Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Genius Dilemma by Dustin Grinnell

The Genius Dilemma
Author:  Dustin Grinnell
Publisher:  Self-Published
Pages: 325
Release Date: December 20th, 2013
Source: Received a free copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.

A team of scientists has invented a new smart drug named Trillium. A revolutionary medical breakthrough, Trillium enhances cognitive abilities, creating geniuses. But the researchers are horrified to discover that… 


Leviathan, the CIA’s assassination team, has been tasked with eliminating global threats using any means necessary. When their superior General Beranger learns about Trillium, he believes he’s uncovered a distinct advantage in the fight against terrorism. After convincing the scientists to share the drug with his team, Beranger learns there’s just one problem—the side effects are disturbing. 

Trillium creates cold-blooded psychopaths. 

The first casualty is CIA operative David Landry who snaps hours after taking the drug. When he goes rogue, it’s up to Special Forces, along with renowned neuroscientist Alan Pierce and psychiatrist Michelle Emmett, to stop them. 

Armed with a hastily concocted antidote, the team hunts Landry. 

His destination? Africa. Nasir Lwazi, the Kenyan president, has recently been murdered. Believing Lwazi’s son Thomas is a threat to national security, Landry is on a ruthless mission to destroy him and he doesn’t plan to let anyone get in his way. 

Alan and the Special Forces team are determined to reach Kenya and stop Landry before he harms Thomas or any other innocent civilians. But can they get there in time? Will the antidote work? Or will Landry suffer the same fate as their other targets? 

In the unforgettable climax, an epic battle for power ensues as the Special Forces team attempts to thwart Landry’s homicidal tendencies. 

Written in a style reminiscent of Michael Crichton, The Genius Dilemma is a science fiction thriller, action-packed with adventure, seeded with corruption, and stunning with its abuses of power. Expect the gripping conclusion to keep you compulsively turning pages way past your bedtime.

Psychology and the human mind fascinate me, so I was pretty excited to read The Genius Dilemma. Part thriller, part sci-fi, and action packed, this story was a page turner that I was engaged in all the way through. While the plot did feel a little predictable at points, I liked the overlying questions the story tried to pose. The link between intelligence and insanity is something interesting to muse over, and Dustin Grinnell clearly has a grasp on the scientific elements here.

There were a few flaws with this book, but those may be personal things. The biggest being that Michelle just felt like a pair of legs thrown into this story, rather than a strong female character. It's a little hard for me to engage in a story when I feel like the love interest is a piece of meat plopped into a story for the other characters enjoyment. She just was a bit stereotypical, and that distanced me as a reader. 

Because I received an ARC, I can't comment heavily on any in-text mistakes since they may be remedied, but the overall flow worked pretty well. I liked the split narration style, but some reader can find that jarring, and as mentioned by other reviewers, it did feel a little tedious getting such detailed histories with the introduction of every character. While it needed a little polishing (and who knows, those changes may happen before the final edition comes out!), the general premise was good, and I enjoyed the chance to read this book.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Throwaway Girl by Kristine Scarrow

Throwaway Girl
Author:  Kristine Scarrow
Publisher:  Dundurn Group
Pages: 264
Release Date: October 18th, 2014
Source: Received free from Netgalley

Andy Burton knows a thing or two about survival. Since she was removed from her mother's home and placed in foster care when she was nine, she's had to deal with abuse, hunger, and homelessness. But now that she's eighteen, she's about to leave Haywood House, the group home for girls where she's lived for the past four years, and the closest thing to a real home she's ever known. Will Andy be able to carve out a better life for herself and find the happiness she is searching for?

I'm just going to come out and say it: I didn't feel emotionally connected to this book. In the end, it just felt really flat, and Andy just didn't feel real to me. Maybe it was the pace of the story, or maybe it was how the narration was done. Either way, I found it hard to commiserate with her, and that made me feel really heartless, which is terrible since I'm an emotional reader.

I think the problem was events just got brushed past too quickly. When tragedy struck, we were just suddenly moving on and it never emotionally registered. I never really saw Andy struggling with the overwhelming weight of grief, or really go through the stages of loss. Where was the anger, where was the denial? When you read a book you can feel when the author understands how painful these experiences were, but there were just too many instances in this book where I didn't get that impression.

