Today I’m talking to “Aunt Lynn,” a guest reviewer on the site, about why she likes reviewing books and what really bugs her about what I feel is one of the most important jobs in publishing outside of being an author, publisher (this includes everyone on the staff involved in the process), or a book seller.
In this series, instead of talking with authors I interview book reviewers, the people who give their opinions about different M/M books and influence the buying patterns of thousands of readers. I wanted the readers to meet the people behind the reviews. Aunt Lynn, like other book reviewers, does this because she loves books and she gives her opinions so that you, the reader, can get a sense of which books are good, bad or not worth the investment.
Reviews are always a matter of opinion whether it’s movies, restaurants, stage shows, books, etc., and these opinions can vary from one end of the spectrum to the other, which is why it’s always a good idea to check out several reviews if you have the time, before you buy a book. Most reviewers are motivated by their love of books, are impartial, and if they have any biases they state them upfront and they don’t expect anything other than “thank you” from the readers.
Hi there Wave, and thanks for having me. I think. Does it make me a wimp to say I’m a little scared right now? 🙂
“Aunt Lynn” came about because my niece and nephews, with whom I spend a lot of time, call me that and especially when they were much younger, I would refer to myself that way to them. As a result, my family and friends started calling me it as well some of the time. When I started developing an online presence and was looking for a way to distinguish myself from other “Lynn”s, it just seemed natural to go with that. I know it seems weird; in fact, I think the first time I made comments on the site over a year ago, you made mention of that:
“You’re going to have to find another pseud. I feel very funny talking with someone with the name “Aunt Lynn” about fisting *g* I think you’re probably a big brawny guy who is pulling the wool over our eyes.”
No big brawny guy here. Short, chunky and all girl. 🙂
Since the readers don’t know a lot about you, why don’t you give us the five cent tour on what makes “Aunt Lynn” tick.
What a loaded request! 🙂 I was reading these questions off to my partner and when I got to this one, she said “Ooooh, can I write the answer to that one?”
Seriously…I’m in my early forties, live in Berkeley (that’s California for those of you who live outside of the US and/or under a rock) and currently make my living maintaining the website for a performing arts presenter at arguably the premier public institution of higher learning in the world. I work at home, which allows me to compute in my lazy clothes, shop when no one else is in the store, and read my books when it’s really quiet and no one is looking. 🙂 I also have a Master’s in Library Science and am considered by many to be a very good cook. In fact, if I wasn’t doing web work, I’d probably cook professionally in some capacity. I love food and I love feeding people, something that comes from being part of a large Italian family. I would say that every aspect of putting on a meal, whether it be for just me or a crowd of a hundred (yes, I casually cater on the side as well), gives me immense pleasure. I am never happier than when I have a bunch of people around my table eating my yummy food. Other careers I’ve considered are dog walker, hair stylist, long-haul trucker, movie projectionist, beekeeper and luger. Oh, and innkeeper, which actually might happen one day if I’m a good girl.
Let’s see what else… I have a (female) partner of fourteen years this upcoming Sunday, two Maine Coon cats and one Bernese Mountain Dog (I lost my younger, severely orthopedically-challenged Berner and the love of my life back in May. That’s her over to the left. Hi Gabbie!). I love reading M/M romance, which baffles all of my family and friends (and especially my lesbian friends). I am devoted to disaster preparedness — in particular for earthquakes — and am sure the Big One will hit Northern CA sometime in my lifetime.
You were the first guest reviewer on the blog and I still can’t believe you agreed to do this. What made you decide to say “yes” when I approached you and dragged you kicking and screaming out of lurkdom? 🙂
Yeah, sometimes I can’t believe I agreed as well! 🙂 I posted a few reviews on Amazon — which is actually where and how I found you and your blog — and, after going through your past reviews and other posts, thought we were a good match. I am not a writer and have no aspirations to be one, so this is one way I can give back to the community that gives me a lot of pleasure.
I know that you love books which is the main reason that most reviewers do this job. What types of books other than M/M romances do you like to read?
