DNF and Lonely Stars: Why Negative Reviews Can Be Positive*

I’ve recently read a round of books I did not finish (DNF). I hate not finishing a book. No matter how poorly written or boring the book is, it’s always more physically painful to leave it unfinished. I’m not sure why, but maybe it’s because deep down I don’t want to be a quitter. However, as I’ve gotten older and have had to choose daily between life, work, grad school and fun, my time is more and more precious. Making it not easier but definitely necessary to put a book down when I’m just not feeling it.

Recently, I’ve had to DNF multiple books in a row, which is almost unheard of for me. I was in the worst book funk, but I made myself give critical reasons for why I was putting the book down to justify my actions, giving me the reprieve I needed to move on. Unfortunately, this meant writing (*gasp*) bad reviews.

Let’s be honest, negative reviews are the worst (to write for the reader and to read for the author), but they are necessary and can be good for the reading community, which is why I’m highlighting three reasons negative reviews can be positive.

Reason #1: I don’t trust a five-star review until I’ve read a one-star review.

We’ve all been there. The latest novel is the best book every written and we MUST read it, and the five-star ratings are piling up at the author’s feet like celebratory flowers. Typically, I’m quick to jump into the fray to see what the hype is all about, but I do so with caution. I start with the reviews themselves. Why did they like it? If I agree, then I go search for negative reviews, yes, those pesky one- to two-star monstrosities filled with disappointment. Why? Because the negative review can sometimes convince me to read a book more than a five-star review. If a reviewer can articulate why they didn’t like it, I may love it for the same reason they don’t. For example, there are a lot of haters out there for love triangles. Me? I love ‘em. Send them my way. Did you hate the excessive violence? I’m down for bloodletting any day of the week. However, the main reason I look for one-star reviews is to get a balanced view of the book. At times, a not very well-known book may have five-star reviews from friends of the author that doesn’t accurately represent the quality of the piece.

Reason #2: Negative Reviews Help Other Readers

One of my biggest blogging pet peeves is reviewers not rating a book or leaving a review because they never finished the book. As a reader, I want to know that you couldn’t finish the book, and more importantly, why. This helps other readers make educated decisions on what to read next so they don’t waste precious time, or worse, precious money on something they won’t like. I know it’s never fun to rate something with one lonely star, but if you use a Goodreads ranking, one star means “did not like it,” meaning it’s completely okay to broadcast to the world that you didn’t like it. It doesn’t mean you hate the author or want bad things to happen to those who loved the book. It means you’re being an honest reviewer, which is important.

Reason #3: There is no such thing as bad publicity.

This is a common, often overused phrase, but one that works perfectly here. At the end of the day, readers are readers despite the ratings. Think of how many people gave scathing reviews and low ratings to bestselling books like Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight. I’ll stand and shout from the mountain tops in defense of these books. Hell yes, I read them and loved them and would do it again. Haters are gonna hate. The people who griped about love triangles and werewolves and sexual explicitness were convincing me to read the book while they were putting them down. I mean, who doesn’t love a sparkly vampire? Times have changed but circa 2005, I was ALL OVER IT. People freaking out about Fifty Shades helped propel this book into selling millions upon millions of copies to consumers that didn’t even read for fun anymore but decided to pick it up because it was all over the news. Opinions from every side are important and even negative attention can bring readers in who’ll love the book.

The Asterisk (*): But Please Don’t Be Mean

Now, I am a firm believer in negative reviews but I don’t think they should be mean. Don’t attack or insult the author. Don’t write negative reviews about genres you know you don’t like. Listen to your own preferences and respect the tastes of others. Make sure to criticize with legitimate reasons. Don’t cut down entire novels with vague explanations. If it doesn’t suit your mood, explain that in the review. I think every reader can identify with that. I know I’ve had to do the whole it’s-not-you-it’s-me book break up. As readers, reviewers and bloggers, it’s our right to have an opinion but it’s important to do so with class.

 

 

The Hunted by C.J. Hart

The Hunted by C.J. Hart just wasn’t for me.

26028508Just your average boy-meets-girl, boy-kills-people story.

The Native American Navajo tribe has stories of a monster so wicked, so blood-thirsty, that they are to be hunted down and slaughtered. But are they just legends? Or is something sinister lurking in the shadows? The Yee Naaldlooshi—skinwalkers—have the ability to transform themselves. And they can be anyone. Anything.

