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Dear Author May 2013 Recommended Reads

This month we are weighing heavily on the contemporary side of the romance genre with a few categories and full length novels.  We are trying to add more paranormal and historical reviewers so as to provide good balance to the review selection here at DA.

  • An Invitation to Sin by Sarah Morgan, recommended by Sunita
  • The Seduction Hypothesis by Delphine Dryden, recommended by Dabney
  • Down London Road by Samantha Young, recommended by Kati D and Jane (this one had a difficult heroine but both Kati and I loved her)
  • A Previous Engagement by Karina Bliss, recommended by Jane
  • Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella, recommended by Jayne
  • True by Erin McCarthy, recommended by Jane. I totally forgot about this. Plus we are having the DA Book Club chat on Wednesday regarding this book. (Look to the sidebar for deets)

Historical

  • Untamed by Anna Cowan, recommended by  Dabney  (this is a book subject to some debate here at DA. Some loved it; others had problems with plot issues, etc. Look for our competing reviews)
  • Her Hesitant Heart by Carla Kelly, recommended by Jayne
  • A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn, recommended by Jayne
  • I’ll Be Seeing You by Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyman, recommended by Jayne

Paranormal

  • Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris, recommended by Robin (it’s a good thing Robin liked it or we might get a visit from Anne Rice who is all over the negative reviews at Amazon supporting Charlaine Harris)

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

121 Comments

  1. Jane O
    May 13, 2013 @ 10:29:55

    Having read growlycub’s review of Untamed, I think I’ll pass. Is this what you mean when you say you want something new and different in HR?

  2. L Burns
    May 13, 2013 @ 11:06:30

    Not trying to defend Anne Rice’s actions, but the reviews for “Dead Ever After” over at Amazon are just a mess. Anyone posting a positive review will be immediately down voted and will probably have a snarky comment left on their review accusing them of being a friend of the author or an employee of Penguin. A handful of posters seem to be trolling many of the four and five-star reviews demanding that the reviewer justify their position. Maybe Anne is just trying to even things up a bit, though obviously she’s only adding fuel to the fire.

    At first I found the whole DEA controversy kind of interesting, but it’s turned the corner into “Fans Behaving Badly” on both sides of the aisle. Put a stake in me, I’m done.

  3. Stephanie Scott
    May 13, 2013 @ 11:19:21

    I’m pretty disgusted by how fans are reacting to Charlaine Harris closing out the Sookie series. I am planning to read the last book regardless. I haven’t loved the last 3 or 4 books, it seems the author has gotten restless writing in her own universe, and she probably should have stopped at book 10. I don’t understand why people are so hateful to an author for wanting to move on to something different. I guess they are the same people who sent death threats to that Walking Dead actress because her CHARACTER hurt another CHARACTER. Some people must not understand the line between fiction and reality? Scary.

  4. mari
    May 13, 2013 @ 12:41:54

    @Jane O

    You piqued my interest about growlycub’s review…..oh my. Yeah, not for me.
    At all. But I can see why DA would be all over it.

  5. Jane
    May 13, 2013 @ 12:44:54

    @Jane O – while I think the storyine is definitely new and different, the setting is not. Still big skirted/ton set historical. I really long for different settings and different tropes.

    @mari – DA is not a monolith. What one reader expresses (ie. me) isn’t necessarily reflected by others. Dabney really liked Anna Cowan’s book but my reading of it fell along the lines of Janine who found it fairly mundane. It wasn’t just historically inaccurate for me, but I felt that the entire set up (the gender reversal) didn’t really work like Cowan described it should work.

  6. mari
    May 13, 2013 @ 13:06:00

    @Jane

    DA is not a monolith, but the conversation is dominated by obsessions with race, gender and in general lefttish cultural and sexual politics. Certain things are never discussed here (religion in any serious sense) and other things are not allowed to be said…any commentator who supported traditional marriage or pro-life views would be DOA. This isn’t a complaint, merely an observation. The conversation about romance books and indeed almost all art is dominated by leftish sexual and cultural politics. Hence my comment about Untamed. It might be a badly written book, but since it touches on so many of the prevalent themes around here, it goes without saying that it would be picked up and discussed.

  7. Ridley
    May 13, 2013 @ 13:06:09

    I find it disappointing that such a problematic book like the Raybourn book is a recommended read. You’re recommending a book that romanticizes colonialism and spousal abuse.

  8. Jane
    May 13, 2013 @ 13:08:14

    @mari – yes, race and gender is important to some of us but what is this “traditional marriage” of which you speak? Because I’m a big proponent of marriage.

  9. Sunita
    May 13, 2013 @ 14:07:33

    @mari: It’s also been talked up a lot on Twitter and by authors who are well reviewed by DA’s contributors and readers. So that spurred a lot of interest as well.

    Have you read the book? I have, and I would say that while its themes may appear PC, leftist, or whatever word you’d like to apply, it actually reinforces stereotypes rather than subverting them. It even features that most durable of romance tropes: after sex with the hero, everything in the heroine’s life (and the life of her family, which she has sacrificed herself for) becomes magically better. Everyone acquires agency and the ability to stand up for themselves. They even become less impoverished and find true love! It’s the magical wang at its most magical.

  10. Sunita
    May 13, 2013 @ 14:09:23

    @Ridley: It’s not a book I want to read, and I have both emotions and intellectual arguments about why such themes are problematic. But as Jane said, DA is not a monolith. And since I can easily point to books I read that have problematic aspects, I’m not comfortable telling my friends and co-reviewers what they should and shouldn’t be reading. Glass houses and all.

    ETA: I’m not saying Recommended Reads choices shouldn’t be criticized, but that’s quite different from saying that DA’s reviewers shouldn’t recommend them.

  11. Aisha
    May 13, 2013 @ 14:20:44

    Huh. I never considered myself ‘obsessed’ with race and gender, but if its a choice between that and not caring about either, I’ll gladly accept the characterisation. And hold on to your seats boys and girls, because I’m not vaguely ‘leftish’ but very firmly left, with strong and abiding socialist sympathies. Alas, there go my plans to sway the DA community to the cause and have us all sing the Internationale together.

    @mari: But seriously, out of interest, do you think that human rights discourses and instruments, like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, are also manifestations of these “leftish sexual and cultural politics”?

    @Ridley: I hope people will read the discussion there (following he review) and, more importantly, the alternate review linked to by MD at the end before making up their minds about the recommendation.

  12. Ridley
    May 13, 2013 @ 14:21:15

    @Sunita: I like lots of things with problematic elements. What I don’t do, though, is tell people they should read them, at least not without warning them that it has problems.

    Recommendations are an explicit “You should read this. It’s good.” It just seems odd to say that of this particular book.

  13. Aisha
    May 13, 2013 @ 14:29:59

    Huh. I never considered myself ‘obsessed’ with race and gender, but if its a choice between that and not caring about either, I’ll gladly accept the characterisation. And hold on to your seats boys and girls, because I’m not vaguely ‘leftish’ but very firmly left, with strong and abiding socialist sympathies. Alas, there go my plans to sway the DA community to the cause and have us all sing the Internationale together.

    @mari: But seriously, out of interest, do you think that human rights discourses and instruments like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are also manifestations of these “leftish sexual and cultural politics”?

    @Ridley: I hope people will read the discussion there (following the review) and, more importantly, the alternate review linked to by MD at the end before making up their minds about the recommendation.

  14. Dabney
    May 13, 2013 @ 14:30:22

    @Sunita: Are you talking about the Rayburn or the Cowan here?

  15. Sunita
    May 13, 2013 @ 14:33:58

    @Dabney: My comment to @Mari was about the Cowan. My comment to @Ridley was about the Raybourn.

  16. leslie
    May 13, 2013 @ 14:40:53

    I am a little bemused by a few of the books on the “recommended” list, but more than disappointed I am offended that the Raybourn book is on the list. To say A Spear of Summer Grass has problematic elements is definitely an understatement IMHO.

  17. Aisha
    May 13, 2013 @ 14:41:38

    I’ve posted the same thing twice, but it appears to have stalled (both times). Apologies if there’s a double-post.

  18. GrowlyCub
    May 13, 2013 @ 14:42:21

    I find it pretty shocking that a book that is so incredibly homophobic while touting to embrace ‘the other’ is a recommended read. And that doesn’t address the writing craft issues or the total lack of period knowledge.

    I’ve already said all I have to say about the Raybourn. Non-Monolithic or not, a ‘DA recommends’ will sell books and, boy, do these two books ever *not* deserve to be bought and read.

  19. Sunita
    May 13, 2013 @ 14:51:17

    @Aisha: I fished it out of spam (no idea why it wound up there).

  20. Jane
    May 13, 2013 @ 14:53:46

    @Sunita and @Aisha – it had two links. Any comment with two or more links ends up in spam. That’s why AJH’s comments are always in the spam folder. We used to have a whitelist plugin but that thing was outdated and doesn’t work anymore. So you just have to hit us up by alerting us to a disappearing comment.

  21. Ros
    May 13, 2013 @ 14:53:51

    @mari: I support traditional marriage and am pro-life and I am a regular commenter here.

  22. Dabney
    May 13, 2013 @ 14:55:20

    @GrowlyCub: Well, as you’ll see tomorrow, I disagree.

  23. willaful
    May 13, 2013 @ 14:55:51

    @L Burns: Wow, I guess giving it 2 stars at GoodReads was about the safest position I could have taken. :-\

  24. willaful
    May 13, 2013 @ 14:59:00

    @Aisha: Aisha, do you have a blog or are you on GoodReads? Because I wanna stalk you. :-)

  25. Ridley
    May 13, 2013 @ 15:01:40

    @willaful: +1

    I want Aisha to come play on Twitter too. She’s wicked smaht.

  26. Jill Sorenson
    May 13, 2013 @ 15:19:21

    @Ridley: I’m interested in reading it. I might agree that it’s awful and offensive, or I might not. We don’t all agree about what makes a book good, bad or problematic. If we did, what’s to discuss? I’m glad these issues are being taken seriously, but I also see value in an exchange of ideas and multiple perspectives.

    For an example, someone just did a feminist critique of one of my novels, saying this:

    “the book ended up being the typical woman in danger, man comes to the rescue affair, with a hint of implicit ideology suggesting that poor Latinos need to be saved (through romance) by white love interests”

    That book was recommended here. I’m not saying my book isn’t problematic or that Raybourn’s isn’t, but that everything is subjective. Many books with abusive-sounding heroes and problematic themes have been recommended here. Jane once pointed out that a book you enjoyed (a Western, maybe by Edie Harris?) came across as problematic to her with regards to race issues. Does that change your opinion of the book or cause you to withdraw your positive review/rec?

  27. L Burns
    May 13, 2013 @ 15:33:45

    @willaful:

    At least you won’t get “Riced” or be asked to support your opinion by quoting passages verbatim from books one through thirteen! On the other hand, a two star review on Amazon (even if it only says “Ugh. Hate book. Author just wants money”), would get you around 200 votes in about 15 minutes.

    Overall more balance on GR, but I hate scrolling through all the ever annoying GIFs to get to the actual reviews.

  28. Dabney
    May 13, 2013 @ 15:36:05

    @Jill Sorenson: And why does every book have to be first and foremost judged on moral grounds? People disagree about morality–for example, the pro-life/pro-choice issue is one that both sides claim the high ground. Enjoying something doesn’t necessarily imply acceptance of its stance. I may like the movie “The Wizard of Oz” but that doesn’t mean I think its dismissal of green people is acceptable. Or, slightly more seriously, I may like Leon Uris’s book “Trinity” but that doesn’t mean I share all of this views about the Catholic church. (Although, I actually do, but I digress.)

    I judge a book by many things and its presentation of sex, gender, culture, race, and/or religion is just one aspect. I don’t think that implies I’m insensitive to those issues.

  29. MaryK
    May 13, 2013 @ 15:36:07

    I want a review to be the reviewer’s personal experience of reading a book. If she doesn’t notice problematic things, then she doesn’t notice. That’s why there are so many different reviews of any given book.

    I’m not comfortable with reviewers screening books against an outside list of approved/banned topics. Reviewers are not my social conscience. I want only reviewers’ personal interactions with the contents of books.

  30. Ridley
    May 13, 2013 @ 15:43:54

    @Jill Sorenson:

    Jane once pointed out that a book you enjoyed (a Western, maybe by Edie Harris?) came across as problematic to her with regards to race issues. Does that change your opinion of the book or cause you to withdraw your positive review/rec?

    Like I said upthread: I like lots of things with problematic themes, but I don’t single those out to recommend to others, or I add a warning to my rec. And, yes, if a comment points out a troubling element I missed, it does change my opinion of the book and makes me less likely to recommend it. As an example, after Jessica (formerly of RRR) pointed to the troubling use of rape in Barbara Samuels’ A Bed of Spices, I’ve been less enthusiastic about suggesting it to others.

    Recommending something is different than reviewing something positively. It’s an endorsement. And, given the site’s culture, I’m surprised that this site is endorsing a book like Raybourn’s.

