It Stings So Sweet is a novel in three parts--a literary threesome, if you will. And, no question about it, much like the middle part of a threesome, it was the story in the middle that had the most fun. Or, at the very least, it was the most fun to write.
Inspired by legendary silent screen star Clara Bow, I wanted to write a sassy, brassy heroine with a secret her lover could exploit.
Where to turn, but to Hollywood? The Roaring Twenties kicked off the Golden Age of movies. It was a time before television and millions of people went to the movies every week five times or more. There were neighborhood Nickelodeons where couples necked in the back aisles, and luxurious Movie Palaces where the ritzy folks went to rub elbows in style.
This much I knew. What I didn’t know was just how naughty those films could be.
They said, in the twenties, “Anything Goes.” And there were no movie ratings or restrictions on filmmakers at the time. So just how randy did these films get?
Well, if you were ever under the impression that pornography was a Boogie Nights invention of the 1970s allow me to shatter your illusions as mine were shattered when my research led me to a vintage stag film called Nudist Bar.
I admit to staring agog at one of the few surviving films to have been digitized from that glitzy era.
What I learned--after I recovered from the shock--was that stag films from the Jazz Age were not only explicit, but experimental. Every coupling you can imagine was caught on film, and sometimes it was more than just couples. Threesomes, foursomes, and moresomes, too!
But in spite of the graphic nature of the films there was a sort of charming tenderness to such films utterly lacking in the modern adult entertainment industry. The cheeky winks at the camera, the hand-holding, the courtly behavior of a vintage porn star towards his leading ladies is arrestingly different than what we have come to expect--and somehow seemed far less exploitive than its modern equivalent.
It was, for me, a real eye-opener about the evolution of sexuality in the 19th Century. And it also helped inspire my heroine’s secret. You see, in It Stings So Sweet, glamorous Clara Cartwright starred in just such a film before becoming a Hollywood legend...and is now being blackmailed by the mysterious WWI Flying Ace who gets his hands on the reel.
When she decides to meet the war hero for a private screening, to make sure he isn’t bluffing, the sparks fly! And I think you’ll fall in love with her blackmailer just as hard as she does.
STEPHANIE DRAVEN is a bestselling, award-winning and RITA-nominated author of historical, paranormal, and contemporary romance. Her newest project, IT STINGS SO SWEET is a collection of 1920s historical erotic romances that celebrate sex, women, and the Jazz Age. Her most recent novel with Entangled Publishing, IN BED WITH THE OPPOSITION, is a mix of humor and sex-appeal set against the backdrop of a zany political campaign inspired by the career of Baltimore legend William Donald Schaefer. Both novels are fun departures from her more serious Greek mythology-inspired series for Harlequin's Nocturne line, the debut novel of which was nominated by Romantic Times for Best First Series. The series has earned critical praise for its originality and awareness of social issues and garnered the 2012 SWIRL award for excellence in multi-cultural romance literature as well as the CataRomance's Reviewers Choice Award. Writing historical fiction about Cleopatra’s daughter as Stephanie Dray, she won the Golden Leaf Award for SONG OF THE NILE. Stephanie is currently a denizen of Baltimore, that city of ravens and purple night skies. She lives there with her favorite nocturnal creatures–three scheming cats and a deliciously wicked husband. And when she is not busy with dark domestic rituals, she writes her books. StephanieDraven.com
It Stings So Sweet
They vibrated with incendiary Jazz. They teemed with sexual abandon. The Twenties were roaring and the women–young, open, rebellious, and willing–set the pace and pushed the limits with every man they met…
In the aftermath of a wild, liquor-soaked party, three women from very different social classes are about to live out their forbidden desires.
Society girl, Nora Richardson’s passionate nature has always been a challenge to her ever-patient husband. Now he wants out of the marriage and she has just this one night to win him back. The catch? He wants to punish her for her bad behavior. Nora is offended by her husband’s increasingly depraved demands, but as the night unfolds, she discovers her own true nature and that the line between pain and pleasure is very thin indeed.
