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REVIEW: Elite by Rachel Van Dyken

Dear Ms. Van Dyken:

I’m not really sure how to say this, so I’m just going to come out with it: the following isn’t going to be pretty. Before this year, according to my reading log, I hadn’t given an F to a book since 2006, when I gave FOUR Fs (a bad reading year, to be sure) – three to romances that I really don’t remember any more, and one to Augusten Burrough’s repulsive “memoir” Running with Scissors, which I sadly remember all too well. I did give an F to a book I read earlier this year, a YA that Amazon was offering for free that I later realized was self-published, and which I found so amateurish and histrionic that I felt like reviewing it would be akin to kicking a puppy. A very, very bad puppy.

Which brings me to Elite. This book appears to be professionally published; the author has an extensive backlist. Yet this is one of the most absurd, unrealistic pieces of writing I’ve ever read. I feel horribly snobbish saying, “How in the world did this get published?”, but…how in the world did this get published?

From the first lines of the prologue, I sensed I was in trouble:

Whoever told me life was easy – lied. It’s hard. It sucks. The crazy thing is – nobody has the guts to admit the truth.

Elite by Rachel Van DykenSo, okay: someone (she doesn’t remember who!) told the narrator that life was easy. Is that a thing people say? “Life – it’s a cakewalk, right?” That is not a thing that people say. Also, anyone who thinks that nobody has the “guts” to own up to the Secret Truth that life is, dun dun dunhard – hasn’t spent nearly enough time with a mopey adolescent. Or co-workers on a dreary Monday morning. Or me at Whole Foods on Labor Day afternoon (sorry, just had PTSD flashbacks).

Anyway, our story:

Trace Rooks is an 18-year-old farm girl from the earnest plains of Wyoming (seriously, girl LOVES her cows) who has won a scholarship to Eagle Elite (although the way it’s described it sounds more like a lottery, maybe?) which is the most…well, elite and exclusive college in the United States. Her grandfather, who raised her along with her recently deceased grandmother, drives her to a school that closely resembles a fortress, and after a tense encounter with some campus toughs who come off menacing in a vague but silly way, he drops her off and she is on her own, just a small-town farm girl who has (unbeknownst to her) been thrown to the wolves.

There is so much wrong with the description of Eagle Elite that I don’t know where to start. Perhaps the first thing is that it’s maybe, maybe vaguely believable in a “suspending a LOT of disbelief” way, as an elite prep school. As a university, nothing about its description bears any resemblance to reality. Particularly as a university that produces the best and brightest – future presidents and CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.

First of all, again the school is described like a smallish fenced-off fortress, not a sprawling campus home to thousands of students, with the attendant nearby businesses that would service such a population. Even the smallest elite colleges in the U.S. have well over a thousand students.

Then there is the lottery/scholarship Trace wins – as a college student she should/would have applied to any number of schools and applied as well for available scholarships and financial aid. She wouldn’t be a single “charity case” who the school takes on sight unseen because her name got picked out of a hat.

Also, Trace is referred to as “new girl” and everyone seems to know that she’s new and an outsider/charity case. So, this is a college that has one new student in its freshman class. Okay, then. Also, a bell rings between classes.

Even the name “Eagle Elite” does not exactly scream “prestigious institute of higher learning.” In every way the school reads like a fantasy prep school; I don’t know why the author didn’t just make the characters younger to fit that scenario (though I have some ideas; more on that in a moment).

Trace is bewildered by her new surroundings and by the hostility of her classmates, particularly Nixon. Nixon is a member of the “Elect” who rule the school, and there are numerous rules relating to dealing with the Elect. Don’t speak to one of them unless spoken to, don’t make eye contact; it’s like being a production assistant for Barbra Streisand. Or perhaps attending a highly fictionalized prep school (if you thought I was going to give up on hammering that point home, think again).

So, Trace is in trouble with the bizarre and capriciously cruel Elect pretty much immediately, for breathing the same air as they do or something. Usually in the types of books where plucky young female newcomers are snubbed and abused by the snooty elite, the abusers are female. Making them male makes it feel even ickier and more sinister, and makes me wonder at the fact that most of the Elect (including Nixon, who is, of course…sigh…our hero) are actually supposed to be good guys. Or at least anti-heroes? I don’t know. The whole thing is already so bizarre to me – the world that’s created does not resemble the real world and the people don’t act like real people – that I find it hard to know what I’m supposed to think about the characters.

It gets worse. Trace at least finds an ally in Monroe, her roommate, who is Nixon’s sister (I look forward to being introduced to their siblings Van Buren and Eisenhower). She’s pretty much the only other character in the book who is remotely likable. Or maybe I should say the ONLY character, since I didn’t actually like Trace that much. But anyway, Monroe takes Trace under her wing and runs interference for her with her awful brother. Despite this, Trace is mercilessly abused by the other students. One of the Elect slips her a mickey at a party and puts her in bed with a football player in the guys’ dorm (of which there is only one, I guess? Sort of like a prep-okay, I’m not even going to say it this time). She wakes fully clothed and clearly nothing happened, but that doesn’t stop all of the other students from branding Trace a whore. At one point they form a gauntlet and pelt her with eggs while chanting “slut” and “whore.”

All of this happens, by the way, because Nixon, who has offered Trace some ephemeral “protection”, spitefully withdraws the offer after she stubbornly says she doesn’t need it. He wants her to come crawling to him and admit she needs him.

Anyway, after the egg-throwing incident, there is more weirdness and absurdity when Nixon takes Trace shopping. See, her stuff got ruined in the egg attack, including her phone, bag, and uniform. Yes, they wear a uniform at this…university. The shopping trip involves the entire Elect and a security detail that would rival the Pope’s. The many guns of their entourage, as well as Nixon’s over-the-top reaction to the necklace (an heirloom from her grandmother) that Trace is wearing, strike Trace as odd, but her curiosity is rather muted given the bizarreness of the goings-in. Of course, she’s clearly used to bizarre goings-on at this point, but one would think that they these odd occurrences would give her pause. Or that she might be more than mildly curious about the deference that Nixon receives virtually everywhere he goes when they are out and about.

It turns out that…

Spoiler (spoiler): Show

Nixon is a mafia boss. Yes, a 20-year-old (or so; I think he’s supposed to be 20 or 21) mafia boss. Also, Trace is from another mafia family; her parents were killed in some sort of mafia war and her grandfather (also a mafia boss, turned Wyoming cow farmer) and grandmother went underground to protect her. Her grandfather has furthermore put Trace back out in the world as bait, which made absolutely no sense to me, given his previous protection of her, in an attempt to get to the truth as to who was behind Trace’s parents’ murders.