  31. hapax
    May 13, 2013 @ 15:57:30

    @mari — Wow. Just wow.

    I’m hardly the most prolific commentator here, but I never before realized that my “lefttish cultural and sexual politics” made it impossible for me to discuss “religion in any serious sense.”

    So I guess that my vehement disagreement with a positive review of a particular”sexy vicar” novel that I found a-historical, contemptuous, and downright sacrilegious was actually mocked and censored instead of being engaged with respectfully?

    So I guess that all the positive and enthusiastic recommendations of “inspirational” romances, both in reviews and comment threads, were all meant satirically?

    So I guess that all the effort put into reviewing books with Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and other diverse protagonists wasn’t “serious”, because they weren’t evangelical Protestants?

    Gosh, I’ve got to learn to pick up these nuances better…

  32. Robin/Janet
    May 13, 2013 @ 16:14:48

    I think any of us reading genre Romance have got to cop to the fact that the genre is REPLETE with traditional lots of stuff, including racial hierarchies, gender hierarchies, cultural hierarchies, sexual identity hierarchies, etc. I don’t know how in the hell anyone who really hated “traditional marriage” could even stand to read the genre.

    But just because a genre is problematic in the way it deals with issues does not make it unreadable or unworthy of reading (I’d throw SFF out here as another good example).

    Also, what one reader picks up in one book, another won’t, because of the differential ways in which each of us are sensitized, raised, educated, socialized, situated, etc. For example, I think Westerns are among the worst offenders in terms of glorifying colonialism, even many of the books in that subgenre I’ve found enjoyable. But there can also be some interesting and compelling examples of subversion in Westerns, even if they do not eliminate other problems.

    Most books, I’ve found, are kind of a mix — progressive in some ways, reactionary in others, with reading often about balancing elements, adding sides up and seeing where the reader comes out with the book in the end. And the tally is going to be different among different readers, legitimately so, IMO.

    Consequently, I think one of the difficulties when dismissing one book or another is that the harder the line the reader takes, the more difficult it is to avoid looking the hypocrite when — IMO inevitably — the reader will love a book someone else finds intolerable for any number of (often perfectly legitimate) reasons.

    From the POV of “studying” the genre, I find some of the more overtly problematic books the most interesting, because I think they’re often struggling with issues rather than merely proselytizing about them. However, because so many of those books basically advertise their problems so loudly, they can be easy to dismiss as “bad.” But what’s “worse” in that way — being out there with the issues, or being quiet, subtle, under the surface? For example, I’l still not at all convinced that Captive Prince is subversive, but it’s been praised here and elsewhere as just that. Is there like a critical mass of opinion at which point a book is “okay” or not? Whatever “okay” is?

    Not that I think people should hold back their articulation of problems with books, because that’s what reading is all about, and there is so much potential insight to be gained from other people’s perspectives. I just think it’s pretty much impossible to hold the blanket judgments fail-safe from self-contradiction (which can, over time, undermine the perceived validity of otherwise sound objections).

  33. Aisha
    May 13, 2013 @ 16:48:11

    I do not approve of censorship and think that people should make up their own minds about what they read, but, MaryK and especially Dabney and Jill, to suggest that we do not have a common moral code is disingenuous. From the moment human beings decided to give up their nomadic lifestyle and adopt settlements, there have been rules that allow people to live together in relative harmony. When those rules are broken we have, at the extreme, the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide. It is of course a false equivalence to compare those horrors to this, but the point is that certain basic rules can and should be seen as necessary and, to apply it more concretely here, as determining how we judge cultural products. So I hope we can all agree that a book that glorifies fascism and genocide SHOULD NOT be recommended.

    If you do agree with this, the *only* points of contention are 1) what, beyond the above-mentioned, are those commonly held morals, and by extension what is deemed unacceptable… I would hope that racism, misogyny and homophobia make the list at the very least; 2) differing interpretations of what constitutes them, as Robin/Janet points out. This is more difficult perhaps but that’s where I think community interaction and discussion, as we have here, plays a part.

    Please note that I am not suggesting here that books that contain these possibly problematic moral positions should not be reviewed, but that I would like it if recommendations try to take this into account.

  34. Jane
    May 13, 2013 @ 16:55:14

    @Aisha: Actually it isn’t disingenuous (insincere, false, devious) to say that we all have a differing moral code. For example, if genocide and fascism is the base at which we say books shouldn’t be recommended then what shall we do with say Captive Prince (http://dearauthor.com/book-reviews/overall-a-reviews/a-reviews/review-captive-prince-by-s-u-pacat/), a book reviewed favorably here and recommended by all sorts of people?

    What we do here at Dear Author is write our reviews which attempt to explain how we felt about the book and what the book contained. From there, the readers who visit this site are free to draw their own conclusions about whether the book works for them. We do not inhibit commenters from disagreeing or pointing out things in the book that they find objectionable (even if they’ve not read the book). The whole point of the review is to start a conversation. If the review sparks disagreement and disapprobation, then that’s what it sparks.

    We aren’t going to run the book through a morality mill to determine whether the subject matter of the book meets some arbitrary line of acceptableness, whatever that may be.

  35. Janine
    May 13, 2013 @ 16:57:18

    @Robin/Janet: I praised Captive Prince for a lot of great qualities, but I don’t recall that subversiveness was one of them. Am I misremembering?

  36. Jill Sorenson
    May 13, 2013 @ 17:06:53

    @Ridley: I don’t see the difference between a general rec and a positive review. They are one and the same at this site (aren’t they?). Maybe books shouldn’t be recommended by DA unless 2 or more reviewers agree. That would mean fewer recs. I’m okay with it either way. A double rec IS more likely to get my attention. But even with that change (which I’m not really even suggesting) problematic books will be recommended. No one will agree on every troubling issue.

    I admit to liking some problematic things. I think you’ve mentioned Jay-Z’s 99 Problems on twitter. I don’t care about the offensiveness; it’s catchy. When a romance is offensive, however, I can’t enjoy it. Noticing issues that are large enough to call a book problematic = no rec from me.

    I’m also not likely to change my opinion of a book after the fact. I try to be open minded, because otherwise I can’t learn new things, and I do think we can miss flaws or be insensitive to certain issues because of privilege. But sometimes differences of opinion are just that. Two careful readers can have opposite perspectives.

  37. Ros
    May 13, 2013 @ 17:09:33

    I think the main problem seems to be the difference between a review – even a positive review in which the reviewer explains what she liked about the book and why – and a recommendation. A review allows other readers to engage and discuss and decide if they want to read the book themselves. A recommendation seems like it’s saying ‘We think you should read this book’, whereas what I think you’re actually doing with these posts is saying ‘These are the books our reviewers really liked this month.’ So maybe, rethinking the ‘recommended’ label would help to change the perception of these posts and clear up some of these problems?

  38. Jane
    May 13, 2013 @ 17:12:39

    @Ros – The Recommended Reads post is a monthly roundup of all the recommended reads reviewed here in the month. There is no difference. There is a link to the review. In the review, it is tagged “Recommended Read” with a label. This isn’t going to change. I trust that the DA Readers are able to make the connection between the linked review and the recommendation and come up with their own conclusion as to whether the book is for them.

  39. Janine
    May 13, 2013 @ 17:15:10

    @Jane: Yeah, and what about Heat by R. Lee Smith (http://dearauthor.com/book-reviews/overall-b-reviews/b-plus-reviews/review-heat-by-r-lee-smith/), which I’m afraid to read? (According to a friend who read both, in terms of rape and violence it’s worse than Captive Prince). It was well-reviewed here and lots of readers were glad to have discovered it.

    I’m a little stunned that people want us to vet books on the basis of their values. We might as well throw out the whole genre if we do this — especially if gender equality and nonviolence are yardsticks.

  40. Ros
    May 13, 2013 @ 17:17:27

    @Jane: Well, maybe. But it seems from the comments to this post that not everyone makes that leap.

  41. Jane
    May 13, 2013 @ 17:18:11

    @Janine: Good point. Heat blew my mind. It was such an uncomfortable read yet completely engaging. I couldn’t stop reading. Comfort Food by Kitty Thomas was recommended to me and I still shudder in horror when I think about that book (totally Stockholm syndrome in the worse possible way). Yet, Thomas is recommended by many people, including some in this thread, who are suggesting certain books shouldn’t be recommended.

  42. Jane
    May 13, 2013 @ 17:19:06

    @Ros: Not really. The people who are disagreeing with the Raybourne recommendation actually participated heavily in the review thread. So I don’t see anyone “confused” by the recommendation other than they just don’t want it to be recommended.

  43. Ridley
    May 13, 2013 @ 17:27:05

    @Jane:

    Thomas is recommended by many people, including some in this thread, who are suggesting certain books shouldn’t be recommended.

    If you mean me, you’re mistaken. I’m not a fan of Kitty Thomas at all.

    And, whatever, I reserve the right to be disappointed to see lazily offensive books get good press.

  44. Robin/Janet
    May 13, 2013 @ 17:37:51

    @Janine: You didn’t use the word, but I think your whole review and all of the discussion we had about the book on Sunita’s blog turns precisely on that concept (e.g. everything you think in Vol 1 is overturned in Vol 2 etc.).

    But I hope you know I wasn’t criticizing your review. The bigger point I’m trying to make is that sensitive, aware, intelligent people can disagree on what makes a book “offensive.”

    For example, reading through the comments here, I’m struck by the extensive use of vigilante justice in Romance, and yet few people seem to talk about it. Is that part of our supposedly universal code? Cause I wish we’d spend like a tenth of the time we spend talking about sex in the Rom community and talk about the extensive, casual, and often positive representation of violence in the genre.

  45. Jane
    May 13, 2013 @ 17:38:33

    @Ridley: You are right. It was Annabel Joseph you recommended to me wherein the hero rapes the heroine while she is drugged up and intentionally impregnates her against her will so she won’t dance again.

  46. Ridley
    May 13, 2013 @ 17:56:07

    @Jane: Not me on the hook for that one, either. I’ve read two or three of hers, not that one though, and would recommend her books only to certain people I know, and with a list of reservations.

    You’re trying to call me a hypocrite because I enjoy non-con erotica, but I’m the first to volunteer that those books are a mountain of trouble to be read only by those willing to go there. Unless one of them ever manages to say something profoundly moving using the subject matter, I’d never suggest them to anyone not looking for that theme in particular.

  47. MaryK
    May 13, 2013 @ 17:56:51

    @Aisha:

    to suggest that we do not have a common moral code

    Is that what I suggested? I must be a more profound thinker than I realized. I thought I was saying that if a reviewer doesn’t notice a moral code violation I don’t want another party overriding the review based on superior moral insight. I want to know what the reviewer thought not what somebody else thinks the reviewer should’ve thought. Community interaction and discussion is all well and good, but it comes afterward so how can it impact the original review/recommendation?

    [As for whether we share a common moral code, I'd have to say if we do it's only on a very basic level. My moral code would include not stealing, not killing, not committing adultery. Plenty of people think they can help themselves to anything they can access. Plenty of people think abortion is not killing because fetuses aren't alive. Plenty of people think pleasing themselves trumps monogamy. Where's the commonality? Would you agree that a book glorifying socialism should not be recommended?]

    I am not suggesting here that books that contain these possibly problematic moral positions should not be reviewed, but that I would like it if recommendations try to take this into account.

    They can be reviewed but not positively? Readers can make up their own minds but not like and enjoy possibly problematic books?

  48. Jane
    May 13, 2013 @ 18:01:49

    @Ridley – the point is that we all have recommended books that others find disturbing. Take Wild Burn, which you actively recommended to me and others. In fact your goodreads review (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16103311-wild-burn) says “this book was great, and you should read it when it comes out.”

    I did try this book, looking for non Regency historicals. By the first third of this novella, I got to read lines like this “But he’d noticed that John was more…well…white than any other Indian he’d met. He didn’t fit into the square space Del had set aside in his mind for the savages he hunted, which was likely for the best.”

    And John, who was called John because apparently his already Anglicized name of White Horse was too difficult to use by the others said this:

    “You need to know, Miss Tully, that not every Indian is a good Indian. Even within my people, the Cheyenne, there are those who would not pause before hurting a white woman. That is why Captain Crawford is here.” His dark, liquid eyes implored her to understand. “He would not be here if there was no need for him. You should not walk alone in the clearing anymore.”

    John even urges his people to “integrate” so they won’t be sent away. I couldn’t even finish the book at that point, it was too “lazily offensive.” Yet, you have no problem urging everyone to read this book.

  49. Ridley
    May 13, 2013 @ 18:09:27

    @Jane: Well, third time’s a charm, right? You’d eventually find the book.

    Well, FWIW, I haven’t recommended it to anyone since you pointed that out to me a while back. I figured I should re-read it and see what I missed before I keep singing its praises, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet.

    I guess I kinda expected Jayne to do the same thing after the discussion on her review. That’s my fault for projecting, I suppose.

