25 June 2013

Summer Stars: How I Rate Book Reviews

A good book on your shelf is a friend that turns its back on you and remains a friend. 
~ Author Unknown

ook reviews are the bane of my existence.  I still  haven’t figured them out.

Summer reading is not much different than winter reading in my world, although I will admit to reading more stories with storms, crackling fires, and warm blankets once the real temps drop below 50. 

No, the biggest question I always have before downloading yet another ebook onto my Kindle app: “Is this worth $2.99?”  So like most of you, I read the book reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. 

And get completely lost and confused and frustrated.

© StockeShoppe

Before You Call Me a Book Snob. . .
. . . and by the way, I prefer biblio connoisseur, I know that taste in fiction is subjective.  I love paranormal romances with non-sparkly vampires, but you may hate everything fang.  You like gritty mobster stories, whereas gangsters leave me cold.  Some people don’t care about insta-love, but it gives me a severe case of eye-rollitis.  (Honey, an “l” word is involved, but it ain’t love!)  So, I get it.  Tastes vary. 

A lot.

But that doesn’t completely explain the bi-polar extremes in book reviews.  Don’t believe me?  I recently read Taylor Longford’s Valor, a paranormal YA story featuring gargoyles.  Yeah I know, new to me too!  But then there was that cartoon/comic back in the day…Anyway, Valor has the following reviews:
5 Star – 36
4 Star – 12
3 Star – 4
2 Star – 1
Someone wise once told me to focus on the 3 Star reviews: they are more likely to be somewhat objective and (surprise, surprise) in the middle of the gushing 5 Star-ers and the sometimes snotty, Debbie Downer 1-2 Star people.  So of course, I’ll start with those.

What’s in a star?
There was only one 2 star review and she complained about emotionally flat characters, awkward scene/time jumps, too much narrative, and formatting issues.

Personally, I didn’t notice any confusing time jumps, and no formatting issues (maybe I bought a later version or her e-reader had a glitch).  I would agree however, that Longford could stand to show me, not tell me as much.  And the characters could stand to be more developed.  Still, I wouldn’t have given it only 2 stars.

The 4 Star reviews were supportive, but not gushing.  One mentioned that some scenes were unbelievable ~ the 16 year old female lead agrees to be with the main gargoyle lead forever and seriously, all us older folks know how naïve and starry-eyed 16 year olds are.  But then, this is a YA novel.  And I remember being that way at 16.  It’s practically a rite of passage.  So it’s not completely unbelievable.  Although I admit to growling at the insta-loooove.

Another 4 star-er said that she bought the book because it was only 99 cents.  This is why it’s good to actually read the reviews and not just see how many 4-5 stars the book received.  Seriously?  You chose a book based on price?  At least judging a book by its cover is only slightly less ludicrous.  I’ve read some absolutely terrible 99 cent books ~ and some whose authors can weave a story like a master.  Price has nothing to do with the writer’s skill and is a terrible way to buy books.  So, thanks for the 4 star, but not really helpful to me the reader flying blind.

5 Star reviewers can bring on a case of eye-rollitis almost as severe as insta-love.  And sometimes they just make me laugh.  Case in point?  One of the 5 Star-ers was written entirely with exclamation points (something all writers are lectured about extensively), while another simply proclaimed: “This book was just sooo amazing. The characters were funny and the guys sounded soo hott omg!! anaways this was just a great story im so relieved that there wasn' t a love triangle and you just have to read this book its not bad as some people claim its quite the opposite.”  And yes that’s a copy and paste original.  It reminds me of a cheerleader joke involving shoulder pads.  That is all.

So what about those 3 Stars?

Truth is Found in the Mean
Extremes usually aren’t pretty: extreme left vs. extreme right; well-done vs. raw, etc.  Usually, the mean, or the middle, is a good place to be.  And I have found this to be true for book reviews.  3 Stars generally equals “I liked it, but this would have made it even better.”  Or “This was a great book, if only the author had fleshed this character out a little more.”  3 Star-ers are honest, sometimes brutally so, but are not usually catty or nasty. 

Thank goodness this book had no 1 star reviews.  Those are usually not worth the ink (er, pixels?) used.  I don't bother reading those anymore.  Generally, 3 star reviewers don't steer me wrong.

If I had my way, I’d want the reviews to be sorted by bibliography chops and age of the reader (although that last can be tricky; I’ve met 18 year olds with more wisdom that some 50 year olds).  Because honestly, if you haven’t read most of the classics ~ and I include some pulp fiction classics in that as well as the literary ones ~ you really aren’t a reliable judge of current literature and pulp fiction. 

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela
How do you choose what new books to read?  Do you read the reviews?  Do you review the books you’ve read?  PLEASE suggest some new titles here ~ I’m ready to restock my Kindle app!
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