When the books just don’t click…

Posted by Toni~

Harsh, but as a reader, very common. How many times have you started reading a book, get to a certain point and you think: “This sucks.” How many books have you “described” to a fellow reader friend the myriad ways a book had sucked?  How many first impressions have “sucked”?


Whether you’re a prolific  or casual reader, you will most likely read a book that absolutely blows. Nothing about it interests you, the tone doesn’t resonate with you, or you’re distracted by technical errors. Just like finding a significant other or friends, you have to go through ones that don’t fit your style.

Some authors have a great storytelling voice that is loved by millions. Some are popular but they still have dissenters. For instance, I cannot stand books by Stephan King but I adore Joe Hill (if you get the connection, then you see how that’s interesting).  What makes one author, like J.K. Rowling, beloved by millions but an even more talented author an unknown?

If I knew that answer, I would be rich.  Sorry authors.

All I know is what I enjoy. Every reader has their own different tastes and preferences. As a reviewer for this site, my reading horizon has definitely broaden and introduced me to some great up and coming authors (keep on writing people!). It also reinforced what I don’t like and is generally shared by most readers.  In the small sub-genre of science-fiction romance, my contributions as a  reviewer are even more important. Bloggers have become the gateway PR for books and I take my role to heart.

Since I started reviewing for this site, I have read dozens of books. For every one review I write, I discard about ten by the first few paragraphs. Ten. Self-publishing has unleashed a storm of new authors. It has also highlighted the one important thing every author should do: FOR EVERYTHING THAT IS HOLY, EDIT. Not just use spell check. Edit. Proofread. Have other people read it. Ignore it for some time. Edit. Repeat. It’ll never be perfect but it will be way more polished.

All those ten novels that I discarded all share the same feeling of reading a manuscript. For most people, this may be the first work they ever wrote and I hate to squash that enthusiasm with criticism. I am extremely jealous and appreciative of authors. What you are creating is a work of art.

As a reader though, it’s nothing. I glean nothing from your book. I feel no emotions, I feel no attachment, I feel no desire to keep reading.

Recently, I spent a great weekend at a local comic convention. As I was waiting (because you’re always waiting at a comic convention), I decided to make a dent in the huge pile of books to read for the site. Five books to read. Five books that failed to catch me as a reader. Book after book gave me nothing to attach to. I even gave myself a break and re-read them.

Instead of shirking it off into the void, never to be heard from again, I decided to summarize where it lost me.  For the writers, this is merely one opinion and I appreciate the work that you put into it. I love this genre so much that I want it to grow and expand more readers so I have more people to share this with. For the readers, you may disagree with me and that is all right. Feel free to comment and share your thoughts. The point is that we all care enough to share out opinions.

Book 1:  The Garden Rules by Sharon Lynn Fisher

The first novelette in the Fantasies in Color erotica series, by RWA RITA-nominated sci-fi romance author Sharon Lynn Fisher … Sylva swallows an acorn sweetmeat at the Garden of Earthly Delights Fair. No garden-variety recreational drug, the acorn transports her to a fantasy forest where she must successfully face three trials before she can earn the title of Nymph. Her sponsor and handler for these trials is the faun Leander. He forces her to call him Master, giving her pleasure but refusing her the thing she most desires. What she views as a temporary escape from her static life becomes a lesson in having the courage to take what you really want. 

I gave up on the story by the middle of the second chapter. The first chapter starts off very intriguing. Our heroine is at a circus. Given her meager income, she escapes by taking g a recreational drug. The drug then transports her into a heavily erotic atmosphere. It stops being an interesting story to just a script for a master/sub story. The only science fiction aspect was the acorn which I would have loved to read more about.  Erotica is a very tricky genre to write. How readers will take to this novel probably depends on the ratio of story to sex acts.  It goes right into it and turned me off completely. This is chalked more to not being geared for my tastes.

Book 2:  Casual Curses and Meticulous Magic by Lee Roland

What happens when a dysfunctional witch and a tough PI work together to save an aging apartment house filled with ghosts, dragons and one oversexed house plant?

   Spirits, spells and mayhem…Magic rises in the Gramarye

Melian Devlin is a witch who often resorts to exotic and slightly illegal methods of acquiring money to maintain the 300-year-old Gramarye, the stone apartment house that’s her heart and home. Her life is a series of skirmishes that occasionally end with her behind bars.
   Titus Moran is a no-nonsense PI who makes big bucks busting insurance fraud schemes. So how did he wind up in a tortuous battle to keep Melian out of jail? Did the delightful young witch with her gray eyes and magic at her fingertips enchant him—or does the Gramarye hold greater mysteries?
    Titus will enter a new exciting world when he joins Melian in her quest to save the Gramarye. Melian will fumble along in her usual impulsive way, leaving a trail of disasters behind her. If they’re lucky, they might survive.

