Tag Archive | Gray Justice

Some Reviews Can Be Bad For An Author’s Health!

I’ve been involved in a few conversations recently about the kind of reviews people leave on Amazon, Goodreads etc. and it never ceases to amaze me that there are people who can be downright malicious in their reviews with no real substance to their criticism. While there are some truly dire books out there, behind those books are authors with real feelings who have put their all into their novels. It frustrates me that this seems to be forgotten with the “what a load of crap” and “it’s boring” comments.

Of course, all reading is subjective. What I enjoy to read will not necessarily be what others enjoy to read and vice versa. However, it is possible to dislike a book but be able to appreciate the skill that has gone into writing it. I read a book not long after I started my website called Cold Call by Colin L. Chapman. I didn’t particularly enjoy it; it just wasn’t my cup of tea. However, it really was beautifully written and despite the grimy, sleazy storyline, Chapman had made it an engaging, clever narrative and I gave credit where it was due, although I did say that it wasn’t to my tastes. Why wouldn’t I respond in this way? I’d been invited to read the book and I felt obligated to give an honest review. Honest, not offensive! Indeed, the author has spoken very highly of my review on numerous occasions since. Any criticisms were reinforced by valid points.

How can any potential reader looking at the reviews for a book to read gain any insight where the entire review is full of insults to the writer/book and no proper comment on the reasons why they don’t like the book? What possible assistance can that kind of review be? I can only surmise that the only objective of the people who leave these kinds of reviews is to hurt the author, which seems a bit ridiculous when the worst thing the author has done is written a book that the reviewer didn’t like. Yet it happens all the time. One author friend of mine stopped reading their Amazon reviews because some of the reviews were so upsetting. That’s not to say that their books were awful, on the contrary, the one’s I’ve read so far have been fantastic, and the split of 1-5 star reviews supports this, as there are only a few reviews under 4 stars. However, as these reviews are so scathing and because the author has spent months or years perfecting their novel to the best of their abilities, these reviews must be very hurtful. It’s like throwing a glass of wine in the sommelier’s face just because the wine is not to your taste, or throwing your popcorn at the cinema usher because the film was awful. Just because the book wasn’t to your taste doesn’t mean that you can insult the writer.

I wrote a post a few months ago on the merits of using dialect and swear words in novels after an author had expressed his surprise that I had not felt the need to comment on the number of swear words in my review of his novel. The book was Ghost in the Machine by Ed James, which was a crime novel set in Edinburgh, where the accents are strong and the language often blue. Bearing in mind this novel was set in a police department where they were seeing all manner of miserable scenes of murder and rape, I’d be very surprised if there wasn’t any swearing. It fitted with the setting. It wasn’t gratuitious, it supported an image of downtrodden policemen and women who spent most of their days knee-deep in grime and unsavoury characters. Yet some of the criticism by the few people who had given this book a 1 and 2 star rating is based on the language and dialect, which to me, added authenticity to the novel, and people did not seem to consider this in their judgement, only that it had swearing and Scottish accents in it and they didn’t like it, therefore the book must be awful!

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that all 1 and 2 star ratings are pure insults and that some books don’t deserve it. I’m sure there are. I rarely rate a book 1 or 2 stars, as I can usually find some merit in most novels, but there are some that, in my opinion are not worth more than 2. However, my criticism would be constructive, not a string of insults. In my experience, authors appreciate an honest review, no matter how critical, if the argument is supported by valid comments. I don’t imagine for one minute that they are particularly nice to read, though. As my good friend Alison can attest, I got very irritated when I got an assignment back at university and read my tutor’s comments. Not that the assignments were dreadful, just that I was never satisfied with the marks! Yet none of my tutor’s ever wrote “Lisa, this is absolutely dull and boring. You are rubbish.”. They may have thought it, but none felt the need to write anything other than constructive criticism. After I had ranted with Alison a little, I could understand that the comments were meant to assist, not to insult, and I considered the points for my next assignment, hopefully improving them. So, why do some readers of books feel that it is okay to not even try and appreciate the merits of a novel beyond whether they personally enjoyed it?

