Sunday, March 22, 2009

180° Reviews

Whenever I come upon something like this, it always throws me for a loop. How can two members of the same species and culture have such diametrically opposed perceptions of the same object? I cannot for the life of me explain this to myself. Does one person have exceptionally low standards or one have unrealistically high standards? Does one have a hidden agenda of some sort?

Sorry, don't mean to leave you in the dark here. I'm talking about two reviews of the same book. The book is Lessons in Desire by Charlie Cochrane, published by Linden Bay.

A reviewer at Jessewave's blog ( -- not one of Wave's regulars, so I'm afraid I don't know who he or she is -- raved about this book and awarded it five stars out of five, which qualifies the alleged novel for Desert Island Keeper status. (I say "alleged" for the reason mentioned below.) Yet, another reviewer at Uniquely Pleasurable ( totally trashed the book, in addition to claiming it's too short to qualify as a novel, and gave it two stars out of ten. I mean, this reader really, truly hated Lessons in Desire and described its "shortcomings" in detail.

Both, by the way, are highly regarded review sites for GLBT fiction, so it's not as if one is Mensa-certified and the other is the bastard spawn of Harriet Klausner.

Now, come on. I'm well aware that we all have different tastes, yada-yada, but personal taste can't possibly account for such disparate attitudes. I'm not sticking my toe in conspiracy-theory waters, believe me; I'm just utterly mystified.

Normally, when a book is either egregiously bad or stunningly good, there's some consensus among readers and reviewers. Each extreme has its own distinct earmarks. (That's how I feel, anyway, and I have three years toward my doctorate in English as well as two stints as an editor to back up my claim. I know shitty writing when I see it and I know stellar writing when I see it. Even though I'm largely incapable of judging my own work, I can assess somebody else's quite objectively.)

So . . . anybody have a possible explanation of how one book can go from solid DIK to smelly, shriveled sac in one mouse click?


Jenre said...

*shrugs* I dunno. I've read reviews of some books and wondered if the reviewer read the same book as me, as my opinions differed so much to them. In fact it happened recently with a book that was almost a DNF for me but a reviewer gave it a pretty good grade.

There was also this other time when there was a book kicking about that everybody raved on and on about that I hadn't liked at all. After a while I started to think there was something a bit wrong with my taste and then, thankfully, someone else posted a review which tallied with what I thought. That was such a great 'phew, it's not just me then' moment!

I've not read the Charlie Cochrane mystery books (although it's in my mental pile of books to buy) but I've only read good reviews of her books so far.

K. Z. Snow said...

I don't know what to make of it, either. I've recently read some rave reviews (seems they all come out at once!) of a book whose excerpt made me think, Yikes, I don't think I could get through this bugger if I were tied to a chair!

Ann Somerville said...

It's published by Linden Bay Romance, not Aspen Mountain Press.

And at the risk of sounding catty, reviews on UP by team reviewers tend to be more consistent than those by our general members - or 'guest' reviewers. If you look over my reviews, for instance, and despite my reputation, there is a spread of scores and opinions. I don't squee over everything, and I don't hate everything (mostly because if a book's too foul, I pass it to someone else to give it a chance. In this case, it wasn't worth wasting anyone else's time.) Some reviewers feel it's mean to 'trash' a book (an expression I hate, BTW because you make it sound like a deliberate act of viciousness rather than an honest opinion.) And some people are more forgiving of the things that drive me mad.

I notice the guest reviewer on that site was impressed by a turn of phrase which to me exemplified the kind of stolid, tedious writing that made the book such a chore. So maybe they really like that kind of thing. I don't know, and since all reviews are individual opinions, it's not important. The important thing is honesty, and I was honest and stand by my opinion, even though I am sure I am being 'trashed' in certain quarters for expressing it. That's just how the reviewing world goes.

K. Z. Snow said...

I do apologize, Ann, for my lazy and unfortunate word choice. It wasn't powered by any particular motivation and carried no judgment. I simply plucked a convenient colloquialism out of the immediate air. Your review was indeed thoughtful and thorough. (Oh, and thank you for correcting me about the publisher! My bad. I've edited the post accordingly.)

