Thursday, February 24, 2011

On Reading Reviews

Gird your loins loyal blog followers: Wendy is going to beat the dead horse that is book reviews.  Now, before you scurry off in the totally opposite direction from this blog, let me assure you - this will not be one of those posts.  No, this is more a post about how we, as readers, read reviews.  It dawned on me recently that as much as I love talking about the books I read with other people, I don't read a whole lot of book reviews when it comes making purchasing decisions for my own personal leisure reading (for the Day Job, that's another matter entirely - I read a crap load of book reviews for work).  And being the Nosy Nellie that I am, I thought it would be fun to hear what the rest of you had to say on the subject.

I've always approached my own book reviews as me talking to some nameless, faceless reader out there in the ether.  I do not write book reviews for authors.  I'm writing them for readers.  Frankly the idea of an author looking at one of my reviews as a way to critique their work, or make it "better" somehow, slightly horrifies me.  I mean, really - what do I know about writing?  Holding up this blog as Exhibit A - yeah, not a whole helluva lot.  Over the years I would say my review style has evolved somewhat.  Frankly, I wrote better reviews when I was with TRR.  They sounded more "professional," for lack of a better adjective.  These days I'm definitely more "chatty" in my reviews.  With apologies to All About Romance, I like that "back fence" feeling in my reviews.  I like it when a little of the reviewer's personality comes through.

I have certain hard and fast rules when it comes to reading reviews.  The Grand Daddy #1 Rule Of Them All is that if I have immediate plans to read (and review) a title in the near future - I don't read any other reviews on the same book until afterward.  I have a number of reasons for doing this.  I like to go into books "cold."  I mean, I want to know next to nothing about the plot, characters, etc.  I also loathe and despise spoilers.  I think this is probably a holdover from my pre-romance reading days when all I read were mystery/suspense novels.  I mean, what's the point of reading the mystery if you already know "whodunit."  In a romance, I know I'm getting the happy ending, but I want to know nothing about the journey to said happy ending.  Hell, the journey is the whole bloody point.  And finally, I don't want to unintentionally "crib" anything from someone else's review while writing mine.  I would never do this intentionally, but sometimes things get lodged in my brain, and I can't remember where I might have picked it up - and well, it just saves hurt feelings and it means it's one less opportunity for Wendy to look like an asshole.  People, I don't need anymore opportunities than I already have.  Just sayin'.

Rule #1 is the most important.  If the book review passes that rule (Wendy has no immediate plans to read the book, it's not in her TBR etc.), then I continue on to other rules.  They are?  Well, these days, I'm pretty much skipping all paranormal romance and urban fantasy reviews.  Why?  For those of you who have "known" me a long time, you might recall at one point I had some Epic Burn Out over Regency historicals.  I went years without buying or reading them.  About three years as a matter of fact.  I've since recovered from Regency Burn Out, but now I'm back in Epic Burn Out Land with anything woo-woo paranormal-y.  I just don't care anymore.  So yeah, I'm skipping them.  Am I missing out on some great reads?  OK, yeah - probably am.  But I learned a long time ago that when I get in one of these "moods" time is the only solution.  Plus, there's the small factor that even before Epic Paranormal Woo-Woo Burn Out - these types of sub genres were harder sells for me.  Just not wired that way as a reader ::shrug::.  But I certainly appreciate that other readers love them, including the people who frequent my library system.  I read plenty of paranormal/urban fantasy reviews for work.  Trust me.  I'd have a revolt on my hands if I didn't.  But for me personally?  Yeah, nada.

I pretty much read all category romance reviews.  Even with only Harlequin publishing this sub genre these days, there's a ton of them published every month.  So much of it, that I can't possibly read or buy every single book, every single month.  I especially like reading category romance reviews from readers who enjoy them as much as I do.  Lori (who I swear, is my Harlequin Ho Reading Twin), Lynne Connolly, who I rely on to wade through all those Greek tycoons in the Presents line for me, and SarahT at Monkey Bear Reviews.  These are the readers I tend to be the most "in sync" with.  Certainly there are a lot of resources out there these days for category romance reviews, which I really appreciate!

With historical romances, erotic romance and single title contemporaries - my review reading is more scatter-shot.  I skip reviews for authors that I've discovered just don't work for me.  I skip pretty much all historical western reviews because I buy 90% of that sub genre no questions asked (doing my part by voting with my dollars), and I just flat-out don't read a lot of single title contemporaries.  I discovered this past year that when I want contemporary, I want category.  Go figure.

At the end of the day, reading reviews from others comes down to figuring out how well I mesh with them.  There's some readers out there in Romance Novel Land who seem to "mesh" with my own personal reading quirks pretty well - and others who are light years away.  At the end of the day, I like the reviews that give me a lot of "why."  Why the reader liked the book.  Why the reader loathed the book.  Why the reader thought the hero was yummy or missed a couple of stops on the evolutionary scale.  Why the heroine was smart and capable, or dumber than a sack of hair.  Ultimately this is what I'm looking for.  I browse a lot of online stops looking for this stuff, and when I find it, I keep reading.  It's really that simple for me.

