Honest Reviews

September 29, 2019

Do I Write Honest Reviews?

Writing Honest Reviews

My TL:DR answer to “Do I Write Honest Reviews” is Yes, you can trust that my reviews are honest.

Here’s the explanation:

Several book review bloggers have written posts on this topic, and I want to join this discussion so that my response will be an official statement on this blog.

“What raises this question?”

I notice two circumstances that can cause followers to ask the question:
1. You occasionally receive free books … can you really express an honest opinion when the book is free?
2. It seems suspicious that book reviews on this blog almost always earn four or five stars … can you honestly give every book four or five stars?

“Do you wonder if my reviews are honest?”

When I first started my blog over two years ago, I determined that my purpose for the blog is to offer readers my best recommendations for great reads. Therefore, week after week, followers will see almost all four and five-star reviews on this blog. This does not mean that I give every book I read four or five stars. It means that on the blog I select the best of what I read for review posts. If you follow me on Goodreads, you can see ALL the books I read and notice that I give a wide range of star ratings. There are many books I review on Goodreads that never make it to the blog. I read an average of ten to twelve books a month. I publish approximately four or five reviews per month, so only about 50% of what I read receives a blog post.

One reason I choose not to publish blog reviews of lower-rated books is because of the power of an image. Let me explain….. if you see the cover of a book on my blog, that image stays with you more than what I’ve said about the book. My fear is that when you are in Costco or Barnes and Noble, you will see a book cover and remember seeing that same cover on my blog and not remember that the book wasn’t to my taste and that I didn’t highly recommend it. You’ll buy the book because you think “I saw that on Carol’s blog” and then if you don’t like it, you will wonder why it was on my blog and not trust me again! I realize that some book bloggers review everything they read on their blog and leave it up to followers to take responsibility to find the gems. Because that doesn’t fit with my original vision for the blog, it may appear that I’m giving everything I read four or five stars and this leads some followers to question whether or not they trust me to give an honest review (because not every book is a four or five-star read).

One reason I hesitate to publish a monthly wrap up where I list every book I read in that month is that I fear you will see the cover and think I’m recommending it. For my monthly wrap up posts, I try to be very clear about my star ratings and hope that followers are paying attention!

Always keep in mind that no two readers ever read the same book and that you may have a very different opinion about the book! The four and five star reads I recommend here may be a one star read for you. I think over time that book review bloggers attract followers with similar tastes!

Also, I need to state here that I read every book that I review and recommend. I always hesitate to publish my TBR or other posts that contain covers of books I haven’t read. If I review a book, you can be certain that I’ve read it.

“If I receive a FREE ARC, am I required to give a good review?”

I do receive free books from time to time and that is always clearly stated before I begin my review. Even though I have received the book for free, I strive to be honest in my review. Because I care about authors and their work, I try to state any disappointments in the read as kindly as possible. I vet books as carefully as possible and I don’t accept certain genres so that I’m not caught in an uncomfortable position. So far, I have contacted an author only once and explained why I couldn’t review her book on my blog (the content was not what my followers expect me to recommend). If I can’t give a free book a four or five-star rating, I review it on Goodreads where I feel more comfortable giving two and three stars. If it happens that I will likely give the book a one-star rating, I will contact the publisher or author to let them know I will not be reviewing the book. You can be assured that if you see a free book reviewed on my blog or Goodreads, that my opinion is an honest one. I am not afraid to share honest opinions.

In addition, I want to emphasize that I have never experienced pressure from a publisher or an author for a certain star rating or a positive review. When I receive free books, it’s with the understanding that I will give an honest opinion.

My Five Star Rating Scale

5 stars (excellent) twinkle-twinkle-little-startwinkle-twinkle-little-startwinkle-twinkle-little-startwinkle-twinkle-little-startwinkle-twinkle-little-star

  • given sparingly to the very best books, exceptional in every way, beautifully written, an important high impact book (lots of substance), unputdownable, ponder it for days and weeks after finishing, always a highly recommended must-read, important themes, a ddefinite WOW factor that gives me a “book hangover”

4 stars (great) twinkle-twinkle-little-startwinkle-twinkle-little-startwinkle-twinkle-little-startwinkle-twinkle-little-star

  • very enjoyable on many levels, important themes, frequently recommended, has a lot of substance, WOW factor

3 stars (ok) twinkle-twinkle-little-startwinkle-twinkle-little-startwinkle-twinkle-little-star

  • an ok or meh read, mixed feelings about the writing (premise might be good, but execution lacking in some areas), still might be recommendable for some reasons, no WOW factor

2 stars (meh) twinkle-twinkle-little-startwinkle-twinkle-little-star

  • not recommendable, underwhelmed, unremarkable, finished but didn’t enjoy,  might be rated highly by others but not the right book for me

1 star (avoid) twinkle-twinkle-little-star

  • usually a DNF (did not finish), lacking in several important elements, skipped/skimmed large sections, I won’t be recommending it

I would love to hear your thoughts or questions!

