Writing an effective book review can feel like a struggle. But, there are a few key aspects that book reviews I really enjoy and find useful all share. Find the traits I look for in book reviews below!
Bloggers often protest that blogging is a hobby, not school, so what they learned in school no longer applies. However, the basics of writing that are taught in schools are useful in the real world! And, what is more, they actually can make writing more effective!
When I read a book review, I want to see a structure that will guide me through the review and give me an easy way to understand the information being presented. At a minimum, this means I prefer to see some sort of thesis sentence at the end of the first paragraph (basically, is the reviewer recommending the book or not–bonus points if they say why). And I want the paragraphs to be organized in a coherent manner, with each paragraph addressing one main idea or related ideas at least, and transitions between paragraphs. There should be a conclusion again stating if the reviewer is recommending the book or not, which readers they think the book will appeal to, whether they will continue with the series or more books by the author, etc.–any sort of thoughts that wrap up the review in a logical way.
Because I recognize that blogging is just for fun, my standards are obviously not going to be as rigorous as if I were reading a research paper–and, indeed, my own blog writing is far more informal and less rigid than anything I would do for school or for work. However, a logical structure really is an effective way to get one’s point across in an easy, accessible manner. And so it is something I value because it makes my reading experience more enjoyable–I do not have to work to guess what the main point of the review is, or what the review is trying to say. Blogging might not be for school, but the principles of effective writing still apply.
Also check out Briana’s post: “Four Things I Learned About Writing in School I Also Use While Writing My Blog”
An Actual Review (Not a Summary)
Summaries just tell a person what a book is about–and the official summaries for a book are easily found online on sites such as Goodreads or booksellers. When I read a review, I want to read an actual review, not a lengthy recap of the storyline. A review can touch on various aspects of a work–characterization, plot, pacing, prose, illustrations, and more. But it should give the reviewer’s original, personal views on how/if these aspects of the work contributed to a good story. I should leave a review having a clearer understanding of whether the book is something I want to invest my time in.
Because blogging is a hobby, I hesitate to say that there is a standard size all book reviews must be. However, I do think it is a fact that a longer review is going to be able to provide readers with more information. A one paragraph review only has time to gloss over a few, main aspects of a work. A review that is four to five paragraphs has room to expand on different aspects of the book. I prefer to read longer reviews because those give me more information to make an informed decision about what I want to read.
It’s fine to write negative reviews! Indeed, I would argue that the existence of negative reviews is necessary to keep reviews useful. If we only have glowing reviews, those are not reviews–that’s just advertising. However, there is a difference between respectfully pointing out aspects of a book or story that did not work for a reader, and personally attacking authors. I appreciate negative reviews, but I don’t like to interact with reviewers who seem spiteful or out to get authors. Authors are people, too, and, like everyone, they deserve common courtesy.
Also read: “Negative Reviews Aren’t ‘Mean;’ They’re Integral to Selling Books”
Writing an effective, informative review can be difficult! It is a skill that many reviewers spend time practicing and mastering. I know that I have to keep working on my own reviews, trying to write the kind of content others hopefully find valuable. But it’s definitely worth the effort!
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21 thoughts on “What I Look for in a Book Review”
Love this 🤩🤩 book reviews are such integral part of the community and they are so helpful when deciding what to read! Thanks for sharing this post 😊
Yes, I still love reading book reviews! That’s a big reason I joined the book blogging community!
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Agree on the critical reviews – what works for someone may not work for others, so as long as you explain why you liked or didn’t like a book, it may get someone else to read. For example, I hate the instalove trope but I’m sure someone out there loves it!
Yes, for sure! There are negative reviews I’ve read that made me want to read a book! One person’s hated trope might be one of my favorites!
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I tend to write short reviews, averaging 3-4 shortish paragraphs. I’ll be upfront with the genre and often the setting as it’s what I look for in a review, then I’ll mention the main characters and a bit about the story-line. I say what I liked and what didn’t work for me, but hopefully I balance things so that potential readers will get a feel for the book.
