A Reader’s Guide to Book Reviews

Snake-headI love books–my love of them is why I started writing, wishing to entertain others as I have been entertained over the years. Long before I picked up a pen, I escaped to other worlds created by authors. Book reviews helped me find books to read. Today, book reviews still serve the same purpose. There’s an issue, however.

There are several types of reviewers, and not all of them are ‘good.’ I’ll start with the bad ones. These aren’t actually book reviewers at all, but individuals who charge authors money to add glowing commentary to their novel on Amazon, Goodreads, and the iBooks Store, and other ebook vendors. These ‘reviewers’ don’t read the book; they might check out the description or read other reviews so their review looks legitimate when it is not.

This practice hurts all lovers of books. It prevents us readers from being able to sift out the bad books from the good ones.

That’s where you and I come in. As readers and lovers of books, we can help change this gross practice, and it’s really simple to do. All we need to do is write reviews. Once upon a time, I used to be afraid of writing book reviews. Would I hurt the author’s feelings? What should I say? How should I say it?

This guide is meant for the most important type of reviewer: the reader of books. It doesn’t matter if you read one book a year or one book a day. If you read, your voice should be heard. Sometimes you will love a book. Sometimes you will hate a book. Sometimes you’ll enjoy it. Sometimes it’ll leave you feeling rather meh about the whole situation.

Book bloggers and serious readers already know how to review books, although I’m definitely interested in hearing what you have to say on the subject!

To begin, I want to talk about the star rating system. Amazon and Goodreads use two slightly different scales. While they’re both on a five star system, Amazon has a higher number of four star and higher reviews. Why is this? I’m paraphrasing this: in Goodreads’ system. Three stars is loved the book, two stars is liked the book, and one star is didn’t like the book. Four stars is the next level of absolutely loved the book, and five stars is the best book ever. In amazon’s system, three stars means you liked the book. My explanations below fall more in line with Amazon’s way of doing things. Why Amazon’s way of doing things? I find it is more balanced and fair to the author–and to other readers. Three is the middle of the road.

I’ll start with the bottom and work my way up.

One Star

Authors dread one-star reviews. The reader absolutely hated the book; that’s all there is to it. Maybe the book is filled with errors. Maybe the author simply has no understanding of the English language. Perhaps it is something else, but the reader hated this book with every fiber of their being. There are some variances to this, though.

I, personally, will not leave a review on a book so bad I can’t finish it–at least not on Amazon or Goodreads. There is no “Zero-star Review” option available. I have several reasons for why I won’t review a book I can’t finish. At the top of the list is the fact I am so against the title I can’t maintain any form of subjectivity. I can’t approach it from other angles. I can’t look at it and determine why someone else might like it.

So, for me, a one-star review is a really bad book, filled with errors, but not so bad I couldn’t finish it. It may have cost me tears, but I got through the title. That’s something, right?

Terrible, flat characters and a complete disregard for the English language will force me to leave a one-star review. The book has to be pretty bad for me to leave a review that negative. There are very few books I would rank at one-star, simply because my tolerance for bad books is pretty low. If I’m finishing the book, it’s usually a two-star or better for me. I’ll explain why in a moment.

In short, if you hated the book with every fiber of your being yet still managed to finish it, that’s one-star territory. (P.S.: Please don’t be that reader who one-star reviews a book because you personally dislike the author or their gender. That’s not a love for books, that’s a hatred for them.)

Two Stars

You disliked the book, but you didn’t hate the book. It was ‘meh’ at best. There’s likely a metric fuckton of spelling and grammar errors in the book. You finished, but you want to wash your brain with bleach. That said, there were moments you enjoyed in the book, albeit grudgingly. That’s a two-star book for me. Bleach and meh. It’s a gross cocktail.

Three Stars

Here is where rating and reviewing books starts becoming tricky. Authors cry and whine about receiving three star reviews, but honestly, a good three star review is worth its weight in gold. They’re the hardest to swallow as an author. Why? The reviewer is critical. The reviewer liked the book, but there are problems with it. The reader was invested enough to like the book, but the reader also didn’t love the book–and will often say why. It’s a bitter pill to swallow.

Make them swallow it.

There is nothing wrong with a three-star review. They’re good. You liked the book. You enjoyed it. There were things that bothered you, but you don’t feel you wasted your time reading it.

You liked the book.

Three-star reviews are the hardest to write, because it’s difficult to voice why you liked a book but didn’t love the book. Here’s my secret to writing them: I say I liked it, it was a decent read, and if I know what prevented me from loving the book, I’ll tell them why.

