Grannies and apple turnovers! Plus meet Regann: reading and reviewing, part three

(This is part three in my series on reading and reviewing books. Please read parts one and two if you haven’t already. Thanks!)

Reading and Reviewing Part 1

Reading and Reviewing Part 2

Yesterday morning, armed with a brand-new food storage container filled with home-made apple turnovers, I popped into my church’s quilting session. I’ve never made apple turnovers before (or watched them being made), so I looked up ten different recipes online and cobbled together a plan. I used some regular bread dough instead of pastry (easier to work with and sturdier), sliced up a bagful of apples to simmer for filling, and learned by making a few mistakes.

One: cover the dough with a damp cloth while shaping the first turnovers, or the dough dries out. (I managed to salvage it with a bit of extra oil and a flick or two of water, but it was harder to shape.) Two: no matter how gross I find cornstarch (no rational reason for doing so, just an odd aversion), I should give a try rather than plain flour. My filling did thicken, but it didn’t have that lovely smooth texture of a proper pie filling. Three: Even if the recipe calls for one cup of brown sugar, don’t believe it. I reduced the sugar to two-thirds of a cup, but the filling was still too sweet. Four: Buy a silly pastry brush because doing an egg wash by hand (literally) is messy and goopy. (I debated between silicone and natural bristle pastry brushes, and I finally chose natural bristle because the silicone looked too stiff to use on fragile dough.)

How in the world do people roll out apple turnover dough and make them all the same? I know I could do it by using a round circle cutter, but that seems like cheating.

At any rate, I arrived with my armload of apple turnovers, afraid no one would like them. After all, who knows better how to make apple turnovers than a roomful of quilting grannies? 😀 However, they were all so warm, so welcoming, and so thrilled to have me join. When I hesitantly mentioned I had some apple turnovers to share for lunch (with many disclaimers about the funny sizes, funny shapes, and the first time attempting to make them), they said how nice it was. I wonder if they were thinking, “How cute, she did it all by herself!” *giggle* And…I did not bring a single turnover home. Every last one got eaten. Yay!

I knotted squares, ironed fabric, straightened thread spools, draped partially finished quilt tops over tables, and chattered with everyone. Gosh. It was my first time visiting (although I knew one woman from a Bible study, a few others because they are greeters, and two others knew me from handbell practice the night before), and everyone could not have been nicer. I’ll go back tomorrow, and this time I’ve been requested to make more goodies.

How to make Ana happy: Eat the food she makes for you, enjoy it, and ask for more.

I’m happy!

Best of all, the oldest granny of the group gave me a moment I treasured all the way home. She showed me how to use a measurement block to put my knots in the center of each square, and she gave me safety pins to mark each center before knotting. I chatted with her about everything from her daughter to cross-stitching to my position on coffee (don’t like it). We talked about the intricacies of “real” quilting (as opposed to the utility quilting we were doing, easy stuff meant to keep people warm rather than an art form in its own right), and I said I didn’t have the patience or spatially analytical mind to get all of the patterns right.

Ana: Is the quilting on ongoing project, or is it a one-time thing?

Granny: Ongoing. There’s another group making quilts for at-risk babies, and they take special orders.

Ana: Wow!

Granny: Those are beautiful.

Ana: They must be done by real quilters.

Granny: Oh, yes.

Ana: Do you do real quilting?

Granny: No! I don’t like all of the fussing.

Ana: Me, either. I never learned. It’s too complicated! My mom used to quilt, though.

Granny: Does your mom laugh a lot, like you?

It’s funny how the sweetest compliments are the ones people don’t realize are a compliment. This 95-year-old granny asked the question in passing, without special emphasis, and as part of continuing the conversation. Yet while I drove home from church, I played back that conversation in my head and blinked back a few tears. The image of a laughing self, someone who must have been raised by a mother who also liked to laugh, is not an image that resonates with my experience with my family. For this elderly woman to hold up that image of myself (albeit after only a few hours of working together), well..it was special. I want to be the sort of person who makes people think I was raised by a woman who loved to laugh. A few others made comments about my enthusiasm, my talent at picking up the handbells right away (gulp! not exactly!), and energy.

What a gift this granny gave me. All last night and this morning, I’ve thought about the effect of one small comment. Thinking about how the words I say can either tear down or build up those around me. Resolving to say more positive words and fewer words of complaint.

