The Review That Gets Me On The PR Blacklist

One of the “perks” of pretending to be a moderately popular blogger is that you can convince authors and publicists to send you free stuff.

Well, free books anyway. I’m still waiting for someone to send me free shoes.

But books? Books are easy to come by. They’re desperate for any type of “publicity” and I’m desperate for something to keep me up late at night and remind me of those carefree days before I had kids. As an added bonus, I get to drop “oh, yes, I need to finish up that book review for this author” into random conversations with my in-laws. I think that makes me sound terribly important and grown up.

I always assumed the most difficult part of getting a free book was that I had to discuss it on my blog, without tanking my readership with the horrific boringness that is A Blog Book Review. Because seriously? Oh. My. God. Boring. Mark as read. Unsubscribe. Yawwwwwwn. I know.

Ahem. ANYway, I was wrong. The most difficult part of getting a free book is reading said book and discovering that… it kind of sucks.

Eileen Cook (and her publicist, incidentally), recently sent me a copy of her debut novel Unpredictable.

I was excited to read it, in part because I read Eileen’s blog. I imagined me doing an exciting “I know a real live author!!!” interview with her here. My readers would flock to buy her book, and she would invite me to meet Oprah with her as a sign of appreciation.

The experts had assured me this was plausible.

Romantic Times said that it was “Destined to climb on top of the bestseller lists.”

Nationally bestselling author Annette Blair promised me I’d find it “Fresh, funny and quirky, an absolute delight.”

I think those people are full of crap. That, or I am so far out of any normal demographic that it is no wonder Tony @ Zappos.com is not responding to my emails.

The official synopsis is basically this:

Sophie Kintock’s world is falling apart. Doug, who she has lived with for the past six years, has left her and now dates a younger, more beautiful, woman. Sophie is determined to get him back. She is willing to go to any lengths to win Doug away from this new woman and drive him back home.

When Sophie finds out that Doug’s new girlfriend is an avid believer in psychics, she decides to pose as one, with the help of her new friend Nick. Sophie plans to give Doug’s new girlfriend a well worded false reading and, hopefully, break them up. But when some of Sophie’s predictions come true, her world is thrown into chaos and Sophie does not know if she can handle the new turn of events.

The premise itself is interesting enough. I mean, sure, it’s no War & Peace. But I love a good chic lit indulgence as well as the next undersexed middle American mom. I tore through Lipstick Jungle in one weekend and wore stilettos to the grocery for weeks afterwards.

The problem with Unpredictable is that it was, ironically, painfully Predictable.

The main character is the classic spunky girl we all identify with because she’s never the prettiest girl in the room. She dotes on her handsome but condescending craptastic boyfriend. We all hope she’ll realize that she is, in fact, too good for him. She does. The end. (Well OK, there was some stuff in there about pretending to be psychic, too.)

To be fair, there were some comical observations in the book that I did relate to. The heroine describes her relationship with the more successful friend who always makes the decisions. It’s an interesting dynamic as the follower becomes slightly more self assertive – if not any more self aware.

And the author’s mental recreation of Vancouver did make me wonder how difficult it is to get to Canada these days. I found myself daydreaming of pristine streets with hip shops and trendy coffees I can’t pronounce.

But the most interesting part of the book is that it is written more like a blog than a real life words on real life paper book. And not one of those deep, well thought out blogs. No. More like this rambling stream of consciousness.

I have to confess, I was distracted for the first three chapters by my own self assurances that “Look! See! You could totally write a book!” It’s entirely possible, I suppose, that there is depth somewhere in those chapters that I missed because of all the self talk.

But I doubt it.

I breezed through 279 pages, waiting for a turn I didn’t expect – either in the storyline or the character development. By page 125 I was fairly convinced that wasn’t going to happen. But I’m an optimist.

I wanted to like this book. I really, really did. And it wasn’t awful, it was just… insulting.

You see, this book is published. It has been read by editors and successfully pitched to publishers. Because I read Eileen’s blog, I know that she has been on a book tour recently and is enjoying a positive reception. And really, truly – good for her.

