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Unlaced: Kristina Cook

973236“Unlaced” was another in a string of failures to find something I once took for granted: a fun, satisfying, well-crafted book. I truly thought at several points that it would be a DNF, but I had made predictions about what would happen, and I was determined to see if I was right. There was skimming involved.

It is the tale of Lucy, 21, who wants only to continue to explore her natural gifts with animals. She has an affinity for all creatures great and small, and a knack for healing them, and in 1817 she does not have the option of going to train to be a legitimate veterinarian. However, she is sent to London, to have her debut, and she realizes that while she is there she can prevail upon another family friend to get her some kind of in with the veterinary college. She certainly doesn’t want to get married – she insists on that, frequently; she will go through with her Season to please her father, and then go right back to what she wants to do.

Enter Henry, Lord Mandeville, a marquess with Issues. His mother was cruel to him, and unfaithful to his father, and he has vowed that he will not follow his father’s example of blind adoring faith in an unworthy woman. He has no interest in marrying for love; he will marry a woman who will bring something useful to the match. (Character in the book: “He’s mysterious and moody, especially after that scandal three years past.” My comment: Well, then, he’s obviously The One.) (And, of course, that mysterious scandal is all very enticing.)

So far, so … good, I suppose, despite the fact that anachronistic feminism is hard to pull off. Would a girl of the period really develop the mindset Lucy has, however unconventional her upbringing or however great her gifts with animals? I didn’t quite believe in an early 19th century girl who planned to be a veterinarian, wore breeches, rode astride, and so on: desiring only “the freedom to learn, and maybe, just maybe, the opportunity to build her own informal veterinary practice.” And I found it harder to believe in a local populace who would trust their animals, from lapdogs to carthorses, to a minimally educated “informal” dilettante. A farmer could never afford to let an untrained vet tend the animals that were his livelihood; God knows I wouldn’t let an untrained vet touch any pet of mine. There are a great many professions at which one can do quite well for oneself without formal training; any form of medicine, be it human or animal, is not something that can be tried out with enthusiasm and a smattering of learning. One does not know instinctively how to, oh, for example, deliver a foal in a breech position.

And this made me question a lot of other things which might otherwise have skated by. Lucy coming out at the late age of 21, and her attitude toward same. The main characters, Lucy and Henry, begin calling each other Lucy and Henry within about an hour of meeting – in 1817. Lucy scampers about the countryside completely unchaperoned, which for a lady I thought was completely unacceptable, and for a young lady in the midst of her Season beyond completely unacceptable. There’s plenty more, but this will be quite long enough.

4468273_origAnother failure, in my opinion, was in the author’s knowledge of horses. There was not a tremendous amount of horse-related stuff, but everything there was seemed a little off. Henry and Lucy, both stated to be excellent riders, were constantly digging their heels into their horses’ sides. Who knows, maybe riding was utterly different a hundred years ago, and it’s been a while since I’ve been on a horse, but when I was taking lessons, if I’d kicked a horse like that I think my lessons would have come to an end. At one point Lucy is asked about the foal she helped bring into the world. “The filly? Oh yes, the foal.” Yes. The foal. Which is female. And therefore a filly. This is not something I can imagine anyone who knows horses saying. Ever. The author also flips between “it” and “he” when referring to a horse, at least once in consecutive sentences. Lucy’s other main equestrian patient came when she was summoned urgently to a horse with colic, because no one else knew what to do for it. Not the grooms; not the horsemen; not the horse owners; not another single soul had a clue in the world what to do for colic. Colic is not a rare and exotic ailment. This is absurd. “Digging a heel into Thunder’s side, she led her horse…” A) Again with the digging. And B) she has 2 horses? Because riding and leading are different things.” Finally (for the purposes of this review), Lucy’s brother let her mare get fat while she was away. Why? “You can’t expect me to go around on a mount called Princess now, can you?” Why not? Does she commonly wear a fluffy nametag with “Princess” picked out in hearts and flowers? Are people going to point and laugh and say “Hee hee, there goes whatsit on a girly horse”? So you let a horse go without decent exercise for months? Who was there to even see besides servants?? These people irk me.

I saw something recently, and I wish I had made a note of exactly what it was and where, about how, really, the advice to writers of “show, don’t tell” is bogus because when you write you’re always telling. I wish I had noted the name of the person writing that, so that I can avoid their work. Or so I could shoot them a message recommending this book as an example of “tell, don’t show”. Because:

Lucy is held up as an example of a sensible, logical girl. However, when someone wakes her up and calls her out to deliver that foal (filly), she puts on a dress of butter yellow. Anyone who’s read the James Herriot books knows that large animal delivery is a messy business – pale yellow is an idiotic thing to wear. Also, she keeps putting herself into situations where untoward things happen, and then wonders how and why. The whole idea of cause and effect seems beyond her. (At hearing the news that a horse is sick and she is needed, she hurries off to prepare, “beaming delightedly”. It’s a bit off-putting that because a horse is ill and she can have a chance to show off, she is delighted.) Again, there are plenty of other examples.

