Further thoughts on the ELITE CLUB OF CAPSLOCK SHOUTING

If you missed my first load of thoughts on the value of “Elite Groups” online with endless rules, it’s here.

Moving on to more WTFery from the Code of Conduct of Rave Reviews Book Club, I present the next exhibit:

If you would like to promote your blog or website using the #RaveReviewsBookClub and/or#RRBC hashtags, you must submit your blog URL to RaveReviewsSecretary@gmail.com so that we may vet and ensure that its contents are in line with our beliefs and processes, and so that we may ensure there is no content or material which our members might find offensive.  

Please be aware that your blog and/or website may not have any type of invitation to join any club or organization, “especially” those that are clearly operating the same as Rave Reviews Book Club, it cannot be promoting any author or other non-member of RRBC, and the content must be solely promoting books and the writing process.  We will have weekly checks of the blogs on our “cleared”  list to ensure that they are remaining in compliance with this rule.
 
Once your blog and/or website has been vetted by our vetting TEAM, you will receive notice via email that you are cleared to use the club’s hashtags.
I don’t think these people are aware that you can’t “own” a hashtag. They get taken over all the time (usually to the amusement of bystanders watching it all go south.) Now, if they have a list of blogs they promote on their website, they can put any stipulations on that they like. And it just plain makes sense that these blogs are checked so that they don’t accidentally end up looking like they advocate Stormfront or something. But “you may not promote [mention or discuss] anyone we don’t like or blog about anything we don’t approve of”? Yeah, I’ll pass, thank you.
REVIEW SWAPPING is “strongly” discouraged here at Rave Reviews Book Club and against our policy.  You may not approach a member and ask if they would like to engage in a review “swap.”  Review swapping also comes in the form of a member deciding to review another member’s book solely based on the fact that their book was reviewed and given a high mark by said member.  If it is brought to our attention that you are engaging or operating in this manner, your membership may be revoked by the club.
So.. wait. Is it “strongly” discouraged (I am leery of being reviewed by anyone who does not know how to use inverted commas correctly) or actually banned? This rule isn’t even clear. And it also, as many above it, seeks to dictate what a member does in their own free time. You can’t read or write about anything that isn’t on The Approved List! Ever! Or we kick you out!

If any member is aware of any other member in violation of either of these CODES OF CONDUCT, please immediately report the violation via our CONTACT US form.  Your identity will remain anonymous.  We will only act on reported matters that we are able to verify.

Translation: please tattle. I hate to invoke Godwin’s law, but…

{It is an HONOR and a PRIVILEGE to be a member of Rave Reviews Book Club and we expect that each and every one of our members,  respect that honor and privilege which they have been granted.  Rave Reviews Book Club is not some mom & pop organization.  It is obvious in the success our supportive members have garnered since they have joined us,  that we are now a force to be reckoned with in the writing and publishing industry and that ANYONE aligned with us and following our guidelines are sure to be PROPELLED via book sales, book reviews and name recognition!}

And here we have the explanation as to why so many people (there are a ton of members on their site!) stick around despite such an oppressive Code of Conduct: they are convinced that they have been looked upon with favour and elevated to the Cool Kids Club.

How did I even find this treasure? Because someone I was following posted a tweet publicly scolding people for review swapping. Why did I see it? Beats me. That sort of thing belongs in a private message or an email. Public upbraiding isn’t a very effective form of punishment.

As for my own blog, I now have 23 followers and you are all frigging fantastic. Thank you. Thank you even if you don’t follow, but you’ve come here and read my pissed-off rant. Because I wrote from my steamed-up heart just now, and I was able to do that without censure. Do I want *more* followers? Sure. That’d be lovely. But I’m not going to attach myself to an organisation like that simply for a bit more exposure. Blagh.

(Shut up, spellcheck. “Blagh” is a perfectly cromulent word :p)

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Were you a bully at school, by any chance…?

Recently, someone I (don’t anymore) follow on Twitter put up a tweet. It had lots of CAPS LOCK OF RAGE and EXCLAMATION MARKS! and said that several tagged people, none of whom I know, were risking being expelled from Rave Reviews Club for review-swapping. She posted a link to their code of conduct, and all I can say at this point is… holy shit.