But I find myself wondering, what the hell does that say about her target demographic?

This is supposed to be “one of the best new voices in women’s fiction”. Man, we’ve come a long way, baby. Apparently our “voice” is still begging for a pat on the head and an afternoon away so that we can buy ourselves something pretty.

Never mind that most women are now struggling with work and family and self identity. Forget that we have become an influential voice in politics. Let’s completely ignore that we are the single most powerful demographic in the market place because we balance the checkbooks and are making major buying decisions both at home and in the work place. I suppose that in itself is pretty impressive, considering that “math is hard”.

Arghh.

Maybe I’m projecting. Maybe I’m being unfair, expecting poor Eileen to carry the entire feminist movement forward on her own.

Or maybe, I’ve come to expect more from “women’s fiction”. I expect that we’ve outgrown the cliches and the superficial. I expect a woman to write a female character with some depth and brains and complexity. I expect that it is possible to write a stream of consciousness about fun, light topics without reducing women to cardboard cut outs of flighty, flaky twits.

Am I being unfair? What do you expect from your chic lit?

I have two copies of Unpredictable that I would still very much like to pass on to a couple of readers. Maybe you can tell me I was wrong.

Leave a comment if you’re interested in doing your own review. I’ll draw two “winners” from the pile.

(PS – I haven’t forgotten about last week’s contest! I promise!)

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  1. avitable says:

    I wish someone would send me chick lit to read and review. I’d probably enjoy it more than you.

  2. Karl says:

    You couldn’t pay me to read that kinda stuff, actually.

    OK, yes you could. I’m a total whore.

    Karl’s last blog post..Goodbye, My Love

  3. Dave2 says:

    Ooh! Ooh! Can you review my new book next??

  4. Hilly says:

    I was gonna say, I am a huge lover of the chick lit! I’ve read tons of them and they usually are predictable but I think they are the same escape for me that Harlequin Romances were for the generation before.

    Long story short…pick me!

    Hilly’s last blog post..Snackie Radio, Oh How We’ve Missed You So…

  5. Hilly says:

    Oh and PS, I am proud of you for doing an honest review :)

    Hilly’s last blog post..Snackie Radio, Oh How We’ve Missed You So…

  6. Krystle says:

    Interesting… it’s always hard to post reviews on something you don’t like, but ultimately not everyone is going to like the book.

    Maybe the shoes will work out better…? :dunno: :D

    Krystle’s last blog post..What difficult thing could you give up?

  7. Amanda says:

    I try to like chick-lit in general, but mostly I find it predictable. Some of its good though, and at least it’s usually breezy and entertaining, even if you forget about it an hour after you read it.

    Throw my name into the review hat, please

    Amanda’s last blog post..I’m Gonna Need My Own Zipcode

  8. I’m like Hilly. I read romances and chic-lit for the escape and lighter reading. I’d love to have a crack at this one to see if it’s as bad for me as it seems to be for you. I’m guessing you probably have higher standards than I do.

    Sleeping mommy’s last blog post..Sometimes, I just can’t help myself.

  9. Dee says:

    You know what? I :heartbeat: that you did an honest review. I’m not really into chick-lit myself,, but will read the occasional highly recommended one. The problem is they usually turn out for me exactly like this one turned out for you. Someone who has problems that turn out to not be of the in-my-world kind and it’s all sweet and happy at the end.

    I would be happy to read your recommendations any time, but will skip on this book :clap:

    Dee’s last blog post..Like a Tiger *grrrrrrr*

  10. Penelope says:

    I know others said it too but good for you for giving a proper honest review and not being a sycophant. You gave your opinion and backed it up with a bloody good argument.
    Bravo! :clap:

    Penelope’s last blog post..Smile for the camera!

  11. I totally :heartbeat: reading and am always looking for a new book to read(even if its predictable). :clap: to you for doing an honest non-commercial review!