And because:

Henry is held up as an example of a terrifically good man. However, the second time he meets Lucy, within an hour or two he is groping her and kissing her “senseless”. And then blaming her: “And do those odd activities of yours generally include allowing men you barely know to kiss you senseless?” And he proceeds to behave much the same way any time he is even close to being alone with her. (His hands “moved down her sides, brushing softly against the curve of her breasts”… my simultaneous reactions were that she needed to slap him, a lot, and that her anatomy must be rather odd if he moved his hands down her sides to her breasts.) It is utterly hilarious when he is described as “normally a man of acute restraint”. He seems to feel she is less than a lady (small “L”) because she is the daughter of a physician and there are no titles in her immediate family – and because she pursues these “odd activities” – therefore he can treat her however he wants. This is wrong on so many levels that if I go into all of them this review will approach NaNoWriMo proportions. Why do romance writers do this? At less than a 1/4 of the way in, the Hero had pawed Lucy, insulted her, apologized to her, defended her, insulted her again, and by that point could be found drunkenly pawing her again – in a locked room. A room he locked them into. I was ready to call 911, and she? Melted into him. Which goes back to how sensible she is. But, we are told, Henry made some liberal speeches, and saved a wounded puppy. Oh, well, if there’s a puppy – well, then.

“I mustn’t forget your reputation”, he says, after having forgotten her reputation at least half a dozen times.

Of course, he’s a remarkable artist. Proof being that he draws Lucy. Half-naked. Then wanders about London with the drawing. She sees it. She doesn’t mind. In fact, she says: “These should be displayed somewhere.” “‘…That one I’ve begun in oil on canvas.’ He’d sketched her from the back, her chin tipped over one shoulder. She wore nothing but a corset, partially unlaced.” I find it remarkable that he is unconcerned about who might see it in progress or when completed (i.e., anyone who knows or might meet Lucy, ever). And what does he plan to do with the completed piece? Does he have a sleazy man-cave?

22083946As anyone who has read my reviews of historical fiction before might know, my number one pet peeve is the improper, anachronistic use of the work “okay”. I have closed books permanently upon coming across a medieval or Victorian “okay”. I have flung books. This book was on my Kindle, so I couldn’t fling it when I came to “Everything okay, miss?” It’s a stupid, careless, easily avoided mistake, and I have no patience for it. But I kept reading. Even when there was a second “okay” about a third of the way through. It began to almost literally hurt after a while. Because there were so many other language errors. I never understand why anyone with a tin ear for language chooses to set a book in a time for which she has no feeling. To refer to “blocks” as a unit of measurement in 1817 in reference to country estates? To talk about something being therapeutic? (It took me less than two minutes to find that that word wasn’t used before 1846.) “It’s grown infected”… I have to give her this one; I was sure that “infected” was anachronistic, but the word was in some sort of use in the 14th century. However, that possibly correct usage was more than outweighed by “You, my lord, are pressing your luck.” Here’s another quote: “to push (one’s) luck is from 1911”

Besides the anachronisms, there were the other oddities of language, the (say it with me) “I don’t think it means what you think it means” syndrome. Lucy’s legs “shaking madly”? Lemonade referred to as a “pungent liquid”? (“Affecting the organs of taste or smell with a sharp acrid sensation.”) The foal mentioned above “ceased it strident suckling”. There’s a missing “s” there; use of “it” is obnoxious after the emphasis on the foal’s gender a minute before; and … strident? … How? … “characterized by harsh, insistent, and discordant sound” – suckling?

Similarly: Colin, re Lucy: “‘You’ve taken a spirited mare and broken her beyond recognition.’ Right. I love horses. You compare me to a mare, in any way or shape or form, and there will be hell to pay.

“He felt a sharp pain shoot through his gut. Regret? No, it must be hunger. He hadn’t eaten all day.” How unintentionally hilarious. It was a free book: this is good. It was a bad book: this isn’t good.

 
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Posted by on June 27, 2015 in books, Chick lit

 

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Dangerous and Unseemly – K.B. Owen – Becket Royce

I am required to say: This audiobook was provided by the narrator at no cost in exchange for an unbiased review courtesy of AudiobookBlast dot com. So I’m really, really happy to be able to also say that the narration was far and away the best part of this book. The plot and story had a fair number of issues fighting with nice characterization and fun dialogue (and a setting of Hartford, Connecticut – my backyard), but the reading – by Becket Royce (and now I want to be named Rebecca so I can go by Becket) – was one of the best I’ve listened to in a while. Character accents were present without being overwhelming; humor was nicely accentuated; best of all were moments such as when the text mentions someone giving an unladylike snort… and Becket Royce complies. I have a new go-to narrator.

