Reviewing, Part 4: What to do if you hate the book

English: Stack of books in Gould's Book Arcade...

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It happens.  Every once in a while, maybe more often, you just don’t like the thing you are reviewing.  For me that’s mostly fiction and film, in all its forms.  But it could just as easily be a restaurant, a product, or a service.  This is one of the reasons that reviewers try to maintain a subjective distance between themselves and the entity that owns the thing being reviewed.  In the case of books we are talking authors and publishers, in film it’s actors and directors, in food it’s the chef and the owner of the establishment.  In most cases you are going to make a number of individuals unhappy so it’s best if you are not friends with them.  This can be very difficult, especially as time goes by.  So, what do you do?

An editor friend of mine, who published first a print magazine and later an electronic one, did not like negative reviews.  Not that he was worried about making people angry, because even positive reviews can do that, but because he wanted the publication to be positive rather than negative.  When I had a review of a book I did not care for I would need to find another venue for it.  Oddly enough when I reviewed film for him he was okay with my ravaging and savaging away.  The difference was that the film reviews, in this case reviews of recently released dvds, were done with a fairly heavy dose of humor–the kind of humor that is fairly self deprecating so while you were pretty sure the work being reviewed was pretty stinky you were also pretty sure that the review voice was quite a bit off as well.  For examples of this Google “Damn Alien Dvds”.

But, if you are going to be funny, you better really be funny.

Basically you have four choices:  You can decide to just not do the review; you can decide to do the review but leave out your opinion (cover the facts, cover the plot, cover the author); you can review in context (essentially doing the second but adding your own opinion and explaining why), or you can go full out and deal with what you thought the problems were.

Regardless of which option you choose you should be very clear about your own biases.  Perhaps you hate stories that hinge on cute animals and halfway through the book the plot hinges on a cute animal.  It’s important to know that this is the reason for your dislike.  And, if you are going to do a review you should make the statement that this is the reason. No matter what, you need to clearly state your reasons for not liking the work.

The reader of the review is going to be interested in knowing what happened between your picking up the book (surely you don’t read or watch things you know you are going to dislike, right?) and your discovering that it just wasn’t doing it for you.  Before the reader can know you need to know.  So, reviewing does require some self knowledge and insight.  And the honest reviewer has no problem sharing that insight with the reader.  Just don’t go off on a psychological tangent.  No one needs to know that your problem with cute animals stems from what your mother did to your teddy when you were seven.

How do you pull off doing a review of a thing you didn’t really care for?  I’m so glad you asked because I just so happened to have a book that I need to review that, it turns out, just didn’t work for me.  Check back in 3 or 4 days and you can see one example of how this very situation can be addressed.

Reviewing Part 3, How do you get what you review?

Black Issues Book Review

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In the first two installments I wrote about how I got into reviewing and a bit about the process I use to decide what books to review.  In a perfect world the reviewer would be able to select from the entire menu of items being reviewed.  In my case, books. It would be great if you could walk into a warehouse and select those books that you thought (or knew) you wanted to write about.  Doesn’t work that way.  It is assumed that most reviews end up reviewing things that they already have some interest in and knowledge about. In my case, I have been reading in the fantastic genres (Fantasy, Science Fiction, Horror) since high school.  So, when I decided to try my hand at reviewing I naturally ended up reviewing in that arena.  Oddly enough the first review I wrote was not about a novel but about a magazine.

When I started reviewing there was no internet–or at least not enough of one to make any difference.  Fiction was published in magazines and books.  You typically got those things either through subscription or a trip to the book store.  And before any publisher would send you a review copy you had to have credits.  This means that for the first year or so, maybe longer, you were buying your own books and magazines, writing reviews, and, hopefully getting them published.  If you were incredibly lucky, like I was, you ended up with a regular column.  Once you had a few published pieces you could approach the publisher about getting review copies.

This whole process, from beginning to end, took a couple of years.  This was because the venue in which the review appeared had to be edited, printed and then mailed out.  In some cases a review took 6 to 8 months from the time you wrote and submitted it to the time it saw print.  Everything took longer.  Things are very different these days.

