Tag Archive | Grey

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:

 

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Grey by E L James

The 50 Shades trilogy is my guilty pleasure. I’ve read the trilogy several times and find myself fascinated by Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey. One of my first posts was on these books. (50 Shades of Marmite – 5th March 2015) In that post, I mentioned that I would like to read an extended version of Christian’s perspective, after the teaser chapters at the end of Fifty Shades Freed. I got my wish and this week, I finished Grey, which is a rewrite of 50 Shades of Grey, as told by Christian.

I had mixed expectations when I heard that this book was being released, although I was excited at the prospect of reading it. Having read the 50 Shades trilogy a few times, I know the plot well. I hoped that it would be an eye-opener about Christian’s perception of Ana and their relationship but I was a little disappointed at what I found. If the recent Q & A session with EL James on Twitter is anything to go by, so were a lot of other readers. The question about whether she had ever considered to tell Christian’s story from the perspective of someone who could write was my particular favourite, although the question about whether she owned a thesaurus came close!

The premise of Grey holds so much potential. As readers, we wanted to know why Christian fell in love with Ana and what made him pursue her as he did. We wanted to know what made a man so set in his ways change his mindset for the woman he loves. I’m not really sure this book offers any definitive answers to that. In fact, I’m not sure we learn much more than we did in the other books, and that’s a real shame. The biggest flaw with the 50 Shades trilogy is James repetitive writing style and her use of phrasing that belongs in a bygone era. (How Christian’s trousers “hung in that way” and Ana’s irritating “inner goddess”.) You would expect that by her fourth book, and considering that there has been extensive criticism about her writing ability, she would have made more of an effort but this does not seem to have been the case. In fact, it appears that James has looked at the transcript of 50 Shades of Grey and purely altered the perspective, adding a few memories of Christian as a child. There are clues there for the reader to make their own mind up, but this is not what I would expect from a book that is supposedly meant to answer those questions left unanswered by its predecessor.

According to Grey, Christian is completely focused on work and he is determined to maintain his dominant persona. We knew this from 50 Shades of Grey. He is confused about his feelings for Ana as they are so unlike any feelings he has had for any of his other submissives (who can forget the numerous times he said to Ana, with an incredulous expression “Ana, what you do to me…”). We knew this from 50 Shades of Grey. He tries to stay away from Ana and urges her not to get involved with him. Again, we knew this from 50 Shades of Grey. Of course, we were likely to encounter the same scenes and outward displays of affection in both books, considering they mirror each other to a certain extent, but we do not get enough exposure to Christian’s true feelings which is what I was hoping for as a reader. We are shown how Christian inwardly questions his feelings for Ana as he is interacting with her, and his surprise that he can’t stop thinking about her, but he does not explore his feelings beyond surface level. We only get brief interactions between Christian and other people, which could have been used as a vehicle for the reader to get to know Christian better from the perspective of others. This is a real missed opportunity, in my opinion.

We do get the impression that the relationship that Christian craves from Ana has been instilled in him by Elena Lincoln, his “Mrs Robinson”, and as this is the only type of relationship where he feels he can control how much he is physically and mentally touched, we are further encouraged to see Christian in a sympathetic light and not as the monster he considers himself to be. (Those who read into these books that Christian is a sexual predator who beats up women are completely missing the point, in my opinion, but I made my defence of this in 50 Shades of Marmite, so I won’t rehash it here.) However, so much more could have been made of this relationship. What was Christian really like at this point in his life where, in Christian’s opinion, Elena became his saviour? A flashback to this period would have offered further insight to Christian’s point of view, perhaps a flashback to the fight that he has that gets him in trouble as a teenager (as told by Mia in 50 Shades Darker) or showing an example of Christian’s interaction with girls his own age at that time. Christian argues with Ana that Elena wasn’t a paedophile, (at least, he didn’t see her this way) yet the focus is on the sexual nature of their relationship rather than what Elena offered him as a solution to his problems. What did she do to counterbalance his troubled mind? How did she get him to focus on his career to such an extent? It surely can’t just have been because of their BDSM antics. Or was it? This book certainly doesn’t clarify.

James’s fondness for repetition is also back in Grey. There are many instances where Christian has a mental word with himself – “Shut her down, Grey” and “Get a grip, Grey” which just get a bit boring after a while. Also, the language he uses when he talks to Ana before sex is a bit too formal. “I’m going to take you again, Ana”. There is also a lot of description around the mundanities of any action, which is just filling space on the page. We do not need a blow-by-blow account of every little thing they do. It’s just lazy writing, in my opinion. When this space could have been better utilised by more flashbacks, and more insight into Christian’s thoughts, it is irritating to see how much of the narrative was wasted on non-events. I didn’t need to read about Christian going for a run in so much detail so many times. A one-liner, even one paragraph, would have covered it. I also didn’t like the way that James chucks in a few big words here and there to try to make the narrative sound cleverer than it is. If this is to be a Mills and Boon book with kinky sex in it, then don’t dress it up with fancy words.

The 50 Shades trilogy has been a massive success for EL James. I wonder if perhaps this has gone to her head a little and this book was merely a “cash-cow” to increase the bank accounts of all involved. It has also crossed my mind that perhaps she has been sat on this book from the beginning and announcing the release of this book just before the release of the 50 Shades of Grey DVD was a stroke of marketing genius: announce the book in time to encourage sales of the DVD of a film which didn’t do quite as well in the reviews as they would have hoped. (After watching it myself on the day it was released, I can understand why – Jamie Dornan is not Christian Grey.)

James says herself that this book was for all those who had begged her to write more from Christian’s point of view and yet she has wasted the opportunity to give those fans the story they deserved.  Yet, I didn’t hate it. I know this review may sound like I did, but I didn’t. I enjoyed being encouraged to look at the plot from a different angle and I enjoyed being given the hints to Christian’s thoughts and reactions, although I would have preferred more than just hints at times. I enjoyed the flashbacks to Christian’s childhood, his relationship with Leila and his relationship with Elena. I expected the same flaws to be resurrected and I expected to be irritated by the writing style. However, these characters intrigue me considerably, for reasons I can’t quite get a handle on, but I think it has to do with the potential for depth in these characters. When I read the trilogy, I tried to imagine Christian’s feelings, particularly as we were given a few clues along the way and this book is a vehicle to assist the reader on this train of thought. However, I would have loved to have been surprised, to have seen an improvement in James’s writing skills. Instead, I felt like I had to fill in the blanks myself. Would I read the other two books if they were re-written from Christian’s point of view? Absolutely. I wouldn’t be able to resist gleaning at least a bit more knowledge on these characters. All I would say is, if you plan on reading Grey, don’t expect too much and be prepared to become an amateur writer yourself while you imagine your own version of Christian Grey, because James’s version will not satisfy those who wanted to know Christian better.