So, now, the book itself. I should be slamming it with three or even two stars. I saw just about everything coming light years away – what was wrong with Mary, and which of the two men courting our heroine Concordia Wells was a bad’un, and the secret behind the enameled dagger. This is not because I was being clever – I’m never clever at guessing who dunnit and whatnot – but because all of this was telegraphed with great clarity.

The plot also relied heavily on clichés. If you haven’t ever read a book or watched a television show before, this might be a spoiler: when someone told Concordia that there was something very important they had to tell her – but they didn’t want to tell her now, they would meet her tomorrow … well, really, how many books or tv shows have there ever been where that setup actually resulted in the person showing up at said meeting and imparting the very important message? (I should start a list.) (I’m very surprised not to be able to find this on tvtropes.com; it’s almost “Lost In Transmission”, but not quite…)

Spoiler in three… two … one …

Something that was odd about that situation was: “The doctor was of the opinion that [Sophia] had not been outside [in the rain] for long.” But … she was an hour late for her meeting with Concordia, which is why the latter went looking for her (in the rain). If she wasn’t attacked on her way to meet C, then when? Was she dragged outside after being conked?

The writing – in terms of well-chosen words strung together to form pleasing sentences free of grammatical errors – wasn’t perfect. There was at least one example of “lay” for “lie”. And the scary, scary note left pinned with a dagger – “Beware – next time a real stabbing could happen!” – really isn’t very scary. But aside from these quibbles and the larger problems mentioned above, I was happy listening to Dangerous and Unseemly – which is a great title, by the way. As mentioned, the dialogue was very nice in places, lively and life-like, and particularly fun to listen to. Blessings on author and reader for the fact that it was “mischievous”, not “mischievious”! I can forgive a lot for that.

I enjoy a good historical mystery. (Does this class as a cozy? I guess this is a cozy.) I enjoy books set in boarding schools and colleges – such enclosed, self-contained environments. And I enjoy books set around theatre productions, particularly Shakespeare of course, and D&U features a student production of Macbeth. (I know someone who would be quite irked at the pronunciation “McBeth”; I forgave it.) (One line regarding that play started a little plot bunny for me: “Lady Macbeth still had a tendency to giggle during her sleepwalking scene…” That could totally be worked in.) I can’t really say this was a great mystery – the disparate parts of the plot (what happened to Concordia’s sister, the death(s) at the college) didn’t necessarily play well together.

I couldn’t help wondering if the author is a fan of L.M. Montgomery. Our heroine Concordia is a ginger, and puts up the familiar lament that a red-haired lady can NOT wear pink. And at one point she admires dresses with “gigantic puffed sleeves” and elbow cuffs.

 
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Posted by on June 25, 2015 in books

 

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All Our Yesterdays – Cristin Terrill, narrated by Meredith Mitchell

17451105I loved this book. Despite the fact that I was a little unhappy going into yet another time travel novel (yet another time travel audiobook, yet – there have been a surprising number this year), I still really came to care about the characters, was captured by the plot, galloped through it at full pace.

Buuutttt….

It’s in the present tense, which I cordially dislike – but it works for this. I mean, time travel. That didn’t affect the rating. I need to stop complaining about the tense.

One thing that did affect the rating: The security depicted in the book makes the Keystone Kops look like SEAL Team 6. The protection detail is so porous it makes cheesecloth look like six-inch titanium. The protect-ee could have (should have) been killed a hundred times over. It was ludicrous – necessary to the plot, I suppose, but silly.

The primary (joint) reason I can’t give this five stars is simply because a) the title echoes a sort-of-time-travelly episode of Star Trek (and yes, I know it originally comes from Macbeth), and b & c & d & on through z) the bad guy is a man whose name Em refuses to use, so she just calls him … the doctor. This is bad. Given the sheer evil of the man, it’s a little shattering. It would be hard even if there wasn’t time travel involved, but with? *shiver* At least Cristin Terrill doesn’t capitalize it. Lord knows I wasn’t going to in my review, whether or not. I find it hard to believe that someone who references Back to the Future isn’t aware of Doctor Who (and Star Trek), whether she’s a fan or not, whether she’s even ever seen it or not – you just can’t do that.

And actually, looking back on it, what I said a minute ago about the sheer evil of the man… Spoilers are inevitable in this bit….

