Are Reviews TOO Subjective to be Worthwhile?

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

I just finished reading a YA dystopian called The Uglies by Scott Westerfield.

What I found interesting, is that after finishing the book my thoughts differed widely from some of the top reviews. For instance, the top review remarks "Couldn't put it down" and that she read it in one weekend. But the book took me literally weeks. I listened to the audio version on my ipod while exercising, but it didn't have enough draw to keep me listening at other times.

The reviewer also liked the main character Tally and said she was "a well-developed character, thoughtful and fully understanding the consequences of her actions." On the other hand, I thought she was shallow for most of the book, and I didn't like that she lied the entire book–until the last couple of pages.

It's always interesting to me to see the subjectivity in the reviews of the books that I read as I compare my experience to that of others. And of course it's always interesting to see the complete contrasts in reader's reactions to my own published books.

Just to give you an idea of some of the most obvious contrasts, here are a few from my latest release, A Noble Groom:


*I thought this book was unpredictable, I could almost never fully have a guess on what was going to happen or how something was going to take place. Which I liked a lot!

*Excellent writing, but the same old plot . . . I just got bored.


* I have reviewed books for years and I can honestly say that it is very, very rare for a book to grab me from page one and hold my attention all the way through. A NOBLE GROOM did that. Even though I was busy with other stuff all day long, I still devoured this book and wished it wouldn’t end.

*I enjoyed the whole book, but it did take me a while to get captured by the story and get to where I wanted to keep reading.


*I felt the story so intensely, it mattered so much to me that things turn out right! She does a good job of ending the story . . . I didn't guess the ending. Not at all. I found it realistic and definitely interesting--and of course, happy.

*While the ending was very nice, it did leave me with some questions and I wish we would have been told how things fared for certain characters.

Ability to put down:

*You know a book is great when you stay up past 1:00 am to finish despite the fact that you have to wake up a few hours later for work. This book is worth the lack of sleep.

*I did think the book was a little slow paced. Although there was some drama, it wasn't exactly a book that I had to stay up all night reading.

Compared to my other books:

*I think I've discovered a new favorite author. Jody Hedlund. I've now read all four books that she has published - and each one keeps getting better. Her latest book, A Noble Groom, might be my favorite book of hers yet.

*Not my favorite Jody Hedlund novel, but still good.

Interesting to see such stark differences, isn't it?

But it brings up the point of this post: Are reviews TOO subjective to be of any help to readers who are trying to decide whether to read a book? After all, if reviews have such contradictory views of the same issue, how is a reader to decide which reviews to believe?

As a reader wading through reviews and trying to narrow down which books to actually purchase and take the time to read, I often have doubts: Will I really like this book or not?

I find myself having to weigh other factors like: how many five stars there are compared to the other numbers, the quality of the writing in the sample pages, and how prolific and popular the author already is.

And still, after all the reviews and everything else, the number one factor that will drive me to a book, is the BUZZ. If I see a lot of chatter about a book on Twitter or a variety of friends mentioning that they've enjoyed a book, then I'm much more likely check it out.

What about YOU? How helpful are reviews to YOU? Do you find them too subjective in helping you make the decision to purchase a book? How do you wade through the contradictory comments?


  1. I just figure everyone has their own opinion. I know what my pet peeves in a book are, and look out for those. It is hard taking reviews from anyone unless you know the person giving the review and what their style is. This goes for anyting from electronics, campgrounds, hotel, restaraunts and books. I have to admit, I love when I get reviews that say "I couldn't put the book down!"

    1. This. I watch for mentions of specific details, for things I like or dislike.

      As a writer, I also read reviews as fodder for helping me create well-rounded characters that differ from me, because "Huh, X was fast- paced? What would make someone think that…"

  2. I tend not to pay attention to reviews for this reason. How do I know which one will reflect what I'll believe about the book? I almost didn't read one bestselling novel because of a review. I rely on recommendations from friends.

  3. I would never base my buying decisions on reviews. They're too unreliable. Some 5 star reviews can be biased; written by the author's friends/family/book bloggers who've been given free copies to have an obligatory gush.
    Similarly, a lot of 1 star reviews can be written by jealous peers and trolls.

    I read the synopsis, and if I like what it says I'll read the sample pages. If it grips me, I buy it :)

  4. Uglies really upset me while I was reading it, even though the plot idea was interesting so much of the story rubbed me the wrong way. And I know a lot of people who loved it.