Currently, I am reading nothing but, a result of desire and time restraints I think. I have been an avid reader for as long as I can remember, however, and I have been partial to het romance, fantasy/SF and some murder/mystery/suspense in the past. Oh, and I’m a Harry Potter freak, which led me to fanfiction and yummy Harry/Draco slash, which led me here. 🙂
You have reviewed a ton of books since you started here — Which books are your Top 5? Why?
Well, if I am listing just books I’ve reviewed here, then I would take the first five in my list from 2009’s Top Books (as I began reviewing in January 2009), and if you want to know why, go read the reviews!
- Snowball in Hell by Josh Lanyon
- Dreaming of You by Ethan Day
- Lee Rowan’s Articles of War series
- Charlie Cochrane’s Cambridge Fellows Mysteries series
- Richard Stevenson’s long-running Donald Strachey Mystery series
If not, I’d go with:
- Josh Lanyon’s Adrien English Mysteries series, because, well, why the hell not? They are some of the best books I’ve ever read, period, much less in this genre.
- Charlie Cochrane’s Cambridge Fellows Mysteries series
- Dreaming of You/Ethan Day
- Tigers and Devils/Sean Kennedy, because not only is it a great book, Simon reminds me of me in some ways (except he’s probably cuter and, well, a gay man).
- Caught Running/Madeleine Urban & Abigail Roux, because it’s my go-to comfort read and I love the dynamic between Jake and Brandon. (read my Amazon review, about three-quarters of the way down the page)
You like many authors but one of them who really tickles your funny bone is Ethan Day. What is it about Ethan’s writing that appeals to you so much? (I believe he has a standing dinner invitation if he is ever in Berkeley). I noticed that there was no similar invitation for me to drop by for dinner. 😀
He cracks me up. I appreciate a great sense of humor as I have one as well, and when I am in the mood, a book laced with fabulous wit beats all. His stories are well-written, the characters fun and fresh and believable, and his narrators feisty, self-deprecating and often with no censors on their mouths. I want to be friends with his heroes and even secondary characters as they are usually three-dimensional and well-drawn as well. The underlying emotional aspects of his stories hit you when you least expect it, but it never drags it down. Readers are in for a treat when they pick up one of his books, especially if they are feeling blue. Ethan picks me up like no other. It doesn’t hurt that his online presence indicates that he is as funny in RL as he is in print.
And don’t think I didn’t see that snide little remark you made, Wave…*huff* Okay, fine, you can come, too. That means you actually have to come to the Bay Area, though, ’cause I don’t deliver internationally. 😉
You are one of the few reviewers who does not have her own blog. Why is that? Is it because of the time investment?
Absolutely. I barely have time to do all of the things I currently do, so I chose to not develop my own blog or site, or participate in social media of any kind (I know that makes me kinda freakish). Since I feel like family on this blog — and do some technology work for it at times — it sates any desire I have to have an online presence.
I think there are several things about reviewing that are challenging. First is trying to get across what worked and didn’t in a coherent, logical manner that does not insult the author (if there are negatives). Sometimes this is very easy and other times it just is torture, especially if the book was “meh.” Second is, especially if the review is negative, making sure it is a fair assessment of my reading experience. Is it too gushy? Is it unfairly critical? Third is trying to view the pros and cons in the eyes of other readers and how they could and possibly will take the same issues.
For your second question, I would say that I ask myself some questions. Did the author do his or her job? Did I buy the story? Were the characters believable? How was the writing itself? Was there anything about the book that grabbed my attention, good or bad? How did I feel reading it? Did I get to the end and say, even if there wasn’t an HEA, “okay, that was a really good book?” Or was I disappointed?
What would make a book DNF for you?
Having three or more of the following in one book (and I’ll know usually by the second chapter):
Bad/amateurish writing. Poor editing. Inconsistent characters. Weak — or non-existent — character development. Plots all over the map. Ridiculous dialog. An incredulous reveal. Having to suspend my disbelief to a point where my enjoyment suffers. So many POVs that I can’t keep track. So many smexxin scenes that I end up skipping half the book or more (unless it is labeled as erotica, then I know what I am getting).