I don’t tend to read Amazon or Goodreads reviews as I do not wish to be swayed before I’ve even given the book a chance by opinions of people who may, or may not, have the same tastes as me . I understand the merit of reviews, obviously, otherwise I wouldn’t write them, and I also understand that the bulk of a review is really based on opinion but surely, as readers, we should give a little respect to these authors purely for putting themselves out there with their work. In such a competitive market, a writer who makes a lot of money is the exception to the rule and given how long it must take to write a book, the risk taken by a writer to spend all that time researching, writing, editing, re-editing, publishing a novel that may or may not make a little bit of money should be admired. That’s not to mention the myriad emotions felt by the author whilst undertaking this unforgiving, confidence-draining process as they pour their creative juices onto the page. How would these reviewers who have nothing good to say feel about the author telling them that their review-writing skills are lousy, the spelling, grammar and punctuation leaves a lot to be desired and their writing lacks analytical style? With supporting evidence! This would be constructive criticism and perfectly valid for a lot of the nasty reviews that people leave, or at least, the one’s I’ve read.

My most critical review was for Gray Justice by Alan McDermott, yet there were many, many people who did not agree and thought it was brilliant. My review was honest and supported by the elements that I didn’t like. I addressed the fact that the premise was a good one and had the potential to be brilliant, yet it wasn’t, and I explained why. I felt incredibly frustrated by the author’s lack of consideration for some of the issues that would have made it such a wonderful book but the points I made, in my opinion were valid ones. At no point did I dismiss McDermott as an awful writer. I haven’t read any others so who know, perhaps the sequels are brilliant. Maybe one day, I’ll give them a try. I’ll be honest, though, even though I still maintain that my review could be justified, it didn’t sit well with me that I’d written such a negative review. I would do it again, though, because it was my honest take on the novel.

I wasn’t particularly complimentary about Grey by EL James either (not so much in the minority here, though) but again, I backed up my issues with specifics and commented on what I did like as well as what I didn’t. I much prefer to give a balanced review rather than a one-sided, all-negative review. Mostly, I like doing glowing reviews and I have been very fortunate to have done quite a few of these since I started Segnalibro. It’s nice to be nice, in my opinion, and I enjoy explaining what I like about a book. I have read some really amazing books by some truly skillful writers, and a lot of them have made my Book of the Month.

I’ve probably laboured my point a bit here (something the reviewers of my author friend’s books would apparently take particular issue with, with no consideration for the fact that there may be a stylistic motivation for doing so) but essentially, I want to implore those people who review on Amazon and Goodreads to put yourself in the place of the author before you press submit on your reviews. By all means, make criticism, but make it constructive. I will always put as much of a positive spin on a book that wasn’t really for me because there will be a considerable amount of other people who will like it, for whatever reason. Certainly with McDermott’s book, I am definitely in the minority of people who didn’t like it. Author’s are people who have feelings that can be hurt by cruel words, especially when those words are aimed at a piece of work that has been their raison d’etre for such a long time. For those who take the time to review a book, keep it kind, keep it honest, but most of all, keep it respectful. Also, bear this in mind next time you leave a review:

 

Guy Martin: When You Dead, You Dead

Guy Martin Release Date: 22 Oct. 2015 Buy new: £20.00 £10.00

Enigma

Robert Harris Enigma 2 days in the top 100 Enigma (195) Download: £6.17

The Girl on the Train

Paula Hawkins The Girl on the Train 279 days in the top 100 The Girl on the Train (8046) Download: £5.70

Grandpa’s Great Escape

David Walliams Grandpa's Great Escape 52 days in the top 100 Grandpa's Great Escape (29) Buy new: £12.99 £5.00 26 used & new from £3.99

The Secret Life of Bees

Sue Monk Kidd The Secret Life of Bees 15 days in the top 100 The Secret Life of Bees (511) Download: £0.99

Old School (Diary of a Wimpy Kid book 10)

