Can a Book Review Be Called a Review if it Isn’t Critical?

Posted By on Jun 26, 2012 | 10 comments


Writer and blogger Nina Badzin (check out her blog if you haven’t already…every post is like talking with a friend over cup of coffee–she’s the shtick, ba da bum) brought up a good point in her comment on one of my latest blog posts. She said that as new writers it is hard to be honest in reviews, in which I totally agree. Our personal knowledge of the author and/or the writing process will skew (screw?) us every time. But I will tell you, I have read books that I didn’t connect with by authors I have been acquainted with and I have had to let those float away without saying a word. I don’t want to hurt any feelings but just because I didn’t enjoy it doesn’t mean someone else won’t. To express my true feelings would not only hurt our friendship but also ruin another reader’s chance at making their own opinion.

When I do enjoy a book by someone I know, it is almost impossible to be unbiased. I wrote a post about this a while back but Nina’s comment made me stop and think about reviews vs. recommendations again. If a friend sends me a galley, I am going to do what I can to help. Whether it be an interview,  a book recommendation, a giveaway, or guest post, I try to help do my part as a friend. But reading books by people I know is bittersweet. I crack their books with my fingers crossed. God, how I wish I loved all of them. One thing you can hold as true, that if it appears on my blog, I endorse it.

A good book review requires critical analysis, so by definition, that disqualifies my reviews as really “reviews”. Karma’s a bitch and I want to be a published author someday. I’m not stupid. If I don’t like the book, then my silence can speak for itself. If I was getting paid to write reviews, then that would be completely different. I would be obligated to be critical and provide the bad with the good. But do I want to really go down that road?

So what do I do? Unless I’m writing reviews for money (which I don’t see happening any time soon), I guess I should label my posts as book recommendations. I had bounced back and forth in the past between using review vs. recommendation in some of my posts and used “review” more as of late. I guess it made me feel more high-falootin’ or something.

My point here is you can take them for what they are worth considering the source. I’m just a friend letting you know what book I think you should read next instead of 50 Shades of Grey. *smirk*

What are your thoughts?

  • Do you believe all reviews should be critical, providing the bad with the good?
  • Does “book review” vs. “book recommendation” mean different things to you? 
  • What do you like to read in a book review? Less summary, more opinion? Less opinion, more persuasion? 
  • What do you think when you read reviews that give the bad with the good? “What an asshat!” or “Glad I read this before I wasted my time (and money) on this one.”?
Side note:  I was mentioned on a Babble.com post by my good friend Jen who is the funny (and popular!) writer behind “People I Want to Punch In The Throat” blog! And you know what she mentioned me for? My book reviews!! Ha! She doesn’t say my name directly but she links to my blog as a place to get great book reviews. Reviews…recommendations…what do I DO?!

{photo courtesy of deviantART/krzysztofwojtczak)

10 Comments

  1. I’m going to weigh in on this. In my opinion, an aspiring author should not be a reviewer. An endorser…fine. Here’s a true story. It happened to a friend of mine (really):

    Her debut is coming out later this summer. Her editor wanted to get a blurb from Author X. Author X was initially willing, but then she googled her name and my friend’s name together and came across a “review” my friend had written of Author X’s book years earlier. Maybe it was a little critical. Maybe Author X wasn’t interested in blurbing my friend’s book anymore!

    But if one is not an aspiring author, then I think reviews are perfectly fine–though some people are clearly better at it than others. Praising a book is not a review. Slamming a book is not a review. As you said, it’s meant to be an analysis–which is to say, a discussion of the good and the less than good.

    In my opinion, the best reviewers take time to consider a book and to think about the experience. They ask intelligent questions about the choices the author made because nothing (even the parts the reviewer didn’t like) were accidental. You can tell the difference between a thoughtful review (even if it’s a negative one) and a review that’s a knee-jerk reaction to a book.

    I give the most credit to reviewers who take their time.

    Post a Reply
    • Thanks so much for your honest opinion, Anne. My policy has always been that I would only post positive reviews so hopefully I would never be in the same position as your friend. However, that is the point of my post. How can I call my reviews “reviews” if they aren’t critical? I guess I don’t.

