On Reviewing Books

September 18, 2011 § 10 Comments

A few of you, Beloved Readers, may remember that I started posting book reviews on this blog a while back. I talked of reviewing indie books in particular, as there are a lot of blogs that refuse to touch self-pubbed books. Then I didn’t really do a lot of reviewing.

That’s because I felt that it didn’t fit very well with everything else I was doing here. So I’ve resolved that dilemma this week by creating a separate blog for book reviews. I’m reviewing both trad-pub and self-pub books, mostly in the genres of fantasy, sci-fi, mystery, historical fiction and contemporary fic. I particularly like rating and reviewing for indie authors (and always cross-post reviews to Amazon, GoodReads etc), so if any of you have friends who are looking for a bit of review help in the above genres, please send them to:

http://ladylibrary.wordpress.com/

That brings me to the topic of book reviews and ratings in general. All-important, especially in the early stages, but so hard to get. Only a small percentage of readers take the time to write reviews (it’s often hard enough to find time to read, let alone to review as well). And there aren’t many incentives for people to take that time. So how do people do it?

Sitting back and waiting for a lot of time to pass is one option. A mildly frustrating one, but in theory books build up an audience over time. If you’re looking to speed the process along, well, there still aren’t many options. The relatively few blogs that will accept indie books tend to have months-long reading backlogs, so one is usually obliged to wait several months for reviews anyway.

It’s a problem. Anyone have any tips to share with the cosy little indie community we have around here?

Also, let’s look at it from the other perspective. As a reader, do you ever leave reviews? If you don’t, what might encourage you to do so more often? And if you do, how do you approach it? It can be tricky sometimes, deciding what rating to give and why. Personally I read to be entertained, so I try not to be too academic about reviewing; I’m mostly influenced by how much I enjoyed a book. If I was pretty well entertained, I’ll overlook flaws with the writing, plot or characters and give a book a decent rating anyway. If I wasn’t, then I don’t care too much how “perfect” it might be in the technical sense; I probably won’t rate it high.

And I hate giving bad ratings and reviews, especially since I’m now in a position to know how much difference a good or bad rating can make to an author’s day. But that leads to the question of honesty in reviews. Many people believe that indies cheat a lot: they get family, friends or fellow authors to leave 5-star reviews, even if they haven’t read the book, or didn’t really like it. From what I’ve seen, this happens, but on the whole indie communities are more honourable about it than many seem to believe. We want good reviews, but honest good reviews.

That said, pick up a traditionally published novel sometime and note the numbers of glowing endorsements offered by fellow authors. The wording on those things is so often virtually identical, I do wonder sometimes how often the author in question has actually given the book a close reading. Even if they have, some people will cheerfully throw rocks at indie authors for reviewing other indie authors’ books, because they don’t think those people can or will ever be honourable about it. But the same people often don’t see a problem with traditionally published folk giving each other a leg-up. It’s one of a number of double standards that still linger at the moment. Let’s hope these clear away in time.

Anyway, I’ve picked up some interesting indie books to review in the last week. While I get through those, I’ll be populating the new review blog with some other, relatively recent reviews that I never got around to posting here. Hope to see a few of you around in ReviewLand from time to time, and meanwhile, remember to share the new blog with indie friends if applicable.

E-book Picks #2: History, Mystery, Magic and Steampunk

June 5, 2011 § 3 Comments

Occasionally I collect up my favourite e-book finds (usually indie) to share with the world. I have two great ones to share today, one mystery and one fantasy.

Maids of Misfortune (A Victorian San Francisco Mystery) by M. Louisa Locke

My rating: 5 stars

My review:

I loved the character of Annie Fuller from the first page. Already a widow at the age of twenty-six, she’s been pushed around, mistreated, gone from wealth right down to destitution and still pulled herself back. As the story opens, we find her the owner of a respectable boarding house, enjoying the independence she deserves. And if I had to describe Annie Fuller in one word, ‘independent’ is the word I would use. Nobody tells this lady how to behave!

She augments her modest living by masquerading as a clairvoyant, specialising in business advice. It’s the only way that men of the 1870s would accept financial guidance from a woman – a pity, as Annie is very good at it indeed. Then one of her favourite clients is killed. The police say it is suicide, but Annie is certain it was murder.

