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Writing Life

Musings on reviews & reaching readers

I don’t go looking at reviews often, but when I do, sometimes I find pure gems. Take this observation, from an unverified 2-star Amazon review left in June. (Why am I posting this now, when it happened in June? HI HAVE WE MET? HAVE I NOT MENTIONED MY ABILITY TO OVERTHINK THINGS FOREVER?)

But I digress early this time.

The reviewer found Controlled Descent unappealing in large part because there were repeated instances of “characters dealing with physical suffering and acting like jerks.”

Friends, I confess THIS IS A VALID TAKE, and that makes this a valuable review.

Not sure where the reader got their copy. Since the review is unverified & not linked to a Goodreads, it’s not an Amazon purchase. Might have been a convention? This means someone cared hard enough about their disappointment in a book they bought at least 2 years ago to hunt it down online & vent.

I admire that kind of dedication, and I’m (perhaps perversely) pleased I was able to inspire that passionate a reaction.

I mean, sure I’d rather inspire excitement and joy and other positive responses like loyalty and enthusiasm, but the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s apathy. I’d rather fifty people passionately but thoughtfully hate my writing than five hundred think it’s too MEH to bother rating at all.

I’ve learned over the years that my perspective on this is far from universal. Your mileage may vary, etc.

That same review complained about an “obligatory intertwined love story” and that remark kinda underscores that the book was a bad fit for them. Which happens. But not because there’s and intertwined love story.

There isn’t. Pinkie swear. There are multiple characters who are sexually attracted to others, yes. That’s hardly unrealistic. And there are comedic elements involving one character’s obliviousness, because that’s my lived experience & fun to write. But it’s a group of people who all respect consent & accept responsibility for their own attraction, so that’s that. There;s a straightforward pair-up within the embrace of a supportive, approving friendship group, and nothing more.

But!

If a reader was braced for/expecting matters to fall out as a Typical Tropey Lurve Triangle, well, I can see why they might read the interactions differently and not appreciate it. I’m not a fan of love triangle angst myself, so I can respect others being sensitive to it and having a different perspective.

I’m sharing all this as an example of why an unfavorable review can still be a good one — nay, even an excellent one.

Now, there are bad reviews aplenty out there. Vicious, vitriolic, meanspirited, hating, hateful ones. Getting a lot of those can sink a beautiful book into obscurity forever. I’ve seen stories smothered that way on Goodreads, on Twitter, on…well, anywhere readers are gathered together. Like some other authors, I fear attcks like those. So far, my obscurity has protected my writing.

(Low-star pile-on attacks have little to do with the quality of the book. Even in cases where problematic elements offended and enraged people, the massive inundation of bad reviews come from people who never. read. the. book–which is a little piece of proof that a review reveals something of its author along with its analysis.)

BUT I DIGRESS AGAIN. QUELLE SUPRISE

As long as the review is a good, honest, thoughtful one, the reasons one reader did NOT like a book inform other prospective readers about things they WILL like. That’s why I welcome good unfavorable ones. I’m grateful to all the people who took the time to share why they didn’t like my books.

Some provide insight into choices I made unconsciously about characters or style or themes–the kind of choices beta readers and editors might not question, but ones which I would rather make consciously. Other “bad” reviews highlight imperfections in plot or structure that are part of the craft ‘m always striving to improve. And yes, a few of the reviews are pure entertainment in a classic “WTAF, did they read the same book I wrote?” way.

But anyway. I thought I’d share my ponderings on this topic, and now I have done so.

That’s all for now. Until later!

OOP! CAT TAX:

Categories
Book reviews Media Consumption Writing Life

Writer Reading Report: Spring 2021

It’s long past time I posted one of these. Why, you ask? Excellent question, invisible internet reader.

TL;DR: I have been reading a lot, and the review situation is Out Of Hand. Skip down to the list.

Sticking around fot the long version? Cool. First, there’s the draining prospect of writing full reviews. They take mental energy to parse out, to make sure I’m saying exactly what I mean and nothing else. Recommending verbally is easy. I babble freely, chipping out remarks until the point emerges from the solid block of words. The conversational flow carries off all the false starts, vocabulary stumbles, digressions, parantheticals, and general mayhem that occurs whenever I attempt to impart information with words. (Trust me, the whole write like you speak thing does NOT work well when you think non-sequentially.)

I hope to get ratings & blurbs onto retail sites for all the books listed below, but no promises, because–second– in addition to the energy suck, I’m cratering on the executive function aspect too. The longer the list gets, the further behind I fall, the harder it is for my brain to get a grip on beginning it. I want to get this done to get it the heck off my mind, but I can’t get it done unless I start. Vicious damned cycle, that one.

General exhaustion plays into it too. Bodies & brains do what they do, and mine have been tag-team tackling me with increasing do-nothing demands. I keep looking back on non-productive days and realizing my “lazy lack of motivation” was really physical pain/brain fog/stress-distraction in disguise.

