I’ve not been writing book reviews for long. If you find my first one on this blog, well that’s about as long as I’ve been writing them! So I’m still learning. I read other people’s reviews as much for they way they say things about what they’ve read as what they’ve said about them.
The first time I didn’t finish a book because I didn’t want to, I didn’t know what to say about it. Authors want good reviews. I believe they also want constructive criticism. Just because my book is perfect doesn’t mean I don’t want to hear where genuine readers think I could have improved it. So I want to give an honest review of things I read without being hurtful. Sometimes you don’t like a book. It just isn’t your thing. Does that mean you should give it a poor review? I think not, unless there is good reason to. Was it well written, engaging to its intended audience (i.e. not me), or was it not engaging anyway? I read that someone had given a 1 star review because they didn’t like the main character; they didn’t identify with them. Well, there are a lot of characters you don’t identify with, it doesnt make the story bad. Scrooge springs to mind. Or maybe I do identify with him!
This post was inspired by a set of reviews that came in my Goodreads update yesterday. Jason Koivu, who writes entertaining reviews and reads a huge range of topics, reviewed a Maeve Binchy book. Not his cup of tea. But he recognised of the merit of it, found the story dwindled from some promise into nothing earth-shattering but was well described and he gave it 3 stars. Sarah gave two books 1 star each for very different reasons. In one she suggested she wasnt the right audience for its excessive military terminology but took exception to the stance of the title figure when some kids were setting fire to others because they couldnt control their magic. She tried to argue a reasonable point of view scenario for this scene, but failed, and I quite agree with her. It smacks of the sort of thing hooligans and bullies would love: “please sir I couldn’t help myself, I just couldnt stop being cruel to this person/animal/foreigner”. And this was condoned, from what she says. The second one she gave up on. A quarter of the way through and the writing is beautiful but nothing’s happened yet. It could be a fantastic book, she says. That to me is a good review.
Carmel gave one book 3 stars – “action, action and more action. That is all there is to it. No character development at all.” A second book received five stars from her.
Most of the books I see reviewed get 5 stars. Most of the books I review get five stars, although sometimes I think that is too generous. That’s partly me, I’m one of those people that tend not to tick the extremes of boxes in a survey unless something truly was outstanding. “Central tendency” it’s called in statistical speak. If I enjoyed it but I think there are faults that need fixing, it probably gets four stars. The worst review I think I’ve given so far is one that I thought had the most dreadful stereotypical characters in it and was way too sickly in their redemption. Then I discovered it’s won loads of prizes. I think cultural bias creeps in – I’m a European, the writer was west coast US, and the stereotypes are all those sickly creatures that Europeans marvel (aka worry) at how the US produces them. Pageant queen stuff.
The trouble with the star system is that it doesnt mean the same to everyone, and the Goodreads indicator of what the stars mean suggest I would give most things a two = it was ok, or three = I liked it. Four is I really liked it and five ‘it was amazing’ – er, yes. So things I gave stars to when I first starting rating what I’d read in the past are rated on that basis, books I’m reviewing now are based on what I perceive most people use:
5 = It was a good/great book
4 = it was pretty good
3= some things need fixing
2 = not engaging, needs a good edit but the basic idea and/or style is ok
1= seriously bad stuff of some sort in this.
Amazon doesnt give guidance on what its stars mean, so I hope my perception matches most people’s. I don’t give star ratings to my reviews on my blog, just on Goodreads. I think Goodreads should change its guidance though. Given that a lot of sites won’t consider promoting books with anything less than four stars, the Goodreads “I really like it” does good books a disservice.
Or am I the only person reading the small print?
PS. Thank you to Nadine Larter for her review of Fifty Shades Freed. It’s hysterically funny and means I don’t have to read the books! I’m not sure if you have to be a Goodreads member to read it, but if you’re not, you might as well join up.