The OF Blog: Trying to grasp a poor review, part deaux

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Trying to grasp a poor review, part deaux

A little over eight months ago, I wrote a commentary on certain reviews that baffled me with their focus, style, or (in one case) with its lacking of evidence to support the reviewer's argument. I think I was a bit premature in some of my presumptions about one of the reviewers quoted there, as it seems Pat of Pat's Fantasy Hotlist has managed to write a review that manages to offend more unwritten review "rules" than I would have scare imagined him to be able to accomplish.

His "review" (if I dare call this piece that would make Dave Itzkoff blush a review) of Kristen Cashore's Graceling frankly is a travesty. Beginning with what appears to be a staple of Pat's reviews, a comparison to contemporary internet darling SF/F authors, it devolves quite a bit. Let's look at the opening paragraph:

I made a strange discovery when I was generating the Amazon links for this book. Throughout the novel, I kept saying that everything I was reading was definitely YA, yet my Gollancz ARC claimed that Kristin Cashore's Graceling would be perfect for fans of Patrick Rothfuss. Plodding on, I kept looking for a reason why they would make that claim. Interestingly enough, once I was done with the book I realized that it was marketed as a YA title in North America. Which, I believe, makes a lot of sense. I'm aware that there are a lot of differences between the British and the North American markets, yet it feels a bit weird that Gollancz is marketing Graceling as a work akin to those of authors such as Joe Abercrombie and Scott Lynch. Because it lacks the depth, the realism, and the grittiness to make it so.
First off, Pat begins not with setting up a discussion of the book itself, but rather with a comparison between his perception of "Young Adult" literature and that of Patrick Rothfuss's The Name of the Wind. While there is a time and a place for comparing authors, this certainly is not the one, especially when he is using publicity blurbs as the basis for such comparisons. Not everyone is going to have access to those, so I am left wondering why he bothers focusing on that. From there, he seizes upon the marketing of the book as YA to claim how it is different from yet more publicist-driven comparisons to newer fantasy authors such as Abercrombie and Lynch. So...what the fuck is this review about? The book, or marketing comparisons? A reader might be pardoned for his or her eyes glazing over and wondering if the book might be worth considering.

The following paragraphs do not improve upon the opener's poor start. If anything, the rhetoric becomes rather overblown and at times, I could not help but wonder if Pat was writing a review of his preconceptions of what constitutes YA literature rather than discussing Cashore's book, as this is the only "discussion" of the book itself:

Katsa was born with an exceptional skill which makes her feared throughout the land -- the Grace of killing. Well nigh invincible, at a young age she becomes the king's enforcer. But Katsa is also a secret agent of the Council, a shadowy group of men and women who are the forces of good in the land. During a mission to rescue a kidnapped foreign monarch, Katsa stumbles upon a mysterious chain of events which seem to make no sense. Investigating further, she will uncover intrigues that will set her against her own king and send her on a quest to unearth the mystery of a one-eyed figure.

Stylistically, Kristin Cashore's tale bears resemblance to Joe Abercrombie's The First Law. Character-driven plot with minimalist worldbuilding pretty much describe Graceling in a nutshell. Unlike Abercrombie, however, Cashore's debut is indubitably YA in style and tone.

The concept of Graces appeared interesting at the beginning, and the author makes a good job of describing the whole process. Alas, the whole thing loses some of its luster when we discover that one can be born with the Grace of sewing, jumping high, or similar talents. As I mentioned, the worldbuilding doesn't intrude on the story and more or less remains in the background. Which is too bad, because at times Cashore's prose can be evocative, and it would have been interesting to discover more about the world she created, as well as the various societies populating it.
Take away the near-obligatory comparison to Abercrombie's debut trilogy and what remains is little more than a Harriet Klausner Amazon quickie with unsupported assertions tossed in for taste. Considering that quite a few readers lament authors that "tell" rather than "show," perhaps that overused maxim might be applied with some justifications to reviews such as Pat's that make general assertions without anything to support it. How is it stylistic similar to Abercrombie's work? What if I hadn't read that book? How the hell would I know what "similar to Abercrombie" would mean? Go to Abercrombie and Fitch, walk around for 5 minutes, then go over to American Eagle and then compare the two without anything in the way of insight into how each has developed their wares?

