Tag Archives: review

Five Reasons to Review the Books You Read

Book reviews are a touchy subject at the moment. Between authors buying good ones and faking bad ones, a lot of people have recoiled from the idea of trusting reviews at all. But I believe book reviews online serve a valuable purpose. (That of informing readers.) And the best way to make sure the reviews on places like Goodreads and Amazon are accurate is to jump on the reviewing bandwagon.

Reviewing books takes time. And effort. And it often feels like no one cares. But whether you choose to review books on Goodreads, Amazon, your personal blog, or a different forum, there are at least five reasons to do it.

1. Trust me, I’m a reviewer.

As I mentioned above, there are a lot of disillusioned people out there right now. People are wondering whether they can trust online reviews, whether they should bother reading them, and whether there are better ways to make decisions about what to read.

Well, the answer is: Yes. 

  • Yes, you can trust online reviews…. if they’re written by someone you know and/or trust.
  • Yes, you should read them…. but take them with a grain of salt unless they’re written by someone you know and/or trust.
  • Yes, there are better ways to make decisions about what to read… like going by the recommendations of friends you know and/or trust.

We all know that we’re more likely to read a book recommended by a friend than we are to read a book displayed on the side of a bus.  And the great thing about social media is that we can connect with people (and friends) all over the world, in an instant. So instead of bemoaning the state of online book reviews, step up and be a trusted reviewer for your friends and contacts.

2. No, really. You have to read this. Right now.

There’s a beautiful feeling you get when you finish a particularly good book. There’s a moment where you sit, transfixed, your mind still deep in the story world as you close the cover. You’re part of the world. You know the characters like they’re your best friends. Or, in some cases, like they’re secretly you — just a different, more zombie-killing you. There’s a moment of disconnection from reality. A moment when you don’t want to let go of that imaginary reality. A moment when you clutch the book to your chest, as though you can write the story into your heart. 

And when that moment passes, there’s only one thing you want to do next. You want to reminisce.

“And what about the part where…?” “Can you believe he decided to…?” “How awesome was it when…?”

If none of your friends have read the book, you find them and you say, “You have to read this book. Right now.” Partly because you want to share the wonder of the story, and partly so you’ll finally have someone to reminisce with.

Well, that’s what a book review is. When you find someone and tell them what you loved about a book and why they should read it, you’re giving them a review of the book. So, why not write it down? Then you can tell everyone you know (and some you don’t) about a book you’ve loved without having to repeat yourself.

3. Stars belong in the Sky.

It’s not enough to just give a book a star rating. A review is so much more than just an arbitrary number between 1 and 5. A review helps your friends, and other readers, decide whether they’d enjoy reading the book themselves.

Not everyone has the same taste. Simple, but true. It’s easy to forget when we’re so enthused about the greatness of a book, but not everyone is going to enjoy it. In the same way that not everyone is going to hate the book you couldn’t manage to finish. For example:

  • Fifty Shades of Grey has 239,000 ratings on Goodreads.
  • 86,000 of those ratings have 5-stars.
  • 26,000 of those ratings have 1-star.

But none of those ratings tell me whether I would like the book or not. I could look at those numbers and decide that it’s more likely I’ll love the book than hate it. But what if I’m not like the 86,000 people? What if I’m more like the 26,000 people? How can I possibly make a subjective decision based solely on numbers?

But when I go and read some of the reviews, I find the following trends.

The majority of 5-star reviews include:

  • Christian is sooo hot. And dominant.
  • Anastasia is sooo innocent but doesn’t always back down.
  • “I don’t normally read erotica, but this is the best erotica I’ve ever read.”
  • “I was worried about the BDSM parts, but they weren’t very intense. It was just like reading about hot sex.”

The majority of 1-star reviews include:

  • There’s no real plot.
  • The characters are essentially the same as Edward & Bella with different names.
  • The writing isn’t very good.
  • The BDSM isn’t realistic.

And suddenly I have enough information to make an informed, subjective choice. So don’t just leave a star-rating. Leave real reviews, and your friends and contacts will be able to use them to make reading decisions.

4. It was awesome because it was awesome.

“You really should read this book. It’s awesome.”
“Yeah? What’s it about?”
“It’s about this guy and he does this stuff and… it’s just awesome. You should read it.”
“Is it a bit like that other book we liked?”
“No, no… Well, a bit. Yeah. But completely different. But it’s just awesome the way that he… He’s so amazing, and… You should read it. Because it’s awesome.”

Does anyone else have these conversations with people? Or is it just me?

