On the Value of Negative Reviews

When I first started blogging, I didn’t give much thought to writing negative reviews. I was excited to discuss books that I love and share them with other people. I wanted to gush about Neil Gaiman books, talk about the latest film adaptations of books I love, and get hyped up about new releases.

37670617_215131999339311_6585481098782834688_n

32940867And sure, there’s been plenty of that, but lately, I’ve been thinking about the necessary evil of writing… less than glowing reviews. Sometimes these are easy to write; I gleefully tore into Stephenie Meyer’s The Chemist on this blog a while back, and I have no regrets. Stephenie Meyer is enjoying heaps of success and I can be relatively sure her eyes will never cross my little blog. Stephenie Meyer absolutely does not care what I think, and that’s fine by me.

But when the writer in question is an indie author, the situation becomes fraught. If the book only has 5 or 10 reviews up on GoodReads and you’re the first naysayer in the crowd, it becomes difficult not to picture the author’s face when they inevitably read a review that can essentially be summed up with this gif:

I don’t want to take the wind out of anyone’s sails, least of all someone who is just getting started in a writing career. I try to ask myself with each review, “Who would enjoy this book?” But what do I say when the only answer that comes to mind is, “No one?”

Ultimately, I think it comes down to this: there are two inherent agreements in running a book review blog. In accepting review copies of books, we agree to read and review them. Full stop. Bloggers may be used as a marketing tool, but we are not at the beck and call of the author’s marketing team.

The second unspoken agreement is equally important, and that is with our readers. I will never recommend that you spend your time and money on a book that I don’t believe deserves it. In the interest of keeping my reviews balanced, I generally try to find something nice to say about every book; surely every book has done something right. But I will never waste my readers’ time in the interest of sparing an author’s feelings.

I’ve sometimes seen drama over on GoodReads, when negative reviews are met with people lashing out about “haters.” No book will appeal to every reader. Dismissing every naysayer as a “hater” is ultimately missing the point. Are there pointlessly negative reviews which don’t offer any analysis, but simply choose 15 or 20 different ways to say “I hated this?” Sure. But if a reviewer is articulating why book didn’t work for them, they are providing valuable information for other readers, regardless of their personal taste. Maybe they gave it two stars because the whole story revolved a trope they can’t stand, like love triangles, but love triangles are totally up your alley. Then grab that book and have a blast! And appreciate the fact that another reviewer took the time to let you know what was in store.

Happy reading, everyone! Here’s hoping there are many five star books in your future!

Capture2.PNG

Thanks for reading, friends! I’d love to hear from you in the comments! Do you feel uncomfortable when posting negative reviews? How do you deal with these?

Other places to follow me…
Tumblr | Facebook | Instagram | GoodReads

Review – An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, by Hank Green


An Absolutely Remarkable Thing
by Hank Green

Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult

Length: 352 Pages

Release date: September 25, 2018

Publisher: Dutton

Synopsis: 

The Carls just appeared. Coming home from work at three a.m., twenty-three-year-old April May stumbles across a giant sculpture. Delighted by its appearance and craftsmanship–like a ten-foot-tall Transformer wearing a suit of samurai armor–April and her friend Andy make a video with it, which Andy uploads to YouTube. The next day April wakes up to a viral video and a new life. News quickly spreads that there are Carls in dozens of cities around the world–everywhere from Beijing to Buenos Aires–and April, as their first documentarian, finds herself at the center of an intense international media spotlight.

Now April has to deal with the pressure on her relationships, her identity, and her safety that this new position brings, all while being on the front lines of the quest to find out not just what the Carls are, but what they want from us.

rating

four

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is seriously… remarkable. This book was ridiculously fun and I got through it in a day. It’s one of those books where you’re ready for a sequel the moment you finish it.

Let me start with the negative; this was a debut novel and, of course, has some flaws. For starters, holy heavy-handed delivery of the moral, Batman. This book is not subtle in how it deals with the concepts of xenophobia, partisanship, and extremism. These themes were woven pretty seamlessly into the narrative itself, and they weren’t helped by the main character monologuing  about them straight to the reader. Hank Green, please realize that your audience can get your message loud and clear without you beating them over the head with it.

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is also heavily imbued with modern “internet culture,” and while it was fun, I do think it will suffer for it and feel very dated not terribly far into the future. I think readers 15 years from now will pick this up and have the same general type of reaction that I had to Ready Player One, which was more or less “Good Lord, I get it, you like the 80’s, dude. Enough.”