It was too drastic a change. I mean, I understand and understood how it all came about; I understand and understood the impetus behind the evolution of the character’s alignment. But it was so abrupt, and so total… there was, as far as I noticed, no seed of the full-blown evil in the boy.

19301022I have to say the first transition between older Em and younger Marina was jarring, and the first scenes in that section were less than enthralling. But they were necessary for the story, and paid off in the end. I think it was supposed to be jarring. The author balanced Em’s literally world-shattering problems with the comparatively petty but still pretty damn earth-shaking on a personal level concerns about whether her friends were really her friends or if they were just using her as a stepping stone closer to her hot and rich friend James. Whether James thought about her as a buddy or might see her as something more, and whether – and how – she might take action to move things along. Whether her parents were going to completely ruin her life or not.

But, quibbles aside, it was good. The menace was absolutely chilling, without ever going too far; I kept expecting there to be rape or graphic detail of torture, but there was none of the former (unless it was between the lines) and little of the latter. It wasn’t gratuitous; it was terribly, terribly painful and unsettling without going for a gross-out factor. And it all made the end so very satisfying. Apparently the author planned a sequel, and it fell apart; I think it’s just as well. This is a story complete unto itself, and – in my opinion – shouldn’t be expanded on.

 
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Posted by on June 21, 2015 in books

 

Writing clichés redux

So, my last post was driven by realizing that I keep seeing the same thing over and over in what I’ve been reading. I really did intend to open up the laptop tonight and at least consider thinking about finishing a book review; I’m so far behind you’d think I was running behind American Pharoah. (Gleeful as I am about a Triple Crown winner (I’ve been waiting most of my life for this), it still hurts to intentionally misspell “pharaoh”.) Or maybe a review of Kiss Me, Kate at The Hartford Stage while it’s still playing there would be nice. (It was wonderful, go see it! There. That’ll have to do for now.)

However, I’ve been catching up on a few tv series here and there, and when an episode of Ripper Street I watched last night and an episode of Game of Thrones I watched just now (GoT HBO this time, not GoT GRRM) used just about exactly the same tired gimmick, I have to complain about it.

I actually kind of already complained about this one back in January 2013 when I put together my first short list of nearly unforgivable clichés that almost have to be forgiven since even favorite and respected writers are guilty: someone is always going to be nearly dead of seasickness on an ocean voyage; if a woman is nauseated odds are she’s pregnant (unless she wants to be pregnant, in which case she’s just ill); boar hunts nearly always end in a named character being maimed or killed – – and a poignant moment between a parent and child just before they are parted means one or the other is going to die or be otherwise seriously interfered with.

This post is to refine that last entry. I’ll avoid specific spoilers for the two episodes I’m talking about (I won’t even name the episodes), but you’ll probably know the scenes when you see them. It’s okay, though, really, because the spoilers are basically written in. Anyone who’s read a few books or watched a few hours of tv can see what’s coming without using binoculars.

Ripper Street: a father is reunited with his daughter, who has been through a great deal of trauma, and he promises her that he is going to take her off somewhere peaceful. “When?” “Now.” Of course something comes up, and he feels he is needed elsewhere (which the more I think about it the more idiotic it is – he just broke or at least bent a barrelful of laws to get his child back, and now he feels a greater need for him lies elsewhere? Regardless, he leaves the (large-eyed and incredibly fragile) girl someplace safe “for an hour”.

I said “Uh oh.”

A few minutes later he’s lying bleeding and mostly dead on someone’s carpet.

Game of Thrones: A mother puts her two (large-eyed and clinging) children on a boat; they want to stay with her; she tells them she has duties still to perform and she will be “right behind you, I promise.”

I said “Oh, for God’s sake, she’s so dead. And I liked her, too.”

A few minutes later she’s lying bleeding in the snow.

It actually irks me more and more the more I think about it. If a writer has their heroine losing her breakfast repeatedly after one or more nights with their hero (or whomever), do they really think their readers are going to be surprised at the Big Revelation that it’s morning sickness? No – a lot of readers are going to roll their eyes and call the heroine an idiot for not twigging to it when they did. And, honestly, I don’t believe I can think of too many examples outside of commercials or sitcoms where a character told his child “go on ahead, I’ll join you in a minute” when the parent actually DID join the offspring in a minute. I mean, a writer of television or film  has a set amount of time in which to tell a story; a “print” writer has to keep her plot moving and on point. If a moment like “I’ll be right behind you,  I promise” is focused upon, it’s probably gonna be significant. And the significance is probably gonna be that Mom isn’t going to be right behind her kids. (Or – spoiler alert – if she is, it’s a Very Bad Thing.) I know there’s supposed to be nothing new under the sun (seem new? Ish?

