The Hard Role of the Reviewer

For reasons I’ve yet to be able to explain, I’ve seen an uptick in folks I know talking about the process of reviewing books. I don’t know who patient zero for this epidemic was, however, I do know that I’ve seen this topic come up from a lot of people recently. In these threads/discussions/videos/Twitter rants/etc, there have been two primary items that I’ve seen being discussed.

  1. Should you tag/make authors aware of your negative reviews of their work?
  2. Can you review something objectively when your like or dislike of the work isn’t necessarily reflective of the quality of said work?

I wanted to take a moment to talk about these two ideas, both from the perspective of someone who is an author, as well as from the perspective of a reviewer. I swear the fact that I had a book review come out last week wasn’t intentional, though it was a nice lead into this topic.

Should You Make Authors Aware of your Negative Reviews?

Short answer: As a rule, no, but it depends.

Long answer: As humans, we aren’t particularly good at taking criticism from others well. While there are individuals that we may be more receptive to criticism from, it’s still not a particularly ideal experience. One of the things that I think people fail to realize when they write a book for the first time is that the book is no longer yours once it’s published. While you may still be the author of the book, the content you write now belongs to your readers. Some of your readers will not like your book. That’s just the hard reality of being a writer.

One of the first books I ever wrote a review for was a book I got for free in exchange for the review. I didn’t like the book. At all. But I was probably much harsher than I needed to be in my review. And I made the mistake — again, this being my first review — of tagging the author on Twitter and publicizing my negative review with them regularly tagged in my tweets. In retrospect, it was a shitty thing for me to do as a reviewer. While it was my first review that I’d ever written, I failed to consider the human impact of sharing with the author how much I disliked their book.

At this point, you’d think it’s a pretty cut and dry line that you shouldn’t share a negative review with an author. And once the book is published, I think this is true, particularly if you’re trying to get publicity for your own review based off of the author’s fame. So when is there an acceptable time to tell someone you don’t like their book? I feel like the obvious answer here is if you’re asked for any negative feedback prior to the book being published. If an author is trusting you enough to request your feedback prior to a book getting released to the public, provide whatever feedback you can to help them. It ultimately will make their book a better finished product. That’s not to say to be a jerk about your feedback. Trust me, as I’ve done that and it hasn’t gone well. But pre-publishing feedback is extremely valuable.

This is not to say you can’t have a negative review of a book. If you didn’t like a book and you want to leave a negative review on Goodreads, Amazon, your own blog, or somewhere else, that’s totally fine. Not every book is for everyone. Authors do read reviews of their books. I know that while I haven’t taken every piece of negative feedback I’ve had to heart, I have made an active effort to learn from that feedback and become a better writer because of it. As a rule of thumb, I’m much more willing to listen to a negative review that’s kind than one that’s inflammatory.

Can You Dislike Something and Still Find it Good?

I used to have a much more black and white answer on this question than I do now. The strange thing is that I’ve swung around to both ends of the spectrum on this answer, all before landing somewhere in the middle. Allow me to dissect where I stand on this by looking at the example of three different books/pieces I’ve read over time.

One of my least favorite books of all time is a book I had to read in high school called Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. I can objectively look back at the book and say that it makes a ton of great points about environmentalism, upcycling, and sustainability. That said, even after a re-read later in life, I still dislike the book. Perhaps it’s because it was a required reading during a year in high school where all of the readings felt forced (more than normal, that is). Maybe it’s because my initial reading of the book came at a time where I disagreed with much of the book’s premise, tainting my perception of it well after my world view has changed to fall more in line with the book’s points. Whatever it is, reading Cradle to Cradle is still painful for me, even though I can objectively say the book isn’t bad.

On the other side of the spectrum, I’ve read a good amount of fan fiction that would, by many standards, be considered to be terrible writing. That said, I love them. For example, I will read most RWBY fan fiction, regardless of how fan service-y it gets. I can objectively say that some of it is bad. But that doesn’t mean I enjoy reading it less. Even writing styles that get scorn for other reasons like erotica can suffer this same fate — the reader can enjoy the work even if it’s not Dickens-level writing complexity.

