Elsie by Jessica Marie Holt

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

Elsie: Homecoming Series Book One by Jessica Marie Holt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

“I will wait,” he said… “But only if you do something for me.”
“Anything, George, name it.”
“Forgive me. And go on.

Elsie finally settled into contentment after becoming a widow. But now that her sons have convinced her to make a life change she never wanted, she comes to a pivotal crossroads in Elsie by author Jessica Marie Holt.

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of short stories. I don’t place all the same expectations on them that I place on novels, as I prefer to appreciate short fiction for what it is, rather than what it’s not. Oftentimes, short reads give me a nice snack in between longer works.

However, when a story has a greater impact on me in twenty minutes of reading than many novels have on me in five to ten hours, it reminds me how amazing short fiction can be. A story like Elsie’s could easily be a quick shot of syrupy, dreary, shallow, or simplistic fare, something I’d fly through without taking too seriously. But this story is none of those things.

It’s beautifully written. Down-to-earth, yet intensely felt. Contemplative, poignant, and unafraid to do something outside of the predictable. Hey, it even gets disturbing. I sighed, smiled, or gasped here and there, cried “No!” out loud at least once, and found myself tearing up a good two and a half times besides.

Yeah. All that. In twenty minutes.

And without the unresolved, jarring halt of a cliffhanger, this story’s touching conclusion indicates that there’s more to come. I’m very much looking forward to reading the next story in the Homecoming series.

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The Homecoming Series

  

 

The Kindness of Critical Book Reviews (Part Two)

I’m jumping right in to continue my thoughts on this subject, so be sure to read Part One first.

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Sure, critical reviews posted in the open can sting an author’s emotions sometimes. I know from experience! But that comes with the territory of this kind of work. Once an author releases their writing into the public, it’s subject to public opinion. That’s part of what it means to publish.

Just because a writer writes doesn’t mean the writer has to become a published author. Writers can keep their writing to themselves if they wish, or only share their writing with people in their personal circles. Taking the added step of releasing one’s writing to the masses is a conscious decision. A choice. If an author can’t handle what comes along with that choice, both public praise and public criticism, then publishing is the wrong business for that author.

Now, I understand and appreciate the courtesy that some readers extend to contact authors privately with critiques of their books. That can be helpful especially to independent authors if there’s an immediate issue an author can fix on their own, like if a reader finds a typo or two the author’s editor missed. (If the author’s book is from a traditional publisher, though, there may or may not be anything the author can do about the typos. The publisher’s website may let you know how to report errors you find in their books.)

Of course, contacting an author privately is indeed a courtesy on a reader’s part, not at all an obligation. Also, readers who wish to directly contact authors with critiques should be advised that different authors react differently to such a gesture. Some authors will be grateful and take note of the critiques. Other authors will answer with something like, “Thanks, but I didn’t ask you to come tell me how to write. If you’re such an expert and you want perfect books, write your own.”

Not saying it’s cool when that happens, but it does happen.

Nevertheless, even if you do privately contact authors with constructive criticism at times, that’s not a substitute for balanced reviews. Again, your book reviews are for other readers, and those reviews will paint a skewed picture if you have points of criticism in mind but you never mention them.

Besides, the rise of independent publishing in recent years has brought about significant changes to the book industry. In some respects, that’s awesome. Traditional publishers only have so much time, interest, staff, and finance to publish what they can. And they’ll often leave only so much room to take certain risks, particularly when it comes to debut or unknown authors. Because even quality manuscripts get regular rejections in the publishing world, independent publishing provides an avenue to get a wider selection of quality books into readers’ hands.

However, the opening of this avenue also comes with drawbacks. For a long time, traditional publishers have widely been the judges of quality and the gatekeepers controlling the access between authors and readers. Now that more independent authors no longer need those gatekeepers to grant them entry into publishing, there’s no one stopping authors who publish poor or clearly unprofessional work.

