There’s no right or wrong way to review a book. Every review is unique to the writing style of the reviewer.
So what goes through my mind when I’m faced with a blank blog post, waiting to be transformed into a book review?
I usually write a review soon after finishing the book, while my thoughts are fresh. I find now that a review starts to form in my head even while I’m still reading the book! I should mention that most of my reading is purely for enjoyment and not for the purpose of reviewing (i.e. books I’ve bought or borrowed, rather than been given in exchange for honest reviews).
If I have strong opinions about the book, then I’ll often give them in the opening lines. I just can’t wait until later on to say how much I loved this book, or how disappointed I felt. If I have mixed opinions, I will try to work out my views as I go and discuss how the unsatisfactory elements could’ve been improved.
My expectations have a role to play in the book review. If the book has been lauded by the media, enjoyed by other book bloggers or has the reputation of a ‘classic’, my expectations will be higher, so I’m more likely to be disappointed. Conversely, if I don’t know much about a book before I read it, my expectations will be lower and I could be surprised by how much I like it.
If I’m reviewing fiction, I’ll attempt to summarise the plot a little, without spoilers. I note the setting, the main characters and what the central focus or conflict is in the story. If it’s non-fiction, I’ll say what topics are covered but I won’t reveal any particularly important facts, so that if you decide to read the book, you’ll still learn something new.
My reviews don’t cover everything. I focus on the aspects of the book that seem most conspicuous to me. This might include the plot, pace, dialogue, settings, genre, structure and many other things. The writing style is the most important one for me. If I like the way an author writes, this is often enough to carry me through a book which fails on the other points.
Being a writer has made me more critical of other writers’ styles, so I’m not easily impressed now. If I really dislike a book, I’ll try to find something positive to say about it. I’ve not yet read a book completely devoid of any merit whatsoever. My reviews are always honest but I can appreciate the time and effort the author spent on crafting the narrative.
Typos can significantly dent my enjoyment of a book, along with factual errors and weird formatting. Some of this is obviously the publisher’s mistake, rather than the author’s. I probably won’t mention it for an advance proof copy, which has yet to be finalised. Otherwise, I will mention the mistakes if there are an annoying number of them.
I tend to conclude a review with a line about whether I’d recommend the book, emphasising what I liked or disliked. For an advance copy, I’ll thank the publisher and say when the book will be released. For a book which is already out there, I’ll state (if I remember) when it was first published. I’ll then categorise it as Book Reviews and put some tags in there.
Finally, I’ll add a picture, usually of the cover design. For an ebook, I download a cover image. I paste it on to a coloured background (I try to match or contrast the colours to the image). For a printed book, I take a photo. I resize the image so that it’s not gigantic, but large enough to be in focus when the blog post is synced to my Twitter profile.
When I’ve previewed the post and checked for errors, I schedule it. Currently I’m a few weeks ahead, on the basis of publishing a blog post every two or three days, with around half of the posts being book reviews. That’s why, if we’re friends on Instagram, you might’ve noticed there’s a gap between my current reading and then the actual review being published on my blog.
I hope that wasn’t too boring for you…
Now, back to reading and reviewing!