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As I am now guiding books along with Malu - I though I would include just what I look for in a book review. Malu has already written an excellent piece on this. If you haven't already read it it can be found in the same category with this review.
This review could be used as a general guideline for how to write well on many other subjects as well - with a few slight adaptations relevant to the subject.
I have a special interest in children's books, and I feel different types of books require some differences in approach so I am dividing this review by type of book.
FICTION - ADULTS
By this I do not mean adults only fiction, just general fiction that one would expect to be most often read by adults. I hope Capt Daniels will forgive me for singling his reviews out, but his style of writing provides the perfect easy to understand format for a good book review. Because of this, when desperate for a new book, I have often clicked on his profile and poured through his reviews - so his quality of writing is certainly resulting in extra rates. I'm sure he will recognise the main format here as his own 'Synopsis of the book', 'My thoughts of this novel' and 'conclusion' although I may call these by different names myself and the opinion here is strictly my own. That said if you want a good example of this style of review at its best look no further than his reviews.
Synopsis of the book : I would call this the plot summary, but in short, this is the main idea or story line. This should be in your own words - not the Amazon blurb. If you must use Amazon's description make very clear that this is not your own writing , and exactly where you have lifted the information. Small quotes are acceptable under fair usage - but only where the original source is credited. Again, Capt pulls this off perfectly -one or two short paragraphs in his own words.
My thoughts on this novel: I would call this my opinion - others might call it the body of the review. This should be the longest section. Quite frankly if your review has less than 150 words of opinion - it really is not likely to get a very useful rate from me. I am more likely to include character descriptions in this section as well as I am describing my opinion of the character as much as the actual facts about them.
Conclusion: I'll admit this is a weak point for me, but a conclusion wraps everything up nicely. The review can then be thought of a sandwich with the Plot and conclusion as two slices of bread and the opinion all the good stuff inside.
We all write differently - a review doesn't have to follow this exact format - but all of these elements should be in a good review. You may wish to add extras, which can be very enjoyable to read, such as information on the author, the time and place this is set etc.... but these are all extras and can not take the place of of these three features.
Spoilers : One of the reason's I value Capt Daniels reviews is the simple fact that he never spoils anything for me. I like to guess at what will happen next in a book. I have read some reviews that ensured I could never read the book - why bother the reviewer already told me everything. I really can't see the need to include spoilers in an adult book - but if you must do so - give fair warning - and if it is impossible to review books in a series without spoiling earlier books please mention this as well - so we can stop reading if we are considering buying that series.
I love sharing books with my children and avidly collect children's books. This category requires a special approach, and I do feel spoilers are in order if this may affect a parents decision to purchase a book. The most common reason I would include spoilers is where an ending is likely to frighten or upset a child. As a parent I would prefer to know these things before buying the book, but I always give clear warning in the form of SPOILER ALERT before divulging spoilers at the end of the review. Personally, I do not rate down for spoilers in picture books, but that is not to say others will not. Just as every writer has a right to their opinion - so does every reader. What one peson finds VU another may not.
I believe a good children's book follows the same basic format of plot summary, opinion and conclusion as an adult book but with a few extras. Wherever possible the child's opinion - or how the child reacts to the story should be given as well. I really do like to know what age the child is as well as it helps me to guess what age range this suits. If this book is especially good to read aloud, I like to know that. I like to know if it has a rhyming text as well. If this is a book a child might read on their own, I also like to know things like reading level, whether the print is clear and easy to see etc... If the book has special features, such as textures, flaps or pop ups these should be mentioned as well. Finally, picture books, or illustrated books, often depend on the pictures as much as the text. No review of an illustrated book is really complete in my opinion without some mention of the illustrations. Even when a book only has simple black and white drawings, these should be mentioned.
In general - I believe those reviewing children's books should have some experience reading these books to children, so they can include the child's reaction. I have some books I think are wonderful - but my sons do not like at all. If I were reviewing these without having read them to a child, my rating would be very different. I have seriously under rated other books only to look at them in a new light when I see how my children use them. However, I do feel there is room for one exception to this. Almost everyone has a favourite book which they can remember nearly word for for word from childhood. When a book has impressed a reader so much that it still remembered with love decades later, I feel it is quite fair for an adult to still review this book. In this case their own opinions as a child should be included as well.
YOUNG ADULT FICTION:
This can be tricky because such a wide range of ages read these books. Over 50% of Young Adult Fiction is read by adults, rather than the teenage market it was intended for. Personally, I really enjoy many of these books as many depend on a good story line and well developed characters rather than just sex or gore. But my son starting reading Charlie Higson at age 6. I read the books first and then gave them to him, with both of us really enjoying the same story.
In general, I feel YA books should be treated just the same as adult books - however I will make exception for spoilers if they are accompanied by very clear warning and there is a legitimate reason parents might want to know about this event before buying for a child - for instance a rape scene. I also feel that brief mention of factors that parents may want to know about is in order. For instance - I will mention if the book contains graphic violence, scenes of a sexual nature, strong language, or drug and alcohol abuse. Personally, where drugs and alcohol are mentioned, I do like to know the context for this as well. Muchamore's books have drawn heavy criticism for including mention of drug abuse and drinking. But having read the books myself, I find his handling of these subjects extremely positive. I would have no problem with my child reading these stories, but I would like to know about the content so I could discuss the matter, and if drug and alcohol abuse had been glorified I might fee less comfortable with a very young child reading this.
In short - would you feel comfortable with a young family member reading this book. Why or why not ? If you can not answer without some some spoilers, go ahead and include a spoiler but warn us with something like INFORMATION FOR PARENTS - INCLUDES SPOLIERS.
This is the most difficult section because it covers so many types of books. In the case of biographies, most of the same rules as adult fiction apply - but some leeway for spoilers can be included for well known historical events. I think we all known Anne Boleyn will not be living happily ever after with Henry VIII. With a cookbook - it's nice to know about at least one recipe you have tried and how it came out. With books used as university texts it might be nice to know if anyone other than students might enjoy this. For instance I have read several books on child development - simply to learn more as a parent. If the book was a required text, I would prefer mention of this - if was an additional text you purchased to help you understand the coursework - did it really help?
With non- fiction I would most like to know:
Who is this book for - what audiences might benefit from reading this? If this is students or any other specific group only - feel free to say so.
What did you learn?
Is the information easy to understand?
Is this book enjoyable to read or something you trudge through to get the facts?
If the book is illustrated some mention of the quality of illustrations is in order.
Is the book believable? This may not always apply - but if the author supports his theories with facts, this is good to know. Likewise if he seems to have little evidence to support his conclusions it would be good to mention, and most importantly of all, if you can find sections where the author clearly has hiss facts wrong - tell us what and why you believe he is wrong.
One final fact that applies to all reviews. Do not cut and paste anything without clearly stating where you have copied this text. Wherever possible, use your own words. All quotes must be sourced and can not count toward the minimum word count of your review. Please see dooyoo rule #1
"If you're quoting specific facts or statistics, make sure you cite your sources. If you're researching your review, make sure you put your research into your own words. In short, make sure your reviews are your own."
I have copied the below text from an American site on Fair Usage- so the law is American but the same general principles seem to apply here as well
http:// www.writing-world.com/ rights/ fair.shtml
"Always fully attribute anything you are quoting or adapting. Attribution will normally limit later disputes to a matter of permissions rather than a copyright infringement suit." In other words credit your sources!
This site also suggests limiting quotes to under 300 words. This may be appropriate for a novel - but not for a review. Direct quotes in reviews should be short - perhaps a line or two. I will also rate down heavily if the review appears to be a rewording of an Amazon description. If I want to read Amazon's descriptions I will go to Amazon. If I read a review on Dooyoo I expect user opinion.
I love and fear reading book reviews.
Love them because they help me choose the titles for my "must read list"
Fear them because so often they reveal too much of the plot and even sometimes (usually unintentionally) whodunit!
I will sometimes find myself reading them with my head turned half to the side, one eye closed as if this will help should I stumble upon that all too revealing sentence. Which of course it won't, horror of horror, once you have read that spoiling line it's too late! The dastardly deed is done and there's no going back.
It doesn't help when I'm lulled into a false sense of security by promises of "I don't want to give anything away", but then go on to say in all but name whodunit!
For example such reviews that tell us that the reviewer guessed the culprit from the beginning as he was the only one not under any suspicion are just as bad!
Oh thanks, that narrows it down then and I won't be able to help myself identifying the only character not under any suspicion! Or maybe I just won't bother with the book after all.
Then there are those that go into such detail about the plot that you feel you don't need to read the book/ see the film after all! A bit like film trailers these days, you are shown so many scenes which one assumes are the most impressive, exciting or moving that you feel you have probably seen the best the film has to offer before you even buy the cinema ticket.
We all surely appreciate an in depth review and believe me I can understand how difficult it must be to review a film or book without giving in to relating the plot. I believe that a truly helpful review of film or fiction is probably the most difficult to write and I do not aspire to be anywhere near competent in that category, preferring instead to read reviews in the main.
I don't want to be too hard on those who have obviously spent a lot of time and energy on their review but sometimes more is less.
I am of the belief that a good fictional book review doesn't always need to be pages long and should not include too much of the plot.