The number of days I’m fighting petty, niggling issues (vision fatigue, aching wrists, tired fingers, sore hips, brain-nopes…) gets higher each year. And beating back the “but maybe I AM just lazy” conditioning is wicked tiring all by itself. I am daily thankful that I’m in a living situation where health needs that would interfere with earning abilities don’t threaten my survival. BUT I DIGRESS. Quelle suprise. ANYway.

I’m doing an end run around the problem.

Here’s a list of just the titles & authors of what I’ve read since the beginning of the year. There’s everything here from hard scifi to steamy romance, horror to humor. If you like things in a hierarchy, sorry, this isn’t one. They’re listed in order of how they came to mind, which has ZERO to do with how memorable, exciting, or cool they are.

  • Mazes of Power & Transgressions of Power Juliette Wade
  • Black Sun Rebecca Roanhorse
  • The Secret Chapter Genievieve Cogman
  • All The Courtney Milan books I could get my hands on
  • Sorceror To the Crown (reread) & The True Queen, Zen Cho
  • The Bear & the Nightangale and The Girl In the Tower, Katherine Arden
  • a re-read of Lois McMaster Bujold’s whole Penric & Desdemona series
  • The newest in the Rogues to Riches series, Grace Burrowes, followed by a re-read of the quartet.
  • The Duelling Neurosurgeons (the only non-fiction on the list)
  • Afro Puffs Are the Antennae Of the Universe, Zig Zag Claybourne
  • Dark Matter edited by Sheree Brown (the only anthology on the list)
  • JurassiChrist, Michael Allen Rose
  • A Year of Flash Fiction Jamie Lackey
  • The Hound Of Justice, Claire O’Dell (Jane Watson series, start with A Study In Honor)

I loved each and every one of these. They all get high recommends.

(Yah, but K, what’s that even mean? It means, “If you read that genre & the cover blurb appeals, these are worth your time to pick up and evaluate for yourself.” I adored them. Your mileage may vary.)

Master of Poisons by Andrea Hairston is one last title I must mention. It gets my All-thumbs-up 5-star bookseller recommendation, but I can’t list it as “read” because I DNF’d.

It’s a glorious book packed with incredible world-building and peopled with multifaceted, fascinating characters. And the prose is magnificent. But. It wasn’t the right read for me when I tackled it. This happens. I plan to attempt it again in a year or two. It might be right for you right now. PLEASE check it out.

Pretty sure I’ve missed a book or five in there, but that’s the not-quite-midyear list. I’ve already recommended these authors to folks word-of-mouth style on the regular, and getting this written gets me a big step closer to putting quick & easy deli-style reviews up on sites. Eventually. One or two at a time.

And now, onward to the next read!

Currently high on my TBR stacks: Bone Swans by C. S. E. Cooney, a re-read of all the Murderbot stories by Martha Wells, Galactic Hellcats by Marie Vibbert, Storm Of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse, The Brothers Jetstream: Leviathan by Zig Zag Claybourne (because I read bk 2 first) and Sycorax’s Daughters if I have the brainspace for another anthology so soon. Oh, and A Wizard’s Guide To Defenisve Baking by T Kingfisher.

Here’s a cute library cat as a reward for getting this far.

Photo by Flickr on Pexels.com

That’s all for this edition. Until next time!

Categories
Book reviews Writing Life

Writer Reading Report: A Deadly Education

A Deadly Education released on 29 September, 2020, and I could not be more excited to tell the world about it. (I received an ARC through NetGalley so I’ve been sitting on this for a bit.)

Below the description you’ll find a gushing review, but the TL;DR is this: this is GOBSMACKINGLY good and I hope it wins awards and becomes a huge epic series because it is made of familiar ideas twisted on their ears and so thumped hard they became AN ASTONISHING NEW THING.

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

(from the NetGalley description.)

I decided that Orion Lake needed to die after the second time he saved my life.

Everyone loves Orion Lake. Everyone else, that is. Far as I’m concerned, he can keep his flashy combat magic to himself. I’m not joining his pack of adoring fans.

I don’t need help surviving the Scholomance, even if they do. Forget the hordes of monsters and cursed artifacts, I’m probably the most dangerous thing in the place. Just give me a chance and I’ll level mountains and kill untold millions, make myself the dark queen of the world.

At least, that’s what the world expects me to do. Most of the other students in here would be delighted if Orion killed me like one more evil thing that’s crawled out of the drains. Sometimes I think they want me to turn into the evil witch they assume I am. The school itself certainly does.

But the Scholomance isn’t getting what it wants from me. And neither is Orion Lake. I may not be anyone’s idea of the shining hero, but I’m going to make it out of this place alive, and I’m not going to slaughter thousands to do it, either.

Although I’m giving serious consideration to just one.

I don’t think I have ever related to a protagonist so hard. Galadriel Higgins and her struggles to be herself and be a real human being kept me up past my bedtime and got me out of bed early two days running.

