03 December 2013

Book Reviews

As I mentioned in this post one of the things I love about holidays is the extra (not feeling guilty) time for reading. After Pride and Prejudice and Death Comes to Pemberley, I read Blackberry Wine by Joanne Harris. I cheated on this one as I have read it before. I think my feelings about it were much the same as the first reading quite a few years ago. It has a slow, lush, intoxicating feel to it that was perfectly suited to a holiday. However, it does have flaws. The plot is slight and the speed with which Jay manages to renovate his house and garden is amazing, but part of the delight of the lovely prose is to suspend your disbelief.

Changing the mood totally I turned to a murder mystery Bleeding Hearts by Ian Rankin writing as Jack Harvey. The premise was interesting but ultimately I didn’t enjoy the book. I found there was too much information on the guns and ammunition being used. I imagine people who enjoy guns would appreciate the research Ian Rankin did before writing the book, but it it bored me. Ian Rankin has been on my To Be Read list for a long time, and when I first bought the book I hadn’t actually realised he was writing as someone else as the Jack Harvey name was much smaller. However, I’ve heard so many good things about his Inspector Rebus books I will certainly try one of those next time.

The last two books were both 500+ page books and I was glad to be reading them on my Kindle. The Last Dark by Stephen Donaldson was the final episode in Donaldson’s epic Thomas Covenant series. I loved the first two trilogies even though I wouldn’t call myself a fantasy fan. The initial books in this last segment were excellent but the final two books left me feeling that too many things were Deus ex machina. I was always going to read the final Thomas Covenant books but I didn’t feel they were Stephen Donaldson at his best.

The other book was The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling. I’d been interested in reading this book since it first came out simply to see what JK could write for adults, and because like a huge number of other people I’d read all the Harry Potter books.

As a writer and reader I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Initially I had thought the large cast of characters might make it difficult to keep track of them, but I found that each had their own distinct voice – not easy to do with that many characters. Another initial thought (as a writer) was that there was head hopping going on. Many of the chapters begin in third-person omniscient point of view before moving into a particular character's point of view, and sometimes after interacting with another character the point of view elegantly turns to the second character. No head-hopping just a neat handover.

I’ve read through a few of the Amazon reviews for this book – as of this moment in time there are 4,311 of them. I looked at a few of the four and five star reviews and then at some of the one and two star reviews. The interesting thing is that most of what people loved in the higher rated reviews are the things that people didn’t like in the one and two star reviews. I guess this shows that ‘you can’t please all the people all the time.’

As a writer I both love and hate reviews. It’s wonderful to read a great review or get an email from someone who loved your book, especially if they let you know what they liked about it. It’s obviously harder to read a harsh review, but not everyone is going to love everything we write. I often like an author’s work as a whole but there will be some books I like less than others. The brief reviews above show that. However, a well-written review from someone who hasn’t enjoyed a book can show what they didn’t like. That may well point to things that can be changed in future writing i.e. stereotype characters, unrealistic dialog, confusing plot etc.

What most writers (especially indie writers) want are reviews. Did you enjoy the book? Why? If not, why not? The review doesn’t have to be long, but it’s definitely best if it’s constructive rather than a rant, or working off bad temper.

Go on, give a writer a gift today, write a constructive review of a book you've recently finished.

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