Catherine Stine's IDEA CITY

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Monday, January 26, 2015

Good review - bad review Rollercoaster Rides

The charismatic villain in DORIANNA
I had two books launch last fall, and reviews are coming in. I hate to admit it, but as seasoned as I am, reviews can deflate and anger me, or totally make my day. And yes, I do read them. Sometimes the gap between how one reader reacts to how another reacts is beyond baffling! I'll give you an example. The following review of Dorianna thrilled me because this Netgalley reader totally got what I was trying to do. However, the next was a painful two-star one. Feels as if they read two different books. But hey, I just put on my big girl pants and take it. Because that what writers do, right? See what you think...

Review #1 - 5 stars from a Netgalley reader:
"So I'm just going to assume I don't need to point out that a gender-swapped YA version ofA Picture of Dorian Gray is basically the greatest thing ever, right? Good. Just making sure we're all on the same page here.

I've never read Dorian Gray, but I am familiar with his character. Even after 100+ years Wilde's flamboyant, sexy, hedonistic asshole of an anti-hero still somehow manages to work his way into pop culture. And honestly, it's fucking great. Dorianna takes a unique and clever twist on Dorian's character and creates a smart and terrifying novel of lust and power. It's dark, creepy, and full of glamour that hides a sinister grin.

The main character is Dorianna, a girl fresh off the boat from the Hoosier State and plopped right in the middle of Brooklyn. Honestly, the first twenty some pages were pretty annoying, because all Dorianna did was talk about how plain she is. We get enough of that "plain Jane" speech from every other YA heroine and we defiantly don't need it here. Thankfully, her character because a lot more...well interesting to say the least, but we'll get to that eventually.

Our Plain Jane attracts the attention of Ander, her love interest. What was interesting about him, is that Dorianna knew he was using her to get back at Lacey, his ex-girlfriend. As the story progresses, we get to see just how fucked their relationship is. Because this is YA, we need some semblance of a love triangle, which is where Wilson comes in. He's our suave, melodramatic, Victorian-era dressing bad boy of the book, who convinces Dorianna to sell her soul to him in exchange for eternal beauty and internet followers. While I may have my own qualms about Dorianna's character in the beginning, I could see how desperate she was to fit in, but the moment she makes that deal with Wilson...BAM. She's a million times more interesting and complex.

Stine does not shy away. This new Dorianna is bitchy, materialistic, manipulative, and downright cruel. She's ambitious and is willing to crush anyone underneath her boot to get more followers. While she's not likable, she's complex. Her drive and ambition give her layers. To her, the power and fame is addictive, but somewhere in the back of her mind, she knows what she's doing is wrong, but justifies it at every turn. As her powers grow, so does her ambition. Soon she can't control either of them. 

From what I've heard, it took a while for Dorian Gray to realize something was wrong, but in Dorianna her powers are evident. She has heightened senses, read and control minds, and even burn people with her jealously and hate. Dorianna knows it's wrong to manipulate her followers, but, in her mind, the end justifies the means, and eventually grows to enjoy and relish in the manipulation.

Dorianna is the perfect anti-heroine. Her internal struggle against her own demons and trying to maintain her humanity gives this book depth. No matter how bad things get, she always chooses her fame over the people who actually care about her. And honestly, that's what makes Dorianna an amazing character. She's relatable. We've all wanted to be famous and no matter how much we lie to ourselves, we know that if it got to that point, we would turn our backs on the ones who care about us if it meant retaining our fame. Dorianna is a blunt look on how anyone can turn to darkness if it meant they can still hold onto that taste of fame.

The concept of using her YouTube videos as the picture of her soul is brilliant. Those scenes of her videos are truly bone chilling and terrifying. Readers can truly feel how sinister Dorianna has become without Dorianna realizing it herself. Stine's writing style has a contemporary feel to it, but easily transverses into a realm of dark fantasy and horror in the blink of an eye.

The other strong point of this novel is Dorianna's interaction with Lacey. Lacey is the Queen Bee (you know the trope) and Dorianna is the new girl (again, you know the trope), but as the book progresses, Stine manages to flesh out Lacey and Dorianna into something akin to mirror images. Both girls use every supporting character as a pawn in their power play. Dorianna and Lacey both think the other is bad, and thus justifies destroying her opponent. The parallels between Lacey and Dorianna are subtle, but it's obvious that they're essentially one in the same. Both awful.

