Shiny New Books is one year old!

A very quick post to congratulate the team behind Shiny New Books who have just published their fifth edition of book reviews, author interviews and essays, marking one year since the website launched. If you haven’t yet checked them out, I do recommend taking a look and subscribing to their excellent newsletter, which has the admirable aim of bringing great new books to people who don’t know what to read next.

I should add that I have contributed to the latest edition, by writing a review of White Hunger by Aki Ollikainen. If you’re interested in what I thought of this Finnish novella about a harsh winter in the 19th century, do check out my review. And while you’re there take a look at the rest of the content in the Spring 2015 edition.

Sunday Salon: Books in series

The Sunday Salon

I have been thinking recently about how I review books in a series. I have not exactly been consistent up until now. Do you guys have any rules that you follow?

The thing is, different series throw up different problems. In some cases it is near impossible to discuss sequels without giving away spoilers from the earlier books. I found this a little with The Alexandria Quartet but I had so much to say about each book that I still gave each a separate post.

Sometimes spoilers aren’t an issue. For instance, the Claudine books reveal plot developments in their titles! But then the plot is hardly the point here.

In some cases there isn’t much new to say about successive books in a series, other than the new plot, so reviews get progressively shorter. I suspect this will be the case with the Philip Marlowe books, but I’ve only read the first two so we’ll have to see. It’s one of the reasons I haven’t yet published a review of the James Bond books (which I’m halfway through reading). I’ll probably write about one of them but I see no point discussing every one separately. (For exactly this reason, I have reviewed just one of the Modesty Blaise books I have read.)

Line up

With comic books/graphic novels I have tended to write a single post about the whole series. With Scott Pilgrim, I was so eager to read the whole series that I didn’t want to stop to make notes in-between. With Echo I would have run across the problem of spoilers, so my review really concentrated on the first book and overarching themes (I had both of these problems with Y: the Last Man, a review of which is coming later this week). With Southland Tales, I just didn’t think they were very good and so, though I had a lot to say, I saved myself from writing three separate negative reviews by just doing the one!

I am thinking about this because in the past couple of years I have read a fair few first titles in a series, and in some cases I really really want to read the rest (Tales of the City, for example) but I’m not sure I’ll be able to write much about it so I put it off. I know that’s silly, that this blog shouldn’t stop me from reading great books, but there we are.

Do you have any favourite book series? And do you review every book you read?

BristolCon11: reviews

The discussions and readings at BristolCon were all excellent but I did particularly enjoy “Reviews: threat or menace?”. As the panel pointed out, the title suggests that reviews can only be bad or more bad, yet most of them were both reviewers and authors and had some interesting thoughts on the process.

Juliet McKenna‘s view was that both reading and writing reviews can give you a snapshot of what’s new out there. She is reluctant to trash a book in a review, as she knows how much hard work has gone into writing it. Jonathan Wright agreed that it can be too easy to slag off a book, that that style of writing can come far too easily. Paul McAuley continued that as a bright young thing, the easiest way to get noticed is to be funny and slag off the books you review, but he is now ashamed of having written damaging reviews, and that’s a large part of the reason he stopped reviewing regularly.

Juliet McKenna raised the point I have heard elsewhere about the responsibility of the reviewer to present a fair cross-section of what’s out there. Stats collected by Vida and Strange Horizons show that in the UK and US approximately 44% of books are written by women, yet less than 30% of books reviewed are by women. Although this bias is unconscious, once known about it should be acknowledged.

A quick check of my reviews index shows that to date I have reviewed 46 books by women and 76 by men (i.e. not quite 38% women). And apparently male reviewers have a much stronger bias towards reading male writers. (Incidentally, my current TBR is much worse, standing at 26 books by women versus 77 by men. If ever I needed an excuse to buy more books!)

But in general the views about reviews and reviewing were positive, despite the event’s title.