Tuesday, April 16, 2013

My Book Reviews

Only a week and a half? I thought it was longer since I last wrote a post here. In that time, I've been a substitute elementary school library assistant at two schools, gathered many books for research for my first novel while also figuring out who I need to talk to for insight into RVs and pinball (the average owner of the particular RV I'm looking to use in this novel will do, but for the pinball aspect, I want to find the creators of the particular pinball machine that's my inspiration for the one I'm going to create), and I've written my seventh book review for Boekie's Book Reviews, which will be posted soon. It's for How My Summer Went Up in Flames by Jennifer Salvato Doktorski, a first-time Young Adult novelist, and while I'm still not entirely comfortable in book reviewing yet, I think I'm getting there. It's not a question of if I want to do it. I really do. In fact, one day, I'd like to write reviews for more outlets. This is my way of thinking about the kind of reviewer I want to be, how I want to write them, because to me, at least, while it is a review, like the movie and DVD reviews I used to write all the time and now only write occasionally (DVD reviews all), there's a different language to book reviews, picking out style, an author's interest in what they write, how compelling the characters are, a lot that I never thought about at length before. Yes, I've been reading since I was 2, but I never thought about it like I am now, although it must have lodged in my brain because at times, it's easy to understand an author's style, or how approachable their writing is. I don't expect every single novel I review to be easy to get into from the start, but I mean like how there's a gauzy curtain between us and the story in Fifteenth Summer by Michelle Dalton, how she doesn't let us into this summer, let us feel the vacation going on in the lakeside town of Bluepointe, Michigan.

I worry about how much to explain. Not to the extent that I'd spoil the rest of the book for readers, but is it enough to just mention that gauzy curtain feeling and maybe the reader will see it if they decide to read it? I'm not sure yet. And even though I've provided examples and snippets of dialogue in some of my reviews, I'm still not sure what the right balance is for that. I'm thinking it's on a review-by-review basis, that you know when you read a novel and you're forming what you should say, and you can pick out what makes you want more from a particular author, or what bothers you. I'm easy, though. Even if a novel is a slog to get through, I don't get mad at it, or unduly angry. I express my disappointment at the unnecessarily slow pace of the story (a slow pace is fine if the author keeps building the story, but not in continually repeating the same actions because they can't think of anything else to write), and I move on. There are more books to read. My room is proof of that.

I'd like to write reviews for Publishers Weekly or BookPage or Booklist or even Amazon if possible. Maybe Costco Connection, but I hear that those reviews are handled by their in-house buyers. Nevertheless, I'd like to try. Yet I know right now that I'm not good enough to go to those publications and tell them how much I'd be valuable to them as a reviewer. I need to rack up more reviews, to try to feel as free as I did in some of my DVD reviews, to have more fun with my writing.

I belong to books. That's how it's always been. Yet now, here I am on the other side as a reviewer, which is a great place to be because of the novels I get to read early, much earlier than the DVDs I review(ed). I'm slightly disappointed that I've entered book reviewing at a time when print copies might not be as readily sent as they used to be. All the books I've reviewed have been .pdf files graciously converted for me by Vanessa, the owner of Boekie's Book Reviews, because I will not, and will never, buy a Kindle. I like my book in print, thank you. But for reviewing, this is wonderfully convenient because I can have the .pdf file open, as well as a Notepad file to type notes or copy-and-paste descriptions and dialogue while I'm reading, which I might want to reference in a review. Sometimes I copy and paste just for the pleasure of having those well-written descriptions, not at all intending to use them in a review, but that pleasure does seep into the review, so that works for me.

So here are the reviews I've written so far, in order from my first (That Time I Joined the Circus by J.J. Howard) to the one before my most recent (Vengeance Bound by Justine Ireland, the first disappointing novel I reviewed). I'm enjoying this not only because I get to write about these books, but also because I don't have to work with any publicists like I sometimes did when I wrote movie and DVD reviews. Vanessa sends me the books by e-mail, as .pdf attachments, I download them, read them, review them (one by one, of course), and send the reviews to her. Then I get another batch. It's been a little slowgoing lately since she's also an aspiring YA novelist who recently released a short story online, and is self-publishing her first novel in July, but I like the pace. After all, I've got my own books to write. Even so, this feels a lot more easygoing for me, and outside of the worry about what my own style will be as a book reviewer, I'm enjoying it:

That Time I Joined the Circus by J.J. Howard

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

The Wanderer by Robyn Carr

Fifteenth Summer by Michelle Dalton

Criminal by Terra Elan McVoy

Vengeance Bound by Justine Ireland

Out of all these reviews, Fifteenth Summer was the easiest to write, and also the shortest read. 272 pages might not seem like that, but being a speed reader, I blazed through it in a day and was glad to see it improved toward the end. I actually wasn't disappointed that it wasn't like that all the way through, because I liked Chelsea and her supportive, whole family, which is usually rare to see in Young Adult novels.

Now on to the next reviews, and to becoming more experienced at this.

Next-Day Update: My latest review was posted today.