What I read This Week: Billy’s Bones + several unsatisfying books which shall remain unnamed

I had a very bad reading week.

I’m a glass-half-full kind of gal, so I’ll start with the positive. Billy’s Bones, by Jamie Fessenden, was very nice. An entertaining, sweet, touching story about a man who has repressed memories of childhood abuse. I was a little nervous about reading it, since sometimes these things can be a bit “triggering” for me (I hate using that term, sorry), but the revelations of abuse were handled very well, with dignity, and I was totally fine.

What I liked most about this book, and what I’d like to emulate about it was its natural voice. I felt no disconnect at all reading this, as if the narrator was someone I was close to or understood perfectly. I know this sounds weird, because I often say how I love reading books with a British “voice”, or a southern one. But I guess sometimes it’s nice to have no barriers between yourself as a reader and the POV bearer. I’m not sure if I can do that in my own writing, since so much depends on nationality and local dialect, but I guess it’s just a good thing to keep in mind. Also, I suppose a good portion of it had to do with the way the character felt natural. He thought and acted in ways that were totally believable to me, and that added to the realism of his “voice” as well.

Another nice thing about this book that I should learn to do better was its great pacing. There was a bit of a mystery, and for a while I was worried about what Kevin would discover in his memories. It kept me turning pages and yet didn’t irritate me at all. There was a nice balance, because even as there were things unknown, the plot was still developing so it wasn’t frustrating. And things got resolved in a timely manner, without dragging anything out too long (which is always annoying to read).

I am particularly grateful for Billy’s Bones, because the other two books I read were kind of let-downs. I won’t go into any details or anything that might give away the titles or authors. They were m/m books, and while I enjoyed them to an extent, I had some problems. Here’s why…

Reviews.

Okay, I know the whole “authors writing reviews for other authors” thing is a big controversy. I get it. But in this instance, I have to say I agree that it might be a good thing to erase those “friendly” author reviews. Because I have been steered SO WRONG by the reviews of people I kind of trusted. Here’s how it went down: I look up a book, I read the blurb, I like the cover. Now I read the sample. It’s okay, not fabulous writing as far as I can tell, but totally fine to my amateur eye. I look to the reviews and what do I see? Loads of five-star reviews by authors I recognize. Authors whose books I like, whose opinions I value. I take their word that I, too, will enjoy this book.

WRONG.

Now, I can forgive spelling/grammatical errors. I can even forgive the kind of overuse-of-words and stiff dialogue that an editor (or beta reader) should catch. Those things don’t change the story, and the most they make me think is the book needed a better editor. Whatever, no big whoop. But huge, glaring plot holes? Major character inconsistencies? Weird situations and even weirder reactions? On top of typos and wrong-words? No, sorry.

And this happened twice this week. Two-time sucker = me. To be fair, both stories were good, at their hearts. They just needed some work. And if I noticed that, then really, they needed some work. The thing that pissed me off was it would have been easy to fix them, and that should have been noticed by these reviewing-authors.

Why would authors do this, even to promote their friends? I don’t understand. Why wouldn’t you just kindly, politely, tell your friend that there is an issue with their story? Why would you attach your name to a really poor example of m/m fiction via a glowing, gushing review?

I understand the desire to help fellow authors. But wouldn’t it be nicer to simply post a blog-review? Or facebook share the link to their book? Putting up an amazon or goodreads review is so permanent. One of the books I picked was an older one, and all those author reviews were still up there, misleading me.

Now, I’m not a total idiot. I’ve been reading a long time. I know to ignore the handful of five-star reviews which are clearly from the author’s friends.  And I don’t even begrudge them that (too much), because I kind of wish I had a friend to put up five star reviews for me (I don’t 😦 ). And I also mostly ignore the reviews from “review blogs”, which are almost always complimentary. But both of the books I chose had LOTS of five star reviews. And no low reviews at all!

