5 Star Review: Characters

So what is 5 star review?  Well, this is where, as a reviewer, I let you know what makes me rate your book 5 stars – or not.  This week’s topic: characters.

Please note that some things that turn me off to your book as a reader/reviewer turn others on and vice versa.


Characters

There’s so much I could write about characters, so I picked just a few things.  Characters in books I rate 5 stars are likeable, evolving, and complex.  Characters are the “who” of the story.  We typically think of them as people, but animals, and even objects can be personified and become characters.

  1. You could describe an ant as hardworking and persistent.  You could write a story about how an ant overcame seemingly impossible odds to find food and feed its colony.
  2. You could write a story about a train that wants to take a trip off of the tracks – oh, wait…that’s called The Little Engine that Could by Watty Piper.

But there needs to be someone or something that is the center of the story.  Someone that we can connect to as a reader.  Someone that is likeable.  This would be your POV (point of view) character.  The reader needs to be able to “feel” and “care” for the people telling the story.  Would you go to a random person’s wedding or high school graduation?  Do you cry when you read the obituary section in the newspaper?  If you have nothing invested in these people, then no…you don’t care.  The closer you become with the people, the more you are affected by what happens in “their” life.

I love You.  I hate You.  Either way, I care enough to notice you.

Now, don’t confuse “likeable” with good.  Sometimes the villain is more likeable than the hero – like Hannibal Lector vs Will Graham in Red Dragon by Thomas Harris or Megamind vs Metroman (yes, I know…a movie!).  Sometimes the hero is horribly flawed like Sherlock Holmes – socially inept.  Humpert Humpert in Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov – pedophile.  And if you can make both the villain and the hero likeable, that’s even more awesome.

And likeable certainly does not mean perfect.  Think about it.  Would you want your best friend to be rich beyond belief, gorgeous, athletic, brilliant, and extremely lucky?  And why don’t we also make this person have a few supernatural powers and be the Chosen One.  No, I don’t think you want to be friends with Mary Sue.  Besides the obvious jealousy, readers have trouble relating to a character like that.  You have flaws, therefore your characters should have flaws.

And CLUMSY is not a big enough game changer of a flaw to be the only flaw.  Unless…you plan on your character tripping, smacking into the villain and the villain’s extended knife, which is perfectly positioned to plunge into the heat, and the character dies.  If that happens, I can say, “Man, I’d rather be ugly than clumsy.  At least no one ever died from being too ugly.”  Then, and only then will you get full points in the character department with an otherwise completely Mary Sue character.

The Story of Evolution

There are two types of characters:  those that change over the course of the novel (dynamic) and those that stay the same (stagnant).  Most novels have both characters.  The key to having dynamic characters is to make their evolution from the starting person to the end a very believable transition.  The change in the characters need to be proportional to the situation for it to be believable.  You can either have a lot of minor events that contribute to the change or you can have one major event that triggers a change.

Character trait:  Character is a loyal wife.  Then she has an affair.

  • Believable:  Scene after scene we have the wife doing things without her husband.  He spends no time with her and she grows increasingly lonely, until she meets someone to fill the void – a neighbor.
  • Not-believable:  Husband forgot take out trash.  Wife screws her neighbor when she sees him at his trash can next door.

Character trait:  Character used to love spending all her time with animals.  Not anymore.

  • Believable:  Character quits veterinarian job after own pet dies and there was nothing she could do to save Fluffy.  Every animal she sees reminds her of her dead dog and she can’t bear it.
  • Not-believable:  Character quits veterinarian job because ants have invaded her kitchen and THIS MEANS WAR!  Every animal is a potential enemy now.

A thousand faces

Do you act the same way in front of your parents or your boss as you do your friends?  Your lover?  If the answer is yes, then please find the nearest exit and “get a life”.  teenagers especially treat different people differently.  They might be more joking around their friends.  Quieter around someone they like.  And more conservative (both in dress and speech) in front of their parents.  There might be conflicting information for the reader.

Example:  Suzy tells John that she can’t stand Bobby, but Suzy then tells Bobby that she likes hanging around him.

What does this mean?  It means that either Suzy is hiding her true feelings from John about Bobby or Suzy is hiding her true feelings from Bobby about himself.  To one of these guys, Suzy is honest.  To the other guy, Suzy is a liar.  She is still one person, but has conflicting character traits.  She is complex and that’s how I like my characters.

Readers:  What do you think makes a character likeable?