I love it when I’m reading a book that’s so good, I barely notice the words on the page. I don’t remember what it said on page 68 or how the hero was described. I remember the way I felt when the hero triumphed at the end. When I’m reading one of those books, it’s easy to get so lost in the story, all I have at the end is a feeling that everyone should read this book. But when it comes to reviews, that’s not particularly helpful.

When I’m reading a book with the knowledge that I’m going to review it afterwords, I tend to read differently. Not with any less engagement, but with an eye for what makes the story work, as well as how it makes me feel. And, perhaps surprisingly, I find it makes reading even more enjoyable than normal. 

5. I just called to say I love you.

Reviews may or may not sell books, but they certainly spread the word and create the best kind of advertising possible: word of mouth. Looking at your book’s page on Goodreads, Amazon, wherever and seeing no reviews must be disappointing. And that’s why it must be so tempting for an author to buy or fake positive reviews. That doesn’t mean the practice is right, just that it’s understandable.

But do you know what would make it less tempting? If real people who really read the book wrote real reviews saying what they really thought. Show an author you love them: write a review of their book.

Do you review books somewhere online? Are you going to do so in the future? Do you read reviews written by your friends and trusted contacts?

29 Comments

Filed under Writing

Word, Words, Wordy, Wordary: A Review

I have a confession to make: I’m not a big computer game player. (Gamer? Whatever.) There are one or two games I play occasionally on my PC, a couple of exercise-based games I play on the Wii, and I once spent a few weeks addicted to playing Fable on the original X-Box. But for the most part, I would prefer to read a book, go for a walk, or play a board game/roleplaying game than sit and play a computer game.

But there are exceptions to this, and I recently came across one. Now, I’m not a game reviewer and I’m not going to pretend to be, but I do want to tell you about this game. There are two reasons for that: (1) I really like it, and I think you might too, and (2) I’d really like to give you a copy. For free. (No, really.)

Much as its name suggests, Wordary is a word game. Or, as it’s being marketed, “A word game with a spin!”. At its most basic level, it’s a word-creation game along the lines of Bookworm.:You’re given a grid of letters and you create words by linking together adjacent letters. The longer the word, the more points you get. And, of course, different letters have different point values, so QUIZ will get you a lot more points than NOTHING.

The difference is in the board itself. Rather than a rectangular grid of letters, Wordary uses a ‘flower’ design of seven hexagons, linked… wait, how about I just show you a picture?

The cool thing is, not only are the hexagons interlinked, each individual hexagon can also be rotated to realign the letters.

After playing Wordary, I’m not sure whether this feature is an amazing new concept in word games, oran addictive gimmick that  results in me playing the game for far, far too long in one sitting. You choose.

There are four play modes to the game: The standard game, a time challenge (you set a timer before you start), Follow My Lead (you’re given a letter/s you have to use to start each word you find), and Word Finder (you have to manipulate the hexagons and find the hidden word). My favourite is Time Challenge — largely because it lets me track how much time I’ve been playing!

Anyway, here’s a nifty video about the game. It only runs for a minute and a half and pretty much shows you everything you need to know to play Wordary.

Now, I just know you’re sitting there wondering how you get your hands on a copy of Wordary. So, here’s the deal:

Option1: Visit the official Wordary website where you can click through to by the PC, Mac or iPad version. (The full price is roughly $10, but it looks like there’s a few promos going on at the moment.)

Option 2: Go here, here, or here to download a free demo of Wordary — you get one hour’s gameplay before being asked to upgrade to the full version.

Option 3: I am very excited to announce that I have FIVE free copies of Wordary for the Mac to give away! Interested? Just leave me a comment that includes (1) your favourite word, and (2) that you’d like a copy. I’ll close off entries when my next post goes live (Monday 3:00pm AEST) and randomly choose the winners. Tell your friends!

I leave you with this final warning — Wordary is highly addictive and a LOT of fun. Play at your own risk.

Disclosure: I haven’t been paid for this review. Although I was offered a free copy of the game, I wasn’t able to take advantage of the offer because I don’t have access to a Mac. All opinions expressed within are my own and are shared out of the goodness of my heart  because it’s an interesting and engaging game. The giveaway copies have been provided by Wordary at my request.

8 Comments

Filed under The Inner Geek

Books I’ve Read in 2012: Part 1

This year I set myself a goal to read a minimum of 50 books and to share them here on my blog. To that end, I will be writing a quick wrap-up/review every time I finish five. I love sharing the books I’ve enjoyed with other people, and would love to hear from you if you’ve read any of these, or if you decide to do so based on my recommendation. (Actually, I’d love to hear from you anyway. I’m addicted to comments.)

