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Sunday Brunch: Can We Rely On Book Ratings?

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Brunch isn't really a big deal over here but I love the idea of it - and enjoy going to brunch whilst on holiday. Whenever I'm throwing together ideas for a new story, one of my favourite things to do is go Google Maps-ing for all the nice restaurants in the area. As I have dairy intolerance, I often have to watch what I eat at restaurants so it's not always a fun experience. However, the rise of all those Food Network shows and Pinterest and all the great reviews on Yelp and Chowhound allow me to live vicariously through all you gastronauts. 

So, I thought I'd try and start a new feature (I'm not good at keeping up features so we'll see) where we go for brunch on a Sunday, anywhere in the world, and have a chat. This week we'll be:

I used to always find my new books on Goodreads. Sometimes I'd use the Amazon 'You Bought This, So You Might Like This' thing but I'd always go back to Goodreads to double check. Then I started this blog and started following more book bloggers, trusting their reviews and buying new books that way. 

My TBR/To-Get list (that's a whole other topic) was getting a little bit outdated so I decided to start again with an Excel spreadsheet, splitting them into various categories and adding all the new books from all the WoW posts and whatnot. In order to do this properly, I had to go through them all and decide if I really needed to add them to the new and improved list. So, I started looking through Goodreads and that's when I realised the types of reviews have changed. 

To be honest, I've come to the conclusion that for certain types of books - often YA/NA and 'chick-lit'/women's fiction - Goodreads ratings are quite unreliable. I'm not sure if this is because there are loads of super fans? Maybe people are just more liberal with their five star giving these days? On the other hand, there are quite a lot of one or two star ratings too. I can count on one hand how many books I've given two stars and I don't think I've ever given a book one star! I don't know what's going on - maybe it's all in my head- but it seems like the rating on Goodreads and my overall opinion are more and more at odds these days. I like to think I'm fairly measured when it comes to my feelings about a book although I do tend to lean towards the more positive side. I'm usually quite optimistic whilst reading and will often see a book through to the end, even if I'm not one hundred per cent won over. So, with all that in mind, I don't think I'm being harsh or unfair when I'm disappointed in a book that had a 4.5 rating on Goodreads that, in my opinion, would be more of a 3. 

I recently bought and read The Boys of Summer by C.J Duggan. I wanted something quick and easy and fun, so quickly scanned through Amazon's suggestions on my Kindle. The Boys of Summer was recommended, so as I said above, I cross-referenced with Goodreads and saw it had a 4.0 from 1900+ ratings. Sounded good enough to me. Now, there's absolutely nothing wrong with this book (I gave it a 3) but I was just disappointed. I was expecting something more thanks to the rating. For comparisons sake, Winger (which is still in the top three of my favourite books of the year) is a 4.17. Perhaps I'm comparing apples to oranges but The Boys of Summer was no Winger. I've had a similar experience with Obsidian by Jennifer L. Armentrout, which to me is Twilight with aliens. It's a quick read but again not really a 4.3, at least not for me. 

So, why do people give such high ratings these days? I was thinking perhaps reviewers feel compelled to give higher ratings if the book has been given to them as an ARC. Obviously, book blogging can be competitive - the more ARCs you get and author interviews and giveaways and followers, the bigger and 'better' you are - so you don't want to burn bridges with publishers I suppose. However, if this is the case, then it's not fair to the regular readers who just want to find a good book via Goodreads but end up disappointed because the ratings are very unbalanced. 

Also, as I said above, the New Adult ratings are often sky high and I've definitely learnt to not consider the Goodreads ratings for these. In fact, if I'm going to read New Adult, I'll consult Dahlia's list and go from there. I think that's because NA readers know what they want, and know what they're looking for, and the books often always give them what they want. So, why wouldn't you give it 5 stars?

Then again, I was thinking, can we rely on ratings at all? Unless you're a professional reviewer or a librarian or another literary related profession, I think it would be hard to provide an objective review. So, the way we feel about a book, and our subsequent review of it, is dependent on so many things - our mood, the weather, our location, genre bias etc. 

All in all, I've changed the way I use Goodreads. Now, I tend to just look at the synopsis and ignore the rating. I've learnt to trust a couple of bloggers who have similar tastes to me and they haven't really let me down in the recommendations department as of yet. That doesn't mean to say I won't try something one of these bloggers has deemed not so good but they often provide balanced reviews and qualify their issues with the books. I also check out Top Ten Tuesday and Waiting on Wednesday posts when I have time. I've also gone back to taking recommendations from my monthly magazines. I've been getting the US issues of Glamour and Marie Claire regularly for about a year now and find they often recommend books that I end up enjoying. After all, I found Gone Girl through Elle magazine when it was released.

So, I've talked far too much. What do you think about ratings? Should we just get rid of the ratings system altogether, perhaps? 

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