I’m pleased to feature Cath ‘n’ Kindle Book Reviews in the Book Blogger Spotlight this week. The blog is run by Cathy Speight. Cathy is a wife, mother, and grandmother. When she’s not skiing or cycling or cooing over her grandchildren, she’s reading on her Kindle. Though she read a lot in her youth, she says life got in the way, and she didn’t really find her way back to it until she bought a Kindle. Now she describes herself as “hopelessly Kindlestruck.”
In addition to being a top-notch book reviewer, editor, and beta reader, Cathy is also one of my favorite people on the planet. I first became acquainted with her through the Facebook group Book Junkies, where she also serves as an administrator.
Cathy was one of the early reviewers of my novel Upgrade, and was a reviewer for Bad Book and Triple Dog Dare as well. In each instance, I have been amazed at the great pains she took in providing me with excellent, highly detailed, and thoughtful feedback on the writing. By going above and beyond, Cathy has helped make me a better writer (to the extent I am trainable).
As a reviewer, Cathy is in the friendly but fair part of the spectrum. She has a genuine appreciation for the talent and work that goes into creating a book and tries always to see positives as well as opportunities for improvement.
Cathy, how did you get started as a book reviewer?
Two and a half years ago I did two things at more or less the same time: I bought a Kindle and I joined Facebook. My instant addiction to the Kindle led me to a number of book groups on Facebook and therefore to indie/self-pubbed authors and like-minded readers. I avidly started to offer to review books and then inspired by other book bloggers realised a blog was a rather nifty way to compile a virtual ‘album’ or anthology of the ebooks I had read, along with a review to remind me what I thought of the book. If some passers-by chanced upon my blog, well, that would be nice, I thought. So Cath ‘n’ Kindle was born. Along with the review requests came some beta-reading requests. I began to take this very seriously and then started to copy-edit/proofread for a number of authors. This is something I really enjoy. I love tidying up and seeing a crisp and clean end product. So very satisfying.
Tell us about Cath ‘n’ Kindle Book Reviews.
I’ve been going two years now. My blog is very straightforward, and it’s just lil’ ol’ me. I merely review the books. One day, when I’ve got to the top of Book Everest (yes—lots and LOTS of books to review) and have less books to edit, I would like to develop the blog, but tempus fugit muchos quickly. I would like to interview authors and reviewers at some stage, but not with stock questions that get churned out with each interviewee. I find those interviews really boring. I like to ask questions that are relevant to the author and think tailor-made questions provide a far more interesting and insightful interview. This is on my blog to-do list as well as some other plans.
I generally post one or two reviews a week. I review all genres except extreme sci-fi, horror (zombies just makes me laugh) and Christian fiction (don’t ‘do’ religion). I have tried them. I don’t like to be narrow-minded and dislike saying I don’t like something before having had a jolly good try at it. But those genres just aren’t my cup of tea.
How do you select and/or prioritize the books you read?
I used to accept all books as long as they didn’t fall in my no-no genres, but as my TBR started to grow overwhelmingly, I’ve had to be a little more selective. If I get a generic impersonal request, obviously sent to several reviewers at the same time with no Dear Cathy, I’m afraid that’s a no. The author clearly doesn’t care who reviews his book and may not even have sent the email himself. If the blurb is full of errors, sorry, I can’t consider it (what on earth will the book be like?), and many requests have had a polite refusal if I’ve availed myself of the ‘Look Inside’ feature on Amazon. If the first page is full of errors, it’s a refusal, too.
I realise now I was somewhat naïve when I started reviewing. Having accepted virtually all requests in my favoured genres, I’m now having to wade through some appallingly edited books. But if I’ve accepted a book, I’ve promised to read it, so I stick to that promise.
I’m not very good at prioritising. My underlying intention is to read in chronological order (in order of receipt), but every now and then an author sends me a pleading ‘reminder’ or a publication date and would I possibly be able to review the book by then. I’m dreadful at saying no. A lot of bumping goes on.
How deep is your TBR pile?
Think Everest. My TBR is blankety-blank books long, I’ve had to temporarily suspend submissions to enable me to catch up and reduce the (virtual) book mountain. Check my blog regularly to see when I ‘re-open’.
Tell us about the rating/scoring system you use:
I don’t use one. A book, for me, is good/outstanding if it’s well written, well conceived, well edited, draws me in from sentence one and holds me captive to the end. My review, I hope, doesn’t leave anyone in any doubt about my opinion of a book, without the use of stars. However, as the same review is posted on Amazon and Goodreads, I do, of course, use the star-rating system provided there.
Have you ever been pleasantly surprised by a book you thought you wouldn’t like?
Oh yes. Mainly by those moderately sci-fi/fantasy books which I have accepted for review. I have been really surprised by my enjoyment of them, which has encouraged me to read more in the genre, but the line is still drawn at hard-core sci-fi!
Have you ever been disappointed in a book you thought you’d love?
