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      Dec 07, 2017

To review? Or not to review? (when you don’t love the book you’re reading)

review or not

To review? Or not to review? (when you don’t love the book you’re reading.)

My vision for my website was always to talk about all things book related – not just my own work. This naturally included reviewing the books I was reading from other authors. However, it also leads to a dilemma that probably every reviewer faces sooner or later.

What do you do when you don’t love the book you’re reviewing? To review, or not to review? That is the question.

The start of the problem.

Usually I only review books I’ve chosen myself and love, but recently I was asked to review a book by an author I’d been chatting to online. The book sounded unusual and interesting so I agreed. I’d not finished the first chapter before I realized I’d made a huge mistake.

Firstly, the names of the characters and places were so difficult they spoiled the flow of the prose.

Now I live in Wales. I’m used to words that are hard to pronounce. We have a town with the longest place name in Europe and the second longest official one-word place name in the world. I can reduce Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch to Go-go-goch and move on without batting an eye but the names in this book were stupidly similar.

The hero (let’s call him X’xfdi) couldn’t be simply X because his sidekick was X’icidh and his love interest was X’ydlth. Already my brain couldn’t sort out who was who and, worse than that, as the majority of the first pages consisted of a detailed description of a desert landscape, I really didn’t care.

Sadly, the book didn’t improve.

review signpost

Now, I am a love-em or leave-em type of reader. If a book doesn’t keep me interested in turning the pages, I have no problem dumping it. I have more half-read books on my Kindle than any person should have. The fact that I haven’t finished these books means I’m not going to give them 5 or even 4 stars on Amazon.

I didn’t want to give my friend’s book 4 stars either. 😲 What’s a girl to do?

Amazon’s rules make it difficult.

Amazon considers anything under a 4 star review to be the sign of a bad book. So, we have three levels of bad but only two levels of good. This makes my review criteria something like:

⭐️ Terrible book. My three year old grandson could invent a better plot. Almost unreadable editing. Boring as hell.

⭐️⭐️ Couldn’t finish reading as got distracted by emergency fingernail painting. Already can’t remember what the plot was about.

⭐️⭐️⭐️ Had some promise and would have been OK as a first draft but should never have been published in present form.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Covers everything from:

  • the book was OK but I probably won’t want to read it again and in my author/editor head I found plot holes and spotted problems with the grammar


  • I enjoyed the book but it wasn’t the best I’ve ever read.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Loved it ❤ and would recommend to anyone.

Really, I’d like to spread my ‘Four stars’ criteria into the lower categories but Amazon sees this as a black mark …

… and I didn’t want to give the author a black mark.

The choices.

choice photo

  1. Tell the truth – Give it 2 stars and risk upsetting my friend.
  2. Lie – Give it 4 stars and risk losing the trust of my readers who might buy it on the strength of my review and find out how dreadful it is for themselves.
  3. Review privately – Send my review to the author and ask if they’d like it posting online. (Also involves risk of upsetting friend.)
  4. Do nothing – Don’t post a review at all. This option is OK until the friend keeps on asking what I thought, at which point I have to block them and never speak of the matter again.


There has to be a right way but I’m not sure what it is.

What should I do? How do you handle less than favourable reviews?

Let me know in the comments below.

Suzie x 


Talk of the Town

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  • It is a dilemma Suzie and one I’ve seen quite a lot through the years.

    Personally, I would tell the author that it wasn’t for you. Share some positives if you can. Be honest.

    I’ve found publicists are ok when I tell them why I can’t finish a novel and unable to review (so far though others have loved the novels I haven’t) – reading is very subjective isn’t it. As a coincidence, I’m just about to email a publicist – no connection with the characters at all and I really don’t care what’s happening to them. Beautiful writing though.

    Thanks for linking #TalkoftheTown

    • suz

      Reading IS very subjective. Sometimes you just connect with a book, other times you don’t. And that’s fine if you can put the book aside and no-one knows but it’s awkward when the author or publicist is expecting a review.
      Thanks for commenting 🙂

  • Lindsay Hill

    Great post!
    I’ve reviewed 2 star books on my blog before but feel that I’ve been fair in what I’ve said rather than rude. It’s always difficult when you’ve interacted with the author in some form and you don’t love it. I’d probably email them and say it wasn’t for me, but then that begs the question why did I agree to read it in the first place…….

