Writing a helpful book review 

book stairsThe number one, best thing you can do before you write a word is to pretend that you’re telling a friend about the book. That way, it will sound casual, conversational and, most importantly, it will sound like you. Remember, you’re not reviewing a book for the New York Times; you’re not writing a doctoral dissertation or trying to impress anyone. You’re just writing a review for people like yourself in order to help them decide whether or not they might like it. That said, here are 3 easy steps:

1. Start with a couple of sentences describing what the book is about.

Although this is optional, some readers like to begin by writing a sentence or two describing the book. If you’re stuck on this, remember that, at their most basic, every story is about a character [who?] from a place [where?] and time [when?], who does something and/or has something done to them [what?] which causes them to change in some way [why?] into a different person [how?]. Here are some color-coded examples using well-known movies. Can you guess what they are?

  • Who is the book about?
    • An innocent man serving a life sentence for murdering his wife …
    • A restless girl…
    • A beautiful young woman…
  • Where does it take place?
    • in rural Maine…
    • on a Kansas farm…
    • in the American South
  • When does it take place?
    • in the 1940s…
    • in the early 1900s…
    • during the Civil War…
  • What are they doing, or what is being done to them?
    • endures the abuse of guards and other prisoners…
    • is swept away by a tornado and wakes up in another land…
    • schemes and manipulates…
  • Why must the character change?
    • and decides that the only way that he can respect himself…
    • only to find that there’s no place like home…
    • in order to survive the war and win the man she loves…
  • How does the character change; or how does the character desire to change?
    • is by proving his innocence or escaping from prison.
    • and going to incredible lengths to get back there.
    • only to find that what you need is often something you already have.

Ideally, a book review doesn’t give away major plot points from the middle of the book or reveal the ending of the book (these are called “spoilers”). However, if you do decide to include spoilers, be sure to say so right in the first sentence of your review.

2. Briefly explain what you liked about the book. Some helpful questions to consider:

  • Did you have a favorite character? If so, why were they your favorite?
  • Did you feel that you could relate to the character(s)?
  • Was the story full of surprises?
  • Was the ending satisfying?
  • What was your favorite part of the story?
  • Did the author succeed in making you laugh/swoon/panic/cry?
  • Was the book difficult to put down?
  • Would you read this author’s other books?

 

3. Briefly explain what you disliked about the book. Some helpful questions to consider:

  • Was the ending a disappointment?
  • Did you dislike or not care about a particular character?
  • Did the plot bore you?
  • Did you dislike the author’s writing style?

Good luck!