Since I haven't read this work myself, I have no idea of its merit. I was simply expressing befuddlement over a phenomenon I've seen before in review circles as well as among nonreviewing readers. The differences in human perception of the same thing/person/situation have always fascinated me. (It's difficult, I've found, to discuss issues in the abstract -- but that's fodder for another post.)

Anyway, Uniquely Pleasurable is an admirable review site. I visit it often. Thanks for your input.

jessewave said...

I just saw this comment. I haven't read Lessons in Desire but I did read Lessons in Love and loved it. But that's just me. It was a simple warm romance with a bit of mystery thrown in - nothing too complex - set in the early 20th century I believe, with very little sex and two characters who were "good old school chums" - the same characters in this new book.

I have not read the other review but it's not unusual for me to hate a book and find 10 people who love it and vice versa. We all look for different things, which is why they are called opinions. I tell readers who check out the reviews on the blog to read about 8 other reviews (if they have the time) before buying. The key is, if you find a reviewer whose taste is similar to yours there's a good chance if they liked a book you will too. One of the reasons I love the blog is that everyone gets into the action and gives their opinions on the book that has been reviewed, without anyone insulting the other person.

Reviewing, like most things in life, is a crapshoot. Christian is always honest in giving his opinion about a book and I trust his judgment. He has reviewed for a number of sites so he's not exacgtly inexperienced. Another reviewer may hate exacly what he loved about a book which is what reviewing is all about. No one is 100% right and no one is 100% wrong - each opinion is worth 1 vote in my book. I try never to take myself too seriously.

Ann Somerville said...

"Christian is always honest in giving his opinion about a book and I trust his judgment."

The problem for me as a reader reading his review is that there is nothing to measure that judgment by - no link to other reviews, website, an 'about' page, nothing. He could be the author himself for all I know, and I have no way of knowing how often he reviews, and if gushing reviews are the standard with him, or what. I think reviewers are entitled to anonymity, but if there's no way of seeing their track record, it makes me uncomfortable.

I take reviews - even of my own stuff - much more seriously when I know the credentials of the person reviewing. Otherwise it's just a random opinion by a stranger, which isn't all that useful. This isn't saying the opinion is *invalid* (or dishonest!) - but if someone says "Charlie Cochrane skillfully develops her characters further in Lessons in Desire" then I want to know what informs their interpretation of 'skillfully', whether it's their own writing, literary experience, reviewing experience or so on.

jessewave said...

As far as I know there's no reviewer school where we all learn our trade in the art of reviewing and get a degree. However, to partly satisfy the curiosity of this individual, Christian reviews for Rainbow Reviews and other blogs under different pseudonyms.

It may appear that I'm inflicting reviewers on the readers and 'regulars' on my blog who haven't a clue what they are talking about, but as I said before, I'm satisfied with Christian's credentials and I have no intention of discussing this any further. Suffice it to say he's not an author just a regular person.

I have places to go, books to read and hot men to ogle. :)

Hey KZ visit my blog next time - I'm not coming back here. :DDD

Ann Somerville said...

Jessewave, I see no reason for you to be so ridiculously defensive, and you do your reviewers no service by behaving as if they have been attacked, when they have not. Good grief. If you're this thin-skinned, perhaps you ought to reconsider reviewing at all.

jessewave said...

Good grief. If you're this thin-skinned, perhaps you ought to reconsider reviewing at all.As I said before I'm not prepared to debate with you on this or any other issue. You can be as insulting as you want, which I guess is why DA no longer welcomes your presence. Lucky for me it's not your decision whether or not I review books and no one needs your permission or stamp of approval. You may have nothing better to do but I sure do. Have a good day.

FYI I won't be back to comment further.

I will be in touch. So many visitors you lucky woman.

Ann Somerville said...

You really are being incredibly silly, Jesse.

Paul said...

Jesse you know I adore you, but this disappoints me considering the plea you recently made for people not to judge you on what others have said about you.

I personally agree you are being very defensive in an otherwise civil exchange.

jessewave said...

I have no quarrel with you so I will respond to your comment.

I do not consider it being defensive when I respond to someone who says that maybe I shouldn't be reviewing at all. I have been reviewing for several years and this is a first.