(And yes, I’m aware that I’m possibly providing them with undeserved page views, so don’t bother pointing that one out ;))

Some notable highlights in their Code of Conduct:

RAVE REVIEWS BOOK CLUB has established itself as an elite group of Authors and Readers.  Unlike some other forums where you might experience negativity, rudeness and childlike behavior,  THIS TYPE OF BEHAVIOR is not allowed within the confines of RRBC.  Furthermore, our members are expected to behave as the adults we all are, being respectful of others at all times.  We are here to support, encourage and uplift one another, therefore, we have established our own CODE OF CONDUCT which we expect each and every member to adhere to:

Item: nothing says “childish” “rude” and “negative” to me more than describing oneself as having an “elite group”, giving a blind, vague insult to “other forums”, then ordering members in BOLD CAPSLOCK to adhere to RULES like they are AT SCHOOL.

1)  DO NOT post any negativity in any comments section of the Rave Reviews Book Club site.  If you do, you will not be allowed to post any further comments here.  Depending upon the nature and severity of the comments, your membership may be revoked by the club.

Now, come on. You guys know I’m generally nice. But negativity is part of the human experience. It’s part of being genuine. A club where everyone is terrified to say anything “negative” (read: honest) on pain of being kicked out? Pfft.

2)  DO NOT make any disparaging remarks about Rave Reviews Book Club and/or its Governing Board Members {in relation to this club} in this, or any public forum.  If you feel negatively in regards to anything about Rave Reviews Book Club, then we ask that you cancel your membership and sever all ties with this club.  Subsequently, if you have an issue or concern which you would like to  discuss with our Governing Board, you may CONTACT US  and give us the opportunity to make right, that which you consider as wrong.  It reflects poorly upon any individual who does commit such an offense, yet they continue to align themselves with said organization.  If such behavior is brought to our attention, your membership may be revoked by the club

Translation: We are a dictatorship. Dissenters will be shot for sedition. The implication that you can’t be a member of an organisation unless you wholeheartedly love everything they do is just silly.

3)  NO MATTER THE FORUM, any unprofessional behavior by an RRBC member, will not be tolerated.  This includes, but is not limited to:  personal attacks of the author in reviews, revenge reviews, public denouncement, harassment of any kind, etc.  Every member of Rave Reviews Book Club is expected to treat others with respect, and in a supportive manner at all times.  Let us be clear:  WE ALWAYS ENCOURAGE HONEST REVIEWS, even if those reviews are low reviews, BUT, we do ask in your language of those reviews of fellow members, that you are not causing public humiliation or embarrassment.  We do not want to ever discourage someone of realizing their dreams as a Writer.  What we do seek to do here, is encourage and offer assistance so that those who are in need, are able to grow and become better.    If such behavior is brought to our attention, your membership may be revoked by the club.  On a final note, we’d also like to remind anyone living in a glass house, you should be careful not to throw stones.

When organisations like this order me to behave “professionally” (read: in accordance with their rules) I always want to say: sure. Pay me as a professional, and I’ll behave professionally. I do have a day job, for which I am paid a wage. There, I do what my superiors tell me. Out of hours, in my own time, on the internet? No. Pay me and we’ll talk. I particularly like that little passive-aggressive threat of revenge-reviews at the end.

4)  DO NOT use the #RaveReviewsBookClub , #RAVEREVIEWSBOOKCLUB, or #RRBC  hashtags to promote any books or authors who ARE NOT RRBC members.  This is a direct insult to those members whose names appear on our roster AND those members who take time to support their fellow members.  If these people wish to be supported and use our hashtag, they should JOIN just like other members.  Also, we ask that you do not include either of our hashtags in conjunction with other hashtag entities, which we are not aligned with or affiliated with.   Abuse in this manner is cause for your membership to be revoked by the club.

I’m sorry, did they just say you could be kicked out of their club by using “their” hashtag and another “unauthorised” one in the same tweet? See above. My twitter is mine and I’m not paid for tweeting.

But oh, there’s loads more! So much that, to spare your poor eyes, I’m going to go immediately into part two, which is here.

Debunker: Independence Day – Dennis Anthony

 

Debunker

Publish Date: December 1, 2013

Source: Given to me by the author in exchange for an honest review; can be bought on Amazon US here or on Amazon UK here

Format: E-book

Pages: 495 pages

Summary: Obsession, Betrayal, Murder

Anything you can imagine is real . . .

Francis Trecy refutes paranormal claims of other researchers on a popular reality television show. He’s called The Dark Lord and The Unbeliever. Only a few people closest to him know his secret. Francis sees a lot more than he’s telling.

