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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

I'm reading a book right now that I "owe" a review on. It's not mandatory, it's just that it was an author giveaway and she said that honest reviews would be appreciated.

My problem is that I'm not good with "middle of the road" reviews, and this is a "middle of the road" book. If a book sucks, I can point out why, and if a book is great, I can gush about it, but the so-so books are harder for me to pin down. I feel that if I start listing the issues the book had, the review starts sounding like a "bad" review when it's really not meant to be.

For those of you who regularly review your reads, do you have any pointers for me? How do you describe that intangible "something" that compels you to continue reading and even enjoy a book that actually suffers from a lot of problems? More importantly, how do you make it helpful to the indie author awaiting constructive criticism?

message 2: by MrsJoseph *grouchy*, Resident Book Pusher (new)

MrsJoseph *grouchy* (mrsjoseph) | 3289 comments I think I understand your problem. I had the same problem when I was reading The Voyage of the Minotaur. I liked the book but I didn't like the book. TO make that worse I was the only person on GR who had bothered to review, so I wanted to be fair.

I took a lot of notes. I wrote lists of all the things that bothered me about the book and of the things I felt the author had done well. I decided to drop all the nit-picky things that bothered me and then wrote the review based on everything else.

message 3: by Carrie (Care), Group Founder & Fearless Leader (new)

Carrie (Care) (care76) | 73 comments I would put down the points that could maybe have been better or needed work and the things you thought were good or loved. Even if you didn't love the book itself, it is nice if you could find something you loved, like a character, the writing style, humour, relationships, etc.

Like MrsJoseph says, I wouldn't be too nit picky about the little things I didn't like. I find it hard to review some books given away by authors sometimes. I do try to be honest though, but I try to do it nicely.

message 4: by Cherrybomb (new)

Cherrybomb (wvcherrybomb) | 68 comments MrsJ and Care those are some great ideas.

I also suffer from review issues. I feel guilty if I don't review a book but have a hard time expressing my opinions as sometimes my feelings about books don't have reasons I can pin point.

Another problem I have is that I am always tempted to read other reviews first and find myself being influenced by them. I'm not sure why this is because I am not otherwise an easily led personality type. Perhaps it's that others have brought up valid points that I hadn't thought of myself.

I hope many people will contribute to this thread and offer up some help for us review-impaired people.

message 5: by [deleted user] (last edited Feb 05, 2011 01:30PM) (new)

Thank you for the ideas and suggestions so far.

MrsJ, I like the idea of taking notes. I usually have a steno pad nearby anyway.

Care, I know what you mean about trying to be honest AND nice. Sometimes it's hard, but a review that glosses over the problems isn't helpful to anyone. I guess a pros/cons approach would be the most balanced, trying to offer at least one pro for every con.

Cherry, I've pretty much stopped reading reviews for the same reason. I look at the overall rating, but I avoid the reviews until after I've read the book and written my own review, or at least drafted it. I, too, am rarely a victim of peer pressure, but for some reason book reviews can influence me more than they should.

Keep the ideas coming, folks, and let's add this question: What do you find most helpful when reading a review?

message 6: by Zoe (last edited Feb 06, 2011 09:31AM) (new)

Zoe Rider (ZoeXRider) | 36 comments I'm following this topic with interest. I love to read, and I love to read reviews (well written reviews are a thing of beauty), but I so don't love to write them (and I so wish I did!).

I often read a sampling of reviews on Goodreads in order to decide whether or not to read a book, and then if I really liked or really disliked a book, I'll read the reviews again--and more of them--to compare my impressions and (especially where I loved a book) dig a little deeper and immerse myself in the story a little longer.

And now I'll try to answer Christa's added question about what I find most helpful in a review by saying what I don't find helpful: big honking chunks of synopsis. There's nothing worse than skimming through paragraph after chunky paragraph of story run-down (especially since I already read the synopsis at the top of the page) to find that in the end there are two lukewarm sentences (if that!) that actually came from the reviewer's head: "Another good fast-paced thriller from this author. Can't wait for the next one!" Yeah, can't wait for your next review, too.