I like you a lot Paul and I respect you so I'll leave it at that.

This started out by your friend questioning the credentials of one of my guest reviewers and I said that I was quite satisfied since I knew where he reviewed. I have no reason to justify Christian's credentials to her. He reviews on my blog and I think he's doing a fine job. You have been my friend on Lj for sometime and I respect your views and I hope you do mine. This is a tempest in a teapot which is taking me away from something I enjoy - reading and reviewing.

As I said earlier, I think all reviewers are equal - one opinion - no one is better than the other, no matter what we might personally feel.

You know where to find me Paul and I always welcome your thoughts. Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

K. Z. Snow said...

Reviewing styles and standards vary enormously across the Internet, as they do in print outlets. Ultimately, it's up to readers to decide whose opinion to trust and whose to question...and why.

It's also up to readers to seek out more than one review source and to judge work based on other criteria -- blurbs, excerpts, friends' opinions, and the author's publishing history.

When it comes to reviews, the proof of any person's critical capacity is indeed in the pudding. Credentials don't, for the most part, mean shit.

I, for one, look for an objective, articulate, carefully worded assessment based on close reading and clear reasoning. I want allegations of glowing or dismal prose bolstered by quoted passages, or at least citations. I don't want judgments that spring from a reviewer's personal quirks, preferences and aversions, personal animosities, or blind devotion to a literary idol -- unless the source of such judgments is revealed. I really don't want sweeping generalizations that aren't substantiated.

That said, what owners of review sites want or don't want is their business. I realize the buck ultimately stops with me, the producer as well as consumer of these goods. It stops at the doorstep of my discernment, my ability to determine which opinions are sound and which are suspect.

Ann, there's nothing "silly" or unduly defensive about Jessewave's attitude. She takes her role in our little corner of the world every bit as seriously as you take yours. Do I respect the reviews at her site and her contributions to the m/m fiction community? Absolutely. Do I always take the reviews as gospel? Hardly. And I can say the same things about UP.

(Hell, I thought this thread was dead. So much for assumptions!)

Ann Somerville said...

"there's nothing "silly" or unduly defensive about Jessewave's attitude."

Well, I disagre. If the only way she can defend her site's policy is to launch a muckracking attack on me as a person, then that indicates both defensiveness and weakness of her argument.

"Credentials don't, for the most part, mean shit. "

To you, maybe. But when I read a review, I want to know things like what else the person has reviewed (so I can see if their opinions align with mine or not), how much experience they have, whether they are chums with the author, or write for the publisher. All these things impact on the objectivity and value of the review - to me. And I was careful to state that this was *my* stance as a reader towards other reviews.

But if in your opinion and Jesse's, I am not allowed to exercise such caution, well, that remains your opinions.

I have never read any of Jesse's reviews, since I would not consider her a reviewer of value. After our exchange today - the first I've had, and hopefully the last - I see no reason to revisit that assessment.

This discussion likewise holds little value, and your comments regarding reviews elsewhere on your blog indicate your opinions on the subject are directly contrary to my own. I don't see the point in pursuing this at all.

Chris said...

I'm not connected to either review site, Jessewave's or Ann Somerville's, just someone who is subscribed to this comment thread.

I just wanted to add a neutral opinion because I think it'd be hard for KZ to side with Ann, since KZ is close to Jessewave and was just interviewed by her a few days ago. And everyone on DA and everywhere else knows that Paul is Ann's friend so he would hardly defend anyone else.

I've been put off by Ann's comments elsewhere in the past, but she's hardly the one throwing the first stone here.

Ann just mentioned that she didn't know a reviewer (or his reviews) well enough to put much faith in his opinion alone, which I happen to agree with. If the reviewer is reviewing by different pseudonyms on different sites (and there's nothing wrong with that), it's hardly Ann's fault that she wasn't aware of it. She just stated that she takes reviews more seriously if she knows the reviewer's past as a reviewer or writer, etc.

