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What Else Are You Reading? > What makes a good book review for you?

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message 1: by Kdawg91 (new)

Kdawg91 | 377 comments When you guys follow a reviewer, what draws you to that writer, or what do you usually look for in your idea of a good book review?


message 2: by Gary (last edited Apr 25, 2014 04:59PM) (new)

Gary I'm interested in reviews/reviewers that convey that the reviewer understood the theme of the book, and that then convey that understanding in their own writing. It doesn't matter if they liked it or not, if they agree or not, or if they thought the writer was talented or not. A positive or negative review needs to convey the theme of the book, and the reviewer needs to interact with that theme in his/er review.

Generally speaking, "This was great!" or "This book sucked!" or variations on those kinds of sentences are useless and uninteresting. The use of graphics to convey a "reaction" from the reviewer is childish and trite. Reviews that summarize the plot are not helpful unless they do so in order to convey thematic ideas. (I may read the book, so the plot summary is a spoiler, and probably a waste of time.)

With that in mind, REALLY useful reviews go beyond the theme of the book in some way. They connect the book to the author's experience, to comparable works, to mainstream events, etc. But they have to convey that they "got it" first.


message 3: by Kaleb (new)

Kaleb Honesty, in the sense that they don't pull any punches in the review. Because no book is perfect and to ignore that would be unfair to the reader.


message 4: by Rob, Roberator (new)

Rob (robzak) | 6891 comments Mod
Someone who can express what they like or don't like about the book without spoiling/summarizing the plot.

Writing a quality/objective negative review without ranting or being downright mean is especially tough that few people seem to manage.

Personally I tend to write very short reviews for books I don't like because I find them harder to do and I just want to move on.


Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) | 2898 comments Similar tastes, with the hope that they will expose me to books I hadn't read. I like reviews that focus on what the book has to offer rather than discussing too much about the plot (that feels more like inside jokes).


message 6: by Casey (new)

Casey | 654 comments I like reviews that:
* Summarize the story, avoiding spoilers.
* Commentary on the writing, the author's style.
* Similarities to other works.
* Comparative association (i.e.) if you liked books A, B, C., then you'll most likely enjoy this book.
* I dislike reviews that spew vitriolic rants or obsequious praise without providing reasons. Give me reasons! You hated it? Fine, but why.


I'm still trying to improve on my reviews. Writing a good review is difficult.


message 7: by Kdawg91 (new)

Kdawg91 | 377 comments definitely. I am trying to improve mine


message 8: by Rick (new)

Rick | 2869 comments I ran across a review last night that reminded me of what I *don't* like, so let's see if I can turn that around. The review in question made some fair points about why the review didn't like it, but started like this:

I appreciate [writer's] craft. [They] can write beautifully; hence the two stars for this story, rather than one. But it wasn't a good story for me. I prefer science fiction, and usually hard SF; I'm not much of a fantasy reader. [writer] has essentially written an SF story as if it were a fairy tale, which doesn't work for me

I've removed names since this is here just for illustration but here's the thing - if you really only like hard SF (or epic fantasy or paranormal romance or whatever), then don't read things outside of that and ding them because they're not what you like. A reader has to be willing to judge the book on what it's trying to be, not what they wish it was. I don't go to a Chinese place and then ding it because it's not killer Italian food.

I'm NOT saying not to read or review outside your comfort zone, but for me a good review is one in which the reader engages with the book that the writer wrote, not the book that the reader would have liked them to write. I avoid certain things (most horror, zombie fiction, etc) because I know that I don't like what they are. However, if I read, say, World War Z and reviewed it, I can't ding it on the presence of zombies.

The one big exception I'd make to this is when a book purports to be one thing, but really is another. I don't mean how the publisher sold it, but a book that leads you to believe it's fantasy but really turns into SF partway through (or vice versa) without a good reason. People have dinged Stross' Merchant series for this, though he just reissued a new set of the books that might make the transition more reasonable.


message 9: by Rob, Roberator (new)

Rob (robzak) | 6891 comments Mod
See I think your example is exactly the kind of negative review I like. Without knowing the person/reading the full review, I don't see how we can know their expectations for the book.

I've are several books I didn't like because I thought they were going to be one thing and turned out to be something else. Maybe that's the case here.

The reviewer isn't saying it's terrible, they are saying it didn't work for them. I think that's totally valid and if I read the blurb thinking it was more hard sci-fi and this review is telling me it's more scifi fantasy, I'd find that useful, and personally would be more interested in reading it.


message 10: by Caitlin (new)

Caitlin | 355 comments I like seeing why someone didn't like something, but it's weird when people rate something lowly because it isn't to their taste rather than for the quality if the work.


message 11: by Ben (new)

Ben Rowe (benwickens) I dont like reviews that talk about the "stars" or say really 3.5 stars - who cares about stars?

