Write a book review

Write a book review

Gwynn Scheltema

Want to do something positive for writers during your time at home? Write a book review! Write a dozen reviews!

A 3/5 goodreads review of the book Notes from an Exhibition by Patrick Gale popped up in my Facebook feed this week from a good friend and fellow writer and reader—and I took note. Why?

I took note, because I find her reviews aren’t like the endless run of promotional 5-star ratings for friends’ books that show up in my feed all the time: gushing reports awash with hyperbole and high praise.

Her reviews are honest and analytical. Even on a 3/5 rating she wrote about what was good. When it came to the aspects that didn’t work for her, she articulated it in that vein—not a trashing by a know-it-all, but considered comments from a genuine reader. She wrote about writing style, story and character problems and all of it couched in the knowledge that her reaction could be to do with what she brings from her own experience to the reading of the book.

So much brilliance: psychological excavations and gorgeous writing, worthy of pencil marks. But ultimately the story weighed me down with its onslaught of details—the kind of notes a diligent writer might keep in a binder called Character Profiles. I wouldn’t have minded had the details bound me to the characters, but in fact I closed the book feeling as though I never really knew anybody, or cared about them all that much..…the trauma that served as the main mystery to be solved over the course of the story, failed to live up to its billing. I suspect this has more to do with the frame of reference I personally bring to the reading room, than it has to do with the writer. Still….Glad to have read it, but left without an appetite for more.

I’m always encouraging writers to help other writers by writing reviews. But I think it’s important that they are meaningful reviews. A writer who reviews with all good intentions to help, but gives a 5-star rating to a book that doesn’t deserve it, diminishes all further reviews from that reviewer. It’s like giving a winning medal to someone who ran only half the course, negates the value of that same medal given to the real winner.

This excerpt from the same reviewer about the book Know my Name: a Memoir by Chanel Miller has me adding this book to my reading list—not just because it got 5 stars, but because it got 5 stars from a reviewer I trust.

A searing, courageous, and articulate stream of social, institutional and legal indictment, emotion, outrage, and love for family — bright red in its flame-throwing honesty and indignation. Chanel speaks for me, and likely for most women I know.

Writing a review

Of course, you can write reviews on many online platforms, but if it’s not something you do often, goodreads is a good place to start because half the “review” is already done for you: title, author, copyright date, genre, price, subject matter of the book, and special features.

Essentially, you need only dwell on highlights of the book and your opinion of its readability. Remember, you are not writing a book report for school, showcasing your knowledge of literature. You are offering a prospective reader reasons to read—or not read—a particular book. Your review should be an accurate, analytical reading but delivered with a strong, personal touch from any reactions and arguments from your unique perspective.

And don’t spoil the book for prospective readers by giving away the ending or unexpected twists. You can say you found the ending satisfying (or not) and you can mention that there were unexpected twists, but hold off on actual details.

As you’re writing, try thinking of your reader as a friend with whom you are having a casual conversation. Use language you would use in conversation rather than trying to be formal.

Review the book you have just read, not the book you wish the author had written. It’s okay to point out areas that were weak, but not to dwell on what you think should have been included that wasn’t.

Questions to consider about your reading experience

A review can be as long or as short as you like. Not all the questions below need to be answered. Pick and choose to highlight what you think is important about the book you are reviewing at the time.

  • Were you engaged from the start or did it take time to get into the book?
  • Will any scenes or characters stay with you for a long time? Why?
  • What aspects were highlights for you: style, characters, world-building, themes, plot? Talk about how well the author dealt with these, what you enjoyed and what you didn’t.
  • Was it an easy read? A wallow in exquisite language? A hard slog?
  • How does it compare with other books in its genre?
  • Did the style and/or content suit the intended audience? What do you think is the ideal audience?
  • Is it a departure from this author’s usual, or what readers would expect? Why?
  • Did the ending satisfy you?
  • Would you read more from this author?
  • Would you recommend this book?

Practicalities

To review a book on goodreads follow these steps:

  • Go to goodreads.com
  • Use the search bar at the top of the page to open up the book’s profile page
  • Scroll down until you see 5 stars and a button Write a Review.
  • Click on Write a Review and type away….
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7 thoughts on “Write a book review

  1. Thank you Gwynn,
    For addressing the matter of writing a book review with the appropriate level of seriousness and objectivity.
    When I was an academic author, I tended to observe your counsel. That was what was expected of a professional reviewing the written work of a fellow professional.
    However, I grappled anew with these matters when I became an ‘amateur author’ some years ago and have arrived at a defensible (at least for me) operational procedure.
    I distinguish between ( i) a friend’s request to objectively review a manuscript, (ii) a critique of the book of a professional writer personally unknown to me who places him or herself on the world stage for a living, and (iii) a review, unsolicited, of the book(s) a fellow “amateur” writer struggling for readers and for attention.
    I will write a relatively detailed and sensitively honest review for the first, a no-holds barred critique of the second without burdening myself with hours of detailed work, and a review that seeks for and comments on only the good things that I enjoyed for the third.
    Because I evaluated international development programmes as a profession for many years and experienced the personal and political nightmares that erupt from objective, frank, research-based commentary and judgement, the advice in your blog brought on a sudden flood of guilt.
    I have not and do not abide by the very practical principles that you recommend when I write voluntary book reviews.
    However, on quietly revisiting my practices (described above) I’ve come to the conclusion that I am still comfortable with them.
    Nevertheless, I am happy that your advice demanded that I review my modus operandi and equally happy that it works for me.
    I usually post my (ii) and (iii) type reviews on Goodreads and on Amazon.com. I am not ashamed that anyone reading them can identify the category they belong to.
    Best wishes,
    Ron

    1. Thanks for such a detailed and interesting response. Lots of nuggets in there for anyone writing reviews. The blog is merely my opinion, not cast in stone or prescriptive. Your methods are equally valid and may be preferable for some reviewers. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Terrific blog post for so many reasons. 🙂 Excellent questions for book reviewers, which I’ll be keeping close to hand. And a thousand times yes to what you said about reviewing the book you read, and not the book you wish had been written. Thank you.

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