Partnership with Sony Reader

We are excited to announce that Sony Reader now shows iDreamBooks' ratings and reviews from critics. This integration was done through our API. In addition to Sony, several independent sites and apps are also utilizing our API. The book rating, review snippets from publications, publication name, review sentiment and review link are sent as part of the API response. We will also be making lists like "Books reviewed in NPR" available in the near future. 

With user reviews increasingly being gamed, we believe our rating system is the most trustworthy one in the market today. Part of our mission is to bring authenticity to book reviews and integrating with Sony brings us a step closer to that mission. 

The State of Horror Fiction

A consideration of the state of horror fiction in 2012 would seem to present a tale of two cities. On the one hand, many bookstores no longer feature dedicated horror sections. Barnes & Nobles, aka The Last Behemoth Standing, integrated horror into its general fiction section some time ago. The few horror sections that remain are predictable in the extreme: several anthologies, a host of “V C Andrews” books (she’s long dead), bigger hosts of Stephen King and Dean Koontz novels, and the public domain favorites (Dracula, Frankenstein, Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, etc.). Many of the new works that might find their way to these shelves are labeled “suspense” or “psychological thrillers” by publishers and authors eager to avoid being stranded in what’s perceived as a genre ghetto.

The flip side of this coin turns up in any perusal of a supermarket book rack. The bodice-ripping pirates and cowboys of years past, while still present, have been somewhat shunted aside by a new breed of competition: werewolves, witches, private eyes who are witches, female werewolf private eyes who date warlocks, and vampires, vampires, vampires. My description of the horror shelves left out one omnipresent resident: Laurel K. Hamilton, who’s 21(!!!)-volume-and-counting Anita Blake Vampire Hunter series practically invented this incredibly lucrative publishing niche. Stephanie Meyer’s “Twilight” and its sequels are their own beast, spawning blockbuster films and no doubt helping to drive young fans interest in such successful shows as “True Blood” and “Vampire Diaries”.

So which is it? Has horror gone to ground or is it out conquering new territories? An answer might be found by casting our gaze back to the last time everyone in publishing seemed to agree on just what horror was: the 80s.

The 1980s was host to the last boom in horror publishing. We could look at a lot of reasons for that, but it’s probably easiest to boil it down to two words: Stephen King. King was an absolute juggernaut in the 80s. He sold books by the millions and had the power to focus the reading public’s attention with a simple endorsement. Clive Barker is talented, but the value of having King’s statement that “I’ve seen the future of horror, and his name is Clive Barker” plastered on his book jackets cannot be overstated. Drug store spinner racks (remember those?) and bookstore shelves wound up groaning under the weight of works by Barker, Peter Straub, T. E. D. Klein, John Saul, James Herbert, Ramsey Campbell, Robert R. McCammon, Dean Koontz, Brian Lumley, and others. There was even a fun schism to follow, as the “splatterpunks” such as John Skipp and Craig Spector, whose philosophy could best be expressed by the “Hellraiser” tagline “There Are No Limits”, squared off against the likes of prolific author and anthologist Charles L. Grant and his advocacy of “quiet horror”.

Of course, where there’s success there’s copycats and bandwagon jumpers ready to flood in. Horror looks easy- describe old house, add ghost/masked killer/werewolf, stir- and when it looked easy AND profitable there were more than a few hacks willing to grab whatever genre trope was nearest to hand and churn out 250 brutal pages. Too many publishers were more than happy to foist the results on the public. It was thought that all you needed was an appropriately lurid cover to move units.

The 80s saw horror paperback covers reach a zenith of terrible awesomeness (awesome terribleness?) that almost certainly will never be equaled. They were uniformly black and cherished motifs included but were not limited to: claws ripping through a black background, embossed drops of red blood, embossed screaming faces, embossed anything, enough creepy children to fill 8,000 “The Ring” sequels, holes in the cover through which said children could peer menacingly, names and titles rendered in “spooky” fonts, implements of torture/evisceration, skulls (Brian Lumley’s Necroscope series often seemed to be sponsoring an ongoing “How Many Ways Can You Draw Fangs on a Skull” contest). Such questionable artwork can be cherished in a nostalgic fashion if you’re of a certain questionable bent (author raises hand), but it’s all quite dire if you’ve passed your twelfth birthday. It also has the effect of lending the same air of hackery and desperation to whatever works of quality manage to squeeze through the vetting process.