It's tough, writing a book with so many bad things happening in it. You want to make it so the reader is rooting for the character, excited for good things to come around. But Andy never really drew me in and made me love her. Yeah, it sucked, but it was sort of coming across like a sob story. I mean, when I read books like Oliver Twist and Black Beauty, I was sobbing because I felt so bad for them. It was almost surreal reading this and not being able to feel something for this poor character. She just felt disconnected from everything. It was like that awkward feeling you get if someone just suddenly says "mom abused me and never loved me" in the middle of a cheery conversation. Suddenly everything is just, awkward, and you don't have the foundation to really feel their pain yet. 

I don't know, I wish there had been more to this. More emotion, more connection, and more life. Her life sucked, yes, but I want to know: what else?

Tidying the To-Read List

Hi everyone! Just a short note , if you're currently waiting for a review for me I apologize for the wait. It's been a bit chaotic transitioning to a new schedule now that college is over, and I'm doing my best to get to everyone within a timely manner. If you've been watching my review schedule you've probably seen the tiny train-wreck that took place. I've cleaned it up a bit, and there should hopefully be a more realistic outline for reviews now scheduled out. Some days I may get to more than one book, but I'm also doing some beta reading which eats up part of that wiggle room. I appreciate everyone's patience.

For the readers out there, thanks for your patience as well! I hope to have more reviews for you in the upcoming weeks, as well as some of the more fun blog posts like Stacking the Shelves or Top-Ten Tuesdays. Thanks for following my blog and I look forward to the upcoming month of reading!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Salem's Vengeance by Aaron Galvin

Salem's Vengeance
Author:  Aaron Galvin
Publisher:  Self-Published
Pages: 264
Release Date: June 30th, 2014
Source: Received from the author in exchange for
an honest review

Sixteen-year-old Sarah Kelly never expected to meet the Devil’s daughter. She only sought innocent dancing in the moonlight, not a coven entranced by their dark priestess. When her friends partake of a powder meant to conjure spirits - and the results go horribly awry - Sarah is forced to make a choice. To keep their secret risks her own damnation, but to condemn them may invoke the accusing remnants of Salem to rise again.

Sometimes facts are spookier than fiction, and the Salem Witch Trials were certainly one of those cases. 

Aaron Galvin has managed to breathe new life into this time era, and <i>Salem's Vengeance</i> is a dark but eye opening look into a frightful time in history. What started as nothing more than childish impulses grows into a terrifying bloodbath, where fear becomes the true enemy of those involved. This book brings facts to the witch hunts, and the greedy men who helped create them, showing a well researched and engaging novel that is entertaining and enlightening.

To be honest, I can be a pansy when it comes to gore and violence, and there were quite a few moments in this book that involved it. Yet I still found the writing tasteful, and not overdone. The journal entries Sarah would read about the Salem Witch Trials felt a bit long at some points, but they were spaced out enough I didn't feel too dragged down by the passages. I liked the authenticity the story has, with family relationships, Sarah's friends, and even the little touches or romance. While I'm not a huge history buff, what I've learned about the Trials did match up with the writing in this book.

There are some intense scenes (this does deal with the Witch Trials, after all), but I feel most readers would be able to handle it. It has sort of those spooky movie shivers; if you're squeamish, just build your pillow fort before you start. 

Overall, another great novel by Aaron Galvin.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Finnian's Fiddle by Chandler Groover

Finnian's Fiddle
Author:  Chandler Groover
Publisher:  Self-Published
Pages: 414
Release Date: May 2nd, 2014
Source: Received from the author in exchange for
an honest review

Dragons can often be obstinate, and when one dragon arrives at a rural seaport demanding to hear a child prodigy perform the violin, the townspeople must strategize. They send a boy named Finnian to the city to learn how to play. 

Unfortunately for Finnian, the task isn’t so simple. Everyone from bandits to scheming aristocrats seem to stand in his way, and before his quest has ended, he will have to contend with a devious plot stretching into the fairy realm itself. 

FINNIAN'S FIDDLE is a fantasy story for all ages—a folktale with mythic proportions.