But the real "beauty" of this review begins with the "Cashore's debut is indubitably YA in style and tone" line. Leaving aside the incredibly strong claim to authority (amusing, considering Pat's refusal to provide any sort of tangible evidence to support his claims), it is Pat's insinuation that YA literature is intrinsically inferior to "gritty" novels such as his favorite duo of Lynch and Abercrombie (as if he hadn't beaten that comparison horse to death in previous reviews of his). But before discussing this at length, more precious quotes from that review:

Endemic to YA books, the politicking makes little sense. Too simplistic to be realistic, it lacks depth and sometimes you just shake your head in wonder. Then again, when I was a young teenager, politics in a fantasy novel were probably the last thing I paid attention to.

Typical to YA novels, the characterization are a bit clichéd. Everything is too black and white, with no room for shades of gray. What Kristin Cashore does well is create endearing characters, even though they are quite predictible. Still, she came up with an engaging bunch that makes for easy reading. Katsa, the main protagonist, is a cross between Drizzt Do'Urden, the Terminator, and Nynaeve al'Meara. There's a definite sense of "girl power" in this one, and the story is told in a very contemporary voice. Hence, though it seems to be aimed at a female teenage readership, it is a world away from similar works from the 80s by Mercedes Lackey, Andre Norton, or Marion Zimmer Bradley. This being a novel written by a female author for a young adult audience, you know that there will be a love story. Enter the extraordinary and secretive and handsome Prince Po, and there you have it. Though you see it coming from a mile away, this cheesy love story nearly killed the book for me.

À la Salvatore, Cashore can write some thrilling battle scenes, and there are plenty of those in Graceling. Though evocative, the narrative can be juvenile at times, and the same can be said of the dialogues. Still, the author keeps the tale moving at a brisk pace, and other than the love story between Katsa and Po, Graceling is a quick read, especially if you prefer action over depth.
Well, endemic to several of Pat's reviews, we find overly confident descriptors used to cover up fairly weak and unsupported claims. I have read dozens of YA-marketed books over the past couple of years and Pat's claims that the politicking makes little sense is baffling? Is not Cory Doctorow's Little Brother marketed as YA and does it not contain a plausible, cogent view of a post-9/11 society that could (have gone) go bad? What about Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea novels? This claim makes very little sense and could in fact be seen as being rather dismissive of the socio-political messages buried within several YA-marketed novels over the years.

But it is typical of Pat, it seems, to aspire to an expertise that I doubt he has. Leaving aside my observation in the past that Pat rarely attempts to write insightful reviews that delve into the books at hand, nothing he has shown has demonstrated any real awareness of the field. He quotes publicity blurbs in place of developing an informed opinion regarding the field. His claims of "typical to YA novels" (as if this is almost solely the province of Young Adult literature and not something that a great many books spanning several genres have done) there being "clichéd" characterization is almost priceless. I guess someone will have to tell Margo Lanagan that her characters are somehow "clichéd," or perhaps D.M. Cornish might appreciate knowing that about Rossamünd's character.

Then comes the "black and white" commentary. Telling, rather than showing, leaving one to wonder if this is in fact true. How characters can be "endearing" but "predictable" without anything cited as evidence makes me wonder even more. But when Pat makes his whopper of a comparison (between an R.A. Salvatore character, the Terminator, and a Wheel of Time female character), I began then to wonder if he had gone batshit crazy with the unsupported comparisons and lazy substitution of unsubstantiated opinion for revealing citations. At this point, I still barely know anything about this book that might not be gleaned from reading either the back cover or from a publicity copy (if I had a publicity copy of said book). What the fuck is this book about, again?

Pat's "girl power" quip and the standard-issue female comparison point for him (after all, it really isn't a Pat review until he keeps comparing the work, unsupported with commentary of course, to other authors who may or may not be related at all in style, tone, plot, or characterization to the novel at hand) alone will likely draw the ire of many. It is rather telling that already some of the commenters at his site have lauded Pat for not being "politically correct" or "telling it like it is." However, I believe if one were to "tell it like it is," one might be tempted to note the general boorish cluelessness of such a comment. True, it is not surprising, considering Pat's past history with "chick lit" remarks. Still, with that and the snarky comment about the "you know there will be romance in it" made me wonder if there might be a touch of misogyny in Pat, considering how regular those types of comments are made when certain books are reviewed. Then again, I perhaps should withdraw that comment, since it would have as little evidence supporting it (OK, only a tad bit more) as Pat has for making said comments in several of his reviews of books written by female authors.

