Who Has the “Authority” to Review Books?

Kathleen Hale’s recent Guardian article has generated a lot of commentary, most of it judgments of whether or not Hale was right to take the actions she chronicles.  Somewhat overlooked in the general backlash, however, is a claim that a number of Guardian commenters (who seem to be neither bloggers nor people who utilize sites like Goodreads) are making: that in order to preserve the “integrity” of book reviews, only “qualified” people should be able to voice their opinions.  None of these commenters, as far as I can tell from browsing, gave a workable definition of what people have legitimate “literary authority” (beyond implying that professional reviewers who work for places like Kirkus and Publishers Weekly must).  If we work through the question, however, it becomes apparent that there really cannot be people who “can” judge books “correctly” and people who “cannot.”

Am I qualified to share my opinions on books?

If we accept for the moment that there is a hierarchy of literary authority, I want to point out right now that I am pretty high up it, so I give anyone doubting the “validity” of my opinion that the rest of this post is worth reading.  I have a BA in English literature, I am currently pursuing a PhD in English literature, I have experience interning in the book publishing industry, and I have about three years of experience running this blog.  If anyone is higher than me on this imaginary hierarchy, it must be people who have already earned PhDs in literature and people with many years of experience in book publishing.

I have not worked reviewing professionally, but I have met people who have.  At the time, they had BAs in English literature and potentially some internships in the publishing world.   The bar, then, to have a “professional” opinion is not unsurmountable.  Basically, one needs to have studied literature at the undergraduate level.  I think a lot of bloggers have passed that test.

But how would publishers even know who is “qualified”?

If we continue with this thought experiment and say, yes, that makes sense, publishers should have “standards” that need to be met before they send readers review copies, we still run into problems.

First, a lot of Guardian commenters are proposing a very basic solution: bloggers need to provide publishers with their real names and addresses.  Well…I think many do.  Generally speaking, you need to be a real person to receive mail.  But knowing someone’s name and address, someone’s REAL IDENTITY! does not actually tell the publisher anything about that person.

So is this a proposal that publishers also run background checks on bloggers?  Or that they issue applications where bloggers state their “literary qualifications” and then conduct in-person interviews to make sure they are not creeps?  Because no publishing company is going to waste time and money doing that.

Also: Publishers already vet bloggers.

Most require a blogger to have been blogging X many months, to have Y many followers, and to write reasonably intelligent reviews before they send them review copies.  There are industry standards for this type of thing, which said Guardian comments appear to be unaware of.

But no standard if ever going to eliminate “unqualified” reviewers.

It is possible to run a book blog reviewing only books that are purchased or borrowed from the library.  Many bloggers do this.  Krysta and I did this for years before beginning to request a limited number of e-ARCS.  Publishers can never fully control who gets to review their books.

And that is perfectly fine because of a right most countries today recognize: free speech.

Most importantly, however: Books are written for everyone.

“Amateur” reviewers have valid opinions of books.  Fiction in general is not directed towards people with doctorates in literature or towards industry professionals; their audience is the masses.  If people are talking about Kathleen Hale’s book in particular, it is important to remember her book is classified as young adult.  AKA it is marketed to teens.  AKA people with a high school level education.  They are supposed to have an opinion of the book, which means everyone else is allowed to, as well.

Conclusion

If anyone prefers to read professional review of book instead of “amateur” ones, they have every right to do so.  We all have some standard of quality we like to see in reviews.  But “quality” is subjective, and making the blanket assumption that professional reviewers are more intelligent or more qualified than amateur ones is naïve.  (Also, who decides who gets to be a professional reviewer?  And why should I blindly trust the opinion of this anonymous person who hires them?)  Saying that amateur reviewers should not review, that their opinions should not be allowed space for expression, is a blatant affront to respect and free speech.  If someone can read, they have the right, the authority, the qualifications to form an opinion on a book and share it.

The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale

The Princess in BlackInformation

Goodreads: The Princess in Black
Series: The Princess in Black #1
Source: Library
Published: 2014
Illustrations by LeUyen Pham

Summary

Princess Marigold’s kingdom contains an entrance to Monster Land, but that’s nothing she can’t handle as the secret superhero the Princess in Black.  When Duchess Wigtower comes to call and the monster alarm goes off, however, Marigold has a dilemma.  Can she transform into the Princess in Black, defeat the monster, and return for the last of the scones all before the nosy duchess discovers her secret?

