Shock Value Reading

Since I’ve got no new reviews in the wings yet – A Soldier’s Duty coming up soonishly – I thought I’d share a little about what I’m reading at this point in time and, subsequently, what it has my Musings Machine wondering about. Before we go on, yes, there will be spoilerish things for the book in question, so please redistribute your line of sight where appropriate. If you’ve signed on, just proceed as usual.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first book, Spellbent, back in February of 2010. So much so that I graced it with my (in my mind only) much-coveted Books with Balls review title. Books with Balls is reserved for a book I felt really pushed the envelope and went there. You know where. The Where that makes us cringe. The Where that makes us break out of the monotony of Same ‘Ole Same ‘Ole. The Where that makes an impression amongst a never ending tide of books fighting to be noticed. The Where that makes us feel rewarded, finally, for finding an awesome book.

I’m finally reading – and enjoying – the second book in the series now, Shotgun Sorceress, a book that’s languished far too long in my TBR pile. The more I read this book, though, the more I wonder sometimes if I’m gelling with its shocking, ballsy moves, or if it’s getting a little OCD on the shock value. Some seriously screwed up shit happens to the heroine in book one, and in book two, this theme carries on quite enthusiastically. She lost and eye and a hand and part of an arm in book one for F’s sake – what else can go wrong?

There were also the Jizz Kids – I just…I. Ugh. No, I can’t talk a whole lot about that after all. You’ll have to read book one for that.

I will tell you that she gains this fiery “hand” in place of her real one that she can’t control. When she and her boyfriend, Cooper, are making love in book two, she doesn’t realize her magic hand is shooting purple…stuff….all over the walls as she orgasms, which catches fire with anything it touches and the bedroom they’re in burns down around them and the neighbors could see in and she’s nekkid.


When done well, elements that lend a shocky touch to the story can lend a comedic air (this series is pretty funny) or punch up the tension and conflict. They mean something in the long run. Or the immediate run, whichever.

But there’s this side to the whole shock value reading scenario, and that’s simply that it can get old quick if not used carefully, especially if it feels as if it’s shock value merely for the sake of shock value. Sometimes these elements make me feel incredulous and it gets a little hard to continue taking a book seriously. I’m all for things that are shocking and weird and awful and weirdly great when they add to the overall story, but there’s a lot more in book two that feels thrown in for basic shock value and not much else.

The heroine is way too naked (to the point I’m up to ATM – pg. 134) in way too many circumstances that made me…well, uncomfortable. No, I’m not a prude, I merely keep wondering why all this undignified stuff keeps happening to her, and on top of it all she has to be naked while flying through the air. Even though I completely understand that a heavy, strapless ball gown would be hard pressed to remain on her when cruising higher altitudes via her large, flying familiar who grabbed her by the arms…

Yeah, I’m probably not explaining this very well.

I skipped ahead a little to see if she gets any clothes on anytime soon (because of course she’s getting ogled by her boyfriend’s brother) and came across a part where her boyfriend gives her her underwear back all fixed and sewn back together. Uh…OK then. So she keeps losing her clothes.

I guess where this is all going is: have you ever read a book where the shocking events went one shocking step too far? Did it make the book feel ludicrous or over the top? Or did it make it more enjoyable?

I think that’s where I’m at ATM. I’m enjoying Shotgun Sorceress – for realz. I’m laughing. I love the heroine. Jessie is kick-ass. Even when naked. I’m also mystified and weirded out at times, but despite the shock value reading, I cannot look away. I suppose only time will tell if that’s a good thing or not.

ETA: I think there’s a big difference between saying there are shocking events in a book and shock value tactics. There can definitely be shocking events in books and said the book still feels cohesive. Indeed, what would a book do without something shocking once in a while to spark conflict or ramp up tension.

Shock value doesn’t really add anything to the overall story. It feels added in merely to titillate in the hopes that something extremely weird or odd will keep the reader going. Maybe that works for some people – heck, it might even work for me sometimes, but when it doesn’t work, it tends to stick out like a sore thumb. Repeated use just makes it tiresome.

