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What’s In A Review(er)?

By Kellie Purcill

For the most part I’m a discerning devourer of books, though to be fair if a story is promoted as having: a. aliens; b. space ships; c. sarcasm; d. guns; e. dogs; f. baking and/or g. magical realism, chances are 95% and rising that I’ll be checking out a sample chapter.

Though it’s the FINDING these works of bliss that has tended to be problematic, especially with the dross and magic flooding Amazon (self-published for the most case) demanding attention and often 99 cents. I’m also put off Amazon reviews when “This book arrived 10 days after I ordered it, which is why I’m giving it one star but the story was good.” Thankfully, the internet has given me a pool of reviewers whom I have come to rely on for recommending books I’d like – it has taken time (years) but right now I have seven tabs open with my favourite review sites/blogs, and I very rarely go to any others.

But what makes you want to read a book that has been reviewed? Is it the style of the review: strictly factual, Harvard referencing and no advertising anywhere? Chatty, casually mentioning three other similar books and flooding enthusiasm? Genre specific? A literary dissection, discussing the thematic elements, symbolism and political motivations? Or is it the website of someone you know (or know only online) who you’ve worked out likes and dislikes the same sort of books you do?

One of my favourite books this year – Terms of Enlistment, by Marko Kloos – found its way onto my phone simply because of the review from one of my favourite writers, Larry Correia:

I really enjoyed this one. Marko was in the German army, then emigrated to America. The thing that I enjoyed about ToE was that it was this really cool mil-sf, from the grunt’s perspective. Personally, my favorite parts where in the main character’s backstory, about his crappy upbringing, his enlistment, and the basic training. The character has a good evolution, and then we’ve got war, and space aliens. So what’s not to love?  Check it out.

Short blurb, summative, war and aliens = WIN! Add to that the fact that Marko wrote a very clever, engaging and downright fascinating story and I’m now more likely to have a look at other books Corriea recommends.

One of my sons’ (and my) favourite picture books came from a review column of an online science-fiction magazine, which has featured many columnists and genres. Of the original post, this is the section which intrigued me:

Before I go, I want to mention one more book that I’ve absolutely fallen in love with. Every so often, a picture book crosses my desk that makes me want to email the author and gush and gush about it. (Adam Rex is still wiping off my gush overFrankenstein Makes a Sandwich.) I’ve just pulled up Amanda Noll’s website (www.amandanoll.com) and am about to do the same. Howard McWilliam is next. This is their first book. You’re going to want to own it.

Here’s the story: Ethan goes to bed one night and finds (*gasp*) that his regular monster has gone fishing (Gabe left him a note). Oh, no! What is Ethan to do? How will he sleep without a monster under his bed? So Ethan does what any intelligent boy with a purpose would do: he begins the process of interviewing prospective monsters for the position that Gabe has left vacant.

I’m a member of Goodreads, and while I’m rather lackadaisical about updating my status, I always read the reviews of my Goodread friends. Two friends specifically review books on their blogs (both of whom read widely and use star ratings, though Shelah’s also rates them for content, and Tracey’s often has author interviews too), and I’m constantly adding titles to my lists thanks to their reading and winnowing efforts.

Reviews also come as a result of a competition win. Through another review blog I follow (by a mother and son, which adds fun variety and opinions) I recently won a review copy of a Deseret Book title and while I was delighted to have an e-version on my phone, I was a little hesitant about how to review it. Mostly because most reviews I’ve read on Deseret Books read less as reviews and more as testimonials or missionary fireside proclamations. In the end I wrote an honest (and I think definitely un-DB style) review of the book, because if I read a review I want honesty, not nice-so-I-don’t-hurt-anybody’s-feelings pandering.

I was a little concerned when I read the blurb that this would be so sweetly pious it would make my teeth hurt (and my spirit grow dejected in comparison), but I really should have known better.

(The rest of the review is here, and includes peanut butter cravings, a prophet and happiness.)

Overall, I want a review to pique my interest, give me just enough details to work out if I want to hunt the book down, and also entertain me. Just like a book, really, only shorter (and with zero spoilers!)

So how do you choose your next read? Word of mouth? Trusted friends? Oprah? Eeney-meeney-miney-moe? Specific websites or publishing emails? Genre specific sites? What does a review(er) cover or omit to help you decide what to read? Read any good reviews lately?

