Do you receive review copies of Christian books? If so, do you review them honestly? How do you handle it when you don't like a book but are obligated to provide a review? Who do you see your first commitment being to in book reviewing (besides God)? Yourself? The author? Your readers? Does your review change based on the spiritual content of the book or is it solely based on technical or artistic merit? Have you ever had a negative experience with an author after giving them a negative review? (please don't name names)
Yes, I receive review copies of Christian books (and I'll take them from whomever else wants to send them). I'd say the basic difference between the way I deal with a review copy and the way I deal with the book I bought or mooched or received as a gift is that I feel more obligated to read/finish review copies. If I really hate a book I mooched, if I just can't get into it, I toss it in the giveaway box and don't mention it, because I probably didn't read enough to make intelligent comments.
I realize that review copies are sent for the purpose of selling books and that, in come ways, the publishers are paying me with books to write about them. Given that understanding, I don't request or accept books I don't think I'm going to like. For example, I don't request "thrillers" because they don't thrill me. I do try to find something nice to say about the book, perhaps to lead its intended audience to it. That being said, I also don't gush. I write most of my reviews on Goodreads and post their html on my blog. They use a five star rating system and I rate most of the books I read as three star books, meaning "I liked it". I've only read a few five star books. I do point out the weaknesses in a story because I believe it is almost as bad for the author for someone to think they are buying one thing while getting another. Harleqin-type romances (whether secular or Christian) certainly have their place in the book market, as shown by sales figures, but if I'm expecting a complex plot with well-developed characters dealing with novel situations, I'm going to be disappointed if I read one.
I've had interaction with three authors. One offered me a review copy of his book based on something I'd written elsewhere. I had just ordered it. My review was on the critical side. He said he appreciated the tough balanced review--because I did point out the good points in the book. Another author author specifically asked me to look at a particular aspect of her book so I did, and found it wanting. After emailing her I re-phrased a little, and posted the review--which did have a lot of positives in it. That author has asked me if she could consult with me about that subject in the future. I emailed the final author because, while I liked the book, I found a lot of typos and other mistakes. I wanted to know whether I had an ARC (it wasn't labelled as such). If this was a copy for sale, I was going to blast it, but she said it wasn't and that they were working on corrections, so I didn't mention the problems.
In short, I try to avoid gushingly sweet reviews--sorry not every book is five-star material; most are pretty average--they have an audience and I'd like to help them find it, but they aren't for everyone, nor are they classics that will be around for years. If I percieve a weak point, I'll note it. For example, I hate preachy stories. If I get a Christian novel that "treats" me to lots of sermon excerpts, I'm going to mention that. On the other hand, you may like those sermons, and buy the book to read them. On the other hand, I do try to say something nice or at least point out the general topic in neutral terms so it may find an audience.