Before he becomes the accidental star of the program, he falls in love with a beautiful, enigmatic woman who disappears without explanation. In her wake, she leaves behind a procession of ex-lovers, along with suggestions of deceit and betrayal. Finding her becomes Francis’s obsession.

In the horror of battle, uncomfortable truths are revealed.

His team of mismatched investigators journeys to the most famous battlefield in American history. There he discovers that reality is not at all what it seems. In coming to terms with his complicated past, he battles against physical danger and emotional pain. He discovers that longings of thousands of wayward spirits mirror his own. And he learns that in a world stranger than we can imagine, the human heart remains the strangest thing of all. (Source: Amazon product description)

Short Version: With immaculate attention to detail and interweaving plots galore, this is a complex, clever book.

Longer Version:

I’ll say this upfront: this is not a casual read.

No, it’s something better than a casual read. This is an incredibly complex and sophisticated novel, incorporating everything from American history to parapsychology, from psychology to Native American spirituality, from wood-carving to the mechanics of film. Learning through entertainment! What could be better than that? Bliss.

Author Dennis Anthony relates all of the nitty-gritty details with the confidence of an expert. That’s what makes it work – I believe everything he writes, the whole way. I came to the book with existing knowledge of parapsychology (or as I’d express it: I love me some ghosty shit) and the American Civil War, and it treated me on both topics. I can’t vouch for how it would strike a reader with no interest in either topics, but I’d think they would read the summary and know to give it a miss, anyway.

And if you’re wondering what the “Independence Day” of the title refers to, when the focus is around the American Civil War – that gets addressed, too.

While it does possess a strong plot (which slowly and steadily climbs toward a terrific climax at a re-enactment of the Battle of Gettysburg), the drawcard for this book is definitely its characters. They are all sketched in loving detail, even those with random walk-on parts. The main characters: Francis, Marion, Phal, John, Parker, Les, Kandy, etc. are all distinct and unique, possessing their own voices, backgrounds, tics, habits and motivations. Admittedly, I largely dismissed the “Debunker” himself, Francis Trecy, as a bit of a “Marius Pontmercy” – a main character everyone else seems to adore, but toward whom I have no strong feelings either way.

But I would read an entire book – nay, an entire series – about Parker French. This bit completely sold it to me:

In the distance, he [Parker, as a child] could see the slumped peaks of the Appalachian range, tilting into Chattanooga. He felt quiet and peaceful, but not the least bit tired. That’s when Parker saw God looking in his window.

At first he thought it was a shadow or even a storm cloud brushing past the old mountains, but no, it was God. When he saw Him, Parker did the only logical thing. He got out of bed, padded into the living room where Momma sat watching a rerun of M*A*S*H, and sat on the couch next to her…

If anything, I felt as if the book was too expansive, trying to encompass too much. Intricate threads of plot and character are picked up and often dropped just as quickly. Some of them are returned to, though sometimes there’s a lengthy wait. The book opens with a Civil War battle sequence that serves as some great foreshadowing, but the Gettysburg development in the plot isn’t reintroduced until halfway through the lengthy novel. Other threads, such as Parker’s reunion with an old school friend, are solidly written in themselves, but felt to me a little extraneous to the plot.

Also extraneous to the plot (or so it felt to me as a reader) were some scenes depicting the sexual adventures of the television crew, Trecy and his colleagues. Parker French’s reunion with an old female school friend contains some very sexually-charged observations of her from Parker’s point of view, even though he’s established early on as being gay. In a couple of later chapters, it seems pretty much everyone in the TV crew is in each other’s pants, or wanting to be. It’s dealt with deftly (though there is one uncomfortable instance of what is arguably a female raping a male, not told in real-time) but it left me wondering when these people were going to get out of bed and get back to work on the ghosty stuff.

I’m that kind of reader, folks. I doubt any reader who is not me will have that kind of impatience. And I’m sure every erotica reader who’s ever heard of me is grateful that I can’t and won’t fairly read their stuff.

As mentioned before, the ending is beautifully executed, wrapping up both (most of) the storylines introduced in the previous chapters, as well as leaving breathing room for future instalments. It’s a balancing act of satisfying the reader and leaving them wanting more, but Anthony most definitely succeeds. I wish I could elaborate more on it without spoiling, but there was one triumphant moment of this book I’ll probably remember even if I don’t read it again for fifty years: Parker French running along the battlefield with his arms flung wide, like a child “playing aeroplanes.”

