The witch’s brew for a review: what’s an honest review?

What’s in a review? Well, 1 part book, 1 part reader, 1 part author! Okay kidding. This is not a witch’s brew, but a look at reviews. Why you ask? Well, lately I’ve been seeing the phrase “honest review” more and more. Not only do I get the request often – authors hand over their book in exchange for an honest review – but I also see the phrase quite frequently on GoodReads or other book websites.

catreadingWhat is an honest review?

That is an excellent question. It’s not something that has a clear answer. Is there something as a dishonest review? Don’t answer that! Yes, there are people who lie and write how they loved the story and how perfect it was. Or lie and stomp on a story because something about it rubbed them wrong. There are always the bad elements.

But really?! What is an honest review? When I asked around the answers varied. Some said:

“A evaluation in which the reader/reviewer gives their authentic, unbiased opinion of the story. What they liked or disliked. How the story made them feel etcetera”

Or

“The reader doesn’t fib about a story and make the book to be more/better or less/bad than what it is”

Mmmm. On average, what you see is readers giving their opinion on a story. In their own unique way, meaning with words only or with lots of gifs and images or, less often, in a video. Their view on the story and the reading experience. Does that make a review honest?

Professional reviewing

What I remember from my days studying publishing is that professional reviewers quite often don’t write about their ‘reading experience’ but look for the literary devices in a book and certain building blocks that form the literary make-up of the story. Quite often I don’t find those reviews very helpful. They give a very one-sided view of a story. I want to know what the story made them feel!

Reading experience

Reading a story is a bit like going on a journey (without having to pack and go through customs). You travel along with the characters and join them on their adventure. You either have a good travel experience, an average one or a horrible (never to be repeated) one. Sometimes you even join said characters on their journey again and again if you liked said journey the first time around.

The experience you have, the involvement in the story, the feelings and emotions or even frustrations and angers, it all makes up your reading experience. How the story makes you feel. That’s something that is different for everyone.

To round it all up

So…can a review be honest? Yes, so long as the reviewer tells the audience what impression the story left on them. What worked for them and what didn’t. Why they liked the story or why they hated it. If you look at it that way, a review can be honest. But like with professional reviewing, it can be one sided, because what works for you, doesn’t work for another or the other way around. Really, a review is very limited and in my opinion can never be really called honest. It’s just a review. Your opinion of a story. Yes, it’s honest, but it’s also personal ad opinionated. To another you might just be very dishonest about the book.

3 Comments


  1. // Reply

    I love when you post something like this! Especially the discussions that can come from it. 😀

    I’m like you, not a fan of professional reviews. They tend to be too technical for me. I want to know what makes a reader squeal with delight, or ugly cry through an entire box of Kleenex, or rage big time because of something that happened in a book.

    Now maybe I’m giving too much credit to fellow readers, but I would like to think that all reviews posted are honest to each individual reader/reviewer. I have written rather hardcore ranting reviews and expressed my extreme disgust with a book. While the review itself may not feel honest to someone who loved it. For me, it was honest, because it was how I felt at the time of the reading and the review.

    Regarding using the word honest within a review, I’ve been guilty of doing this as well. However, I only do it at the request of the author for giving me an ARC. But at the same time, I can see why people would question how honest the review really is.


  2. // Reply

    Strange use of the word “honest”. Am I being “dishonest” about The Atomic Bitchwax if I say I like their music (for the record, I do) while someone else doesn’t?

    Anyway. A review of the “subjective” kind in which a reviewer gives his/her one-sided opinion can be very useful if the taste of the reviewer aligns with one’s own. So find some reviewers with a similar taste as yourself and follow them.


  3. // Reply

    For me honest means you’re not going “this is the best book everah, I loved everything about it” when you didn’t but you figure you “owe” the author or publisher because they gave you a book for free or because they are a friend and you don’t want to hurt their feelings.

    On the other hand, giving something one star because you have something against the author, or people from a certain group, etc. are dishonest. How many people run around goodreads and give books 1 star because they have LGBT characters and they don’t even read the book? That’s dishonest.

    Me reviewing Atomic Bitchwax’s album and saying they suck, are awful, sound like dying ducks and are probably satan worshipers is dishonest, because I’ve never heard of them. LOL Now if I did listen to the album and felt the same way, it’s not dishonest, just my subjective opinion.

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