We're All Mean Girls Now

Please forgive me for beginning this otherwise sane post with an OT minirant:

One of the blog to which I subscribe has signed up for the “Mean Girl Cleanse”. To see what this is all about, click here and watch the video, but only if you don’t mind being irritated out of your freaking mind. The basic idea of the Mean Girl Cleanse is not, alas, furtively pouring laxative in the nonfat latte of your favorite nemesis, but rather, getting rid of your inner mean girl, that little voice that tells you bad things about yourself which, as we all know, are just not true.

Yes, sisters. It is you who are oppressing yourselves. Forget what we know about interlocking historic systems of oppression. Forget, also, what we know about all of the psychological biases which make it far more likely that your self-image is more positive than it has any right to be. Forget, finally, that the long held conventional wisdom on the importance of self-esteem and its contribution to happiness or productivity has been largely debunked. Forget worrying about your neighbors, your community, or your planet. Forget getting out of yourself and actually lifting a finger to help someone in need. All of these are just fodder for the real good, your own positive self-image. With a few cute cartoon icons and a bevy of smiling, Botoxed, veneered and curiously uncredentialed “experts”, you, too, can “feel SO much better… about YOU!”.

Oops!  You thought I was going to talk about Romanceland “mean girls”? Actually, I am. When I clicked on the above-described post, I thought the topic was the romance community. “Gosh”, I thought, “I haven’t seen the term ‘mean girls’ in ages!”*

[*I wrote that line a week ago, i.e. before today. When I did see it. *sigh*. ]

After thinking about it for a while, I’ve come to the conclusion while there once may have been a division between review blogs that posted snarky reviews (I am thinking of Mrs. Giggles and Smart Bitches) and those that didn’t, I no longer see that division (if it ever existed). And here’s some evidence:

At All About Romance, here’s some snark in Rike’s F review of My Unfair Lady

At around page 250, obviously because the publisher demanded another 100 pages of text, Summer develops Issues and both she and Byron prove they took Psychology 101 at college by analyzing themselves, each other and their relationship in a way that would make Sigmund Freud proud.

Or this one of Beauty’s Cruse at AAR by reviewer Jean:

But the book didn’t actually fail until the halfway point, which is when the accumulated writing travesties began to take their toll. The head-hopping. The clumsy syntax. The misnomers. And dear God, the vocabulary. It should be mandated in Medieval 101 that you can’t get instant Medieval just by inserting “nay” and “for certes” ad nauseum amongst the 21st century nouns and verbs – it doesn’t work that way. It especially doesn’t work that way when, at one point, your heroine snorts and says, “Woot, woot.”

Or this one, of Moonlight Protector:

To be blunt, Moonlight Protector reads like the creative writing effort of an earnest thirteen year old.

From The Romance Review, a review of The Taming of Lord Astor

When Tilly and Lord Astor are barely acquainted, she asks, “Have you ever hit a woman?” His response so pleases her, she continues on the walk whistling and almost skipping. Lord Astor thinks she’s intriguing. The poor guy must be suffering from delusion.

If I hadn’t been reading The Taming of Lord Astor in order to review it, I would have abandoned it by page 25. It could be an object lesson in when good romance traditions go bad.

At TGTBTU the end of this D- Anita Blake review there’s this killer comment by Liviana:

But I kind of want to thank LKH for having Anita rape a sixteen year old. I can finally give this series up.

And Liviana is mad again (and who can blame her?) about how rape is depicted in this DNF review of a book called Soul Catcher:

Yeah Livia. It was your own damn fault you got raped. … Because, you know, not being able to defend yourself against rape means you wanted to get raped. It means you deserved it.

Book. Wall. (Followed soon after by the trash can, is my recommendation.)

Also at TGTBTU, here’s a very funny snarky review from author Lynne Connelly of The Innocent’s Dark Seduction:

We have a magic vajayjay in this book and I haven’t come across one of those in a while. One experience with Lia and all Roarke’s other women melt away as if they never existed. He can’t do without it. He craves it. He just wishes the woman didn’t go with it. And however badly he treats her, she can’t do without his purple-headed mushroom of passion, or his kisses, which are dynamite. She falls madly for him and the worse he behaves, the more besotted she gets. We don’t have enough of those women in romance. Once there were oodles of them, but not now. If you miss them, this is the book for you.

Snark at Dear Author in a Shuzluva review of Shayla Black’s Delicious:

It took me quite a while to get through this book, not because there were big words or complicated plot twists, but because I had to keep collecting my jaw from the ground and re-reading to make sure I’d read what I thought I had. I laughed…I cried…I nearly barfed. I can’t say it was better than CATS, but that’s probably because none of the characters were weres.

Dear Author’s Jane on The Gingerbread Tryst:

What is there to say other than there are things seen that cannot be unseen and this story is one of those things that is burned into my brain, destroying my fond memories of gingerbread cookies, red hots and cinnamon sticks. It’s an F for romance and sexiness but probably an A in destroying my childhood innocence. Bravo.

From the Book Binge — here’s a guest review of Carnal Ecstasy

I very much wanted to like this novella, and there were some good parts, but it left me feeling kind of dirty. Like a pool cue touched by who knows how many people and not washed before it’s inserted into a body cavity dirty. Maybe it’s just me, but that seems unsanitary.