I like a review that is both entertaining and engaging to read in and of itself and also captures the essence of the book without giving away all of the plot...and be succinct.


message 12: by Rob, Roberator (new)

Rob (robzak) | 6891 comments Mod
Caitlin wrote: "I like seeing why softeen't like something, but it's weird when people rate something lowly because it isn't to their taste rather than for the quality if the work."

What is an amateur review, but a personal opinion? Hell often times I question the objectivity of professional ones. I just put more weight on the reviews of people I tend to agree with.

Personally I'm here to find and discuss books I enjoy, and don't care at all about the literary merits. I try to spend as little time as possible on the ones I don't like.

Of course this site seems to be 50% aspiring authors and I imagine that sort of thing is important to many of them.


message 13: by Kdawg91 (new)

Kdawg91 | 377 comments well I generally read things I want to read, so rarely will you get a review from me below three stars (sorry Ben). If I read something and don't like it unless it is something I picked up from netgalley and kind of have to review it, I won't.

My taste in books bounces pretty wildly most of the time though.


message 14: by A.L. (new)

A.L. Butcher (alb2012) | 314 comments I have to say I don't like it when someone just summarises the story. I'd prefer a review which says what the reader liked/didn't like.


message 15: by A.L. (new)

A.L. Butcher (alb2012) | 314 comments Rick wrote: "I ran across a review last night that reminded me of what I *don't* like, so let's see if I can turn that around. The review in question made some fair points about why the review didn't like it, b..."

I'd agree Rick. I think it doesn't really help anyone to diss a book because the reader read something they didn't usually read and didn't like BECAUSE it was outside their usual read.


message 16: by Darren (new)

Darren I'm not all that interested in cutesy reviews, and especially not in pictures from the internet in lieu of sentences. I realize I'm in the Goodreads minority, there. I'm perfectly okay with "this book was great" or "this book sucked", plus reasons. I mostly read reviews if I'm sitting on the fence about whether or not to buy a book, and so a big pile of "wow" reviews in a row has more effect on me than one deep reading. I do enjoy deep analysis of plot, structure, and character, but don't seek it out.

Hell, I usually write reviews only as notes to myself, and so might talk about just those stylistic things which made the book stand out, for me.


Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) | 2898 comments Darren wrote: "I'm not all that interested in cutesy reviews, and especially not in pictures from the internet in lieu of sentences. I realize I'm in the Goodreads minority, there. I'm perfectly okay with "this b..."

The Internet pictures reviews are pretty annoying, unless they are specifically showing the art from the book. I don't need illustrations for the reviewer's reactions. *eyeroll*


message 18: by [deleted user] (last edited Apr 27, 2014 06:43AM) (new)

I generally dislike it when the reviewer appears to be using the review as a venue to display their own self-perceived cleverness or creative talents. I do appreciate a well-written review and will give more weight to those, but keep it relevant to the book and don't get too cute. I can definitely do without the graphics. I also don't need an extensive summary of the story; you usually see those in professional reviews in media outlets, but I don't think that's appropriate to this type of forum where there is already a summary of the book at the top.

What Rick mentioned really bothers me as well. I've seen those reviews where the person says "I read this expecting a hard sci-fi story and it wasn't that at all. I only like hard sci-fi. 1 star!" Giving a bad review based on the fact that the book is outside of your normal genre preferences is useless to potential readers of the book, not to mention a shitty thing to do to the author if you gave it a low rating based on that.

I basically just need to know what about it the reviewer liked and didn't like. Were the characters well-developed? Was the writing good, but maybe the plot dragged? Comparisons to other authors or books is helpful.

Despite my criticisms above, I've definitely read and enjoyed some "creative" reviews so there's no hard and fast rule about that for me. It's just that most of them aren't as clever as they're trying to be, and there are so many of those on here that it gets exhausting sometimes to go through ten of those to get to a straightforward review. There seems to be more straightforward reviewing on Amazon, whereas people on GR tend to review like they're auditioning for something.


message 19: by Michele (new)

Michele | 1154 comments I mostly want an idea of how good the writing is, if the characters are interesting to me, and if the plot makes sense. I also appreciate a heads-up about lots of typos in the ebook version (I can put up with a few, but not several per page thru the whole book).

If I'm wavering I'll read some of the 5 star and some of the 1 star reviews to get an overall idea. I also try to figure out if all the 5 star rave reviews are from teenage girls who like Twilight or something.

The reviews on Amazon that make me angry are the 1 stars from people complaining that the book they ordered didn't come in the mail, or it had a torn cover or something that has nothing to do with the book itself.


message 20: by Gary (last edited Apr 27, 2014 10:25AM) (new)

Gary Michele wrote: "The reviews on Amazon that make me angry are the 1 stars from people complaining that the book they ordered didn't come in the mail, or it had a torn cover or something that has nothing to do with the book itself."