Finnian's Fiddle is a story with undeniable charm; it's clever story line coupled with witty narration makes this tale reminiscent of stories like Stardust and The Princess Bride. As you drift from one encounter to another, the imagination and whimsy soon carry you away. Even at some of the more outlandish segments, I couldn't help smiling and turning another page, just to see what happened next.

There is a childlike whimsy to this book that will captivate many readers in the manner Alice in Wonderland did. While it starts in a simple manner, with a dragon and a quest for music, it soon grows and evolves with bandits, rivalries, fairies and quests that get more impossible with the passing moment. Poor Finnian keeps pushing forward, trying his best to learn music before his village is devoured. But talent isn't just something you can find in a year, despite his intense pursuit for it. 

I like that this story was new, but it had some elements that felt familiar to older storybook tales. It seemed like a story you could read over several nights yet still enjoy each mini adventure. There were a few points where this story was a bit intense, however, such as the feast with the Fairy Queen and the party on the mountain. I'm a squeamish reader, so those were the only areas that were a bit difficult for me to get through. Yet I felt they added to the story, and helped with this coming of age sort of adventure. Some of the more serious moments made this more than just a story about a boy and his fiddle, but a quest to find music by loosing himself.

If you are looking for a book that is imaginative, creative, and a little quirky, this may be the read for you. Especially if you like some light word humor, and prods at the fourth wall along the way.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Books for Review

Hi everyone! Hope you're having a great week. I just wanted to let you know I have a few affiliate authors of mine that are offering some free e-books in exchange for reviews this week. If you're interested in any of these titles, feel free to send me a note and I'll send a review edition your way!

Hell's Reaping
Author:  James Bishop
Publisher:  Fantastic Journeys Publishing
Pages: 258
Release Date: September 2012

On the brink of annihilation, the last survivors of humanity do the unthinkable. 

Five of the greatest Templar in history are sent from their Holy Sanctuaries to battle the Demonic Legion and destroy it from within. These five damned souls are changed against their will into that which they hate the most, demonic warriors themselves with only one goal... to destroy the Devil himself.

Jacob Merethius, Han Fe-tze, Piotyr Lamja, Joshua Danner, and Kasim al-Saif are the greatest weapons the remnants of humanity have on the eve of their destruction. The Patriarch of the Holy Temple sends these men against their will into the bowels of Hell to wage righteous war against the endless hordes of the House of Lucifer. Once powerful Templar, the profane ritual done at their expense changes them and gives them dark and incredible power.

Thine Enemy's Eyes
Author:  Tonya Adolfson
Publisher:  Fantastic Journeys Publishing
Pages: 394
Release Date: November 8th, 2011

A king, a lady and a secret… and the world suspended between them. The man before her had never seen her face before, had never had her gaze touch his. He’d never felt the burn of her integrity or the weight of his own sins ripped from his secret heart. He’d only heard of her. Rumor spoke of heathen magic and pirate training. Insinuation. Lies told in the backstreets to make another feel more important. His request was not simple in execution, simply in phrasing. Kill the Mervolingian king. Kill the leader of the largest country in the Saintlands, put in place by the Augustinian Pope. Still, Myrgen the Grey really should have been better informed before asking her such a thing. Then again, how could he possibly know the thing her own heart denied?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Ataxia and the Ravine of Lost Dreams by Rachel Bernard

Ataxia and the Ravine of Lost Dreams
Author:  Rachel Bernard
Publisher:  Self-Published
Pages: 280
Release Date: March 25th, 2014
Source: Received from the author in exchange for
an honest review

As the U.S. government prepares to take over the world, MC infiltrates one of their elite academies that trains future leaders. MC must rise to the top in the Cube training grounds in order to be placed high up within the government so she can stop them in their takeover. It is not until her fourth and final year at the academy that her top-student status is threatened by the sudden arrival of Li, the new transfer student. MC is completely focused on her self-created mission until she gets sidetracked by Li, who might be bad news in more ways than which she bargained.

Ataxia is a book set in a dystopian future, at a school complete with it's own style of high-tech dodge-ball, as well as the usual school drama and romance. While stories like this usually appeal to me, sadly, this book didn't win me over. The writing style just wasn't my cup of tea, and at the end, I still wasn't entirely sure who was on whose side. Overall, it felt rushed, and made me wish I was beta reading instead of actually reviewing it. 