Jeff Kinney Release Date: 3 Nov. 2015 Buy new: £12.99 £6.49

Everyday Super Food

Jamie Oliver 55 days in the top 100 Everyday Super Food (188) Buy new: £26.00 £11.99 53 used & new from £8.70

Harry Potter Colouring Book

Warner Brothers Release Date: 5 Nov. 2015 Buy new: £9.99 £6.99

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

 

Girl Online: On Tour

Zoe (Zoella) Sugg Release Date: 20 Oct. 2015 Buy new: £12.99 £6.49

The Signature of All Things

Elizabeth Gilbert The Signature of All Things 2 days in the top 100 The Signature of All Things (213) Download: £5.39

Millie Marotta's Animal Kingdom – A Colouring Book Adventure

Millie Marotta 261 days in the top 100 Millie Marotta's Animal Kingdom - A Colouring Book Adventure (1206) Buy new: £9.99 £3.99 46 used & new from £2.39

After Anna

Alex Lake 32 days in the top 100 After Anna (88) Download: £0.99

The Amazing Book is Not on Fire

Dan Howell , Phil Lester Release Date: 8 Oct. 2015 Buy new: £16.99 £8.49

Rogue Lawyer

John Grisham Release Date: 20 Oct. 2015 Buy new: £20.00 £10.00

Little Girl Gone

Alexandra Burt Little Girl Gone (18) Download: £0.99

Gray Justice Alan McDermott

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine suggested that I read Gray Justice, the first in a series of novels by Alan McDermott that, by all accounts, is doing very well for itself. The reviews on Amazon and Goodreads are, on the whole, very complimentary and the blurb promises an interesting plot. I started the novel with an open mind, aware that although my friend had not particularly enjoyed it, that was no indication about how I would respond to it. Indeed, all these people who have read it and got it into the Top 10 of the Kindle chart can’t all be wrong!

Gray Justice is a novel about Tom Gray, who is left devastated after his young son is killed by a runaway car abandoned by a career criminal, followed by the suicide of his wife in the wake of this tragedy. A former member of the SAS, he decides to take matters into his own hands when the car thief gets a 15 month sentence but is let out straight away as he has served half his sentence while he was on remand. Gray sells his security services firm and, with the help of his former S.A.S. pals, he holds five career criminals in makeshift cells in an old pottery factory and sets up a website to allow the public to decide if these criminals should live or die by voting on his website. Using his army training, he builds himself a fortress to hold these criminals in while the police, security forces and media watch on.

The premise of the novel is good, however McDermott wastes it. In a book with such a plot, I would have expected to connect with Tom Gray very early on, cheering him on throughout the novel. However, we learn very little about Tom Gray. He loses his wife and child in tragic circumstances and I would have expected to feel a heavy sense of sympathy for this man but I don’t feel that the reader get this chance to really feel Tom Gray’s pain through the narrative. This pivotal event in this man’s life, that causes him to sell his house and his business to fund a vigilante scheme to bring awareness to the flawed justice system is reduced to no more than a few paragraphs. We don’t even get to experience his emotions through the other characters reactions, and there are many other characters, especially in the first few chapters. It was easy to get confused with who was who at times. I realise that Gray’s personal feelings is not what the plot is necessarily about and that there is a bigger picture to consider, but without this build up or exploration of Gray’s feelings to any great extent, the narrative just drags on without any real emotion from the reader. We get no real understanding of just quite how much this has had an impact on him. Of course, we can imagine, but I want my heart-strings to be tugged at. In Gray Justice, it just wasn’t to be.

The initial focus of the reader is on the career criminal, Stuart Boyle, as we are told his story first and his complete lack of concern for anything but the financial gain he will receive after procuring a car for someone who will pay him a meagre fee of £500. We hear all about his tricks of the trade, how he avoids the police etc. Whilst it is necessary for this information to be related to the reader, this should not be the first thing the reader encounters. Perhaps this would have worked better if we had read a bit more about Gray’s relationship with his wife and child. It could have been as simple as a typical morning at breakfast, showing some interaction as a family. The reader’s sympathy for Gray would certainly have been heightened with this simple juxtaposition of a before and after view to add to the reader’s understanding of Gray’s loss. Perhaps we could have been given an insight into how Gray’s wife descended into such a depression that she couldn’t take it anymore. Without this preparation, the reader does not get a chance to understand fully why Gray takes the course of action that he does and is left to just go along with the plot.

