Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Thursday, April 10, 2008

To Review or Not to Review

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I read Stephanie’s blog yesterday with interest because I feel almost exactly opposite. I love reading and I haven’t hesitated to give my opinions and reviews on a myriad of books. Perhaps it just comes naturally to me because I was an editor for so long and evaluated manuscripts. Part of my job was to help authors polish their books and improve their writing. But, perhaps, after reading Stephanie’s blog and some of the comments, I shouldn’t give my opinions and reviews so freely.

I had an example of this come up just last week. I did a review of Traci Hunter Abramson’s new book, "Freefall." I enjoyed this book immensely, but had a few things in it that stuck out, so I mentioned them in my review.

Here is what I said:

Freefall begins in the middle of a hostage situation and it quickly escalates from there during an attempted rescue. The events that change a woman's life are exciting and take us across the deserts of the country of Abolstan which the author does a wonderful job of describing. I really enjoyed how she wrote her character of Amy Whitmore, the senator's six foot tall daughter who is dealing with being a hostage, then a difficult rescue, not to mention an ex-fiancé who won't give up, and her budding feelings for her handsome rescuer. The author is really able to write this character as realistic and relatable as she goes through harrowing experiences and tries to keep her wits about her. My favorite part, though, was when the author had Amy go shopping for clothes that are difficult to find. Almost every woman can relate to that!

The author also does a great job with the romance and emotions of a difficult situation and a complicated relationship. The awareness and tension between the two characters is palpable and I really enjoyed that. I loved the romantic midnight picnic, although my one complaint was that they were in Italy, but with the fairly generic description of the setting you never would have known it. Italy is so romantic on its own and could have added a smidge more to the already heightened emotions, I think.

I also had a hard time with the super-humanness of the main hero, Brent. He wasn't as real and well-developed as Amy was and had barely any mentioned weaknesses besides wondering if he should start a relationship with Amy. Brent is able to rescue hostages, find information leaks and stop assassination attempts without making any real mistakes. He also solves each new complication within a chapter or two. It ruined the pacing and suspense for me a little because as soon as Brent became involved, it seemed all was taken care of and the thread of that part of the story was over. I wish the smaller complications had been woven more into the story instead of small little stories within the story which were solved so easily. I think it would have only heightened an already suspenseful book.

Other than that, this is one of the best stories I've read that is so detailed as to the agencies that protect our country and the people who serve in them. Ms. Abramson writes the emotions and the romance that had me glued to the page and turning them far into the night. I enjoyed this book immensely and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys great romantic/suspense.

I didn’t want to seem overly harsh, but Ms. Abramson is such a talented writer, the small flaws seemed more prominent. I e-mailed Ms. Abramson the review before I posted it and interestingly enough, she told me she had been aware of the problems I had mentioned and had tried to strengthen those areas. We ended up having several conversations and she was very gracious, telling me that she had really appreciated my review.

Frankly, I think we can help each other as authors and as friends. When my first book was reviewed, there was some criticism in it that stung me as an author, but it also motivated me to be better and to improve my writing. I respect reviewers because it is hard to give a helpful review sometimes for fear of backlash or hurting someone’s feelings. I don’t believe that anyone would ever want to hurt someone’s feelings with a review, but I also think if reviewers are honest and constructive, it can truly help us as authors to hone our craft.

(On a side note, Traci Hunter Abramson will be our guest blogger next Thursday and I am thrilled. She is a very talented author, who was a former employee of the Central Intelligence Agency and I am so excited to read what she has to say next week. So stay tuned!)


At 4/10/2008 2:52 PM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Julie, I hope you didn't think I meant that I felt people shouldn't write honest reviews, pointing out flaws where they find flaws. I just meant that I graduated from the School of Total Wimpiness, magna cum laude, and don't have the guts to write candid reviews myself. But I greatly admire people like you who can do such a good job with reviews, offering both praise for what is good in a book and constructive criticism when you find something lacking. Keep up the good work!

At 4/10/2008 3:47 PM, Blogger Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Stephanie, I didn't think that. I just wonder if perhaps I should be more like you, that's all. I would never want to offend my author friends and I hope I never have. :)


At 4/10/2008 6:26 PM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

I can't imagine that anyone has been offended by your reviews. You do a great job. Don't stop!

At 4/10/2008 11:22 PM, Anonymous Deren Hansen said...

A review helps introduce a work to an audience and helps them determine their level of interest. But I've long thought it a shame that a published book can't be improved by the constructive criticism in a good review.

It seems, in principle, that a review of the book prior to publication would be helpful. Leaving aside the logistic difficulties of providing copies while the text is being finalized, what do you think of that notion in general? What advice do you have for those of us polishing manuscripts who would like the feedback of a review before the trees have been sacrificed?

At 4/11/2008 12:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Deren, I would suggest having a good critique group and a good set of readers---people that you trust to give you constructive criticism. Those sorts of people are invaluable in giving you good feedback and criticism before your book is published or even before it is submitted. I know I have reaped a lot of rewards from having a frank and honest critique group. Hope that helps!

Julie Bellon

At 4/11/2008 5:39 PM, Blogger Heather B. Moore said...

I appreciate any review on my work--even if it points out what is lacking. You can bet that I'm going to be taking a harder look at my next manuscript. Yes, critical reviews can hurt because it's too late to change anything . . . so the best an author can do is have several readers go through their manuscript. Then continue to grow in the craft so that each book gets better and better.

At 4/11/2008 7:39 PM, Blogger Jon Spell said...

In an odd bit of coincidence, my wife is editing Traci's current manuscript.

But you know, I never get to read them!


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