shopping for books

Fifty Shades of Grey…E.L. James

First, this post is based on my experiences as a reader and a consumer. As a blogger I’m allowed to step back and speak as a customer sometimes. I have never let my career as a writer define me in any way and when I write posts like this I’m thinking just like any other reader out there who loves to buy books.

Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James is interesting to me because I first learned about it a couple of weeks back by reading a horrific review by someone with an unpronounceable name. I came across the review on a well known romance review web site. I posted about my experience here on the blog, without mentioning names (I’m not linking to the post now because I didn’t mention the book was Fifty Shades of Grey at the time and I don’t want to single anyone out…or give them extra hits on their web site for free). Oddly, after I read the scathing review, a good friend in New York phoned me later that night to make plans for the following weekend and she mentioned she was reading the book and loved it. Much later I heard that Jay Leno had spoken about it, along with a few others in the mainstream media I won’t bore you to death with now.

I’d already bought the book based completely on the bad book review. I’d made the purchase because I find that whenever I see a bad review on this one particular web site nine times out of ten I’m going to wind up loving the book. It’s a fascinating concept I’ve posted about more than once. It doesn’t make much sense. But it works for me as a consumer. All I can say is when a handful of like-minded people don’t like a book, and hundreds (maybe thousands) of others do, something isn’t quite right.

I’m still reading it now. I’ll post more in the future after I’m finished. Because this isn’t a book review site I’m allowed to post about books I’m reading just as much as I’m allowed to post about books I’ve read. And I want people to know Fifty Shades of Grey is one of those books that draws the reader in and holds them captive until they can’t keep their eyes open any longer. I read late at night, usually until about one in the morning, and I’ve been staying up much later than I normally would. It’s also a love story with BDSM, and I’m not even fond of BDSM.

I’ve heard the book was pubbed as fanfic, and frankly that doesn’t bother me in the least. I don’t know who set the rules up for fanfic, but I’m glad to see that the mainstream basically doesn’t care about those rules. I’ve always believed that if something is done well, no matter how many times it’s been done before, it deserves to be recognized on its own. And I couldn’t applaud this author more for doing it so well.

I would recommend this book to anyone who hasn’t read BDSM or erotic romance before and I haven’t even finished. And in this case I can’t say that people either loved it or hated it. I double checked this to be sure. As I write this post, out of 261 customer reviews on Amazon, 183 loved it with five stars and only 17 hated it with one star. This is not what I would call a love it/hate it book. This is what’s called a few people with distinctly defined taste in books who didn’t like it. Which is fine. It actually helps me balance what I’m going to buy when I’m shopping for books.

I will post more after I’ve read it in full. From what I’m hearing from friends I’ll wind up reading the entire trilogy.

More About Vetting Reviews…

This week I’ve read a few interesting pieces about how to find helpful reviews when shopping for books. One in particular discussed how one self-published author has been allegedly writing hundreds of false reviews with different identities and leaving them on Amazon and Goodreads. No links or names in this post. I did some fact checking and all I could come up with were opinions and hearsay. I’m a proud American: I believe we are all innocent until proven guilty.

I read another post about how retail web sites don’t categorize e-books the way they should. In other words, readers will often purchase an e-book thinking they are getting a non-erotic romance and they wind up with a highly erotic romance. I once purchased what I thought was a highly erotic romance and wound up with the equivalent of Daisy-Jane Goes Fly Fishing. The most erotic thing about that book was the category in which it had been listed.

As a reader, what these articles proved to me is that it’s not easy to vet book reviews anywhere. I even found trouble with RoseMarie Terenzio’s, “Fairytale Interrupted,” because some readers actually left one star reviews based on the fact that they were mad about not getting a bio about John Kennedy, Jr. It’s clearly stated, from People Magazine to the smallest retail web site, that Ms. Terenzio’s book is a memoir about HER life, not John Kennedy’s life. And yet people slammed her in reviews for this. Which makes it all the more difficult to decide whether or not to purchase the book. I did buy it and I read it; I left a five star review because it was an excellent memoir…about ROSEMARIE’S LIFE.

I’ll admit that most of the books I read are based on recommendations from friends or relatives. I trust their judgment and I’m rarely disappointed. I also read books that have been recommended by publications like People Magazine and Time Magazine. I trust them, too. Most of the time I’m not disappointed.

But no one I know in the “real world” has ever left a review on goodreads, amazon, or any other online web site. They belong to book clubs that meet weekly. They are voracious readers. But none of them have ever left a review online. I know at least fifteen other people who have read and loved RoseMarie Terenzio’s memoir, and none have bothered to read or write book reviews. They all heard about the book through word of mouth.

Which makes shopping for books even more difficult sometimes. Although the Internet is growing day by day, the majority of people in the “real world” only use the Internet as a resource for basic information. I’ve personally learned never to believe any political information on the Internet unless it comes from a proven reliable source or I’ve triple checked to make sure it is accurate.

