Monthly Archives: January 2015

Review of The First Noble Truth, by C. Lynn Murphy

The First Noble TruthAuthor, C. Lynn Murphy sent me an ecopy of her novel, The First Noble Truth.

Description from Goodreads:
Machiko Yamamoto pulls out her hair, picks at her skin, and triple checks the locks to the house behind the school where she works. When a foreigner moves into a neighboring thatched roof cottage, she quickly falls in love with the quiet woman with the mangled hand. 

Krista Black does not mind the weekly visits from the local English teacher. The scarred woman seems harmless, but she always wants to talk about travel and language and why Krista has come to the remote, Japanese village. Krista avoids her questions. She has seen much of the world, and she knows what it does to fragile people. Machiko may want to know her, but she could never understand her. 

Set in Kyoto, New England, Africa and Kathmandu, THE FIRST NOBLE TRUTH is a story of redemption, interwoven between two protagonists, across two cultures. It peers beneath the comfort of expected storytelling to investigate the dualities of suffering and joy, religion and sex, and cruelty and kindness.

Review:
This book is, first and foremost, beautiful. The use of language is absolutely breathtaking. Yes, some would say it’s fully purple, overly detailed and clarity is compromised for poetic effect, and it’s occasionally true. But less often than one would expect, considering. This is the sort of book you can slow down and read just for the sheer joy of feeling the rhythm of the words sliding over your tongue as it slowly builds itself into something substantial.

The plot does wander at times, taking long detours into the interesting but largely irrelevant lives of side characters and such. Further, the use of both first and third person narratives was an interesting one. If I had to choose one main character, it would be Machiko, the third person narrative (which seems wrong to start with). The story is set in her third person present, with most of Krista’s first person narrative being of past events. And they often felt like strange detours themselves, not becoming relevant until the very end when the two women’s lives finally truly intersected.

Thus, I felt I knew what made Krista Krista, but didn’t interact with her present self enough to connect to her character. As if all that history was actually a third character. While so much of Machiko’s internal thought process was explained, I knew her present self well, but not much of what made up her character outside of her Trichotillomania. Though it’s worth noting that Murphy’s descriptions of Machiko’s compulsions were enough to make me want to pick my skin and pull my hair. I definitely related to the character’s tendencies more than I should have been able to.

One of my favourite aspects of this book is all the wonderful characters who provided amazing love and support to the two main characters. I think it’s rare to find a book with no easily identifiable villain and in which authors manage to create believable bonds of friendship and family. It endeared them all to me.

The story itself is heartbreaking, if subtle. Sorrow and suffering is the underlying theme of the book and it’s not hidden. The two women lead very different lives, with very different causes for their different types of suffering. But neither is less legitimate than the other. And in the end, the reader is left with what is probably the only ray of hope in the whole book. (Yes, I cried.)

This is definitely a book worth picking up and taking your time with.

Addressing a past transgression and why I’ll forgive a new indie author a review swap or two

This blog is probably 99% reviews I write about other books. My own attempt at authorship hovers up in the right-hand corner under the tab The Weeping Empress, but it gets very little attention. I hardly remember the last time I even looked at it, let alone anyone else, if my page stats are reliable.

And I’m a slow writer. I’ve yet to develop the ability to force my writing, to produce quantity regardless of my own mental state. (I’ve recently decided that this is the illusive difference between a writer and an author, even if only in my own mind.) But it took me a while to recognise this about myself. On finishing my first book, I honestly thought, ‘I’ve got this. I’ll be cranking the books out now.’ That didn’t happen.

My writing is very tied into my own emotions. As an example, at the deepest level, The Weeping Empress is about a woman losing her family. I wrote it not long after having my first child, while struggling (largely in my subconscious, I think) with the fear of failing at motherhood and, contradictorily, being anchored in a way I never had been before. The Weeping Empress was partly a way to explore those feelings and emotions.

So, while I initially intended this blog to be about writing, rather about my writing, that never developed. Instead, it focuses primarily on the writing of others and that’s fine. I imagine that I’ll one day have another book to promote, but until then I’m ok dedicating it to others.

But I had an experience today that brought me up short. As is often the case with sudden ‘Ah-Ha’ moments, it was initiated by something small. I was responding to a review comment on Goodreads and I referenced the ‘games some indie authors play.’ I was referring to buying reviews, swapping reviews with other authors, using sock puppets, etc. And I realised something,

Three years ago, when I was brand new to the indie world and didn’t know the rules or the ins and outs or the, lets face it, dangers of the game I had more than a few narrow misses. I mean, I was just so dumb, so naive. I remember the first time I ran across a service offering to connect authors with reader/reviewers for a small processing fee and thinking how convenient that was. (It was Rooster Someting-or-other, I think, and I only remember that because I recall thinking how little roosters had to do with reviews.) It never occurred to me that this was anything other than what it honestly purported to be. That you were just buying false reviews never even entered my mind as a possibility. It is only luck and empty coffers that kept me from falling into that trap.

