What do you look for in a review? And what compels you to read a book?

I wrote this post several months back as a kind of back up post, to put up when I was lacking content.  I haven’t had that issue apparently so I decided it was time to pull it up and get it published!  Recently(ish) Melissa from I Swim for Oceans did a post called Let’s Talk: What Makes a Good Book Review.  I urge you to check it out and those that linked up.  There’s some good thoughts there!

Those are kind of two different things asked and I’m going to approach the first one first.  What is it that you like in a review?  Personally I like to know their thoughts about the characters, whether the plot was good and moved at a decent pace, originality of the story, the content and whether it all worked together, and of course I want to know the good and the bad.  I don’t want anyone to get all mean about a book, keep in mind it’s just your opinion, but if something didn’t quite click with you please let us know in a nice way.  I don’t care for reviews that point out all sorts of good things but then rate it 3 stars.  Clearly there was stuff you loved LESS, please give us an idea what it was.  It can be that it just didn’t quite have a WOW factor even, I just want an idea what it was that made you not love it.  Of course you can switch that around too and say all kinds of negative things and then give it 3 stars, so to me 3 stars says you liked it.  Maybe not loved it, but liked it and it was worth the time you took to read it.  So please, don’t say only negative things then give it 3 stars.  I need to know what you DID like about it as well.  {I do know that some people rate on a different scale, I’m speaking on a scale of 1-5 here.}

I don’t mind lengthy reviews if they are wrote well.  I try to keep my reviews at a medium length.  Short reviews often don’t give me enough insight for me to determine whether I want to read it.  However some books just don’t leave a huge impression and writing much about them is rather difficult.  I also don’t mind a short review when it’s a book later in a series.  Just knowing if it was good, if the characters lived up to expectations, etc is enough for me.  Reviews of children’s books are also fine in short version.  What about you, what’s your preferred length?

Okay, so what compels you to read a book?  I get many review requests each day.  Sometimes I just know it’s not my thing and I delete it.  Other times I decide to look up reviews and get an idea of the feedback.  And what often makes me decide to hold off on a book is all positive reviews.  I’m been reviewing books for a few years now and I’ve found that if a book ONLY has good reviews then there’s something fishy there.  I know, that sounds bad.  And actually, if there are only 5 reviews on that book and they are all positive I’m well aware that it’s very possible it’s an excellent book.  But it could just be that those 5 people are friends and family of the author.  When I see a book has a variety of ratings and I read through and see what peoples complaints were I have a much better idea of whether it’s for me.  For example, a person may not like a book because they prefer no strong Christian themes in their books and so they rate it 3 stars for that reason alone, if I liked strong Christian themes (I don’t actually…) then I know that I may like it.  Or if someone rates it low because they hated the cursing, and personally I don’t love a lot of cursing but it’s never made me rate a book less, so I might still like the book.  But if many people say that the grammar and editing needs quite a lot of work and it’s said over and over again I may ask the author if it’s been updated and/or if I can get a sample before committing.  My point is, I want an idea of whether this book is for me and all positive reviews aren’t giving me enough.

Now when you’re reading reviews on a blog what is it that gets you to say I MUST READ THAT?  If the reviewer points out how much they loved the characters I’m probably going to want to read the book.  I guess some additional info helps, like if they were absolutely hilarious- yep, going on my pile!  I also am a sucker for unique-ness.  If I hear that a book is so completely different from anything else out there, well I’m likely to give it a try.   And incoherent raving sells me every time.  Okay, so not really.  But if there’s incoherent raving and then a review pointing out everything I want in a review (characters, plot, setting, pace, etc) then I’ll certainly be putting it on my list.

Sometimes it doesn’t take much to get a book on my pile.  Not long ago someone sent me a recommendation via goodreads and I checked it out (I don’t usually) and saw lots of good reviews of it and so I bought it (it was only .99 cents).   Sometimes I get a review request and I just say yes because of the description alone.  I think it’s all about my mood and how I’m feeling about my TBR at that particular moment.  Luckily that one was a winner and ended up on my favorites list for the year.

So tell me, what are your thoughts?

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  1. Great post! I agree that all this is important in book reviews. I appreciate this post because, while I’m not a book blogger, I generally post reviews when I finish a book (I don’t finish them nearly as often as you book bloggers do) and I’m trying to improve my reviews. I think my biggest problem is the negative. I never want to write the negative, but I hear what you say about it’s importance. Thanks!

  2. I completely agree with the whole “all five star reviews” thing…that is fishy and will turn me off a book. And I definitely like to see a well balanced review. Very few books are 100% good…I try to share thoughts on all aspects…character development, pacing, writing quality, plot, conclusion etc and then draw my conclusions.

