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Amazon One Stars
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Amazon One Stars

(The Author, 2023)

I have a sneaky confession to make. I love Amazon reviews, but not the predictable, gushy four and five stars, all too often written by the author and their friends, but the one and two-star ones, where the bald truth about a book is often to be found.

I have come, argues one of these one-starrers, to realise that Amazon reviews are the most reliable.... High profile authors and celebrities have given glowing reviews† Ö Newspaper reviews splendid. But I canít trust them anymore. They are all just boosting the industry. Only Amazon reviewers give their own genuine take.

Itís true. The literary scene is notoriously incestuous, and itís all too easy for famous names to keep their chums sweet with a glowing, or possibly just ambiguous, puff, isnít it? But out there in the wider world, the unfairness of this cosy laziness is starkly revealed: I cannot believe that 24 mostly respected authors, thought this book was a good book, thought it was very weak the plot line a mess, twisting between then and now, between somewhere in europe, unbelievable story was just an awful mishmash, gave up halfway through,

Pff, one is tempted to scoff, who are these people? If they canít even punctuate or capitalise Europe, why should we trust them? But read on. Not just content with honest value judgements, their analysis of structure is often spot on. How could a woman with amnesia successfully keep a diary and secret mobile phone from her husband? Furthermore, for such a length of time without being caught or arousing suspicion? perfectly describes the huge plot hole at the centre of one international bestseller I recently chucked across the room. There are many other down-to-earth critics doing a similar useful job:† L--- and M--- suspected their phone had been tampered with but didn't think to buy a cheap pay as you go for their investigation? Didn't social services exist in the 90s? No visits from the school. I could go on and on.

Others just bring a laugh: If this is a psychological thriller then Iím Alfred Hitchcock! What a dismal, tedious, non-entity of a story. Thereís more suspense about what Iím going to cook for dinner tonight than in all 300-plus pages of this rambling excuse for a novel. Or: That's eight hours I will never get back. Don't have an affair, ladies, is the dated message.

For those of us who despair at celebrities who get not just praise, but massive marketing pushes and consequent sales for indifferent efforts, there is comfort to be found among the one-starrers. Laugh out loud? Really? writes one of a TV presenterís recent bestseller. The humour is tired, cliched and resorts to stereotypes; in effect little asides from the author which are not amusing Ö It needed editing. In fact, I am wondering if the first draft was published by mistake and now no one can admit the error.

I got to page 100 before anything happened writes another of the efforts of a genial celeb who has Ďtaken to crimeí in his dotage. So long winded, often I felt he went off at a tangent. I only kept reading because I hoped it would get better - it didnít. Found it hard to remember who characters were and to be honest I didnít care about any of them. At times when he had verbal diarrhoea I could picture him talking on tv shows.

Yes indeed. Which brings us to another important point about the one stars: they will not be written by the author or their friends. From the inception of Amazon reviews, authors have been caught out in sock-puppetry, being complimentary about their own work using pseudonyms. John Rechy, R.J. Ellory, Orlando Figes, Stephen Leather were all small names striving to be bigger. But unless theyíre very cunning impersonators, praising with a faint damn, theyíre hardly going to be posting in the one-star section, are they?

There is, obviously, only one sting in the tail of the single star. When itís applied to one of your own books. I mean who is this frightful fellow Jehoshephat, whose three line take down of my whodunnit The Festival Murders is titled fun beginning, but couldnít finish it. A very dim American, thatís for sure. And why do Amazon have to post it on their English site as well? His measly opinion comes right at the end of a string of lovely, intelligent four and five stars and lowers my rating.

Sometimes, too, theyíre just stupid. A few years ago I wrote a light-hearted guide to global etiquette, entitled Going Dutch in Beijing. Hereís my lone one star: I bought this book thinking it would be a guide to customs etc in China/Beijing or at least be Asia focused. However it is a collection of customs and guidance of what to do and not do around the globe. I did feel a conned.

You moron! Didnít you think of opening it or reading the blurb? No wonder you felt a conned.

The odd idiot apart, the one-starrers rock with their uncompromised and entertaining truth (even if their grammar is occasionally suspect): I brought this for my holiday read. I got to chapter 8 and was so bored by it, that I put it on to hotel book sharing shelf. I have seen it go out so far 5 times over 14 days. It is always back on there within a day.

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