One of the biggest problems was the confusing story line. We really don't get an introduction into this world, and I honestly don't know who MC is or why I should care about her. We start out with her maintaining distance from other students, then time jumps forward and they're suddenly friends. While some of this gets explained a bit, I don't feel it was really addressed in a way that felt clear to the reader. 

The overall plot was just really rocky, especially with the government and Ataxia stuff. I felt like a bit more time could be spent actually shaping the world beyond the school. Yeah, there was some government overthrow and mention of dark ages, but it didn't feel fleshed out to me. As it was, lots of things felt like they even contradicted. It felt like the author was trying to plant an "aha!" moment, but it never really got that punch for me. I'm still not sure who is on the same side. For awhile it almost seemed like there were three of them, then there were two, and then I was just confused. 

Then there are the minor plot lines: MC wants to be the top of her class, and has to study for the fate of the world (or something dramatic like that). There are tons of scenes fighting in the Cube, their school arena area, and she is trying and failing not to fall in love with Li, the mysterious new student. I get that it's YA and it's may appeal more to a younger age range, but good YA to me still has heart. I couldn't feel anything for these characters, because I knew nothing about them. Where did they come from, how did they get there, why does being there mattered, what made them be friends. One of the main group, Arrow, is described the whole book as looking clueless and being a lovesick puppy. That just feels like a cop out to me, personally. The vibe I got from this book is MC thinks she's surrounded by idiots. Oh, they're the best of the best intellectually, but they're idiots as far as other things go. I wanted to like them, but MC's attitude sort of got in the way.

From the beginning, the writing style also felt really disjointed. Within the first few pages, it was difficult for me to read stylistically, with the rough transitions and the repetition of words. For example, within the same paragraph: "I ended up in the basement, a tacky dark-lit jumble of furniture [...] I did not know a basement that could have it's own basement. [...] The basement was a place I had not been before [...] Since I had not been to this basement." Context editing here would have really helped especially in areas like that. Other elements of the story just dragged after awhile. Personally, I didn't need to know what they were eating at every meal, and what color every outfit was in the cube, especially when I'm not sure I ever learned what some of the characters looked like. What are their hair colors? I honestly don't think I could tell you. 

There were some elements here that seemed promising. The cube itself was fun, and the fireball things were different; the future seemed different than ones I've heard of in other books, but a lot of it felt a little hand waved. Maybe a younger reader would enjoy this because they aren't going to question the plot as much. For me, it just fell short, and needs some refining to add up to the other books I've read in this genre.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Sugar House by Jean Scheffler

The Sugar House
Author:  Jean Scheffler
Publisher:  Self-Published
Pages: 400
Release Date: February 12th, 2014
Source: Received from the author in exchange for
an honest review

A gripping historical fiction that will transport you back in time to the Detroit of the 1920's- a world of Speakeasies, Gangsters, Auto Barons, Flappers, Lawlessness and Innovation.
Joe, a young boy growing up in Detroit, navigates between his family's strong Polish traditions and the electric atmosphere of America's fastest growing city until a sudden illness and heart wrenching death force him to grow up much too soon. 
He finds work with an ambitious group of Jewish immigrants known as the Sugar House Gang. To support his family Joe runs liquor up the river with Cappie, the man who will become his mentor, friend and ultimately, family. 
Together they race through the "Prohibition Era of the Roaring Twenties" in fast boats and faster cars, trying to avoid the law and rival gangsters while striving to satisfy the murderous leaders of what is to become the infamous Purple Gang.

The Sugar House was a book that clearly had the best intentions: it was well researched, fact-based, and has the promise of being a good historical fiction. The characters were like-able, the plot was interesting, but that wasn't quite enough for me. What could have been a lively trip back into the 1920's fell short in a few key areas in a way that made it difficult for me to really love it. I just felt this may have been a book that was in the "too soon" category for me.

One of the biggest problems with Sugar House was the tendency to info-dump. There were clear "history lessons" that just made the flow of the book slow down tremendously. Great historical fiction, in my eyes, takes you back into the past and lets you experience it without being too obvious about what's happening. This story was very clear when it was teaching. Every polish word was followed by a translation, unfamiliar events and holidays were clearly explained in text, and I didn't feel it was entirely necessary. When Joe goes up to his dad and calls him "Ojciec", I don't need to know right away that means dad. I like when the author lets me learn a little on my own. 