How about you - have you noticed any of your own personal quirks when it comes to how and why you do or don't read reviews?


A Library Girl said...

I don't hunt down reviews for books I'm considering buying, because usually I've read the author before and liked them. Reviews help me stumble upon new stuff - and if that new stuff sounds like something I'd really, really like, I'll buy it or at least put it on my "look for it while used book shopping" list. If I'm still iffy, I get it from the library.

I don't mind spoilers, although there have been exceptions. Part of the reason I don't mind them is that, any more, even if I buy the book immediately, it's likely I'm not going to get around to reading it for months. By that time, the spoilers have become vague in my mind. Again, there are exceptions - sometimes the spoilers really stick with me, but I don't even necessarily mind that. For most of the things I read, my enjoyment of them doesn't solely rely on surprising plot twists or events in the story.

I think about the issue of reviews and spoilers from time to time, too, since my own blog has had a tendency to be incredibly spoiler-heavy. I've been trying to move away from spoilers, because I know there are people who hate them, but it can be hard, so I at least try to include spoiler warnings now.

Phyl said...

Well, as I said on Limecello's blog the other day, I love reviews. I read a ton of them, although I've learned to focus on reviewers whose taste is similar to mine and I don't bother with reviews for books I know I'm not going to read (e.g. paranormal). I don't mind spoilers because I'm pretty sure I have fewer brain cells today than I had yesterday. I can't remember squat.

Shon said...

Your post caught my attention because we have similar rules. I don't always use reviews to make my buying purchases either. I kind of wing it especially with mystery titles. I don't bother reading reviews of authors who don't work for me either (unless it's by someone I trust) and I skip over reviews of books I know I am going to read. I don't mind a few spoilers. In fact spoilers always gets me to buy the book. I use reviews for books that I'm still on the fence on or want more info about before opening my pocketbook. I prefer to glance at grades and look at who's reviewing because my tastes in romance kind of clashes with everybody else because I find some of the romances published today are not all that great and I absolutely loathe paranormal anything these days. I'm the lone reader out in the wilderness of blogs who likes unconventional stuff. Thanks for the heads up on Lynne Connelly being an expert of HP Greek line and add me to the list of readers who love SarahT's blog. --Keishon

Wendy said...

Library Girl: I have hard and fast rules on spoilers and my own reviews. One of these days I'll get around to doing a post about it. But in a nutshell, I figure anything in the first 50 pages is fair game. Oh and I "know" a spoiler when I read it :)

Phyl: I like spoilers for books I know I'm not going to read. Which begs the question, why am I reading the review? LOL It's usually for some book that a lot of people are anxious for and the reaction to said book is not all that glowing. Curiousity gets the better of me.

Keishon: Lynne's reviews are over at Sybil's TGTBTU. I find the HP line really hard to wade through since the back cover blurbs always come off as WAY over-the-top to me (I've learned to ignore the book titles over the years). Plus with Lynne, I always gets a strong sense of where she stands with a book. Stuff that bugs her doesn't necessarily bug me - but she's really good at detailing her reaction in her reviews.

Jill Sorenson said...

I avoid reviews for books I know I'm going to buy. I don't want to have anything spoiled. If I start reading a review that sells me on the book, I will stop reading before I get too far. But sometimes I have to read the whole review to decide.

If I think I might review the book myself, I will absolutely NOT read a review. For the exact reasons you stated.

I tend to consider the author when I review. I find it impossible not to and this is a problem with author-reviewing. I think about how my criticism might affect the author. I wouldn't say that my sympathies lie exclusively with the reader or the author, but somewhere in between.

Lori said...

LOL - Me? I just don't care. I can't remember what I ate for breakfast this morning, so I sure don't remember spoilers. I'm lucky that way. And I only read reviews that sound interesting to me in genres I read. I'm super-de-duper-dy shallow like that. So how do I know what reviews to read? Title, author, cover. Like I said. Super shallow. Yup.

And awwww. Thanks for calling me your Ho twin :) Also, I agree. I'm so glad that Lynne enjoys the HP sheiks & Greeks so that she's the one that reviews them. That's the one category storyline I avoid like the plague.

Wendy said...

Jill: It's so hard being spoiler-phobic. Some bloggers/reviewers are really great about giving out spoiler warnings and others....well they aren't. Of course I shouldn't just pick on bloggers. I once read a HUGE honkin' spoiler for a mystery title, part of a popular series I might add!, in Kirkus. This was some years back, I was reading the review for work, but I also read that series for personal enjoyment. Yeah, was so NOT happy!