Meanwhile, Clara Cartwright, sultry siren of the silent screen, is introduced to a mysterious WWI Flying Ace. If Clara, darling of the scandal sheets, knows anything, it’s men. And she’s known plenty. But none of them push her boundaries like the aviator, who lures her into a ménage with a stranger in a darkened cinema then steals her jaded heart.
Working class girl Sophie O’Brien has more important things on her mind than pleasures of the flesh. But when her playboy boss, the wealthy heir to the Aster family fortune, confronts her with her diary of secret sex fantasies, she could die of shame. To her surprise, he doesn’t fire her; instead, he dares her to re-enact her boldest fantasies and Sophie is utterly seduced.
One party serves as a catalyst of sexual awakening. And in an age when anything goes, three women discover that anything is possible…
Well, I've been writing, not blogging (obviously). And when I'm in the mood to blog, I have life interfering (a looming operation tomorrow so I'm sitting here, twiddling thumbs, waiting for the hospital to call with my time).
So, to assuage my guilt I thought it might be fun to share more of the grammar memes that make the rounds on Face Book.
I'm willing to admit: it's way easier to cut 'n paste some pics than to come up with original content. Some are funny, some cringe-worthy.
Despite the fact I embrace romance, I write romance, I <how the heck you make those stupid little icon thingees??> heart romance... I will admit to being a bit...
...squirrelly about the whole gift-giving expectation set up by our consumer culture. Penurious me <yes, call me cheap, if the mud sticks...> thinks flowers are a serious waste of resources (though I dearly love me some blooms), candy is a 'touch to the lips, forever on the hips', and a joint gym membership just seems wrong on so many levels.
Granted, the men in my life have never been ace in the gifting department. To a man (and you will be polite and not inquire as to how many) they liked strong women, take charge women, women with their own Gold Cards, career women...
...women who didn't need gifts to know they were valued, admired.
Of course, they were...
Nope, I don't need chocolates, jewelry or a bouquet of roses, but if that certain someone does feel the need to express himself...
...this might be one way to get me in the mood.
It's been one of those weeks. You know them well, as I'm sure we all share the ups and downs of trying to please, to touch hearts and souls, to share our inner visions, to entertain, to simply ... express who and what we are to a largely uncaring and highly critical literary landscape.
You've heard the expression: everybody's a critic. Whoever coined that phrase probably never envisioned the sheer numbers of people sporting opinions about virtually everything in the known universe. And for this discussion: books in particular. Hone it down further and I'm talking about Ye Olde Comments on the Zon and B&N.
The subject of reviews has gained notoriety lately: authors paying for reviews or engaging in 'sock puppet' activities, denigrating fellow authors in order to bump ratings (and sales) and other unsavory tactics.
This morning I discovered, via a Face Book thread, a website soliciting people to read and submit pre-packaged reviews for a small remuneration: New Book Launch. Jerrod Balzer's Blog detailed a friend's investigation into the alleged scam.
It's ... unsettling. Unseemly. Unprofessional. And downright annoying.
I don't know anyone actually who does care what a critic says. --Lou Reed
Lou might be right, but the sad truth is that if an author wants to sell books, then said author has to be noticed in our brave new world of ePublishing. And to get noticed you need metrics: likes, tags, stars, ratings, rankings, reviews—all summoned into ever-changing mysterious mathematical algorithms that seem weighted in favor of X and to the detriment of Y. There is evidence to that effect; it is, unfortunately, circumstantial and hard to pin down.
I won't quit until I get run over by a truck, a producer or a critic.--Jack Lemmon
Run over by a truck: the "Ouch" Effect. A recent review on a newly released title more or less upended my whole day, had me questioning why I bother to write at all, and generally had me in a tailspin. It was a 2-star with some pointed complaints about POV, there was too much going on, it was too short, etc. Then the reviewer suggested I join a writer's group and learn how to do it but ... in spite of everything that was wrong with me as a writer and this particular piece in particular, I 'showed promise'.
