Review of Sorts… And maybe a little advice is needed

Not too long ago I joined a social networking site for folks who blog about books. Shortly thereafter, I received this email:

Your blog looks great.

Our company has been representing authors for the past twenty years.

We would love to add you to our database to receive press releases from them regarding books applicable to the genres you review.

At first I thought it was a scam. Then, I found others who confirmed that it was legit, so of course I accepted. I was tres excited!

And, I was even more excited when I received my first package in the mail addressed to “E.W. Book Reviewer; Babbette’s Book Blog.” (For those of you who don’t know what a nerd I am, I of course saved the label.)
So, I’ve got my first book to review, (but I have to finish Infidel first). In a follow-up email from the PR firm, they asked if I’d be willing to review religious fiction, which of course I said I would, and this first book happens to fall into that category.
It is a story about a group of men who were in the same Vietnam Green Beret unit who are gathered back together in 1982 for one last mission to save one of their wives. God and Satan take human form, and the mission allows a final opportunity for men who’s previous service ended in disgrace to redeem themselves.
Ick. I don’t want to finish it. After 110 pages, there’ve been two gratuitous sex scenes, several other rough sexual ‘one liners’ and more than enough hard core cussing. I’m not a prude, and I wouldn’t stop reading a book for this alone, but I started the book with the expectation that it was Christian literature. And, it is poorly written – forced, you might say.
There is one chapter – a scene in a night club – where a political discussion becomes angry for these military men. The dialogue is so overwritten and the narrative (which of course ends with a character pushing over the table of drinks) so stereotyped that it comes across more like a scene of military ‘wanna-bes’ rather than true military men. I’ve known both in my life, and in my experience, I cannot imagine this scene from the real thing.
But that aside, I can’t figure out who this writer’s audience is. Many of the chapters begin with a portion of scripture, and the summary on the back clearly categorizes is as religious fiction, so I don’t see a non-Christian picking this up. To reach non-believers with fiction, I think of writers who are more subtle like Lewis & Tolkien.
If the audience is supposed to be Christian, they are going to be turned off by the rough language and sex scenes. Granted the sex is between a married couple, but as my husband said when I had him read one of the scenes, it borders on soft porn. When Christians go to the movies to see something pitched as “Christian” there is an expectation that the film will be clean; same goes for a book.
On a related but side note, I know enough Christians who struggle with addictions to alcohol, sex or violence, that the explicit descriptions in this book of these behaviors could really be detrimental as temptation, particularly if they picked it up expecting a clean read.
I get that part of the characterization and redemption that the protagonist will undergo may change the poor behavior, but it won’t matter if you’ve turned off your audience so much that they won’t finish it.
And so, I’m left with what is my responsibility as a book reviewer? I’m not getting paid. If I were, then it would be clear. There is nothing that could happen in the book for me to give it a decent review. (I am supposed to send the company a link to my review when it is complete.) Can I just send them an email and explain my issues with the book up to this point? Or, because I have accepted the free copy am I obliged to finish come hell or high water?
Weigh in; I need some help.


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9 Replies to “Review of Sorts… And maybe a little advice is needed

  1. Since you are not receiving payment, I would be honest. Stop reading and email the PR company, tell them your main issues in brief (I understood this was Christian literature yet I find very little Christian about it and would be unable to give it a positive review) and ask would they like you to still review, knowing your review will be negative. If they say yes, you will have to finish the book and review honestly. If they say no, pass it along to the Goodwill.

  2. That's a toughy. It seems like their priority is not just for you to review the book, but to possibly advertise them on you blog. I'd say your responsibility is to give your honest opinion…even if it's considered "unfinishable". Be honest!

  3. Great advice, Bunny… I knew you'd know what I should do. And, Rebecca, you're probably right – they see me as free marketing as much as anything. I'll see what they say to the email. Stay tuned!

  4. I recieved a book that I didn't enjoy, and I think that posting a did not finish review is better than posting no review at all. I try not to be so negative in my reviews that I'm putting the book down, but do express my feelings about the book itself.

  5. I'd found myself in the same situation a few times, too. I like Bunny's approach – will give this a try.

  6. FOTS – I withheld the name and author in this post precisely because I knew it wouldn't be a favorable review, and I hadn't decided how to deal with it.

    I've emailed Bostick, so we'll see what they say. I'm glad to hear that others have still been solicited after "did not finish" reviews. I don't want to lose the contact!

  7. From Greg (via Facebook)

    What you've already written appears to be a legitimate review/assesment of that part of the book which you did read , and I doubt that any reader would take issue with "I couldn't get past the first 110 pages and here's why…" as long as your reasons are content-related and not "I just didn't have time or lost interest."

    Just my two cents worth.

  8. I have had only one that I just didn't finish (and it was a Christian book too – but I did not finish it for different reasons than for the ones that you ran up against) So I did post a DNF review and tried to be honest without being judgemental, if that is possible, and offered the book up to another reader who promised to read and review – in this case though, I am not even sure this sounds like a book you would want to pass on to someone else. . . I know, that wasn't much help was it!

  9. OK – I heard back from the author & it seems I confused "Religous" with "Christian." His email below:

    This book was not written to be a Christian novel. However, it is about God and Satan and how they fight for men's souls. It is set in a very violent enviroment about men who are very evil and very good.

    I understand if you are offended. Read it if you want. Burn it if you want. But in the final analysis you should write what you feel, if you care to write anything at all.

    So, I think I'm off the hook. While I haven't been offended by the book yet, I might if it ends with Satan winning. 😉

    I'm offering the book to anyone who would like to give it a try. It is Dreamer by Phil Davidson.

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