I don’t know what being a Mafia boss entails in the world of Elite, but it doesn’t seem much like the real-world mafia (I know, shocker). At one point Nixon says of a Mafioso from a rival family, “I have no doubt that family is into some shady business….probably the sex trade, cocaine, money laundering, typical things you’d see on TV, but definitely not what this family is about that’s for sure.” When Trace asks Nixon what mafia-type things he does, he replies, “A little of this and a little of that. Nothing too illegal. We aren’t desperate for money unlike some people.”

I just…gah. I’m not sure what to say about that. I’m not sure why you’d make your hero a mafia boss (a 20-year-old mafia boss!) if you weren’t going to have him participate in actual mafia-like behaviors. What is the point? And what does a “little of this” that’s not “too illegal” entail? Pirating Disney films? Stealing cable? Not reporting the income from lottery scratch-off tickets?

What I found odd and interesting (I guess?) is that given the information in the spoiler above, what we have is a YA in which the protagonists are ostensibly college students, but are in a setting that much more closely resembles high school (their maturity level was consistent with high-school age kids, as well). Yet Nixon, at least, is apparently professionally in the position of man decades older. It’s just strange. Besides being further evidence of the book’s very loose connection to reality, it felt like an attempt to kind of have it both ways – to have YA characters and situations but give the characters (especially the hero, a term I use loosely here) the gravity and, for lack of a better word, glamour of adult lives.

In this, I feel that Elite is doing something that a lot of the YAs and NAs that I’ve read lately do – they take young characters but give them adult concerns – whether it be addicted parents, dead parents, responsibilities for younger siblings, serious illnesses, dealing with sexual assault, etc. All those themes can be interesting, but sometimes I just wish I could read an NA that takes a relatively young couple, gives them relatively normal concerns, and yet somehow still manages to create a story with enough weight to make their youthful concerns interesting. I consider myself the Queen of Angst, so it feels strange to say this, but there you have it.

Nixon is a parody of a BMOC/alpha-male hybrid – super-cocky and obnoxiously full of himself, though he has a weird aversion to being touched, an aversion that hints at a Dark Past. Trace is supposed to be spunky but is mostly just really annoying, and also kind of stupid. As a couple they are insipid and dull. Nixon refers to them as “Romeo and Juliet” at one point but the only trait they share with that couple is immature stupidity. Nixon: I will have to be mean to you so no one knows I care but I really do care; it’s for your own good. (Is mean to her.) Trace: Why is he being so mean to me!? Does he hate me!? Um, do you remember what he said two pages ago? I mean, it was dumb but it wasn’t like he wasn’t speaking English and using short, declarative sentences.

I’ve been meaning to comment on the ubiquity of the word “smirk” in the YAs and NAs I’ve been reading. Since Elite is a particular offender, now is as good a time as any to bitch about it. The words “smirk” or “smirked” appeared 37 times in the course of the book. Why do NA authors like this word so much? I feel like Inigo Montoya, with the “that-word-doesn’t-mean-what-you-think-it-means.” I mean, I see “smirk” as being a negative word, maybe occasionally used in the context of friendly teasing, but mostly, as Merriam-Webster states, indicating a “smug or affected smile”. YA and NA authors of the world, please cut back on the smirking.

In summary, this book was ridiculous. Not fun-ridiculous (at least not for me) but weird-ridiculous. The situations and scenarios bore no relationship to real life situations and scenarios as I understand them or have experienced them, and the people frequently did not act and react like I would expect normal human people to. My grade for Elite is an F.

Respectfully,

Jennie

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has been an avid if often frustrated romance reader for the past 15 years. In that time she's read a lot of good romances, a few great ones, and, unfortunately, a whole lot of dreck. Many of her favorite authors (Ivory, Kinsale, Gaffney, Williamson, Ibbotson) have moved onto other genres or produce new books only rarely, so she's had to expand her horizons a bit. Newer authors she enjoys include Julie Ann Long, Megan Hart and J.R. Ward, and she eagerly anticipates each new Sookie Stackhouse novel. Strong prose and characterization go a long way with her, though if they are combined with an unusual plot or setting, all the better. When she's not reading romance she can usually be found reading historical non-fiction.

81 Comments

  1. Melissa K
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 08:13:09

    I’ve noticed the smirk thing too but I’m SO over the “dancing & twinkling” eyes. I’ve never seen someone’s eyes dance.

  2. Ros
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 08:37:41

    On Amazon, the publisher is listed as CreateSpace, so I’d say this is a self-published book. And, um, wow.

  3. LG
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 08:58:37

    Up until the spoiler, this sounded a bit like Boys Over Flowers fanfic.

  4. Loosheesh
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 09:08:18

    @Ros: It was first self-published (the version I bought back in April was), but the ebook is now showing Hachette as the publisher.

    I gave this two stars when I read it, but now your review reminds me of so many things that make me want to downgrade to 1 star …

  5. Danielle Gorman
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 09:09:53

    Wow, I’m so glad I steered clear of this one. It sounds like a hot mess. I actually read one of her other books and I felt the same way with that one as you do with this one. It was so over the top and felt like a YA yet the characters were in their early 20′s. It was just bad.

  6. Loosheesh
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 09:13:54

    @Danielle Gorman: Was it The Bet? I liked it but it was chock-full of implausibilities as well.

  7. Lynn S.
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 09:24:36

    I was having a crappy Tuesday morning until I read the hilarious spoiler.

    My predictions for siblings would be Jackson and Tyler.

    On the smirking issue, did the author also describe someone as buff AND rangy? The misuse of rangy turns me all cranky Spaniard and it’s taken in vain by a whole lot of authors who should know better.

  8. CK
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 09:29:17

    TY. I needed a good laugh this morning. The spoiler….bwahahahahahahahaha.

  9. Isobel Carr
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 09:31:24

    @LG: I was going to say it sounded like a fan fiction of Rory Gilmore’s worst nightmare until we got to the mafia stuff. And, is this a WASP mafia? Confusion upon confusion.

  10. DB Cooper
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 09:54:23

    Wow. So I agree, I’ve long had the feeling that many ya/na stories are about giving status-less and agency-less youths a sense of status, importance, and power to do cool things in the big bad world out there (to be fair, a lot of stories are about the empowerment to overcome, not just ya/an stuff).

    I suppose in a very crude and unfair simplification, its about making the non adult feel like an adult…without having to be an adult. In this case however, I feel like its the story itself that needs maturing. It, itself is a bundle of hopes and dreams rooted in little else but its own hopes and dreams (and far far from the practical concerns of consequences).

    Its the kind of world I wanted to create as a wee one. Just go through Jennie’s list of faults and start each item with “wouldn’t it be cool if…”, “yeah, and…” “Oh, and THEN they find out…” “But its okay because he/she really is…”

  11. KarenF
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 09:58:46

    The author’s name sounded familiar, so I checked her backlist on bn.com and realized she was responsible for one of the worst books I read last year (“The Ugly Duckling Debutante”), a “regency” romance that was full of historical inaccuracies. Apparently she has difficulties with contemporary fiction too.