  50. MaryK
    May 13, 2013 @ 18:11:45

    @Aisha:

    certain basic rules can and should be seen as necessary and, to apply it more concretely here, as determining how we judge cultural products

    From my perspective, I am the judge of whether cultural products meet standards, moral or otherwise. I want unfiltered data from reviewers – what they really think of books, not what they think according to the moral code (or what they think according to marketers). If they don’t think a book is problematic, that’s what I want to know. If they do think a book is problematic, that’s what I want to know.

    [Why do I always think of these things after I've spent half an hour composing a comment?]

  51. Jane
    May 13, 2013 @ 18:20:31

    @Ridley – not really. I know you recommended that Joseph book to me. She was completely unknown to me at the time. You can disclaim it if you want, though.

  52. Ridley
    May 13, 2013 @ 18:26:42

    @Jane: Nope. Not me. In fact, I haven’t read the ballet book because of you. You mentioned the for-your-own-good rape and I’m all set with that in a romance.

  53. MaryK
    May 13, 2013 @ 18:32:59

    @Robin/Janet:

    I’m struck by the extensive use of vigilante justice in Romance, and yet few people seem to talk about it. Is that part of our supposedly universal code?

    I’ll just go all out today and say abstinence before marriage is part of my moral code. So my genre of choice pretty much universally violates my own moral code. Whatcha gonna do? It’s all fiction anyway?

  54. Janine
    May 13, 2013 @ 18:33:32

    @Robin/Janet: Hmm. I didn’t see my review or comments in terms of subversion. I was thinking of the way the POV character’s blind spots which I shared at the beginning gradually revealed themselves, as well as the ways his perceptions shifted and kept shifting (and I suspect will continue to do so in volume 3).

    I don’t see that as being the same as subversive, because when I think of a subversive book, I think of one where the reading experience challenges our own social and political power structures. One where gender roles, for example, may play out in unconventional ways.

    I do think the way the author uses the POV character’s perceptions to both conceal and reveal is unconventional (and to me, it was thrilling), but I view that as a matter of technique, and of the political game within the novel, rather than as something that challenges our own real world power structures.

  55. Robin/Janet
    May 13, 2013 @ 18:49:23

    @Janine: I also re-read through the discussion we had on Sunita’s blog, where IMO you were pushing back against the issues Sunita and I were having with the Orientalism and the slavery, and I don’t know how to read those comments any differently. Especially your exchanges with Sarah P (who does use the term subversive explicitly), and your comment here: http://vacuousminx.wordpress.com/2013/03/08/notes-on-captive-prince-volume-1-first-half/#comment-3596, where you say, in response to Sunita’s concerns re. slavery:

    “First, I don’t know if your criticism and objections will be answered if you keep reading, I only know that mine were. ”

    Maybe we’re still operating off different definitions of subversive. I didn’t get that impression during the course of that debate, but maybe we’re just coming from different places on that.

    Still, I’m not criticizing your review, just using the book as an example of how different people will have different opinions of books.

    And one of the reasons I’ve held off with CP is that I’m still trying to finish it, and I don’t think it’s fair to definitively address an issue of such importance if I haven’t finished reading the book.

  56. MaryK
    May 13, 2013 @ 19:09:46

    @Ridley:

    I’d never suggest them to anyone not looking for that theme in particular.

    Isn’t that what happens here though? Reviews are identified by theme and graded by what the reviewer thought of them; sometimes they’re graded up or down based on how well the theme is executed. Maybe I’m assuming too much, but I’d never blindly buy a recommended book. I’d find out the subject matter at the very least.

  57. Aisha
    May 13, 2013 @ 19:33:39

    @Jane: I’m confused. 1st – I skimmed through that review (I haven’t read the books) and I do not see in that any indication that they glorify fascism and/or genocide, so I’m not sure why you raise it in that context? 2nd – I concede that I was not clear on this, but to me Janine’s review is precisely what I would suggest is responsible in this regard. She reviews the book(s), notes problematic issues and explains why she recommends it regardless (bearing in mind again that I am judging this purely on the review). 3rd – I was not suggesting “a morality mill”, but that there are certain…. triggers shall we say (I’ll come back to common moral codes later), that it would be helpful to have pointed out and that the reviewer could possibly try to perhaps expound upon and explain why the book is recommended (if it is) despite that. 4th – comment 42 “The people who are disagreeing with the Raybourne recommendation…” – In my initial comment, while the disagreement is heavily implied, I direct people who are interested to the review thread, so for me that dealt with that. 5th – And this now applies to Jane, Janet and more directly than before to MaryK (as well as Janine to some extent) – My initial point stands. Are you seriously suggesting that we lack a common code (even if it is, as MaryK suggests, very basic)? On what basis than do we interact? What prevents me from acting in my self-interest to your detriment? If it is the ‘law’, where do laws come from? I do not deny that these codes are flagrantly and frequently violated, but they still exist. Much of it is spelt out in the laws, agreements and understandings that govern our interactions on multiple levels, and most of these are nationally bound, but there are universal ones as well, one of which is the UDHR. These might be subject to interpretation and contestation, but they nevertheless DO exist.

    And MaryK – “I must be a more profound thinker than I realized”
    Yes, I do sometimes give people more credit than they are due, but I interpreted that from your saying in your initial post “I’m not comfortable with reviewers screening books against an outside list of approved/banned topics”. I trust that the rest of your points have been addressed above?
    But one last point from my side – Comment 50 – “I want unfiltered data from reviewers” – unfiltered in what sense? We are all governed to some extent by our subjectivities and I think it would be helpful and responsible for reviewers, and in fact anyone in a public space, given a public forum in which to express their opinions, to at least try to engage in some reflexivity and, to use the language that is so common here, to examine and be aware of their privileges when reviewing. If that process can be assisted by some pre-identified markers of privilege, why not?

    But these are just my opinions, make of them what you will.

  58. Janine
    May 13, 2013 @ 19:41:45

    @Robin/Janet: My initial concerns/objections were that the slavery, violence and sexual violence would prove to be gratuitous and/or that I would feel they had been intended merely to titillate and it is these that by the end of the reading experience, I felt had been unfounded. I think Sunita’s concerns went beyond that, but I don’t want to speak for her.

    Sorry if I’m frustrating you. I get tetchy (probably too much so) when I start feeling I haven’t communicated clearly. I hope you do finish the books because I’m sure you’d have something interesting to say about them.

    To get back to the broader topic, I don’t often use the word subversive to describe books, unless I’m speaking of subverting reader expectations (which to me is again, more a matter of technique), for the same reasons I don’t call many books feminist.

    These have to do with a lot of what you said in comment # 32. I think the acts of reading and writing can be subversive, and books can have subversive elements in them. To a certain extent, any time a writer steps outside a box in her writing, there is a rebellious impulse there.

    But fiction, and genre fiction, where we have to have a satisfying conclusion to the story, in particular, also has to adhere and conform to aesthetic and social conventions. It is almost impossible to produce a satisfying book that subverts and doesn’t also adhere.

    Additionally, novels are the products of the human imagination, and therefore often carry with them the human flaws, biases and prejudices of their authors. Some are less problematic than others, but all of them are problematic, ultimately.

  59. Robin/Janet
    May 13, 2013 @ 19:48:31

    @Aisha: Wait, are you suggesting that we should be reading and recommending Romance novels in compliance with the UDHR? And how would that even be accomplished?

  60. Jill Sorenson
    May 13, 2013 @ 19:55:30

    @Dabney: I don’t think every book needs to be judged on these issues, but authors who tackle sensitive subjects should anticipate more scrutiny. I’m sure Raybourn considered this when she decided to write a book from a colonialist perspective. I worry about my characters coming off as stereotypes. Many authors write about rape and its effects. We can’t just collect praise for doing something unique or difficult without accepting the criticism.

    Which doesn’t mean that reviewers who don’t notice or mention problems are less sensitive, necessarily. Rebecca Rogers-Mayer wrote a fantastic piece about rape in romance, and one of her recommended books was criticized by Brie Clementine as a poor example. Two sensitive readers, two different perspectives.

    Great discussion–thanks all.

  61. Dabney
    May 13, 2013 @ 20:29:14

    @Jill Sorenson: I didn’t mean to imply you thought that. Sorry. I was trying to build on your point. I thought your earlier comment was on the mark.

    @Aisha:

    We are all governed to some extent by our subjectivities and I think it would be helpful and responsible for reviewers, and in fact anyone in a public space, given a public forum in which to express their opinions, to at least try to engage in some reflexivity and, to use the language that is so common here, to examine and be aware of their privileges when reviewing. If that process can be assisted by some pre-identified markers of privilege, why not?

    This is mind-boggling to me. Are you saying that every time I, or anyone in a public space (which is, what?, anywhere I don’t live in?) expresses an opinion I should preface it by listing the myriad (in my case) ways I am privileged? And that my work as a reviewer should also be accompanied by that same list? Not only is this invasive, it’s unworkable.

    On Friday, I have a review coming out about a book in which the heroine is a self-described thirty pounds overweight. Should I have, prior to writing about her, confessed I’m fairly thin? When I review historical romance, should I cite my Anglo-Saxon background? If I review a book with working class protagonists should I make it clear I’m firmly in the white collar world?

    To me this implies that my reviews aren’t valid unless I share with readers who I am in my non-reviewing life. Perhaps I’m reading you wrong and if I am I apologize.

  62. Kaetrin
    May 13, 2013 @ 20:53:31

    FWIW I always thought that the “DA Recommends” label was given for a book which had been graded a B/B+ (I think some reviewers have a different line in the sand?). There are plenty of books with problematic themes which are positively reviewed (and in my view this means recommended) here and elsewhere. I don’t think DA needs to be the genre police.

  63. Janine
    May 13, 2013 @ 23:03:21

    @Kaetrin B/B+ and upwards is my line in the sand; I don’t know if it’s exactly the same for others but basically it boils down to is it a book I would recommend to others? And I judge that based on my feeling about the whole, rather than about parts.

    @Aisha: I’m glad you feel I handled that review well but I feel compelled to point out that while I try to point out triggers and problematic aspects when reviewing (this hasn’t always been the case; in hindsight, I wish I’d done a better job of that with some of my past reviews) there’s no policy that obligates reviewers to do so. Not in reviews, much less in “DA Recommends” columns where we don’t indicate anything more than whether we thought the book was good.

    If there were, we would all fail at that at times as one person’s trigger can go over another’s head. Some readers don’t see Anti-Semitism in Heyer’s The Grand Sophy, but to me it is evident it is there; similarly, there have been instances of racism and cultural appropriation that have gone over my head and had to be pointed out to me. I’m glad they were pointed out, and that is one of the things comments are for. Commenters are always welcome to point out anything the reviewers missed.

  64. Lynn S.
    May 13, 2013 @ 23:14:04

    The Cowan book sounds like a breathless cluster fuck to me, but I’ll be interested to read Dabney’s take on it.

    I’m not surprised by the problems some readers are having with the Raybourn book. I’ve given it a pass because, while I enjoyed the earlier Julia Grey novels, Raybourn has always read very white to me and lately she seems to be poking a stick at the romance genre while still courting its readership. I am making the judgment that any artistry I might find in A Spear of Summer Grass would be trumped by the problems I have with the writer.

    @Aisha:

    We are all governed to some extent by our subjectivities and I think it would be helpful and responsible for reviewers, and in fact anyone in a public space, given a public forum in which to express their opinions, to at least try to engage in some reflexivity and, to use the language that is so common here, to examine and be aware of their privileges when reviewing. If that process can be assisted by some pre-identified markers of privilege, why not?

    Interesting, but overreaching. We are talking about book reviews written by someone other than ourselves, therefore obviously an opinion of someone else and subject to interpretation based on our own intellectual judgment. A recommendation tells me that the reviewer is enamoured, which is enough of a subjective warning for me.

  65. GrowlyCub
    May 13, 2013 @ 23:36:57

    @Lynn S.:

    I’m glad to see your take on Raybourn’s behavior. I had a bit of a run in with her on twitter so I was wondering if that was skewing my perspective but I’ve felt lately that she was pushing to see how far she could go before readers would push back.

  66. Bronte
    May 13, 2013 @ 23:38:18

    Reading this thread has unfortunately given me a twitch somewhere in the middle of my back between my shoulder blades so I apologise in advance if this comes off a little cranky. Why does everything have to come with a warning or disclaimer? I believe the saying goes “you pay your money and you take your chances”. I don’t believe anyone should have to apologise because they enjoyed a book. I have now read Dear Author long enough to know which reviewers seem to share similar tastes to me and which reviewers do not. Occasionally there is a mismatch. Do I regret reading those books? No. Long live individual opinion. Its funny how everyone is anti-censorship until someone else has a different opinion and then we’re very happy to tell them how to think – and what to recommend.