  3. Ooooo yay discussion post! I love reviews that give me solid reasons why the reviewer either liked or didn’t like the book and why. I don’t care for reviews that simply summarize the book and then give a numerical rating. That tells me nothing. The reviewers I follow on a daily basis are all people whose opinions I trust based on past reviews of theirs I’ve read, and I can always tell from reading their thoughts if a book is for me or not.

    As far as what I look for in a book? I think some of it comes back to reviewers – if I’ve seen something on blogs I follow recommending a particular story, I take note even if at first glance I might not think it’s for me. Pushing the Limits is a good example. I had no intense desire to pick that one up (I didn’t think it sounded bad by any means, I just wasn’t chomping at the bit to read it) and I saw it on several of the blogs I love and decided to give it a go. Best. Decision. Ever:)

  4. This is really interesting and great to know. Thank you for sharing!

    For me personally, in a review I don’t want a recap. I can read that in the synopsis. I want the readers impressions, feelings, and overall take on how the book was for them.

  5. Just like Jenny I don’t care at all for reviews that mainly sumerize the plot! I don’t need that nor do I care to read such a review.

    I want feelings. Like did you laugh,cry or felt anything when reading, those are important aspects of a review. If I want to know the plot, then I have to read the book.

    Also, I do prefer medium length review. When they are too short, I feel like the reviewer didn’t care enough about a book to actually say something about the book..

    As for the rating… I do have a problem with a 3 star rating. Sometimes I find myself nagging on the negative although I did enjoy the book, or staying super positive and then give it “only” a 3.

    For me a lot has to do with feelings and emotions…


    Also, I absolutely love when a reviewer has a rating. I don’t like reviews that don’t… Sometimes, I want to shy away from a negative review because I plan to read the book myself, so having a rating makes it easy for me to decide if I read this review or not..

    Oh and just for the record? I LOVE your reviews, perfect length and you tell me exactly what I need to hear!

  6. Liesel, it takes awhile to find your ‘voice’s and style but having an idea what people want in a review does help. I had no clue when I started…

    Melissa, Yes! Most books have some negative bits and I would like to have an IDEA of it.

    Jenny, I agree, I don’t need a summary. And when a review is ALL summary, I HATE that!
    And yes! So many bloggers reviews have convinced me to read books I wouldn’t normally.

    Heather, yes, a recapture isn’t really needed unless its a lame one provided (I forgot that sometimes that happens).

    Danny, I totally forgot to add that in! I NEED to know how the book made you FEEL!
    And I’m so glad you love my reviews! Thank you!
    Oh and yes, I prefer to have a rating too, for the same reasons you mentioned. It just gives me an idea how the book made them ‘feel’ too.

  7. I could probably go on for hours about this, but I’ll try to keep it short(ish)!

    I like reviews that
    discuss the characters: their strengths & weaknesses, motivations, personality, whether they’re sympathetic, if they experience growth, if they’re believable, if they work to the purpose of the story.
    discuss the plot: the pacing, action or character driven, mood, prominent themes, setting/worldbuilding, closure or cliffhanger
    tell WHY: the reviewer did/didn’t like something, what bothered them and what they liked
    include a rating: this isn’t a requirement for me, but I prefer that reviewers rate a book. I want to see their level of like/dislike quantified in some way.
    honesty: I want to see that they both like and dislike books and express their opinions gracefully and honestly. Then I know that I can trust those opinions to be heartfelt and discerning.

    As far as what will compel me to read a book – seeing reviewers that I trust get excited about the book or hold it in high regard, if the synopsis clicks with me in some way, if it’s from a publisher that consistently puts out books that I like, and, perhaps unfortunately, if the cover grabs me.

  8. Definitely awesome points! :) For me, I hate reviews that are just summaries of the book. I mean, you didn’t tell me anything that you liked about the book, so why did you give if four stars instead of one? I really want to know what people thought about the book. Everybody has different ways on how they prefer to write a book review, but I think it’s a pretty good review as long as I know how they felt overall about the book. :)

  9. Great post! I love reviews that aren’t summaries of the plot. I prefer them without spoilers too. I understand that it’s difficult to write a review without spoilers, but I want some mystery left for me to find.

    I’m not a blogger, but I am trying to review all books I read now. I’m working on improving my own reviews so they’re more meaningful.

  10. I have to agree with most of what you said especially about the one where, if a book has all good reviews, there’s something wrong. Even the most buzzed about, adored books have bad reviews. There’s just no way everyone likes that book. People are too different.

