“Words! Words! Words! I am so sick of words! I get words all day through…Never do I ever want to hear another word. There isn’t one word I haven’t heard…Say one more word and I’ll scream.”

Audrey Hepburn in MY FAIR LADY

Well, not really, but I can understand what Eliza felt and what Alan Jay Lerner had her sing in MY FAIR LADY. Writers spend long hours, days and years putting forth words. In their heads, on paper,  in print, and in the ether. Then, it is the readers and the critics who pour over those strenuously wrought words to offer review, critique, criticism, praise, doubt, confusion, benevolence or, possibly, total rejection.

How often do you write reviews of the books you read? Is it your job? Your hobby? A courtesy to a writer friend? Or only when you can offer a four or five star rating? Are you of the breed that loves to hack away with stingy one or two star reviews? Holds to stringent rules, measurements or other ways to quantify a book’s worth?

Personally, I’d love to do away with the stars. Too subjective for my taste and with too many variables and meanings. If your words can’t convey your thoughts about the pacing, plotting, characterization, themes, research or lyricism of the writer, how can the stars say it?

So, I decided to take a look at the reviews I’ve written on Amazon to analyze my own process and see what I could make of it.  In the last six years I have ponied up forty reviews. I gave 37  five stars and to three, I gave four stars.  What does it mean, if anything?

I recently had an email discussion with an eminent western writer who reserves her “5’s” for books of significant value that are likely to stand the test of time. I used to do that, too, and only wrote reviews of such books. More recently, I’ve switched gears and have given many “5’s” for work that might not reach those earlier standards but were very good books. With most of these I tried to describe their impact on me to get across my sense of their value. I have not given lower numbers in instances where friendship got in the way of my ability to do so; I still don’t feel good about those books (think fraudulent) for it misleads anyone who might look to the review in making their decision to buy and/or read them. On three occasions I gave “4’s” where I felt very clear about their ranking.

Increasingly, I read nearly exclusively what I write: historical fiction, mostly about the American West.  In the past, I read much more in crime and thriller series, general historical (including romances,) bestsellers, and non-fiction. My interest would be peaked by San Francisco Chronicle or NY Times reviews (now the same thing,) the “new books” shelved at the library or booksellers recommendations. Now, I look to the resources and writers of organizations I belong to: Women Writing the West, the Historical Novel Society, Squaw Valley Community of Writers and Redwood Writers, a branch of the California Writers Club.

I took a look at the stats from those 40 reviews to see where they came from: 17 were by WWW writers, 7 by RW authors, 5 from HNS, 10 from other sources and 0 specifically from Squaw.  I think I read about 60 books a year so this sampling of 40 books in 6 years is miniscule compared to what I actually read.


Vincent van Gogh   “WOMAN READING”

The result of all this self-analysis: I need to write more reviews and improve my star designation by being more honest when I find myself between a rock and a hardplace.

Have you anguished over reviewing a friend’s book?

How did you handle it?

Were you “too busy?” Say you didn’t feel comfortable, couldn’t rank it high?

Do something else?


P.S.  HUACHUCA  WOMAN  has received 10  “5’s” and 1  “4.”  Thank you!


Filed under Historical Fiction, HUACHUCA WOMAN, Publishing and Promotion, Reflection

8 responses to “WHAT’S IN A REVIEW? WORDS! WORDS! WORDS! (and stars…)

  1. Barbara Toboni

    Congrats on your stars for Huachuca Woman. I rarely do a review or rate a book. The idea never appealed to me. I don’t do it with movies either, like Netflix. Everyone’s taste in what to read or watch is so different. I do admit to reading reviews on occassion, but my favorite way to pick a book is the old fashioned pick it up and read the first few pages. If I like them, I give the book a try.

  2. Hi Barbara,
    I started doing reviews and hitting the “like” button on author’s page on Amazon for fun and to support fellow writers. Then, I got into the jam I describe above and am now wiggling my way back to honesty. If I can’t post a 4 or 5, I don’t review. Picking up the book is very hard to do on Kindle and CreateSpace but you can do the “Look Inside” feature…thanks for stopping to comment.

  3. I enjoyed your blog post about “stars.” They make me feel uneasy, too. Glad I’m not alone!

  4. Penny

    There are very interesting ideas in this blog. I, too, read and judge. I haven’t written any reviews, yet I certainly make a statement to myself upon finishing a book. Perhaps, “Wow that was great” or “I’m still thinking about that hero or heroine” and “That book taught me something new to consider.” I suppose all those are five star pronouncements. OTOH joining a book club has led me into the area of two star reading endeavors. Had to read it, didn’t enjoy it, slogged through and gave it two stars. One big diff between 2 and 5 — if the author makes me care about the main character, really care by page twenty.

    • Hello Penny,
      I’m sorry you were in a jam with your book club books. I had problems with two books recently: gave up on one(best seller, prize winner) and hoping to get back to the second before too long. You have such a sharp eye and strong sense about good writing that I wonder why you don’t write reviews?

  5. Christal

    I’m in LOVE with Arletta Dawdy! After my first book Praise for huachuca Woman ,I made my way up to Grace. I can’t wait to read more. Thank you so much Dawdy. xo

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