      Thanks so much for weighing in. Your opinion means so much!

      Post a Reply
  2. Hi Hallie,
    I like a good old book recommendation. I don’t have a lot of time to read so I love to hear what others have read- enjoyed or hated. Reviews usually seem a little phony and have the “they paid met to say this stuff” feeling…
    I like a little summary (just enough to give me an idea of the overall story) and more opinion. I like bad and good reviews and usually look for both to get a feel for the book/author.
    Glad I found your blog! Saw Nina’s link for this on her FB page. Can’t wait to read more… when I have a few minutes!
    See you around. Selena :)

    Post a Reply
    • Thanks so much for stopping by! Nina rocks, doesn’t she?

      The hard thing with writing a critical (negative) review for me is that I am working my way through writing a novel. If I was strictly a reader, then I would have no problem telling people what I liked and didn’t like about a book I just read. However I have soiled that forever because now I see things through writer’s glasses as well. Which also means that someday, my own book will be on the chopping block and, gulp, I would want other writers to support me rather than rip my book apart. I totally believe in “what goes around, comes around”. So recommendations it is! :)

      Thanks again for stopping by–so grateful for new readers!

      Post a Reply
  3. Hallie,
    Ah, book reviews. Like you, I do my best to help fellow authors promote their works, and that often takes the form of an author interview or a guest post. Book reviews are not my forte. In fact, I’m not that great at writing reviews on Amazon. But, I do it.

    I like your point that if you were getting paid, it would be different; I’d be more likely to point out the good and the bad. But until then, I’m perfectly satisfied keeping my focus on author interviews. Once in a while, I do run an interview with an author whose book I didn’t love, but I always hope that the questions and answers will guide the readers to know if it’s a book they’d like to read.

    Post a Reply
    • I like to do author interview’s as well. It takes the pressure off myself, especially if I didn’t LOVE the book. I think interviews are a great way for readers to find authors and their books. Plus, I have a ton of fun doing them!

      Thanks for the comment, Christi! Hope you are having a productive summer with the kiddos! Me? Not so much. :(

      Post a Reply
      • Ah, summer. Writing is slow, but the kids are having fun. Somehow it all balances out :)

        Post a Reply
  4. I completely agree with everything that’s been said so far. This is one of the reasons that I rarely review books, or if I do, it’s because I truly loved a book and had nothing but great things to say about it. I know a lot of people might think that’s a total cop-out, but I’m happy to leave book reviewing to actual reviewers, and happy to take recommendations from them or (more often than not) trusted friends & bloggers who rave when they find a book they love.

    This is also why I’m so bad at using Goodreads. I love it for keeping track of and finding new books, but I’m not too active about rating/reviewing. If I’ve recently read a book that I can’t rate at least 4 or 5 stars, I’d rather not rate it at all. It makes me wish they allowed half stars, because 3.5 stars would still seem favorable, right?

    It’s hard not to keep the author in mind, because even if I’m not acquainted with them, I would HOPE to be colleagues down the line ;) And even if I don’t love their book, I can appreciate the dedication and talent it took to write it, so I probably wouldn’t be as quick to judge anyways.

    Maybe that makes me biased, but really, in what other arts field do artists review other artists? Aren’t critics in their own field? I’d rather be an advocate for authors and reading, rather than be a critic and turn someone off from a book they might love.

    Post a Reply
    • I’d rather be an advocate for authors and reading, rather than be a critic and turn someone off from a book they might love.

      –EXACTLY!

      I guess that is why I am going back to “book recommendations” because it can encompass a lot, including books by those I know! Thanks for the comment love, Natalia!

      Post a Reply
  5. I love the term “recommendation” over review. I think it’s more intellectually honest. It for sure describes what I do when I write about books. I too would rather share something I love than slam anything. But I also don’t want to claim to love something when I found it just okay. . . which is why I don’t accept galleys, etc, for discussion on the blog. I pretty much only write about books I found for myself and decided to “recommend.”

    Post a Reply

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