Some of those requests were for holiday anthologies.
I couldn't say yes to every review request, but I still bit off more than I could chew. And a few anthologies. Now, the main dilemma in reviewing an anthology is whether you need to 1. read all the stories, and 2. review each and every story.
I'm a firm believer in the reading part. I'm not going to talk about a book, good or bad, if I haven't actually read it. But reviewing each story? That part I'm hazy on, because a lot of times not all the stories are the author's best work. Or my taste in stories. I was in an anthology like that last year, in fat, where I didn't like all of the other stories, despite the "USAT bestseller" title those authors had already earned elsewhere.
I'm going to walk through an anthology review here with you - if you want to skip ahead and add comments and your thoughts without reading how I'm approaching this review, go for it. If you want to see my approach and give me specific pointers (or take notes for your own reviews), I'd totally appreciate those comments too!
Okay, I was approached by one of the authors in a Western anthology titled A Christmas Cowboy to Keep. Full disclosure, I'd never read any cowboy romance until I joined The Wild Rose Press, which has a Yellow Roses division devoted to Western romance. I had no idea what I'd been missing! Granted, not all of them are gold, but there are plenty of fun reads in this genre.
RULE #1: First things first. My thought is that if you're approached by a specific author in an anthology, you need to at least include their story in your review. Even if it isn't your favorite in the collection. And even if it turns out you know a handful of the other authors in addition to the one who asked.
RULE #2: If you're not going to include a review of each - especially if you're not going to - you need to list the book blurb that has all the individual story titles and authors on your blog. On review sites like Amazon or Goodreads? Not necessary, because they already have it listed elsewhere on the page.
About the Book:
The weather is cold, the atmosphere is festive, and the cowboys are hot. How do you keep a cowboy at Christmas?I know 4 of the 7 authors listed above, 3 of them write for The Wild Rose Press, and one I met at a previous publishing house. "Knowing" them is relative, in that I've never actually met or had drinks with any of them but we're Facebook friends and interact on author loops. And I've read their books before, and/or featured them on this blog. When I saw that I crossed my fingers that I'd at least like their stories. Which I did (thank goodness). Actually, I enjoyed all of these stories, all so very different from one another in voice and tone with just the Western setting and cowboy hero in common. Which brings me to the next rule on the list:
Don’t miss this holiday collection of modern-day cowboys and the women they love, featuring the same USA Today, Amazon Bestselling, and Award-Winning authors from “A Cowboy to Keep,” which garnered 55 reviews with an average rating of 4.5 stars.
CHRISTMAS, LIBERTY, AND THE THREE MINUTE MAN by Carra Copelin
Daniel Dylan Layman is determined to show headstrong city girl Liberty Ann Hart that a country life in Mistletoe, Texas, is the perfect Christmas gift.
A CHRISTMAS CAROLE by Andrea Downing
Carrie Matheson and her son are trying to settle into a new life in Wyoming. Tate Schrugge is trying to ditch his Scrooge and play Santa to the young boy. But will there be a Dickens of a romance by Christmas?
THE PEPPERMINT TREE by Kristy McCaffrey
Lawyer Skye Mallory returns home for the holidays due to an unexpected inheritance, and cowboy Joe Carrigan stands in her way.
THE DEVIL’S CHRISTMAS KISS by Devon McKay
When Kristen Kelly receives a Christmas kiss from Cole Lawson, she doesn’t believe it means anything. But Cole sets out to make things right with the woman of his heart.
SLAY BELLS by Hildie McQueen
At a small-town Christmas festival sparks fly between Carmen Dias and Detective Jared Bowden, but a dead body and a pesky ex-girlfriend don’t exactly spell romance.
THE BEST CHRISTMAS by Hebby Roman
All Sofia Rossi wants is to re-connect with her estranged son. But can Gar McCulloch, a handsome cowboy who runs a juvenile rehab ranch, be the answer to her problems?
COUNTING DOWN TO CHRISTMAS by Patti Sherry-Crews
Wedding planner Melody Evans views happily-ever-after endings with a skeptical eye. Veterinarian Leland Jennings IV thinks Christmas is for kids. Can the holiday spirit bring them together?
RULE #3: You should start an anthology review with an overview of the whole book. What are the themes that tie the stories together? Why is it an anthology to begin with? Is there a cause that drew them together (like the "c*ck" scandal and subsequent anthology earlier this year) or are they all writers in the same genre banding together for a holiday, a season or to tell stories around an event? Just like the book blurb included a few generic paragraphs at the start, so should your review.
RULE #4: You can't just review the one story from the one author who asked you. That's not really what they were asking for, so it seems lazy to only give them that. If you agree to writing a review, you should not only read it all (as previously stated) but at least talk about it all. I've said before, a review doesn't have to be a book report. And it doesn't have to take you hours to craft. It needs to convey YOUR thoughts, whether you enjoyed it, whether it stirred your emotions, and whether you'd recommend it to others. That's the point of a review.
After reading this cowboy anthology, here are the thoughts that I'm going to share on Amazon and Goodreads. I'm not saying this is "the way" to write a review, and every review I write is different, but I always try to speak from the heart and let other readers know what I liked and/or didn't like...
In this new holiday anthology, seven talented authors bring us seven new Western romances featuring hot cowboys for the holidays. With settings ranging from Colorado to Wyoming to Texas, and stories ranging from sweet to suspenseful to seductive... each offers the reader lots of Christmas cheer with a satisfying happily ever after. As a general rule, anthologies are usually a mixed bag, but I can honestly say I totally enjoyed each of these well-written stories, stirring up lots of warm fuzzy holiday feelings.
Each story obviously features a cowboy as the hero, but each also has strong women who are not looking for love but searching for something. For second chances in life, either moving home after years away (The Devil's Christmas Kiss, The Peppermint Tree), or moving West to start over (A Christmas Carole) or just moving to a new town for a fresh start (Counting Down to Christmas). The most unusual stories in the bunch are about an estranged mother arriving at a Texas rehab ranch to reconnect with her son (The Best Christmas) and an Atlanta reporter sent to Montana for December to cover the Christmas festivities (Slay Bells) (Which also wins for best tongue in cheek title, as the cowboy doubles as a sheriff and the reporter finds a dead body on the ranch just days before the festival is set to begin.) The worst title in the group is Christmas, Liberty, and the Three Minute Man, not only because it's a mouth-full, but the "3-minute man" in a romance collection does not have positive connotations.
Even though I enjoyed all seven stories, a few made me smile more than the others. In The Devil's Christmas Kiss, we have a classic second-chance romance with a few twists. Our main character, Kristen Kelly is a veterinarian who moves back to the town she grew up in to try to set down roots. Having moved around a lot as a child, she longs for the stability she often envied in other families. The boy who tormented her through her school years - and whom she totally crushed on - still lives in town, and they get a second chance with each other. The frank POV of the city girl in Slay Bells had me chuckling throughout... but I can honestly say each of these seven tales was enjoyable, well-written and fun, and all of the various characters kept me turning pages rooting for their happy endings.
Grab a copy of this holiday anthology on AMAZON -- you won't be disappointed!
RULE #5: Go on a write the review already. You read the book. You enjoyed it. Let the author(s) know you liked it, and help other readers discover a new book or a new author. Every review helps, whether it's 3, 4 or 5 stars, and whether it's two sentences or two paragraphs. Think of it as good karma. What goes around, comes around.
Happy Writing - and Reading - to ALL!