It’ll all make sense when you read it.

“Why I Sometimes Write Negative Reviews & Why You Should Consider Doing the Same…”

Very thought-provoking article from Novel Publicity here.

Although I don’t rate books using the star system, Chand explains her own personal system quite well. What caught my attention most were the books she rates as one-star… because she couldn’t finish them.

A couple of weeks ago, I started reading a self-published novel (and I have no intention of telling you the title or the author, since it would be unfair of me to publicly denigrate a book I – strictly speaking – haven’t actually read.)

I very, very rarely ever ditch a book – it’s sort of a principle with me. And from years of working closely with teenage writers, I’ve learned the art of finding things to genuinely praise, even if the book is overall a misfire.

This book? It was a doozy.

I’d initially picked it up because the title and premise sounded promising and the E-book itself was free, and I was planning on reviewing it here after finishing. But by chapter four, I had to face it: I hadn’t one positive thing to say about this book (except that the title and cover were, and are, still cool).

As well as being a reader, blogger, reviewer and wannabe editor, I’m an (unpublished) writer, too. I get it. I really do. If I found a review of my work that did nothing but detail how shit the reviewer thought it was, I’d cry for days. And possibly not write again for months.

Oh, yes. We writers should have thick skins. I should also have a million dollars, but let’s face it: if it were that easy, we’d all be millionaires and much better writers, revelling in the sharpest concrit imaginable.

Not. Going. To. Happen.

My dilemma of whether to give this book a negative review or none at all was made a little easier on me for two reasons: first, I’d chosen to read the book myself, and the author had no idea I’d even read their work, let alone thought so little of it. Secondly, the E-book was free.

Since I also review on request, it’s already occurred to me: What if someone asks me to review their book, and it’s a bad, bad, bad, bad book? And what if they’re charging people for the privilege of reading it?

My mother sometimes tells the story of seeing her neighbour’s newborn daughter for the first time – and physically recoiling before she could help herself. All babies are cute, she told me later, but that one was not beautiful.

If a writer trusts me with their hard work, and I can’t bring anything positive to the table, that’s what I’ll feel like. I’ll feel like I just told a proud new mother that her baby is ugly.

Luckily, I don’t think there’s much danger of that happening. I’ve read over 100 books in the past six months, and abandoned only one of them. I like those odds.

Still Life – Michael Montoure

STILL LIFE

Publish Date: July 13, 2013

Source: Given to me by the author in exchange for an honest review; can be bought on Amazon’s American and British sites.

Format: E-book

Pages: 266 pages

Summary: With the suicide of her best friend, burned-out rock star Nikki Velvet came face-to-face with death, and she’d do anything not to face it again. When a mysterious stranger offers her immortality, she believes she’s found what she’s been searching for, but it’s nothing like she’s imagined ….

Sylvan, the beautiful stranger who’d promised to make her a vampire, turned out to be all too human. He keeps his promise — but only to leave her weak, helpless, and addicted to his blood.

Now, trapped in her new life with him — and with Paul, the vampire she’s replaced as Sylvan’s favorite — Nikki struggles to rise above Sylvan’s control and Paul’s jealousy, and to find a way out with the help from the ghosts of her past.

But it might not be so simple. When Sylvan risks the retribution of the enigmatic Shadow Market, Nikki has to find her own fate, before time runs out for all of them ….

STILL LIFE is a story of loss, isolation, the things we mistake for love, and the way back out of the dark. (Source: Amazon product description.)

Short Version: Easily the most entertaining, thought-provoking vampire novel I’ve ever read. Run, don’t walk, to buy it.

Longer Version: My disclaimer on this one is as short as it is important: I came to this book, gifted to me by the author, with about as fresh a perspective as it’s possible to have in reading fiction. I have no strong opinions one way or the other about vampire novels. (I’ve enjoyed a couple of Anne Rice’s Lestat novels, loathe Twilight, like Stoker’s Dracula and am completely ignorant of most of what else is out there.) Beyond the product description, I knew almost nothing about this book or its author, and had no pre-conceived notions on what it was going to be like.

What is it like? It’s extraordinary.