That being said, I loved this book. The protagonist, April May, was quirky and intensely likable, despite being kind of a hot mess. (Side rant: I saw another reviewer on GoodReads label her a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. PSA: this is a very specific term; can people please stop slapping that label on any quirky female character they happen to dislike? A crucial part of the MPDG definition is that the character exists solely to inspire the broody, male MC to find a new appreciation for life. You can’t label a main character whose only romantic relationships in the narrative are with other women a MPDG. It doesn’t fit.)

April is 23 years old and a recent college graduate at the start of the story. She is thrown into the spotlight accidentally and isn’t really equipped to deal with it. While the specifics of her situation are extraordinary, I feel like a lot of younger Millennials and older Gen Z kids will relate to her. April’s struggles mirror the way a lot of us feel about adulthood in general.

I also really liked the way Green used April’s character to tackle the issue of biphobia, which is something rarely addressed in fiction; more often than not, it is simply lumped in with homophobia if it’s directly addressed at all. But the fact is that biphobia often manifests in different ways than homophobia does in real life, and it was refreshing to see a writer acknowledge that.

While it’s awesome to see a novel tackle important social issues, it’s also important that they’re woven into an interesting story, and Hank Green definitely delivers on that front. The novel felt very well-paced, and the mystery surrounding the “Carls” was really engaging and hinges on interesting puzzles and attention to detail. April’s emotional journey and struggle to maintain a sense of identity in the face of crafting a public persona were executed really well, and April came across as flawed and stumbling without ever being alienating. Such a strong debut has me dying to see what Hank Green writes next.

“Even on this most terrible days, even when the worst of us are all we can think of, I am proud to be a human.” 

Purchase links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | IndieBound

Thank you for reading! Have you read An Absolutely Remarkable Thing? Please share your thoughts in the comments!
Have you read any debut novels that really surprised you? Let’s discuss!
Capture2

Other places to follow me…
Tumblr | Facebook | Instagram | GoodReads

WWW Wednesday 10/10/2018

Welcome to another WWW Wednesday! This meme is hosted by Taking on a World of Words. To participate, just answer the following three questions:
What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

img_1384-0

I’m currently reading…

reading.PNG

Muse of Nightmares, by Laini Taylor
The sequel to Strange the Dreamer is finally here! If you haven’t started reading this series, I can’t recommend it strongly enough. Laini Taylor has such a magical voice and a beautiful gift for storytelling. This is a YA fantasy series, but definitely translates well to an adult audience.

Salt for Air, by M. C. Frank
This is an ARC which I received from the author; the book is set to be released October 23. Seventeen year old Ellie is shocked to find herself face to face with the subject of her fanfiction; no, not the actor from the TV show… an actual merman. So far, this book feels like a good fit for fans of Eliza and her Monsters. 

The Dreamers, by Karen Thompson Walker
This is an ARC of a January release which I received from NetGalley. The novel has (fittingly enough) a really dreamy feel to it. A mysterious sleeping sickness breaks out on a college campus which causes the sufferers to fall into what seems to be a normal sleep… except for the fact that they cannot be woken.

I recently finished reading…

Dead Ringer, by Kate Kessler
In case you missed it, here is my review. This is a mystery/thriller novel about a serial killer that targets twins. The concept seemed to have a lot of potential for a really creepy book, but this one fell flat for me.

The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah
I also have a review up for this one. The Great Alone follows the story of a young girl named Leni as she moves to the Alaskan wilderness with her parents. Her father is is Vietnam veteran with severe PTSD, exacerbating his violent temper. Leni is coming of age in an environment where she feels little safety inside or outside her home.

Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik
I haven’t posted a review for this one yet because I’m still kind of mulling it over. I had seen this book hyped up all over the book blogging community, but I didn’t like it as much as I’d hoped. The story itself was enjoyable, but I had a hard time connecting with Novik’s writing style and I felt like there were too many POV characters.

Up next…

House of Gold, by Natasha Solomons

This is a title coming later this month which I received through NetGalley.

“From the New York Times bestselling author of The House at Tyneford, an epic family saga about a headstrong Austrian heiress who will be forced to choose between the family she’s made and the family that made her at the outbreak of World War I.

Vienna, 1911. Twenty-one-year-old Greta Goldbaum has always hungered after what’s forbidden: secret university lectures, unseemly trumpet lessons, and most of all, the freedom to choose her life’s path.

The Goldbaum family has different expectations. United across Europe by unsurpassed wealth and power, Goldbaum men are bankers, while Goldbaum women marry Goldbaum men to produce Goldbaum children. Greta will do her part.