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  1. Sometimes I like that sort of stuff, but usually in smaller doses. Like Dresden riding on the back of a zombie tyrannosaur. Heh.

    There are books that I thoroughly enjoy that use downright silly mechanisms to get things where they’re supposed to go in the story (HEROICS FOR BEGINNERS, ONE QUEST HOLD THE DRAGONS, SPLIT HEIRS, etc). Hell, the whole Piers Anthony Xanth series is based on that sort of silliness.

    However, it does get tiresome after a while, and I can only read so many books like that before I have to stop. If it’s being gimmicky in a crude way, I can’t always get behind it, either. It might be a matter of taste, or a matter of how I’m feeling at that moment whether or not I’ll accept the book. Hard for me to say for sure with what you’re reading, as I haven’t read either book, but there are times when it pushes too far even for me–and the circumstances you’re describing do make me think that instead of tempering the book with some realism, it’s all about shock, which is where that type of humor falls down (IMHO).


    • Sometimes a silly read can be such a fun read. They definitely have their times, moments, etc.! But yeah, this one, I’m wondering where the story has gone. :(

      But Harry riding a zombie dino? Which installment is that in? Clearly I need to get moving on that series again soon. I want to say I’m on book 5 or 6 ATM.

      • I’ll have to check the books. I can’t remember which one it’s in. Maybe 6 or 7? Was a hysterical way for Harry to handle what was a very dark and dreary situation.


  2. For some reason, I’ve never connected with these books, even though it was the shock value (from your review, actually) that got me interested in them. The first one was alright. I ended up skimming the second after about the point you are at, and realizing that skimming didn’t even give me enough to understand what happened, and yet… I just didn’t care.

    Anyway, your post is making me wonder if it’s because of the ‘too much shock’ that I never connected with the books. Or maybe it’s a problem with too much action. I think I just need more downtime with the characters to care. I liked Jesse, but I wasn’t sure what I was rooting for with her. Did I want her to get Cooper back? Not really. I was just waiting for the chaos and crudeness to end, but I never had a distinct sense of what I wanted her outcome to be.

    I had a similar reaction to Karen Chance’s Touch the Dark. So much craziness happened that I never really managed to care what happened to the characters.

    Sometimes I have very averse reactions to nakedness and exposure and forced groping in books, which are often there for shock value. Suzanne McLeod’s Sweet Scent of Blood had a couple scenes that felt uncomfortably gratuitous to me. I’ve read so many books were the female protag has her shirt torn or a boob grabbed by a bad guy with no relevance to the story that I wonder if it’s just a secret attempt to titillate the reader.

    • I thought Spellbent was such a unique book because of how HARD the author pushes her heroine and felt that book one offered a much more concrete storyline to counterbalance some of the absurd.

      THIS time, tho, it’s like one absurd, WTF event after another and I’m still looking at this point for the story that’s supposed to hold it together.

      *…I wonder if it’s just a secret attempt to titillate the reader.*

      I’ve wondered this about plenty of books too!

      • Yeah, if I don’t feel like I have a holistic sense of the core conflict, the stakes, the outcome I’m hoping for, etc., then I have trouble getting into a book. I think it’s more of a reflection of who I am as a reader than the author’s skills. I have trouble abandoning my academic reading lens and can relax into a book if I’m still looking for the ‘main thesis’. I’ve struggled with Gini Koch’s books for the same reason. Love the characters and the humour, but go nuts trying to figure out what the story is, to the point of DNF. And yet, I can see how someone would love the books just for the ride…

        • *And yet, I can see how someone would love the books just for the ride…*

          As can I.

          *I think it’s more of a reflection of who I am as a reader than the author’s skills.*

          I’ve felt this way more than once. However, I’m definitely not relating to why the things have to happen the way they do in this installment. Sometimes we just may not connect to a book. Maybe?

