Book Reviews: Giving It All Away

A couple weeks ago, I received an email from Molly Greene, author of the novel Mark of the Loon, asking me to write a column on reviews. Molly said she is frustrated by book reviewers who give away too much of the storyline.  She finds this so frustrating that she has stopped asking for reviews.

Shocked woman reading

“Really?! I can’t wait to tel everyone about that!”

I can empathize with Molly. One of the things I love most about reading is that it is like Christmas every day. For me, a book is a surprise. I don’t know the characters, the story, etc. So every time I open a book it is like opening a Christmas gift. Am I going to like it? Or will it be like getting socks and underwear? Will it fit comfortably? Or is it going to go straight to the back of the closet where I hope I’ll never see it again? Reviewers who feel it is their duty to lay out the story or who write as if they’re living out their fantasy of being a New York Times Book Reviewer behind the laptop at their kitchen table ruin the fun.

My good friend Dee, a close friend I met on Goodreads and my co-founder of our Nordic Noir book group, is purveyor of the book review blog Dee’s Book Blog. An author we both love had a new release we were chomping at the bit to read. Looking at early reviews on Goodreads, I came across a review with such detailed information-including plot twists!-that my jaw dropped. Sure enough, I got to the end of the review and, other than a sentence or two, found not a dang thing resembling analysis or describing how she felt about the book. To call me livid would not have been a strong enough word. I was so infuriated that I made a comment on the definition of the word ‘spoiler.’ Then Dee chimed in!

This reviewer didn’t get it or maybe she didn’t care. Even after going back and forth with Dee and me, she continues to write reviews that contain spoiler after spoiler yet have little beef in areas that matter.

As a reader, I am too often on the receiving end of reviews that are basically a regurgitation of the book jacket info with a few additional plot points thrown in. The reviewers say very little about how they feel about the work, leaving the reader wondering if s/he actually read the book. These reviews get under my skin so much that they gave birth to my ‘Just the facts, Ma’am’ format on my book blog, A Book and A Review.

Get the facts

Balance what benefits your readers against your desire to share everything

On my blog, I break my reviews down into several sections. These sections include a brief summary of the storyline, a short section with my overall feelings about the book-do I recommend it?-and finally, a description-e.g., is the book a stand-alone or part of a series? In my reviews, conciseness is key!  I want readers to get a snapshot of the book and my opinion of it, without being bogged down by a lot of unnecessary information.

There is good news. First, like Molly Greene, authors can help by being selective in soliciting reviewers. Unfortunately, authors can’t do anything about unsolicited reviews (lest they be considered overly sensitive and blackballed). Steering clear of reviewers who spoil books for other readers-and readers also ignoring those reviewers-will quiet their voice, forcing them to either change or lose followers.

For the most part, I doubt that any reviewer intentionally writes poor reviews: many simply don’t know how reviews should be written. In my Goodreads group, Sisterhood of the Traveling Book, we often discuss the how to and etiquette aspects of writing reviews. There are ins and outs to book reviews and, like all things in life: EDUCATION IS KEY!

Comment here!


  1. I have to admit that there have been times where I have gone on rants and major spoilers in books – in fact, I did one just recently with a popular romantic-suspense author – but I did preface the beginning on the review, so people knew there were spoilers.  Otherwise, i try to stick to general thoughts/impressions – or I figured out how to do a hide/hover text if I want to include other ones

    • nblackburn01 says:

      I think in the discussion you and I had outside this thread that you and I generally review totally different genres of books. While I tend to review more mystery, you do more in the romance and erotica genres.  I think you bring up another very strong point. MARK YOUR SPOILERS. If there is any question of it even being a potential spoiler, mark it. It is better to be safe than to ruin another person's experience with the book!

  2. Naomi, you have once again hit on a topic that I am passionate about. In fact, I had started a series of posts I was going to do similar to yours, all about reviews. It is upsetting to see too much given away in a review. When I do reviews, I don't even give a synopsis of the plot, although a brief snapshot doesn't bother me when I read it from others, I see no need to do it; the book's description should cover it. I try to focus on character development, plot, storytelling, and dialogue. And of course, the mother of all sins–mistakes. If a book has too many mistakes, I normally don't even review it. And those types of reviews are what I look for when evaluating a book to purchase. I want to know how this book, or this author's writing, affected the reader. How it made them feel. Did the characters make them laugh? Cry? Both? Did the plot surprise them? You can say that without giving details. Was the storytelling so good the reader had to turn pages and stay up at night? That's what I want to know when I read a review. Thanks so much for bringing this subject up.

  3. AnaPopielnicki says:

    I agree with Giacomo — when reviewing, I see no need to give a synopsis, the book has already been described. A potential reader wants to know how I felt, what I think, and if they might have a heart attack due to horrid, numerous mistakes or poor grammar. If I am the one reading reviews in order to decide if I want to read it, this is what I look for. A brief description doesn't bother me, but a lengthy, suspicious-looking (as if lifted from the book jacket, like Naomi said) is quite different. Perhaps some reviewers think that's what they need to do, and perhaps others are just oblivious or ignorant. In any case, if one is going to do this, one should do the entire world a favor and get some education. *sigh*

  4. @Giacomo Giammatteo that is kind of why I just use the book description on my review site – easier than trying to sum it up in a few words without too many spoilers

    • nblackburn01 says:

      @Giacomo Giammatteo In mine, I try to go even shorter than the book jacket. I want the focus to be more on what did I think of the book, characters, etc. If the person has an interest in the book, they are going to look deeper into it and the book jacket can give them that information. A book jacket isn't going to tell them if I thought it was greater than sliced bread or worse than chicken left on the counter for weeks on end!

  5. @AnaPopielnicki I don't think most book jacket descriptions are that long – maybe a few lines…the ones that bug the heck out of me, are those that literally go through the plot of the book chapter by chapter – they did this, then this, and oh, then this happened

  6. lindyloumac says:

    In my reviews I am aiming to tempt the reader into reading the book, not regurgitating it for them. 🙂

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