Montoure’s character work is exceptional, and definitely a centrepiece for the novel. Looming large in the story is Randall Sylvan (his first name is mentioned only once), the beautiful, mysterious stranger who promises to turn protagonist Nikki Velvet into a vampire. The thing is, Sylvan’s not actually a vampire. He’s a pretentious, selfish, weak, abusive prick and a lot of other things, but a vampire? Nope.

Nikki’s induction into vampire life is left to Paul, who despite being small, swarthy and entirely human-looking, actually is a real vampire. Nikki, like Paul, quickly becomes addicted to Sylvan’s blood and he, in turn, becomes addicted to “feeding” them. The three live in a strange ménage à trois that is powerful in its sexuality without ever involving sex. Nikki unexpectedly walks in on Sylvan feeding Paul, and this happens:

I stared at them.

Sylvan, sitting on his bed. Paul, kneeling on the floor between Sylvan’s gently parted legs. Leaning forward, his neck pressed against Sylvan’s outstretched wrist… Paul’s face [was] screwed up in an expression of concentration and need. He was softly whimpering, and every few seconds he let out a small, shuddering gasp.

The analogy is cemented when Sylvan, seeing Nikki, assumes that she feels as betrayed as a scorned mistress. And despite her protests to the contrary, she acts like one.

Nikki Velvet is a fantastic protagonist – realistically flawed, and neither unnecessarily aggressive nor a doormat. I am amazed at how well Montoure writes a first-person narrative from a female perspective. Unlike many book heroines Nikki is entirely uninterested, for the most part, in indulgent descriptions of herself (especially physically) and instead reacts mainly to the world and people around her. She is the storyteller, occasionally addressing the long-dead Gabe directly, but the novel never falls over into either of the twin perils of wangsty navel-gazing or distancing the reader from Nikki’s emotions.

The only parts of this book I felt even verged on weak writing were a few scenes where Nikki describes the music she and Gabe created together, and her self-image as a rock star. I felt that I wasn’t quite catching what Montoure was throwing out to me. But then, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an instance where the written word alone was able to recreate the ambience and emotional impact of music. These music scenes didn’t distract me, and are very unlikely to distract any reader but one who is looking for weaknesses in the story.

I certainly didn’t detect weakness in any of the characterisations, nor in Montoure’s beautiful, breathless, rolling prose that reminds me, in the best possible way, of Kerouac’s On The Road:

Dull sodium streetlights glowed in the distance like will-o’-the-wisps, the color of old teeth. Every now and then, car headlights would pass, fill the rooms with a pale blue that would sweep from side to side and burn the shape of the windowpanes on the walls and look for an exit and be gone.

Line after line, paragraph after paragraph, Montoure treats the reader to some of the most unique and beautiful turns of phrase I’ve read in years.

Still Life is a horror story, all right; but I felt that the horror had very little to do with vampires and the supernatural.

The horror comes from Sylvan, the ordinary human being who feeds the addictions of the vampires who rely on him. In return, he controls them utterly – from grooming Nikki and her successor, Amanda, to be his “pretty little dolls” who wear what they’re told, to withholding blood as a punishment and/or as a means to control, to lashing out in horrific, uncontrollable violence.

Sound familiar? This is a story less about vampires and more about addiction and domestic abuse, topics that Montoure explores with unflinching, head-on bravery and accuracy. Sylvan takes great pleasure in bartering his vampire’s total submission with his blood and using the threat of daylight to prevent them from leaving an unlocked house. It’s a perfect exploration of the oft-heard and ignorant question sometimes asked of domestic abuse victims: “Why didn’t you just tell him to fuck off and walk right out?”

This is not treated as a gendered issue, largely by way of the refreshing and intriguing characterisation of Paul. While Nikki freely admits many times in the narrative to hating Sylvan, and Amanda seems to hold almost religious reverence for him, Paul is the embodiment of: If I can just work out what I’m doing to make him angry, I can stop doing it, and he’ll stop being angry, and we’ll all be happy.

I’ve ranted for too long about what may just be an over-interpretation on my part, but trust me, this is a devastatingly accurate and complex treatment of a very devastating and complex set of social issues.

Final praise has to go to Montoure’s editor, Elizabeth Knottingham, and his proofreader, Sam Sheets. Both have done an absolutely flawless job. I can’t think of a single example of a grammatical mistake or a weak sentence or the dreaded Typo of Doom. Better, neither Montoure’s editor nor his proofreader have “corrected” his prose into academic sterility; instead, they have facilitated his unique and engaging style.

Go. Buy. This. Book. Seriously.