Last week, a friend of mine who happens to be an author pointed me to a review of her book. I will not name the author, reviewer or title of the book but I will say that the review was more of a bashing than an actual review. The person had obtained an ARC – Advance Review Copy – of the book and after reading less than 10% of it, decided that the book was terrible and proceeded to write a scathing hatchet-job without having read the rest of the book. Among the litany of apparent faults was the complaint that the story was formulaic.

OK. There is no requirement that says you have to like a book to some degree in order to write a review and there are professional book, movie, TV, food, etc. critics who seem to take an extraordinary delight in raking the object of their derision over the coals. However, it seems less than fair to only read 7% of a novel and then trash the book in its entirety. Perhaps the reviewer was having a bad day. One should always strive to get all of the facts and then jump to conclusions. Criticism for the sake of criticism is not constructive.

Then there’s the charge of being formulaic. Since there are only ten or twelve original stories in the world, just about every novel is going to be formulaic in some way or other. I’m working on a novel which will not be a romance story per se but will definitely have a strong romantic element to it. Here’s the basic plot:

  • Boy meets girl
  • Girl is angry at boy for something she did
  • Girl discovers she has feelings for boy
  • Boy confesses his feelings for girl
  • Boy and girl get married
  • The End

That outline encompasses about half of the romantic novels out there so in the strictest sense, they are all formulaic. It is not so much that a story follows a formula but it is what the author does with the formula that matters; Much in the same way that two chefs can prepare the same dish but each comes out tasting differently.

All of this makes me consider my own reviews. Yes, I have written a few negative reviews but none of them involved the outright hatchet-job described above. In all of them, the plot premise was good but the story failed in the execution of the plot. Some may complain that I’m little more than a cheerleader for authors since 95% of my reviews on this site awarded four or five Pipes (Stars) to the novels. My response is that I’ve decided that life is too short for me to spend much time writing bad reviews. If I don’t like a book – and there have been a fair number of them – I don’t write a review.

When reviewing Young Adult Fiction, I try to see the story through the eyes of the target audience. (I know that some say I never left high school but the truth is that I never outgrew college!) A number of the books would not be impressive in the adult world but are quite good in the eyes of Young Adults. And then, of course, there are those books – like Harry Potter – that transcend age groupings.

So, that is how I write reviews. I hope that my friend will ignore the reviewer’s hatchet job and continue telling her stories. Frankly, I can’t wait to read the next installment.

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