The objective of a book review is to help a potential reader decide whether or not they will like a particular book.
Should they spend their hard-earned money buying this book? Is it worth their time to read? My time is valuable. I don’t want to waste hours reading a bad book, even a free book, when I could have been doing something more enjoyable (like scrubbing the toilet, or better still, reading a good book).
So I read reviews to make sure I’m not wasting my time. And I write reviews to help others in the same way.
But what makes a good book review?
Over the years I have come to the conclusion that there are five main aspects that contribute to my enjoyment of a book, and these are the questions I try to address when I write a review:
Does the plot make sense? Do the sub-plots add to the overall story? Is it believable? Is it original, or do I feel I’ve read it before?
Do I like the characters? Are they people I’d want to know and spend time with in real life? Or are they too-stupid-to-live clichés?
Does the book conform to the expectations of the genre? If it’s Christian fiction, does the protagonist show clear progression in their Christian walk? If it’s romance, is there an emotionally satisfying ending? If it’s fantasy or science fiction, has the author succeeded in convincing me the world they have created is real?
Writing and editing
With many books, especially those from small publishers or self-published authors problems with the writing or editing take me out of the story (like a heroin wearing a high-wasted dress). Bad writing or insufficient editing makes a book memorable for all the wrong reasons.
The Wow! Factor
Some books, very few, have that extra something that makes them memorable for the right reasons. The Wow! factor is usually a combination of a unique plot and setting, likeable and intelligent characters (I loathe stupid characters), and a distinct and readable writing style, or ‘voice’. This is highly subjective and other readers might not agree with my taste. And that’s okay.
Some reviewers, especially Christian reviewers, are of the view that “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”, or that a positive review is building up God’s Kingdom.
I see their point, but I don’t entirely agree.
I don’t believe God’s Kingdom is built on second-rate work.
Praising books with basic writing faults encourages mediocrity, and we should be aiming to give God our best. This takes a combination of (God-given) talent and (our) hard work. I say this as a reviewer, and as an aspiring fiction writer.
Readers deserve to know whether a book is worth their time and money. Even a free book takes several hours to read, hours the reader can never get back, so the book needs to be good enough to justify that time.
I believe it’s important to be truthful and honest in my reviews. It’s also important to understand that honest may not be positive. But it’s only my opinion. You might disagree—and that’s great.
Going forward, I’m going to focus on reviewing books I like and can recommend, based on the above criteria. Because that’s what I think makes a good book review. It’s what I look for in reviews I read, and it’s what I seek to write.
What do you think makes a good book review?