  12. Kati
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 10:00:32

    This: “Don’t speak to one of them unless spoken to, don’t make eye contact; it’s like being a production assistant for Barbra Streisand.” made me actually snort out loud.

    Thanks for taking one for the team, there, Jennie.

  13. Q
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 10:32:17

    Yes, the review of the plot reminded me immediately of Boys Over Flowers as well, or rather the Taiwanese version (Meteor Garden) which is the one I watched, including the feel that although it was set in college, everything felt like high school.

    I think BoF must have been an “inspiration”.

  14. Michelle
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 10:32:50

    @LG: I was thinking the exact same thing. But Boys Over Flowers at least holds a special place in my heart for it’s utter ridiculousness.

  15. Ros
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 10:34:33

    @Loosheesh: So this is the kind of self-published book being picked up by the big six? Wow.

  16. Shelly
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 10:38:33

    I don’t know what’s more depressing/amusing, the plot or the fact that this will most definitely be a bestseller, if it isn’t already. And I snorted with laughter at the spoiler. I’d read the book alone just for that hilariously “out of left field” twist. It’s the new adult version of Sharknado.

  17. Willaful
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 10:47:25

    Brilliant review, Jennie. Smirks have also infected adult contemporary romance and I’m so done with them.

  18. Darlynne
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 10:51:52

    Pirating Disney films? Stealing cable? Not reporting the income from lottery scratch-off tickets? So many levels of awesome here, Jennie. Sorry you had to read it, but a win for us. Thanks.

  19. Readsalot81
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 11:10:11

    This entire book just sounds absolutely ludicrous. I’ll echo my thanks for taking one for the team. I’ve read a couple of her historicals – I’m willing to forgive inaccuracies if it’s entertaining, but I found the books I read to be as dull as dirt.

  20. Spinster
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 11:11:47

    Ergh, yeah, read one of her Regency novellas last year. It was a freebie but I really want that hour of my life back. Just ludicrous, it read like it was written by a 15-year-old who got WAY too excited after reading her first Regency.

  21. Tanya S
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 11:22:03

    Definitely sounds like Boys Over Flowers fan fiction. I’m watching the Korean version which is set in a high school. It’s hilarious with its ANGST and general over-the-topness.

  22. Kristen Allen-Vogel
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 11:25:27

    Seriously, I think this book would have hit my wall and not been opened again the second the hero was named “Nixon.” That right there screams not having put any thought into this.

  23. JenM
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 11:38:26

    Thank you for calling out the use of the word “smirk”. I’ve been baffled lately at the contexts in which I’ve seen it used, especially in NA books. Authors, a smirk is not a complimentary expression and if your hero is wearing it, you are telling me that he is an A-hole who enjoys acting and feeling superior to others.

  24. Gennita Low
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 12:31:12

    Definitely made me think of Boys Over Flowers (or the Korean version or Japanese maybe?). It needs the music.

  25. cead
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 13:23:44

    My brother and I have a facial expression that our mother always described as a “smirk”; it’s a sort of one-sided grin (always the same side; I can’t reproduce it on the other) we seem to have inherited from our paternal grandfather. It’s not a negative facial expression, and it’s not restricted to negative contexts. Possibly this or something like it is the sense of “smirk” that authors are trying to use?

  26. Carolyne
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 14:20:34

    @cead: Possibly (I also have that “can only half-smile on one side” thing…maybe people are generally left-faced or right-faced?). But… I have in the past noticed a tendency in fanfic or other closed writing communities for a certain description to come into style and echo through all the writing in that particular group; a shorthand of sorts. For instance, character A’s walk will be described as “jaunty” enough times that whenever “jaunty” is used, you immediately see character A’s particular way of moving. Jauntily. With a smirk.

  27. Lada
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 14:56:00

    Thanks for a Tuesday pick-up, Jennie! I’m in the fortunate position to not read F’s any more because they just end up as DNF’s. No longer have the time or patience so thanks for taking one for the team. This review is all kinds of awesome sauce!

    @Ros: I wonder this, too. Why would a major publisher pick something like this up? There is some pretty obvious sock puppetry or possibly some Fiverr action going on with the Amazon reviews.

  28. Lynn M
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 14:58:34

    Thank you for saving me from yet another horrible NA title. This one sounds insanely ridiculous on pretty much every level. It also reminds me of “Taking Chances” (a D- read for me) what with the savvy roommate being the sister of the “hero” and all of that. How many brother/sister pairs actually go to the same prep scho…I mean, “university”? In NA-landia, it seems like they all do.

  29. Cate
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 15:29:33

    JK Rowling gets away with smirk,she uses the word appropriately,and effectively.
    As for Ms Dykstra, ……The Ugly Duckling Debutante,is without doubt one of the eye bleedingly awful bits of tat I’ve ever read !!
    I really would’ve liked to burn it…..but that would’ve killed my kindle; so I had to settle for the slightly less satisfactory deletion from unit

  30. Janet P.
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 15:42:22

    Oh well see – I’m reading along and I think to myself: I bet that girl is going to be a lost Princess from a secret and dwindling breed of Vampire/Demon/Fill In the Blank of New Paranormal Bad Creature Hunters and that a-hole Dude is going to be the Crown Prince from the Whatever she is destined to kill race and they will have to work together to ….. well do something while they overcome their angst.

    But Mafia. Sure. I guess that could work too.

  31. Jennie
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 15:51:25

    @LG: I wasn’t familiar with Boys Over Flowers, so I looked it up. I can see why readers of the series would see a resemblance. Hmm.

  32. Jennie
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 16:05:27

    @Lynn S.: I’m not sure about rangy but I’m pretty sure the Elect were all described as buff. Also, Nixon once dated Taylor Swift. She wrote a song about him.

  33. Jennie
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 16:08:57

    @Isobel Carr: Nixon’s last name is Italian (something like Abbonato? I don’t have my Kindle with me at the moment). It’s not revealed early in the book, presumably so as not to have the reader jump to the obvious conclusion that he’s a 20-year-old Mafia boss.

    Also, both the Elect and sometimes Trace’s grandparents speak some language that she refers to as “stupid” (I think) at one point, but can’t identify. It turns out to be Sicilian. I thought it was weird that she wouldn’t just think it was Italian, as I believe they are fairly similar. Whatever.

  34. Carolyne
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 16:27:34

    Nixon once dated Taylor Swift. She wrote a song about him.

    No.

    Really?

    Maybe this sort of writing resonates with readers of a certain age? Like… 12 or 13? I’m honestly not being (entirely) facetious, I’m just wondering who the target audience could possibly be.

