Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What My Star Ratings Really Mean

I’ve recently been thinking a lot about giving books star ratings and how this works on Goodreads. I know a lot of reviewers really dislike the star system and so choose to just not rate books at all. While I do think that rating books can be a little problematic, I personally like doing it because it gives people a really quick overview of what I thought of the book. For instance, I categorize my book reviews by star rating so that people can quickly see what I like and what I’m not such a fan of.

But ratings can mean different things to different people. On Goodreads, giving something three stars means that you liked it. For me, three stars normally means it was so-so, while books that I like get four stars. So, just so that you people know, I’m going to clarify what each of my ratings means.

1 Star- Disliked; Stay Far Away!
These are books I extremely disliked. Normally I only rate a book one star when I disliked it so much that I actually stopped reading (this has only happened to one book so far.) Normally this means both that the book is boring me and that it has a lot of content that I’m not comfortable with.

2 Stars: Not Worth the Time
These are books that I just really didn’t care for. For instance, Twilight would go in this category. They’re poorly writen, somewhat boring, and just really didn’t resonate with me at all. I will definitely not be buying these books, re-reading them, reading the sequels, or recommending these to anyone.

3 Stars: Not Bad, Give it a Try
These are books that I’m on the fence about. They had some good elements but also a lot of flaws. I probably wouldn’t read any sequels, or more from the same author, but I might recommend them to a friend who likes the genre. Still, I definitely wouldn’t buy these or re-read them.

4 Stars: Pretty Good, I Enjoyed It
A lot of books tend to fall into this category. These are mainly books that I was excited about reading and had heard a lot of good things about, but then just fell a bit short for me. Maybe some of the characters felt flat, or the writing was just okay, or it dragged, or there was a lot of questionable content. Whatever the reason was, these books were good but not absolutely phenomenal. I’ll read the sequels, try to win the books or get them as presents, and recommend them to book-loving friends, but I won’t re-read them over and over.

5 Stars: Highly Recommended
I loved these books! These books are nearly perfect; they might have some minor flaws, but overall everything is great. I’ll definitely be re-reading these books, talking about them to all my friends, and any sequel will automatically be shoved to the top of my TBR pile.

I hope that clarifies any questions you might have about my ratings. Now, over to you. If you run a book blog, or rate stories on Goodreads and Amazon, what criteria do you use for each star? 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Star-Rating Ramble

(WARNING: This post contains a dangerously high amount of opinions and ramblings. Read at your own risk!)

I hate star-rating a book on Goodreads. First of all, I find the star rating to be a really shallow way of judging the book. Am I rating it according to how much I enjoyed it? Or should I rate it according to how good I thought it was? And what does ‘good’ mean? There’s so much that a star rating can’t tell you.

But now, my main problem with the star rating system on Goodreads is how it gives each star rating a description. For instance, three stars is ‘liked it’ while one star is ‘disliked it’ and five stars is ‘it was amazing.’ While this clears up exactly what each star rating really means, it does present me with a bit of a problem.

I haven’t found an amazing book in awhile. I know that sounds terrible (and let me get this straight, this says a LOT more about me than about the books I’ve been reading) but it’s true. The last book I read and thought ‘this is amazing’ was Divergent, and that was a year ago. Since then I’ve read a lot of ‘meh’ books and some fairly good books, but all of them fell short in some way.

Take SHATTER ME, for instance. (Since I’m reviewing this book for Divine Debutantes magazine I won’t be posting a review here, but you can read a shortened version on Goodreads.) I’d heard so many amazing things about this book, and the premise sounds fantastic. Seriously, a girl with a touch that can kill in a dystopian world? What could be better?

Think again. SHATTER ME was nothing like I expected. Instead of a strong heroine, I found Juliet to be almost a little wimpy. Instead of a fast-paced book, I found that very little happens. Instead of a dystopian, I got a romance. Yes, it was still a great story, but I disliked it because I had thought it was going to be the sort of story I would love, and then it turned out to be something else entirely.

Now, how in the world can I rate it? My feelings about this book are sort of meh, but on Goodreads that would be equivalent to just two stars, and I definitely feel like SHATTER ME deserves more than that. I’ve ended up giving it four stars (thanks to the fantastic premise) which on Goodreads means that I really liked it. Which, as you’ll know if you read the review, I really didn’t.

