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 email@example.com
(many will enter, few will win) ...but those few will be damned lucky.