Writing Book Reviews

I’ve written a few book reviews in my day, but not too many. I admire all of you who do them on a regular basis because I don’t like to.  Not long ago, I reviewed a book for another author. I thought the book was very well done, but it was awfully hard to be objective because I didn’t like the subject matter.  I write more on the sweet side of romance, but she leans toward the sizzling side. I ended up giving her a 4 out of 5, and I explained why she didn’t get a 5.  Some of you may have had the same problem.

So, here’s a list of what I think a book should have in order to get a 5.

First, characters should not be stereotypical and clichéd.  I dislike it when people assume that because a certain character is the heroine she has to be a paragon of virtue.  Some of mine certainly aren’t even though I try to show some growth as the book progresses.  

Second, I think internal conflict is often stronger than external conflict.  I hate it when someone says, “Oh, people don’t act that way.” Sure they do.  People act all kinds of ways.  The conflict has to be real, though. It shouldn’t be anything that can be sorted out with one quick, passing conversation.

Third, I think the plot should be tight and clean. It should flow smoothly linking all the scenes into a tight cohesive whole that isn’t too predictable. There should be enough action to keep people reading. 

Fourth, the supporting cast should add to the story and make it stronger. 

Fifth, I’m also very particular about description. If it goes on for page after page I get bored, yet there has to be enough to set the stage properly. This would probably be a good place to say that the pacing of a story matters. If it drags, I lose interest.

Last, there has to be chemistry between the hero and heroine, but it should evolve over time in the way it might in the real world. I also don’t care for erotic books. It would be hard to do an object review for the author.  

I’m sure your criteria is different from mine so what do you think it takes to get a five star review?


About Elaine Cantrell

Elaine Cantrell was born and raised in South Carolina. She has a Master’s Degree in Personnel Services from Clemson University and is a member of Alpha Delta Kappa, an international honorary sorority for women educators. She is also a member of Romance Writers of America. Her first novel A New Leaf was the 2003 winner of the Timeless Love Contest and was published in 2004 by Oak Tree Press. When she isn't writing you can find Elaine playing with her dog or maybe collecting more vintage Christmas ornaments
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10 Responses to Writing Book Reviews

  1. Elizabeth Devlin says:

    An excellent list, Ellen! I particularly agree with your comments about the too-perfect hero or heroine.


    • Elaine Cantrell says:

      I’ve found, though, that some readers expect a perfect heroine or hero. I just can’t agree with them. Thanks for stopping by.


  2. Jeff Salter says:

    totally agree with all five of your main points.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I could not agree with you more, but Heaven help me if I give most people anything less than a 5, or they argue with me. Authors need to get a grip; not everything they write is destined to become a classic, and they should realize this.
    I agree about description. It s a fine line to walk, granted, but when someone I knew wrote a book and described what her protagonist wore at every change of clothing, and all were pink, and all most every day at some point she wore capris and flip-flops, well, you get the idea of how I wanted to scream.
    There are many people who are more good than bad and bad than good, but no humans are perfect in every way or perfectly evil in every way. We need to care about the characters.
    And you are correct in saying that people act in every manner possible. I’ve been told while relating a true-life story that it isn’t believable!


    • Elaine Cantrell says:

      I submitted a book to a publisher who rejected it and said it was unrealistic. The joke’s on him.. Most of the scenes in the book were based on things that happened to me or someone in my family.


  4. Patricia Kiyono says:

    Great list! I’ve read so many books that were full of pleasant descriptions of events, but nothing happens to make me want to keep reading. There has to be conflict that’s overcome and resolved.


  5. When I read, I read as a reader, not a writer or an editor. Therefore, I’m more lenient about giving a 5-star review than if I was critiquing the work. I don’t give too many 5 stars because there are not that many writers who can write a story that truly cannot be put down and walked away from. Most of my reviews fall into the 4-star category when I’ve enjoyed the story. Maybe that’s from being a writer myself and other authors don’t write exactly the same way I do. We all have our own styles, and I quite frankly enjoy my style of writing. We all make mistakes in our writing too.

    That said, I will give a book a 5-star review if it held my attention (as a reader) from beginning to end. If I enjoyed the story, felt a connection in some way to the characters, could picture the scenes as they opened, and had a satisfactory ending to the tale, that’s a well-written story in my estimation. Even if there were errors.

    In my group forum, we just had a discussion about the different in Christian writers and non-Christian writers. Outside of the content, I haven’t seen much difference. There are best-sellers on both sides of the fence. And poorly written stories too. I’ve read some of those best-sellers in both categories, and some I enjoyed, while others made me feel I wasted my money on the book. It all boils down to what you like personally.

    No one is an expert in this craft. We all have to remember that when we give a review. I’d rather not give a review if I truly didn’t care for the book and couldn’t give it at least a 3-star. More than likely, someone else will love the story because they don’t think the same way as I do, and because they are NOT a writer themselves and haven’t had all the writing rules imposed on them. We have a responsibility as writers and authors to respect each others’ styles. And to remember that we were not instantly good writers when we started out, if it’s a new author we’re reading. Not even all editors are perfect. Just my opinion.


  6. Elaine Cantrell says:

    Which is mostly why I don’t do very many book reviews.


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