  35. Jennie
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 16:41:48

    @Spinster: It’s hard to imagine how inaccurate a historical would be, given that the author’s depiction of contemporary life is so unrealistic.

  36. Jennie
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 16:43:43

    @cead: I think it’s possible that some people just smile like that. I mean, Elvis kind of smirked, right? But when all your characters smirk, and they do it a LOT, it’s noticeable. And weird.

  37. Jennie
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 16:46:31

    @Lynn M: Well, to be fair, we find out later that Nixon has already graduated from the school. And just hangs around to…actually, I’m not sure why he hangs around. Also, his family owns the school.

  38. Jennie
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 16:55:33

    @Carolyne: I wonder myself. I was under the impression that the YA resurgence/emergence of NA was more due to older readers picking up these books, rather than teenagers or adolescents. Maybe I’m projecting because for some reason *I* keep reading these. I think it’s because I’ve read a few that were really resonant and worked for me (Erin McCarthy’s “True” comes to mind), and I keep hoping to recreate that experience.

    Though maybe Elite is intended for a younger audience. It’s quite tame re sex. I think there’s some bad language, but other than that it’s relatively G rated.

  39. Ducky
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 17:09:04

    Shakes head. This review – thanks for reading this so others are spared of buying this – sums up my reaction to the whole NA genre: Crappy writing about super-annoying and unbelievable characters.

  40. cecilia
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 17:22:13

    @Melissa K: Maybe you just haven’t met anyone with googly eyes.

    Also, this book sounds like it has as realistic a vision of a university as I had of Kindergarten when I was 5 and excited to start because I thought it would be like The Paper Chase.

  41. Evangeline
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 17:42:18

    @Carolyne: My theory is that these books are shooting up the charts because the consumers aren’t normally avid readers (nor are they romance readers). FSoG opened up a lot of people’s eyes to the ooey-gooey sensations they didn’t realize could be provided by fiction, and now the Kindle allows them to snap up anything that promises to hit that spot. Didn’t the same thing happen when blockbuster sales for The Flame and the Flower made readers perk up and realize they wanted more OTT, lush, sprawling and lusty historical romances? Or when category romances written by American authors made HQN/M&B’s fortune in the early 80s, and nearly every romance imprint started their own lines? Quality began to suffer in both instances as publishers threw out anything that fit those markets, and sales declined as readers stuck only with the authors who maintained quality levels. Self-publishing has just kicked this kind of publishing/readership cycle into overdrive, and either NA will collapse beneath increasing derivativity (a la chick-lit), or it will mature as the readership matures (a la the romance genre).

  42. Carolyne
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 18:03:50

    FSoG opened up a lot of people’s eyes to the ooey-gooey sensations they didn’t realize could be provided by fiction

    I don’t know why it took so long for that to crystallise for me. Until you stated it that way.

    It’s not just that readers have discovered how sexy a book can be (my assumption), but–in theory–some people had no idea that reading can evoke any feelings of magnitude at all. That books can do that magic. Lifelong readers may take it for granted. But I do remember a first time crying as a kid over a character dying in a book and my mother (who is a reader, just one used to characters dropping all over the place in mystery novels) was unsympathetic to my pain. But, darnit, that loss felt real and it hurt. Umpty years later, I know going in that a good book will hit as if it were an IRL experience. But if I were coming to it for the first time… That really hadn’t clicked for me.

  43. Danielle Gorman
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 18:28:18

    @Loosheesh: Yes. I got so frustrated and annoyed with it that I stopped reading around the 80% mark. Also, I couldn’t even figure out who the hero was until about half way. So bad.

  44. Jackie Barbosa
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 19:33:21

    @Jennie: Also, his family owns the school.

    It all makes sense now! His Mafia family’s “not too illegal” business is educating the next generation of corporate raiders.

  45. Rachel Van Dyken
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 20:04:09

    Thank you so much for at least trying the book out and reviewing it, I really do appreciate it ;)

  46. hapax
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 21:26:48

    Well, this review did have one positive result. I was kinda “meh” about hunting down BOYS OVER FLOWERS, but now I’m dying to see it.

  47. jessP
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 23:10:22

    @Jennie:

    Really? The Nixon’s Mafia family owns the college? Why wouldn’t they have called it Capisce College?

  48. Ellie
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 23:58:38

    Great review! I fully agree with you – this book was such a mess. It was the first for me by this author and wouldn’t try another, at least for a while :)

  49. Kaetrin
    Sep 11, 2013 @ 00:19:06

    I know exactly what you mean about the smirking. Actually, I’ve noticed it misused in some Kristen Ashley books too.

    The book sounds awful but the review was loads of fun – thank you Jennie! :)

  50. Alison Robinson
    Sep 11, 2013 @ 03:26:51

    I get your point about University – I actually assumed that it was set in High School (or at least sixth form college for the English amongst us).

    Rereading my review on Goodreads I couomplained about how much Trace cried and also didn’t really understand why the other kids were mean to her – she’s new, so what?

    @Janet P I originally thought this was paranormal so I think your assumption is very valid.
    It was a bit Gossip Girl/90210 set in the middle of nowhere – the Mafia families are now more like rival tribes (apparently). I rated it as 3 out of 5 – mainly because, sadly, I have read A LOT worse. But as I said, I overlooked the fact that this was supposed to be at University and assume dit was High School.

  51. Heather
    Sep 11, 2013 @ 08:29:24

    I just stumbled upon this blog and wasn’t expecting some of the things I read…wow. Anyways I was wondering since everyone is complaining about all the implausibilities of this book, what kinds of books do you read? Do you read sci-fi, fantasy, paranormal, FICTION?! If you read ANY of those categories then heres a news flash they all have implausibilities and sometimes just completely implausible. I just don’t understand why people feel the need to bash an author or their work because you didn’t enjoy it. The point of reviews is to give CONSTRUCTIVE feedback to the author and to let others know how you felt about the book but not to belittle the author or their work. If you didn’t like the book that is all well and good, tell people why give it the lowest rating you want but why continue to bash someone. Personally when I don’t like something will write a review for it and tell my friends and others about it but I don’t bash. Just a personal opinion.

  52. Mary
    Sep 11, 2013 @ 08:42:29

    @Heather:
    I don’t see where Jennie “belittled” the author or her work. I thought that this was a very honest review of why the book didn’t work for her.
    Additionally, while I love fantasy and science fiction and accept things that aren’t realistic in those genres, if something is supposed to be a straight contemporary, I would expect it to have a resemblance to reality. I went to college in the US, I know people who went to really small private colleges, and none of them are the way that the college in this book is described. For that reason, I would not be able to take the book seriously, and as such I am grateful Jennie reviewed it so I don’t pick it up. I felt like Jennie adequately described why the book didn’t work for her, and was not rude to the author at all.

