Many of the reviews I receive, both unsolicited and otherwise, are lackluster. At best, they say that the reader enjoyed the book, and share a constructive criticism or two. At worst, they are simply reworked, weaker synopses of the book. I am beginning to think that people are forgetting the original point of a review. Crack open any traditionally published book on your shelf and look at the reviews, either on the back or the first few pages. I'll get us started: here's one from the closest to my hand, David Eddings' classic "Pawn of Prophecy": "Eddings' Belgariad is exactly the kind of fantasy I like. It has magic, adventure, humor, mystery, and a certain delightful human insight." This was penned by fellow fantasy great Piers Anthony, and it is a gem of a review... not only because I'm sure David Eddings felt over the freaking moon when he got it, but because it does what a review should: it gives the reader's opinion of how it made them feel. I liked it. Here's why. Here's why you'll like it, too.
This is what I have to say to all of you, in regards to reviewing books: treat them like the brain-food they are. Say you're buying a new brand of peanut butter cups that you enjoyed ...
You: The peanut butter is nice and smooth, and the balance between it and the chocolate is great. They're not quite as good as, say, Reese's, but for the price, they're really, really good value.
You've just done that cup-loving cashier a huge favor. If they don't like smooth peanut butter in their cups, they know these aren't for them. If they like saving money? Sold. If they like Reese's? They might think about it. Now, what do you never hear someone say?
Cashier: Oh, I haven't tried those yet. How are they?
Customer: Eh, they've got peanut butter in the middle, and chocolate on the outside.
(Salty) Cashier: No shit, Sherlock.
One last scenario, and then I'll leave you to your reading and (hopefully) excellent reviewing:
Customer: (to cashier) DON'T BUY THESE. They're full of peanuts. I HATE PEANUTS.
Salty Cashier: It says so right there on the bag. I can tell.
Customer: YEAH, BUT THEY'RE GROSS.
AKA: if the synopsis or trigger warnings of a book contain something that you don't care for, don't go around leaving one- or zero- star reviews simply on the merit of that one thing. Some people enjoy that sort of literature, and seek it out actively. They're not going to care that you don't... they want to know if it will be an enjoyable specimen of that particular genre, or depict that experience well. If our Cashier is allergic to peanuts, they're not even going to ask the customer about the peanut butter cups, are they? They're going to avoid them like ... well, like peanuts.
So, really, it boils down to this: if you like a book, especially an indie book, give it an honest, fair review. Leave your opinions. Say what you liked, even if you have to be vague to avoid spoilers. "I really liked the fight scene between Ral and the murderer toward the end: it had me on the edge of my seat!" (Shameless In The Cards Plug: Complete.) But don't just say "Hey, this book is a person and people around them and the things that happened". The author already did that for you ... and most authors have a hard time condensing their book into that one tiny blurb. They did that for you, so you'd know whether you might like to pick it up.
If you did? Say thank you by giving other readers a leg up, and telling them why.
Keep readin', and I'll see you around here next time!