With so many more books streaming into the market, honest book reviews have become all the more important. Yes, potential readers should get an idea of other readers’ subjective likes and dislikes. But in addition to that, book reviews (especially at retail sites) can inform others about the quality of the publishers.

No book on earth is perfect, no matter how it was published, and no book is going to suit every reader out there. Still, no method of publishing should be a free-for-all for shoddy work. Many authors, traditionally and independently published alike, are putting out high-quality books, and honest reviews play a part in helping to maintain high standards for publishing across the board.

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“Okay… But, still, though. I was always taught that if I don’t have something nice to say, I should say nothing…and now I feel weird about this.”

Hey, now. Even with all this information about reviews, if you’re struggling, and if writing a critical review for a book will make you feel like a truly horrible human being, don’t do it. I wouldn’t encourage someone to violate their conscience. Maybe one day you’ll feel differently about book reviews. ❤

Nonetheless, praise and criticism play crucial roles in the world of arts and entertainment. For literature to thrive, for authors and reviewers to maintain credibility, and for the integrity of reviewing as a whole, there has to be a free flow of open honesty.

If too many reviewers shy away from ever voicing criticism about books because the reviewers are just trying to “be nice,” it ultimately does a disservice to fellow readers as well as to authors. You can be tactful and gracious while being sincere. If you’re a reviewer who genuinely cares about authors and fellow readers, then respect them enough to be honest with them.

 

The Kindness of Critical Book Reviews (Part One)

“If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” I appreciate the spirit of this well-known adage, which encourages kindness, appropriateness, and respect for others’ feelings.

Yet, human beings are human, and even good intentions sometimes miss or misapply a principle.

Let’s say you go to a symphony hall to hear an oratorio from a group on tour. The choir’s pitch is too sharp, and they fall out of sync with the orchestra several times during the performance. Your friend, who couldn’t attend this evening of the tour, plans to buy tickets for tomorrow night. But you don’t mention the choir’s issues to your friend. You think, “If I say something, word about the choir’s poor singing might get around to everyone, and I don’t want to hurt the choir members’ feelings. After all, performing in an oratorio is no easy task.”

Hmm…

Yes, I’m a believer in the “If you don’t have something nice to say” adage, but well-intentioned people can misapply it sometimes.

And the adage is sometimes misapplied to the practice of book reviewing.

Reviews of books at retail sites are meant to help other readers/customers make informed purchasing decisions. It’s word-of-mouth happening online. (And, yes, reviews can inform a potential reader without giving away plot spoilers!) Book reviews on sites like Goodreads and book blogs are also word-of-mouth, meant to give people an idea of what books they might want to check out. Many times, those reviews also spark social interaction and book discussions, as they should.

But how balanced and meaningful would those discussions be if readers only mentioned what they liked about the books they’ve read, never what they disliked? How can customers make informed decisions about the books they buy if the retail reviews never mention a book’s errors or weaknesses? If no reviewers ever speak up to say that a book wasn’t for them, how honest is that?

Some readers feel uncomfortable about posting reviews for books they didn’t like. “I don’t want to hurt the author by saying something negative, so maybe I’ll write a nice review and leave out the bad stuff…or I won’t review the book at all. Besides, it’s just my opinion. Other people might love the book.”

Well, now. Art, literature, and their related reviews are subjective. Even when you think a book is wonderful and you give it a good review, that’s also just your opinion. The fact that you love a book doesn’t mean or guarantee that other people will love it, too. But even though others might not enjoy the book you praised, it didn’t stop you from sharing your opinion about that book anyway, right?

I understand having the desire not to hurt authors. However, your book reviews are first and foremost for other readers, to let them know what effect(s) a book had on you. Any benefits to the authors are secondary, and many authors actually prefer to steer clear of reading reviews of their books. Some authors write as they wish and aren’t incredibly concerned about readers’ opinions either way, and other authors are good with the critiques their books receive during the writing and revising process, so they’ve already gotten all the feedback they’re looking for.