Am I too picky? I really don’t think I am. Am I the only person who has noticed these errors? That hardly seems likely, I’m just not that smart. Maybe they will get some low reviews, eventually. Not that I wish these authors to fail, or to be hurt, but just for future readers to have a more accurate picture of the book on offer.

I can’t help but put myself in the shoes of the authors of these slightly-flawed books. What would I want? Well, I’d hope that if I published a book with glaring errors, and a fellow author noticed, they would write me a private message telling me so. That’s easier said than done, though. Am I willing to do that for these authors? I don’t know them at all. And they don’t know me. And I am such a “newbie”, without a leg to stand on writing-wise. How insulting would my meant-to-be-friendly e-mail seem to them? Especially when they’ve already had such positive feedback from well-established authors?

So, usually my “what I read this week” is about what I learned from my reading, what skills and techniques I can apply to my own efforts to become a better writer. This week, I learned that this big back-scratching club (that I am so not in) is lame. If you like someone, really like them as a friend, the best way to support them is to help them put out the best work possible. Not lie to them, or sugar coat the truth.  So maybe this post will cement my position as “outsider” (well, it probably would if anyone read it, lol), but I’m sticking to my honest opinion: fakey-friend reviews suck balls (and not in a good way).

6 thoughts on “What I read This Week: Billy’s Bones + several unsatisfying books which shall remain unnamed

  1. It’s sad when a bad book could have been a good one. If the story is good, then everything else should fall into place with enough time and attention from the author, pre-readers, and editor(s). It’s hard to criticize a friend’s book. I let a lot pass when reading a friend’s work, but I have been known to email the author if the errors are glaring. So far, I haven’t offended them, but I tend to avoid confrontation with the ones I know are overly sensitive.

    • I think it’s easiest to forgive errors or problems in a friend’s work, because you are reading with a positive attitude (it’s hard to see what you’re not looking for). And I think that’s great! It’s what makes friendships so wonderful, that ability to focus on the good in people and ignore their faults.

      I’m usually very forgiving of everyone’s writing. I consider reading entertainment, and approach it with fairly shallow desires, usually escapism and fantasy, not much more. And I’ve certainly read way worse books than the two duds I read this week. I think what really upset me with these books were all the false positive reviews. I know it’s unreasonable, but I held each of those five-star-reviewing authors responsible for my enjoyment of the book, and when it fell short, I blamed them.

      I can’t even imagine contacting these authors. (And now that I’ve written this I certainly can’t! They’d know this post was about them!) But then again, I don’t know them, so that makes the idea of contacting them even more absurd to me. I think it would be the “right thing to do”, although it would mean risking their anger/hate. I wish I had the nerve to do it.

  2. Hi Amelia. I’m so glad you wrote this and I couldn’t agree more. I’ve found myself more and more dissapointed with the recommendations given both by review blogs and by authors I respect and enjoy their works. There seems to be a fraternity of croonies and pals that trow kittens, rainbows and unicorns to each other no matter how unprofessional or even dishonest it is. As you said, post a link, fine. Write a gushing review if it doesn’t deserve it, not cool, at all. I will not name names or titles, but last week I bought a book that’s in the amazon top bestseller list .It has delirioussly raving reviews, many of them from this so called “reviewers” and well known authors. Well, the writer has many friends, no doubt. I’m very, very disappointed . Shame on them for convincing me in buying something that was not what they said. This books is meh, mediocre if not just amateurish. And it’s not the first time it happens. So, you go girl. Better to be an outsider than dishonest B)

    • LOL I think we read the same book! I guess I really feel bad for the author of that book (who seems super nice), because those reviewers are not being real friends at all. If they wanted to be truly kind, they’d have helped proof the story. Also I wonder if these authors realize how bad it makes them look. They are really the ones I blame, because I know the person who wrote the book tried their best, and put out a good effort (even if it needed some work and didn’t deserve such gushing reviews), but what’s the reviewer’s excuse? It makes them look like they have poor taste (at best) or are liars (at worst).
      Thanks so much for your support, I’m glad to know I’m not alone!

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