Feature and Follow Friday—How I write reviews

FFF

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).

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9 comments on “Feature and Follow Friday—How I write reviews

  1. Chrys Fey says:

    When I write reviews, I don’t regurgitate the story line because everyone does that. I do set up the story, though. Mostly, I share my experiences as a reader, my reactions to the characters, and what I felt. At the end, I say who the story would be good for, who would enjoy it. I occasionally add a note about a subject matter that people may not like so they don’t end up reading it and giving a book one star just because they didn’t know there were gay characters or that the sex scenes were more erotic than sweet, etc.

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  2. Arlee Bird says:

    On my Amazon book reviews I usually avoid a synopsis unless I’m the first reviewer and even then there’s usually already a synopsis in the book description. I tend to just stick with what I liked or disliked and why. Same with movie reviews.

    My approach to music is similar to the way you describe.

    If I’m doing a review on my blog–which I’ve not been doing any of late–I may go into more depth. My point in reviewing is whether or not I think the product is worth a person’s time/ money from my personal perspective. I try to inject positives no matter how I might feel about the product.

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Road trippin’ with A to Z
    Tossing It Out

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  3. Kat says:

    I agree with you a lot about how book reviews shouldn’t be synopses. I have looked up synopses before and I have different expectations for them than a general review of the book. I also like that you have epic reviews. I like knowing the little things that made a reader happy/sad/excited about a book. And including real-life background stories about why something was written is awesome! I love those stories.

    Thanks for visiting my FF. Following back.

    Kat @ Readiculous Blog

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  4. Hopping through. Wow, Angelfire. That takes me back. Makes me think of the dial up modem sounds – even if it’s not exactly the same era – I loved that sound.
    My FF

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  5. I’m such a perfectionist that it takes me a while to think of what to write and then I just hope that I can get it down the way I had it in my head.

    New Twitter follower.

    My FF: http://onceuntold.blogspot.com/2015/05/feature-follow-friday-writing-reviews.html

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  6. Candid Cover says:

    Great post! I try to make notes as I read which helps a great deal when creating a review post. New wordpress follower!

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  7. jazzfeathers says:

    I like the way you go about reviewing. I think reviewing is less easy than people normally think.

    I like to write book reviews because I think I can be more useful in this field, since I know a bit about storytelling. But I never go into technicalities. I don’t like it when reviewers go into technicalities (like ‘this technique is not supposed to be use like this’, ‘that’s info-dump’, ‘there are a lot of POV slips’) Most reader won’t know what I’m talking about. If I want to touch these issues, I always do it without using a technical language.

    For films and music I’m a bit more hesitant, because I’m less knowlegeable on a technical level, so I can really only say what I like or dislike. But I try to be as useful as I can.

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  8. Maggie says:

    Thanks for the advice on not basically re-writing the book in a review! 🙂 I’m just starting out with doing reviews and I need all the pointers I can get!

    New Twitter follower! 🙂

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  9. Maria Behar says:

    When I started out as a blogger I had that same tendency to put a lot of plot details into my reviews. I’ve recently taken a look at some of my first reviews and had to cringe…..lol. So I’ve revised a couple of them, and will keep doing more.

    You made a great point about characters not having names befitting their nationalities or ethnic groups. I find it so surprising that an author — especially a seasoned one — would not be aware of this issue!

    I also like that you mention something about a book’s author, and how the book came to be created, as well as, in the case of historical fiction, including some information about the time period the novel is set in.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!! New email/Twitter follower!! : )

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