    I do check reviews, though more often when I'm not sure I'll like it or while I'm already reading a book and curious as to what other people thought of it.
    I usually check the 1* reviews first. Plus, you can often see if the reviews are right or not. If one complains about spelling but none of the others, you pay less attention to it. But also, some of the best marketing comes in 1* reviews. Erotica with "too much sex", contemporary teen novel with "evil gay characters" and "they were kissing!" or an urban fantasy with vampires that are "too dark". which are all reasons for me to actually take a closer look at the book.

    Over all star ratings do help me out with trying to decide on a buy. Especially when I'm on he main Amazon page and a cover that looks really good has a 3* with 10 reviews. I won't be checking that one out.

    Reviews can be really good, as long as you know what to look for and if they have words in them that you care about. If I see a story that has reviews which mention "strong female characters" or things like that, I am likely to try a book.

  5. This discussion is interesting to me because I'm a long-time reviewer (the quote about staying up till 1:00 a.m. is mine or from someone like me). I love reading reviews to see what other people though.
    This month, I signed my first contract to have my book published, so I'm starting to see reviews from a different side. I think if most readers are saying the same thing, it's a valid point. If it's a true mix, that's just different types of readers.

  6. I rely less on reviews from strangers, and more on recommendations from people I know. Usually they have a better idea whether or not I'll appreciate a book, because they know me, they know what I like and don't like, and they know what life experience I'm going through right now, that may make this particular book a relevant read. To be drawn to a book in the first place, I must be interested in the topic, genre, or the author. I seem to recall from a prior post that dystopian literature wasn't a particular favorite of yours, so that may have already colored your responses. So overall, I rely less on reviews for books than I might for other purchases.

    ~ Betsy

  7. Jody, from the standpoint of an author with five novels and a non-fiction book under my belt, I thought I'd seen it all with regard to reviews--until I read a review on a blog that included a huge spoiler. But there's nothing we can do about those, can we?

    Some reviewers love everything about the book. Some can't seem to wait to tell everyone how horrible the book is. And some thoughtfully review the work, sometimes make gentle suggestions or bring up valid criticisms. I try not to read too many reviews of my work, but when I do, I pay the most attention to that third group. That's how we grow as authors.

    Thanks for opening discussion on a very pertinent subject.

  8. I just wrote this on my FB author page:

    Is it wrong of me to get a kick out of a books' 2 one star reviews where:
    "And the "Christian" aspect of the book? Practically non-existent"
    is abutted by:
    "If you're looking for a religious sermon that costs you over eight bucks, you're in luck."

    I do read reviews, I check out the 3*,2* and 1* a lot for kicks and to see if they all consistently say something. I rarely read the 5*s but I look to make sure there are a majority of them,(if there are a lot of 5s that tells me it's probably a pretty decent read). So if it has a lot of 5s, I'll read the 4* and 3*s because they tend to give me a better idea of what is good and bad and there's less to sift through.

    But ultimately, I open up the "see inside" and see whose evaluation seems to line up with the sample and if it captures me.

    Reviews may be too invaluable to use alone, but no reviews on a book after being out for awhile means "no one's reading it" because no one can get past the beginning or something and makes me move on. So the more people I see reviewing it, meant there was more word of mouth, which means it's worth considering for reading.

  9. Interesting-- I tend not to look at review until after I've finished a book and after I've written my own review. Then maybe I'll look to see what others have said. I rarely, if ever, choose a book based on reviews. I may look at books my other friends have read on Goodreads and look at the descriptions and then decided, but even at that I rarely read their reviews.

  10. This is a very interesting discussion. I know that as a reviewer, I try to be fair and honest. I typically won't browse the reviews of a book I'm reviewing until my review is written and ready to be posted to Amazon. I don't want the opinions to factor into my own enjoyment of the book.

    I'm currently reading a book from NetGalley that's classified as a children's book. I'll admit that I've already scanned the reviews for this book on Amazon and Goodreads because simply put, this book isn't holding my interest. I keep finding reasons to not read it and I know that's bad. But I can see the good qualities in it too. Is it the best book I've ever read? Probably not. Would I recommend it to a kid in grades 4-7? Totally! Have I read other children's authors that I can say would be similar to this one? Yes. So when I write my review, I'll factor that into consideration.

  11. Hi Jody,

    I generally don't tend to write reviews,but I'm happy to do so when I'm asked. When I do write them,I try to be objective rather than subjective and I think sometimes people confuse the two.

    As an avid Reader, I personally would far rather read a book that the author has at some stage commented on it's progress,or by dropping little snippets of the storyline,thereby captivating my immediate interest. Mostly I hear about it via WOP or the authors personal blogs and also by word of mouth(usually through my American friends which is good because then I'm aware that it will hit the shelves (SOMETIME!) "Down Under"! As you know, I have only just managed to acquire your books, but I am thoroughly enjoying reading "The Doctor's Lady"... Love it!! :)

    You have a real gift dear lady, please keep on writing!


