REVIEWING THE REVIEWERS: LJ ROBERTS

Posted: February 9, 2012 in Reviewing the Reviewers, Uncategorized

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Today, LJ Roberts

One of the most prolific reviewers you’ll encounter, LJ has coordinated The Easy Bay Mystery Readers’ Group since 1995. She began sharing her reviews with the group and then much to everyone who has a computer’s delight, she started sharing them on various reader sites including: DorothyL, 4_Mystery_Addicts, GoodReads, Amazon (US, UK and Canada), and Crime_Thru_Time.

1. What really gets you interested in a mystery?

First and foremost, a great opening. That doesn’t mean there can be a great
opening sentence and the rest falls flat. I mean an opening sentence or
paragraph or chapter that so captivates me, I’ve no choice but to continue
reading.

Second, I read for characters. I don’t always have to like them, but there
has to be something interesting/appealing/redeeming about them. The
strongest example is probably Ken Bruen’s character of Jack Taylor. On
surface, there is nothing to like about him. However, Bruen’s superb
writing always leaves me with a feeling of possible redemption.

On a broader level, I look at time and place. While I accept I may be
missing out on some very good books, there are just some time periods and
geographic setting in which I have no interest as they are ones to which I
have no affinity. I’m not a big fan of the new Scandinavian mysteries. In
spite of having a Viking ancestor in the 1300s, it’s just not a location to
which I can connect.

2. What bores the hell out of you?

Obviously anything poorly written, but I am so over serial killers,
crooked/dirty law enforcement officers, gratuitous violence, addicts,
adulterers, abusive men, too-stupid-to-life characters of either sex, the
list goes one. I know all these things exist, but I’m not interested in
reading about them.

Product placements and trying to be “current” is something I find both
boring and causes me to really question why the author felt it necessary to
include them.. If an author has any hope of their book standing the test of
time, I don’t recommend they compare their character to today’s heart throb
of whom no one will know in two years, or of identifying a designer label
known only to the rich and hip.

What delights you in a mystery?

I am delighted by humor. I don’t mean contrived, visual humor. I mean wry,
situational or character-driven humor which is part of the author’s voice.
I am delighted by an author whose style demands I read passages aloud. I
should say while this delights me, it can definitely annoy my friends when I
call them saying, “Listen to this!”.

What cliches would you really like to see go away?

My number one irritant is the use of portents, foreshadowing, and/or
cliffhangers. If I never read another, I’ll be very happy. I’m not talking
about a thread relating to a character which carries from one book to
another. That can work as long as it’s not a major plot element to that
particular book. Any form of the “had she but known” portent will cause me
to drop my rating on even the best book. To me, it is the sign of a poor
author who feels they need a trick in order to keep you reading. Trust me,
if the story is compelling, I’ll keep reading.

I am also among those who can’t stand when an author kills a pet in order to
threaten a character. It has become predictable, is often gratuitous and
usually could been accomplished in another way.

A great irritant to me is the current use of real historical figures or
well-known fictional characters as detectives. I find it almost denigrating
to the real person or insulting to the original author. I don’t mind when
either of those are used as secondary characters who are true to the
original persona.

The last, of which I can think, is prologues. I know it has become common,
but I am just not a big fan of prologues.

What topics, themes etc would you like to see more of in mysteries?

I don’t read for topics or themes. I may put a book down because of its
topic or theme, going back to Question 2, but I can’t think of a
particularly topic or theme that would cause me to pick a book up. Okay,
maybe books relating to Shakespeare, lost manuscripts, archeology or some
form of art but the book itself had better be good or it may be the last of
that author I read.

What mistakes do you think authors make?

The biggest mistake, of which I can think, is not having strong editors.
And I mean having both a content and grammatical editor. Every author
should have a grammatical editor and any author of a series needs both. The
author should also listen to their editor. If the editor says the book is
200 pages too long and drags in the middle, listen to them. Bigger is not
necessarily better.

Do you write? Would you like to?

No. I am too much of a perfectionist Virgo to ever be a writer. I wrote my
first blog yesterday, and that was traumatic. Even answering these
questions is difficult. I would spend so much time worrying about the
accuracy and correctness of each word, I’d never get past the first
sentence.

Who are your favorites?