There may be happy faces in Jessewave's response, but it kind of arrogant and down-the-nose kind of talking. And to disagree with KZ, it was overly defensive. The comment about the "reviewer school" was just snide and had nothing to do with Ann's point. Maybe it was a misunderstanding, but it sounded defensive. And then ending the comment with "visit my blog next time - I'm not coming back here :DDD"... No amount of happy faces is going to cover up the fact that the comment is really saying, this conversation is unpleasant and I no longer wish to talk to Ann. Maybe it's because of a bad day or a misunderstanding, but she clearly perceived some non-existent attack from Ann.

It seems like Ann's past is being used to judge her in this one, and I don't think that's very fair.


jessewave said...

Hi Christine

I'm responding to you against my better judgment - not because I don't want to speak to you, but because I don't want another round with Ms Somerville which is why I did not reply to her last comment.

I have no problem answering questions but Ms Somerville seems to feel that I am answerable to her and owe her an explanation about the credentials of the reviewers on my blog. I, on the other hand have not asked her for her credentials and I really don't care to know. I said that I was aware of Christian's reviewing credentials and that I knew of many review blogs where his reviews are posted, including Rainbow Reviews. I value the reputation of my blog too highly not to have checked him out. I invited him to post on my blog because I have known him for almost a year and have read many reviews that he has posted.

I'm sorry you felt that I was being defensive, but my comment about not coming back was just that. I am currently trying to balance a lot of balls in the air, one of which is called a job, and I don't feel that I should use my very valuable time by debating her. By her own admission, the only review she has seen from my blog is one on a book about which she and one of my guest reviewers disagreed. Many other reviewers agreed with Christian's rating and probably some agreed with hers. None of us is infallible and I always tell the readers who frequent my blog to check out other reviews on the books before they put down their money. Many times when I read another review on a book I have reviewed I wonder whether we read the same book and I'm sure the reverse is true. We all tend to like different kinds and style of books, prose, sub genres etc. and that's usually reflected in our ratings.

Dissenting reviews happen countless times on many review blogs.
On my own blog I have instituted dueling reviews on the same books and we debate the pros and cons, all in an effort to give the readers different perspectives before they buy a book.

I have never spoken to this author before and really my comment about not coming back was to indicate that as far as I was concerned the matter was closed. I have too much on my plate, particularly now, to debate someone I do not know. She may consider that offensive but there are others I much prefer to debate when I have he time, and I do it with pleasure.

She has basically said that perhaps I shouldn't be reviewing. Well she has her opinion and I'll be polite by not commenting.

If it was someone else who asked the original question I probably would have been more forthcoming. I'm sure you have experience with people that you don't want to talk to. I'm human like the rest of us and I don't appreciate her attitude.

Btw KZ Snow is one of 39 interviews I have done over the past year on the blog, and I don't think it's fair of you to say that she's taking my side because we're "friends". Readers and authors visit my blog for many reason, sometimes to read a review, to debate with others on the blog or just to have fun. KZ has visited occasionally but certainly not frequently. I'm sure her visits are not because I have reviewed many of her books - to date there's only one review on one of her books posted on the blog. Her interview is part of a series of interviews I started last year called Author of the Week to give authors and their books some profile, hardly something for her to feel she owes me anything.

I hope that my comments to you Christine indicate that I'm not snotty. I'm quite happy to talk to most people. Incidentally, my comment about reviewing school is one frequently used, and not just by me. Everyone is on a level playing field in the reviewing arena. As a matter of fact I just started a new series of interviews with book reviewers to give them some profile as well.

Do visit the blog if you want to Christine - I'm really a very nice person (at least most people seem to think so) and I look forward to seeing you soon. Have a good evening.
Damn this is long! :)

Chris said...

Hi Jessewave,

I'm in no way attacking either you or Ann Somerville, so I hope this doesn't come across as insulting. The point I was trying to make was that the blame seems to be falling on Ann, and I didn't think that was fair, especially since she didn't start it. I didn't say that you as a person were arrogant, just that the comment came across that way for whatever reason, a misunderstanding, etc.