Someday when I am the next J.K. Rowling I will use my vast fortune and influence to work to stamp out lazy cliché in books and television and movies. Till then, all I can do is keep writing – and in doing so do my damnedest to avoid such easy, easy traps as being surprised that someone large is also graceful, or forcing characters to break promises made to moppets (“right behind you!”), or … et cetera.

And I’ll keep collecting the cliché moments that are so very cheap and easy to rely upon.This is only the tip of the (appropriately clichéd) iceberg, I’m sure! Anybody?

 
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Posted by on June 8, 2015 in writing

 

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Writing with surprising grace, despite my bulk…

Lately I have been noticing an annoying trend among otherwise wonderful writers. I’m going to start collecting them, but I am currently reading two books (one audio, one Kindle), and both have gone there, and that’s when it struck me that … EVERYone goes there.

Barbara Hambly, Good Man Friday: “Henri…danced also, with surprising grace for a man of his bulk.”

George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones: “He moved with surprising delicacy for such a massive man.” That’s about Magister Illyrio. And about the man Arya follows: “Grossly fat, yet he seemed to walk lightly”. But wait – I did a search, and there’s more: Ser Jorah: “Deftly, with a delicacy surprising in such a big man” – AND: Sandor Clegane: “With a delicacy surprising in such a big man”…

See, here’s the thing. In my life right now, the person with the heaviest stride (“You walk like an elephant!”) is a little athletic wisp of a thing. Me? I could almost make two of her, and you’re never gonna hear me coming. And, thinking about it, I don’t think any of the large or obese people I’ve ever known have been particularly heavy-footed, or graceless, or whatever. Nobody shook the ground when they walked. Nobody routinely knocked over furniture. Nobody ever squashed a child or dented the floor.

Here’s a thought … maybe because someone is large, or fat, or both, it doesn’t mean they’re clumsy. Maybe all these fictional narrators should stop being so damned surprised at large people’s grace or deftness.

Or at least they could find a new way to express their surprise.

No, they just need to stop it.

For fun, I just went to Google Books and typed “surprisingly graceful for bulk” into the search window. There are “about 5,170 results”. Now, glancing through, some are duplicates, and some of the quotes are about animals, and one is about a cathedral – but… “He is always elegantly dressed, surprisingly graceful for his bulk.” “Pug’s graceful dancing, despite his bulk”. “Then she unfolded, surprisingly graceful given her prodigious bulk”. “For all of his bulk, he was surprisingly graceful.” “And did so in a surprisingly graceful motion for all of his bulk.” “Surprisingly graceful and light on his feet despite his bulk.” “With a surprising fleetness of foot, considering his bulk.” “For such a big man he was surprisingly graceful.”

That’s the first couple of pages of the search.

So, basically, not only is it a bit of a regularly occurring smack in the face to anyone who is, as they say, bulky, but … Come on, people. Over five thousand results for almost the same wording – and that’s only one variation on the phrasing. This goes beyond cliché.

Stop it. Seriously, everyone, stop it.

 
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Posted by on May 21, 2015 in books

 

Happy Liza Doolittle Day, everyone!

 
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Posted by on May 20, 2015 in books

 

How about some Authors Behaving Goodly?

A few days ago there was a post on Goodreads collecting examples of Authors Behaving VERY Badly. So I feel a sudden need to illustrate the flip side of that coin, the authors we love, even if we didn’t like their books; the gracious, the generous, the positively cuddly. The exemplars. The ones who Do It Right. Come and plug your favorites – let’s give the good guys some attention. For a change.

Here are mine, garnered from nearly seven years of reviewing, in mostly alphabetical order, except for a few obvious shows of favoritism.

First on my list has to – always – be Adam Schell . He was the first author who ever responded to a review of mine, and thus began a friendship I value highly. I even met him once. Go read Tomato Rhapsody (hey, it’s available on Kindle now! Yay). It’s a wonderful book by a warm, funny, pretty wonderful fella. Hail Don Adamo.

Next on my list has to be Mary Lawrence, whom I have been delighted to get to know, and whose Bianca Goddard series (starting with The Alchemist’s Daughter in April is going to be terrific. I can’t say “hail”, here … Yay Mary!

Patricia Burroughs , aka Pooks, responded to my reviews of other books, and although I usually dislike unsolicited review requests and am always suspicious of them, she Did It Right: I received This Crumbling Pageant, and read it, and oh lord never did write up my review where did that paper go God I hope it shows up in the move otherwise I will reread the book I swear… *ahem* Gracious and fun to mutually follow: Hail Pooks.

Another author – with whom I have recently, and happily, become friends on Goodreads – whose books I fell head over heels in love with is David Blixt . A friend request and acceptance turned into a really enjoyable discussion, and I hope for more. Hail David.

