How I Award Stars Now #bookreviews

Originally when I first started rating books I awarded stars based on how much I enjoyed reading the book overall. However, now at 43 years of age in the era of fake news, Brexit and scandals, I freely admit I am rating books on how much (or how little) they annoy me.

A tongue-in-cheek self-reflection, as I ploughed through the list of books I read in the past couple of months, made me realise that there are very few books that don’t have parts that annoy. This should come as no surprise to anyone because life, people and all pastimes have less enjoyable moments and some downright challenging ones. However the annoyance I feel is overshadowing moments of enjoyment more so than ever before.

Maybe due to the volume of books I read I am less patient with characters and superfluous drama and therefore more prone to getting annoyed, who knows? Maybe I’m just a grumpy liberal? Maybe there’s just too many issues surrounding us all that ratchet up the annoyance meter in me a few more notches with which I am comfortable. Whatever it is it has changed what the five star review meter means to me.

This is how I currently award stars:

***** Didn’t annoy me at all or annoyed me so little I don’t recollect.

**** Annoyed me a bit but it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book.

*** Annoyed me enough to irritate but it might just be me who lacks the tolerance to enjoy the eccentricities in this book.

** Annoyed me without a doubt but I still finished it. What does that say about me?

* Annoyed me to an extreme and made me livid for the time and effort I spent (trying to) read it that I’ll never get back.

This is the mental checklist that I automatically default to when clicking the number of stars I give a book. Admittedly I don’t award two or one stars very often, I don’t even recall the last book I gave a single star to, but I have noticed I award three stars more frequently now than ever. The whole rating system is based on the arbitrary frame of mind of readers, maybe a better way of seeking enjoyable reads is looking at the number of people who have chosen to rate the book? Or going back to old fashioned personal recommendations? Either way I will continue rating books in this way and maybe when I’m feeling less cantankerous I will start writing my reviews again.

Not Book Reviews Really: The White Queen by Philippa Gregory, About Last Night by Adele Parks

I know I’m late to the party reading the historical fiction of Phillippa Gregory but after walking past the print edition of her books numerous times in supermarkets and coming across them on Amazon I decided to give the first book in the Cousins series a try. It didn’t disappoint and was filled with political intrigue. It’s a long book some 13 hours on Kindle I think and I did fall asleep reading it at times and it took longer to read than my usual fare but none of those things is bad.

The book engaged me, held my interest and left me wanting more. It set the historical scene well but didn’t dwell on the details. I was moved to sorrow and relief as the plot twisted and turned, I will no doubt read the next one.

About Last Night by Adele Parks has been hanging around my wish list for ages. Again this is the first book I am reading from this author and like The White Queen it was an independent purchase, (well as independent as a purchase can be in this age of aggressive marketing) I heard good things so decided to give her a try. I did enjoy this book but in all honesty I found it repetitive at times labouring the same point and I can’t quite put my finger on it but I’m not moved to buy her other books at the moment. This may change if hype pushes another few titles but I definitely was not left wanting more of this one.

I suppose I found the characters frustrating at times and likeable but it felt mundane reading about their lives and childcare options etc. I think maybe Adele Parks writes in a genre I don’t find particularly intriguing, maybe it is I who needs more blood, guts and intrigue to keep me entertained. It was a heartwarming romance and not a bad read as such but just lacked a bit of sparkle for me.

20131212-072736.jpg

Amazon UK

Amazon US

20131212-072755.jpg

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Amazon Reviews (and almost everything else): Trust No One.

Weeks ago I was reading a few Amazon forums of reviewers bashing reviewers and customers reading reviews, when I came across a comment that said, “you have to know who you can trust…” I felt a bit flummoxed. I review quite a bit for Amazon and although I am happy to express how a book, bra or spoon rest made me feel, I don’t think I ever thought about wanting or having anyone’s trust.

Having someone’s trust is a big deal. You are putting a lot of pressure on the person you are trusting to make a choice, a decision for you. A choice you should really be making for yourself based on the information you have available. I categorically claim I trust no one. This may sound ridiculous or like the rot of a mentally ill mind, but let me explain. I don’t wish to put anyone under the pressure of making decisions for me. When I read Amazon reviews, which I do very frequently, I read them to get a feel for what a broad numbers of people who have the product thought. I do not read one reviewer who is a mate or a personality I stalk and just go on their recommendations. To my OCD addled mind that sounds creepy.