So Greta moves to England to wed Albert, a distant cousin. The marriage is not a success. Yet, when Albert’s mother gives Greta a garden, things at Temple Court begin to change. First Greta falls in love with her garden, then with England, and finally with her husband. But when World War I sends both Albert and Greta’s beloved brother, Otto, to the front lines–one to fight for the Allies, one to fight for the Central Powers–the House of Gold is left vulnerable as never before, and Greta must choose: the family she’s created or the one she was forced to leave behind.

Set against a nuanced portrait of World War I, this is a sweeping family saga rich in historical atmosphere and heartbreakingly human characters. House of Gold is Natasha Solomons’s most dazzling and moving novel yet.”

Capture2.PNG

Other places to follow me…
Tumblr | Facebook | Instagram | GoodReads

What are you reading this week? Any thoughts on the books listed in this post?  Please feel free to discuss or share WWW links in the comments!

Review – Dead Ringer, by Kate Kessler

40792017
Dead Ringer
by Kate Kessler

Genre: Mystery, Thriller

Length: 352 Pages

Release date: October 23, 2018

Publisher: Redhook

Synopsis: 

A gripping thriller by Kate Kessler (author of the Audrey Harte novels), in which an FBI agent becomes entwined in a missing persons case that directly connects to a horrific event from her past.

Eighteen years ago, FBI Agent Rachel Ward’s mirror twin, Hannah, was taken by the Gemini killer, a serial killer who delights in sending photos of his victims to their twins. Rachel assumes her sister has been dead for years, but she’s never stopped hunting the monster who took her. Now, another twin has been taken, and when the case reopens, Rachel is assigned as an agent. But her relentless hunt for the killer may drive her to her breaking point.

rating

two

Disclaimer: I won a free ARC of Dead Ringer in a GoodReads Giveaway. All opinions are my own. 

I truly hate being the first person to voice a negative opinion about a book, and other reviewers on GoodReads seemed to love this one, but this was definitely a dud for me. Dead Ringer was filled with twists and turns, but you’ll see every last one of them coming a mile away.

When I read mystery/thrillers I don’t put a lot of thought into them as I’m reading, intentionally so. I treat these books like candy, and I’d much rather be surprised than be able to pat myself on the back for guessing correctly. So if I’m seeing every plot point coming in a book like this, there’s a problem. I’m sure a lot of the foreshadowing was intended to build a sense of foreboding, but I also didn’t find it remotely frightening, so all it did was suck any mystery out of it.

There was also the issue of what felt like lazy writing. Instead of showing us how the protagonist, Rachel, is feeling, the author routinely has Rachel’s boyfriend, Trick, ask her how she’s feeling about specific events, so that Rachel can simply monologue about it to the reader. Rachel’s thoughts and feelings could have been much more seamlessly woven into the story, especially considering she’s the POV character. This method was clunky and felt like the author didn’t know how else to tell us what Rachel was thinking.

In case Rachel’s ordeal fails to get your heart racing, the author has a backup plan, which is switching to graphic descriptions of the sexual abuse suffered by the kidnapped twin, Hannah. So, that’s… fun? (Is this considered a spoiler? I mean, we’ve got a serial killer kidnapping teenage girls, so it’s pretty much the obvious.) Basically, graphic sexual abuse and occasional violence were used in place of actually suspenseful plotting. It reminded me a bit of The Butterfly Garden, by Dot Hutchison, except The Butterfly Garden actually managed to be spine-tingling. In short, this was not my cup of tea.

Purchase links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | IndieBound

Thank you for reading! Have you read any good thrillers lately? Discuss in the comments!

Capture2

Other places to follow me…
Tumblr | Facebook | Instagram | GoodReads

 

Review – The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah

40792017
The Great Alone
by Kristin Hannah

Genre: Fiction

Length: 435 Pages

Release date: February 6, 2018

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Synopsis: 

Alaska, 1974.
Unpredictable. Unforgiving. Untamed.
For a family in crisis, the ultimate test of survival.

Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.

Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if it means following him into the unknown

At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers. In a wild, remote corner of the state, they find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the Allbrights’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources.

But as winter approaches and darkness descends on Alaska, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates and the family begins to fracture. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in eighteen hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: they are on their own. In the wild, there is no one to save them but themselves.

In this unforgettable portrait of human frailty and resilience, Kristin Hannah reveals the indomitable character of the modern American pioneer and the spirit of a vanishing Alaska―a place of incomparable beauty and danger. The Great Alone is a daring, beautiful, stay-up-all-night story about love and loss, the fight for survival, and the wildness that lives in both man and nature.

rating

four

The Great Alone is, at its heart, a story about love: the love between a mother and child, the toxic, one-sided love in an abusive relationship, love between friends, love of a place that becomes home, and the dizzying sensation of falling in love for the first time.