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5 Star Review: Pacing

So what is 5 star review?  Well, this is where, as a reviewer, I let you know what makes me rate your book 5 stars – or not.  This week’s topic: pacing

Please note that some things that turn me off to your book as a reader/reviewer turn others on and vice versa.


Pacing

Since we’re talking about good pacing this week, I promise that I won’t ramble on like I have with these topics before.  I’ve read quite a few books that suffer from a lack of good pacing.  I think one of the biggest amateur author mistakes is including too much non-relevant information.  There has to be a point to every scene.  Worse is when the pacing slows on the “boring” parts of the characters’ stories and speeds up when the “exciting” stuff happens.  It’s frustrating to read four or five pages about Mindy drinking her morning coffee and then two sentences about how she ran over a guy last summer.  Why couldn’t there be five pages about the hit and run instead?  Even as a flashback, it is much more entertaining than reading about someone eating or driving a car or sleeping.

So, what is the pace of a story?  It is how fast the plot advances in the story.  The plot advances much faster in action scenes than in narratives and the writing on the page should reflect this change.  Let’s start by focusing on this post.  The top section of the post is wordy and the text takes up the entire page from left to right.  It will take you, as the reader, double the amount of time to read these two paragraphs than to read the next two “sections”.

How to speed up the pace:

  1. – Shorter sentences
  2. – Less descriptions
  3. – More action
  4. – Back and forth dialogue.

How to slow down the pace:

  1. – Long, complex sentences
  2. – More descriptions
  3. – Minimal action
  4. – Monologues/narrative

Of course, there needs to be a balance.  Too much white on a page is just as tiring as too little.  I like a very fast pace “thriller” feel to the books I read.  In my mind, if the characters aren’t talking or the characters aren’t moving, then it’s not important.  Long narratives lose my interest quickly and so do long monologues, which tend to happen when the author is trying to “info-dump” through dialogue.  Other readers might enjoy the slower sections of the novel to relax their mind and “take a breather” so to speak.

Books that I thought had awesome pacing:

Books that I thought had problems with pacing

Reader:  Do you like fast paced books, leisurely paced books, or something in between?  Or does it depend on the genre?

5 Star Review: Content Rating

So what is 5 star review?  Well, this is where, as a reviewer, I let you know what makes me rate your book 5 stars – or not.  This week’s topic: content rating

Please note that some things that turn me off to your book as a reader/reviewer turn others on and vice versa.


Content rating – What is appropriate for each age group?

At the moment, books don’t have content ratings like movies or video games on the cover.  The debate as to whether they should is split evenly according to this poll on Hellum.  So how do readers know whether or not there is offensive material within a book without these ratings?  Are there sex scenes?  Graphic deaths?  Make outs or just kissing?  Lesbian/Gay relationships (which I don’t find offensive, but some people do)?  Animal cruelty?  Drugs?

Books don’t have content ratings. Or do they?  Bookstores separate books by more than genre.  In fact, genres are a subcategory when searching for the book you want.  The primary division in a bookstore is age.

There is a section for children’s books, middle grade, young adult, adult, and erotica.  Although there are some books that bend the “rules” of an age group like Go the F*** to sleep, most adhere to what is and what isn’t appropriate for a particular age.  As a reviewer, I mention in my reviews whether I feel like a book is geared towards a particular age group or if it would fit better somewhere else.  I think practically any topic can be in any age group, but I do think that it needs to be handled very differently for each age group.  Please note that what I think is appropriate might be different that what you think is appropriate.  This topic, however, has impacted what I rate a book in the past.  So, let’s break this down, shall we?

Picture/Children’s Books:

Although I don’t typically review picture books on this blog, I will rate them on Amazon.  Picture books are meant for children under five and usually read out loud.  Sensitive topics like death, abuse, divorce, and sex need to be handled with care.  You shouldn’t have a character “die”.  Children don’t understand the concept of someone never coming back.  If they see someone die, then they think that the person is sleeping and not waking up.  Children want to be reunited someday with this person, so probably the best way to handle death is to say that the person went to Heaven, on vacation, or a special place.

As far as sex goes, I really don’t think that any parent wants to explain the physics of sex and making babies to a child.  Kissing is about as hardcore as you can get with this age group without having your book thrown into a fireplace or on the banned books list.  Abuse is a difficult topic but one that I’ve seen handled very well for this age group.  I don’t think that you should ever have the abuse “on screen”.  This is better told and not shown.  The most important thing when handling this topic is to emphasis that abuse is WRONG and the victim (whether a child or adult) is never to be BLAMED.  Like abuse, the important thing to remember when talking about divorce is BLAME.  It is not the child’s fault and parents shouldn’t badmouth each other “on screen”.