To be cantankerous: the POV choices were deliberate and served a definite purpose, it was a short story, and the reviewer clearly was not my 'demographic'. And this work was not my first prom dance.
I also confirmed this reviewer then returned the book. A 99 cent eBook.
Pay no attention to what the critics say; no statue has ever been put up to a critic.--Jean Sibelius
Sigh, the sad thing is ... Amazon does pay attention, punishing 1-3 star books with a 'Not Recommended' designation: otherwise known as the harbinger of death for an indie author. A single snarky bad review can be enough to send an author's title into oblivion via the highway of invisibility.
The media are awash with criticisms about Amazon's review policies. One example is this article from The New York Times. A reviewer need not have actually purchased the book, although there is a flag that identifies those who have made a valid purchase. To their credit they require a 20-word minimum comment.
B&N does not. On their site a reviewer can do a 'hit 'n run', leaving a star-rating but no text. The do need to be registered but not required to purchase the book being rated.
I went down the rabbit hole, wallowed a bit in self-pity and emerged once more.
“I have already settled it for myself so flattery and criticism go down the same drain and I am quite free.”
― Georgia O'Keeffe
I've taken to collecting those amusing meme's that highlight the dysfunctional way too many of us have of expressing ourselves via the written word.
Some require a *facepalm*, others a *head desk*, most a knowing *chuckle*.
Here are some of my favorites:
Welcome Revelers to the
HOT WINTER NIGHTS
Dec. 1-4, 2012
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Here's a little story to satisfy those cravings, you know the ones—when misgivings give way to temptation and the bigger the spoon, the better it gets.
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BLOOD HAVEN: MICAH
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The world is sideways today. Not skewed, not akimbo, not even mildly turned upside-down.
He has an announcement.
Bing! The computer chirped, once, irritating, knocking me off my doze, mid-snort, jerking me up and out and into. Alongside. I hate when it does that. Face planted on the keyboard, I’d barely made it through the last line of promised searches, before the fog and spider webs cast nets of blankness.
You’re better at that than me, Hon.
I’d been better at most everything since our grad school days. Research. His, mine, ours.
Damn, I really, really hate the Medicis, hate the period, hate the costumes, hate the endless machinations and backstabbing and bickering and mindless preening. And those were just the fucking actors.
I had this in mind for her all along, Hon. Wrote it special, she saw it, she saw herself in my words, made it hers. This is the one, babe, this will do it. I’ll be on my way.
I say author, he says screenwriter. I say to-may-to, he says to-mah-to. Whatever the way is, I’d just as soon see it sink in a stinking canal than to have to dredge up yet another piece of authenticity that’ll end up being blown to smithereens—Michael Bay’s theory of the Big Bang applied in all its post-Medieval splendor.
It made my teeth hurt. It made me hungry.
Shoulda listened to my old man. Never marry a writer he cautioned—he should know, having fifteen mystery-thrillers under his generously-proportioned belt. His apple didn’t fall far from the tree, but fall it did and now it nestles under a pile of misshaped twigs masquerading as words, slowly rotting away.
Make sure you’re there when I get home. You might not like what I’ve got to say. I’ve given it a lot of thought.
After ten years of now what he finally manages to push a worry button. The man doesn’t think, he simply does not think. There’s this disconnect between his left and right brain, a bypass, maybe something done surgically at birth.
Uh-huh. Everything is important, critical, of utmost. He lives in an alternate reality of air kisses and Gucci bags, where personalities exist as alphabetized entities on an Excel spreadsheet, A’s in, B’s if you must, hangers-on and hanging-by-a-thread.
