Zeal and Vitriol: A Word on My Book Reviews

I tend to forget lukewarm books. The stores I love zealously, and those I loathe with fire and vitriol, I remember. A mere "okay" or "not great" book doesn't hold my attention long, and therefore doesn't hold as much substance in my review.

When I write a book review, it is my opinion. Not my editor's or best friend's or mom's or cat's opinion. Mine. Regardless of whether I love, hate, or forget a particular story, even my opinion alone brings three very different points of view to the table. I'm a reader first and foremost — a frequenter of Books-A-Million and Gottwals who enjoys a few chapters at the end of a long day. I'm also a writer, one who notices both the admirable and the lacking in a story's mechanics, while at the same time sympathizing with the author's rocky path to this book in my hands. Finally, I'm a reviewer. I'm a critic who must take nothing at face value and notice every thought and reaction — good or bad — throughout the story to later document for readers seeking input on their shopping decisions.

Saying that it's tough to balance these three separate personas is an understatement. It's even harder to do them all justice when trying to present a single, unified blog post or consumer review on a book they've all read.

I always want to be fair to the book, the author, and the editing and publishing teams involved with a book with every review I write. Above all, though, I need to be honest. Sometimes I'm not sure where to draw the line. Raving about a book I loved can cross into "overzealous," making me appear biased or unprofessional. Pouring out my wrath on a book I hated can make me enemies — in readers, authors, publishers, editors, you name it — and also damage my professional image, sometimes even more so than raving. Readers of the book, potential buyers of the book, the author and their friends, agents, editors, publishers, family members are watching me. So how honest is too honest?

If I post a review online, you can know I decided I'd reached the best balance I could achieve among my three opinions, while neither being dishonest nor going overboard. However, you should also be certain I still have my doubts. Did I rein in enough? Too much? Will I unforgivably offend a fan of the book? Will my readers think less of me for raving about a book that's clearly lacking in fill-in-the-blank?

Please, when reading any of my reviews, remember two things:

1. I'm human. I'm 100% guaranteed to slip up, probably more than once, in every single thing I ever write.

2. Just as it's impossible to please all readers ever — as an author, reviewer, or any kind of writer — it's also impossible to displease all readers ever. Feel free to disagree with every word I say; the book that displeased me may please you. Buy a book in spite of my vitriol. Refuse to buy a book in spite of my zeal. Please, just remember I am one drop in a thunderstorm of readers. We're bound to disagree at some point.

You know that Golden Rule we learned back in Sunday School as kindergartners? That applies to the internet, especially. Strive to stick to it. I promise to do the same.

This post was inspired in part by this review and my reluctance to post it, followed by a reader's comment. Also inspired by my recent contemplation of ARCs versus ordinary review copies of a book, particularly considering this review and this one in conjunction with Skull Creek Stakeout.


  1. Great post! As a reviewer, I often struggle with this too, and since I'm a sort of sarcastic person, I can often sound meaner than I mean to. I always remind myself to be honest, but not a jerk. Then I know that I've done my best and that's all I can do. Hopefully, someone likes it and not too many people hate me, lol.

    Alexa S. Winters

    1. So true! Sarcasm never translates well over the internet.


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