But á la...someone, I guess, Pat's review wimpers down with absolutely no explanation behind his comments, no support for his assertations, nothing to balance what appears at first (second, third?) glance to be bantam-cock posturing with nothing of substance behind it. All I know about the book at this point is that apparently it is set in a secondary-world, that there is some romance and battles to it, and that the main character seems to be an amalgam of disparate fictional characters. Perhaps the final paragraph to the review will provide some sort of closure:

In the end, Kristin Cashore's Graceling is a fast-paced and accessible read. The book should appeal to fans of writers such as Maggie Furey, Trudi Canavan, and Elaine Cunningham.

The final verdict: 6.75/10
Nope. Just more of the same.

So...anyone have links to other reviews of this book so I can gain a better insight into the book itself, rather than into the reviewer's biases?





41 comments:

Grasping for the Wind said...

Thanks for this analysis. I noticed some things that I do that he does which I will try to avoid from now on.

Larry said...

No problem. Live and learn, right? :P

Jebus said...

I consider the fact that Pat's reviews are hard and fast and peppered (slathered?) with his incredibly biased opinions as a strength rather than a weakness. I know there are many people out there who enjoy your insightful reviews and I applaud your attention to detail and adoption of the "correct" review form.

I, however, am more than happy for a short, sharp, and even aggressive review because frankly I haven't got enough time to check out reviews that are quite wordy or that delve into the microcosm of what makes a novel good or bad. I'm one of those people who is happy for a "I really quite liked it, reminded me of this guy and this dude but they're better at this and not as good at that" type review which tells me much more than quoting paragraphs or sections of books or really burrowing into the meat of a novel to find out what makes it tick.

I guess it might sound strange that as a relatively slow reader, maybe a book a week if I am lucky, and a person who buys his books rather than borrow them I should be more careful and critical about what books I read and how they have been reviewed and recommended. But frankly I just need a glance or overall picture/feel of a novel from a trusted reviewer and I consider Pat one of these as I have purchased books based on his reviews and not gone wrong yet.

So to each their own I suppose; all types of reviews serve many types of people and purposes. Bitch about his lack of haughtiness, perceived professionalism and proper reviewing practices all you want, but to me it just sounds like sour grapes that someone so "average" and "normal" could gain such success in the online SF review market with what you consider as a slap-dash reviewing technique. But then again maybe urging the bloggers out there to treat the review process with a bit more respect is a good thing?

I just don't know, but either way I am happy for people to review the way they want and I'll take my recommendations from wherever they make sense to me.

Cheers,

Jebus

Jeff C said...

Awesome. I came close to making a quick comment about his latest review, but after taking a couple of shots at his reviews a month or two ago, I am trying to keep quiet.

I know my reviews suck, but I at least try not to speak like an authority looking down on the masses. I figure at this point people probably stop by to see what sad attempt at reviewing I will try next :)

I will say this..I think this is 3 reviews in a row that he has made a Salvatore comparison in them.

Aidan Moher said...

Glad I'm not the only one who thought the review was rubbish.

It's always frustrating when a 'review' doesn't challenge the readers, the blogger, or the author of the work. What's the point, otherwise?

~Aidan
A Dribble of Ink

Larry said...

Dear Jebus,

I'd be careful before rushing to call what I wrote "sour grapes"; I don't bother self-promoting myself as much, but I too have been quite successful with what I've done here, considering I occasionally get paid to write reviews for other sites. But while I am happy that you find books that you like by reading reviews such as his, I still maintain that reading poorly-constructed reviews still does a disservice for others. Considering the other responses here, perhaps it isn't as much "sour grapes" as many being fed up with shoddy commentary. *shrugs*

Jeff,

Reviews are such a tricky thing to write. As I've said in the past, if the reviewer is being honest with him/herself and it is reflected in the writing of the review, then seeing that process makes for a valuable reading experience. While I don't like quite the same type of books that you do, I have enjoyed reading your reviews because it is obvious that you have wrestled with the text, trying to figure out what was working for you, what wasn't, and how to present that to others.

Aidan,

Totally agree. But I know Pat won't change on this and while I have nothing against him personally, sometimes it is necessary to showcase what is bothersome in (faint) hopes of challenging him/another to improve his/her game. Just like I appreciated being challenged a few months ago by an author on his blog to be more careful with what I say and how I come across in those reviews.