With that all said, there are situations where a piece of literature may be well-written or have other positive qualities, but because of the author that penned the piece, there will be an inherent dislike for that work. In my most recent Q&A podcast, I talked about how Anthem by Ayn Rand became this for me once I learned more about Rand, however she is certainly not the only example of this. There’s a surprisingly high number of people who can write a coherent book (or at the very least have hired someone who can do so) while themselves being disgraceful individuals. Although I do try to separate author from work when writing reviews, there are situations that are too egregious to do so.

Book Review – When the Lights Go Out by Mary Kubica

Are quarterly book reviews going to become a thing on this blog? I don’t know. But for the second quarter in a row, I’m reviewing a book for the blog. In the first quarter of this year, I reviewed “10:04” by Ben Lerner. This quarter, I picked up another book that gave me mixed feelings, this one being “When the Lights Go Out” by Mary Kubica.

“When the Lights Go Out” tells the story of two women — Jessie Sloane and her mother Eden. Eden’s story is mostly told in flashbacks while Jessie’s story is present day, dealing with the experience and aftermath associated with Eden’s death from cancer. To properly understand how I feel about this book, I feel it’s best to explore it much in the way the book is written. That is, to look at Jessie’s story versus Eden’s story. Spoilers ahead.

Jessie

I’m going to get the lone thing I dislike about Jessie’s part of the story out of the way right away. “When the Lights Go Out” goes the full St. Elsewhere route1 with 85% of Jessie’s story. Jessie’s story was all in her mind — a terrifying dream induced by a combination of sleep deprivation, sleeping pills, and melatonin.

That said, what a beautifully written descent into madness Jessie’s dream sequence story was. The way Kubica wrote the hallucinations and mental tangents that come with sleep deprivation was captivating. Since the story changed points of view regularly, there would be gaps of time where I wasn’t able to read what was going on with Jessie. Whenever that was happening, I found myself desperately wanting to come back to it because of how interesting it was. How much more could Jessie take before she finally snapped? Even the chapter where she finally realizes she was actually dreaming was beautifully done, taking several pages before you’re able to realize that she’s not actually dead, rather struggling to come out of a medication-induced slumber.

The non-dream parts of Jessie’s story serve more as context than anything else. Though they’re not as interesting as the slow mental deterioration that was her dream self, they’re still useful in tying the story together. Jessie’s story feels natural and gripping, even when the reader can’t fully associate with it. This is exactly what I was hoping for when I read the book’s synopsis online.

Eden

So I’m writing an end of the year book ranking/review post, much like I did last year. In reviewing a different book I read, I talk about how difficult it can be to make a bad guy type character as a focal point of your novel, as it makes you want to root against them. It can be done well, though books that make the bad guy your main character and still tell a compelling story are few and far between.

I don’t think the intent was for Eden to be the bad guy of “When the Lights Go Out”. She is clearly meant to be a flawed character, one who only shows any sort of redemption in death. That said, it is very clear throughout the book that Eden is not a good person. She is a good mother at the expense of being a terrible human in pretty much every other facet of her life. Her obcession with motherhood bordered on maniacal. And when I say obcession, I don’t mean she really cared about her kids or had a yearning desire to be a mom. I mean she actively attempted child abduction in an effort to become a mom, only to be stopped because the child’s mom happened to catch her.

Paired against Jessie’s dive into madness, Eden’s story felt cold and cruel. While it certainly added to how much I was rooting for Jessie to find herself — much as Eden suggests for her to do — it made me want to get through the majority of Eden’s chapters even quicker. Though there is an attempt at salvaging her character over the last 4-5 chapters of the book, the damage is irreperable.

 

All in all, “When the Lights Go Out” is an interesting suspense read. If the story solely focused on Jessie horrifying mental struggles, it could have easily been a top three book I’ve read this year. If the story stayed with Eden, I likely would have given up on the book before the halfway point. As it stands, “When the Lights Go Out” will likely land somewhere on the middle of my year end list. It’s a good suspense read, but only if you can put up with half of your book focusing on a terrible person trying to be passed off as somewhat sympathetic. If you can, the story told about Jessie Sloane is something special.

