The Art of Reviewing

Someone asked me yesterday what process I go about when I review a book. Since I have started this website with a whole page devoted to doing just that, it seemed prudent to provide an answer. I’ll start with my review system. I grade on a 1-5 star (soon to be pumpkin if I can find the right clip art) scale. You would think that would be self-explanatory, but if you read a lot of reviews you know that it is not. I rarely see a review where the written description matches the number of stars given. I think people tend to underrate books, if that makes sense. I see three star reviews with one star ratings all the time. So to help avoid any confusion, here is what each star means to me.

1 Star – One Star reviews make me sad. I am a writer, and I know what kind of effort goes into producing even the worst book. Unless you are James Patterson and you have a veritable army of co-authors who write the books you eventualy put your name on, chances are you poured everything you had into your book. And I appreciate the fact that reviews are as much for the author as they are the audience. In any event, I only give one star reviews to the very worst books. Books that make no sense, that have cardboard thin characters if they have real characters at all. Books that have cheap and ridiculous dialogue or books that are impossible to finish.

I will not give a book one star simply because I did not like it, no matter how intense my feelings. Time for full disclosure—I hate Twilight. I hated it so much that I couldn’t get past the first 75 pages. I tried. I had even bought both the first two books in the series because I assumed I would like them. I like vampires. I’m a fan of Harry Potter. What could go wrong? The less said about it the better, especially since that’s not the point. The point is that even if I had finished the book, I would not have given it one star. Why? Because I don’t think a book that has had the cultural impact of Twilight can be a one star book. You may think I am crazy, but I am not really trying to convince you. I’m just explaining. The simple fact of the matter is I will rarely write a one star review. But if I do, you know it is bad.

2 Stars – Most of the bad reviews I write are two star reviews. A two star review means that I find something redeeming about the book (Twilight‘s cultural impact for instance) even though for whatever reason I really don’t like it. Maybe the premise fails. Maybe it is poorly written or confusing. Maybe it accomplishes nothing it sets out to accomplish. Either way, it’s a book I really didn’t like. I’ll be giving a lot of these as I try and get back into the reviewing swing of things.

3 Stars – You won’t see many of these reviews. A three star review is neither hot nor cold. It’s the worst possible review, in my opinion. It means you read the book and thought, “eh.” I hate when I get a three star review. I especially hate it because I think some people cap what they will give to genre fiction. They are like high school kickers on Rivals (forgive me, football illiterate)—they only go up to three, no higher. I don’t do that. I will rate a zombie novel just as highly as I will Ulysses. Not that I would rate Ulysses that high . . . .

4 Stars – A four star novel is one that I really love. Some authors actually get upset about four star reviews. Weird, I know. It is like you are insulting them if you don’t say their book is perfect. For me, a four star book is one I would recommend to just about anyone without any concern.

5 Stars – The funny thing about five star reviews is that they aren’t necessarily “better” than books I give four stars. Five star books fit into one of two categories. Either I just loved the book, loved it no matter what its flaws might be, or it is a book I consider to be great. If I loved the book, I can forgive any number of problems. If it is a great book, I may not have even enjoyed it that much, but I will give it five stars and explain why. There are considerably fewer of those . . . .

So there you have it. That’s my standard. Let me know in the comments how you value a book.

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