Review

The premise of The Princess in Black seems to guarantee the success of the series, regardless of the merits of the book.  After all, it cannily combines many a reader’s love of princesses and superheroes to create a story that celebrates not only the varied interests of little girls (that being, I assume, the target audience though Shannon Hale’s fame will ensure the book is is picked up by all sorts of readers) but also the multifacetedness of  those girls.  No longer do they have to choose between pink and black, between tea parties and monster fights.  They can have it all.   The story could probably be terrible and people would still read it for the sheer joy of finally having a princess after their own hearts.

Unfortunately,after reading The Princess in Black, I found it necessary to console myself with the fact that, yes, at least the book features a pretty cool heroine.  The story itself is, if not cliche, at least highly expected.  A nosy neighbor of sorts visits the castle for the sole purpose of creating a little dramatic tension while Marigold goes off to battle a monster and then returns.  Such a standard plot could have been saved by interesting characters, but they unfortunately have no personalities, instead existing only to fulfill the needs of the plot.  Aside from the meddling duchess, the only other character (excepting the dim-witted monster, who may be the most sympathetic of them all) is a goat boy who literally appears just so the Princess in Black can have an admiring audience. Yes the story promises him more prominence in the sequel, but in this book I almost feel sorry that he was required to show up, it being such a waste of his time.  He clearly has potential and there was almost enough for me to like him, but the story stopped just short of fully fleshing him out in a cheap bid to create suspense for the next installment.

The motivating forces behind this particular story are furthermore lacking, so that I found it difficult to invest myself in the plot.  The idea is that Duchess Wigtower visits Princess Marigold with the sole purpose of discovering her secret, not because she has anything on Marigold but because “everyone has secrets”.  That’s a little far-fetched, but it’s an early chapter book and I guess we only have so much space, so it’s better just to create a clear antagonist upfront.  So far so good.  But then the Duchess goes on and on about how “perfect” Princess Marigold is and how there must be something not perfect about her.  Yes, yes there is.  It’s the fact that she literally runs out the door during a formal call with an obviously fake excuse about having to check on the health of the birds outside because the two of them heard a ringing noise.  There you go, Duchess.  If the Princess isn’t rude, she’s apparently not too bright (surely she’s had to explain her ringing jewelry before?) or simply crazy.  There is no need to spend the rest of the book trying to dig up dirt on her.  She proved her human nature in the first few pages.

The illustrations are the saving factor in this book.  Although the text tries to be funny or sometimes ironic, most of the time I thought the attempts fell flat.  The pictures, however, really bring life to the text, conveying humor and wit through the postures and expressions of the characters.  The illustrations are charming, beautiful, vivid.  I went through the book again after having finished it, solely so I could enjoy the story without the words and only through the pictures.

Despite my perhaps too-harsh criticisms (I recognize that most readers of early chapter books are not likely to dissect the text as I have), I most likely will continue on with the series.  After all, I love princesses and I love superheroes.  Where else am I going to get both of them in the same place but from the Princess in Black?

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier

The Night GardenerInformation

Goodreads: The Night Gardener
Source: Library
Published: May 2014

Summary

Orphaned while attempting to escape the Great Famine, young Molly and Kip arrive at an old English estate to take up their new jobs as servants.  Locals speak of the place as haunted, however, and none will dare to step foot on the property.  Desperate to survive, the children take the position, anyway, and dismiss the rumors.  But someone walks the house at night and the family all seem to be rapidly losing their health.  Can Molly and Kip break an ancient curse or will they become the latest casualties of the night man?

Review

The Night Gardener is a deliciously creepy tale with all the elements you would want in something that proclaims itself as channeling Washington Irving and Henry James.  From the dilapidated house entwined with a sinister tree to the macabre family who dwells within, everything points from the very beginning to the type of tale that will keep you awake at night with all the lights on.  The Night Gardener does not rely only on chills, however, for a great story, but also raises questions about truth, desire, and the power of words to create a work nearly as intellectually interesting as it is creepily compelling.

