Tag Archives: Spartacus reviews

The Dud Reviewer

12 Jul

Always trust the tough critics.

First off, I have to share: the writing drought is over!!! Z and I tied the knot last weekend, so I can finally push aside all my foofy wedding crap and get down to the business of writing. Yay! However, I may start writing in my fluffy wedding dress as my new work-inspiration-wear. (In college it was a tiara, so this isn’t too far-fetched.)

The last blog idea that passed through my addled bride-brain before signing off from reality was a discussion over posting negative book reviews. I know I’m late to the party, but it’s a topic that’s both relevant to me as a writer and as a blogger. (All right, “as someone who has a blog.”)

In a nutshell, a blogger, The Prolific Novelista, was approached to do a review for an author’s book tour…and she ended up not liking it (check out the review on her blog and on Amazon). This response to her negative Amazon review has had me equal parts puzzled and flabbergasted:

“…after reading “No Remorse” as you claim, and found you didn’t care for it, why not just back out of the tour instead of using it as an opportunity to bad mouth another authors [sic] abilities? The classy thing to do would have been to back out.”

So, if you don’t like a book, you shouldn’t review it? Especially if you’ve been approached by the author/publicist/publisher?

(I have to admit, I wasn’t even aware that those blogs participating in book tours had the option to back out if they disliked the book. Every time I got a notification that a Spartacus review was up, I practically had a heart attack.)

The reason I don’t do book reviews on my blog stems from–well, mostly from me not reading as much as I should. But also I’m a coward each time I get into reviewing situations. I’d meet an author, buy a copy of their book, and promise to review it…only to find myself disliking it. But how could I say such things to someone who…well, saw my face? Signed my book? Said they’d visit my blog?? I couldn’t. Each time I started, I felt icky. (Many times I couldn’t even finish the book and I’d find myself swearing at the author, asking why they’d done this to me.) So instead of writing what I thought about it…I hid the books under my bed and hoped the author would forget the random promise of a stranger.

But what it gets down to is this: with so many books and eBooks and self-published books out there, how can we ever sort through all the awful to find the really great stories if we don’t have honest reviewers out there? If reviewers, even casual ones, refuse to review bad books–or simply gloss over books’ flaws–readers will find themselves buying and reading a ton of crappy books (that will end up unfinished and hidden under their beds).

To bring this all around to me (of course), this feeds back into my previous post, which was about my first negative review. With all of Spartacus’s shortcomings in the front of my mind, I was utterly terrified of negative reviews. But when the first one appeared, it was actually a relief. I mean, sure, family and friends and fans can review your book, but it’s the luke-warm reviews that set me at ease. “Ah! They see the flaws and yet they still have positive things to say!” Those are the reviews that make me want to read a book (or watch a movie or buy something off Amazon). I want to see that the reviewer has the ability to think critically. Give me five in-depth 4-star reviews over ten bland 5-star reviews any day.

(Just to undermine that entire last paragraph, I do have to say that my husband’s book [my husband!!!] really is worth every one of its twenty-one 5-star reviews. I’m jealous, dammit, but it’s true.)

The Prolific Novelista links to another blog, The Midnight Garden, that recaps a very similar situation, in which the blogger was attacked online for her negative reviews. This blogger’s conclusion is this:

“…if readers can’t trust me to tell the truth about a book I didn’t like, they will never trust my opinions about the books I love. Books should stand or fall on their own merits–and I, for one, know that my fellow readers are intelligent enough to make up their own minds, no matter what I say.”

I couldn’t agree more. But…despite this, I still can’t bring myself to do it. Luckily, there are people out there with spines, though, writing 1 and 2 star reviews, to keep us readers well-informed. That being said, if you see the rare review on my blog, rest-assured I’m not feeding you a watered-down opinion; it’s probably something I love that I can’t wait to share.