    • suz

      Good advice, Lindsay. I certainly don’t want to be rude. I feel bad I didn’t like it. The premise of the story was/is really great and should have been something I enjoyed. I’ll be very wary of reviewing from now on.
      Thanks for reading 🙂

  • Terry Tyler


    • suz

      Coming through loud and clear now Terry 🙂

  • Terry Tyler

    My suggestion! Write to the author in question and tell her that you had some issues with the book and it would only be a maximum of 3* with some negative comments, then she has the option to ask you not to post it. I’ve done this in the past, and people have mostly been fine with it – as I have been when it’s happened to me a couple of times. If someone is shirty with you about it, so be it. I’ve had people blank me after giving them 3* reviews. If they’re that childish/self-important, I’m better off without them, anyway.

    You could also tell the writer what you didn’t like about it. Might help them in the future, but I’d ask them if they want you to expand on it before you do!

    if you give a 4* you don’t mean, you’re right, it mars your own credibility – and it lessons the value of the 4* you really mean.

    4* means ‘I liked it’ on Amazon and ‘I really liked it’ on Goodreads – that’s quite a recommendation! And 3* only means ‘it’s okay’ on Amz; that’s not so bad. I know Amazon labels it a ‘critical’ review – but that’s ‘critical’, not ‘bad. It’s ‘I liked it’ on Goodreads, too – one of the reasons why some books that I give 3* on Amz only get 2* on Goodreads.

    I’ve taken the ‘just not saying anything’ option…. then, when asked, I’ve just said that I’m sorry but it wasn’t my sort of thing.

    • suz

      Thanks for these suggestions, they’re really helpful.
      I have to admit it’s made me rethink my own strategies when I approach reviewers with my own books.
      A big thank you for pointing out the guest posting wasn’t enabled on Disqus as well. Glad I got it sorted. 🙂

  • Catherine @ Story Snug

    This is a tough one and I really don’t know what I would suggest here. I only have books on Story Snug that I like which avoids this problem but in this case either you upset your friend or your own credibility. Maybe you could tell your friend that it’s not really your kind of book so you don’t want to give her a review that may harm her ratings?


    • suz

      I’m thinking that I may have to implement a ‘don’t ask me to review’ policy. That way no-one gets upset.
      Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  • chantelle hazelden

    It is hard but ultimately I think you should leave a review regardless of whether it appears good or bad, as long as it is constructive! #ReadWithMe

    • suz

      Well I feel I should … but send it to them before I post online so they have the option to say don’t publish this. It’s so difficult.
      Thanks for your input 🙂

  • Sarah MumofThree World

    Eek! I never review books online, only on my blog, so it’s not as personal. This is why I won’t accept books to review through the blog though, just in case I don’t like them! Apart from anything else, I don’t want to waste my reading time (which is my one form of relaxation) reading something I don’t like.
    I get where you’re coming from with the confusing names. I really like Scandinavian thrillers, but I do always struggle with remembering who is who, due to the unfamiliar names.

    • suz

      I fear I will be implementing a ban on accepting books for review after this. And I agree completely on the ‘wasting reading time’.
      I really tried to get into the book and feel bad that I couldn’t.
      Thanks for the advice 🙂

  • Nicola Young

    I agree that being honest with the author first is a good way to go. They really only want good reviews, so they’ll likely say not to worry about doing one. There are some incredibly popular books that I haven’t enjoyed, so it just goes to show, either I’m weird, or reading is that subjective!!

    • suz

      That is so true. Maybe it would help if I told her I couldn’t get into Harry Potter either.
      Thanks for joining the discussion 🙂

  • suz

    The typo didn’t lessen the lesson in your helpful suggestions … sorry, couldn’t resist.

    Thanks for sharing your post. Those bad reviews made me laugh. It would be a boring world if we all liked the same books, but seriously, there are some nasty trolls about. Authors have to develop thick skins when they publish a book.

  • I have got myself into a similar dilemma a couple of times. I deleted a not so rosy review I had written (on goodreads, not amazon) of a friend’s book. I currently have a book which I have been asked to review which I could bump up to a 4* but the content is flimsy and I’d be disappointed if I’d paid for it. But the book is tongue in cheek so I could maybe get away with a jokey review.

    If I were in your situation I think I would tell her the specific things you had an issue with and why you didn’t make it far into the book. It makes me wonder if she’s had proper feedback along the way or she way just really attached to her difficult names and description.

