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Dear readers,

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-- Rhi


1.28.2009

The Lost Art of Honest Reviewing

As a reader, several years ago now, I've always felt cheated when I buy a book based on the blurb sounding interesting and it turns out to be not much like said blurb. All the rave quotes from other authors (no offense to you authors out there) also tend to make me question the validity of their claims. They tend to sound so generic due to the limited space given for them.

So it was that once upon a time I started searching for books in a certain vein. You see... long before Buffy and films like Underworld and books like Twilight... I wanted to write urban fantasy. I didn't even know what it was called. I just knew I had these characters climbing around the dark recesses of my addled brain demanding that I write their adventures. To understand why I never allowed these beings and their worlds to emerge is a long story involving literally the religious abuses of my childhood. So my search began one day by simply typing the word 'vampire' into Amazon.com's search engine. Feel free to try it, you'll be amazed at how much comes up these days.

That simple search lead me to a certain well known and IMO notorious series which I investigated and later went in search of locally. It was a great series... for about six books. Then something began to change. If you're thinking this sounds familiar you'll understand what I am refering to, if not don't worry it's not important to this post. A few more books came along but slowly it began to devolve so very much that I didn't know why I was reading them anymore.

What frustrated me most of all was how when I would look at the Star Ratings used on Amazon (and many other sites too) they were very back and forth. You'd have people say the book was bad but still give it three stars. I needed to understand the star system better. So I began really paying attention to it. The one I use here is what you usually find. Love it, like it, okay, dislike and hate. So why couldn't it stay that simple?

Because reviewers don't know how to properly explain their stars.

It was then that I began really caring about writing reviews. Sure, I had written a few here and there just for the hell of it. But now I knew what my reviews had been missing and what I needed to do to become a reviewer people would listen to and hopefully respect the opinions of. I don't honestly know if I have achieved that goal but I have had enough response to feel I'm doing a decent job of getting there.

The first thing I had to do was find out all of the things I thought reviewers did wrong in their reviews and do the opposite. Posting spoilers, making statements about the author's personal lives, saying 'I loved this book' but not why. The list was pretty long. Then I thought about the reviews that had previously convinced me to buy a certain book. Surprisingly many of them were negative reviews. Reviews where a reader did explain what they didn't like about the book. Why? Because when you're writing a review all you're doing is giving an opinion. Everyone knows the saying about opinions and assholes. ;D Maybe what one reviewer disliked about the book was something I personally like!

There began my journey to be as honest as I could when I review. Sometimes, I feel very guilty when I don't care for a book or I dislike elements of them. This is especially true when I know the author might see it. As someone who enjoys writing and can't imagine the difficulty of carrying a book from idea to published work I worry at times that my statements in review could be looked at as critisism. Then I have to remind myself that just like not everyone likes olives on their pizza, not everyone likes mushrooms. When I get critical you can rest assured I'm not trying to be mean but I like olives and mushrooms and I don't like pepperoni. It's my opinion and who am I to judge?

Take my reviews as just honest opinions and note the star rating and chances are you'll be able to get enough info about a book to decide whether you want to look more into it. Then, do the next reader the courtesy of sharing your opinion too! Maybe you loved it and I only thought it was okay. Maybe the latest installment of a series got poor reviews from the pros but we everyday fans think it rocked. So go tell everyone why. This reader will be glad you did.
-- Rhi

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