Friday, July 19, 2013

What's a five-star review?

Want summer reads? Don't forget #OneADayGenesis on twitter will give you a daily dose of Genesis stories to ease your children's bedtime blues till the end of summer. And  the Virtual Ebook Fair's offering lots of real books by real authors on Facebook--just click on the image: Then read on for book reviews...

If you've followed my reviews you'll know I deliberately avoid giving stars on my blog. I do give coffee ratings, but they're for content, not quality. And I really don't feel qualified to judge the quality of someone else's book. After all, grammar's fairly important to me, but not to everyone. Historical accuracy matters to me, but other readers would rather enjoy a flavor of the past spread over a contemporary tale. Science is important, but some readers happily go with the flow while I might ask far too many questions. And, since I love poetry and song, rhythm and form matter far more to me than they might to somebody else.

That said, I've been told by one friend that my reviews are "useless" because I give nearly everyone four stars. I've been accused of trying to sabotage careers for one review with four stars and one with three. And another author asked why I didn't give her novel five stars when I'd written what she considered a "five-star review." So... just in case you were wondering, and just in case you've been looking up my reviews on Goodreads or Amazon etc, where stars are a prerequisite of posting anything...

Five stars from me doesn't mean perfection--I'm a mathematician; I don't believe in perfection. What it does mean is the book surprised me in a good way and a few days after reading it I was still insisting on telling everyone about it.

Four stars covers a really wide range, because I'm trying not to judge. If you want to know what I thought of the book, you'll have to read the review. Some four-star books are really good and I'm eager to have copies on my shelf. But I'm happy to move onto the next book as well, so they don't get the coveted five. Others really weren't my sort of thing, but they weren't bad either and I'm sure lots of readers will like them, so I reckon I'm okay to give them a four.

Three stars? Technically three stars should be average, and I could write a book on the evils of grade inflation. But four is my average and the stars were inflated long before I dared approach them. Three stars means the book surprised me too frequently in a less good way. Frustrated me perhaps. Pushed too many of my buttons? It might say more about me than it does about the book, and it certainly doesn't mean it's a bad book--like I said, I'm not qualified to judge. It just means it didn't work for me.

But coffee's far more fun than stars, so now I'll give some reviews for books I've read recently, and suggest the type of coffee you might drink while reading them.

Starting with a beautifully researched historical novella--and it's set in Rome, in the time of the Caesars, so it's bound to appeal to me--Empire Betrayed: The Fall of Sejanus, An Artorian Novella by James Mace. It's a short novel or long novella, filled with excellent and fascinating details of Roman life, power and politics. Enjoy with a bold dark intense cup of 5-star coffee.

Somewhat closer to the present day, One Glorious Ambition, by Jane Kirkpatrick, tells of one woman's life in America just before the Civil War. It's fascinating to see what else was going on in the world, and in the lives of the mentally ill on both sides of the Atlantic, at the time. Jane Kirkpatrick's novels are always well-researched and her female characters are always strong and complex. Enjoy this one with a well-balanced 3-star cup of coffee.

Moving forwards again, Book of Death, by S. Evan Townsend is set in an intriguing recreation of the 60s, with just a few small differences. The author times new revelations very pleasingly, slowly introducing the reader to a slightly different history and an intriguing blend of spy adventure and paranormal mystery. Thoroughly enjoyable; drink some 4-star elegant complex coffee with this elegantly complex action adventure.

Finally, here's a fascinating contemporary novel: Seasons in Purdah, by Anjuelle Floyd, is a fascinating tale of sight, insight and oversight. Strongest in its depiction of a woman coming to terms with her blindness, the novel depicts a classic love triangle with self-help, mystical and psychological overtones. It's not a quick read, but it's intriguingly complex as dreams and reality intertwine. Enjoy with a 4-star elegant complex cup of coffee.

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