The Art of Book Reviews

As some of you may know, I review books for SFFWorld.com.

Alby - being forced to read again
Alby – being forced to read again

Don’t let that fool you, though. I’m not a real reviewer.

I don’t churn through tens or hundreds of books a year.

I squeak out maybe one or two a month. And I spend forever thinking about the book after I’ve read it, before I write a review. Then I end up writing a short and superficial review. Then I immediately feel guilty for not giving the book its proper attention, but since I have another book to read and I’ve spent so much time dawdling on the last one, I move on.

Regardless, I feel I’ll never get through my (virtual) reading pile.

So, I’ve gotten into the habit of reading book reviews.

I know, doesn’t make sense. If I don’t have time to read more books, why do I spend my precious free time reading reviews of other books?

Well, confession time:

It makes me feel like I’m wider read than I actually am.

Also, I admire a good review.

There is a careful skill to writing a good review, and I admire that. I don’t have it. Writing a good review is rather hard. Have you tried it?

One has to summarize the plot and story of a book while giving the potential reader a sense of the writing quality, pacing, setting, and voice. Then you have to make up your mind on whether you like it or not, or if it was just ‘meh’. Then you have to figure out if your readers would like it or not, and whether you should recommend it or not taking into consideration extenuating circumstances (riddled with typos, reputation of the author, etc).

That’s a lot of pressure.

I rarely perform well under it.

But when I see a review that does all the above effortlessly, I not only enjoy it, but think maybe one day I’ll be able to do that, too.

An odd aspiration, I know, but there it is.

Do you write book reviews? If so, why? And what are you reading this summer (whether you’ll review it or not)?

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19 thoughts on “The Art of Book Reviews

  1. The reviews I leave on Amazon and Goodreads are short–they’re not formal reviews. So I don’t include all the elements. I just try to give a brief description and say what I liked (or didn’t like) about it. But I enjoy reading more formal reviews when deciding on whether to read a book or not.

    1. Right. There’s a lot that can be conveyed in a book review that you can’t get from a book blurb. I think I’m more often swayed by a review to read a book than any of the promotional stuff attached to the book.

  2. Writing a good book review IS hard, Nila! It’s something I’ve learned as I’ve made a habit of writing more of them since starting my blog. I hope that I’ve improved through each one, but it’s truly an art in and of itself. It’s also another reason that I started my “How to Read a Novel” series, hoping to pass on a little of what I’ve learned.

    As for summer reading, I’m currently reading an ARC from a fellow blogger along with some non-fiction research books for my current WIP. I plan on digging into some well regarded novels as well and really studying them. Any suggestions?

    1. You like fantasy, right? I’d suggest The Killing Moon by N. K. Jemisin (not sure if I got the spelling on that right). It is very different, but I loved how the author made me feel her story world.

  3. When I started book reviewing on my blog, they were about 200 words and quite superficial. Now the end up around the 400-500 word mark and I’ve found they follow a basic (unintentional) format:

    * Introduction – Typicall why I read this, when and how long it took me to finish
    * Plot summary up to about to about 1/3 of the way through, omitting spoilers
    * Notes on style, flow, coherence of plot
    * Whether the characters worked for me
    * Overall summary on whether I liked it

    If it really grabs me, like you, I will ponder on it for a few days and then write a feature about it, especially if I have read several books on a similar theme close together.

    1. Oh, dear. I’ve been doing this for awhile and mine *still* come out superficial (to me, at least). Oh well.

      I do like your format (I might try it sometime).

      I typically start out with a summary of the plot up till it gets too spoilery, then immediately head into specifically why I do or don’t like the book. I’ll usually follow that up with notes on the writing itself. Then I make a recommendation.

      I ponder the book for days (weeks!) regardless of whether it grabbed me or not. I find that the ones I *don’t* like plague me the most, especially if there’s nothing particular wrong with the story or writing. I just don’t like it and I find it hard to judge it objectively, know what I mean?

  4. I do appreciate a good review, but I have not tried to write a longer review.

    I might try one for my current read, “Dune” by Frank Herbert. I have seen a few of the more contentious reviews online, so it might be hard not to address those outright. I want my review to be just one man’s opinion.

    1. Ah, reviewing the classics can be hard. There are so many other reviews out there that (if you read them) can taint your own. Good luck with that and thanks for stopping by!

      Are you enjoying Dune? If I recall, I couldn’t get through much of it. I should give it another go sometime soon. I know that, depending on my mood, a book may or may not strike me (which is another reason why I have a lag time between books).

      1. I’m enjoying the writing and the variety of characters so far. Struck by similarities to Ender’s Game which got me into the genre. Young male protagonist being groomed for a greatness not yet known to him. Guess it strikes the right chord with the target demographic. Great atmosphere and distinctive scenery.

  5. Reviews are like any kind of writing. You have to read a bunch of them before you get the hand of it. So don’t feel guilty — consider it educational and enjoy what you can. (Although the remark about feeling more widely read than you are is very interesting.)

    PS — Review my book! Just kidding. Maybe.

  6. Book reviews are a pain to write at times. I certainly find that I don’t always want to talk in depth about a book I’ve finished even when I read it with that intention!

    I also know what you mean about thinking about a book before writing a review. I tend to do that, but often I’ve moved on to the next book (or two) while still pondering how to write the review and what to say. It’s a terrible habit, and one that has seen reviews I want to write not happening because I’ve left it too long after finishing the book, or read too many others since then.

    I like your comment about being wider read because of book reviews – a good one can certainly do that for me too. But it’s not often that happens, and I mostly use reviews to decide whether or not to read a book I’ve been on the fence about.

    I’m up to 57 books read this year, with only 12 of those having been reviewed (and two more recent reads that I want to write reviews for). The problem is that the next book is always calling…

  7. Of the very few books I have reviewed my literary expertise in this fields has usually amounted to:
    This book is crap What dyslexic, half blind publisher gave this the nod when my magnificent novel on the benefits of eating cheese sandwiches during the Gulf War was rejected by 17 publishers?
    Besides who the hell is JK Rowling anyhow?

    or….

    Brilliant! I loved it. You must read this book.
    Subsequent comments are often along the lines of….
    “Which book? You didn’t tell us the name of it you berk.”

    So, I generally avoid writing book reviews and rather read other people’s.

      1. I can believe it takes a lot of effort.
        And then you have to decorate it with Spoiler Alerts, so this suggests that only a half-wit who ignored the S.A. would still go out and buy the book after all had been revealed…and where’s the fun in that, I ask?

        ”The Butler did it…”
        Bit like watching a movie a second time and hoping against all odds the baddie gets away it.

        Of course, failure to enlighten the reader during the review means the only review one can write it “This book is great/crap”

        I dunno, maybe I am missing something?

        ๐Ÿ˜‰

      2. Well, I wouldn’t use such strong language, no.
        Maybe write the entire review, incl. Spoilers, then get an electronic white pencil ( like they were suppose to have used in war for letters and stuff) and strike out all the juicy bits?

        ie.
        This is great book because of the ………. and when…… General Assbinder grabs his……
        ….and afterwards it all falls off.
        Later, however, as the Maid enters the room wearing nothing but……
        and a smile is all it took.
        Then she sees his……
        Hanging by a thread, and all and sundry yanked the…
        … as hard as it was to……
        I couldn’t put it down because of the ….
        Nevertheless, this is still a great read and even though….. and if it weren’t for the ….. I’d buy two…

        See…easy peasy!

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