To make matters worse, a creditor of her dead husband’s is trying to collect an old debt from Annie which she cannot pay. The only way she can avoid losing her home is to solve the mystery of Matthew Voss’s death – and in the process find out what became of the assets he left to her in his will. Annie’s a determined woman. With the help of the stubborn but loveable lawyer, Nate Dawson, there’s nothing she won’t do to learn the truth about the mysterious Voss family and the night that Matthew was killed.

I enjoyed the historical details in this tale, and the writing style is lively and easy to read. Its real strength, though, is the characters. They’re believable, interesting, and they really do seem to be visiting straight from the 1870s. I’m looking forward to the next book from this author.

Available from:

Amazon UK Current price: £2.08

Amazon US Current price: $3.42

Smashwords Current price: $2.99

Author blog: http://mlouisalocke.wordpress.com/

There’s also a free short story available, called ‘Dandy Detects‘, featuring some of the characters from this book.

The Emperor’s Edge by Lindsay Buroker

My rating: 5 stars

My review:

Amaranthe Lokdon defies convention and expectation to become a female enforcer (a sort of beat policeman). She’s pretty good at it, too, and very dedicated to her job. Only she happens to catch the eye of the idealistic young emperor, and swiftly finds herself in a great deal of trouble. Wanted by the government for her supposed treasonous crimes, she’s obliged to go on the run – and save the emperor on the side. With her quick wit and her ability to think on her feet, she soon assembles a mismatched but oddly capable team of unlikely heroes to help her out.

The story features a range of supporting characters including an enigmatic assassin, a moody young wizard and a drunken scholar, all skilfully portrayed. The plot is good and the world is interesting – mixing steam technology and magic in an unusual way –  but the characters are the real highlight of the story. Their personalities and relationships with one another are particularly well presented. The heroine is memorable: Amaranthe is a great mixture of toughness, independence and good humour, as capable of getting herself out of trouble as she is of getting herself into it (repeatedly). There’s a lot of action here – almost too much, perhaps – but it’s written stylishly with plenty of wit. Definitely my top favourite indie find so far.

Available from:

Amazon UK Current price £2.13

Amazon US Current price $3.46

Smashwords Current price $0.99

Author website/blog http://www.lindsayburoker.com/

There’s a sequel to this book coming out very soon (yay!).

If you want to help out a couple of hard-working indie authors, please share these reviews around!

Miss English’s Luscious Lexicon for Book Endorsements

April 28, 2011 § 19 Comments

Are you a budding book reviewer? Are you hoping to become a professional reviewer someday, or are you perhaps preparing against the day that your name appears on endorsements all over other people’s debuts? Do you just want a fulfilling, satisfying, innocent hobby to while away the hours?

Then for you, dear Reader, I have good news! I, the eponymous Miss English, have become fascinated with the Vocabulary of Review. I have braved many genres and many authors in search of particularly fine examples of Endorsement Genius; some of this I will graciously share with you as evidence of the seriousness of my research. I include annotated observations on each quote, for the reader’s enlightenment.

On a Sarah Challis novel:

Her evocation of the English countryside is elegiac. Oxford Times.

Quite a tame start, but they did manage to fit the words ‘evocation’ and ‘elegiac’ into one simple, short sentence which is pretty impressive. Obviously this is a high-brow book.

A haunting story of heartbreak and friendship. Peterborough Evening Telegraph.

It seems they like heartbreaking stories in Peterborough. Note the occurrence of the word ‘haunting': we will be seeing this again.

On ‘Scholarium’ by Claudia Gross:

Murder and philosophical controversy are intertwined in a dense web which keeps the reader entranced. Nordbayerischer Kurier (??)

Dense entrancing webs. This book is not recommended for the arachnophobic.

On ‘The Masquerade’ by Nicholas Griffin:

An impressively imaginative approach to history. The Times

Imaginative. This is intended to denote the fact that it is fiction.

Tracy Chevalier is apparently a fan of Jude Morgan. I have not been better entertained all year, says she. Presumably she is talking about the book.

Victoria Clayton has a glinting wit and intelligence, says the Mail on Sunday. That’s right: glinting.

