fgoodwin's picture
fgoodwin February 17, 2012 - 5:15pm

I love to read so I post some of my thoughts on Amazon. 

I don't review every book I read but I have posted maybe 20 reviews over teh last 15 years or so (I know, I'm a slow reader).  But frankly, my book reviews suck and I know they do.  What are some good, free online resources to help me write better book reviews? 

I feel like I owe it to the authors to get better at this.

Thanx

Bruno Hat's picture
Bruno Hat from Glasgow, Scotland is reading writing and arithmetic February 17, 2012 - 5:24pm

I've never reviewed a book but surely it's about telling the truth? As long as you tell the truth nothing sucks.

Jose F. Diaz's picture
Jose F. Diaz from Boston is reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel February 17, 2012 - 5:27pm

Writing Good Critiques in the writer's workshop. Under resources it has a whole article about this topic. Hope this helps a bit.

Ryan Noir's picture
Ryan Noir from New York, NY is reading Tropic of Cancer February 17, 2012 - 5:35pm

I guess the first question I have is, do you love/hate the books you're trying to review? I assume you're not a professional critic and you don't have to review stuff you simply don't care about. Start with a review of something you really hate or really love.

I would make a list that looks something like this

1) Plot

  • Discussion points bulleted in a list of likes and dislikes

2) Setting

  • Ibid

3) Characters

  • Ibid

4) Etc (good compositional elements to critique: Style, Pacing, Theme)

Once you have this list, string it together in a punchy and informative manner and the review writes itself.

To me, it doesn't sound like you don't need advice on how to write a review, you probably need something that breaks out a book into it's compositional construction so you can break the book you want to review down better. For that, look at Gotham's creative writing handbook. http://www.amazon.com/Writing-Fiction-Practical-Acclaimed-Creative/dp/15...

fgoodwin's picture
fgoodwin February 22, 2013 - 9:36am

Well it's a year later and my reviews have not improved appreciably but I wanted to thank all of you for your suggestions.  

I failed to mention that most of the books I read are non-fiction (biographies, history, etc.).  And while I don't "hate" the books or authors, the sad fact is, I tend to be hyper-critical of even the slightest error of fact -- in other words, I'm nit-picky to a fault.  So maybe it's not my writing per se which is so bad (although I admit my style is rather dry and boring) but the approach I take to the material.  

I need to be more forgiving of authors who are, after all, "in the ring", as it were.  It is far too easy to be a critic.  Thanx again.

Dino Parenti's picture
Dino Parenti from Los Angeles is reading Everything He Gets His Hands On February 22, 2013 - 12:34pm

Have you reviewed yet any of the stories in the workshop? If you haven't fully joined Litreactor yet, then I suggest doind so so that you can gain the maximum benefit from it. I became a far better reviewer and reader as soon as I started to workshop other people's stories.  You quickly develop a habit of identifying the things that work and don't work. Ryan above has suggested a good starting list of the things to look for. Litreactor's workshop offers a similar, but longer list. I would use them as guidelines, and then fashion a well-reasoned critique from that. Hope this helps.

Carly Berg's picture
Carly Berg from USA is reading Story Prompts That Work by Carly Berg is now available at Amazon February 22, 2013 - 1:00pm

So, you are leaving reviews on published books on Amazon and you feel like they are too harsh? That's what I get from what you're saying but please correct me if I'm wrong. Here are my thoughts on that, fwiw:

1) If you have points to make but think you're focusing on the nitpicky too much, why not just start by saying, "These points may be kind of nitpicky, but..." and then go ahead and list your points. I'm sure you're not the only one who expects even the smaller details to be accurate, especially with nonfiction, where readers may buy a book specifically to get information.

2) Then, a common critiquing/reviewing method you might want to use is called "sandwiching." It's where you put the negatives in the middle, sandwiched between the positives on both ends, assuming there were noteworthy things you did like about the book. I mostly use it when critiquing stories from writers who seem new, so as to be encouraging as well as point out suggestions for improvement. But I guess it would also work to make sure your reviews on published books are balanced, and include what worked as well as minor things that didn't work for you.

3) Last, maybe step back and look at your review compared with how many stars you gave the book and make sure they line up. If you think the book deserves four out of five stars, for example, then you'd expect that you would have some significant good things to say about the book along with the bad. If you only gave it one star, maybe not.

So, maybe a couple more steps insures that you will say what you mean to say overall about a book rather than just focus on nitpicky negatives and leave out the rest. Then again, if you honestly do not think it's a very good book and that's what your review says, then I think that is a good review.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies February 24, 2013 - 8:27am

feel free to browse mine over at TNB:

http://www.thenervousbreakdown.com/author/rthomas/

i try to find the core of the novel, what the main focus was. i then like to elaborate on things the author did well. then i try to quote a few passages that are great examples of writing, but also speak to the themes, focus and plot. beyond that, just talk about what you liked.