Surely all that is needed is the briefest outline of the plot with the focus being on the quality of writing, imagination of the author, originality, setting of the story, how convincing the story was, how believable the characters, all these things are useful to the prospective reader. The skill can surely sometimes lie in conveying a feel for the story without actually telling the story.
There are however those dooyooers who are skilled in this area and I would probably do well to stick to the tried and trusted few, but I feel that this would be a shame as that isn't really what dooyoo is about is it?
So a plea from the fearful, please please leave the mystery just that, don't even reveal clues as to who dun what and don't tell me half the story, it's a review I want to read not an abbreviation of the book.
Well, today sees me celebrating my one-year Dooyoo-versary. I'm not sure where those twelve months have gone they flew by so fast! But I seem to have spent a fair bit of it here at Dooyoo. I thought, to mark the occasion, I might offer my advice and thoughts on how to review in my favourite category-Books.
I can't remember how I actually found my way here; it was either from a parenting site or from lurking on MSE. I do remember that I signed up with the sole aim of getting a free Amazon voucher to buy a couple of books(yes I'm blushing)! I knocked out a few short reviews of random stuff over a couple of days, but then got bored. I'll never make it big, even money isn't enough to entice me to do something I don't like! It wasn't until I saw Dooyoo mentioned a few weeks later on a Book site I use that I thought I would give it another go and talk about the books I read. I hadn't realised until then that Dooyoo had a huge category dedicated to the printed word.
So while I do review other products that I have something to say about, books are my main topic. I love reading, I always have done. I now also love reviewing books and reading other peoples reviews. I don't think I'm qualified to tell anyone how to write a book review, as that's quite a personal thing and different people have different ideas and styles. Instead I'm going to tell you how I plan and write a review.
So, you've just read a book and want to tell the whole world about it, whether you loved or hated it. The first thing to do is to think whether you actually have enough to say on it. I don't review every single book I read, as some of them I just don't have that much to talk about, although the majority of books I definitely do.
I then look to see if it's already in the catalogue, and if not I suggest it. In the past I have suggested books before I actually read them, but going back to my last point, I avoid that now, just in case it turns out it's not for me after a couple of chapters and I don't read it. I do however recommend writing the review soon after you have finished, when it's fresh in your mind and you can easily recall how you felt reading the book. I write my reviews in word and upload them when I am ready. If you don't have word, google.docs is a fab free online word processor and very easy to use. Just google it! I find myself mentally writing reviews as I read a book now, and have even been known to make a note of an interesting thought I had about it while still reading.
Different people have different ideas about whether an introduction is relevant or not in a book review. Personally I like to write one, outlining what drew me to the book in the first place. I think it can be insightful and help you decide if you would be attracted to the book if someone else tells you why he or she read something. It's also a good starting ground to get your review going, as I find after I write the introduction, the rest flows easier. Don't make the mistake of over doing this though; no-one wants to know the details of the wrapping paper on your booky gift!
Sometimes I begin the review with an introduction; sometimes I place it after the synopsis. Whatever seems right at the time.
This sometimes can be the most difficult part to write. I like to give my own interpretation of a book, and wouldn't cut and paste from amazon. But it can be hard to know how much to give away and how much to keep to yourself, and to also represent the contents fairly and accurately.
Plot spoilers are a big no-no. Never ever give the ending away. I read somewhere, perhaps it was here on Dooyoo, that a book review should contain around 20% plot and 80% opinion, and that's the rule I tend to work from.
This is without doubt the most important part of a book review, and everyone will have different ideas about what to include here.
I like to start with how the book began, with a brief description of what happens and with whom. Did it grab me from the start or was it a slow burner? This also helps me get going with my review and the rest usually flows from there.
I like to include my feelings on the main characters and whether I liked them or not, where they well written and believable, or leave me angry. Can I relate to them in any way?
I pick out a couple of themes in the book, this may be extra plot information that hasn't been included in my synopsis, but I'm always careful to try and not give too much away. I think about how the author tackled these subjects, and how they affected me as a reader. Was I moved emotionally, entertained or learn anything from it? Quite often, if a subject is one I have a personal experience of, I might include that. I like reading other peoples review where they relate their own lives to a book too as it makes the review more personal and interesting. I like to be quite chatty in my book reviews, I think it's more interesting than just listing details. I'm quite an emotional person, and that probably comes across in the book reviews I write. I think writing with your own style and voice does make for a more interesting read.
It's a good idea to include a paragraph about the style of the writing in the book. Is it written in the third person or first and does this work well? Is the book difficult to read or a page-turner? Does the author use lots of description or keep things short and snappy, and does the writing bring things to life? Most importantly does the book do what it's supposed to? If it's a mystery was it suspenseful or predictable or if it's tackling a controversial issue did it make you think? How long did it take you to read it and did you find it difficult to put down or couldn't care less.
I always finish up with a conclusion, reiterating what I liked or didn't like about a book. I'll say here if the author is similar to another's work, to give people an idea of what to expect. I probably tend to end my reviews by saying if I would read another book by the author or recommend the book to others.
Whether to include other information, and how much is another thing that different people have different idea's on. I personally don't include lots of information about the author and their other book, I think people find their way to book reviews on Dooyoo when they have already decided they are interested in a particular book and are just interested in an opinion. I don't think those that do are wrong, however, again it's down to individual style.
I tend to drop page numbers into the review, rather than note them at the bottom. I do however note the publisher and year and the ISBN at the end.
I think the most important thing to do in a book review, after not spoiling the plot, is give us YOUR opinion. Don't just tell us you liked or hated the book- tell us why? Lots of I thought... I liked because... I didn't like because etc.
I don't think there is a standard template for book reviews, as you can be creative and individual, and this makes the review all the more interesting. The best reviews are the more personal ones, and ones that clearly have a passion for books whether they loved the one they are reviewing, or not.
I would advise reading a lot of book reviews, as there are some really fantastic reviewers here on Dooyoo. You can get idea's for styles and what kind of things to include in your review from them, but be careful not to copy them completely!
Mostly, have fun writing your book review. If it's a chore, then the likelihood is that will show in the review and won't be very interesting or original.
I hope this may be of some use to anyone looking for ideas on how to start a book review. This isn't a 'how to' more a 'how I do' as I don't think my way is the only way, and I'm sure other people will have things they like to include that I haven't even listed. I'm certainly no professional writer myself, just someone who loves books and writing reviews.
*Now how many stars do I give? I'm going to award 5, for book reviews in general, because I love them...not for my own review!
How to write a good book review
Only 1,404 words long
Doz en Donuts
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those writers to have written so many tidy reviews that have just fallen short of me falling asleep. So now I've learnt something here; don't read if prone to sleepiness. I blame the 15 a day review churners. The same churners who excel in posting the minimum of word requirement, which brings ones head swaying so close to the key-board that when my eyes open the letter 'Y' startles me. It is like as if any word volume of excess of 160 words will maim the churner for life. It does get to me - My boredom consumes my brain activity; one yawn sends an involuntary message to my jaw to continue yawning until an interesting piece grabs my attention. - Hands- up if your yawning. - The item which takes me away from the monotonous dribble that swans around the empty headed review churner; is usually a 'seplling mistick'. - I've then convulsed into a sniggering frenzy that leaves me with a numb head then I wondered what I was amused over.
The tendency to drift on in this subject discussion would inevitably bring home what I've experienced many times, if you haven't popped off already. The most important part of 'how to write a good book review' is to have a strong reaction to a particular book, personally, I find stark offensively none riveting titles easier to take a stance to and squeeze in some sublime balances into the discussion that is in comparison an non entity; I know my weaknesses. I hedge towards a verbal rant that has spiralled off out of the claws of a crown worthy piece. It takes a vibrant and colourful writer to successfully do all the above and still come out smelling of roses while posting the finished article. It is vital to throw in some googlies into the fore as the reader wants to be expanded further into the characters and sent on a journey, without outlaying the plot or throw in some critical pieces that is the punch-line to the author's narrative. Books are about the Author to me as is the Director to a film, and that requires detailed attention while shoving in your two pennies worth. The characters are the tools which the Author plays with and manipulates over. Imagination and surreal pointers is imperative while exploiting and dissecting the Author's tools.
You cannot just state that you expressed a joy in reading the wonderful 300 page authors paradox of a time long, long ago. It is another life-line and that has to be born to make it come alive in a book review especially when you read online 'in from the cold' scenario; without the dickens what the book is originally about. Bring home your own golden words which will in turn inflict a fascination to your own audience; so the review has to stand out individually away from the actual material it has come from. Stalking the internet, sampling other book reviews will make to format your own style and stance sometimes. I try to stem shear emotions from book reading and while reviewing the items I express what I felt at some part of the review, by using similar feeling analogies that you may find amusing or to some can be a tangent or a mission that evolves around the whole book revision, which is pretty much carries hard-line political undertones. The tangents are related but sometimes I nail the emotion by the analogy but members have questioned my own tongue and beliefs as it does float above their heads. There is nothing wrong with that especially if the book review is in depth. - I'm not pretending to be a John Updike, who would systematically transform the reader into a fest of urban or city environments at a whim; as his audience allows without any stance to be taken or even mind seduced into his realm of thinking.