When I began I only got magazines and books from the editor of the magazine I was writing for. They would come like Christmas packages, boxes full of new material, that would take me three or four columns to go through.  As time went on publisher’s and editors began sending things to me directly.  At the same time I expanded into other markets, other magazines and, over time, into movies, dvds, comics, and spoken word.  At one point I wrote the longest review column of short fiction in the world.  All of this required a lot of reading, and, as I moved into larger and larger markets, subscription wise, greater attention to how old the material I was reviewing was.

Now, with the internet this is a thing of the past. I write this today and it is published today and you read it today.  The problem with the internet is that anyone can do it.  Anyone with a blog or a domain or facebook or any other social media outlet can make their opinion known.  This has, for the most part, killed reviewing as a  field of pursuit.  Sure there are still well known reviewers out there but there are just as many of them reviewing solely on Amazon.  Without the filter of an editor it becomes harder and harder to know whether or not these reviews are legitimate.  It’s also harder to use these venues as credits that get you product.

Finally, the internet has almost killed reviewing as a paying market.  There are, virtually, so many people out there who are willing to review for free that publishers and editors no longer have to pay.  The same thing is happening in the short fiction fields.  And, since no one has been able to come up with a revenue model doing either of those things for an online publication is pretty much giving your work away.  It’s a complicated time we live in as writers, where we can have our material located in venues where it can be seen by millions but where it is also obscured by all the other material that is also out there.  It’s a needle in a haystack, or, more aptly, a needle in a needle stack.  How will you ever be found?

Next time I’ll talk about good reviews versus bad reviews both in terms of what makes a good and bad review but also how a reviewer decides whether to review a book they like too much or just hate.

Black Magic Sanction (Hollows Series), Kim Harrison, Eos, ISBN 9780061138041, $7.99

Cover of "Black Magic Sanction (Rachel Mo...

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This is the eighth book in Kim Harrison‘s Hollows series. This time witch Rachel Morgan has to deal with the coven, which has shunned her and wants her imprisoned or at least lobotomized so she’s no longer a black magic problem for them. Rachel also has to deal with Trent Kalamack, elf and tycoon industrialist who wants Rachel on a short leash or incapacitated as well. And then there’s the demon who has marked her and who is showing her black magic. Add in Pixie Jenks who has his own issues to manage, Ivy who is a vampire and similarly engaged, Pierce a dead witch in another person’s body who is a black magic user and apparently on his own side, and some men from Rachel’s past who are proving much more trouble than they are worth and there’s a lot going on that Rachel has to manage.

Rachel’s plans seem to continually come to bad endings and her power over her own destiny seems small. If she’s not able to pull together many of those who are working against her then there is no way she’ll be able to get the coven to change their mind. I’ve enjoyed this series up to now. This time though the book feels overly fat, overly fluffy, and in need of a good edit. It’s hard to tell whether this is the writer going on unchecked or a change of editors
or just market forces which say bigger is better, but as I read I could not help but keep saying to myself this should be shorter. There’s a lot going on but much of it is ancillary to the main plot which could have also been tightened and made sharper in focus. The one feeling I kept coming away with was that the author didn’t have a solid plot but did have three subplots and decided to weave them all together. This is pure speculation on my part of course but that’s certainly what if feels like.

I think that there is enough here for long time fans to still enjoy. The characters that they have come to know are all present, and if the overall situation for Rachel has not significantly changed it is at least a side note which they could enjoy.

If you are new to the series, I would not recommend this book as the jumping in point. Go back to the first book and start there. By the time you get here you will have decided for yourself. I have the next book in the series in my read pile and I do plan to read it so take that into consideration when you read this.

Buy Black Magic Sanction by clicking here

More by Kim Harrison
The Hollows:
* Dead Witch Walking
* Every Which Way But Dead
* The Good, the Bad, and the Undead
* A Fistful of Charms
* For a Few Demons More
* White Witch, Black Curse
* Black Magic Sanction
* Pale Demon
Graphic Novels:
Blood Work
Madison Avery:
* Once Dead, Twice Shy
* Early to Death, Early to Rise
The Anthologies:
* Dates From Hell (anthology with other authors)

A Hard Day’s Knight, Simon R. Green, Ace books 978-0-441-01970-0, $25.95

The Lady of the Lake gives Excalibur to King A...

