The Review Debacle

(I have a lot to say, so bear with me)

This has been going on far too long. I think every year there comes a time when the eternal debate of whether authors/aspiring authors should be book reviewers too comes up. This generally sparks off several more posts regarding reviews (blogger reviews, to be specific) and how positive or negative they should or shouldn’t be. And it’s alright to have these discussions. That’s why we are human beings. We have the power to reason and discuss, test and explore new ideas. And every year we have some very interesting discussions on said topics, which leave us with greater understanding of things, even if our fundamental beliefs remain unchanged.

This time, though, something went wrong. Something spiraled beyond discussions and took on an ugliness of its own – where certain authors ganged up on certain reviewers, certain agents conspired with certain authors to rig the review rating system on Goodreads and Amazon, mudslinging and bitch-slamming in public took place – it’s been one hot mess after another.

And it’s been very, very disappointing. This is NOT the book world as I know it. The book world I’ve grown to love and respect is the one where writers and reviewers and readers co-exist in harmony – occasionally going to tea with the Mad Hatter and the March Hare, engaging in Wildean witty banter, tipping their hats to each other when they gather at book clubs or pen clubs (where they brainstorm ideas. This doesn’t officially exist by that name). There are differences of opinions, yes. As long as there will be people there will be opinions and everyone has a different opinion and everyone’s entitled to it. But this is done with a respect for each other, with the thought that – ‘Yes, I understand that’s what you think about me/about this book and while I don’t necessarily agree with you, I appreciate your thoughts’.

Unfortunately, that’s the ideal. Which obviously, also makes it unreal. The ugly truth of it is that somewhere that line between public and private has been crossed and dirty linen is being washed in full view of the rest of the world.

I mean, look at us. I’m assuming (and rightly so) that we are all literature lovers here. And literature preserves the ideals of humanity. It’s supposed to give us a better understanding of life. Supposed to sensitize us to people and their situations. Of all people, we, readers and lovers of literature should know that jumping at each other’s throats is not the way to go about things. And creators of literature? You should know better.

My biggest dream is to be a published author. I want to hold a book in my hands, which has a shiny new cover and my name on its spine. A book that people will want to read and hopefully, some of them will love a little. Yes, that’s what I really hope happens someday.

But you know what? I was a reader first. It’s my love for reading, for books, that made me want to be a writer. I love talking about them, what they made me and didn’t make me feel. What worked and what didn’t work for me. Would I be reading it again or would I be putting it aside? I like the process of reviewing, evaluating a book and then interacting with fellow readers and getting to know their thoughts on said book.

But when someone tells me that by putting forward my honest thoughts about a book I may as well be killing off my future career as an author, that disappoints me. You’re asking me to choose between my love and my dream. I ask you: WHY? Why does it have to be a choice between either? I understand that the writers of the books I don’t fangirl over might become my colleagues when/if I do get published, so it might get awkward, but whether I deal with it by simply deleting all reviews I’ve written or not, is entirely my decision. If I’m not mistaken, whether or not I become published or not depends entirely on my own merit and not because I may not have liked a book by a fellow author and publicly said so. Unless there’s a conspiracy of some sort brewing in the industry.

Which brings me to a post by a certain very well-respected author that saddened me a great deal. The author made some interesting points but it all boiled down to her perception that book bloggers aren’t real reviewers. That, I vehemently disagree with.

Now, guys.
I understand where she’s coming from. She talks about jerk-fests – personal attacks that come under the guise of reviews. That is wrong. That is just very, very wrong. Yes, we live in a free world (at least most of us do) and we are allowed freedom of speech (at least, till now) but that’s NOT to be exploited. Reviews that go: “Oh jeez, I think this author wrote this book simply to annoy me! She should be locked up in an asylum and that goddamned book should be barbecued!” NO. That is NOT how book reviews should go, no matter how much you hate a book. Be snarky, yes, use funny gifs, have a good laugh – heck, yes, that’s fine – but you cross the line at cruelty and meanness. I get that. And I’m totally against it.