Writing shouldn't be like wearing slacks on a nudist beech; but a true validation of what emotions truly exist with the writer rhetoric and analogies. I for one enjoy unquestionable understanding of sublime writers who relish the chance of reviewing outlandishly boring books which to me shows an extraordinary use of what either 'love' or 'hate' is explored to abnormal levels. Asking yourself why you like a book sometimes isn't enough when you touch on the Author's background and native tongue to the fact that he or she may have a speech impediment, from being locked in a cupboard at any early age, because the adults wanting some quiet time. Expression is vital while book reviewing. You cannot expect your audience to re-live your experiences by reading it, by you stating it was the best ever book, you've read to date. Far too many nomads have written cheap sentences. It doesn't bring home any of the intensity of the script. Your falling short and doing know favours to the Author by publishing second rate dialogue to the masses. You wouldn't eat a stiff 8 day old donut, so don't feed your readers absolute stiff-board under nourished dribble that then gets criticised, which in turn gets the writers back-up. Other churner bites the dust. Dooyoo should reward quality but as Dooyoo member 'SusanLesley' stated on an online forum the Dooyoo community surprisingly still rewards churners. If, you sacrifice the quality of the review by off loading utter nonsense then expect the tide of poor ratings followed by discrediting remarks.
- I hasten to add that the lesser the number of delinquent mass churners there are, the more rewards the Dooyoo community will infiltrate within time. The biggest sector at the member's disposal is the vast book section.
- I'm no extravaganza writer with mega loads of book reviews under my hefty belt filled with ultra knowledgeable facts to nail that sublime book review blue-print. Book reviewing is liquid; by putting a format that is stale and is completely mundane, is not the way to run the gauntlet, snarling at the lions as you pass, simultaneously ripping your leather shorts baring your glistening cheeks, to the audience of Live at the Palladium with Jimmy Tarbuck, with special guest being George Michael. Your whole Dooyoo experience would be tainted, just because you paid no attention to what 1st2thebar had to say. - Churner's book reviewing experiences here on the site is pretty short-lived but it drags the community performance down a notch.
Be wary that what you think is funny won't be funny to others. Instead of saying the special guest being George Michael, I may get more of a positive slow hand clap if the audience in unison said 'I should of gone to spec-savers'. Wait for applause to die down - Whatever is said it is all in the approach and relevance. Do not get tied up to the mundane bland shelling of monotonous letter punching on the keyboard saying the same rigmarole per book review content. In my experience it helps to have controversial views with a hint of relevant fact that carries enough weight to make the book review viable. This is where the Author can take on another rhetorical part by identifying reasons for the Author's biasness to particular trends. Exposing ball-breaking facts with irony is a good piece of ingredient to add for any character, location and social analysis. The idea of not having a bit of lemon juice in a chilli-con carne, is somewhat frightening as it makes such a mammoth difference to the dish. Reviews, well book reviews need accustom delicate tones to draw the reader in. Sadly, so many fail to do this. Along with poor grammatical phrases and laughable seplling the 'Do's and Don'ts' of a good book review so often is viewed by the reader and rated as 'Doz en Donuts'.
Read 1st2thebar's reviews and don't be one of the 'Dozen Donuts'; that roam the Dooyoo community 'Very Useful' button bashing; then get ratty when a 'Useful' or a heaven forbid a 'Somewhat Useful' rating is chosen for the rather shallow and poor excuse of a review these no gooders publish. We will hunt them down in dirt-holes, rabbit burrows and single-bedded bed-sits in Barnstable, till the only churning they will do is cheese for their local dairy farmer.
Copyright - 08 -2009 - 1st2thebar
When you write a book review, you need to remember the audience is usually someone who hasn't read the book and is looking to buy a book. So they want to read a review that can swing their decision, a reviewer needs stick to some simple rules when reviewing books (the same key rule needs to be applied to movie reviews as well) and we'll get on to these a little bit later on.
To start any book review talk about the author, be it an auto-biography or a novel, mention the author and what work of theirs might be well known or what they did before writing. This may not seem very smart but if you mention something here it could sow seeds for later on in the review and if nothing else, it can help the reader make a decision there and then. Things like "the writer's overly complex language has often been a flaw in his previous book" can put people people off straight away, or "The writer, better known for her work as a model" can seem like little things, but they can be useful.
Then a little section on the book if from a series "Harry and friends are back for another term at Hogwarts, following on from..." or "The third in series of 5 books about Tracy". For things like this the most important thing is "Do I need to read the other ones first? Or is this a solid stand alone novel? Are the series interlinked, or are they single books with in a single banner? Are they like the Harry Potter series or more like the Goosebumps series?
Then onto the book it's self review it, tell people about the writing style, the length a summary of the story and out line the characters. Or if it's an information book, explain how easy it is to get the information from it, or a how funny a comedy book is if that's it's genre. People buy the book for it's genre sometime, so explain how well it fits into the criteria of that genre. No point in buying a comedy book that fails to hit home with any joke, a biography that's used as nothing more than propaganda isn't worth reading (whether it's positive or negative). So tell the reader of the review whether the book is fair and honest, or whether the story has more holes in it than a sieve and a plot that makes for better picking at than reading. Review the story line whilst your writing about the story, don't just talk about it in a factual manner, but in a "I felt it was..." way.
The main rule however, is DO NOT ruin the story, you can out line it, in fact you should out line it, but for crying out loud, do not give away the ending. If the review gives away the ending what's the point in reading the book? If someone wants to cheat and read the end of the book, they can feel free to do that, but don't give the ending away in the book. You can give out details about the setting, the characters and the themes by all means, but the ending is something you shouldn't touch unless you need to. If you need to, make it obvious put in spoiler notes let the reader then decide if they want to know. Also if its from a series make a note of the ending of the previous book in spoiler notations if needed, no point in ruining that book just to review this one.
A good book review ends, like any review ends with advice on buying it, whether the price is right or too much and whether or not you enjoyed it. This can often seem like it should be the bulk of the review and in fact it often can be, with your opinion on the book being more than your feelings on the actual story. This is where you mention whether or not the book achieved it's aims, kept on the same story arc of a series or failed to live up to an expectations you had. A lot of people seem to feel you must read the whole book to review it, personally I don't think that's true. If after 10% of the book you feel you cannot go on any further due to the language, tedium or poor story THEN it's fair enough to stop and review the book you have tried to get through it. It's not fair on the reviewer to be forced to contend with writing that would be better suited to someone's GCSE paper rather than a book.
The final step to writing a good book review is including the details that you'd want to know on making an informed decision. These should be in the main review body, but if not, then add them at the end for things like price and size. Then you've all the requisites of a good review.
Where has the time gone? When I first joined Dooyoo I had no idea that I would one day be contemplating my 1000th review, but the time has come so I thought I would mark the occasion with a review centred around my favourite website of all!
Instead of concentrating on Dooyoo as a whole, I thought I would give you my opinion on what I think makes a good book review. I am a keen reader and often review books I have finished, but at the same time I also like to read book reviews and my ever-expanding 'to read' pile is just getting bigger and bigger.
You see, as a reviewer you have the power to make or break someone's interest in a book. But to do that you need to give us more than the general plot and a few lines about why you liked the book.
In a perfect world you will have a paragraph or two of plot followed by (or preceded by, whichever way round you write your review) a more in depth look about what you did or didn't think worked in the novel. Touch on characters but don't base your review around them, obviously particularly strong characters need more than a couple of lines but we really don't need complete paragraphs on every single person who enters the main storyline.
The obvious exception to this is books which are based around just one or two characters, I find detective novels need a more detailed look at the main protagonists as there is generally only the detective team (usually one male and one female these days) and the hunted criminal that feature heavily in this genre. In this instance I like to hear about the nuances of the characters, are they irritatingly upbeat or is their conversations littered with 'amusing' anecdotes that are actually anything but. This is important to me as a badly constructed character can completely destroy my interest in a novel and more particularly so when he is one of only a handful of characters in the story.
A book review doesn't always need to consist of 2000 or more words, yet it needs to have enough of a word count for you to adequately describe the story and give your impressions of it. Recently I have read book reviews that have over 1000 words and I've also read much shorter ones, both of which have been crammed full of personal opinion and helped me to make my decision on whether or not to read those particular books. Then, on the other side of the coin, I have read much longer reviews which I've had to give low rates to simply because the entire substance of the review was based around the plot.
Spoilers are a big no-no. When I read a book I don't want to know how the twists and turns are going to pan out, and if you give away a crucial plot turn then I shall rate your review Not Useful however much effort you've put into it. Of course, I always try to give the benefit of the doubt with my ratings but plot spoilers are just inconsiderate and unnecessary and will only serve to spoil the enjoyment of anyone else who wants to read the book. An example is a recent review I read, I loved the concept of the storyline and the characters sounded fantastic - only in the final paragraph the reviewer saw fit to tell me which of the characters died and who the murderer was! So I didn't need to read the book after all.
How you style your review is completely up to you of course. Personally I prefer to read book reviews that read straight down the page rather than those which have a multitude of headers, I can work out for myself which paragraphs relate to the plot and which relate to the characters all by myself funnily enough and I really don't need 'paragraph titles'.