The romance was okay. Both Wilson and Ander were used as props in Dorianna's rise to fame, and I truly believed that they both got what they deserved in the end. The original Dorian Gray ends on a rather obvious note, but Dorianna takes a different approach I honestly wasn't expecting. It worked perfectly with the story and I honestly want to buy a physical edition of this book, I loved it so much.

This book is about a girl's ambition and rise to fame, and the horror she becomes on her way to the top. It's dark. It's horrifying. It's Dorianna!"

Review #2 - 2 stars from another Netgalley reader:
With a nod to Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Catherine Stine’s novel imparts the message that, while popularity, youth, and beauty are important in a superficial society – like high school, for example – the price one pays for them is exceedingly high.

In the middle of her junior year of high school, Dorianna’s father is incarcerated. With her household ripped apart, she is sent to live with her aunt in New York. The drastic change from Indiana gives her the chance she needs to reinvent herself and start over.

She meets Ander at the lockers on her first day of school, and is immediately smitten. A casual friendship grows between them, and her crush turns into obsession. However, by the time Dorianna learns Ander is the ex-boyfriend of Lacey, the most popular girl in school, Dorianna is already far too emotionally invested to follow the rules of high school hierarchy.

Plain, shy, and unsure of herself, Dorianna is desperate to gain the love of Ander and the admiration of everyone around her. Seeing the perfect opportunity to do so, she enters into a pact that will change her – and her life – forever. The question is: Will she change for better, or for worse?
The idea was an excellent one but poorly executed. To begin with, the main character is incredibly obnoxious. I did not see a single redeemable aspect to her personality and, as a result, the novel was hard to read... Second, I am all for fantastical plots – which is, after all, what this novel’s plot is – but there does need to be a realistic foundation upon with the plot is built. I did not find that in this novel. It is highly unlikely that the parents of these characters just let them do whatever they wanted, which means it is extremely doubtful that any of the events in this novel would have taken place.

All that being said, the writing was pretty good and the pace was steady. It could have been executed better, as I said, but I still wanted to know what would happen next. I read the entirety of the novel in one evening. HOWEVER, a male character being described in narrative as a “fruitcake”, the unnecessary mention/subplot (it could have been any other crime), and the unnecessary attempted rape (towards the end) all made it REALLY hard for me to give this the three stars that I wanted to award it.

To this reviewer's line: "The main character is incredibly obnoxious. I did not see a single redeemable aspect to her personality"...

My reaction: She's invaded by a DEMON, folks! Why would she be all light and sunshine?!
My reaction to a bad review


Ok, trying to calm down... taking deep breaths, and maybe even chuckling over the whole thing because the reviews for Dorianna are mostly fabulous.

Do you read reviews? If so, how do you handle getting past "bad" ones? Are you as cool about it as Jeff Bridges?

26 comments:

  1. I don't read my reviews as often as I should. I have some bad reviews but after the sting of it passes, I get to Jeff Bridges's point of "letting it go".

    I'm glad you shared about the varied differences you can get from reviewers. Sometimes, we writers need a reminder that we can do all we can, perfect as much as possible, but when the book gets into the hands of a reader, it's their own experiences, knowledge, and preceonceptions/expectations that can and will direct the way they interpret the story.

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  2. I try not to read bad reviews. Readers are allowed to have their opinions, and I respect that by choosing NOT to read the reviews. My ego can't handle the negativity. Personally, I don't give bad reviews. If I don't like a book, I just don't review it. But I think that's because as an author I have tremendous respect for other authors. Some reviews forget that we are people too, and our feelings can get hurt by reviews.

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    1. Kelly, I never give bad reviews either. That's why I am very careful about what I will review. It's too hurtful for the author. Bad karma.

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  3. I'm sorry! It does make you wonder if they read the same book. Some people will connect and some won't. I've seen it with my own books.
    You're brave to do Net Galley. My publisher won't because they said there are too many negative trolls.

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    1. Alex, yes, there are, but there are also some really supportive folks like school librarians, booksellers and the like.

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  4. I try not to read my reviews, but if I come across them, I have to know. That's why I stopped putting Google Alerts to my name. If a negative review popped up, it could ruin my day. It's better not to know.

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    1. Yeah, Cherie, I couldn't handle getting alerts when I'm not prepared for it.

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  5. Yeah, it's somewhat perplexing if you get reviews that conflict (like "I loved the book because the heroine was great!" "I hated the book because the heroine sucked.") But they don't bother me at all. Everyone has different tastes in food, movies, music -- and books. I do tend to get pissed if someone I know or an author from the same publisher as me writes a critical review or gives me 4-star or below. There are a ton of book bloggers and strangers who can write/rate whatever they want. But author-friends are a small group and should support each other.