Fourteen-year-old protagonist Molly and her eleven-year-old brother Kip will no doubt capture the sympathy of readers from the beginning.  Molly is a word spinner and well aware of her power.  Young but determined, she mostly uses her stories to protect her brother from the harsh reality around them, as well as to provide for their everyday needs now that their parents are gone.  Her loving instincts, her gumption, but most of all her unspoken need for her own tales are all immediately endearing, though perhaps it is her increasing inability to differentiate between stories and lies that makes her the most likable.  She is, in the end and despite all her strength, still a girl in need of a place to call home and readers will easily welcome her into their hearts.  Her brother Kip, meanwhile, calls forth much the same response, being a sensible, capable boy with a strong moral compass.  When Molly fails, readers know they can always count on her brother to bring both of them safely through.

Molly and Kip’s good hearts are, of course, the key to defeating the ancient curse that threatens their new employers.  However, though a middle-grade fantasy no doubt means the two will succeed, Jonathan Auxier still manages to make The Night Gardener a truly frightening read.  Aside from the externals, such as the presence of evil walking through the house each night, the story also offers a scarier plot point: the inability of the characters to leave their precarious situation due to ordinary human greed.  What seemed to be a typical ghost story suddenly expands to take a hard look at human nature and the lengths we will go to achieve our greatest desires.

With sympathetic characters, delicious chills, an even pace, and a good moral lesson, The Night Garden stands out among the middle grade fantasies of 2014.  I look forward to reading more of Auxier’s work.

The Prince of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

The Prince of MistInformation

Goodreads: The Prince of Mist
Series: Niebla #1
Source: Library
Translator: Lucia Graves
Published: 1986 (original), 2010 (translation)

Summary

In 1943 the Carter family, including thirteen-year-old Max and his older sister Alicia, move to a small coastal town to start a new life away from the war.  But the spirit of the previous homeowners’ son seems to haunt the premises and a mysterious, evil presence lurks just outside–the Prince of Mist back from the dead to collect on an old debt.

Review

I had heard good things about The Prince of Mist and picked it up in hopes of discovering a good creepy Halloween read.  However, though initially I thought I would not be able to sleep with the lights off, the plot eventually turns into a hodgepodge of scary events, thereby lessening the fright factor and increasing the confusion.  By the end, I no longer felt invested in the story or even the characters, with whom I had at first sympathized.  Indeed, after I finally finish La sombra del viento, I am questioning how likely I am ever to read something by the author again.

The premise of the book seems sound.  As is typical, a family moves to a small town in hopes of beginning a new life, but finds themselves embroiled in an old  and dangerous mystery, courtesy of their haunted home.  A sinister garden with moving statues, an evil presence lurking upstairs, and creepy vintage footage left by the old inhabitants all contribute to the mood.  And, of course, the parents see and believe nothing, meaning that the children are on their own in a race against time.  For the first half of the book I was constantly prepared to duck under the covers for protection, but then more and more “scary” moments occurred and suddenly I was a strict skeptic.

The Prince of Mist, unfortunately, has nebulous and myriad powers, and when he mixes them, they border on the ludicrous.  At first it seems pretty obvious that he is the creepy clown statue in the garden (we are not to question this–clowns are creepy and thus a creepy garden would have a clown statue in it, not one of those garden gnomes or anything like that).  But then he’s in the house.  And then he’s in the film.  And then he’s on the shore.  And then he’s a monster.  Or a spider.  He’s in the ocean!  He can create a storm?  What exactly is he and what is his plan because it seems kind of convoluted and pointless, unless he just enjoys toying with people by sending/possessing animals and that sort of thing.  None of it makes sense and my disbelief was not so suspended that I was ready to accept any of it.

Max, the young protagonist, was what really kept me reading.  He’s likable and relatable.  He has a sort of uneasy relationship with his sister because he does not understand teenage girls, but he works at it, anyway.  And he’s not necessarily the strongest or the smartest one around, but he’s perceptive and determined and those qualities see him through.  Also, he is far from a reluctant hero.  Though he has no fey wish to meet the Prince of Mist, he’s ready to protect his friends and family if he has to, without counting the cost.  He’s the sort of protagonist you can really get behind.