But what I don’t get is the distinction she makes between paid reviews and unpaid ones. Between how real the professional reviews (say, ones that appear in The Guardian and the New York Times and other literary publications) and how not real the unprofessional reviews (say, on Goodreads and book blogs) are. I mean, seriously? That’s like saying that books that don’t win awards aren’t real books.
Blogger reviews are NOT all jerk-fests that take potshots at the author’s personal life. NO. They probably comprise only 2% of the blogosphere. So clubbing every blog reviewer under the ‘jerks’ umbrella is biased and wrong.

The author also says:

Let’s talk about the negative “reviews” that authors have been lashing out at. They often involve animated gifs, swearing, and snark. They’re often quite funny. But here’s the thing, though. When a blogger writes a biased, hilarious, snarky rundown of a book they despised, he/ she is not writing a review. They are writing a post about a book. I’m not saying that bloggers shouldn’t write biased, hilarious, snarky rundowns of books. I’m saying that those rundowns are not reviews. Bloggers who regularly write them cannot expect to garner the same respect and treatment from authors that pro reviewers or non-pro reviewers do. They can’t expect authors to read their posts and learn something from them. And they cannot expect authors to not take it personally. They’ve made it personal. 

Um, hello – WHAT?
So because they are informal, these are not reviews? I don’t get it. How I evaluate is book is entirely up to me. And what’s the deal about these being personal? DUDE, art is personal. Everything about art is personal. There can’t ever be anything such as looking at a book ‘objectively’. I mean, how can it? The way you respond to a book is entirely yours. You and I might love a book but on a deeper level, in almost all probability we love it for very different reasons. EVERY REVIEW IS SUBJECTIVE. It is personal, because it it about how I personally feel about the book. Irrespective of whether or not I mention the ‘I’ in my reviews, it’s omnipresent. It would be ridiculous to suggest otherwise.

I realise it’s very hard to let your book – your sweat and blood and tears – out there and watch other people take a swing at it, but that’s what happens when you go public with your work. If you want the fangirls, you have to accept the non-fangirls as well. You are allowed to be secretly angry with them but don’t lash out at them. Don’t demean the bloggers who are putting forth a thought on your book because of their love of reading, irrespective of which way their opinions might swing. I stumbled upon this blogger’s post while writing this. Go read it. It’s more articulate than I can be at this point.

As for the reviewers, you’re allowed to be honest. You’re allowed your opinions. You’re allowed to like or dislike a book (don’t let anyone threaten you otherwise) but be careful not to turn that dislike into a personal attack. Don’t. Do. That.

Guys. Look at us. We’re Literature lovers. All of us. Lets not indulge in such pettiness. It’s unbecoming and savage and puts Literature to shame.

We are all doing something we love. Bring on the respect, guys. And be a sport.

My Invented Life

With Roz and Eva everything becomes a contest—who can snag the best role in the school play, have the cutest boyfriend, pull off the craziest prank. Still, they’re as close as sisters can be. Until Eva deletes Roz from her life like so much junk e-mail for no reason that Roz understands. Now Eva hangs out with the annoyingly petite cheerleaders, and Roz fantasizes about slipping bovine growth hormone into their Gatorade.
Roz has a suspicion about Eva. In turn, Eva taunts Roz with a dare, which leads to an act of total insanity. Drama geeks clamor for attention, Shakespearean insults fly, and Roz steals the show in Lauren Bjorkman’s hilarious debut novel.

 

 Oh didn’t I just adore this novel. It has to be one of the most open-minded novels written. And I’m not saying so because of the issues embraced and talked about. There are a lot of issue based books out there but what the open-mined aspect of it really comes through because of the characters, I loved them. Every one of them. Even the mean girl. Yes, can you believe that? I didn’t start out loving her. I mean, she was a meanie and a bully of sorts but Lauren Bjorkman does such an amazing job with all the characters, they all have rich backstories to them and it worked out oh-so-well for me as a reader.

