To review or not review?

When I started this blog I promised myself I would review every book I read because my primary purpose for doing this was to help me remember the books I read. No review, no memory (yes it is that bad).

For the first year I kept my promise and dutifully reviewed every book, good or bad. I know many people don’t review books they don’t like but I thought it would help me to become better at selecting books I’m more likely to like (which it did). I also think that negative reviews (if they are constructive and not mean for the sake of it) provide help to other readers. I know myself that a well-placed negative review would have saved me a bit of money and reading time over the years.

Over the past year or so though I’ve become a little more selective about what I review. I still review most books I read (more than 90% of them) but there are a few that I’ve elected not to review. They fall into two categories

Category One: Middle-ground books that are neither very good nor very bad about which I can’t summon the energy to say anything much at all. A couple of recent books which fall into this category are

  • Alafair Burke’s Dead Connection which I listened to in audio format. It’s the first book in Burke’s Ellie Hatcher series, featuring a New York rookie Detective on the trail of a serial killer (of sorts). I simply cannot think of anything (not setting, characters or story) that distinguished this book from any other American police procedural featuring a serial killer (of which I have read more than a few).
  • Shelia Connolly’s Rotten to the Core is the second of a cosy mystery series featuring a Massachusetts apple grower as its heroine and while very cosy is not very mysterious at all. There is the discovery of a dead body followed by 200 pages of our plucky heroine learning how to live in her new home (driving a tractor, acquiring goats, spraying her apple trees, polishing her floors etc) and a quick last few pages revealing the glaringly obvious killer.
I don’t really worry too much about not reviewing this category of books.

Category Two: Books I was sent specifically for review by the author or publisher, which I have struggled through and about which I can find nothing positive to say. These are usually by lesser known authors and because of that I would feel guilty if I wrote what I really wanted to say. So I have applied the ‘if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing’ advice my father gave me all those years ago. It would defeat the purpose if I gave any examples of this category.

In a way I do worry about this category of non-reviews. Every time I see someone who can’t sing on one of those TV talent shows I wonder how it got to that point, how it is that no one ever told them they can’t sing? So shouldn’t I take the opportunity to have my say about books that aren’t up to scratch? The sad reality is that wanting to be something and working hard at it isn’t always enough. Not everyone can be a writer and if their families won’t tell them shouldn’t someone more objective do so? Probably, but my heart’s not in it.

Of course the problem with this category is finding a way to tell someone why their book won’t be reviewed here. I’m currently using the cowardly strategy of hoping they forget they’ve sent it to me and don’t come asking. If you can think of something a little braver do let me know. For the moment I’ve simply stopped accepting review copies all together. It’s not like I don’t have a gazillion books on my TBR shelves anyway, and I can do without the guilt.

Do you review everything you read? Do you have any categories that you don’t review? Do you have a nice way of saying “your book was bad” to hopeful new authors?

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18 Responses to To review or not review?

  1. Kerrie says:

    I can empathise with this Bernadette. I too have been trying to write a review of every book I read. Sometimes it is very difficult to say something original or useful about a book. I try to think about what others may enjoy or dislike in the book if that helps


  2. Bernadette – I can understand why you don’t review every book you read. It’s got to be hard and as you say, it does put the reviewer in a difficult situation if a book is really poorly-written. Honestly, I’ve gotten several Emails from publishers or authors asking me to review their stuff and I basically say, “No,” since my blog isn’t really a book review blog. I admire folks like you who do review books and do it really well.


  3. Dorte H says:

    Of course I have also run into this problem. The longer you blog, the more review copies you get.
    My way of coping with category two: if the author sends me a book which seems to have some potential but is just not MY kind of book, I offer him/her the opportunity to write a short post for my Notice Board. If I read it and don´t like it, I may send an e-mail to the writer and explain why – as kindly as possible.


  4. BooksPlease says:

    I started out with the intention of writing something about each book I read, to help me remember what they’re about and what I thought of them. But there are some that I just can’t summon up enough enthusiasm to write anything.