His sister Alicia and his new friend Roland were nicely fleshed out, too.  It was nice to see a teenage girl with perhaps stereotypical teenage problems (moodiness, a suggested crush that she lost) who was not turned into a one-dimensional teen.  She’s not stupidly rebellious just because “teenagers do that” and she’s not portrayed as silly or stupid for liking boys.  Rather, she’s a rounded person who has things she cares about that she’s lost and things about her life that she’d like to change, but she learns to move forward–and her family supports her.  Of course, Roland helps out, too, but after his easy introduction (friendly, athletic kid who immediately charms everyone he meets), he turns out to be far less interesting than Max and Alicia.  Maybe it’s that he’s simply too wonderful.  His sacrifices match or exceed Max’s but it’s hard to get a real sense of where they come from.

Still, the characters were not enough to hold up the confused plot and my strongest memories of the book are a sense of disappointment that the author seemed to feel that “mysterious” means a lack of any explanation or sense whatsoever.  But, without a solid background or logic, the Prince of Mist is easy to dismiss as an authorial creation and that makes him lose his power.  How disappointing for a figure of legend.

*This post is part of the Everything España challenged hosted by Lianne at caffeinatedlife.net.

Guest Post: The Basics of Creating my Science Fiction Novel by Author M. J. Moores (+Giveaway)

THE AUTHOR

Melissa13 portraitM. J. Moores began her career as an English teacher in Ontario, Canada. Her love of storytelling and passion for writing has writing has stayed with her since the age of nine. M. J. relishes tales of adventure and journeys of self-realization. She enjoys writing in a variety of genres but speculative fiction remains her all time favourite.

This month, she is also hosting a GIVEAWAY for two print copies of her new book Time’s Tempest and its prequel.  Enter here.

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ON WRITING SCIENCE FICTION

Without a doubt there are many wonderful “How To” books when it comes to writing science fiction or world building. In fact, my two favourites just happen to be J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Tree and Leaf” and Philip Athans’ “The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction.” But I’m not here to quote someone else’s words and ideas to you – this is a glimpse into the process for writing my science fiction novel Time’s Tempest. You might even find that one or two of my chosen paths surprise you, too…

Step 1:

As with most stories, I began with a nugget of promise and an idea that just wouldn’t leave me alone. As an adventure and quest writer of fiction and fantasy my first surprise came when the book told me it was science fiction. My shelves are filled with other worlds, magic and dragons, mystical pasts and forbidden choices – not scientific advancements, space ships, foreign planets, and aliens. But my source, my inspiration, was my then-boyfriend/now-husband who loves all things science fiction. And while I can only list A Wrinkle in Time as my one reading venture beyond fantasy sitting on my book shelves, I must admit that I’m a sucker for a good sci-fi flick that doesn’t scare me witless. So I was venturing into new territory – but not really.

Step 2:

Yes, the book has aliens in it; it even has advanced technology and a foreign star system but the story thrives around the people and their adventures and not so much about the technology. That being said, it may surprise you to learn that the next thing I did was dive into research. Research? Don’t I mean back story and world building? It’s not exactly like I can find facts about a plant and a people I’ve completely made up, right? Wrong. The crux of any story (especially sci-fi ones) is their believability factor. If I can’t convince my reader that this story is at least plausible, then I’ve already lost them. So what did I research? Deserts – mostly. You see the planet Xannia just happens to be located in a trinary star system and if you know anything about Star Wars, the planet Tatooine is part of a binary system and it’s covered in deserts. Now, my world works a little differently because of the trajectory of the orbit of the planet around these suns… and, oh hey – did I also mention I did a lot of research into planets, outer space and stars? It’s a good thing I’m partial to astronomy.

Step 3:

And then, yes, I started my world building and plotting – simultaneously along with my research. Basically, whenever I found a really cool piece of information that was not common knowledge, I made note of it and built part of my story around it. For instance, one of the nine Deserts in Time’s Tempest is similar to the Mojave. I learned that natives who live on the outskirts of the desert coax large, fat, water storing frog to the surface from underground burrows by stomping on the ground to make it sound like it’s raining – and then they use these amphibians as both a refreshing beverage and lunch… so I borrowed the idea and sculpted a scenario around the characters needing to rehydrate and eat when they ran out of supplies.