Kate Mosse’s latest is haunting and heartbreaking, says the Daily Express. Haunting and heartbreak are frequently found together.

Gail Carriger has a delicious rapier wit which is also intoxicating. Some authors are dangerous.

Every single book in the world is unputdownable. This is only a word in the world of book reviews.

After all this research, I am proud to present Miss English’s Luscious Lexicon for Book Endorsements. Use this for all of your book reviewing needs. Don’t stop at a mere sprinkling of tantalising terms: the more of these words employed, the more glittering the review. (Or do I mean glinting?)

For science fiction and fantasy

Atmospheric, breath-taking, colossal, detailed, evocative, imaginative, ingenious, intoxicating, lush, original, phenomenal, razor-sharp, sensual, staggering, triumphant, unputdownable.

Sample review: An unputdownable tale of colossal, staggering, breath-taking proportions. The writing is atmospheric, lush and evocative executed with a glinting, razor-sharp, intoxicating wit. I stayed up until dawn to finish reading this phenomenally well-executed book.

For thrillers and crime novels 

Action-packed, fast-moving, exciting, gripping, gritty, heart-racing, menacing, palpitating, relentless, shocking, suspense, tough, unputdownable, whirlwind.

Sample review: This is a fast-moving, action-packed, totally relentless rollercoaster of a book, so shockingly thrilling that I was suffering cardiac arrest by page fifty-seven. I was resuscitated five times before I reached the end of this heart-palpitating, unputdownable whirlwind of a story. It will take me a year to recover my health, but I don’t care: this is a must-read.

For women’s fiction

Bittersweet, colourful, compelling, deft, entertaining, fun, haunting, heart-breaking, intoxicating, irresistable, magical, mesmerising, relatable, saucy, sexy, stylish, tantalising, tender, unputdownable, warm-hearted, witty.

Sample review: This haunting, heart-breaking tale is bittersweet and tenderly funny. The author’s irresistable, intoxicating wit sparkles dazzlingly through every scene. It’s easily relatable, unputdownable, funtastic and amazingacious – I gave away my six-year-old daughter today so that I could have time to read every single word this author has ever written. This must-read book will transform your life, leaving you irrevocably, permanently, unreversably changed.

For historical fiction

Authentic, breathtaking, compelling, comprehensive, deft, engaging, epic, evocative, imposing, informative, intelligent, majestic, meticulous, operatic, powerful, rich, rigorous, scalpel-like, sprawling, tour-de-force, tumultuous, unputdownable, vivid.

Sample review: Triumphant: a must-read. This confident, assured debut is a slow-building, considered narrative that’s simultaneously gripping, tumultuous, action-packed and completely unputdownable. The majestic, sprawling scope of this truly epic novel is completely mind-blowing. It is rigorously, meticulously researched and absolutely authentic, and at the same time it is an imaginative and original interpretation of it subject matter. The author builds the world with scalpel-like precision, as deft and careful as a brain surgeon operating on the girl of his dreams. I wonder if this author would accept a proposal of marriage.

For horror

Bleak, bitter, chilling, dazzling, disturbing, dreamlike, eerie, grim, gripping, haunting, horrifying, nightmare, repulsive, spectral, spooky, striking, thrilling, unforgettable, unputdownable, violent.

Sample review: This accessible, eminently readable tale of terror is so chillingly disturbing – so hauntingly horrifying – that you’ll be too scared to finish the book. It’s a bleak, grim, eerie nightmare of a tale that will have you sleeping with the light on for the next eighteen years. Expect plenty of thrilling spectral violence. An unputdownable must-read.

There it is, dear Readers, free for your delectation, admiration, entertainment, enjoyment and possible disparagement. In closing, here’s what one reviewer recently said about the Lucious Lexicon:

An unputdownable must-read! (The Weekend Lexicographer).

Ebook Picks #1: Fantasy Fiction

April 13, 2011 § 8 Comments

Here’s my first round of picks from my independent/small press published ebook reading.

