Thursday, 13 September 2012

Opinion: What makes a good review?

As well as reviewing books myself, I am also a huge reader of other book reviews. For me, I like to know a bit about a bit before picking it up. This is particularly the case with books I know nothing about or authors I haven't read before. I love reading other book blogs and spend far too much of my life on Goodreads, so for this blog post, I've decided to share my opinion on what makes a good book review.

These points are purely my thoughts, based on what I like including in my own reviews and what I don't like reading in others. I'd love to hear your contributions in the comments!

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The Dos

Plot summary: I always include a Goodreads or bookseller description in my reviews, and I'll often summarise the plot in my own words in my opening paragraph. When reading reviews I will probably decide a lot from the plot. Does it sound like my kind of book?

Number of pages: I totally judge a book by its length. Ideally, I like books to be 300-400 pages because I'm not always a quick reader, and so that length of book I can read in a reasonable amount of time. If I've just read a long book I'll probably be looking for something shorter/lighter to follow it. In the book details of my reviews I always state the amount of pages.

Themes: Is the book dealing with dark subjects? Or is it a light-hearted tale that will make me laugh? I like to mix up my reading so knowing the overall themes in a book before picking up often dictates my reading order. This applies to genre as well. Reading too much of one genre can be enough to put you off for a while!

Characters: Are the characters likable? Are they horrible? Do they feel realistic? All things I aim to include in my reviews! The main character in particular can be make or break in a book.

Writing style: Is the book effortless to read or does it sometimes feel like a real effort to battle through clunky writing? Does the author have a unique style? Do they do a certain thing brilliantly, or have some characteristics of their writing that really bug? I'm a writer so I know it can be quite harsh to criticise somebody's writing sometimes, but if getting to the details of the plot is being hampered by the writing then it can affect my enjoyment of a book.

Point of view: First person or third person? Did it work? Did you wish it was told from somebody else's point of view? I mention this a lot in my reviews. I tend to like multi-POV stories told in the first person so if that's what's aided my enjoyment of the book then I'll be sure to mention it.

Highs and lows: This bit is pretty self-explanatory really! In my reviews I always try and balance which bits I did like with which bits I didn't, and try my best to explain why. I know not everyone will agree with personal favourite moments or low points so I try and make sure these bits are stated well as being my personal opinion.

Pacing: Did the book leave me bored? Was I left waiting ages and ages to find out one detail? Was it fast paced? Did I struggle to put it down? This is good to mention to help get a feel for a book, especially if the book is over 400 pages where pacing is even more vital.

Climax: Whilst I'll never give the way the ending to a book, I always like to mention whether I thought it did the book justice? Did I feel disappointed by the end or was I on the edge of my seat? If the book has a sequel, did the ending make me want to go out and get my hands on it as soon as possible?

The Don'ts

businesses,businessmen,cropped images,cropped pictures,disapprovals,gestures,hand gestures,hands,negatives,negatory,no,PNG,thumbs,thumbs down,transparent backgroundSpoilers: I try my best to keep my reviews spoiler-free. The only exception to this is where a book is part of a series, and so by summing up the plot you could effectively spoil somebody who hasn't read the preceding book. In that case, I always put a big spoiler warning at the top of the review. I think a lot of us will have been spoiled in book reviews. My worst one recently was a Goodreads review for a book I was adding to my shelves. The first line of one review stated "even though [insert name] died, this book was still good". It broke my heart a little. Just remember that any kind of information can be considered a spoiler, from which characters get together, to who dies, to what exactly happens during the book and most definitely what happens at the end. If you want to write spoiler-ish reviews then label it or hide the spoilers under tags or a page break. Win-win!

Not justifying your rating: This was the thing that gave me the idea to write this blog post. I've been reading a lot of reviews where the star rating felt completely out of sync with the written review. For example, if you gave a book 3/5 stars but then mentioned absolutely no negative points about the book in the written review, how do I gauge your true feelings about the book? Obviously it wasn't perfect, or else it would have been given 5/5. Reading what people didn't like about a book doesn't put me off. If you mention what bothered you and why then I can draw my own conclusions from it. For example, if you hated the swearing, it may be something I know wouldn't bother me. Does that make sense? I hope so! The same goes for 5* reviews that are littered with comments about not liking certain parts or bits being disappointing. That doesn't sound like a 5* review to me. If I feel a book has flaws, I tend to mark it down immediately. Sometimes being constricted to ratings out of 5 can be tricky, though. If I feel a book was more of a 4.5 than a 5, I might still give it a 5 on Goodreads, say. But I'll be sure to mention that somewhere in the review.

Poor spelling and grammar: I'll admit to being a bit of a grammar freak in all aspects of life. Apostrophes used incorrectly and using the wrong form of your/you're or there/their/they're is going to bug me, I won't lie. I'm not saying all book reviews should be written like essays because that would be ridculous (and boring). And I love a bit of fangirling/squeeing/freaking out in a review! But if a review is littered with spelling and grammar mistakes (I can forgive the occasional typo because I'm totally guilty of that myself!) then I start to judge (sorry!).

Hopefully this gives you a little more insight to how I write my reviews, as well as giving you my opinion on what I like to read.

What things are essential to you in a book review? Let me know!

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