be redundant? Any suggestions?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Let Me Count the Ways

Let me count how many reviews that are out there on the same book. Ok, I lost count.

I picked Shadowfever by Karen Marie Moning. I loved that book and I reviewed it. It was a difficult review to do because so many scenes throughout the book were key to the movement of the plot and were so incredibly specific, mentioning them would have been divulging spoilers and that is what reviewers need to avoid. How did others deal with it? I was curious to see.

This first one is funny. No, not the review. The fact that the reviewer took the easy way out and announced there were spoilers and off she went.
Review #1
Personally, posting actual scenes from the book wouldn't be on my acceptable list of reviewing practices. But that's just me.

Review #2 This was original. This reviewer tackled the audio version. But what is it with posting excerpts from the story in the review? Is this a new trend?

Review #3 I liked this one.

Review #4 I didn't learn ANYTHING reading this review and it actually started with a spoiler. I can't believe that! A reader isn't supposed to find out WHO actually died until they read the book! I remember how I felt when I found out who it was during the course of reading and I wouldn't ever want that feeling diluted. It was powerful and this review casually dropped it la-ti-da. grrrrr

Review #5 This one was alright. Not a lot there but the reviewer respected the fact that spoilers would ruin it.
Like I said, this was a very hard book to review.

Review #6 Wow - um... this was brief. Did you learn anything about how the reviewer felt after reading the book. Yes, I got that she liked it - but exactly what floated her boat?

Review #7 I LIKED this review. I liked the reviewer's voice and her respect of the story and I liked what she shared. I was grinning as I read it. Yes. I liked this one.

Review #8 Okaaaay - I guess she was enthusiastic. I'm thinking the language was a bit- ::ahem::- let's just say, I try really hard not to use those expressions in my reviews. LOL. Did you learn anything from her review?

Review #9 It left a lot of loose ends? Did she even read the same book??? I'm not impressed with this review. What do you think?

Review #10 Um... language people. It's in the book, yes, but does it have to be IN the review? On the whole, the review was OK - and they did strive to take out spoilers which makes me think initially there were some. Like I said, the book was chock full of fun things.

Review #11
I'm not sure how to weigh in on this review. She's unhappy that's for sure. Would the review make you want to pick it up even though she does say some positive things in it???

Review #12 I can't comment on my own review but I'm throwing it in the ring as well. If you compare mine to the others, how'd I do?

I'll stop here. Believe it or not there are MORE reviews of this book out there. It's that popular. And from what I've seen, reviewers are varied. Some will respect the 'no spoilers' rule and others don't care. Some write the way they probably talk and some definitely march to a different drummer.

I realize this post is a huge undertaking. I'd love to find out which reviews you think are better than others and what makes them so? Which reviews do you think would turn off a reader? Why?

What did I learn? It reinforced what I don't like to see in reviews and I will attempt to avoid those practices in my own writing.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Beginning of the Same Difference

In talking with a good friend who's mega talented and creative, she asked me if I've ever scoped out other reviews of one book I've read and reviewed, and compared them to my own. Not one or two but many.

Can't say that I have but of course, instigator that she is, it got me to thinking.

I decided to investigate a book that I really liked. It's a series, it's paranormal and I don't think too many people know about her yet.

Silver Zombie by Carole Nelson Douglas. Ever read it?

So, first thing I did was to use my favorite search engine. The initial thing I noticed were the intro lines. Search engines can only post the first line or two of a review. I find that interesting. Why? Because that little window of opportunity is similar to an author's. They have to start their blurbs or even the first chapter with a hook, a unique sentence that grabs the reader. Needless to say, I sort of got mired in those one sentence attention grabbers. I'll compare reviews a different day. Today I thought it would be cool to share what an Internet query would show a potential book buyer.

Also, bear in mind that somewhere in my archives here I covered the intro to a review. Not only does a review not start with a synopsis but that first line should be fresh and unique and not some standard intro like 'Once upon a time...". We've outgrown that, haven't we?

This is what I found:

#1 - What do the Wizard of Oz, zombies and really cool bar drinks have in common? The answer is the heroine of Silver Zombie, Delilah Street, ...