Books are the mile markers of my life. Some people have family photos or home movies to record their past. I’ve got books. Characters. For as long as I can remember, books have been my safe place.

Leni has a very difficult time growing up, mainly due to the abuse her mother suffers from her father. Leni’s father is a Vietnam veteran, and while her mother likes to blame his violence exclusively on his PTSD, there are hints he was never a great person from the beginning. Regardless, this toxic relationship looms large throughout the narrative, and as Leni grows up she struggles with her understanding of love. Hannah does an excellent job of portraying the ambivalence towards romantic relationships which can come from an upbringing like Leni’s.

The novel is also deliciously atmospheric; Alaska begins to feel like its own character at times, beautiful, but harsh and unforgiving. Leni’s deep affinity for the Alaskan wilderness shines through in all of the descriptions, even when she is recounting the dangers of the Alaskan winter. The harshness of the wilderness molds her from a vulnerable young girl to a strong, capable woman.

The Great Alone sometimes feels like an ominous, ticking time-bomb. The dangers of Alaska and Leni’s volatile father combine to create a creeping sense of dread leading up to the climax of the novel. From very early on, it becomes apparent something awful is going to happen before the end, but the disaster could come from so many different directions that it’s impossible to feel complacent during any scene. This novel kept me on the edge of my seat for over 400 pages, which is no easy task. I definitely recommend giving this one a shot!

Were you ever out in the Great Alone, when the moon was awful clear,
And the icy mountains hemmed you in with a silence you most could hear;
With only the howl of a timber wolf, and you camped there in the cold,
A half-dead thing in a stark, dead world, clean mad for the muck called gold.

-Robert W. Service, The Shooting of Dan McGrew

Purchase links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | IndieBound

Thank you for reading! Have you read The Great Alone? What were your thoughts? Have you read any novels that you felt handled the topic of abuse really effectively?
Discuss in the comments!

Capture2

Other places to follow me…
Tumblr | Facebook | Instagram | GoodReads

 

Review – Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture, by Roxane Gay

35068524.jpg
Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture
by Roxane Gay (Editor)

Genre: Nonfiction, Essays

Length: 368 Pages

Release date: May 1, 2018

Publisher: Harper Perennial

Synopsis: 

Edited and with an introduction by Roxane Gay, the New York Times bestselling and deeply beloved author of Bad Feminist and Hunger, this anthology of first-person essays tackles rape, assault, and harassment head-on.

In this valuable and revealing anthology, cultural critic and bestselling author Roxane Gay collects original and previously published pieces that address what it means to live in a world where women have to measure the harassment, violence, and aggression they face, and where they are “routinely second-guessed, blown off, discredited, denigrated, besmirched, belittled, patronized, mocked, shamed, gaslit, insulted, bullied” for speaking out. Contributions include essays from established and up-and-coming writers, performers, and critics, including actors Ally Sheedy and Gabrielle Union and writers Amy Jo Burns, Lyz Lenz, Claire Schwartz, and Bob Shacochis. Covering a wide range of topics and experiences, from an exploration of the rape epidemic embedded in the refugee crisis to first-person accounts of child molestation, this collection is often deeply personal and is always unflinchingly honest. Like Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to MeNot That Bad will resonate with every reader, saying “something in totality that we cannot say alone.”

Searing and heartbreakingly candid, this provocative collection both reflects the world we live in and offers a call to arms insisting that “not that bad” must no longer be good enough.

rating

five

Anger is the privilege of the truly broken, and yet, I’ve never met a woman who was broken enough that she allowed herself to be angry.
― Lyz Lenz

I don’t think I can overstate how important this collection of essays is. What’s important for people, and particularly men, to understand is that the stories shared in these essays are often not particularly exceptional. While there are some examples of women who suffered extreme abuse (one woman shares the story of how she was raped by her father as a child, and trusted adults asked her to forgive him instead of protecting her) many of these stories are of struggles that are uncomfortably familiar for most women.

The title, Not That Bad feels painfully apt. Too many of us suffer harassment, abuse, even assault, and downplay the significance. The damage. The simmering anger it inspires. We tell ourselves that we have no right to be angry or broken because we survived and there are always other women who have had it worse. Maybe he said something inappropriate but he didn’t touch you. Maybe he grabbed you but he didn’t hurt you. Maybe he hurt you, but hey, you lived! The right to be angry is reserved for hypothetical women who suffered the worse case scenario, women who are no longer around to exercise that right.

