Your Guide to Writing a Smart -Book Review

A Book Review is a descriptive and evaluative account of a book intended to share one’s opinion of the book. This, in turn, can help others know what the book is all about and then decide whether they would like to read it or not. Many people go through a review before picking up a book. And if not the review, then they definitely check out the rating. Therefore in today’s day and age, where there is so much reading material to choose from, a book review comes in handy to many a prospective reader. 

Not only the reader, but a book review is helpful to the author as well. An author is someone who has put their heart and soul into expressing their thoughts, feelings and views on a topic. They are always looking for an impartial and objective assessment of their work, and a book review can significantly help in this. A good review feels like a pat on the back, whereas a bad one is something to learn from for the future.

Thus a book reviewer owes it to both the reader and the author to provide a fair and objective assessment of the book. The review is an opinion that could be good or bad, but the view must be backed by sufficient justification in both cases.

For the review to be helpful, I feel the language should be easy and simple, which people can follow. A book review is definitely not a place for the reviewer to exhibit their writing prowess. But at the same time, it must have a personal touch to it which can make it a little different, a little distinct.

So what makes for a good book review? 

In my opinion, while writing a book review, the following pointers should be kept in mind. These are not rules but general guidelines which can make the review comprehensive and reliable-

1. Basic Details About The Book

The review must start by giving some basic details about the book like the name of the book, the author and the genre to which the book belongs. These details can be a quick decision-maker for those who don’t read that genre or works by that author. They need not even read the review. 

2. A Brief Description of The Storyline

The review must then give a brief description of what the book is all about. This has to be an overview of the storyline, the plot, the characters with a fleeting reference to some of the twists and turns. The reviewer needs to give only a snapshot and not reveal the story or the suspense. The reviewer must remember that a review is not meant to take away the joy of reading the book from the prospective reader or make sure that they don’t read the book! Therefore the reviewer needs to create a sufficient amount of intrigue and curiosity and leave it at that. And no matter what, the ending should never be revealed.

For example, I recently reviewed the book Daughters of War by Diana Jeffries. I started the review by stating that the book is a historical fiction set in France during WW2. I mentioned that the book tells a moving story about three sisters and their lives during that time; Helene, the responsible one, Elise, the rebel and Florence, the dreamer. I added that the story is about their courage, resilience, and love for each other, which stays strong even amid adversity.

Thus the description should give the reader an idea of the story, like a teaser, and that’s it.

3. What You Like About The Book

As a reviewer, you need to reveal what you liked about the book. Different books have different appealing factors, so you must state what you like. Sometimes it is the plot, sometimes it is a particular character, and at other times it could be the writer’s style that may have impressed you. 

The idea is to highlight the strengths of the book.

For example, in Daughters of War,  the author gives a realistic depiction of that time and what the sisters have to go through because of the German occupation. The writing style is such that while reading, one can visualise the challenges and struggles and feel as if one is there in the midst of it all.

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Along with that, she vividly describes the trees, forests, birds, and nature. The narrative keeps moving back and forth between the tragedies and the beauty of nature all around. It is as though the author is trying to tell the reader that amidst all the sorrow and grief, there can be a silver lining; one just needs to look for it.

 I loved this aspect because it gave the book a very positive feel, although it is about one of history’s darkest and most horrific times.

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Many times when we are reading a thriller, the nail-biting finish or the lead up to the finish makes the book a great read. If it is a comedy, then maybe the timing could be something that appealed to you.

When the reviewer can give specific examples of what was good about the book, it provides the reader with a concrete reason to pick up or not pick up the book.

Therefore a reviewer must state what they felt are the strengths of the book and the author.

4. What You Dislike About The Book

It isn’t always necessary that we like the book we read. We often pick up something that is a drag or not what we had expected it to be. In that case, the reviewer must state that. And if the reviewer has read the entire book, then the review has to be an honest and fair opinion, and the reviewer must be able to point out the flaws. For instance, sometimes it is the ending that is not right, the characterisation that is too sketchy, or the book cannot hold the reader’s attention. Therefore a reviewer must state the reasons clearly. If you want to criticise the book, give valid reasons for it.

In Daughters of War, though I loved the book, I felt that the mother’s character could have been developed further to give the reader an idea about her life and struggles. However, a reference in passing left the reader with many questions.

5. Your Assessment

The review should be brief, to the point and an honest assessment. After listing the strengths and weaknesses, the reviewer must evaluate the book, which can lead the reader to make a decision. It is like summing up and giving a verdict that states whether the book is worth picking up or not.

So, for instance, my overall impression about Daughters of War was that it was a great read, an authentic reflection on the times in which it is set. The relationship between the sisters has been depicted in a realistic manner, something which people with siblings can relate to and understand. Their reactions, arguments and disagreements with each other are believable and real.

6. Your Rating

 Last but not least, a good review should be summed up by giving a rating. It is essential to provide a rating that is like a pointer to the one following your review. A rating is an excellent way for people to make a decision. For example, your five-star or a four-star rating could influence people one way or the other.

Since I enjoyed reading this book immensely, I gave it a five-star rating.

 7. And if You Wish

It can be a good idea to finish the review by quoting 

a few lines from the book that you may have liked though this is not necessary. I did this in the case of this book though I don’t always do it.

I found this line in the book extraordinarily pertinent and accurate-

‘Life is all about hard choices. We can’t all follow our instincts or desires just because we feel like it.’

Additional Tips

Make Notes

If you want to write a great review, this is a great tip to follow. This is something that I always do. While I am reading the book, I keep jotting down what I like about it so that I don’t miss anything when I am reviewing the book. This could include lines from the book or the impressions I form as I read it. Then, once I have finished reading the book, I go over the points to see if they still seem relevant from an overall perspective. If some don’t, I don’t include them in the review.

Length of The Review

The review should not be too long to become a drag or too short where it doesn’t make sense. Generally speaking, a review should be around 500-800 words.

Be Nice

Even if you feel that the book is not worth anyone’s time or effort, don’t be mean or nasty. Remember that someone has worked hard to put it out there, so appreciate the hard work if nothing else.

So follow these simple tips, and you will be able to write a great book review.

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Hello! I’m Sangeeta Relan. Aside from being an educationist teaching at the university level for the last 28 years, I have been a corporate wife and a mother to two boys who have now flown the nest. I love cooking, singing, travelling and exploring new places.

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