Sunday, 22 January 2012

Finders Keepers

Reading books for review is such a useful exercise for a writer, although I know it courts controversy, even accusations of envy or amateur analysis. For what it's worth, then, my review of Belinda Bauer's Finders Keepers is up at Reviewing the Evidence. It's a positive review, but you can learn much from reviewing books that fall short of your expectations, as proved by a number of other reviews on the same site. I was particularly struck by Madeline Marsh's review of The Night Stalker by Chris Carter, which makes the excellent point that if you're writing mindless violence, you'd better have stacks of style and substance at your disposal. And Linda Wilson's review of Footsteps on the Shore by Pauline Rowson, which reminds us that plot gymnastics won't necessarily deliver the goods, but a strong sense of place can.

My next review will be a debut crime novel, Tideline by Penny Hancock. I'm already reading and enjoying it, so watch this space. And please share your favourite reviews, good and bad.



10 comments:

Maxine said...

I reviewed the Belinda Bauer for Euro Crime the other week. I found that there were enough positives (just about!) that I could put in my review, as I like to do without being dishonest to potential readers. However, I did find the book very weak in quite a few aspects, both on its own account and taken in conext of the story arc over the series. I noticed that one of the main newspaper reviewers subsequently made the same point that I did, about the number of murders in one small Exmoor village, for example.

Luckily for me, I enjoy most of the books I read.I only review the ones I don't enjoy if I've agreed to write a review for someone else. I read Tideline a week or two ago and thought it was so awful that I am not reviewing it, as I cannot think of a single good thing to write about it. (But then, I did not like Before I Go To Sleep much, either - though it was a lot better than Tideline.)

Sarah Hilary said...

Hello, Maxine, interesting what you say about reviewing. There was quite a heated Twitter debate with crime writers (inc some famous names) about Finders Keepers. It really seems to have split the readers down the middle.

I'm only three chapters into Tideline, so will be interested to see how it pans out. I have to admit to not liking Before I Go to Sleep as much as everyone else seems to have done - I found the "twist" on which the whole thing was suspended simply not credible enough, so although it was gripping etc, I didn't believe it by the time I got to the end.

Derek said...

Hello, I'm always interested in the specifics that reviewers pick up on - whether it's in the positive or the negative. The wildly differing opinions, for books that are already trumpeted by the marketing machine, seem to suggest that half the skill lies in the promotion.

Sarah Hilary said...

Hi Derek, yes, promotion is definitely a big part of it. I've read some novels that are already being tipped for greatest by all and sundry - and have wondered whether it's a fault in me, when I fail to agree with the pundits.

Maxine said...

I think it is partly the marketing machine and partly the "circle of friends" in the mainstream media, where reviewers are authors and review each others' books, etc. Of course this also happens on some blogs! However, so few books (crime fiction) get reviewed in newspapers nowadays, and there are some really good websites and blogs, such as Reviewing the Evidence as you mention, Sarah, and Euro Crime, and also individual blogs, whose reviews I've come to trust not to just puff something they've been sent free with a press release attached.

For example I recently read a fantastic Australian book called The Brotherhood by Y. A. (Yvette) Erskine - a Tasmanian police procedural/"slice of life in the day of" that I cannot recommend too highly. I only found this book because of a great review at Reactions to Reading blog (Bernadette); it is not on sale in the shops in the UK but you can buy it at Amazon.

Sarah Hilary said...

Thanks for the recommendation, I'll check it out.

Robin at CrimeTimePreview said...

I do a little reviewing for Shotsmag.co.uk and it can be a real mystery tour – being pleasantly surprised by authors I would not have bought (Andy McNab), while at other times struggling with novels I had high hopes for.

I've wondered how other reviewers approach writing up novels they really didn't enjoy. And how much harder do you find reviewing something you struggled with than a book you loved?

Sarah Hilary said...

Hi, Robin. I'll be honest, very occasionally I bow out of reviewing books which've disappointed me, especially if they're by debut authors. (I tend to think heavyweights can take it.) That said, I think we can learn a lot from analsying why books don't work, when they don't, as much (or maybe more) than when they do. I'll always try and find something positive to say, in the interests of balance, even if it's only that the author's other books are better. Maybe that's the coward's way out?

Robin at CrimeTimePreview said...

Think you're right there, Sarah. Reviewing is a great way to think hard about why a book is working or not. Don't know about coward's way out – think pulling out is an option I'll keep in mind for future. It could be more constructive than giving a book a hard time.

Sarah Hilary said...

I think a review should always aim to be constructive, Robin, you're right. So if I can't manage that, I usually bow out.