I’ve been reading on-line reviews lately which, in some cases, is a lot like slowing down to look at an accident on the side of the road. You know you shouldn’t do it, but something just draws you in.
I often scan the reviews on Amazon or Goodreads for books I’m considering buying. I’m rarely influenced by them, unless they happen to mention any of my no-buy triggers, but it’s interesting to see the range of responses a book may get. Looking at the high and low reviews it often seems like they are talking about completely different books.
My recent foray into review reading was over on Goodreads, where I was curious to see what people thought about a series I am in the midst of reading. I had a very strong emotional response to many of the books in the series and I wondered whether others had as well. (They did.) To be completely honest, I was also looking for some mild spoilers about the next book in the series so I could decide whether to continue reading or take a break. The story I just finished had packed a major emotional punch and I wasn’t sure I could handle another dose quite so soon.
Based on the reviews – some of which were wonderfully written, some of which were witty, some of which were just plain mean, and very few of which contained actual spoilers – I decided it was time for a little reading palate cleanser.
Conveniently, as a “street team” member for a number of authors, I often have Advanced Reader copies (ARCs) of upcoming books sitting in my inbox, waiting to be read. Even more conveniently, the most recent ARC I had ready and waiting was about as far from the series I had been reading as it is possible to be and still be book.
But, that got me right back to thinking about reviews.
Part of reviewing ARCs, whether you are on a team for a favorite author or obtain a copy from a publisher or a giveaway, is the expectation that you will give the book at “fair and honest review” at various outlets (Amazon, Goodreads, etc.).
And that’s where I hit my first problem.
When I went online to look at the pre-publication reviews that others had posted for the ARC I just read, they were gushing and effusive and “best book ever” positive and while the book was a quick, fun read, it wasn’t stand out great. It was well-written, but the plot resolution left me ambivalent and a week or two from now I’ll probably have forgotten much about the story.
It left me torn.
Had I just picked this book off the shelf, I’d have given it a 3 (and I have some specific comments to back that up) and moved on. I have to wonder though, if the book’s author really wants that honest a review. Not that I think she’d want a dishonest review, but do authors give away pre-publication copies of their books because they truly want feedback or is it because they want the kind of reviews that will help drive their marketing.
I’m feeling like “marketing” is the answer, though I may be wrong.
Ultimately, I gave the book what I felt was a “fair and honest” review. Although as a writer I’d love for whatever I publish to have gushing and effusive and “best book ever” positive reviews, as a reader I’m looking for reviews that are a little less biased, so those are the kind of reviews I try to write.
We’ll see how that goes.
If I suddenly find myself with no more ARCs waiting in the inbox, I’ll have my answer.
So, is it just me or have you ever felt conflicted when reviewing a book? As a reader, what makes a review useful for you when deciding whether to buy a new book?