On that note, I’d like to introduce a reviewer who has always made an effort to be positive. Regann reviewed both The Vengeance of Mrs. Claus and Becoming Clissine: Bastia, Book One.  She earned my respect by writing an intelligent review of Becoming Clissine that demonstrated both respect and understanding of the book. Did she give it five stars? Nope. Did she give both the book and author respect? Absolutely. Let me repeat the review excerpt from the first post in this series, and put it in context:

This is a hard review to write because there were many aspects I liked and disliked about this book.  First, the synopsis captured my attention right away because I LOVE feminist dystopian novels and have read The Handmaid’s Tale and The Gate to Women’s Country. I also liked the concept of a matriarchal society where homosexuality is the norm and heterosexuality is taboo and improper. But, this novel was nothing like I expected and the author succeeded in writing such a vivid, original, and unique universe instead of just a story.

Unfortunately this one almost became a DNF to me because I struggled with the age play content.  This is the first time I have encountered age play in a novel and it personally makes me uncomfortable.  However, reading is an experience and now from experience  I know that this type of content is now a hard limit for me.  Regardless, I enjoyed the core of the story and will pick up the next in the series. (For the rest of the review, please click here.)

These two paragraphs are a good example of Regann’s philosophy of reviewing and why she is respected as a reviewer. And now, let’s hear from Regann herself!

 

———

 

Hello and thank you for answering questions about reviewing F/F fiction! Please introduce yourself, the site you review for, and the types of books you usually review.

Hello! My name is Regann and I am a Midwestern twenty-something reader and blogger.  I started reviewing on Goodreads but had the desire to start a blog so I started Lipstick Lesbian Reviews http://www.lipsticklesbianreviews.com .  I review lesbian, F/F, and LGBT books primarily fiction.  I also review books that feature F/F dynamics but may not be fully F/F.

 

Why do you review F/F fiction? What appeals to you about this particular pairing?

 

Before Goodreads I had no idea there was such an overwhelming selection of lesbian / F/F books! Well first I enjoy F/F because I am a female who dates females 😉  Secondly I enjoy F/F because the dynamic between two females is beautiful, sensual, and there is a connection that cannot be mimicked in other pairings.

 

What do you find most challenging about writing a review?

 

Reviews usually flow for me since I write them right after I finish reading so everything is fresh in my mind.  Sometimes it can be a challenge to put into words the emotions or feelings I have after reading.

 

What kind of interaction do you wish from authors? Are you open to discussion with an author about your reviews, or do you prefer your review to stand on its own?

 

I review out of personal enjoyment and am by no means a professional or a critic.  My reviews are very subjective and my own thoughts.  I’m an honest person so I won’t sugarcoat a review but I would never bash a book either.  The interaction I primarily wish from authors is what a review is for: to find out what one reader thinks of their book.  I do enjoy open discussion with authors as well but don’t expect it either.  Simple things like retweeting my review or posting a comment makes my day so I’m a pretty easy blogger to please. 

 

What do you wish authors knew about reviews and reviewers? Specifically, what should authors avoid doing or be sure to do when interacting with reviewers?

 

My first thought about this question is I think authors should avoid seeing a 3 star as a bad review.  I’ve always thought a 3 star means the book was good, enjoyable, and recommendable- but maybe not going to be a re-read.  Books I rate 3 stars are ones I usually recommend to other readers who are looking for a certain read that maybe wasn’t my favorite of all time.  As a reader I am also more influenced by mid-level ratings than one star/5 star ratings. 

 

 

What is the worst example of author behavior you’ve seen in regards to a review? Feel free to change identifying details to protect the guilty!

 

I reviewed a book (not F/F or for my blog) and the author asked me to withhold my review if I didn’t give it a 4 or 5 stars.  I felt uncomfortable because the author didn’t share this before I read the book and I enjoyed it! I thought only having high ratings posted was misleading other readers.

How can authors best show appreciation for reviewers and encourage you to continue giving your services?

 

Authors showing anything is appreciated 🙂 Retweeting, leaving a quick comment, etc. are very simple ways that are nice to see once logging on.   I also feel very honored when an author asks me to review again as well. 

