“Thoughts On” is a feature where I give my (often rambling) thoughts on a topic relevant to reading, literature, or the book business. To see previous topics, click here.

One of the main reasons I started this blog was to review more books, but I’m still having trouble defining exactly what a “good” review means. Is it written immediately after I finish, full of typos and gifs because I can’t even? Is it long and beautifully formatted with fantastic tags? (Hey, Shealea!) Or maybe just something in between? I don’t dislike reading short reviews, nor do I particularly avoid writing them, but I seem to subconsciously aim for something longer than the book’s summary. (Perhaps to avoid the post looking lopsided? Idk.) But then the longer word count means I have to write more, which means I feel like what I do write has to be “good.”

I read about 40 books a year while posting about 36 reviews–so every book I do read has to “count.” But I also like to vary the format I review (featuring a nonfiction book in between two fiction) and also avoid reviewing sequels (what if they haven’t read the previous books??). So this further narrows the potential books I can review, and if I take longer than a week to finish something, I don’t have anything to post. So then I comb through Goodreads for something I haven’t featured here… but if I only added a review to GR, that probably means I thought it was too short to be considered as a “blog review,” so then I spend more time beefing up the review so that it feels long enough. (But why did I make these rules? 🤷‍♀️)

I constantly feel overwhelmed trying to read enough “appropriate” books to garner enough content, but I also feel like if I don’t post, I’ve somehow failed. I used to switch up the books I read, alternating between a fiction book and a nonfiction one in the hopes that the change in format would give me more time to write out a review, but it’s really hard to do that now when all I want to read is fiction. (Y’all, new books are so enticing.) I then tried to wait myself out, not starting a new book until I wrote a coherent review of the one I’d just finished, but I would continually drag my feet on writing and lose precious reading time in the interim. I scribble down notes now, comprised of keywords I hope will spark a memory later on, but these aren’t always helpful because it’s easy for them to lose context… or I just don’t find anything in the text on which to comment. (But somehow I still lag on writing reviews??? UGH.)

Then, on top of everything, I’m also, like, super negative sometimes and hate shitting all over a book–but what if I really didn’t like it? A negative review still counts as a review (and thus a post), but, as a consumer, I don’t like reading something that amounts to “this sucked” without a why attached. So I try to articulate the reason so that someone else can make their own informed decision about whether they want to read the book. (I mean, my annoyance may be their go-to.) But all of that work takes time, and what if in the end I’m still just being mean?

So… what? Is a review good because I wrote it? Because I think it’s good? Because someone else does? I honestly don’t know. Every thumbs-up on Goodreads or like or comment here reassures me that I’m doing something right, but I also have to remind myself that this blog is a hobby and if deadlines and word counts don’t help, it’s okay to ditch them.

So tell me…

  • Do you struggle against your own preconceived notions on what to post and when? What makes a review “good” over “good enough”?
  • Do you prefer to write a lot of little reviews or an info dump? Does this change when you’re the one reading reviews?
  • Is there a difference between a “blog review” and one on Goodreads? What about Twitter or Instagram?

8 thoughts on “Thoughts On: Reviewing Books

  1. The best advice I can give you is not to stress over your review style too much. Basically, write the review you want to write and don’t worry too much if it’s “right” or “good enough.” You’ll find that over time your style will probably change anyway. I used to post mostly long reviews with lots of bullet points detailing what I did and didn’t like, but now I post a lot more “bite-sized reviews.” These shorter reviews still give the basics of what I did and didn’t like but I don’t force myself to write a book or try to analyze every detail. I’ve found that both types of reviews work well, and people seem to like them both for various reasons. So now I just do whichever I feel like doing!

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  2. I had done a post about reviews, and I am not a fan of what I call the book report review. I expect very little summary and mostly opinion. I give a sentence or two about the story, and the rest is me trying to tell you what I liked. It’s hard, because the goal is to be spoiler free, and that makes my reviews sound vague sometimes, but I think there’s something of substance in there. I play with formats, but I was an engineering major not an English major, so there will be no critique of the writing per se. Just more of what worked or didn’t work for me.

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  3. Like you mentioned, to me, a good review is one that explains *why* the person felt how they did about the book. That’s it! It doesn’t have to be eloquent and beautifully written or any specific length. I don’t think a blog review needs to be longer than a GR review or anything. All reviews that go beyond, “I loved it!/I hated it!” are helpful, and everyone likes different types of reviews :-)

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  4. I try to review everything on Goodreads, even if it’s a sort of mini-review. Before blogging I’d just rate things and not review at all, and now if someone asks me about why I liked the book, I read the synopsis and stand there like Gandalf, blinking and going “I have no memory of this place.” If I actually write a review, that (in addition to the synopsis) seems to help me make a little more of a personal connection to the book and if someone asks me about it later, I (maybe) actually (sort of) remember it (a little bit). I already read something like 150-175ish books last year, so they all kind of moodge together. And frankly, there just isn’t time to write an entire essay for every book. I try to lay out what I liked, what I didn’t like. I read a lot of romance, so it’s typically here’s a blurb about one lead, here’s a blurb about the other lead, here’s a blurb about their chemistry and the main story line, here’s some more blurb about side characters, world building, side plot, whether the main characters had personal growth throughout the book or additional storylines/interaction with other characters (which I think are very important things in romance – they are not just books about sexytimes!), whether the writing style sucked me in. Usually my last blurb is whether the book was part of a series and whether or not it can be read as a stand alone. My review that goes on Goodreads is the review that either is (or is not) posted to my blog – ain’t nobody got time to be writing different versions of reviews for different platforms. *yuck face* I also crosspost to Amazon and Barnes & Noble for ARCs and for books I really loved.

    That’s how *I* roll, but I’m definitely not the review guru. And I don’t review every book. There are sometimes where a book is kind of meh and I might still not review it at all if it languishes unreviewed, especially if it’s a library book or Kindle Unlimited and I’m not obligated to review it like I am with an ARC. Life’s too short to stress out about it, and reading (and blogging) are supposed to be FUN, so I’m not tryin’ to stress out about them and make them feel like WORK. :)

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    1. “I read the synopsis and stand there like Gandalf, blinking and going “I have no memory of this place.”” OMG so true!!

      Setting up a blog has given me this internal conscience to pretty much review everything I read, even if it’s just a couple of sentences. It definitely helps me remember why I rated something the way I did and probably helps other readers, too, since stars can be so subjective. But sitting down to articulate my thoughts also makes me want to literally do anything else sometimes (????) and I have to remind myself that I DO enjoy writing reviews and that yes this is a hobby I CHOSE. (Getting an up-vote on GR or comment on WP certainly doesn’t hurt!)

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  5. It warms my heart that there’s a neat little shout-out for me in this post. I’m so happy to know that you like my review format! It literally took me hours to settle on one, and an additional hour just to manually code everything, so ahhh, thank you! Glad that hasn’t gone to waste.

    I don’t really have strict rules on deciding which books I review on my blog and which ones I review only on Goodreads. But here are general guidelines:

    – If it’s an ARC, I’m more likely to review it on my blog and on Goodreads.
    – If the book is diverse, I’m more likely to give it a full review on my blog (this is especially applicable to books by Asian authors).
    – If I really loved it or really disliked the book, it gets a full review on my blog.
    – If the book is meh, it gets a mini-review that may or may not be posted on my blog.

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    1. I LOVE your review format. It really shows that you care about the book featured and highlights why you included it on your blog in the first place (which I think ties into your own personal reasoning). I’m sure it would take loads of time to write up and format such a long review for everything you read, but when you do feature something, it’s like “oooh, Shealea really liked this, I should probably pay attention!”

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