Step 4:

The above ideas tend to end up on cue-cards or large scraps of paper in no particular order. Once I have exhausted my research and I’m dying to put pen to page (yes, most of my first drafts are still a pen and several notebooks – I do not trust computers as far as I can throw them… although that’s getting easier and easier to do these days; I digress) I graphic organize. Oh yeah, I do a massive plot graph so that I can see how the different threads weave and run parallel throughout the story. I place things that happen where and when I think they’ll work best.

Step 5:

Now I get to actually write the story. I say “story” because I’ll use very little of the actual scientific facts I’ve discovered and focus on what the characters need to say and where they choose to take me instead. My lovely visual graphic is nearby but I don’t force myself to follow it to the letter – it’s a guideline, a suggestion to ground my subconscious. It is in this stage where I learn about my protagonist(s), antagonist(s), foils, archetypes and supporting cast.

Step 6:

After I’ve allowed myself time to vomit on the page so-to-speak, I get technical with my craft. Whether I’m writing sci-fi, fantasy, contemporary fiction or whatever – I follow my character arcs, I analyze my villains, I learn so much about my main characters that I feel as if I’ve known them my whole life. Then I start at the beginning again and build the first legitimate draft of my manuscript.

Everything else I do is fairly standard after that point: I deal with beta readers, get feedback and critiques, workshop scenes that aren’t quite clicking, add chapters, delete scenes, get a final edit and pray that someone other than me truly appreciates the book I’ve created.

Every writer has their quirks and rituals no matter what genre they write. Science fiction just decided to bite me in the butt one day and after a while the pain gave way to that euphoric numbness hard-core joggers get and then it felt as though it was always a part of me. You simply have to laugh sometimes about the creative process… and toss in a few face-palms for good measure. I still can’t believe that my debut novel is sci-fi and not fantasy or contemporary action… but here I am – right where the fates want me to be.

THE BOOK

Time's Tempest - Cover Reveal - 400 x 200Time’s Tempest:
The Chronicles of Xannia, Book One

Taya
A loyal and dedicated government contractor extraordinaire, learns of the fate of the planet while on a top-secret job working as a lab tech for a disreputed scientist.

Dezmind
A Talian government dissenter who claims the only way to save their dying world is to trust a set of ancient documents lost long ago in the forbidding Deserts.

Zaith
A reporter covering the story of a lifetime following a lead that could mean more than breaking the biggest story to hit the planet since the Nine Seas Massacre.

Fate, destiny and truth collide with 2000 year old secrets the government will do anything to keep buried. When Taya is forced to accept a contract that will be a death sentence for anyone involved, she unwittingly becomes a catalyst in a game she never wanted to play. As she leads a false prophet and his followers on a mission doomed from the start, she learns far more about herself and her world than she ever thought possible.

Remember to enter the giveaway!

Heads Up Philosophy by DK Publishing (ARC Review)

Heads Up PhilosophyInformation

Goodreads: Heads Up Philosophy
Series: None
Source: Shelf Awareness giveaway
Publication Date: October 20, 2014

Official Summary

The second installment in DK’s new Heads Up series, Heads Up Philosophy addresses the issues and theories that are most intriguing and relevant to the curious minds of teens — making a difficult topic easier to comprehend. Questions such as “What is knowledge?” “What is reality?” “What is the mind?” and “What’s right and wrong?” are all addressed, offering big ideas, simply explained. Written and designed specifically for the teen market, Heads Up Philosophy combines challenging but clear text with cool graphic illustrations that clarify and explain theories and arguments.

Biography spreads cover the famous quotes of great philosophers including Socrates, Aristotle, Friedrich Nietzsche, Epicurus, Plato, and Thomas Aquinas, while major theories and debates including epistemology, metaphysics, and ideologies are also explained. Heads Up Philosophy also includes case study panels, diagrams, and real world spreads to show how philosophical theories relate to everyday life.

Making a difficult subject more approachable, Heads Up Philosophy is designed to provoke, entertain, and stimulate young minds.