But I didn’t make it through that first few months without making mistakes. I was bright eyed and innocent, believing only the best of people and I’m embarrassed to admit that I did agree to swap two reviews with other authors on Goodreads. I played the same game I was earlier today sneering about (how easy it is to forget). I simply didn’t know better yet and I imagine a lot of others don’t at first, either.

In my case, I accepted both of the books at the same time, labouring under the assumption that you really could honestly read and review the book of a fellow writer, while they read yours and expect the same honesty in return. And you can be honest on your end, I did, but it’s difficult.

I quickly learned this was something I never wanted to do again, because I couldn’t know the other person’s true intent. When I sat at my computer, with both books downloaded and ready to be read, I realised that I truly only wanted an honest opinion from the other authors and they told me they wanted the same. But did they really, or where they just parroting what they were expected to say and wanting guaranteed praise? What would they provide me?

I became very uncomfortable with the position I had gotten myself into. I decided that my best bet was to get my reviews up first, that way I didn’t have to consider their opinion of my own work when I wrote it and, pending the books weren’t really masterpieces worthy of honest 5-star reviews, the other authors would see my honesty and respond in kind. Because what I couldn’t control was their expectations or actions, so the best I could do was lead by example.

I read those books in record time and gave both books 4 stars. I believe they deserved them. Both authors subsequently gave my book 5 stars and I’m hoping that was their honest opinion, but I hate that I can never be sure.

But here I am, almost three years later wishing they didn’t exist. I’ve made no effort to hide them, but should someone choose to dig into my book’s reviews there they would be, evidence of my wrong-doing. As I’ve just finished telling someone else, ignorance of the rules of engagement isn’t an excuse for breaking them and I did. So, now what?

Granted, it was several years ago and The Weeping Empress is hardly a best seller. It’s only received two reviews and seven contentless ratings in the past year. It doesn’t get much attention. But I’m a self-published author and what I understand now, that I didn’t then, is that the only thing I have to legitimise myself, is not reviews, as so many believe, but my reputation and evidence of integrity. And these two review swaps compromise that.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I don’t just mean to infer that I’m afraid to get caught and therefore wish the evidence wasn’t apparent. (Calling attention to them would be the worst thing I could do then.) Nor do I mean this as an attempt to mitigate their damage by admitting to them. (Three years later is a little too tardy for that to be effective.)

I mean I wish I hadn’t done it, that I had made it through the publication of my first book without falling for all the rhetoric about reviews being the only way a self-published author can succeed and they, therefore, must do anything to gain them. I wish I had been better, that I had understood that my credibility was at stake and just stood proudly by the quality of my work to garner readers. It’s not faultless, but doesn’t need bolstering either. I wish that I hadn’t listened to all those pulpiteers, who claim that a good book could never be enough.

But that’s confidence is very hard to come by as a brand new self-published author. You’re so scared that you’ve overstepped your bounds and made claims of grandeur you don’t deserve. This is especially hard for women, I think, who aren’t generally encouraged by society to promote themselves like men are.

And there is so much bad advice out there. We’ve seen a whole spat of it lately. Until you’ve spent time in the indie community, it’s impossible to weed through it. It just is and few newcomers have the wherewithal to dismiss the supposed sage advice of more experienced indies. I can say all that now. Three years isn’t a lot of time, but it’s enough for me to have learned some very valuable lessons and to realise I made some real mistakes.

The one piece of advice I wish I had been given is, ‘Unless you intend to literally release your book blind and not promote or follow its progress at all, don’t publish anything until you’ve spent at least a year interacting with the community you’re publishing to.’ This seems counter-intuitive, I know. You should be writing good books and trusting them to stand on their own, without the need for you to intercede on their behalf, and that’s true. But as long as you’re also a reader and/or also intend to promote your work, you need to understand the environment you’ll be functioning in. Not doing so can be detrimental to you and it will certainly cause you undue stress.

Getting back to my own swapped reviews, the whole thing is complicated by the fact that I also like to read fellow authors. I do a yearly Taking Care of My Own reading challenge, in which I set aside a period of time to read books written by my Goodreads friends.