In time the glut of product and the woeful state of its presentation caused the bottom to drop out of the market. Many of the biggest names soldiered on- King, Koontz, Straub- but many more fell away from the genre- McCammon, Klein, Poppy Z. Brite, etc. Clive Barker morphed into more of a fantasist than a horror writer. A number of writers turned to small presses where they could be published in limited-run collector’s editions and sell more expensive books to a diminished circle of devotees. More and more writers seemed to rankle at the horror tag and insist that they wrote thrillers. Serial killer novels offered as much horrific content as many a work of horror, but were somehow perceived as being more respectable. For the record, Hannibal Lecter eats people for pleasure and wears a guy’s face after helping Clarice find a man making a lady-suit- I’m sorry, that’s horror.

There have been a few attempts to revive horror in the mass marked, such as the defunct Abyss and Leisure Books imprints. But the status quo for some time has essentially been the scenario laid out at the beginning of this article. Many very popular works trade in the trappings of horror, but few seem committed to the task of frightening a reader or inducing a sense of dread.

Thankfully, there are reasons to believe that things could change. Much in the same way that books by Michael Chabon, Jonathan Lethem, and others have helped to make mainstream literature safe for concepts once consigned to the fantasy/sci-fi ghetto, writers like Brian Evenson (Immobility) and Justin Cronin (The Passage, The Twelve) are reminding an increasing number of readers that serious writing chops and things that go bump in the night need not regard each other across an insuperable gulf. Who knows how many of those teenagers transfixed by “Twilight” and its many imitators are going to go looking for a more interesting and complex dose of the horrific in the years to come.

Perhaps the most encouraging way to look at the current state of horror is to view it as a necessary element of the genre’s cyclical nature. Horror isn’t polite. While everyone else is on the front porch drinking in the sun, horror putters around the basement looking for the things we don’t like to talk about on a summer afternoon. Maybe it’s in horror’s best interests to take a cue from some of its most famous protagonists and shun the light, husbanding its strength so it can burst from the darkness stronger than ever when the time is right. Only time will tell, but I know where I’m placing my bets.  



William Ambler lives, works, and reads in Rhode Island. If you badmouth Charles Dickens, he will fight you in the street. He also writes for Huffington Post. 

The Civilized Game of Cricket. Why does the Taliban play it, yet the States doesn’t?

Timeri N. Murari’s new novel The Taliban Cricket Club has been described by one critic as “a sweeping story of love, family, resilience, and survival, featuring an unforgettable heroine determined to help her loved ones win their freedom with a bat and a ball.” In the story, a young female journalist from Afghanistan is shocked to find out that the Taliban intend to win diplomatic respect by establishing their own cricket team, but she’s also tempted to partake illegally in a bid to win her freedom. Far-fetched it may sound, yet Murari’s book is based in much truth. But if cricket is indeed the great civilized sport of the world, shouldn’t the States be making more of an effort?

It’s not as if cricket has been altogether ignored by the USA. In 1844 the first international match between the United States and Canada (full name: The British Empire's Canadian Province) took place. This was even before the international rivalry between England and Australia had begun in earnest. The turnout wasn’t bad (between 10,000 and 20,000 spectators showed up), yet it hardly kick-started a Stateside revolution in the game. And anyway, by this time, the USA were way behind their cricketing counterparts; the origins of cricket can be traced back at least to Tudor England in the 16th century, though some claim that Prince Edward was playing something similar over 200 years prior to this, in the game of “creag.” By the 1760s, England’s first cricket club was formed in Hambledon, Hampshire; by the first half of the 18th century the game was beginning to infiltrate India, due to the effect of the British Empire; and come 1792 the famous Calcutta Cricket and Football Club had been established.

You can imagine the sweeping influence of such a game, especially taking into account its powerful patrons and the fact that in such humid climbs as India, it doesn’t require the strenuous activity of other sports. But even centuries on since its birth, the status of cricket continues to grow. Expert Martin Rogers recently reported on the 2012 T20 Cricket World Cup picking up an audience of 1.5 billion, going on to write “the tournament will captivate the top 12 nations in cricket, of which the United States is not one.” The reasons for this US no-show are many and historical, but as Jon Gemmell has it, the 1776 declaration of Independence did much to enforce the end of interest in cricket (playing it was seen as an unofficial alliance with Britain, not to mention ‘un-puritanical’), while during the Civil War, baseball simply proved more practical for peripatetic soldiers to play than its English cousin.