Alright. This post has been a lot of ramble, but my main points are these:
1- I don’t really like giving books a star rating
2- I don’t like the ‘tags’ with the Goodreads star ratings
3- I’m having trouble finding books that I really like
4- I think my trouble is because of unrealistically high expectations

This post was really supposed to be about numbers three and four, but it seems like I got sidetracked. I guess I’ll need to write another post sometime soon…

Over to you… does any of this feel familiar? What do you guys think about giving books star ratings? Do you like the Goodreads ‘tags’ for ratings? Why or why not? I’d love to hear other opinions on ratings. 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Book Review: Across the Universe

by Beth Revis

Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awaken on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into the brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.

Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone-one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship-tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn't do something soon, her parents will be next.

Now Amy must race to unlock Godspeed's hidden secrets. But out of her list of murder suspects, there's only one who matters: Elder, the future leader of the ship and the love she could never have seen coming.

Why I read it: Why wouldn’t I read this book? It’s got a space ship, a dystopian atmosphere, a murder mystery… This is totally the sort of book I love.

What I liked: There’s so much I liked about this story, so I’ll just list a couple of the main things. First of all, the plot. The ideas are all fascinating, and Revis weaves them together into a story that fits perfectly at the end. I loved all the twists and turns. It felt like a murder mystery in that way, with a list of suspects that you can never quite trust. You never knew who to believe. There were a couple fantastic twists at the end that I didn’t see coming.

Also, Revis’s writing is quite good. The first chapter, where Amy and her parents are frozen for the trip, literally had me squirming, it was that intense. Her writing never comes across as overdone, yet it gave me a vivid picture of the ship and everyone on it. The characterization was well done and the alternating viewpoints between Amy and Elder worked better than I expected. There was only once or twice where I couldn’t immediately tell who it was (without looking at the chapter heading.)

What I disliked: The beginning was a little slow. While the first chapter was super intense, the next fifty pages were basically Amy sitting in her frozen chamber and Elder getting annoyed because Eldest wouldn’t tell him anything. While the pace picks up after Amy’s unfrozen, even then it takes a little while to get going. In fact, it wasn’t until the last hundred pages that this book became a real page-turner.

Though I really liked the ending and it all made sense, there were a couple little things that didn’t seem realistic. Maybe it was the fact that I was reading it at midnight, but still… It would have been nicer if there were a few more clues scattered throughout the book. And then there was one minor plot point introduced in the very first chapter that seemed vitally important, and yet it never surfaced again. Perhaps the author plans to bring it in to a later book, but if not it just seems like false set-up.

From a Christian Perspective: This book ranks a lot lower than I thought it was going to. While the swearing is all using the made-up word ‘Frex’ there’s a fair amount of sexual content. The first time Elder seems Amy, she’s naked and he can’t help fantasizing about her breasts. It’s mentioned several times that Amy had sex with a boyfriend back on earth. At one point Amy is nearly gang-raped. Also, the book takes place during ‘The Season’ on the ship, meaning that everyone is busy having sex in public. Though this disgusts Amy (who wears a cross necklace and claims to be Christian) I still felt it was a little unnecessary.

To buy or not to buy: I’m not sure if I’ll buy this book. I did quite enjoy it, but I’m not sure if I’d read it again. I think there is a sequel, though, which I’ll most certainly be reading. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

I'm Going to be Published!

Well... sort of. As I mentioned last week, I do have some big news for you. No, I don't have a book deal, or even an agent, but I have taken another step along the writing pathway. I am now a regular columnist for the Divine Debutantes magazine!

Let me tell you how it happened. I had never heard of Divine Debutantes (a Christian girls club) or their magazine, since the club exists mainly in the US. When I received an email on Tuesday from the magazine's editor, I very nearly deleted it thinking that it was either spam, or an author newsletter that I had signed up for but wasn't actually interested in reading. However, I did actually open the email, and I was shocked to find an offer to write for a Christian girl's magazine! Apparently the editor read my blog and liked how I wrote my book reviews from a Christian perspective.

Now, for each issue of the quarterly magazine, I'll write a book review on one recent YA novel. This won't be a huge time commitment, but I'll be seeing my work in print regularly. Also, I'll be reaching out to a whole new audience and helping them find good books to read. I've been doing this for a year on my blog, and now I'm excited to take it to a whole new level.