It’s a bit awkward at times, as I’ve not at all enjoyed some of their books and said so (here’s an example, or maybe I mean proof), but I believe all the social networking in the world is useless unless someone somewhere chooses to make use of it. So, I read books by people I know.  I don’t tell the authors beforehand that I’m reading their books and my reviews are always honest, but my choice of what to read is based on personal familiarity. And some of those authors do the same kind of thing.

Further, if I happen notice an author has reviewed my book well on Goodreads (because, ideally all authors are also readers) and their book is of a similar genre, I assume we have similar tastes and I’d likely enjoy their book too. (And I think others do this as well. Here’s a similar example.)

So, there are reviews of my book by authors I’ve also reviewed, but never communicated with. Both reviews are unprompted and unaffected by the other. They’re also sometimes years apart. But to an outsider, they could easily look like a review swap and there’s not a thing I can do about it. I mean, how believable is, ‘Sure, I’ve done review swaps, but not with that author.’? Not very.

So, yeah, I’m worrying and feeling guilty about something that will likely never come to pass. Why would someone really want to dig into the origins of every review some random, obscure book has received?  (Except, I suppose, that I just suggested someone do exactly that.) Heck, I may even be worrying about next to nothing. I stopped reading my book’s reviews years ago. I read them the first several months after it was released, because I was terrified that it wouldn’t be accepted in some manner. But as soon as those first-time jitters that wracked me day and night settled and I knew the book was at least passing, I stopped reading them.

I had to check special to even say how many reviews it had received last year. So I don’t know how many books I’ve read that were written by people who’ve read mine and I’m not going to go mining for the information. But I assume there are several. My corner of the Goodreads community, despite being 20+ million strong, isn’t really that big.

But the niggle of these two reviews is still there in the back of my mind and I’ve spent quite a lot of time trying to find a way to negate it, without contacting the authors and asking that they remove them. That feels too controlling, like all those authors trying to tell reviewers how to review. Especially since it’s obvious from the reviews that they legitimately read the book. I, for one, like a review posted for every book I read and would take unkindly to an author asking me to remove one. Which also means I don’t want to delete my own review either. Plus, this would feel a bit like I’d reneged on something, since I did agree to the swap in the first place. There is also the problem that while I’m not hiding that two of my reviews were swaps, I don’t know the other authors’ situations and don’t want to inadvertently put them in any kind of compromising position.

What I came up with was posting a note below the review stating that it was one of two review swaps the author, myself, engaged it. Maybe even a link to this post. I’ll probably still do that, because I get a little tetchy when I feel I’m being less than honest with people.

But I also had a second realisation. It actually came about as I added a parenthetical clause to a sentence, stating that I didn’t care if a review for a particular author might have originated from a review swap. I had to stop and consider why I felt that way and I decided it’s because such a review is only one of many.

A book’s rating is intended to be an average and, as with any average, the aggregation of all of them tends to smooth out any irregularities. So, a review swap or two, or a review from someone’s mom or best friend gets averaged in with X number of other rating/reviews and as long as we’re talking about a small fraction of the number of rating/reviews, it’s not really misleading future readers or causing significant problems, as far as I’m concerned.

I actually surprised myself with this opinion (and it is only my opinion). I’m not excusing large swaths of misbehaviour. Buying reviews is still bad. Sock-puppets are still deplorable. If you only have 10 reviews and 8 of them are from friends, this is squinky.  But I am saying that one or two legitimate swaps among a large number of reviews is something I, personally, am willing to tolerate. This is undoubtedly, at least partially because I’ve made the same mistake and understand how easily a new author is led to believe this is their only option for success.

There are others who don’t share my opinion and may even take exception for me expressing it, since it runs counter to current acceptable norms. Heck, I may even find myself called a hypocrite or the subject of the next Badly Behaving, Untrustable Author hoo-ha. I’m not trying to make a generalisable statement. And I’ll emphasise that those with differing opinions on what they consider acceptable or not are wholly correct too. What’s more, the general attitude toward review swapping is a negative one. It’s not a good way to get your book ahead. That’s part of why I regret my two. All I’m saying is I personally am willing to forgive others who’ve made the same mistake in the past and I hope they too learn from them.

Review of Tame a Wild Human, by Kari Gregg

To Tame a Wild HumanI got a copy of Tame a Wild Human, by Kari Gregg, from Netgalley.

Description from Goodreads:
Drugged, bound, and left as bait on the cusp of the lunar cycle, Wyatt Redding is faced with a terrifying set of no-win scenarios. Best case: he survives the coming days as a werewolf pack’s plaything and returns to the city as a second-class citizen with the mark—and protection—of the pack. Worst case: the wolves sate their lusts with Wyatt’s body, then send him home without their protection, condemning him to live out the rest of his short life as a slave to the worst of humanity’s scorn and abuse. 

