The Lowdown on Book Reviews

Book reviews. Authors crave them, readers refer to them, magazines flaunt them. They’re necessary. And that’s that. Right?

I guess not! Turns out that’s NOT all there is to it. Have you ever read a book that got great professional reviews but you hated it? Ever had friends tell you that a certain book is terrible, only when you ignore them and secretly check it out, you find out that you really enjoy it? How can this be? Are reviews not all they’re cracked up to be?

review: (v.) to go over or examine critically or deliberately; to give a critical evaluation of

Thank you, Merriam-Webster, for that spectacular definition of review. Moving on.

There are a gazillion books out there — especially right now with self-publishing being much easier to do than it ever was before. How is a body to choose books from the giganto lists? That’s where reviews are helpful; in fact, to me, that’s the whole point of them. Unless they make up The Holy Book of Choosing Books [cue bright light from the sky and chorus of enlightened voices]. Then reviews become dangerous. Why? Because we don’t all like the same books! A reviewer’s job is very basic: make sure a book gets into the hands of someone who will love it and not into the hands of someone who will barf on it.

Sometimes reviewers take themselves too seriously and decide that if they hate/love a book, then duh, everyone else ought to hate/love it! But those reviewers have forgotten that their job is not to write The Holy Book of Choosing Books.

While I love writing, I also love reading, and I like to review the books I read (er, when I have time). But I don’t want my opinion of a book making other people want to (or not) read it. I want you to find the stuff you’re interested in. The “star” system muddles that up, of course, because you see a 2-star and think “Oh, that’s a terrible book,” or you see a 5-star and think, “Ah, I must check out that one.” So that’s why we as readers need to remind ourselves that stars are a guideline and we shouldn’t base our choices on them — that’s just some other readers’ tastes and might not be ours.

When I write a review, I aim for three parts:

  • tell potential readers what the basic gist of the book is,
  • give my personal take on the book — the good AND the bad,
  • suggest what kinds of readers might enjoy the book (whether or not I liked it)
  • What I like about this formula is that it gives you a chance to figure out if the book sounds like something you’d enjoy or something you’d rather avoid. My favorite thing to see (ok, not my FAVORITE, but it does give me nice happy feelings) is when someone reads my review and adds a book that I said I didn’t like. Am I nuts — why?? Because it means my review didn’t make them want to avoid a book they might enjoy. Because, all in all, I just want to help you get the right books into your hands!

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