There were also some areas I felt this book just needed a beta reader, or some context editing. One of my biggest pet peeves is when words are used too close together, and this book had lots of areas where that was happening. "They were cutting up onions, then they put the onions in the pot and the smell of onions filled the air." It just needed some careful revision to help make sure things like that didn't happen. The beginning was also really slow in comparison to the pace at the end. I think part of this was because so much information was crammed into the early chapters. The end of the book was the best, in my eyes, because it focused less on all the facts, and stayed more true to the actual story.

The dialog in this novel felt flat in a lot of places, and I think part of that came from all the information these characters were forced to say. There was a scene where the Doctor drives Joe through a rich neighborhood, and gives him a house by house run-down of who lives there. I'm not sure scenes like that are believable, at least to me as a reader. Some of these problems were really a shame because I felt I might have enjoyed it otherwise. I liked seeing characters develop and grow with time, and I felt there was a lot of heart in the story. The trials Joe and his family go through are realistic and show a lot about the time era, I just wish it was easier to immerse myself and enjoy those moments. 

In the end, while this book showed the promise of a good historical novel, for a casual reader it was just too heavy. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Nefarious by Steven F. Freeman

Author:  Steven F. Freeman
Publisher:  Createspace
Pages: 326
Release Date: September 3rd, 2013
Source: Received from the author in exchange for
an honest review

When Army Communications Captain Alton Blackwell takes a hit to the leg while on active duty in Afghanistan, his self-confidence and leg are equally shattered in the explosion. Assigned to a desk job while recovering, Blackwell nonetheless manages to prove his resourcefulness as he matches wits with Al-Qaeda operatives in the dangerous regions of Kabul. Unable to fully heal, he resigns himself to the abrupt end of his military career as well as any hope to win the affections of the beautiful and intelligent Lieutenant Mallory Wilson.

Upon returning state-side, the quiet civilian life is quickly left far behind when Blackwell’s colleague Zach Lambert calls him from a weekend camping trip in the throes of a devastating illness with forbidding implications.

In a story out of today’s headlines, Blackwell and now-FBI Agent Wilson explore the possible diversion of a biotech’s project to develop an improved vaccine, scouring leads at the CDC and biotec company, putting their Army and professional skills to the test, and narrowly escaping agents with a murderous agenda at every turn. The closer they come to the truth, the quicker the bodies pile up, along with the suspects. To get to the bottom of the sinister scheme, can Blackwell still use wits when his body has failed him? And will he survive long enough to tell his colleague of the feelings for her he has long kept secret?

So, first note: I'm not much of a war story reader. While I enjoy them from time to time, my lack of knowledge and experience with the military, government agencies and that general area of life makes it a little hard to relate to. I also feel somewhat dumb when all the jargon goes over my head. <i>Nefarious</i> is a book I really got into, however. While there was enough "war chatter" to set the mood, the general plot was easy to follow and clear. It reads like a thriller, or an adventure novel, rather than just a military book. The characters felt believable, and I enjoyed seeing how the separate arcs would come together. 

While I was satisfied with the ending, there were a few areas I wasn't a big fan of. The opening scene felt like it took a ton of time to get back to, which made it feel a little unnecessary. It was also a bit confusing to separate the different story arcs at first. Finch and Alton were easy to separate because one was civilian and one was military, but having Duke mixed in sometimes made it hard for me to remember who he was and what significance he had. By the ending, having that additional story almost felt a little strange. Somehow, he didn't seem as important as everyone else.

While I was uncertain about Duke, I did like having the separate story lines. I'm a fan of having to "piece together" what is happening. How is this going to eventually converge with that? The pacing was done fairly well, and I didn't feel like I got too many answers too soon. I also didn't predict the ending, which is always a nice feelings.

As for the romance, at times the Alton and Mallory thing felt a little too drawn out. I didn't really see their relationship develop, and that made it difficult for me to feel there was any real 'romance' in the story. While there was plenty of action and mystery to bring them together, many of their interactions felt very professional and arms length so you don't get the tension you may in other stories. I guess I wanted to feel a spark between them. It didn't have to be like weak in the knees love since this was an action/adventure type tale, but I wanted to feel like they really had something connecting them on a personal level. Maybe it was Alton's constant second guessing of things, but it made it hard to feel they were close in any way. I think in future stories that may come together more, but in this one it felt a little limited.