  12. DeannaBanana says:

    I’ll read a copy, even if it is your already read one. And then review..and maybe, just maybe, in the passing of the book we could have lunch or something. Or a cocktail. Or something.

    DeannaBanana’s last blog post..Because, wow….

  13. Book lover says:

    Thanks for letting me know I do NOT need to read this book. Now I can move on to the next one.

  14. Nat says:

    I loved this review.

    Book wise I’m all over the map. My issue with most all books these days is that well, they are very poorly written. (And I completely agree that many are insulting.)

    Nat’s last blog post..Faces of me

  15. MsBatman says:

    I was going to ask to be added to the list, but then I saw how many had, and well I never ‘win’ anything. But I actually read cheesy, predictable books like that. After all I have read almost every book ever written by Danielle Steel. The only thing that changes is the character names, the setting and the theme. Always the same predictable plot/storyline.

    So, throw my name into the hat as well. I’ll read it.

    MsBatman’s last blog post..Captian Delusional

  16. Nina says:

    Send me the book. I have a Master’s in creative writing. I can for reals tell the world if it sucks.

    Nina’s last blog post..Sin of the week, 4/13/08

  17. RW says:

    OK tell you what – I’ll send you mine only if your promise to rip it a new one!

  18. Lisa says:

    This is why bloggers should be asked to do more reviews…because we are honest.

    And as a woman I can’t read chic-lit because it insults my intelligence if it’s so-so predictable like that. If there is a crapastic boyfriend and the woman isn’t kicking his ass…

    Well I’m just not into chic-lit I guess or maybe I expect so much that I haven’t found a decent book I can relate to in years.

    Thank God for a voice of reason…and doing a honest review. Good luck on getting shoes…LOL :lmao:

    Lisa’s last blog post..Live Now

  19. Marissa says:

    I review for NovelSpot, and I’m with you in that I’ve had more than a few books that I’ve given the ‘sod off’ review to.

    Okay, so I’m nicer about in the review, but friends have gotten the IM “How the blue fuck do I say ‘this is a piece of trash I wouldn’t let my dog chew on?’ without totally crushing the author?”

    I keep reminding myself that one day, my book will be out there, and I really don’t a complete trashing of it, so I play nice.

    Marissa’s last blog post..Who said women can’t be sexist? We’re just sneaky about it.

  20. Jake says:

    I want authors and publishers to send me books too! I need something to do this summer.

    Btw, I tagged you in my latest entry if you would like to check it out :)

    Jake’s last blog post..Jake gets tagged

  21. Turnbaby says:

    I could barely make it through that synopsis.

    I read light funny stuff sometimes but it has to have style, be witty and well written and NOT insult my intelligence. Just the premise is insulting, quite honestly.

    Sorry Eileen–maybe Lifetime will option it–they probably already have.

    Bravo to you Britt for your honest review. :heartbeat:

    Turnbaby’s last blog post..A Lovely Twin Killing

  22. Britt's Mom says:

    WTF is “chic lit”????

    I am so freaking behind the times!!!!!! :crazywife:

    Britt’s Mom’s last blog post..“I Don’t Want To Be Like You!”

  23. Jay says:

    “I expect that we’ve outgrown the cliches and the superficial.”

    Judging from the “romantic comedies” that keep bing produced in Hollywood and how well they do at the box office, I would say that’s clearly not the case. ;-)

    I did one book review on a book I got for free from the author and I really enjoyed a lot. Since then I’ve gotten emails asking me if I wanted to review a number of other books. All chick lit and children’s books. WTF? How did a review of a book about sports make them think I would also enjoy those? That’s even worse than Amazon’s “Other Books You Might Like” recommendations that make no freaking sense either.

    Jay’s last blog post..Not Selling Out …

  24. Mr. Fabulous says:

    I will send you some shoes. I am going shopping at Goodwill later. How many do you want?

    Mr. Fabulous’s last blog post..Robin rhymes with “bobbin’ on my nobbin’”

  25. Fogspinner says:

    I tend to read chic lit for an escape also. I’m usually not looking for depth only because I have enough of that in real life. However I agree, characters can be too fluffy.