 

 

 

Tuesdays with Ana: An introduction to reading and writing book reviews, Part One

Most of us have experienced book reviews, whether it’s reading or writing them. If we are looking for a good book, we might scan other readers’ reviews to decide if the book is worth buying. If we write reviews, we might worry about offending the author or experience negative responses for writing a critical review. If we are an author, we might feel frustrated when a reviewer posts comments that are harsh or unfair. If we are a new or aspiring author, we might feel confused trying to decide which criticism to take and which to ignore.

It’s complicated! Let’s talk about a few of these items, starting with the types of reviews and their purposes. I’ll share two examples of reviews, one positive and one negative. Later, I’ll share some responses from quite a few reviewers I’ve interviewed. I’ll also open discussion for questions and advice about reading and writing book reviews. Let’s get started! I’ll post some introductory thoughts today, and later I’ll post interviews with eight reviewers.

First, let’s begin with who I am: I am an author, and for that reason writing book reviews often means writing about my colleagues. Awkward, you say? Sometimes. 🙂 Writing reviews for other authors is a great service, but it can become problematic unless I write glowing comments. I write very few reviews, but that’s because I come from a different tradition of writing reviews. I believe that a detailed, intelligent critique is a compliment to the author. I also recognize that many authors want glowing reviews to help sell their books. Let’s be honest: I love getting glowing reviews that will help sell my books. Who doesn’t? 🙂 I’ll talk more about the different kinds of reviews and critiques later, but for now let me point out that different kinds of people write reviews for different purposes.

Here is an example of a review I wrote for Spanking Romance Reviews:

By Anastasia Vitsky

The first time I read Switch (The Trainer)Kate Richard’s newest book, I was incensed. The plot developments were unfair to the main character! How could he… how could she… it was an injustice!  Then I stepped back to evaluate my reaction. Emotional investment in characters is a sign of good writing, and this book made me care about its characters. For that accomplishment alone, Richards is to be commended. Switch brings readers into a world of sympathetic characters, believable conflict, and satisfying resolution. Along the way, we also enjoy some delightful spankings and sizzling sexual action.

The premise for Switch will resonate with many practitioners of DD (domestic discipline). The marriage flounders, communication fails, and both partners have become trapped by inflexible relationship patterns. In this case, Rick’s irresponsibility fuels Esme’s disappointment and lack of trust. They seek help from a character known as the “Trainer,” a DD consultant. As the Trainer teaches Rick how to spank Esme, the couple re-discovers the foundation of their marriage: love, a commitment to each other, and a scorching sexual chemistry.

Yet, rebuilding their marriage is not as easy as applying a chosen implement to the correct portion of Esme’s body. Rick and Esme rush into DD without considering its limitations. Their conflict and struggles are both poignant and real, recognizable to nearly every new practitioner of DD. Herein lies the secret strength of Switch: Richards helps us understand our own real-life relationships in a better way, and she packages everything in a shiny happily-ever-after. Life lessons with a finishing touch of sweetness.

Professional book reviews are often short, as in 250 words or shorter. (This review is 260 words.) A typical professional review contains a few main elements:

  • Introduction to the book’s context. Is the book paranormal, a romance, young adult fiction, or a thriller?
    From this review of Switch, the reader learns that the book is a romance, contains sexual content, has a happily-ever-after ending, and is about domestic discipline.
  • Introduction to the major characters and conflict of the book.
    Rick and Esme are a couple struggling with their marriage, and they use domestic discipline to try to solve it.
  • A personal response to the book.
    This book made me furious! However, I still recommend the book because it contains good writing and makes me care about the characters.
  • A take-away message for the reader, or the “So what?” element. Why should we care about the book? (Unless the review pans the book, and in that case we should see still see a take-away message.)
    We should care about this book because it helps us understand our own relationships.

A good review makes a claim about a book, and then the reviewer gives reasons to support that claim.