Lori: I'm so dependent on Lynne's reviews! I can and have enjoyed HP titles, but I find the back cover blurbs so misleading. One time I read a book with a lawyer hero, and he was described as a tycoon on the back cover blurb ::snort:: Plus, I like Alpha heroes, but I draw the line at Neanderthal assholes. Lynne helps me out in avoiding those guys :)

Barbara said...

Wendy, I could not agree more.

I rarely read reviews, but I love writing them. Like you, I hate spoilers. I also agree with the horrifying thought of authors reading my reviews. Especially on books I wasn't crazy about. *shudders* What do I really know about writing or critiquing or proper grammar? I'm a reader, I just know if I liked the story or not which to me is all that matters in the end.

Great post. Seriously.

Barbara said...

Oh and I should add, like you it depends on the reviewer and how well I mesh with their reviewing personality and reader preferences. If you're comfortable, it's like getting a recommendation from a good friend :)

Rosie Lane said...

I rely on reviews more and more these days. I used to browse a bookshop in my lunchbreak and go by cover and blurb, but then I moved job and house and I now buy online based on other people's recommendations.

In one respect it has been great. I have discovered books I would never have read otherwise and I read far more debut authors. In other ways I feel that it has locked me in to buying according to someone else's choices, the people I have found online. We don't always want the same things from our reading experiences.

Because I liked one YA author, I read the books she enjoyed recommended, but they were, no surprise, YA. I found myself with a shelf full of YA books and craving something different.

I still seek reviews for authors I haven't read before, but I think I need to travel to a bookshop and a library now and then to rediscover the fun of a completely random pick based on the colour of the cover and silly things like that.

I have found reviewing books myself to be a strange experience. I enjoy reading far more without planning to review, because I feel like I have to find reasons why I liked it or didn't like it instead of just immersing myself in the experience.

That was unexpected.

Anonymous said...

I never read reviews until I've read the book. It's an ego-thing, I think. I don't think another's opinion of a book could possibly be as good as my own.

Leslie said...

Like you, I do try to follow Grand Daddy Rule #1. I might skip to the grade but try to avoid reading any reviews. If the reviewer had any issues I don't want that to influence my reading.

RRRJessica said...

My interest in a book might be piqued by a comment on Twitter, Goodreads, or a blog, or a cover, but I usually do glance at reviews before buying a book. I don't read them closely, though, for fear of spoilers and knowing too much. It's hard to say what counts as a spoiler, but lately I have found myself wanting to know very little about a book prior to reading it. I have wanted to savor the feeling of letting the events unfold as new.

CindyS said...

I'm much the same with reviews although there is always the 'enjoyment' factor to weigh.

I won't read reviews of books I'm going to buy for all the reasons you said - especially if I plan on blogging about the book. Plagiarism scares the pants off me so I do everything to avoid it. I will however look at the grade to see if there is a consensus that the book is great or if it's hitting everyone different.

After that, I will read reviews for just about anything if I know the person's style of writing. I prefer the 'seat of your pants' kind of review where the person's reactions are the be all and end all. I might not agree but I'll laugh and even see their point from time to time.

Bam reviewed LKH's Anita books and she had me in stitches. So even though I don't read LKH anymore, I do enjoy reading reviews of people with honest opinions.


PK the Bookeemonster said...

I don't like reviews other than seeing an author or title with which I am not familiar. This would mostly be in the romance genre. My biggest reading is in crime fiction. I don't like reviews mainly because I don't care what others think about a book. I want to know enough about the elements of the plot to see if it is something that interests me and a bit of the excerpt to see if the author's voice clicks. I don't like reviews so much that I started my own monthly newsletter of crime fiction releases that is just the summary, excerpt and backlist of each new book out. If you can't find what you're looking for, do it yerself.

Wendy said...

Barbara: I'm comfortable with authors reading my reviews - but there's an opinion I see trotted out on occasion that authors can look at reader reviews as a type of "critique" to help improve their writing. Dear Lord, I hope not. I read for enjoyment and my enjoyment tends to hinge on 1) characters and 2) plot. That tends to be what I harp on the most in my reviews. If an author wants to improve their "craft" - I say sign up for a writing class. I should not be their go-to girl ::shudder::

Rosie: I'm a hard core browser from WAY back, and I still do some of that to this day. At The Old Job, I worked down the street from a UBS (that has sadly, since closed) and would unwind from the craziness of my job by just browsing. Naturally this led to quite a bit of impulse buying. These days, with a ginormous TBR - I've reined that tendency in somewhat....but it's hard!

Anon: LOL! It never is! How many times have we all read a negative review for a book we LOVED and screamed at the computer monitor..."but..but..but you're SO WRONG!" Or vice versa :)

Leslie: The less I know going in, the better. And yeah, sometimes I sneak a peek at the final grade.

