What's in a book review? by Lucy Rycroft

There have been a few posts on the ACW Facebook group recently about book reviews. The reviewer annoys the author. The author responds frostily to the reviewer. You get the idea.

Argh! What a can of worms!

I imagine most of you are either published authors, or people who review others' books, or perhaps both.

As someone who reviews books, and who hopes to have published books for others to review one day, the subject of what I should review, and what I should say, is one that I bat back and forth nearly daily - not least this past month, where the number of book reviews on my blog has become just a little insane, given that I'm not actually a book blogger.

What if I'm sent a book which I really don't get on with? Should I give it a bad review, or should I leave it out entirely? Should I post reviews on the expected sites: Amazon, Goodreads, Eden etc? Or will my absence on those pages tell enough?

And, hardest of all, should I respond to the author or publisher who has sent me the book in the first place? Will they notice that I haven't promoted their book? Will the author feel desperately disappointed that I didn't enjoy their efforts? After all, I hope to be an author one day too: the words of Luke 6:37-38 come to mind: how would I want to be treated, in the situation of a reviewer not enjoying one of my books?

We can't help our opinions. If we read something which we think isn't well-written, isn't good theology, isn't helpful, or isn't filling a need in the life of a reader, then we can't lie and say it's excellent. I think the Bible is pretty clear about integrity, honesty and transparency - although it's also clear about 'speaking the truth in love' (Ephesians 4:15, emphasis mine).

On the other hand, writing is subjective. What doesn't appeal to us may appeal to others. Should we be positive about a book on behalf of those would would find it useful?

This year I have reviewed twelve books. I don't just mean I've written twelve Amazon reviews. I've written twelve reviews of roughly 1000 words on my blog. I've promoted twelve books across my social media platforms. I've included many of these books a second time on my blog, featuring in Christmas Gift Guides - and I've promoted them in the emails I've sent to my mailing list.

That's a lot of work to promote other people's work!

Having done all this, it only occurred to me recently that I'm not actually a book reviewer: I'm a book promoter. My primary responsibility as a blogger is to write for my audience. It is not to pander to authors and publishers, and it is not to waste my readers' time in telling them all about a book they shouldn't read.

There are other bloggers who specifically review books - that's the focus of their blogs, and why people read them - and it's their job to review the good and the bad - but it's not mine. Like it or not, my audience have come to trust my judgement about books which they might enjoy: that feels like a huge responsibility.

I've been sent at least three books this year which I just haven't got on with. All of which were intended for my children, and for each one there were good reasons why my children didn't respond to them. Whilst I don't take my own children's opinions as the sole measure of whether or not a book is good, knowing that they don't represent every child, these books were also ones about which I had doubts as an adult, making them very difficult to promote to an audience who take my opinion seriously.

Changing my perspective, therefore, from a reviewer to a promoter, has helped to alleviate the guilt of having to write to a publisher or author and say, "I'm afraid this book wasn't really for me or my family at this time". At least, with the books aimed at my children, I always have the excuse of "They're not quite at that stage yet".

So, my personal conclusion? I won't review a book that I don't genuinely think my readers would want to read. But I won't add a negative review to the bookselling websites either. My job is not to destroy an author's hard work - hard work which others may appreciate. So, on these websites, I stay quiet.

Perhaps this sounds a little disingenuous. But then I think of the books I read: do I take my recommendations solely from Amazon reviews? Nope, I do not. Yes, I read them. But I've always heard of the book first from a friend who's enjoyed it - or, perhaps, a blogger who has raved about it.

We will all have different approaches to what we review, and how we promote it. And I think that's OK. I've come to a happy place with my approach for the moment, but it wouldn't be right for everyone.

What is important, I feel - what should be the defining characteristic of all our interactions as reviewers and authors - is, primarily, love. Love for the author who has poured her heart into her book. Love for the writer who is passionate about what he says. After all, they are our brothers and sisters in Christ.

This love will, in turn, determine how we respond - with kindness, gentleness and humility. If we speak the honest truth in love, then I think we have been faithful servants.

Lucy Rycroft reviews books on her blog, although may have been overdoing it recently, so don't all rush at once. If she does review your book, however, she will always speak the truth in love to you - or else you have permission to set your dog on her. In other news, she has a handful of very loud children who all talk over each other, and seems to medicate alternately with paracetamol (for the headaches) and Strepsils (for the shouting). To get away from it all, she likes nothing better than to organise a school Christmas Fair.


  1. Thanks Lucy. A useful and thoughtful analysis. I agree about truthfulness and transparency. Speaking the truth in love is the difficult bit, isn't it?

  2. Thank you Lucy. Yes. I would love it if someone gave me a good review but would be gutted if I discovered they were doing so just to be kind. As you say, there are ways of being honest without being cruel or destroying someone's confidence. We all need constructive criticism - we don't do anyone a favour by misleading people. Writers are vulnerable. I know people who will not allow the public to see their work for fear of making fools of themselves. We want to encourage them but they need our honesty. I have gained a lot from constructive criticism - even when it meant a major rewrite. That's how we learn.


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