Ouch. Yeah, that's not cool. I guess it's "fair" in that they're really rating their experience being served by Amazon, not just the quality of the book, but it seems especially cruddy that the book/author would get rated on that basis. I just read the text from an Amazon review that put 4 stars on The Great Gatsby (the second one that came up on the list of reviews) and it's all about the transcription errors of the electronic version of the book.... I don't know if that's why 4/5 stars, and I guess some info on which e-book to get is helpful, but that's kind of rough on book itself.

EDIT: Another review I just looked at was talking about liking or not liking the voice of the person who read the audiobook. That strikes me as equally not cool....


Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) | 2898 comments Gary wrote: "EDIT: Another review I just looked at was talking about liking or not liking the voice of the person who read the audiobook. That strikes me as equally not cool.... ..."

Hmm, I guess I'd disagree there. When I review an audiobook it's part story, part performance. If someone's voice is a problem, I'd want to know!


message 22: by Ken (last edited Apr 27, 2014 10:55AM) (new)

Ken (kanthr) | 334 comments I don't care for "stars" or ratings. Utterly meaningless, subjective things.

I also don't care for morality judgments, or judgments on thematic content, eg. "It's too violent".

I don't care much for judgments on appeal to audience demographics either.

Primarily I care how good the writing is. Is the diction and vocabulary strong? Is it original in concept? Is it deep or shallow? Does it neatly tie up all the loose strands at the end? (I hate this).

Does the book maintain internal realism by not breaking its own rules, not jumping the shark? Does it it simply re-hash genre schema or invent new concepts?

I do not, however, wish to see the reviewer provide a plot summary or introduce the characters, present a blurb. The blurb is already on the book itself. The rest is spoilerish and unnecessary pseudo-journalism in my opinion which has arisen like a mini-plague from the blogosphere.

TL;DR: Keep it simple, state how well the book achieves something new, leave out your opinion on subjective matters. Gary & Ben nailed it in their first posts.


message 23: by Constance (new)

Constance I prefer a book analysis to a book review, really. I like to know what the reader got out of the book, how they engaged with the characters, what messages there were in the text, how the plot was built (as opposed to just what the plot was, as many write). Generally, I enjoy the kind of discussion on the book that I might have with a friend who has read the same book as I and wants to share their thoughts. Of course, most of my reviews are under spoiler bars, because I haven't really figured out yet how to have that discussion without specific references to the text. I might have to revisit those reviews and try to fix them.

References to other, similar books are always appreciated, as is engaging (constructively) with commenters on the thread to carry the discussion forward.

I rather like the graphics. The internet is allowing people to experiment with expression and often the results are quite fun.


message 24: by Gary (new)

Gary Jenny (Reading Envy) wrote: "Hmm, I guess I'd disagree there. When I review an audiobook it's part story, part performance. If someone's voice is a problem, I'd want to know!"

It's "fair" information certainly... but it's not the kind of thing that has much to do with the book or the author, so it's not "cool" in that sense.

I guess Amazon mashes up all the reviews from any media and displays them more or less at random, so when I looked up the book itself, reviews from all sorts of editions/formats were displayed. (It's the first hit when you put "The Great Gatsby" into the amazon.com search bar, if you want to have a look.) I could very well be off on that... the nuances of Amazon's review display algorithm not being the kind of thing I'm familiar with.

So, the review I glanced at was for the audiobook, but displayed for the book itself, which seems to me to be "not cool" for the author. Granted, those reviews I saw that were about the audiobook seemed to like it, but an audiobook is still an interpretation of the writer's work, and a step removed.

I remember watching the documentary on The Beat poets. It was pretty good. Somewhat shallow by necessity (documenting the whole Beat thing in 90 minutes is pretty dubious) but the thing that really hurt it for me was that they started playing a recording of Ginsberg reading "Roar" and then cut to the actor John Turturro reading it.

OK, Turturro is a trained actor, and he has a particular kind of voice... but even if one wants to convey something with that training/voice, going from the poet himself reading his work to Turturro was like drinking orange juice after brushing your teeth. I don't think it's "cool" (that is, I don't approve) of someone using that reading to paint Ginsberg's work.

Aside from any issues having to do with authenticity, going from Ginsberg's rumble to Turturro's nasal was strange. I'm sure it had more to do with getting names associated with the project (documentaries can be hard to finance...) but it was a weird choice.

Case in point:

http://www.wimp.com/readslines/


message 25: by kvon (new)

kvon | 562 comments I lost a couple of the reviewers that I enjoyed reading during the bookshelf censorship snafu last year.

The reviews that talk about how the book affected them, or other situations it reminded the reviewer about, or thought paths they went chasing down were particularly engaging. Also parodies of parts of the story in question.

