Years back—pre-Amazon—I attended a panel on book reviewing at World Fantasy. (I remember it was in the same room where I heard George R.R. Martin read from Game of Thrones, pre-publication.) As a published author, used to 2-3 line reviews in Locus Magazine, I wanted to know why some books aren’t reviewed. I learned that in those days, most books didn’t merit a review, and surely not a national review. Too many books, too little space. The cover blurbs helped fill that marketing gap—and maybe got you the attention of reviewers. But in genre fiction, if you got reviewed at all, you were darn lucky! And if you got reviewed on a national level, you’d be astonished.
Comes the digital revolution, and every reader/purchaser is invited to be a reviewer.
I’ve read the reviews of my own books: online, on my Amazon Author Page, on my Good Reads Author page. I’ve learned a lot from all of them. Wise authors read all reviews, and look for consensus. What one reader hates, the next one will love. Same book, same character. Some readers don’t know the name of the character they’re discussing, so maybe they are “reviewing” a book they read years ago. They’re really rating the book, and I love to try to guess which edition, version or cover they’re referencing. Sometimes even the actual name of the book eludes them. They click on its picture, and rate the book. And memory is inexact, especially if you read a lot.
So, what is a book review? A real book review? Well, it isn’t a lengthy synopsis or summary of the book. That’s the Product Description. Reviews go deeper.
Why the story works for the reader. Or why it doesn’t. Why you liked the villain better than the hero. Why another reader would like—or should avoid—the book. That you liked a book is a compliment. Why you liked it is useful to the author and other readers.
My humble opinion? Sure, but online research backs me up. A critical review summarizes (Just don’t give away the ending for fiction!), analyzes/assesses, and recommends. A review is a reaction to the story told, not a retelling of that story. There’s no wrong way to review, and there’s no right length, but the longest reviews would be those for literary journals