Lessons from A Negative Review on Amazon

It’s often interesting to read negative reviews on Amazon.com, particularly of books that received overwhelming praise.  Really, you can’t please everyone.

I came across a negative review yesterday that illustrates some of the points I made in my post on book covers (Cover Art: What Does it Say About the Book?).  The review is for Julia Stuart’s well-received novel, The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise, published roughly two years ago.  I have yet to read the book, which I’ve added to my list.

Before I get to the review, I will say that The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise is a forgettable title.  Despite reading reviews online and looking up this book’s availability at my local library, I can only remember, “It’s the one that sounds like The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.”  It sounds like a children’s book, doesn’t it?

It looks like a children’s book, too.  The whimsical drawing of animals captured my attention and probably relates to the quirky theme of the book.  But don’t be fooled: It’s not a children’s book, which the blurb makes clear in the second paragraph:

Among the eccentric characters who call the Tower’s maze of ancient buildings and spiral staircases home are the Tower’s Rack & Ruin barmaid, Ruby Dore, who just found out she’s pregnant; portly Valerie Jennings, who is falling for ticket inspector Arthur Catnip; the lifelong bachelor Reverend Septimus Drew, who secretly pens a series of principled erot­ica; and the philandering Ravenmaster, aiming to avenge the death of one of his insufferable ravens. (emphasis added)

I don’t know too many books for children or young adults that include an erotic fiction writer among its characters.  So, I wouldn’t be fooled into buying it for a child or pre-teen but apparently someone else was:

I bought this book thinking it was a book for children as the cover is very cartoonish…My daughter brought it to me saying, “This is not a nice book..it has a lot of sex in it!” Very misleading cover Ms. Stuart.

I laughed when I read this one-star review, as I pictured a mother unknowingly handing a 320-page novel featuring an erotic fiction writer and infidelity to a child.  I can’t imagine the child was that young to be reading a novel-length book, as pre-teen books tend to be a little shorter in length than the average novel intended for adults.  But who knows; I certainly remember reading books intended for adults during my pre-teen years.  Either way, this review shows us how much importance consumers place on the cover; we think the cover art says a lot about the book.

The review also raises another issue: whether books should have an age rating on them.  I’ve written about this subject before in relation to children’s books (here and here), and I generally don’t believe books should be rated because the problems of censorship outweigh the potential benefits.  Instead, consumers should be a little more careful about what they’re purchasing; maybe they should read the blurb and a few reviews before spending $9.99 on an ebook.  The lesson is not to judge a book by its cover alone.


  1. It would have taken that mother less time to read the blurb than it would have to write a negative review on Amazon. Some people are just strange.

    I read the book and enjoyed it. I was one of those 5 star folks heaping praise on itk. There wasn’t much sex in it and the part about the erotica was so minor I forgot all about it.

    1. It does sound like a great book. I’ve added it to my reading list. I agree that it would’ve taken that mother less time to read the blurb than to write a review, but I also think that Amazon’s pages are so busy that it takes a lot of patience to wade through all the words on it. Still, people should attempt to make informed purchasing decisions, and if not, maybe they should think twice before writing a negative review based on their mistake. The review says more about the reviewer’s lapse in judgment than it does about the book!

  2. That reviewer sounds like she has a few screws missing… I laughed when she said ‘Very misleading cover Ms Stewart’… I doubt the author would have had much say at all about what her cover looked like. What I want to ask is, who was the publisher who decided that a 320 page book about an erotica writer should have a cover like that? Although, without having read the book, I really shouldn’t judge – perhaps the cover actually suits the story perfectly.

    1. I agree. I haven’t read it yet, but I bet the cover does match the quirky theme of the novel. Still, I don’t think it was a good choice, especially when you have to read the blurb carefully to notice the book’s adult story lines. If you skim the blurb and the editorial reviews very quickly, you could skip the part about a erotic fiction writer and focus only on words like “magical” and “cuteness.” Some parts of the descriptions sound exactly like descriptions for children’s books: “Penguins escape, giraffes are stolen, and the Komodo dragon sends innocent people running for their lives.” That almost sounds like something I would read to my four-year-olds, if it had illustrations throughout and weren’t 320 pages!

  3. Oh that made me giggle. I could easily see myself in the same situation as I am far too easily swayed by aesthetics. I’m not sure my son would stop reading and hand it back to me, though!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s