Perhaps what I love most about this new opportunity is the fact that it came to me; I didn't search it out. I've considered contacting magazines and asking to write for them, but in this case the magazine contacted me. This proves firstly that I do have an effective online presence. People can find my blog, and they're reading it. As a blogger, it's sometimes hard to know if I am reaching and engaging my audience; this offer proves that I am. As an author, it's wonderful to have an audience interested in my work.

Also, (to head off on a more philosophical/religious tangent) I've recently been going through a What-In-The-World-Am-I-Supposed-To-Do-With-My-Life phase. Frankly, I have so many open paths, and I'm not sure which one God wants me to be on. Then, last Tuesday, I get this opportunity in the world of books, and I got back my university marks (which were mostly better than I expected). It's never a good idea to read too much into these things, but I'll take these successes as a sign that I am where God wants me to be.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Dust it Off Bloghop-- What I Learned

For the third, and last, day of the Dust it Off Bloghop, I'm supposed to post what I learned from WANDER. That's an interesting way to end, since I find that I've learned a lot thanks to this bloghop, looking back on the novel and thinking critically about it. I've had a lot of fun over the past couple days, and I'll definitely be willing to do more hops like this! Hmmm... I could even write a series about 'What I learned from my trunked novel.' We'll see. :)

Anyways, here are five things I learned from WANDER.

1- I CAN finish a novel. This was a big one for me. WANDER was the first novel I ever finished solo. I had written hundreds of pages on a fanfic before abandoning it, and then I had co-authored a mystery novel with a friend, but WANDER was my first personal project that I actually completed. Also, it was a great morale booster because I wrote the whole thing in 19 days and had only been brainstorming for several months. In short, it took me less than four months to create the novel, contrasted with years for my previous attempts.

2- Finishing the writing ain't the end of the process. Now, I never actually thought that writing goes straight from first draft to bookshelf, but this was a real eye-opener to how imperfect a 'finished' novel could be. While there's a lot of elements I love about WANDER, I also see all its flaws, in plot, character, and writing, and even now that I've trunked it I feel like I can't show anyone because I want to edit it first.

3- KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid). This is an acronym that my dad loves, and one that I need to consider when plotting my novels. I think the biggest problem with WANDER was simply how complicated it was. Everything made sense by the end of the third book, but for the rest it was just this huge tangled mess full of unrealistic elements. I think most readers would have given up rather than waiting for the end of the third book.

4- Religion matters. Another 'problem' with WANDER was that it dealt with Muslims and terrorists (and terrorists being Muslim.) While I did treat Muslims fairly (I had several Muslims read and enjoy the story) it is extremely hard to balance religions while writing for the secular market. For religious reasons, I think WANDER wouldn't have made it in the secular market, but a Christian publisher might have taken it.

5- What you learn matters more than the end result. When I finished WANDER I was so excited about finally having a finished product, something to perfect and then query with. Almost two years later, I still haven't started querying, but I've learned a lot about writing. Maybe, at some point, I'll re-do WANDER and try to get it published. Right now, I have no interest in doing that. Writing WANDER was just what I needed: it gave me a confidence boost, taught me about the writing process/plotting/religious themes, and basically just gave me experience as a writer. I've heard that you need to write a million words to become proficient as a writer. Whether or not that's true, it's undeniable that the more you write, the better you write. WANDER may never see the light of day, but the experience it gave me will shine in all my future novels.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Dust it Off Bloghop-- Excerpt

For Day 2 of the Dust it Off Bloghop, I'll be posting a short excerpt from WANDER. This segment comes fairly early on in the book, when two of the main characters (Ephraim and Zakiya) are just meeting each other.

“Impressive,” Ephraim said, flicking on the light switch. It was time for his performance to begin. He opened the door to his study a little wider. “I haven’t seen an assassin that talented in years.”
He stared up at the ceiling for a split second, then back to Zakiya. “Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an assassin that impressive,” he admitted. “Of course, no one’s ever tried to assassinate me before, so you would also be the first assassin I’ve ever seen, but still, impressive.  By the way, why were you trying to kill me?”
Ephraim could feel his heart pounding in his chest. He had never been more afraid in his entire life. The young woman still stood, like a tiger ready to pounce, the moonlight gleaming off the dagger in her hand.
He had convinced his father and his bodyguards that his ability to talk his way out of anything would even work on a trained killer like Zakiya. He would surprise her, put her off guard. They must have been convinced that he would do it, because his bodyguards were now taking a night off, probably drinking in some ill-reputed bar.
Ephraim wished he was so sure.
“Come on, now,” he continued, feeling like as long as he could talk, he’d be alright. “What’s wrong with you? Cat got your tongue? I asked you a question.”
Zakiya replied, her voice deep and slow. “And I’m deciding whether I should answer it.”
“Why wouldn’t you?” Ephraim asked cheerfully. “If you’re going to kill me, the least you could do is tell me why.” He noted with satisfaction that his light banter was working. She was confused, frozen in place. The knife was held out at a useless angle, neither attacking nor defending. For the moment, she had no plan.

