As authors, we would like the general public to believe that book reviews hold little or no importance to us. We would have you think that such write-ups are minor side effects or consequences of our career as we get on with the real business at hand—writing. And of course that should be our real focus. But we can no more deny the real effects that book reviews have on us and our readers than we can the effect of an Academy Award nomination on the career of an actor.
People take heed to what is said. Once it is said or read we can’t undo the effects. The thing is, distinguishing a good, solid review as opposed to a bashing, venting or an out and out rant of the story or book.
The purpose of a book review
When giving a good review whether you are a professional or just an avid reader, keep in mind the purpose of a book review: It is to inform potential readers of your opinion and to give merit as to whether a book is worth the read. As a reader of your review, I would hope that it is not biased, but objective based on your varied reading experience and knowledge of prose. For example, perhaps you are prochoice, but the protagonist in the book you have just read has a mission of destroying abortion clinics all over the country. Your review should be unbiased and not based on your beliefs for or against the subject.
Was the story well written?
Well written stories have specific and vivid detail. The wording is crisp, accurate and precise. You are drawn in to the suspension of disbelief. In other words based on description of characters, setting and dialogue you are able to step away, temporarily from your own experiences and believe in the plausibility of that story, for that time without judgment.
Also, does the story have a natural flow? Does it progress with great timing, not flitting here and there like a nervous bird as if the writer was not quite sure where he was going? If he doesn’t know, at this point, who does?
Was the story compelling?
Honestly, I have read books with rich, specific and colorful detail and that was the best part of the book. I was completely pulled in with anticipation thinking, this is going to be good, only to realize that the risk for the protagonist was minimal or not really a risk at all. There was no driving force.
A protagonist can be a complete jerk. You absolutely can’t stand him. But–his reputation is at stake. His life is at stake, or that of his family. You must know what happens to him. It is what compels you to keep reading. It is what causes you to pick it up during your lunch hour, read into the late hours of the night. You can’t wait for dinner to be over so that you can delve right back into it. A compelling story is tightly written. The main characters have taken a path, the path of least resistance but even that one is risky and could end badly. He could lose it all. He could fail and that would be to his demise. Ask yourself as you are reading: Were the reasons for not pursuing the other paths clearly given or at least implied? Otherwise, you will read and find yourself saying, Well, if he would have just…he could have avoided this entire mess. But keep in mind that his chosen path is based on the character’s personality background, history. If he is naturally driven, then for him, turning back is not an option. But if his other options were viable, possible, less risky, then, that is a problem.
Secondly, did the story move too slowly with a lot of unnecessary details and you find yourself skipping over them just to get to the good parts? Or perhaps there are too many subplots and characters and not enough story to convince you that all are necessary or there are simply too many for you to care about.
A rant is not a book review
What you want to avoid in a book review is a rant about how much you hated the book, or how the characters are stupid or dumb, without giving the potential reader of your review specific reasons for despising it so. Such descriptions are unproductive and they do not give the reader or the writer anything they can work with.
Ultimately, if you are writing a book review for the public to read, you want it to truly be useful and fair. Otherwise it is not a review in the true sense.