Happy Reading Everyone!


  1. I’ve definitely seen discussion on this topic as well! My view is, it’s my blog and i can say whatever i want, I didnt start it to get free books or anything, I dont get paid for writing reviews… I just genuinely enjoy a good discussion about books and sharing my thoughts on what I’ve read. I suppose my purpose for the blog is slightly different than yours and, if my purpose was to recommend books, I completely agree that publishing a critical review wouldn’t work! I do think publishers can be picky about only giving ARCs to bloggers who gave positive reviews of the last book they had… sometimes it can be tricky to review ARCs honestly because, if you didnt like it and you share that (however respectfully), chances are that publisher may not use you again! Also, if the author reads your review, and you criticised them… I would feel bad about that. I’ve stopped taking ARCs altogether for the time being, and one of the reasons for that was I just didnt feel I could be fully objective if I didnt like something! It sounds like you’ve got a good system for that though

    • I agree. It’s sometimes tricky! I haven’t had too much difficulty giving at least a 3 to most ARCs because I try to vet them carefully!!! I should go back and look at the couple I gave a 2 to and see if those publishers have denied me after that! 😱 it wouldn’t matter though because I value giving an honest review despite the fallout! I limit my ARCs to maybe 2 a month….I try for the ones I know I’ll like. Thanks for contributing to the discussion! 👍😍

  2. I completely agree. Most of my reviews on my blog are 4 or 5 stars. The thing is I know what genre’s/authors I like and have become selective about what I read. It’s rare for me to read a book I don’t like, but it does happen and I’m always honest.

  3. It takes time to get to know a blogger, the types of books reviewed by that blogger and her/his history. I review everything on mine, from the disappointments to the raves. I think those that generalize about free being equitable to less than honest are taking the easy path. Take the time to explore and read critically…you’ll be able to tell the difference.

  4. That’s interesting regarding an image sticking with you, even if the book wasn’t that good. Images are definitely a powerful tool. I usually DNF books if they are going to be lower than a 3 (out of 5 stars) rating. That being said, most of my reviews are favorable. However this month, I did have a 2.5 rating, which is rare. I do not post an image for every book I post about (usually that’s because it was read on my Kindle -and the b&w cover isn’t that nice looking) . I do think it is important to post the good and that not-so-good, BUT I do agree with why you don’t.

    • I post all my reviews on Goodreads and select the best of the best for the blog. I’m not sure why I decided to do it that way…I guess because when I visit a blog I’m looking for recommendations (not what they don’t recommend). However, when I go to Goodreads, I’m looking for a wide range of reviews and use those 2 star reviews to make the final decision about my next read. I guess I need to do a blog poll and ask followers if they want to see all reviews or just my recommendations! Thanks for your feedback!

  5. I love that different bloggers have different approaches to the same game. I write reviews for everything I read. I seldom rate the books I read very low which is because I did choose to read the book and they are books that are to my taste. I do occasionally come across one that doesn’t rate highly, but I always try to be fair in my assessment of the title. My star rating system is all about time. If a book gets 5 stars from me then I treasured the time I spent reading it. If it gets 4 stars, it was time well spent. If it gets 3 stars, it was time not begrudged. 2 stars was time wasted. 1 star is time I’ll never get back and wish I hadn’t squandered.
    As I get older, my time is becoming more and more valued due to its limitations. I fear I’ll never have the time to read all the books I want to…

    • Lynne, I LOVE your rating system based on time spent! It’s so true! I write reviews for most everything I read, too, I just don’t put them all on the blog!

  6. I really like the clear way in which you have explained your thought process. I don’t give star ratings myself because I find it so hard to differentiate. It’s easy to judge which are 5* or 1* but its the grades in between that are tough because they involve rating multiple elements. I could give a 5 rating on plot but a 2 for the same book on style, so the overall rating would seem low. My 3* is a reasonably good book but I see on other blogs people who would consider that to be a fairly poor book, so could mislead people.

    • I agree that giving a star rating is both subjective and difficult because of all the elements to consider! I really wrestle with my star ratings especially when one element is a 5 and another element is a 2! I have seen reviewers who give a number to each element and then calculate the average! But in my mind, all elements do not have equal weight! Ugh!
      I love Lynne’s (fictionophile) comment that she gives star ratings based on time spent!
      Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment!

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