Sometimes it’s hard to be a reviewer…

book-15584_640This is one of those things that I’m pretty sure any reviewer has experienced at one point in time. There are days when being a reviewer is very difficult. We often have to weigh our sense of responsibility with the practical sides of our nature. Today, I’m experiencing one of those days, and since I want to gripe about it anyway, I figured I might as well write up a half-decent post on the subject to share my frustrations.

As a reviewer sometimes people send me novels to review that I have to accept sight-unseen. I don’t get to look at the cover (sometimes they aren’t published yet!). Usually I just get a title and a very brief synopsis, or sometimes, just the genre. I’m pretty open to most books, so usually my first response is “sure! I’ll take a look at it!” and it’s only a week later when I finally get around to opening up the book that I wish I’d never said yes.

The problem is this: Not all books are written equal. Sometimes I’ll get a book and it turns out to be very different from the synopsis or the genre categories I was given. My expectations for that book aren’t met, and I end up disappointed. Other times the writing is just so awful I can’t stand it, and even more often that that, I just don’t like the book. It may not have anything to do with the book itself – but I just don’t connect with it. That’s the downside of reviewing books by request: I’m not picking them myself. I know what I like… but these authors don’t.

Of course, this leads me to a very difficult decision: do I force myself to read this book I really have no interest in continuing because I’ve given a promise to the author to do a review, even though chances are the review is going to be overwhelmingly negative… or do I throw in the towel and say “It just wasn’t my kind of book.” Personally, I feel really awkward about giving partial reviews when I know an author was expecting me to read their whole book… but again, the alternative is to waste a week forcing myself to read a book I know I’m not going to like. It’s a no-win situation.

I bring all of this up of course because currently I am “dabbling” in reading five books. I won’t post their titles or authors here, but you can clearly see them on my Upcoming Reviews tab of this blog. Here’s the thing: I am stuck at around 9-15% in four of them. In no particular order, let’s go through the books:

Book 1: This book is extremely well written. The narrative is colorful and descriptive, and I have absolutely no trouble getting pulled into the world building. The characters are well-written and entertaining… BUT it’s not my kind of book. It’s an epic fantasy where the main character is male. I read a lot of romance.  For me, it’s kind of boring.. not because it was ill-written… but it’s just not my thing.

Book 2: I had to close this book after the first page. The author included a prologue that basically gave me a ton of back-story for the main character (even though this is a series of short stories) that I really didn’t think was needed. It was an info dump and didn’t tell me anything I really needed to know in order to read the rest of the book. It irritated me because it’s poor writing. If the whole book is going to be written that way, I don’t want to read it.

Book 3: This book started off strong and interesting, but the farther I got into the story, the weirder it became. At one point the character is having a dialogue with two imaginary women living in her head (one of which is baking) while discussing the death of a man she refers to as “the pink man” because he wore a pink shirt… and… I just sat back and went “WTF am I reading?” It’s very distracting and hard to follow along even though I really liked the main character up until that point.

Book 4: I got through the first two pages, and closed it. Like the second book, it had a prologue where the ENTIRE history behind the book was written out in a huge info-dump just so when the story started I’d know what was going on. When has this ever been acceptable? It’s like the cheap way of saying “I don’t want to try to work all this back story into the narrative where it belongs so… here you go. Have a cheat sheet.” Blech.

Book 5: I’m fairly certain the author’s going to read this. Anyways,  I’m two pages in and I really like where this story is going. The voice it’s written in is very similar to my own in a way, so I’m familiar with it and it’s easy to read. The chapter starts out strong, and I like the main character… BUT I can tell that it hasn’t been through a set of beta readers, proofreader, or copyeditor. There’s a lot of what I’d call “weak writing” not bad, but a little redundant and wordy at times. I keep finding myself highlighting little bits and pieces as I go along, and it has me at the point where I almost want to volunteer to help copyedit the thing for free because I think the story has a lot of potential… I just don’t know if I can get through it without frustrating the crap out of myself with all the notes I feel inclined to place on it.

So I guess the question I have is this: At what point do you throw up your hands and move on to something you actually want to read? Usually if I find that I’m having a difficult time getting through a book I’ll set it aside, pick up a book I know I’m going to like (something fun, short, and romantic!), and then when I’m done with that book, I’ll go back and try again. This keeps me from putting down a book just because I’m having a hard time getting into it on that particular day. Sometimes I’m just tired and can’t get my head around a book. Sometimes I have other pressing things to do and I can’t concentrate—but eventually I go back and try again and only then, on the second attempt, will I put a book down if I still can’t manage to get through it.

I’m curious to see how others broach this dilemma. Personally, I feel guilty for accepting a book for review if I don’t finish reading the whole thing… but sometimes you just’ can’t. At what point do you give up and say “sorry. I just couldn’t get through it.” Do any other reviewers out there run into this problem, and if you do, how do you deal with it. Am I just being too sensitive towards the author’s feelings by feeling guilty about it? Let me know what you think!

Being a reviewer is hard sometimes.