But, unlike my friends, I do spend a great deal of time on the Internet. And once in a while I come across a book that looks interesting and I need to check it out. I always go to amazon and then to goodreads first. I often do searches to see if there are any online professional reviews. If the book is erotic in nature, I don’t always worry about the number of reviews written. People who read erotic romance are discreet and they don’t all leave reviews, especially with their names.

And then after I’ve done all this, I always do one final check. I go over to either Barnes & Noble or Kobo and check out the reviews left there. Unfortunately, many books aren’t on these web sites. But those books I’ve checked that have been there tend to have slightly different reviews than amazon or goodreads. The bad reviews seem less vicious; the good reviews seem less contrived. I don’t know why this is or if it means anything significant. But I do think it’s a good way to vet books and reviews if you’re not sure about making a purchase.

So the next time you want to get a good overall view about a certain book, don’t forget to check out the reviews on Barnes & Noble and Kobo, too. If you’re like me, you’ll find it more than interesting to see the marked differences of opinion. And then, in the end, sometimes you just have to take a chance and go for it even if you’re not sure. Most of the time you can tell whether or not you’ll like the writing by the free excerpt, and that always counts for something.

Some of My Top Favorite Romance Review Web Sites

I’m speaking as a reader now, not a writer. As most of my past blog posts will prove, I’m a shopper. Especially when it comes to books. And while I’m shopping for books I always check out several online book review sites to see whether or not I’m going to make a purchase. And I don’t always base my purchases on the most excellent book reviews. Oddly enough, I sometimes purchase based on less than stellar reviews simply because I have a feeling I’m going to like the book much better than the reviewer did. This is a gut feeling with me, and I’ve never been wrong.

Here’s a list of my favorite review sites:

Elisa – My Reviews and Ramblings http://elisa-rolle.livejournal.com/This is a review site written by Elisa Rolle, and I like the international flair. I’ve also met Elisa in person and I know she’s a smart, dedicated reviewer. I also know she has the love.

Top 2 Bottom Reviews – http://michelenjeff-reviews.blogspot.com/?zx=3b9855d42663a466 I love this site. It’s on top of everything when it comes to m/m fiction and I actually link to it here on the blog. I also know they have the love when they read and review a book.

Joyfully Reviewed – http://www.joyfullyreviewed.com/ Whenever I’m in doubt, I know I can’t go wrong reading the reviews on this web site. And because I like to read books that aren’t always m/m fiction, I get a lot of good information here that I normally wouldn’t have access to on my own.

Coffee Time Romance – http://www.coffeetimeromance.com/ As the logo says, “Your one stop shop for books and authors on the web.” I like the style of this blog/site. It’s a fun place to go, filled with smart reviews and lots of color. You can’t feel bad after checking out this site. And, it’s all about the romance.

Gerry B’s Book Reviews – http://gerrycan.wordpress.com/ Even though Gerry never gave me a five star review for anything, I like his book review site a great deal. He gave me a three star review, which wasn’t glowing, but I “got” what he was saying and I knew he “got” what I was writing. I respect Gerry, which is important. I think Gerry’s reviews come from the heart and I think he reviews with a touch of old world style we don’t find often on the web. I check it out often, especially when I’m thinking of reading a historical. I don’t normally read historicals and I’ve learned I can get a lot of info just by reading Gerry’s reviews.

Reviews by Jessewave – http://www.reviewsbyjessewave.com/ As the title suggests, this is a review site that focuses mainly on m/m fiction with adult themes. One of the things I like most about this site is that it focuses a lot on some of the new self-published authors out there. Again, I go to Jessewave to learn who is publishing what and where. And I’ve never been disappointed.

These are just a few of my favorites…sort of the top six. But there are a few more I’ll post about in the future.

What I don’t like on a review site is boring and drab. And I despise snark unless it’s done with flair. And so far, I have not seen any snarky review sites that are actually written by people smart enough, rich enough, or have enough style to be snarky. Quasi-snark is a put-off for me. Being witty isn’t something you can fake. You either have it or you don’t. And most of the time these so-called witty, snarky review sites comes off as mean, and they become havens where other mean people slither around.

Another thing I don’t like on a book review site is too much information. I’ve been in publishing for a long time. I don’t need to know detailed, technical publishing information on a reader review site. It’s boring, and I don’t think most readers care. I want to know about books; I want ratings and reviews so I know how to purchase. I don’t want to read recycled links to other publishing posts in PW by a blogger somewhere in the middle of nowhere who is really a frustrated publishing professional who missed his/her calling in life. And, many times, after reading a few of these publishing oriented posts on these review sites, I’ll check out the facts with a good friend of mine who has been a NY literary agent for over thirty years, and most of the time the facts are either misleading or wrong.

So, if you’re looking for good online review sites, there are plenty of them out there. Especially for romance books, like the sites I listed and linked to above. And if anyone has any they’d like to mention, please feel free to comment. I’m always looking for something new.