I know that you have a very demanding job. How do you find the time to read all of the books you review? Do you wish at times that you had a hobby that took up less of your spare time, like maybe bowling or curling?
LOL. Though now that you mention it, I do have a low center of gravity at 4’11″…
It’s not just my job, either; I do part-time computer consulting and have three volunteer positions as well as take care of my family, so I am a very busy person. 🙂 I’m not complaining, mind you. I like it that way — my mother raised me to have a strong work ethic, be an active part of the community and not laze about — but it sure does cut into my reading/reviewing time!
Reviewing has become quite controversial, with some authors demanding that we don’t review their books, or they insult the reviewers’ integrity through various means, including posting negative comments about them on Twitter and other social networks. Would this make you less likely to continue reviewing in future if this activity is ramped up?
No. Though I have been a victim of such attacks in the past and while it hurts to see my name being smeared, at the same time I cannot help but feel bad for the people doing it. It’s unfortunate that some people feel the need to degrade others because of their opinion. It’s just uncalled for. Now, in all fairness and as I said before, I am not an author, nor do I want to be one. I am a reader first, and a reviewer second. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to put one’s imagination and heart and soul onto paper — or into the computer — and have it published for the world to see, if one is lucky enough to get published, and then receive a less-than-stellar review and get to watch the comments that follow roll in. That being said, I would like to remind authors that I am simply one reader and opinion and that there will be many, many other readers who will love their books no matter what I say or think.
One thing I can take pride in is that I’ve never made a review about the author personally nor was I insulting in the comments thereafter, or will I be. It’s not my style and it’s not why we’re here doing what we do. Reviews are about critiquing books, not people. Although I wish the authors would remember that and not take it personally, talking nasty about me isn’t going to force me to stop. Sticks and stones and all that…
How much time do you spend every week reading and reviewing books? What do you have to give up?
I’ve never timed myself, but I would say at least 30 hours, and part of that is because I read every reviewed book — with one exception that I can think of — twice as part of my process. That’s most evenings and, depending on what is going on over the weekend, much of Saturday and Sunday as well. And, depending on what is happening at work, I may read some during a weekday as well. Oh, and I read while waiting for just about anything or if I am by myself out — in line, at appointments, on public transit, in restaurants — on my handy-dandy, beloved Sony eReader.
And what do I give up? Not much. I’ve pretty much stopped watching television completely, though I was tiring of that anyway, so it wasn’t a huge sacrifice. Despite how busy I generally am, my personal life is fairly calm and boring most of the time. I am lucky that my partner also reads copious amounts as well (her choice is LesFic), so we read together.
Like you, we all have our favourite authors but sometimes they screw up, in our opinion. How difficult is it to write a negative review on a book written by one of your very favourite authors?
All negative reviews are hard for me to write, period, contrary to what is probably thought — especially by the authors who are getting the review. It is not in my nature to be highly critical, which is ironic considering what I am doing here, so I often agonize over every word in the negatives and fret over the feelings of the author.
That being said, authors sometimes produce flops, or at least books that didn’t live up to readers’ standards and expectations. For me, I often become “friendly” with the authors that become favorites, and I feel like a negative review will not only screw up that easy rapport, but also make me seem like a traitor. It’s something I’m working on in therapy. 🙂 Seriously, when this happens — and it’s luckily not that often — I am challenged to separate myself from those feelings and write an honest review that explains exactly what didn’t work for me.
What does Lynn do for fun?
Read, as you know. Spend time with friends and family, usually involving food in some form. Go to the many great beaches along the Northern CA coast. Hang out with the pets. Sometimes go to the movies.
The boyz in the hot tub asked me to send you their regards and they want to invite you into the tub whenever you feel the urge (I have no idea what urge they mean).
Hmmmm… The partner may have something to say about that, but if I want to go back to penis-land, I’ll jump right in!
Thank you for agreeing to this interview Lynn, I appreciate the time.
It was definitely my pleasure to interview Lynn. We have spent much time “talking” to each other via email and I view her as a valued friend, although that invitation to dinner seems to be lost. 🙂
And that’s a wrap!