Friday Reads: Tempting Fate by Jane Green

Look! A Friday Reads! It's been SUCH a long time since I've had one of these. I have to admit that I've been in a major reading slump this year. I'm not sure what's gotten into me, but I haven't had a maybe-I-don't-need-sleep, page-turning read in a long time. But this week, I finally came across one that had me sacrificing sleep so I could read more pages - Tempting Fate by Jane Green.

Now, first, a warning that this is NOT a romance. This is a women's fiction book, which is outside of what I normally read. There isn't a tragic ending or anything, but it's not a romance. So know that going in. Also, based on Goodreads reviews, this is one of those kinds of books that you're either going to love or hate. I happen to fall into the loved-it camp.

It's about infidelity, which is why I think it has such a love/hate reaction from readers. A heroine who cheats is hard to like. And much of the book, I didn't like her. BUT I also think that this situation could so easily happen to someone who never thought they could be a cheater. The way it was portrayed--woman in her 40s, feeling insecure about aging, in a rut, feeling resentful toward her husband about something he did gets unexpectedly swept up by the attention of a young, hot, funny guy.

Yeah, so think hot internet mogul who looks like Ryan Gosling walks into this woman's life. As you can expect, things in her life blow up. She makes a decision that had me yelling at the book (and I had to put that aside because it made an otherwise intelligent heroine seem really stupid, but I didn't want to give up on the book because of it. I'm glad I didn't.) I won't give spoilers, but I thought the drama was well done and realistic. And though there isn't a ton of action in this book (more internal, quiet type drama), I found it a page turner and very compelling. Some may have an issue with the ending, but I also think it was relatively realistic. 

Overall, I definitely recommend. 

Here's the official summary (from Amazon):

What is a woman's greatest temptation? How far will she go to find fulfillment―and how much is she willing to lose? This is an unforgettable, enthralling novel about the risks and rewards of "having it all" from beloved New York Times bestselling author Jane Green.

Gabby and Elliott have been happily married for eighteen years. They have two daughters. They have a beautiful, loving home. Forty-three-year-old Gabby is the last person to have an affair. She can't relate to the way her friends desperately try to cling to the beauty and allure of their younger years. And yet she too knows her youth is quickly slipping away. She could never imagine how good it would feel to have a handsome younger man show interest in her…until the night it happens. Matt makes Gabby feel sparkling, fascinating, alive―something she hasn't felt in years. What begins as a long-distance friendship soon develops into an emotional affair. Intoxicated, she has no choice but to step ever deeper into the allure of attraction and attention, never foreseeing the life-changing consequences that lie ahead. If she makes one wrong move, she could lose everything―and find out what really matters most.

Grab a copy: Amazon | iBooks | B&N | Kobo

 

 

*Disclaimer: I have not been asked to review this book and have purchased it with my own money. All opinions are mine. Links to Amazon and iBooks are affiliate links, which means I earn a small percentage (no extra cost to you) if you purchase from links on my site.

My Promise When I Review or Recommend Books

Photo via chicagogeek (Flickr CC)Mondays are usually reserved for Must-Read Mondays, but today I wanted to talk a little bit about a related topic. There was a post last week on Dear Author called When the Personal Becomes the Professional and was about how authors approach giving negative reviews of other books. Some argue that it's professional courtesy not to tear down another author's book. Others feel that authors should be able to review like readers do and that the author on the receiving end of the feedback shouldn't get personally offended.

I'm of the school that anyone has the right to review my book and have an opinion about it. If another author posts a negative review about my book, I'm not going to think that author is being unprofessional. I can take it. However, having said that, I don't post negative reviews or talk bad about books publicly. Why? Well, frankly, it's not worth the drama--having an author take it personally, seeing them at the next conference and it being awkward, looking like you're being jealous or spiteful by panning a book in your genre, or offending readers who thought that book was the best book ever.

But, there's also this thought out there that if someone only does positive reviews, that their opinion is somehow not valid because they "like everything." But I disagree with that. I don't like everything--believe me. If I don't like something or have neutral feelings on it, you'll just never hear about. The books I recommend on Must-Read Monday or rate highly on Goodreads are books I honestly loved. I'm not going to "be nice" and give something a high rating or recommendation because I know the author or whatever. There are authors who I really like as people but I just don't connect with their writing. I'm not going to pretend I do just to be friendly.

