So what does make a good review? Is it really all about that glowing five-star review? Or is it about getting genuine honest feedback? I rarely give out 1 or 2-star reviews mainly because if I’m going to rate it that low, then I’m really not enjoying it, so why continue? Life is too short and there are way too many books out there to waste time on books that don’t work for me. See what I did there – books that don’t work for me, not every book is going to be, what doesn’t work for me might just be someone else’s favourite read of the year.
My average rating is around 3-4 stars. I think I’ve just gotten better at choosing books that I know are going to be my thing. I know that women’s fiction and self-help books aren’t going to appeal to me so I’ve gotten better at accepting review requests that I know are going to be both productive to me and the author. I do this as a hobby and don’t want to waste my time or the author’s, especially when I know another blogger would be a better fit. I’ve been doing this since 2019 and I think I’ve got into a good flow and know what suits my reading styles and blog a lot more.
So what does make a good review? I don’t know about you but after I finish reading a book, I like to take some time to get my thoughts in order. I like to mull over certain aspects, usually relatable quotes, characterisation arcs, and the overall plot development. What did I really like and what didn’t I enjoy so much? I then log into Goodreads and storygraph to see what other readers thought of the book. It’s sometimes really helpful to get the insight of others when trying to either verbalise or write down your own thoughts. I view it as a little bit like an informal, virtual book club. Your thoughts become clearer, and you get that a-ha moment.
Everybody has different reasons for writing a book review in the first place. Some people read for fun and are happy to leave a few sentences as a review on Amazon and that is totally ok. I believe that any review helps an author out, it gets their book seen more, and as long as it’s respectful then there’s no harm in it. I personally like to plan my review out like a piece of academic writing, I like to convey my feelings and analyse the book. I love looking at characters’ motivations and backstories and relating that to what happens further on. I know this might make me sound a bit pathetic but I love saying exactly how a book made me feel. Have you ever read a book that shocked you so much that you took a big gasp of breath? Yeah, me too, and it’s those feelings I live for when reading fiction. I really think that is a good signifier of a helpful book review – the author realises that their book had an impact, that it had a purpose.
So what are the core elements of a good book review? I generally don’t tend to regurgitate the synopsis. If a reader is really interested in reading the book then that is easily accessible. No one really reads a book review for another version of the synopsis. I like to give a sense of where, who and why. Where is the book set, who are the main characters and what are their motivations? I generally think that that works for almost any book in any genre. I typically review horror, thriller, and fantasy and I think it’s a good system for those types of stories.
I then will lay out the key elements of the story. These can be things that made the book unique, how it made you feel, and analyse the text in a bit more detail. What were the specific elements of the book that made you love it or hate it? For instance, I can get really bogged down with a lot of POV’s from multiple characters. It’s a personal dislike, but I just find I can get confused with many different opinions without constantly taking notes whilst reading and I don’t always want to be doing that. I’m a bit of a simple creature. I’m not hugely attracted to a story told in second person POV and generally, that’s sometimes enough for me to give up on a story. Mentioning all these aspects is really useful when constructing your book review.
I think sometimes especially in controversial or marmite books, as I like to call them, feelings and emotions can get in the way of describing the key elements of a book. Sometimes readers can get so caught up in how they feel about a story, especially one they dislike that they fail to concisely describe these elements. Just because you had a strong reaction to a character or their motivations doesn’t mean you tear it to pieces, try to talk about it in a positive light. Imagine you had written the book; you know it isn’t going to be for everyone, but it doesn’t do either the community or your readers any good to constantly be trashing books that didn’t work for you.
At the end of the day, reading and book reviews are entirely subjective. My method of writing a review and my taste in books are personal. What works for me won’t necessarily work for you, and that is ok. I just think it’s really important that the reviewer takes into account that it is their own personal opinion and that elements that don’t work for them doesn’t mean that the book is crap. I think that needs to be obvious going into the reviewing process.