#2 - Silver Zombie (Delilah Street #4). by Kelly Chandler (Goodreads). I think Carole has a winner with this series, the books are getting better as they ...

#3 - Silver Zombie is book four in Carole Nelson Douglas' Delilah Street series. It picks up where Vampire Sunrise ends; read the previous three

#4 - Silver Zombie started in Vegas then took a wild ride to Kansas- to Delilah's past. And wouldn't you know it her past and her present collide

#5 - Review of Silver Zombie. Delilah Street, Paranormal Investigator, #4 ... Silver Zombie is book Four in the Delilah Street Series

#6 - In Silver Zombie Delilah and Ric are headed back to Kansas to learn a little bit about why Delilah has some of her... hang-ups.

#7 - :In Silver Zombie, we learn more about the new abilities that Ric gained in ...

#8 - A little bit slow at the beginning but picked up when they reached Kansas. Read All Book Reviews of "Silver Zombie Delilah Street

#9 - Silver Zombie (Kindle Edition). This was a disappointing installment in what has previously been a pretty good series. ...

Okay readers and visitors - here are my questions for you.

WHICH one from the list would have you clicking the link to check out the rest of the review?

What do you think is the best? The worst?

My opinion? You know I have one. **GRIN**

I've come to the conclusion that starting off a review with the title and name of the author in that first line, especially one with a lot of words, robs the reviewer of a chance for their review to hook someone, anyone. Why? Because it leaves no room for anything clever or witty to show up in the search engine query.

I learned something here myself and will strive to adjust accordingly. If I feel the need to mention the book title and author name, I'll perhaps do it in the second line or even the beginning of the first paragraph in the meat of the review.

And this is the other thing I figured out. If a reader is surfing the Internet for a particular book or author, they already know that information. It's how they came to the link in the first place. It's redundant to say it all over again in the very first line. I want my review to be read, not hidden.

What do you think?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Spotlight

I look for reviews to teach.
Sometimes, I find reviews that I wished I had written because they are so well done and it's what I strive for.

I'm going to share a few that I think show and reinforce that there are good reviewers out there. We need more.

First, this is a review for Vowed in Shadows by Jessa Slade
I thought this review provided indepth insight and the reviewer was articulate.

The second:

Inasmuch as the first sentence was ... sort of passive, the rest of the review shared feelings without spoilers and it had an upbeat and positive spin. Maya Banks – Sweet Seduction


This review is short but it has opinion and it's upbeat and I liked the reviewer's voice. All I Ever Wanted by Kristan Higgins

So what do you think? I liked the positiveness and respect they showed. I liked that they weren't synopsis. The reviewer talked about things that were liked, sharing a personal touch on how the book's storyline and/or characters affected them. Opinions are wonderful things when expressed well.

Which review was your favorite?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Pinned Down to the Mat

In this case Format issues.

I have a NOOK. I love my NOOK. I enjoy reading on my handy dandy electronic reader. One thing I never gave a thought to is how a review could possibly be affected by the very venue the book is read in.

This past week, I've been searching for review angles and I found something that was never on my radar.

Here's the link: BookBuzzr

Have you ever given a lower rating to a book because of formatting issues on your electronic reader? From the sounds of this post, it's something that reviewers maybe need to turn a blind eye to. What do you think? Ever experience this issue?

I know that my NOOK has had problems with a few downloaded books and I've overlooked it. Imagine my surprise to find out that it bothers some reviewers so much, they mention it in the review.

I won't be one of them. I think it might be a good idea if other reviewers roll with it too.

What do you think?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Another Helpful Link

I liked this one.
Yes, I continued my search. What I find truly wondrous is that a lot of the stances I've taken regarding writing reviews are being validated.

Sometimes I worry about being seen as pushing my opinions about how a review should be done whereas there might be a different viewpoint out there. Then I come across a site like this one and I get all warm and fuzzy. I'm on the right track. I'm steering my readers in the right direction and by virtue, I am ensuring that I continue to write quality reviews myself.

What did I find this time? It's actually titled Writing Bad Book Reviews.
That made me laugh. The content however made me sit up and take notice. Writing Bad-Book Reviews By Amy Brozio-Andrews. The one difference that I need to point out regards the site I review for.
LASR/WC does NOT chose the books for the reviewer. Reviewers chose their own so the quandary of trying to review a book in a genre they would normally stay away from isn't an issue. Also, the author mentions a "brief synopsis". At LASR/WC the blurb is posted so a synopsis in the body of the review is not needed nor wanted.