An angry man in cinema is Batman. An angry male musician is a member of Metallica. An angry male writer is Chekhov. An angry male politician is passionate, a revolutionary. He is a Donald Trump or a Bernie Sanders. The anger of men is a powerful enough tide to swing an election. But the anger of women? That has no place in government, so it has to flood the streets.

Roxane Gay has done a phenomenal job of bringing together a variety of voices for this collection; intersectional feminism was clearly a driving motivation here. Gender identity, race, immigration status, and sexual orientation are all addressed. I appreciated hearing the perspectives of people who I could relate to as well as those that were totally foreign to me. This book is an important exercise in empathy.

Obviously, Not That Bad comes with a huge trigger warning for a variety of issues, such as rape, sexual harassment, violence against women, homophobia, and pedophilia. (I truly apologize if I’ve missed anything here.) This is not a book to pick up when you’re feeling delicate, and it will almost certainly leave you feeling emotionally raw. Nonetheless, I think it’s an incredibly important book for everyone to read.

Purchase links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | IndieBound

Thank you for reading. If you have read Not That Bad, please share your thoughts in the comments. If you have other recommendations to feminist reading, I’d love to hear from you in the comments as well!

Capture2

Other places to follow me…
Tumblr | Facebook | Instagram | GoodReads

 

Review – The Secret History, by Donna Tartt

40792017
The Secret History
by Donna Tartt

Genre: Fiction

Length: 559 Pages

First Published: April 13, 2004

Synopsis: 

Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality they slip gradually from obsession to corruption and betrayal, and at last – inexorably – into evil.

rating

four

It’s a very Greek idea, and a very profound one. Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it. And what could be more terrifying and beautiful, to souls like the Greeks or our own, than to lose control completely? To throw off the chains of being for an instant, to shatter the accident of our mortal selves?

The Secret History opens with a murder, but this is not a mystery novel. We know who has died and who has committed the murder from the very beginning. What we don’t know is why. From that opening scene, Tartt then backs up to take us through the events which led up to the murder.

Richard, our protagonist, is a college student with seemingly no idea what he wants to do with his life. When we join his story, he is in the process of changing majors for the second time. He wants to study classics. He seems to have no particularly strong affinity for classics, but digs his heels into this path when his adviser tells him how difficult it will be to get the college’s classics professor to allow him into his classes. The professor is an eccentric old man and extremely picky about accepting any new students.

A lot of the negative reviews for this book seem to be fixated on the fact that it’s filled with terrible people. Richard and his newfound friends in the classics program are all unbearably pretentious. They look down on the other students in the college, take great pride in speaking Greek around the other students so no one else can understand them, and just generally act like self-absorbed asses. Yes, this can be grating, but I don’t think Tartt wrote The Secret History expecting us to like these characters. After all, the story does open with them murdering someone and then backtracks so that we are treated to their justification of this crime in the days leading up to it. You won’t find a new fictional best friend in this book.

What you will find is stylistically lovely writing and an intensely interesting plot. Richard gets sucked into a cult-like atmosphere in the insular classics program. He makes note at one point about how astoundingly ignorant the other classics students are of anything outside of their area of expertise. One student reacts with surprise to find that men have walked on the moon. Their medical knowledge seems to be limited to things they learned from Hippocrates.

Richard is an unreliable narrator in that he has an agenda. Richard is remorseful, but throughout the book, he seems to be pleading with the reader for understanding, almost reminiscent of Humbert Humbert’s clumsy justifications in Lolita. The victim of the murder is shown exclusively in a negative light; this despite the fact that Richard claims to have liked him and that they were friends at one point. Surely there is something missing in his retelling of events.

I will say that it took me a little while to get invested in The Secret History. Given some of the negative reviews I’d read, I was almost inclined to give up early in the story. The payoff, however, was more than worth the slow beginning.

Why does that obstinate little voice in our heads torment us so? Could it be because it reminds us that we are alive, of our mortality, of our individual souls – which, after all, we are too afraid to surrender but yet make us feel more miserable than any other thing? It is a terrible thing to learn as a child that one is a being separate from the world, that no one and no thing hurts along with one’s burned tongues and skinned knees, that one’s aches and pains are all one’s own. Even more terrible, as we grow older, to learn that no person, no matter how beloved, can ever truly understand us. Our own selves make us most unhappy, and that’s why we’re so anxious to lose them, don’t you think?

Purchase links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | IndieBound

Thank you for reading! Have you read The Secret History? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Capture2

Other places to follow me…
Tumblr | Facebook | Instagram | GoodReads