How great of a synopsis is this?! It contains so many elements that I love reading about. It sounds like so much fun and would have probably made a great read.  Only if the flow of the story was better established. The introduction of Melian being stuck in a jail cell is great. She’s dysfunctional and doesn’t seem to grow up. Then the story sputters as the introduction of Titus which follows right after. In the middle of a conversation, it goes off on a tangent describing some undercover thing. I kept going, but only for a few more paragraphs. The heavy exposition was starting to bug me.

Instead of letting the reader learn about the characters from their interactions with others, we are just told what they are. For instance, Titus knew “women considered him attractive. Six-one, dark hair and eyes, an athletic body he kept in shape-one of his former girlfriends called him a babe magnet”.  If Roland wanted Titus to be see like an ass, then the goal was obtained.

The main characters were introduced in two completely different ways. One of which resulted in me moving on to the next book. Romance involves the characters. Even if the hero is an ass (most romance books deal with Dukes that are full of themselves),  he has to be written in a way that I can’t help keep reading about him. I’m supposed to be cheering for him to win the love.  How is that achieved? No idea.

Book 3: Captured by the Hawk by Aurora Springer

Romp through space with fast-paced action, mystery, humor and romance. Interstellar spy and expert code thief, Grey Kat, is captured by the enigmatic Black Hawk, renegade captain of the Rogue Star, who terrorizes the Emperor’s spaceships. He wears black, exposing only his fierce green eyes. Kat is housed in the cabin of his wife, who died under mysterious circumstances. Captain Hawk persuades Kat to assist in his next piracy attempt, which plunges them into a series of comic misadventures as they frantically dodge pursuit, crashing through several ships and different planets. Follow their adventures from Hassam port via the dock on a small planetoid to the remote planet of Ulverkop. How will they evade the Emperor’s troops? Will Kat discover the secrets of the mysterious Black Hawk before she suffers the fate of his unfortunate ex-wife? Can she ever resume her true identity as the wealthy Mistress Trina Sligo and wed the Emperor’s son?

This sounds cool and exciting! Nope. The introduction is supposed to be this suspenseful sequence of Grey Kat trying to evade some group or something. It was more like: She does this. Then she does that. She looks. Then she does that. Cold. Even when she is captured, I did not care. It really read more like a plot graph than an actual story.  Lost me a few pages in. The only way I amused myself as I read this was to envision it as a video game and tried to add sound effects to it.  Also, the cover art needs to be redesigned.

Book 4: The Chameleon by Diane Burton

Legally Blond meets Mata Hari
Socialite Jileena Winslott has perfected the image of the spoiled, rich, bubble-headed daughter of an industrial magnate. In reality, she’s a smart, savvy aide to her father in social situations where she is his eyes and ears. She yearns to be her true self and run the family business. When her father sends her on a covert mission to the Outer Rim, she has the chance to prove herself. Big problem. He insists she take along a fake fiancé—the man she’s secretly loved for years.
Security Officer Laning Servary has better things to do than babysit a spoiled rich girl on a tour of the Frontier. If he refuses, he can kiss his career good-by. Then Jileena’s father sweetens the pot. If Laning keeps her safe, his family will receive the land they share-crop. He can’t refuse.
In the close quarters of her ship, Laning and Jileena discover they aren’t who they seem. Pirates, weather, and her recklessness threaten to derail the mission. As Laning and Jileena revise their impressions of each other, they’ll have to make hard choices about their goals. Can their budding love survive?

When I think Legally Blond, I think: fun, smart, sassy female that goes after what she wants despite all odds. When I think Mati Hari, I think: beautiful, seductress who is a spy. This has none of that. Jileena really reminds me of the heroine in Ice Red. Both are wealthy women who are forced to prove themselves to their father and his company. Jileena is also a puppet of her fathers, pretending to act ditzy in order to glean information. Problem is, she seems ditzy all the time so I don’t believe that she’s even acting. The story flows pretty well but something is missing. I feel nothing for Baby (I hate that is her name) and Laning. Nothing about them is interesting to me. Their interaction seems forced and cold.  Jileena is also not a heroine that I care for. If she was more focused on the goal then dressing sexy to impress Laning, I would have cared. Instead she just comes off as a ditz and I don’t care if her convoy just ditches her.

Book 5: Artemis’s Hunt by Lia Davis

Artemis, goddess of the hunt, has lived with heartache for the last fifteen hundred years, believing her only love is dead. That’s what her father—Zeus, king of the gods—told her. After recent events brought the truth to light, Artemis must gather the courage to face her lost love again.
Evangelos, former god of messengers, was content living in the mortal world until he discovered he has a daughter and her mother is Artemis. When the goddess shows up at his place of employment with tales of renewing his god status, he’s skeptical. Zeus wouldn’t reverse the curse out of the goodness of his heart. There is always a catch. The god king wants something in return.
When Artemis explains she has to hunt down her stepmother, Hera, in order to get Evan back into Zeus’s good graces, Evan demands to accompany her. However, the journey turns out to be a test that could bring them closer together or tear them apart forever.