I laughed at the part where she said "...trees cried around the world..." I agree that snark should not be a part of a review. Yes, I know that there are review sites out there that do that and are popular, but as a rule it's best to avoid it.

OK, you've clicked and read the linked site. Did you find any of the information useful? Any questions? Anything you didn't agree with?

Like always, I'd love to hear from you.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

What Is a Review?

That's a good question.
So, I used our favorite search engine and put in How To Write Romance Reviews. All I found were romance review sites. Not much help.

So, I decided to make it basic - How to Write Book Reviews. I got a hit.
It's a generic outline in professor speak but there are elements within the body of the work that I have actually touched upon here. Of course, I've tailored it to romance but I was tickled to find it expressed in dry, bare bones prose. Want to see? Click
The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Gee, even the link sounds impressive.

Did you see the Beer example?? Ha! It was synopsis and look what the author said after -- that the reader didn't learn anything from the review. Remember my stand on synopsis reviews? No? CLICK

The last paragraph in the section in Developing the Assessment has this sentence in it.
"What is the book's genre? Out of what field does it emerge? Does it conform to or depart from the conventions of its genre"?
Did you see that? That is another good question that can relate to reviews of the romance genre.

I admit that there is a lot of information to plow through that has no bearing on what I do as a romance book reviewer but towards the bottom where the author has IN REVIEW are four paragraphs that are worthy to take note of.

So that's the conclusion and my input about that link. What cracks me up is the assertion that
"Typically, reviews are brief. In newspapers and academic journals, they rarely exceed 1000 words"
Have you seen MY reviews? I have gone over that amount on many occasions. When I like a book, a reader will know it. When I am ga-ga over a book, I leave a reader with no doubt. I can be a bit...verbose.

So, now I ask you, did you find this link helpful? Do you have any questions about how or where some of the author's points can relate to writing romance reviews?

Let me know. Meanwhile, I'll continue my search for tidbits to assist reviewers.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Another Opinion

Sometimes I look. Sometimes I don't.
And from both ways, I find things to share.

I did find a post that references writing reviews. I want to be fair and share whatever I find to help others. I'm posting this link because I think there is a valid point. That being said:

Enjoy a post on writing reviews by Adrienne Wilder

My reaction?
I don't know much about dogs or dog judging and I think I got a little lost in all of that but in a nutshell, I think she was trying to say that one of the things books should be rated on is their adherence to their genre. If a Regency has 21st century verbage or ideals, and because of the strict rules regarding writing in that period, the review's ratings are going to reflect that immediately.
I think that's what she said.
What do you think?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Just the Facts, Ma'am

Hello again!

I have an addendum to my previous post that I want to share with you. In scanning through my Facebook updates I noticed an interesting note entry from an author. Of course, curiosity tweaked, I checked it out. I'm glad I did. Why? Because she illustrated one of the points I made in The Rapunzel Affect

The most important component of meeting that responsibility is to respect the author and her/his work and be as factual, professional and courteous as you can be. There should not be any attacks on the author by making personal references that try to connect the faults in the story with perceived faults in the person. That's ludicrous and unacceptable behavior.

How fortuitous that she wrote about this very subject. I asked her if I could use her quote but I forgot to ask if I could use her name. Since I didn't ask, I can't use it but her words make the point beautifully.

"... When you want to criticize someone's writing, don't say "S/he writes like English is not her/his second language." It is very insulting to those of us who are non-native speakers/writers. IMHO, I don't make glaring mistakes, and false modesty aside, I'm good at English - and this is true for many other non-English authors out there. So without meaning to offend anyone, please consider this when you leave bad reviews."

I would never have come up with this example because opinions like that never cross my mind. I usually blame mistakes on bad editing. When I'm in a rush or in chat I become typo-queen - I can type 80 mistakes a minute. *grin* So for a reviewer to infer that the author herself/himself is faulty and that's why the writing is as it is, well, that steams me. Saddens me too. I want to give reviewers like that an injection of compassion and intelligence with a side dose of the professionalism they lack.