Confessions of a Gourmand by Tom Bruno

My rating: four stars

My review:

A fantasy novel told via a journey through cuisine? How unusual, and as it turns out, delicious. Van d’Allamitri’s passion for food pervades every page, and his powerful enthusiasm for new recipes and different cuisines is a considerable, and perhaps surprisingly believable driving force for the character and for the story.

Van’s life is an exciting one, even from a young age. A chef of considerable skill before the age of ten, Van’s gift for food delights all who come into contact with him. But it also gets him into trouble. This is a conversational narrative told from the personal point of view of Van himself – the autobiography of a precocious young chef. His tale is rambling but absorbing as he finds himself travelling a long way from home on a slave ship, wins his freedom and finally returns home in time to vanquish his mother’s enemies – all before the age of eighteen.

Van is a character well aware of the power and the danger of his appetites, but he navigates the dangerous career of a gourmand with cheerful skill. His journey brings him into contact with seductive gorgons (the queens of chocolate), loyal Cyclopeans, the ultra-civilised and destructive Varonians (reminiscent of the Roman Empire), Shaqaran bards whose music can melt the hardest of hearts, and a highly unusual immortal with a skill for a largely extinct cuisine. The journey is colourful and delightfully varied.

The story deserves five stars, but I am rating this as four because of the unfortunate number of typos in the text. I did find this occasionally interrupted my reading pleasure. Despite that, I roundly enjoyed this novel and I hope to see more of Van’s adventures become available in time.

Available from:

Amazon UK Current price: 72p

Amazon US Current price: $1.16

Author blog: http://confessionsofagourmand.blogspot.com/

Big Dragons Don’t Cry (A Dragon’s Guide to Destiny) by C. M. Barrett

My rating: four stars

My review:

The title of this book is mildly misleading. I expected a very humorous book, and it does have humour; but it also has a more serious & occasionally tense storyline. The book is constructed around three interwoven narratives. One is the story of Druid, a depressed water dragon left alone in the swamps without the company of any other dragons. The second is the story of a group of cats, principally Tara, destined to save the world – even though she is only a pint-sized kitten. The third is the human angle, following a feeling young woman and her artistic lover through the difficulties of a rather deranged, emotion-suppressing society.

The agenda of the story is clear: it makes some salient points about the destructiveness of human societies and the need to change our way of thinking. Some books could become leaden with such a heavy core message, and this one does come a little close to belabouring this point. However, it is written with a light, entertaining style and leavened with sufficient humour to avoid this.

The characters are engaging and largely loveable, and I liked the resolution to the story. I’d have liked to hear more about the final fate of characters such as Phileas – is he allowed to marry and have a normal life now? – and Serazina & Berto. However, perhaps this is coming up in a sequel!

This book also stands out from the crowd in the quality of the writing, editing and proofreading. I will recommend it to others & hope a sequel emerges fairly soon.

Available from:

Amazon UK Current price: £2.14

Amazon US Current price: $3.45

Smashwords Current price: $2.99

Author’s websitehttp://www.adragonsguide.com/

The Hawk and His Boy (Tormay Trilogy) by Christopher Bunn

My rating: four stars

My review:

This book opens the ‘Tormay Trilogy’, and it’s a great start. The quality of the writing is excellent – smooth, accessible, clear – and the book is very well edited, with few discernible errors. The story follows the adventures of a range of characters situated across the duchies of Tormay. Jute is a child-thief hired to steal a mysterious box; the completion of the job changes his life forever. Levoreth is niece to a duke, though her talent for conversing with animals suggests that she’s more than she seems. Nio is a scholarly wizard, powerful, driven and ruthless. Ronan, aka ‘the Knife’, is at the top of the thieves’ guild and justly feared. We also meet a small child who survives the inexplicable and brutal murder of the rest of her village, and the soldier-captain who takes her in.

As the above might suggest, there are a lot of different plot-threads going on here. They are all interlinked, but they come very thick and fast; to begin with I struggled a little to keep up. However, the coherence of the story improves as the book goes on and the links between the characters become steadily clearer. By the end I felt caught up in the tale, and I’m looking forward to finding out how it progresses in the second book.

Available from:

Amazon UK Current price: 70p

Amazon US Current price: $1.14

Smashwords Current price: $0.99

Author site: http://www.christopherbunn.com

Twitter ID: tunescribble

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