Review

This year, DK Publishing launched a nonfiction young adult line, which they hope will appeal to teens through use of illustrations and age-appropriate presentation of material.

Heads Up Philosophy delivers on these desires.  The book presents a brief overview of major philosophical arguments: what reality is, what the mind is, how we can tell right from wrong, and so forth.  Each major theme is subdivided into specific questions, which each get a two-page spread.  Interspersed are biographies of famous philosophers like Plato and Wittgenstein.  This breakdown ensures that the book is easy to follow and that readers always have new content to keep their attention.

The graphic nature of the book also plays a large role in making the content manageable.  Although each page is packed with information, the text is delivered in bite-sized chunks.  The editors make good use of subheadings, illustrations, captions, and quotes.  In the ARC, all of this is in black and white, which makes it a little difficult to navigate, but I am assuming (though I have no confirmation of this), that the final book will be in color, which will help to further organize the text.

In terms of content, Heads Up Philosophy covers a lot of ground, moving from Ancient Greece to contemporary times, and ending each chapter with examples of how readers might use philosophy in their own lives.  The authors generally frame each pages as, “Some philosophers believe X, but then some other philosophers came along and proposed that the opposite of X is true.”  The book is very objective and does not lead readers to prefer one theory over the other, but it is generally clear which theory is most believed today.

Heads Up Philosophy is a very good overview of some major philosophical questions.  The information is pretty basic, but it is, after all, supposed to be an approachable introduction to the topic.  It would still be difficult to read in one sitting, as the constant topic changes could be overwhelming to process all at once, but the book is nonetheless a great reference tool.

Discussion Post: Getting Personal (Or Not)

While reading posts about what others like to see in a blog, I often run across people saying they like when bloggers share personal information and stories.  It helps them feel connected to the blogger, and it makes the blogger stand out as an individual, preventing them from getting lost in the crowd of “people who talk about books.”  While I understand these arguments, and I enjoy hearing a bit about blogger’s lives myself, you may have noticed I’m not particularly forthcoming about my own life (though if you read the blog and comments regularly, you will be able to pick up snippets here and there).  Here’s why:

I grew up in an age when the Internet was blossoming, and so were the dangers.

(You’ll notice right here I’m giving a hint about my age, though I’ve always had the general idea stated in my mini-bio in the sidebar.)

The primary rule of using the Internet when I was growing up was: Do not, under any circumstances, share any personal information.  It was a rule reiterated by parents and teachers and stated clearly on interactive areas of the web.  Sure, you could join a book forum and discuss how much you loved Harry Potter, but you were not ever to post information pertaining to how old you were, where you lived, where you went to school, etc.  You even wanted to be careful disclosing such seemingly innocuous things like what color hair you had because you never knew what creep was into brunette girls and would target you.

Since the social media boom, I think people have become a lot more lax with sharing their personal information.  As a society, we chronicle our lives on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and more.  I, too, have become somewhat freer with my information.  (I do have a Facebook account, for instance.)  Most of the sites I utilize are private, which is why I feel somewhat safer using them, even though I know they can be hacked.  But the other reality is: I no longer really have control over what information about me goes online.  Others post pictures of me on their social media accounts, pictures I may have no idea exist.  And newspapers and schools are now online, too.  If you had my full real name, you could easily piece together a picture of where I lived and what my interests were since middle school, based purely on articles from newsletters.  You wouldn’t know my home address, but you could probably find where I work and accost me there next week.

Despite how scary that seems, I know the chances of someone stalking me from the Internet are slim—but that’s partially because I control what I can.  Predators don’t target random people, usually.  They target people they “know,” people they meet online and talk to often and form a “friendship” with.  When their target discloses things like their address willingly, that’s when things go bad.  And so, I’m private where I can be.  I’ll gladly form friendships with other bloggers, but I’ll probably never reveal anything more specific than which part of the United States I live in, or what level of school or my career I’m at.  It’s partially paranoia, but it’s also good Internet safety.

We’re entering an age where everything you do can follow you.

Every once in a while, an article crops up in the news about someone being haunted by something they once wrote.  Sometimes, it’s not even that “bad.”  Maybe a politician submitted an article to a college newspaper that espouses a view they disagree with today.  Instead of thinking, “Hm, maybe they’ve changed as a person in three decades and hold different opinions,” people immediately assume they are flip-flopping and are professionally insincere.  They immediately judge them.