Yes, I understand that reviews are opinions.
However I believe that they are supposed to be opinions on the book/story itself: what it contains, what it tries to say, and whether or not it succeeded. Those are the only 'facts' from a reviewer that readers should see.

Can anyone share other examples of things to avoid in a review?
I would enjoy seeing your input.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Rapunzel Effect

What does Rapunzel have in common with reviews?
Try letting it all hang down.
Rapunzel lets down her hair - as a big hairy dump or a sensual unrolling of locks.
Reviews...well they can take an author's hopes and either slam them down to the ground or have those same hopes sensitively addressed by a gentle waterfall of words that won't harm but inform.

What am I really referring to? Lower rated reviews of the 2-3 level and the words used to address and explain what put them there in the first place.

First let me say that for LASR/WC, a three rating isn't that bad of a rating. I have no idea why or how it got the bad rap in the first place. Books with a three rating have always been enjoyable and entertaining, they just don't make me dream about them at night, nor do they make me want to rush out and buy every and all books in an author's backlist. What a three rating has always done for me is to pass the time in an enjoyable and welcome manner. When glitches are found, and they always are, the story and/or characters were done well enough that it didn't matter, I still found merit in the story. I still am glad I read it. And I'm happy to say so.

A three rating also means that as a reviewer I have the responsibilty to explain what I felt held the story back. The most important component of meeting that responsibility is to respect the author and her/his work and be as factual, professional and courteous as you can be. There should not be any attacks on the author by making personal references that try to connect the faults in the story with perceived faults in the person. That's ludicrous and unacceptable behavior.

Please bear in mind that I refer to reviews on professional sites and not personal blogs. People's personal blog space can be anything they want it to be and that means anything goes - free speech.

That being said, I ask, "What do you think drags down a story?"

My first thought is editing. If it's a self-published book then it's the author's complete burden. If it's published with a big house or even a smaller e-pub that has editors, then the editors let the author down. But some editing is so bad that it sinks the story. If a reader feels disconnected more than involved because of the constant interruption, that would prevent a higher mark.

What are some specific things that would drag a story down? Depending on degree, there are:
* Too Stupid To Live (TSTL) Hero or Heroine
* Plot holes - makes no sense
* Too many coincidences - how convenient and pat
* Bad or lazy research - American Slang used by a British character that's never been to America and the book takes place in England
* Telling instead of showing
* Head hopping - too many (POV) point of view shifts in too short a space
* Narrative or passive story telling

Those are just a few. The trick to mentioning these types of things in a review is to couch them with positives especially if it's a three rating. Threes should have plenty of good things to say.

Like I mentioned - Showing is tons better than telling.

So, check out these links that are of reviews with "three" ratings. I believe these to be straightforward, succinct and address the issues of the story itself without going off on unprofessional tangents.

The Boy Next Door
Sunrise in a Garden of Love and Evil
Fallen
Act Like We're In Love
Hot Spanish Nights


Although the last one is a four rating, the review showcased again how issues prevent a good book from being even better.  So, as you can see, there are various ways to express things that didn't work for a reviewer.  Always remember to surround the negatives with positives and the review should always end on a upbeat note.
Any questions?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

What Do Food and Reviews Have in Common?

We don't want anything spoiled.
We won't eat anything that is spoiled.
Why would we buy and read a book where the mystery inside has already been spoiled by a review?

Reviewers - spoilers are to be avoided at all costs.

I've said it before (HERE) and it needs saying again.

A spoiler is a published piece of information that divulges a surprise, such as a plot twist in a book. Sometimes it's even a bit of narrative telling a reader in greater detail what goes on in the story - something a reader should have learned BY reading the book itself, not in a review.

That being said. I'd like to illustrate my point by directing your attention to two reviews. Yes, one of them is mine, but the first one really got my attention and inspired this post.

Link #1 for The Witch and The Wolf

Have you read it? Good. Here's the thing. The site provided the blurb.
That's good. It's what came after that had my eyebrows raising into my hairline. The blurb hints at what Lillian is running from. HINTS! Obviously, the author expects a reader to buy the book and find out the specific details.