My Pokemon Gym: Grass

I guess this is a thing now. And by that, I mean I’ve already done three Pokemon types in this format — why not do all of them over time? In all seriousness, I love the adventure that is theorycrafting. It’s something I’ve done for a while on other games, but I’ve kept that madness to spreadsheets in my Google Docs, safe from the sight of others. There’s not a ton of people that want to read about theorycrafting for Fire Emblem or Brave Frontier anyway. But oddly enough, Pokemon theorycrafting gets a lot of clicks and interaction. So why not keep trying? As I’ve done on previous Pokemon team/gym style posts, I’ll be sharing the six Pokemon on my team, along with their held items and moves. I’ll also be giving a little additional background into why I’ve chosen each of these Pokemon. I won’t be using legendary Pokemon on my team, as has been the case in previous posts. Additionally, I’m not going to use Pokemon I’ve used in previous team posts on this list. As we get deeper into the type list, this could prove more challenging2I’m going to be saving Normal and Flying for the end for a reason.. That said, I also tried to mirror this team to how I play Grass types in games. Want to read my other My Pokemon Gym posts? Go read the Fighting, Ice, and Psychic type posts when you’re done here. Thanks to Stephanie for suggesting that Grass should be the next type in this series.

Decidueye

Grass is one of the few Pokemon types where I actually have multiple Pokemon I’d use as my lead. I’ve opted to make my other typical choice the anchor to this team (as it’s the closest thing I could think of to being my signature Grass Pokemon3There is a second Grass Pokemon that I’d say fills that role too, but I’m saving it for a later team thanks to its other type.). I quite enjoy that Decidueye gets access to a ton of tempo-changing moves such as Tailwind and U-Turn, making it a surprisingly good lead. The only problem I have with it is the lack of a good item to put on it, so if you have better ideas than Spell Tag for this type of role, I’d love to hear them.

Ability: Long Reach
Item: Spell Tag
Moves: U-Turn, Shadow Sneak, Sucker Punch, Tailwind

Tangrowth

Tangrowth: stalling out teams since 2006. In all seriousness though, I love how Tangrowth is such a verstile bulky Pokemon. There’s a ton you can do with it, ranging from being a wall to a physical attacker, to a special attacker, to a mixed attacker. I’ve tried to reflect that in the moveset below. It’s probably not the best set you could have on Tangrowth, but it is the one that epitomizes what Tangrowth is to me.

Ability: Leaf Guard
Item: Assault Vest
Moves: Ingrain, Knock Off, Ancient Power, Giga Drain

Mega Abomasnow

I really don’t like most mega Grass types. I mean, they’re fine, but they’re not what I prefer to use in battle. Kind of like Grass types in general. That said, there are some objectively good Mega Grass types, of which Abomasnow is one of them. Having Mega Abomasnow on the team allows me to pay homage to my favorite type — Ice — while allowing me to have some coverage against a few worrisome types. The beauty to Mega Abomasnow is that it doesn’t care about Speed. You will always outspeed it. It’s here to hit things hard, no matter how that needs to happen.

Ability: Snow Warning
Item: Abomasite
Moves: Earthquake, Wood Hammer, Ice Beam, Iron Tail

Vileplume

I’m very pro-Oddish and wanted to make sure the Oddish line was represented on my team. While a lot of people like Bellossom, I prefer Gloom’s other end stage as the end evolution of this line. Though this team is surprisingly filled with physical attackers and tanks, Vileplume serves as my coverage special attacker. There’s not a ton of coverage against Fire types on this team, and Vileplume continues that trend. If nothing else, it should be able to take out most anything else that it comes across.

Ability: Effect Spore
Item: Leftovers
Moves: Moonblast, Venoshock, Petal Dance, Toxic

Tsareena

Gen VII has some really good Grass type Pokemon…is a sentence I never thought I’d say about any Pokemon generation. That said, nearly all of my cuts from this team came from Gen VII, including Lurantis, Dhelmise, and Shiinotic. That doesn’t even take into consideration Kartana, which is pseudo-legendary. Tsareena is best known for its signature move, Trop Kick4Not to mention being the most likely candidate in Pokemon for Rule 34 this side of Gardevoir., but it’s also a shockingly bulky Pokemon. The goal here is for Tsareena to serve two purposes — to be the Sunny Day setter for my anchor Pokemon, as well as to hopefully take something down with it.