So he’s had a thought, an important one, in an announcement sort of way. My belly’s in a full-out roar now. I tap a blunt fingernail on the keyboard, muted plastic tink-tink-tink.
I knew it was coming.
She, who saw herself in his words.
She, who fucked every writer she ever worked with.
She, who needed no butt-double but paraded around the set with boobs large-and-in-charge.
I could Google rings around that vacuous bimbo and look where’d that got me. Myopic, wearing sweats with stretched elastic, pounding out words, not mine, as my girth, the bags under my eyes and my youth expanded, disbanded, leaving me hollow, empty.
Well, maybe I couldn’t do anything about she, but I sure as hell could do something about hollow and empty.
Hello Ben & Jerry’s Chubby Hubby, a pint, fresh, the lid resisting me, then releasing with a sharp sucking noise that made me wet and tight ’til I clasped my thighs together hard. Anticipation, it’s all about the slow burn that only ice cold can give you.
I get the soup spoon, not the namby-pamby teaspoon. No, I want a full load, chipmunk cheeks distended, pretzel bits and nuts and chunky chocolate oozing out the corners of my mouth, dribbling down my chin as I suck and tongue it, furnace hot, to run lava slick down the back of my throat.
I slide to the floor, in raptures, licking the spoon, over and over and over. An orgasm of the taste buds that slowly traverses my esophagus, to lodge with sensuous fullness mid-section. Vaginal heat, oral chill, seething, boiling, bubbling mid-stream.
I look up. He’s home, my lord and master. Let the announcement begin. I run my fingers around the waistband, no longer caring.
Solemn. Eyes cast down. He doesn’t seem to notice I’m on the floor, having a moment, the spoon trailing a last pass on my sticky lips.
Then he stares straight into my eyes, carelessly rubbing his paunch, determined.
Hon, I’ve made a decision. I’m going on a diet.
My latest series from
Blood Haven: Micah
Poseurs and tourists gather in a pretend world that chains NYC's Goth and Vamp subcultures in profitable bondage. Only the Council knows what's real, what isn't. There are rules: for engagement, for feeding, for exhibitionism.
Dead whores pose no problem. Drained dead whores are news. Some say that’s good for business. Others disagree.
Private eye Micah Shephard exists on the city's fringes—the go-to man when the evidence points to the impossible, to where truth and answers seldom intersect. A venerable city institution offers him a generous per diem. It's just another job, until Micah realizes the new client is unexpectedly ... himself.
And Coming Soon: Book 2 of Blood Haven: Cajun Gothic
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Blood Haven: Micah
Follow the Trail of Participants!
What is the color of cruelty? Is there a hue to spite? Has unkindness a flavor, an aura?
Bullying is more than hits to the psyche, far more than pricks to fragile egos. It is abuse, at a systemic level that touches on the metaphysical.
Bullying has a physicality that is difficult to explain, it’s a crushing weight, an affirmation of being unworthy. It informs the unfinished clay of maturation, easing in distortions and untruths and dislocations that allow slippage along fault lines whose stresses build and build and build until nothing, and no one, can gainsay the pressure.
Bullying builds on a foundation of dysfunction, on differences, on power … on who has it and who doesn’t. It creates helplessness where none exists, it is leadership through vindictiveness, enabling and propagating a culture of exclusion. It is class warfare on a primal level we can barely fathom as adults.
It is like being locked in a white room with no exit, no windows, no doors, suspended in an eternity of agony.
I know this. I was bullied, mercilessly, in a time when it was an acceptable rite of passage, its delivery unsophisticated by today’s standards, yet just as crushing, as damaging as anything inflicted by the herd dynamics of modern techno-bullies.
The note was passed, hand-to-hand, on the offside of the line of desks, the teacher cater-corner to the rows, under the tall windows with the late sun slanting in.
Soft titterings wavered in the still air, heads dutifully bent over the assignment, a simple number substitution, so easy as to be of no consequence.
