I've always, it seems, been a fan of books from when I was a toddler, trying in vain to read something because it had cool pictures. Even in grade school, I thought of the public library as a cache of treasures, and I was the kid who came home with stacks of library books. As technology moves on to e-readers (and I have one, several actually), I'm still fascinated going through the shelves at second hand book stores and coming out with an armful of other people's thoughts and dreams.
My favorite books are things that make me think, fiction or non-fiction,
books by authors that have new ideas, or new perspectives (even if on
old themes), or that have the skills to transport me to a different life
and make me believe I'm there. Favorite genres are science fiction, historical fiction, and books that make us look closely at ourselves, human history and culture, whether fiction or non-fiction.
Mostly I look for writing that's clear -- even if it's a more cumbersome
style -- writing that uses words accurately, especially in fiction,
where it's easy to get lazy about that. I look for good storytelling
and the less borrowed the better (not so easy to come by in some
genres). I look for good writing technique, including plots that don't
get lost or wander off, and characters that are memorable.
In non-fiction, I have a distinct allergy to spin; I want to see all
sides. If an author can present more than just one point of view, and
clarify how they differ, there's some educational value, but if a book
is just a candidate promo piece coming out before an election, or a
one-sided issue presentation, I won't review it, because, frankly, I
won't be able to say anything good about it. I can learn from those
books (even if it's learning which set of spin doctors is on the rise at
this moment in time, and what mental gymnastics they're using to turn
people's beliefs), but I won't inflict them on anyone else.
I do have a love for how-to books, especially in gardening and home
improvement areas, and look for clear explanations and excellent
graphics/photos to help the reader.
While I can still get into Dickens, and follow some very old books'
writing styles (if they have something very interesting to say that's
worth the work), I prefer writing that's straightforward, doesn't talk
down to the reader, and doesn't sound like a textbook (finding
textbooks that are really clear and not full of extra verbiage is a real
challenge, and they are true treasures). If the writing is dense, I'll
My rating system:
3 - You will occasionally find places where
things go a bit flat, where arguments seem to lack cohesion, or
characters seem inconsistent, or plots miss here and there, where
there's some spin, yet there are interesting ideas, story elements and
4 - Good writing, clear plot and real characters. Would be a 5 except
the book is stylistically difficult or slightly flawed (yet thought
provoking). Old books often fit here.
- Good writing, clear and sometimes unique concepts or memorable
stories and characters - books with ideas, stories and characters that will stay with you long after you
put the book down.
Above all, good books make us think -- about ourselves and our lives,
the lives of others, our shared history, our possible futures. More
importantly, books keep our creativity blooming and our minds in gear.
Whatever we may think of school systems, past and present, good books
have always been our salvation.
When I find a book that has a good deal of merit, but has issues with the writing, that I cannot, in good conscience, review in one of these three areas (if asked, I'll tell you what the rating is, but generally the numbers do not appear in the reviews), I read the book several times, try to pin down where I see problems and contact the authors. In many cases, new books are "edited" by non-professionals, friends, relatives, etc. and could have benefited from hiring a professional, and sometimes those close to us aren't really willing to tell it like it is, even if it makes the book better, for fear of hurt feelings, etc. For these books, I contact the author directly and give them feedback. Sometimes, I'll do the review, but (if the author ok's it) include my reservations or suggestions. As always, when it comes to advice, you get what you pay for (none of our reviews are paid for). The goal is not to trash anyone's hard work, but to help new authors get better.
Gabriella and I have the same review policy. Gabriella Wheeler has been my "pen name" for many years, but now that the 'net is starting to coalesce, pen names are no longer looked on with favor, so Gabriella is going into retirement.