8 October, 2013

"5 Stars...minus two and a half."

Commentary by Cherie Jung

It's coming up on mid-October. That means it's nearly the second anniversary for some 13+ books that I read and never reviewed. Not that there was anything really wrong with the books. They weren't so poorly written that they rated a negative review. They were okay, but just okay. Not bad. Not great. Not even good. Just okay.

Mind you, I don't begrudge reading mediocre books. I love to read and I read fairly fast. So the chance of reading only good or great books is diminished for me by the sheer volume of my reading. The initial problem I had with writing those particular reviews was that the books were not only "just okay," they were all basically the same book, by different authors, with different titles. It was as if someone were selling templates to the authors. I could even imagine the sales pitch. "Buy this cozy template, fill in the blanks (character names, occupation, setting, and whether they prefer cats or dogs) and you too can have a new or on-going series to impress your friends and relatives and fans, if they aren't too picky about plot or character development."

For a brief time, I considered that perhaps I was simply burned out reviewing mystery books. It happens. Over the years, omdb! reviewers have come and gone; some when they got tired of writing reviews. Some moved on to write mysteries; both series and non-series books. Others stopped writing reviews and never started writing again. However, I also read many non-mystery books. I certainly didn't feel burned out reading and/or writing about non-mysteries. Then I chatted with several other reviewers who were also feeling dissatisfied with some of the books they were reading for review. We had all wondered if we were too burned out to continue reviewing. It's still a possibility, I won't discount that it may be partially true but we also felt that there are many barely okay books being published these days. I don't mean to imply that these books are self-published or from small presses. Many of what I think are the most mediocre books are being churned out by traditional, big-name, so-called "legacy" publishers. I haven't read a poorly written self-published or small press book in over a year now. I'm sure there are some out there, I just haven't found any in my "to read" pile lately.

Where am I going with this train of thought (or train wreck, if you prefer)?

I had meant to sort of apologize for not writing reviews as quickly as I read. And for not wanting to write that a particular book was just okay; as if being okay wasn't good enough. Okay is okay. I also felt frustrated that I couldn't think of anything original to write in those unfinished reviews. I do still have my notes and comments and I promise to reconsider those unwritten reviews.

In the meantime, something else occurred that got me to thinking about reviews and their value. My personal feeling is that I write reviews for readers who may be looking for a new book or author to try. I don't expect my opinion to greatly increase or decrease an author's sales. I do write negative reviews from time to time, but I try to be clear about why my response to a particular book was negative.

However, in the past six months, or so, I have received unusual requests from several authors who asked me to review their books. I frequently get requests from authors to review a book. That's not the unusual part. The unusual (and disturbing) portion of the requests was that if I wasn't going to give the book a 5-star rating, please don't bother writing a review. Uh, hello?


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