And here’s a December 2007 review by Holly of a terrifying book called Office Slave:

In less than 12 months, she paid back her debt in full [via sex acts], which is quite an accomplishment, considering she got $100 for each blowjob and $250 for every screw. Do the math and on that and tell me you aren’t scared.

Smart Bitches doesn’t do many reviews these days, but Sarah does have a mildly snarky comment in her recent D+ review of Jane Porter’s She’s gone Country.

It was like going on a trip and being told, “This flight is headed to Houston. This flight is going to Houston. You’re aboard a flight that is going to Houston!” and then at the last minute, 5 minutes before landing, you hear, “Wait, never mind. We’re going to Minnesota!”

Mrs. Giggles, on the other hand, is definitely still at it. When she doesn’t like a book, it comes out funny. Here’s a review of Suzanne Brockmann’s Infamous:

Of course, the author also takes advantage of the opportunity to tell me that gay men need TLC too, war is bad (rather ironic considering that the selling point of her books are men who specialize in boom-boom-bang), alcoholism is a genetic disease, mental illness is best combated with a healthy dose of love and understanding, and respect the kitchen sink in the universe of everything.

As you can imagine, something has got to give in a story this busy, and that something has to be the romance between Alison and AJ. Let me put this way: these two are still having the same conversation they had back in page 34 one hundred pages later.

AnimeJune of GossamerObsessions in unique in all of blogland in that she manages to write snarky reviews even of books she mostly likes. Here’ s a B- review of Galen Foley’s Lord of Fire:

I mean, she thinks, “Oh, this poor tortured soul – he likes poetry and long walks in the forest” and yet never, not once, thinks, “Um, seriously dude, what’s up with those orgies? I mean, a couple of Pier 1 throwrugs and a vase or two could really class up that private cave of yours.” By the end of her stay at Lucien’s estate, she starts referring to his parties as if they’re mild annoyances that involve drinking too much beer with a bunch of football buddies, instead of pretending to be the avatar of a sex god while hundreds of people knock boots at the same time.

Which reminds me – who’s responsible for cleaning that cave? Ick!

The Book Smugglers on What a Pirate Desires:

Before they can be together for reals though there is more stupidity coming from Samantha and the return of the Plantation Villain and his rapists ways. He too, has been looking for Samantha for 5 years to exact revenge and get into her tight hole one more time. *rolls eyes* What is up with these villains and their obsession with tiny tight holes anyway?

[Someone should write a paper on the proportional relationship of  snark to rapes in romance reviews.]

Finally, here’s Katibabs of Babbling About Books on Elizabeth Jennings’ (aka Lisa Marie Rice’s) Shadows at Midnight:

This TSTL move occurs when Daniel is returning Claire back to her bed and breakfast after dinner. Now, if this was a LMR, Daniel would have taken Clare to his home and given Claire too many orgasms to count. But since this is an Elizabeth Jennings’ novel, the bouncing on the sheets must wait.

I could keep going, but I think you get the idea.

I have written some snarky reviews — Passion by Lisa Valdez, Beyond the Highland Mist by Karen Marie Moning and Savage Lust by Gabriella Bradley to name three. I consider writing a snarky review — making myself, and hopefully others, laugh at a book I thought was flawed, gives me those couple of hours of enjoyment which the book failed to do. It’s also honest (when I write a snarky review it is because there is no other way I could communicate my true feelings about a book) and a way to let go of negative energy I accumulated when I read something I really, really didn’t like. But it takes a lot of time: snarky reviews are just as careful — maybe more so — as nonsnarky ones.

When I first started this blog, I wrote a post on the moral status of snarky reviews, which I now pretty much totally repudiate (I may even refudiate it!!), in part because in that post, I thought of reviewing in terms of my relationship with the author, rather than my relationship with my blog readers, or, even more to the point, my relationship with the book. My approach back then was wrong headed, but I guess it was a casualty not just of my youth and inexperience (heh) but of the way many book blogs seem to occupy a gray area between gushing fan sites and real (useful, honest) review sites.

One of the things that always mystified me was the claim that as long as book blogs write snarky reviews they aren’t “professional”. The people who make that claim have clearly never read a professional book review in their lives, because I can hardly think of better snark hunting grounds than The New Yorker, the NYTRB or LRB, The Guardian, or heck, even the Journal of Philosophy. Either that, or they are using the word “professional” to mean something like “nice”, i.e. something that unfairly attempts to settle the argument by definitional fiat.

As a reader of other review blogs, I like to think I can tell when a snarky review is just a way for the reviewer to try to get some attention (those snarky negative reviews do tend to garner their share), the same way I believe I can often tell when a reviewer is writing an exaggeratedly positive review of a book by her Twitter BFF or critique partner. Sometimes (but not always), the review quality suffers from those ulterior motives. But snarky reviews, I now think, are like any other reviews: good when they are informative, careful, and honest, bad when they aren’t.

But if you are reading this post and you write reviews, the chances are good that you know all this, because nowadays, if you’re one of the gals, you are, at least occasionally, one of the “mean gals”, too.

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