Ability: Queenly Majesty
Item: Muscle Band
Moves: Sunny Day, Trop Kick, Low Sweep, Play Rough

Leavanny

Instead of using one of my favorite scout Pokemon as a lead, I’ve decided to use Leavanny as my cleanup ‘mon. Leavanny is here for all the critical hits ever, driven in part by its Chlorophyll ability. Yes, this is a double-edged sword against Fire types. But it’s worth the boosted speed. The lone downside to this is that I’m choosing to carry Sunny Day as a just-in-case move. While I’d love to get Sunny Day from anyone earlier in this list, Grass type are generally not known for their speed. Using Mega Sceptile over Mega Abomasnow just to set up Sunny Day seemed like a waste, so I put it on one of my bulky team members, kept it on Leavanny as a fail safe, and decided to leave Fell Stinger off of Levanny’s moveset.

Ability: Chlorophyll
Item: Normalium-Z
Moves: Sunny Day, Giga Impact, Leaf Blade, Shadow Claw

Q2 2019 Q&A Podcast Is Live

Hi all.

As a quick note my Q&A podcast for Q2 of 2019 is live. You can find it over on my Patreon page.

In this month’s podcast, I took writing and book questions submitted by patrons and Twitter folks and discussed them with the talented Evey Jacob. She’s the author of The Shadows (which I’ve reviewed on this blog before) and a previous Q&A guest on this very site. In this episode, we discussed several writing and book questions including what candy various Harry Potter characters are, how to get over the anxiety of writing the first sentence, and the hardest part of researching for your writing (plus more).

In the event you’re interested in supporting my writing, you can pledge to my Patreon. Depending on how much you’re able to give to support me, there are various perks available, including exclusive blog posts, podcasts, and signed pictures. All patrons also get priority question submission for the Q&A podcasts. The Q&A podcast itself is available for everyone to listen to, though patrons do get early access to the podcast.

The Worst Fire Emblem Awakening Play Through Ever: Chapters 7 and 8

The following post is part of my series “The Worst Fire Emblem Awakening Playthrough Ever”. Spoilers ahead for a six year old game.


Welcome back to the worst Fire Emblem Awakening play through ever. When we last left the Shepherds, our heroes were busy getting their ass saved by a dark, brooding heroine who goes by Marth. The Exalt, Emmeryn, is safe, but rumors are someone may try to kill her again. Ylisse is now at war with Plegia, Virion is still riding my unit bench, and I’m about to do some more reeking box grinding to anger Fire Emblem purists. That and because it’s been nearly two months in real time between when I wrote chapters 3-6 in one day and when I’m writing this post.

In this post, we’ll be playing through chapters 7 and 8 of the story. The next post will contain chapter 9 by itself, so this will be the last two-parter for a little bit.

Chapter 7: Incursion

The Shepherds have arrived at a mountain pass, apparently walking the whole way here as evidenced by the fact that Lissa is complaining about how much her feet hurt. While this makes sense for some of our party members, Frederick has a horse. Yet, instead of riding said horse, not only is he walking up the mountain, he’s doing it in his full riding suit of armor. Because reasons. Christopher Robin joins in on the complaining about the walk and Chrom offers to carry him, but not Lissa. It seems our budding bromance continues. Christopher grows concerned about a priest who is travelling with them when suddenly the Plegian army appears. Our battle starts now.

Just kidding. We’ve been ambushed by a crew lead by someone named Vasto who is doing a lot of sniffing for someone who refuses to admit they have a cold. Before the battle can start officially, the aforementioned priest reveals that he’s a double agent working for King Gangrel. He says the king offered him protection, but Vasto is a true believer in the philosophy that snitches get stitches and promptly has one of his underlings murder the priest5I both love and detest when this trope is invoked in video games and movies. It’s terrible, yet a great way for a bad guy to get some instant heat. It just doesn’t work well here since Vasto has zero plot importance.. Chrom shouts to Phila — who we haven’t seen in this entire cut scene, but we’re supposed to believe is there — to take Emmeryn — who we also haven’t seen — out of harms way. NOW our battle starts.

