To review, or not to review

Authors are advised not to write book reviews, probably so as not to be accused of gunning down the competition. But when I have finished something I enjoyed, writing a review is an extension of that enjoyment. Perhaps my enthusiasm will be contagious. But what happens when I don’t like the book?

Since I acquired a Kindle, I have stopped reading ‘books’. As owning a Kindle automatically draws you into the Amazon buying experience, I have acquired a lot of ebooks by authors I would otherwise not have heard of. At first I was dismayed to find that the big names were still expensive even in digital format, but also made the much happier discovery that there is a wealth (or at least a hell of a lot) of cheap to free books to be had.

As a new author, who will one day be published, I have been trawling through the lists looking for those books that, like my own, are by complete unknowns, but could be as entertaining as anything on the lists of the big publishers. The first two I read, The Fifth Circle by Tricia Drammeh, and Thumb by John Collick I very much enjoyed and was more than pleased to write reviews to encourage others to try them out.

Since then I haven’t had such good luck. I have abandoned a couple after getting far enough to know that I was wasting my time, and a couple more that I finished, enjoyed certain aspects, but the overall impression was of something lacking, glaring plot holes, or an irritating plethora of typos.

Much as I would love to write about the things I enjoyed in these books, I put myself in the place of the author, and think how crushed I would be to be told, kindly, but firmly that the characterisation was nice, the description effective, but the storyline was just a random string of events with no connection and no tension.

The rating system on Goodreads and Amazon makes a review more like a judgement. Some aspects can be good, others less good, and others frankly rubbish, so do you take the highest or lowest denominator? Either is unfair to the book. Seems to me that criticism ceases to be constructive once the book is published, except at the level of, you’d be well advised to take this book down and clean up all the typos.

Even when it is laden with what seems to me to be completely unjustified praise, I would feel very uneasy about giving a critical review to an indie book. I feel too much for the author, the ego and self-confidence that is so easily bruised by a less than glowing review. If I can’t praise a book wholeheartedly, I’d rather keep quiet.
This is the difference between the review written by a reader to inform other readers, and the review written by an author to encourage and support a fellow author. Is it hypocritical to only write reviews of books you have liked? Can an author gain anything except a red face from receiving a critical review? Is it incumbent upon every reader to stick red warning lights on every book they dislike?

I don’t know the answers, but I know that there is a bunch of books that I have liked, but felt were flawed, that I am keeping quiet about, unable to steel myself to writing an honest review for fear of hurting an author’s pride.