So I'm saying all this because I want you to know that when you see me talking up a book, that means one thing--I, Roni the reader, loved the damn thing. I looked back at Must-Read Monday posts for this year. Almost all were books by authors I've never met or interacted with. None of them were given to me for review. They are just books I bought as a reader and enjoyed. Just because I don't post about the ones I didn't like doesn't make that any less valid. So you can feel confident in knowing I'm not blowing smoke or trying to sell you something on a friend's behalf. If I say I loved it, it means I loved it. : )

I'm curious, how do you view authors reviewing or recommending other authors' books? Do you assume they are just helping their friends if it's positive? If you're a writer, how do you feel about the debate on whether or not to post negative reviews?

 

Readers Face the Slush Pile: A Few Hard Truths

Elliott bay: Seattle's legendary independent bookstore - IMG_1422

Photo of Seattle's Elliot Bay bookstore by Nicola since 1972

I know the publishing industry has been in major flux over the last few years with e-readers and the advent of digital self-publishing. (Let's mark that as my most obvious statement of the year.)

And though change is always uncomfortable and stressful, I think it's also opened up a whole new world for writers. Like agent Deidre Knight posted about recently--No, no longer means never. If a book can't find an agent or a publishing home (or the author doesn't want to go that route at all), self-pubbing is there. Options are wonderful to have. It gives power to the author. Yay for that!

However, that also means that books now don't have to go through gatekeepers, so Amazon and online bookstores are open to anyone who wants to put words on a page (whether well-written or not). That means there is a tidal wave of slush filling up the market and it's up to the reader to decide if a book is worthy or not.

First novel attempts are out there (thank God this option wasn't around when I thought my first attempt at writing a book was made of awesome--it wasn't and would be an embarrassment to me now.) Rough drafts are out there. Total, breathtaking masterpieces are out there. But it's up to the consumer to sift through it and discover and applaud the ones worthy of it by posting great reviews and passing on word of mouth.

But here's the thing: lots of readers seem to be perfectly impressed by mediocre writing.

Now, I know books are a totally subjective experience. And who am I to judge what is good or bad writing. But there are also standard practices of writing, clichés to avoid, and just general solid story telling techniques that are around for a reason. And I realize that I'm a writer who is going to have a much more critical eye when it comes to craft, but still it's frustrating seeing a book with a nice cover, a good blurb, and great reviews/sales rank, getting excited, then opening up those sample pages and groaning with disappointment.

Yesterday, I had it happen twice. Two books that looked great and then didn't deliver in the sample pages. If they'd been read in the opening pages gong show I talked about last week, they would've been gonged by the agents, no doubt. But these authors are selling books and have an army of good reviews gracing Amazon, so either they're padding their reviews or most readers are satisfied with "decent" writing ability. 

Now, before anyone jumps my case, I'm not saying there aren't traditionally pubbed books that suck too. But at least they've been through a few editors, including not just a copy editor but a macro editor who is looking at the big picture stuff. Grammar and typos can be handled by a high school English student. Having an editor that can critically evaluate things like story structure, character arc, info dumps, plot holes, etc. is not quite as easy to find. That kind of editing is what is going to separate (whether traditional or indie) the good stories from the just alright.  

So here are some hard truths I've come to terms with regarding the new world of books...

#1 I can't trust reviews or sales ranking anymore unless the review comes from someone I know and trust or a professional book blogger/reviewer who I know gives honest opinions.

And I am looking more and more towards goodreads instead of amazon for reviews. I find that goodreads gives a more well-rounded picture. And I'm learning the book bloggers who tend to have taste similar to mine, so I trust their recommendations.

 

#2 For self-pubbed/indie books, I'm reading sample pages before I buy unless it's an author I already know/have read/trust.

No, it's not fair that I tend not to do this for traditionally pubbed books. Usually if the blurb and cover grab me, I'm buying. But I've been burned one too many times on the self-pubbed stuff, so I'm reading pages before purchase.

 

#3 Though the gates opening is a great thing, I think we're going to miss out on some really fantastic writing from authors who would've had to hone and refine their craft more if they'd faced the gates first.