I do struggle to get across my emotions if I really like a book, I don’t naturally gush with words, so those reviews are more of a challenge, especially when trying to avoid spoilers.
I definitely find it challenging not to write major spoilers! I want to be able to talk about what worked and what didn’t work for me, and that means pointing to the text! But, I guess in a vague, hopefully non-spoilery way.
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I write longer review than I originally plan. I do have some sort of structure and also prefer to see that in other reviews. I always want to know why readers will cut the stars. I have noticed most reviewers avoid that point, they write all positive things but then give it 4 stars or 3 that always make me think ‘why’. I’m okay with any length as long as all points are mentioned clearly. I’m to-the-point person and prefer that in my reviews or the ones I read.
Yes, that’s so true! Sometimes I start writing a review and I realize I’m just going on and on…and I probably need to stop! But that’s the fun part of blogging, when you realize you were so invested in a book, you now have all these thoughts about it!
Oh, and that’s true, too! I have seen confusing star ratings where the ratings seemed low, but the review was positive and even the other way around!
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When I review books, I tend to write 600-800 words. That sort of length gives me the space to expand on the book’s aspects, but also keeps from from droning on about a point I am passionate about.
And I agree about critical reviews being necessary. Everything can’t be wonderful, and I am not going to claim a book is good when I think it’s terrible. That would be dishonest.
That sounds like a good rule to have! I know I sometimes realize my review is now something like eight paragraphs and it’s probably too long for the average reader of blogs to want to scroll through. Sometimes I just need to cut myself off!
Yeah, I also find really positive people…harder to get to know? Maybe? Like I know some people in real life who only say nice things and it feels sometimes like I don’t know what they’re really thinking or if all this positive stuff is genuine. I think if something is really awful, it’s fine to acknowledge it. I find it much weirder to pretend everything awful is sunshine and rainbows.
Very good tips! I’ve seen so many different approaches to reviews on book blogs, and people should absolutely do what works for them — but at the same time, from a personal preference perspective, I prefer to read reviews that are concise, give a good explanation of why the reviewer felt the way they did, and provide enough information to help me understand if the book is something that would appeal to me. (Also, no GIFs! I know people love to use them, but they immediately distract me and make me not want to read the actual content.)
I don’t like reviews with GIFs, either! I find my eye just scrolling through the GIFs and completely ignoring the text. I know some people really love them, though!
It sounds as though we appreciate very similar things in reviews. I try my best to stick with these things when I write my own reviews and I love seeing them with others as well. I really enjoyed this post!
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True! I try to follow my own advice, I guess sometimes with varying success!
I agree with nearly everything you mentioned here. I find I appreciate longer book reviews more than short, 3-4 sentence reviews. I usually want to know more than those shorter reviews give me. I also strongly believe in posting critical reviews. I think it’s a disservice to the reading community at large to not share your true thoughts. Because omitting the critical reviews can theoretically skew the average opinion to the more positive side.
The one area where my opinion differs is incorporating a thesis sentence at the end of the first paragraph that says whether or not you’d recommend the book. I feel that it might bias the reader of the review before they even finish reading said review. Instead what I opt to do is first explore what I thought was good about the book before going into what I thought wasn’t. And then I use the last paragraph for concluding thoughts and let the reader of the review decide if my comments on what I didn’t like sway them one way or the other.
I agree with so much of what you said. For my own reviews I don’t set limits on the length of my review. I find that I just write until I don’t have anything left to say or sometimes I find myself struggling to say anything!
I too prefer longer reviews that don’t just summarize the work. Great points.
Love this post! This is all that I look for in a review as well. And bonus point if it has a funny or engaging voice 🙂
This is such a cool post! I’ve never thought about it this way before, but there are definitely reasons I like/don’t like certain types of reviews. Seeing your comment about the length of a review is so great, especially when BookTok and Bookstagram (which I love in its own right) seem to be taking over the bookish community.