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This is the eleventh book in Simon Green’s Nightside series. John Taylor, private investigator, has just inherited the role of administrator of the Nightside. He did so by killing Walker, the previous head. The job involves keeping things in order and also dealing with anything unusual that comes up, such as the sword shaped package that was just delivered to Taylor’s door. The sword shaped package contains a sword, Excaliber to be exact, and while Taylor is not worthy to carry it, dispensation has been made for him to do so until the task is completed.

The task takes Taylor out of the Nightside and into London, the home of the Last Defenders of Camelot–the London Knights. King Arthur must be returned (first he must be found), the civil war of the elves must be stopped (before it destroys everything), and the Nightside must continue on. Taylor not only has to figure out how to find King Arthur but he has to convince everyone that he’s the guy who’s meant to do it.

Simon Green writes with a good dollop of humor, most of it dark. It keeps the plot moving and makes the story interesting. Not that a story about Excaliber, elves, and the London Knights would be uninteresting without it, but consider it like paprika, you’d know something was missing if it wasn’t there. It’s hard to keep a series going and Green has done an excellent job keeping things moving and adding new touches to the universe as he goes along. The writing is pretty crisp, the characters are fun and involved, and the story is pure entertainment.

I came to the Nightside fairly late–the series was well up and running by the time I got to it–but had no problem jumping in and catching up. Green does an excellent job of maintaining the universe but not requiring you to read every book in order to enjoy the one that’s just out. Not that he wouldn’t mind if you bought them all, just that the story does not require it. I enjoyed it, thoroughly and I look forward to the next entry in the series.
Highly recommended. A great read.

Hard Days Knight (buy it here)

Aloha From Hell, Richard Kadrey, Harper, ISBN 978-0-06-171432-0, 438 pgs., $23.99

Cover of "Sandman Slim: A Novel"

Cover of Sandman Slim: A Novel

This is the third Sandman Slim novel and it continues the story of James Stark, the human who was sent to hell, only to become the baddest, bad ass killer of demons in Pandemonium.  While you don’t need to have read the first two books, you should.  First because it helps to have all the story behind you and second because they are very good.  This time Stark needs to return to hell to find and kill Mason, the guy who sent him to hell in the first place.  Along the way Stark has a few adventures and needs to get a few things straight and manages to save a few people in the process as well, sort of a typical week for Stark in Los Angeles.

When Stark returns to hell, and getting there is quite the journey in and of itself, he has to find his former girlfriend Alice, who has been kid-napped from heaven, stir up a rebellion by releasing certain demon generals from Tartarus, then track down Mason.  And he has to do it without being recognized by the thousands of hellions who are on the look out for him.  Good think Stark has a few tricks up his sleeve and the help of a few wild cards of his own.

I really enjoyed this boo. It’s a rousing adventure with a protagonist who has a sick sense of humor and a twisted way of looking at the world.  Not that you would not expect this from someone who went to hell and spent a decade as the plaything of demons.  Kadrey has created a world full of magic and menace and tempers it all with dark comedy.  The writing is crisp, the pace at time frenetic, and the plotting is always interesting and deep.  The dialogue especially is fun to read.

There are few books out now that I immediately put to the top of my reading list.  Sandman Slim gets put there the minute it comes in the door.  Highly recommended.  Go out and get them all if you haven’t read this series yet.  And if you have been waiting for book three, it’s here so clear a few hours off your schedule and enjoy.