Apart from the comment from Don Adamo, above (and maybe the one from the bassist for the Red Hot Chilli Pipers), the comments that have made me fangurl the hardest have been a handful from one of my very favorite writers in the known universe, Susan Dexter . I’ve known her books since, probably, shortly after the first one came out in 1981, so I almost fell out of my chair when she responded to my reviews. Go read Susan Dexter. All of her.

And of course Nenia Campbell, and more of course N.E. White, and most of course Jane Steen, with whom I’m proud to be friends!

Bill Allen – another author whose YA book (How To Slay a Dragon) was a Netgalley find – also left a short and sweet comment.

Laura VanArendonk Baugh , whose Kitsune-tsuki I received from LibraryThing, left a gracious and welcome comment on my review.

I wasn’t the biggest fan of the ending of Annie Bellet’s A Heart in Sun and Shadow – I loved the writing, but didn’t realize it was the middle of a trilogy. I respected the book itself, a great deal – and respected the author even more when she responded to my probably rather petulant review with a very moderate comment.

James R. Benn , whose A Mortal Terror was something completely different I loved from Netgalley, also left a fun little note on my blog.

Paul Collis also Did It Right, skirting any objections I could possibly have against an unsolicited review request. He thought I might like his book, The Scottish Movie, and he was right.

Then there’s Ann Littlewood , whose Threatened and Endangered was a Netgalley offering which I really enjoyed (and which I have to follow up very soon – I quickly picked up a few others in the series); she left a brief and sweet thank-you here on my blog.

Cindy Lynn Speer loved that I loved her The Chocolatier’s Wife, also received from LibraryThing, and I loved hearing from her. I need to read more by her as well.

I need to read more by everyone on this list.

 
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Posted by on March 1, 2015 in books

 

Leonard Nimoy is gone.

Never forgotten.

I have no more words.

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2015 in books

 

How authors would like to be reviewed

So, there was just another brouhaha on Goodreads and its environs. And I swore I would keep my hands to myself and not take part.

I lied.

It seems to have blown over, at least where I’ve been able to see, and I’m not about to stir it all up again, so I will name no names and tag no tags. The poor silly author person has gotten a bit beaten up, and while I still want to speak my piece somewhere it won’t get deleted I don’t want to beat a beaten horse. So to speak.

It seems to have all begun with someone’s first book, which I just saw was, oddly, self-published back in September. But apparently as of a little while ago the book was saddled with a very long, very poorly written description on GR, and a few people took that as a sure and certain sign that this was a book to avoid. Some of them (or at least one, though some “reviews” have been deleted by GR) evidently took the description apart line by line – and from what I’m seeing, it was indeed pretty bad. And pretty long.

The first I heard of it, though, was when a friend (hi, Jane!) wrote a blog post about a blog post by the author. (So now I’m writing a blog post about a blog post about a blog post. Funny old world.) The author’s blog post – and in fact her whole blog – was deleted over that weekend; I think she got some serious backlash in her comments section. I kind of wish I’d saved it, but what I do have is my visceral response to it – not quite line by line, but enough.

The first thing I took issue with was the Victorian-twee capitalization of certain nouns, particularly “Writer” and “Reader” (why, that would be Me! If I ever decided to read the thing, that is.) Done with tongue in cheek, say by an Austen fan, I’m fine with this. But done with a straight face… why? I don’t understand. Are you a time traveler from Dickens’s London? Another odd quirk in the blog post was a near-constant use of “we”. I don’t know whether it was intended as a collective “we”, somehow speaking for all writers, or as a royal “we”, but either way it wasn’t a great idea.

Also not such a great idea, I suppose, was putting down my thoughts in the review section for the book on Goodreads. It was deleted, of course (after it garnered over 50 “likes” in a couple of days – and, obviously, at least one flag as against guidelines). But my points still stand, so here they are. I was pretty disgusted when I wrote it. Obviously.

The author’s part of this is not verbatim, since I didn’t save her post – but it is as close to what was actually said as possible.

The author’s blog: I wish readers would only post four- or five-star reviews, and if they have complaints they should write me directly to tell me instead of putting that in a review.

Me: If I have spent time and/or money on your precious flower of a book, and I don’t like said book, then I have every right to express my opinion – yes, even if I haven’t read the whole thing. And yes, in a legit review and not a private email to you. Unless I have been provided with a free copy for the purpose, or unless you have paid me to copyedit, it’s not my job to send you a politely worded detail of why your book isn’t the Masterpiece you think it is. If your writing is laughable, I’m sorry: I will probably laugh.

The author: People should remember that my book is the work of my heart, my baby.