Roz is a most endearing protagonist – fickle, impulsive, overtly imaginative with an odd tendency to insult in Shakespearean slangs (!) Don’t you just love her already? She is out and ready to pretend to be gay to help her sister come out of the closet – who she believes is really gay after finding a book about lesbian lovers in her possession. It starts as a trifle dare spurred on by impulsiveness that sets off a a random set of events that make up this book. And it’s a hell of a ride.

The thing about My Invented Life, is that the atmosphere of the book is light and pleasant in spite of the difficult things the characters have to face up to. It doesn’t bog you down. Yet keeps you hooked so you can’t stop reading and then makes you wish it didn’t end  so you could keep reading it. As soon as I finished it, I wanted to read it all over again.

The writing is utterly delightful. You know the author’s done a fine job when the writing, the story, the characters are all handled skillfully. And really, Ms. Bjorkman’s characters are indeed ones to be boasted about. Roz, Eva, Jonathan, Bryan, Nico all had distinct personalities and the collison of them all in the school production of As You Like It is insanely amusing. And Andie. Eyeliner Andie has to be one of the most dynamic characters ever created in YA fiction. Oh, how I loved her. She may only be a supporting character but she is a genius in creation. It shows a lot of responsibilty on the author’s part to create someone like her. Because books and what you portray in them send you signals, and they may be wrong ones or right ones. And authors have such great influence over readers it is important to portray things in the right light. And Lauren Bjorkman’s handling of Andie’s sexuality…wow, just wow.

Way back last year, I interviewed Lauren Bjorkman but I didn’t get to read her book till now. And, for me, this is a book to hold on to. My Invented Life is clever, outrageously hilarious, big-hearted and has that funky vibe which just makes it very, very cool. I adored it to bits. And I had a lot of Shakespearean fun doing that 🙂

To give you an idea, have a look at the book trailer:

What’s the most fun book you’ve read recently?

Championing Contemporary YA: Empress Of The World

Championing Contemporary YA is a movement in celebration of June as the Contemporary month over at The Contemps. Between, the 3rd – 10th of June, Dreamcatcher’s Lair will be championing Contemporaries that deserve championing.

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Nicola Lancaster is spending the summer at the Siegel Institute Summer Program for Gifted Youth-a hothouse of smart, articulate, intense teenagers, living like college students for eight weeks. Nic’s had theater friends and orchestra friends, but never just friend friends. And she’s certainly never had a relationship. But on the very first day, she falls in with Katrina the Computer Girl, Isaac the West Coast Nice-Guy-Despite-Himself, Kevin the Inarticulate Composer…and Battle. Battle Hall Davies is a beautiful blonde dancer from North Carolina. She’s everything Nic isn’t. Soon the two are friends-and then, startlingly, more than friends. What do you do when you think you’re attracted to guys, and then you meet a girl who steals your heart?

With a summary that ends with a last line like that, how can you not pick up Empress Of The World? I’ve always been curious about the book that has a seemingly hetrosexual girl suddenly falling for a girl. You don’t get to see many of those, because, sadly, not very many authors like experimenting with the protagonist’s sexuality in mainstream YA. Such books get marginalised into the sub-genre of LGBT fiction, out of the general reading public.
That is just plain unfortunate.
Because books like these are little gems. Yes, the initial chapters felt a bit wobbly to me, with being introduced to many different characters at one go, but Sara Ryan does a fine job of telling the story of a different kind of first love, friendships lost and won at summer program, much like a summer camp, except with academics.

The cast of characters were quirky, and I loved them all because they were so well fleshed out in such a short span of time. I could guess who was saying what without looking at the dialogue tags. The friends-circle of the bohemian, serial-smoker, computer nerd Katrina, the good guy with political aspirations Isaac and the perpetually soporific music-composer-with-sunscreen Kevin, make up a wonderful supporting cast. They reminded me of the circle of friends in Anna And The French Kiss in many ways.