    Excellent post! *retreats to writing cave to consider post like this*

  11. “However some books just don’t leave a huge impression and writing much about them is rather difficult.”

    Exactly! I always feel bad when I’m trying to review a book that was sent to me for review, and I can’t think of a single thing to say about it other that it was pretty good. I mean, for some reason, the book just doesn’t inspire a lot of reaction, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad.

    Funny always sell me, so that’s usually what tops my to buy list, right after sexy and steamy. LOL

    Great post Candace. Glad you found time to publish it.

  12. Sarah, I know those reviews on goodreads, amazong and other sites are just as important. You may not KNOW how many people are reading them, but personally, they are my go-to place to get a bunch of opinions in one place. I hope this helps you figure out your review style!

    Missie, Yes! Sometimes there’s not much to say… but I agree, if I know it’s funny there’s a good chance I’ll pick it up. Some people have a way of describing the characters that really makes me interested in a book too because characters personalities are just so HUGE for me.

  13. Interesting post! I don’t really know what I look for in a book review beyond what you said. I love to hear about the characters since I’m a very character-driven person when it comes to most books I read. I agree about rating a book and then not explaining what you did and did not like. I don’t rate things, but I DO try and share the things I did/did not like if I feel I can in an understandable way.

    As for finding books I want to read, it all depends, like you said. If it sounds like something I’d enjoy, whether it’s what I normally read or not, I’m usually curious enough to try and check it out. I also love when I hear books have humor or deal with tough issues.


  14. Oh what a great post! I agree with pretty much every point you’ve brought up. To me, reading about how well you related to characters or whether or not to expect a fast-paced or slow-paced plot are extremely important when I decide if I want to read a book. I also know a lot of people like reading short reviews, but there are some reviewers who only write one paragraph and go on an on about how much they loved it but never actually get to the reasons why they liked it, or like others have mentioned, practically just re-write a summary. And I personally think what’s the point of writing that review then? You can tell the world that you loved it on facebook or twitter!

    I do tend to trust certain reviewers over others though because everyone has different ideas of the ideal characters or perfect romance. Like mostly everyone loves Daughter of Smoke and Bone and while I loved the amazing world-building and writing, I couldn’t really care much for the characters or the romance. I still like reading reviews that differ from mine however, as I really enjoy hearing other’s opinions x)

    Anyway, I loved reading this post! Although sorry for the extremely long comment! :S

  15. Nice post! I’ve learned to not read certain blogs, because after reading certain books they’ve read, it became clear that they didn’t fully understand what they read. So I just don’t trust their reading comprehension.

    And I just want to address the rating issues. I don’t rate on my blog, but I reluctantly rate on GR. I think words express feeling more than numbers. I got so tired of people obviously just looking and my rating and inferring my thoughts from it, especially since rates can mean so many different things to different people. Like if I rate a book 3/5, that means I liked it. But a lot of people see that and think it means I don’t, when in the actual review I even state that I liked it. Idk, it just got annoying after awhile. I’ve contemplated using them again, but I hate restricting my feelings to a number. Does that make sense? lol

  16. LOL @ Incoherent ravings >.<

    I also want to see the good AND The bad. I know some people say if they don’t like a book they will only mention what was positive in the review and I really don’t get this. Why would potential readers only want to see the positive? First of all it’s a bit biased, and secondly, it’s not helpful. I usually look for about the same things, character connectibility/likeability, pacing, predictability, emotions etc. Interesting post, Candace!

    About what will get me to read a book – especially review requests, I won’t lie, but if the cover doesn’t impress me I likely won’t look into it further.

  17. I actually don’t read reviews for books that I already know I want to read. I only read reviews for books I either haven’t yet heard of or wasn’t really sure I wanted to read yet. But what I look for are the story line and the pros and cons of the book. I want to know what the reader liked and disliked, and why. Great post!

  18. This is such a great post, Candace! I agree with so many points that you had! I love to see the good and bad in reviews, and unless you rate it a one or two, there’s always bound to be some good, right? That’s why it always puzzles me when people seem to be slamming a book with three stars! I don’t swear at all, but cursing has never made me dock stars off a book either.

    And about review lengths… I used to be TERRIFIED to write long reviews because I was scared no one would want to read them! But now I’ve gotten into the habit of writing slightly longer reviews with more insight because I realized that — when I’m searching on Goodreads — I always look for those longer and in depth reviews that touch on the characters, story, pacing, and all that jazz. :) More than half the books I read are solely because they’re recommended to me by other bloggers LOL! x)

    Thanks so much for the awesome discussion post, Candace! <3

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