Reviewing books can be a daunting experience. Deciding what to discuss is not always simple. And to make matters worse there isn’t a single way to achieve a decent review, each blogger has their own personal approach to it. I find very useful to take notes of my immediate thoughts while reading, either on a notebook or on my phone, so when the time comes to draft the review I mainly just have to put my scribbles together in a coherent and understandable manner.
I always start by mentioning the star rating. I see it as a way of condensing in a number my feelings about a book. Despite not awarding half ratings, I don’t like all the books that I give the same star rating to equally. It’s only by reading the review that you can understand my different levels of enjoyment. 4-star books, for example, could almost have been either 3-star or 5-star reads. It’s the subsequent review that fully explains my opinions on a book.
In regard to my reviews of novels, they usually respect a four-part structure. In the introductory paragraph, I mention what struck me the most about the book. That can be its overall message, a general idea about the plot, the fundamental point made by the author, my feelings about it compared to my expectations, the contrast with other books by the same author or a more specific feature (such as a character, the writing style, the structure chosen by the author, etc).
Next, I sum up the initial storyline. I prefer writing my own summary of what happens during the first third of the book or less, with no spoilers, than to copy and paste the blurb. I think that blurbs can occasionally be misleading and either be too evasive or reveal too much. They are a marketing tool after all and often focus on the element that publishers think that may sell the highest number of copies. I personally like to know the beginning of the story from the perspective of other readers.
Then comes the time to explain my views more comprehensively. In this part, I tend to focus, for example, on the personalities of the characters, the writing style, the quality of the dialogue and the pacing. I highlight some of the messages conveyed and write more in depth about what I liked and didn’t like. Frequently, I use quotes from the book in order to illustrate some of my points. In some instances, I may mention some of these topics beforehand when they are connected with a specific plot point, though. The last part is obviously the conclusion, which I use to sum up in a couple of sentences my general feelings about the book.
Poetry and short story collections require a slightly different approach in my opinion. In the introductory paragraph, I usually start by mentioning the common characteristics between the various stories or poems. Then I explore my thoughts further. I may highlight a specific story or poem, but I don’t review each one individually. Instead I group them either according to similar themes, writing styles, structures or my general feelings about them. I also don’t necessarily mention every single poem or story in collection.
The first post I wrote for this blog was a review of The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. At the time, I wasn’t really sure of how I wanted to structure my reviews. I hadn’t really put much thought into it. As I continued reviewing books, I realised that I tended to follow this structure and that I liked them this way, although they are not always as well-written as they could be. I found it surprisingly helpful to put these ideas into words. Hopefully, you found it interesting to read as well.