So, while I will stand behind everything I write on this blog, I recognize there may come a day when I may not want to be immediately associated with it.  I have expressed, for instance, my interest in the publishing industry.  I am always upfront about my blog when applying to publishing positions, and publishers usually react positively.  (I’ve even seen aspiring editors encouraged to start book blogs.)  However, not every book review I write is glowing.  Some books I dislike.  And if I ever work with an author, the last thing I would want is for them to Google my name and be immediately confronted with a negative review of their book.  No one expects editors/publishers to like every book ever written, but I believe there is some level of professional (and personal) courtesy that suggests you really shouldn’t tell authors directly you think they can’t write.  It would definitely sour a working relationship.

I was following at least one book blogger who discontinued his blog for professional reasons.  I don’t know what job he was hired for, but his boss suggested he shouldn’t be publicly discouraging people from reading certain books (presumably due to negative reviews), and he had to quit blogging.  One day, this may be me.  And though I could take down my blog and delete my Goodreads reviews, traces of things tend to remain on the Internet.  So, again, I won’t be making the process of finding those traces easier by posting too much about my personal life.

Conclusion

I know I come across a little bit as that paranoid blogger who thinks “they” are going to come find her, but I also think Internet safety has become somewhat under-discussed in the past several years.  I have friends who are teachers, for instance, who inform me they have one Internet safety presentation a year in their schools—and that their students generally fail to understand its importance.  They’re scared for a week, determined to delete their public Instagram accounts, but return quickly to chatting with strangers and documenting their lives online.

Sometimes, we are like those middle school students, too.  We think Internet privacy is no longer as big of a deal because everyone has their information online, or we think that nothing bad will ever happen to us, or we’re positive that we’ll have no regrets about what we post today tomorrow.  In the end, however, we really don’t know where our lives will lead us, if a potential employer will find our book blogs and dismiss us because we enjoy genres they don’t, or if we’ll start a career where negative reviews could hurt us, or if a predator will pose as blogger “friend” and hurt us.  We think we’re adults, and that we have handling this Internet thing down, but sometimes we don’t.

So while I don’t want to dismiss or discourage anyone who does enjoy writing personal posts (as I said, I like learning about my fellow bloggers as much as anyone!), I do want to remind everyone to be careful and safe, and to let you know you probably won’t be finding out much about the “real life” me soon.

Do you blog about personal information?  How much do you share?  What guidelines do you think bloggers should follow when talking about themselves online?

Twelve Minutes to Midnight by Christopher Edge

Twelve Minutes to MidnightInformation

Goodreads: Twelve Minutes to Midnight
Series: Twelve Minutes to Midnight #1
Source: Library
Published: 2011

Summary

Every night at twelve minutes to midnight, the residents of the Bethlehem Royal Hospital rise from their beds to begin scribbling their mad dreams on paper, the walls, even their own skin.  In despair of finding a cure, the director turns to bestselling author of the macabre, Montgomery Flinch.  What he doesn’t know is that Flinch is actually thirteen-year-old Penelope Tredwell, heiress to the magazine The Penny Dreadful.  But Penelope isn’t about to let a case of anonymity stop her from investigating the story of her life.  Along with an actor hired to play Flinch, Penelope enters the halls of Bedlam intent on solving a mystery, but soon finds herself entangled in a web more intricate than she could have imagined.

Review

Twelve Minutes to Midnight begins as a pleasantly sinister tale, blending a somewhat dirty Victorian setting with spooky suggestions of supernatural happenings, while never becoming too dark for younger readers.  The creepiness is atmospheric, but not downright scary.  Add your typical spunky heroine, a girl unafraid of the dark and determined to prove herself in a man’s world, and you have the perfect ingredients for the type of tale that begs to be read at night while you huddle under your blankets.  Had not the somewhat confusing ending not marred the work, I would have eagerly begun a new adventure with Penelope as soon as the library system allowed.