  53. Heather
    Sep 11, 2013 @ 09:04:20

    It wasn’t Jennie that I was referring to as to bashing or belittling it was more the other people commenting. I do still stand by that reviews are meant to be helpful and not rude. I also went to a small private college in the US, no more than 250 of us, and most of them knew each other so I was the “new” girl essentially. So the fact that she stood out as the “new girl” at school didn’t phase me. I wasn’t meaning to be rude and I do realize that I probably came across that way and I apologize for that. I was just trying to understand why everyone felt the need to bash on the author. The review was for Elite not her other books so I didn’t understand why they were brought up in the first place. Thanks for the response Mary :)

  54. Carolyne
    Sep 11, 2013 @ 10:21:47

    Hi, @Heather! You’ll find that the criticism at this site is very frank and honest, and because readers get a broad range of opinions both in the posts and the comments, each reader can decide for herself whether or not to invest her money and time in a particular author. Reviews are meant to be helpful to the consumer, and the tone of each reviewer/review site will determine the audience who benefits from it. As you demonstrate, although some of us say, “that doesn’t sound real to me and I read tons of spec fic, etc. etc.,” another reader says, “I can relate to this story, so this is the book for me!” Frequently we’ll hear opinions such as “this book didn’t work at all, but maybe you should try this other book by the same author.” It’s always relevant to bring up the author’s other work, for that reason if not many others. I think you might come to like this site if you approach the discussions as a place where we can just plain say, “this book sounds like the worst ever,” and then someone else can just plain say, “is not, here’s why.”

    As the consumers, we come to this venue not to support the author, but to discuss where our time/money is going without having to put on an “if you can’t say something nice” filter. Given that, I greatly appreciate Rachel Van Dyken’s friendly response to the F review (all things considered, better than a DNF). That makes me more likely to keep an eye out for her next work–though I’d look at a review of it here rather than reviews by her fans, who have already been won over to like her writing. I’d like to see if she can win over us cynics :)

  55. Loosheesh
    Sep 11, 2013 @ 10:25:58

    I think implausibilities should be called out in whatever genre they are found. Even fantasy and sci-fi, where things aren’t ‘realistic’, must conform to the rules of the world the author has built.

  56. Carolyne
    Sep 11, 2013 @ 10:40:29

    @Loosheesh: I really should be working, BUT… talking about this is so much more interesting… BUT I’ll step away from the browser after this comment.

    I once read a manuscript for an author with a long track record, who argued that she didn’t have to stamp out implausibilities or inconsistencies because she was writing Romance. In Romance, people can act unrealistically if that’s what it takes to get the story where it needs it to be. The lack of realism had nothing to do with the presence of shapeshifters and fae. She sincerely believed it was more important to move the character pieces where she wanted, than to give them plausible reasons for their acts. My argument that, because it was a PNR, she needed even more realism in the mundane parts to ground it, got no traction. I think her past readers may have been comfortable with her approach, just to get the emotional fix from her stories; but it’s so much more satisfying to to build a consistent and convincing world, and then you don’t lose those readers who won’t buy into the wacky, “nobody acts like that” stuff (am referring here only to that nameless manuscript).

  57. yttar
    Sep 11, 2013 @ 11:23:07

    @Heather:
    The point of reviews is to give CONSTRUCTIVE feedback to the author and to let others know how you felt about the book but not to belittle the author or their work.

    Being that Dear Author strives to write reviews for readers, I doubt the purpose of the reviews here are for constructive feedback for the author. If the author wanted constructive feedback, they should’ve gotten beta readers before publishing.

    One of the reasons I like reading the reviews at Dear Author is because I know they aren’t concerned about the author’s feelings. Whether they liked the book or not, they try to give as fair a review as they can to help readers determine if the book is for them or not. And, as a reader, I think that’s way more valuable than providing the author with feedback for their published book.

  58. cleo
    Sep 11, 2013 @ 11:50:48

    @yttar – ha! I copied the same text and was going to make the same point. Well said.

  59. Bren
    Sep 11, 2013 @ 12:18:06

    @Heather: “The point of reviews is to give CONSTRUCTIVE feedback to the author …”

    That’s not the point of a review AT ALL. Reviews are not for authors. Reviews are for readers. Period. The author has already very graciously spoken for herself on this thread. You do NOT need to speak for her and will actually do more harm than good in doing so.

  60. Nemo
    Sep 11, 2013 @ 12:22:29

    This sounds a bit like a lot of the animes out there about high school/college. Ouran High School Host Club, Revolutionary Girl Utena, Vampire Knight… There are more I can’t remember. There’s even TVtropes entries about it: Absurdly Powerful Student Council and Elaborate University High. It’s like the author just switched up to college. There’s an entry called “College is High School Part 2″ that fits here as well.

    It wasn’t mean enough to link you all to TVtropes, don’t worry.

  61. Heather
    Sep 11, 2013 @ 12:46:59

    Again it wasn’t so much the review that bothered me. If you don’t let the author know how you felt (which Jennie did) or what they could’ve done to make it more enjoyable for you (which she didn’t) then how are they going to get better and give you a better experience? I just didn’t see the need for others to bash other works by the author. It just seemed like people were jumping on the band wagon because this book got ths review and someone mentioned another book by her so they just decided to say “oh well this one sucked too” or other comments that really had no relevency to the topic. I agree that its helpful to let others know how you feel about a book, I also agree that you don’t need to sugar coat how you felt about a book to save someones feelings. However I don’t see the point behind being rude. There is brutal honesty and there is honesty, I see no point in being brutal. I know that I LOVE the honesty that yall are giving me but if you were brutal that part would be hard to take. But you also need to go into a review knowing that what the reviewer hates you may end up liking, if you just go by strictly what they say then you could be misssing out on some awesome books. At the same time I am an extremely avid reader (at least 3 books a week)and I enjoy all styles and genres of books including the YA and NA. I go into each book as if its the first book I’ve ever read. I don’t go in comparing it to other books that I have read from the same genre or that I have read in general. I read and enjoyed Elite and I am anxiously awaiting Elect which is the second book. Like I said I don’t compare books and go into the world the author has created. This book, to me, made since in the fact that its fiction its not supposed to be compared to real life. I go jumped straight into the world she created and enjoyed it! The implausibilities in this book and others are what make them enjoyable. I don’t want to read books that only the plausible happen because that would get boring. Everyone would write pretty much the same thing and that would be dull. Implausibilities are what make books and fiction FANTASTIC! I want to thank you all for giving your honest opinions to me and letting me know a little more about this site. I will be checking out other reviews later today to get a better feel for the site.

  62. cleo
    Sep 11, 2013 @ 12:53:04

    @Heather: I can see that if you’re not used to this kind of review site, the comments here might seem like author bashing. Since I’m used to snarkier review sites (like Smart Bitches Trashy Books), the comments in this thread seem pretty tame and restrained to me – they certainly don’t seem mean spirited.