Dark Wolf said...

I don't know if I'm in the measure to comment here, but I have to agree with Larry on a big point. I don't know how my reviews are, but I try not to make comparisions with other authors or books. I try to judge the book on itself and as Larry said it might be possible that many not to read the books brought in comparision.
And I believe that Larry is an example to follow, well not exactly to follow, but to see a very good reviewer. Also through his articles, such as this one, he helps me improve. And although I don't match his readings every time I found a few authors and readings at his recommendations which were one of the best reads I have.

everythingisnice said...

Is not Cory Doctorow's Little Brother marketed as YA and does it not contain a plausible, cogent view of a post-9/11 society that could (have gone) go bad?

No. Next!

everythingisnice said...

I could actually agree with Jebus's post, up until he suggested that Pat had had "such success in the online SF review market". Obviously the review is awful but awful reviews are useful for people who don't care whether a book is any good. The idea that Pat's hits constitute any measure of "success" in the "review market" however, well, that way madness lies. He is a successful publicist certainly but given that this means he is an unpaid shill it isn't really something to boast about.

Larry is clearly right but, as it happens, I have recently finished a review of a Gollancz fantasy novel that makes similar comparisons to unrelated authros and spends a lot of time talking about the marketing. Suffice to say, my review is much better...

Nic_C said...

Larry,

I second your analysis, and would like to add that I thought _Graceling_ was rather good! I've just read and reviewed it for SFX; I can't post the review online because it hasn't been published yet, but I could email it to you, if you're interested.

And yes, fie upon Pat and his aversion to the girl cooties. His review of The Privilege of the Sword annoyed me too; here's why:

http://www.strangehorizons.com/reviews/2007/10/the_privilege_o.shtml

Fábio said...

Although I agree with Larry, I must point out that making comparisons is not the point (at least not the whole point) when writing a review.

I use to do that a lot. I´m trying my best here not to self-promote myself, quite the contrary: my academic upbringing seems to automatically trigger a stimuli-response mode set to compare styles, narrative modes and subgenres.

What I want to say is: can have the cake and eat it too. A competent reviewer should be able to compare but not to depend only on his/hers comparisons to analyze the work in question. That´s what I strive to do - and I wouldmost definitely welcome any feedback on my reviews as well, both from Larry and from you guys.

RobB said...

BLOG WARS!

Good deconstruction Larry. This gives me things to consider with my reviews, too.

Adam Whitehead said...

I have a review in which I failed to mention either Abercrombie or Borges ;-)

http://thewertzone.blogspot.com/2008/07/graceling-by-kristin-cashore.html

In fact the only comparison I raised was with The Red Wolf Conspiracy, which was another debut book from the same publishers with readers expressing similar concerns over the YA/not-YA angle and the notion of 'believable' character names which was generating a lot of discussion at the times.

Larry said...

Everythingisnice,

When I get home in a couple of hours, I'll be reading your blog looking for that review, as I do agree that when done well, such things can be valuable. Pat's review just didn't do that well, sadly.

Nic,

I would be glad to read it. My email is my Profile, I believe (or just the full name of this blog at gmail). Will re-read your SH review at home, as I have only a little bit of time before I have to get ready to leave.

Mihai,

Thanks for the compliments! I don't know if what I write is "model" review-worthy, but I do strive for that, especially for the paying sites.

Fábio,

I agree and perhaps during the upcoming break, I'll have the chance to do that.

Rob,

Glad to be of service.

Adam,

Will read that at home. And from what you describe, that sounds like a legitimate reason to use a comparative to drive the understanding of the book.

Martin said...

I was refering to my review of the Glen Cook omnibus which hasn't been published yet but should be up on Strange Horizons some time over the festive period.

It isn't my favourite review but it was amusing to me that it does contain the same elements as Pat's review (albeit to a radically different end.) I will admit to an unhealthy obsession with the crap that they use to market books though.

Di Francis said...

I like Critical Mass (Don D'Amassa) as a review site. It's quick and dirty, but tends to arrow on on some key points that tell me whether I want to have a look. Here's the Graceling review:
http://www.dondammassa.com/r2c2008.htm#Graceling_

ediFanoB said...