Middle Grade:

There isn’t much difference between what is appropriate for picture books and what is appropriate for middle grade books, except when dealing with death.  By this age, children understand that the deceased won’t be coming back.  Children this age still see the world in black/white, so convincing them that a murderer is the good guy or that a parent is evil is a hard sell.  They understand the simple equation that guy + girl = baby and even the parts required to make babies, but keep everything off screen but the kissing.  No naked people.  No touching the nether regions.  Sometimes there are four letter words in this age bracket, but the person who speaks these obscenities is always casted in a negative light or punished for speaking like that.  Likewise with drugs and alcohol.  Don’t glamorize these vices in middle grade books.

Young Adult:  

I’m a real advocate for anything goes in this age bracket.  Well, except hard porn.  Soft porn is okay.  Nipples.  Crotch.  Naked people.  The major difference between young adult sex scenes and adult/erotica is the focus on the scene.  In young adult the focus is on the emotion.  The characters are in love and awkward.  They worry.  They think.  There is more narrating about what the character is thinking than what the character is doing.  In adult/erotica the focus is about performance and orgasms.  The details are in the positions and not what the characters are thinking.

Violence and gore is something that I don’t have much of a problem reading, but many teens and adult fans of this genre don’t enjoy reading.  So, I would say that it’s okay to have someone get shot in the head.  It probably wouldn’t be okay to have the gray brain matter splatter all over someones else’s face and then start describing what it tastes like.  (I do wonder how authors know what things like this taste like.)  Also, animals and children are off limits.  You can kill them, but no torture at all.

Adult/Erotica:

I’ve downrated books in this age bracket for being too safe. When writing a book for children and teens, you should be concerned about what topics to tread carefully with.  When writing a book for adults, you should be concerned about telling the story and not about offending people.  Fade to black during fight or sex scenes makes me feel like you were too lazy to write it.  Sex is exciting.  It is way more exciting that reading about your character’s morning routine after having sex.  I also expect that the characters advance past first base – please don’t make the climax his tongue is her mouth unless this is chick lit.  Obviously, if I were to read an erotica novel that didn’t have graphic sex scenes, the book would be rated poorly.  A book about soldiers in battle should have detailed battle scenes.  Show.  Show.  Show!

TL;DR?

If the book is for people under 18, be careful how you write certain topics.

If the book is for people 18 and older, always show not tell.

Readers:  What rating would you give a book that had teenage characters but detailed sex scenes?  Would it be YA or Adult?  Would you let your kid read Go the F*** to sleep?

5 Star Review: Genre Expectations

So what is 5 star review?  Well, this is where, as a reviewer, I let you know what makes me rate your book 5 stars – or not.  This week’s topic: genre expectations.

Please note that some things that turn me off to your book as a reader/reviewer turn others on and vice versa.


What is genre expectation?

This is what the reader expects will occur within the context of your book based solely on the genre.  Title, cover, and blurb have no influence on genre expectation.  Most readers automatically drift towards one genre or another based on past experiences on reading books in these genres.  If they like a book, then they look for more books in its genre.  But if they don’t like a book, then they will avoid books that are in that genre.

As an author, you need to know what genre your book fits in so you can find your target reader.  This is also very important when looking for reviewers – each reviewer has different genre preferences, which may change based on mood.  Reviewers should have a policy that highlights the genres they read and enjoy the most.  If your book’s genre is not on that list – then don’t submit to the reviewer.

  • Best case scenario:  reviewer decides to start reading that genre.
  • Worse case scenario:  reviewer reads the book and rates one star because they are reminded why they DON’T READ that particular genre.

I know what I like in a book.  I like fast paced stories with the romance as a sub-plot and not the driving factor to what happens.  I like to have both minor and major characters go through life-threatening obstacles and I really like it when some of them don’t survive.  I like the ending to be bittersweet and NOT happy.  I like not knowing what to expect when I pick up a novel.

I don’t think it is fair for the author to be penalized because it is the genre I don’t like and not the book itself.

What are my genre expectations?

If you tell me that your book is a genre I read and review (and thus love reading), then be sure that your book meets and exceeds my expectations for the genre.  I have very different expectations for each genre I read.  Also, my expectations and appreciation for a book might be different solely on a genre.  I’m more tolerant of instant love in a paranormal romance than I am in a dark fiction novel.  I can handle a slower pace in a contemporary novel than I can in a thriller or horror novel.