    I’m inclined to avoid reviewing anything I can’t give 4 or 5 stars honestly on amazon. It seems not fair to the writer, and potentially bad karma, but writing a fake review is unfair to people paying out money for the book.

    • suz

      I’m definitely going to have a ‘no review requests’ policy in future. The last thing I need is some bad karma and there are enough people out there who you can pay to write a rosy review, if you feel that the sort of thing helps. At the moment any book I’ve reviewed has been one I recommend, not one I don’t recommend.
      Thanks for joining the discussion. It’s good to know we all have this dilemma sooner or later 🙂

  • Random Musings

    It’s a tricky one! If it’s a book I am reviewing for a PR, I tend to email them saying this isn’t something I could recommend to my readers, do you want me to post anyway. However. with a friend, it’s harder – you don’t want to risk upsetting them.
    As a writer, I tend to shrug off negative reviews – it’s only one person’s opinion, but again if it was a friend it’s more awkward. I wouldn’t want anyone to lie, but I think I would rather they just didn’t post the review.
    It’s not so bad if it’s only on their blog, but on Amazon it can mean a drop in figures and potentially affect earnings.
    Anyway, sorry about the rambling on lol!

    • suz

      Thanks for the ramblings, Debbie. I appreciate your input and, as an author, I agree I would probably not want them to post a negative review. I like your ‘this isn’t something I would recommend to my readers’ – will remember that one.

  • Alice @ The Filling Glass

    So tricky! I am picky with my books at the best of times, I won’t read something if I don’t think I’ll like it. I don’t think I’d agree to publicly review a book by a friend before I knew what my opinion was, although as a writer I’d happily ask a friend who I think would like something I’ve written to give me feedback privately. I liken it with a blog comment – if the post hasn’t struck a chord with me somehow, I wouldn’t just write ‘great post’, I’d just not write anything. #whatimwriting

    • suz

      Great analogy. Honestly, I would prefer not to write anything too.
      Thanks for your comment 🙂

  • Acorn Books

    This is a really tricky situation. I only write reviews about books me and my children enjoy and steer clear of writing critical reviews. Perhaps you could tell your friend that it wasn’t your kind of book so you won’t be writing a review?

    • suz

      Hi, Acorn Books. I always enjoy your reviews. From now on I will only be posting reviews we’ve enjoyed.
      Thanks for stopping by 🙂

      • Acorn Books

        Thank you, that’s very kind. I’m glad you enjoy my reviews 🙂

  • Marija Smits

    Yes, this is a tricky one. Really it’s about what the person was expecting; and in most cases the person is simply seeking a good/super-enthusiastic review. As readers we can’t know if we can give a good review ahead of time, so it’s always wise to be wary. But honest feedback is probably one of the most useful things a writer can get (still, it would have been better to have got useful feedback before they’d published the book!). So, yeah, I’d say Terry’s suggestion a good one. Good luck!

    • suz

      “As readers we can’t know if we can give a good review ahead of time,”
      This line says it all. Even if 99 people have loved a book, the 100th person might hate it.
      I won’t be agreeing to review in advance from now on.
      Thanks for joining the conversation 🙂

  • Good question! I’ve only posted positive reviews on Amazon, and very few of them. I prefer posting reviews on my blog because I don’t get caught up in the star ratings which never feel quire right to me. Luckily I’ve enjoyed the books I’ve been asked to review for my blog and most of the reviews I post are of books I chose to read myself and decided to review because I enjoyed them! I can see you’ve had loads of useful advice here. My choice would be to contact the author and be honest but kind. Ask what they would like you to do and go from there. Thanks for linking to #WhatImWriting, it’s got me thinking about what I’ll do in the future!

    • suz

      It is a tricky situation and one I wish I’d thought about before.
      I have a couple more books I have been asked to review and then I’ll be implementing my ‘don’t ask for reviews’ policy.
      Thanks for visiting 🙂

  • Sophie Lovett

    I generally steer clear of reviews for exactly this reason! It’s a really tricky one – in this case I would probably avoid putting anything on Amazon, but send a private email to the author explaining why… There is always the risk of offending them, but you have to maintain your own integrity!

    • suz

      I will be steering clear of them from now on too.
      Thanks for popping into the discussion. 🙂