Notice how the review reveals all the components - the who of it and the why of it. I don't agree with that at all.

I'm not going to pick on the few typographical errors - that happens.
It's the spoilers that were revealed that truly annoyed me. Even the last sentence mentions a negative when a review should end on a positive tone.

Here's Link #2 for The Witch and The Wolf.

Please compare the two. Does the second give enough to entice a reader without falling into Spoilers? Do you see any retelling of the story leaving a reader with no surprises? Do you see more about how the book affected me and my thoughts versus telling a reader about the story itself?

A review is not telling or re-telling about what you read in the book. It's about sharing what you observed and how it made you feel - what worked for you, what you liked or didn't and what were the author's strong or weak points in her/his writing.

Whereas the first review was verbose in the revealing - I only inferred:

The external conflict explodes onto the scene in a flurry of pomposity and effective annoyance. By that I mean the author did a great job in giving me the willies. I really didn’t like those disgusting villainous and highly inappropriate men and Ms. Schneider did a great job of insuring my distaste.
I've had my say. I've given you two reviews of the same book. Now I'd like to know your opinion. As a reader and/or reviewer, which is more professional and/or respectful? Which is more of a draw? What are the weak points that you see in either review? What do you consider the strong points?

It doesn't matter that the second one is mine. I'm not perfect but I surely can strive for that goal. If you are reading this, then I'm guessing you want the same as me, to write well written reviews.

And please, no spoilers. They are as bad as an all synopsis review.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Shine On Me

I'm going to do a blatant self-promo only because two fantastic author's books are up for voting and since I wrote the reviews, I'm going to shout out about it. I've written much about writing reviews, now see me in action.

First let me post a teaser - Remember what I said about the first line sounding like a hook? Do you think I was successful?

Silver Zombie by Carole Nelson Douglas

What do the Wizard of Oz, zombies and really cool bar drinks have in common? The answer is the heroine of Silver Zombie, Delilah Street, paranormal investigator.

This is the fourth book in the series and Ms. Douglas keeps getting better and better. I think it helps to have read the previous books in the series just so a reader can understand one of the very intense and personally traumatic events that happens in this book. Ms. Street has had a severe phobia haunting her for fourteen years and it really impacts her love life. A reader finally finds out why she can’t remember a period of time in her life and it’s quite graphic. So, reader beware. I was outraged and horrified on the heroine’s behalf. I am so very glad her beau and lover was there to see her through it.

I keep finding new aspects of Ms. Street’s character that I like or am surprised by. I love her invisible internal, and sometimes I wonder if she’s truly imagined, sidekick, Irma. She reminds me of having Mae West as a conscience.

The interesting thing is that for most reviews, this length would be the total sum of the review. I'm not impressed. Want to see impressive? See the REST OF THE REVIEW

Then there is this other great book that is up for voting:
Dark Approach by Karen Wiesner

The Incognito series ends with a hard hitting, gritty yet cautiously optimistic bent that delivers exactly what readers have come to expect from the talented Ms. Wiesner.

I’ve often wondered how the author was going to pull off the final chapter and what astounding dark secret from the Id would she explore to a reader’s adventurous satisfaction. How could it be as diabolical as some of the exploits the Network has had to deal with in the past? What other dastardly thing had yet to be explored and conquered? I couldn’t wait to find out.

This final story in the Incognito Series, Dark Approach, deals with Victor and Lucy. Lucy ends up being more special than anyone ever expected and it is revealed early on during the course of this tale. Shannon McKee, the head of Oversight who usually sticks her head and hand into the situation with brutal manipulation, is missing from this tale but Angelo, second in command, more than makes up for it when he has to play the most important life and death chess game of his career. In fact, even though Angelo has had his own happily ever after in Dance in the Shadows, in my opinion, he is even more heroic in Dark Approach. The sacrifices he’s had to make over the long course of his time in the Network with an end game that might or might not come to fruition had to have been a severe and burdensome pressure on his heart and mind for that entire duration. In fact this book makes him all the more human because it gives readers an honest and open view of what demons drove Angelo, and it’s a whopper. Read the REST OF THE REVIEW HERE

I hope you've taken a gander at the two reviews in their entirety. Why? Because of what they say - not the words but by the lengths of the reviews. Readers who've seen reviews written by me before can tell when I completely, absolutely adore a book I've read, enough to give it a five book/cherry rating. I'm a bit long winded and find tons to share and talk about. It's not about knowing what to say, but where to stop.