What if a reviewer hates the book? He or she still needs to support the claim, and in fact has a greater obligation to do so. Take this example written by Jade Cary:

Sir Thomas Aldley, the Queen’s ambassador to Portugal, believes such a savage place is not fit for his budding 17-yr old daughter, Lady Catherine. God help us if she happens to fall in love with a rakish Spaniard, or something. Well, Lady C would have been better off, and the ol’ man should have left well enough alone. He sets her to sail for his sister’s place in England so she can enjoy the season and marry well. The sailing vessel is apparently ripe to be plucked for its rich booty by cutthroat pirates, and it is indeed taken over by Captain Jonathan Hale and his band of merry men. He releases the hostages, except for Cathy, whom he berates, spanks and then rapes, not once but over and over again. Despite all of that, Cathy seems…smitten.

Eye-roll and Sigh.

The alleged hero, Jon Hale, is absolutely horrible–probably the vilest ‘hero’ I have ever seen in romantic fiction. The whole kidnap-rape-Stockholm Syndrome thing has been done over and over again in modern fiction, so I was surprised to see this theme in what can only be described as a bodice ripper that should have us all swooning. Instead, this character has not one redeemable feature, and the author doesn’t see the need to scrounge one up for him. Through most of the book he’s busy in a rage, calling her slut/whore/trollop, and then treating her like one, all the while justifying his actions. My favorite moments in the book were the many times he said to her, ‘Have I beat you, or hurt you in any way?’

No, sweetie. You were great.

By the middle of the book I started hating Cathy, too. She luuuurves him. Jeepers, really? REALLY? He seems to blame her for something or other and won’t listen to reason. The man spends so much time sulking, calling her names and raping her that he comes across like a spoiled, horny teenager whose frontal lobe hasn’t fully reformed. We are told, ad nauseum, via the author, via Cathy, how masculine, how ‘all man’ he is. Not so much–more like a malformed brat. And as far as getting to the point of his ‘rage’ (rage isn’t all that sexy), not much happens to get him to the Ah Ha! moment, so when we get there, it’s like, duuuuh. You can see the light bulb go on over his head (I imagined such things so I didn’t start screaming at my poor Kindle Paperwhite) Anticlimactic just doesn’t describe it.

When, toward the end of the book, Jon tears off her clothes, verbally humiliates, and then rapes Cathy (Really? Again??)–now his wife and mother to his newborn son–in the back of a carriage, and then declares them ‘even’ after she slaps his face, I almost threw Professor Paperwhite across the room. I am at a loss as to how, and why, the author thought this man was sexy, how she thought this horror show of a man would bring tingles to female readers, and how she could have written such a weak character as the dim-witted Cathy. Instead of swatting him over the noggin with her favorite cast iron pan, she continues to pine after this a-hole, and in the end they get their HEA. Sadly, I didn’t buy it. Even for the time period in which the book was written, and the year in which the author wrote it, this dude is over-the-top horrid. We all adore the lovable cad who has his odd moments (and a tiny bit of rage, which IS sexy), yet his love for our heroine is clearly at the forefront, and we can find forgiveness for him in the end. That’s how it’s done. Robards missed this one by a sea mile. What was she thinking?

Really. Bad.

Is anyone uncertain whether Jade liked the book? LOL! Jade’s style is different from mine, and she uses more personal phrasing than I did. However, Jade still follows the same basic principles of a book review.

  • Introduction to the book’s context. Is the book paranormal, a romance, young adult fiction, or a thriller?
    This is a historical romance that contains pirates, action, and adult themes. It is not suitable for younger readers.
  • Introduction to the major characters and conflict of the book.
    Cathy loves Jon, and the kidnapping and rape make her fall in love with him.
  • A personal response to the book.
    This book made Jade furious, but not in a good way. She objects to a weak female character and feels the rapes are not a believable form of courtship.
  • A take-away message for the reader, or the “So what?” element. Why should we care about the book? (Unless the review pans the book, and in that case we should see still see a take-away message.)
    This could have been a great book, but it failed.

Readers, that is ordinary readers who are not also authors or who write for review sites, write “customer service” types of reviews. “This is what I liked and what I didn’t like. I’d recommend it or not recommend it to others because…” These are often the most persuasive kinds of reviews because readers have no personal investment in the product (the book). If I want to buy a new computer, I’m more likely to listen to personal stories of people who bought a computer and liked it. Readers purchase the book on their own, or they may receive the book as a gift or a prize. Reader reviews can range from “It sucked!” to a more thought-out review such as Roz’s wonderful review of Editorial Board.