  12. Interesting article, Jody. The thing with reviews is they are always merely an opinion. Yes, we like to think our opinions matter to people, and perhaps that's why reviewers review books. (I happen to review books because I enjoy the books and wish to spread the word about books I find interesting.)

    I generally read books based on reviews if the review is written by someone I know and respect their opinion on books. If I know their taste is different than mine, I may be less likely to read the books that they recommend. Reviews are definitely subjective, and it's all because they stem from someone's opinion.


  13. I don't often pay attention to reviews when selecting books. My first requirement for a book to read is that it is Christian fiction, or from an author I've read and trust (I read a lot of cozy mysteries that would fall in this category). For authors I haven't yet read, I do read blogs (which contain some reviews) but look more at the story line than the review. And yes, I do judge a book by its cover. There are some books I've selected just for the beautiful cover and the interesting sounding story and have been very glad I read them. Ugly covers don't have much of a chance with me. I also rely on recommendations from others in my book club.

  14. Hi Everyone! I've loved hearing from all of you today! As always I cherish your opinions and thoughts! I am always so blessed from all of your comments. Thank you for sharing! :-)

  15. I don't read reviews until after I've read a book, and only if I'm curious how others felt about it. The opinions are ALL over the place!!

  16. I think a majority of reviewers talk/write about their personal reactions to reading a book. That can't be anything but subjective.

    I find that there are a lot of five star reviews out there, but why? When I compare works I include 'great authors of our time' on the 5 star side and a cereal box on the 1 star side. I grade hard, but I say so.

    I don't know if I do more damage than good, but I'm consistent and, I hope, fair. Even though I include different elements of the book, I'm pretty sure I'm subjective too.

    Anna from "Shout with Emaginette"

  17. Jody,

    Thank you very much for sharing this blog post. It was very timely and helped me tremendously, as I have been debating for a couple weeks how to approach doing book reviews. I have had difficulty getting started because I am not one who likes to speak negatively of another persons work (I know how much they put into it!) and especially after reading all the other positive reviews, I began to wonder, is it me? Am I missing something? So, thank you. Your article definitely made me feel better and more confident as I begin to do book reviews more consistently. It is ironic because I did come back to your blog today to find just that... advice on how to approach my book reviews from a prior post you shared. :-) Thanks! God bless!

    1. Hi Rhonda,

      So glad you found a few helpful thoughts as you're getting ready to craft your reviews! It is so individualistic. I don't think there is one right way. But we certainly can't go wrong by using tact! Wishing you all the besT!

  18. The reviews can also tell you something about the reviewer. The reviewer who didn't have a problem with how often the lead character lied, in the book you mentioned, probably has a different tolerance level to such things. So knowing something about the reviewer helps me at any rate to decide how much I can rely on their review.

    1. Good point! Although in the case of the top reviewer for Uglies, she claimed to be a middle school English teacher. So I assumed . . . :-)

      But you're right, some people wouldn't get irritated by a character lying time after time. And really, it's not so much that I minded her lying per say. I'd just had hoped she'd show some character growth earlier in the story rather only in the last chapter.

  19. In general, I don't find reviews on Christian literature to be helpful--and I'm no better at it the few times I've been asked to write a blog review for someone than the next person. To be effective, we must be able to be honest--I believe we err on the side of love and tact and it dilutes what we deliver. This is why I avoid doing reviews--the hardest posts to write with integrity.

  20. I do look at reviews - there are some bloggers whose tastes line up with mine well enough that if they like a book, I probably will as well. For random reviews, as in I don't know anything about the reviewer or what their usual likes/dislikes are, I tend to look for the why behind their reasons for liking or disliking the book. Some things people don't like make me more likely to read a book, and the reverse is also true. What's not helpful is to read a review that's simply a "loved the book" or "this book is awful" without any sort of reason behind it.

    1. Good point, Sheila! I think if you know the reviewer and also know that they're honest and share your tastes, then the review can make a difference. But I'm never sure how trustworthy some of the more general reviews are.

  21. Maybe you just have the same relationship as I do with audiobooks? I can't stand them. They make the story drag (and listening while exercising makes it drag even more).

  22. I never buy books based on reviews for just this reason. If the blurb sounds interesting I will take a peek inside the 'look inside' feature. If I'm still reading after a page or two, it's one for me. For me it's all about, does the story sound interesting? Not how many reviews or how many stars it's got.

  23. This is totally awesome! You have a great mind.


© All the articles in this blog are copyrighted and may not be used without prior written consent from the author. You may quote without permission if you give proper credit and links. Thank you!