Monday, August 2, 2021

Reviewing the Practice of Reviewing Books

Today's review is not a book review but rather a review of the practice and art of reviewing books in general. I will focus not on professional reviewers but bloggers such as myself and the myriad readers (including me) who offer reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, and BookBub.

Shopping venue in the "good ol' days"

In certain instances, a book review requires a star rating; a short synopsis of the book; and a narrative of likes and dislikes. The point of this review is to give potential readers information upon which to base their decision to read or not to read a particular book.

The star rating may be influenced by any number of factors and categories, including
1. book cover attraction
2. genre faithfulness
3. character development
4. plot progression, and
5. editing level

First, some hypothetical questions about this list:

A. How often have you heard that a cover design can make or break a sale? But also that you can't judge a book by its cover?

B. Should a genre book stick to just one category: Mystery. Romance. Sci-fi? Or is a mixed genre story more appealing?

C. Can characters make or break a story if the novel is character driven? Must they all be likable protagonists and despicable villains? If the story is plot driven, must the action be non-stop?

D. Editing level - this, now, is the impetus for my post: a novel I read yesterday. What if a book doesn't conform to standard punctuation rules - of which there are many? Should the book then be avoided? After all, life is short. The world is filled with an abundance of classics and best sellers and award-winning tomes.

Austen, Lee, Orwell, Brontë, Hemingway, Melville, Lewis, London, Woolf, Shelley, Marquez, Stowe,
Tolkien, Twain, Dickens, Steinbeck, Dostoyevsky, Stoker, Hugo, Dumas, Stevenson, Doyle, Fitzgerald, Poe . . .
Why waste time on a rule-breaking story that doesn't conform to an acceptable level of editing? I am a bit of a stickler when it comes to proofreading, but for me, the answer is easy.


Because, if the story/plot line appeals to me, I will read the book for its entertainment value, regardless of missing punctuation such as end quotes or the Oxford comma (don't get me started); skipped words; and unique sentence structure or dialogue format. And my review will reflect the high points of the book that held my interest. 

Because there are many diamonds-in-the-rough with interesting story value that receive discouraging reviews for reasons unrelated to story content when, to me, the story is what reading is all about. (Besides, can you even hear that Oxford comma on an audio book?)

Some believe it is important to let other readers know what foibles or foul-ness they may encounter in a book so they don't enter into a reading experience unequipped for the situation. 

But isn't reading meant as an adventure best experienced "through one's own eyes"?

What is your criteria for choosing a book to read, and whether to submit a review?

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Developing Traits For a Novel Character

After years of gradually-increasing issues with my right hip, and a slow progression from osteopenia to osteoporosis, I had a total hip replacement in 2018. My years-long experience (often referred to as "aging"😉) was the catalyst for the through-line of my genealogical novel, SHARDS OF MEMORY - Oral History In A Heartbeat.

Even flowers have personality traits

In my case, adjustments prior to surgery included a lessened pace in activities and a shift in diet. This may have slowed the pace of loss, but whether as much or more than medication would have I don't know. The ultimate result was surgery.

The novel's character, a young child injured in a car accident, experiences prolonged hardships due to a damaged leg. Noticeable 
public traits of the child include a sensitive nature, shyness, reticence, and quiet demeanor. 

The through-line of the story illustrates an emotional growth as the child adjusts to adverse circumstances. Assisting with this growth are the four grandparents who entertain the child with ongoing tales of ancestors' lives in their homelands and their immigration to America.

My situation was temporary, and dissimilar in cause to that of the novel's character - ageing verses accident. The condition did, however, give me insight into the emotional impact of a long-term physical disability. 

The standard advice for authors working on novels is to "write what you know." In this case, I wrote about what I knew and then embellished accordingly.

Excerpt from SHARDS OF MEMORY: 

Art’s thoughts of late drifted to stories about ancestral lands he heard as a kid. According to his mother, tales about the old country provided a bridge of acceptance for new generations. But Art’s interest in past events paled in light of concern for his grandchildren’s future. This proved especially true of Gahlen who suffered physical and emotional scars of present day.

The accident had occurred several months after the child’s third birthday. Acute pain in the mangled right leg faded over time, to everyone’s relief. And Gahlen’s sunny disposition encouraged others to accept the tragedy as the will of a higher power.


What personal experience have you used to flesh out a character in your writing?