Writing Honest Book Reviews

10 Sep

There is a lot of criticism these days about biased book reviews and writers reviewing each others books in order to post glowing reviews. I write reviews for Suspense Magazine, and I also occasionally read a book by a fellow writer and post the review on Amazon and GoodReads. I never write a negative review. And I have read some books that I did not enjoy at all.

Even if I don’t like a book, there is probably someone out there who will. There is no reason to trash someone hard work. I describe the plot and characters in the novel, and try to place to story in a category. If it is a story of zombie aliens rampaging the countryside, I make that clear. It’s not a story that appeals to me, but it appeals to some readers.

If I really believe some parts of the book are badly written, I may just question those aspects and try to put it in perspective. If a writer uses an expression that is regional, but doesn’t fit the character, I will mention it. If a writer makes a small error, as in a recent example when I reviewed a book in which the “French press was whistling in the kitchen,” my antenna for errors goes up, but I won’t mention it. Everyone makes mistakes.

I  have seen reviews that criticized the use of swear words in a novel, and either too many sex scenes or too few. As a reviewer, I want to be as honest as possible without dwelling on the weaknesses of the book or the author.

As a reader, I want to read reviews that tell me what to expect, but I always take extremely negative reviews (of anything, not just books) with a grain of salt. Long, negative rants just sound like the reviewer had a bad day, or dislikes the book or author for some other reason.

Check out some of my reviews on Amazon or GoodReads and tell me what you think. See if you can tell if I liked or dislike the books.

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3 Responses to “Writing Honest Book Reviews”

  1. A.M.B. September 10, 2012 at 4:20 pm #

    I do write negative reviews, but rarely, and I try to substantiate my opinion with examples from the text and background. I completely agree that it boils down to a matter of taste most of the time, but there are some objective elements that a reviewer could analyze. For example, if a novel has obvious plot holes, inaccuracies, or uses unconventional grammar, then I believe potential consumers should know that. It might not bother everyone, but it would bother me to spend $9.99 or $12.99 on an ebook with those types of errors. I try not to forget that there is a person behind every book, but I also don’t want my sympathy for that person to cloud my opinion of his or her work.

  2. suzy henderson September 10, 2012 at 4:37 pm #

    Hi there.
    I agree with your reviewing style completely. You’re also quite right in your view about not criticizing a book simply because you do not enjoy it. Genre is subjective, and as a reviewer it is perhaps more important to look at the words which underpin each scene. Recently I saw what I felt was most unnecessary, a derogatory review of one of Hemingway’s books. If that was not bad enough, the person had decided that Hemingway had a writing style of a young boy -I needn’t be specific and state facts -I’m sure you get the point. That sort of reviewing is pointless and almost vindictive. As you said, perhaps they’d had a bad day. Or perhaps they were envious of such literary talent. Great reading your posts.
    Best wishes
    Suzy

  3. P. C. Zick September 10, 2012 at 7:15 pm #

    Your post is timely for me. Thanks for writing it. I just received my first 1-star review and at first, it stung. But then I put it into perspective. If she truly wanted to give constructive feedback then there are ways to do it while still giving a meaningful review. To me, giving any author a 1-star is mean-spirited rather than meaningful. Thank you for the good work you do with your reviews. I read most of them. You’re fair, but I can tell which ones are your least favorite. For me as a reader, I give much more credence to that type of review than one that gives 1-star and is the exact opposite of all the other reviews posted. This person stated she didn’t even read the whole book, which is another of my pet peeves with reviewers. How can you review any book without having read it? This applies to giving a 5-star review for a book and stating, “I can’t wait to read this book” – I’ve actually seen a few reviews like that! Again, it’s meaningless.I’m grateful for your post.

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