Wednesday, 18 July 2012

If Ever I Review You...

Ten Things I Review About You.  Give or Take.

I've been doing a lot of reviewing lately and it occurs to me that because I have some peculiarities, it might be wise to let people know what they are getting into when I review their book or if they read my reviews.  Especially as I notice there are some concerns over Reviewing practices going around the Twitterverse, Blogosphere and Goodreads. Once we have things clear you can take or leave my reviews.

When I review a romance novel, particularly of the Harlequin Mills & Boon persuasion, I am looking for something very particular that I don't look for in 'mainstream' fiction.  For this reason, I score these books just a little differently.

I use four of the stars to score the book on writing, style, story, and the usual things.  The fifth star is about the HEA.  As in My Happy Ever After. It is purely about how I feel when I get to the end of the book. Yes it is subjective and that's why I think it only fair to make it quite clear that when I review a book I am using one of those stars to score My personal HEA based on FEELINGS.

Because I read these romances to make me feel good.  They are my Prozac, my stress relief, the medication I turn to after a rough day or week.  So it is very, very important to me how I feel when I finish the book.  I want to feel REALLY good.

It's not about whether I cry at the end, though there is nothing more cathartic than a good weepy Happy Ever After when the real world is offering you less pleasurable reasons to cry. In fact I count it as a plus if I get that involved with the characters.

I think I'm pretty easy to please when it comes to a romance, give me an interesting story, protagonists I can engage with and a Happy Ever After and I'm good for the most part.

But there are some things that will impinge upon how I score that last star.  And this is where my own peculiarities come into play.  For a purely stress free read that resolves everything to my total satisfaction some key ingredients come into play.

These are not secrets to anyone who knows me and reads my blog.  I've always been upfront about them.  For instance I like virgins.  That's not to say I won't find a non-virgin heroine satisfactory but it is a small part of the mix that gives me my feel good read.  I prefer a hero who hasn't been obviously sleazing around with a stack of mistresses or one night stands.  At least not recently.  I don't demand a virgin hero, but I prefer not to have his ex's in my face. Or hers for that matter. Once again that isn't set in concrete, but on the whole I prefer a misogynist to a philanderer.

Then there is the fidelity thing.  This particularly comes into play in one of my favourite tropes, the reunion romance.  I prefer it if both the hero and heroine have been faithful to each other once they actually have sex with each other.  I've read stories where they don't remain faithful and enjoyed them,'s going to have to be a pretty spectacular story to get me over the ick factor enough to feel REALLY good at the end.  Not impossible, but not common in my experience. I don't mind thinking he's been unfaithful throughout the book, but I get a nice little bump on the satisfaction meter if all is revealed at the end and there was NO infidelity.

This all comes down to my conviction that a really heroic hero is not ruled by his libido and has the capacity to remain faithful to his true love, no matter what the odds.  That if he cannot have the heroine, he doesn't want anyone.  If he cannot do this, there is always the faint chance that he will fall down on that in the future. It leaves a shadow. Shadows impinge on my HEA.

I will always mention in a review if there was something that made me uncomfortable in this way. I will not leave a question mark about the writing or technical excellence of the book.  Usually that commentary will be somewhere down near the end of the review where I give overall views on what I've read.

All this being said.  Your mileage may vary.

Huh?  Yes.  There are variables. Sometimes it's not about what happens but how it happens.  And it isn't always obvious.

I'll give you an example surrounding two Sarah M. Anderson Desires I read this week.  Just take a look at the blurb for 'A Man of Privilege.'   I will be talking about things that may constitute minor spoilers but should not impinge upon the actual storyline.  Stop reading now if this worries you.

A Man of PrivilegeThe heroine in 'A Man of Privilege,'  Maggie Eagle Heart, is introduced up front in the book as a former prostitute and drug addict.  The hero, James Carlson needs her as a backup witness in a corruption case that is going to be his stepping stone to a political career.

Right there you are thinking. 'Dammit, that star just went right out the window on that one.  A non-virgin and a prostitute.  No way is prudish Fiona going to let that one pass.'  Actually that wasn't a problem in the context of the story.  I love a woman who has been strong enough to get over something horrendous like that in her past and comes out of it pure and wholesome.  It could have been a no brainer, but Sarah made me love and appreciate her.   Maggie was as good as a virgin because she was strong and she didn't sleep around even though she could have.  Having nothing to lose, so to speak ;-].