If an author puts out a book that's "good enough" or "decent" and it sells well, there is no motivation for her to take the time to study craft and get better, to push herself. In fact, the only thing she'll probably feel pressure to do is write the next one as fast as she can to get more "shelf" space. So, she can continue to put out more of the same. That's great if she can make a living at it, but what kind of story may the world have gotten if she'd had to push a little further, dug a little deeper? (So if you are publishing, either self or traditionally, always remember to hone your craft. Study books/blogs on writing, read books from authors who are masters at their craft, and always strive to make the next book better. Never be happy with "good enough.")

 

#4 Being a writer means being a picky reader.

I'm almost jealous of those readers who can read a not so well-written book and enjoy it--not pick up on the clichés or the 20 million exclamation points, not worry that the character is looking at herself in the mirror and describing how she looks, not seeing the plot holes. Being a writer is like being a chef who tries to eat in someone else's restaurant and sees every flaw in the food.

 

#5 I now have an endless variety of stories to choose from.

This is a good one. I LOVE that books that may not have fit in the traditional mold and would've gotten put in a drawer are getting out there. Genre-crossers, niche stories, boundary-pushers, shorter works. That's fantastic. I just have to accept that the flip side of this benefit means the extra step of sifting through the slush.

 

So yes, I'm all for writers having the variety of publishing options. I haven't ruled out self-pubbing stuff in between my traditional stuff in the future (if I can learn to write faster and have some time in between deadlines, lol.) But the benefits don't come without some negatives. As a reader, I now have to work a little harder to find what I want. It's something I'm still getting used to.

So what are your thoughts? How do you make your book buying decisions? Have you been burned buying a book that had stellar reviews and sales? Do you read sample pages before purchasing? What are some indie books that really knocked your socks off? 

Don't Be THAT Writer #atozchallenge

D is for...Don't Be THAT Writer

Photo by RyanmotoNSB (click photo for link)This weekend I had the privilege of both attending and speaking at my local TX Two Step Writer's conference. And one of the speakers was the lovely Candace Havens, who I always seem to learn something from no matter what she's giving a workshop on.

This time her workshop was on writer karma. I won't list out her rules because, well, it's her workshop, but the gist is basically the definition of karma--what you do for others will come back to you. And one of the things I walked away with from her talk was: Don't be that writer.

People respond to positivity (spellcheck says that's not a word, but I bet the New Kids on the Block would disagree.) Our own lives are stressful enough, we aren't going to seek out negative people to add to it.

So don't be that negative Nancy in the room. You know the one. The one who bitches about everything, who places blame on outside forces instead of looking inward, who thinks they can lift themselves up by putting other writers down ("I can't believe that dreck got published when my book is so much better."<--come on, you know we have all thought that about some book at some point. Just don't say it out loud.)

That attitude is damaging to you and will alienate you from others. You think if I'm chatting with a group at a conference and someone says how they thought (insert book name) was crap and that the writer is a hack that I'm going to be endeared? What if said writer is a friend of mine or with my agent or my publisher? Do you think that's going to make me want to be buddies with this person? Do you think it's going to make me want to go out of my way to help them? Probably not.

I know this may be controversial, but the same goes for writers posting scathing reviews online. Candace outright said that if she sees an author tearing down another author in a review, she moves the author reviewing off her "to buy" list. And even if you don't consciously do that, don't you think that's going to stick in your brain when it comes to deciding which book to buy--negative Nancy's or someone else's? (Imagine at a corporate job if you went into an interview for a promotion and spent your time talking about how much your co-workers suck and how much better you are. How do you think that would go over?)

Now, before I get hate mail, I'm NOT saying someone shouldn't be allowed to post negative or even scathing reviews. That's everyone's right. It's definitely a reader's right. Honest reviews are needed for every book, and I know I count on them to help me making my buying decisions.

However, once you put on the writer hat, you're in a different place whether you like it or not. You're not simply a reader anymore. People are watching you. And karma may bite you in the butt. So you need to make a personal decision on what's right for you. (My personal yardstick is that if you wouldn't say whatever it is to the writer face to face, you probably shouldn't put it on the internet.)

