Things I look for in books (and why)
- Good prose – yeah, this is totally subjective, I know. For me, “good prose” can run the gamut from clear and spare to lyrical and flowery. As long as I feel like it’s done well, I’ll have a good time.
- Good LGBT+ representation. I’m bi, nonbinary, and somewhere on the ace spectrum (possibly?? I’m still figuring things out, forgive me). There’s a lot of questionable lgbt+ representation in books, but luckily, there’s more and more as #ownvoices authors get their works published.
- Non-shitty relationships between women or girls in books. What I mean by this is that if there’s two or more women, I’d love it if they aren’t in jealousy-tainted competition for a man’s romantic favor. What I don’t mean by this is to have any angst or tension between female characters. That’s totally cool and can create awesome, complex dynamics.
- Vivid and/or well-depicted settings. I hate it when a book’s setting (especially a fantasy or scifi setting) feels like a rough sketch rather than a fully-realized place.
- Good mental illness representation. I have generalized anxiety disorder and depression.
My review approach usually involves me asking myself at least some of these sorts of questions:
- How much did the book resonate with me? What parts will I remember (if any), years down the line?
- Did I find the characters engaging? If I didn’t, what bothered me? If I did, why?
- Did I find the writing appealing? How much did I sink into the author’s world or the characters’ perspectives?
- What is the book’s genre or market? Is it supposed to be introspective, engrossing, exciting, or even alienating? Does it accomplish its basic goals?
- How was the plot constructed or developed? Did it feel contrived, or did events seem to flow naturally as a consequence of the characters’ actions/the world’s established rules?
- What were the themes, and how effectively were they written?
- What underlying messages does the book convey – intentionally or not? Is there a sneaky implication that sex workers are worth less, or that trans people are manipulative liars? What harmful (or helpful) attitudes could a reader take away from the work?
Everybody has a different standard for what they consider a baseline positive review. For me, that’s a 3-star review. It means that I thought the book was readable, though perhaps not memorable or something I’d readily recommend to friends. 4 stars means I liked a book quite a lot, and 5 stars means it was flat-out wonderful.
I review books that I’ve purchased, books I’ve borrowed from the library, and books I’ve received as ARCs from publishers or authors. I try as much as possible to not let the fact that I receive ARCs for no money color my reviews of those books, and to provide an honest and fair review. I always state if I received a book as an ARC.