Wendy said...

Jessica: With genre fiction, so much of a book's enjoyment for me is wrapped up in the "journey." I don't want that spoiled for me.

Cindy: That is so true! The reviews I've written that I've gotten the most "reaction" from? My long, drawn out break-up with Patricia Cornwell. Even for people who don't read suspense, I think they related a bit on some level.

PK: I am a ho for plot descriptions. I mean, a flat-out ho. I think it's something that was cultivated during my heavy-duty browsing days. As a teenager that was how I picked 98% of all my reading material. I got the occasional recommendation from someone (my sisters, friends etc.) - but by and large all I really wanted to "know" was the plot description.

nath said...

I don't really have rules about reading reviews. I'll read reviews of books that I'm interested in, of books I've read, of books I'm thinking of buying, reviews from my blogger friends even though the chances I pick up the books are slim :P I don't mind about spoilers either...

Sometimes, if I don't want spoilers, I'll just look at the grade.

JamiSings said...

I don't read reviews because most of the time the reviewer is full of crap. I'll read some Amazon ones when I'm curious about a book and not sure I want to read it. Ordinary people tend to give better reviews. But those paid to do book reviews tend to come off as pretentious buttheads who wouldn't know a good book if it bit them.

Same thing with movie reviews. I noticed a long time ago Ebert and his cohorts just don't give the good movies good reviews. They give them to high falutent(sp?) stuck up stuff that tries to come off all deep and meaningful but is really just boring and dumb. I'd must rather watch "Oh God! You Devil" then some epic tale of one man's struggle with a canopener and his controlling republican mother.

Becky said...

I tend to be a library girl (sorry publishing industry!) but my current library system is very, very anemic when it comes to romance and the whole 3 children 4, and under has made me too slow a reader to really be able to manage lending limits. So, I've started doing more book buying and review reading.

I don't mind spoilers, too much, especially the big picture sorts. For instance, I don't mind knowing who dun it, who winds up with whom, etc, because it doesn't really spoil the journey. I don't want a lot of details though- for instance if someone had told me about a certain someone's kiss to another certain someone in a room of requirement, that would have been heartbreak but confirmation the two would be together would have been fine.

I will get certain books simply based on reviews by sources that seldom steer me wrong like the Smart Bitches or AAR. Sorry, Wendy, but we have rather different tastes so I don't always get the ones you suggest... However, if I'm on the fence about something, I'm inclined to go with sheer volume. If most of the reviews that look pretty legit on Amazon on pretty good, I lean towards a buy, but no one review generally convinces me in that sort of setting.

Wendy said...

Nath: You are so much better about keeping up with everyone's reviewing that I am! I like you all - but I even tend to skip the paranormal reviews from my favorite bloggers!

Jami: I like a good, strong focus on the characters, the plot etc. I find that when reviewers start droning on and on about "themes" and "symbolism" that my eyes glaze over.

Becky: LOL - and that's alright because hopefully I've given "enough" in my reviews for you to know, "I need to not listen to Wendy." I tend to not gel all that well with Smart Bitches, and it's hit or miss with the AAR reviewers. Lynn is probably the closest one in matching me as far as similar tastes go....

Lynne Connolly said...

I read Presents because I enjoy the fairy-tale aspect of them, and because the tropes mean that the author can concentrate on character. I review them because Syb asked me if I wanted to, and I really enjoy doing it.
It's really hard to discover the hidden gems inside the generic covers, titles and blurbs, so I guess I'm just doing my bit. And I'm careful to say what my personal tastes are so that people know what really floats my boat and what doesn't.
(marriage of convenience does it for me - babies and cute kids don't, which is why I avoid the Superomance line in general).

Wendy said...

Lynne: I'm positively dependent on your HP reviews! I can ignore the titles (for the most part), but have a hard time wading thru the back cover blurbs. So it's always nice to see a thoughtful review that gives me the details I need to make an informed decision.

Oh, and I just bought Front Page Affair by Mira Lynn Kelly this past weekend thanks to your review. Sounds great!

Jo said...

I'm taking this question from the opposite direction.

I'm MOST likely to read a review if it
1) Includes a pretty/flashy/attenion-grabbing book cover pic. "Oooo, shiny thing, must get a closer look."

2) Isn't long. I have a wandering attention span when it comes to reviews. If I d read a long review I can pretty much guarantee I'll skip chunks. Also, IME, shorter reviews have less spoliers.

3) I've never heard of the book. I'm always interested in discovering something new. I can be pretty bad about following up on these discoveries, but I still enjoy making them.

4) I already know the reviewer's taste is similar to mine OR it's the extreme opposite.

As for my own reviews... I tend to be pretty generic and short. Partly to avoid spoilers, partly because I just don't know how to express my thoughts. I even try to avoid calling them reviews, except for the tag. I'm more likely to just "post."