And instead of focusing on the negative stuff, look for ways you can uplift others. If you truly loved a book, take the time to go write a review on the big sites. If you're further along on the publishing track, offer to crit or help out a friend who may still be in the beginner stages. If someone writes a fabulous blog post, retweet it for them. Encourage and cheer on those around you when they hit a milestone or accomplish something they've been working at.

Spread that love and it will inevitably come back to you. And then if you do have days where things aren't going well and you need to vent or bitch, people will rally around you instead of going, "Ah, hell, there she goes again."

So I challenge you today to go out and do something to pay it forward or pass along the love. Write a review, give someone a pat on the back or a retweet, or cheer someone up who may be having a downer day.

Have you experienced a Negative Nancy (or Ned) in your world? How do you feel when you see a writer talking badly about another writer or their book?

Do You Trust Reviews? - The Hierarchy of Book Buying

blaine

Photo by Jeff Nelson (cc)

This week on one of the author loops I'm on, there has been a discussion about book reviews--particularly ones on Amazon and Goodreads. One of the authors on the loop linked to this discussion on Amazon by readers about "padded" reviews. Meaning--the author's family, friends, and minions go and jack up the average by writing 5-star glowing reviews.

Be warned, some of the readers in that discussion are pretty harsh in their opinions of authors--kind of painting us like we're these evil puppetmasters who look to deceive readers by getting biased reviews. Some even go so far as to say they never trust a five star review and think the ones are much more valid. Any other author reading this get a shudder of fear over that one?

Now, I am not going to sit here and say that some authors don't send their friends and family over to give them reviews. It happens. But my guess would be that it's a very small part of reviews. And I get most wary when I see a book only has say 5 or 6 reviews and all of them are five stars with "this book is perfection" kind of reviews. But if a book has a good number of reviews and most are positive, I tend to believe it. (I like looking at the average rating.)

However, this whole discussion did get me to thinking how I as a reader (not a writer) look at reviews when I'm making purchasing decisions. And you know what? I do kind of skip over the 5-star ratings (unless it's by a review site I recognize) and I ALSO discount the 1-star ratings. Ninety-five percent of the time the one-star raters have some bigger issue outside of this specific book (they thought it was going to be in a different genre, there was too much sex i.e. they didn't realize it was erotic, or they took some personal offense to the book.) Those reviews aren't helpful to me.

So I usually gravitate toward reading the 2-4 star reviews. I'm not so concerned with the number of stars as I am what the people said about the book. That's usually where I get the most helpful info to let me know if it's going to be a book for me or not. So even as an author, I'm inadvertently discounting those 5-star reviews. Ouch.

But really, for me, the reviews on those sites kind of fall low on my radar when it comes to buying books. It's not so much as a lack of trust as it is I know opinions vary so greatly. For instance, the movie critics loved Contagion. I thought it was completely boring, lacking conflict, and had zero character development.

So here's kind of my hierarchy chart for book buying. 

 

My Hierarchy of Book Buying

AUTO BUY

 

  • It's an author I already know and love. Blurb doesn't really matter. He or she has proven to me that their books are made of win. Until they prove otherwise, I'm buying.

 

 

PROBABLY BUY

  • Recommendation from a friend whose tastes are similar to mine.

The old word of mouth thing. It works. I know the friends I have that recommend winners to me every time.

  • If it's a publisher I trust + Good Blurb

I know this may be more of a writer thing because we're more aware of who is publishing what. But way before I ever had an agent or a deal with Berkley, I was a Berkley fan girl. I knew that I liked 95% of what they put out, so as long as the story blurb interests me, I will usually buy.

 

STRONGLY CONSIDER BUYING

  • Good blurb + Good cover

Yes, covers shouldn't matter. But they do. If the story souds interesting and the cover looks great, I'm in.

  • Good review on a book blog or review magazine I know and trust.

These are the reviews that I think are much more worthwhile. You find those book bloggers who have similar tastes to you and then you can get recommendations that you can trust.

 

MAY CONSIDER BUYING

  • Good Blurb + Good ratings on Amazon/Goodreads

As you can see, this is very low on the list. All the ones above are how I make most of my decisions. Maybe this is because I don't totally buy into reviews, or maybe it's just because I'm buying so many books for the above reasons, that I rarely get down to this point.