    I’d read and review it. :-)

  26. Miss Britt says:

    avitable: you do have a bigger Vagina than I do, that’s for sure.

    Karl: I like a man who can be bought.

    I like him more if he’s cheap. Are you cheap Karl?

    Dave2: :nana:

    Hilly: maybe I just wasn’t in the mood, because I’m definitely guilty of a cheesy escape from time to time.

    Krystle: yeah, I feel like the mean girl at school who could have just chosen to not say anything at all.

    Amanda: it was definitely breezy. In the hat you go!

    Sleeping mommy: I’m sure Eileen will appreciate that.

    Dee: aww, thanks for your heartbeats.

    Penelope: I don’t look good in sycophant. It makes my ass look big.

    Mackenzie’s Momma: in the hat you go!

    DeannaBanana: I’m sorry – do I know you? :evil:

    Book lover: well, I could be totally wrong. It happened once.

    Nat: yeah, I’m all over the map too. I’m picking up the final installment of Harry Potter later today.

    MsBatman: dude – I LOVE Danielle Steele!!!

    Nina: oh great, now I have to worry about you making me look stupid. :lol:

    RW: I can already write your review. It starts off

    “I feel stupid”.

    :evil:

    Lisa: yeah, I need to know she’s staying because of some complicated mental issue that she eventually overcomes ala Sleeping With The Enemy or something.

    Marissa: yeah, the thought of “writer’s karma” crossed my mind.

    Jake: I wonder if there is a place to sign up for that.

    Turnbaby: you know… I think someone DID option it now that you mention it. I thought I remembered reading that.

    Britt’s Mom: books for girls.

    Jay: my first free book was called Scream Free Parenting. I tried to ignore the fact that they found me through my blog.

    My parenting ego can’t take that kind of hit.

    Mr. Fabulous: I’ll leave it to your discretion. I wear a 7 or an 8.

    Fogspinner: sweet! In the hat you go!

  27. Winter says:

    I probably won’t pick up a book until June when JR Ward’s next book comes out. I’m into paranormals when I do find time to read. Chick lit with hot immortals and lots of ass kicking and blood sucking…

    You made some very valid points about writing about women with power. Cause we do have power. And people DON’T write us that way. Thanks. You’ve just validated MY writing project, The Lexography. Heh. Everyone loves a woman who kicks ass in business and buys her honey a $10K giraffe by accident. LOL

    Winter’s last blog post..Loves Fab’s Fisting and Matt’s Meat

  28. Sam says:

    I would be willing to take one for the team and read/review the book. With a little help from my friend here: :martini:

    Sam’s last blog post..And Another Thing…

  29. I love book reviews. Sometimes they are better than the book. I am skeptical of the entire “chick lit” genre for the reasons you describe – but after reading this review, I’d be willing to make an exception for a pick of yours.

    Nicely done.

    SK

    Suburban Kamikaze’s last blog post..A brief history of no time

  30. Erin says:

    I’m confused. Wasn’t this book already released as a movie called Legally Blonde? Sorry. Meanness. And I love chick lit (and Legally Blonde)!

    Like everyone else has said, good for you giving the book an honest review! I think your review karma is still completely in the clear :)

    Erin’s last blog post..The sun!

  31. M says:

    I have an idea for your last 10 things … 10 things you own and what they say about you (or something along those lines).

  32. Eileen says:

    I’m sorry the book didn’t work for you- but I totally respect your review. What one reader loves- another hates. Thus is the curse of writing. I still really appreciate you taking the time to read the book and for what it is worth- I hope some free shoes come your way.

    Eileen’s last blog post..Check this out

  33. MsMVNJ says:

    While I read chick lit from time to time – they *are* predictable, but they’re good for vacation or a lazy weekend when you want to check out and escape. Kudos to you for writing an honest review… :ohgreatone: :ohgreatone: You want to plunk down your money for a good escape – I hate reading a book and figure out the whole plot line by the second chapter.

