How I Review Books (AKA my wonky system)

massive pile of books.jpgI realize that the way I rate a book is different than some other reviewers.  It’s not a bad thing, and I actually love seeing their different ideas, styles and opinions.  I do feel I should clarify mine, though.

I am very much an emotional reader.  I can forgive small technical issues with writing if the character or plot draws me in.  I can even give five stars to a book with glaring grammatical issues- why?  The characters were real to me, the story took me out of myself and I probably found myself either sobbing for, or screaming at, the main character.

Now, this does not give the author license to throw everything out the window (I’m looking at you, Winston Groom) for the sake of character development.  If a book has too many errors- even ones that are meant to be there- it will be a huge turn off.  If I even get through the book, it will have lost at least one star for that.

In the end, though, when I sit down to review a book I look it over with my heart more than my head.  Great character development is worth two stars all on their own.  In this area, I include snappy dialogue between characters because that helps me to get a feel for the characters.

Next, the plot.  Has this been done before?  The answer (especially in the romance scene) is a resounding yes.  That said, is there enough here with character development, dialogue and plot to keep it fresh and interesting?  One star usually, two if it is one that I don’t feel like I have read before.  I am actually considering making a new star system where a book can receive a creativity star- I honestly felt like The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko, Scott Stambach needed one.  (So there would be books with six stars… I don’t know, is that odd?)

So here it is in a nutshell- how to get five (or even six) stars from me:

  • Good characters- I want the characters to be alive to me.  To take me over, as it were.  I want to feel for you, enjoy your accomplishments and cry with you.  Seriously- bonus if you can make me cry (sadly, it isn’t hard).  My perfect example of this is Eva Luna, by Isabel Allende.  I have read this book- at least in parts- every year for eighteen years now.  Eva has a distinctive voice, one that I immediately fell in love with.  If the character had not been so perfect, I would not have loved the book half so much.  Now, though, opening that book is like going to visit an old friend.  I actually bought seven copies of this book in paper (giving to friends to read and never getting them back, or reading them until they were damaged) before finally getting my eBook.
  • A premise that grabs my attention- there are, after all, millions of books out there… why this one?  An example here would be Learning To Swear in America by Katie Kennedy- it was brilliant and the second I read the review about it I could not rest until I owned that book.  Seriously, I bought it immediately.
  • A good plot: I want a plot line, I want the book to be leading somewhere.  I want it to be discernable and imaginative.  I feel like the earlier Alex Cross books are especially good examples.  It was fast paced and intense, but you always knew the plot and theme of the book.  On the other hand, I read Winter’s Tale before seeing the movie and I wanted my money back- not just my money, I wanted my time back.  The author had attention deficit disorder, it seems, because what should have been one romance and a side story with an amazing horse became six love stories and a horse.  You ended up feeling lost and confused, and not clicking with any one character because he didn’t give any of them enough development; instead adding more and more.

Then there is the adult content scale.  I was a bit precocious with my reading as a kid ( Shakespeare and Stephen King in fourth grade), so I can understand that even though a kid can be reading a book, it doesn’t always mean they should.  I rate books not just on the type of content- language, violence, sexual content, drugs and alcohol- but the amount.  The Fault In Our Stars, for instance, had some language and sexual content- but it was so minor that I would give it a two on the scale and have no issue handing the book to a preteen.  Fifty Shades of Grey, on the other hand, is a ten.  Not for kiddies.

So that’s what moves me as a reviewer, what moves you?