Another thing worth mentioning is how important it is to check your spelling and grammar before posting your book review. Of course, this is true of any review you write but I think shoddy spelling really stands out when you are writing about a book. The irony of someone criticising a published author in a review peppered with spelling mistakes never fails to make me smile.
I wouldn't say this is completely necessary, but when I read a book review I do find it very useful to know how easy the novel is to read. Just a few brief lines about the cadence of the writing, whether it's a page turner or one you can put down and come back to a few weeks later, will it keep me up all night because I can't wait to find out what happens next? When writing your review please do bear in mind little things that may be of some use to anyone who comes across your work, I obviously don't expect you to remember every little detail but there are occasions where a little extra information can mean the difference between a Useful and Very Useful rating for me.
I'm nearly at the end now, but one thing that has just occurred to me is the use of quotes taken from the pages of the book you are reviewing. Please, please, please don't use them unless they are in context with what you are discussing at the time. I don't tend to use quotes at all as I don't think they really add much to my reviews, but if I do then it's only to give an example of a writing style or content - not to make the review look longer! Some time ago I read a review based on one of the Terry Pratchett novels, the reviewer had used so many quotes that it was hard to tell what was opinion and what was simply a copying of Mr Pratchett's work - and to add to this annoyance, none of the quotes were particularly helpful or thoughtful and the review would actually have been better had none of them been used.
So, this is my opinion on how a book review should be written. It's not set in stone of course, and at no point would I expect anyone to change their writing habits to fit in with what I personally want to read. Just bear in mind that a one paragraph review about the storyline of a book will not go down well amongst your fellow Dooyooers!
Now, i am not an avid reader, but i found myself lost in this book. Unable to stop reading until the early hours when my eyelids got to heavy and i succumbed to exhaustion.
This book had me gripped on tenterhooks, every turn of the page unfolding this great, interesting and terrifing story that is Twilight.
I only usually read books that i HAVE to such as Jaqueline Wilson. This was simply because i found that i couldn't reach the twentieth page in a book unless i was fully into it. I would used to only read books that have a storyline that would actually happen in real life. And then i found Twilight.
I first watched the film, and thought i couldn't be bothered to read the book. Afterall, it is 400 pages! But i wish it was more. As i read on, i found myself delving into the story and i could truly imagine what all the characters felt and were going through. However, if i hadn't of watched the film, i may have found myself confused and lost in the book.
After finishing Twilight, i moved onto New Moon, the second book in the series but didn't find myself lost and confused. Even though this book is about vampires, which may seem immature and silly, but it is based around a story of love and passion. I cannot wait until New Moon is out in cinemas just so i can pick up on anything i may have not fully understood when reading the book.
You know you have been on dooyoo rather too long when you type in google + the subject you want to write about and your review sits on top of the google pile. That's pretty worrying really as someone may think my speakers corner drivel is important because it's atop that pile! And once you're atop the pile people press the first one and you are always top of the pile, googles biggest glitch. But we are here to talk about how to write a good book review (well we are supposed to) and already certain members are mumbling' yes right, he can't write for toffee in that section! For once I would agree with them. I just struggle with book reviews. That's why there's only eight reviews in this discussion section.
But before I give you my slant on that I'm here to go off on a tangent about dooyoo in general as I'm on a mission to also top the most speaker's corner reviews ever written on dooyoo, this pointless ramble being one more. I'm eight short of Andy Chargers impressive tally of 241 and Andy, like me, took issue over the guides high crown count and skedaddled in 2004, only to return two years later to write just one review but leaving again because he still wasn't happy, ironically crowned for it. I, alas, am still here and will fight the injustices of the world! Come back Andy its much better now. If you don't Im top dog! I'm throwing down the glove. Smell the glove Andy, smell the glove... I'm just two crowns shy of KJ`s speakers corner all time high of 41 crowns but however many I write they don't crown them, my one-in-five 2008 rate down to one-in-in twenty-five in 2009. Sadly dooyoo seems to have abandoned speaker's corner and so crowns very hard to get there so I'm Just going to have to write better reviews in places like. With dooyoo becoming increasingly feminine with more crowns going to female consumer sections and so more female guides appointed my macho flirting approach and aggressive writing may have to be tempered. Yes right!!!
As dooyoo are so proud of displaying our facts and feats on the front page heres my stats to fill this pointless review out a bit more.
Miles earnt - 900,000
Ratings received 30,000!
Ratings made 27,500
Comments made 29,500 (a record!)
Speakers Corner - 2nd most crowns (39) and reviews written (232)
Movie Crowns - 8th highest ever crowner
Total crowns- 7th highest ever crowner (138) on dooyoo for a member who has never been a guide (add 30 crowns to it.lol!).
I want you guys to try the above; it's good for the ego. But when it comes to my book reviews and section statistics it's not so good. For some reason I feel totally rubbish at book reviews and so don't expect the dusty library crown stamp to be used on me when I checked through dooyoos excellent (and incriminating) statistics bit. But my book stats are much better than I thought. 41 reviews and seven crowns wasn't too bad. I must have a vague idea what I'm doing then. A recent ex guide told me my book reviews are way too long, which I would agree with in most cases. When girls complain its too long guys just have to bend some. But recently they wrote a review that was that length and then some. They got a crown. I didn't leave a snidely comment. That person is high on the book crown hall of fame.
The top twenty book writers on dooyoo are very familiar faces. Seven are current guides, nine are ex-guides and only four have never been guides. The chicken and egg question has been asked that do guides get more crowns because they are better writers or do they become better writers and get more crowns when they become guides. I suspect the book section like the music reviews are the toughest to do creatively and so they must be the best writers. I find music reviews almost impossible and an extremely pretentious experience to write. Good writing is not always about product centred reviews that dooyoo love so much and often bore the pants off me and you. Good dooyoo reviews should be unique and not an instruction manual with parts list. The book reviews are tough because of that.
The guide's crown ration is around 18% in the book section, no more or no less than the rest of the site. My crown rate was once around 18% but has collapsed to one-in-ten on the site since the 50p thing, like many of your ratios have, so dooyoo can pay for the churn, the churn that pays for the site it seems. It's a paradox the guide's crown ratio is not affected by as it has gone up since the 50p thing. Dooyoo emailed me to say that they are still giving out the same amount of crowns (although they haven't submitted their expenses claims yet.lol.). I checked their claim. Do you guys think the crowns are falling too...? What I don't like about dooyoo is if your review is locked because it may have offended 1% of the site (and so not the other 99%) you seem to lose your crown privilege for a while. We shouldn't be stopping people having their honest say. Is that not the point of the place? We are starting to get too sanitised again and that's exactly why consumers turn away from companies blurb on their own products. They want it be independent comment.
I don't give tips on writing as my punctuation and spelling isn't worthy of most of you but what I would say is write what you want on here. The point of the internet is to explore those debates and conversations we are not allowed to have outside of the pub after a few beers. Dooyoo uniquely affords you a voice that if you use it right and will not only earn you a few quid here but an imprint on the net and a tiny bit of respect for having the ballbag for saying it.
My first must when writing here is a decent title to the piece. I consider myself to be the best on site at naming reviews, although I say it myself. If they see your title is clever or funny then you will get ten more reads on that alone. Also I like to make my work topical in the first paragraph, even if it's not that relevant to the review. Books are usually topical and of the moment so go for it. The review is about having your say on a book you purchased that you thought you would relate to and so you can have your say that way too, a particularly good tactic for biographies. My next book review will be on Freddie Flintoffs sanitised tome and as I have met the guy a couple of times through my cricket column I can tell you about that to earn your attention.
I afraid mid review I tend to revert to my notes I make during the read and just repeat the best bits and perhaps rather too keen to repeat the narrative to fill out the review. When I do biographies I really do waffle on. But you have to write something and what I don't like to do is get all pretentious over writing styles and the author. I can be an antagonistic writer and write what I think, even though it can be taboo, or I can be a puppy dog. But you know what they say about guys with puppy dogs around younger people. But books contain those things we don't talk about and we need to have the debates. People are only ever offended because they want to be or because the conversation hasn't been had enough in public.
To get your work rated with only five hours of new reviews listed up on site now you have to rely more on your work being interesting and rated back. We can no longer expect our work to hang around on dooyoo and be read that way. My technique is fairly obvious in that the 30,000 comments I have written has produced 30,000 rates coming back to me. I put myself around and I think that helps. Too many people expect return rates here and as I understand it that's not strictly allowed. If you religiously rate back you become part of a set group of raters dooyoo sometimes label as 'clicking cartels', mostly accidental, it a statistical likelihood that 'rate backers' will just bundle together through no deliberate fault of their own. Reading and rating is the name of the game here and sometimes dooyoo forget that. And if you do get upset about revenge rating all the time then quite frankly you're a plonker and full of yourself. The idea that all members actually read all our reviews we put our hard work into is fantasy, as is my next book crown...
