Sunday, July 17, 2011

Regarding the validity of review opinions

Everyone is entitled to an opinion, and an opinion as put forth in a book review is only an expression of personal like or dislike, not a statement of fact.  Even if the reviewer makes statements such as "The book is riddled with factual errors" and then goes on to cite them, the purpose of the review is to encourage -- or discourage -- other potential readers to read the book and that can only be an opinion.   The reader of the review is then free to agree or disagree with the reviewer.

There was apparently quite a huge and heated discussion on the Amazon Kindle boards regarding the glowing reviews given to one particular self-e-published book -- I won't link or even mention the title because it's not relevant and I don't want to perpetuate that specific controversy -- and whether or not the writers of the favorable reviews were legitimate reviewers or just friends and family and sock puppets trying to boost sales.  Other readers, who for whatever reasons considered themselves "better" reviewers, didn't think the book in question was all that good, felt the hype it was getting was unwarranted, and in some instances apparently resented the fact that the positive reviews were generating substantial sales of a book that wasn't (in their opinion) worth it.

But who, ultimately, is the judge?  Shouldn't it be up to the readers?  If people who bought it based on the glowing reviews didn't like it, they apparently didn't speak up.
A few days ago, I was alerted by an acquaintance to a new e-title on Amazon by a new writer and this acquaintance asked me if I would offer an opinion.  I read the basic information and decided I would download the free sample first, as the description of the book didn't sound like something I'd normally be interested in spending my money on. 

What I read in the sample told me very clearly that this was not a book I would ever buy.  The "Prologue" served also as a kind of epilogue and foreshadowed a tragic ending, which I don't care to read.  I told my acquaintance how I felt and she suggested I write a review anyway, since the existing reviews were uniformly five-star gushing praises.  I gave the book two stars -- it was bad but I've read much worse -- and wrote an honest but critical review.  I began with a disclaimer that I had only read the free sample and then explained at least some of the reasons why I gave it the low rating.

Part of the reason was the strong hint in the prologue of the unhappy ending.  Since all the description of the book and the opening portions refer to a romantic relationship, I have to admit right here that I don't like romantic-relationship novels that end tragically or even without an HEA ending.   There are other characters in the novel whose deaths would also have turned me off to the novel even if the hero and heroine have their own HEA.  I'm not prepared to like a book if I know ahead of time this sort of thing is going to happen.  If that kind of tragedy is thrown at me unawares, the book becomes a wall-banger.  The Thorn Birds is an example of that kind of ending.  I absolutely hated that book.  I felt I'd been cheated.

But anyway, getting back to this book I reviewed.  The writing was not bad, but it wasn't particularly good either.  And after I got past the prologue that was full of the first-person narrator's "despair," I found the opening chapter poorly constructed.  I detailed some of my reasons for this conclusion and then posted my review.

The other reviews -- half a dozen of them or so -- were vague but raving, and most of the reviewers had no other reviews posted.  Were they sock puppets?  I don't know.  I will admit that when I review a book I've bought from Amazon, I do so under another name.  Is that fair?  Maybe not, but it allows me to be honest and not fear personal repercussion, because, after all, I am also an author and I would like my books to be reviewed on the basis of their content rather than because someone is out for revenge because I gave their book a bad review.  And, to be fair the other direction, I'd prefer that when I give a glowing review, the author doesn't feel obligated to reciprocate if in fact she or he doesn't like mine.

So my gripe therefore is not with the sock puppetry itself, if that's what it is.  Nor do I even have a problem with the fact that the reviews of this book don't say a whole lot about the book itself but rather about how much the readers loved it.  There are a lot of reviews by people who only know enough about reviewing to say "THIS IS A REALLY GRATE BOOK AND EVERYONE SHOULD READ IT!!!"

My complaint instead is with the comment attached to my review in which another person who has no other book reviews posted on Amazon took me to task for not liking this "masterpiece."  Maybe the author is his wife; I have no way of knowing.  But I felt obligated to respond to him and tell him I'm entitled to my opinion and I just didn't like the book.  He's also entitled to his opinion, as are the other reviewers, including the one who described the book as "A beautifully written and compelling love story that triumphs over diversity."  Now, you and I, dear blogreader, know that she probably meant "adversity," but since the reviewer is herself a writer and should know the difference, we'll have to reserve judgment.

The point is, ALL reviews have at least some validity.  It becomes incumbent upon the purchaser to determine if they trust the reviewer's opinion or not, and then to make their decision.

I'm still not going to review books here.

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