Friday, April 04, 2008

Reviews, Mistakes in Reviews & Free Books

In the midst of another discussion about reviewing I found myself facing another response to my new book.

"Promising talent Ruttan sets her gritty new detective series in Vancouver. It has a hard-edged feel and intriguing characters. ...this is a good start to an intriguing series." --Romantic Times Book Reviews

I haven't seen the full review. It's a nice endorsement... even if yet again, technically incorrect because my series is NOT set in Vancouver. However, you won't see me writing reviewers to argue the point. It's funny, because just yesterday I was telling someone about the one encounter I had on my recent trip to the US. When I told the guy I was from Canada he said, "It's pretty down there, isn't it?" And yes, he really did ask me if we had cities. Now, not one other person I met displayed such a lack of knowledge. In fact, most knew a fair bit about Canada... But I just can't seem to convey the difference between Vancouver and the Greater Vancouver Area.

How did I try to get this across in the book?

Craig felt the icy stare on him when he pushed the Bruce Cockburn CD into the player but he ignored it. It was as certain as death and taxes: Whatever he liked Lori Price would loathe.

Either that, or she derived some perverse pleasure from being difficult, which he had to admit was a distinct possibility.

Bruce sang about screaming police cars, drunks, tunnels and bike paths while Craig drove through his own beat. His RCMP detachment covered Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam and Port Moody, three of the twelve cities that, in conjunction with a few villages and municipalities, formed the Greater Vancouver Area, or GVA.

This part of the city suited him. Vancouver felt pressed in, coast on one side, the Fraser River to the south and Burrard Inlet to the north, with more condos than trees and more people per square inch on an average day than shoppers in the mall on Christmas Eve. At least, that’s how it felt. The entire GVA was caught in the pre-Olympic boom, with skyrocketing housing prices and construction everywhere. Every vacant lot was being eyed for development. The Tri-Cities, as Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam and Port Moody were known, were no exception, but they had redeeming qualities, with the provincial parks hemming the north side, offering easy access to Burke Mountain to the northeast. Port Moody was a haven within the urban sprawl, hemmed by the Burrard Inlet but serving as the gateway to Buntzen Lake and Belcarra Provincial Park, miles of wilderness with hiking trails and waterways to satisfy kayakers and hikers alike. Coquitlam itself was a city, no question, but it was one that nestled against the backdrop of Mother Nature. It wasn’t unusual for hikers to encounter bears on the trails at Rocky Point, or even the odd cougar, and the number of coyote attacks on pets and people alike had risen in recent years.*

It kind of drives me mental, perhaps more than it should. I remember a guest being at my house, in Ontario, years ago. He was on the phone, and clearly was asked where he was. He said, "I'm in Toronto." Toronto my ass. Gravenhurst is a solid two hour drive north of Toronto. It isn't even in the Greater Toronto Area. I was 19 at the time, and we'd only had a McDonalds there for two years and it was a thirty minute drive on the Trans Canada Highway to the nearest shopping mall. There are whole cities, such as Barrie and Orillia, in between Gravenhurst and Toronto. It's like someone who's in Edinburgh saying they're in Aberdeen.

So, my apologies to those in Vancouver, who do know the difference, and are bound to see the series labeled as a Vancouver series time and time and time again. Please remember the thoughts expressed in the quote above are Craig Nolan's, and not my own. I like Vancouver (and I think he exaggerates a bit about the condos and trees).

But, just to be technical, there isn't a point in time in either book one or two of the series that any events actually happen in Vancouver.

I'm still very pleased for the nice comments about the book, though.

I've also said my bit on the reviewing front. As much as it's nice for me to say I got another good response to the book, I fear most people just don't take most reviews seriously. I must say, I can understand volunteer reviewers abandoning bad books, but I do expect professional reviewers to wade through and give an assessment.

I also think if you have no concept of what someone dislikes you'll never really know if you trust their recommendations.

And I also think people love negative reviews. Come on, we used to watch Siskel and Ebert to watch those two go at it! There was no enjoyment in seeing them mutually gush over a movie, but when they disagreed sparks flew! If book reviewers invested such passion into talking about books I believe it would inspire more people to read those books, to see who they side with.

But I'm used to being ignored when I comment (and ultimately, some of these discussions are so pointless because it isn't as though anything is going to change) so I'm not even going to bother saying more. Brian prompted about as much of a response as I'm likely to give on the subject... and for those that care, this is part of the reason I'm reviewing at MBS these days. (Speaking of which, I need to finish my review of Tom Piccirilli's THE COLD SPOT...)

Since I was just talking about Brian, I have to give him another plug: he discovered a number of free books available via pdf download. AFRICAN PSYCHO was a book that both Brian and I positively reviewed last year, and there are others on the list people might want to check out.

And speaking of free books...
I am going to have some author copies to give away. However, in the midst of moving and changing e-mail addresses and all that jazz, I'm worried that I might lose track of info. But check back for a contest here in the next few weeks.

* Quote not from final edited version, but close enough.


John McFetridge said...

Congrats on another good review!

Now, I just wrote a column for Quill and Quire magazine and I referred to your books as set in Vancouver. Sorry.

It may just be something you have to get used to. Vancouver is a big, famous city that people have heard of.

Most urban area distinctions are lines on a map that outsiders really can't be expected to know. The way you've described it in your excerpt here is perfect - there's a physical and an emotional difference in the places - now I get it. But finding out is one of the reasons to read the book.

I'm just glad you didn't make up a city and then make everything about it exactly like the GVA :)

Sandra Ruttan said...

Well, I'll forgive you. I know it's a generic label that enables people to have an idea of where you're talking about... although it's still wrong. Just so long as those in the GVA don't freak out on me. My biggest complaint was with the write-up I saw that said my book was about Vancouver police officers. It's like saying the Maryland State Troopers are Baltimore city cops - no, they aren't. Not even remotely.

Mindy Tarquini said...

OMG! Thank Brian for me! This is great on the free books. Some of them look really intriguing.

And congrats on another good review!

Unknown said...

Sandra, you have already taught many readers Canadian geography. Offering up Canadian content on a dish is hard enough without having to wrap your book in a map when you have it sent out. You are doing fine. But all the same, maybe you could offer a free compass to any reviewer that asks. Wouldn't hurt.

Kathleen Molloy, author - Dining with Death