Six Months of Reviewing Novels: An Education

It’s been a while since I did a train of thought post so I thought I’d put the reviews to one side for an evening and do one now.  My first few posts on Segnalibro were about my thoughts on things that interested me in the literary world. However, two conversations with the brilliant authors Rob Sinclair (Dance With the Enemy, Rise of the Enemy) and Matt Johnson (Wicked Game and Deadly Game) inspired me to review their début novels, as I found myself surprised that I was reading, and enjoying, books in a genre that would never have appealed to me before. It is pretty safe to say that I caught the bug and I have reviewed books in more or less every genre since then. Six months after that first semi-review of Rob and Matt’s books, I feel that I have learned a few things about this reviewing lark.

One thing I have found is that it is much easier to review books you have enjoyed immensely or hated with a passion. I’ve been very fortunate that I have read some lovely novels which have been engaging from start to finish and I have loved waxing lyrical about some of the books that I really felt stood out among the others I was reading at the time. There are three books that spring to mind as books that completely floored me with their amazing narratives and wonderful plots. The first one is The Last Days of Disco by David F. Ross. I loved this book for its nostalgic reminders of my childhood in the 1980’s and the hilarious antics of main protagonist, Bobby Cassidy. Just when I thought that this book couldn’t get any better, by the end of the book, the flood gates were open. If a book can make me laugh and cry, it’s a winner for me, and The Last Days of Disco did just that. This was also the first book I reviewed from Orenda Books and it won’t be the last, that’s for sure!

The next book that had me stunned was One Man Crusade by Steven Suttie. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this book but after being contacted by Steven Suttie requesting that I tried his book, I thought I’d give it a try. Never have I had such an intense reaction to a novel. I broke my heart reading it. This gritty novel about a Manchester police department hunting down a paedophile killer left me reeling as Suttie, in true journalistic fashion, gives the reader an illustration of how a situation can escalate in a society that has 24 hour updates and constant social media feeds. Suttie merely gives the facts, leaving the reader to decide their own point of view, not to mention, his clever tactic of waiting until you are a several chapters into the novel before giving you the story of the man who is killing paedophiles and has become the hero of the nation for doing so. I implored everyone I know to read this book and if I’m ever asked to recommend a book, One Man Crusade is always one of the first I mention. A friend of mine read this recently on my recommendation and I was really happy that she liked it, so much so that she bought and read the sequel, Neighbours from Hell, which was released on Monday, which I haven’t even got round to reading yet!

The third book that has surprised me by its brilliance is a recent read, The Demon of Darkling Reach by PJ Fox. Again, I wasn’t sure that this was going to be a book that I’d enjoy, again allowing myself to be put off by the genre. (I will never learn!) However, this is one of the most beautiful narratives I’ve read in a very long time. When I was studying towards my English degree, I read many classics, a number of them gothic novels, and I was reminded of the intricacy of these novels when I read Fox’s tale of Isla, a feisty, young daughter of an imprudent earl who has squandered his money away to the point where he has to offer the hand of his daughter in marriage to the enigmatic duke, Tristan Mountbatten, aka The Demon of Darkling Reach. The plot itself is magnificent but what I loved was that the narrative had all the beauty of a classic novel but with the features of modern literature that are only hinted at in their predecessors, such as swearing and direct sexual references. This book was also an education in the traditions and practices of mediaeval life, which I found absolutely fascinating. This is another book that I am plugging endlessly to anyone who will listen!

Of course, these all fall into the “Books I’ve Loved” category. There has only been one book that has left me so irritated that I felt the need to write an almost fully negative review, which was Gray Justice by Alan McDermott. I was completely frustrated by this book because it had all the makings of a really enjoyable novel, if only the writer could be bothered putting the time into his main protagonist. As a reader, it was expected that you would sympathise and champion Tom Gray, yet we know barely anything about him. McDermott focuses his attention on the wrong characters, has unfeasible plot twists and the final showdown has so many characters in so many locations that it is impossible to fathom who is where, at what stage and what the implications are of where the characters are located for the rest of the novel. I was frustrated because it could be such a better novel than it is with a bit more investment from the author into the main character’s emotions, perceptions and by building an affinity between the reader and Tom Gray.

What these four books had in common is that they were easy to write about. The paragraphs almost wrote themselves as I typed away, because, good or bad, the narratives were rich in elements to comment about. What I have found during this reviewing learning curve, is that it isn’t always that easy. I will always give my honest opinion and I will always try to focus more on the positive than the negative, but sometimes, when the narrative is distinctly average or it is a book that doesn’t particularly interest me although it may be enjoyable to others, it is difficult to find the words, which for someone who can normally talk/write until the cows come home (this post being a classic example), is a very strange situation to find myself in. There have been a few books which, to be honest, have just not excited me. They were okay and readable, but there is just not much to say about them. I probably just need more practice, but that would mean reading many more “okay” books and less time reading the “amazing” books as I have noted above.

However, I have found that I have really enjoyed reading and reviewing books from all genres and I have loved the conversations that it has led to with the various authors who I have reviewed books for. Special mention must go to my lovely guest reviewer, J.L.Clayton, who has become an amazing Twitter/Facebook Buddy and is, without a doubt, my biggest supporter as she retweets/shares everything I post, which is invaluable to me. She has also wrote two fantastic books with a third in progress (A Spark of Magic and A Blaze of Magic) and I really value her encouragement and her experience in writing and publishing her own books.

The fact that I have generated a review feedback page attests to my joy at the great feedback I have received over the last six months. The feedback has been so gratefully received by me while I have been finding my feet at book reviewing and I want to thank every author who has taken the time to thank me for my efforts. Of course, my feedback tweet from Rob Lowe, though short and sweet, will be forever etched in my memory (and in my phone photos, and on my website, Twitter feed, Facebook page…) although a “Thanks for making Stories I Only Tell My Friends Segnalibro’s July Book of the Month” would have been nice! (Just kidding – I love my tweet for Love Life and I will treasure it forever!) In all seriousness, another thing I have learned in this process is that the authors I have encountered are lovely and I have been very fortunate that I have had nothing but encouragement from the authors whose books I have reviewed. Long may this continue!

Finally, I have learned that book reviewing is an addictive hobby. If I’m not reviewing, I’m reading (although I did a lot of this anyway) and it is a lovely way to enjoy my spare time. I have got myself into a little routine now: day job, time with the children, reading/reviewing, with a few meals and chores in between. I never thought when I started my website that I would be enjoying writing posts as much as I do. I wish I had more time to spend on it but nonetheless, setting up www.segnalibro.co.uk is one of the best things I have done and I am immensely proud of it. Here is to many, many more book reviews, train of thought posts, Golden Book Ratings, Segnalibro Book’s of the Month and to making contact with some amazing people. I hope this indulgent, not-so-little post hasn’t put you to sleep, and if it has, I hope that was the intention when you started reading, in which case, the post is a success! Thanks for reading and thanks for your support over the last six months. Lisa xx

 

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