So, please go vote and may the best review win!

OOH, Addedum! I found that there is another review of mine in the running on the Whipped Cream side of things!

Viking Seduction: Blood Hunter by Brannan Black

Excitement and surprises abound within the well written pages of Viking Seduction: Blood Hunter.
First off, this is a first person point of view story told from the male hero’s perspective and I thought it worked really well. In fact, it was vastly entertaining and it kept my interest completely throughout the entire tale.

Grady is a cop on the trail of his missing daughter. Right off the bat I was sympathetic to his character and I wanted him to succeed. What he has to do and what he finds out along the way had me flipping the pages at a furious pace. I liked his gruff, no nonsense manner and he doesn’t pull his punches. In fact, he’s a man’s man and a good officer and his skills come in to play in ways and places he never could have dreamed of.

One person he never thought he’d have a chance with is the blonde hottie he fantasized about. Segrun is a Viking warrior turned vampiress. She has some seriously major mojo and I enjoyed watching her love/hate relationship with Grady. REST OF THE REVIEW

NOW, please go vote. I can't wait to see the results of the voting come Monday. Woot!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Hook Me Baby, and Make Me Dance Before I Drown

Ever hear of the old American Title Competitions?  Where ambitious writers had a chance of getting their books published if they made it through all the rounds?  One of the criteria or voting sections was on the introductory sentence of the first paragraph and then, I think,  the rest of the paragraph.  A lot of power was attached to that one sentence- those few words could make or break a book.  It still holds true although the contest changed in 2007 I believe.  I don't even know if it's still active.  But it still reinforced my belief that a lackluster and tame first introduction to a book will potentially  lose a new reader especially if there is no hook, no tweaking of interest, no prod to a reader's curiosity.   If it's written by an author that a reader already follows, then they'll be more forgiving and read on.  But a good hook cannot hurt.

I once read a book on writing where they quoted the first line of Herman Melville's book, Moby Dick.
It reads,"Call me Ishmael."   Three words and yet they are powerful.  It's the character's compelling voice; it's a phrase that draws you in because it involves the reader.

Reviews can benefit from that same technique. 

It's not rocket science, it's literary science.  First impressions don't only apply to meeting a potential love interest or food fetish.  First words whether spoken or written can have the same affect - they'll keep you coming back for more, or have you walk away - or in a reviewer's case, they'll  read the review/buy the book or click "Next" with a disinterested mien. Same difference.

What are possible options for a boring first sentence?

"I liked this book." -  yeah, so?

Recounting or reciting something from the blurb. - Read that already, Next?

A dry statement "The heroine's character evolved in this story." -  And I'm supposed to care ... why?

"This is the book I was waiting for." - I'm glad you were but why would I?

The sour cream of the crop goes to one that is overused, generic and boring:
"This book hooked me from the first (page, line, paragraph)."  

In a review, we are supposed to hook THEM from the first.  I couldn't care less that the book did it for them in the first whatever, I want to know WHY, WHAT, HOW, WHO.

These next are better options to see and that I liked when I went searching for some examples:

Can you imagine how a knight and his men from the court of Henry II feel when they ride up to Castle Ladyslipper (or Fairfield) to find that it is inhabited in the main by beautiful, single women?
If that hooked you, the review is HERE


Fun and unexpected, Expecting Royal Twins! was a breath of fresh air.  OK, what made it so fun and unique?  What else did the reviewer say?  I want to know. Check HERE

Now this first sentence is an attention grabber, "It seems Nina has lost her ability to experience an orgasm -- is that possible and will Ian change things for her?"  Doesn't it make you want to read more? HERE

As for this very LONG sentence, it does grab attention,
"Halli knows what she wants and how she has to get it, and between her coffee shop and the adult toy parties she has, she soon will have enough money for her dream house and she will not let anything stand in her way, even one very sexy cop who can show her all the things she has been missing."

However, if you look at the rest of the review Here , alas, it's a paraphrase of the blurb. It's short and doesn't give me much information. On top of that, the reviewer is telling me what to do.  Just on principle, I'm going to put it down.
So. There.

