A Look At Book Reviews

Reader Reviews: A Collage of Lively Opinions

Image by Ben Kerckx at Pixabay

Do you write book reviews?
Do you read book reviews?
How much do reviews affect your choice of stories?
Have you ever been prompted to read a book just because the reviews were all over the map and you wanted to find out for yourself if it’s good or not?

Browsing on Amazon recently, I stopped to read the listing for a new western, then the reviews. And what a mixed bag!
“Childish time waster…start-to-finish nonsense…simplistic…lumbering text.”
While other reviewers said, “Good quick read…thrilling characters…

“Well-written traditional western…hero with high standards.”

Since I’ve started paying more attention to book reviews, I’ve marveled at the variety of adjectives used to describe a story — sometimes the same story!
poorly edited
slow to start, but the pace picks up
good escapism

Some people wax eloquent with their descriptions:
“The inconsistencies are continual and grating…”
“Dialogue vaguely reminiscent of the Trixie Beldon series”
“The execution of the story was more like slaughter.”
I’m not sure what to make of a “western” reviewer’s point-in-favour, though: “Clean fighting by hand instead of shooting and wasting bullets.”

Sometimes a crossing of the Atlantic works, and sometimes it doesn’t. One of the British readers’ most frequent complaints is about American/Canadian writers who didn’t do their homework.
“Complete lack of research into English spoken in the UK.”
“Full of Americanisms.”
But the next reviewer, obviously not up on those differences, says:
“Brilliant read. Cannot wait for the next book!”

For me, the age of the main character makes a difference. If she’s a teen, I expect some immaturity, emotional explosions and moody, self-centered behavior. We’ve all been there. But when the character is thirty-one, has been in the work force for over ten years, and still behaves like a volatile teen, I note that in my review.

The situation of the main character appeals more to some readers, even if the character herself is kind of blah. One reader says, “I like the way a senior woman starts out on a new adventure.”
Other reviewers say that the story drags:
“Glad it was over. Not very interesting.”
“Reads like a travel brochure.”
“If you suffer from insomnia, read this book.”

I believe that some reviewers think more of encouraging the writer, and leave reviews that focus on the positives and skip over glaring faults like poor research, inconsistent behaviour or plot holes. Other reviewers are obviously writing to inform potential buyers.

A writer who wants good reviews must keep up-to-date notes on characters and changes made. Reviewers often note it when a writer hasn’t kept her facts straight:
“In the first chapter we read that her father died two years ago and she still misses him. In Chapter five we learn that he died almost ten years ago.

“In the first book of the series, her nephew was Peter. In the second book his name was Richard. But in the third book he was back to Peter again!”

Sometimes I wonder about the motive of the reviewer. After the majority of reviewers found the above book slow and the MC rather a dim bulb, along comes this enthusiastic:
“Fascinating and poignant story with lovely characters who made you want to know them as friends.”
Was this submitted by the writer’s best friend or beloved niece? Is this her honest opinion, or has someone been paid to write this review?

Now I’d like to hear what you think of reviews and how much you pay attention to them?

14 thoughts on “A Look At Book Reviews

  1. You are right. Over-enthusiastic reviews are probably written by the author’s relatives or friends who are out to support the book no matter what. I usually read reviews of a more rational kind with more details revealed. Still, my taste is different from others and even a book with good reviews can be a disappointment to me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As a writer who’s been reviewed (and a reader who writes reviews), well… Some reviews my books have gotten are just mean, like complaining that a book that (openly) deals with a Swiss family during the Protestant Reformation is too focused on religion. Considering that it’s (openly) a book ABOUT a historic religious upheaval and a defining moment in Western Culture, I had to shake my head and think, “What an idiot. If you don’t want to read about Christianity, don’t read books that say on the back cover, ‘this book is about Christianity’.

    Lots of reviews complain because a book isn’t what the reader wanted it to be. Well, that’s not a book’s job. One review I got complained that my book was nothing like a book written by another writer, about another, very different, subject. I looked into the book to which mine was compared and there were absolutely no points of comparison other than the books were both written in English. That was a personal taste issue and that’s always part of a review.

    We denigrate personal taste, but it’s powerful, and a good reviewer should have the guts to say, “Someone else would enjoy this book, but it’s not my thing.” Too many reviewers figure if a book isn’t their taste that it’s badly written. We live in a culture that has made it hard to say, “I just don’t like it.” Every reader has biases and it’s good to know what they are.

    In my job judging books for a writing contest, I judge in genres in which my biases and personal taste aren’t likely to interfere simply because it’s difficult overcoming them constantly. In fact, I can’t. Certain kinds of books are a challenge for me to look at objectively. I try, but I won’t say I succeed 100%. Probably no one can.

    Besides self knowledge, a reviewer should be able to evaluate a book on its merits. I recently reviewed a book for a fellow writer and she was afraid for me to review it because it wasn’t my preferred genre. She was surprised when I did review the book on its merits. That demands enough imagination to enter the writer’s world and perspective to see what the book itself wants to say to the people for whom it was written.

    Reading reviews of films on Amazon — ah. Some of them are the future judging the past. That bothers me a lot. People in 1850 are not us, but there, again, it’s a journey of imagination that might be difficult for people to make.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comments. I agree with what you’ve written. If the reader doesn’t like XXX, they may read a book for variety — which never hurts — but doesn’t need to leave a review saying “This is awful.” If I never read horror and am doing a one-off, it’s pointless for me to leave a review saying, “There was so much horror in this story!” (Well, yeah, eh!)

      You’re right about saying, “I just didn’t connect with this,” Unless there are real writing flaws. As to, We live in a culture that has made it hard to say, “I just don’t like it.” I’m not sure about that. Some readers seem quite free with an “I hated this book.” I’ve read a few where it seemed reviewers were out to use as many colorful negatives as possible — maybe trying to be eloquent or witty? 😉

      I read in various genres and leave reviews, thinking of the quality of the writing, the pacing, the characters, if the dialogue flows. Then I may put in specific comments — which I do more for the author’s benefit. I like stories to be realistic and impossible reactions, human or technical, grate on me. Like where a character fell off the back of the train, somehow landing on the tracks in front of the train — and far enough ahead that the train was able to stop without running over him. I noted that mystery in my review. 😉

      Romances where the MC is rude and nasty time and again to the wannabe lover and he keeps coming back. Sorry. This won’t happen in real life. Or mysteries where the character gets in people’s faces, brutally demanding answers, and the listeners spill it all. Fat chance! The normal human reaction to force is resistance. “None of your business. Get lost.” Or end “reveals” where the guilty one explains at length why and how he did it — while the fuse is sizzling away inch by inch.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. People will say, “I hated this book” but then attempt to legitimize that by faux-objective reasons. I guess that’s what I meant. Some reviews are written by frustrated writers… 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I only look at reviews when I’m uncertain, however, I do look at the average ratings score. If it’s low, that will prompt me to read through reviews. Usually though, if the title and synopsis pull me in, I’m in whatever others may say.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Reviews – books or movies – are subject to personal preferences and tastes. I try to review objectively. I read a book that had rave reviews, including by an author friend I admire. I loathed the book. I will often read a book suggested by a friend, once I’ve read the synopsis and realise it should be my cup of tea. The random reviews on-line? Meh… Not so much!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right; we are all so different. I find it interesting to read what others thought of the book, but I don’t necessarily take any of them as the final word. But if someone says, “Poor grammar and lots of typos.” I take that more seriously. The writer didn’t take the time to polish their work.

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