Intersting blog entry. There are things I agree and some not. But I'm "only" a reader. So I follow the comments and try to build up my mind.

In the meantime I searched for some more reviews.

So here is a list of reviews and "reviews":

http://yathenaeum.blogspot.com/2008/11/graceling-review.html

http://www.emilyreads.com/2008/12/graceling-review-haiku.html

http://mynameiskate.typepad.com/at_home/2008/08/book-review-gra.html

http://www.bookbrowse.com/reviews/index.cfm?book_number=2192

http://teenbookreview.wordpress.com/2008/10/15/review-graceling-by-kristin-cashore/

http://hiplibrariansbookblog.blog-city.com/graceling.htm

http://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/graceling

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/09/books/review/Roiphe-t.html?ref=authors

http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/481.html

http://www.ypulse.com/review-review-graceling-by-kristin-cashore/

http://www.somisguided.com/weblog/book-review-graceling-by-kristin-cashore/

http://www.graemesfantasybookreview.com/2008/09/graceling-kristin-cashore-gollancz.html

http://fictionwritersreview.com/reviews/graceling-by-kristin-cashore

http://bookshelvesofdoom.blogs.com/bookshelves_of_doom/2008/07/graceling----kristin-cashore.html

http://www.bookloons.com/cgi-bin/Review.ASP?bookid=10202

http://www.teenreads.com/reviews/9780152063962.asp

http://www.librarything.com/work/5246849/reviews/

http://bookworm4life.wordpress.com/2008/10/01/graceling/

Anonymous said...

"Take away the near-obligatory comparison to Abercrombie's debut trilogy"

Let's make a change:

"Take away the near-obligatory paragraphs in spanish"

Sound familiar?

You bring up very legitimate complaints and critiques but weaken them by berating someone for things you do all the time on your blog.

You think Pat's reviews suck. OK, fine, don't read them. Instead of attacking, a better course of action would have been to do your own review of the same book. Show, don't tell.

A blog attacking another blog is tedious and tiresome to those who come to your site to read insightful commentary regarding speculative fiction. Just my two cents...

gav (nextread) said...

Reviews for me always have me tugging in two directions. I want to share what I like and don't like about a book but I also want a reader to discover for themselves the way in which the story unfolds without me spoiling it.

So I always tend to be cautious so my reviews might be considered "lite".

I try and avoid comparisons only because it's rare that books can be compared. I guess you could compare books like Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, Mike Carey's Felix Castor and Simon Green's Eddie Drood series but only because they are very similar in style and theme being urban fantasy with strong male leads, lots of detective and rely on the first person perspective but then they are their own beasts and I'm not sure what the point of comparing them would actually be.

Comparing books in a series is different as ideally a series should progress and grow so get better the more books you get into it. But at least comparing a series you have something that's relevant.

Pat's comparisons don't really build a picture in this case and it doesn't come across that his arguments on YA are building into anything that I understand.

Though I don't think that Graceling is my kind of thing...

Larry said...

Martin,

I'll be sure to keep an eye on that review then. I have one I still need to finish for Niall that references another book, but that one is about 2000 years old ;)

Anonymous,

¿Qué carajo, huevón? Since when have I made a habit of writing my reviews in Spanish? The rest of your comments are worth considering (even if I'll be disagreeing with you on most of them), but that one bit is just...what?

Gav,

Agreed. Except for me, I don't mind reading YA books; many of them have been very worthwhile reads. Thinking about requesting a review copy of the Cashore book, if I don't decide to buy it outright. If I do so, then I'll review it in the next few months, time/energy permitting.

gav (nextread) said...

@ Anonymous

What blogs can lack is a feedback loop. Published reviews have in the least passed by an editor before seeing print (uploading, etc.).

It's not an attack - it's a criticism which is thoughtfully outlined and explained and it contains a lot of valid points.

It is a very patchy review and not one of the best of Pat's I've read.

gav (nextread) said...

@ Larry, if you do I'm looking forward to the review.

I bought The Steel Remains with every intention of seeing what the fuss was about for myself but it's still on my shelf. I really must read that...

I love the YA books that I've read - someone mentioned The Graveyard book and it's brilliant so far, I love Garth Nix and Harry Potter but I just don't know enough about it to make sweeping statements.

I don't think it's easy to make sweeping statements about a novel unless it really sticks to genre conventions.

The whole thing I think is beyond my skill...

