Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Azteclady on Keepers

A Running in the Dark post

Just before the Golden Heart, I was over in the goodie room at Nationals, looking for stuff and wondering if Cowboy was right. With our schedules, it's not always easy to talk and it bothers me if he's right and I'm wrong. Once he's gone, who's going to argue with me?

--and I saw this woman. Not just "any" woman. After three days of people watching this particular woman stuck out--walking around the room, reading bookmarks and excerpt booklets with all the intensity of a laser drill. Flip one, read the back. Flip another--tuck it away. She was reading paper, and if that wasn't startling enough--she turned out to be a reviewer.

Her name is Azteclady and she's a regular on:
Karen Knows Best
and does the occasional guest review on The Good, the Bad and the Unread

Her article on Credibility and Reputation was picked up and discussed by Jessica on Racy Romance Reviews, and she strikes fear (and respect) into the hearts of authors web-wide

She was kind enough to talk about why she got into reviewing, and what she looks for in a book--and for today only? She'll drop in and answer questions :)

Azteclady--Keepers in plain English

Hello, people who read Jodi’s blog. :grin:

I’m here babbling endlessly because she invited me, so… blame her when you get cross-eyed from trying to make sense of my blather.

Jodi asked me, “Why did you get into reviewing?” I’ve written about it before, but I can always expand (wordy, that’s me).

I started reviewing to fulfill a requirement from a giveaway at Ann Aguirre’s blog, and then I continued to review as a means to give back to authors and bloggers who generously give books away.

I know that it can be said that the former hold giveaways as a means to promote themselves—and there is truth in that—but it's also true that writers are readers themselves and that, as such, they're simply sharing their love of the genre and of specific authors with other readers. When I look at the author blogs I read daily, I see that all of them have given away more books by other authors than they have of their own.

I still feel that by reviewing and participating in conversations about books in other people’s blogs, I'm giving something back to the romance reading and writing community*. What I honestly didn’t expect was how much I would enjoy writing reviews.

And I do, quite a bit (which is really lucky, as I see that I’ve written close to 160 reviews in a year and a half)

In my original post on how I go about reviewing, I mentioned those dreaded lit classes in high school, wherein a list of classic books was assigned and then dissected in class. I believe that I’m not too far off in saying that, for most high school students, neither the reading nor the dissecting are pleasant experiences.

What’s different when reviewing? Several things, actually.

First, there are no assigned books—and that, right there, would be enough :grin:

Second, there is are no guided discussions. I can focus on whichever aspect of the novel I want—plot, narrative, language, emotional impact. There is no set point I have to grasp or get at.

Third, I get to share my love of books with a whole world of readers**

I enjoy, very much, being able to share my take on books with other readers—those books I’ve loved, those I haven’t loved, even those that annoy the hell out of me, and why. When I’m reviewing, I’m putting down my feelings about the book (in fact, I often take notes as I read (yes, I’m that geeky), things like “great twist!” or “ author uses cliché X and makes it work” or “not another virgin widow, please!”) in the way I would when recommending a book to a friend over coffee.

And finally, reviewing challenges me in the best possible way.

I have several conditions for my reviews. It has to give the reader at least an idea of the book’s plot, without spoiling the ending***. It has to have a grade that reflects my visceral reaction to the reading experience—and enough of an explanation of that reaction for other readers to extrapolate to their own tastes. As much as I may gripe about it, the balancing act that is writing a detailed enough, hopefully critical enough, review without giving away too much, is… well, invigorating :grin:

What makes any given book a keeper? I usually know, upon closing a novel, whether I’ll re-read it or not, and that is my main “keeper” indicator. Unfortunately, I don’t have a formula to determine this—it’s all gut feeling. I can, of course, rationalize my way into justifying most of my keepers.

For example, I could say that ninety percent of the time it’s about the characters—regardless of genre. A character who makes you stop and think about your own reactions. When you find yourself thinking at odd moments about this or that character’s traits—or backstory, or reactions to whatever situation the author put them in. When, long after you closed the book, you can remember those little things that made that character a real human being in your mind.

Or, I might say that sometimes an author writes that magical book where everything works out perfectly—the main characters, the secondary characters, the setting, the external conflict, the internal conflict… they all balance each other so well there is no taking them apart.

Or perhaps there is such originality in the setting, such care in the world building that I find myself unable to “get back to Earth” as it were. In the same vein, novels that have such outrageous premises that one reads only to see how the author wrote herself out of that corner—and discovering that, by golly, she did it!

Or those novels wherein language is used with precision and elegance, rendering virtual pictures of people and places the reader will never see.