  1. This is a wizard school without teachers. It’s a death trap. Graduation is escape. (That isn’t a spoiler. It’s the PREMISE.)
  2. These are kids wrestling with big issues and growing up without the slightest bit of direct adult guidance, and the way they fumble through their relationships is raw and awkward
  3. The magic system is brilliantly self-contained and internally consistent and yet the way magic is woven into the story keeps it mysterious and uncontrollable and also a limited resource and a hazard–it’s EVERYTHING. I love the way its use and abuse and availability never stand in for any other kind of worldly power. Magic is just another whole axis of power & privilege added to the complexity of being human.

This had BETTER be the first of a series. It doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, but dangggggg, I want so much more of this world & these characters.

AAGGGHHHH I DON’T WANT TO WAIT ANOTHER YEAR OR MORE. But I will. I will do what I must. I will be patient. And I’ll re-read this a time or few before then. Just to visit these characters.

That’s it for this time. Until later, happy reading!

Categories
Book reviews Writing Life

Writer Reading Report: Grave War

I received an ARC of Grave War through NetGalley. It releases on 24 November, 2020, and today’s post contains my no-spoiler review. below the book synopsis.

GraveWar by Kalayna Price

(from the NetGalley description)

Grave witch Alex Craft is getting pulled back into deadly fae politics in the thrilling new novel in the USA Today bestselling series.

Grave witch Alex Craft has forged an uneasy truce with the world of Faerie, but she’s still been trying to maintain at least some semblance of a normal life in the human world. So it’s safe to say that stepping up as the lead investigator for the Fae Investigation Bureau was not a career path she ever anticipated taking.

When an explosion at the Eternal Bloom threatens to upend the fae who make their home in our world, Alex finds herself in charge of the most far-reaching investigation she’s ever tackled. And it’s only her first week on the job. With the threats mounting and cut off from half her allies, Alex can’t wait on the sidelines and hope the fae’s conflicts stay contained within their borders.

I was excited to see this book pop up in my NetGalley because I love the way the author skews every trope just enough to make me smile. I didn’t realize it would be more than another juicy, wonderful chapter in Alex Craft’s complicated magical life. It’s a juicy complicated SERIES CONCLUSION.

Yes that’s right. Are you seeking a great urban fantasy series you know you’ll get to see through to the end? Here it is! The various plot lines could have used a wee bit more resolution than one book can possibly provide, but I like a little left to the imagination, and I was well pleased with how things turned out–pleased enough that I would pick up a follow-up series in a heartbeat.

The loveliest thing about this book is how effortless it was to read–there was the perfect amount recap that I didn’t feel lost (even though it’s been long time since I read the previous book) yet none of that information felt forced or slowed down the story. Plus in the end, everything comes together in a beautifully satisfying wrap-up that does NOT erases all possibility of future, new stories. It hit the perfect balance–for me. YMMV.

This is a no-spoiler review, so I am not going to hit plot specifics.

That’s it for this one. Until next time!

Categories
Book reviews Writing Life

Writer Reading Report: A Killing Frost

I received an ARC of A Killing Frost through NetGalley. It released on 1st September, 2020, and I’m a bit late on reviewing it because I loved the book so much I had to go back & start the whole series over so I could read it twice. And for those concerned, this is a spoiler free review. First, the deets:

A Killing Frost by Seanan McGuire

(from the NetGalley description)

When October is informed that Simon Torquill—legally her father, due to Faerie’s archaic marriage traditions—must be invited to her wedding or risk the ceremony throwing the Kingdom in the Mists into political turmoil, she finds herself setting out on a quest she was not yet prepared to undertake for the sake of her future…. and the man who represents her family’s past.

Now, the gushing. I love this series & the character of Toby Daye so much it would have taken some kind of continental-shifting change to make me dislike a new installment, so it will come as no shock that I loved this book as much as I did all the others. Moreso, actually, because I have a soft spot for stories that happen in the quiet spaces between big, world-breaking events, and Killing Frost is that kind of tale. The stakes aare high, but they’re more personal than global.

No one coming into book 14 of a series needs me to tell them who’s who and what’s what, so instead I am just going to squee vaguely about the neat things.

  1. This book wraps up some longstanding series plot lines in a Most Satisfying Way, but it also braids in as many new ones as it ties off, so there’s clearly much much, MUCH more to come. More Toby, more family drama, more revelations about the nature and history of Faerie.
  2. Toby learns some life lessons that just might stick this time!
  3. There’s no happily-ever-after in this world, but things end on a high note for all the characters I care about, and for at least two others I never expected to like. So now I have Complicated Feelings about about some supporting cast, and suspicions about others.
  4. By binge-reading the series up to here, and seeing all the reveals & twists in close chronological order, I think I’ve finally spotted a few plot lines developing. (Look for Toby’s blind spots and assumptions, that’s all I’m saying) Right now I’m enjoying the fun of speculating about who’s going to step into the spotlight next. (and why!) Right or wrong, I know I’ll be entertained.

TL;DR: THIS BOOK ROCKS AND I CANNOT WAIT TO SEE WHERE IT ALL GOES IN THE NEXT INSTALLMENT.

That’s it for this post. Until next time!