Thursday, July 25, 2013

the goodreads average user rating

First of all, I have to brag for a moment. :-)

Apparently I'm in the top 1% of reviewers on Goodreads. Woot woot! They don't explain exactly what that means, but I assume it has to do with the percentage of books I've reviewed. Whatever the case, I was glad to hear it because I do love Goodreads. Plus, it's a good lead-in to something I've been wanting to discuss . . .

Assuming you have a Goodreads account, have you ever looked at your average rating score?

If you don't know what I'm talking about, I don't blame you. It's a fairly unobtrusive feature. Beneath each user's profile picture, there are statistics listed including number of ratings and number of reviews. Just beside a user's rating count (to the right of it), you'll find that user's average rating in parentheses. And if you click on it, you can even see your rating frequencies. My ratings break down like this:

  • I've given 5-stars to 16 books (that's 4% of my rated books)
  • I've given 4-stars to 74 books (or 21%)
  • I've given 3-stars to 161 books (46%)
  • I've given 2-stars to 71 books (20%)
  • I've given 1-star to 24 books (6%)

That makes my average rating 2.96 stars. 

my new bookshelf!

So when I saw that, I got to thinking . . . Since I'm below 3 (the average rating for books), does that mean I'm a critical reader? Am I too harsh? Or, am I choosing too many so-so books? It's close to the median rating, of course, but as I clicked through my Goodreads friends' scores, I noticed that most of them have a much higher average rating, usually above 3.5. What does that say about me (and about them)?

Of course, you also have to consider that Goodreads has a skewed rating system. Instead of making 3-stars the "okay" or "average" score, 3-stars means "I liked it." The run-down goes like this: 1-star (I did not like it), 2-stars (it was okay), 3-stars (I liked it), 4-stars (I really liked it), and 5 stars (It was amazing). I know I'm not the only one that has a problem with this rating system. It's limited and would probably work much better with either more stars (9 stars? 10 stars?) or half-stars. Although I have 161 books all rated 3-stars, I don't think that I would rank them all at the same level.

Since my score is between 2 and 3, that means I rate most books between "okay" and "good." That sounds accurate, but it would certainly be nice if I could rate more books above 3 stars. Maybe I need to rethink my strategy for choosing books . . .

Anyway, I'd love to hear what your Goodreads average rating is and what you think of it. Are you 4+ stars and love every book you read? Or are you below 2 and very hard to please? Do you think the Goodreads rating system works well? I'd love to know your thoughts.

P.S. I promise I'm not over-thinking this! I'm just a very organized person who loves thinking about statistics, scores, lists, etc. :-)

Sunday, July 21, 2013


The Bigtrees are alligator wrestlers who run a theme park on an island in Florida. After mother Hilola dies of cancer, Swamplandia! hits hard times and the family copes in various ways. Kiwi, the brother, runs away to nearby Loomis County to raise money and get an education. Chief Bigtree, the father, goes to the mainland on an extended business trip. Osceola, the older sister, runs away with her lover (who is, I should mention, a ghost), and younger sister Ava journeys into the Underworld of the swamp to bring back her sister. 

With its crazy premise and lively setting, I was prepared to love "Swamplandia!" It's gotten a lot of praise in the literary world and I've heard wonderful things about Karen Russell's short story collections. Unfortunately, it didn't live up to the hype for me. Although the introduction to Ava, her atypical family, and their island home was enticing, I quickly grew bored. I wish that a big hunk had been chopped out of the middle, when nothing seems to be happening, especially on Ava's end; Kiwi's sections were far more interesting to me. Plus, it was difficult to read about Ava's trip with the mysterious Bird Man because she seemed so naive and he seemed so creepy. I knew something bad was bound to happen, and I was frustrated that Ava didn't realize it too. Finally, part of what drew me to the book was the magical realism element, the idea that Osceola is really in love with a ghost, so I was disappointed that Osceola and her ghosts are only a side story and absent for much of the novel (and not really written in the style of magical realism). 

I considered giving this three stars simply because I loved the setting, the concept, the characters, and some of the writing, but ultimately I knocked it down to two. The plot was too frustrating and drawn-out for a positive review. However, because I really liked Russell's ideas and writing, I am excited to get to her short story collections soon.

TITLE: Swamplandia!
AUTHOR: Karen Russell
DATE FINISHED: 19 July 2013 
VERDICT: 2/5 stars. Great concept and characters, lackluster story.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

sharp objects

Camille Preaker, a crime reporter for a small Chicago newspaper, is sent back to her hometown in southern Missouri to cover the murder of two young girls. Fresh from a stay at a psychiatric hospital (she used to cut), Camille isn't quite ready to face both the gruesome murders and her own troubled family. Her neurotic mother doesn't seem to care for her, her stepfather is a stranger, and she's baffled by her popular thirteen-year-old stepsister. As Camille searches for the murderer, she must also confront her relationship with her family, her late sister's death, and her own psychological troubles.

Similar to Dark Places and Gone Girl because of its Missouri setting, central female character, disturbed family, and murders/disappearances, Sharp Objects is another great read by Gillian Flynn. It's fairly short and reads quickly, though I would ward off any readers uncomfortable with dark subject matter. With the murders, Camille's cutting, and many bleak instances of drug use, alcoholism, sex, violence, etc., it's not a book for the faint of heart. 

Even though I like dark novels, certain situations in this were uncomfortable to read about (mainly the lawbreaking/wickedness committed by underage characters)  and I didn't love the constant references to Camille's scars. I think the "words" were used too often and felt like too blatant an effort (like the author was trying too hard to be clever/poetic). But I loved trying to figure out the murders, which were wonderfully mysterious and intriguing, and I liked the small-town, gossipy feel of Camille's hometown. Although I prefer Dark Places overall, I did really like Sharp Objects and found the ending especially satisfying.

TITLE: Sharp Objects
AUTHOR: Gillian Flynn
PUBLICATION DATE: September 2006
DATE FINISHED: 29 June 2013
VERDICT: 4/5 Dark (sometimes too dark) but very entertaining.

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