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NANCY: What made you start doing reviews?

LYNNE: I was buying books from Amazon years ago because the companies weren’t selling books from their sites yet. I used to get books from Naiad and Bella in the mail, but you couldn’t buy from the others, and the bookstores where I live just don’t carry lesbian books period. So I bought some books and read them. Some of them were just plain awful. Not only were the stories not good, they were full of mistakes. And you know, these books have never been cheap. I remember thinking that I was so mad that I spent money on these books and I wouldn’t want anyone else to waste their money. I know that some people don’t have a lot of money; they have to budget for their books. That’s what got me started. I began posting little reviews on Amazon, basically saying, this book is pretty good, it’s worth spending your money on it, or this book is not very good, and it has grown from that. I didn’t even sign my earlier reviews. Most of them were signed ?A Customer?. There were reasons for that too. Eventually I got the courage to start putting up at least my screen name on the Amazon reviews. But basically, I didn’t want people spending their money on books that just weren’t good. I’m not talking about the ones where I didn’t care for the story subject. I’m talking about the stories that just weren’t any good the ones that change the character’s name in the middle of the book, or had terrible grammar. Things like that.

NANCY: So, how long have you been doing this?

LYNNE: Gosh, I guess about 10 years if you count the very first ones I posted on Amazon. People wouldn’t have recognized me for those, because like I said, I didn’t sign them. There are quite a few on Amazon that I don’t get credit for because my name is not on them. ‘That might be a good thing.

NANCY: When you first started out reviewing, did you ever find that your personal opinion influenced your reviews?

LYNNE: I don’t think reviews are anything but a personal opinion. I don’t see how a review can be anything else. I don’t care how many degrees somebody may have or how much experience, when you re evaluating a book, the bottom line is, it’s an opinion, and that’s all there is to it.

NANCY: Ok, let me rephrase the question, because I agree that reviews are all just personal opinions. Let’s say it’s an author you don’t like. You’ve read a couple of her books and you haven’t liked anything, or it’s an author that you really like. Would either of those things influence you and your reviews? Or do you read each book like you’ve never read or heard of the author before?

LYNNE: I’ve never read an author where I didn’t like any of her books. I always believe in giving her another chance. If I read a book I don’t like, I will read another book or two by that author because anyone can write a book you don’t like. It’s hard for me to find a book I just totally do’t like at all. There is usually something in the book that is appealing. There have been some, but I try to evaluate each book based on that book, not based on what the author wrote previously. Now I may mention in a review, that I’ve read another book by that author, that I see improvement from what was written before, or perhaps this book wasn’t as strong as the first one I read or something like that. I think each book has to be evaluated by itself.  I love Meryl Streep, but not every one of her movies has been outstanding. But I still watch her movies. I see books the same way. The one other thing I have changed is sitting and listening to authors at conferences. What they think should be in a romance, in a mystery, or science fiction or whatever. And I have changed slightly how I evaluate a book. I try to concentrate on what a reader wants. I know now that readers seem to want a happily ever after ending in a romance. Whether it is realistic or not, that’s what they want. So if the book delivers the HEA ending, and I don’t think it really clicks, I may still go ahead and say the book is worth reading, simply because I know that’s what a majority of the readers want. If the whole book doesn’t work, I’ll say so. But I’m getting a better picture now of what is expected by people in science fiction, what they expect in mysteries. I was never aware that people who like mysteries, don’t want a love story included. And that becomes apparent if you read what people post on the groups. The mystery lovers will complain that the mystery is being used as a disguise to hide a romance. It never occurred to me you couldn’t have the two together in the same book. If there was a mystery and a romance evolved, that never bothered me, but it does bother the mystery purists. And that is something I take into consideration when I review a book now.

NANCY: How do you handle a book you really don’t like at all? There is nothing remotely ok about the book. I mean you’re not going to say this book totally sucks, don’t buy it, are you? Ya gotta be a little tactful.

LYNNE: I did that years ago. There was a book written by a fanfic author and the story originally appeared on a fanfic site. The person took the book and published it, as is. Without doing any editing or anything. I read the book and the story was just ridiculous, it didn’t make any sense at all. It was full of mistakes the characters changed names, and this was just when I was first getting involved in reviewing. I just came right out and said this book is horrible, don’t buy it! I normally don’t do that. I won’t hesitate to give a book 1 or 2 stars when I review it on Amazon. I’ll say this book missed the mark because... I will try to tell why. If it has a lot of grammar errors, I’ll say that, if the characters change names, if the plot has sections hanging that never get resolved, I will mention all that. I try to be as clear as possible about why I didn’t think the book was good. But there haven’t been that many that I thought were just total just should have never been published.

