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Are Reviews TOO Subjective to be Worthwhile?

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

I just finished reading a YA dystopian called The Uglies by Scott Westerfield.

What I found interesting, is that after finishing the book my thoughts differed widely from some of the top reviews. For instance, the top review remarks "Couldn't put it down" and that she read it in one weekend. But the book took me literally weeks. I listened to the audio version on my ipod while exercising, but it didn't have enough draw to keep me listening at other times.

The reviewer also liked the main character Tally and said she was "a well-developed character, thoughtful and fully understanding the consequences of her actions." On the other hand, I thought she was shallow for most of the book, and I didn't like that she lied the entire book–until the last couple of pages.

It's always interesting to me to see the subjectivity in the reviews of the books that I read as I compare my experience to that of others. And of course it's always interesting to see the complete contrasts in reader's reactions to my own published books.

Just to give you an idea of some of the most obvious contrasts, here are a few from my latest release, A Noble Groom:

Plot:

*I thought this book was unpredictable, I could almost never fully have a guess on what was going to happen or how something was going to take place. Which I liked a lot!

*Excellent writing, but the same old plot . . . I just got bored.

Opening:

* I have reviewed books for years and I can honestly say that it is very, very rare for a book to grab me from page one and hold my attention all the way through. A NOBLE GROOM did that. Even though I was busy with other stuff all day long, I still devoured this book and wished it wouldn’t end.

*I enjoyed the whole book, but it did take me a while to get captured by the story and get to where I wanted to keep reading.


Ending:

*I felt the story so intensely, it mattered so much to me that things turn out right! She does a good job of ending the story . . . I didn't guess the ending. Not at all. I found it realistic and definitely interesting--and of course, happy.

*While the ending was very nice, it did leave me with some questions and I wish we would have been told how things fared for certain characters.

Ability to put down:

*You know a book is great when you stay up past 1:00 am to finish despite the fact that you have to wake up a few hours later for work. This book is worth the lack of sleep.

*I did think the book was a little slow paced. Although there was some drama, it wasn't exactly a book that I had to stay up all night reading.

Compared to my other books:

*I think I've discovered a new favorite author. Jody Hedlund. I've now read all four books that she has published - and each one keeps getting better. Her latest book, A Noble Groom, might be my favorite book of hers yet.

*Not my favorite Jody Hedlund novel, but still good.

Interesting to see such stark differences, isn't it?

But it brings up the point of this post: Are reviews TOO subjective to be of any help to readers who are trying to decide whether to read a book? After all, if reviews have such contradictory views of the same issue, how is a reader to decide which reviews to believe?

As a reader wading through reviews and trying to narrow down which books to actually purchase and take the time to read, I often have doubts: Will I really like this book or not?

I find myself having to weigh other factors like: how many five stars there are compared to the other numbers, the quality of the writing in the sample pages, and how prolific and popular the author already is.

And still, after all the reviews and everything else, the number one factor that will drive me to a book, is the BUZZ. If I see a lot of chatter about a book on Twitter or a variety of friends mentioning that they've enjoyed a book, then I'm much more likely check it out.

What about YOU? How helpful are reviews to YOU? Do you find them too subjective in helping you make the decision to purchase a book? How do you wade through the contradictory comments?


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