Feature and Follow Friday is hosted by Alison of Alison Can Read and Parajunkee of Parajunkee’s View. Every week a new question is posed, with the intent that everyone will gain new mutual followers. The hosts also interview a featured book blogger each week. It’s been a really long time since I’ve taken part in this hop.
Question of the Week: How do you write your reviews?
When I wrote reviews for my old Angelfire site, I frequently stuffed in everything but the kitchen sink. Sadly, I was unable to recover many of those old reviews during my frantic searches of caches and archives in the immediate wake of having my site taken away from me (long story). When I’ve reposted one of my salvaged book reviews on this blog, I’ve had to do a lot of editing. Many of my older book reviews on Amazon also read more like point-by-point synopses than sufficiently succinct reviews.
A good book review relates the major points and characters, but doesn’t give away the entire story short of the end. We don’t need to know about every single subplot and secondary character to understand what the book is all about and be enticed to read it. It should be kind of like a good query letter, only narrating the meat of the story, how everything starts, the pivotal midway point, and what’s at stake.
In all my book, film, and music reviews, I like to mention if this is ideal for a new fan, or more for established fans. It’s pretty obnoxious and unthinking to write a review as though only longtime, established, hardcore fans are reading it to confirm their own bias. This was a really important lesson I learnt from reading the album reviews on thewho.net (back when the site still had album reviews). I wanted to help new fans who’d been in my position not so long ago, and didn’t write like many other reviewers, as though only longtime, serious fans were reading them. A book, film, or album may very well be awesome, but a new fan can’t see it that way without some grounding in the basics and a serious interest/love of more than a few months.
Sometimes it’s necessary to include some pertinent background on the writer and the book’s creation, to place it in context and perhaps judge it more favorably. In the case of a historical, it’s also a nice idea to include some information about the era or events depicted.
If I really hated a book, I may include a point-by-point rundown of why I hated it.
I won’t deduct points for one minor error or awkward section, or a few scattered around, but a lot little errors and bad writing can really add up. Sometimes one seeming little thing is so distracting or odd it deserves a mention, and isn’t nitpicking. An example of this was the stunning lack of actual Polish names in Leon Uris’s Mila 18. Polish-born characters would not have had names like Simon, Susan, Paul, Rachael, Andrei, and Sylvia, and a woman wouldn’t have had the male-ending surname Bronski. I have the same issue with how the main character of Felice Holman’s The Wild Children is called Alex instead of Sasha, Sanya, or Shura (along with other un-Russian names).