I don’t follow individual reviewers and I really hope no one follows me because we aren’t clones of each other. Even if my reading preferences are very similar to another persons we are not going to feel the same about a book or pick the same books or philosophically speaking even read the same book. We have to account for individuality and that undefinable quality referred to as taste. Also previous life experiences, expectations and oh so many more factors decide what reaches us and moves us to feel a certain way. I definitely don’t recommend going on the stars a book has, I have read many a turkey that way! Stars are amusing to look at but some of the best books I have read so far this year had no stars until I came along and decided to award them. See what I did there? No seriously I am urging you to take in the available information and think for yourselves.

Now I think is a good time for a real life example that illustrates what I mean. In 2008 I bought a Brown Bengal Spotted stud boy from a breeder who at that time I trusted. I put too much pressure on a person who didn’t want to have any accountability or knowledge of ill health in her bloodlines. What I should have done was taken a moment, asked to see echocardiogram results of both of the parents and the stud in question if available. If some of these things were not available for me to see I should have walked away. I should have decided that I was going to buy a cat from heart scanned parents only and what my cut offs for IVSD (Intraventricular Thickness at Diastole), the thickness of the wall between both ventricles when the heart is at rest, that I was willing to accept as safe were and chosen a boy with my specifications. In fact had I chosen all cats in my breeding programme this way there would have been a better outcome for my breeding programme and my relationship with the average Bengal breeder. I can’t blame the reluctant and probably uninformed breeder for my lack of effort into placing my own safeguards. Not that my guarantee to people who have my kittens changes in any way, I have broad shoulders and am happy to take the responsibility that breeders were unwilling to after I bought from them.

Likewise when I choose a book I look at the genre, the description, the distribution of stars awarded and read a number of reviews to see what people felt. One star reviews from people who haven’t read the book or found a book labeled as explicit, exceptionally smutty are not fair representations of the book. Five star gushing reviews are fun to read but aren’t telling the whole story necessarily. Some of these gushing reviews sound like the person was delighted to have got to the end.

Also is reading a book you don’t enjoy a lot a bad thing? How can you appreciate those books you like if you haven’t had a bad book experience? If I hadn’t lost my stud boy I would still be naive to the nature of people in the bengal breeding business and I wouldn’t know half as much about veterinary practices and the art of grief as I do now. I wouldn’t be able to tell genuine consideration for health in breeding cats from cold profit/loss evaluations. In addition, I lost my stud boy in 2010, there was a significant death in the family a year later. The journey of grief in 2010 helped me to function the following year. I have suffered significant loss before but for who I was in 2011 and where I was in life, 2010 brought an understanding I would not have otherwise had. The experience that ensued help me make more suitable choices for my future. A future that cannot be chosen by the experiences, values and say-so of someone else.

So when I say trust no one, I mean please think for yourselves, take in the information available at your fingertips from the wonderful invention we call the Internet, libraries, public opinion, reflect, mull it over and then make a choice. All we really have are a number of choices which ultimately define who we are. Don’t give up the privilege and freedom to choose to anyone, especially some unknown lone stranger sat typing on a keyboard who you may have absolutely nothing in common with and who doesn’t want to be saddled with blame for your choices.

20130402-095405.jpg

Book Review Update

I started off with a trickle of books to be reviewed, maybe 2 or 3 but I currently am nearly halfway through a growing list. I can be found on the Free Book Tweeting Service http://www.booktweetingservice.com/p/like-free-review.html I’m not nearly as pretentious/pompous as my profile sounds. This is my timetable for review.

Books review schedule
1. Echoes by PJ Roscoe * Finished
2. Blood Tithe by Glen Soucy * Finished
3. Syd and Marcy by Bearid Glover *Finished
4. Hell Pit by Warren Armstrong *Finished
5. Conversations In The Abyss by Michael Brookes *Finished
6.Chaos Theories by Stephen H Banks *Finished
7. The White Swan by Paul Morrison*Finished
8. Deadly Memories by Sarah O’Donnell* Finished
9. Not One Among Them Whole by Edison McDaniels*
10. Vanguard of Hope by Kathy Steinemann
11. Geddy’s Moon by John Mulhall
12. Midway Between Heaven and Hell by Cody Barrus
13 The Volcano That Changed The World by James Mercer
14 Alternate Lives by Allen Pollens
15 Immortality Blues by RAFaith
16 Lessons From The Gypsy Camp by Elizabeth Appell
17 The Voting Machine by Dmitri Ragano
18 Employee Of The Year by Dmitri Ragano
19 An Angel’s Alternative by Rick Brindle
20 Reading The Dead by John Cameron
21 Mulligan’s Reach by Jennie Orbell

I’m happy to be kept busy and am currently reading Not One Among Them Whole which is a beautifully written book about the experience of war and war wounded during battle. It’s a historical novel and very graphic. I am loving this author. I am just over 40% through this book and will write a review once finished.