  34. I’ll read and review if you’d like Britt. I read a lot of chick lit….they all do seem to be the same lately, just with different names…..

    Cissa Fireheart’s last blog post..Man! I feel like a woman…

  35. I would have never given the book a chance after reading the official synopsis… “Doug, who she has lived with for the past six years, has left her…” The who in that sentence should be WHOM. Bad grammar in a published novel bugs the hell out of me, but I’m a snobby English teacher, and people expect that from me, I guess. :help:

    Tense Teacher’s last blog post..And Some Have Two!

  36. Poppy says:

    I wish my mom would swear on my blog.

  37. Dre says:

    The author should accept the fact that some readers may not like the book. I do not like predictable stories, I always want myself to keep guessing, so I would probably feel the same as you did with the book.

    Dre’s last blog post..Raindrops Falling

  38. WRH wants free books! How do you do this? Is it magic?

    Free shoes and vodka wouldn’t be, say, shunned…but I am supposed to be the well-read hostess…shouldn’t I be gettinb books? How do I get books?

    On second thought, maybe I’ll change my name to the kickassshoeshostess or the lovingvodkagimletshostess.

    please advise!

    well read hostess’s last blog post..Oooohhh….Pretty Dots! Orange! Purple!

  39. Maybe if I learned how to spell “getting”?

  40. Selma says:

    I am not a fan of chick lit at all but there certainly is a market for it. I was told that definitively on the day my publisher pulled my contract for my last ‘not chick lit’ novel out from under me. I was told if I could make it more ‘chick lit’ I’d have a deal but I must be an idiot or something because I couldn’t do it. C’est la vie. I admire your honest review and I am really proud your blog is doing so well. Good on ya, mate!

    Selma’s last blog post..Don’t Give Up

  41. Pamela says:

    I would love to read any book that did not have cartoon characters. Oh wait…it does? Perfect! I totally read crap like that to my kids aaaaaallllll day long. I’m sure they’re up for a change of pace. We haven’t read about Canada in a while, and my 5-yr. old keeps threatening to move there, so it will be educational.

    Pamela’s last blog post..caption, please.

  42. Just Me says:

    I would love to review the book!

  43. Crys says:

    i know i’ve told you that romance, etc., is the only genre in which i’ve ever been published. (“chick lit” is just the edgier, newer label for this same-as-it-eva-was brand of book.) in order to write for it you have to read a lot and i mean a LOT of crap. CRAP.

    pretty soon you realize you’re modeling your own crap after the other crap and that what you’re writing is, well, just total crap. not everything is crap, don’t get me wrong, but a whole hell of a lot of it is. very formulaic. talk about a math equation. and it has to be, in order to get picked up by houses/lines that publish that kind of thing. every once in awhile you’ll find something charming and original, but most of it is rip off after rip off. there is nothing new under the sun.

    all i’m saying is, kind of sounds like this book went along those lines. not that i’m burnt out and bitter!

    but having said all that, you could totally write a book. i have a blogger friend who just published with St. Martin’s (“Schuyler’s Monster”) and a lot of it was adapted from his blog, and it’s QUITE good.

    you do have a definite, interesting, persuasive voice.

    i’ve told you this before. ;)

  44. Crys says:

    oh and Eileen’s comment?

    all class.

  45. Wow, Eileen took it really well, huh? I can’t review anything, I’d be obsessed with not hurting anyone’s feelings, including the gentleman who invented the font I didn’t choose to use in the write-up. I’m terrible.

    You, my friend? Are brave and good. Nice job.

    maggie, dammit’s last blog post..spring fever, dammit!

  46. Count me in please.

    I’m an avid reader, mostly all of this “fluffy predictable crap” that so many women seem to hate. While, of course, some are just in your face ridiculous, I still like to read them because it gives my brain a break and these books are something I can do to pass the time without a lot of thinking being involved.

    I like to read the classics but c’mon, who can really follow Pride & Prejudice with a bunch of kids running around screaming?