  67. MaryK
    May 14, 2013 @ 01:34:05

    @Aisha:

    there are certain…. triggers shall we say (I’ll come back to common moral codes later), that it would be helpful to have pointed out and that the reviewer could possibly try to perhaps expound upon and explain why the book is recommended (if it is) despite that

    You’re suggesting that we make a list of all the bad things in the world and compare each review to it to see if it passes the no triggers test? The list would have to be cut down somehow so who gets to decide which triggers are more important? What you’re suggesting is very similar to what’s going on in the Amazon reviews for Dead Ever After. Readers who dislike the book are demanding that readers who like the book justify themselves.

    “I want unfiltered data from reviewers” – I want to know what a reviewer’s reaction is to a book without interference from outside constraints and second-guessing. Yes, everyone has their own subjectivities and that’s the point of view I want to see; the one from that reviewer, not that reviewer filtered through some other influence.

    I’m not really getting any clearer here. As an example, through much reading of DA, I’ve discovered that Jane is the reviewer whose tastes most closely match my own. I know in a general way what kinds of books she likes and doesn’t like. I know she has a higher tolerance than I do for suspense and violence themes. If Jane says a book is disturbing, I know it’s not for me. If Jane suddenly starts filtering her reviews through some 3rd party rubric, what happens to my understanding of her reviews? I won’t know if she’s saying what she really thinks or if she’s saying something an outside constraint is requiring of her.

    What prevents me from acting in my self-interest to your detriment? If it is the ‘law’, where do laws come from?

    Ultimately? Only fear of consequences. In my belief? Laws originally came from God and have been corrupted over time. Now we’re stuck with good laws, bad laws, and indifferent laws which may or may not agree with our personal beliefs and moral codes. And from here, I’m fairly certain we can extrapolate differences in moral codes. If moral codes originate from different bases, there are surely going to be differences.

  68. Aisha
    May 14, 2013 @ 03:28:21

    Good morning everyone :)

    Ok @Robin/Janet:
    “Wait, are you suggesting that we should be reading and recommending Romance novels in compliance with the UDHR?”
    No of course not, that would be silly. My 5th point, while related, was specifically about my belief that we do share a common moral code even if it simply as a point of reference (for example, something that people whose rights are violated use as the basis of making these claims, whether on state or on the international community), and not about reviews as such.

    Dabney:
    “Are you saying that every time I, or anyone in a public space (which is, what?, anywhere I don’t live in?) expresses an opinion I should preface it by listing the myriad (in my case) ways I am privileged? And that my work as a reviewer should also be accompanied by that same list?”
    Again, no, of course not (and no apology necessary. I know that writing in a public space – which for me is a space in which you are able to ‘influence’ multiple people – is open to multiple interpretations and that’s the risk we all take. As long as there are opportunities to clarify and the right to respond, its all good). As a reader, I think I would very soon become irritated and annoyed if that were to happen. I am suggesting that, especially when recommending a book, the reviewer be aware of potential triggers or points of contention. This doesn’t mean, for me, changing the style of reviewing (as MaryK suggests in comment 67) or telling reviewers “how to think – and what to recommend” (Bronte, comment 66) but being aware of and sensitive to these.

    The thing is, I think that the reviewers here do try to do that (As Janine notes “this hasn’t always been the case; in hindsight, I wish I’d done a better job of that with some of my past reviews”). I go back to mari’s original point and I kind of see where she is coming from (not about the traditional marriage though), but what she sees as problematic are the things I appreciate at DA – so clearly differing codes, but there is space, I would posit, for all of these.

    So to reiterate my main points, I think that, notwithstanding my last point above, we nevertheless do share a common moral code and that, in this context (for me), and to restate my initial example, means that we would not in good conscience recommend a book that GLORIFIES fascism and genocide – not without many caveats at least. Mein Kampf might be worth studying as an intellectual exercise but would anyone here *recommend* it? That is an extreme example of course, but I use it to make the underlying point as explicit as possible. The question, and the debate for me, is then what precisely are the non-negotiables, and how do we deal with different readings and interpretations of what constitutes them. I don’t have easy answers to that and to some extent that is what we work through as a community and that’s fine (with me). But to suggest that we do not have *any* non-negotiables, that violate a common moral code, remains disingenuous for me.

    Its not about policing the genre, providing warnings and disclaimers or telling people what they should or shouldn’t enjoy. I understand that reading can be, and at best is, a visceral experience and that a book that engaged one’s emotions can lead to other factors (accuracy, apparent prejudice, poor editing, whatever) being downgraded in judging it, but is making note of these for potential readers (where they are picked up of course, given differing subjectivities) really so onerous and/or distasteful (with shades of Big Brother as I think is the concern, at its core, of Bronte and MaryK among others) a task? Added to this, Lynn S “A recommendation tells me that the reviewer is enamoured, which is enough of a subjective warning for me” – maybe it isn’t for me. There are millions of books, and review sites are relied upon, I would assume, to separate the wheat from the chaff, and to mix metaphors, the recommended reads are the pearls that emerge from the dreck, or at least that is my approach to them.

  69. Aisha
    May 14, 2013 @ 04:29:34

    Sorry, just to add, I am working through this myself, and I think that for me, it is really ultimately about the responsibility of the reviewer. You may choose to abrogate or deny this, but I believe that by taking on the task of reviewing and recommending books you are making judgements, often moral ones, even if this is unstated, and trying to persuade others to share your position or to adopt a particular course of action, however subtly (by recommending that a book be read for instance). Of course we are adults and able to make up our own minds, but that doesn’t change the preceding point. I compare this to when I review an article for publication in a journal. I have a responsibility to the writer of the piece, the editors of the journal and, ultimately, the readers, to ensure that that article meets what to me are at least minimum standards. Of course this is subjective but that’s why under the peer review process there are generally multiple reviewers. I’m not suggesting at all that this should be applied here, but I assumed that the sense of responsibility was a common one. And to go back to Dabney’s question, this (like Goodreads, Amazon forums, etc) is a space that is publicly accessable, and all the reviewers are given a platform (and this is of course a privilege) on which to share their views. Commentors, like myself, are similarly allowed to rant and rave almost unimpeded and this too is a privilege, BUT, to use an analogy, I am the heckler (although I hope I am not, in fact, being perceived as heckling) in the audience and the reviewers are on the stage. Respectfully, this means that as reviewers, I hold you to a higher standard since you, for one, get to set the initial parameters of the discussion. I frankly do not envy you this, and I don’t know if all of this is unfair or silly of me, but there it is.

    I keep thinking about the Rwandan genocide, and closer to home the xenophobic violence that broke out in 2008. These horrific acts were preceded by people in the public domain (including the media) identifying certain people as ‘other’ or different, and blaming those groups for (a least some of) our/their societies ills. It made it easier, then, for ordinary people to see those ‘others’ as subhuman and ‘cockroaches’ in Rwanda or amakwerekwere in South Africa. Also, in South Africa during and preceding the World Cup 3 years ago, the national feeling or spirit/’gees’ was both exhilarating and terrifying for me because I was afraid of what that would mean subsequently for the foreigners in our midst. Again, this is a false equivalence to draw here, but it points to the fact that perpetuating prejudicial discourses (even if that is through keeping silent on them) can and does have sometimes horrific consequences.

  70. wikkidsexycool
    May 14, 2013 @ 08:58:04

    @Aisha,

    I know you stated your reasons for not starting a blog. But since you’re an avid reader, why not contact Jane to see if you can become a reviewer for DA? I’m not sure how the process works, but I know I’d really welcome your fresh perspective on some of the currently published (and older) offerings out there.

    OT: I’ve finished reading the contemporary True, and I’m almost done with Raybourn’s novel :)

  71. Meri
    May 14, 2013 @ 09:44:27

    Aisha- I think the issue is that there are different triggers and concerns for different readers, and a reviewer sometimes can’t anticipate what they will be and in some case may not even be aware that other readers might find something problematic. This is where reader comments and responses serve a valuable role, because these can offer a perspective that might not have been considered and as such foster a more in-depth discussion and help other readers become more informed, beyond what one reviewer (or even several reviewers, as is the case at DA) can realistically accomplish.

    Jill Sorenson posted earlier about how one reader perceived something in one of her books that she never intended and I would never have picked up on, because I lack that reader’s perspective and experience. Janine mentioned her issues with perceived antisemitisim in Heyer, which I am also sensitive to but many Jewish readers are not. But just as I couldn’t anticipate that someone might take offense with Jill’s book, by the same token, I can’t expect someone who does not share my own background and experiences to look at Heyer as I do. And others yet might consider things as antisemitic that don’t even appear to me as such. We can listen to each other, and discuss these things, and learn more; but we still won’t have the same point of view or the same life experiences that inform it.

    Of course there is a common moral code, and some things are universal and non-negotiable in real life. But in fiction I imagine us that most of us have read and at times enjoyed books that diverge from our own values and worldview, and I think it is possible to recommend a book even if it is flawed in some ways.

  72. Maili
    May 14, 2013 @ 10:02:34

    @Meri: But there is an in-depth discussion that clearly explains why the book is problematic. So when a recommendation is made in spite of that discussion, it can make some feel there’s no point in having a discussion about future books with similar problems again.

    The recommendation seems to send out a message that says, “Yeah, I know there’re problems, but it’s a good story, so read it anyway” and “sure, some people have problems with this book, but don’t worry, there are other people who enjoyed it. Also, to all authors who want to write this sort of stories, go ahead and write it.”

    The recommendation has – unintentionally – dismissed or invalidated some people’s contributions in that discussion. In ideal world, DA would recognise the discussion by leaving it off the list or add a note to point out that there’re issues with the book and suggest for us to visit the discussion to see why.

  73. Jane
    May 14, 2013 @ 10:13:56

    @Maili

    The recommendation seems to send out a message that says, “Yeah, I know there’re problems, but it’s a good story, so read it anyway” and “sure, some people have problems with this book, but don’t worry, there are other people who enjoyed it. Also, to all authors who want to write this sort of stories, go ahead and write it.”

    I don’t really get this sentiment at all. There is a link to the review and the discussion. There is no dismissal or invalidation of people’s contributions. Deleting the comments or trying to hide the discussion would do that. You see, I assume that people read the blog. It wasn’t so long ago that the discussion existed. That Jayne enjoyed this book and gave it a recommended read at the time means that I include it in a monthly round up. (If I can even remember to do it because, last month, I never got around to it). I’ve read and recommended problematic books and I will continue to do so. We have for the entire existence of Dear Author. Just the other day, I did a DEALS post and included a Johanna Lindsey and said that I enjoyed it and that I have a great love for her old books, despite problematic themes. One of my favorites is “Secret Fire” where the heroine is drugged twice! with an aphrodisiac. I also am a big fan of “Savage Thunder” with a “half breed” hero. I enjoyed “Heat” which contains a mad rapist from some planet in outerspace. I enjoyed the books of Kristen Ashley and Joanna Wylde which present some problematic themes regarding female agency. I’ve enjoyed “Mouth to Mouth” by Erin McCarthy despite the problems that you’ve pointed out to me in the presentation of the deaf heroine. I still like that book and I still recommend it (and did at RT just this past week).

    This may be an utter disappointment to some readers here at DA but it shouldn’t come as a surprise. We are merely readers, just as the rest of you are. We have books we enjoy and recommend that bother others. Does the mere fact that we recommend these books suggest that the problems don’t exist or should not be discussed? Absolutely not. And why not? Because every reader’s experience with the book is different based on their background. There are many books that I dislike that others have loved because I don’t think they render a very good rendition of race, sexual politics, or any number of issues. But my dislikes aren’t invalidated because of someone’s appreciation for them.

    This is DA’s recommended reads. It’s not other reader’s recommended reads. To leave it off would be to denigrate the readers here for their reviewing tastes. I’m not going to do that and I think it’s kind of presumptuous to argue that we should.

  74. GrowlyCub
    May 14, 2013 @ 10:52:10

    @Jane:

    I think it’s utterly disingenuous to say the reviewers at DA are just readers and that the recommendations are no different than those of other readers. How many million hits does this blog get? With greater reach comes greater need to consider.

  75. Jane
    May 14, 2013 @ 10:55:45

    @GrowlyCub: I completely disagree. Every single reviewer at DA has a real full time job. Reviews are done on a part-time basis, as a hobby. That the viewership for DA has grown is not because of the way we’ve changed. We write the same type of reviews today as we did seven years ago. I gather the recommendations up in the same way I did when I started the feature a couple of years ago. Reviewers recommend books in the same way that they did when we started the feature. We’ve been consistent in the way that we do things here and consistency, in my opinion, is the key component in how reviewing works for readers. You find a reviewer whose tastes mirrors your own and hang on.

  76. Dabney
    May 14, 2013 @ 11:03:35

    @Jane: I would add reviews are done because we, the reviewers, love books and want to share our views about them. I have lots of other places in my life where I am called upon to represent a group or a value. I love that, here at DA, I can write about things I feel passionately.

  77. Janine
    May 14, 2013 @ 11:11:22

    In addition to what I’ve said above , I want to add that I find myself feeling protective of the review page — that beautiful blank space on my screen which I can fill with anything.

