Thursday, April 24, 2014

Claire's Wednesday Review, Now Insights

Hi all! I'm supposed to have a review for you today.  Unfortunately... that's not the case.

You see, I selected a book (which shall remain unnamed), purchased it with much anticipation, and cracked it open that night.  When I began reading though, I had a hard time connecting with the story.  Figuring it was me, and I was just in some weird funk, I set it aside to come back to the next day or so.

Two days passed, and I had a chunk of reading time available.  This time, I made it to chapter five before I had to set it aside again.  This time,  I wasn't in a funk--there was something wrong with the story and not only that, the delivery of it as well.  But there were real snippets of beautiful writing that I couldn't let go of, and I returned the next evening.  I got another several chapters read, when I finally had to accept I wasn't going to finish this book.  I didn't want to, reading further felt like a chore, and any review I wrote as a result would be extremely negative. And in this case, because of my schedule and how long it took me to reach that conclusion, there was no time to ask for someone else to step in today.

I don't believe in lambasting a book on a public forum.  It doesn't solve much of anything.  Will it give the author feedback? Of course, but anything constructive is going to get lost in a defensive reaction, be that actual or internalized. Will it give readers insight?  Sure, it will scream "don't rush out and buy this book".  Perhaps that's part of my responsibility.  But I'm not a stop-gap nor do I want to be a block to sales.  There are plenty of other people out there who don't mind that role. I'm not one of them.

This blog, however, is designed to provide thoughtful, analytical evaluation of books we've read.  And leaving a review that says, "I read Sam's Multimillion Dollar Project and I couldn't finish it." isn't thoughtful and analytical.

So what I thought I'd do with this entry was take a few minutes to share the three biggest things that appeal to me in a book, and perhaps that will help be insightful for those submitting books for review.

1. Epic world design.  By this, I don't want to be told I'm in some fantastic place with awesome gadgets, knicknacks, and other "cool stuff".  I want to see it.  I want to know what the magical gold-infused Elven steel feels like to the handler.  I want to know the color of the three moons as they set, or how they set, even.  I want to see how the clan in the east hates the clan in the west, not just have it stated as part of the narrative...and more importantly, why.  I want the rules for world functionality to be enforced, not randomly altered to fit a plot need.  Make the world come alive.  Make me feel like I've stepped into another time and place.  And the more complicated and layered it is, the more I'm apt to like it.

2.  Strong but believable heroines.  A five foot three woman who is seeking to avenge her father's death and can wield a dagger with lightning-fast reflexes and who doesn't scream at spiders but does weep for an eviscerated bunny, is believable.  A five foot three woman who can wield two greatswords with lightning-fast reflexes and overpower a stone golem who has no fear of anything and never encounters an eviscerated bunny is not believable.  Women are emotional creatures.  Stronger women repress those emotions or express them in varying ways other than constant tears.  But emotions don't just die for women--not without good explanation.  You can have a strong heroine, but she can't be over-the-top and implausible, or I'm simply going to set the book aside.

3.  Gripping Conflict.  A hero quest is one thing. It's a goal, it's a purpose and it's bound to involve battle and action scenes.  But give me gut-wrenching choices, decisions that aren't black and white and pose some insurmountable choice for the hero or heroine.  I like internal conflict over external conflict, though the external conflict keeps me moving through the story.  I want dire consequences.  People twisting in the wind.  And people truly affected by the decisions they make.  Simply creating battle scenes that have no consequence, or having everyone support the hero's decision no matter what it may be, gets ... well... boring.  And that was the largest issue with the book I set aside.

Anyway, those are a few of my biggies.  If your book matches, feel free to throw my name in on the review request!

Hope you all had an enjoyable holiday. And may you encounter greater books than I!

Till next time...



Terri-Lynne said...

That was not only honest and honorable, Claire, it was informative. Those are some very basic rules of writing, very accessibly stated. Nicely done.

Chris Gerrib said...

Sometimes a story works for you, sometimes it doesn't.

Karin Rita Gastreich said...

What a great post, Claire! Thank you.

Claire Ashgrove said...

Thanks all. I was particularly fond of the 'eviscerated bunny' part. LOL

Claire Ashgrove said...

Thanks all. I was particularly fond of the 'eviscerated bunny' part. LOL