    I do feel as though I should write about a book if I’ve been sent it for review and usually write something, but I do have at least two books that I couldn’t even read, they were so unappealing! I haven’t mentioned them on my blog and so far have had no questions from the authors.

    I try to be more discerning now about accepting review books and don’t do very many. I can’t think of a way to tell an author their book is no good. There was one book that I didn’t like and wrote what I thought was a critical review – and the author thanked me, obviously I was too kind!


  5. I don’t write reviews of every book I read. I did at first, but realized that I have plenty of books in your first category: okay but not great books about which I really don’t have much to say. These posts tend to end up just being a plot synopsis with a sentence or two at the end about my opinion, and they’re a waste of my time and my readers’.

    The second category is more tricky. If you are sent unsolicited copies, you have no obligation to read and review them. They are sent to you on the off chance you might want to review it. But if you have said you’ll review the work, I can see why you would feel an obligation, and I would, too. I’ve only had this situation once myself, when I gave up on the book, and I ended up combining it in a post with another, similar book, in which I compared them and examined why one worked for me and the other didn’t.


  6. Maxine says:

    Good post, Bernadette. Incidentally, I read that Alafair Burke book, too – I think I did review it though I thought it bland, because it was sent to me by the publisher. I thought it would be good because I’d very much enjoyed her previous series, with a legal setting, but she was dropped by the publisher after the first 3 (?) and started a new series with a different publisher, if memory serves. I was not impressed, anyway, the book was not distinctive compared with the previous series, which I think was one of the original Orion new writers series that launched several good writers’ careers, eg Denise Hamilton, Victoria Blake – and possibly Steve Mosby.

    To the point- I ask publishers not to send me books unless I ask for them or agree to be sent them. If they ignore my request, then I don’t feel obliged to either read or review the books they send, many of which seem to be boilerplate “boy” thrillers from the looks of them – straight down to the charity shop.

    Books I have bought myself or agreed to be sent, I do try to review if I can say anything positive, in particular Euro Crime likes reviews to be positive so I hold back criticisms (while still being honest) more for EC than I do for a review on my own blog. It is hard for a website as they are more subject to complaints and even threats from interested parties who don’t like the reviews (as I am sure you recall from one of your more notorious DNFs!).

    It does seem to me that if you state your review policy on your blog (eg you don’t necessarily review unsolicited books or whatever) then nobody can complain. It is certainly too expensive to post back books one does not want!


  7. JoV says:

    I try to review every book I read because I started my book blog as a way of recording my thoughts rather than writing for people who read my blog. So I do talk about non-fiction books which appeals to me.

    If there comes a point where I can’t review every book I read, it would be a sad for me but it would because I can’t afford any time alone to be able to write a profound review. Even that I suppose a few para should suffice.

    The category I won’t review is computer manuals, something like “How to do VBA programming or sort”!


  8. Patty says:

    I love to read…and starting to blog and review somehow leaves me less time for that. I try to only read what I want to…if I am reviewing it for someone and I dislike it extremely…I will call or email them and tell them it is best for both of us if I do not review the book. I guess I am the cowardly lion in this aspect of reviewing. It is now a luxury to read a book without a review since I feel compelled to write one…but I am also writing what I call a booktalk…a short review written in my way in my style.


  9. Keishon says:

    I try to read and review books that elicited a strong reaction from me: good or bad. Like you, I’m getting to the point where middle grounds book are not longer worth the trouble of reviewing anymore. As for writing about a book that sucked, I try to do this but I don’t go out of my way to do it but I *try* to find nice things to say while I nail them on the other stuff. I can’t think of the author’s feelings when I write these reviews. As long as I don’t attack them personally, their work is fair game.


  10. Marg says:

    I used to make an effort to review every book I read, but in the end it ended up contributing to a feeling of pressure that I decided I could do without. Now I review what I feel like reviewing, generally talk about books or reading, and whatever else catches my fancy really, and I am happier doing that than I was when I was looking at all my unwritten reviews and thinking I *should* be doing this, or *should* be doing that.