    I confess I don’t like being told what must be included or excluded when I write a book review, anymore than I like being told that if I write a romance, it must include sex, an English speaking country as a setting, aristocrat or billionaire protagonists, and must not include long separations, adultery, or what have you.

    No matter how well we write, the more rules are imposed as to what should go into our writing project or piece, or what should be left out of it, the harder it becomes to keep that writing project fresh. Therefore, that rebellious impulse to create I mentioned in comment #58 can easily be suffocated.

    For example, I was planning to discuss moral/ethical concerns in a couple of upcoming reviews, and I still am. But now that this demand has been made, I find the desire to do so has diminished. Because I write partly out of an impulse to leave boxes, rather than to stay within them, the rebellious, creative child in me is now stomping her foot and saying “I don’t wanna.”

    I speak only for myself, not for anyone else at DA, but I mention this because it’s part of why I feel protective of the space in which I review books and recommend them for “DA Recommends.” Aisha is certainly correct that that space is a privilege, but since it’s one I put a lot of work into, the desire to make use of it is something that requires nurturing.

  78. GrowlyCub
    May 14, 2013 @ 11:11:34

    @Jane:

    Actually, Janine says the way she reviews has changed, see above, but that’s utterly beside the point. DA rec covers go on authors’ websites as a promo tool where there’s no link back to the dissenting opinions that show how problematic a book may be to a large or small segment of the population and it sells books. And you clearly want it to mean something and to sell books for authors and to as many readers as you can or you wouldn’t have a DA rec banner and round up post. You’ve worked diligently to make DA a brand that’s recognized and that carries weight. If you don’t see that that comes with greater responsibility to readers I consider that a significant issue.

  79. Janine
    May 14, 2013 @ 11:18:32

    @GrowlyCub: To the degree my reviews have changed, it’s because I’ve gained more confidence over years of reviewing. They have only changed as much as I have changed, which is to say, some, but not that much. We all do some growing and changing over the courses of our lives, but we all stay the same to a remarkable degree.

  80. Ridley
    May 14, 2013 @ 11:22:01

    @Janine:

    But now that this demand has been made

    Who’s demanding? I expressed disappointment and Aisha made suggestions, but I haven’t seen anyone demanding.

    This reminds me of the outrage over the criticism in the True giveaway thread. If recommended reads selections aren’t up for discussion, what’s this comment section for?

  81. Jane
    May 14, 2013 @ 11:31:43

    @GrowlyCub – I am confused by your argument here. The Recommended Read tag is selected by each reviewer before the review is posted (and before any comments are made). Are you suggesting that the review go through some process of evaluation by x amount of reviewers before it is recommended?

    The monthly post that you are commenting on is simply a round up of the recommendations for the the books that are coming out. Whatever ills you perceive we are perpetuating, such as the review label being used at an author’s site, exists before the monthly round up even occurs.

    If you are suggesting that we somehow have a committee to review the recommended reads of others, then, I have to tell you that a) it isn’t feasible and b) it’s kind of offensive. I’m not going to tell a reviewer, particularly one who has reviewed here since its inception, since before any one else was here other than me, what she can and cannot recommend just as I wouldn’t want her or any of the other DA reviewers to tell me what I can and cannot recommend.

  82. Maili
    May 14, 2013 @ 12:02:41

    @Jane:

    Firstly, I did say ‘in ideal world’. In other words, I fully recognise DA’s prerogative to decide its editorial policies, contents and such as I strongly don’t agree that DA should change because of some people’s say so. Including mine, of course! :D

    Secondly, I’m sorry that you don’t see what I was getting at. My fault. Take my long-standing issues with the entire Scottish Historical Romance genre as an example. I’m not the only Scottish reader who loathe this genre with the intensity of a thousand burning suns. It’s full of stereotypical crap and horribly distorted/romanticised views of history, culture and people. And there isn’t a thing I can do about it. Aside from imagining building a bonfire out of those books. There are so many SHR novels that it’s far too late to correct the Romancelandia version of Scotland now. It’s not too late for the others, though.

    When we ask for unusual settings, we owe it to ourselves to ensure that those settings won’t end up distorted or stereotyped like Scotland. Africa as a whole has been poorly portrayed in films and fiction for decades, but it’s still largely an unusual setting in Romance. If we were to enjoy this setting in romances, we owe it to ourselves to listen to those in the know, which could in turn help to improve the general portrayal we could enjoy.

    Look–reading is a selfish activity, and rightly so. We read the kind we enjoy, even if it’s against everything we stand for. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Zero. Problematic tropes? They are fine if we enjoy them. We all have a right to enjoy anything we want in our books, and we all have a right to enjoy those without being judged. However, a personal recommendation is a world away from a brand recommendation. Like it or not, DA is a brand. You’re certainly aware of this as DA has been partnered with Harlequin in the past with packaging a bundle of OOP romance novels. So saying that DA doesn’t carry a considerable weight of influence doesn’t wash in this respect, especially where social responsibility is concerned. DA does carry more influence and weight than any typical reader including all individuals who write reviews for DA. DA reviewers are individuals with busy lives and different tastes, for sure, but when reviewing under the DA banner, their reviews are seen as – like it or not – DA reviews. DA could at least recognise and own that. DA might not like it as DA’s never asked for it, but such is life.

    It still doesn’t mean a DA recommended book shouldn’t be recommended, read or disowned, though. That isn’t my point. It’s not even what I’m asking for, either.

    I just feel that DA has so much influence and weight that a little bit of DA’s help towards historically marginalised groups or lesser known settings in being portrayed fairly would be hugely appreciated. Such as making an effort in highlighting “this recommended book is problematic, click on this link for the discussion to see why” as just a link alone won’t work. Social responsibility doesn’t mean policing what we review, read or recommend. Social responsibility, in this respect, means making an effort to highlight the others’ contributions as part of a progress to improve our perspective of the world within fiction. (I don’t mean PCising the past, though, but that’s a topic best left for another day.) I hope this clarifies my stance.

    FWIW, my response isn’t a criticism of DA or DA Jayne. I don’t have any problem with her enjoying it either.

  83. MaryK
    May 14, 2013 @ 12:13:05

    @Aisha:

    is making note of these for potential readers (where they are picked up of course, given differing subjectivities) really so onerous and/or distasteful

    Well, no, I think we agree on this point, and I think DA does a good job of it. It hinges on “where they are picked up.” What drew me into this conversation was the feeling I got from some of the comments of “how dare the reviewer not pick up on these triggers and how dare DA not overrule her opinion.”

  84. Jane
    May 14, 2013 @ 12:17:50

    @MaryK: Actually, Jayne’s review is pretty thoughtful and addresses problematic issues, in my opinion. It’s not that she didn’t pick up on the “triggers” but that the book itself was recommended, at least that is the sense that I am getting here.

  85. Jane
    May 14, 2013 @ 12:19:18

    @Maili:

    I just feel that DA has so much influence and weight that a little bit of DA’s help towards historically marginalised groups or lesser known settings in being portrayed fairly would be hugely appreciated

    I feel we already do that but if you have recommendations, feel free to pass them along. I’m not sure why you think we aren’t trying to find and discover hidden gems or what books we are missing and should be reading.

  86. Janine
    May 14, 2013 @ 12:37:03

    @Ridley: Of course the books are up for discussion, but there is a difference between discussing the substance of the books themselves and critiquing the process by which we the reviewers choose what to recommend to readers. Your comment struck me as doing the latter, rather than the former. I could be wrong about your intentions, but that is how it came across to me.

  87. MaryK
    May 14, 2013 @ 12:39:18

    @Maili:

    The recommendation has – unintentionally – dismissed or invalidated some people’s contributions in that discussion.

    The review was written and the book recommended then there was much discussion about it. But that discussion doesn’t invalidate Jayne’s opinion. It wasn’t a crowd sourced review; it was Jayne’s review. The fact that people disagree with Jayne doesn’t invalidate Jayne’s point of view.

  88. Ridley
    May 14, 2013 @ 12:52:29

    @Janine: Why is questioning why a book is being promoted/recommended off-limits?

  89. Janine
    May 14, 2013 @ 13:14:39

    @Ridley: I never said that it is off limits, just that it came across to me as a demand, and that this made me less excited to dive into the problematic aspects of a couple of books I plan to review in the future. I’m still going to mention their problematic aspects, but is it really surprising that placing expectations that something should be included in a review makes the review writing process less creative? That was the sole point of my comment.

    ETA: My last comment was intended to explain why I saw your original comment as a demand. I am not trying to censor you, only saying that the effects that expressing your disappointment had on me isn’t necessarily the one either of us desires.

  90. Robin/Janet
    May 14, 2013 @ 15:48:47

    @Ridley:
    I’m just wondering if you’ve read the Raybourn book, because I haven’t yet (although this controversy incentivized me to purchase the book and pick up the currently free prequel), and so I’ve been curiously reading a variety of reviews and had discussions with people who have read it. Some of what I’ve gathered so far:

    1. Jayne’s review, which identifies a number of issues in the text, including her sarcastic reference to “civilization” in the first paragraph; her indication that the book deals with colonization of Kenya and the elision between Africa and Kenya; a reference to the heroine’s “grand gesture” which has disastrous consequences (I now know what this is, and it’s a huge spoiler, but it’s something that suggests at the very least a profoundly ambivalent approach to the white tourists and colonists and settlers in the region); and a straight out statement that the white colonists are not really portrayed in a good/likeable light.

    2. Evangeline Holland’s review, which, despite its lower grade, reads to me quite similar to Jayne’s: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/449051877. In terms of sensitivity to racial and gender issues, as well as knowledge of the period, I’d suggest she’s got both.

    3. The Book Smuggler’s thoughtfully critical review: http://thebooksmugglers.com/2013/04/joint-review-a-spear-of-summer-grass-by-deanna-raybourn.html

    4. Aisha’s reaction to the novella, which she read (but not the book): http://dearauthor.com/book-reviews/overall-b-reviews/b-reviews/review-a-spear-of-summer-grass-by-deanna-raybourn/#comment-548055

    5. A personal discussion with a friend who also read the book, has shown great sensitivity to issues of race and gender in Romance (even though Raybourn’s book is actually NOT Romance), and who also had a relatively positive response to the book, despite the issues some have noted in their reviews.

    I’d say that’s hardly a uniform referendum in favor of condemning the book. And I’d say that such a referendum goes way beyond “questioning” a book. Obviously you can have all the disappointment and criticism you want, but, I think a number of the comments here go beyond that. For example, comparing it to Mein Kampf? To say that’s an “extreme” comparison is an incredibly generous reading of that analogy.

    So what frustrates me is this insinuation that there’s some universal moral imperative to shun this book. It reminds me of when Claiming the Courtesan came out and people like Eileen Dreyer were saying things like ‘rape does not belong in Romance, and any book that has rape in it isn’t Romance.’ A reviewer at AAR gave it an extremely low (maybe failing) grade on the basis of outrage over the rape scene. There was also backlash from many who hadn’t even read the book. For me, the book was a B- read, and had the craftsmanship been stronger, the grade would have been higher. And let me just point out that I don’t even like the forced seduction/rape trope. But for me, the book did not glorify, condone, or otherwise romanticize rape; it investigated a relationship that included sexual force and did it in what IMO was a thoughtful way. And since people I respect have come out on both ends of the spectrum for the Raybourn book, I’m definitely going to push back against the idea that this book is Evil and must be shunned. Some of that language seems like the reader version of the “if DA gives my book a bad grade it will kill my career/sales’ author complaint.

    Hey @Janine, just so you know, I’m using your comment as a stepping off point, not directly responding to you:

    Aisha is certainly correct that that space is a privilege, but since it’s one I put a lot of work into, the desire to make use of it is something that requires nurturing.

    It is a privilege. And so is the commenting space (in fact, that’s a privilege with very little risk). And so is the Twitter space. I am just so fucking sick of “privilege” being used as some kind of naughty stick. We’re ALL privileged in different ways, and we’re all reading books that depend/build on/implicate/or otherwise invoke privilege. I feel like this term has been emptied out of meaning the way it’s been used so ubiquitously and casually lately.

    @Maili:

    When we ask for unusual settings, we owe it to ourselves to ensure that those settings won’t end up distorted or stereotyped like Scotland.

    I don’t disagree with this statement, but I also worry that authors will feel too afraid of scenes like this to take risks with their characters and settings. And while the genre needs to diversify (looking closely at its history has really emphasized this point for me), I don’t think it’s realistic to see that diversification coming only from authors of color. Beyond the whole essentialism problem (e.g. to what extent does a person stand for the whole of their culture/race/history/etc), it seems that quite a few AOC don’t want to necessarily write characters of color. So while I absolutely think we need to be critical of stereotypical portrayals, at the same time we need to accept that as we work toward norming diversity into the genre (and doing so in a way that there isn’t one monolithic “truth” that’s either just plain wrong or a narrow experience), there are going to be problems. For me it’s a question of how to balance the criticism with incentive to keep taking risks (and just the fact that they’re seen as risks is incredibly messed up, IMO). I also worry that readers will become less adventurous in their choices, afraid of being pounded for liking a book that others so vocally hate (like the readers who are threatening Charlaine Harris because they disliked the ending of the Sookie Stackhouse series, or the newest Ann Rice debacle).