Another question to ask is, what do you use the book reviews for? I rarely use them to decide what to read next, but to confirm my impressions of a book that I've read (or chosen not to read). So one's that talk about interesting turns of the plot are good, as long as spoilers are hidden.


message 26: by Kev (new)

Kev (sporadicreviews) | 648 comments As someone who occasionally writes "reviews," this is a great thread for me, as I struggle with how exactly I want to write a review. I'm basically just telling whether or not I liked a book, and if I like the author's other works too, I'll tend to mention that in an effort to encourage the reader to explore that author further.

I'm not one to analyze a book, though I sometimes enjoy reading those types of reviews.

I also sometimes seek out reviews (especially on Amazon) of certain kinds of books for spoilers to see if the book is going to cover a topic I know I'll find interesting.


message 27: by Andrew (new)

Andrew Knighton | 158 comments Gary wrote: "I'm interested in reviews/reviewers that convey that the reviewer understood the theme of the book, and that then convey that understanding in their own writing..."

This is something that interests me as well. I want a review to tell me a bit about what sort of story this is, and what the author does well or badly in their writing - saying it's well written or badly written without explaining how doesn't help me decide how much of a problem or good thing that'll be for me. But I also want to read some intelligent analysis, something that will add to my understanding of the book as I read and reflect on it.


message 28: by Caitlin (new)

Caitlin | 355 comments I'd say I probably read more reviews after I read the book, to see if other people caught subtle things that I didn't.


message 29: by Dara (new)

Dara (cmdrdara) | 2702 comments When I write a review, I try to say why I liked the book, what worked for me and what didn't, a small spoiler-free summary of the plot, and what the writing is like. If it's an author I've read before, I compare it to their other works. Not just storywise but also how the writing as improved or changed at all. I look for the same type of thing in reviews I read/follow.


message 30: by Michael (new)

Michael Casey | 74 comments I just look for hints of themes. I hate spoilers, and "like" or "dislike" is such a subjective thing, that's it's mostly useless. And I sure as hell don't give a shit if an author lived up to someone's expectations based on the amount of stars they'd gotten on previous reviews.

Also, I hate reviews that stink of sock puppets. I hate reviews that stink of someone attacking the author personally or out of some vendetta. Don't waste my fucking time with your petty games. Talk about the book in an honest way, without giving away plot points that sould be experienced as surprises in the book. Telling me the hero meets his true love at some point and has to save her, I can probably accept. Telling me the hero has to rescue her from the woman who's been pretending to be her mother through half of the book will seriously piss me off.


message 31: by Dara (new)

Dara (cmdrdara) | 2702 comments I don't like review with gifs.


message 32: by Ken (new)

Ken (kanthr) | 334 comments I just plain don't like gifs in general! :)


message 33: by Michael (new)

Michael Casey | 74 comments Dara wrote: "I don't like review with gifs."

Yeah, that brings up another thing that bothers me in reviews, and that's reviews clearly designed to convey just how clever and entertaining the reviewer is. If you're all that entertaining, get busy writing some books of your own.


message 34: by Dara (new)

Dara (cmdrdara) | 2702 comments Kenneth wrote: "I just plain don't like gifs in general! :)"

Nor do I. I'm glad I'm not alone in this.

Michael wrote: "Yeah, that brings up another thing that bothers me in reviews, and that's reviews clearly designed to convey just how clever and entertaining the reviewer is. If you're all that entertaining, get busy writing some books of your own. "

I'm not opposed to reviewer's showing off some flair but I don't like it when it's overdone or really pretentious.


message 35: by Dharmakirti (last edited Apr 29, 2014 12:15PM) (new)

Dharmakirti | 942 comments I like reading reviews that go a bit more in-depth with analysis of plot, characters, themes, style, etc. I guess I could say that I like "criticism" more than "reviews".

I like reading a review where I get the sense of what it was like for the reviewer to read the novel...they explain their experience of reading, what emotions they felt.


message 36: by rick. (new)

rick. (rickk) I prefer short analytical reviews with information about the structure, narrative style, and general success of the book. I avoid synopsis and spoilers, and I agree that reviews with gifs or even jpegs get dismissed immediately. I try to write reviews in the same vein as I would like to see.


message 37: by Michael (new)

Michael Casey | 74 comments Dara wrote: "Kenneth wrote: "I just plain don't like gifs in general! :)"

Nor do I. I'm glad I'm not alone in this.

Michael wrote: "Yeah, that brings up another thing that bothers me in reviews, and that's re..."


Yeah, big difference between a flair that better conveys the sense of the book, and handsprings that have nothing to do with the book.


message 38: by Dara (last edited Apr 29, 2014 01:25PM) (new)

Dara (cmdrdara) | 2702 comments Agreed, Michael.


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