Friday, June 4, 2010

The Elements of a Good Book Review

I've been told I write a good review often enough that I feel confident talking about this subject to others. A review is one person's opinion of a book they have read. It's not a play-by-play description of a book and it shouldn't contain spoilers.

Reviews can vary in length depending upon the type of book you've read and the number of pages in the book. What site you are writing the review for can also determine how long your review is, but if you're writing for your blog, you can write a review in any length you feel comfortable with. It is important to keep in mind, however, that you need to provide a potential reader with enough information to make an informed buying decision--which is the whole point of a review.

I like to start my reviews off with a quick blurb like this:

"A sweet historical romance is what you'll find in Melinda and the Wild West, the first book in Linda Weaver Clarke's A Family Saga in Bear Lake, Idaho series."

This introduction gives your readers a brief glimpse into your thoughts on the book.

Then I move on to a short synopsis of the book.

"It is 1896, and elegant, naive Melinda Gamble decides to give up the comforts and pleasures of the east to become a schoolteacher in the untamed Wild West. Paris, Idaho is everything that Boston isn't: peaceful, simple, and dangerous.

Melinda loves teaching. When she takes Jenny Roberts under her wing, she opens up a world to the child that Jenny's former teachers never cared enough to share. Jenny begins to blossom and Melinda is happy to see she is having such a positive impact on her students. Dealing with Jenny's father, however, frustrates Melinda to no end.

Gilbert Roberts has been raising Jenny by himself since his wife died in childbirth. Running his cattle ranch and providing for Jenny have left him too busy to consider courting. And even if he had the time, the secret that has plagued him for years, quells any desire he might have to marry again. He resents Melinda's initial accusations that he is neglecting his daughter. As they get to know each other better, Melinda's self-willed nature leaves him shaking his head more than once.

Can two people who are so different truly have a future together?"

I've written synopses that are shorter than this one, but I truly adored this book and found it difficult to condense the plot into fewer words. When writing your synopsis, you need to make sure you give readers enough information about the story so they know if it will be something of interest to them. As mentioned above, though, you shouldn't give away any crucial plot points--like Johnny's mother was murdered in Chapter 4, which made him an angry young man bent on revenge, and led to his killing those responsible.

If the book is part of a series, it is a good idea to mention that, because some readers like to read books in order. I usually mention which book in the series it is.

Next, I go on to describe what I like about the book and also mention any aspects where I felt the book fell short of my expectations.

"The strength of this book lies within its well-developed characters. Melinda is self-willed (a term she despises), with an elegance one would expect of a well-bred young lady. Melinda certainly doesn't see herself giving up teaching to get married and take care of some man for the rest of her life. She is frustrated by Gilbert, which makes her attraction to him that much more difficult to bear.

Gilbert, on the other hand, has dealt with the loss of his wife alone. He keeps more than busy raising Jenny and operating his cattle ranch. He's not prepared for someone like Melinda, and he certainly can't understand his attraction to her.

Melinda's Aunt Martha and Uncle William, who she boards with in Paris, Idaho, are not complex characters, but the story wouldn't be the same without them. Martha is the matchmaking half of a couple that has been married for many years and remains as in love now as they were back then. They provide a sense of belonging to Melinda in her new home. They are sweet and funny, and are the perfect surrogate parents for Melinda."

If there is something unique or special about the book, I'll mention that.

"Several true experiences from Clarke's family members and ancestors make their way into the book. She lists them in a note at the end of the book. Clarke also does an excellent job of dropping the reader right into the time period with many historical details."

Then I wrap up the review with another quick blurb:

"Memorable characters, an engaging plot, and the heartbeat of the untamed west combine to make Melinda and the Wild West a book that historical romance readers will enjoy."

Blurbs are important for at least a couple of reasons. Authors use these blurbs on their websites and/or blogs for promotional purposes. Blurbs from my reviews have appeared on the insides of books (great exposure for me). Blurbs also usually contain the title of the book and the author's name, which is important for SEO purposes when reviewing online.

Reviews are written solely for readers. While no one wants to say they didn't enjoy a book that an author toiled over, perhaps for years, the reality is that we have a variety of tastes and not every book is going to be 5-star to us. As long as you write honest, professional reviews, people will be interested in what you have to say about the books you're reading.


  1. Very nice post Cheryl. Thanks for the information.

  2. I just added a post to my blog a short time ago about writing book reviews. I'm glad you tell not to give away important plot, climax, or ending aspects.


  3. Hi Cheryl:

    Terrific article with great structure and tips. Thanks for sharing.

    Best wishes,

  4. I love this. Great guidelines for reviewing books. I haven't read Linda's book, but I think the world of her, and I'll have to check it out.


  5. Thanks for sharing the info about your book reviews, Cheryl!

  6. Thanks for stopping by everyone. I'm glad you found the article helpful.

    I didn't know you had recently written an article on writing book reviews, Vivian. I'll have to go check it out.


  7. Kathi, you really need to read this one. I chuckle now because Linda told me when she sent it along that it was her first one, so to keep in mind she had improved since then. Taht must mean the others are superb.

    I'm glad you enjoyed the article, Connie.

  8. Thanks for sharing your wisdom, Cheryl. You've made book reviewing look easy with a step-by-step guide. implement this information.
    Best always,
    Fellow Muser, Susan Davis

  9. Great post, Cheryl, and you brought the right way to set up reviews. Nice!

  10. Thanks Susan and Lea. Susan, even my husband, who is easily one of the smartest people I know, has trouble writing a book review, so don't feel too bad.

  11. thanks for the great advice!
    i found this extremely helpful and i'm going to refer to it when i write my next book review.

  12. Well I'm late on the draw for this, but I just had to say this was an excellent blog post, Cheryl!

  13. So completely off topic here but this book regarding Bear Lake, widowed father, etc. has me wondering if someone has been digging in my family ancestral files.

    Back to your post - thanks for the guide.

    Now I have to go look up this book and compare my family history.

  14. Awesome post! Thanks for giving us a look into your mindset as a reviewer!

  15. As a beginning reviewer I really appreciated your clear, concise guide. Thank you!
    M. S. Spencer, author of Lost in His Arms and Lost & Found, from Red Rose Publishing.