I guess the most important bit about writing a good book review is to be aware of what to leave out rather than what to include, by that I mean the most important thing not to do in a book review ( assuming here we are talking about fiction books for the moment ) is to include too much of the plot and under no circumstances should you reveal the ending or give away any of the plot twists, now naturally if the book you are reviewing is Spot Goes to the Park then this is not quite as relevant as if you are reviewing the latest Richard Patterson thriller, in fact in this case when reviewing a fictional book only a minimal amount of plot should be revealed, just enough to wet the readers appetite and leave them wanting to read more, the sort of limited information that you find on the back cover.
What I do want to read is why you have a particular opinion about the book, what the writing style is like and whether this book is a real page turner or a hard slog to the end. The depth of the characters and how believable the plot is are also important factors.
For non fiction writing style is also relevant as well as the degree of information or entertainment value to be found in the book and for some non fiction and also childrens book the quality of the illustrations are also relevant.
It also helps to mention if a book is part of a series featuring the main character and if so where in the series it comes and whether it can exist as a stand alone book of if you should start from the beginning first.
Cover all of thesepoints in an engaging way without waffling off topic and you should get good ratings from members, what I do not want to read about is how you bough it or any rants about the theme or person being written about. Sometimes it is good to just follow the KISS principle.
This review was originally written when I started guiding the Books category. The guiding is no more, but the book review writing goes on (even if less on dooyoo than elsewhere). Hence a wee update....
At teh time of writing there were already five proper 'How to Write A Good Book Review' opinions up on the site and pretty much all of them great. Not surprising as they come from from amongst the best review writers that dooyoo had the fortune to host in its few years history. Read them.
You are back? Well, that means you *are* determined to hear my advice.
In a nutshell: to write a good book review you need to do two and only two things really. Tell what the book is like. Tell what the reviewer thought about it.
The former is more important. Many reviews in mainstream press don't provide clear, personalised opinion, especially when reviewing genre and pop books.
Of course, 'to tell what it is like' is a very general goal and arguably can be accomplished in many ways. Yes, that's true, it can. That's why book reviews can vary enormously in what aspects of the book they concentrate on, but as long as I am told what the book is like (which usually doesn't equate to what it is about, obviously) the review does its job.
Tell me what you thought and felt about it and why. This is the 'opinion' part and you will probably find out that it's not really possible to do the 'description' well without actually formulating an opinion. A judgement is a part of a useful description, and to be valuable to others it should be justified as people differ.
A statement 'It's a fantastic book, I loved it' is totally useless unless I know how to relate to it. A statement " It's a fantastic book, I loved it. It describes a passionate romance with lots of sensual scenes, has characters I really liked and it's written in an easy to follow way, with lots of humour overall while some parts were so sad it made me cry. " is much more useful as I can relate to the writer's criteria and decide if I am likely to share them and like the book (in this case it's probably not my thing:-).
So, description and opinion is the key. On top of this, there are some particulars relating to general fiction, picture books for small children, non-fiction and presentation.
This includes all grown-up fiction, genre and mainstream, modern and classic, as well as older children and teenage books. Most of book reviews fall in this category and amongst those I like ones that do most or at least some of the following.
Give a short plot synopsis (summary of the story) or a teaser. I personally like to keep this to a minimum, and I think that a lot of reviews on dooyoo tend to err on the side of too much plot rather than too little. I think a short paragraph that relates to story is enough, though of course some books are much, much more plot driven than others and thus synopsis (and background) is more important in them and will take more space. And of course, aspects of the plot can be very important in the 'opinion' part of the review (does it make sense? Is it believable? are there holes in the plot? surprising twists?).
Don't list characters with characteristics. I have been guilty of it in the past myself but I think it's rarely a useful thing in a consumer review. I think it's fine to mention characters and how they work in the story, are they flat or developed, likeable or repulsive. In some novels the whole point is the people that populate them, but simply listing them under a 'Characters' heading is bit pointless.
Tell me what the book is ABOUT. I don't mean the plot (it's just been covered above). I mean a theme. A subject. A message. A point. Of course, many genre books have nothing of the sort, they are pure escapist entertainment, storytelling for the story's sake and it's fine (but say it in your review!).
...but don't write an essay that interprets and analyses. Analysis is good in a coursework essay, but it's not really a point of a review. Justify your opinion, don't analyse your interpretations (or only a little bit if you must). And don't, please don't repost your coursework essays.
Try to - briefly - place the book in some wider framework of literary and cultural references This sounds bit scary, but what I mean is simple. If the book is a 'genre' book, it's often good to be told what it is - ideally even before the synopsis part. Police procedural? Thriller noire? Space opera? Fantasy? Chick-lit? Bodice-ripper? Gritty kitchen-sink drama? Family saga? Horror? Splatter punk?
If the book is mainstream (in fact, even if it's identifiable as a genre) it's often useful to point out titles or authors it can be compared to. If there is an obvious tradition or method the author used, it's also worth mentioning: "'Name of the Rose' is a pastiche novel written by one of the theorists of post-modernism, Umberto Eco". "'Waves' uses 'stream of consciousness' technique which makes it often mind-numbingly boring and difficult to follow at the same time." " Will Ferguson's 'Happiness' reminded me of Douglas Coupland and Kurt Vonnegut'.
Tell me what you thought and felt about it and why. Yes, I know I said it before but it's so important I am saying it again. Was it interesting or boring? Easy to get into or took a while to get going? Was the ending satisfactory or a disappointment (don't say what it was, as plot spoilers are a big no-no in book reviews)? Is it a pure fun read or one to make one think? Did it make you laugh, cry, shudder, cringe? If it made you think or reflect, what about and why? Is it a book to remember? To re-read?
Who do you think the book will appeal to? This should be possible to work out from the description, but sometimes it's good to summarise. 'If you like slow, elaborate, poetic descriptions and don't mind a feeble story, you will like it.' 'This book has a lot of so called language (albeit justified) so if it bothers you, stay away.' 'There is a lot of gory descriptions of violence and graphic sex so bear it in mind when considering presents for traditionally minded relatives.' 'Extremely vivid and convincing descriptions of the Holocaust might disturb many readers.'
Is the book's preaching (in a very loose sense) any particular world view or value system? Will it be offensive to hard-core Christians, Scottish Nationalists, Scientologists or Animal Liberation campaigners? Is it OK for adults but maybe not necessarily something suitable for teenagers (I don't think young people's reading material should be censored but you - or your review's readers - might think so).
Is there anything that you didn't like - and why? Hatchet jobs are often the most enjoyable reviews to read, and for some reason a spirited slaughtering of a book is usually a joy to behold. I don't know why, maybe I am just mean, but I really like negative reviews of books, especially when well argued and justified in their judgement. But even if you liked a book, there might be something that annoyed you or you thought could be done differently (or not at all).
What about the style? It's another issue similar to the one of interpretation and analysis mentioned above. It's good to say something about the writing quality and style, techniques and gimmicks, language and structure, but I like it kept brief and related to the opinion, as otherwise there is again this slide into a student's essay. So yes, tell me if it's well written or (even more so) badly written, tell me why you think so, but don't perform a big exercise in literary theory.
***Picture Books for Small Children***
I am on a mission here. I have a five year old and a baby and I feel that picture book reviews are a bit of an ugly duckling of the dooyoo book section. They get proportionally fewer crowns and, although it seems unfair to say that some products are more likely to have crown-worthy reviews written about them than others, it is perhaps true about picture books.
The amount of material they provide is often simply not enough to make much out of it. However, as an active borrower, reader and buyer of little kiddie books, I like reviews of picture books and I promise to treat them as fairly as possible, bearing in mind their specifics!
Picture book reviews that I like do at least some (ideally as much as possible or relevant) of the following:
Tell the story - the full story is fine if you wish (though usually not necessary) as I don't mind spoilers on books for preschoolers - but not in much detail. Recounting the story in more sentences then the original or describing pictures page by page is just boring!
Comment on illustrations: style, content, realistic, modern, rich, subtle, cartoonish? Did you like them? Did your child?
Comment on style and writing: is it in rhyme? If yes, is the rhyme good? Does it read well aloud (this is EXTREMELY important for picture books, some of them are just a pain to read, some are a real joy)? Is there humour? Any big words? Dumbed down? Or kept simple but still well written?
Tell how it looks and feels - is the type varied/arty? How is it set? Any gimmicks? If it's a toddler book, is it wipe clean, sturdy one for chewing or one to treasure and look with freshly washed hands on the table, are there touchy-feely features, pop-ups, moving bits?
Mention the message - is there a moral/social lesson? What is the added value - can you use it to discuss some subjects, teach about something, stimulate with rhyme, sounds, pictures? What values does it promote (if any?) Could it be offensive to some parents? Could it be scary or upsetting?
Say what age it is suitable for and why? What kind of children would relate to it well? Is it ethnic, very middle class, dated in any way?
Suggest if it is a one-time wonder for borrowing or one that will get re-read many times and thus one to buy?
The biggest difference between fiction and non-fiction reviews is that in fiction reviews you give a plot teaser, but in non-fiction reviews you should give a short summary of the whole content and, if the book is polemical in any way, present the main gist of the argument and some basic justifications that the author provides.
It's very, very hard to do it without exceeding reasonable word count and boring your readers stiff. I sometimes write a long summary and then edit, edit, edit. Often it means cutting down from 1500 of description to 500, but I think the reviews in which I did it are better than the ones where I did not!