    Sheila (Charm School Reject)’s last blog post..Why Would Someone Do This?

  47. ok, i am late to this party. i blame the vast quantities of booze consumed this weekend.

    regardless, i would love the chance to read this book. while i agree that the world needs strong female lead characters, i can’t fault someone for writing of a fucked up female character. and i wanna read this book now so that i can form my own opinion.

    so am i too late to throw my name into the raffle?

    hello haha narf’s last blog post..Oh My Fuck! Talk About Synchronicity

  48. Robina says:

    Okay, I’m going to be totally honest here. I read John Sanford, Patricia Cornwell, John Saul. You know, all that wonderful real life serial killer catcher kind of books. I don’t like romance novels. They are SO unrealistic.

    Having said that, I liked Unpredictable. Why? Well, it was funny. I didn’t have to think about it, and I liked the way it read, like normal people talking, not this hollier than thou, or sappy shit that some books do.

    I like that everything worked out, she fell in love with someone else, and it was just a fun, quick read. I read it in a day, so that tells you something about my life.

    No, it won’t win a pulitzer prize, and it’s not a literary book by far, but if you enjoy good, fun reading, (which I do sometimes) than I think she did a pretty good job.

    Robina’s last blog post..Dear Mr. Tax Man/Woman:

  49. Miss Britt says:

    Winter: oh, heh, see… I cannot do ninja fighty fight bang bang either.

    Sam: you big prego liar. No drinks for you!

    Suburban Kamikaze: I will keep that in mind. Thank you. :-)

    Erin: damn, you are so dead on. And I LOVE Legally Blond!!!

    Damn, I think poor Eileen might have caught me with PMS.

    M: hmmm – that’s not a bad idea.

    Eileen: you are so classy. I hope you get to go on Oprah. And tell them how much I suck. Seriously. Promise me you’ll do that.

    MsMVNJ: this is true – I usually pick up the chick lit in the airport, not at home at 2am.

    Cissa Fireheart: I’ll add you to the hat! Thanks love.

    Tense Teacher: I didn’t notice that, but I’m pretty sure Eileen didn’t write that. I scraped it from Amazon.

    Poppy: :lol:

    Dre: yeah, I’m sure she does. But it has to suck to hear just the same.

    well read hostess: ummm, I don’t know, it’s only happened to me a handful of times.

    Selma: oh now THAT just makes me mad on your behalf. I’d shell out big money for ANYTHING you wrote.

    Pamela: awesome, I’ll add you to the list!

    Just Me: noted (shit, reminds me, I still have to send you your prize!! ACK!!)

    Crys: use my blog content?? Really??

    Hmmmmmm…. I don’t know if there’s anything here worth reading on paper.

    maggie, dammit: yeah, she really did.

    Sheila: *sigh* I think we have clearly identified the market for this stuff. LOL

    hello haha narf: you’re never too late!

    Robina: that’s true. I should have said that more – it was definitely funny. Light, airy funny – but funny. Her explanation of how she isn’t crazy is hysterical.

    I forgot about that.

  50. Jennifer says:

    I’m always up for reading a book that has nothing to do with religion or underwriting. I’d review it.

  51. pgoodness says:

    I’ll read it and review it. :clap: I am an avid reader of all things; and with 2 kids around, chick lit is easy and fast reading.

    pgoodness’s last blog post..silly

  52. so did i win? when does the book arrive?

    :lol:

    hello haha narf’s last blog post..Oh My Fuck! Talk About Synchronicity

  53. kapgar says:

    I’ve actually reviewed a few books on request for authors in the past. One of them I really didn’t care too much for, but I was able to state it in a way that the author really dug on and claimed it was his favorite review of his book. Strange. Guess he was definitely one for constructive criticism.

    kapgar’s last blog post..On the Dark Side, woah, yeah…

  54. Gina says:

    Ooh. Tell me how I too can get free stuff by being a blogger! I have always wondered how people do that! Seriously! :ohgreatone:

    Gina’s last blog post..Spring is here.

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