I'm not quite sure why I like this segment. After all, the whole assassin-idea is a little unrealistic. I guess what I really loved was Ephraim; he's probably my favourite character in the novel. He seems really cocky and self-assured, and he always has a confident reply to anything you can throw at him. The thing is, he's actually insecure because of a lot of things in his personal past. I think I love Ephraim because I've always wished I could be like him when really I'm the opposite. I'm really secure in who I am, but I feel like I appear insecure, or at least am easily flustered. 

Enough of my personal psychoanalysis. While Ephraim may seem corny sometimes because I had a hard time writing him, he still remains one of my favourite created characters. And I absolutely love the dynamic with him and Zakiya. *sigh* I'm really starting to miss this story...

Friday, May 4, 2012

Dust it Off Bloghop-- Pitch

For the first day in the Dust it Off Bloghop (which was supposed to begin yesterday, but I'm a bit late), I'm going to post the short pitch for my 2010 NaNo novel, WANDER.

If he wanted you dead, you'd be dead by now.
He wants you alive.
He wants you to fail.

While I do sort of like this pitch, in that it's short and creepy and hopefully somewhat enticing, I think it encapsulates exactly what was wrong with the novel. Frankly, WANDER was too confusing. The reader doesn't even know about this mysterious 'he' until near the end of the first book. No one knows exactly why he wants them to fail until near the end of the third book. While mystery is good, in this case there was just too much that didn't really make sense and seemed unrealistic. The end of the third book brought everything together, but most readers aren't going to wait that long.

I have another version of the short pitch:

Ida and Wander have been best friends for a month now. The strange thing is, they've never met. When the internet-pals decide to finally meet via webcam, Wander is kidnapped and Ida is threatened with the same fate if she tells the police.

This pitch has the same problem. As the reader quickly learns, Wander doesn't really get kidnapped; it's a lot more complicated with that. The thing is, the plot of the story is far too confusing to try and describe in a short pitch. And if the story is that confusing, it's probably going to be too confusing for the reader to follow.

So, there's day one of the Dust it Off Bloghop. It's making me a little sad to take out WANDER and criticize it like this; after all, it was the first novel I ever completed solo. I do still love the characters and the plot (despite its many flaws) so it's kind of sad to treat it as nothing more than a learning experience. However, that is one of the wonderful things about being a writer. Maybe no one else will ever get to learn about Wander and Ida and Ephraim and all my other characters... but they'll always be in my heart (no matter how cheesy that sounds).

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Long Time No See

Hello everyone!

The title of this blog post is, sadly, very appropriate. Apparently I haven't blogged since December! Even then, it was pretty infrequent. All my good intentions to keep posting just went down the tubes as soon as school hit. It was my first year away from home and I was working really hard to keep my average up in order to get a scholarship. Since school ended last week (and I did get my A average!) I'm back at home and ready to start blogging again.

This week, I've decided to participate in the Dust it Off Bloghop. Tomorrow, Saturday, and Monday I'll take another look at WANDER (my 2010 NaNo novel). Tomorrow I'll post the pitch, Saturday will have a short excerpt, and then on Monday I'll talk about what I learned from WANDER.

I've also got some exciting news to share with you guys. On Tuesday, I found a wonderful-- and completely unexpected-- email in my inbox and I'm just dying to tell everyone about it. No, I'm not getting a book published, and no, I don't have an agent, but it is a writing opportunity that I'm pretty pumped about. As soon as everything's official, I'll let you all know.

In the meantime, I'll leave you with the promise that I will blog more often. I still have to decide if I want a schedule or not. We'll see. But now, over to you. What sort of posts would you like to see this summer?