There was a lively discussion on the Five Star Authors email list recently about reviews posted on Amazon.com. How helpful they are, how accurate, how fair, and whether or not Amazon reviews influence readers to buy. I think Amazon reviews influence most reader buying decisions, but they are helpful to me in another way.
Here's how I use Amazon reviews:
I never (hardly ever) buy a book based on good reviews. (Book covers don't persuade me to pick up a book either, but I know I'm in the minority on that.) I buy a book based on the summary of the story. If it sounds like something I'm interested in, I buy the book.
Then I go to Amazon for the reviews, BUT I read the one and two star reviews first. Why? Because I want to see if they are constructive reviews or merely general bashing. I ignore bashing. Then I browse the positive reviews. After that I read the book.
If I find myself losing interest in the book, or not liking it for whatever reason, I go back to the Amazon reviews and read them again. If the reason I am not liking the book is mentioned by at least one other reviewer, I usually don't finish the book. (If it's not, I give the book another chance and read more to see if it eventually engages me.) The reason for that is because I have more books in my bookcase, on my "to be read pile", and on my Amazon Wish List than I have time left on this earth to read them.
This wasn't always the case. I used to read every single word of a book out of respect for the author's hard work and effort. Then I amended that to reading at least the first 50 pages before giving up on it. Now I don't waste time plowing through any book that isn't holding my interest.
Here are some of the really good books I've read lately:
The Heat of the Moon by Sandra Parshall
Half Broken Things by Morag Joss
Beautiful Lies by Lisa Unger