Afghanistan, on the other hand, is one of the teams playing in the T20 Cricket World Cup. And this is where The Taliban Cricket Club comes in. An interview with Timeri N. Murari in the Economist explains how 12 years ago, the Taliban reasoned that their countrymen could pick up a bat and ball, in order to show to the rest of the world what wonderful sports they were. As Murari explains, the game of cricket was the perfect choice on more than level; not only is it appreciated on the world stage, but the clothing also means that the body is covered.

So is the USA letting itself down by not representing itself at the World Cup; by excluding itself from the one sport above all others that is known for its democracy? Ultimately impressions are less important than the morals behind them, and although the Taliban might seem to be playing ball, the truth is very different. As Murari puts it, the situation is: “as strange as you can get, because [the Taliban] virtually banned everything, including kite flying, chess, music, dancing, even clapping in the country. I thought: it’s such an oxymoron.” In the end, it is democracy and free choice that has led to the USA concluding there are other games (baseball would seem to be the substitute in this case) they would rather get excited about. Whereas in Afghanistan, it’s coldly announced to the people what the national game will be. And that just isn’t cricket.

Will Noble is a literary contributor for iDreamBooks.  

Do Book Critics Like Bestsellers?

It’s easy to be believe that the latest bestseller is a ground-breaking panorama of passion, tragedy and humour with an insightful edge surpassing the combined wisdom of Austen, Tolstoy and Cartland. You’re hearing about this new book everywhere, so it must be good. Then you read the reviews. And you realize the bestselling book of 2012 is not necessarily the best-written book of the year.

If you prefer to judge a book by its content rather than its bestseller status, you can turn to reviews to make an informed decision before you buy. Bestsellers are worthy of discussion simply because they are bestsellers, so most of them will build up a portfolio of between ten and twenty reviews, from professional book critics. Editorial reviews, such as those by professional book critics at New York Times tend to have the most authentic analysis. Some reviews will help you recognise the latest book as a promising new friend; others will make you question why the book was published at all.

A survey of the bestsellers currently on, a book discovery site that aggregates editorial book reviews to generate a highly authentic rating, reveals that only half of the books on the current bestseller list are critically acclaimed. So if you’re curious about the truth behind the latest bestselling masterpiece, you can check the critically derived rating before you dive into an anthology of reviews.

If you are a loyal fan of Mary Higgins Clark, you might choose to ignore the frowning cloud next to her latest bestseller, The Lost Years (only 52% of the reviews were favourable). Devotees of James Patterson might prefer Now You See Her (with 86% approval rating) to his other current bestsellers, 9th Judgement with 66% or The Postcard Killers with 63%. I can’t help wondering whether Patterson could improve his critical ranking if he stopped trying to have so many bestsellers on the chart at the same time. But Patterson – who is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as having more New York Times bestsellers than any other writer – probably knows what he’s doing.

Personally, I love reading the reviews themselves – especially the bad ones. To paraphrase Tolstoy, all positive reviews resemble one another, all critical reviews are scathing in their own way. Tina Fey’s bestselling memoir, BossyPants has earned a borderline score of 73% approval rating. While the positive reviews dutifully report “I laughed out loud at every page” while paying homage to Fey’s biting wit and comic timing, the negative reviews have a certain biting wit of their own.

That Woman by Anna Sebba, the latest biography of the notorious Wallis Simpson, falls just below 70%. All the critics acknowledge the challenge Sebba faced in presenting the complex saga of an extremely unsympathetic character but only 68% of reviewers believe she succeeded in meeting the challenge. (Although Wallis would be gratified to know That Woman scored much higher than Elizabeth the Queen). My favourite negative review, by Steve Donoghue of Open Letters Monthy, begins by jeering at the cover photograph chosen for That Woman: “The taut, sinewy grasper trying her best to look thoughtful, vulnerable, and even alluring, ‘that woman’ is Wallis Warfield Simpson…” Donoghue’s review was so enjoyable and thought-provoking, I’m secretly hoping he’ll stretch it out into his own biography of the Duchess of Windsor.

Like Wallis herself, most books only begin as bestsellers through the public interest in a prolific author or a popular subject. They remain on the best-seller list when critics and reader agree that the book’s unique narrative, descriptive power or sheer readability entitles it to bestseller status. So if you prefer some flirtatious courtship before embarking on a long-term relationship with your next book, try reading the reviewsespecially the editorial ones. And when you’re ready to make the commitment, you’re sure to enjoy at least one happy weekend curled up together in your armchair.


Kirsten Ehrlich Davies is a Literary Analyst at, a web app that aggregates editorial reviews from publications like NY Times to generate a highly authentic book rating.