  11. @Kerrie that’s a good tip thanks

    @Margot I’m still sure it’s easier to review than to write like you do

    @Dorte hmmm…possibly my problem is an innate lack of kindness?

    @Margaret I’m encouraged to hear the authors of the books you’ve never mentioned haven’t gotten in touch with you

    @Gail, good tip – actually I could do that with one of them – may re-think that thanks

    @Maxine – I definitely feel less pressure to do anything with a book I didn’t say yes to, but I have had a few that I agreed to review that I wished I’d never laid eyes on. And I know it won’t be a popular thing to say in the current climate but all but one of these was a self-published book

    @Jo I don’t think I’ll ever be up to your standard of depth and background information

    @Patty yes I understand completely the notion of the luxury of reading a book you don’t have to review (though of course for most of mine I’m the only one who puts the pressure on for a review)

    @Keishon you’re right that if you stick to commenting about the book it’s fair game, and I have only had a handful that I really couldn’t find something nice to say

    @Marg – I 100% agree – the notion of *should” be doing anything with respect to what is purely a hobby must be done away with – that’s why I started selectively non-reviewing and only talking about the books I’ve liked


  12. Really good post Bernadette. I think if a book has been published “traditionally” (e.g. by a third-party publisher) someone along the lines must have liked it and thought it had potential to sell. Generally, if I don’t like a book, it might be because it’s not a genre I particularly like (and I think a few people, generally not bloggers or experienced reviewers, give negative reviews just because of this).

    I always try to find something positive to say amongst what I didn’t like, and if I really can’t, I don’t write a review. What I find quite irritating is people giving very negative comments and not motivating them at all (again, this doesn’t happen with experienced reviewers).

    As a publisher, if I sent the book to a reviewer I would like to get feedback in any case – if they really didn’t like the book, maybe via a private comment. I think publishers and authors sometime forget that a review is just someone’s personal opinion, as highly regarded as they might be! (A lot of people didn’t like books like the Da Vinci Code or the Millennium Trilogy, which still sold rather well…)

    I am certainly very much against groups that are set up just to write negative comments – I have found some for Italian readers.


  13. I am the same as you. When I started my blog my goal was to review every book that I read. I still laregely keep to that goal, but my exceptions are if it is a re-read and I have reviewed it once before or sometimes if I have enjoyed it so much so that there aren’t really words for how I feel then I dont review it. But I suppose even then, I would have a post saying that I enjoyed it so much I can’t put my feelings into words. Not a very constructive post – but being constructive is over rated 🙂


  14. Keishon says:

    I agree with Marg too – I hate to be “shouding” all over the place. It’s not fun. Not at all.


  15. Kathy D. says:

    Don’t review books, read others’ reviews. Enjoy them. Add my two cents in comments, if motivated to do so.
    One problem is friends of mine are writing manuscripts for self-publication. I have to be kind and am. (My mother told me years ago to say “thank you,” and compliment a manuscript of a friend always.). I dealt with one friend’s manuscript by joking about one aspect of it and she laughed. And I made one constructive suggestion, which another friend also made — and she took. Otherwise, I was positive or said nothing.
    I think careful critiques are made here, positives and shortcomings stated well, honesty prevails but usually the positives of a book are stated, even if there are negatives. One gets a balanced view.
    I don’t think it’s fair to be too negative about a book or author. Most authors — except maybe those churning out parts of series to fulfill contractual obligations — do put their hearts into their books. They’re their creations and inventions, so I say be kind yet tactfully honest, meant to warn readers but not to wound egos.


  16. Beth F says:

    I still review everything I read, although some books are subject to short reviews. Writing the review helps me figure out why I didn’t like a book or why a book was only meh. On the other hand, you need to do what is best for you — if you don’t want to review a book, don’t!


  17. I Review all the books that I read straight onto my blog (unless I’m on holiday when I write them down to post later). For me my blog is all about sharing my views of books with others, whether they be good or bad.


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