Besides, not all book reviews (which are primarily for other readers) have to be flattering to authors. But they’re all supposed to be honest, whether the reviewers liked the books or not.

Did you know there are readers who won’t purchase a book by an author they’ve never read before if the author’s books only have glowing reviews? The readers suspect it’s just the author’s friends and/or superfans posting biased praise. So having some reviews from people who weren’t wild about an author’s books lends credibility to the author.

Also, critical reviews can help to sell books when one reader’s “dislike” is another reader’s “like.” For instance, someone may write in a review, “This mystery novel had way too much romance for my taste.” Then other readers who love healthy helpings of romance in mysteries see that point as a plus.

For me as a reader, critical book reviews, not glowing ones, are what finally sell me on books a lot of times. And by no means am I the only reader who sees that happen.

As for the possibility of critical reviews or comments hurting an author’s feelings… Well.

As an author who chooses to read reviews of her books, I wouldn’t want reviewers to only issue compliments and to avoid mentioning points of criticism at all costs, as if to coddle me. That would be like false respect.

Writing and publishing is serious business. I’m passionate about what I do, and I work incredibly hard in hopes of making a real difference. But I won’t know what real difference I’m making—won’t know how I’m truly affecting the audience I’m writing for—if readers aren’t honest. If they liked a book of mine, I want them to be free to say why. If they didn’t like a book of mine, I want them to be free to say why.

And hopefully they can say it without spoilers, or they can at least caution fellow readers with spoiler alerts first. 😉

It isn’t mean not to like something. (My personal love of green beans isn’t kind and considerate any more than my dislike of lima beans is cruel and heartless.) Being completely honest in a book review doesn’t mean you have to be ungracious. You can tell the truth and be sincere without being a jerk or attacking the author as a person.

This post continues in Part Two.

 

Burden of Proof by DiAnn Mills

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

Burden of Proof by DiAnn Mills

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

In a bizarre and unsettling moment, a frustrated woman shoves a crying baby into the arms of Special Agent April Ramos and then disappears. Right afterwards, a man who says he’s the baby’s father abducts April and the child at gunpoint. After learning that the man, Jason Snyder, is a fugitive accused of murder, April will have to find out the truth of the situation—fast—in Burden of Proof by author DiAnn Mills.

This author has pretty much become my go-to for romantic suspense. While I enjoy suspense with little or no romance just fine, I’ve yet to read a book by this author that I didn’t either like or love.

Now, I’ll admit this one had a bumpy start for me. Through the first quarter or so, I had some trouble making technical and emotional sense of the story. And because I couldn’t get too good of a handle on Jason and his logic for some time, I wasn’t feeling him.

I’ll further admit that I didn’t buy into the romance. First kisses when one or both of the characters are injured, bloody, and dirty doesn’t strike the most romantic note. Also, in most cases, I have a hard time with stories where the hero or heroine is “finding God” for the first time while simultaneously getting romantically involved with someone. Because both of these brand new relationships require such soul-deep connections, adjustments, and commitments, I can’t help thinking that if one relationship hits a big bump too soon, the other one (or both) might not stick, especially when both relationships formed over just a few days.

Besides that, yes, I know it’s fiction, but if desperation drives a man to abduct and proceed to order a woman around by threatening her with a gun (while she’s holding his baby, no less), I just don’t see the abductor becoming a wise or fitting option for a romantic partner, and certainly not in less than a week’s time. Sure, he may not be a bad person at heart, but he’s shown what he’s capable of in a crisis. What happens the next time a huge crisis blindsides him and he again becomes desperate?

If you’ve not heard of Stockholm syndrome, when hostages form an emotional bond with their captors, you may want to look it up.

Anyhow. With all that said, I still enjoyed the suspense storyline in this novel, and I found the heroine relatable in other ways. I’ll be keeping my eyes open for the next book in this series.