Write exactly as much as you are comfortable with. The first few reviews are always difficult–it’s embarrassing leaving those first reviews, and it’s stressful for those of us who don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings.

Four Stars

You loved this book. It isn’t your favorite book, but you loved it. You might read it again. You enjoyed just about everything in this book, but there was a little point or two you just couldn’t take; maybe you found a few more spelling errors in the book than you liked. Maybe one character just got on your nerves too much, but at the end of the day, you loved this book.

Five Stars

You loved this book so much you would buy it twice if you could. You’ve read it once, you’ll probably read it twice, and you would read it in the shower if you thought you could get away with it. Before e-readers, this is the book you dropped in the tub, ruined, and shamelessly purchased a second copy to replace it. You love this book. It has gone beyond love. You have a personal relationship with this title.

Any book I’d read twice gets five stars from me. This book wowed me. It doesn’t even need to be a good book by ‘literary standards.’ (Fuck literary standards. You should love the book you love, and no one should take that from you. Those reviewers who decry titles without ‘literary merit’ don’t love books or book lovers. It’s a myth, and don’t let it define you.)

You loved this book, plain and simple. Go ahead and gush. Say why. If you could relate with a character, great! No matter what, this book is special to you, and you should never let someone take that away from you.

Writing the Review

This is the hard part. You have to write the review. This is some scary shit. Maybe you’re not used to giving your opinion. Maybe you’re afraid of hurting the author’s feelings. Maybe you’re worried your review won’t be good enough. Well, here’s the deal: your review is your reaction to the book. It is a personal thing, and no one can take that from you. A good author is going to say two words to you: “thank you.”

The ones who can’t maintain their professionalism ruin the party for every other author out there, but if you meet one of them, walk away. If an author is excited you loved their book, don’t be afraid of talking to them. They’re people, too. Despite a lot of us being shy by nature, we love books as much as you do. That’s why most of us started writing in the first place.

Here are some examples of reviews I would leave for titles. I’ll review some of the big bestsellers I have read.

Twilight – Three stars

My Review: Twilight was okay. I can understand why a lot of people like Bella. She’s a pretty real character. Some of the storyline is a bit weird and it isn’t up my alley–and I don’t know what the deal is with the vampires, but whatever. Bella was a real person, and I could easily relate to her. The writing wasn’t bad, wasn’t great. An okay book.

harry potter & the PHILOSOPHER’S stone- five stars

My Review: While I view the rest of the seres as three to four stars, the first book in the series is one I come back to time and time again. Harry is that boy under the stairwell I can truly relate to… and he has a chance to escape the world weighing down on him. In so many ways, he is me–and he is me if I could run away to a magical world and make a difference in the world.

I loved this book.

fifty shades of grey – two stars

My Review: This book is comically bad. That it’s idea-thefting fanfiction is bad enough, but this book glorifies abuse in so many different ways. Sure, Anastasia is the girl every girl wants to be; she’s the average, normal girl who is noticed by the strong, powerful, and wealthy man. It plays on so many fantasies. The problem? It’s just so poorly written and crosses so many abuse lines I simply couldn’t like it.

If the BDSM had been closer to the truth, if the writing had a little more care, I would have really liked the fantasy. I won’t like, I was that bookish, average, never-noticed-by-anyone girl. There’s allure to the strong, powerful, and wealthy man. But like this? It is just too close to abuse for me to enjoy. If the BDSM had been handled with more care, if it wasn’t so blatantly stolen from another author’s hard work, I may have liked it.

in conclusion

Read and review. My samples above are actually longer than you need to do, honestly. “I liked this book. I do/don’t recommend it. I really enjoyed/disliked ‘this part’ of ‘this character’s’ personality, and I really enjoyed/disliked ‘this part’ of the story.” is more than sufficient. It doesn’t have to be much–just enough to let other readers know why you would recommend this book.

Once you review the book, take a moment to share it with your friends. Post a link to it on twitter, facebook, or google+. Let folks know you read it and if you recommend it. Doing this is a great way to support authors.

Thanks for reading, book lovers!

  1. I can’t wait until the technology exists to just pull a review from my thoughts without me having to stop and write it. My review writing had been lazy of late because there’s so many other things I want to do. Like read more books, watch sci-fi and fantasy movies and shows, play games, sleep, and more! But I try to get reviews written because they’re important to me as a reader and to authors so that their books get attention – especially with the begging the scenes stuff going on at amazon!

    • I totally agree. I’m behind on my reading *and* reviewing, but I’m hoping I can fit in a lot more reading in the upcoming months–and making sure I review the really good books so others can find them.

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