Me: It’s not your baby. It’s a book.

Just to clarify – Baby:

– living creature, product of, generally, nine months’ work, in need of protection and nurture.

Book:

not, technically, a living creature, but ink on paper (or not), product of from months to years of a different sort of labor, with all of the care and nurturing required before production rather than after

A better metaphor might be raising a lion cub and releasing him into the wild. Once it’s literally out of your hands, it is completely out of your hands – if the other lions don’t like him, you can’t go wading in and shake your finger under those other lions’ noses. (Well, you can, but they will eat you alive. Which given the parallel illustrated here makes this a pretty good simile.)

The author: I feel personally injured when someone says harsh things about my book.

Me: A mediocre or bad review is not, unless you are personally attacked in it, an attack on you. It’s not an attack on your precious petal of a book. It’s a book review. An expression of opinion. A summation of what was enjoyed – and not enjoyed – during the reading experience. Je ne suis pas Charlie, but je suis moi: a reader, with only so much time to spend in reading and only so much money to spend on books – and with every right to express opinions. (Except on Goodreads, of course, where the original thing I wrote vanished like my coworkers two minutes before closing time.)

The author: if you’re going to dare to write a critique of my book or my book description pointing out spelling and grammar errors, you had best be certain your own spelling and grammar is impeccable.

Me: While in my reviews and blog posts I always certainly strive to make sure my spelling and grammar are correct, even if they are not I also have every right to point out places where your spelling and grammar are not up to par. Why? Because if I screw up in a review, it’s something I wrote for myself and my friends, to plunk onto my blog or on Goodreads or some such. If you screw up in a book you’ve published, it’s something you have offered for sale, for the consumption of strangers, in the expectation that time and/or money will be spent on it (as mentioned above). If you do not understand the difference here, you have no business writing for anyone but yourself. If I purchase a book, it is with the presumption that the author has performed due diligence in making it as close to a perfect thing as possible, has made noticeable effort to clean up style errors and make it worth reading. If you have not done your utmost best to ensure that simple, stupid things like grammar and spelling are not as perfect as they can be, it only shows a complete lack of respect for your “Readers”, and I have no time or patience for you.

The author (and this is a quote, because I copied and pasted it): “The only thing I am telling you right now is: Please, when writing your review, consider our feelings and sensitivity – and respect our work.”

Me: Well, to all “Writers”, the only thing I am telling you is: Please, when writing your book, consider the rights, time, and wallet of the reader – and respect us enough not to whine when we take the time to exercise our rights and give you feedback. Good, bad, or indifferent.

The author’s blog post title: “How Authors would wish their books to be reviewed”

“How Authors would wish their books to be reviewed”? How dare you.

In predicting (correctly) that my original post would be deleted, I said that I would likely copy it over onto my blog – because this whole thing just ticks me off so very much. For one thing, doesn’t she realize how this has all been said before, a thousand and six times? How are these people not getting the message?

I mean, I get it. I do. Like probably half the people on Goodreads I’ve tried my hand at writing a book. It is hard work. But I want criticism. I want to improve, and I want my work to improve. The idea of expecting universal adoration for anything I do is completely alien.

I’m not so arrogant as to think that my book will be War and Peace, or The Lord of the Rings – and even if it somehow did manage to be kind of super, there are people who dislike War and Peace and The Lord of the Rings. And you know? That’s okay. (Except for the people who dislike The Lord of the Rings; they’re just wrong, of course.)

As I mentioned, I got a lot of support for the post. And then I got this, from someone calling himself JR:

Boy… You’ve got a lot of time on your hands.
I agree with your freedom of opinion statement, and to be fully transparent here, I haven’t finished reading the book yet nor have I read the author’s blog.
Like you and the rest of the commenters on here, I am a big believer in freedom of expression.
But it seems to me before you stomp a new author into the ground, you ought to take a step back, take a deep breath and follow some of your own advice.
I don’t respect your hatemongering way.
It’s oppressive and goes against what you say you believe in.
I don’t think it makes me trust in your opinion as a reviewer – and that is my opinion.
Now you are free to rip me apart in a personal way. I hope it makes you sleep better at night.

I admit- I kind of did want to rip him apart. But that goes against the grain. So I checked the commenter’s profile page, and wrote what seemed reasonable.

Thanks for your comment, I guess. Joined in January 2015, eh? So, JR is a pseudonym? (Mind, this is not a personal attack any more than my commentary above is, but merely observation. Not that I expect you to agree with that.)(ETA, also: zero friends, zero books, no avatar = did you think no one would notice?)