Wintersmith — Terry Pratchett

Description

Tiffany Aching put one foot wrong, and now the spirit of winter is in love with her. He says it with frozen flowers, which is sweet. But he also says it with snowflakes, icebergs, and avalanches. If Tiffany can’t find a way to deal with the Wintersmith, there will never be another spring. Fortunately she’s got Granny Weatherwax and the Nac Mac Feegle to help her. Crivens!

Review

There was no doubt in my mind that I would enjoy this book. I love almost anything Discworld, and Granny is my second favourite character (after Vimes). The story was simple but elegant (in the tradition of all the Nac Mac Feegle tales), and the book definitely didn’t disappoint. If you’ve not read any other Discworld novels, this is not the one I’d suggest you start with (there’s a lot of references to previous books, and very few really “new” characters), but it was a fun, fabulous read.

As a side-note, I didn’t technically “read” this book at all — I listened to it on audiobook during my drive to and from my parent’s house at Christmas time. This is the first time I’ve listened to an audiobook and I have to say: I was impressed. I laughed out loud, got teary at the right places, and enjoyed the experience of hearing the characters “speak”. But what I find most interesting is that, when I think back, I don’t remember it as an audiobook at all. I just remember it as a book. I have no more recollection of the narrator’s voice than I would normally have of the font size or type. I just remember the story.

I will definitely be listening to more books in the future.

 

Brave New World — Aldous Huxley

Description

This classic novel is a darkly satiric vision of a utopian future. All negative emotions have been removed from the human experience. There is no anger, grief, jealousy, or unrequited love. Everyone is happy. Perfectly happy. All the time. They’re engineered that way through genetics, pharmaceuticals, and childhood training. The loss of family, romance, and art is but a small price to pay for the eternal contentment of mankind.

Review

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I’d never before read Brave New World. In some ways, I really regret not having read it a long time ago. In others, I’m glad I didn’t.

The world in this novel is, quite frankly, terrifying. Between the enforced sexualisation of children and the training rooms where babies are taught to hate books and nature through the use of electric shocks, there is very little pleasant about the means they use to reach their contented end. This is a world where the word “mother” is pure smut, love is unheard of, and a pro-consumerist mentality is programmed in utero, and that’s disturbing enough. But the thing that I found most terrifying is the logic behind this “perfect” society. Logic that makes inexorable sense.

It’s simple, really: If no one wants for anything they can’t have, no one will be unhappy. If all your hopes and desires are fulfilled the moment you have them, there’s no cause for angst or frustration or anger. So the solution is simple. Step 1: Make sure people only want the things that you want them to want. Step 2: Provide those things on demand.

But the truly terrifying part of this novel is not just that it makes so much sense, but that I can see parallels between this mentality and the real world.

I can’t honestly say that I enjoyed this book. At least, not in the sense that I usually use the word “enjoy”. It was powerful. It was monumental. It was amazing. But it wasn’t something to be savoured or enjoyed. That being said, I do recommend you read it. Just don’t expect to walk away from it feeling happy.

The God Engines — John Scalzi

Description

Captain Ean Tephe is a man of faith, whose allegiance to his lord and to his ship is uncontested. The Bishopry Militant knows this — and so, when it needs a ship and crew to undertake a secret, sacred mission to a hidden land, Tephe is the captain to whom the task is given. Tephe knows from that the start that his mission will be a test of his skill as a leader of men and as a devout follower of his god. It s what he doesn t know that matters: to what ends his faith and his ship will ultimately be put — and that the tests he will face will come not only from his god and the Bishopry Militant, but from another, more malevolent source entirely.

Review

John Scalzi is best known for writing science fiction, but this novella is tagged as fantasy (despite its futuristic setting). It’s only a short book (136 pages), but it definitely packs a hefty punch. Right from the first sentence, this book grabbed hold of me and wouldn’t let go. In fact, it has one of my all-time favourite opening lines:

It was time to whip the god.

In this world, the people all worship and serve Our Lord, the strongest and only “true” god in the Universe. Many centuries ago, Our Lord bested all other gods and chained them to His service. These bested gods now serve as engines in the fleet of space ships that patrol the galaxy and keep order. For the most part, the gods do as instructed. But if they don’t… well, Our Lord’s justice is absolute.

The characters in this story are so real, they could have stepped out of the pages and had a party in my kitchen and I wouldn’t have been at all surprised. The story is intricately woven and well told. The writing is superb –I’d read another of Scalzi’s books without a second thought.

But.