The Hunters—a group dedicated to tracking the creatures—are hot on their trail and they won’t stop until every last one is dead. But are they all as evil as foretold? Seb, alpha of the Taylor, Arizona reservation pack, begins to question the acts of their kind. But he’s broken a rule and must choose between killing the girl he loves or risking everything to save her. Cassie must fight for her survival. The pack is after her. And they’re no joke. Cass is about to find out how sadistic they can be.

I had a really hard time getting into this book. I stopped reading about a quarter of the way through. I’m not sure exactly what it was, but I’ll try to explain. It was one of those things where I saw more of the words within the pages not the world. I kept tripping over sentence structure and unanswered questions which prevented me from being immersed into the story.

This book seemed like it would be perfect for me. I am a diehard werewolf fanatic and I’m pretty lenient on the implausibility of a story as long as the plot holds my attention. In this case, I didn’t buy it. One factor was the two main characters, Seb and Cassie. There was no background or world-building to help me find my feet within the story, and the attraction between the two main characters was more like insta-infatuation instead of love. In fact, I didn’t understand why they were so drawn to each other. Why wouldn’t the author disclose how the characters felt?

Each chapter was short and filled with dialogue that was so forced and typical day-to-day chatter that I didn’t care to read further. Where was the complexity of the story? Why couldn’t the main characters explain their motives better? Perhaps these questions are answered later in the novel, but I didn’t have the energy to plow through the words to get there.

Stars: 1 out of 5

Thanks Clean Teen Publishing for a copy in exchange for an honest review!

My Dragon Con 2015 Experience

I attended Dragon Con 2015 in Atlanta for the first time and I got to see some pretty cool stuff. The biggest thing I was excited about was a Q&A with one of my favorite authors –Laurell K. Hamilton.

Me and my two brothers at Dragon Con.

Me and my two brothers at Dragon Con.

DragonCon is huge! There was so much to see and do that it took major amounts of preparation to figure out what to attend. As a book lover, I was interested in book-related goodness. However, I did attend one Battlebots panel and it was awesome (I love that show!).

First, the Q&A panel with Laurell K. Hamilton. For those who don’t know, she practically invented the Urban Fantasy genre. I’ve been reading her books since High School. I’ll never forget picking up Bloody Bones in 10th grade and being blown away by the world of vampires and werewolves. After my first taste of fantasy, there was no going back. (My love of horror died with my obsession with scrunchies. Sorry, Stephen King.) I’ve read almost every single one of her books, so it’s safe to say I was ecstatic to meet her.

LKH in the flesh!

LKH in the flesh!

The panel itself was enlightening. Things I learned:

  • On Writing: LKH is a pantser, who uses sticky notes to plan plot points for future books. She says that the mystery plot is the best way to structure a novel.
  • On her upcoming books: She went to Ireland to do research. She may have a book with a male lead character sometime in the future.

Overall, I found LKH funny in person, but the most surprising part of the panel was the number of men in the audience. LKH writes paranormal romance for mature audiences so the larger-than-anticipated male minority was unusual, not to mention the guys who stood up and asked in-depth questions about the characters. Another thing I realized is that I’m up-to-date on the Merry Gentry series but I’m waaaay behind on the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series. I only need to read two books, but I was almost ashamed at how much I didn’t understand as far as questions asked about plot and characters. I’ve always considered myself a diehard fan so I need to step up my game and get with the program. Anita Blake will be back in my life very, very soon.

The next panel that I thoroughly enjoyed was on YA publishing and query letters. I was mostly there to see the authors, but it didn’t hurt to get some information on the industry in case I ever

YA Publishing Panel

YA Publishing Panel

finish the bajillion partially-completed novels I’m working on. The panelists were YA authors Jonathan Maberry, EC Myers, Sara Raasch, Lindsay Cummings and Lisa Mantchev.  The Murder Complex author Lindsay Cummings was super cool in person as was Snow Like Ashes author Sara Raash. I’ll be moving their books up my TBR list. (I immediately one-clicked their books so they’d be waiting on my doorstep when I got home.) Biggest takeaways from the panel was understanding publishing is the business of selling copies of art and to send your query letters to agents between January and May to avoid the busyness in the industry through the summer and fall.

Overall, DragonCon was tons of fun but it was waaaay too crowded. I thought I was going to have a panic attack due to claustrophobia. However, nothing beats meeting authors and connecting with other readers.

