Saturday, April 16, 2011

What do you think about book reviews?

5 Stars

How do you feel about writing book reviews and rating the books? I have a hard time with them. I'd like to give 5 stars, but if I give them to every book I like, my reviews won't mean anything.
Goodreads' rating descriptions appeal to me, but honestly, most books come under 3 or 4 stars that way.
1 - didn't like
2 - it was okay
3 - liked it
4 - really liked it
5 - it was amazing
Another problem is that I have a lot of friends who are writers, and for the most part, I love what they write. But that 5-star rating? I don't know. Should that be reserved for books such as The Kite Runner, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Secret Life of Bees, and Beach Music? Those books were very special in my view. Or does it just mean books I loved?
5 Stars
Will my friends be hurt if I don't give them 5 stars? I certainly don't mean it to be taking anything from their books. I'm still thinking about this. Maybe I should publish my own rating system on Goodreads and use 5 stars for books I love and often read several times.
Of course, if I really dislike a book, I wouldn't review it and probably didn't finish it anyway. I used to feel compelled to finish what I started, but life's too short. I don't have enough time to read what I'd like, and I don't plan to waste it on one I don't like.
Those stars include my own. I think Haunting Refrain and The Peeper are good, but I can't honestly put them in that stellar group with To Kill a Mockingbird or Gone with the Wind.
My other pet peeve is reviews that give a synopsis of the book. I skip those and absolutely won't write them. When I've accidentally read one, I feel I don't need to read the book, that I already know what happens. And spoilers drive me nuts. Why do people feel the need to publish the key to the story and take away all the suspense? At least it should be clearly marked that it contains spoilers.
Mostly I try to leave off the rating and just say how I felt about it. I'd like to know how you feel about it and what you do.


Polly said...

I agree wholeheartedly. I'm finding books that I LOVE are harder to find. I thought I found a winner in The Lincoln Lawyer recently. Then I got to the end and found it unsatisfying. I won't give away why because I'd spoil the ending. I've been asked to write reviews by writer friends and feel obligated to give them higher marks than I would if I didn't know them. This is uncomfortable for me. What to do? As writers, we all look for that review that will make someone eager to buy our books. But I know I've never written a book to compare with the ones you mentioned. Not even close.

Ellis Vidler said...

Nor me. I'll never be that kind of writer, but I can honestly say your books are good reads, entertaining, with good characters and stories that I love. So what do I do?

Maryn said...

Maybe reviews should be divided by genre, and within genre, tiers like fun, beach read, a thrill ride, etc. It's not quite fair to compare a great legal thriller with a literary masterpiece with a fun novel. All might be fives, but they're written to different standards and fulfill different needs in the reader. Just a thought.

Peg Brantley said...

I like your idea, Maryn. I also think most of us know we aren't going to write anyone's all-time favorite. For me, those are A MAN IN FULL, MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA and DIVINE SECRETS OF THE YA-YA SISTERHOOD. To be honest, I sort of trust 4-star reviews more than 5.

And I totally agree about not giving a synopsis of the book. Short and simple is usually best.

Marilyn Levinson said...

Lately I've been asked to write reviews of friends' books. They expect rave reviews, and I can't rave if I don't feel it. In the future, I'm thinking of saying, "Sorry, no can do."

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Ellis,

I take the opposite approach to this dilemma. Someone who is a writer friend wouldn't ask me for a review unless they "needed" one. Sure I have a professional reputation, but opinions are subjective. I've read books (and watched movies) that have had outstanding big time reviews and I hated them.

My view is this - if I can help someone else out, I will. If the book I'm asked to review isn't something I want my name associated with, I would cite time constraints as the reason why I couldn't do it.

I think its hard to make inroads in publishing, and if a well-turned phrase here or there helps someone, then so be it. Believe me, there will be plenty of folks out there taking cheap shots at you for plenty of other reasons.

Maggie Toussaint

VR Barkowski said...

I never review books by authors I know. Nor do I pay attention to glowing reviews written by other writers for their compatriots or to author blurbs. In my experience, these are are indicators of the ability to network, not necessarily the ability to write.

I post my reviews on both Goodreads and on my blog. I always try to find something positive to say about every book. If there is nothing positive (it's happened twice), I'm specific about what didn't appeal. Just because a book didn't work for me doesn't mean it won't work for another reader.

IMO, the purpose of a review isn't to say yay or nay, it's to reveal enough about a book to give other potential readers an idea of whether it's worth investing their valuable reading time. The reviewer's honesty and integrity are paramount.

Irene Black said...

You didn't miss a nail with your hammer. I've struggled with every point for years.
I've also read your examples and agree.
Thanks for the Twitter button. I sent it on to #book #reviews, etc.
Nash Black

Ellis Vidler said...

It's a dilemma. I think I have to be honest in what I do say, but I may leave out a few things. As Maggie said, just because it doesn't work for me doesn't mean it won't for someone else. Everyone made good points, and I see I'm not the only one debating over this. No concrete answers I think.