There's been a lot of discussion in the book world lately over the value of reviews and Amazon's decision to remove reviews from its site that it considers to be nothing more than "one hand washing the other". By that I mean, complimentary reviews written by friends of an author, or one author penning a review of another author's work in exchange for the second author writing a review of the first author's work.
Confusing, right? It gets even worse when authors write reviews of their own books under false reviewer names. It's a practice called "sock puppets". The author creates a "sock puppet" and becomes the puppeteer.
I've written plenty of book reviews, some for Mystery Scene Magazine, some for Library Journal, and some for Futures Magazine. I've also occasionally posted a review on Amazon. If you've read my blog in the past, you know I also post reviews here, most of them written by people I respect, like Carl Brookins. I trust Carl to be honest in his reviews, to say what he liked about the book, and when there was something he thought the author could do to improve the story, to always frame his opinion in a respectful manner.
Not all reviewers are like that. In fact, some reviewers are downright hurtful when commenting about a book they didn't like. I've known authors who say they were devastated by a review of their work posted on Amazon. Generally the reviewer did not explain what it was that turned him or her off to the story. Instead, he/she used words like "horrible" or "stupid" to describe the book, thus implying the worst about the author.
I've never received that kind of review for one of my books, but I've seen some rather malicious reviews on Amazon while looking at books to buy. Frankly, because of their blatant nastiness, I dismiss both the review and the reviewer as untrustworthy.
I also dismiss reviews that gush over a book without pointing out what makes the story so good. Sometimes, due to a lack of solid information about the story, I wonder if the reviewer even read the book, or if he/she wrote the review simply as a favor to a friend.
And sometimes the reviews are so grammatically incorrect that I question if the reviewer can even recognize the difference between a well-written book and a just so-so book.
An example of that is an Amazon review I read last night. The reviewer claimed to be quoting directly from the book, but failed to place quotation marks before and after any sentences in her review. So where was the direct quote? It was hard to tell which sentences reflected the reviewer's thoughts and which sentences could be directly attributed to the book's author.
In another Amazon review, the reviewer described one character as "a agent that works" for the FBI. Whoa, baby! "An agent who works" would be grammatically correct, but "a agent that works"?? Time for the reviewer to take a refresher course in English grammar.
Am I nitpicking here? Some might think so, but I'd disagree. If a reviewer doesn't know how to write a sentence correctly, why should we trust his/her opinion of the writing skills of the author?
Reviews are handy tools for readers interested in finding new and exciting books. I believe the trick to utilizing reviews to one's full advantage is this: find a reviewer whose taste in books mirrors your own and follow that person's recommendations.
So who do you trust when it comes to book reviews? Do you read the reviews on Amazon? In your local newspaper? On other online review sites? Do you value word of mouth recommendations over reviews? I'd be interested to hear what you think about this subject.