My penance was patience. I’d completed all the end-of-chapter assignments within three weeks so I sat with hands folded, staring out the window, daydreaming.
As long as I did nothing to disrupt whatever the teacher did during those quiet times, he cared little. He knew about the note, his eyes betraying his interest.
It’s odd what you remember … not her name, but her long blond hair, dazzling in curls and barrettes, swishing side-to-side in front of me. Glancing back she smirked and handed the scrap of paper into my willing hands, a link in a chain gang of mischief. I passed it on the boy behind me.
We were stacked by height, short to tall, bodies shuffled to distribute the troublemakers evenly about the room, as if that dissemination of evil would even remotely impede its execution.
Even today I feel the twitch of muscle, his forefinger jamming my shoulder, the paper fluttering by my elbow.
It was for me.
At fourteen tears come easily. But not when every head in the room turns, when every eye glints with impatience to see a reaction.
They shut me in that white room, the glare of spotlights illuminating every deficiency, real and imagined.
I colored those walls with the crimson haze of rage, the amethyst of despair, the ginger of madness and the saccharine pale hues of becoming.
If I’d chosen the way of Amanda Todd, as so many other young men and women subjected to this form of social torture have lately, I would not have been missed. I’d already been judged and found wanting.
Because, back then, no one spoke for the helpless, no one stood for them.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
We have the tools, the mechanism, to put a stop to this disease that ravishes our schools and neighborhoods.
We need to teach our youngsters about consequences.
Because if we do nothing, the next child who succumbs to the terrorism of bullying might be yours.
It’s time to paint that white room with the color of hope.
My writer buddy Greta van der Rol has tagged me in one of those blog challenge thingies. The idea is to find the first instance of the word ‘look’ in your current WIP and post the surrounding paragraphs.So here it is, the opening scene from Saints and Sinners: Roman.
It’s sodden, without a bottom, like my heart.
Father Anthony murmured false promises. Better places. Just rewards. Charon without oars, floating soft. Going somewhere … nowhere.
My dad stood back, hardly part of this, uncertain. Looking way older than his due. It wasn’t his fault. At least not much, though I laid blame easy enough. I had to. Eleanore didn’t give choices back then.
I snickered at that thought. Choices. My mother would be at the devil’s gate right now giving him whatfor, dripping with spite and quid pro quos, making an offer he’d find hard to refuse. I wondered what the do-good Father would think about that, if he even cared. How could he, never being a party to her life … or mine.
Eleanore Delancie’d been a lawyer, milking misery and her percentage from victims of society’s failings. How fitting the same ugliness that inflicted those who paved her road to glory would lay her low.
Pillar… Saddened… Suffering. Temporary.
The tap dance continued. It’d be my turn next.
The bubble of fake sad expanded, breathing like some living thing. In, out, out, in. I’d gotten used to the sound at the end, before they’d pulled the plug. Sucking all the air out of the room, out of me. Suffering’s not pretty, even when you hate the carcass and all she left behind.
She hadn’t been much of a mother, not much at all, but she was all I had.
Her and Anton. They’d been the ones who counted, who were … there, like a physical presence when the thing inside me went walkabout. When I zoned, not exactly running, more like a shuffle in place.
The bubble pushed me close to the pit yawning at my feet.
“She’s at peace, girl.” He unclenched the fist, the one not mine, never mine, peeling, prying each finger loose. Breath hissing, not expecting slick, slippery, iron sweet blood. “Let it go. What’s done is done.”
When had he grown so wise?
“Throw the dirt.” Anton. Angry Anton.
Sound dulled. Dirt, sloppy with the ooze of my soul, pinged and echoed and the mass of mourners bowed respectfully and pressed back.
The air sighed with relief.
The good Father patted my shoulder, shook dad’s hand and gave Anton a wide berth.
“Let’s go home, TJ.”
Yes, let’s do that little thing.
