Monthly Archives: January 2016

The true meaning of a three star rating

three stars A while ago I had a conversation with an author whose book I read and reviewed and rated three stars. The author wanted to know, why only three? Was there something I didn’t like about the book? So began a back and forth of emails in which I tried to explain my rating. I found the question a bit weird but a part of me understood why the author wanted to know.                  Wouldn’t you, as an author? Wouldn’t I, if I ever publish that fantasy novel I’ve been working on?
The online conversation was very nice and polite – I felt that the author was genuinely trying to discover why I had not given the book a higher rating. As I explained in my emails, there was nothing wrong with the book, but rather with my perception of it. In fact my review was rather on the positive side with the negative being entirely subjective. Still, I thought three stars was a good review for the book and a good review generally speaking and I stand by my decision.

I’ve been a member on Goodreads for nearly six years. In that time I read and rated a number of books based on the system available on the site. If you’re not familiar with it, here it is:

*did not like it
** it was ok
***liked it
****really liked it
*****it was amazing

So, three stars was not “I’m not sure if I like this book and I’m still making up my mind” but “liked it”. That’s it, I liked it. Isn’t that good? Is it bad? Does it mean I didn’t quite make up my mind? No. It means I liked it. Sure, there were parts I liked less, but the overall impression was good. Would I read another book by the same author? It’s entirely possible. After all, as you can see below, Stephen King’s books fall into both categories and I’m a huge fan. So I went back to my reading list on Goodreads and searched for books I rated three stars. Here are some of them:

three star books

2010 A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway
2011 Weaveworld – Clive Barker
2012 Anatomy of a Disappearance – Hisham Matar
2013 Joyland – Stephen King
2014 Love Minus Eighty – Will McIntosh
2015 And The Mountains Echoed – Khaled Hosseini

 

and five star books

2010 After Dark – Haruki Murakami
2011 Fahrenheit 451- Ray Bradbury
2012 The Yellow Wallpaper and Selected Writings – Charlotte Perkins Gilman
2013 Dracula – Bram Stoker
2014 The Shining – Stephen King
2015 The Farseer Trilogy – Robin Hobb

Here are my questions for you, book lovers and reviewers: what does a 3 stars review mean to you? Is it good, is it bad, is it in between? Would this rating make you click away, in search of a higher rated book? Would you read another book by an author whose book you rated 3 stars? Do you rate the book thinking about that emotional connection or do you try and look at it with a rational mind? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Posted in Wandering Thoughts | Tagged , , , , | 29 Comments

The Great Hall – flash fiction


I wrote this for the Random Flickr Flash Fiction Challenge I found on terribleminds. After finishing the entire piece in one go, I went back to look for the photo on Flickr to post here, but it was gone. That will teach me to save things first. These things are elusive. No matter how hard I tried I could not find that photo but I do remember the title which is also the name of this story.

*Edit: After seeing Deepika’s doodles I asked her to draw one for this story. I’m very pleased with how well it reflects the image I had in my mind. Thank you, Deepika.

 

The Great Hall

That is the strangest thing, Jack thought as he made his way through the undulating sea of people heading for the subway. In his hand he had a crumpled piece of paper he’d picked up from the street, maybe even right outside his favorite coffee shop which sold his favorite coffee, black with the tiniest bit of sugar, which he desperately needed on this, the least favorite day of working mankind, Monday. He could actually feel the hot liquid making its way though his benumbed veins, and grateful, took another sip. He had managed to peel the paper from his left shoe with an embarrassed grin, realizing the annoying swishing sound he’d heard behind him did not belong to anybody but himself. Well, at least it wasn’t toilet paper. In fact, the picture intrigued him.

He threw the empty paper cup into the nearest bin and descended into the open mouth of the subway station.
He found a not-so-crowded corner in one of the cars and after waiting for his fogged glasses to clear, proceeded to study the piece of paper carefully.

The Great Hall My God, he almost said out loud as he scanned the image with the shocked expression of someone who’s seen the exact same picture but couldn’t quite remember when or where. He looked closer, trying to see as much detail as possible, swaying with each jolt of the subway train making its way into the belly of the city. In a way, he felt he was descending into the very bowels of the earth and into that mysterious room that he was sure he’d seen somewhere but couldn’t quite remember where. The stark white of the black and white tiled floor, the arched doorways, the ascending stairs, three doors, one open just a tiny bit – at this stage he brought the paper closer, trying to see if there was someone holding open the door. There wasn’t. The high ceiling supported by white beams, the small chandelier , the long table pushed into the far right corner, all this made Jack feel as if he was watching one of those hypnotic images that looked like something but were actually something else.

By the time he raised his eyes from the paper, he realized his stop was behind him and he was going to be late for work. He got off the train and went and sat down in one of the red plastic chairs on the platform. He felt a sudden craving for another cup of coffee to shake him out of the lethargy. But the coffee only made him remember the coffee shop and then the paper which he was now gripping into a tight fist. He looked around at the people walking, standing, sitting, talking on their phones, but he could not focus on them too long. With a shudder he realized where he’d seen the image.
But it’s not possible. He shook his head, dashing a furtive look to his right where an elderly gentleman was reading the paper. He had an unlit pipe in a corner of his mouth and gave Jack a quick look before returning to his reading.