(As if I'm one to talk; I can't bring myself to write reviews in the first place.)

What I do find helpful is when the reviewer talks about setting, characterization, theme, tone, pacing, depth, dialogue, the writing itself. I mean, the synopsis might tell me what the setting is, but it doesn't tell me whether it's cursory or immersive, merely a backdrop or practically a whole character in the story. What are the book's strengths and weaknesses? What sets it apart from similar books? (Does anything set it apart, or is it one of those "If you love this type of book, you'll love this book because it's exactly this type of book" books?) This information is more useful to me than whether a reviewer liked a book or not (I mean, I still want to know that, sure, but I want to know more than if you liked it; I want to know why or why not. It just may be that the reasons you liked the book are reasons I wouldn't, or vice versa.)

It's also nice when the reviewer makes it a little personal--for instance, if I were to review Joe Hill's "Horns," I'd start with explaining why I kept turning my nose up at it at first. Someone else who did review it started out by saying that horror wasn't usually her thing. Jonathan Liu in his review of "How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe" on talks about how he wound up with the book in the first place and where he was when he read it. These little things give you an idea of where the reviewer is coming from and open up some rapport with him or her. It's not necessary, but it can be interesting and nice to have.

And those are my thoughts. :)

message 7: by Cherrybomb (new)

Cherrybomb (wvcherrybomb) | 68 comments UGH, I hate big long synopsis type reviews also! I especially hate ones that contain spoilers - especially endings. People are nuts on Amazon with these kinds of reviews. There are some for just about any book. If the first couple of sentences are heading this direction, I completely skip it.

I'm also continually amazed at the amount of reviews that are written my semi-illiterate people. I'm glad people are reading but it's hard to take them seriously when they use words like "dum-tard."

message 8: by [deleted user] (new)

Yeah, if I do a synopsis recap it's usually only one or two sentences or it's tied into the actual review.

I know what you mean about the semi-illiterate reviews. I'm also curious when I read a book with a lot of errors (misspellings, bad punctuation, etc) and it gets a really good review that doesn't mention it. Even if I give something a good review, I will mention those issues if they are numerous because I know some people can't get past them. When I see a review that doesn't mention them or worse, several reviews that don't mention them, it makes me wonder whether the reviewer is being nice, know the author, or if they simply can't spell/punctuate themselves so they didn't notice. When the book in question is an ebook from Smashwords and there's only one edition, I KNOW they are reading the same thing I am, so it's not a matter of a different edition. Maybe that makes me judgmental but oh well.

Sometimes I think I may be a snob in this area. (We're all entitled to one field of snobbery, right?) But if you look at my challenge thread, I don't apply the same standards to everyone - fanfiction gets a error-pass if the writer is a good storyteller but simply doesn't know the mechanics of writing. I guess I just feel that if a writer thinks they are good enough to put their work up in a retail venue, I'm entitled to judge them alongside their more seasoned peers.

Heh, that kind of turned into a rant, didn't it? Turns out, the book that I'm reading (that started me on this quest) took off just past the halfway point. I started caring more about the characters and really got into the story. Still some awkward writing, still some homonym errors, but I had to force myself to stop reading and go to bed last night. This is the exact reason I rarely give up on a book - sometimes it's worth hanging in there a little longer.

As a test of sorts, once I finish it, I will post the review here in this thread before I submit it, and y'all can critique me. Review my review, so to speak. I'm (kind of) tough, I can (sort of) take it. ;)

message 9: by [deleted user] (new)

Okay, here's my review. Fortunately, it's a little shorter than my previous post.:)

The Necromancer - P. Richter - 3 stars

(Disclosure - I received this book free in an author giveaway.)

This book and I got off to a rough start. Initially, many of the characters were either unlikeable or too inconsistent for me to care about. Michelle, the main character, seems rather chilly, distant and intelligent, yet simultaneously stupid and unthinking in ways that don't really add up for me.

