Discussion: How Do You Review?

Posted 1 October, 2018 by Nikki in General / 13 Comments

I might have posted about this before, but honestly, I don’t think I’ve yet hit upon a way to review books that works for every book, and that really satisfies me looking back. After a while I read back some of my reviews and I’ve been so vague about what the book was about that it doesn’t remind me (although I can always tell whether I liked the book or not — but that usually sticks with me anyway) and a lot of my reviews come out the same. The past week I’ve started trying to be more descriptive: set the scene a bit more, for one thing, particularly because I don’t include the publisher’s summary when I post a review. I still don’t have a set procedure for myself, though — honestly, writing to a checklist makes my reviews feel all the same in another way, and makes the whole process even more mechanical and wooden.

How I go about writing reviews, generally… hmm: first, a sentence or two about how I came to pick up the book, or how I felt about doing so. ‘This book has been really hyped for months, so I finally succumbed when I saw it at the library’ — that kind of thing. Then I’m now trying to get in a bit of description — the major ideas of the book and what I think about that and the setting… I don’t want to put in spoilers, but I do try to give some idea of how it develops. And then last, what jumped out at me, for good or ill? Characters, plot points, did it remind me of something, did it go off the rails… And finally, I try and comment on who I think might like it, if the rest of my review hasn’t made it obvious. And at the ending, at the request of some of my earliest blog readers, a star rating out of five.

With non-fiction, of course, it’s a bit different; I try to explain why I’m interested and what my existing level of knowledge is, the stuff the book covers, whether the writing style is clear, and then maybe in the end who I’d recommend it for.

Of course, every so often I’ll lose my head and do something different, maybe even write a little story. But for the most part, the above is what I try to do, or am trying to do now.

So what do you put into your reviews?

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13 Responses to “Discussion: How Do You Review?”

  1. I’m never happy about my reviews. I do try to do a summary that expands on the blurb but vague enough not to spoil anything later in the book. Sometimes I get too vague! I want to try and talk more about characters, tropes, whether it has romance, sex, swearing etc to just be a bit more helpful but unless I note it all down, I’ve forgotten half of it by the time I finish the book! Ah well as long as my review is a guide that doesn’t hack people off I guess I’m happy!

  2. I used to always start off with an introduction, and then a couple paragraphs about the book before I launch into the “opinion” part of the review. I’ve learned to be more relaxed with that structure now, but I still tend to include my own summary, just become sometimes the publisher description isn’t enough and I like to write my own so I will remember!

    • Yeah, your reviews are actually part of what made me decide to try and change the way I write mine! I could really use that review sometimes.

  3. I’ve written before about what — for me — is the art of reviewing (eg https://wp.me/s2oNj1-review, which you may have seen) and from the responses to that post it’s clear that reviews can elicit as much variety as the reactions to the latest incarnation of the Doctor, whoever he or she might be.

    Speaking as both a reader and writer of reviews the one thing I absolutely hate is formulaicism (is there such a word?). You know the kind: first the details copied from Amazon or the publisher’s website, then the official publisher’s blurb, then the extended synopsis, a few comments about whether the reviewer wanted to be friends with the protagonist, then whether it’s suitable for young readers of a certain age, then a star rating and…

    You get the picture. I don’t mind any of these elements per se, of course, it’s the treatment of the book as a product that gets my goat: it’s like reading a cereal packet — blurb, a few exclamation marks, nutritional information, some colourful images. And every packet the same.

    So this is a personal response to reviews: and what I look for in others’ reviews is also honest personal responses. Each book to me is ideally an individual creation, so I look for individual approaches to that work, from reviewers whose judgement and opinion I respect. (That includes you of course!) And that’s the approach I take.

    • I definitely don’t want to end up like that! Reviews that read like someone writing a high school book report are just… useless to me.

  4. Everyone has their own way of reviewing, some can be a little more serious about how they go about it compared to others, who are more easy going. It’s whatever works for you. But, in the end, all we want is an honest review.

    • Honest is good, but some reviews can be really unhelpful in telling anything about the book if they try too hard to be vague and not give anything away! (Guilty…)

  5. I tend to write my reviews so that I can come back in 10 years and read my review and not have to read the book again. As such, my reviews contain a detailed synopsis that spoils the whole book and then a separate section on what I thought of it. Thankfully, since I rarely review new books, this isn’t an issue for those who follow me.

    It also helps that I have as my goal in blogging to make the Future Me my number one priority. All the rest of my followers, they’re just really nice icing on the cake.

    Came to this blog through Chuckles “Around the Blogs”…

    • That’s a really good policy. My goal in blogging is always to keep having fun and never let it be an obligation, but the Future Me goal sounds good too. I don’t think I have the patience to write a detailed synopsis, though!

    • By the way, I normally return the visit and comment on other people’s blogs when they comment on mine, but I am very aware that I’m not welcome there due to your views on homosexuality. You may also wish to avoid my blog, as I’m unrepentantly gender-nonconforming and homosexual.

  6. I still struggle a lot with this to be honest!
    I tried reviewing several books at once in september but couldn’t keep doing this because of uni
    I also have some classes on writing reviews actually and they make me feel self-conscious about the way I used to do it.
    Either I have too much to say and I know people won’t read those super long post or too little and it’s like it isn’t worth posting.
    Hoping to figure it out someday haha!
    But I really like the way you do it, often short and with a grade at the end that I can scroll to if I don’t have time and want to know how you felt about a title 🙂

    • I am trying to make my reviews a little bit longer now, while still making it obvious what I think/how I feel. It’s a tough line to walk!

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