“Reviews” That Aren’t Reviews

I admit, it’s a pet peeve of mine—blog posts that purport to be reviews but actually do little besides regurgitate press releases or back cover copy.

I can go to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Christianbook.com to find the snippet the publisher has provided about a book. I can visit the author’s web site if I want to read his canned bio. When I read a blog post, I want to learn something MORE—something I couldn’t get in the usual places.

That’s why interviews are cool. But today I specifically want to rant abo discuss reviews. 😉

When I’m talking to a friend who has read a book I haven’t yet picked up—or if she’s seen a movie or watched a TV program I’ve only heard about—there are usually two questions I ask: what’s it about and did you like it?

If we have time, I may also ask why did you or didn’t you like it?

From my perspective, those are the essentials of a book review. If I’m talking to a friend, I don’t want her to whip out the LA Times and read their review of the movie. I want to know what my friend thought. After all, I know a little about her tastes and her worldview. She also doesn’t have a vested interest in whether or not I decide to buy a book or ticket because of what she tells me. Therefore, I trust her

Sadly, I’ve seen some blog “reviews” that miss the opportunity to build trust. Honest opinions do that. Some reviewers, instead, “love” everything. I mean, every book is a 5-star story. The writing is great—perfect, even. The author is brilliant, the characters are capable of walking off the page and into your living room. Every … single … book … review.

I don’t know about you, but that stretches my credibility. Especially if I happen to have read the book and found the characters flat and uninteresting or the writing trite and predictable.

How much better to take a step back and think about books objectively. I know it’s sometimes hard. Often when I close a book I love, I can only think of those things that drew me into the story. And that’s OK, but might there be something that could have strengthened the book even more?

Simply by noticing those things, a reviewer becomes more credible. Readers will not build inflated expectations based on a review that says a book is flawless. In reality, the reader may not care about whatever weakness the reviewer noticed, but that’s OK, too. It means the reader will actually like the book more than they expected.

The flip side of the “perfect book” review is the “PR shill” review. Little in the post is original content. The blogger has only cut and pasted material that could be found elsewhere, with perhaps a single line of personal opinion.

How is this helpful? That’s not even as informative as reading from the Times. It’s actually more like reading a paid advertisement.

When I visit a blog, I don’t want to know what the publisher says the book is about, I want to know what the blogger I’m visiting has to say it’s about. I want to know what he thought it’s winning points were. I want to know whether he’d recommend it to people like me.

At Amazon they have a way for visitors to vote whether or not they found a review helpful. Too bad all blog reviews don’t have that capacity, too. I think bloggers might see their posts in a new light if people could say with a click whether or not they found the review—or the “review”—helpful.

Of course, I’m setting myself up for failure, since I’ll be doing a review next week for the CSFF Blog Tour. Hmmm. Maybe I’ll write about a related topic and avoid the review altogether. 🙄

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