Releases and Recommendations: Beyond the Red by Ava Jae

It’s Tuesday! The wonderful day that books are released to the world.

Today, I am anticipating the release of Beyond the Red by Ava Jae, which will come out on Tuesday, March 1, 2016.

25898435Alien queen Kora has a problem as vast as the endless crimson deserts. She’s the first female ruler of her territory in generations, but her people are rioting and call for her violent younger twin brother to take the throne. Despite assassination attempts, a mounting uprising of nomadic human rebels, and pressure to find a mate to help her rule, she’s determined to protect her people from her brother’s would-be tyrannical rule.

Eros is a rebel soldier hated by aliens and human alike for being a half-blood. Yet that doesn’t stop him from defending his people, at least until Kora’s soldiers raze his camp and take him captive. He’s given an ultimatum: be an enslaved bodyguard to Kora, or be executed for his true identity—a secret kept even from him.

When Kora and Eros are framed for the attempted assassination of her betrothed, they flee. Their only chance of survival is to turn themselves in to the high court, where revealing Eros’s secret could mean a swift public execution. But when they uncover a violent plot to end the human insurgency, they must find a way to work together to prevent genocide.

I’m taking a feminism in Science Fiction class this semester for my graduate degree, so this one caught my eye from the very first words — Alien Queen. This book looks like it will be romantic, dangerous and filled with action. Yes, please!

Priest by Sierra Simone

I was immediately drawn to Priest by Sierra Simone. The synopsis just drew me in, especially when love is so forbidden one has to risk damnation and blasphemy to have it. Being in its mere presence, the book created this crackle in the air as if opening the first page was the reader’s first accursed step into condemnation.

25507389There are many rules a priest can’t break.
A priest cannot marry. A priest cannot abandon his flock. A priest cannot forsake his God.

I’ve always been good at following rules.
Until she came.
My name is Tyler Anselm Bell. I’m twenty-nine years old. Six months ago, I broke my vow of celibacy on the altar of my own church, and God help me, I would do it again.
I am a priest and this is my confession.

This book gave me more than I ever expected. It was hot (so damn hot) and it made me think. This book had two major things going for it — sex and religion. Now hear me out, this seems strange, right? But it wasn’t. Let me try to explain.

First, the sex. This book is first and foremost a romance for mature audiences. Given the setting of this novel, it’s very controversial for a priest to break his vow of celibacy. The author includes a note at the beginning of the book to clarify that she in no way meant to blaspheme the church or the catholic religion, and I think she did a great job in covering such a controversial topic without going too far. In fact, I think she made Catholicism attractive to readers. (Full disclosure, I’m a christian and I think that made reading this book that much better, because I got all the inside jokes and references to old testament stories. There was even Lutheran jokes!)

Now back on topic. Despite the forbidden factor, the love scenes in this book are smoking borderline filthy. It was almost too dirty for my tastes, but I was still glued to the pages. I couldn’t look away, not so much for the novelty-factor, but because I was mesmerized by the inner-workings of Father Tyler Bell. He was so interesting, which brings me to the second thing — religion.

The reason this controversial topic and the blasphemous sexual behavior worked in this novel was because it felt like the real, true feelings of a naturally sinful human being. Everyone falls short of the glory of God, including attractive priests. Besides enjoying the religious tie-ins and inside jokes, I felt the fear, love, lust, confusion, reverence and awe of Father Bell. I loved how the author captured the believer’s inner struggle between obeying God, following the heart and determining His will. The book went back and forth between steamy scenes and moments of reflection, flipping back and forth until the very last page, where intimacy — whether carnal or pious — blurs into the same thing.

I thought the author’s social commentary on the catholic church’s unrealistic expectation of celibacy in priests was spot on. As Father Bell unravels his feelings and God’s will, he comes to the conclusion that Christ’s bride was the church, why can’t he have a bride as well? And as Paul said, it is better to marry than to burn.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I thought the sex scenes could have been dialed down, but I was so wrapped up in Tyler and Poppy’s love story and their journey as two children of God brought together, it didn’t matter. This book is not for the faint of heart. If you are easily offended by blasphemous acts (see: sex on the altar of a church), don’t read this book. If you are squeamish of religion in any way (see: moments of unexplainable connection to a higher being), don’t read this book. But if you think you can handle it, give this book a shot. As you can see by my long-winded review, this book struck a nerve with me, pushing my self-placed boundaries to really think deeply about things. This is the first time that a romance novel has ever done that, making this novel truly unique.