My only criticism is that I felt the story was wrapped up too quickly. I loved the character of Captain Tephe, the world-building was phenomenal, and the story held me enthralled. And then it was over. I turned the last page and had to sit and catch my breath, sure that a few dozen pages must have fallen out of the book somewhere. Don’t get me wrong — it doesn’t feel incomplete. It doesn’t even feel particularly rushed. It just ends too soon for my liking.

I’d recommend this book to those people who aren’t afraid of a heavy premise and story (despite the light page count) and to those who like fantasy elements in their science fiction.

The Big Over Easy — Jasper Fforde

Description

It’s Easter in Reading — a bad time for eggs — and no one can remember the last sunny day. Humpty Dumpty, well-known nursery favourite, large egg, ex-convict and former millionaire philanthropist is found shattered beneath a wall in a shabby area of town. Following the pathologist’s careful reconstruction of Humpty’s shell, Detective Inspector Jack Spratt and his Sergeant Mary Mary are soon grappling with a sinister plot involving cross-border money laundering, the illegal Bearnaise sauce market, corporate politics and the cut and thrust world of international Chiropody. As Jack and Mary stumble around the streets of Reading in Jack’s Lime Green Austin Allegro, the clues pile up, but Jack has his own problems to deal with. And on top of everything else, the Jellyman is coming to town.

Review

After reading a couple of really heavy stories, I felt the need for something light. Something fun. Something that I could sink my teeth into, only to find it was full of chocolate. And that’s why I picked up this book, at this time.

Many, many years ago I picked up Jasper Fforde’s ‘The Eyre Affair’ at a small bookshop when I was desperate for something to read. I went on to devour the rest of the Thursday Next series, and fell in love with Fforde’s voice and style. He’s the type of storyteller who can spin a ludicrous tale with a straight face, and have even the most sceptical listenere wondering if perhaps, just perhaps, there’s a measure of truth to his story.

Humpty Dumpty is an egg. A four-foot tall egg. He’s found dead, having apparently fallen off his wall in the middle of the night. Or was he pushed?During the course of the investigation, DI Jack Spratt and DS Mary Mary encounter three little pigs, the gingerbread man, magic beans, three bags of wool, Georgio Porgia, and a host of other familiar characters.

The whole story is full of little in-jokes and cute coincidences, but the key word in “nursery crime” is definitely “crime”. Fforde tells the story straight — it’s a police procedural with nursery rhyme characters. There’s a CSI team, a medical examiner, forensic evidence, clues and red herrings, unexpected confessions, jealousy, subterfuge, lies, and enough straight-faced satire for any three books.

Fforde’s writing is hilarious — effortlessly so, it would seem — but this is so much more than just a comedy. It’s one of the best mystery stories I’ve read in quite a while.

Working Stiff — Rachel Caine

Description

Bryn Davis knows working at Fairview Mortuary isn’t the most glamorous career choice, but at least it offers stable employment — until she discovers her bosses using a drug that resurrects the clientele… as part of an extortion racket. Now Bryn faces being terminated (literally) with extreme prejudice. With the assistance of corporate double agent Patrick McCallister, Bryn has a chance to take down the bigger problem — pharmaceutical company Pharmadene, which treats death as the ultimate corporate loyalty program. She’d better do it fast before she becomes a zombie slave — a real working stiff. Some days, you’re better off dead.

Review

Let me start this review by saying: READ THIS BOOK!

Seriously.

I saw Working Stiff reviewed a while ago on All Thing Urban Fantasy, where it was rated 5/5. The description of the book didn’t really appeal to me — zombies? really? — but the reviewer (Julia) was so enthusiastic that I added it to my TBR list anyway.  And, let me tell you, I’m so glad I did.

Bryn is just your average, ordinary working girl. Well, assuming that by “average” you mean someone who grew up in a small town, joined the army to help her pay off her student loans, spent 4 years as a soldier in Iraq, and discovered that she had a quiet respect for the dead; the kind of respect that had her deciding to train as a funeral director when she left the military.

I liked Bryn right from page one. She hooked with her no-nonsense attitude, her strength, and her compassion. And then she got turned into a zombie, and somehow that made her even more relatable. (Not a slobbering, brain-eating, apocalypse-causing zombie. Oh no, something much better. A zombie created by… (wait for it!) Science! )

Yes, inside the beckoning pages of this book, you’ll find such wonders. Zombies! Nanobots! Spies! Gunfights! Double-crosses! Triple-crosses! Ticking clocks! Secret conspiracies! Evil corporations! Mad scientists! Thrills! Spills! Automobiles! And in between the mystery, the action, the corporate espionage, and the themes of life vs death, there’s even a hefty dose of romance.

Seriously, what more could you want from a book?