Ann didn't demand any credentials. She said was that as a reader, she values the reviews of a reviewer who she knows about, more than one who she doesn't know about. I don't think there's anything wrong with holding that opinion (which I happen to share), just like there's nothing wrong with the opinion that credentials don't mean shit. And there's nothing wrong with telling her about Christian's other reviews at other sites. Correcting other people isn't a problem, it's just the tone that was used in that comment, and how it seems to be responding to some non-existent attack. I'm not going to deny that Ann was harsh when she said you should reconsider reviewing, or any of the other comments that follow. I'm just looking at the comment that started it all, because I don't think it's fair for the blame to fall on Ann this time, and it seemed that was what was happening.

As for what I said about KZ being close to you, you're right, that was unfair. I just took the fact that KZ enjoyed your blog enough to grant an interview to mean that the two of you were close. She made a post on Apr 15 about the interview and she joked that you were nosy so I just kinda assumed. That post seems to have disappeared for some reason, though it's still in my RSS reader, and it was there when I made my first comment on this thread (just so people don't think I'm pulling this out of nowhere). But I'm sorry and I gree that it wasn't fair to say that would be the only reason she was taking your side.

"Damn this is long!"
LOL because all the comments seem to be long on this thread.

KZ just made a post about blog wanks so I should probably withdraw myself from this...

Angelia Sparrow said...

Re the original post.

I've had stories that one reviewer asked permission to use in a class she teaches, while another reviewer gave it 0.5 stars. I've had pieces called "the best book I'll read this year" while other reviewers gave it a solid "BLEH."

It's all about personal taste. Like movie reviews. I agree with Roger Ebert about 80% of the time. I have never agreed with a Pauline Kael review and often wondered if she saw the same movie.

You find the reviewers whose taste matches yours. And everyone else gets taken with plenty of salt.

K. Z. Snow said...

Hi, Angelia, and welcome (you brave, brave soul)!

Yes, I suppose people's taste in entertainment is like many other personal prefereces. Clashing judgments, especially within the same cultural context, never cease to amaze me, though.

When it comes to purely sensory perception (of smells, flavors, sounds, etc.) I suspect people's likes and dislikes are at least partially influenced by biochemical makeup. (Why did Tabu cologne smell great to my Aunt Sally yet make me grimace? Why does the smell of curry make some people's mouth water with hunger while mine waters in preparation for a hurl?)

Reactions to art, though, are more difficult to explain than reactions to food or fragrances or fabric textures. I just find the whole issue fascinating.

louise van hine said...

This particular question is easily answered - the author of "Lessons in Desire" happens to be associated with authors and published by a publisher that Ms. Somerville has been screeching about for months and calling every dirty name in the Australian dictionary. So of course she'll pan the book with the kind of facile insults like finding it less interesting than housework, and describing the characters as childish and idiotic. Ann has been banned from Dear Author for carrying forward a significant vendetta against a number of authors, and Charlie Cochrane is the latest target of her rage.

Ann Somerville said...

Ms Hine, your statements are libellous and dishonest. I disliked this book, and said so. I don't know the author from a hole in the ground, and only accepted the offer to review it from Samhain because it looked interesting. Having read it, I wouldn't read another by that author, and if, as you are saying, people assume that it's the result of some
'vendetta' (one that only exists in your brain), then that's another reason I wouldn't review a second book by her. I do not review books by authors I personally dislike, although I do offer them to my review team because they won't have the same prejudice. Not only is it unfair and unethical to review when one is influenced by personal feelings, one is left open to the ludicrous accusations you are making here. That's one reason I almost never review anything by the current crop of historical writers - so you have no reason to fear I might find your writing lacking, because I will never cast my eyes on it - and I now very much regret I took a chance with Ms Cochrane's book. I really thought it sounded like something I'd enjoy. It wasn't, and I was disappointed by the inferior story telling.

You have taken it on yourself to attack me for negatively reviewing books from Samhain/Linden Bay and yet Samhain keeps sending me the books for review. Obviously the publisher doesn't have an issue with the fairness of my reviews, so I have to wonder why you, who isn't part of that stable (or if you are, I am unaware of it) is on every blog in Romanceland, screeching about your hatred of me.

Slamming reviewers personally over negative reviews of your own work or your friends is the sign of an immature and unprofessional individual. As I have no intention of ceasing to review books from Samhain or other publishers as I choose, you should learn that you are doing more harm to Ms Cochrane's reputation than I could ever do.