Besides that, the story was really well done. The story line seemed well researched and the settings seemed believable. I'm not an expert in rabies so I can't tell you how plausible all that is, but as a reader I could buy into the plot. Overall, this was a great page turner that was easy to read, even if war novels aren't your favorite. 

Time for Something Completely Different! Posting Break

Hi guys. So, in case you haven't read the "About Me" section of my blog, while I'm a book reviewer, and writer, I am also an artist. While my blog tends to primarily focus on books, this is a post of shameless advertising, so please forgive me for my spontaneous rule breaking.

I made a kickstarter!

And I'm currently just spreading the word about it!

I've been super excited about the support so far, and this is honestly helping me a LOT to get inventory for future art shows. My last show went a little more expensive than I was planning, and this is really helping me bounce back. I know you mostly see my literature side here on the book blog, but it really is a two way street for me. Art helps my writing, and writing supports my art. I can't really be one without the other. So, if you get a chance, spread the word. <3  

Now back to your normally scheduled blogging.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Mirrors and Magic by Katina French

Mirrors and Magic
Author:  Katina French
Publisher:  3 Fates Press
Pages: 162
Release Date: July 31st, 2013
Source: Received from the author in exchange for
an honest review

Neve Bianchi has always lived in the shadow of the big top, haunted by the death of her father, the famous magician Giovanni "The Magnificent" Bianchi. But Neve has discovered something that may change not only her fate, but the destiny of Lang & Perrault's World Famous Circus. Can she trust the charming Prince of Blades? Or will the wicked Queen of the Air win in the end?

Mirrors and Magic is a steampunk retelling of Snow White set in a traveling circus just after the turn of the century in the Clockwork Republics. The Clockwork Republics series is set in an alternate history where the American states never united and where alchemical magic and clockwork marvels create a world of wonder.

Steampunk and fairy tales, what more could I ask for? Since these are two of my favorite things, mixing the two seemed like it could be either a hit or a miss. Thankfully, this one was a hit, even against my high expectations. In a world lush with mechanics, some magic, and a little romance, an old story tale came to life in a new way. While it still had a little room for improvement, Katina French managed to capture the heart of the story, getting it right where it mattered.

In spite of my praise, Mirrors and Magic started out a little rocky for me. With steampunk novels, I always feel like less is more when you first open the book. The world we first step into with Mirrors and Magic is extremely steam-heavy, with tophats, goggles, and steam-powered vehicles all thrust into the first few pages. While it was exciting, it seemed a little generic at first impression. My initial thought was steampunk is much more than all that, and I always worry when books start out with goggles. Thankfully, as the story progressed that impression faded away. The vehicles and outfits made sense with the circus atmosphere, and even the monkey charmed me. 

One unique element of this book is the alchemy, which functions as a sort of magic in this society. I thought it was a creative way of adding the fairy tale twist in a more mechanical world. The circus itself was a great backdrop for the story of Snow White, and it felt like the perfect match. I did find the references to the circus "kingdom" and Neve the "princesses" as a little repetitive and unnecessary, but I also tend to like my fairy tale retellings a little vague: don't tell me who is who right away, let me slowly unveil that myself. 

The characters themselves were quite likable, from orphaned Neve to her dashing sword throwing love interest. I felt that the "dwarves" were a little secondary though, and I wished I saw more development with them. The Queen of the Air was a good villain, and I liked that we could see some of her back story and motivation. 

Overall, this was a great read and is one of my favorite versions of Snow White. I look forward to seeing more work by Katina French, and who knows, hopefully maybe even another retelling!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Negative Reviews Are Part of Business

"It's not personal..."

Negative reviews: they happen. It's just a fact of life. Every reader who likes some books is going to hate others, and that doesn't always mean a book is crappy or you hate the author. I know it's a cliche, but it's just business. It doesn't really make it easy though.

