Thursday, April 18, 2019

Fiction Reviews: What They Are, How to Write Them by Elizabeth Alsobrooks

Unless it’s a book about politics, a book review is not the place to grind your political agenda and convert the world to whatever your current persuasion or social opinion might be. If that’s what you want to write about, you’re not really reviewing a book, you are either attacking a person, the author, a group of people who don’t’ think as you do, or preaching, in which case it’s all about you and still has little to do with the actual book. Readers know what news channel to turn to in order to hear their opinions echoed back at them, and it’s a shame that some reviewers think in a political shaming environment book reviews is just another venue for spreading their own hatred.

What a book review should be is a brief description of the plot in order to gain the reader’s attention, and then the reviewer’s opinion of the story and its elements.  Remember that reviews are an opinion, but one that should be explained. Following is a brief explanation of how a good review is constructed.


Readers don’t need an opinion of a book that doesn’t interest them, so the first thing you should do is offer a short description without spoilers. Think back of book kind of info, so the reader knows if it’s the sort of book they enjoy reading in general. But keep this even shorter than the blurb. Too many reviews bore readers with long, drawn out explanations of every single character and what amounts to a plot outline. If you tell too much about the story, why do they need to bother reading it themselves? They’re not looking for Cliff Notes, they just want a recommendation.

Pick Up or Forget

Next, let the reader know right away if it’s a thumb’s up or down. You can have a catchy first sentence that uses words that urge the reader to get the book or forget it before you even go into the intro. Use it as your hook. You will explain why later. Amazon demonstrates this by not letting you post a review without posting a catch-their-attention opening line.

Your Opinion

Remember that this is just your opinion, and everyone has one. Be as clear and concise as you can. What worked and/or what didn’t? This includes characters, events (without spoilers, using things like, what such-and-such did seemed out of character, or the middle sagged and you skipped entire pages, etc.).


Use ratings, such as stars or scales. Almost all online reviewing opportunities provide you with a rating system. This helps readers immediately understand your overall opinion (so don’t give a glowing review and pair it with a mediocre rating, which only confuses readers). Most readers already know what a five star review is and how it works, but if you use some unique rating system, be sure to explain how it works.

Read Examples

Just like anything else, if you want to learn how it’s done, look at an example. Writers are avid readers for a reason.  Read reviews and see how they are constructed. Examine one you like and deconstruct it by asking yourself questions such as:  How did they begin? How did they let me know if they liked and recommend it or whether I should give it a pass? What examples did they use? Did they explain their opinions without using spoilers? How did they do that? Some of the best reviewers, the most followed bloggers, do this extremely well. Not only do they have followers who like to read what they are reviewing, but those who like their reviewing style and voice. Find your own voice, but include some of the same elements in your own reviews, whether it’s great quotes, humor, or a friendly almost conversational tone. Find what works for you.

Pros and Cons

What was it grandma used to say? “If you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all.” Well, that doesn’t always work when writing a review. However, you really can find something good to say about a book. So even though you are giving your opinion, remember to be kind and review the work, not the writer. Even if you’re a psychologist, it’s not your place to critique the person. You don’t even know them. Remember, even the worst books have some element that is praise worthy, whether it’s a great character, a heartfelt theme, or a smooth narration. Don’t be rude. If you think a book is boring, don’t say that. Explain why it didn’t hold your attention. Be mindful. Many reviewers simply refuse to review books they can’t at least give three stars to, as they aren’t trying to ruin anyone’s livelihood, just recommend good reads. If it’s at least three stars, they can give an overview, their opinions and let readers decide for themselves—which they will ultimately do. Whatever you include, include an explanation. Tell the reader why you thought something was good or bad. They need to understand your point in order to help them decide for themselves. If you recommend a book, don’t forget to include who you would recommend it to. What kind of reader will enjoy the book? That’s part of being thorough.


Just like any other writer, you have to reread, edit and proofread your writing. Your opinion will carry more weight if your reader perceives you as professional.

So now you know how to thank your favorite authors and aid fellow readers in choosing a good book, or avoiding one they may not enjoy as much as others. Write a review and become the next great blogger, or just share your love of reading with a short, well-constructed critique.


Maureen said...

Great tips for a book review! Thanks!

Diane Burton said...

Good post, Elizabeth. I try to write reviews as soon as I finish a book. I only finish books that I like, so my reviews are usually 4 or 5 stars. Unless it's a book my book group decided to read, then I might finish it.

Nancy Gideon said...

Thanks for putting on your educator hat, Dr. E! I am very reluctant to provide a review unless it's for an author I know and can trust that their work is something I'd enjoy. When I plan to write them, I make notes to 'self' as I read of events, passages, quotes that made an impression so the review is practically written by the time I finish. Knowing how much heart and soul the author pours into their finished product, I usually won't give a negative review unless it's a service to future readers so they won't invest in something that's poorly written and even then, will try to find a positive point to take away the sting.

Nothing worse than getting a review that starts: "I don't like/never read this kind of book . . ." or "I can't stand this author" because that's a personal preference/predjudice and in no way relates to the quality of the work, itself. Those 1-stars amongst a galaxy of 4s and 5s - you know the ones I mean! - of personal attacking bitterness on every book you write - sometimes before they are released! (Why would you read more than one if you loathe them? If they were read at all!) - sigh. A rite of passage, I guess, to be endured.