the Little Red Reviewer

When I pick up a book, I really do pick it up with the intent of finishing it.  But these last 10 days or so, I’ve been having trouble sticking with any one book. I’ll pick something up, read half of it, pick something else up, read 20 pages, pick up an anthology and read two stories…. we’ve all been there. I can’t seem to stick with anything! Years ago, when asked “how do you decide what to read?”, my friend nrlymrtl of Dab of Darkness said she puts a ton of interesting looking books in a comfy reading spot, reads the first 40-50 pages of each one, sees which one grabs her attention, and then she puts the rest down guilt-free.

I took five books that have been sitting on my To Be Read stack, and did the same. I read 50 pages of each (or at least attempted to), and one or two really stood out as books that If i continue reading, I’m gonna finish.  the books were:

50 pages

Spells of Blood and Kin by Claire Humphrey – Thomas Dunne Books, June 2016

Way Down Dark by J.P Smythe – Quercus Books, Oct 2016

A Lovely Way to Burn by Louise Welsh – Quercus Books, April 2016

Dead on the Bones: Pulp on Fire by Joe R Lansdale – Subterranean Press, Nov 2016

Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer – Tor Books, May 2016

 

Well? How did it go? Did 5 books 50 pages help me figure out what to read next?  LOL, at least this is a spoiler free post, since the events I talk about in these books happen in the first 50 pages and I have no idea what happens next!

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Hey blogger buddies – do you write negative reviews? And what I mean by a negative review isn’t “this book sucks”, it’s “this book didn’t work for me and let me tell you why”. A well written negative review tells you just as much information about the book about a positive review. When I write critical / negative reviews, it’s mostly to talk about why I bounced off a book, or why I though the book was problematic. Oftentimes, it’s a book that the majority of readers really enjoyed, perhaps the book even won a ton of awards, but really, really didn’t work for me. Any of my friends will tell you I’m not the kind of person to sugar coat. If I think something didn’t work on some level, I’m going to say so. If I was offended by something, or thought it was boring, or thought the POV switches weren’t clear, I’m going to say so. If a book made me, personally, feel like the world of that book is not a world I would be welcome in, I’m going to say that too.

 

I do not write negative reviews to dig at an author, or to convince others not to read that author’s books. I need to make that clear: it is a negative review of a book, not of an author or of their career. In fact, I’ve had people respond to my negative reviews with “that sounds like a book I’d like!”

I’m interested to know if my peers write negative reviews, and how you think about those reviews, because I’m in the process of writing a negative review right now. Many people have praised this particular new-ish novel, but I’m finding it predictable, and with a plot that moves forward solely by the power of “because of course it is” combined with characters that do willfully dumb things. (which will be further explained in the review)

Ok, so sound off in the comments, because I wanna know:

Bloggers: Do you write negative reviews? It that a different reviewing process than when you write a glowing review?

Writers: how do you react when you become aware of a negative review of your work?

It’s extra fun being me, because not only do I write negative reviews, but I then run into those authors at SFF Conventions! Fun! And by fun I mean quite awkward.  Should “I’m going to meet this person!” affect how I review their books? Nope.

I’m terrible at watching TV.   I can barely remember what day of the week it is, let alone what time I’m supposed to turn on a specific channel.   Anyways, now that I watch a lot of shows streaming, I can watch them whenever I want, watch a few episodes in a row, watch favorite episodes over again. I feel like a commercial for Netflix.

 

Netflix doesn’t get a ton of brand new stuff, but they get a lot of good older stuff and  I recently discovered the TV show Lost.  This show ran from 2004 to 2010, and I remember hearing about it and people going crazy for it, but I never watched it when it was new. I still don’t know much about it.  I’m reluctant to look up information about the show online because I don’t want spoilers. LOL, I’m Mark Oshiro-ing Lost!

 

I’m about 10 episodes in, and I really dig this show!  For those of you who don’t know this show, it follows the survivors of a plane crash on a deserted island. They need to survive, find food, deal with medical crises, and deal with each other. Among our survivors is Charlie the drug addicted rock star, Jack the doctor, a woman named Kate who won’t tell anyone about her background, Sawyer the grifter, Claire the pregnant single mother, Sayid the Iraqi ex-military officer, a Korean couple who doesn’t speak English, and Mr. Locke, who appears to be a big game hunter.  The show has a huge cast, so the characters are introduced very slowly, often with long flashback scenes to tell viewers more about them. What’s neat is that nearly everyone is using this horrible event to start over in their lives. No one knows what the criminal did earlier in their life, so why should they tell anyone their secrets? No one knows that the guitar player is a depressed drug addict. No one knows that Locke the game hunter spent 4 years in a wheelchair.  Another survivor asks you what your name is, are you required to be truthful? No, you are not. Is this an island of liars? Maybe.

Jack, Kate, and Sawyer

Jack, Kate, and Sawyer

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You ever notice that some books really work, others work relatively ok, and some just don’t quite work?  And those that work, you just can’t put them down!  Maybe when I say “it works”, what I mean is pacing,  I’m not really sure what I mean, actually.

 

Well, right now, I’m reading a book that really works – Darwin’s Radio, by Greg Bear.  Darwin’s Radio came out  in 1999, and won the Nebula in 2000 and was nominated for the Hugo, Locus, and Campbell awards.   As I was zipping through the first 80 pages, I realized I wanted to know why this book works as well as it does. Is it the pacing? The characters? The presentation? The science? The all of the above? I wanted to pick it apart and figure it out.

darwins radio works

I’m about a third of the way through Darwin’s Radio, and this is what I’ve come up with so far:
– The first thing I noticed was how much showing Bear does, and how little telling. Very early on, a character has a mountain climbing accident, and wakes up in a hospital. Bear doesn’t give us a description of the man’s injuries, but the way that other people treat him gives us a pretty good picture of the state this guy is in.  Instead of describing the picture, Bear paints one, and lets the reader look at the painting and get information that way.  It’s up to the reader to decide how much they want to see.

