Am I Too Lenient When I Review Books?

Book reviews are important. Even if they get the least amount of views, I can bet that the views they do get are from people genuinely interested and trying to make a decision on whether to read said book or not. They give people an idea of what to expect. Many of us have blogging friends whose opinions we trust wholeheartedly. When we see them publish a review of a book we may be on the fence about, we quickly read it because we trust them and their opinion matters.

That thought right there made me question my book reviews. I questioned things like how I review books, what sort of things do I tend to critique, what things do I tend to not even notice, what is important to my readers that I do or do not address in my reviews? It got me thinking, am I too lenient?

I’m a mood reader

I am 100% a mood reader. I have always read for entertainment and have never spent a lot of time critiquing books. I pick up a book if the synopsis sounds fun, I read it, and I am either entertained or I am not entertained. My reviews tend to reflect that. Did I relate to the character? Was the pacing too slow? Was there a lot of action? Was the romance a super-unrealistic whirlwind?

Where this can have a negative impact on my reviews is that I either love a book or I hate a book. It is very rare for me to say a book was “just okay” and give it a mid-range rating. It’s either 1 star or 5 stars. Looking back at my reviews, the number of 5-star reviews would make some of you probably shake your head at me. My average rating on Goodreads is 3.92. I give a lot of rave reviews.

Then I look back and think “why did I give this book 5-stars? I don’t even remember the plot…” Yeah, I’m that reader.

So, am I too lenient? Do I give too many books the benefit of the doubt? Am I not looking closely enough to give a fair and correct rating? Do I let my emotions play too much of a role in my reviews? Probably. So, I’ve tweaked how I’m going to review books from now on.

SEPARATING EMOTION FROM REVIEWS

Recently Emily from Loony Literate talked about not liking books but still recommending them. She uses the example of History Is All You Left Me – a book she wasn’t particularly fond of but had to separate her emotions from the review just enough to still recognize the book could be important for someone else.

I relate to this so much in that I feel like I haven’t been doing this enough while reading. What may not be my cup of tea can be perfect for another person – not just in a difference of opinion but in representation. A book that one person doesn’t see themselves in at all could be the closest representation another has ever read. It’s important to acknowledge that.

Obviously, I’m not going to completely ignore my own emotions about a book. That’s why I read in the first place! However, I think Emily is right in that there needs to be a distinction between how a book has made you feel and looking at the merits of it objectively.

Some changes are a-comin’

I started a reading journal

So far, this has proved useful. I used to take notes and while a journal is similar, I’ve customized it to get my brain thinking more critically while I’m reading. I include a rating section of all the categories I tend to review: world-building, character development, writing, plot, originality, etc. Having that in front of me while reading reminds me to critique those areas while reading not after I’m done and already have an emotional response to the book.

It can also be helpful if I find another book that I feel was rated incorrectly (either too low or too high). I can check the journal to see what my thoughts were at the time of reading.

More categories

Speaking of categories, you may have already noticed a few added ones in my reviews. I’m going to try to slowly add in categories in my reviews to help break down my thoughts more. A few of them are:

  • Romance – Honestly, sometimes it’s just fun to either love or bash on a romance. So I included that section. I also think it can be helpful for some people who make a decision based on the existence – or non-existence – of one.
  • Representation – This is especially for books that rely on that. Books like Me Before You, Under Rose-Tainted Skies, More Happy Than Not – they all have major themes around disability, mental health, and sexuality. This is important to a lot of people and should be included, especially when talking about those types of books.
  • World-Building – I’m going to start including this category for any fantasy books I read. Sometimes authors do this perfectly, sometimes we’re left scratching our heads.

  1. What do you think? Do you think your own reviews can use a little less emotion and a little more true critique?
  2. How do you keep track of your thoughts while reading?
  3. Do you think some of your old ratings can be redone to either lower or raise the rating?
  4. What are some things you’d like to see reviewers do more of in their reviews? Things you wish they’d notice while reading? Categories you wish they’d cover?