Larry said...

Gav, I might do it even sooner, considering I just now visited the author's blog out of curiosity and I see Graceling is up for an American Library Association award. Might just go place that order myself, since Houghton Mifflin might not be the best place to contact about getting a review copy right now... :(

Anonymous said...

Larry,

I am sorry about the comment regarding spanish language on your blog posts. I misunderstood the point of your original post. I thought the theme was "petty grievances I have with this blogger" (one of yours being that Pat compares everything to "darling Joe Abercrombie" and mine being that you often write posts in a language that I cannot comprehend). I was wrong with this assumption and apologize.

If I interpret Gav correctly you are acting as an unsolicited editor for Pat. I agree with your critical analysis of Pat's review. That is not my problem.

My problem is that you have 50 review blogs linked to your site and of that 50 you choose to critically evaluate one particular blogger (multiple times). My contention is that this adds nothing to your blog. Many blogs are utter shite and when I find one that transcends it is to be celebrated. I find it perplexing that you choose to focus your efforts on something that has, at best, a tangential relationship to what you do.

My frustration is that I think you are above creating a pointless flame war with, of all things, another blogger. I would be far more interested in your considerable efforts directed at those who create speculative fiction. Why couldn't you have spent the effort writing another book or story review, instead of a blog review? You have an audience that would appreciate this.

Regardless, it is your blog and you control the content. If I fail to understand the rationale behind your decisions that is obviously my problem.

Gwenda said...

Thank you. Sigh.

Aidan Moher said...

Anonymous,

I tend to agree that Larry spends too much time on Pat and his blog, and too little time on other blogs out there. Larry's got some chops when it comes to reviewing and I think it would be valuable if he spread the critique around the web a bit more.

Pat's a big target, though, and more people are going to be interested in reading something like this about one of his reviews than one about my own blog, or Graeme's, or Rob's, or... well, you get it.

It's important for the blogosphere to keep an eye on itself. Like Gav said, blogs have little form of feedback other than comments from their readers (which not enough people leave, frankly, when you consider the reader:comments ratio), and I think it's only a good thing when we call each other out on things that are weakening the community.

~Aidan
A Dribble of Ink

Larry said...

Anon,

That is a really good point. Although I never really thought of it as posting about Pat (what is it, the second or third time on this blog?) more than others, yes, I ought to comment more on the others and I shall when time is available. I wouldn't have said anything if it had been a one-time thing; it was a perfect storm yesterday, but I don't regret writing it. However, I will try to 'spread the wealth' a bit more.

As for the final bit, I will indeed be writing quite a few more story/book commentaries in the next three weeks. Plus I have an idea on exploring something else, something that will tie into certain new-found interests.

And finally, thank you for this response. It is exactly the sort of comment I enjoy reading, as it challenges me to reconsider elements that aren't as well thought out as others. That's what I was hoping for (and what I posted in a follow-up, especially in my closing comments there) and I do appreciate this post and will try to do better in that regard. But there might be a "slip-up" here or there, depending on what I'm reading at the time...

Gwenda,

Glad you enjoyed it :D

Aidan,

After next week...I'll do my best. But in my defense, I post most of my comments at Jeff VanderMeer's blog than anywhere else and Jeff once wrote one of the best criticisms of my own reviews that I've ever read. Have you read his work yet?

Aidan Moher said...

Larry,

I've tangentially followed VanderMeer's blog, but have never really delved too deeply into his work as a blogger/editor/author. He's one of those authors who ranks pretty high on my "Pile o'Shame".

Can you dig out the link to that criticism? I'd love to read it.

Thanks for getting my brain workin',

~Aidan
A Dribble of Ink

Larry said...

No problem: Here's the link.

Graeme Flory said...

I don't want to get into picking holes in someone else's review (although some valid points have been raised here that I want to apply to my own reviews, dammit... am I picking holes by proxy?) as, right now, I'm still trying to sort out my own reviews first! :o)

In the spirit of sharing though, and trying to raise my game a bit, here's a link to my 'Graceling' review...

http://www.graemesfantasybookreview.com/2008/09/graceling-kristin-cashore-gollancz.html

It was a really confusing read for me, full of stuff that I dislike in fantasy but a real pageturner at the same time.

Cheers,

Graeme

Anonymous said...