But it would all be rationalization because some of my keepers are books where none of the above happens—or where it only happens in a handful of scenes in a four hundred pages book. So I have to fall back on “gut feeling”

However, I have a better answer for what makes a novel simply meh for me: lack of reaction. Not, mind, such apathy that I can’t finish the book, nor such revulsion that I won’t. A meh book is that which is competently written and nothing more. There is nothing memorable about its characters or plot or setting. It’s—and I feel almost dirty for writing this!—disposable.

So there you have it, clear as mud.

Thank you, Jodi, for inviting me—and thank you to those of you who stuck with me to the end.

* Yes, I do consider it a community. Belonging to any community doesn’t mean sharing every goal and ideal, after all. (Don’t get me started, for example, on the board of directors of the community where I live.)

** Not that I think people flock to Karen’s blog just to read my *snort* deathless prose *snort* but what one puts online stays online, and people googling this or that title or writer may well come across my words sooner or later.

*** Yes, even with romances. Knowing that hero and heroine end together doesn’t mean that we know how, or when, they got there, after all.

If you'd like to contact Azteclady (y'know, to send her your stuff in the hopes she'll review it) she can be reached at

(many will enter, few will win) ...but those few will be damned lucky.


Skhye said...

Nice insight. And who doesn't like noodles? :)

P.L. Parker said...

Very interesting - from a different perspective. Once, I did judge in a contest and I won't do it again. Felt so bad for some of the authors. I had to force myself to read the manuscript and it was hard coming up with gentle comments about taking classes, etc. I'm not good at that sort of thing.


Jennifer McKenzie said...

Great perspective. I do have a question for you.
How many bad books from an author you've always loved will you tolerate? Do you give new authors more of a break? Or is each book completely separate?
Thank you, Jodi for having Azteclady here today.

azteclady said...

Good morning all!

Thank you for having me over, Jodi :grin:

Ms McKenzie, in general (but not absolute terms, because I do sit on the fence a lot...) in general, I will try an author again unless my first experience with his/her writing was really really really bad.

As of today I can only think of one author whose work I have absolutely no interest in looking at, due to my reaction to the one thing by her I've read.

However, if the first experience was meh, it may take me a while before trying something else--so many books, so little time to read them all in, you know?

As for a well loved author, I am more likely to give her a chance relatively soon--there's always the hope it's a fluke :grin: However, if two successive books by a beloved author leave me completely unmoved, I may wait longer for the next one--say, she was an autobuy in hardback (hypothetical entirely, as these days I can't afford to have such a list), she may become a "wait for the paperback" author.

Kate Pearce said...

That was very interesting :) Having judged a lot of contests in my time I agree with you that the ones that are hardest to score/judge/review are the ones which are well written but have no spark. I'd almost rather read something that gets a reaction out of me-good or bad.

How do you react when a book that has received fabulous reviews from everyone else just doesn't do it for you? Have you ever felt compelled to compromise on how you write a review?

azteclady said...

Hi, Ms Pearce!

Those are such interesting questions

To answer the first: so far it's happened with a few books. The most recent case was with Broken Wing. Karen liked it (a lot; since she so rarely reviews these days just the fact that she did says volumes), Kristie(J) loved it, and so did a number of other bloggers. For me, it was not a horrible read but definitely not love.

On the second: no, I don't. I write my reviews for other readers and thinking of what I need from a review--both in terms of the reviewer's emotional reaction and in terms of objective information (or as objective as possible without giving the whole thing away). This doesn't change whether I like, dislike, hate, adore or what-have-you the book or its author.

My most recent example of this would be my review of Jaci Burton's "Show Me". I like Ms Burton very much, and normally enjoy her writing quite a bit, but that one story just didn't work for me--so I said so.

Grace Draven said...

I'll try this again, as my first comment seems to be lost in the ether.

Actually I'm one of the folks who visits Karen Knows Best (on a daily basis) specifically for your "deathless prose". :D I'm a fan of your review style, and while I don't buy based on your writing, I have bought based on a comment or two within your reviews.

Your review style is very engaging, and I look forward to reading each one. As such, I have a question for you. Do you have any plans in the near future of putting up your own dedicated review site/blog?


Grace Draven

Grace Draven said...

Gah! That should be "I don't buy based on your RATING." Geeze, sorry about that.


sybil said...

great blog post ;)

I am with you AZ on Broken Wing, well sort of, just so doesn't sound like good fun, I haven't even picked it up yet.

azteclady said...

Ms Draven, thank you--that's quite the compliment *blushing*

On the question of having a dedicated review blog, the answer is no. Mind, I don't know what the future holds, but right now blogging with Karen, helping Mad out at Novel Thoughts, the occasional guest post *waving at Jodi* and commenting on other people's blogs, are more than enough of an outlet for me.

*waving at sybil* Hello, woman, how you doin'?

Alice Audrey said...

I find the books that drag me through the most unpleasant emotions never get on my keeper list. The ones I re-read are the ones that fill me with a sense of delight.