I went out for Mexican food with two of my bookish friends yesterday. While we waited for our food to arrive, we all whipped out our Kindles and began sharing books referrals. "Have you read this? If not, you have to get it." "This is the best book I've read all year." "Don't bother with this one, it tanked at the end." In fact, there really should be a Kindle app that allows you to network with your friends' Kindles and send them book recommendations. Someone app savvy, run out and make that, please.
In general, this is how I choose to read books- from the recommendations given to me by people whose taste in books I trust. By word of mouth, if you will. NOT by review, and here's why.
Most reviews are utter crap.
Not just indie published reviews, though they seem to excel to new levels of crapdom, but I am talking about most reviews, even traditionally published book reviews. You cannot trust reviews, my friend- on Amazon, or blog review sites, or on Goodreads. There are some good reviews there, but they are few and far between.
Many of the reviews you are reading on those sites are:
1) Paid for. Yes, you can buy reviews. For as little as $5, an author can purchase a 5 star review for Amazon. I can guarantee you that purchased reviews are not objective. You aren't going to give a bad review if you are getting paid for it. People aren't honest when their job depends on them being otherwise.
2) Written by relatives or friends of the author. We've all seen this before. When a new book comes out, especially an indie published book, the first ten reviews read like sappy hallmark cards. "This book is wonderful. The author is wonderful. She shits rainbows and classic literature. Oh, yeah, and I'm her sister." If you are related to an author or invested in relationship with them, you review is not going to be objective, no matter how hard you try.
3) Written by people who have never read the book.Many reviews out there on the internet are written by people who have never read the book. There are Amazon reviewers who review 10+ books a day. There is no way they are reading all those books. In fact, what they do is go read a blurb of the book and regurgitate the content of that blurb as a review. This makes for a very crap review.
So, how do you know what to read or download on your Kindle if you don't have a posse of bookish friends like I do? How do you weed out the crap reviews from the good reviews that might give you an accurate take on the book?
1) Toss out any review that has nothing bad to say.
The truth is, no book is perfect, so one can conclude that a perfect glowing review is not an accurate depiction of any book. All books have faults, and an astute reviewer (a good reviewer) will pick up on those faults and point them out to future readers. A bad reviewer, or one who is related to the author or paid for, will not. The Editorial Reviews (the official looking ones at the top) are worth a read but they will rarely have anything bad to say. If they did, the author wouldn't include them in the book blurb.
2) Toss out any review that has nothing good to say.
Just as no book is perfect, very few books are utter rubbish. A good reviewer can find areas of strength in almost any book. A completely negative review often indicates a personal vendetta against the author or a troll reviewer who simply lives to bash the creative efforts of others. Either way, it is not going to be an objective review.
3) Toss negative reviews that begin with statements like, "I don't normally read or like this genre."
A person who hates romance is probably not going to give an objective review to a romance novel. Reviewers who make these kind of statements already have a pre-disposed opinion of what they are reading.
4) Toss reviews that do not refer to key story elements like plot, character development, tension, and story arc.
A good reviewer will know the elements of a good story and review those specific elements. They will talk about whether the characters were sympathetic and round (rather than flat). They will mention if the plot had holes or was solid. They will discuss the ending (without spoilers) and if it was satisfying. Reviews that don't address story elements are very often crap reviews.
Now, after tossing all those crap reviews, read the ones that are left and you will probably get a realistic take on the quality of the book.
Or, you could just form a posse of book aficionados like I have, and go out for Mexican food once a week with your Kindle in hand.
Do you have a tip for recognizing a crap review? Please share yours, and I'll add it to my list.