Horror: I expect horror novels to be scary.  I expect there to be a chance in every single scene that the worst is going to happen.  No one needs to die, but I need to believe that it could happen.  I expect the bad guy to be more bite than bark.  I’m extra happy when character and monster stereotypes are broken.

Science Fiction: I expect there to be either aliens as major characters or humans in space.  I predict that the setting will take place in the future, but I won’t be disappointed if it doesn’t.  I’m extra happy when I don’t have to use a thesaurus because SAT words litter the chapters.

Paranormal Romance: I expect there to be superhuman qualities in major characters.  Typically there are vampires or werewolves.   The setting is modern and most humans do not accept the existence of the paranormal.  I expect there to be a romance between the two leading characters.  I’m extra happy when the leading characters are not attracted at first sight.

Fantasy:  I expect multiple strange races in a setting that is not modern.  Typically there are elves, dwarfs, or mermaids.  Humans accept that there are other races and sometimes there are no humans at all in the novel.  Typically there is a quest.  I’m extra happy when the quest does not involve finding some tiny object in a troll infested area.

Dark Fiction (Contemporary):  I expect the main character to be going through a traumatic experience that no normal human being would WANT to experience, but some of us can relate.  I expect the main character(s) to make some pretty dumb choices that make his/her situation worse.  I expect a lot of character development and that the character(s) evolve from beginning to end.  I don’t expect there to be anything in the book that cannot be explained by science – no paranormal, aliens, or religious savior.

Thriller:  I expect non-stop action and a very fast pace.  I expect more focus on the plot than on romance.  I expect the main characters to be put in dangerous situations.  I can tolerate less character development in thrillers than other genres.

The genres I turn down consistently:

Romance:  I turn down romance books because I feel that the ending is spoiled the second the main characters are introduced.  By the last chapter, the two character will be together and the story will end on a happy note.  Most romance publishers will turn down your book if the romance is not a HEA (happily ever after) ending.  Check out the requirements to publish a novel in Harlequin Romance Series.  From reading romance books, I’ve learned not to like them.  If I read your romance novel, chances are I won’t like it either.  I’m not your targeted audience.

Erotica:  I don’t review erotica (usually), but I do read it…I like violent and taboo erotica.  Regular sex and foreplay between a man and a woman bores me.  I know one or both will climax and either end book or end sex scene.  There are no surprises in normal erotica.  Now, where there are whips, chains, and a vampire or two…I enjoy.  My reasonings for NOT liking 50 Shades of Grey have nothing to do with the subject matter.  Basically, I review and read erotica when it crosses into one of the other genres I read, such as dark fiction or paranormal.

Contemporary:  I’m extremely picky with contemporary novels.  I like those that deal with death and break-ups.  I prefer the main character to be depressed, insane, or in deep shit for most of the novel.  Think Romeo and Juliet.  I like my contemporary novels to be disturbing on a psychological level.  At no time in the novel do I wish to envy the character’s life – I want them to envy mine.

Christian:  I don’t like to be preached to.  I actually like some of the stories (and music, while we’re on the subject), but I hate it when the story is interrupted so that the reader can receive some moral guidance.  Save the preaching for Church!  I want to read about what happens when we don’t listen to God, not have some author “tell” me I need to.

TL;DR?

It is important to find people who enjoying reading books similar to yours (same genre), particularly when looking for positive reviews.  If they don’t like books like yours, then they probably won’t like your book!


Readers:  What are your genre expectations?

Novella Review: Hearts of Fire by Kira Brady

Hearts of Fire by Kira Brady

Publisher: Zebra Books

Available in ebook only.

With a low page count, Kira Brady crams action and romance into every word.  I adore the fast pace and while the romance struck quickly, so did the disgust in the townsfolk of Alice and Brand’s coupling.  Just as soon as the two spend a moment together, they are thrusted into opposite sides of an ancient war between Shifters and Dragons.

I liked Brand more than Alice, as we learn he has a troubled history, while her background is limited to being the daughter of the town’s leader.  Norgard was the only minor character that stood out for me.  He began the book with a BANG, literally.  I’m hoping that he makes a future appearance in the soon to be released novel.

The only part I hated about this novella was the length.  I read it in one sitting.  When I finished, I hoped for another hundred pages to read and find out what happened next, but I guess I’ll have to wait until the novel’s release in August.

Characters 4/5

Concept 5/5

Pacing 5/5

Grammar 5/5

Ending 4/5

Summary

In the prequel to a stunning new paranormal series, one woman’s desire for a forbidden man will spark a centuries-long supernatural conflict—and a love nothing can destroy.

