How I review books.
Writing is an art.
I've always found the idea of rating art as an odd thing.
Imagine reviewing paintings like "This Picasso painting is definitely the best one. A+, five stars, would look at again."
So when we review a book, are we really reviewing the book, or are we grading the technical components involved? Do we only consider pacing, prose, structure, character development, and all the other tools the author has used to sculpt their final piece, like hammer a chisel?
A large component of reviews seems to include how the story made you feel. How you connected to the characters. If the notes the author hit resonated with you. This subjectivity makes it difficult when using others reviews to help you decide whether you will read a book or not, as your own experience may very well be completely different from theirs.
Because of this, I tend to consider my reviews very carefully.
Ultimately, there are four things I will consider when writing my review.
My number one factor, first and foremost. Did I have fun reading it? Do I think others would? I rate this so highly because my attention span is terribly low when I am not having fun!
Everything from the cover image, to the blurb on the back is about promises to the reader, and fulfilling those promises. I often try and consider what story the author was trying to tell. What did they want me to feel? Did the twists land right? Are the character relationships memorable? There is nothing worse than an unsatisfying conclusion after hours of reading. I want authors to whisk me away on adventures, but in order for them to do that, I need to trust that they're going to get me through the whole thing!
Is the story memorable. If someone asks me about it in a year, would I be able to give a synopsis? Did what was supposed to make me laugh or cry work? For bonus points I also take into consideration what the impact of this book on the wider audience is. Are we being gifted with an own voices story? Do we have diversity? Is it a story that the world needs right now, or is it a problematic mess that would be better left unread.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not picking through syntax and grammar, but there is one big question here. Is the authors technical skill good enough that they have told their story clearly? A few typos are barely even potholes in the journey for me, but if characters names are changing, or the mistakes are constant, I may begin to struggle.
That leaves one last thing. One that really bothers me.
HOW MANY STARS?
I hate the stars system. I'd rather just write comments. The stars system hurts, because people give it so much weight. Often when you look through one star reviews, they are left without comment, or with terrible takes, criticising inclusion of diverse characters or even that characters swear in the story.
Reviewing is a very personal act, and being reviewed is even more personal for authors. It is natural to feel like we have laid the contents of our soul on a platter, for the reader to pick through and judge. Just remember, if you go to a restaurant to try escargot for the first time - and it turns out you don't like escargot, that's no reason to recommend that others don't visit! Maybe just order something else next time!