It didn’t take all that long to write what I wrote, thanks for your … concern? I type pretty quickly. I have no desire to stomp a new author into the ground. I am more than happy to live and let live. But I also don’t suffer foolishness gladly, and the oft-heard plaint of “I-worked-so-hard-give-me-five-stars” is pure foolishness. And not even original foolishness. I’m not sure where you’re getting hatemongering; please enlighten me. Are you sure it’s the word you’re looking for? “The act or practice of stirring up hatred or enmity” – I wasn’t expressing hatred, and don’t encourage it; I was expressing disgust and irritation. The author in question is not my enemy, or at least I’m not hers, and I care to fulfill the role. So – please insert Inigo Montoya quote here.

It matters little to me whether you trust my opinion as a reviewer. I don’t write reviews for anyone but myself and, perhaps, my friends (I take it you won’t be sending me a friend request either as JR or as your non-sock-puppet persona?). I’ll forget about all of this in about 46 seconds, and sleep just fine, thank you for your kind wish. I hope you sleep well yourself, having gotten this off your anonymous chest.

….

[Added the following day:] Having had a good night’s sleep: I was wrong, I did think about this longer than 46 seconds. Long enough to think about that word “hatemongering” a little bit. I don’t hate the author of this book I’ll never read, any more than I hate the coworker who routinely butchers the English language in ways that make me want to weep. “Hate” is a ridiculously strong word, and for myself I reserve it for, you know, Hitler. So, my good sockpuppet, no – I don’t think that word means what you think it means.

“He” didn’t respond. Though now that I’m thinking about it I’d bet “he” was one who threw a flag on the play, so to speak. (

Again, I’m not trying to stir up the sediment that has settled to the bottom; I don’t care enough about the author or the book to make this specific. But I really, really care about people attempting to get some kind of control over reviewers, and who can’t behave like adults and professionals.

 
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Posted by on January 29, 2015 in books

 

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Thank you, Animal Haven…

I’m not deleting my last post; the situation was what it was, and the fact that it was resolved doesn’t make what happened any easier to sleep with at night. I am, however, deleting the tag and changing the title.

Before it got better, it actually got worse. A friend of the family suggested I contact a rescue group called Halfway Home Rescue. I wrote a (looking back on it now) pitiful, seriously pathetic message to them through Facebook. No response. The friend had mentioned that they’re small, so to keep trying; this was hard, because I was getting desperate. I wrote a second time. This time, to my horror, I got an answer. Part of it:

“You [sic] dog has some very serious medical conditions that private non-profits will not be able to afford. We suggest you look for low cost veterinary care and resolve her medical conditions rather than expecting a rescue to pay. If she gets on her feet, perhaps a rescue will be able to help. When you adopt an animal, it is supposed to be for life.” I responded heatedly; it was a very bad time, is my only excuse, and I still find that reply completely heartless. At which point they wrote me back saying that I needed to act like a responsible dog owner… which was what I was trying to be. I don’t think I’ll ever forgive them for that.

However, somewhere in there Michelle from Animal Haven got in touch with me about my post on Facebook – and, thank God, she couldn’t have been kinder or more patient. She has apparently had to deal before with people facing some of the worst moments of their lives. We emailed back and forth for a few days, and then one Saturday I called her. She suggested I bring Daisy in to meet her. I came home alone. And that is a drive I don’t think I want to dwell on, ever. Michelle was again wonderfully patient as I checked in with her every now and then to see how Daisy was doing… and then on December 2 she replied that they found a place for her, with a stay-at-home mom, whose kids already adored Daisy. There was a photo posted on Facebook, of possibly the most content-looking dog I’ve ever seen.

So, while I won’t delete that earlier post … things got better. Sort of. Animal Haven turned out to be a true blessing. Michelle took immediately to Daisy, and Daisy glommed onto her enough that I don’t think she noticed when I left. And … On the one hand I don’t have to worry about her anymore. She’s happier, and I have a little more freedom to do what I need to do and also not worry about not being home, and then of course there’s the only-apartment-I-could-afford-but-which-doesn’t-take-pets. But after almost two months I’m still reluctant to get out of the car when I get home. Every day, twice a day, I would pull in to the driveway, and as soon as I got a window or door open I would hear the barking. It’s incredibly hard still to stand on a silent doorstep, and go into an empty and silent house. It’s hard to handle that silence; it took a while before I could get to sleep without music or a podcast playing, something, anything. It’s hard to have the whole bed to myself.

And that is all I’m going to say about that situation. I didn’t particularly want to write this – but I couldn’t not clear things up about Animal Haven. The person I originally spoke to there was, apparently, an aberration, or also having a very bad day. I was going to insert a picture of her here… but I’m not that sadistic.

‘Bye, my Brussels. Miss you.

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2015 in family

 

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