As a reviewer, sometimes I have to write tough reviews. For whatever reason, I don't like a book, or it just wasn't my cup of tea. As the star ratings go down, I admit, my guilt level goes up. Sometimes it gets even tougher if you know the author, or you later get to know them. You want to love it for their sake, but you also have to be honest.

Days like those make me want to hide under the covers and avoid my computer for a little bit. But in the end, the review goes up, and it's plastered for the world to see. It feels like a giant billboard screaming "I hate you!" to the author. Even with the most professional dictation, sometimes you are doomed to sound a little mean from time to time. But being mean is sometimes better than just being nice.

Let me explain.

The "Nice" Syndrome
Readers who review eventually have to come to terms with guilt, or they will catch the "nice" syndrome. The nice syndrome happens when ever book someone reads has a glowing review: "Great characters!", "I stayed up all night!", "Couldn't put it down!", "A+++!". After awhile, reviews like this feel cookie cutter, and they really do little to describe a book. As an author, you also learn to resent them a bit. Sure, it's great to have 5-stars, but stars by themselves have no sustenance. A star-rating is only as strong as the review that backs it. What makes it five-stars? What kept the pages turning? Was the prose brilliant, was the characterization flawless, did they do something new and creative?

In the same way, with time you learn low reviews don't always mean a book is bad. While there will always be flamers, books are bound to have people that just didn't like them, and that's okay! If someone loves steamy romance the chances of them loving fart jokes may go down a bit! People who like everything turn into robots, and that makes it difficult to relate to.

Be Honest, Not Cruel
All this being said, to be helpful negative reviews need to stay professional. Not going to lie, I've been on Goodreads skimming through their top reviews of all time, and some of them are soooo mean....but soooo funny. People will pick out one analogy and tear it to pieces, or rip a plot flaw to shreds. It's times like these when reviews can become personal, and that's a line to try to avoid crossing. Sometimes, yes, it's funny. But unless you're just reviewing for friends, it's probably better to resist.

We all slip up from time to time. But honest reviews are going to funnel all the volatile emotions you experience during a book into a clear and relatable road map for future readers. You have to make a choice: are you writing the review to make them laugh, or to actually help them identify whether this is a book they will like? If you're trying to be helpful, than be honest, not cruel.

A Few Final Tips
So, what do you do when you're about to write a negative review? How do you avoid being too nice or too mean? These are just a few of my personal practices. I'd love to hear if you have some of your own.

What to do if it's a Bad Review
1. Let it Rest
If a book makes me particularly irritated, I may give it a night to settle first before typing up my thoughts. This is particularly useful when you have a rage fit over a cliffhanger or an untimely character death. Give it a night, let yourself be mad. Return in the morning.

2. Narrow it Down 
Funnel emotions into more concise feedback. What was it really that you didn't like. Did the plot never get resolved? Did you really hate one particular character? Try to isolate those emotions, remark on them, but also try to look objectively at the book beyond those things.

3. Be clear about any triggers. 
This is important. Different readers have different triggers that can upset them. Was there dating violence? Was there crude humor? Identify (without spoilers if you can) anything that may have upset you more than the average reader.

4. Note pet peeves. 
This is less serious than a trigger, but also important because the emotional response can be so high. For instance, I hate unexpected perspective changes in first person. Hate it. When I read 70% of a book and we suddenly switch characters, I can feel myself punting a star out the window. It's like I'm standing in front of the author, holding up that little star saying "that was uncalled for, now you're not getting this back!" With pet peeves, you actually have to sit back and have a little talk to yourself. "Self, is it really necessary to take their star for that one line of dialog? No? Then give it back."

5. Finish with a positive. 
In drama class, there are critique sandwiches. You have your praise on the outside, and your critique on the inside. As you finish your review, focus on the good. Focus on things other readers may enjoy, even if you didn't. Try to identify another audience who may like it more.

If it wasn't your cup of tea, whose is it?

A Final Note
Reviews are not bookends. They aren't just a point a or point b destination. The best book in the world to me is going to be the worst book in the world to someone else, because they are based on very personal opinions. There are the mechanical issues, sure, (were there spelling errors, did this book have formatting problems) but reviews are more about planting street signs, so readers can guide themselves. Readers use reviews to navigate whether or not they may enjoy a book. So leave helpful comments, even if they're negative.