Behind the Book Review

Today, my friend Cindy Hval blogged about the first bad review she’s received for her book, War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.

In one scathing sentence on Goodreads a woman named Frances Fuller claimed that the book bored her so much she didn’t finish it.

This made me ponder the nature of book reviews and the people who write them. I wondered what kind of women decides to read a book filled with World War II love stories then puts it down. Love isn’t boring. War isn’t boring. This book is far from boring.

Disclaimer: I’m admittedly biased because I loved the War Bonds stories back when they were story babies getting a work-over in writer’s group. Cindy makes the featured couples come alive on the pages. You feel like you know them. The book is funny. It’s heart-rending. It’s real. It’s moving.


As any loyal friend might, I immediately internet stalked Frances Fuller. There’re a lot of women with that name so I’ll stick to three facts and some conjecture based on her Goodreads profile.

  1.  Frances is private on Goodreads.
    This seems a little odd considering it’s a social networking site. Maybe Frances only uses it to network with people she knows in real life, like a book club.Or maybe she’s written so many scathing reviews that other authors’ friends internet stalked her and made her feel uncomfortable. I certainly hope no one went all review-rage on her.
  1. Frances rates a lot of books.
    She’s  rated 2,441 books so far. Since most of us read more books than we rate, I’d guess she reads a lot but maybe she reads a few pages, gets bored and ditches the books before she’s done. For all we know, she might even rate books after reading the dust cover. I hope not.
  2. Frances has reviewed 746 books.
    That’s a lot considering she probably isn’t paid for her reviews, though I suppose it doesn’t take long to write one sentence that you’re bored.

Key Takeaway: Book Reviews Need Context

If I’m going to use a book review to pick my next read the review should include details that support why the reviewer liked or disliked the book. Lacking that, I need to know enough about the reviewer to value their assessment.

Normally, on Goodreads I could compare how a reviewer rates other books to see if they have similar sensibilities to mine. If we like (or dislike) a lot of the same books, I might try or avoid a book based on their rating.

Since Frances left a vague review and her profile is private, her review lacks useful context unless you know her personally.

Now, I don’t mean to pick on poor Frances (Actually, I do a little bit. She dissed a great book.) But that’s okay.

Books are art and art is subjective. One person can prefer Picasso, Sick Puppies and J.K Rowling. Another might prefer Andy Warhol, Bach and Jane Austen. You get to pick and choose what you like.

Art is also interactive. Your personality and experiences color the music you listen to, the paintings you look at and the books you read.

That’s why most artists don’t take reviews personally. Cindy certainly didn’t. She blogged about it. She’ll probably chuckle and shake her head when Google alerts tells her I blogged about it.

As much as she’d like more book reviews it isn’t so she can feel good about what she’s written. It’s so more people have a chance to read the stories that inspired her to write War Bonds.

I had the privilege of meeting some of the featured couples and their families when they came to Cindy’s book launch and reading. They were grateful and honored that she shared their stories of lasting love that sprouted and grew despite the very real hardships of war.

Through War Bonds, the greatest generation can inspire future generations. It already has. And that fact will take the sting out of any negative review, especially a one-sentence, vague dismissal that probably says more about the reviewer than the book.

Do you review books? Why?

Do you chose reading material based on reviews? What makes a good book review?

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  • longrunningfool

    I do review books. Not as many as Ms. Fuller by a long shot though. I don’t buy on the reviews, though I have been known to not buy after reading some.

    • jbarville

      I usually only buy books from authors I’ve already read and liked. But I’ve loaded up at the library based on descriptive book reviews many, many times.

  • Becky Midkiff Mace

    I saw that review the other day! Sometimes I get so bored that I quit a book, but it is unfair to write a review that only says that and does no explaining of WHY.

    • jbarville


  • Homeice

    My intention in writing a book review is to provide a service. If I enjoy reading a book, I want to share my discovery with others. I do not see the point of negative reviews. Anyone who belongs to a book club can attest to the variety of opinion on any given work. Therefore, I will rave about a book I love, and I will ignore one that failed to move me. Luckily, in my own work, I have been the recipient of many good reviews. One must take the good with the bad, and endeavor to examine the validity of the reader’s comments. We simply will never please everyone.