    As someone who hasn’t read the Raybourn book yet, I’ve been appreciative of all the perspectives from those who have read it (I especially loved the way the Book Smugglers discussed that extremely fine line between portrayal and endorsement in books, a line I think can be *legitimately* danced across in interpretation by many different intelligent, aware, thoughtful readers). But I think the line between criticizing a book with problematic elements and universal shunning of a book needs to be protected, because its dissolution starts to feel painfully close to book banning and small-c censorship.

    @Aisha: 5th point, while related, was specifically about my belief that we do share a common moral code even if it simply as a point of reference (for example, something that people whose rights are violated use as the basis of making these claims, whether on state or on the international community), and not about reviews as such.

    Although I think the UDHR is an extremely problematic example to use in a discussion like this, I think some of the problems are actually relevant here.

    For example, the US has a political system based on the philosophical primacy of individual rights — this is why we have much broader protections for free speech and do not have a legally-defined category of “hate speech” (e.g. holocaust denial is not a criminal offense in the US). Canada and the EU, by contrast, have what’s commonly called a “human rights” political model, which tends to make the group primary over the individual, something that often results in narrower speech protections and broader categories of criminalized speech.

    The implications of this difference are extensive and enormous, and in the US, the individual rights/liberty model has structured our Bill of Rights and the Constitution more generally (and, to return to our earlier conversation, this is another reason I think Romance evolved from an Anglo-American mentality). So while I agree with you that there are certain moral goods that are probably pretty close to universal, when you start talking about “rights,” other things come into play. We’ve seen this in the historical development and controversies over the UDHR, not only in terms of the US, but of some other countries, for example, who have objected to certain aspects of the UDHR. The topic of human rights in general and the role of the UN become extremely vexed when the US is in the mix, requiring a conversation rife with caveats and contextualizations and historical digressions, and political and philosophical differences (and that’s just the beginning).

    So in some ways, the impossibility of reducing the discussion down to simple points IMO reflects the problem with reducing any one work of fiction down — especially since fiction is a product of an author’s imagination, that then engages with a multitude of different reader imaginations, and the potential interpretations are almost endless. But the desire for a shared means of discourse and exchange also comes into play, in ways that become evident in a lot of book discussions. We cannot always perfectly share our experiences with books (or the meanings we derive from those), but discussion helps us clarify issues, see things from another perspective, etc.

    Where I think things become really dicey for me is in the leap from ‘here’re all the reasons I find this book problematic’ to ‘would you recommend a book like Mein Kampf?’ Because a) the context is to very clearly different, and this is a context-specific issue, IMO, and b) because the analogy for me suggests an implication that Raybourn’s book is the result of universal Evil, and I think that’s a really, really dangerous road to start down. Not only because it depends on an interpretive act, but also because it can lead to a kind of hostile intolerance for all problematic books, many of which may actually help clarify the nature of a problem and give readers insight into their own perceptions, biases, and prejudices. Which I think can be very beneficial, on both an individual and communal level. But because the work of books is just so complex and multi-layered, I think it’s incredibly difficult and dangerous to try to guess that up front and then read/recommend accordingly.

  91. Ridley
    May 14, 2013 @ 16:19:17

    @Robin/Janet: No, I haven’t read it, and I don’t plan to. It looks like more of the same, only in exotic Africa. I liked Jayne’s review and the discussion on it. My only qualm was giving such a book what amounts to a seal of approval.

    I’m pretty over this thread, to be honest. I expressed my disappointment pretty mildly and I’m all set with being called a liar and getting accused of being the PC police like I have been. I’ve said all I have to say about it that I’m willing to say here.

  92. wikkidsexycool
    May 14, 2013 @ 20:37:44

    @Robin/Janet

    I’m not Ridley or Aisha, but I read it after starting and stopping several times. Where do I begin? Well, the link that Aisha gave of an article on the Raybourn thread (which was a satire called How to Write About Africa) was spot on. I’m jotting down how many tropes from the article I found in the book.

    In all fairness, Raybourn’s book is thick with history (but, as I usually do, I’m researching what was in the book). I kept getting the feeling that other films (Out of Africa for instance) formed the basis of Raybourn’s vision of Kenya, which kept being referred to as “Africa” as if Kenya represented the whole continent. Key words were used quite often like “Dark” and I gotta say, Africa became a living thing in this book, a mythical, larger than life lover even though its inhabitants were treated more like oddities. So much so, that I was not comfortable while reading certain parts. However, trying to turn a flawed character who has definite views on race into a heroine who somehow is accepting of others is a feat in itself. Delilah’s transformation didn’t ring true to me, and I don’t think it was necessary.

    The Delilah from the beginning of the book was replaced with a whole ‘nother character in the middle of the book. She could shoot, she could mend wounds, she could bed without fear of getting pregnant. Somehow the racial norms and separations in America during the 1920s didn’t apply in Kenya, as she became good friends with Gideon without realizing how it could appear and also be detrimental to them both.

    And as the heroine, she was embraced by the Maasai, complete with the obligatory ceremony showing she was now one of them. In short, Africa/Kenya now had a lover just as large and legendary as it (Africa/Kenya) was. Ryder? Well, he seemed to be there simply to give Delilah a male lead, but even he paled in comparison to Africa/Kenya itself.

    Really, I wanted to like the book. But I have to honestly say there were a number of issues with the novel, even though the author is a very good writer. And I think a more in depth review (on my part) is needed so that I can spell out exactly what went wrong, and why some parts made me cringe, even though I believe the author was attempting to be more PC. But that’s just it. Delilah’s change from straight talking brash American, who had no problem being non-PC in the beginning of the book, and then suddenly changed into a whole ‘nother character didn’t work for me.

    If I may use Ridley’s line to wrap up this comment, imho it was “more of the same, just in ‘exotic’ Africa.”

  93. Las
    May 14, 2013 @ 21:46:38

    @Robin/Janet:

    I am just so fucking sick of “privilege” being used as some kind of naughty stick.

    Come on, no one uses privilege as a “naughty stick,” and what a fucking insulting way to phrase that. What happens the vast majority of the time is that people point out privilege, and the privileged get defensive and think they’re being yelled at and refuse to listen to what’s actually being said.

  94. jsev
    May 14, 2013 @ 23:35:38

    I honestly don’t get people who continue to frequent a site they have problems with. If it’s not for you, offends you or whatever else, leave. Whinge, whinge, whinge. Move on.

    And props to the ladies of DA for all their responses. You are some classy, diplomatic ladies.

  95. Aisha
    May 15, 2013 @ 02:45:10

    @Robin/Janet: I have said before (in my initial response to Jane) that I only referenced the Raybourn book at the end of my first comment. Nothing I have written since has been about that, so there was no comparison, either direct or implied, to Mein Kampf. The example of Mein Kampf was because I took issue with the suggestion that there is no universal code that governs us and our interactions through whatever media. But you know what? There is so very much wrong with so much of what you’ve written here (as well as Janine in comment 77 – is that some kind of weird guilt trip thing?; and Dabney in comment 76 – are you suggesting that you are writing in a vacuum? But I guess its all about ‘finding your passion’ right, and fuck everything else?; and Jane – I think the less said there the better, because if I start who knows when I will stop and I am just over all this) and frankly, jsev is right. If all I am doing is *whinging* then I don’t really see any point in continuing to spend time and energy here apparently trying to bridge a gap that is unbridgeable, and this is after all YOUR forum/blog/whatever. This has been made starkly apparent to me on this thread and, yes, it took me a while but I get the message eventually. I can’t remember now why I decided to start commenting here a few months ago, but I think I was just incredibly naive, and I am now incredibly disappointed and disheartened. I can imagine the responses this comment will get and I am thankful that I won’t be around to see them. There really is no point after all in trying to converse with ostriches.

  96. Michelle
    May 15, 2013 @ 05:03:47

    What I see as one of the problems with some of the posts here is the implication, whether meant or unintentional, is that people who enjoyed the book are morally bankrupt. Not only is that wrong but it is insulting.

  97. wikkidsexycool
    May 15, 2013 @ 07:21:27

    @Michelle,

    “What I see as one of the problems with some of the posts here is the implication, whether meant or unintentional, is that people who enjoyed the book are morally bankrupt.”

    I thought we were discussing the book and its issues, and perhaps the issues those who have an opposing opinion on it being recommended have.

    While I wouldn’t have recommended it, I can understand why it was. But there again, it may be necessary to do more than just offer an opinion on just how problematic the depictions and even dialogue (and some of the history) is in the book, though even that may not matter when a book strikes a chord with a reader.

    Still, I’m game to try to explain in great detail (with links, visuals, etc on my own site, as this may not be the place for it) why the book ended up being the same old, same old though the writer is clearly talented.

    For me, it ended up being a matter of overused tropes and caricatures of both the black and white characters, and a meandering storyline weighed against well edited, and at times clever prose. The start didn’t match the middle or the ending (especially the murder mystery thrown in at the last minute, which had a rushed feel to the descriptive elements as the book wrapped up).

    I don’t think it’s about changing anyone’s mind, or any sort of condemnation (on whatever side one leans) but simply offering another point of view.

    @ Aisha,

    You’re not whining. Not even close. I hope you’ll reconsider your decision.

  98. Ridley
    May 15, 2013 @ 10:36:32

  99. Ridley
    May 15, 2013 @ 10:43:51

    @Michelle: Well, if that’s what people are assuming, it would explain the ridiculously defensive reactions.

    I was just disappointed to see a book full of the problems we’ve wanted to see go away (based on previous discussions on this site) get the Dear Author seal of approval.

  100. Janine
    May 15, 2013 @ 10:51:21

    @Aisha: No, my comment was not intended as a guilt trip. Perhaps it was an instance of oversharing, but I thought it might be helpful to the discussion to consider that reviewing is something we here at DA do largely out of passion for the books and the topics they make us think about. The day the fun goes out of it, I will drop out.

    And in between some authors calling us mean girls and bullies, telling us that “if you can’t say something nice don’t say anything at all,” and lately, some readers attacking other readers at this site, as well as now, telling us they expect us not to recommend books most of them haven’t even read, the impulse to post here is taking a beating, and that is not without its cost.

    You can call this a guilt trip if you like, but to me it is simply my reality. My earlier comment (#77) was not even directed at you personally. FWIW I thought you had a good point in the thread about A Spear of Summer Grass, and I appreciated the discussion we had over there.

  101. Danielle
    May 15, 2013 @ 14:20:44

    @Aisha: If you decide to stay away from DA, I hope it is a temporary absence. You have brought wonderfully constructive energy and thoughtfulness into important discussions and I, and surely many others, would miss your voice. Obviously it can be draining when those one engages directly don’t respond as one may have hoped, but on the other hand any one comment goes to a much larger audience of readers who tune in to listen and observe. Seeds do take root and grow away from the comment threads.

    For example, without several posts and discussion threads about African-American romance on the now long defunct Romancing The Blog I have no doubt it would have taken me much longer to become less myopic about my romance reading choices and to deliberately cast my net wider than before. Then, once I found my way to DA, I often shied away from the site for months, stunned, even repelled, by what seemed rude noise and silly roar. It took a while for me before the babel began separating into intelligible voices discoursing about interesting things and belonging to excitingly diverse personalities. I don’t mean to belittle your feelings when I say that the present discussion has been mild compared to the tumultuous storms DA has weathered through the years. Perhaps in some quarters a certain intransigence has become discernible in response to such controversy, but the owner and other reviewers have run an open forum through too many battles of wits and words for me to think of their attitude to commenting as a whole, or to discussing societal issues, as close-minded.

    The larger community here brings a wealth of diverse experience and insight to the table that is manna for a curious, inquiring mind. Opinions get challenged here every day, sometimes with unexpected outcomes. Those who vehemently disagree with you one day, may staunchly support your arguments the next. Tone-deafness exists, but considerate thought has generally been far more common. Every site has its ebbs and flows, though, and voices like yours are necessary to ensure DA remains a smart and outspoken forum.

  102. Aisha
    May 21, 2013 @ 07:08:21

    I am pleasantly surprised that the response to my comment has not been as I imagined. I am however sorry that with MY emotional response, I violated my own ethical code and alluded to problematic things without making them explicit and allowing space for others to respond. I apologise for this and hope that you will allow me to rectify it, even though it is overdue.

    First, meri, due to my angry outburst, I did not respond to your comment. I agree with pretty much everything, and in fact wrote much the same, although more briefly and obviously less clearly. The only point of disagreement is that I do believe that universal codes can, do, and sometimes should, apply to fiction. Let me make another example please: paedophilia is practised IRL of course, and people who are titillated by this often form circles to share records of their experience, techniques for engaging in it, and fantasies. These are however, generally secret, reflecting the fact that it violates the universal moral code that children are entitled to care and protection from abuse and assault. Violations of this occur frequently, but we know they are violations precisely because they oppose that moral code. And fiction based on those fantasies that glorify the sexual assault of children, would, I assume, most likely be condemned by mainstream forums and sites like DA rather than recommended, and rightly so in my opinion.