And with that being said, if you are a literary female type with a soft spot for 1950’s female beatniks abroad, I can’t recommend Elaine Dundy’s The Dud Avocado enough. But don’t take my word for it

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Oh, fudge…

2 Apr

It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged. My apologies to all eight of you. Winter is never very inspiring when it rains 7 and a half inches in a month. However, with spring here, that means I’m more likely to get excited about random stuff and want to share  with you.

For example, perhaps it’s time to share about the elephant sitting at the bottom of my Amazon page. If you missed it…click the link.

That’s right. I’m going to talk about:

Profanity in middle grade books.

Allow me to first say: Spartacus and the Circus of Shadows is for 10-14 year olds. It also includes the following curse words: crap, crapola, shit, shitola, asshat, and the phrase shut your goddamn piehole. Whew. I already feel better about getting that out there. If you do not approve of these words, please do not buy this book for your child.

Honestly, I’m grateful Paul Bulger put that review up. Nothing was scarier than signing books for parents and choosing whether I should say uneasily, “Umm, it has a few bad words in it.”

I’m not going to discuss the parts of the review where Mr. Bulger hates on the morals of my book—no need to argue a difference of opinion when it comes to séances and lying and to mistrust everyone when you’re a runaway. (Though, frankly, I wonder why that part wasn’t brought up—I mean, is Spartacus actually advocating that children run away? That’s a huge question!) I also won’t say anything about the juvenile behavior in the book beyond: Yes, this is in fact a book for boys.

But I do want to focus on the question of swearing in books for older  middle-grade readers. I whole-heartedly agree that this is a delicate issue and I was on the fence about it myself. Where do you draw the line between realism and appropriateness?

Note that this wasn’t just brought up on Amazon. Erik of This Kid Reviews Books dedicated half of his review to this very subject. It was also a large topic of conversation in my house, on the phone with my mom, and, of course, on Facebook. I actually had a friend of a friend message me about her 10-year-old getting in trouble for saying the SH-word at school.

CRINGE.

Okay, okay, I could just make it cut and dry and say, “Well, the publisher approved.” Raspberries and eye-rolling to all of you. But that’s admittedly a copout. Also, I’m a long-term muller and this argument has so many angles…

The next knee-jerk reaction is that I seriously doubt this would be the first time my readers will have never heard these words (okay, asshat, perhaps, but it’s more rare). I’ve met school librarians, elementary school teachers, and parents who agree and wave off my and Mr. Bulger’s concerns.

From a writer’s perspective,  the character also would have known these words from his older brother and would have used them in his head—and then, of course, they would occasionally slip out, getting him in trouble (yes, he gets in trouble for swearing at his dad—this isn’t Jersey Shore). I feel this gives the book a little authenticity: An angry thirteen year old is not going to say fudge when faced with a double-crossing brother.

In retrospect, though, I could have been more creative and glossed over the words, the way they did in A Christmas story above or in my most recent favorite, The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Or I could have made up words. Rather, I could have spent more time trying to make up better words. Meaning yes, I tried to make Spartacus say things like “cussburger!” They sounded every bit as contrived as they were—just look for the instance of Eli saying “Devil in a hang glider!” 

What do you think? When is swearing okay? Is it a simple, cut and dry answer, i.e. No-no for Middle Grade and acceptable in Young Adult? Or…?

While writing this, I found a great essay on the subject of depravity in YA novels—a sister-subject to this blog topic. Check out Sherman Alexie’s essay Why the Best Kids Books Are Written in Blood. And while I’m not saying Spartacus is YA or in any way comparable to The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, I can relate to what Alexie saying: When the message behind the book is dealing with family disfunction and accepting loss…well, perhaps a kid saying holy crapola would be a bit more relatable than a character who says fudge.

On a final note, I saw Chronicle last night and there were at least five children under the age of nine there. I was a bit disgusted with the parents, probably as Mr. Bulger was with me. So I’d like to make a recommendation that extends to both movies and books for your kids: Watch a trailer. Check the description. Or, heck: Read a review. The Mr. Bulger’s are out there and they’re on your side.

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