    Jane (the founder of this site) recently gave a nice overview of the history of romance review sites and DA’s approach – http://dearauthor.com/book-reviews/the-resurrection-of-the-fan-culture-is-there-room-for-both-of-us/

    In it she writes:

    I would never be so presumptuous to assume that my review can provide helpful criticism for an author’s writing. For one, maybe what works for me doesn’t work for 100,000 other readers. Second, the book is already done. How can my views on it provide help to an author? I’m not beta reading. I’m reading at the end of the publication process. My opinion should mean squat to the author.

  63. Willaful
    Sep 11, 2013 @ 12:59:52

    @Heather: I understand that a “pile-on” feels uncomfortable, but I disagree that more comments about the author or her books aren’t relevant. Like the review space, the comment space is for readers.

  64. hapax
    Sep 11, 2013 @ 13:25:07

    @Heather: You make an extremely passionate case for how you read and what works for you as a reader. Obviously this book worked for you, and your disagreement with the main review is one of the things that make these comment threads valuable.

    Not everyone reads the same way, or gets the same things out of books. (For example, I almost always read the ending of the book after I’m about a quarter way through. Obviously that gives me a different reading experience than the majority who read front-to-back, and I always acknowledge that when it’s relevant.)

    Most of the reviewers here at DA are upfront at what kind of expectations they have of books and what they like and dislike. Most of the reviewers and readers here enjoy comparing books with others by the author and across the genre; that’s another of the things that make these reviews and comments threads valuable.

    And yes, these threads might go off on tangents; recommending similar books by other authors, or other kinds of media, or even ethical or social issues that the books inspire. There’s great value in that, too; as I posted upthread, this discussion has inspired me to pick up a K-drama I was previously hesitant about viewing!

    So keep reading, and commenting, and sharing your different views; that’s what makes DA a blog worth following. Just don’t be alarmed that we all love books differently. That’w what makes it fun!

  65. Jennie
    Sep 11, 2013 @ 13:30:03

    @cecilia: Hah – I remember watching The Paper Chase around the same age! I don’t remember if it informed my views of college, though.

    @Evangeline: I tend to agree; I have an acquaintance who has suddenly become an avid reader of a lot of these FSOG knockoffs, and I suspect, though I haven’t asked her, that her newfound enthusiasm for reading began with FSOG. What irritates me (and I fully admit that I have no right/reason to be irritated and that her reading tastes are none of my business) is that every book she reads now is just THE BEST EVER and she laughed, she cried, she’s in love with the hero, etc. etc. Far be it for me to discourage a new avid reader, but the lack of discernment is strange to me. I read a lot of crappy romances when I first started reading romance, but at least I KNEW they were crappy; I just didn’t know how to find what was good.

    Intellectually, I get that different people have different tastes, but viscerally, it’s sort of like how I feel about people who like fish, “Ew, how can you eat that?!”

  66. Isobel Carr
    Sep 11, 2013 @ 13:40:30

    This book, to me, made since in the fact that its fiction its not supposed to be compared to real life.

    I’m not even sure how to respond to this, except that I think it NEEDS to be responded to. Fiction is not a free for all excuse to not make sense. In fact, quite the opposite. Whereas in real life, coincidence happens, in fiction, you have to motivate the action. Things can’t happen for no reason. The choices the characters make have to make sense to who they are as written and to the world the author creates. The internal logic of the book has to be cohesive and consistent. If all of these things aren’t true, then you have a book that makes no sense.

    For example, I can make up a world in which there are vampires (which is clearly different from the “real” world), but I have to have rules for them (are they fae race, is it a virus, is it a form of demon possession, etc.), and I have to STICK to those rules. And every change I make from the “real” world has to make sense in my new world. The laws of physics still apply. Or if they don’t, I have to know WHAT the exceptions are and WHY they are. And I can’t go changing the rules two books down the road because I’ve written myself into a corner.

    The beauty of fiction is not the “implausible”, it’s making the implausible believable. And this is true no matter if your implausibility is a duke marrying a shop girl, a vampire falling in love with a werewolf, or a mafia don owning a small, elite university.

  67. Jennie
    Sep 11, 2013 @ 13:56:32

    @Heather: Others have touched on the issue of whether reviews are meant to be constructive criticism, and I agree, so I won’t belabor that point, except to say that my reviews are intended to inform and entertain readers, period.

    I actually had been giving some thought to the issue of realism in novels and what my expectations are as I was writing this review. Partly because I don’t understand why the lack of realism doesn’t bother some readers (and clearly it doesn’t; this book has plenty of positive Amazon reviews). Depending on the type of fiction, I have different requirements in terms of how realistic I expect a book to be. Those expectations might be adjusted during the course of the book, based on any number of factors. I was going to say that I probably expect the most realism out of contemporary literary fiction, but then I realized that that’s not exactly the case – a book like “A Confederacy of Dunces” probably qualifies as fairly contemporary lit fic, but it’s not all that realistic, because it has a strong absurdist tinge. A lot of romance has a sort of heightened reality to it; emotions are stronger and people’s characters and actions tend to be less ambiguous than IRL. I expect that sort of unreality. I don’t expect 20-year-old Mafia bosses. If you’re setting a book in a contemporary American university, then I expect it to read like a contemporary American university. Some artistic license is forgiven (and the more I’m drawn into the world the author creates, the less likely I am to even notice small details that might be fairly termed unrealistic), but when people and settings are completely divorced from reality, and there doesn’t appear to be any good reason for it, that is something that affects my enjoyment and appreciation of the story.

    Re bashing: speaking only for myself, as a reviewer, it’s easy to write a straightforward review for a B, B-, C+ or even a C book. For books that fall at the A or F end of the spectrum, it’s more difficult for me to write a review in such a way that doesn’t reveal my enthusiasm or lack thereof for the book. I’m not an automaton. And as I said, part of my job is to entertain the people reading the reviews. I don’t go out of my way to be mean or take potshots or bash, but an F review is going to contain some level of snarkiness. It’s not directed at the author, but the book (though I do understand why some people have trouble separating the two).

  68. Loosheesh
    Sep 11, 2013 @ 14:10:05

    “If you don’t let the author know […] what they could’ve done to make it more enjoyable for you (which [Jennie] didn’t) then how are they going to get better and give you a better experience?”

    Setting aside the fact that reviews are meant for readers and not the author, I think the points raised are clear enough that the author has something to take into consideration (if she cares to) for future writing projects. Why is it the reviewer’s job to ‘tell’ the author how to improve her work? Take my hard-earned money, buy the bread, take my time and tell the baker the bread was salty and undercooked, and now you want me to also tell him how to bake the bread so it’s no longer salty and undercooked. Isn’t that a bit much?

