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?

Cover Reveal: The Last Degree by Dina Rae

I’m not huge on thrillers, but I adore conspiracy novels.  The dirtier the conspiracy, the more I relish it.  The Last Degree promises to be a good read and there’s a bonus!  For two days, it is FREE to download.  Nothing wrong with free, right?  Try out this book and if you like her or love her, check out her other works.  Let me say it again:

The Last Degree will be FREE July 14th & July 15th only!


Title: The Last Degree

Series: Book #1

Author: Dina Rae

Genre: Action, Adventure, Crime, Paranormal, Political, Suspense, Thriller, Christian

Publisher: Dina Rae

Ebook format only

Words: 93000

Purchase for only $1.99:  Amazon

 

Summary:

The Last Degree is a fictionalized account of how Freemasons and other secret societies set up the world for takeover. Ancient writings foretell a ‘Shining One’ who emerges as the world’s prophet. A murder of a Most Worshipful mason resembles a secret oath. A cop gets too close to solving the crime. Paranoid preppers go underground, preparing for war.

Headlines such as the Norway massacre, meltdown of the European Union, unscrupulous media, animal die-offs, Middle Eastern unrest, andU.S.shrinking power make the plot relevant to present day. This book is an ode to Christians, Birthers, 2012ers, Truthers, preppers, and/or other conspiracy junkies who enjoy Dan Brown, Jesse Ventura, Brad Meltzer, Alex Jones, Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye.

Excerpt:

Dwight took off his crown, signifying he was no longer playing King Solomon.

“Sacrifice is expected for ones that you love.  Do you love me?” Dwight shouted.  “Then bow down before me and offer praise!”

Everyone knelt and laid their head down to the floor, chanting ‘Most Worshipful,

Most Worshipful’ several times before Dwight commanded them to get up.

In a manic energetic state, Dwight vociferated, “Et vitam impendere vero!”  All repeated, with the three new pledges joining in.  Minutes later, he began to calm down.  “To sacrifice life for truth – that is what we must always do!  You must trust me as your Most Worshipful and sacrifice at my command!  Are you prepared to do this?”  All three pledges nodded.

Dwight pulled the content baby out of Arthur’s arms and threw it high into the air.  As the baby began to descend, Dwight took his sword and hacked through its neck, decapitating it before it hit the floor.  Only the three pledges shrieked in horror.  He sinisterly smiled as he picked up the head and body, revealing it was only a doll.

“Don’t believe with your eyes, but believe with your knowledge.  We are his chosen and will soon be exalted.”

The three men looked down at their hands and tried not to scream.  They were covered in blood.

“Sacrifice, my brothers, sacrifice.  I will teach you well.  You are all Chiefs of the Tabernacle!  Let us go and celebrate!” Dwight gleamed.

Check out The Last Degree Prequel as well—Be Paranoid Be Prepared!  Currently .99 cents.

 

About the Author:

Dina Rae is a new author here to stay.  As a former teacher, she brings an academic element to her work.  Her two novels, Halo of the Damned and The Last Degree, weave research and suspense throughout the plots.  Her short story, Be Paranoid Be Prepared, is a prequel of sorts to The Last Degree, focusing on the James Martin character.  Dina also freelances for various entertainment blogs.

Dina lives with her husband, two daughters, and two dogs outside ofChicago.  She is a Christian, an avid tennis player, movie buff, and self-proclaimed expert on several conspiracy theories.  When she is not writing, she is reading novels from her favorite authors Dan Brown, Anne Rice, Stephen King, Brad Thor, George R.R. Martin, and Preston & Childs.

Find the Author:

Website | Blog |

Book Review – The City of Lost Secrets by Katie McVay

The City of Lost Secrets by Katie McVay

Publisher: Self-published

Available in ebook or paperback.

I can’t expressed how pysched I was to receive this Goodreads giveaway in the mail.  The author was kind enough to include a handwritten note asking for a review about her debut book.  Just for that, I put aside all other books to devour into this thriller.  I wish I could say that I loved this book.  I tried to.  It’s not remotely as mysterious or thrilling as Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown.  The author did herself a disfavor by comparing the two in the Amazon blurb.  If you are looking for a female version of Da Vinci Code, you will be dissapointed.

That said, this was not a failure of a book.  The protagonist, Mara Beltane is lovable and believable.  Mara recently divorced, because she’d rather focus on her writing career have the children her husband desires.  After writing five successful books, she begins to desire more.  Hence why she travels to Jerusalem to investigate the ossuary rumored to be Jesus’s.  Props to the author for embarking a non-religious character on a religious crusade.  Mara is able to retain her objectivity throughout the entire novel.

Once she arrives in Jerusalem, this is where a thriller novel would take the reader on a non-stop breath-taking escapade.  The City of Lost Secrets is not a thriller in this regard.

It’s about as fast paced as the movie Eat, Pray, Love (which I couldn’t finish).  This novel reads like a documentary off of the Travel Channel or National Geographic Channel.  Seriously.  Pretend that Mara has the British accent and you feel like she is your tour guide off one of those episodes.  I can tell that the author is very familiar with the subject matter and since I adore those documentaries, that part of the novel was interesting.

Of course, there ends up being a romance and I wish it was introduced gradually, rather than as an afterthought.  I didn’t know about this love interest until page 120, halfway through the novel, when Mara’s friend emailed her. Really?  That’s how the reader finds out?

As a thriller, I would have to rate this book very low.  As a chick lit, I would rate it much higher.  Depending on your taste in genre, you may or may not like this book.  Personally, I’m not a fan of chick lit.

Summary:

Scholars have written off the Talpiot tomb as an ancient Jewish burial cave, not the rumored lost tomb of Jesus. But even today, thirty years after its discovery in Jerusalem, the mystery remains unsolved. Now novelist Mara Beltane, desperate to reinvent her career and escape memories of a failed marriage, hopes to prove the rumor is true and turn it into a best-selling thriller.

While in Jerusalem, Mara’s research is thwarted by Israeli archeologists intent on protecting the tomb—and complicated by her feelings for Dr. Uri Nevon, a handsome professor and biblical scholar with a hidden past who aids her research. But Mara keeps digging, and soon enough—with Uri at her side—she finds evidence that could prove the tomb is indeed the final resting place of Jesus, a revelation that would rock Christianity to its core. As the stakes grow higher, and with authorities closing in on them, Mara must face the question that brought her to Jerusalem in the first place: Are the rewards of writing a best-seller worth the risks of revealing long-buried secrets—secrets that will jeopardize her career…and her life?

Characters 4/5

Concept 2/5

Pacing 3/5

Grammar 5/5

Ending 4/5

Grade: C

This book appeals to fans of Chick Literature.

If you’re interested in buying this book, check it out at AmazonBarnes & Noble, or Goodreads.