The idea of a young girl pursuing fame and fortune under a male pseudonym lured me in from the start.  I had high hopes of watching this bright, determined girl use her smarts as well as her charms to make her dream of writing come true.  Watching her solve a mystery that had puzzled some of the nation’s greatest minds was only a bonus.  It is true that Penelope comes across as bossier and more self-absorbed than I had expected, but the condescension of the people around her made her reactions understandable and I found myself interested in her story despite her flaws.

Unfortunately, halfway through the book Penelope starts to bear the burden of having to carry the entire story.  Once the creepiness of the premise begins to wear away, the plot reveals itself as rather thin.  And Penelope, though having captured my sympathy mainly due to her struggles, simply does not have enough of a likable character for me to want to read only about her.  Still, I persevered, wanting to solve the mystery of the midnight ravings.  And that’s when things got really weird.

The story presents itself as a sort of penny dreadful mystery, and, though I have never actually read a penny dreadful, I thought from this description that I could rule out what seems to have been some sort of…weird magic almost.  I was willing to accept mass hallucinations and a far-fetched plot to take over the world, but I didn’t expect to journey into a trippy hallucination where all the great authorial minds of England would band together to do something heroic that honestly didn’t seem to make a lot of sense.  The story went from an almost historical fiction to what I can only describe as a mess.

The premise of Twelve Minutes to Midnight is a really promising one and Christopher Edge knows how to blend expertly his historical fiction with his creepy mystery.  However, the loose plot and the sloppy ending made me lose from my desire to read more of the same in the sequel.

September 2014 Recap

Books Reviewed

(Covers Linked to Reviews)

The Only Thing to Fear   Salt and Storm   The Forbidden Library   West of the Moon   The Boundless   The Angel Tree   Glass Sentence   The Water Castle   quest   The Real Boy

Shows Reviewed

October Preview

The Caged Graves   A Drowned Maiden's Hair   Miss Peregrine

The Angel Tree by Daphne Benedis-Grab (ARC Review)

The Angel TreeInformation

Goodreads: The Angel Tree
Series: None
Source: Netgalley in exchange for an honest review
Publication Date: September 30, 2014

Official Summary

A heartwarming Christmas mystery and friendship story!

Every Christmas in the small town of Pine River, a tree appears in the town square–the Angel Tree. Some people tie wishes to the tree, while others make those wishes come true. Nobody’s ever known where the tree comes from, but the mystery has always been part of the tradition’s charm.

This year, however, four kids who have been helped–Lucy, Joe, Max, and Cami–are determined to solve the mystery and find out the true identity of the town’s guardian angel, so that Pine River can finally thank the person who brought the Angel Tree to their town.

This is a heartwarming Christmas mystery, full of friendship, discovery, and loads of holiday cheer!

Review

The Angel Tree is a heartwarming story about a diverse group of children who come together in order to discover their city’s greatest and mysterious benefactor: the person who puts the Angel Tree in the town square each year and coordinates the fulfillment of the town’s wishes.  The book is a little bit mystery, a little bit friendship story, and a little bit tale about the magic of Christmas—a perfect blend that will keep readers flipping through the pages.

Though readers will be wondering along with the characters who sets up the angel tree (and will be given just the right amount of clues to attempt to guess along), the true stars of the book are the children.  There are a bunch of them, but each is complex and comes with a history, and the author manages to balance her fairly large cast well in a relatively short amount of pages.

Other reviewers have argued The Angel Tree is a bit dark and depressing—and they are not necessarily wrong.  Each child has his or her own bundle of problems, ranging from a sick pet to a burnt down house to absent parents and uncaring guardians.  However, I do not think this is inappropriate for a middle grade book.  For many children, such circumstances are a reality, and they deserve to see their lives reflected in a book and to learn how characters deal with dark times.  Also, the rough edges of the story are gracefully balanced by the magic of the Christmas tree and holiday giving spirit.  The people in this fictional town truly know how to care for each other.

The Angel Tree is a wonderful holiday read that highlights the magic of giving and of giving thanks.  It is never cheesy, however, and also takes time to talk about family and friendship and the importance of learning to look for every person’s story.  Recommended for anyone who likes a feel-good Christmas story with a bit of an edge and anyone who likes their characters real and complex.  There is something for both adults and children in this book.

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