  • Eh I like emotional reviews. Those tend to be the ones I like to read the most. I know I am lenient when reviewing but I am ok with that. This is a hobby for me so I am not trying to be overly critical. i don’t take notes while I read because I found that makes me not enjoy it as much but after I finish a book I jot down main points. Great post 🙂

    • Oh same! Mine will probably still be mainly about my emotional response. But I do think there are times where I could have said “I didn’t like this but you might like these elements of the book” instead of “this sucked, don’t read” hahah

      I have to take notes >.< I have a terrible memory and tend to write my reviews at least a week after finishing the book. If I didn't, I probably wouldn't remember most of my thoughts lol

  • I tend to lean the other way and often wonder if I’m too critical in my reviews– I also give a lot of 2.5-3.5 stars range. I think there’s a definite difference in disliking a book, and sharing what you didn’t like about it vs. trash talking it. Love your idea of keeping a journal and your specific rating scale to different elements of the book.

    • Let’s mesh our ways of reviewing to come up with the perfect middle ground! haha Hopefully the new categories & journal will help me be a bit more critical.

  • I am a total mood reader too!
    One of the best things for me is that my friend loves the books I tend not to like, so I’m figuring out how to still recommend a book when I don’t like it myself. Bit of a learning curve “this sucked, you’ll like it” doesn’t work so well haha.
    Cora | http://teapartyprincess.co.uk/

    • Yeah, there is a balance. I sometimes tend to be like “this sucks don’t read it” when I don’t like a book, which sometimes I can TOTALLY still do. Other times it might be more useful to say what people MIGHT like about it.

  • Great discussion! Sometimes I look back on five-star reads and think maybe it wasn’t as good from a more objective stand point. I usually write reviews with 48 hours of finishing a book and maybe my emotions are still at play. Same goes for meh books. I wonder if I rate them low because I was just not feeling the genre at the time. Lots of things to think about. Thanks for the insightful discussion.

    • YES. SAME. Especially if I write my review shortly after, it’s more emotional. If I wait a little, I have more time to think and also realize if I actually REMEMBER anything that happened lol

  • An interesting discussion. I would argue reading and reviewing is subjective in its nature. Our feelings can sometimes make or break a “good” book. I think the key is to value the book despite our feelings. I tend to rate books I didn’t connect to emotionally as 3 stars – valuable, but not really for me. I very rarely give 1 or 5 star ratings, most fall in the forgettable 2 – 4 star range. Good luck with your review journal!

    • See, I need to do more of that. 5-stars are passed out like candy here lol OR I give a lot of 1-star. It’s either, not a mix. It’s just something I feel I need to work on.

  • Last year, I gave out five stars to a ton of books. This year, I have only given one book a five star rating. I loved this discussion, reviews never get much pageviews, comments, etc etc my recent discussion post got double the amount of views that I get for reviews. The thing is, I like a book when I can personally identify with the characters, plus the plot shouldn’t be cliche, tropes such as instalove and love triangles should not be used, and I am good!

    • I think that may be me this year (less 5-stars) because it is kind of ridiculous how many I give out. There’s a book I reviewed recently that I gave 5 stars to and after a week I was like “why? It wasn’t THAT good”. So, I’m definitely going to be a little more stingy with them.

      Discussions definitely get more views. But I think the reviews are still somewhat useful. I read them for books that I’m not sure about or books I already read to see what other people thought, mainly for discussion purposes.

  • I’m trying to mix both emotional and critical aspects in my reviews. And i find that writing main points really help me organize my thoughts.
    Thanks for sharing. Awesome post! 😀

    • That’s definitely me, too. I need a structure in order to get my thoughts out. That’s why I use categories, so I can think about EACH subject separately instead of just my emotional response to the book.

      Thank you!

  • both, some things are extremely important to me in books and it has nothing to do with emotion. Like I don’t like rapid fire writing or when everything happens conveniently. The story could touch me on emotional base but if the style doesn’t work for me, I’ll write that into my review so people are aware what is happening in not just emotional but structural as well.

    • Oh yes, I definitely look at that! That’s actually kind of like a book I just finished. Everything was so convenient! I started to get really annoyed with the plot haha

  • Love this discussion, Molly! I’m probably kinda the opposite tbh – though I’m a major mood reader as well, I’m kinda stingy with my ratings and barely ever give 5 stars, haha. My Goodreads average I think is 3.11 or 3.12.

    Really good books make it to 4 stars for me, and that’s high enough (i.e. the Shades of Magic trilogy – I love those books to bits and pieces but they’re all 4-star reads instead of 5-star). It’s VERY RARE that a book reaches 5 stars for me, and usually there needs to be a personal element to it (i.e. I could relate to the story). I actually very often give books 3-star, as that’s where most books fall for me – usually it stands for “enjoyable enough, but not unforgettable”.

