I think I am going to write more reviews. It keeps me focused on reading, (an activity every author needs!) and it allows me to give back to the community. I enjoy fantasy (as do my boys), and I love the idea of creating a strong YA fantasy community where we lift each other up.
So, how to decide on what books to read?
I have six major sources that I use, although there are, of course, many more.
1) I love going to the book store. My sons and I go to Books-A-Million and Barnes and Noble and we just browse. The saying is to not judge a book by its cover, but I have to admit that I do just that. The cover will either draw me in or lead me to put the book back on the shelf. I love a cover that implies ancient artifacts or magic, and some mystery: a cloaked figure or mist, and ancient writing, either by font or by language.
2) I also tend to pick up books based on friends recommendations. It can’t be just any friend, though. It has to be someone who purchases in the same genre that I do. For example, when my friend Anne told me that her son’s favorite series was the one that my son was enjoying at that time (Ranger’s Apprentice by John Flanagan), I started asking her what else her son likes. I made a list. I also went Christmas shopping with her. (We do that every year, but it helped having her there in front of the shelves at the bookstore!)
3) I was really lucky to have discovered GoodReads, where I found tons of readers who are in forums like “All About Fantasy” and “Lovers of Paranormal ” and already have suggestions for new books. This is where I discovered Henchgirl by Rita Stradling. You can find my review for that book here.
4) Sometimes, I pick up free or very cheap books too. I look for giveaways on GoodReads (look for read to review (R2R) opportunities!). I am also on several mailing lists like the one from BookBub where I can put in my genre preferences and they let me know when good deals are available.
5) My sons love fantasy novels too, and I read many books that they have encouraged me to pick up. (My boys may also chime in to offer the perspective of the young teen and tween crowds.)
6) Authors can contact me directly if they would like a review of their work. I am very open to this!
What am I noticing as I read and what will I put in the review?
There are six big points for me.
1) I pay attention to how long it takes me to get into the story. Am I distracted by names or writing style? Do I plunge headlong into it? I want to feel like I have been in that place with those people as soon as possible. If I get to chapter three and I don’t feel like I belong, it makes me want to put the book down. Sometimes I do. (This would get a one star rating.) If I immediately feel at home, then I look for other key characteristics. This is a great start on the way to five stars.
2) I want to relate to one of the characters, preferably the protagonist. Do I connect with him? Are there moments when I know how he is feeling because we are alike? Do I try to yell at the book for him to stop because I feel the tension? These are all good signs. On the other hand, if I feel like I am watching the story unfold from a detached distance, it makes me want to put the book down. If I am relating to him, that is another step towards a five star rating.
3) Can I picture the world the author has created? I want to feel like I am there, in the story, with the protagonist. I can picture the corridors at Hogwarts, and the foreboding of the Forbidden Forest. I know that Hogwarts will always be there to welcome me home. When a story makes me feel like I can touch the walls, or smell dinner cooking, I settle in. This is a huge plus.
4) I do not read erotica and rarely read romance novels, and I am always conscious about the amount of sexuality involved in a story. If it is present, I want it to serve a purpose. Is the description of a kiss there as a way to connect readers to the characters involved? Does it enhance the story or develop the characters? Would I be ok with my sons reading those descriptions? Those are things to consider for me as I review. Judicious use of sexual tension or PG-13 scenes can be a good thing, as long as it serves to enhance the storyline.
5) Every story needs to be well written. If the grammar is lousy, I will never make it past chapter one, and it will likely earn only one or two stars, no matter how wonderful the rest of the points might be. You might argue that rules are meant to be broken, and I would agree, IF the rules enhance the style. If they distract me from the story, then it is a deal-breaker for me.
6) Finally, here is the golden key for me to give a story four or five stars: It makes me want a sequel. Do I want to read the next one? Do I wish the story wasn’t over yet? If the answers are yes, the story will likely get four or five stars. Don’t leave me with too many questions, but leave me wanting to see where the story goes next. If it is the final book in a series, I am looking for closure. Is there a sense of satisfaction that all of the big questions have been answered?
So, I look for interesting young adult fantasy novels to read because I love the genre. I also enjoy connecting with my sons on something that fascinates them. I choose stories in several different ways like browsing the shelves at the bookstore or through recommendations from friends. Then, I look for how much I am brought in to the story and how much I long to stay there when the book is over.
How do you get your book reviewed?
If you are interested in having me read your novel and review it, I am happy to do so! I will even post reviews to Amazon and GoodReads, and tweet my review (linked to your work) on Twitter and post on Facebook and Google+. Just inbox me with your story! (In addition to paper copies, I love audio files for my commute, and I read epub or kindle too.)