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.
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.
- Tell the truth – Give it 2 stars and risk upsetting my friend.
- 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.
- Review privately – Send my review to the author and ask if they’d like it posting online. (Also involves risk of upsetting friend.)
- 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.
Book review of “I am Otter” by Sam Garton.
One of my grandson’s favourite books at the moment is “I am Otter” by Sam Garton. I first encountered this book on Facebook in the days before it was picked up and published by Harper Collins. Sam Garton is a fantastic illustrator. His work has a retro look to it that I love. Buying the book when it came out was a no-brainer for me.
The funny logic of Otter and his sidekick Teddy makes for a great children’s book. Who can fault Otter for opening a toast restaurant because he’s bored while otter-keeper is at work? However, it’s not all plain sailing at Otter’s restaurant.
Otter decides the problems are Teddy’s fault and promptly fires him but things don’t improve … and then the Otter Keeper comes home. Otter tries to blame Teddy for the mess. But where is Teddy?
Otter and the Otter Keeper search high and low for Teddy but he can’t be found. Otter is very sad. The trouble is, he can’t sleep without Teddy so more searching ensues. Eventually Teddy is found and Otter is happy again. “And now, when things go wrong, I understand they are not actually Teddy’s fault at all.”
There are some good talking points in this book which are particularly relevant at the moment to my grandson and his little sister. Was Teddy to blame for the problems at the restaurant? Why did Otter tell the Otter Keeper it was Teddy’s fault? What should he have done?
Other Otter adventures include Otter in Space, Otter goes to School, and Otter loves Easter but if you join Sam Garton’s mailing list, he regularly sends fun newsletters with the latest exploits of Otter, Teddy and the long-suffering otter-keeper which always make me smile.
This is a lovely book with detailed illustrations that give you lots to talk about with your child. A modern classic.
Library under threat.
This is a rather urgent, unplanned post because I’ve just found out that the library in my home town of Warrington is under threat of closure. I hope you will take a moment to sign the petition to help stop this.
As a writer and a reader, I can’t imagine why anyone would want to close a library. From a very early age my local branch has fueled my book addiction. With their help, I have discovered fantastic worlds, completed my homework, researched my family history, and surfed the internet. And I still borrow books: fiction books, cookery books, craft books, picture books for the grandchildren. It’s a fantastic place for author research too. Where else can you take everything home for free?
The Central library in Warrington opened in 1848, the first public library in the country. It was also my first Saturday job, a buzzing place in the days when you checked out books using paper library cards and looked up information in card catalogues that took up the whole wall.
Do we need libraries?
And that got me thinking about how things have changed. In these days of Google and Kindle Unlimited do we need libraries?
Of course, not everyone can afford an Amazon subscription and, even if they can, not all books are available. There are still mountains of research and genealogy records that are not yet online and finding the information you require is so much easier if you have a knowledgeable librarian to help you.
Young children usually love real books over their electronic counterparts. Cuddling up with a Kindle isn’t quite the same, even if the ebook is all singing, all dancing.
Reading the consultation proposals produced by LiveWire, the company running Warrington’s libraries, it states “A large number of those surveyed that still use libraries said that library opening hours needed to compliment today’s lifestyle and lending needed to be available in more convenient locations.” I agree with this. The Central Library in particular has been left in a rather inconvenient place in the midst of a one-way traffic system with no parking. It was a planning error that left it high and dry, along with many other town centre shops. And, as opening hours continue to be reduced to cut costs, is it really a surprise that usage has dropped?
LiveWire’s answer is a combination of book lockers, whereby titles are ordered online and delivered to locations around the town, and ‘community hubs’, which house other services along with books. Does this mean the end of the ‘librarian’? Will they be reduced to delivery drivers and general dogsbody’s?
LiveWire’s proposals have met with protest. So many people attended the public meetings that some had to be moved to larger venues.
One particularly worrying statement in the consultation document reads, “LiveWire would offer continued support to communities who wanted to run their own library.” Run their own library??? Well, that would cut costs, wouldn’t it?
What do you think? Is closing our libraries the answer to cutting costs? Do you use your local branch? Would you consider running your own library? Let me know in the comments below.
P.S. Here’s the link to the petition again. It’d be great if you’d sign. It’s free and only takes a minute.
Despite being able to read before I started school, I hated my first years. I’d never been to playschool and, as the oldest of two sisters with no little cousins or such like, I didn’t understand the noise and boisterousness of the other children. It took the teacher six weeks to coax me to take off my coat.
My favourite time of day was just before we went home, when I sat on the teacher’s table swinging my legs and reading a story to the class. I guess it was the teacher’s favourite time too.
The Teacher, a short story
“Suzie can read already,” says the Mother. “She reads really well.”
The Teacher looks at the child with long blonde plaits hiding behind the Mother’s skirt. So far she’s refused to take off her coat or speak. This child is going to be hard work when she joins the class next week.
The Teacher forces a smile. There’s one final new pupil waiting to meet her in the corridor; a boy with curly hair who has squashed his nose against the glass door so he looks like a pig. Next term is going to be sooooo long. She snaps her attention back to the girl. “What do you like to read, Suzie?”
“We brought her favourite book,” says the Mother.
Suzie doesn’t say anything. She’s watching the pig-nose boy too and sinks further into the bought-to-grow-into new school coat like whatever’s wrong with him might be catching.
The Mother takes a book from her bag and, surprisingly, Suzie starts to read in a loud, clear voice.
The Teacher rolls her eyes before she can stop herself. Just because the child can parrot a story she’s heard ninety-thousand times, doesn’t mean she can actually read. “Would you like to read one of my books, Suzie?”
Suzie chooses a book with a fairy on the front. She sets into the story with great enthusiasm. Surely she hasn’t read this book before. The Teacher takes a book about a dog from her desk. “How about this one?”
Outside in the corridor the pig-nose boy is sliding off his chair onto his head but Suzie is now engrossed in the new story. She actually can read really well for a four-year old.
“That’s very good,” smiles the Teacher. Already a plan is forming. “Maybe you could read to the class on Monday.” Suzie doesn’t smile but she nods. This child could be a useful student after all.
I wrote this story for my YA website under the name of Suzanna Williams. It’s having a revamp at the moment so I thought I’d share it here in honour of the first day of the new school year. Thanks for reading.