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    1. Perplexing, yup! I had some reviewers comment on a novella of mine that they would've given it five stars if it were longer--this knowing all along they were about to read a NOVELLA! I would never comment on amazon or Goodreads about a review, but it's fun to have the freedom to chat about them here.

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  6. I wish I could be one of those authors who never reads their reviews, but I'm not. And I hate bad ones. Sometimes I have to just laugh them off as someone who doesn't "get" me or the book, but I've had a few crying jags on one or two. It's hard! I definitely think the first reviewer was decidedly more accurate in their assessment of Doriana though--the second is just full of themself!

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  7. It's horses for courses. Some people just don't get what you're trying to do with the book, and that's fine, but someone also might write a glowing review highlighting something you never even thought about. It's all about interpretation, but for myself, I wouldn't leave a bad review. There's already enough negativity out there!

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    1. Horses for course, good term. Yes, Nick, sometimes reviewers point out good things that I'd never focused on! That used to happen when I did paintings too. The paintings were like Rorscach tests and actually revealed more of what was in that viewer's unconscious than anything in my actual painting.

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  8. I read all my reviews too. Not everyone will like what we write or even get it. Sometimes it's hard to keep that in mind. We need to listen to the Dude. He's wise, man!

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  9. I'm new at the whole review thing as an author, but as you already know I've been a (selective) reviewer for a while. From an author's perspective, I can totally see how they can be a rollercoaster ride. But one thing I've observed from being a reviewer is that some reviewers (who are simply lay-readers) pose their opinion solely on their likes and dislikes of topics, people, etc... Great example of your second review above. Someone doesn't like the character. Okay, there are lots of folks out there in real life we don't like. Guess what I'm getting at is that I tend to write reviews to benefit the work as much as I can. If there are weak writing points such as structure, grammar, etc..., I will mention them but not focus on them. IMHO, the writer deserves some respect for publishing his/her work. Some don't agree with me, but that's okay.

    You're a great example - I reviewed Fireseed One way back, but before I read it I mentioned to you that Sci-Fi is not my favorite genre. But that didn't mean your work wouldn't be good. I kept an open mind, and your work was good. :)

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    1. Aww, Sheri, you're the best!!! And yes, you are a smart and thoughtful reviewer as well as writer.

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  10. I try to avoid them as much as possible, honestly. We can't please everyone. We shouldn't try. My skin is thicker, but still needs more thickening.

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    1. Yes, thicker skin is good. Unless we're talking leathery and lizard-like. That might be too dino-pornish!

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  11. Bad reviews can be tough, and I think that is why we try to either not read them or read them with thicker skin. Not always easy. Sometimes it is hard if a reviewer says harsh things, but also mentions or hints at the fact that they don't like a particular genre and that is the genre of a book. I have read reviews that start with, I don't usually read sci-fi (or whatever genre) and then they go on to say terrible things about the book. I think the good thing is readers often see through those reviews for what they are.

    Try to focus on the good reviews! :)
    ~Jess

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    1. Makes sense, Jess, and yup, I have done that!

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  12. I'm with Jeff Bridges. He has the right attitude. Still I hope you won't become unkept and surly in the back of a car. Just push on and remember what critics wrote about Brahms. "[He] evidently lacks the breadth and power of invention eminently necessary for the production of truly symphonic works." 1887

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    1. Hahaha, Lee, love the Brahms example. I will file it in my mind for timely use! Cheers.

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  13. I'm just smiling. Netgalley is not the greatest of places. I had my book land in the hands of a HATER BOOK CLUB. Yes, as in they all read the book and sat around ripping on it because one of the leaders decided she hated it. How's that for love? At least they were passionate in their reviews. All ten of them. Lesson learned: avoid Netgalley. Get reviews from real readers who read for enjoyment, not because they can get free books.

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    1. Ooh, Crystal, I feel your pain. Despite Netaglley having some folks who troll around for free reads and some haters, I have also found serious bibliophiles and teachers who are thoughtful, smart and considerate.

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    2. Why do people like to trash free books? There's a PhD thesis somewhere in that question.

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  14. Writers already feel insecure. The last thing we need are readers telling us the book didn't work. But there's no better ego booster than a positive review. We have to take the bad with the good. I nominated you for a blog award. Check out my 2/6 post for details.

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