Discussion Post: Keeping Book Reviews Fresh

Discussion Post Stars

I have seen a lot of bloggers write very honest and compelling posts about their struggles to remain invested in blogging.  Particularly when the site hits and the comments seem to be missing, it is easy to wonder what the “point” of blogging is and to lose motivation.  Bloggers have come up with a number of effective responses to this situation, but one strategy in particular is finding something new to do with the blog.  Starting a new feature or adding movie reviews or soliciting guest posts from other bloggers seems to help bloggers feel that their places on the web are fresh and meaningful.

I admit, after three years of blogging, I have not really felt this depression—not to the point where I have considering quitting blogging, at least.  However, I realized recently that I sometimes deal with this problem on a more micro scale.  I don’t think my blog in general is in need of some revamping—but I sometimes think my reviews do.  I write them and read them and worry that they all sound the same.

Maybe this is all in my head (and if it is, please do let me know).  However, I think there is something to the thought.  Reviews are, of course, in a general sense about “what is good about the book” and “what is bad about the book.”  However, I think readers, being individuals with personal preferences, may focus on certain aspects of books.  Some readers enjoy books that are character driven.  Some don’t care who drives what as long as the plot is fast-paced.  Some aren’t impressed by how exciting the plot is if they don’t find the characters likable.  Individual readers look for certain things in books, so it stands to reason that they would comment on these things in all their reviews.

My reviews are partially driven by my internship with a publishing house a few years ago.  I’m not claiming that everything I write for the blog is worthy of being a reader’s report for a top editor somewhere in NYC, but I do keep in the back of my mind some of the things the editors asked me to comment on when I read manuscripts for them: the voice of the novel, whether the novel is character driven (a big preference for the editors I worked with), how much of the story is action and how much is character development, the pacing of the novel, whether I recommend the book, and whom I would recommend the book to (hopefully as specific as “fans of Sarah Dessen” and not just “fans of contemporary YA”).  And, of course, general comments on “what is good” and “what needs improvement and how it can be improved.”

The issue?  If I am working with an unofficial list of things to comment on, it seems as though my reviews run the risk of sounding very similar.  Of course, the details will always be different—whether the voice is compelling or whether the voice sounds forced—but I am still talking consistently about voice.  (Actually “voice” may be a poor example because I’m not sure that’s one I do talk about a lot, but you get the point.)

But I have found my own partial solution: I find a lot of inspiration for my reviews by looking at themes.   I believe the technical aspects of books are crucial, and really do enjoy commenting on writing style, character development, pacing, etc.  However, themes tend to be incredibly diverse throughout literature, and breaking them down—and then also remarking on how I feel about the presentation of them, and whether I agree or disagree—gives me a lot of new fodder for reviews.  Themes are also the hearts of novels, the reason I think many people read.  If a book isn’t “about” anything, if it isn’t striving to impart some type of meaning, it doesn’t necessarily matter how exciting the plot is or how likeable the characters.

Perhaps whether themes are “good” are “bad” is even more a subjective matter than whether the technicalities of writing are “good” or “bad.”  However, I think they open up a lot more issues for discussion and, ultimately, matter more to readers and more accurately determine what types of readers will like a particular book.   So, while I keep in my mind my little editors’ checklist of things to look for in novels, I always add the one thing I was never asked to discuss in that publishing house: what the book is ultimately trying to say to its readers.  And that’s how I keep reviewing interesting.

Tell me:  What do you like to comment on in your reviews?  Do you sometimes feel your reviews all sound the same?  How do you keep yours fresh?


11 thoughts on “Discussion Post: Keeping Book Reviews Fresh

  1. shuart24 says:

    In my reviews, I like to write about a scene that stands out in my memory long after I’ve finished the book or even movie. If I can identify what made that scene special, I can identify what made the book special. Of course, this will often come around to theme, but this tends to keep my reviews fresh and interesting.

    I try to dive deeper, one could say, rather than paddle around in the shallow checklist area.


  2. M.J. Moores says:

    Most of my reviews follow a similar pattern or style and I don’t always focus on the same elements for each novel. If the writing is good and I don’t need to comment on the fact that it’s riddled with grammar errors then I like to look at what impacted me most as a reader (good and bad) and who I think would most enjoy that kind of novel.


  3. bftreviews says:

    I have a sort of template I use. I break my review into categories:Cover, Initial Thoughts, My New BFF, My Crush, Writing Style and Closing Thoughts. I find it forces my to write about all the important aspects of the book. There’s plot, characters and writing. But don’t all writers have a writing style and therefore all their writing sounds the same? Maybe it’s a good thing!


    • Briana says:

      I’ve seen other bloggers use templates with categories and I think they work out really well! I considered doing it myself at one point but just decided to keep doing what I’m doing.

      You have a point! Maybe it’s just this thing where you always think your own writing is boring.


  4. Ana @ Read Me Away says:

    I really like how you explore themes in your reviews! 🙂 Mine *kinda* follow some sort of pattern, but it really depends on what I had to say about the book.

    If I’m kinda “meh” or neutral about the book, meaning nothing spectacular stood out to me, I’ll follow this template: opening paragraph (with short summary of why I liked it or not: complex characters, quick pace, dragging pace, etc), then body paragraphs discussing one topic each (first, characters… second, pace, etc) then an overall paragraph at the end summing up why I liked it and to whom I would recommend it.

    Other times, I like to get a little more fun. I like to open some reviews with “imagine this scenario…” where a book kind of reminded me of an everyday scenario. For example, my review of the second book in a series compared the book to going to a reunion with friends, and finding out they talked way too much, etc.

    Great post! 😀


    • Briana says:

      I think you’re right that it’s more tempting to follow a mental pattern when nothing stands out about a book. If there’s nothing obviously special, or even obviously bad, it makes sense to go back to the “standard” criteria of plot, characters, pacing, etc.

      Friends who talk too much! I like that comparison!


  5. Trish @ Between My Lines says:

    Great post. This is something I think about a lot. I was starting to feel my reviews were feeling the same and often even the same phrases were cropping up. I always try to make my reviews personal so if I can relate to some part of the book I talk about that. And I’ve also tried using different review formats to stop them sounding stale. I like your idea of focusing on themes.


    • Briana says:

      Yes, that’s the worst: when you think you’re describing things exactly the same way! I felt that before, too, and had to sit down and think of some more “creative” phrases to use.

      I’ve been playing with the idea of having my co-blogger and me review the same book and then comparing reactions, just to spice things up, but that requires, well, having us read the same book–and we’re not bloggers who read to any type of schedule at all! Also, we tend to have similar opinions of many books, so I’m not sure even that would turn out very interesting!


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