What Do You Look for in a Book Review?


Today I’m taking part in Reading Romances’ “Review Blog Hop”, inviting book bloggers to talk about what they look for in a review. I’ve decided to talk about book reviews specifically because what I’m looking for in these can vary considerably from what I’d look for in a music, game or film review. I don’t want to keep you here all day discussing every one! I’m also focusing more on reviews on blogs – read on to find out why…

What Do You Look for in a Book Review?

I know there is a lot of debate about what makes a good review. Some people feel it should strip down all aspects of the book: everything from plot, characters, grammar, structure, length, cover, formatting. Others feel a review should just be a quick, easy to read summary – after all, we’re all busy!

For me, I think that both styles of review are valid. What I’m looking for in a good review is one thing: an honest response. Ideally I like to see a quick summary of the book. I don’t need a blow by blow account but I like to see how the reviewer would summarise the book: an┬áhonest response. Blurbs are great but a blurb is effectively a mini-sales pitch. Did the sheen come off when the reviewer delved in? Or did it live up to the hype?

Although I believe that editing and formatting are hugely important, I tend to only talk about these things myself if they actually made it difficult for me to read a book. A typo here or there or a page break in the wrong place? I can live with those. Mistakes happen. It’s a rare book that has nothing wrong with it, so if it seems to me that care has been taken overall, I’m usually happy. So I’m on the fence about whether or not a good review needs to discuss those aspects if the problems are minor.

Beyond the summary of the book as the reviewer sees it, what I really really want to see is whether or not it made the reviewer feel something. Did they laugh? Cry? Feel anger or frustration? Did it make them desperate to get in a few more pages at every opportunity or was it hard to pick up again once they’d put it down?

Why do I want to know these things? After all, we are all so different. We all have different responses to books. Their reaction is surely no indication of my own potential response. No… but then again, if I just want a break down of a book, I may as well stick with the blurb. Instead, I find reviews – certainly on blogs – interesting, entertaining and feel they offer great insight into the reader. I want to know about the reader, as much as the book. If a book has elicited a reaction – be it good or bad – that will get me intrigued. Intrigued about the book. Intrigued about the blog. Intrigued about the blogger.

A good review creates as many questions as it answered. That alone will be the biggest incentive to me to find out more…

What are you looking for in a review?

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Donna Brown

Ever developing teacher and learner (online and offline!). Avid reader/audiobook listener, fan of podcasts, prone to the odd Netflix binge. Mum to six crazy and incredible rescue cats. Occasional writer of short stories and poetry.
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    1. Thank you for commenting.

      I agree with Tweedle Dee on this one. The quality of the editing is less important than how a book makes a reviewer feel. If it really took hold and made them feel something then that is a book worth experiencing.

  1. The thing I don’t want from a book review is brevity. There are too many ‘reviews’ out there that are nothing more than announcements with a star rating bunged on at the end. That said reviews are not critiques and even I, given the length of my reviews, have little time to deconstruct a book. What there needs to be are excerpts of sufficient length that readers know what the author sounds like, not the reviewer. Comparisons can be both good and bad but they’re hard to avoid especially if it’s a new author. I’m not averse to pointing out poor editing but, thankfully, I’ve never had a book where I’ve felt I needed to highlight typos (other than one where it was on the front cover). I do believe in being subjective. Objectivity is a nice ideal but it’s impossible so let’s just be up front about it. Regular readers of my reviews know I hate long books and that anything over 400 pages I’m going to moan about so it’s become a part of my thing; I expect them to take my complaints about length with a pinch of salt. I quite often quote from other reviewers too especially if they’re saying the complete opposite to me. Reviews need to be balanced and some books polarise opinions (The Road was one of those) so a good reviewer should present both the pros and cons and leave the readers to make up their own minds. Oh, and lastly, read the damn book. I’ve seen a few ‘reviews’ where it is obvious that the reviewer had read the blurb, the first couple of chapters and that was it.

    1. Thanks for commenting Jim.

      Some really good points here. I do think it's good to point out the areas that are strong and weak. I agree that a book should NOT be reviewed unless the reader has actually read it. I've seen people review books based on a few chapters. I had one rating based on the prologue. I didn't mind it being a negative review, I just felt it was unhelpful to other readers.

  2. I enjoyed this post, and particularly the "feel" part of it. "If a book has elicited a reaction – be it good or bad – that will get me intrigued." Excellent choice of words, and thank you for sharing.

  3. I ask for honesty and want to know if the book was engaging. I like to read reviews that talk about the language and storyline of the book, how it made the person feel while reading it, and whether or not they would recommend the book to other readers. Even if the review is bad, I still want to see what they have to say. All feedback is good feedback. Great post! WRITE ON!

    1. Thanks for commenting Jo. Absolutely, agree with the points you've made. All feedback should be welcomed. I'd rather have a 1 star review with constructive feedback than just a 5 star rating with no feedback whatsoever.

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