So, what do I as a reader look for? There are 4 basic types of information that I want:
- Is the story well written? For instance, are there plot holes, inconsistencies, grammatical issues, are the characters believable? Is the plot banal but the writer has a gift for language or story telling? Does it hold your interest or does it start off slowly then grab you? Is there an excess of details? A dearth of details? Is it original? A well done take on a old theme?
- A brief recap or synopsis of the story. However, the recap should not be the bulk of the review. I have no use for reviews that are 90% recap and 10% review. Use examples from the story to illustrate points or show off the author's writing, sure, that's excellent. But if your "review" is mostly story recap, I won't be back.
- What worked and didn't work for the reviewer and why? What did they love? What did they hate? It may be that what worked for the reviewer pushes one of my buttons and vice versa.
- And, because it's one on my pet peeves, how well done is the copy editing and proof reading? If it's done well, with no problems or only minor ones, then I don't expect to see it mentioned in the review. But it constantly amazes me when I read a book with huge editing and proof reading issues yet when I look at reviews, there's no mention. I've read books where I have had to untangle and rewrite sentences, or whole paragraphs, to make sense of them and yet, there is NO MENTION in the review. I am not your beta reader nor should I have to untangle your mangled spelling and grammar to understand a sentence. As you can see, I get very cranky. There's a reason I work as a copy editor. :D
Those are the main things I look for. I also enjoy some humor in a review, even some mild snark, but no meanness and no attacks on the author. I also like to know why a reviewer chose a book but it's not essential. One of my personal criteria for a good book, at least the genre ones, is whether or not I'd read it again. However, not everyone enjoys re-reading so while I like to see a reviewer mention if they'd re-read it, I don't need it. Also, I don't want spoilers; unless, it's a book I probably won't read, then I don't care. In general though, I avoid blogs if their reviews typically contain spoilers. I don't do spoilers usually in my own reviews; when I do, it's to illustrate a point, or it may be a book in a series and discussing it would spoil an earlier book. In those cases, I'll post a spoiler warning so readers can decide to continue reading or skip that review.
Now the role of a review. Well, at it's most basic it's a critique of the book; the writing, the story, etc. But reviews are no longer limited to print sources such as newspapers and magazines. These days, we have blogs, goodreads, twitter, facebook, tumblr, etc. They are more casual and have immediate impact. To an extent, these have both replaced and complemented the traditional personal recommendations that we used to get from friends and family. Now, we have extended our circle of friends to include all these online resources. So, some reviews are "I really liked this. The story is fun and character X is hawt." while others are more critical and some read like traditional print "serious" reviews. So, a review is an opinion as well as a critique. If four bloggers/reviewers whose opinions I trust tell me to stay away from a book, don't waste my time; I'm going to listen and pass on that book. I may share that info with others who ask me about that book. Because these opinions and critiques are online, they have the potential to reach thousands of readers and they remain available for as long as that blog or site is online. That affects the buzz around a book, and even the sales. So, a review can share information about a book, praise a book, trash a book, sell a book or steer away a potential buyer. It's a recommendation, a critique, a sharing of information, a sales tool. It's a way for a reader to learn about a book, to gather information and decide if they want to invest their time, money or both in reading it.
How about you? What do you look for? What are your must-haves and what are the things you'd like to see but don't require? What do you think is the role of reviews?