Cathy Lim

It's no longer part of her job, but Cathy Carmode Lim still claims a good excuse for reading.

Lim has been critiquing books professionally for more than a decade, and although she recently left her position as a book-page editor for an Alabama newspaper, she continues to devote energy to reading and reviewing.

"I just can't help myself," Lim said.

But it's not for entertainment purposes only. Lim has an objective in mind each time she updates her personal Web site — keeping other reading enthusiasts apprised of what they'll encounter when they pick up a recently published book.

"It's such a grab bag," she said. "There's just so much out there."

Lim has become accustomed to recommending books. She began writing reviews after the birth of her first child, and for two years she worked as the editor of the Anniston Star's Sunday book page. Friends and associates constantly asked for her opinions on what she was reading,

"I have this wonderful opportunity," she said. "I might as well put it out there so more people can get that."

In January, Lim launched ratedreads.com, which she says is dedicated "to the readers who don't like excessive vulgar language, violence or explicit sex in their otherwise good books." She designed a rating system that evaluates the amount of potentially offensive content in books, which are categorized as either "none," "mild," "moderate" or "off my charts." Lim provides a synopsis and review for each book, in addition to a few sentences that specify why the book received the rating it did.

"They'll know exactly what they're getting into," she said.

Lim, who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and now lives in California, said many books contain one or two instances of offensive material, similar to a PG-13 movie. But unlike films, there's no rating system in place for readers to consult.

"It's impossible to know if that's the case with a book," she said.

Lim's recent reviews include Stephenie Meyer's "The Host," which received a "mild" rating, and Poppy Adams' "The Sister," which was categorized as "moderate." Just this year, Lim listed six books as "off my charts," meaning that she can't recommend the book as "clean."

The former Brigham Young University student and returned missionary focuses her efforts on recently published books, where there is the greatest dearth of information, she said. Lim tries to select works that she suspects will meet her standards, and she's learned a few lessons along the way. For instance, she avoids any stories labeled as "coming of age," and just because a book is categorized as "young adult," it's not automatically a safe read.

Lim does most of the work herself, but is hoping to enlist more help from book enthusiasts who want to contribute reviews. Ratedreads.com also links to other sites that provide "clean" book reviews, and Lim is hoping to implement more interactive features in the future.

While she thinks that book editors in New York have an entirely different perspective, Lim is confident that most people are looking for relatively clean material to read. While in Alabama, she participated in a book club where she was the only Mormon, but found common ground when it came to standards.

"They didn't want to pick up something that was really offensive," she said. "I don't want to pick up a book and just be pummeled with bad language and detailed sexual scenes. A lot of Americans feel the same way."


E-mail: ashill@desnews.com