  3. You might like to know that this site has been linked to by the author, who seems more than a little bemused that you find her books shocking. I didn’t find them particularly shocking myself, but perhaps this is because I grew up on a diet of Clive Barker and Poppy Z. Brite. I didn’t feel that any of the events were out of bounds with the world presented, and most seemed natural consequences.

    • R. Davis, can you post the link? I’d like to read the author’s take, but I couldn’t find it…

      • Hi JL … I posted the link along with the question “My novels … they are shocking?” on Facebook … it’s set to friends-only because that’s my default post setting. But if you are curious to see the discussion thread that evolved (or perhaps devolved), friend me over there and you can see it:

    • *You might like to know that this site has been linked to by the author…*

      And that should worry me why?I write this blog partly to discuss books with others, learn things, etc. If someone else is bemused by that, there’s nothing I can do about it. I’m not sorry to talk about book here.

      • I wasn’t implying that it should worry you. I merely thought you might like to engage in a dialogue with the author; it would be an interesting opportunity to engage with the creator on a level most book enthusiasts don’t get. And for the author it would be a chance to get feedback from her audience.

        Since you clearly enjoyed the first book, and seem a little put-off by the second, it might be valuable to explore the reasons why. Since the author doesn’t appear to think of her work as particularly shocking, it might be of value to provide a different perspective.

        • Sorry, but I was looking to discuss the kinds of perceptions/reactions/what-have-you with fellow readers that books might give us. I’m not trying to give the author feedback. Usually when folks tell reviewers that an author is “watching” them, it’s not a good thing. Besides, Snyder did say here that her Facebook convo devolved, so no, I’m not interested in seeing what it devolved into. My post is public. It’s already possible to engage if anyone wants to talk about it.

  4. I’ve not read this series, but I felt the same way while reading ‘hidden’ by Thomas Mournian. It was to the point where it was like, “LOOK. I’M WRITING THIS BIG IMPORTANT THING ABOUT THESE KIDS WITH BAD LIVES AND I’M GOING TO MAKE IT IMPORTANT BY SHOWING ALL OF THE BAD EVER.”

    I like gritty in theory, but some authors just suck at it. They take reality’s harshness and they make it harsher than it is. It’s worse in contemporary, because the lack of hope/balance in life and its nuances makes it ridiculous. I can handle it in supernatural works because the world could theoretically BE much harsher and black than our own world. Still, I do think that excessive strings of shocking situations get old after a while.

    I loved the connection to humor that one commenter made, too. I need to read Xanth, but read and loved Split Heirs when I was a wee sixth grader. I think obtuse ridiculousity is easier to handle because you know what you’re getting into. Excessive shock value is often more surprising in which books it manifests in.

    • Thanks or chiming in, John! I guess I managed to get my point across then. :D I did worry whether my post made any sense or not, so I appreciate folks that want to discuss the topic.

      *I can handle it in supernatural works because the world could theoretically BE much harsher and black than our own world. Still, I do think that excessive strings of shocking situations get old after a while. *

      Absolutely, and the worlds in paranormal stories do allow for more, you’re right – harsher as well as weirder, etc. Our reality and rules don’t necessarily apply and I have to remind myselfof that sometimes when reading. I wondered while reading Shotgun Sorceress if I should just lay it at the feet of the worldbuilding, but that’s where I left my musings at when I stopped to write this post and I haven’t gotten back to the book since to see if it feels that way or not.

  5. This post reminds me of a Cheryl Brooks SF erotic romance, Slave. It was so weird and over the top. But I enjoyed.

    I didn’t click the facebook link, but the title of the post (Are my books shocking?) seems like an invitation for fans to disagree with you. Not sure if that was the author’s intention.

    @R. Davis Personally, I wouldn’t join in a conversation about disliking a book on the author’s turf. Like Kmont said, this post is public and anyone is welcome to discuss here.

    • OK, it took me a minute, but I remember that Brooks title now (the cover came to mind). I never read it, but I remember, vaguely, something about a funny term for the..sperm?

      • I don’t remember what it was called, but he had an alien wang and magic semen that gave women orgasms on contact. It was a very campy read.

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