Anton gripped my elbow, palms sweaty, guiding me with uneasy steps. I risked a look at his eyes but they shifted down and away, that same uncertainty afflicting him.
I pulled haughty and a sneer out of the shallows where I stored emotion.
“Don’t…” he sounded coarser than I remembered, tougher, roughened. Two tours would do that. He wasn’t the kid I knew anymore. “He needs you.”
Oh, news flash, bro. Let me explain need…
Manicured lawn turned to uneven gravel and the hood of a generic SUV blocking my path. Somehow Anton had levitated me to the conveyance of my doom. Dad held the door, patient. He opened his mouth, then shut it, opened it again like a parody of a fish gulping air.
The reflection in the window magnified the slash of distaste. Anton, my dear precious Anton, towering at more than six feet of solid muscle, bent my head and eased a body stiff with the little deaths that plagued me into the back seat. I allowed him the tiny victory of strapping me in, the whispered, “See you back at the house,” and the steady pressure of the bubble collapsing about me.
I was going home.
To Pennsylvania. To modest and hard-working. To a life with a man I barely knew and a brother who would escape back to a war and the kills that marked his soul. I envied him.
Follow the story as it unfolds HERE
... is just an opinion, whether it be from a lauded 'literary critic", an esteemed academic, or an anonymous reader, it's still just an opinion.
Granted, the 'gatekeepers', or those who have mastered the art of reviewing, generally come gifted with pithy phrases, insider references, and a command of a process that requires a very particular, very professional skill set.
That skill set is something your average Amazon 'reviewer' probably does not possess; but, then again, that doesn't seem to deter anyone and everyone from reviewing books, DVDs or any of the fine products offered by the 8000lb gorilla in cyberspace.
And with that influx of opinion-providers comes the occasional episode of bullying and mean-spirited haranguing—the kind of thing that does more than just wound a fragile ego. It can impact careers and livelihoods. The Blogsphere has been awash in discussions about this issue for quite some time.
Generally folks agree that not engaging in verbal fisticuffs or ill-advised flame-outs is the better option. It maintains the professionalism of the author and removes the bully pulpit from anyone desiring unwarranted exposure (something I wish the forum trolls would abide by).
So it came as a bit of a surprise when I stumbled upon a Face Book thread where the author called attention to and commented on a 2-star review that was clearly of the 'this really didn't float my boat' type rather than a sniper attack meant to grievously wound.
The comment was on the vaguely bullying side as were the other (more positive) reviewers who weighed in and re-expressed their opinions. FYI: the '2-star' had reviewed a handful of books, some positively, others less so. And all were of the same tenor: opinions expressed with and without varying degrees of 'reasons why'.
Now, if you wish, Amazon will alert you to follow-up comments. I assume this happened because '2-star' edited his/her review, expanded on the 'why I didn't like it' and apologized for not leaving 'real feedback'.
Ah, Happy Dance time for a successful instructional moment?
Or a disquieting feeling that a reader's been cyber-bullied into re-thinking that opinion and possibly coming up with a more 'positive' way to look at the work. The reviewer appeared to do exactly that, although the overall effect was barely skin-deep and not exactly an affirmation.
In the author's favor was a nicely worded note of appreciation for time and consideration ... and a statement that '2-star' hadn't read far enough to get to the 'point of the story', along with an observation about the reviewer and a follow-up question.
Now, while generally civil (as these things go), the author and the two back-up supporters all commented on and bemoaned the fact that '2-star' used a pseudonym rather than a 'real name', accompanied by a statement that had a 'real name' been available, the author would have pursued a further discussion about the review. I assume that meant independently of the comment section provided by Amazon. '2-star' did not reply (yet).
I'm trying to put myself in both positions...
Yeah, me too.
Reviewers are writers too... …and when we come across a comment about a review we’ve posted, either on Amazon or via comments on a review blog, well … egos get stroked and big grins get plastered on normally glinty-eyed grammar Nazi faces.
