Saturday, November 22, 2008

Last week's question answered today

Amy wrote this question for her Faith 'n Fiction Saturdays feature last week, November 14, 2008.

The past couple of days there has been a big flare-up in the broader book blogging community regarding review policies and a blogger's obligation to an author once they've received a review copy. For those of you who belong to the blogging alliance FIRST, we've also discussed this issue a little bit.

I decided to make today's question about this, because I think this is an even tougher situation for Christian reviewers who review Christian books. So here you receive review copies of Christian books? If so, do you review them honestly? How do you handle it when you don't like a book but are obligated to provide a review? Who do you see your first commitment being to in book reviewing (besides God)? Yourself? The author? Your readers? Does your review change based on the spiritual content of the book or is it solely based on technical or artistic merit? Have you ever had a negative experience with an author after giving them a negative review? (please don't name names)

I do receive a few Christian books for review. I do the occasional CFBA tour. I get a few books from Bethany House. A handful from Barbour now and then. Still it's just a fraction comparatively speaking.

My philosophy is simple. Tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I think Christian books should be read just as critically as any other book. That doesn't mean slam the author in any case. But it does mean that flaws in writing--the characterization, the plot, the pace, the literary style or tone--should not be forgiven and forgotten just because the author is a Christian. (If you think about it, would that be insulting as a writer? For a Christian writer, it isn't half bad. For a Christian writer, these characters are pretty good. Writers should just be writers.)

The good news? If I review a Christian picture book and pick on it because of its lack of rhythm and flow. That author would just have to look over on my other reviews to see that plenty of mainstream books get the exact same criticism. So I'm not just picking on them. I have standards that need to be met.

I'll be honest. I think certain stereotypes of Christian fiction exist. One of them is that it's dinky. Dinky characters. Cheesy plots. Cliche central. Corny dialogue. Too-sickly-sweet-to-be-true tone. Another is that it's didactic or preachy. I may be a Christian. But that doesn't mean I want dinky. I may believe wholeheartedly in the gospel, but I don't want an overly didactic sickeningly sweet roll-your-eyes pathetic sermon embedded into my fiction.

There are GOOD Christian authors. Some are so very, very good. You want to recommend them to EVERY one you know regardless of whether they're a Christian or not. The writing can stand up to it. And while the faith issues may not be veiled, the tone isn't preachy.

I can name half a dozen or so that I just love. Whose works I follow. Whose books I can count on for being well-written, enjoyable, compelling.

But sometimes you come across dinky books. Dinky books with predictable plots, implausible characters, roll-your-eyes-a-monkey-could-do-better dialogue. If I were to review that book side by side with a book that actually was a good book...and not let you know that there is a great distinction in quality...I'd feel like a cheat. Granted, I will NEVER EVER say that a monkey could have done a better job in writing a book (no matter how bad I find it). But I will admit to it being a disappointment. Or admit to it being dinky. Or I might mention that I found the characters unbelievable. Or say that it was too didactic for my taste.

I don't assume that everyone will agree with what I write in a review. That would be laughable. And for every Christian book I label dinky, I have no doubt that there are a few people at least (maybe hundreds of them) that would say that that author is among their favorites. That they love that book. That author.To each their own.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Amy said...

Becky, I'm so glad you've joined in because first of all, this post made me laugh, and secondly, you're awesome. :)

To think, it was like the first time I had converted the links in Mr. Linky on time!!!!

All excellent points with which I agree.

Megan said...

I'm sad to say that most of my limited experience with Christian fiction has been kind of...well...dinky. I am a Christian and would be interested in reading more Christian fiction that is decidedly un-dinky. So, I'd definitely be interested in knowing the names of those authors that you follow that you'd recommend to everybody!

Becky said...

Lynn Austin is a consistent writer who I rank among my favorites in all genres. Her novel A Woman's Place and Until We Reach Home are two that I've reviewed here on my site. She also has a series of novels that follow Judah's Kings and Prophets. I've read the first one...and the second. Here's the the third. They're good too.

If you do happen to like pioneer stories (some do, some don't) I like Sharlene MacLaren. She's got a series out of three books (The first two are Loving Liza Jane and Sarah, My Beloved. The third is Courting Emma.) These may not appeal to everyone. They are a bit predictable. But in this case, they appeal to me in a satisfying-feel-good way. Like eating comfort food.

I love DeeAnne Gist. Courting Trouble and Deep In The Heart of Trouble are both good. Set in Texas. I want to say turn of the century--1890ish. And also The Measure of A Lady and A Bride Most Begrudging.

I also like Francine Rivers. Especially her Sons of Encouragement series. Though some of the books in the series I loved more than others. She's written so much, but I've only read a few.

Cathy Marie Hake is also good. I really liked her novel, Bittersweet.

Liz Curtis Higgs has a fun series. It begins with A Thorn In My Heart, then Fair is the Rose, then Whence Came A Prince. I believe there is one more loosely connected with it. But I haven't read it yet.

I've had some good luck with Lauraine Snelling too. And Lawana Blackwell.

Angela said...

Great post! Yes, there is a lot of religious fiction out there that is ... well ... dinky. And it makes me sad because there is obviously a market for these kinds of stories (usually "clean" romances that are in line with an individuals religious or moral beliefs). I have read many books from Bethany House because I've had a good experience with many of their fiction books, but I will admit that in many of the books I skip over a lot of pages when they get too "preachy".

Thanks for the author recommendations that you gave - I'll have to check some of them out!