If you’ve dropped by this blog from time-to-time or follow me on Twitter, you’ve seen the occasional review posted on my Speculative Fiction Examiner. I get a general influx of review copies from publishers such as Tor, Pyr, Night Shade Books, and a few others, both in the mail and for my Kindle. These then get read and reviewed, often with as much praise as I can heap on it and the author. Besides writing, a great love of mine is reading a wonderful story and introducing it to as many others as I can.
But what happens when I get a review copy, and end up not enjoying the story or characters?
Here’s the thing: I want to enjoy the book. I want to be hooked hard and unable to put it down until I’ve finished the last chapter. I want to rave to my friends about how much they’ll enjoy it, until they put in restraining orders.
But sometimes, I can’t.
Now, this doesn’t always mean the book is bad, per se. Sometimes it just means the book isn’t written in a style I enjoy, or I’m just not the target audience. That happens. That’s why there are genres and all that in the first place. Everyone has different tastes.
Sometimes, though, there are some definite things I dislike in a story. Things that hamper the reading experience for me, and I believe will do so for others. See, for instance, two of my more recent reviews, both of books I couldn’t make myself finish. When it comes time to review these books, I hesitate. Mainly this is because I know how negative reviews affect writers. As an aspiring author myself, I certainly wouldn’t want a new release panned.
Well, there are a couple options. Two easy paths to take include:
A. Ignore the book and not review it.
B. Lie and praise the book despite the flaws I perceive.
But I can’t only ever review just the books that I deem amazing. There has to be a balance. And I’m not going to lie, because I want people who read my reviews to trust that I’m being straight up with them about what I thought of the book. That’s kind of the whole point, right?
So my tactic ends up being similar to what I do when I’m critiquing a fellow writer’s story through the Online Writing Workshop, or in the local writing group I attend. I first point out the things that I enjoyed about the story. If you look hard enough, you can find something positive to say, right? Even if you have to look extremely long and hard in some cases. Maybe the writing is clever. Maybe the world is imaginative.
The next step is pointing out the negative aspects as diplomatically as possible. No need to bash the author over the head. No need to do name-calling or finger-pointing. I try to remain as objective as possible and provide solid reasons for why I can’t recommend the read. Is it the characters? The lack of tension or slow pacing? Too many plot holes? If I can point out, even to myself, several examples of the book’s particular shortcomings, it at least reinforces my belief that I’m not just imagining things.
And then I move on to the next one, hoping it will be one I can be enthusiastic about. After all, there’s always another book, and that To-Read pile never gets any smaller.