 

WON'T BUY

  • Blurb I'm not interested in.
  • Genre I don't read.
  • Clearly homemade cover 

I know it's not fair. But especially with indie pubbed stuff, the cover to me is the first sign of whether or not the person has put forth the effort to be professional. If they didn't spend money on cover design, they probably didn't worry about paying a good editor either. (Not saying that's always true, but just telling you how my mind automatically responds.

  • A lot of reviews and they're mostly bad

A few bad reviews won't scare me off, but if that's the majority of what the book received, I'm probably not buying.

 

So that's how I make my decisions, but I'm curious to hear how you make yours?

Do you put a lot of stock in Amazon and Goodreads reviews? Do you trust 5-star (or 1-star) ratings? What makes you most want to buy a book? What scares you off a book? What book blogs can you always count on for reliable reviews? What would your hierarchy of book buying look like?

 

Seven Things That Make a Book 5-Star Worthy

Credit: NASA

Like many authors, I have chosen not to post negative book reviews. I believe every reader has a right to an opinion (including me), but I also know that writerland is small and it's not worth burning a bridge or creating awkwardness just because I may have not liked someone's book. 

However, if I enjoy a book, I will post or tweet about it and give it a rating on Goodreads and/or Amazon. And sometimes the hardest part about doing that is deciding between a 4 and 5 star review--or finding the difference between "really liked it" and "it was amazing". I noticed that I rarely give 5 stars to anything because apparently I have a really high bar set for that, even though pinpointing where the bar was set wasn't so clear.

Then I read an advanced copy of Tiffany Reisz's The Siren this past week and immediately knew I would give it five stars (and no, not because Tiffany is my agency mate.) Why? Well, I realized I DO have certain criteria that launch a book to a five-star rating. Here's what I came up with...

 

A Five-Star Book...

1. Is a story I cannot put down.

This means I will forgo things that I love to do just to keep reading. I was on my anniversary trip in New Orleans this past week. I should've been walking around the French Quarter and eating beignets, but instead I had to take a midday break just to get in a few more chapters of The Siren. (Hubs didn't seem to mind since this gave him the chance to check in on the golf tournament.)

2. Has characters I will remember long after I finish the book.

Terrific exciting plots are great. Love that. But without richly developed characters that I can connect to, a story will fall flat. I want to finish a book and feel like I've just read about real people that exist somewhere in some alternate universe. 

3. Requires a period of reflection (or a grieving period) after I'm done.

This means that I cannot immediately jump into another book the next day. I need time to absorb, reflect, and appreciate what I've just read. If I pick up another book too soon, the book automatically pales in comparison--not because it's not a good or even great book, but because I'm not ready for a new relationship yet.

4. Makes me want to buy the author's next book or backlist RIGHT NOW even if I have a TBR pile that is threatening to bury me.

A five-star book makes me forgo all plans to read whatever I planned on next. I need more from the author and I need it now.

5. Is one that I must have a hardcopy of.

I love ebooks. I was a pretty early adopter with the Kindle and buy ebooks regularly. However, when a book turns out to be a 5-star-er, I want to have a hardcopy I can keep, flip through, and see on my shelves. 

6. Compels me to tell everyone I know about it.

Ah, that lovely word of mouth all authors want. These books are the ones that start that forest fire. You want to tell anyone you meet about this great book you just read. You turn into a book pimp.

7. Is re-readable

I'm not a big re-reader. I think this has something to do with my pantsing mentality--once I know a story, I don't want to read it again. But there are a rare few that even if I don't sit down and reread the entire thing, I will go back to favorite scenes and chapters and read them again. Some of this is because, as an author, I like to analyze what made the scene so compelling. But often, as a reader, this is just for my pure enjoyment.

 

Now, having said this, I don't want anyone to think a 4-star rating doesn't have some of these qualities. After all, 4-stars means "really liked it."  But I think when a book has all of these, it launches it into the rare air of the 5-star rating. And all I can say is I sure hope I've written some books that will end up on people's 5-star radar one day. :)

Oh, and if you want to find me on Goodreads and see what I've rated, here I am.

So what criteria do you use to separate the "really liked it" from "it was amazing"? Do you find you're very selective about the high ratings or give most books you enjoyed a five? Am I the only one who has a book grieving period or who buys a hardcopy even if I have the ebook?