This lack of interest may be partially my fault. I am so tired of reading about different takes on greek gods. Although Artemis is a great goddess so I thought to give this a chance. This book was the quickest one I discarded. The writing is a bit too cheesy and trying to keep her smexy feelings down was just silly. It also came off as a need to establish that Artemis is a “strong, independent women”. Artemis is already that, no need to emphasize it. Give us a story that we haven’t seen and deliver it.

So there you have it. Five books in a span of one hour that I discarded completely and with utmost frustration.  It took a classic historical romance book from 1989 to reestablish the joy of reading a book. That is something to also keep in perspective. How does a book written in 1989 hold up in 2014? Characters. I fell in love with the characters. A post that I will share later.

As for now, I encourage authors to keep writing. Surpass critiques. Wow the readers. Find your voice and churn on. You know you made it when you have legions of fans.

16 thoughts on “When the books just don’t click…

  1. Oh wow! As a fellow reviewer, I so know what you mean! Sometimes the most interesting thing about the book is the blurb. How sad is that? Thank you for sharing.

    • hello fellow book reviewer. i hate the feeling of disappointed after reading a great blurb and having the book just fall flat. it’s like the nerd rage/disappointment after the first “Transformers”

    • thank you for reading the post! like i said, all kudos to authors and for all your hard work…but know that us readers are fickle, voracious creatures, we want more! more! more!

  2. This post made me laugh out loud, cringe on behalf of the authors, and clamor for your to read my books and comment: I love your perspective! If you ever want to take a chance on another newish author, “This Changes Everything,” Vol I of “The Spanners Series,” is free everywhere. If you like it enough to keep going, reviewers get free copies of Vol II and beyond (when I get “beyond”).

    Either way, thanks for being so honest, specific and accurate as to what moves and doesn’t move you as a reader. Helps THIS author a lot!

    if you’d like to be on my show, CHANGES, a G+ HOA (Charlee was on a few weeks ago), let me know! http;//www.sallyember.com/CHANGES for info

    best to you and shout-out to Charlee!


    • bravo to you for plugging your book :p…as with all books that come my way, i will give it a fair chance. what happens after that, well… now you know my M.O.

  3. Fabulous post Toni. I find myself rolling eyes and chunking books a lot more frequently than I ever have before.

    Curious to know the title on the oldie that reignited your joy of reading.

  4. This was a refreshing and well stated post. Thanks. I admit I rarely review anymore (thinking of stopping completely) so I only review writers whose work I have liked before and are usually 3 – 5 on a star rating. It’s not that I like anything…I chunk many, many books. The spelling/editing nightmares…I won’t even consider those past page one. I’ve actually had authors try to defend books filled with misspelled words with comments like ‘editors cost too much’; ‘I’m a storyteller not a grammar expert’ and ‘reviewers should not pick on me for spelling just rate the story’.

    I think its so easy now to publish, that people think it’s easy to write. There are the gems-those indie books that have a unique idea, a concept or a strong sense of voice and style. I live for the gems.

    Personally, I am tired of ‘space men with big dicks’ story lines. I’m tired of alien heroes who are only alien by different color hair or weird eyes and- what I’ve read a lot of lately -colorful semen. I kid you not. In the past few months, I have read about green, blue, and silver space man jizz and it is not romantic. or erotic. or necessary.

    Make your aliens ALIEN!!! They can look human, but have their way of thinking, concept of society, etc. ALIEN. If they have telepathy, use it for some other reason that sharing his lustful thoughts with others. Just stretch more, that’s what I want to see.

  5. I meant…”It’s not like I like everything…”. See? That’s why I will never publish without an editor.

  6. We should ask Charlee to do a unique aliens in fiction group post! When I read your comment RK, I actually thought of one of the first SFRs I read “Starkissed” by Lanette Curington.

  7. Great post, thank you. As a writer, it’s so invaluable reading these sort of comments and explanations for what does and doesn’t work, and why. A lot of it seems to be in the gap between expectation set by the descriptions and the reality of the plot. I will be referring back to this when I’m editing, that’s for sure!

  8. I’ve been lucky so far in terms of the general editing department, so when I start skimming or even DNF a sci-fi romance it’s often because of subtext that bothers/disturbs me. E.g., subtext arising from a heroine who lacks agency or is in constant sexual peril.

    Other times I won’t finish because there’s a lack of (convincing) conflict (internal and/or external), which in turn leads to a boring story. I don’t expect every SFR to have a high octane/grimdark level of conflict and stakes and I enjoy a quiet story as much as the next reader, but I feel there’s a *lot* of room in this genre for bolder stories.

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