    I keep a reading journal too, but it’s all mixed into one with my regular bullet journal! And I don’t really make notes for ~all the books I read~, just the ones that I might want to review. 😛

    • heheh I need to be a little more conservative with my 5-stars. Seriously. I’m just so easy to please, OR I’m easy to get annoyed too (because lots of 1-2 stars). Oops.

      I don’t really read that much anymore, so I review every book I read. I’ve been in a killer slump for months now, so if I didn’t write one for every book this blog wouldn’t have ANY reviews on it lol

  • Sydney West

    I love this discussion and where your thoughts are headed. I think with reviewing its not that bloggers aren’t hard enough. It’s that we tend to rate books based on how much we liked them. Which is the easiest but not exactly helpful for ppl who want to read the book. Someone else may relate to that Main character. They may like the plot of this story. I’ve tried to change my reviews to where I’m rating the authenticity of the characters, the world building, and story telling. I do leave one star out of the five to be based off of how I feel. But the other 4 are based off those other things. I want to be able to say “This story just wasn’t for me but you might like it if you like these things” Because there is a difference between a story I just didn’t gel with and a very badly written story with problematic aspects.

    • It’s definitely a balance. I mean, I love reading those really emotional reviews (especially when they’re negative because they’re usually a little funny), but there is a balance when trying to be critical. I’m a mood reader and an emotional reader so sometimes my reviews don’t exactly cover topics it maybe should to help OTHER people out. I don’t write the reviews for myself, you know?

  • Hm, I personally don’t think so! I’m just more of an emotional person over a critical reader, which is why I like some unpopular books that people consider trash and don’t like books that everyone says are the best thing ever omg!!!! Or maybe I’m just weird. ?

    I don’t really keep track of my thoughts, which is probably a problem, but I usually just remember them when I sit down to write a review. I did re-rate some books when I had a Goodreads account, usually books that I thought were awesome but were really just meh.

    I don’t really mind what people do in their reviews! I personally don’t enjoy them too much, so bloggers can do whatever they want with them, tbh. I much prefer discussions, advice, tags, etc.

    • I’m the same way! I tend to like/dislike the opposite of the majority. SOMETIMES I’ll agree but other times I’m just like “am I reading a different book?” which made me kind of think of this. Also, one book that I realllly disliked, everyone loves. And that got me thinking of my reviews as well because even though I didn’t like it, it could be really important for someone else to read. But that wasn’t something I mentioned in my review at all. So, its not that I want to take my feelings out (obviously) but I want to start recognizing when someone else might benefit from reading the book. I don’t know if I’m making sense now. lol

      See, I have a terrible memory. I HAVE to write things down or when I go to write the review I’ll be like “what happened?” hahah

      Same! I only read reviews for books I’m on the fence about OR ones that I’ve already read and want to know what other people thought.

  • Stuart

    When I started book blogging I began to compile a sort of reviewing bible. It has everything I need in it, from a review template, list of points od consideration and details on genres to tips on writing, comprehension and note taking. I write as I read so I have plenty to come back to when sitting down to blog.

    I think I am a bit soft when it comes to reviewing, but I think it is a habit that gets easier of time. I feel more comfortable being more direct and detailed about likes and dislikes now than I did a year ago. Reading is personal, that is why I love the idea of book reviews. Getting to see a 360º view of a book that people loved and hated.

    I really appreciate your content. It is thought provoking and interesting. I look forward to reading more of your posts.

  • Casey Reads adoptabookaus

    Oh god you think you have a high goodreads rating! Mine is 4.2 but I like to think I choose my books wisely I know what I’ll enjoy and tend to stick to fave authors too XD I give most things a 4 or 5 stars and then look back like hmmm I can’t really remember what even happens in that book why did I ever rate it so high XD

    I do think it’s actually pretty fun to write 1 star reviews though I just find I have more to write(complain about) I’m definitely an emotional reader but I have become a lot more critical now I’m blogging because I want my reviews to be spot on. This is an awesome discussion 🙂

    • hahah Mine is close to yours! I read all over the place (in terms of genres) so I don’t know what I’ll like. I’m also a mood reader, so that has an effect on my reviews/thoughts on a book.

      I have to admit, I kind of like the negative reviews too. Especially if they’re for ones that I just REALLLLLY hated. Not just “this was bad” but like a “WTF did I just read” type of book haha They’re fun to write.