I don’t believe there is a right or wrong way to write a review, but up until recently, I’ve found them very difficult to write. Reviews are something I used to spend hours on, to only delete it because I didn’t like what I’d written. My structure never felt right, they always felt too brief or too waffly, I could never seem to get the balance right. Until, one day I sat down to write one, and it just worked. Of course, I had to sit down and write out the formula I’d used so I could replicate it in the future, and now, thanks to this layout, I have a whole pile of reviews completed on my computer.
Don’t worry, I won’t keep it all to myself, that’s not why I have a blog!
This blog review formula is super easy to follow, and it only takes me about ten to twenty minutes to write out! So, lets get straight to it!
How did you come to read it?
Although not particularly important, telling your readers how you came to read the book is a great introduction. Sometimes, if you were supplied the book for review, you’ll need to tell your readers this, and let them know that it in no way impacts your thoughts on the work, so I think starting reviews off this way is good practice to get into.
Telling your readers where you found out about the book also gives a great indication as to how popular the book is, say you picked it up because you saw it on bookstagram all the time, the reader will know that it’s well known in the reading community, and that will appeal to a lot of readers. Conversely, if a reader doesn’t like reading what everyone else is reading, or doesn’t trust the online book community, then a book you picked up at your local library because you liked the sound of the blurb, might be more appealing to them.
What is it about?
If there is one thing that my higher education in science taught me, it’s to be succinct. The point of a review is not to tell the reader what happened in the book (that’s what the blurb, and the book itself is for), but rather to express your opinions on the book so to let the reader know if it’s something they’ll like to pick up or not. Where a lot of people go wrong with reviews is that they spend most of their time talking about the book’s plot. This section of the review should not be the longest section. It should be one of the shorter ones. Try to explain the book in one or two sentences. For example I would describe Fangirl as follows “Cath is a freshman is university, and also the writer of a fairly famous fan fiction. Fangirl follows her as she navigates her first year, her first love, and a bunch of old fears.” My two sentence summary is by no means world-class literature, (in fact, it gives a new definition to the word ‘basic’) but it doesn’t have to be worthy of the Man Booker. Instead, it needs to get your point across. The two-sentence summary above tells you that the story is about a girl named Cath, it’s set at university, it focuses on writing/a writer. The second sentence hints at conflicts to do with her studies, her love life, and her past life without going into depth mentioning people like Levi, or that guy Nick or even her estranged mother.
As reviewers, it’s not our job to make people want to read the book by telling them what the book is about – that’s the publisher and authors jobs. As reviewers, it’s our job to influence people to read, or not read the book with our opinions and reactions and out of control emotions.
What was your reading experience like?
This is often more telling than anything else. Did you read the book in one sitting? Did you stay up until 2am just to finish to because you couldn’t put it down? Or did you read it on and off for a few months because it couldn’t quite hold your attention as much as others have before?
I read Obsidio in one sitting, I finished it at 1:30am and I gave it five stars, whereas I read Around the World in Eighty Days over a few months, and gave it two stars. I find that I tend to devour the books I love, whereas the books I’m not excessively keen on take me longer to complete. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, I savour some books I love, and so they can take me half a year to complete (predominantly non-fiction), and even books I love take me a long time to read when I have a hectic schedule. Use this section to tell everyone what your reading experience was like (and why), and chat about how that reflects on the book.
What did you like about the characters/plot/themes/writing style/world building etc.
If you’re just writing a quick review, it’s fine to pick and discuss one of these, or if you’re going for a more in-depth review, feel free to discuss them all. Characters, plot, themes, writing style, world building and other elements of the novel are a great thing to discuss. Tell us what made you connect to the character, what about the plot kept you turning the pages, what themes resonated with you, how the writing style read to you, if the world building made you want to pack your bags and move there.
What are the book’s flaws?
I like putting this part of my review in the middle, because I generally try to stay positive with my reviews. You may notice I’m not one to frequently give books the 1 or 2 star ratings (there are a few exceptions), and that’s purely a personal preference. A lot of reviewers find a sense of relief in giving negative reviews, but because I like talking about the books I love I’d rather not review books I didn’t love. That being said, every book has it’s flaws, because nothing is perfect, and we should always discuss them. By putting this in the middle, I like that the review doesn’t end on a low note as it would if I put it at the end, and doesn’t begin on a low note either, as it would if I put it in the very beginning. To me, chatting about these things in the middle is a way of acknowledging the parts of the book I didn’t like so much, while not letting it define the book as a whole, or take away from it’s great qualities.
What was your favourite thing?
This is super important, because we all love loving things, right? Talk about the thing you loved most of all. Like for my Obsidio review I talked about AIDAN, for my Fangirl review I talked about the story’s pacing. This is the part where you can write in sentences that are so impassioned they don’t really make much sense, but the lack of coherency is a better indication of your love than any proper sentences could be. Throw grammar out the window. Don’t even bother about properly capitalising things. Write in all caps IF YOU REALLY FEEL LIKE GETTING A POINT ACROSS.
What is your star rating?
Everyone calculates their star rating a different way. I go between rating books on how it feels and finding an average of stars from characters, plot, writing style, world building, and overall enjoyment. This is one of the many reasons that reviews are more important than star ratings – at least with a review an opinion is explained and in a way, justified, but a star rating is just a star rating, it doesn’t really tell you anything at all. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great thing to include to wrap up your review, and to summarize everything, but star ratings aren’t the most fabulous thing on their own. You may be thinking, “But Mikaela! Star ratings are all you’ve got on your instagram and goodreads!” Yep, that’s true, and it’s because star ratings are easy and I like to spend the majority of my time walking along the path of life that requires the least amount of effort.
Now that I’ve given you the technical details of how I write my book reviews, it’s time to give you the one piece of advice that I think is the most important, and it’s one I only came to the realisation of a while back. It’s you. Make sure you include your unique writing voice in the piece. Remember, if you’re blogging, your writing is supposed to be informal, you don’t need to write like you’re submitting an application for the most prestigious university in the world – write like you’re chatting to a friend about this book that they absolutely hands down must read like right this second. Or the opposite. Whatever tickles your fancy.