Jack felt himself sweating despite the cold draft of air that signaled the approach of the subway train. He shivered and looked at the paper again. This time the floor was dirty and looking closer Jack thought he could see black footsteps leading to the barely open door. He raised a hand to his forehead, pushing his slippery glasses all the way back to the base of his nose. The footsteps were actually coming from the door towards him and with a shudder Jack remembered where he’d seen the image. The whole thing looked like a scene from The Shining, and it could have very well been from the damn book, he thought. He was sure now that he’d never seen this image in real life, that it had been just how he had imagined one of the rooms in The Overlook Hotel to be when he’d read the novel, years ago. A mad thought flickered somewhere inside his brain and Jack was almost afraid the mad man with an axe in his hand – or maybe a fire hose (remember the fire hose, Jack?) had come out of that door and was well on his way to murdering him, this Jack, the other Jack in this world who wanted nothing than to drown his horror in the black comforting abyss of a big cup of coffee, sugar be damned.

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. After a few minutes, when he’d called his boss explaining why he couldn’t come to work – Mr Holloway seemed to be perfectly reasonable and sympathetic to hearing his feeble excuse of catching a cold, yet another anomaly to add to the day – Jack decided to head back home and go straight to bed.
He had no memory of the way back. He must have crossed to the other platform, got on the train and by some miracle this time got off at the right station. He must have walked back, past the coffee shop, never mind the thoughts of coffee, and straight to his condo. Somehow he made it to the door of his apartment on the twelfth floor, turned the key in the lock and got in. Before his eyes stretched the impossibly shiny black and white tiled floor, and the doors, three of them, just like in the picture, were all halfway open. He searched frantically for the crumpled paper in his pockets, even on the back of his shoes, as if that could ward off the evil he felt rising from the magnificent solitude of the room, but it was gone.

Posted in Flash Fiction | 12 Comments

Some thoughts on 2015 and a “best books” list

winter 2016 -1 I’m writing this from a cold Europe, with an empty mug of chamomile tea next to my laptop. I’m still on this continent for a while, and winter, a season I was never fond of, has finally arrived. It was fun to feel the snow under my boots for a couple of days hours but now I long for t-shirts and the stifling heat of Bangkok. I managed to lean out the window and take a phone pic of snow, right before my fingers froze and my teeth started chattering. Summer is definitely my season.

I can’t believe it’s been almost a year to the day since I wrote my Plans and dreams for 2015. I started last year with a list of things I wanted to do. Maybe I was a little too ambitious – looking back now I can mark as done less than half of them: I’ve submitted two short stories (and got my first rejection letters), had 12 lovely guest bloggers (one for each month), and started a scrapbook/diary, which I will continue in 2016. I didn’t learn how to drive, or take more pictures (unless phone pictures count; do they?), did travel a bit but not to new places, Bukowski and David Foster Wallace are still on my TBR list along with “more poetry”. This year I’m not as expansive and many of my goals center around writing. We’ll see how that goes.

As for books, 2015 was an interesting year. I finally read Kafka and Remarque as part of German Literature Month and I can’t wait to read more of their books. I was a little afraid of Kafka, imagining this is one of those classics one should read but may not necessarily understand – so glad to finally find out how accessible and enjoyable his short stories were; I loved The Metamorphosis so much it’s going to be on my list of best horror stories forever! I was a bit apprehensive on reading war novels but Remarque swept all my doubts away and really impressed me with his powerful, emotional writing.

Goodreads tells me I’ve read 34 books. More than half of them are either horror, fantasy, or a combination of both. These are the best of 2015:

1. The Farseer Trilogy – Robin Hobb (links)
2. The Tawny Man (another trilogy) – Robin Hobb
3. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – Jonathan Safran Foer
4. The Verdict and Other Stories – Franz Kafka
5. A Time to Love and a Time to Die / The Black Obelisk – Erick Maria Remarque
6. The Ruins – Scott Smith
7. Haiganu–The River of Whispers – Marian Coman
8. The Forgotten Garden – Kate Morton

I’ve also read three non-fiction books which I loved and recommend to all creative people out there – Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman, The Artist’s Way – Julia Cameron, and Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert. Strangely enough, I ended up not writing reviews for any of these three but that’s because I found it difficult to say anything that would show just how much I liked them.
On the first day of the year I woke up in my old bedroom at my parents’ house and grabbed the book on the nightstand which proved to be The Rake by Mary Jo Putney. I normally stay away from romance because I find it so cheesy and predictable, but this proved to be a light read and I really liked the guy in the story. Right after I’ve read a Romanian translation of short horror stories by authors like Algernon Blackwood, Rudyard Kipling, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, H.P. Lovecraft and two Romanian authors, Oliviu Craznic and Serban Andrei Mazilu. Some of the stories I’ve read before but most of them were new and I was sorry to get to the end.
I’m really looking forward to reading more of Robin Hobb’s trilogies this year. I started The Liveship Traders months ago but put it aside when I found out I was coming back to Europe for a few months. I would also like to read The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King and hopefully get to a few classics. I really miss reading a nice chunky Gothic novel.

What about you? What books made your “best of 2015” list? What are you looking forward to in 2016?

Posted in Updates | 24 Comments