We’ve got some pretty serious leveling to do for some of our newer units such as Gaius and Lon’qu, as well as neglected units like Stahl, so this seems like as good of time as any to let them wreck shit. We also have Panne, who puts the Rabbit of Caerbannog to shame. Our first turn is largely just a wave of bad guys who think it’d be a good idea to let Vaike kill them, which is effective for me, but less so for the Plegian army. I decide to let Christopher hang back, as he’ll be needed at the entrance of the map shortly. Turn two is much of the same, only replace Vaike with Lon’qu. At the end of the second turn, my favorite modded nation leader from Civilzation V, Cordelia, shows up. She’s a pegasus knight who is a redheaded, female Mr. Perfect. Her cut scene actually shows us that Phila is here, which I’m pretty sure the developers only added after the fact when they realized their story had a giant plot hole. Trust me, I’ve been there.

We continue on. Stahl finds a shiny bow, Maribelle heals people to the point where I can nearly reclass her, and Panne is still a beast. I pair up Cordelia with Christopher so that I can deal with the impending reinforcement Cordelia mentioned upon her entrance. That said, they don’t have time to get there, as Chrom gets a critical hit on Vasto, killing him, while Lon’qu, Panne, and Stahl clean up the rest of the level.

We cut to Cordelia warning us that the Plegian army is hot on our heels, thanks to the fact that the Plegians have broken through the Ylissean border. Cordelia’s entire pegasus knight brigade was slaughtered by the Plegian army, but she managed to escape because of plot conveinence. Cordelia rightly has a nervous breakdown, Chrom gets angry, and Emmeryn makes a cameo long enough to tell us that she needs to leave. Before she does, however, Emmeryn gives Chrom the Fire Emblem6Roll credits. and tells him to take it to Ferox for safe keeping. We get a good bit of arguing between Chrom/Lissa and Emmeryn over whether or not Emmeryn should go before Emmeryn pulls the ‘I am your god-queen’ card and makes the decision final. Phila — now Cordelia’s commanding officer following the loss of her squad — commands Cordelia to stay with the Shepherds, so I guess we’re getting a new unit. Chrom continues arguing and yelling as Emmeryn leaves, ending our chapter.

After the save point, we’re back in Arena Ferox where Chrom, Sumia, Lissa, and Christopher are discussing Emmeryn’s safety7I can’t remember if Sumia is only here because she’s already married to Chrom by this point or because she’s plot critical.. Chrom is so preoccupied with his sister’s safety that he’s not listening to anyone, so Sumia slaps him. And by slaps him, she does it with a closed fist, so I mean she punches him8So no. Not plot critical. And by that, I mean Sumia’s entire existence isn’t plot critical.. Flavia thinks this is hilarious. She also wants to let us know that the Feroxi army is mobilized and ready to help Ylisse. Nick Fury is coming too, but before he comes, he tells us that Ylisstol has fallen and the Emmeryn has been captured. Basilio wants us to think things through before acting, which means Chrom does exactly not that. Even Christopher is getting sick of Chrom’s impulses at this point and tells him to calm down. Now we’re formally ready to move on to the next chapter.

Chapter 8: The Grimleal

The chapter opens with Chrom talking about how he’s convinced the Shepherds have just wandered into another Plegian trap, but that the Plegians haven’t spung it yet. Frederick shows up, explains that there’s a battle ahead and gives us some exposition on how moving in sand levels work, and then we move on. What the hell is this? A chapter with minimal cut scene work before I get to play? Can I have more?

After selecting units, we’re introduced to Nowi, who is a very specific trope. You see, Nowi is thousands of years old (because of reasons we’ll get to in a moment), but looks like she’s 14-15. But it’s totally cool, because she’s actually thousands of years old. Or something. I don’t care how many times I play this game, I’ll never marry the Avatar to Nowi or her daughter because it’s creepy. She’s joined by Gregor, who is a walking bad accent with useful skills. Nowi is apparently running away from Gregor, but Gregor is trying to protect her. Chrom and Lissa yell at Gregor, giving away his and Nowi’s position, leaving them surrounded by a band of Plegian religious zealots known as the Grimleal. They’re not good. Chrom agrees to fight to save Nowi and to figure out whether Gregor is good or bad later.

