Friday, December 9, 2011

In the Reviewer Spotlight: Holly P.

Welcome to the Reviewer Spotlight, where dedicated book reviewers share their thoughts on reading and reviewing historical fiction! Today's guest is Holly P.!


Why do you read historical fiction?

I read historical fiction because I like to feel like I am learning something as well as reading a good story.  There are so many fascinating things that have happened in the past that rival the best of what can be produced in regular fiction, soap operas, or even movies.  I love seeing an author pluck a piece of history from obscurity, make it come alive and make people who lived a thousand years ago seem more real to me. 

What are you reading now?

I am just starting Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky.  I’ve had this book on my shelf for over three years now and I’ve heard wonderful things about it so I figured it was time to give it a go.

What makes a great read for you?

There are so many elements that come together to make a truly great read for me. I like strong, well-developed characters--ones that have flaws which make them seem more realistic--and characters that I can root for but that aren’t too obvious.  For me it gets old when the protagonists and antagonists are constantly demonstrating their goodness or evil streak so I am beaten over the head with how good or bad they are. I love writing that can pull me in and make me feel like I am mentally in the thick of things and that shows me what is going on more than it tells me.   Also love when the romantic element is built up slowly and is understated, when the book has a good pace that keeps my interest throughout and when the plot is complex enough where I don’t know exactly how it’s going to end.  I know it is very easy to figure out an ending when a book is based on history but there are several times where I’ve been completely surprised at how an author ended a book even on a well-known subject.

What’s your biggest turnoff?

Historical fiction novels that veer off into bodice ripper territory and ones that are so historically inaccurate it impedes my enjoyment of the novel.

Where do you stand on the fact vs. fiction debate within the genre?

I do not mind when authors play with history a bit in the interest of helping a story along. Where it gets to be a problem with me is when an author completely rewrites history.  For example, female characters that have affairs with men who were in actuality five years old during the period the novel was set in or where a well-known historical figure doesn’t die like history says they did but goes on to live a totally different life-those books are not for me.  I tend to be more ok with changes when authors take the time in the author's notes to explain why they took liberties with the facts or if something wasn’t 100% known why they leaned in the direction they did. 

Are there any subjects that are overdone? 

I think a lot of people are getting sick of the Tudors but I love them!  Every year it seems like there is an “It” girl in historical fiction and a whole slew of novels comes forth on that one historical figure which can burn readers out a bit.  Last year there were a lot of Eleanor of Aquitaine novels.  I think even if there are a dozen novels coming out about the same person, as long as each author is offering a fresh perspective and giving the reader something new about that person to consider, it can’t be overdone.

Are there any subjects you’d like to see more of?

There is quite a bit of historical fiction out there set in England, France, and Italy.  I would like to see more historicals set in European countries that don’t get as much love as these countries do.  Also I am a bit of a Francophile so I would love to see more books set in France that are NOT about Joan of Arc, Napoleon, or Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution. 

Do you read any of these historical fiction sub-genres: mystery, inspirational, fantasy, romance? Why or why not?

I read the occasional historical mystery and historical fantasy. Occasionally I will read a historical romance but I’m a bit of a prude when it comes to my romance so it's only a once in a great while thing. 

Are there any current trends in the genre you either really like or really don’t like?

Because I read across pretty much every era, I don’t really pay attention to trends.  I am just happy that historical fiction authors continue to pick strong women in history as their subjects.  I am happy to see less headless women book covers though!

What’s the last historical fiction book you read and loved?

I just finished The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough and absolutely loved it.  One of my favorite types of historical fiction to read are multi-generational sagas and this one definitely delivered.

What’s the last historical fiction book you read and hated?

I can’t think of any books I absolutely hated because all the books I’ve read have had some good elements.  The last one I had a tough time with was Adam & Eve by Sena Jeter Naslund.  This is one of the strangest books I have read and it contained quite a few instances of characters doing things that just didn’t make sense to me.  I did love Abundance which is her novel on Marie Antoinette so I do plan to read more by her in the future.  Adam & Eve left me scratching my head in confusion though.

What’s your favorite time period to read about?

I love Tudor times and the Middle Ages.  I also like novels set in New York during the Gilded Age.  Really I love reading about all time periods.

Who are your favorite historical fiction authors?

To name a few: Jean Plaidy, Elizabeth Chadwick, Margaret George, Bernard Cornwell, and Deanna Raybourn.

