Reviews, reviews, reviews…

We’ve all been led astray by resounding numbers of 5 star reviews of a book, only to discover our own marks would be closer to 2 or 3 stars, or a rarer occasion of upping a 2 to a 4.  That’s a large reason why I take reviews with a boulder of salt, sometimes the book is positioned incorrectly for its genre and people have a knee-jerk reaction to take away stars for that or they see the story with rose colored glasses since it fulfills a specific fantasy they have.

There’s another way I judge reviews to figure out if I’ll try the book or not — how articulate are the most highly ranked reviews?  Sites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble have customers vote for the best reviews to make it to the top of the reviews, so it gives a sense of whether the there’s a flood of disingenuous 5 stars when most people feel it’s closer to 2.  I use those reviews to determine what kind of writing people that read the book like — if the top review is articulate, precise and well-written, I’m more likely to give it a try than a review that was written clumsily.  This isn’t fool proof of course, because sometimes a story just doesn’t strike the right chords with you, or there aren’t enough reviews (I’d say as long as there is at least one extremely low and one fairly high, along with three others, this method works well enough).

So I secretly judge writers by their readers.  It’s been a pretty effective method so far, so I’ll keep using it.

The Hunger Games: Gale vs. Peeta

A day late and a dollar short.  The story of my life.

Spoilers ahead, so if you haven’t read the books don’t blame me…

Last week, I finally finished reading Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games Trilogy.  I usually don’t read fad books, but I found a copy at the library and the premise got me — dark and gory, the story of one girl fighting for survival against other kids isn’t for the faint of heart.  I really liked the first book The Hunger Games, which displayed Katniss and her world in a very vivid and Outsiders’ fashion.  The boy Peeta who’s always had this ominous presence in her life is actually in love with her, and she starts falling for him and ignoring her survival instincts.  The second book, Catching Fire, took a little warming up to because the early chapters are Katniss being bored and thus we’re bored but eventually it picked up momentum when she ended up back in the ring for the Quarter Quell game.  Catching Fire also showed a bit more of the other districts and introduced Gale’s love for Katniss beyond friendship and the start of the rebellions.  Finally, Katniss becomes the symbol of the revolution in Mockinjay.  This book I had a hard time deciding if I liked or not, because either you love it or you hate it.  I’m somewhere in the middle, with parts I liked and those I didn’t.

Mostly, I didn’t like what they did to Gale at the end.  He doesn’t seem remotely like the boy Katniss grew up with, and while I liked how they drifted apart, I think attaching him to Prim’s death or District 2 (traitors to rebellion and lapdogs to the Capitol) was too extreme.   Though Gale in real time did not match Katniss’ memories of him this was actually a good literary technique, because it shows she doesn’t see things as objectively as she’d like to think.  Her affection for Gale does cloud her thoughts of him, and even in Catching Fire she learns he kissed other girls and that he knew he cared about her for a long time.  We know so much about Peeta, but he seemed hollow to me at some points, existing solely as Katniss’ personal Jiminy Cricket.


Historical Romance Cliches 101

Usually, I prefer fantasy or sci-fi novels, but for the last couple of months I’ve been on a historical romance kick.  Georgette Heyer is by far the reigning queen of the genre, and also the foundation for most of the writers that come later, so her stuff might seem cliche when it was kind of like the grandmother.

Anyway, I’ve decided to list some of the cliches I use to screen what I’m in the mood to read:

1) Married by force — The hero and heroine are forced to get married because of extenuating circumstances (betrothals, monetary situations, alliances, revenge, social faux pas).  Usually, this is really common but if the author does it right, it’s a pretty fun read.

2) Kids the hero doesn’t know about — While highly realistic that most heroes who sleep around will have kids, how they’re handled in story can make or break it.  One cliche I really really hate is when the heroine shows up with his baby and acts like its hers, when it’s not.  a) What kind of jackass is he that he doesn’t remember who he slept with? b) How pathetic is she to try something that ridiculous?  I’m not a fan of hearing that they conceive kids after only one encounter.  Really?

Have We Met Before?

One of my hugest pet peeves is when characters who have supposedly known each other for years, or they’ve had a very close person in common, that don’t seem to know know each other.  This seems to happen a lot with male characters who end up with their best friend’s sister or female characters who end up with their best friend’s brother.  It’s not the same to just make them fall in love with each other the moment they see one another out of the blue, because they’re already used to the sight.  Something needs to have changed in order for them to reassess the way they look.

What you need to make the past work in the relationship:

  1. Shared memories of a few past events AND how they felt about each other at that point in time.  Did one like the other while the other didn’t notice?  Were they antagonistic toward one another?
  2. When did each of them start feeling differently?  If there wasn’t a direct cause, then when did they realize the change happened?
  3. The characters have to know the general modus operandi of their long time loves, e.g., bad habits new or old, tendencies toward certain actions/activities, etc.  But it’s also really refreshing when either these things are seen in a new light, or the characters discover something new about each other.
  4. The characters should seem familiar with each other.  I’m not quite sure how to elaborate this, but until you establish their feelings about each other and the history of it, it would seem odd to have the characters not seem like they normally belong where they are.

Tessa Dare handled it well in Goddess of the Hunt, when the characters weren’t originally interested in each other but it was quite obvious they knew each other for years, understanding how to manipulate each other and what they wanted.  They were aware how they felt about each other then, and as the story progressed so did their feelings.

Tracy Anne Warren’s Wicked Delights of a Bridal Bed (it’s title doesn’t do it much justice, but that’s another peeve for another time) was also a good example.  The hero was friends with the heroine’s brother for years, and he’d been in love with her for that long and she had a crush on him too, but circumstances weren’t ideal.  But when the story opens, many things have changed that allow them their chance.

Writer Age Stamp Part Deux

While reading Sarah Dessen’s This Lullaby, I felt like the teenagers were older than they were.  I liked the book, and Remy especially but she sounded more like someone in her twenties than late teens.  Even after the early college Psychology and Sociology classes given to us in high school, we were psychoanalyzing each other pretty often.  But high schoolers don’t often dwell on the way their behaviors are habits the way Remy does.

Teens are less hampered by trying to analyze long-standing behaviors or to treat something they did for two years as a long-standing behavior.  They’re still trying out new things and most don’t feel bogged down by the past in that way.  Remy’s reflectiveness felt a little beyond her years, particularly the way she is about sex, drinking and smoking.  She seems weary of it though only eighteen, and I haven’t really heard folks sound like that until they hit their quarter life crisis.  She reminds me more of people’s reactions to graduating college.  Graduating from high school, there are still so many open doors and opportunities waiting, but at the end of college, you’ve made your bed and have to lie in it.  Remy’s lack of seeing college as a new beginning was the primary reason I got that vibe.  It seemed like she had too much experience for the very narrow time frame she had been in her party girl phase.  Even if she was a serial dater for about a year, she still couldn’t have had enough boyfriends and relationships to really draw the conclusions she’s coming to.

There was too much “finality” with Remy’s descriptions to seem like she was still a teen.