Reviewers, that is people who write a review for a reviewing site (whether their own blog or someone else’s site), usually receive a complimentary copy (an advance review copy, shortened as an “ARC”) to write a review. They may receive these books individually if their book review site is their own. Review sites with more than one reviewer will typically ask for a book blurb, buy link, and basic information about the author. This information is passed on to the site’s reviewers. If someone wants to review, the site owner will obtain an ARC and pass it on to the reviewer. These types of reviews, while still a personal response, tend to be more formal. Some review sites have a policy of only publishing positive reviews. Other sites want a balance of positive and negative reviews. These kinds of review sites often specialize in certain types of fiction. Lipstick Lesbian Reviews, for example, only accepts books that contain (surprise!) F/F themes. The review policy reads:

Lipstick Lesbian Reviews focuses on the underrepresented genres of lesbian, F/F, and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) literature and fiction. I am interested in reading and reviewing:

  • Contemporary and Realistic fiction
  • Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy
  • Erotica and Dark Romance
  • Young Adult and/or New Adult

Books do not necessarily need to have lesbian characters but it is preferred to have some aspect of female lovin’.

If you are interested in submitting your book for an honest review please send an email to lipsticklesreviews@gmail.com
Please include in the email:

  • Title and Author
  • Sub-genre
  • Blurb
  • Desired time frame

While I may not be able to review EVERY book I will do my best 🙂

Other sites may only accept M/F stories, or only YA, or refuse to accept books with certain themes. Reviewers are not aligned with certain authors (although they may be authors themselves), do not receive financial compensation for their reviews (other than receiving the book free), and work hard to give honest reviews that will help readers choose a book to read.

Author reviews are often given as a form of mutual support. (Bless you and thank you to all of my fellow authors who have done so!) These typically focus on the positive elements and serve as an endorsement of the book.

Where are book reviews posted? Amazon, Goodreads, the publisher’s website, if they take reviews (my publishers, Blushing and LazyDay, both take reviews on their sites), and your blog are all great options. You can also post links to your review on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or other social media sites.

What a book review (of any type) should never do:

  • Insult the author personally or speak disrespectfully about the book.
    Example: “I wanted to bash this person’s head in.” (True story. No kidding.)
    Better: I don’t like these kinds of characters because…
  • Give away major plot points of the story (aka “spoilers”)
    Example: What a stupid book. In the end (major character) (major plot point spoiler).
    Better: I objected to the ending of this book. Without giving away any spoilers, let me say that the author did not set up the ending, and the plot twist came across as gimmicky rather than realistic.
  • Criticize the book without taking into account its genre and context.
    Example: Mira’s Miracle sucked because it was all F/F action. There should have been a hot guy. Also, spanking is abuse. (Um…read the blurb, shall we?)
    Better: The male characters in Mira’s Miracle did not get enough attention. I liked the strong female characters, but I would have liked to see Mira interact positively with a male disciplinarian figure.

Here’s a real-life example of an appropriate criticism:

Unfortunately this one almost became a DNF to me because I struggled with the age play content.  This is the first time I have encountered age play in a novel and it personally makes me uncomfortable.  However, reading is an experience and now from experience  I know that this type of content is now a hard limit for me.  Regardless, I enjoyed the core of the story and will pick up the next in the series.(Read the full review of Becoming Clissine here)

It’s a fair criticism. Becoming Clissine is advertised as a sci-fi/fantasy socio-political spanking story, not an ageplay. There are no warnings about ageplay, although the blurb does describe Clissa’s re-education being treated as a child.

Phew, this is the longest Tuesdays with Ana to date! And yet we’ve barely scratched the surface. Good thing this is only Part One, and good thing eight talented reviewers have agreed to post interviews about their thoughts as reviewers.

Would you like to try writing your first book review, but you don’t know how to get started? Ask Roz! She’s the newest pro. 🙂 Do you write book reviews for a site and feel frustrated by inappropriate author behavior? Are you an author and frustrated by inappropriate conduct by reviewers?
Do you have advice for new book reviewers, new authors, or any aspects of book reviews?

Oh, and if you leave a book review for Mira’s Miracle on Amazon, Blushing, and/or Goodreads, I will bless your name forever. 🙂

Come back tomorrow for a very exciting announcement! Something amazing will happen in the world of F/F fiction, instigated by yours truly!!