Academic reviews of scientific books often present rather extensive accounts of the content, including sometimes chapter-by-chapter summaries, but here on dooyoo we are supposed to write consumer reviews! I do think that it is sometimes justified, especially for textbooks and more serious academic or semi-academic works, but if you decide to do it, summarise the main gist first anyway, watch your word count and make it very clear where your more detailed summary starts and finishes.
On the opinion side of things, it's pretty much the same as fiction, though obviously the artistic aspects of style are less important, while the structure and clarity of writing is even more . I also often feel compelled to argue with some aspects of non-fiction books, especially ones that make some kind of ideological or political statement and I think it's good to include such arguments.
***And finally, a note on presentation***
I think that book reviews work better as free flowing texts, without headings. This is my personal bias (though I like headings in other product reviews) and it doesn't mean that structure is not important in a book review, in fact it is more so if there is no headings.
The order of things that seems to work best (remember most people who read your text will not have read the book) is to start with the description (What kind of book it is? What is the story? What are the themes?) and follow with the opinion, with the technical bits (number of pages, price and possibly the publisher) at the very end. A very short opinion/recommendation summary sometime works well at the beginning and it's usually beneficial at the end.
There is also a question of adding extra information, either something about the author or something about how and why you got the book. I would say that both of these can have their place in a book review, but often are included for the sake of padding.
Sometimes it's useful or even necessary to refer to author's biography or his previous work, sometimes it's not. I usually skip these bits but many people like to know who they are dealing with. Would it help to know that he was born in 1934 in a small Wiltshire village before deciding to read the book? Probably not, unless he's writing a memoir of childhood. Would it help to know that she's a major authority in the field of evolutionary psychology and have written three previous books about it? Probably yes. Use your judgement and if in doubt, leave out.
Finally, this is a very long opinion from which you can take what you want. That's why it can have almost 2500 words.
However, a book review of that length in fact, a book review exceeding 1500 words would be probably too long. I personally try to aim for something between 500 and 1300, but of course it depends on the book (and on how waffly your style is!).
And of course, all these prescriptions, as all prescriptions, are there to be broken if the tasks needs it!
I've been the guide for the books and magazine category for a while now and I thought I'd dust down and update this review. Needless to say this is not the only review you can read on the subject.
The first thing to remember is that there is no right or wrong way of writing a book/magazine review! This might seem like useless advice but what I'm really trying to say is that when doing a review, any review, you have to follow a style that is right for you, there is little point in trying to adopt a style that you are not comfortable with just because you think it will get you more reads or crowns. Chances are it won't work.
SO WHAT CAN I TELL YOU?
Leaving the subject of style and presentation to one side for the moment there are some basic features that I think should be more or less common to every well written book review and I think these are features that will make the review of use to someone making a decision of whether to buy/read the book or not. Remember this is a consumer site!
BACKGROUND AND INTRODUCTION
With most books it is helpful to include a little background about the author and any general details about the book that might be useful to the reader.
Is this the first book that the author has written? Is it the last? Was it written at a particular time? During the war or at some other notable historical period that might have influenced its content or style? Does the book or the author fit into a particular literary movement? Is it a 'beat' novel, a 'realist' novel, a 'gothic' horror or a holiday read etc.
For a non-fiction book you can tell us what special knowledge the author has in relation to the subject of the book. If it is a biography did the writer ever meet the subject, were they friends? Was it an approved biography etc.
OK not every book will need such an introduction but if you do have the information briefly include, it will make a good point to start the review. Having said this, remember to keep the introduction short after all it is your opinion of the book that counts.
THE PLOT/SUBJECT MATTER
Be careful!! The one thing that most commonly spoils a book review is giving away too much information. The plot should be briefly outlined, characters can be introduced, and general events can be described but don't give away any surprises that might be integral to the story. Essentially you want to set up the scene and wet the reader's appetite if you can (or warn them off if you don't like the book).
This section of your review should give a good indication of what the reader is going to be in for if he or she decides to read the book. It should not make the reading of the book irrelevant. This tends to be more important in fiction and newer publication rather than non-fiction or textbooks.
If a novel has attained a classic status and everyone even if they had not read the book knows the story (for instance in the case of Dracula or Frankenstein) then you could afford to include more plot detail if this is going to allow you to make more detailed points about the book in general. But even with these to be on the safe side don't give too much away, after all someone could have been living on a desert island all their life and not know that Count Dracula turns out to be a Vampire?
For most non-fiction books the same is true although a more in depth description of what subject area the book covers might actually be useful to the prospective reader.
For reference books it becomes essential to give details about what aspects of the subject the book covers so that a potential reader of buyer can be sure this is the book they want.
This should represent the bulk of your review in most cases. The most important thing to remember is to make it personal. What did YOU think about the book? Did YOU find it entertaining, useful, boring?
This is also the section of the opinion where you can look into and talk about any themes that you might have noticed. Is the author trying to make a specific point? Does he/she succeed? What can you say about the style of writing? Was is a traditional novel or was something different about it? You can also make specific points about the characters or plot (remember don't give too much away though!). Did you find the characters believable? Did you sympathise or empathise with them? Was the story realistic? Was it supposed to be? Was it funny or was it sad?
Having said all this remember that this is not supposed to be a academic exercise so keep the comments reasonably brief and don't get carried away in an in depth analysis of the text. If you want to quote from the text do so but make sure it is relevant to some point you are trying to make and not just an attempt to 'pad out' the length of the review.
Beware of waffling!
It would also be useful to include your personal experiences, is this the first book you have read by the author or are you a world expert! How does it compare with other books by the same author or to others in the same genre?
If it is a textbook, do you have some special knowledge or experience in the subject, have you not only read the book but also have you used it a study aid? Was it useful?
I could go on but I hope you get the idea.
To tie up the opinion it's always nice to bring all the different strands together into a final paragraph. Give your overall impression of the book and a final comment on why people should go out and buy it or why they should avoid it like the plague.
It is also useful at this point to give some specific information, where can you buy it? How much does it cost? What is the publisher?s code and how many pages is it.
STYLE AND LENGTH
So far I've talked about what information should/could be included in your opinion, now I'm going to approach the thorny subject of how to present it.
More than any other aspect of writing opinions on Dooyoo this will be guaranteed to give rise to most disagreement between users. Each camp will defend their approach with sound justification and I don't think there is a right or wrong way to do it.
There are two basic approaches to writing and presenting your opinion, you can either write a free flowing piece which while covering all the points listed above might not necessarily divide the text into distinct sections. The alternative is to clearly divide the opinion into the various sections and even put headings at the top of each. Which is best?
I have tried both approaches and I while think ideally a free flowing opinion is more satisfying and can be more eloquent it is much harder to write. There are some wonderful examples on Dooyoo of how the free flow approach can work but you do need to be a very good writer to organise your ideas and deliver you message in this way. For a less talented writer (such as myself) or people still getting used to the idea of writing opinions, I would suggest to use the second method and split you opinion up in distinct sections. A further advantage of using sections is that it generally makes the opinion easier to read and enables the reader to pick out specific parts of the opinion that they might be interested in, this is very important for longer opinion...but more about length later...
This choice really comes down to personal preference and in the end there is no reason why either approach shouldn't lead to a crown winning opinion.
NOW TO THE LENGTH!
In the Dooyoo rules it states that an opinion has to be at least 75 words to be accepted. This is not meant to be a guide to how long an opinion should be and in fact 75 words for almost all types of reviews is far too few. The ideal length if there is a such a thing will vary from product to product but in general for books, assuming you are trying to cover the points I have listed above, I don't think it is possible to write a 'very useful' (VU) opinion in less that 400 words and even then you have to be a very good writer to make it so concise. In general most VU opinion are closer to 1000 words. This doesn't mean that a shorter op will automatically be excluded from nominations for a crown but it is much more difficult to include the kind of detail needed for a crown in a short opinion.
Having said all this longer is not necessarily better. At the other end of the scale generally an opinion that is longer than 3000 words is probably too detailed for the purposes of the consumer site. Again beware of waffling!
The amount of detail to include will vary from product to product, for instance if you are writing a opinion about washing up liquid it probably doesn't need to be as long as a Travel opinion describing 'France in General'. For books it can be similar, you might feel that there is a lot more to say about a classic such as 'War and Peace' than there is about 'Bart Simpson's Book of Jokes'. However be careful, remember that we are not trying to produce a university thesis but a consumer review. If you fell the need to put your thoughts about a book you really love (or hate) in great detail then I would urge you to write it in sections clearly label the section and warn people that the opinion is going to be more detailed than a simple consumer review, this at least allows them to pick and choose the bits they want to read, this is not possible in a free flowing text.
One further approach to consider is the 'Chapter by Chapter' review. This is almost always unsuitable for a fictional work for the reasons I have already outlined above (spoilers etc.) but for a textbook this might be good way of going into the kind of detail that's needed and keeping the text manageable, again it is a question of style.
A further point to make is that it is better to write the opinion on 'Word' or similar and to run it through a spell check. Make sure you proofread it before posting it. Some users get really annoyed by spelling mistakes, lack of paragraph breaks etc.