    Janet: again this is not a comparison, explicit or implicit, to Raybourn’s book/novella but me emphasising my contention that there are universal moral codes. In that, I suppose it is me being somewhat pedantic, but it is also reflecting something larger for me, particularly my rejection of Huntington’s clash of civilisations thesis.

    But let me go through your points. I have not really addressed Jayne’s review here or my comments there because I think people can go to the source and make up their own minds. Personally, I do not fully agree with your (or Jane’s) assessment of Jayne’s review, but I do think that she presented what was an honest and well-intentioned review of the book that concluded with her recommending it. I was at pains there I think to point out that I did not read the book and based my comments on a partial reading of the novella. I also took care to point out that my concerns (at least the ones I raised) were specific to what was to me an obvious and blatant indication of racism that I did not believe could be easily dismissed as arising out of a subjective reading of the text. What was perhaps subjective, was the obviousness of it to me. This is important to emphasise I think because while it indicates subjectvity, it also indicates (to me) an example of the privileged gaze and what that can blind people to if it is not pointed out, which further emphasises (for me) the importance of continuing to bang on the privilege drum. I was, I admit, disappointed that others, including Jayne, had not picked up on that same indication of racism in the Raybourn novella/book, but I don’t think that I harped on this.

    I’m not sure I understand the purpose of the ‘referendum’ you undertook. Yes there are different experiences of that and other books, some more positive than others. That does not invalidate the concerns raised by those who found the book/novella problematic, and further, I don’t think that raising those concerns with those who did enjoy the book and engaging in (what I hope on the review thread was) a respectful discussion is a problem. This is not about making moral judgements but about opening up and allowing space for constructive dialogue and multiple points of view (and I feel that the reactionary response here, that I will come back to later, is impeding this). I sincerely hope that this is the last time I will ever feel compelled to refer to Raybourn.

    “but I also worry that authors will feel too afraid of scenes like this to take risks with their characters and settings”.
    Perhaps, but does that obviate the need to point out problematic aspects when they arise? Why? For the greater good of having diversity in our settings and tropes, even when that diversity perpetuates prejudice and glorifies injustice? I doubt this is what you meant, but that is one possible interpretation. I would hope instead that it is not an either/or situation, but that writers and readers will both seek out greater diversity, but that it will be done responsibly and with openness to critical feedback, which is what Maili was saying I think.

    “(I especially loved the way the Book Smugglers discussed that extremely fine line between portrayal and endorsement in books, a line I think can be *legitimately* danced across in interpretation by many different intelligent, aware, thoughtful readers).”
    Certainly in many instances, but sometimes the line, while fine, is perfectly clear (to some people at least, and perhaps especially the people who are being problematically portrayed) and defensive and reactionary responses (my perception) to alternative interpretations are not conducive to this.

    “Although I think the UDHR is an extremely problematic example to use in a discussion like this, I think some of the problems are actually relevant here.”
    Moral codes are intangibles that are given effect (in the sense of being actionable for example) in national contexts by laws, policies and bills of rights, where the latter exists. Globally, these codes are given substance by international Declarations, Covenants, Conventions, all of these often but not exclusively under the auspices of the UN (through which they may gain greater but not total legitimacy), and through agreements reached under multilateral and bilateral negotiations. These, further, happen at the level of states primarily, but also above (negotiating as regional [eg. EU as the most established] and/or emerging power [eg. BRICS] blocs) and below (eg. social movements that are predominantly local/national in character at the world social forum / cross-national codes of conduct for transnational corporations).
    I acknowledged, maybe obliquely, in an earlier comment that the global ambitions of the UDHR are fraught with problems, and I think, since I mentioned BRICS, China is an even better example of this than the US. But even in a context where discussing human rights can get one labeled a political dissident and imprisoned, there is still clearly an underlying moral code (much of it with universal resonance) that governs social interactions. There are of course differences and context specificities, as you point out in the case of the US, but there are also similarities and universals that may find differing emphases and expressions, but are there all the same. So, what I am saying here and have indicated previously, is yes, I know that instruments like the UDHR (and/or its articles) are subject to disagreement and contestation, but it is an EXAMPLE of a document that tries to give effect to a universal moral code.

    “We cannot always perfectly share our experiences with books (or the meanings we derive from those), but discussion helps us clarify issues, see things from another perspective, etc.”

    And here we come to my final and most difficult point. I agree with this statement, but my perception of the discussion on this thread mitigates against it. I hope that I have in my comments here at DA generally been constructive. There have been many instances where I have chosen not to engage with issues I find problematic, because I could not see a constructive way to do so, and because it is and has not been my intention to sow discord, so I self-censored, as I imagine many of us do. But I am sorry to say that I found the interaction here to be destructive and reactionary (and this may be relatively mild but it is still very disturbing for me) and for that, I am again sorry to say that I hold you, Janet, and your fellow reviewers who commented here partially, and especially Jane mainly responsible. One reason for that, is that the more I thought about it the more disturbed I was by Jane’s interaction with Ridley because it came close to bullying/intimidating for me. I hesitated to say anything, as Ridley does not need me to defend her, but since this is not really a defense, and simply my perception of what I observed, I will say here that while there may be history there that influenced Jane’s behaviour, and while she may not subject other commenters to similar treatment, that doesn’t excuse it and almost makes it worse for me (and I know that commenters, myself included, may be complicit in this but there are differential power dynamics at play, which I will come back to shortly). Another is that I felt Jane was being deliberately obtuse in some of her responses to comments (I may be wrong here – different interpretations again), and personally, I found the definition of disingenuous that she saw necessary to provide in her initial response to me arrogant and condescending. Again, I may be holding the owner and reviewers to a higher standard here but I believe that you, collectively, are largely responsible for setting the tone and for establishing the standards to which commentors will either rise or fall. You (Janet again) point out in your very problematic (to me and others here, but since Las addressed that specifically, I won’t) paragraph about privilege that commenting is a space with little inherent risk. Respectfully, I would point out that we all share the risks inherent in writing publically, but it is your position on the stage (to return to my earlier analogy of the different power dynamics) with whatever advantages that space provides, which perhaps exposes you to more risks. It is up to you (and Janine and Dabney) to determine whether it is worthwhile or not, and it is not, in my opinion, up to me or anyone else to ensure that it remains a pleasurable experience for you. Despite this, I do believe that everyone should, by default, be treated with courtesy (which is another reason I hesitated to address Jane earlier, and am still doubtful about how I have done so here) and respect, but unfortunately I fail in this sometimes. To this end, what I am most sorry for in my previous comment is my response to Dabney. It was disproportionate and I sincerely apologise. I think I understand the point you were making and, I hope that despite the vitriol, you understood/understand mine.

    I promise I will not comment further unless asked or addressed and I thank you for the opportunity.

  103. Dabney
    May 21, 2013 @ 07:26:37

    @Aisha: Please don’t worry your comments offended me in any way. I wouldn’t be a reviewer if I didn’t have the ability to live with the ways people respond to my work. As is often the case here at DA, you and others feel very strongly about what a book implies about the human condition. That impulse, to speak out when you see injustice is, in general, a good thing. I am passionate about freedom of speech. Rather than being bothered by your criticism of me, I responded to it by thinking harder about whether or not I should have written my review differently. I decided I’m comfortable with my words as they stand, but, appreciated the push to make sure they were the ones I wanted.

    So, no apology necessary.

  104. Aisha
    May 25, 2013 @ 07:28:57

    @Dabney: Er, I wasn’t sure if I should respond or not, but what the heck… thank you. You are both kind and gracious.

    And, you probably won’t see this, but thank you also Danielle (and wikkidsexycool). I am very uncomfortable with compliments (which is why I seem to ignore them), but it is appreciated nevertheless. I hope I offered a better explanation of my… motivations (? – does everyone else have trouble with their memory and recall when they hit their thirties or am I just special like that?) above.

  105. Danielle
    Jun 02, 2013 @ 11:21:23

    @Aisha: Is there a person on earth who hasn’t once lost their temper when defending an important cause? I was really happy to discover that you returned to this thread to help tie up ragged ends – and with so much class, too. I hope to be able to interact with you again :-)

  106. Robin/Janet
    Jun 02, 2013 @ 20:23:42

    @Aisha: I’m not sure I understand the purpose of the ‘referendum’ you undertook.
    My intention was twofold: 1) to note that intelligent, sensitive readers disagree about the book, and 2) to say that because of that fact, I think it’s unfair to suggest that a DA reviewer should not recommend the book. For me there’s a big difference between saying, ‘I object to this book because I feel it’s perpetuating rather than challenging racist stereotypes,’ and saying ‘I don’t think a reviewer should recommend this book.’ And for me, that second statement is troubling, because it starts to edge into the territory of ‘You (the general you, not you, Aisha) are not allowed to read books a certain way.’

    I know that instruments like the UDHR (and/or its articles) are subject to disagreement and contestation, but it is an EXAMPLE of a document that tries to give effect to a universal moral code.

    I think we may really be talking about three different things here (or at least I perceive there to be three different things at issue here): 1) moral values (e.g. Murder is bad, racism is bad, sexism is bad, etc.); 2) moral codes, which I think of as the “rules” or “laws” we use to “codify” moral values, and 3) moral rights, which are about what each person is owed as a matter function of being human.

    To me, this discussion implicates moral values and moral codes. So if the value is that racism is wrong, then is it not okay for a reader to say, ‘I don’t think this book succeeds in transcending racist stereotypes, but I still think it’s worth reading’? And if it’s not okay, what’s the basis for that conclusion?

    Note: I’m just using an example for the purpose of the discussion, not suggesting this is what you’re saying — quite honestly, I’m not clear about how you’re using your examples, since a couple of times you’ve acknowledged that they’re not really equivalent, or you’ve said that they weren’t about the reviewing context, so I’m not sure how to apply them to a discussion about reviewing and recommending books.

    So back to larger debate I see happening in this thread, I’m trying to work through the idea that it is okay or not okay to recommend a book that a) may have elements that do not seem to validate a “universal moral value” and that b) a reader acknowledges and recommends. Or let’s say the reader doesn’t even read the text in the same way — is her “moral duty” the same or different? Or does she have one to begin with, and what is it? Because you can have a population of people who accept the moral value that racism is wrong, but do not necessarily interpret a piece of fiction in the same way. So is the idea here that there is one standard that should be used to interpret books, or is it okay to have vastly different interpretations of books?

    Let me also reiterate that I am not challenging the different interpretations of Raybourn’s book (my favorite review, quite honestly, was the one that The Book Smugglers wrote, although because I haven’t read the book yet, I cannot say whether they best capture my experience of reading it) — my intention was to say that there ARE different interpretations of the book (and I’m only talking here about people who have read the book, or, as in your case, the short story, so have an informed basis on which to make your judgments), so to jump to the step of ‘this book should not be recommended,’ as I think has happened in this thread, seems to contravene, rather than reinforce, the call for more safe, open discussion.

  107. Kaetrin
    Jun 02, 2013 @ 20:27:08

    With a book like the Raybourn book referenced above, the issue is racism and the portrayal of colonialism (as I understand it; I haven’t read the book). I understood the objections to it. I was glad people such as Aisha contributed to the discussion and raised points that perhaps would not otherwise have been raised. I was happy to be challenged on my “acceptance” (in the sense of not realising potential problems) of things portrayed in fiction. I like discussions like that. I learn from them and I have found they do inform my tastes over time (and sometimes immediately). The commenters who called for the book to not be “recommended” feel (I understand) that such a recommendation was tacit endorsement of the problematic themes in the book. I disagree. For myself, I think it means no more than that the book had received a particular grade and that automatically put it into the “recommended” category. We are allowed to disagree of course. But I feel that some commenters interpreted that because the book remains a “recommended read” that they had not been heard, that their points fell on deaf ears.

    I was interested in the perspective of others that DA is a site of influence and therefore has a higher responsibility. I do not share the view but I was interested to hear it and it did cause me to think about why I thought what I thought. At this stage at least, my personal view remains that there is no special obligation. But, that I didn’t change my mind didn’t mean that the points didn’t make me think, or that I didn’t consider them. I just didn’t reach the same conclusion.

    For my part, I think there is always going to be something in a book which is going to offend or trigger someone. I don’t mean that in a flippant way. Forced seduction, rape, racism, homophobia, military heroes, alpha heroes, violence in general or specifically against women and/or children, the treatment of animals, colonialism, lack of female agency, grammar errors, editing errors, anti-semitism – the list goes on and on and on (I do not suggest that grammatical errors are or shoul be regarded as equal to, for example, racist elements). If a book which earns the threshold grade has one (or more) of these things in it, should it not be recommended? Who decides what is and what isn’t? Isn’t that just as problematic? Will the person triggered by homophobia be offended that a book with racist elements was not recommended but the book with homophobic elements book was? My own personal opinion is to let the comments speak for those issues. The review is merely the opinion of one reviewer. What will adversely affect one reader will not so affect another. But, if in the comments, potential problematic issues are pointed out (and, if the reviewer is aware of them, within the review itself), then the person deciding whether or not to purchase/read the book can make a more informed decision.