And, since you will want to get the book right this very instant, I have included the following link:

Aloha from Hell: A Sandman Slim Novel

Bloodshot, Cherie Priest, Ballantine Books, ISBN 978-0345-52060-9, 359 pgs., $15.00

Raylene Pendle is a vampire and a world-renowned thief. Go figure. She does not hang out with other vampires, until she does, because she is too busy stealing priceless art and rare jewels for clients. I guess because she has a lot of time on her

cherie_priest

Image by Cherie Priest via Flickr

hands, what with being immortal and not doing any hanging out.  And, while her heart does not beat, it is soft as she allows a couple of street urchins to inhabit the vacant warehouse she owns where she stores a lot of the stuff she steals. She’s also incredibly paranoid which explains why she has chosen a low exposure vocation like grand theft. In any case, one day the urchins who live in her warehouse notify her that there is a thief in the building. She investigates and just barely manages to

kill him. Seems the thief was a parcour aficionado and who knew that this skill was a vampire neutralizer. So, while investigating the thief and how the thief came to be in her building she also gets recruited by one Ian Stott, another vampire who asks her for help. Luckily for him, Raylene is not avoiding vampires on that day and agrees to help him retrieve missing government files related to secret biological research that was done on vampires. Before you know it, Raylene is involved with a cross dresser, hanging out in gay bars, trailing after power-hungry scientists, and trying to avoid all the government agents who, apparently, have no trouble locating her whenever they want, except when it’s not convenient to the plot.

Wait, I need to take a short break and find pry my tongue out from my cheek where it has become imbedded. There, now we can move forward.

Don’t get me wrong. The book is entertaining. It’s just got a few plot holes in it. If you can manage to ignore them then you’ll do fine. Otherwise it’s going to be a tough haul for you.

The writing is fine here. Cherie Priest does a good job of developing her character and creating an interesting story to set her in. The pacing is fairly fast and the dialogue flows in a natural way even if the character motivation is a bit suspect at times. And, unlike in the human race where people can do all kinds of things with little reason, logic or motivation when we read we expect these things to be there otherwise our ability to suspend disbelief cracks.

This is the first book of a series and it’s somewhat obvious in places that Priest is setting the stage for that to happen. Maybe you see that when you read it and maybe you don’t and maybe it bothers you and maybe it doesn’t. The bottom line here is that if you like vampires and you like female protagonists and you like urban fantasy and you like a bit of crime noir thrown in you will probably enjoy this book. I managed to get from page one to page end so that says something as nowadays I am likely to fling a book across the room after 40 or 50 pages of unsatisfying prose.

In the end you need to make these decisions on your own. You can still do that, right? Go, do, enjoy.

And, if you want to buy a copy you can use the link below.

Bloodshot

The Hollows Insider, Kim Harrison, Harper, ISBN 978-0-06-197433-5, 301 pgs, $25.99

This Witch For Hire

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Kim Harrison is nine books in on her Hollows series. The books twist on Clint Eastwood movie titles and are best classified as urban supernatural fantasy since they involve witches, werewolves, vampires, pixies, elves, and other fantastical creatures living in an alternate version of Cincinnati. The series has generated a loyal following and, I have to admit, I have enjoyed the books myself, at least up to the one before the most recent (which I have not read yet). The writing is done skillfully, the characters are well developed and interesting, and the setting is uniquely enjoyable.

Now we have this book which contains new fiction, facts, maps and a plethora of tidbits large and small about the Hollows universe. You’ll find memos from the characters to each other, newspaper articles, spell recipes, cookie recipes, case files, inside dossiers, and much, much more. For those of you who just can’t get enough then this is the book for you. And there is plenty of book to be had here. It’s hefty, illustrated and chock full of stuff.

I’m always of two minds when it comes to books like these. On the one hand it’s an artifact of overindulgence. Do you really need to see memos from one character to another or fictional security reports? It’s a bit of unhealthy obsession. On the other hand it is interesting to see just how deeply authors develop their worlds and just how much material is created to put together a work of fiction.

In the end I find these more interesting than not. I don’t think I have ever read one from cover to cover but they are fine coffee table books and interesting to skim through, stopping here and there to absorb the brief tidbit of fictional fact. In the long run I find that I would rather be reading the next novel in the series though.

Definitely recommended. If you are a fan you positively, absolutely will not be able to do without this. If you are not yet a fan you might be more interested in picking up the first novel in the series. If you’d like to buy the book just click the link below.

The Hollows Insider: New fiction, facts, maps, murders, and more in the world of Rachel Morgan