  69. Carolyne
    Sep 11, 2013 @ 14:44:34

    This book, to me, made since in the fact that its fiction its not supposed to be compared to real life. I go jumped straight into the world she created and enjoyed it! The implausibilities in this book and others are what make them enjoyable. I don’t want to read books that only the plausible happen because that would get boring. Everyone would write pretty much the same thing and that would be dull. Implausibilities are what make books and fiction FANTASTIC!

    I pretty much disagree with the various points Heather states here, in terms of my own tastes and what I think are the best goals of contemporary, non-absurdist/surrealistic fiction (there’s a “but” coming way down the paragraph). There’s a whole lot about real life that I don’t experience day to day that is downright thrilling and wild and amazing to me (and vice versa, I’m sure–if a book had a scene with a couple at the top of the Empire State Building during an earthquake that’d be 100% true-to-life but I bet some people would find it exciting and scary… as long as the couple behave realistically for people at the top of a giant skyscraper during an earthquake in NYC–people behaving realistically =/= people being boring). Or maybe the book is about someone who runs a chocolate shop–I’ve never done that, but there are real people who do, and chocolate all day every day, yum, what a fantasy! Right now I’m in the middle of reading a book about someone who believes he has multiple personalities living in a house in his head, and although it’s plausible, it sure isn’t boring/dull/the same thing everyone else has written. (Set This House In Order by Matt Ruff, which looks to be turning into a romance; I’ll let you know.) But Heather has got me thinking, and I can see how some readers might respond to the way-out, nobody-acts-like-that type of story as a sort of subset of light fantasy–the literal “fantastic”:

    WHAT IF…
    There could be a 20-ish Mafia boss?
    Who lords it over a secret Mafia-kids school?
    Where he falls in love (because reasons) with a girl for a Romeo/Juliet conflict?

    It’s not my sort of fantasy, and not what I want in a contemporary, and I may feel a particular book does it poorly or with inconsistent characters, but I think I “get” the argument.

  70. CG
    Sep 11, 2013 @ 14:44:37

    “The point of reviews is to give CONSTRUCTIVE feedback to the author …”

    NO. JUST NO. I’ve seen this sentiment floating around the internet a lot lately, like suspiciously a lot, and the cynical side of me thinks this is a concerted effort by some publishers and authors to subvert the reviewing process and turn it to their own promotional ends.

    From Wikipedia –

    “A book review (or book report) is a form of literary criticism in which a book is analyzed based on content, style, and merit. It is often carried out in periodicals, as school work, or online. Its length may vary from a single paragraph to a substantial essay. Such a review often contains evaluations of the book on the basis of personal taste. Reviewers, in literary periodicals, often use the occasion of a book review for a display of learning or to promulgate their own ideas on the topic of a fiction or non-fiction work. At the other end of the spectrum, some book reviews resemble simple plot summaries.”

    The point of a review is to express an opinion about a product. Period. End of story (har).

    I absolutely think it’s okay to brutally bash a book (but not the author) just as it’s okay to enthusiastically squee about a book, because sometimes the feels are just that immense and they need an outlet. Both happen here at Dear Author, sometimes over the same book by readers who had wildly differing reactions to the text. I was actually waiting for someone who loved this particular book to pop in and share their experience and why it worked for them, because for every person who hated a book, there’s usually someone who loved it and both experiences are valid.

  71. Jennie
    Sep 11, 2013 @ 15:00:52

    @Mary: Even in sci-fi/fantasy I expect that characters will act and react in ways that I understand and that make sense to me, or at least that the world is created in such a way that I understand why they might act differently than I’d expect. For instance, if people in a fantasy novel were as capriciously cruel as most of the background characters in Elite, then I’d need some explanation/backstory/world-building that would create a context for that. I’d also need to understand why a character like Monroe is relatively nice in contrast to almost everyone else.

    I actually have trouble sometimes with older, classic novels when the characters act and react in ways that totally don’t make sense to me. This is true sometimes of the Russian novels I’ve read, but is also true of, say, Cathy in Wuthering Heights. Why was she so mean? Why did she toy with Heathcliff if she loved him? She didn’t make sense to me as a character. Does that make Wuthering Heights a bad book? No (maybe). But I definitely would’ve thought it was a better book and would have enjoyed it more if Cathy was recognizable to me as a human being with understandable behavior and motivations.

  72. Heather
    Sep 11, 2013 @ 16:49:07

    Ok so I apparently ruffled some feathers by disagreeing and saying that you should give some feedback. My point is that if you find something wrong with the book be it something as big as its implausible and you can’t stand it or if its something a frivilous as the characters name TELL ME! I, as a reader, want to know what could’ve made the book more enjoyable for you. That way if I read it and have the same sentiments we can talk in more detail about it. Jennie I never said anything was wrong with your review it was a great to hear your opinion on this book. All I said was and I quote “If you don’t let the author know how you felt (which Jennie did) or what they could’ve done to make it more enjoyable for you (which she didn’t) then how are they going to get better and give you a better experience?” Why not tell us in your review what could’ve made the book better for you as the reader. You never really told me what you were expecting and what would’ve made it more enjoyable for you.

    @Loosheesh If I were to buy bread straight from the bakery and it was over salty or undercooked I would tell them when I went back in. That way they would know to pay more attention to what is going into their dough. If I’m spending money on something then I am going to state my opinon to someone. Also, I never said “tell her how to write the book” I was saying tell everyone how it would’ve been better for you. I understand that reviews are for readers not solely for the author. But authors do look at reviews, as evidenced by the fact that Rachel Van Dyken responded and told Jennie thanks for the review and for reading her book even if she didn’t enjoy it. Not all authors care what people have to say they just take the money and write something else. But there are authors out there that care what fans, reviewers and even people who don’t like their books have to say. It makes them better authors and helps them produce material you might enjoy later. Just my opinion.

    @Carolyne what I was getting at by saying they would be boring or dull is because if you took the millions of implausible books and all made them plausible situations there really wouldn’t be any new situations to make everything would’ve been covered at some point all you can do when writing at that point is change things a little . There wouldn’t be all these new worlds to discover when reading the implausible. You would discover and learn about new things and be put into new environments with plausible books but the well would dry up and there wouldn’t be anything new to write about. Thats what I was getting at when I said dull/boring.

  73. Carolyne
    Sep 11, 2013 @ 17:42:17

    Hi again, Heather.

    You know that phrase about how there are only [insert your number here] plots anyway? Shakespeare already wrote it all. Plus he was copying from some Greeks who also wrote all the plots. Nothing new under the sun in fiction or fantasy. Well, take that as you will. In any case, I think you’re underestimating the ability of authors to tell stories. To have imaginations. I used to read almost nothing but high fantasy and hard SF until right into university years, thinking anything else would be dull because, hey, it’s just real life and I already know everything about real life. A whole new world opened to me when I stepped beyond that. I think Catch-22 was my gateway drug–absurd and yet so real. From there I began to discover all those millions of plausible situations you’ve set aside.

