What makes a good book review?


I recently came across a Stylist article that identified the following points as key to a good book review:

  • The reviewer must have read the entire book
  • Provide a balanced overview without giving too much away
  • Be more than just a summary of plot, character and scene
  • Be constructive, covering both pros and cons
  • Communicate something of the personality of the reviewer “as though you’re discussing the book with your favourite smartest friend”
  • Consist of more than just the reviewer’s opinion of the book but why they hold that opinion

Personally, I agree with all of these but recognise they are easier to support in theory than to put into practice! I find the reviews most likely to trigger my interest are those that show some sort of emotional connection with the book being reviewed (whether negative or positive), that whet my appetite but leave enough for me to discover myself if I read the book.

What do you think? Are there other elements that are essential to a good book review? Are some more important than others?

When it comes to ratings, a 2015 Huffington Post article argued that reviewers tend to be over-generous, awarding five-star reviews too readily. This was specifically in relation to Amazon reviews; I haven’t noticed this trait myself in the book blogging community. The article suggested that a five-star review should be reserved for a book that has ‘everything: good writing, good editing and a story that makes you want to read it again and tell your friends about it’.   Furthermore, they suggest that if a book is well-written and well-edited, it should never get less than a three-star review.

Personally, I think this places a little too much importance on the editing of a book and I would say a book has to have not just ‘good writing’ but ‘outstanding writing’ to deserve a five-star review.  But perhaps I’m just mean with my five-star ratings!

What is your criterion for awarding a top rating? Are ratings even helpful at all?



9 thoughts on “What makes a good book review?

  1. I hate it when reviews give away too much of the plot, including major twists. It ruins the enjoyment of reading for yourself. (Blurbs often do this too).

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  2. I’d agree with most of the rules except for the “must finish”. If I hate a book, there’s no way I’m going to devote time to finishing it just for the sake of a rule – the difference maybe between professional and amateur reviewing? And Amazon makes crystal clear what its star rating means – 5 is for I love it and 1 is for I hate it – no quality judgement, simply a personal reponse. And that’s how I decide on my ratings. So if I give a book 1 star, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad book, just that I personally hated it, maybe for something that wouldn’t bother other people, like animal cruelty or excessive swearing. And I can love (5 star) a piece of pulp fiction while only liking (4 star) a great classic…

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    1. You make a good point about ratings – they can be quite misleading. It’s the review that really conveys what you think about a book. The books I struggle with rating are ones I admire because I can recognise them as good literature, innovative, etc. but didn’t love.

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  3. I don’t know if I’d say a star rating can be “over generous” because everyone has different criteria for their ratings. Maybe they’re rating it five stars because they liked it, not because they think it should be critically acclaimed.

    I agree that I like to see reviews that do more than summarize the book. I can read the book myself for that! Or the cover blurb!


  4. A book can be “well-written” and “well-edited” and still a load of garbage so I would never follow the three star minimum rule! I think the points about what makes a good review are pretty spot on but I do also love to see peoples emotions in what they write.


  5. My pet peeve is reviews that just end up being a synopsis of the book. Give me an opinion! I don’t do star ratings at all- I know it’s a handy reckoner for readers of the review but for all the reasons above, it just doesn’t work for me. I like to think I give a pretty clear sense of whether I recommend it…. I hope I do anyway.

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