With a plethora of book sites comes a million different ways to review a book. Each writer (or reader) has a different opinion on how they decide to tackle their review. Some have certain criteria they want to be met. Some just want entertainment. Not to mention, each person has different tastes.
I’ll explain my process to give you a better understanding of my style and train of thought. My approach has changed over time. Not only have I grown as a reader, but I trained to become an editor. That means noticing different things I might not have before. Being a writer myself means having empathy and letting some things go.
It should be noted that I never review a book I have edited.
My Book Review Process
Selecting a Book
Choosing a new book to read can be difficult when there are so many great options. Sites like Amazon and Goodreads, with their abundance of reviews, make it hard to determine which ones are worth reading, let alone which you should let sway you into reading (or not reading) a book. I try not to read too many of these, often doing a quick scan to make sure there is nothing that jumps out as a red flag. Otherwise, if the summary sounds interesting, I’m down.
While I have my genre preference (fantasy) and am very knowledgeable and read in it, I do step outside that box. I choose a book I’m most excited about, knowing that my mood will have an impact on my opinion (we are all human). Favorite authors are usually a go to, but I really enjoy discovering new ones, especially self-published authors (similar to ones I’ve had the opportunity to work with).
I’ll consider the last few books I’ve read. If they were long, intense novels, I’ll lean toward a more “fluff” piece. If I can handle something a little more dense, I’ll try something a little more challenging.
And sometimes, as a member of several book clubs, I get no say in the matter.
If I know I will be writing a review, I take notes as I read. I’ll tab or highlight (yes, sometimes with an actual highlighter) lines that resonate. In a separate notebook, I keep track of all the main characters, and some side ones, scribbling information about each. This helps me keep track of who is who and what they mean for the story. I write down the main plot as it moves, marking any side plots as well.
Sometimes I can get caught up in the momentum in the story, forgetting to take notes, but I take that as a good sign. At the end of my reading, I put my thoughts and feelings down immediately. How did the book make me feel right as I finished it? Did I want more? Was I disappointed that I wasted my time? In my book journal, I summarize the book in my own words. Then I’ll sit on it a few days before drafting my review, not too many since I want to retain as much information as I can.
Sometimes, I just want to read, dive into a book, getting lost or trudging as is apt at the time. I won’t take notes, just let the plot and characters pull me along. Those reviews might be a little less detailed, but the approach is the same.
I approach my reviews much like I’d approach an edit.
- What are the bare bones details?
- Was it logical and complete?
- Is it remotely interesting?
- Are they fleshed out or cardboard cutouts?
- Will they tug on my emotions, either good or bad
- How is the worldbuilding? Do the characters fit?
- How is it utilized?
- Is it cliched or sloppy? Note: cliche isn’t always inherently bad
- Is it dense or an easy read?
- Final Thoughts
- What emotions did it evoke?
- Would the reviewer recommend it? To who?
Because this is what I like to get out of a review, this is what I focus on.
I used to give books a grade, particularly in how it compares to other books I’ve read. And while I’ll still put star ratings on Goodreads, I find it more important to think about the elements of the book on its own. Stars and ratings are arbitrary. They mean different things to different people. I might give a book five stars because it was a work of literary genius. But I might also give it five stars because it was the book I needed at that point in my life. I find that details about the plot, characters, settings, and writing tend to be more concrete details that help other readers determine if it’s the book for them.
In the end, I realize that mine is just one of many opinions. I enjoy the possibility of helping you choose your next book or influencing your decision, but what I love most is starting a discussion. Reading is such a solitary hobby. It is an amazing feeling when we can branch out and share our experiences.