STARS: 5 out of 5

Releases and Recommendations: Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

It’s Tuesday! The wonderful day that books are released to the world.

Today, I’m anticipating the release of Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton, which will be released on Tuesday, March 8, 2016.

24934065She’s more gunpowder than girl—and the fate of the desert lies in her hands.

Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mystical beasts still roam the wild and barren wastes, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinni still practice their magic. But there’s nothing mystical or magical about Dustwalk, the dead-end town that Amani can’t wait to escape from.

Destined to wind up “wed or dead,” Amani’s counting on her sharpshooting skills to get her out of Dustwalk. When she meets Jin, a mysterious and devastatingly handsome foreigner, in a shooting contest, she figures he’s the perfect escape route. But in all her years spent dreaming of leaving home, she never imagined she’d gallop away on a mythical horse, fleeing the murderous Sultan’s army, with a fugitive who’s wanted for treason. And she’d never have predicted she’d fall in love with him…or that he’d help her unlock the powerful truth of who she really is.

This book had me at “wed or dead” and meeting a “devastatingly handsome foreigner” at a “shooting contest.” I’m a sucker for the girl running from an arranged marriage trope. The danger of the desert, mystical beasts and a “murderous Sultan’s army” is just the cherry on top. Looking forward to this one!

Cage of Deceit by Jennifer Ann Davis

If I could describe Cage of Deceit by Jennifer Ann Davis in one word it would be captivating. I picked this book up and didn’t put it down until I turned the last page.

23688106Jennifer Anne Davis’s best-selling True Reign series captivated readers from the very first page. Now, get ready to become entangled in the follow-up series, Reign of Secrets. In this new series, follow Allyssa, the daughter of the beloved Emperor Darmik and Empress Rema— and find out what happens after happily ever after.

Seventeen-year-old Allyssa appears to be the ideal princess of Emperion—she’s beautiful, elegant, and refined. She spends her days locked in a suffocating cage, otherwise known as royal court. But at night, Allyssa uses her secret persona—that of a vigilante—to hunt down criminals and help her people firsthand.

Unfortunately, her nightly escapades will have to wait because the citizens of Emperion may need saving from something much bigger than common criminals. War is encroaching on their country and in order to protect her people, Allyssa may have to sacrifice her heart. Forced to entertain an alliance through marriage with a handsome prince from a neighboring kingdom, she finds herself feeling even more stifled than before. To make matters worse, the prince has stuck his nosy squire, Jarvik, to watch her every move.

Jarvik is infuriating, bossy and unfortunately, the only person she can turn to when she unveils a heinous plot. Together, the unlikely pair will have to work together to stop an enemy that everyone thought was long gone, one with the power to destroy her family and the people of Emperion. Now the cage Allyssa so longed to break free from might just be the one thing she has to fight to keep intact. In order to save her kingdom, she will have to sacrifice her freedom, her heart, and maybe even her life.

Cage of Deceit had so many things that I love in Young Adult Fantasy. Allyssa was a kick ass heroine with awesome skills and the background to back up why she had the skills. There was political intrigue with war brewing among courts and kingdoms. The novel was filled with delicious tension, vulnerable conversations that were too quickly interrupted and characters with realistic expectations driven by loyalty and duty.

This book has a twist that I totally saw coming but it wasn’t a bad thing. In fact, it made the novel more enjoyable because I found myself curling up with anticipation at every possible reveal only to be left breathless and wanting when the truth was continuously withheld. I’m having to take deep breaths as I’m writing this because just thinking about it leaves me breathless.

I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. Anticipating the next political move, late-night fight or possible romantic rendezvous. I fell in love with Princess Alyssa, her best friend, the squire, her parents, the ladies in waiting — all of them! The characters were well-rounded, deeply enough developed to elicit emotion from the reader and believable. I also thoroughly enjoyed all the action. The fight scenes were exciting and even the sparring exercises were entertaining.

Cage of Deceit was an amazing read. I am distraught because I don’t know when I’ll get my greedy hands on book two. If you like YA fantasy, enjoy kick ass heroines, harrowing fights and rescues, and hot boys with swords, this book is for you.

STARS: 4.5 out of 5

Thanks to Clean Teen Publishing for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review!