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September 24, 2015

Anatomy of a Review

by Donna Huber

A lot readers say they can't write reviews. Most of the time it isn't really "can't" but more of a "I don't know how". Let's look closer at what goes into a well-written review that will help you establish yourself as a credible book reviewer.

Details about the book

A good review will provide pertinent details or facts about the book to let readers know what kind of book it is.

You should always mention the genre (and subgenres if applicable). Typically the main genre is quite evident though the lines between some genres are blurry. You can check the book listing at Amazon for genres that the book falls into. I also like the Genre Map at Book Country. If you click on the main genres you will get a listing and description of subgenres.

Another important detail to include in your review is the target audience if the book is for children, middle grades, young adult, or new adult. You do not have to point out that an adult book is for adults as many adult books are read by high school students. However, you will want to point out any questionable content that may be inappropriate for younger audiences.

Other details include title, author (yes, I have seen reviews that never mention the author or title of the book except in the title of the post), publisher, publish date (particularly if it is a pre-release review), and available formats.

What's the book about

I know some reviewers just post the book's description with the review and that's fine. But if you do not, then I think it is important to provide a short "what's the book about". Two or three sentences should really suffice as you don't want to ruin anything for the reader.

How you feel about the book

This is really the meat of a review - your thoughts and feelings. This is the section that people who read reviews before purchasing are the most interested in and should be the biggest section of your review.

It is also the most difficult section to write.

I suggest breaking it down to make it easier to organize your thoughts about the book.

Overall feeling

How did you feel when you turned the last page? Did you read it in one sitting or did you have to trudge through it to get to the end?

To capture my overall view, I write it down immediately upon finishing the book. I find Goodreads to be a good place to do that, but you can write it on a scrap of paper or in a notebook.

Along with your overall feelings about the book, you will also want to discuss the aspects that make the book belong to its genres as well as any that are a departure from the genre.

The characters

Did you connect with one of the characters? Was the cast of characters more of an ensemble or was there clearly a leading lady/man?

It is okay to point out flaws in character development as well as the good things.

Don't just say you connected with the main character, but explain why. If it is the characters witty comments, then give an example with a quote from the character. If you find yourself saying I loved this character, then discuss what made you fall in love with that character.

The plot

Was the plot predictable? Was it plot heavy, full of action, a slow build up, etc.? Were there plot holes or distracting subplots. Did the story wrap up neatly with all the plot threads tied up or did it end with a cliff hanger?

When discussing the plot you may find it difficult to not reveal more about the story. Be on guard for possible spoilers.

Instead of discussing what happened, focus on how the plot unfolded. Carefully use examples and quotes to back up your points.

The writing style

Your thoughts on the author's writing style may be part of your overall feelings or may be touched on in your thoughts on plot and characters, but it is important that it is discussed.

Is the story character or plot driven? Was so descriptive that all your senses were engaged and you felt like you were in the story? Remember to provide examples with quotes from the book whenever possible.

Be balanced

There is rarely a perfect book, so it is okay to mention major flaws in the work. That does not mean to nit pick or personally attack the author.

If something stood out to you that negatively impacted your reading (i.e. drew out of the story), then it is worth mentioning in your review.

Perhaps it is a personal preference. For more, the level of detail in a sex scene can be quite off putting. I always preface any such comments to indicate that it is my opinion and preferences. What I don't like about the book may be exactly what someone else is looking for in a book.

It is also okay to review a book you didn't particularly like. It is important then to find some redeeming quality or try to see the book through the eyes of who would enjoy it.

Provide examples

The best reviews in my opinion provide examples to back up their points, but it is also the most often neglected aspect of a review.

I know this is a weak point of my reviews and something I'm hoping to remedy. I recently bought a small spiral notebook and I'm going to try to make notes while reading. I found it helpful when I was doing the read along of The Gateway Chronicles.

Don't overthink it

When writing your review imagine you are talking to your best friend about the book. Don't concern yourself that you don't sound "literary enough". I would guess that most people writing a reviews these days do not have a degree in literature.

People reading reviews just want to know what a fellow book lover thought of the book and you can do that.

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