Anthropologist-in-the-making, Nic has a funny, observant eye and she’s the kind of character who makes you wish you were friends with her. Sara Ryan blesses her with a great sense of humour, and oh, I absolutely adored her!
As for the love interest, Battle – well, her characterization is vague. There’s a lot more to her than meets the eye. And I guess, a lot more about her is revealed in next book, Rules of The Heart, which is being called ‘a book about Battle’. I just wish she wasn’t so much of a mystery throughout the book. I’d liked to have known her more.
And the romance between the two? It played out like a real teen relationship. From friendship, to more to complications and much more, the depiction was perfect.For me, the exploration of the relation between the two more than made up for Battle’s vagueness of character.

Nevertheless, Sara Ryan must be commended for the ending she drew out. It was the best kind of ending Nic and Battle could have had. She kept to the realism of it with a sweetness and nostalgia that was quite fitting.

Set against the unique background of a Summer Program for teens at a college, Sara Ryan’s Empress Of The World is an intelligently written summer romance that redefines labels (Nic has a tendency to label everyting, even herself) with  its light-heartedness and humour, and should be worth a read 🙂

What’s the best book with LGBT characters that you’ve read? Any that you would suggest I read?

LIFTED by Wendy Toliver

Being bad never felt so good. Poppy Browne never stole anything in her life before moving to Pleasant Acres and meeting Mary Jane and Whitney. But when Poppy walks out of the mall with her two new friends and her first pair of stolen jeans, she’s hooked.
Before long, Poppy is lifting whenever she gets the urge–it’s never about the merchandise, it’s always about the thrill. But when her secret gets out, Poppy’s clique turns on each other. As she watches her life collapse around her, Poppy must decide where her loyalties lie…and how far she’ll go to protect herself.
 
When I interviewed Wendy Toliver, this is what she said about writing Lifted:
I really wanted to challenge myself. I felt like I had a very powerful story within me and wanted to try my hand at writing it. It wasn’t easy, and you wouldn’t believe how many drafts I wrote to get it to the final stage. But it was worth it for me, and although it is a very different type of book from my first two, which are romantic comedies, I hope my readers come along for the ride.
 
And she rose up to that.
 
Shoplifting is a seldom explored subject in YA fiction, which is why I was extremely curious about Lifted. And once I picked up Lifted, it was hard to put it down.  It was addictive, like Poppy’s shoplifting habit and I breezed through this book. I say ‘breezed through’ because inspite of tackling  an criminal addiction, the book doesn’t bear your down. Both light and dark elements thread in and out and make Lifted a very enjoyable read.
 
Three particular things that worked for Lifted:
–Poppy ~ Smart, flawed and easily likable. Girl with the good grades and the nose-stud and a sense of humour which asserts itself especially in moments of crisis. The girl in the middle of it all.
— The Shoplifting Sequences ~ Oh, man. I loved these. They were my favourite parts from the book. And my only regret is there wasn’t more of them. Toliver does a great job of portraying the way an addiction catches up to you. It’s never for the the goods, always for the rush. And with lifting, Poppy goes through the sequence of emotions every addict experiences – first, excitement, then depression.
— David ~ The quirky, smart, preacher’s son who made the non-shoplifting parts exceptionally delicious.
 
Wendy Toliver scores with other things too. Like:
–Mary Jane and Whitney ~ The popular girls, who step out of the popular girl cliches gradually as the book progresses.
— Poppy’s mother ~ Perhaps, overbearing in some respects, but a very real parent. Which was refreshing after continuously reading about absent parents.
— Calvary High ~ The Baptist School setting? Pretty original. And the background score of ‘Amazing Grace’ which seems to play out over the school speakers every time Poppy faces a moment of crisis? Win. 
— The way it ended.
 
A very cool protagonist.
Some well-drawn out characters.
A fast paced plot.
An unique premise.
I thoroughly enjoyed Lifted.
 

Have you read Lifted? Or any other book that deals with shoplifting?