We’ve got a ton of villages to save, but due to my leveling of units, I’ve really only got Ricken and Sumia that can move quickly in this level. So they’ll be saving villages while everyone else helps clean up the center of the map. We’re good though, because Ricken has apparently decided to critical hit anything that moves. At the start of turn three, Nowi gets an attack in and everyone realizes that Nowi is a fucking dragon. More specifically, she’s a manakete, which is a shapeshifting human/dragon hybrid that will become our main non-armor tank for the first half of the game. Gaius decides to get in on the crit party as well, taking out two swordsmen and coming super close to death. Good thing we don’t have permadeath on.

The AI in this game baffles me a little, as the enemies on this level will nearly always bumrush Nowi. That’s not a terrible plan, as she’s comparatively underleveled. But she’s also a beast and destroys literally anything in her path. While that’s tons of free XP for me, it’s a lot of dead bodies that someone has to explain to a Plegian general. In picking up stuff from the villages on the map, we get our first Master Seal (which allows for promotion to advanced classes) and our first9I actually randomly pick up another one immediately after this chapter thanks to a secret seller appearing on the map. Second Seal (which allows for class changing). Because the goals of this game are to have fun and to curbstomp the enemy, we’ll be making liberal use of both of these items to create the most overpowered super soldiers…er…child units we can10I’ve decided to make most of my marriage pairings in this playthrough ones that I enjoy the dialogue between. That said there are some characters who are just cringeworthy no matter who they marry. Looking at you, Nowi.. We advance on the final units with Nowi, Gregor, Ricken, and Panne, wherein Ricken has apparently decided he’s had enough of everyone’s shit and kills the last three units (including the boss) all with critical hits. With Thunder. Which has a 5% base critical chance. Holy RNG, Batman.

After we’ve dispatched of the baddies, Gregor and Nowi make up. Chrom tells Gregor to look after Nowi, but Gregor reveals he’s a mercenary and offers his services to the Shepherds. Chrom accepts. Nowi talks about how she’s been part of a human (manakete?) trafficking ring because holy fuck this game is dark. Lissa is stunned at how Nowi has been mistreated, while Frederick suggests that Nowi come along with us, both as a new, powerful ally, and to keep her safe from her past life. Flavia — who is also here — suggests everyone get some rest before we advance on the Plegian capital, ending the chapter.

End of Level Recap

Starting with this post, I’ve added a section for class changes. Both promotions to advanced classes and reclassing for various purposes will be added in here. There was a bit more reeking box grinding here, though this was mostly for the benefit of Maribelle and Lissa, as you’ll see below. I also may change my initial marriage plan for Cordelia. We haven’t met the character who I plan to be her husband yet, but the more I’m thinking about it, the more I’m unsure I like it. This may become a poll once we get there.

Units

  • Vaike – Level 12 Fighter
  • Ricken – Level 11 Mage
  • Miriel – Level 11 Mage
  • Chrom – Level 10 Lord
  • Gregor – Level 10 Mercenary
  • Sully – Level 9 Cavalier
  • Panne – Level 9 Taguel
  • Kellam – Level 8 Knight
  • Sumia – Level 8 Pegasus Knight
  • Christopher – Level 7 Tactician
  • Cordelia – Level 7 Pegasus Knight
  • Nowi – Level 7 Cavalier
  • Gaius – Level 6 Thief
  • Lon’qu – Level 6 Myrmidon
  • Stahl – Level 5 Cavalier
  • Frederick – Level 4 Great Knight
  • Lissa – Level 1 Pegasus Knight
  • Maribelle – Level 1 Pegasus Knight
  • Virion – Level 2 Stablehand

Supports

  • Vaike & Maribelle: B to A to S
  • Frederick & Miriel: A to S
  • Ricken & Panne: C to B to A
  • Sumia & Sully: None to C
  • Nowi & Gregor: None to C
  • Nowi & Kellam: None to C

Class Changes

  • Maribelle: Troubadour to Pegasus Knight
  • Lissa: Cleric to Pegasus Knight