I reviewed Chasing Kate by Kelly Bryne (a shameless plug, go read this book, you won’t regret it) and I have to admit the caliber of the review was in direct proportion to the quality of the material. When you have a piece of literature that touches you on every level imaginable, how can you not reflect that emotional and intellectual commitment?
The commenter said: “Very detailed and well-presented review, but you had me at Marti.” The ‘you had me at Marti’ had me giving her major props for 1) knowing who Marti Noxon is (screenwriter for the Buffy, Angel and other series) and 2) recognizing the quality of work that implied.
Six months ago I resided solidly in the ‘my reviews suck’ camp. In fact that’s how I titled my blog. The reason for that short-sighted self-image was because I had yet to understand why I chose to talk about a book I’d just read. I am addicted to reading, putting away upwards of 400 books per year (more if they are shorts or novellas). And if I finish a book, then I likely found something worthy in it—a character, an intriguing plot twist or such an outrageously bizarre ‘Verse that suspension of disbelief came with chains and other forms of mental bondage.
But to write about it? That smacked of book clubism and the self-congratulatory focus on dissection for the sole purpose of impressing other members of the club (or oneself). And yes, go ahead, raise those hackles … but that was my opinion. Obviously opinions change. I evolved.
Most, if not all, reviews on Amazon or on amateur and semi-professional book review sites tend toward a formulaic recitation of this happened, then that happened, and I like this character but not that one, with a riff on editing (yay they noticed!) or continuity issues (the more sophisticated approach: POV, ‘voice’, plot points).
Aficionados of the review genre claim that this is what readers want: blow-by-blows so they know exactly what they are buying (or downloading for free). I see it particularly on fanboy and fangirl sites like Ain’t It Cool News where the spoiler reigns and the stalkers of all things pop culture wallow in the satisfaction of insider knowledge at the expense of discovery (for others).
I’m not ‘most readers’ apparently. I hate hate hate knowing exactly how something plays out. It’s like going to the movies, watching a trailer that tells you the entire plot from beginning to end and you think, ‘well, that saves me $15 because I don’t have to see how it turns out’. And that includes the big budget blow ’em up blockbusters. If I don’t have that element of discovery, of surprise, then why bother?
I remember, quite fondly, the old time movie trailers from the thirties and forties (rehashed via AMC and TMC—I’m not that old!). Those trailers showed you tidbits and hints, they suggested rather than told (wow, show not tell) you why you wanted to see that movie, focusing on the characters and not the plot, emphasizing the sizzle and the conflict. And never telling you how it ends!
I think reviews should do the same thing. What are the universal elements? What makes the characters compelling? Why and how does that character(s) resonate with you, the reviewer? Is there a line or a passage that jumps off the page? What images struck and stayed with you long after you put the book down? What did we learn on this journey? A book is a pact between author and reader, an invitation and a sharing of heart and soul. Disappointment is allowed. Respect is required.
Yeah, book club stuff. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.
And if I may indulge in one teensy RANT (oops sorry, that was a shout) … some reviewers do not understand the purpose of rankings (actually quite a few but I try not to get hung up on numbers). I’ve seen a distressing number of 1-star rankings that rest solidly on the ‘not my cuppa tea’ evaluation rather than an honest assessment of how well the author handled characterizations, plot, narrative and all the other elements that comprise the total reading experience. In fact I’ve seen quite a few of these 1-star wonders extolling the virtues of the book, even going so far as to recommend it to those who ‘like that sort of thing’ (oh, damn with faint praise). Obviously that does a disservice to both the author and potential readers.
I’ve also seen an uptick in ‘reviews with agendas’ … but that’s a rant for another day.
Bottom line, you don’t need a degree in English lit to write a review, just a reason to dip into that private place that was touched by a particular work. Make it heartfelt, make it real, be honest. Avoid the list, avoid the nasties.
The author and potential readers will thank you.