  108. Aisha
    Jun 03, 2013 @ 07:52:57

    @Robin/Janet: To clarify, in much of my comments I was not referring to any specific review but the approach that is taken to reviews in general, especially in terms of a particular approach to social responsibility and social justice I guess, and relatedly a little about the roles and responsibilities of the reviewer (which, really, who am I to say anything about anyway). So they were about the reviewing context in that sense. In regard to the non-equavalence, I used exaggerated exemplars for effect to illustrate the larger issues I was raising and believed (wrongly obviously) that the reader could infer the relevance to this context herself.

    I have no issue with and no right to tell anyone else what they should or should not enjoy. That was never what I was trying to do. What I did suggest was something similar to what you are saying here, “‘I don’t think this book succeeds in transcending racist stereotypes, but I still think it’s worth reading’?”, but for the reviewer (acting in her reviewer capacity) rather than readers in general. Its the acknowledgement of the problematic aspects and the openness to others perceptions or interpretations of these that I was suggesting would be helpful. Reading is of course subjective, as I have, I think, noted in previous comments. People’s interpretations of what they read will differ (if they didn’t, what exactly would be the point of having any discussions?) and that’s fine. But realising this, that it is largely subjective, also implies knowing that others may have equally or possibly more valid (because of greater knowledge or familiarity with the subject matter for instance) interpretations.

    And I believe, and I realise that it is not shared by everyone, or even necessarily by most people, that we all have moral duties that apply in all contexts. If I believe that it is my moral duty to be kind and considerate to everyone I meet and to cause no harm to others, either directly or indirectly, than it is my responsibility to live by this as far as possible in all aspects of my life. It is especially important, however, in situations where I am in a position of power or influence over others, because the capacity to do harm, even if unintentionally, is increased. So yes, I think there is a moral duty, and that it is an especially heavy burden for you, as a reviewer in this context, to bear.

    As to whether that particular book should have been recommended or not, that is water under the bridge. It was recommended following the initial review, and this post, as I understand it, is just a gathering together of all the recommended reads for the month, primarily I would assume for ease of reference. I think that a small caveat beside the recommendation, from Jayne perhaps (since it may otherwise appear as if Jane is policing this), noting the criticism here at DA, would have been a workable compromise. The point, as I see it, is that as Kaetrin notes, recommending it without this appears to invalidate the discussion and disregard the concerns. The short little comments beside some of the recommendations here indicate that there is some precedent for this and that it should therefore be possible. The question is more if you (you, your fellow reviewers and Jane) accept that it is a possible compromise. But of course, as I noted previously, this is ultimately your blog and your choice.

    Kaetrin, I hope that you are covered under this comment as well?

    I think as a final word, many of us here (including both me and you Robin I think) have contributed to making this comment thread a less than open, safe space. For whatever my part in that was/is, I am sorry.

  109. Jane
    Jun 03, 2013 @ 08:11:39

    @Aisha: I’m a little confused about this concept of changing or moderating the DA Recommends posts or reviews based upon what a few commenters (who may or may not have read the book recommended) may feel about the book.

    The reason that reviews are helpful is because readers who frequent this space learn a specific reviewer’s taste. Some readers closely align with me; others with Jayne; others with Jia and so forth. If we changed our opinions of books based on the commenters (again, many of whom haven’t read the book in question), we would be violating the integrity of the reviewer opinion – the very reason that people come to visit Dear Author.

    I’m not sure why you feel your opinion has been invalidated or ignored because it is not noted in the recommended reads post. We don’t include the comments in the recommended reads post because it is designed to reflect the tastes and opinions of the DA reviewers. If you look in the parentheticals, it is reflects the DA reviewer tastes/opinions.

    The reason for this is very basic. Jayne and I have been blogging here since 2006, over seven years. DA readers depend on consistency here at DA. If we changed our opinions/reveiews regularly based on commenters, some who may not appear again, it would invalidate that consistency.

    To that end, DA reviews and recommends will continue to reflect the opinions and views of the people reviewing the actual book or else we violate the very contract we have made with the readers here at DA.

  110. Aisha
    Jun 03, 2013 @ 08:13:38

    Sorry re my previous comment, in addition to “a particular approach to social responsibility and social justice” my comments were also largely influenced as I noted in #102 by my rejection of realist political philosophy as exemplified by Huntington.

  111. Aisha
    Jun 03, 2013 @ 08:45:50

    @Jane: I did not suggest changing anything. Here in this post you have short comments beside the listed recommendations for Down London Road, Untamed, and Dead Ever After. So something like this – “this is a book subject to some debate here at DA. Some loved it; others had problems with plot issues, etc” – obviously this was for Untamed which was subject to competing reviews so perhaps it made sense in that context and would not in the context I suggest. But again it was simply a suggestion of a possible compromise [ETA: and one that is seemingly not without precedence here].

    Also, I never said that I felt my opinion had been invalidated or ignored [ETA: I am referring to my opinion on the review thread. The discussion here is another story]. If you look, Jane, at my initial comment and the subsequent comments, I think that this is clear. Instead, I was responding to Robin and agreeing with Kaetrin that this is probably the reason some people responded so strongly to the recommendation.

    And I really don’t think it matters whether the people who expressed concerns had read the book or not. An opinion based on having read the book may be assumed to be more valid since it is theoretically better informed, but does that mean that those who choose not to read a book with deeply troubling issues cannot offer an opinion on it? I never read the book either. I do not wish to subject myself to something I will (and I know this because it was acknowledged by someone on the review thread who had read the book that the issue I had raised from my partial reading of the novella was a feature in the book as well) find offensive. Must I then keep silent?

    Finally to reiterate, I am not (I never have and honestly do not see how you are interpreting it that I am) suggesting that the reviewers opinion be changed.

  112. Jane
    Jun 03, 2013 @ 09:14:27

    @Aisha:

    You said

    The point, as I see it, is that as Kaetrin notes, recommending it without this appears to invalidate the discussion and disregard the concerns.

    and

    The short little comments beside some of the recommendations here indicate that there is some precedent for this and that it should therefore be possible. The question is more if you (you, your fellow reviewers and Jane) accept that it is a possible compromise.

    Your own comments reflect that you feel your opinion is invalidated or ignored. Or perhaps you are speaking for others? I did not realize that.

    Second, you asked for change and that it was not without precedence. I pointed out how it would be without precedence. As of the posting of this recommended reads, the Untamed by Anna Cowan book had not yet been posted. The discussion and debate clearly refers to an internal debate that would be reflected in the dueling reviews by two reviewers who had read the book and had differing opinions.

    Ergo my reply to you as to why the changes you would like to see would be a violation of the contract we have with DA readers – to wit, to weigh recommendations and review opinions based upon commenters who may or may not have read the book.

  113. Aisha
    Jun 03, 2013 @ 09:53:04

    @Jane: “Or perhaps you are speaking for others? I did not realize that” – Yes, I was, others who were referred to by both Robin and Kaetrin as I saw it.

    As to the rest, sorry but I don’t get it. How would having a little note beside the listing saying something like “some commenters here had concerns about the way the book dealt with race and colonialism, but Jayne enjoyed it” violate the contract with your readers? How is that so fundamentally different from this “this one had a difficult heroine but both Kati and I loved her”? To make it even more similar you could leave out the commenters bit and say for example “this one had some problems dealing with its context but Jayne loved it”. You noted previously that Jayne raised this in her review herself so its not exactly coming out of left field.

  114. Jane
    Jun 03, 2013 @ 09:54:35

    @Aisha: Just so that I can be clear because with the edits and parsing, I’m clearly confused. You do or do not feel like your opinion is invalidated or ignored?

  115. Aisha
    Jun 03, 2013 @ 10:02:26

    @Jane: Sorry for the continuing lack of clarity. No, I personally did not feel that my opinions on the review thread had been ignored or invalidated because they had not been referenced here. I referred to the comments there myself in my initial comment here and as far as I was concerned, I believed that that was adequate.

    I think that is as clear as I can be.

  116. Jane
    Jun 03, 2013 @ 10:19:16

    @Aisha: I’m not sure what you mean by “I referred to the comments there myself in my initial comment here and as far as I was concerned, I believed that that was adequate.” but regardless, if you were referring to “Robin and Kaetrin” I don’t believe either of them felt invalidated by the posting of the recommendations but they can obviously correct me if I’m wrong.

    As for the changes you would like to see made, we strongly believe that recommendations and reviews should be given by people who have read the book, or at least a good portion of the book. I think the DA readership would rise up and revolt if we started giving out opinions based on books we haven’t read and recommending books we haven’t read.

    Does that you should remain silent? Of course not. Comment away, but reading the book is probably the first part of any review and/or recommendation given in a post at Dear Author.

    And if you want caveats to be added in a recommendation post, then you are asking for reviewer’s opinions to be changed by commenters. That’s just not what we do here at DA. Maybe that is what other blogs and/or review sites will do, but the Reviews and Recommendations that are posted here (as opposed to the commenters) reflect the reviews and opinions of the DA reviewers. That is why people read DA and why they can rely upon on reviews.

    Commenters are free to not read a book and pass judgment on something, either the book or the review or what not, but I hold the DA reviewers to a different standard.

  117. Aisha
    Jun 03, 2013 @ 10:41:43

    @Jane: I meant that in my first comment here (#13) I wrote this: “I hope people will read the discussion there (following the review) and, more importantly, the alternate review linked to by MD at the end before making up their minds about the recommendation.”, and for me, this was my way of dealing with it.

    “if you were referring to “Robin and Kaetrin” I don’t believe either of them felt invalidated by the posting of the recommendations but they can obviously correct me if I’m wrong.”
    Now I am utterly confused. I said (in #113) “OTHERS who were REFERRED TO [emphasis added] by both Robin and Kaetrin”. I’m not sure how you are reading that but I doubt it was what I meant.

    “As for the changes you would like to see made”

    Honestly Jane, this isn’t about like or dislike. It was simply a suggestion I made as a possible compromise to address the concerns that some people raised. As far as that suggestion goes and the rest of your comment, sorry again, but I don’t think you have really responded to the expanded suggestions outlined in #113 above. But as I said in my first comment here today, “this is ultimately your blog and your choice”.

  118. Maili
    Jun 03, 2013 @ 11:02:38

    @Aisha:

    As to the rest, sorry but I don’t get it. How would having a little note beside the listing saying something like “some commenters here had concerns about the way the book dealt with race and colonialism, but Jayne enjoyed it” violate the contract with your readers? How is that so fundamentally different from this “this one had a difficult heroine but both Kati and I loved her”?

    That wouldn’t work if other DA reviewers haven’t read the book in question. Kati and Jane are DA reviewers and commenters aren’t DA reviewers. That’s the difference. I would *love* to see a comment up there, but the fact is, the commenters aren’t reviewers so the comment as a note cannot be made.

    There’s another option, which I think might be a lot more productive in the long run: review the book yourself and submit it here at DA as a guest review.

    Edit: Argh. The browser went funny and shut down on me. So that comment was left unfinished. Sorry.

    Of course, it does highlight a potential problem: if the review gives the book a grade lower than A, the review won’t be seen by those who have seen the said book listed on the Recommended round-up. But the way I see it, at least there would be another review. More reviews would increase chances of listing grade-A/B books that offer best portrayals in Recommended round-ups.

  119. leslie
    Jun 03, 2013 @ 11:20:17

    @Aisha: I’m with Maili……review the book and submit it to DA. I’d be very interested to hear your opinion. I’ve read it twice and loathed it both times and not only because of Raybourn’s portrayal of race and colonialism. The blatant pilfering from Isak Dinesen and Dehlila’s STRONG resemblence to Caroline Dester in Enchanted April drove me crazy!

    On another note…. I have missed seeing you in the comment threads…..glad you’re back.

  120. Aisha
    Jun 03, 2013 @ 11:42:48

    @Maili: You’re right, and I think that the last suggestion there (“you could leave out the commenters bit and say for example “this one had some problems dealing with its context but Jayne loved it”. You noted previously that Jayne raised this in her review herself so its not exactly coming out of left field”) is the only one that might address these concerns, but I don’t want to beat a dead horse.

    As to the rest, Maili and Leslie, thank you, but I am not precisely back. I am simply, as Danielle says, tying up loose ends. I am responding to comments addressed to me here but my concerns remain (raised in my outburst – #95 – and then toned down a bit in comment #102). I am not going to go on a rant about DA but I feel that there are tendencies here that I am uncomfortable with and that I somehow missed before I started to comment myself (I had lurked for a few years, and I will, I suppose, return to lurking). As a result, I am not looking to deepen this engagement.

  121. leslie
    Jun 03, 2013 @ 14:16:21

    @Aisha: I am sorry to hear that.

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