I also got hung up on some errors that I encountered in the book - common misspellings and homonym errors - as well as some facts that didn't wash. I felt as though some things were just thrown in so as not to waste the research, so to speak.

The first character that intrigued me was Nakamura. Soon, Michelle's interactions with Nakamura started giving her character more depth and realism. I'm not sure where exactly, but somewhere just past the halfway point, I got sucked in and really started to enjoy the book. The cast of characters came together and meshed, I started to care about the good guys, and there was enough action and momentum to carry me past the small issues.

Though I nearly gave up on the book early on, I'm glad I stuck with it. Yes, it needs editing - both for errors and for a few instances of foreshadowing that go nowhere - but the story works out and I think the book redeems itself.

message 10: by Zoe (new)

Zoe Rider (ZoeXRider) | 36 comments I would find that review useful, particularly if I had already started reading the book and was wondering if it was worth continuing.

message 11: by Nyssa, Series Addict (new)

Nyssa | 1128 comments Very good! Sounds both honest and to the point.

If I were the author I would probably be compelled to ask you which points (facts and foreshadowing) fell flat, in the hopes of improving.

message 12: by [deleted user] (new)

Thank you both for the feedback, now I'm off to post the review. Then I have the daunting task of deciding what to read next. (Funny, wasn't so long ago I would have loved to have the problem of "too many books to decide"!)

message 13: by Caleb (new)

Caleb Blake (caleb72) | 437 comments I liked that review Christa. I am one of those people who don't always point out explicitly that the author had errors - for independent authors.

I usually compile a list of these gripes and send them to the author so that they can fix and re-release. The exception would be if I thought the number of errors was excessive.

The reason I do this is that independent authors already have a bit of an issue reaching readers and a careless line from me about poor editing or word misuse on a public site (like Amazon) could be a death sentence to that book.

Maybe I shouldn't be protecting indie authors in this way - but this is the approach I currently take. Subject to change without notice. ;)

message 14: by [deleted user] (new)

Caleb, I do tend to underplay the errors. If I mention them at all, they bugged me a lot. I think that's the most delicate I can be about errors.

I certainly don't think it's wrong of you to protect indie authors because you are also helping them directly. But when someone says to me, here, please read my book and review it on Amazon and anywhere else you can, that's what I'm going to do.

message 15: by MrsJoseph *grouchy*, Resident Book Pusher (new)

MrsJoseph *grouchy* (mrsjoseph) | 3289 comments I like your reveiw Christa. It's to the point and honest.

message 16: by Carrie (Care), Group Founder & Fearless Leader (last edited Feb 07, 2011 01:17PM) (new)

Carrie (Care) (care76) | 73 comments That was a great review. :)

I completely understand what Caleb is saying about indi authors and errors, but I feel I have to post it. I don't if there are a few very minor mistakes, but for the rest I point that out. If I like the book I think I give enough good points to encourage people to read it. Here is the last one I did that had editing issues:

4.5 stars

I loved this book. It had everything I love, relatable characters, great action sequences, and a sweet love story.

I didn't give it 5 stars for a couple reasons. One was because there were quite a few errors in my ebook. Nothing big or really bad, but it did take me out of the story for a second. Also, I did find Remey a bit too harsh at times, but I could understand her reasons behind her behaviour.

All in all I really enjoyed Hollowland and would recommend it to those that like YA dystopian type books or any action packed story with romance. Just a warning. This is a YA novel, but there was a sex scene. There was nothing graphic and it was tastefully done, but it didn't fade to black like some do.

Does anybody know if there is a sequel Coming? I went to the authors blog but couldn't find anything on one. I really hope there is...