It takes me 3-4 days at the most to read a book, I have been known to finish the gripping ones in 24 hours. I don’t skim, I read with passion (and pick up typos, it’s an OCD thing). I feedback to authors who have contacted me for a review via email. I promote the books I read via Amazon reviews, Goodreads and this humble blog.

I enjoy being a cog in the Indie book network and hope these authors get at least one more reader as a result of my reviews.

Back to nose in book pose…

20130301-073305.jpg

The Blatant Bibliophile

Image

I offer to review fictional ebooks for free. I enjoy doing this and I have had the pleasure of reading some really good books this way from authors who deserve recognition. I have published those reviews here, recommended these books to my bibliophile friends and tweet/Facebook about them. I do the above because I want to and I enjoy it. In my opinion there are many talented writers out there and the new independent publishing movement has made it possible for their work to me more accessible.  I still enjoy reading my “established” writers like Jeffery Archer and Justin Cronin etc. and I often put these books on hold to read books by unknown authors to help promote them.

I love books, but I no longer purchase physical books for myself. I have not purchased a fiction physical book for over 2 years and I find it awkward now to read physical books without an online dictionary, the ability to highlight and make notes and setting preferences in terms of font and light. I may very well be compulsive and spoilt but setting these conditions to optimal allows me to concentrate completely on the book without further discomfort and distractions.

For the sheer volume of books I read a year I cannot actually accommodate physical books and I honestly do not miss them.

I don’t read fiction on my laptop. The screen is far from optimal for reading and why the hell should I when I have a top of the range Kindle Paperwhite? I bought the device because I want to know how long until the next chapter and until I finish the book and so I can look things up on x-ray. I am not writing this blog as a promotional piece for Kindle. They hardly need my help. However, I have had a couple of experiences recently that make me want to set a few hings straight, for those who haven’t considered the perspective of free reviewers.

Image

Anyone who is publishing ebooks and promoting or asking free reviewers to read their ebook should know about formats their ebook is available in, particularly if asking people to review their ebook. If they don’t know I am led to believe the extensive community of independent writers will help. I really do not appreciate being dictated to change my pro forma to review your book. I honestly wouldn’t change my pro forma for money.

Contrary to what a very small minority of writers who have approached me believe, I can actually afford to buy my books and currently have 56 books on my Kindle waiting to be read. So, when I’m offered your book to read for a free review I am not doing so because I have nothing lined up to read. The chances are I have never heard of you or your book and realistically the competition for my reading time is quite fierce.

I do not mean to come across as pompous but the average reader has a lot of choices when standing in any given bookstore and/or browsing Amazon. Most of us with Kindles can amass several years of reading in a few hours if we really tried.

My point is it’s a huge turn off when I request a Kindle/mobi file and you have no idea what I am talking about despite my reviewer profile stating I only accept books in this format and other authors are sending me their work in this format without quibble. I really do not want to read your book when you tell me I can read it on my laptop. I am aware I can read PDF format on my laptop but I read ebooks on Kindle, for pleasure and I was not put on this earth to change my preferences to suit you, an ebook writer who doesn’t know enough about the format in which you are trying to flog books.

I am also not an editor or a proof-reader. I do not wish to do the role of either even if I was being paid. I have no experience and am not technically qualified. I am an average Kindle reader who reads for pleasure who has volunteered to give her time for free to read your book and write a review. Not necessarily a 5 star review either.

If I dislike your book I don’t write a review, if I find errors in grammar, spelling or typos I tell you, maybe not every incident particularly if there are a lot. I am willing to tell you how your book made me feel and publish this on Amazon, Smashwords, Goodreads etc.

I unashamedly like the majority of the books I read and through free reviewing I have found some amazing authors whom I would never have had the opportunity to read and recommend to my bookworm friends.

When I buy books I do not expect typos and errors in them, the odd one isn’t an issue but formatting errors and persistent grammar or spelling errors are annoying and make it hard for me to enjoy your book. It does your work no justice.Likewise when you give me a file of your ebook to review, for free, it’s bad form to have errors in it. I’m not going to be so star struck you’ve asked me to read your book to ignore it. It’s just sloppy.

“A critic can only review the book he has read, not the one which the writer wrote.” -MIGNON MCLAUGHLIN

My point is free reviewers are not desperate for books and deserve your best effort as much as your paying punters. Free reviewers are not your employees and can find other things to do if you don’t forward them copies of your book. A free ebook does not equal a 5 star review or the right to boss me around. Humility is your friend in the world of publishing.