 

– The info isn’t dumped. This is a hard science thriller with lots of genetics, anthropology, molecular biology, the study of viruses and diseases, how bacteria works, how our bodies fight off diseases and how early mankind might have fought off diseases and probably more science stuff that I haven’t gotten to yet. It’s fascinating as hell, but way over my head. None of it is dumped.  Most of it is presented through dialog, with the old trick of “Let me tell you what our team has been doing in the lab these last two weeks” type conversations. Is that a trick? Sure it is. But it gets your reader a lot of information in an accessible and non-info-dumpy way. And hey, now I have just enough knowledge to sound like I know what I’m talking about next time I’m at the doctor’s office.
– So far, there’s been zero action. No chase scenes, no fights, no nothing. Which is a little weird, since a lot of recent books I’ve read have super intense action scenes as a way to get the reader hooked on all that 100% pure awesomesauce. This book is all scientists and politicians and others talking about things, and trying to figure stuff out. The “action” is in how fast their ideas are transmitted.  They bounce ideas off of each other (typically while learning their funding is about to be cut), and the fast pace comes when their brain is moving faster than their mouth, and the ideas tumble out  . . .and it’s totally cool.
– So we’ve got all these characters who are trying to solve the problem from different angles, and everyone has slightly different information to share, or not.  But us readers have *all* the information.  This is where the tension comes from.  I know that this guy knows this one thing, and this other lady knows this other thing, and these jerks over here know something else. So omg, when are they going to share what they know!! Because if they don’t, this horrible other thing is going to happen!

 

Gah!  I gotta go read this book!
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a book that fucking works.

central stationCentral Station, by Lavie Tidhar

published May 2016

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (Thanks Tachyon!)

 

I’ve been reading Lavie Tidhar on and off since I started this blog. I really enjoyed The Tel Aviv Dossier, thought The Bookman was just OK, enjoyed some of his short fiction and the World Science Fiction anthologies he edited with Apex, and then I bounced pretty hard off of Osama. His work has won a lot of awards, and I constantly feel like I’m either not taking his work seriously enough, or taking it so seriously that I’m missing the point. With that background, it should surprise no one that this beautiful ARC of Central Station sat on my to-be-read shelf for as long as it did.

But . . good news! By the 2nd chapter of Central Station I was hooked, by the middle I was grinning every time I learned about another character’s back story, and on the morning of Memorial Day I had either the best timing in the world or the worst, as I read about the robotnik soldier beggars of the future.

I don’t know why, but I shy away from using the term “mosaic novel” to describe Central Station. Yes, the novel does fit the definition of a mosaic novel, and it also fits the definition of a “fix up” novel. . . and the problem is that both of those terms feel too flat and too small to encompass this book. Central Station has the overwhelming sensory overload of an Ian McDonald, the fantastical descriptions and bio-technology of a China Mieville, and the each story is a foundation of the next of Cat Valente’s Orphan’s Tales. With nods to scifi greats like Cordwainer Smith, Philip K. Dick, and Isaac Asimov (and was that a Burroughs reference I saw?), Tidhar touches on history, culture, and socio-economics to tell a story about how we’re all stuck together and should really make the best of things because these kids need a village to raise them. Reading this book was like being a bartender at bar frequented by locals – Everyone has a different story to tell, but all their stories are interrelated and interconnected. The further I got into this novel, the more I enjoyed myself.

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I’ve been elsewhere!

I hosted my first roundtable at Semiotic Standard, about books we didn’t finish.  The roundtable features Lynn of Lynn’s Books, Lavie Tidhar, Jacob of Red Star Reviews, Teresa Frohock, Mark Lawrence, Charlotte Ashley, and more!  Come on over to see these folks and their peers didn’t finish books, and why I might not finish the book I’m reading right now.

 

I’m also over at Apex Magazine, interviewing the incredible Mary Pletsch.  In the interview we talk about the song and music in her short story Folk Hero.  but first, a quick aside.  Ya’ll know what iambic pentameter is, right?  the super simple definition of Iambic pentameter is that it is poetry (or song lyrics) written so that each line has 10 syllables, with every other syllable being stressed.  If you get the rhythms just right,  it fits perfectly into 4/4 rock and folk music.  So, I’m reading Pletsch’s story, and there are song lyrics embedded in the story.  And my brain doesn’t come up with a melody, but it does come up with a rhythm. A rhythm that matches the hauntingly beautiful Age of Aggression, as covered by Malukah.  Yes, that is a video game song, and YES, you should listen to it while you are reading Pletsch’s Folk Hero. here, I’ll help:

Folk Hero, by Mary Pletsch

Age of Aggression cover, by Malukah

I read that story, and I hear her sandstone voice singing that song, and it’s beautiful and fitting, and perfect.

oh, you liked that Malukah song?  this one is better.

 

so, that should keep you out of trouble for a few days.  I’ve got a review of Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station publishing in a few days, so stay tuned (btw, it was AWESOME)

 

I did a mystery review last week.

 

I told you everything you needed to know about the book – what it was about, what I liked about it, etc – to help you make a decision as to if this was a book you’d enjoy.  It was fun writing the review, and I got a kick out of how people responded to a review that never mentioned the book’s title or author. Maybe I should make this a regular thing?

 

Ready to know what the title of the book is?

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.