Thursday, September 20, 2007

BLOG REVIEW WEEK, 4: You Don't Know Me--BookMom

Book Utopia is a newer, no frills blog. But to my eyes it has all the qualities of a useful review site, one I check daily. So I was happy to hear from BookMom about her reasons for embarking on her journey as a blog-reviewer.


You don't know me.

I'm the 13 y/o girl you saw hiding between the library stacks, sitting cross-legged on the floor with a book in my lap and a pile at my side.

I'm the English student who sat in the back of the room, in crush with her sexy teacher for 20th Century American Literature but too shy to say a word.

I'm the mom who smiles and nods when she drops off her kids at school, then goes home to face even more.

I'm the lurker in the reader groups, the one who always thinks of something clever to say after the fact but who sees every word typed. You won't know who I am because I very rarely speak up, but that doesn't mean I'm not there. I'm here a lot more often than you might realize. That's one of the side effects of choosing to be a stay at home mom.

I have always been a voracious reader, but when I opted to give up my career in order to raise a family, some of my reading derailed. It was harder to get out to the book store, and waiting for Amazon orders gets frustrating when you want to read a book now. E-publishing helped me tremendously, but I hit a roadblock in my search for new books. I have always been the kind of person who reads multiple reviews of things before buying, from movies to consumables. That doesn't mean I'm going to heed to every word I read, but it should mean that I'm informed about what I might be going into. I don't want to hop in and see an action movie when I'm in the mood for something softer. Books have usually been the same way.

But when I went in search of romance reviews online, I got stopped short. It's not that there aren't reviews out there. It's that the vast majority of them don't give me more than a lengthy synopsis of the book and a sentence or two of, "Ohmigod, this is the best book ever!!!" They read like marketing blurbs for the authors, which is great for the author, not so great for someone like me who wants something meatier. How am I supposed to take a reviewer seriously when she loves nearly everything she's read? I don't know readers like that. I'm certainly not a reader like that. It takes a lot to sucker punch me into those kind of superlatives, and honestly, I don't trust reviewers who throw those kinds of words around willy nilly.

So I decided to write my own. I debated briefly about signing up at one of the sites, but in the end, if I was going to take the time to write up something about the books I read, I wanted to do it my way. That meant I was going to break down how exactly I gave a score, not slap a 5-something on a review and call it good. Reviews are more than offering an opinion; they are telling readers what to expect, because often blurbs and excerpts just aren't enough. Different readers look for different things. Some readers are more forgiving of annoying heroines if they can fall in love with the hero. Some don't care about plot. Some just want the sexy scenes. But if a review only says the story is the best thing since sliced bread, how is a reader going to know?

There is a line to be drawn in reviews, however. I think some people see writing reviews as entertainment. Being snarky for the sake of snark, or lashing out against an author on a personal level. The reviews that matter to me, though, are the ones that know it's about the story, not the author. If I find something to criticize in a story, I do everything I can to explain why it didn't work for me, within the context of the book I bought. People who cross that line don't do anybody any favors.

I'm going to admit, I'm hard to please. I hate headhopping, for instance, and technical mistakes are nearly guaranteed to pull me out of a story. Out of curiosity, I once went back and looked at other reviews for a story I read that was riddled with enough spelling errors to make my second-grader cringe. Most of them called it wonderful; not one of them pointed out what should have been caught long before it was sold to the public as a professional product. While I know typos and mistakes happen in the best of books, even in print, finding them lowers your reader's trust in you. In a world where you're already competing for a reader's attention, why would you do that if you didn't have to?

I haunt e-publishers and Fictionwise, looking for the next book to grab me by the throat and refuse to let go. I buy a minimum of three e-books a week, always after reading both the blurb and excerpt, because I want to be seduced, scared, stimulated. I have 23 e-publishers bookmarked on my computer, each vying for my attention, and I want to make the best choice possible in selecting which ones to lose myself in.

Puff reviews don't help me with that. Honest ones do.


veinglory said...

I am enjoying your blog so far BookMom. I like the content of the reviews which is detailed but doesn't drag on, and the breakdown and ratings for different aspects opf the story.

Book Utopia Mom said...

Thank you. :) Sometimes I wish I was more computer savvy to make it flashier, but then I realize I wouldn't have time to actually read or be with my family if I did that. The breakdown was actually the first thing I knew I wanted to do. When readers read for so many different reasons, and have so many different things that bug them, I think it helps to weed out parts of a score that might not matter to you.

Thank you again for letting me have a voice here. I've really enjoyed the different views I've seen posted this week.

JMS Books LLC said...

Question for bookmom ~ do you only review books you've bought, or can authors submit a book to you for review?

Book Utopia Mom said...

Hi JM, You're more than welcome to e-mail me and ask, but I don't make any guarantees that I'll accept. I go and take a look at the blurb and excerpt before making a decision. I don't think it's fair to authors if I agree to read a story that won't interest me.

Laura Bacchi said...

Wow - these are very thorough reviews. I'll be tuning in to your blog from now on :)