That is such a long list I couldn’t possibly list them all, and it changes
over time. A few current favorites are Louise Penny, Fred Vargas, Peter
Lovesey, Collin Cotterill and Susanne Alleyn. Long time favorites include
Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder series, Dick Francis, and Robert B. Parker.

At the end of last year, I did an analysis of that years’ reading. I found
it very interesting that my reading was an exact split of 50/50 between male
and female authors, while 38% of the books were US authors and 61% were
non-US, with the year before looking almost the same.

Why did you start reviewing? If you really hate a book will you still
review it?

I started reviewing for myself in order to keep a record of what authors and
books I liked, or didn’t like, and why. I then became a reader of
manuscripts for Poisoned Pen Press who provided me with some excellent
guidelines for writing reviews. That refined my style. I have been the
coordinator of The Easy Bay Mystery Readers’ Group since 1995 and, each
month, would relate some of my reviews to them. That started me emailing
all my monthly reviews to the group, as well as posting them on DorothyL and
4_Mystery_Addicts. From there, it has grown. I now post my review on
GoodReads, Amazon (US, UK and Canada), and Crime_Thru_Time (for historical
mysteries). In addition, I am now a contributing reviewer to
Criminal-History.co.uk, and the e-newsletter, Calamity’s Corner out of
Australia.

I personally buy almost all the books I read. There are a few, very few,
authors who know they can send me their books and I’ll read them. I do
receive other books, from authors and/or publishers. Some I read; many I
don’t. I do review every book I read, even those I don’t finish. I work
very hard to provide a fair, honest review. I never criticize the author.
But I think it is important to provide an honest opinion–and it is my
opinion–whether positive or negative, as long as I clearly explain why I
feel as I do.

What I find most interesting, and most supportive of that decision, is when
there is a book about which it seems everyone is raving. I read the book
and find I disagree. When I post my review, I almost always receive emails
from people thanking me saying they had wondered what they were missing or
whether they were the only one who felt differently.

I love books. I love reading them, collecting them, seeing them on my
shelves, having them on my Kindle. I sincerely thank all the authors and
all the book sellers who so enrich my life.

All my reviews can be seen on GoodReads at:
http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/250195

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Comments
  1. I love this inside look into the art of reviewing. (Great series, Tom.) People approach it from so many different angles–LJ, it sounds like you really puzzle out the mechanics of how a book is working, or not working. I think I can see that in your reviews–will have to look for those elements now that I know how they strike you!

  2. LJ Roberts says:

    Hi Jenny,

    When I was evaluating manuscripts for Poisoned Pen, they taught me to look at eight elements of a story as see that it is the combination of those elements which determine the quality of the book.

    The eight elements are:
    1. Hook – does the story grab you from the beginning
    2. Setting/Descriptions/Sense of Place – Is it evocative
    3. Characters/Character Development – Do they come to live, do you know their backstory, are they fully-developed
    4. Dialogue – Does it work and provide a sense the character
    5. Plot – Does it work, does it make sense
    6. Cadance/flow/style – Does it keep you involved
    7. Originality – This is an extra points element for me when I find a story that is truly original
    8. Overall quality of writing – What is my immediate reaction upon finishing the book.

    And there you have it.

    Happy reading,
    LJ

  3. Karen Hall says:

    Excellent post, LJ. I always read your reviews when you post them to DorothyL, first, because we have similar taste in mysteries and, second, because I know you’re always honest in your appraisal. Because of your monthly posts I’ve found several authors I’d never read. Last year I vacuumed up all of Louise Penny’s books and loved every one of them. Thank you!

  4. LJ says:

    Thank you, Karen. Giving an honest review is something at which I work very hard, so it’s nice that others appreciate it. My volume of reading has been off lately, but it will come back. Knowing I’ve introduced authors to new readers–isn’t Penny wonderful?–certainly helps. You’re welcome.

  5. Thank you again for this great post, Tom–and for that thumbnail list, LJ. Terrific stuff.

  6. L.J. Sellers says:

    Thanks for a great interview! I always keep your likes and dislikes in mind when I’m writing. We share many fiction proclivities…as well as a name. 🙂

  7. LJ says:

    Thank you, Jenny and LJ. It was challenging, but fun, to do.

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