Finally the best advice I can give anyone is to read as many opinions on books as you can and see how it can/should (or should not) be done. Use these examples to work out what is best for you but remember make it YOUR opinion in YOUR own style not a 'copy' of someone else.
I hope you have found this of use. Happy writing!
© Mauri 2007
I always think books are wee bit different from many of the things reviewed around here. I know they're products, I know you can buy them, but you're not going to start waffling about the packaging, now are you? I also think there's a bit of a knack to writing a successful opinion about a book. Lots of people say they feel rather intimidated by the thought. But y'know, it's like anything, once you've got the knack it's a breeze, really it is. And I don't think there are nearly enough opinions on books submitted hereabouts so I thought I'd dispel some of that supposed mystique and tell you about the sort of opinion on a book that I'd like to read. Hopefully, you'll all start posting a few more then! Everything I say here though is my own personal preference, I'm telling you all about the sort of opinion I, me, Jill, would like to read. Read what I say, and feel free to disagree, but don't feel intimidated by thought of writing an opinion about a book. I suppose the first, and most important, thing to mention is what the aim of a book opinion, indeed any opinion, is. Here in opinionating land we're supposed to be influencing buying decisions with the things we write. So the aim of your opinion is to explain to your readers why they should, or should not, buy the book you're writing about. They may want to buy it for themselves, to read themselves. Alternatively, they may be considering the book as a present for someone else: child; partner; parent; friend. All the time you're writing, this is the most important thing to keep in mind. So, keep those buying decisions in mind, and let's structure our review (it's going to be about Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone if you're interested). We'll start with... OUR INTRODUCTION That first sentence is always the hardest, isn't it? You've a good idea about a lot of the things
you want to say, you know for sure whether you want to recommend this book or whether you don't. You just don't know where and how to start. You need a lead-in somehow. And this is where it's very easy to go wrong. Before you know it, you've waffled three paragraphs about how you came to buy the book, where you were, what you were wearing, what you had for dinner that day. STOP NOW! Personal detail is good, but does anyone really want to know all this stuff? Be honest. No, they probably don't. Keep your introduction, if it's not about the book itself, brief. Often, I don't bother with an introduction at all; when I'm reading book reviews introductions rarely interest me, so I figure it's unlikely that my introductions will interest you lot. More often than not then, I move straight into the next section which is... PLOT SUMMARY Ahh. I do want to have some idea of what a book is about before I read it. Subject matter is important. Jillory Murphy, for example, doesn't read much fantasy, or much detective fiction, or much horror, or FOR SURE, much Bridget Jones style clit lit. She reads contemporary fiction, classic fiction and a lot of non-fiction, especially biographies. She likes satire. You really do need to let your reader know a bit about the plot, or storyline, of the book you're reviewing. This will be their most basic clue as to whether it's something that would or wouldn't interest them. A simple way to begin a plot summary is to take the lead character in the book and talk about them. For instance, you could say, "Harry Potter lives with his aunt, uncle and cousin because his mother and father died when he was just a baby. It is not a happy home, and Harry is resented and ill treated by his guardians, while his cousin is spoiled and indulged at every turn. It's a miserable life. Harry spends much of his time shut up in the cupboard under the stairs, in the dark. But one day, the
oddest thing happens. Harry receives a letter. But it's no ordinary letter." You see? It's as easy as that. You don't need to waffle three paragraphs on introduction, you can just jump straight in. It's is as easy as that. A plot summary is what you might call a setting of the scene. Whether it's fiction or non-fiction, you need to give your readers some idea of what the book's all about. But here, in this section, less is more. If your opinion is all plot summary, if you simply precis the book, then why would anyone bother to buy it on your say so? The cardinal, cardinal sin in this section is to give away too much plot, and even, horror of horrors, tell everyone what happens in the end. That is not a helpful thing to do. As much as you should never assume your reader knows anything about the book you're reviewing, you should never make a purchase pointless for them. Set the scene as we did above, follow that up with a little bit about where the storyline is going to take the reader, but don't actually take the reader there. So I'd add after my little jump-in up there, "It's an invitation, delivered by owl mail, to attend wizard school. For just as the letter is no ordinary letter, Harry is no ordinary boy. Harry is a wizard and it is time to learn his craft. At Hogwart's though, Harry finds he must do more than learn to fly a broomstick and cast a spell, for Harry must also come face to face with Voldemort, the evil wizard, who turned to the bad, murdered his parents and is now in search of the Philosopher's Stone, hidden at Hogwarts. Only Harry can stop him." Then, we can move on to the next section which is... PERSONAL REACTION Oh, this is the most important part. Think back to actually reading your book. How did you feel? Were you turning the pages one after the other, desperate to know what happened next? Did you laugh? Did you cry? Did it make you angry? Did it engag
e your emotions? When you'd finished reading did the book make you think about anything? What did it make you think about? Did you understand what the author was saying? Did you agree with it? Did you identify with any of the characters? Did you BELIEVE in any of the characters? Was the book believable? Was it supposed to be? Did you find it funny, or sad, or thoughtful, or angry, or polemical? Tell us, tell me, how you felt. Here, for example, I'd say, "I put down Rowling's book feeling only half satisfied. I did want to finish it, I did want to turn the page, I did hope that Harry and his chums would vanquish the evil Voldemort. I laughed at Hagrid, Hogwart's most eccentric member of staff, I thought the game of wizard chess where Harry's friend Ron plays an absolute blinder was jolly exciting. I loved the way that Harry's a kind of accidental hero, how he discovers a potential, both personally and magically, that he had no idea he possessed. But an equal part of me felt rather let down. Hype does that to you. I was expecting a delight and I didn't get a delight. I got a reasonable read and a superficial, fleeting engagement with our heroic junior wizard, but somehow I got less than I thought I would." And then we can move on to the next section which is... EXPLAINING IT ALL This is probably the hardest part. You need now to explain why you think you reacted as you did when you read. If you were moved then why were you moved? If you weren't, what was it that left you cold? If you liked the book why did it suit you so well? If you didn't, why didn't it? Would it suit some other people better? Was there anything you felt could have been done better? What was the writing like? So here I'd say, " Why was that? Well, I think if you strip away the magic from Harry Potter, you find that you're left with not a great deal that's new or exciting. Take away the wizards and you have Mallory
Towers, add a mystery and you have the Hardy Boys. There's nothing wrong with either Mallory Towers or the Hardy Boys of course, and there's nothing actually wrong with Harry Potter either. It's just not new. For me, in truth, Harry Potter turned out to be bubblegum. It's nicely crafted, tightly plotted, well-written even, but it really is a formulaic book. Unlikely hero triumphs over odds finding strength of personality and courage in himself along the way. It's been done before a hundred times. And here, in Harry Potter, it's been done well, don't get me wrong, but the hype had made me want more. And more I'm afraid, was sadly lacking. I'm glad Harry Potter has made children want to read books, that can only be a good thing, but I sure do hope it's made a few of them want to read something rather more challenging." And with that, we can now start to think of ending our review with... THE BORING INFORMATIONY BITS By now, we've told our reader what Harry Potter's about, we've told the reader whether we liked his book or whether we didn't and we've explained why we felt as we did. All that's really left it to tie up the loose ends. We need a nice simple conclusion that draws together what we've already said and makes it very clear whether we're recommending a purchase or not. Perhaps we might think a book has something for everyone, perhaps we think it might suit some but not all readers, and perhaps we think it's absolute tosh, and want to shout BUYER BEWARE at the tops of our voices. We've already given a rating out five and we need to explain it fully. Also, here, we might need to mention that a book is perhaps very expensive, or hard to obtain and to offer specific advice about purchase. So here I'd say, "I'm giving Harry Potter three stars out five. It's professionally done, it's got kids reading, it's a phenemon. Just as so many chi
ldren of previous generations loved Mallory Towers and the Hardy Boys, so is Harry Potter loved today. That's a good thing. Just don't believe the hype and expect it change your life, or your world view, or to make your children think anywhere beyond a little bit of escapism. There's nothing wrong with bubblegum. But four or five stars? I don't think so. Harry Potter is a nicely democratic, accessible book, keen readers of eight and above would enjoy it, yet an adult looking for an afternoon's light reading wouldn't be bored. I'm not sorry I read it, but I don't think I'll be heading that way again soon. Available through blanket coverage absolutely everywhere, but certainly worth checking www.thebookpeople.co.uk who often have the Potter books available at the most fantastic prices on the net." AND OUR REVIEW READS LIKE THIS Harry Potter lives with his aunt, uncle and cousin because his mother and father died when he was just a baby. It is not a happy home, and Harry is resented and ill treated by his guardians, while his cousin is spoiled and indulged at every turn. It's a miserable life. Harry spends much of his time shut up in the cupboard under the stairs, in the dark. But one day, the oddest thing happens. Harry receives a letter. But it's no ordinary letter. It's an invitation, delivered by owl mail, to attend wizard school. For just as the letter is no ordinary letter, Harry is no ordinary boy. Harry is a wizard and it is time to learn his craft. At Hogwart's though, Harry finds he must do more than learn to fly a broomstick and cast a spell, for Harry must also come face to face with Voldemort, the evil wizard, who turned to the bad, murdered his parents, and is now in search of the Philosopher's Stone, hidden at Hogwarts. Only Harry can stop him. I put down Rowling's book feeling only half satisfied. I did want to finish it, I did want to turn the page, I did hop