Yes. I read a book (a few months late) that had the 2012 Olympics as the backdrop. The blurb was very appealing and gave the impression it was a fast-paced thriller (which I love) about a plot to bring down the whole shebang. But it wasn’t; it so wasn’t. It was the most boring, dreary, eye-aching book I’ve ever read/reviewed and really struggled to get to the end. But I valiantly did! (It cured my insomnia good and proper.)
What are the most common mistakes you see authors making?
Not having their books properly/thoroughly edited and thinking the reader won’t notice. I could expound on this ad nauseam, but I don’t want to outstay my welcome, and I’m already on rationed gruel portions.
Tell us about any pet peeves you have as a reader.
The answer from the above question would apply here, too, I think. That and ending a book ‘to be continued’. Serial books are fine, but each has to stand alone. I don’t want to have to read a second, third, or fourth book to find out what The End is.
Would you say you more often find yourself loving a book it seems everyone hates, or hating a book everyone else is raving about?
Hmmm. If everyone hates a book, I probably won’t read it, so I never find out whether or not I might love it. However, it has happened in the reverse order: I’ve read a book and really liked it, before any hype has built up and have then been surprised by a majority negative reaction to it.
But I have read much-raved-about books and not liked them. Water for Elephants is a case in point. 3607 five-star reviews on Amazon, compared to 191 one-star reviews. I think we can safely consider that a pretty avidly raved-about book. I just didn’t like it.
In answer to the question: I’d say both instances are rare-ish and can’t really say one applies more than the other.
What can authors do to ensure a good relationship with book bloggers?
Be polite. I have had a number of ‘read my book’ requests. Read my book, PLEASE. I suppose if I had experienced a bad ‘relationship’ with an author, I would have more tips for this, but I can happily say that apart from one author who didn’t have the manners to thank me for a very tedious (and free) edit, all authors have been very lovely. A good relationship isn’t a green light for a stellar review; it is an avenue that might provide assistance (even in an unexpected way) and ultimately help an author improve.
However…unfortunately, I haven’t seen the same when the boot is on the other foot. I have witnessed some undue arrogance and antagonism by book bloggers to authors, which is totally unacceptable. It’s a privilege to be asked to read a book for someone else, which shouldn’t be abused. I guess the bottom line is: cordiality and civility on both sides.
If you read a book you think is just terrible, how do you handle that?
Firstly, I don’t believe a poorly starred review should be unaired. A review system is pointless unless all opinions are there for people to see, and readers dislike/like books for very different reasons. If I’m going to invest in a book, I want to see ALL the pros and cons. It’s no different to buying a household appliance: you want to know what works for some people, what doesn’t, and why. You need all the facts to make a decision.
I try to be constructive. There is always, always something good in a book. For starters, an author has toiled relentlessly and shed blood, sweat, and tears over his book. He’s actually sat down and spent many hours writing gazillions of words with the aim of entertaining and enthralling his reader. That’s quite something and deserves a shedload of credit. I try to point out what doesn’t quite work…but aim to emphasise that it doesn’t work for me, personally. Olympic book I mentioned earlier only got one star from me, regrettably, and despite the multitudinous errors, the author earned credit for his research and meticulous detail, and this deserved mention. In the majority of cases, the problems can be fixed. Some constructiveness in the review might just assist the author. A bundle of negativity won’t.
What was your worst experience with an author?
I’ve been very lucky, really. Only one episode stands out. I read a book set in the 1950s. The book was a detective thriller. It had a number of things wrong: poor research for the era, no character development, an understudied plot, and a whole heap of errors, spelling and grammatical (including some howlers in the blurb), and the dreaded ‘to be continued’ ending. That said, with a little help from a professional, the book could have had promise; it was a first novel written by a school teacher of English (who should have known better). I gave the book three stars, so didn’t totally slam the book. It was the first of seven reviews to receive less than four stars. The other six were very obviously by friends and acquaintances (the Miss-Author-is-my-ex-teacher sentence gave things away, rather).
The author commented on my review on Amazon (and, therefore, publicly) with how dare I give it three stars and criticise her spelling, when I couldn’t even spell ‘realise’ . As a teacher of English, she should have known that the Brits ‘-ise’ and not ‘–ize’. There were a few other throwing-toys-out-of-the-pram-type comments. In short, she embarrassed herself. Some time after my review, a handful of one-star reviews appeared (much ruder and more direct than mine) with similar criticisms. I’ll never know how the story ended, because with behaviour like that, I won’t go near any more of this author’s work. With great restraint, I refrained from quoting Stephen King: “Show your work to ten people. If more than two say the same thing, listen. If not, you can safely ignore all of them.”
Cathy, thanks for a great interview. I hope everyone will click over and check out Cath ‘n’ Kindle Book Reviews. If you are not already doing so, Cathy’s is a blog you should be following. I will go so far as to say a lot of other book bloggers could learn a thing or two from Cathy.