The narrative itself was not particularly engaging either. There is very little use of figurative language and lots of inane descriptions of car journeys and technical processes that would have been better to have been left to the imagination. I find it odd that so much of the narrative is dedicated to these mundanities when so little was given to Gray’s back story, which in my opinion, was imperative to understanding Gray’s full motivation. There was obviously some intention to add authenticity by throwing in some S.A.S. technical terms  and some jargon relating to computer programming and IP addresses etc. but quite frankly, they were lost in the surrounding narrative. The things that McDermott chose to write extensively about baffled me, when there were areas that could, and should, have been expanded upon. The narrative’s momentum stalled at regular intervals because of this which made it difficult to build up any kind of suspense.

I also struggled with the part of the storyline that saw a young analyst being given a job by a senior MI5 operative who is apparently so senior, his immediate boss takes direct orders from the Home Secretary! I found it hard to believe that there is no chain of authority in MI5, however, I am not an expert in these matters. This poor young girl can’t get the attention of a senior agent so she takes it upon herself to follow a potential terror suspect, one who she knows to be extremely dangerous, along with a coach load of his cronies. I understand that perhaps the intention is for Tom Gray to inadvertently facilitate a potential terrorist threat, thus making the point that vigilantism is not the way forward,  but with the real life political relevance that I would imagine McDermott was trying to emulate in this novel, I would have appreciated a more realistic plot to better make the point. There were other ways of causing a distraction, perhaps a report of a fake device, which distracted the Security Services and S.A.S. into action miles away from Tom Gray’s fortress, allowing the real terrorists to attack without any unrealistic plotting of an overzealous junior agent taking on a coach load of terrorists alone.

My interest increased in the last few chapters as the pace increased but it was very difficult to keep up as a reader, trying to mentally visualise the numerous locations of the various attackers, whilst considering where the police and media presence were situated. With the terrorists, the police, the media, the S.A.S. friends of Gray, and not to mention Gray and his band of criminals all placed in or around vehicles or various ridges and perimeters, I really wasn’t sure who was where and which characters were dead, injured or still running around. I felt like I needed a battle map similar just to get a grip on where everyone was. However, I must admit, I did find myself keen to know what was going to happen next at this point, even if I was a little confused about who was where.

The cause of Gray’s actions is completely lost in the final chapters with a bit of a summary of what happened next by someone who, I assume, is a doctor. Not all the gaps are filled, to encourage the reader to read the next novel but I’m not sure I want to. I was continually disappointed in this book, willing the author to cut out the irrelevant stuff and enhance the plot.  I recently wrote about One Man Crusade by Steven Suttie (One Man Crusade by Steven Suttie) , and I absolutely loved it. The reason I mention it here is that its premise has similarities with this book in that a good man, distraught by the death and suffering of a loved one at the hands of a criminal becomes a very public vigilante to try and encourage the powers that be to change the law, gaining unprecedented support from the nation and highlighting flaws within society. With One Man Crusade, I engaged straight away with the characters. There was real depth to the narrative and every piece of information relayed was relevant to the plot. There are only a few relevant protagonists who are introduced in such a way to avoid any confusion and you got to know the personalities and lifestyles of the characters so that you cheered them on. I was moved to tears on more than one occasion reading One Man Crusade. That’s what I’d have expected to experience at some point when I read Gray Justice, given the emotional experiences of Tom Gray in the beginning. I always try to balance my reviews out of respect for the author who will have undoubtedly put blood, sweat and tears into writing their novel and, of late, the majority of them have been mainly positive but I really struggled to find positive features in this book apart from the premise itself, which was a real shame. I may read book two out of curiosity one day and perhaps my opinion of that will be completely different but, whilst this was a very good idea for a plot, its execution was severely lacking. However, apparently lots of people disagree with me and love this book, so perhaps I’m missing something…