NANCY: An author sends you a book to review and it’s just terrible. Have you ever given up on a book? Or do you always read it?

LYNNE: I always read it and I will write the review exactly how I feel. As a matter of fact, I had an author get very angry with me because of that. She approached me about reviewing her book, and I always tell the authors up front, (and I don’t ask for books. I NEVER ask for books) I will do it as long as they understand that I’m going to say what I honestly think about the book. This author agreed, (someone recommended me to her), and she sent me the book. Part of her story was offensive for several reasons. It wasn’t that it was poorly written, but she put some things in the book that were blatantly offensive to certain groups of people, and I wrote the review that way. I said this book is offensive, in fact, in my opinion, the book is racist. I posted the review in all the places I normally post them and then I got this email from her saying I didn’t tell her I posted my review in all those places. She has never sent me another book, oddly enough.
The hardest part is when someone sends you a book and you don’t like it. ESPECIALLY if you know the writer. That’s a problem I’m running into now, since I’ve been to the conferences. I?m getting to know a lot of these authors, and it’s hard to write a review of a book of someone you know and say it’s not very good …but I do it! It’s the only thing I can do and maintain my honesty.

NANCY: So what about the books you buy? No one knows you have them, so have you ever chucked one of those?

LYNNE: The only lesfic book I have not finished is Affinity by Sarah Waters. I tried, but just couldn’t get through it. People have said the ending makes the book worthwhile, so obviously I didn’t get far enough into the book. I got about half way and just couldn’t take it anymore.

NANCY: Do you mark up the books as you read them…make notes or comments about certain parts as you read it?

LYNNE: I don’t mark books, never marked books. I don’t make notes while I read. Well, once in a while if there is a line I want to quote, I may go ahead and start the review and type that line out, so I know to use it. Sometimes books are so overwhelming that when I’ve finished the book, I’ll sit down and write the review right away. Most of the time, I’ll set it aside for a few days before I start the review. Sometimes I’ll keep the review on my computer for months, because I think about them and think about them. In that case, I have to go back and refer to the book. I’ll flip through the pages to see if there was anything I wanted to talk about

NANCY: Do you read other reviews?

LYNNE: Only after I’ve read the book, to see if there was something I might have missed, or some point that they picked up on and that I thought about, but forgot to put in. I don’t want to be influenced in any way before I read something. I won’t change my review or opinion of the book though. I have seen books win awards that I didn’t think were any good at all.
Also, I think that sometimes a book gets a glowing review because it’s somebody’s girlfriend. Or you’ll notice that the author is from Dallas, Texas, and ALL the reviews are from Dallas, Texas. I think too many times in our tiny pool, people are trying to tip a person’s opinion by sheer volume.

I also avoid reviewers who only give out 5 stars. I pay attention to the reviewer who gives a variety of stars. If they gave a book 2 stars and I gave it 4, I will read that review to see why they rated it that way.
When you start going to conferences and meeting people, you know who the authors are and their partners and friends, so when you see a rave review by the author's partner, you don’t take it seriously, because what are they going to say? What bothers me, is the person who doesn’t know that it was written by the author’s partner or friend. She sees this great review, thinks this must be a good book, and buys it, only to find out the book really isn’t all that good. She was tricked into buying it, and I don’t like that at all.

NANCY: You reviewed a book, gave it two stars, and felt you were being generous. You see that someone else has given it 5 stars. Have you ever felt like writing that reviewer and asking why, or do you just let it go?

LYNNE: I’ve emailed a couple of the better known reviewers and asked if they gave anything other than 5 stars. I think you lose your creditability if that’s all you give. I get the response back that they only review books they like.

NANCY: Do you also write, or just do the reviews?

LYNNE: I just do the reviews. I was telling someone that I was good at writing one line, once I got past that, I have trouble. I can think of what I might think would be a good story line, but I can’t see myself sitting down and filling in the dialog and descriptive scenes. I can do research papers that work just fine. I can fill pages full of facts. But to ask me to come up with something out of my head, I’m afraid it’s going to sound trite, or silly, or foolish, and I don’t want anyone to think I’m foolish. I read books, I don’t write them.
I have been a beta reader for authors in the past and made comments or suggestions on something I thought could be changed or done a little differently.

