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Sunday, 13 February 2011

Reviews by Request AKA Sheer, unmitigated terror

A couple of weeks ago, just after I bounced onto the Kindle Boards for the first time, an author posted requesting reviews. I happily accepted, based on the fact that a) I thought it would be good experience b) I'd get a free book and c) most importantly, it wasn't my genre. I read post apocalyptic fiction, I have never written it.

A couple of hours later, the book landed in my in-box, and I started to panic. I've posted about books before - but these are books I have bought and read voluntarily.

Who the hell am I, someone who at that stage had sold maybe ten books (slightly higher now, but not by much) to review an established author? Mike Poeltl has books selling - and already reviewed - all over the net, in physical book form and e-books. He has 2 books out and a third  due for release in 2012.

I have 1. An e-book. With NO reviews.

I've seen some truly vicious reviews on Amazon and other places. Some of them incoherent, some of them by people who never even read the bloody book to start with - those tend to irritate the daylights out of me. But others have been well written, spell checked - and rip the author a new one right off the bat.

I'm not prepared to do that. If I don't like a book, I'm not going to post a review. At the end of the day it's only my personal opinion. Why be a bitch about someone else's hard work? Somebody is going to open that page up, read what you've written - and either feel ok, pretty damn good, or like they just got punched in the gut. If I'm going to make someone cry over something I've written, I'd really prefer it to be fiction.

So one of my biggest fears when I started The Judas Syndrome was simply - what if I hate the book? I'd promised a review, after all - and if you don't keep your promise what are you worth, at the end of the day?

I read the book. Then I went back and re-read it. If I was going to post a review, I wanted it to be honest and thoughtful, not something I rushed through. This guy had spent who knows how long writing the book; it deserved some decent attention.
I liked it. It wasn't perfect for me as a reader - but it made me think about the situation the characters were in.

I e-mailed Mike back, who has waited patiently for a while, and told him what I wanted to say - good and bad.   I freely admit I was nervous about pushing the send button. I've heard of less than pleasant responses by authors to anything remotely negative, and I had a few issues with parts of the book.

I left the decision of whether or not he wanted it posted up to him; this is his baby I'm about to simultaneously pat on the head and swot on the butt.

The response was pretty much immediate, and very gracious; he thanked me for my time, my feedback,  and told me to go ahead and post it, which I did.

I then went and had a (very) large beer and watched Bedlam - fun stuff if you like a mix of pretty with spooky.
Overall this was a positive experience. But I don't think I'll be reviewing like this again in a hurry; my nerves just won't take it.

And finally - the review itself. I gave this 4 stars on Amazon uk; for me what pushed it over the three star mark was the main character, Joel and the brilliant way the author fleshed him out.
                                                                
                                                          ****

This is a pretty intense book that I think will polarise readers - they are either going to love it or hate it.
It deals openly with a number of subjects that more conservative readers will be uncomfortable with, including fairly prolific drug use and some fairly harsh language. Although the main character and his friends are teenagers, this is not a children's book by any means.

For me the book had some excellent points and a couple of jarring notes. I'll start with the negatives first, since I think firstly they are pretty minor & easily fixed in future books, and secondly - what I didn't like is not going to apply to everyone.

1) Too much back-story. The first couple of chapters could have been condensed without losing the overall feel for the characters. Got to say though - absolutely LOVED the first page - Joel speaks.

2) I had trouble distinguishing between character voices, especially where there was a lot of dialogue. To me this was because they all seemed to have the same style of speaking for long periods of time. Not always, but enough that I had to flip back a couple of times to check who was speaking.

3) A lot of dialogue came across more as personal philosophy or thought instead of conversation between people - interesting, but not something I come across often and it did tend to jar me out of the story a bit.

What I loved:

1 - The concept was brilliant. I've read a number of post-apocalypse type books; this one struck me as quite different to the run-of-the-mill stuff.

2 - Joel. For me this guy was the perfect anti-hero - difficult to like, remarkably easy to sympathise with. No attempt at covering his flaws or making him a saint. What really struck me was watching this guy devolve slowly into utter paranoia and self-hate, and eventually self-destruct in every sense of the word, while constantly trying to do what he thinks is right. Joel in the end is the personification of the apocalypse, and I thought this was beautifully done.

3 - Stinky. How can you not love a talking skunk/avatar?

4 - The ending. I really, really liked it - very powerful way to end this story, and for me it made perfect sense in light of both the book and Joel's character.

I'd recommend it, although it takes time to get through. This is not a cute or fluffy book and there are some pretty hard hitting scenes in it that will stay with the reader for a while.