Friday, 26 September 2014

Negative Reviews (and why I wrote one)

Looking through the reviews on sites such as Amazon or IMDB it is clear that most fall into either clear likes or clear dislikes. This is pretty much as expected as unless someone is a committed revier they are really only going to post their views if they are at one end of the spectrum or the other.

Everybody likes positive reviews and these are all usually fairly similar. Negative reviews can be something of a problem area for the reader though. And the problem is usually with either what the reviewer didn't like or the way they have expressed that.

There are several categories of negative review and I feel some are significantly more valid than another. Some examples are:

Service problems translate into poor product reviews
This is especially true on a site like Amazon where someone will post a 1 star 'review' that simply moans that Amazon delivered the goods late, damaged or in some other way gave poor service. Unfortunately the review rating goes against the author (for books) or manufacturer (for products) and doesn't actually impact Amazon one jot. For small authors/manufacturers who rely on word of mouth and good reviews to sell, this can be extremely damaging. Sure, mention that the service was poor but don't let that affect the rating if it is outside the control of the producer of the product.

I tried it once and didn't like it
You buy (for example) a book, just on impulse, not due to any other recommendations or previous knowledge. It wasn't what you were expecting. This shouldn't really be a negative review of the book.. The review should still be fair and should explain what was wrong. I see far too many reviews that are essentially one-liners such as "It wasn't what I was expecting" and then one star. That's not helpful to another person reading that to tell what was wrong.

If I was in charge of giving names to things (which fortunately for everyone else I'm not) I would call this the "Come Dine With Me Syndrome". On Come Dine With Me (if you've been living in the wilds for years and are not aware of it) complete strangers are put together to throw dinner parties for each other. What happens every week is that there will be a prawn cocktail starter and one of the guests will say they don't like fish and so give the host a lower mark. Why? It's not the host that has been at fault, they should be marked on everything else and the fact that they served something that wasn't to an individual's taste should be ignored.

It was recommended/heavily marketed but I didn't like it
This is excellent territory for a negative review. If you pick up a book (again) but this time it comes highly recommended or with a very enticing marketing campaign and you didn't like it, you are entitled to say that. However it's not good enough to say "it was rubbish" it needs some context. What didn't you like? What did you like? This isn't the same as a constructive criticism but it does give the reader of the review an idea of if they might like it.

Using my superb naming skills, this would be called the "Barry Norman Effect". I used to watch the Film porgrammes with Barry Norman. He would review the major films out at the time. Some he would like, others he wouldn't. But he always said why he didn't like it. And I didn't always agree with Mr Norman's choice of likes and dislikes. But because he was clear what he found good and bad I was able to judge if I would like it.

Yes I wrote a negative review
What brought this blog entry about was that, after nearly a year of writing reviews of every book I had read, I finally got to one I didn't like. I have to admit I was getting a little worried that I liked everything because I knew I was going to review it and post that review in the public domain and didn't want to offend the author... but I finally had a book I couldn't finish and really was probably one of the worst books I have ever had the misfortune to try to read. Yes I really did find it that bad and struggled to find anything I liked about it. You may disagree with me, but then that means that you may be able to judge the next book I write a review for a little better.

The book? A Game Of Thrones. The review can be found here

Monday, 22 September 2014

Genres (and why I don't like them)

The question I dread most (other than "You work in IT can you look at my computer?") is "What sort of books do you like?".

I have two problems with this. Firstly what is going to be gained by my answer? A generalised response simply can't express the breadth of literature available. A better question might be "what are you reading now" which would at least provide specific information. My second problem is the idea of pigeonholing books (or indeed anything) by giving them a genre or a label.

I can see the basic idea - classify the fiction by type, much as the reference books can be classified by subject - but fiction doesn't work like that. Authors (the best ones anyway) are always pushing what they do, exploring what other elements they can incorporate into their work to stimulate the reader (and often to defy their expectations).

This leaves the classification as a 'best guess'. Even in the libraries in our town some of them file the same books in different sections. What makes a book a 'thriller' or a 'crime' or 'adventure' book? The same book can be (and sometimes is) filed under all three.

To answer the question about what I like to read I often fall back on 'Science Fiction and Fantasy, mostly' (which is actually two). But this ignores that I like some of very nearly every 'genre'. This isn't because I am in any way 'collecting' genres. I'm not filling in the 'I-Spy Book Of Genres' and get to tick one off each time I read one (whatever happened to I-Spy books?). I just like reading good books (or at least books I find good). I don't honestly care what kind they are.

My favourite shelves in the libarary? "New Books", "Just Returned" and "Recommended Reads" because there the books are piled next to each other and not separated, a real opportunity to read something new and interesting.

Clearly we are never going to get rid of genres - it is too hard-wired into the human brain to want to say "this is like that" but it pays to ignore the labels and move outside of the comfort zones. You never know what you will find.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Review: Taylor's Plight by Katrina Cope

Taylor's Plight is the third book in The Sanctum series of pre-teen adventure novels by Katrina Cope. Once again Jayden, Eva, Robert and Aaron are attempting to stop terrorism by using 'surrogates' - robots they can control remotely that appear to be human.

This installment starts with a bang (quite literally) and just keeps going. The previous two books took a little while to lay the groundwork for both characters and plot but there is no need to do that here, especially as the story continues essentially from the end of the second book, Scarlet's Escape.

Once again someone is moving against the Sanctum, trying to stop their fight against terrorism, attacking their infrastructure in an attempt to bring down Scarlet, the computer intelligence that controls much of the Santum's functions.

Liam and the other pupils at Ernest College are also involved, and seemingly on a course to uncover the Sanctum's meddling at their school. But are they working towards the same cause, or against? As the two groups of students converge on the truth, the stakes have never been higher and the danger never more real.

This really is a fantastic read. From start to finish it grips the reader, drawing them along. The threads of Ernest and the Sanctum play off of each other, each giving a slightly different view of what is really going on. Most of the second half of the book is a breathless rush towards the final climax as the children on both sides uncover the truth. The phrase 'I couldn't put it down' is overused but is totally justified in this case.

Not everything in their world is safe and cosy and this is one of the great things about Cope's books. She is not afraid to put her characters through the mill, but they are always shown to be able to overcome adversity through quick wits and to come out stronger the other side. As usual the strong role models are well in evidence.

This is a book I would unhesitatingly recommend to any reader from about 9 upwards, although reading the first two books will be necessary to introduce the characters involved and the world of the Sanctum.

Monday, 15 September 2014

A change is as good as a rest

I used to blog (very occasionally) on as Books In Progress but posts got very few and far between... partyl because of me being 'too busy' (in other words I failed to manage my time) but also a couple of other factors.

The blog was really for me to review what I was reading... but now I use Goodreads for that and although I have ideas for blog posts about reading, books and reviews that would have been good material I felt a little hemmed in by the need to blog about books... there are usually other things on my mind.

So a change of blog platform to Blogger and a change of direction too.... and of course a kick up the backside to make me write a post every lunchtime (if I can)