    Your choice to set them aside, but I’m the annoying lady at the banquet table saying “you don’t know what you’re missing” around a mouthful of delicious treats. Nom.

    One thing I get from reading is insight into what makes humans (or other sentient beings) tick. So my minimum requirement is character consistency. Next is a world that plays consistently by its own rules. I’d give the oddest world a chance if it does that. My reading isn’t limited to a dominant Western form of “realism.”

    But to think the “real world” can ever run out of stories? Maybe the other commenters will have suggestions in the Contemporary Romance category that share some elements with Ms. Van Dyken’s stories. My choices in contemporary, non-sff–looking at what happens to be in Kindle at the moment–tend to roam out of Romance. The Secret History, And Then We Came to the End, On The Road, various mysteries, Set This House In Order. Most of the rest is historical romance–and the author had better get the time period right, or what’s the point in travelling with her?

    In any case, thanks for joining in the discussion. I always enjoy disagreeing because it helps me put my own thoughts together. Sometimes I even change my mind. Not this time :)

  74. Heather
    Sep 11, 2013 @ 17:57:36

    Hi Carolyne!

    I’m not saying by any means that I don’t enjoy books that are plausible. I do enjoy them tremedously. I was just saying that if there weren’t the implausible out there then it would get dull/boring because there are only so many ways the same story can be retold. I enjoy the twists implausible stories give to the same plot lines i’ve heard before or the twist they give on one I’ve never heard before. I just enjoy reading! It makes me happy and takes me away from my day to day life. I get to go to new places and experience new things. That’s what I love about books, any books! Thank you for discussing your thoughts with me and being so polite :) I love disagreeing with people too in the sense that I look at things from a new perspective and can see where they are coming from. Some times I agree and some times I don’t but I always learn something new regardless. Happy reading! :)

  75. Mary
    Sep 11, 2013 @ 20:11:30

    @Jennie:
    Yeah, fantasy and sci-fi need to make sense within their respective worlds. My phrasing was poor; I meant that if Elite was a fantasy novel I would have understood people acting strangely/more cruelly-or if it was a sci-fi I could decide that in the future people do go to tiny colleges that are more like high schools. People should still act like people, but I give more leeway in non-straight contemporary because of worldbuilding. It needs to be good world building, of course, but if it’s not supposed to be a reflection of reality I can handle more implausibilities. For example, in Karen Marie Moning’s Fever books (which I really love), her “hero” (anti-hero? romantic interest of the heroine? I don’t know if Barrons is really a romantic hero?) is often a horrible person. And if she was trying to tell a straight contemporary with him as a character, I wouldn’t buy it. But because he’s supposed to be a super old not quite human character, I buy it.
    This is all probably still really clumsy-this is a difficult issue to talk about. Maybe a better example is Janet Evanovich. I like the early Stephanie Plum novels-not realistic situations, but the characters seem true if a little absurd. They had reasons for their actions. But the later ones the characters almost became stereotypes of themselves acting without reason, and that’s when I gave up on the books.
    I guess-this book would intrigue me more if it had an unrealistic setting but realistic characters? Although I might still be angered, just because the US college system is one that I am very familiar with. I don’t know.
    Anyways this was probably just an unnecessary tangent but I wanted to try and explain myself better. I’m not sure if I did.

  76. Kaetrin
    Sep 11, 2013 @ 23:28:52

    @Heather I’m curious as to the way you read a book like you’ve never read anything else before.

    I go into each book as if its the first book I’ve ever read. I don’t go in comparing it to other books that I have read from the same genre or that I have read in general.

    I can’t do that myself and I do have expectations for books going in. At base, if I’m reading a romance, I expect a HEA/HFN and if I don’t get it the book is a wallbanger and has not met the requirements of the genre. In a crime thriller I expect the crime to be solved. In a George RR Martin book I expect most of the characters will die (har). I do compare books by the same author and in the same genre – I think as a reviewer, it’s helpful to readers to say “If you liked x then I think you will like y” or “I liked this book better than book z by the same author” because then readers have a context for the review. And, ultimately, a grade only means something when it is compared to something else. How could I judge whether a romance was successful as a romance without knowing and having expectations of the genre beforehand?

    Perhaps I’ve misunderstood your point here? It may be of course that you are just a different kind of reader than I am (which is fine). The kind of reading you do must be very exciting (like, bungee-jumping exciting) but frankly, it fills me with terror.

  77. Isobel Carr
    Sep 12, 2013 @ 10:05:06

    @Heather:

    Why not tell us in your review what could’ve made the book better for you as the reader. You never really told me what you were expecting and what would’ve made it more enjoyable for you.

    I’m unclear on why anyone should conform to someone else’s requirements for their reviews.

    The review as written makes a pretty good case for what would have made the book more enjoyable for the reviewer (aka the opposite of what was there: plausibility, logic, believable world building, comprehendible character motivations, etc.). The author stopped by, so if she truly wanted to learn from this review, she was given plenty of information to work with (and clearly there was plenty there to allow for reader discussion).

  78. Jane
    Sep 12, 2013 @ 10:33:52

    My interpretation of Heather’s issues were not in regards to the review, but in the comments. Comments just aren’t reviews. They are often off the cuff remarks or responses to the review itself. I don’t think we can have the same expectation for comments as we do for reviews. At least we don’t have that requirement here at Dear Author.

  79. Kim T
    Sep 12, 2013 @ 14:45:47

    Even the most implausible situation can be thought plausible due to the author’s care in writing and creating a story. As a reader, I’ll believe anything as long as it is logical and I understand the world. That includes contemporary despite “knowing” the world. Romance is full of contemporary implausible situations that are made believable by the author. In Elite (which I haven’t read and don’t plan to ’cause the characters sound horrible eitehr way), for Jennie, the implausible made no sense–it wasn’t grounded in enough reality for her to accept a 20 year old-ish Mafia boss in college. Could that scenario work? Sure. I could buy that if it made sense. It doesn’t seem like it makes sense. An author’s job is to make the plausible and implausible make sense. Now, the mileage on that varies for each reader – something authors struggle with all the time. That’s why we have as many books and authors as we have readers.

  80. V
    Sep 14, 2013 @ 09:18:15

    ELITE sounds A LOT like the Japanese manga-series-turned-television show in multiple Asian countries(Japan/Taiwan/South Korea) called Hana Yori Dango [Boys Over Flowers]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boys_Over_Flowers

    - The girl getting a scholarship in a very expensive school
    - The F4 or the Elite in the group
    - The arrogant hero

    Even the egg-pelting was there. Hmm.

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