How often do you read?

Every day.  The only time I don’t read is when I am sick.

Do you read print books, ebooks, or both? Which is your preference?

I read about 90% print books and occasionally I will read a book on my laptop.  I love print books though and don’t think I will ever give them up favor of an ebooks. 

Do you have a favorite place to read?

I read in my bedroom because it is quieter and there are fewer distractions.  I am one of those that can’t concentrate on a book if there is a lot of background noise going on and the living room is always noisy so the bedroom is really the only place I can read.

Where do you post your reviews?

I post my reviews on Bippity Boppity Book and I am also a reviewer for Royal Reviews so I post some there as well.  I have posted a few to Goodreads and plan to post more there in the future. 

Do you write a review for every book you read?

Right now I review every book that I read.  I don’t know if I will be able to continue this though because it seems every year I am reading more and more and writing that many reviews is getting overwhelming.  I’m on my 77th book this year-that’s a lot of reviews to write!

Do you read other reviews of a book you’ve read before you write yours?

I try not to do this.  I can’t review a book immediately after finishing it.  I have to “digest” it a few days and I find by doing this my thoughts on the book become clearer.  It’s like I have to wait to get outside of the emotions of a book so I can look at the mechanics of it before I write the review if that makes any sense.  If I read other reviews before I wrote mine I think it would interfere with all that.  I will scroll to the bottom of a review to see if a person liked it and then come back and read the entire thing once my review is done.

Do you read your friends’ reviews of books you’ve also reviewed? If so, do you find that your thoughts tend to be similar or dissimilar?

Yes.  Most of the time my thoughts are similar to theirs but most of the bloggers I follow have the same reading interests as I do, so this kind of makes sense.  Even if they loved it and I hated it or vice versa, as long as they articulate why and the reasons make sense I appreciate their perspective.

Do you have any pet peeves about book reviewing in general?

Respect is a huge thing for me so I cannot stand when a reviewer completely rips a book to shreds.  Saying the writing sucked, the characters sucked, the whole plot just sucked tells me nothing.  There is a difference between being honest about your thoughts and being a total jerk under the guise of being honest about your thoughts.  The respect thing also extends to authors commenting on reviews of their books.  If a person takes the time to read the book and the review comes out less than favorable but is respectful then attacking said reviewer because they didn’t rave about your book is totally unnecessary and unprofessional.  Kate Quinn (author if Mistress of Rome and Daughters of Rome) wrote this post a few months ago which I think makes some very valid points on the reader/author relationship.

Have you ever stopped following someone because of a review they’d written?

No.  Everyone is entitled to their opinion and I really enjoy most of the reviews I read.  I can think of very few reasons I would stop following someone.  I think the only reason I actually have stopped following is because someone hadn’t posted so long it led me to believe their blog was abandoned or because it was someone I started following when I first started blogging and their reading preferences are so polar opposite from mine that I’m not really interested in their content.  Never for an opinion though unless someone was hateful in a review instead of expressing valid reasons why they didn’t like a book.

Where do you think readers can find the most trustworthy reviews?

I think readers can find the most trustworthy reviews from other bloggers, and sites like Goodreads, Library Thing and Paperbackswap.  Communities like these are where you are going to find the hard-core book lovers.  I tend to avoid sites that also sell books as well as allow reviews because I don’t want to wade through pricing and shipping complaints to find the helpful reviews.

How much weight do you give to reviews when choosing whether to read a book?

There are so many reasons I might choose to read a book--if I like the cover, if the blurb on the back sounds interesting, and yes--if I’ve seen a few reviews that say the book is good I might consider picking it up.  This is the reason I read The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern which is something I normally wouldn’t pick for myself.  I saw so many positive reviews on it I had to check it out.

What do you like best about being a book reviewer?

Discovering new authors that I might not have read otherwise and being able to share the book love with others.  I don’t have to bore my non-reading husband to death telling him about books I’ve read now that I’ve found “my people”. J

Thanks for stopping by, Holly!
Check out Holly's blog, Bippity Boppity Book, and find her on Goodreads! Stay tuned for more Reviewer Spotlights!

2 comments:

  1. Wonderful insight! Great to get to know you better!

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  2. Great responses, Holly! I always enjoy your reviews and see we share many similar thoughts when it comes to historical fiction.

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