The other day, my fellow Huffington Post blogger took NY Times tv critic Alessandra Stanley to the worldwide woodshed. In so doing, Mr. Levinson recognized that criticizing a critic is almost never done. By the same token, their praise is sung about as often as good umpires. My question to you: Who are the best and the worst reviewers of books in our genre? And Why?

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I think Stasio is excellent, as is Kevin Allman of the WaPo, as is Paul Goat Allen of the ChiTrib, although he seems to be reviewing mostly SciFi and supernatural stuff these days. The worst reviewers are those who don't do their homework, don't read much outside the genre, don't get humor, are easily shocked/offended, and have rigidly conventional expectations about plot.
I like Stasio and Montgomery. But actually, the reviews I got that were most detailed and most perceptive were either by folks that don't review any longer (Jim Fusilli) or by men who write for relatively unknown papers or web sites. I've also had some very well written Amazon reviews.

I dislike very short reviews or the ones that were written to show how clever the reviewer is. As in " ( ) goes down like a cup of hot sake."
I've had some really thoughtful Amazon reviews, one or two by self-appointed review masters that were clearly drawn from erroneous flap copy from the ARC, and one, as I said, written by someone who obviously hadn't read the book, yet still felt compelled to register their disapproval of what they thought it might be like, or something. I'm also aware of the practice (never done it myself, of course) of soliciting friends and relatives to write five-star "ringer" reviews for Amazon (which I would be happy to do for anyone here in exchange for a small remuneration. Kidding!). I think the trick is to take them all with a grain of salt, and go with the aggregate score.
I'll venture to say the vast majority of readers never register the name of the book reviewer. I rarely do, and I read a lot of mystery/suspense. I'll often read award-winning novels, major awards being a kind of collective review, and I'm often rewarded that way.

About the only book critic I'll go out of my way to read is Jonathan Yardley, though he ventures into mystery/suspense but rarely.
To be honest, I have no interest in professional critics. They get paid to do their job--or most of them do. That automatically makes me suspicious.

I much prefer fan reviews. Yes, I know all the pitfalls entwined with such preferences--but to me the fan, and the number of fans who take the time to write a review, speaks much louder to a potential reader about a book.

I really appreciate the one or two fans I have. (grinning sheepishly)
I agree about reader reviews. After all, they're our "clients" (so to speak). In that sense, a good reader review is like a client endorsement (and those work). And a reader who takes the time and trouble to provide such an endorsement does speak volumes.

These days, I suspect most people go to Amazon and check the reader comments out before buying a book, rather than just rely upon professional reviewers.
Hell, I don't mind being compared to someone good--a bestselling author, preferably, but I'm not picky.
Comparisons are such an aid for thinking. I've got no problem with them per se. Some reviewers are capable of using comparisons appropriately.
I don't have a problem with comparisons, especially for debut/new authors--it's a quick way to show readers the kind of book the reviewer thinks he/she is dealing with, and generally a good indicator for the author of the extent to which they're connecting. If you think you're writing noir and a good reviewer compares you to Lilian Jackson Braun, you've got problems.
I didn't much like being compared to my competition, even though the review favored me. This trade review was posted by Amazon. It just made people angry at me. I garnered two reader reviews immediately that tore my book to shreds.
That's unfortunate, and seems mean-spirited on the part of those Amazon reviewers. Hasn't happened to me yet, and I've been compared to all kinds of people. Maybe my strategy of making fun of bad reviews here and on my blog is actually working. Kidding again!
I never read Amazon reviews of fiction. It's not worth the time to identify the likes and dislikes of each reviewer, and too many of them aren't interested in fairness or, dare I say it, any kind of professional approach. They're taking on a responsibility to both the reader and the writer, and too many of them aren't up to it.

I will occasionally read a non-fiction review, if it's a book I'm thinking of getting for research, in the hope I'll find a reviewer who knows a little about the topic.


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