Wyatt’s only chance is to swallow every ounce of pride, bury his fear, and meekly comply with every wicked desire and carnal demand the wolf pack makes of him. He expects three days of sex and humiliation. What he doesn’t expect is to start enjoying it. Or to grow attached to his captor and pack Alpha, Cole. 

As the lunar cycle ends, Wyatt begins to realize that the only thing to fear more than being sent home without the pack’s protection is being sent home at all. 

READER DISCRETION ADVISED. 

Review:
I decided to read this as part of some bastardised version of Weird Shit Wednesday. I’m not part of any group officially doing it, but it seemed like a fun idea. So, I appropriated it. Granted, Tame a Wild Human isn’t as out there as Taken By The Gay Unicorn Biker or My Billionaire Triceratops Craves Gay Ass, both of which I’ve seen pass my Goodreads feed on Wednesdays, but it’s weird for me. I chose it because someone said it had knotting in it and I’d never read a shifter book that explored this aspect of canine physiology.

[The rest of this review will likely have spoilers in it, as venting my frustration at the book usually requires mentioning what annoyed me. Be warned.]

Now, I’ll grant that I chose this book because I was pretty sure it would be outside my comfort zone. I like challenging my limits on occasion and I usually have pretty good results. This was not one of those times. I did not enjoy this book. If I was using stars, I’d say it was a 1-star read, then I’d give in and allow it a second star (or maybe even only half of one) for being structurally sound and adequately edited. But it would get a 1-star, at most, for my enjoyment factor.

If rape and serious non-con is your kink, this book is for you. It’s not my kink and I did not enjoy spending at least half the book inside the mind of a man as he rationalises submitting to 3 days of constant gang rape in an attempt to save his own life. (Because the wolves have no problem f*cking a human to death, as we’re shown.) Plus, all I could think was, ‘This man’s been raped by 6+ others multiple times for 3 days straight, with no bathing facilities or even an attempt to wipe him down. He must freakin’ stink!’

Then, after over half the book had been dedicated to rape, rape, rape and the victim has given in to Stockholm syndrome and the apparent fact that regardless of terror, pain or self-preservation if you touch a man’s prostate he’ll get aroused, the victim was given something (I won’t say what) that made him ‘understand the wolves’ and want to be with them and submit to them. So, instead of constant rape we have a man who’s now begging for his abuse.

All of this was somehow wrapped up in the idea that human’s are cruel and wolves are caring, because, you know, they lubed him before gang raping him. Honestly, that whole plot-point made no sense at all. “Yeah, my 5 or 6 mates and I are going to gang rape you while you’re bound and blindfolded, for three days, all because we care so much for you. *cough* Bullshit!

Then the throw-in about the father…hey great, the willingness to submit to horrendous atrocities on one’s person runs in families. How wonderful for you. *cough* Bullshit!

Plus, you never get the satisfaction of finding out what happens to the brother who betrayed Wyatt. I suppose because by that point you’re supposed to have seen it as a good thing that he was bound, drugged and abandoned in the woods with a bunch of sodomite savages. Yeah, thanks bro, for real. *cough* Bullshit!

All of this might have been something I could have dealt with if the book had had any significant world building to situate it in. But it didn’t. We’re told humans make no effort to stop the wolves from kidnapping and gang raping people on the full moon and that any human who then returns without a token of protection is essentially an untouchable (or untouchable in any sense but to be further abused). But we’re not told why or anything about how society works. What’s more, being as there are obviously multiple wolf packs, who kidnap more than one human a month and almost no one gets a token, shouldn’t a fairly large swath of the city’s populous be untouchable? This isn’t made out to be a rare occurrence.

The book is also very violent. Again, I’m not particularly bothered by gore. I’m not even always bothered when violence and sex converge. But none of the violent sex in this book, which is essentially all of it (including watching a human get killed while you’re being f*ucked and only being able to save his life if you can climax in time) was erotic. Not once in the whole book of basically ceaseless sex did I feel a tingle. Nope, I might as well have been reading the Spam section Joy of Cooking, for as much as it turned me on. And that was sort of the whole point.

If I’m generous I could say I think I know where the author was trying to go with the story, though not wholly successful. But I’m not sure that would be true. I don’t know what was supposed to have been the payoff for the reader, Wyatt’s happy slavery maybe. I don’t know. I’m all for the occasional taboo read, but I wish I hadn’t read this one. It definitely wasn’t for me.