NANCY: You mentioned you’ve beta read, have you reviewed a book you’ve worked on?

LYNNE: Yes, I did and this is ironic because someone asked me to look at her book and make suggestions. I didn’t really consider it beta reading because I just read the book very quickly and made a couple comments. I didn’t think about it anymore after that. I reviewed the book, and that year I was asked to judge for the GCLS. I had never seen the book in print until GCLS sent me a copy of it. I never read the acknowledgements…never, but at that time the judging form said something about acknowledgements, and when I went to read it. My God! The woman gave me credit for helping her write the book. So I had to disqualify myself from judging the book. Even when I do help the authors with a book, my help is basically looking at grammar, helping out with commas, verb tense, that kind of stuff. I don’t like to tell an author to change anything in a story, because it’s her story, coming out of her head, not my interpretation of the story.

NANCY: Have you ever had any irate responses to your reviews?

LYNNE: There are two people who have written me more than once to tell me what was wrong with my reviews. One was KG Macgregor and the other was Fran Heckrotte. KG has actually caused me to think very hard about the reviews I write because her complaint was that I gave away something she didn’t want the reader to know. I didn’t think I had, but she wrote to me about it twice, so I got to thinking maybe I was telling too much. Now I try to be very careful what I put for the information in the book. KG is responsible for that and I think she deserves the credit.?
Fran wrote to me and told me that I didn’t understand her genre. I got to thinking about it and realized she was probably right. I’m not even exactly sure what genre she’s put herself into now. There is always the discussion about what’s horror, what’s speculative fiction and what’s supernatural. I have trouble seeing where the line is between all of them. But I realized that she had a very valid point, that I was saying things about the book that didn’t fit the category, and that has made me more aware when I review a book. Basically I’ve only had the one person come after me who was so angry. I didn’t pay a bit of attention because I just found her book to be appalling. But most authors are very understanding all the way around.

NANCY: How do you rate a book?

LYNNE: I’m a school teacher, so I equal stars to grades. An A means it’s an outstanding book, it blew my socks off, I didn’t want the book to end. There are lines coming off the page that are just unbelievable the way they are worded. The characters have hit upon some sort of profound truth that I can identify with. That’s a 5. I don’t give many A’s or 5’s.?

A 4 star book is above average, has a good story, it was pleasurable to read, I enjoyed it and am probably not going to keep it on my bookshelf, I might or might not.

3 stars are average stories; they pretty much follow the formula. It’s OK if you want to spend a couple of hours reading before you go to bed. I read so many books now that many I don’t remember, I will have to read my review to remember what it’s about. 5 star books are the ones that I can tell you by title and can tell you the story and character names, because I’m not going to forget them

2 and 1 stars are because…I read a book about a year ago, every page had a mistake. The characters names changed…that’s a 2 or 1 star. Sometimes they write a plot that is just so unbelievable that if it was called sci-fi, you just might let it slide, but they call them a romance instead. I think I've only given a 1 star rating to one or two books in ten years.

NANCY: How do you rate a book that was technically good in every way, but you personally did not like the subject matter?

LYNNE: If the book is well written, I’ll say that in a review. I tease Patty Henderson all the time because in one of her books she cuts off somebody’s head at the end of the book. A very important character, I might add. You’re reading along, you’re invested in the characters, and one of them gets her head cut off. I’m like, Holy cow! The book was well written, it was a good story, but I didn’t like the ending. So what I would probably say is, the book is well written, it was an interesting story, but be ready for a twist or shocking ending, something like that. I don’t like books with two endings (and some have shown up) I want only one! Pick how you are going to end the story and I will decide if I don’t like it.

NANCY: Do you follow any type of check list when you review a book?

LYNNE: I don’t have a check list. I sit down, read the book, and give my opinion. I don’t have a formula. I don’t have a grading scale. I just try to figure out; did it meet what I expect to find in a book? I guess I have a general theme I follow: were the characters believable, did the story make sense? Now, when its a historical fiction book, I tend to be much harder on it, because I’m a history teacher. Did the author get the history right? It drives me crazy when somebody takes a book, sets it in a historical period, and then mangles the history. I had an author that used to be a friend, who has written some books about the west. She has a school teacher in a western town in the 1870’s who is an out lesbian, living with another woman, and nobody cares. First off, that wouldn’t happen. Secondly, she wouldn’t keep her job as a teacher…this just totally violates the history of that period. If she had them living as best friends, they’re living together to help with expenses and such, that would be one thing. But to be walking around town openly as lesbians is another. She handled this by stating in the front of the book, "this is not history the way it really was, it’s history how I wished it happened". If she’s going to say that, don’t call it historical fiction, just call it fiction.