Interesting... I agree about the lack of quality of Pat's reviews, and I get fed up often with his false humility hiding an arrogant know-it-all tone.

However, I think you are missing some of the points. Reviews like that have their place, for certain readers and certain moments. It's true that he relies too much on comparisons to his pet authors and that his claims are unsupported by any evidence. However, when I read a review I'm not interested in getting proofs of the reviewer's claims. I don't have the time. I really don't want to read quoted paragraphs of the reviewed book. I find those time-wasting: they prove very little, almost anything can be taken out of context.

So imagine we have a detailed analysis filled with quotes... in the end, it's almost as subjective as Pat's reviews, and much slower and boring to read. I regard Pat's reviews as an acquaintance's comment about a book he had read. I know what makes him tick and I take his reviews with a grain of salt, but sometimes they can be usefull. I just don't want to be bored by an academical analysis. Often I skim whole paragraphs on those reviews and read only the conclusion.

Jebus said it well. When you get a to-the-point opinion from someone whose tastes you know, saying "it reminded me of this guy and this dude but they're better at this and not as good at that" it can be useful and takes little time to read.

I don't understand everythingisnice's comment about Pat reviews being "useful for people who don't care whether a book is any good"... what's the point of reading any kind of review, if not trying to find out whether the book is worth reading or not? It's just that I prefer to spend more of my free time reading books than reading reviews...

Martin said...

I will admit that I haven't carried out extensive market research of Pat's readership but I would imagine they read a very limited spectrum of fiction: predominantly genre, predominantly fantasy, predominantly fantasy of a certain type. So therefore a successful review is not one that tells you how good a book is (because they have no interest in reading, say, a contemporary YA romance) but how similar a book is to the type of books they already like. And this is what Pat provides.

Charles said...

In line with the last comment by Anonymous, for me one of the best ways to respond against a poor review is to write a good one and unfortunate as of late Larry, you haven't been doing much reviews (and for all the faults of Pat, we can at least say that he's writing reviews).

Neth said...

I'm a bit late to the discussion, but oh well.

I don't have much to add beyond I'm enjoying the discussion very much and you can add my name to the list of people unimpressed with Pat's reviews - they seem to have actually regressed over time.

and in the sense of parity, Larry, feel free to pick on my reviews anytime (just don't pick some the early reviews - those are generally quite terrible). For all the blog reviewers out there, I think it's a huge benefit if you ever have a review picked apart like this - Gabe once did it for me for the defunct Scalpel project and I think it improved my review writing.

Larry said...

Graeme,

I'll read it sometime this weekend. By the way, I placed an order for the book last night after reading over some of the other reviews out there. Seems like it might be worth my while (plus I enjoy reading YA lit on occasion).

Anon,

One can include insight along with opinion-dishing in the space of a newspaper op-ed piece (750 words). I think I've written only a few reviews for this blog that have gone past 1200 words, so if 1200 words is too much...?

Martin,

Good point. I suspect some of the comments about the books I happen to like reflect this desire for more of the same, or maybe slightly different. Good thing I don't write reviews (or read books) for the sole benefit of others; this is a personal review blog in many ways, I guess.

Charles,

I'm working on it. There'll be more in the coming weeks, once I have recovered from this bout of work-related exhaustion that's left me barely able to stay awake past 5 PM many nights lately.

Larry said...

Ken,

I'll try to remember to do that in the near future ;) And although sometimes we like/dislike different things about the same books, I certainly can't fault you on your honesty, which I think goes a long way toward making a review a "good" one.

Anonymous said...

the thing none of you understand abour larry and pat is that larry got wounded in a shootout in el paso back in the day because of pat. pat stole his girl, too. those are not the kinds of things you forgive. so to those who say larry has been talking about pat too much I say know your history first. some might say a disfiguring scar and losing the affections of the new mexico entrant in the international cactus queen pageant should be water under the bridge. I am not one of them.

Charles said...

Larry: looking forward to those reviews and good luck with work!

Larry said...

Anon,

You almost got it right. But it really involves his attempted theft of this. Sad, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Anon was me, JeffV. I wasn't trying to be anon, just forgot to sign it. (Er, and trying to be funny...)

Larry said...

Jeff,

I first read that on my cell phone while I was waiting for my sister-in-law's college graduation ceremony to begin. It just about make me spit up in laughter. Thanks for letting me know it was you who wrote that piece :D

 
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