I loved this story and I was just dying to give it the five star treatment.  Then the modern world caught up with me later in the book.  The nonchalance of the casual affair and the civilised aftermath. Yup, it was that darned hero who mucked it all up.  If he'd kept his thoughts away from the past and not compared our little Maggie with his ex-lovers we would have been home and hosed.   So what did he do, you ask?  It was a simple thing that no one else in the whole universe would have been bothered by.  But it bothered me.

A Man of His Word by Sarah M. AndersonYou see there was this ex-girlfriend.  Sure the assumption was he'd slept with her in the past.   It's what people do, but I could have overlooked it.  Shut my eyes, put my fingers in my ears and gone LALALA really loudly.  But here we were, on the last stretch of the book.  This woman had been mean to Maggie and then he explicitly tells us through the medium of his internal dialogue, he'd slept with her back when they were dating.  Hell James, you slept with that snarky b*tch.  T.M.I.  I did not want to know that.  I already knew you'd been with the other chick cos you'd ruined my perfect ending for 'A Man of His Word' by being all macho with the heroine's new love.  

I have enough trouble trying to remember who used to sleep with who in the real world I inhabit.  It's not comfortable because not everyone stays friendly and nice like Rosebud and James.  They are more like snarky Pauline. Nuff Said.  Don't bring the stresses of my real world into my fantasy world.

This being said, the books are a fantastic read with the most wonderful heroes and incredibly brave strong women.  I gave them four stars because they were perfect in every other way.  The writing, the story.  Just wonderful.  If I could have given them another half a star I would have but Goodreads doesn't allow for partials.

This being said, I am always painstakingly honest in my reviews.  I will say if there is something I struggled with so readers can judge for themselves.  I will say what I loved and what I hated.  Rarely is there something I hate. I will always try and give credit where credit is due.  I am willing to be pleased and I appreciate how lucky I am that so many authors write things I love.

I can understand that knowing all this you might not want to have me review your books. Allowing for my peculiarities and the weight I put on a subjective feeling based on personal foibles may not suit some writers.  It's up to you.  I'll keep reading and reviewing.


  1. I used to have a preference for virgin heroines too but, althought I still think there is something extra special about them, it's no longer on my personal preference list. Maybe it doesn't bother me any more because virgin heroines are becoming as rare as unicorns and I've become innured to them! Who knows? I tried to write one but it felt all wrong - I like my heroines sassy and feisty and to be able to give as good as they get. One day I hope to think of a damn good reason that a twenty something woman would still be a virgin (a good reason for me, I mean - after all, if I don't believe it, how can I possibly write it?).
    It's amazing the things we find are personal turn-offs; those "Lalala, I'm not listening" moments.
    My personal pet peeve is spineless heroines - it drives me up the wall when they take crap off the hero without a *very* good reason. If I'm going to suspend disbelief and fall into their world, I need to believe it.
    Belief - there seems to be a recurrent theme going on here!
    Anyway, I only meant to leave a short comment telling you how much I enjoyed this post. So, Fiona, I really enjoyed this post!

  2. I think the way you score is a great way to do it. It's actually very fair, if you only let your ick factor affect one of the stars! I have done hardly any reviews, partly because I can't work out how to do the stars. I hesitate to give anything five stars, unless it is a perfect book. But I am beginning to think this is not the way other people do it, so i might have to change. Take Kylie's Vengence Born, for example. I thought that was a great book. But i only gave it four stars, because it wasn't the best book I have ever read (it's up there among the romances, but that's not all I read and not all of those are fantasies.) I, too, would have been happy to give four and a half stars, which would have been more accurate, but the latent teacher in me shies away from full marks. But I'm getting the feelng that, on Goodreads, five stars is what you give when you like something. It's a quandry, but maybe if i adopt a system like yours that would be the answer! I'd certainly be happy for anyone to use a system like that reviewing a book of mine!

    Thanks for the post, Fiona!

    1. It is a tricky thing. You see reviews regularly on Amazon and Goodreads where people have given one star reviews on the basis of the fact they didn't like a moral aspect of the story. Ignoring the fact that the book was well written, with good structure, characterisation and so on. On the other hand I'm not going to say I enjoyed a book totally if there were some things I didn't enjoy no matter how well written.