23 Comments

Filed under Reading

Book Review: The Hunger Games

In a dark vision of the near future, a terrifying reality TV show is taking place. Twelve boys and twelve girls are forced to appear in a live event called the Hunger Games. There is only one rule: kill or be killed.

When sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen steps forward to take her sister’s place in the games, she sees it as a death sentence. But Katniss has been close to death before. For her, survival is second nature.

My relationship with The Hunger Games began long before I read the book. I first heard it about it online. Everyone was talking about it. (So it seemed.) According to the interwebs it was great, amazing, awe-inspiring, fantastic, inspirational, suspenseful, thrilling and phenomenal.

Not to oversell it or anything.

Initially I brushed this off with the same ‘meh’ attitude that I brush off all apparently superfluous hype. If there’s one sure way to convince me not to read/watch something, it’s to tell me it’s the greatest thing since the cat’s pyjamas.

(And that’s why I haven’t seen Avatar, The Dark Knight or Titanic.)

But the hype didn’t go away. It just kept getting bigger. And then I read an interview with Suzanne Collins where she explained the basic premise for the novel and her inspiration (quote taken from the back of the book, because I can’t remember where I read the interview):

I was channel surfing between reality TV programming and actual war coverage when Katniss’s story came to me. One night I’m sitting there flipping around and on one channel there’s a group of young people competing for, I don’t know, money maybe? And on the next there’s a group of young people fighting an actual war. And I was tired, and the lines began to blur in this very unsettling way, and I thought of this story.

Wow. I thought. The idea reminds me of Series 7: The Contenders, only with teenagers. I love that movie. Maybe I should look at reading this book.

Then I put the thought out of my mind and moved on. Until my birthday.

A friend of mine took me to a bookshop and told me that he’d buy me 2 books for my birthday. Well, what a choice! I’m fairly certain he immediately regretted it. It took me almost an hour to make my choice. (In my defence: I’m a struggling artist with 2 kids and a hard-working sole-income-earning husband. Buying books is a luxury these days.)

After trawling through the “paranormal” section looking for apparently rare urban fantasy picks, I suddenly remembered The Hunger Games. I made my way to the YA section and there it was, sitting brazenly on the shelf, tempting me with its shiny cover and shelf-talker proclaiming it to be a “great read”. To top it off, the whole trilogy was marked as “Buy 2, Get 1 Free!” I could have all 3 books as my birthday present!

But…

What if I didn’t like it? What if the hype didn’t live up to my expectations? No. Much safer to buy the first book (The Hunger Games) and see if I liked it before fully committing myself.

I brought home The Hunger Games  and sat it next to my bed. Then I read the other new book. And then a couple of library books. Then some magazines. And The Hunger Games still sat there, unread. For a whole month.

See, as long as I didn’t open the cover, the book could be anything. It could be good. It could be terrible. There was no way to tell. But the moment I started reading… well, the anticipation and mystery would be gone forever.

Note: I also love unopened presents. Wrapping paper can conceal anything. That envelope could be a tacky $2 card from Grandma OR it could be a fresh $100 note. Or a gift card. Or tickets to a concert. Or  details of a weekend away. But the moment you tear the paper off, the mystery is gone. Reality rarely lives up to my imagination.

Note the Second: An unread book is a bit like Schrodinger’s Cat.

But one night it happened. I was tired. It was late. I was weak. I picked up the book. I’ll just read a few pages, I said to myself. Just to see if I like it.

I started reading. I was hooked within 3 paragraphs. The next thing I knew, I was up to page 120 and didn’t want to put the book down. Ever. I loved Katniss. I was Katniss. I couldn’t stop reading — what if something happened to her? What if I missed something? It was too exciting, too horrifying, too real. I loved it.

The fact that I had to wake up in 3 hours was the deciding factor. But I still read for another 2 pages until Katniss went to sleep. Then I closed the book quickly so I knew she was safe. Nothing could happen while she was sleeping, right?

I rearranged my schedule the next day specifically to allow myself reading time.

I finished The Hunger Games that night while hiding in the bedroom, pretending to be doing the laundry. It took less than 24 hours to read a 450 page book, in between sleeping and looking after 2 children. I laughed out loud in places, winced at Katniss’s naivety, cheered her heroism, cried inconsolably (twice), and when I finished the last page I clasped the book to my heart and announced, “This is possibly the best book I’ve ever read.”

Then I cursed myself for not buying books 2 and 3.

Now that I’ve read it, I can say with absolute certainty: The Hunger Games is great, amazing, awe-inspiring, fantastic, inspirational, suspenseful, thrilling and phenomenal.

Not to oversell it or anything.

23 Comments

Filed under Reading