Negative Reviews That Don’t Turn Me Off a Book

More often than not, it’s the gushing, positive things in reviews that help convince me to read a book, and the negative ones that make me steer clear. However, very occasionally, as I’m sure is the case for many other readers, criticisms in a negative review won’t turn me off a book… in fact, on occasion they’ll make me think it might actually be up my alley. This is of course mostly due to personal taste, for example if the reviewer mentions something they dislike that I don’t, and more rarely, due to things that make me suspicious as to the reviewer’s motives.

So I thought it might be interesting to identify some of the main kinds of criticism that don’t tend to bother me. I did some thinking, and also took a look at some negative Goodreads reviews of my favourite books, and in the end I picked eight types that crop up the most often. Of course, these are indicators of my personal taste and not necessarily a criticism of reviewers who mention these things:

1. “Too much romance”

One of the first things that makes me think a review isn’t a reflection of how I’ll feel about the book is any sort of criticism along the lines of “there was too much romance” or “too much sex”. I know there are readers who don’t like romance or sex scenes in their fiction, but I’m not one of them. Sure, if they’re badly done I’ll cringe like anyone else, but I love a great romance, be it a sub plot of the full-blown focus of the story.

2. “Scientifically inaccurate and implausible”

I’ll often ignore criticisms of implausibilities related to the world-building, science and technology. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I don’t much care about plausibility as long as the story is good. Sure, if there is something glaringly illogical that even I would notice, and its central to the plot, that’ll bug me, but questions of whether or not a mountain range could be located where it is or a particular gadget could work just don’t bother me. I’m more likely to be annoyed by implausibility in the actions and emotions of characters.

3. “Needed more worldbuilding detail”

This might seem strange for someone who likes fantasy, but while I love clever and fascinating world-building, I don’t absolutely need it to enjoy a story. I’m not someone who revels in endless details about imaginary places and languages. Broad brush strokes and hints at things I’m not supposed to fully understand will suffice as long as the story and characters are compelling. So if a reviewer lists a bunch of things they wanted to know about the world, or is disappointed they didn’t get a map and glossary… that’s not going to be a problem for me.

4. “Morally questionable”

If a reviewer thinks political or social issues weren’t presented in the right way in a book, or that a particular minority or gender should have been represented differently, I’ll certainly take note of it, especially if I trust the reviewer – but I won’t necessarily decide not to read the book. Instead I’ll check to see if other reviewers have said similar things, or I’ll just read it and make up my own mind. Moral judgements are just too reliant on subjective interpretations of the story. I’ve seen reviewers make connections between things in a book and the real world and then denounce it as morally corrupt, classist, racist, sexist, ableist, or capitalist/communist propaganda… only to read the book and have no idea how on earth they made those connections or came to those conclusions. So I always take politically-motivated or moral criticisms with a grain of salt.

5. “Inelegant, shallow, uninspiring writing”

Reviewers who criticise the writing of a book with these kinds of adjectives generally have a different taste in books to me. Sure, I don’t like clumsy, poor quality writing any more than the next person, but I also don’t expect each sentence to be a beautifully crafted work of art that blows me away with its unique genius. If the writing is wonderful that’s awesome, but it’s the story, the characters, and the ideas that’ll keep me around.

6. “It was too much of a young adult / science fiction / fantasy book”

I guess this should go without saying, but if a criticism of the book stems solely from it using the tropes of a genre I like, or if the reviewer prefaces it with a disclaimer that they don’t like this kind of book, I ignore it. It’s fine to have different genre preferences so I don’t get annoyed by this – in fact I think it’s helpful when reviewers mention it. The one thing that does annoy me though is when “young adult” is used as a synonym for poorly written, e.g. “the writing was YA quality,” because I’ve read a lot of beautifully-written young adult books, so it feels a bit insulting to those authors.

7. “Too hyped”

I 100% agree that there are a lot of books out there that get far more attention than they warrant, but I’m a little wary to trust it when a review levels this as the primary or only criticism. It makes me wonder if they’re saying it because they genuinely felt it, or because they want to be the rebel who gives it 1 star just to prove how unique they are, or provoke an argument.

8. “This wasn’t a continuation of the series, characters, or universe I’d hoped for”

If I haven’t read the other book/s the reviewer is referring to, this lack of continuation obviously isn’t going to faze me… but even if I have, over the years I’ve become less attached to sticking with one set of characters or one story, and am more partial to shorter series, stand-alones, and new things by the same author. So this sort of criticism is more likely to be a positive for me. If, however, they’re saying they think the book is objectively worse than others by that author, I might take note of that.

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Those are just the criticisms I personally don’t pay much attention to, but I’d be curious to hear what types of things other people tend to ignore in negative reviews. So if you have any of your own examples, please go ahead and share them in the comments!

