Five star reads – can you trust them?

Five star reads – can you trust them?

 A friend was bemoaning the fact that some books are disappointing despite having glowing reviews on Amazon and Goodreads (owned by the same company, in case you weren’t aware).

It’s hard to judge a book solely on the comments of other readers, especially if you don’t know their reading tastes, and they don’t know yours. Nevertheless, we are often influenced by five-star reviews.

If you’re anything like me, you can’t help wanting to get your hands on books that are getting lots of press and are thrilled when you see a much-hyped new release sitting on the ‘new books’ shelf at the library. You take it home full of expectation, only to find it’s not as good as the hype suggested. It’s so disappointing. What were they thinking giving it five stars? You’d only give it three, and that’s being generous.

There are many reasons books get lots of hype. A book can be genuinely brilliant and deserve all the press (Lessons in Chemistry), or win a prestigious prize (Shuggie Bain), or have a huge publicity budget (Jane Harper). The lead time for a new book is very long, at least a couple of years. During that time, many industry pundits have read advanced review copies (ARCs). Copies of new (unpublished) books are also available from NetGalley, so anyone who wants to make a living as a reviewer or book influencer can log in to read digital copies well before they hit the shelves. And a free copy of a book often equals a positive review, unless you are writing for Kirkus.

A book may not be right for you for many reasons. I snaffled a copy of Carrie Soto is Back (by Taylor Jenkins Reid) at the library last week and only read the first few pages before putting it in my return pile. I’m sure it’s probably an excellent book, but I’m not that interested in tennis or any sports really, so it didn’t gel with me.

It rarely takes long to figure out if a book is for you. With most books, you only need to read the first couple of pages to know that you are going to enjoy it. Others take a while to get going, so you need to read a few chapters before you can really commit. I’ve heard people say you should read seventy pages, but I can usually tell much more quickly.

People are often tell me they always finish books, even if they aren’t enjoying them. This is madness! You should never keep reading a book you aren’t enjoying (once you’ve given it a decent chance, of course). There are so many books out there, just read what makes you happy. If you feel bad about not finishing books you’ve purchased, give them to a little street library so they can find a new home. If they are library books, take them back to the library as quickly as you can so another reader can enjoy them. Don’t keep them by your bedside for weeks and weeks, feeling guilty about not reading them.

I’m getting better at choosing books, but my secret is that I nearly always pre-read the first chapter on my iPad. I have literally hundreds of sample chapters which I browse through regularly. I’m constantly adding new titles when I see interesting books advertised or reviewed, and I subscribe to many newsletters from writerly people and publishing houses. I’m lucky enough to have a circle of bookish friends, so I get to talk about books a lot, and I belong to a family of readers which is very handy. I trust their judgement, but most of all I’m confident they know my reading tastes (and quirks) and will recommend books I’ll probably enjoy.

It might not be the same for you. You might not have the time or inclination to spend hours and hours hunting down new titles, or you might be in that weird situation where there are lots of options, but nothing seems quite right. To be honest, that’s why I started Book Chat (a newsletter for readers). I like to think that by reading widely, I can help people narrow down their options and make choosing easier. I know not everyone has the same reading tastes (thank goodness or the world would be a boring place) but I hope that by providing reliable recommendations you can find a book that’s just right for you.

If you would like some reading recommendations, why not subscribe? If you’re already onboard, thank you.

Newsletters I love

Newsletters I love

Hello friends

Do you scan your inbox every morning for something interesting to read? I know I do!

I love getting emails from people I know in real life, but failing that, I enjoy reading newsletters from people I don’t know personally, but who send me stuff that’s interesting and entertaining.

I’ve been thinking about starting my own newsletter (it’s a work in progress) and this has led me to do quite a lot of research about what kind of email platforms are available, but also to think deeply about what sort of content I enjoy. The experts say that you should write the book you’d like to read, so I figure you should send out the newsletter that you’d like to receive. For me, this is usually a mixture of funny, interesting or inspiring things, with a few recipes thrown in for good measure.

These are my favourite newsletters at the moment:

Mary Laura Philpott, author of I Miss You When I Blink sends out a newsletter every couple of weeks with different book recommendations plus a few other tidbits: a link to something interesting or funny, a great tune, and a little cartoon or art of some sort. It’s short and fun. You can subscribe here.

The food writer and podcaster Jenny Rosenstrach has a newsletter called Three Things, which I love because the recipes are so simple and appealing. We have a lot of limes on our tree at the moment and I have become slightly addicted to gimlets (a cocktail involving gin, limes and elderflower cordial). The recipe for this, plus a simple angel-food cake, is here.

If you are a writer, think about subscribing to Craft Talk, by Jami Attenberg, author of many books which I admire. Her newsletter is always honest and inspirational without being cloying. You can subscribe to a paid or a free version, (I have taken the free option because I’m a cheapskate), but note that she donates most of the proceeds from the paid version to charity, and if you are an educator, you can sign up for free.

I always enjoy browsing through this newsletter from Jo Goddard which contains a nice mix of culture, fashion and articles about relationships. I especially enjoyed this article featuring the apartment of illustrator Carly Martin because I love looking at pictures of where people live.

This is just a small sample of the newsletters I’m currently subscribed to, but they are the ones that I always open and read. I’d be interested to know if you have any favourites and I’d especially like to know what it is about them you really find engaging? I’m still in the research phase, so please share what you like (and don’t like) about any newsletters you’ve signed up for.

Have a great week!