NANCY: Do you prefer an eBook or a print book?

LYNNE: I read both, but the problem with books on my Kindle is that I forget to read them. With a print book, its physical presence says ‘read me’.

NANCY: How much would formatting on an eBook reflect on your review?

LYNNE: I wouldn’t comment on the formatting at all. With so many different formats, the version I’m reading, may not be the version someone else is. If I’m reading a Kindle version and you’re reading a Nook, my comments would have no relevance to you at all.

NANCY: Actually, I think it would. Now this is just my opinion, but I purchased a book where the formatting was atrocious. From experience, it looked like they took the PDF file and converted it in Calibre, and sold it as an ePub. PDF files just do not convert. In the middle of the page you will get the page number, down a little further you get the author's name and page number. Throughout the entire story, in the middle of the pages, not just at the beginning or end.

LYNNE: In that case I might mention it, but I would also put in a disclaimer that it could have just been the way it appeared for that particular format.

NANCY: Who does the reviewer have a responsibility to, the author or the reader?

LYNNE: I moderate the Yahoo discussion group Lesfic Unbound and a comment was made that a reviewer can cost an author sales, so you shouldn’t put negative comments in. I don’t think the reviewer has an obligation to sell books for the author. I don’t think the reviews influence sales that much anyway, especially if you have more than one book out. My opinion is, I’ve never intended my reviews to be for the authors, my reviews are written with the reader in mind. It goes back to the question I had years ago, ‘Would I want people to spend money on this book’. ‘Now that the books cost even more, that question is even more important. If I write a review and it happens to help an author sell books, that’s fine, and great. But that’s not why I wrote the review. I wrote it to try and tell someone who’s thinking about buying the book if I think, in ‘my opinion’ they should or not. If I’m writing to help sales, then I need to be on that company’s payroll. And then I’m not a reviewer, I’m a publicist.

NANCY: I really think the only way you can truly hurt the sales of a book would be to say, ‘This book sucks, don’t buy it.’ But then again, I have purchased books for just that reason. I want to know what was so terrible about the book to get those reviews. For example, Lori Lake’s new book, so far all the reviews I’ve read have not been good.

LYNNE: I gave it a good review.

NANCY: I saw that, and so far you are the only one. So now I have to buy it to see what you saw in the book that the others did not.

LYNNE: Sometimes people go to read a book for one thing. They go to read a romance, and all they look for is, do the two people fall in love and do they have sex? When I read a book, I don’t worry about if it’s a romance. I read it for what’s in the story, and sometimes it may be called a romance, but there is something more in the story, something more important. Marianne Martin’s book, The Indelible Heart, is listed as a romance, I think, but that book there is such a strong story in that book about a woman trying to find a way to deal with her own demons, release herself from the past, to overcome her shortcomings, that whether or not there is a sex scene in the book, really doesn’t matter. When people fail to see that, they miss a very important story.
That is what I think happened with Lori’s book. People kept expecting it to be a straight romance, (not literally) and there’s so much more to it than that.

Lori's book was about the characters, about building a family. How family is sometimes who you choose to make it and not who you’re born into. And I thought that was so much more important as a story than two women falling in love. You can read about two women falling in love in almost any book, but if you’re going to read a book about how lesbians create family, her book is a very strong story.

NANCY: Lynne was great to talk to, and she even continued with the interview, when only after a few minutes into it, I inadvertently insulted her…sorry Lynne! We talked for almost three hours about a host of things, going from topic to topic, then taking side trips as we discussed different books. It really was good talking to her, and I look forward to meeting her at the GCLS.

She talked more about Lori Lake’s book, so much so that I did end up getting and reading the book. And I have to agree with her, it really was an enjoyable read. It was a romance with so much more.
It seems to me that every time I do an interview, I end up spending money on books that the interviewee recommends. I have mentioned this fact to Affinity in hopes of them putting together a book fund for me…not happening. So I mentioned to Lynne that maybe the interviewee that I am talking to that gets me interested in a particular book should maybe pay. Needless to say that ain’t happening either! Damn, but I will keep trying!!!




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