Now some of the editing mistakes that really bothered me were missing words. Twice I had to re-read entire sentences to try make sure I was inserting the right word and understanding it. There were some other minor ones as well, but nothing that stuck with me.

message 17: by MrsJoseph *grouchy*, Resident Book Pusher (new)

MrsJoseph *grouchy* (mrsjoseph) | 3289 comments I can agree with typos. If there are a small amount I tend to ignore them - life happens. But if there are a lot, someone neglected to do their proof-reading. I can understand an indie author having a lack of funds. My brother is a writer and i've edited his book a million times. At one million and one - I grab a friend.

message 18: by Caleb (new)

Caleb Blake (caleb72) | 437 comments If I think it's a dead loss I'll definitely say so. I only protect to a degree.

If there are a few I won't draw attention to it too much because I believe there is already a perception that independent authors are somehow inferior to trade published authors. I don't want to give this notion too much justification if I can help it.

However, if the author clearly hasn't paid attention to proof-reading/editing and then released the book I probably won't go to extreme lengths to protect. There's a difference between a couple of errors falling through the cracks and a slovenly effort.

Actually, it's possible I won't even finish the book in the first place. I downloaded a free PDF book not long ago (legal free) and was trying to create an ePub out of it. In the course of doing this I realised that the book was so poorly written that I didn't start it. In fact, I didn't even bother trying to contact the author about it.

I'm picky who I'll try to help and protect and who I'll just turn my back on. I guess that makes me a bad person.

message 19: by [deleted user] (new)

No, Caleb, that does not make you a bad person. You can't help them all and if you want to get anything else done in life you have to be choosy. It's perfectly fine to be picky about things. If I wasn't picky I'd still be married to my first husband.

So I was on Amazon earlier, and noticed that my review got two unhelpful votes in the Amazon Popularity Contest. Heh. I'm crushed, fer sure. :p I started clicking around to other books and stuff and stumbled on a group of indie authors who have a little 5-star review exchange going on. It all reminds me why I buy from Amazon but hang out anywhere but there.

message 20: by Caleb (last edited Feb 08, 2011 01:06AM) (new)

Caleb Blake (caleb72) | 437 comments Oh - a 5 star review exchange. That's terrible! Actually I nearly never give anything 5 stars. It really has to be exceptional for me to do that.

message 21: by Carrie (Care), Group Founder & Fearless Leader (new)

Carrie (Care) (care76) | 73 comments I don't think Amazon should have the unhelpful vote as an option. I like the like option, but some people just hit the unhelpful button because they don't agree. That doesn't make sense to me. I have never checked any of my amazon reviews. I wonder how many unlikes I have, lol.

message 22: by MrsJoseph *grouchy*, Resident Book Pusher (new)

MrsJoseph *grouchy* (mrsjoseph) | 3289 comments Huh, I hate that too.

I do click the unhelpful button if they are just ragging for no reason or they are complaining about shipping. It's a review of the book, not customer service.

message 23: by Cherrybomb (new)

Cherrybomb (wvcherrybomb) | 68 comments I'm so confused about how many stars to give this book I just finished A Thousand Splendid Suns.

It's beautifully written and really deserves five stars on that account. My dilemma is that it was so disturbing that I wish I had never read it.

So how would you rate a book that is well written but depressing? I'm really torn and should probably just give myself a break and not rate it at all.

message 24: by Cherrybomb (new)

Cherrybomb (wvcherrybomb) | 68 comments I'm so confused about how many stars to give this book I just finished A Thousand Splendid Suns.

It's beautifully written and really deserves five stars on that account. My dilemma is that it was so disturbing that I wish I had never read it.

So how would you rate a book that is well written but depressing? I'm really torn and should probably just give myself a break and not rate it at all.

message 25: by [deleted user] (new)

I'm of the belief that it's the writing that gets reviewed, not the subject matter. In this case, it was not only well written but apparently very effective - it disturbed you emotionally. That's powerful when done well.

If it was me, I'd rate it 5 stars, and in my review I would talk about how the book made me feel and why.

message 26: by Cherrybomb (new)

Cherrybomb (wvcherrybomb) | 68 comments Thanks, Christa. That's actually what I was leaning toward.

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