15 thoughts on “Negative Reviews That Don’t Turn Me Off a Book

  1. I definitely agree! Sometimes a negative review tells me much more about the reviewer than the book. Also, it’s probably not even necessary as its own category because it’s so ridiculous, but there are books that stir up certain groups of people whose devotees then go on to Goodreads and flood a book with negative reviews – actually you can probably file that under “morally ambiguous” as it’s usually generated by a book being controversial in some way.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ah yes true – I think the “morally ambiguous” category could be expanded to contain a whole range of that sort of thing… especially when it comes to controversial books. I’m always wary when a reviewer doesn’t just say they felt the book was morally objectionable, but uses the review to try to call for it to be banned or boycotted or burned or whatever… if the outrage factor is dialled up to 10 it immediately makes me suspicious!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. There are a couple times when a negative review of a book made me add the book to TBR. I think bloggers and other reviewers sometimes include more critique (I guess) in negative reviews rather than positive ones, so I end up finding out more in a negative review. But sometimes I’m so curious to see what’s so bad about the story that it makes me want to read it lol.
    I don’t mind if the work is scientifically inaccurate either since I don’t know much about science or tech to be able to tell if something is accurate or not, but I need my worldbuilding. I need to believe it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha I didn’t think about the curiosity factor of wanting to see what’s so bad about it 😂 That’s a good reason though! And true, negative reviews do tend to go into more detail than positive ones.

      I don’t know much about science and tech either so that’s no doubt a big part of why that kind of inaccuracy also doesn’t bother me. But I can understand why you’d place more value on the worldbuilding than I do, since it can be a big part of immersing in the story (and there have been books where key premises of the world/society were too unbelievable and vague even for me, so I do have my limits – even if it’s harder to reach them 🙂 )

      Liked by 1 person

  3. When I read the title of your post, I was very intrigued — and now that I’ve read your post I am shocked at how RELATABLE I find this! Yes, yes, yes! The things you mentioned above that speak the most to me are romance, worldbuilding, and hype. Like you, I’m into character-driven novel. If there’s romance, awesome! Just don’t make it awful — a shockingly easy thing to do. Plus less worldbuilding is often a good thing for me. I find much of worldbuilding is info-dumping. As someone who doesn’t see images in my head, I get bored with endless descriptions of things. Just give me a enough to go by then let’s get back to the characters!

    As for hype, I always ignore that statement. I never read books when they come out (Well, unless a book club selects them), so I always forget they are hyped by the time I read it. If enough time passes, I can get past everyone’s gushing easily. My mind doesn’t hold on to details that long.

    Another thing that people will mention is a lack of plot. I always question if the story is really missing plot or if it’s more of a character-driven novel. If someone dings a book for lack of plot, you can bet it’ll be on my TBR!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so glad you can relate!! And I agree, it’s sadly quite easy to make a romance awful, but when it’s good it’s great! Long descriptions can get boring for me even though I do see images in my head, so I can only imagine how boring it would be if you didn’t. Actually I recently saw someone mention in a review that they don’t picture images when they read either, but in this particular case it meant they really liked what the author had done – describing primarily through non-visual senses – and I found it really interesting she picked up on that. It was something I probably wouldn’t have noticed.

      And that’s fascinating about a “lack of plot” criticism. I never thought about the fact that someone might take that as a signal it could be a character-driven story and think of it as a positive! I guess next time I read a review that says there’s no plot I’ll be thinking about it 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • The no-plot-means-character-driven is something I can pick up easily from bloggers I know well. If I hear no-plot a lot from people I don’t know, I typically assume that means I should avoid the book. This whole negative reviews as positive thing is actually tricky business!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yes whether I know the blogger’s tastes well or not makes a huge difference for me too. A few of the criticisms I listed would be more of a problem if they came from reviewers I often agree with, others wouldn’t. Definitely a tricky business!

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  4. I’m always puzzled (and annoyed) by reviewers who start off with “I don’t like this genre.” Then why did they read it? There are only a bazillion other books that they could read.

    As for accusations that a book is “immoral” or “too political,” it makes me wonder what the reader was asked to examine that they didn’t want to think about. More specifically, are they white guys who just can’t stand it if the main character is a minority woman with a forceful personality?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha yes I’m often puzzled by that too! “I don’t like fantasy” – then why did you pick up a fantasy?? That said, if I get the sense they were giving the genre a try again with an open mind and it didn’t work out, I don’t mind, because I think sometimes people prematurely decide a whole genre is not for them without sampling more than one book (e.g. I know people who’ve said they don’t like science fiction, but have ended up loving sci-fi books once they found the right ones for them).

      And yeah true – sometimes the reviewer makes it quite explicit why they thought it was “too political”: eg “too many women characters”, but sometimes they don’t say or maybe don’t even personally examine why they’re taking issue, and you have to try and read between the lines.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This is such an interesting post! I don’t think I’ve ever taken the time to think about what part of negative reviews I ignore, and which parts of negative reviews make make me only want to read a book more.

    When I saw the first item on your list, I immediately was like, “YES!”. I adore romance, so the more romantic and steamy I hear a book is, the more I’m interested in it, even if the person reviewing the book wasn’t a fan of the amount of romance. As for the writing style, I think I have the opposite interests than you! I adore flowery, intricate prose! If someone mentions that the writing was too flowery, I immediately become more interested in a book!

    Great post! It really got me to think about my reading tastes in a super unique way!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, I’m glad you found it interesting! And I’m definitely all for steamy books too, so it’s good to know I’m not alone 🙂 That’s really interesting about your preference for more intricate, flowery prose – I don’t hate that kind of writing, but I don’t love it or seek it out either, so it’d probably make me wary to see a reviewer mention it. So as you said, we are kind of the opposite on that one – and a good example of what a difference reading tastes can make in responses to reviews!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Hey I wanted to let you know I nominated you for a blogger recognition award! You don’t have to participate if you don’t want to, but I wanted to make sure you knew 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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