About Kellie Purcill

lives way on the other side of the planet in her native Australia and gives thanks for the internet regularly. She loves books, her boys, panna cotta, collecting words, being a redhead and not putting things in order of importance when listing items. She credits writing as a major contributing factor to surviving her life with sanity mostly intact, though her (in)sanity level is subject to change without warning.

8 thoughts on “What’s In A Review(er)?”

  1. Thanks for the mention Kel, it's so rewarding when you introduce a book to a friend or fellow book-lover and they enjoy it as much as you did.

    I just tried to check out Shelah's book blog hoping to find some gems, but couldn't get the link to work.

    I enjoy the Recommendations generated by GoodReads, but I also find out about books in a variety of other places: Good Reading Magazine, ABC TV Show The Book Club, fellow book bloggers and reviewers, book catalogues and publisher websites to name a few. I also love to check out what my friends are reading on GoodReads, it's my fav bookish site!

    I too look for honesty and I lose interest if a review is 'too long.' I don't need a literary review, just layman's terms and natural enthusiasm wins me over every time.

  2. Thanks, Trace, for the heads up about my linking issue – it's all fixed now!

    GRM and The Book Club are brilliant sources, especially being Australian productions.

    Thank you for your enthusiasm in your reviews and comments.

  3. I read reviews on Goodreads. I like seeing the range of responses one book evokes and the reasons why that one book will get ratings from 1 to 5.

    Reading response is so subjective. But if the reasons for the 4 Stars and 5 Stars line up with my tastes, then I'll give the book a whirl.

    I've read 69 books this year so far (all rated and reviewed on Goodreads). I read new releases in fiction, YA, detective, LDS (alternating male/female authors), nonfiction, and books of all genres about aging. And I keep to a strict rotation among these categories to insure that I'm keeping to my ideal balance/focus.

    Thanks for the tips, Kel!

  4. I get my reads from YOU, Kel. 🙂 Also from my Aunt because she reads voraciously and was the reason I was exposed to Anne of Green Gables. Bless her.

    Lately I've been going on the 'free' kindle book route. Mostly drivel, but it's free and easy to delete.

    But mostly I use Goodreads because I have a couple of friends who update frequently, whose taste I appreciate. I am a goodreads hypocrite though. I'll get through about 10 books before I realize I ought to be recording them for the benefit of others. Oh well.

  5. I pick books when recommended by trusted friends, NPR or Entertainment Weekly. A broad spectrum in sure! I am on goodreads but what I dislike about the majority of the reviews I see there is people give long recaps of the book. That is not a review! I don't want the plot/story ruined before I even pick up the book!

  6. My hobby is reviewing every book I read on goodreads – with my kids and on my own . . . so I end up with an eclectic mix of picture books, chapter books, pop-fiction, non-fiction, classics, and literature.

    8 years ago I lived in a ward in Iowa and my friends from that book club, although we are now scattered in 5 different states, stay in touch and swap recommendations there. I've also built up a pretty good group of online friends there from around the world where we have connected over a book review and found to benefit from each others' recommendations (quite a few of them Muslims from the Middle East, because religious/cultural overlaps and dilemmas are a favorite of mine).

    I also participate in the Mock Newbery GR club, SLJ's Heavy Medal, and SLJ's Battle of the Books every year, follow a NY public librarian's blog, and what I see on NPR, daily show, etc.

  7. Your post made me reflect on why I read book reviews, and I realized that I mostly read them just to get an idea of what titles are out there and what they are about. A reviewer's opinion of the book actually doesn't usually sway me one way or the other–I generally decide to read something if it sounds interesting and/or if I've read the author before. Well, sometimes if multiple people I trust recommend a book that might sway me a bit, but I generally don't put a lot of stock in opinions about books. Sometimes I find it interesting to read the one-star reviews on sites like Amazon just to see why people strongly disliked particular books.

    As far as where I read reviews, I have a few friends that review books on their blogs. I also read a few Mormon-lit blogs that talk about books and my local library has a review blog. I am a member of GoodReads but don't use it much and don't read other people's reviews. I also write brief reviews of the books I read each month on my blog, but that's mostly so I can keep track of what I've been reading.

  8. I go on Amazon regularly and check out the best seller and new release lists. I don't usually read the reviews; if the plot sounds interesting, I'll read it. (Even the plots of books like "Lean In"—I read at the plot level).


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