She’s the heiress to Seattle’s most powerful shifter clan. Her destiny is as controlled and certain as moonrise. However, from the moment Alice Corbette encounters the man known as Brand, she will defy all constraint and break every rule to make this dragon-shifter hers. Brand is determined to repay the clan leader he owes his life to. But one taste of Alice’s exquisite spirit will make him question his loyalty—and plunge them both into the middle of a ruthless power play. Their only chance at freedom is a gamble that could risk the future of humans and shifters alike…

Grade: A-

This novella appeals to fans of shifter and paranormal romance novels.

Release today June 26th, 2012 as an ebook for $.99.  If you’re interest in this book, you can purchase it at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.  More reviews are available from Goodreads.

A copy of this ebook was given to me from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Firelight by Kristen Callihan

Firelight by Kristen Callihan

Publisher:  Hachette Book Group

Available in ebook or paperback.

This book thrilled me like none other since I first discovered Anne Rice ten years ago.  Archer is the love child of Anne Rice’s Lestat and Phantom of the Opera’s Eric, surrounded by mystery and charm.  The author guides us through the thoughts and anguish of lovers divided by hidden secrets, yet so in love that they risk everything for one another.

Although Miranda and Archer are attracted to one another upon the first meeting, they are so hesitant to act on their feelings that I found myself yelling at the characters for taking so long to hook up.

The romance blossoms steadily, perhaps a bit too slow, but the plot line propels at a constant speed.  Archer is framed for a series of murders, and though he proclaim he is innocence of the crimes to Miranda, he refuses to explain anything to her.  So, she must discover the truth behind his connection on her own and with the help of some shady characters.

I honestly was surprise when I discovered who the murderer was, and then smacked my head for missing all the clues.

I purchased this book myself from Amazon.

Summary:

London, 1881
Once the flames are ignited . . .

Miranda Ellis is a woman tormented. Plagued since birth by a strange and powerful gift, she has spent her entire life struggling to control her exceptional abilities. Yet one innocent but irreversible mistake has left her family’s fortune decimated and forced her to wed London’s most nefarious nobleman.

They will burn for eternity . . .
Lord Benjamin Archer is no ordinary man. Doomed to hide his disfigured face behind masks, Archer knows it’s selfish to take Miranda as his bride. Yet he can’t help being drawn to the flame-haired beauty whose touch sparks a passion he hasn’t felt in a lifetime. When Archer is accused of a series of gruesome murders, he gives in to the beastly nature he has fought so hard to hide from the world. But the curse that haunts him cannot be denied. Now, to save his soul, Miranda will enter a world of dark magic and darker intrigue. For only she can see the man hiding behind the mask.

Characters 5/5

Concept 4/5

Pacing 4/5

Grammar 5/5

Ending 5/5

Grade: A

This book will appeal to Paranormal Romance lovers.

If you are interested in this book, consider checking it out at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Goodreads.

It’s not you, no wait, it is you – Likability and 50 Shades of Grey

 

A few weeks ago, one of my friends raved about this new eBook she downloaded on her kindle.  50 Shades of Grey, have you heard of it?  I had.  I heard about how it was originally Twilight fan-fiction and morphed into an adult erotic novel.  I told her that I had no interest in romance books.  Neither did she.  She claimed the sex scenes in the novel were better than any romance novel.

I told her I’d try it.

I mean, it’s safe sex.  Can’t get pregnant from a book.

Unfortunately, I can’t get turned on either.  I’m stuck on page 30 with thoughts of drowning Anastasia Steele in a tub of vegetable oil.  She’s THAT corny and pathetic.  Here’s an example sentence for you: “Paul has always been a buddy, and in this strange moment that I’m having with the rich, powerful, awesomely off-the-charts attractive control freak Grey, it’s great to talk to someone who’s normal.”

What?  That kind of man is attractive?

Reminds me of Tom Cruise and if the tabloids have even a grain of truth in them, it is not a happy marriage.  If the tabloids are 100% accurate, Katie Holmes is in hell.

I’ll give the author,  E.L. James, some slack.  Women often make horrible choices in men and vice versa.  But, the combination I can’t overcome; I like neither the female main character nor the male main character.  Anastasia describes herself as not nearly as attractive as any other woman mentioned so far in the book (except for her mother), clumsy, in college without a goal in life, lacking social skills, and stupidly not interested in a killer job offer.  If she wants to marry this jerk, Christian Grey, so be it.

I don’t care.

As a reader, I should care.

Which is why I probably will never read that awesome sex scene halfway through the book my friend loved.  50 Shades of Grey is getting shelved.

Grade: F