Can you see the value of a hook?  The first sentence is made up of words that can tease a reader.  You don't want to give too much, which I think the last example seemed to do.  Neither do you want to give so little to the reader it ends up like dry toast.

What are the silliest opening lines you've ever read?
What are some of the worst or most boring you've ever seen?
What were some of the best ones you've read that inspired the "more" factor?

I'd love more examples.  The more good ones I can show reviewers , the more they'll be able to recognize what's lame, bad or boring. 

I certainly don't want to write boring reviews. What does that then say about the actual book?

So hook me, make me dance with anticipation to read it or I'll end up drowning in disinterest and disappointment.  And wouldn't that just suck turkey toes?


Sunday, January 9, 2011

What Do You Mean,"I'm Predictable and Contrived"?

If you recall from past posts, I've opened up the option of visitors or commenters offering something they'd like to see discussed here.  Just in time for the new year, someone had something mentioned in a review and was bemused, perplexed and a bit taken aback because there was no meat to the heat.

What do I mean?  The author can understand the opinion but without giving a hint as to what made it contrived and/or predictable, the author can't adjust, fix or advance in her craft to address that which the reviewer thought let her/him down.

Yes, I realize what we reviewers say is mostly opinion but if what we say didn't matter, review sites would have cyber-crickets for readers.  Thing is, reviews matter and often do become helpful tools for authors to know not only what doesn't work but what does work. 

Although this is my blog and I'm only one voice in the vast array of reviewers out there,  I think it's good to hear from the other side of the coin, in this case, the author.  

With her permission and because I think it's a valid point and I do try to express the meat behind the heat in my own reviews, I'm going to share:

"if you write a review...and have less than glowing things to say, there is always a good chance you're right or at least what you have to say has merit, BUT think about it from the perspective of the author...if there is something bad or less than stellar, wouldn't you want to KNOW what's wrong? Simply saying something is poor or written badly isn't wrong, per se, but you might want to say why it's written badly. Did the author use purple prose? Repetitive statements? Plot seem so far out of left field you couldn't buy into it? If it's predictable, first, remember that in romance we WANT a HEA...we want to see the hero and heroine get together. BUT, how else was it predictable? Did the hero seem to show up at the right time? Did the heroine seem to say exactly what was needed to cool the hero down?

If you're the author, you want to know so you know what to improve for next time. We're human, so we know we make goof-ups. It happens. But if we don't know why you think something is less than stellar, we can't work on it for the next story."


I think her statements are worth reading.  And, in previous posts here a CC, I think I've addressed the need for reviewers to put what scenes or elements make them feel anything, good or bad.  Making a blanket general statement is perhaps fine on Amazon where there is a thirty second attention span. But on a review site where a reviewer is free to explore and expound upon the virtues of a book and they don't ... it's a let down.

In a book I recently reviewed, the word 'contrived' came to mind. There was more than enough to drag it down to a three rating so I didn't feel the need to heap on the negatives.  I will share that the overall affect of the story for me was that it was forced. Events that would otherwise not occur in such a fashion were compelled to happen just so the opportunities for their sexual relationship could be explored.  Yes, it was a short story and I realize they are very challenging to write. However, I've read shorts before that had a logical and natural progression with characters acting within the world building -- not against it as this book did.   It felt as though the scenes were written at a whim to make a certain thing occur and it felt rushed and shallow.  It had enough elements and dialogue for me to find enjoyment, hence the three rating, but by no means would that kind of writing end up on my keeper shelf.     If I had written in the review that the book was contrived, I would have pointed out what made it so without spoilers. Being contrived isn't necessarily a death knell for a story, just a point reduction as far as a review goes. (unless you were reading a mystery, then it just might)  Combine it with other things, like bad editing or a heroine TSTL, well then, that might sink the ship.  

So what do you think?  Is a book being predictable or contrived enough to make it a wall-banger? Is it enough to state that opinion in a reivew with no information to back it up?  Or should there be a few examples or mentions as to why? Or is being predictable someone else's idea of a relaxing story to while away the day?

Comments?  Counter Opinions?   I'd enjoy another perspective.