e that Harry and his chums would vanquish the evil Voldemort. I laughed at Hagrid, Hogwart's most eccentric member of staff, I thought the game of wizard chess where Harry's friend Ron plays an absolute blinder was jolly exciting. I loved the way that Harry's a kind of accidental hero, how he discovers a potential, both personally and magically, that he had no idea he possessed. But an equal part of me felt rather let down. Hype does that to you. I was expecting a delight and I didn't get a delight. I got a reasonable read and a superficial, fleeting engagement with our heroic junior wizard, but somehow I got less than I thought I would. Why was that? Well, I think if you strip away the magic from Harry Potter, you find that you're left with not a great deal that's new or exciting. Take away the wizards and you have Mallory Towers, add a mystery and you have the Hardy Boys. There's nothing wrong with either Mallory Towers or the Hardy Boys of course, and there's nothing actually wrong with Harry Potter either. It's just not new. For me, in truth, Harry Potter turned out to be bubblegum. It's nicely crafted, tightly plotted, well-written even, but it really is a formulaic book. Unlikely hero triumphs over odds finding strength of personality and courage in himself along the way. It's been done before a hundred times. And here, in Harry Potter, it's been done well, don't get me wrong, but the hype had made me want more. And more I'm afraid, was sadly lacking. I'm glad Harry Potter has made children want to read books, that can only be a good thing, but I sure do hope it's made a few of them want to read something rather more challenging. I'm giving Harry Potter four stars out five. It's professionally done, it's got kids reading, it's a phenemon. Just as so many children of previous generations loved Mallory Towers and the Hardy Boys, so is Harry Potter loved today. Tha
t's a good thing. Just don't believe the hype and expect it change your life, or your world view, or to make your children think anywhere beyond a little bit of escapism. There's nothing wrong with bubblegum. But five stars? I don't think so. Harry Potter is a nicely democratic, accessible book, keen readers of eight and above would enjoy it, yet an adult looking for an afternoon's light reading wouldn't be bored. I'm not sorry I read it, but I don't think I'll be heading that way again soon. Available through blanket coverage absolutely everywhere, but certainly worth checking www.thebookpeople.co.uk who often have the Potter books available at the most fantastic prices on the net. ANYTHING ELSE THEN MISSY CLEVER PANTS? Well, yes. Sorry! There, above you have a simple book review. It wasn't hard, was it? It was as easy as pie! Nothing intimidating about it all. Now you should all go off and write some book opinions of your own. Like I said, there aren't nearly enough around here. There are different sorts of book reviews of course, not all are novels, for children or otherwise. But if you follow those steps, you can adapt this method to almost any kind of book. Let's take a very short (or we'll be here all day) version of what I'd have to say about a cookery book: Delia Smith's How To Cook In this book Delia, Diva, Doyenne, Duchess of British cookery, takes us through every stage of cooking from boiling an egg for tea to the poshest of posh dinner parties. No detail is missed, no tip found too patronising to mention. Everything's included here. Delia Smith is the Barbara Woodhouse, Brown Owl, 1950s Grammar School Mistress of the kitchen. Often lambasted for treating her readers as idiots she had many enemies and detractors, yet I keep her book in prime position on my kitchen shelf. Why? Well, she doesn't inspire me to create wonderful dishes, she doesn't
leave my mouth watering at the sound of her wonderful recipes, but what she does do is provide an invaluable reference work that makes me feel confident that if I'm not sure, and I follow her advice, I'll be more than likely to get it right. See? We said what's in the book, what Delia's like, what we like, why we like it, why some people don't, and why we'd recommend for purchase. To make a really good book review, all we'd need to do is a elaborate a wee bit more. But it's the same method we used to review Harry Potter. There really isn't much else to say, I don't think, except a few little personal whinges: *DON'T make your entire review a storyline rehash. That doesn't make a recommendation to anyone. Above all never give a spoiler. *DON'T write five thousand words or we'll all be asleep by the end. *DON'T regurgitate your English A Level lesson at us, for this is a consumer website, not an essay writing competition. *DON'T quote litcritters at us, this is an OPINION website. It's your opinion that counts here, not other people's. *DON'T do chapter by chapter summaries (unless you're writing about a textbook), they're boring. *DON'T waffle for three paragraphs before you actually start telling us about the book. I reserve the right to break any of my own rules at any time though! But truly, there is nothing at all hard in writing a book review, and I really, really, REALLY REALLY REALLY want you all to write more of them. Hurry up then!
Introduction: I've been lucky enough to receive Crowns for some of my book reviews here on Dooyoo and was so inspired by this that I went on to start my own book review website with fellow Dooyoo'er Trevor15. (It was one of The Independent newspapers "websites of the week" last month!) This alone probably doesn't qualify me to try and instruct people on how to write a good book review. However, I also read a lot of books - usually around three a day.(Yes, you did read that correctly!) This means that I am always desperately looking for recommendations for books on which to spend my hard-earned money. Therefore, I am in a perfect position to tell you what a reader wants to see in a Dooyoo book review - ladies and gentlemen, I am that reader. Chapter 1. For me, the biggest sin that any book reviewer can commit is to reveal too much of the plot. Thus, what I want to read in a book review, is nothing more than is revealed on the book's jacket. Now this doesn't mean that I just want a straightforward rehash of the publishers' blurb - there's more to it than that. What it means is that I want to be able to read the book eventually without having first read a condensed version in a Dooyoo review. I want to be tempted to rush off to amazon as soon as I've rated VU and nominated your review for a Crown, rather than to feel that, having read the review, there's little point in buying the book. Chapter 2. I want to know for whom a particular book is best suited. Is it fact or fiction? I'd like to know if it contains four-letter words or graphic sex scenes, preferably before I buy it for my Aunt for Christmas. Is it controversial? Does it contain descriptions of, say, animal cruelty or drug abuse or bloody murders that might upset more sensitive readers? For children's books, I'd also like to know for what age group the book is recommended. Is there any point in me buying a b
ook for my fourteen-year old niece because I read a good review of it on Dooyoo and think it sounds interesting, only to find when it arrives that it's actually written for the under ten's? Chapter 3. I'd like to be told just a little bit about the author. Not reams of information about where he/she was born, whether or not he/she is married and what he/she had for breakfast but things that are relevant to their writing. Have they won literary prizes, are they an experienced journalist, is this the first or fifty-first book they've written. A sentence or two should suffice. Sometimes, I'd even like to know about the book's cover. One of the best books I've ever read ("Make Believe" by Joanna Scott - do read it!) has a cover that, if I saw it in a shop, would inspire me only to put it back on the shelf and move to something more interesting. If there's anything special about the cover, tell me - if not, then I don't want (or need) to know. Chapter 4. What the critics say about a book on the jacket can sometimes speak volumes about it's content. I recently reviewed a book in which three of the critics included the word "complex" in their comments - my version would have been "bloody impossible to understand"! A book "recommended" by Stephen King is likely to be very different to one "recommended" by Bill Bryson - tell me about it, but briefly, please and don't forget to use quotation marks to let me know exactly who said what. Chapter 5. Tell me just a little about the style of writing, but, please, don't over analyse it. I don't want to read a school essay or a university assignment. In fact, I'd really rather not read too much about your interpretation. So if you feel deep in your heart that the book parodies "Mein Kampf" or that the main character is subliminally based on Toad of Toad Hall, keep
it to yourself and allow me to make up my own mind. (I'd like to be able to read the book myself without feeling intellectually inferior if I don't see the connection.) However, I have no objection to being told that a book is written in the style of Stephen King or Catherine Cookson - that really would help me to decide whether or not I wanted to buy it. Personally, I'd also like you to include just a couple of short quotes from the book to give me a flavour and whet my appetite, but I'd really rather they were sentences than whole paragraphs. Chapter 6. I'd love to know why you personally enjoyed or didn't enjoy the book and why you bought it (but not what the shop assistant who sold it to you was wearing at the time.) Are you a big fan of the author's work or is it a new discovery? For example, I'm a big fan of Stephen King, so much so that I'd probably read his shopping list if he ever published it. Because of this, it might be that my reviews of his books are not objective. I'm going to love the book anyway,but that doesn't mean that anyone else automatically will.If you're a fan of a particular author, tell me about it. Say "I have read every single one of his books and love his writing and this book is his best / worst / about the same as all the others." Chapter 7 Presentation of a review is important. Break it up into paragraphs so that it is easy on the eye and be sure to read it through before you post it. Always use quotation marks when necessary and, if possible, run your review through a spell checker before submitting it. Further reading. To me, there can be no better recommendation of a Dooyoo book reviewer than to say that they have cost me money. To say that I have read their reviews of a particular book and whizzed off to amazon as soon as I read the last word in order to buy the book they have reviewed. I am therefore extremely ung
rateful to the following Dooyoo writers who have driven me to near bankruptcy with their skill as reviewers. In alphabetical order -IainWear, jillmurphy, JOHNDMR, KingHerrod, Trevor15. If you really want to write a good book review, then reading some of their reviews for inspiration might be as good a place as any to start.