Let's Talk: What Makes a Good Book Review

Friday, June 15, 2012

Let's Talk is a new weekly feature here at i swim for oceans. I think it's important that we all have our say, and there's something to be said for raising our voices. Simply put, here on the little old blog, I like to host some of my very own discussion posts because, well, I like to converse with you all.

And so, Let's Talk will feature questions or prompts, which I will answer, too. Love it or hate it, weigh in or don't, it's my hope that Let's Talk will at least get you thinking...and maybe even get you discussing with the rest of us!
Question: What do you look for in a book review, and what makes it good?

You know me, guys. I like to stir the pot on issues that we, as a community, should discuss. Bloggers often find themselves under a microscope in the publishing industry in terms of reviews. Some are criticized for writing negative reviews. Some are criticized for writing reviews that are too fluffy and positive across the board. Still others are criticized for simply writing opinions.

Are any of these actually wrong? In my humble opinion...no. We, as bloggers, have established our sites as a public forum of personal opinions. However, when we take the next step and try to forge relationships with publishers and authors, there are some things that we have to bear in mind. If we want to truly call ourselves book reviewers, that means that we must actually review the book. This means a few things:

- Reviews are personal opinions backed by elements of the story

- Reviews are NOT solely posts with endless series of GIFs

- Reviews delve deeper into the novel, rather than simply scratching the surface and saying "it was good"

- Reviews tell you WHY it was good, or WHY it was bad

I am by no means a professional reviewer. As I've stated many a time, my reviews are my own opinions, but I always try to take a decidedly professional approach to them by articulating the strengths and weaknesses, the writing style, the characters and anything else that stands out. I'll be the first to admit that when I see a post that simply bashes a book with endless pictures and misinformed facts, I get utterly annoyed because, to me, that is not a review.

It is up to us as individual bloggers to develop our own individual reviewing styles. What works for me might not work for you. However, when I read reviews, I can tell you that the "good" reviews stand out because they have deep thought and evidence-backed opinions. Some bloggers that consistently provide reviews that make me want to investigate books further include (but certainly are not limited to): Jenny at Supernatural SnarkAsheley at Into the Hall of BooksBailey at IB Book BloggingGinger at GReads! and Mary at The Book Swarm.

The common theme between these bloggers is that delicate balance of opinion and fact, as well as presenting a book in a manner that is intriguing or cautionary, while still allowing me to form my own opinion. Again, book reviews are a matter of deep scrutiny, but for me...this is what I believe constitutes a good review.


  1. I agree with you, good reviews are your opinions backed up by the story. I would really like to hear about your reviewing process. How does one write a good review? Does it come naturally or are there steps? What stops me from reviewing is that I don't know how to go  beyond "It was good/It was bad."

    Personally I love reviewers who use graphics AND can write. It adds that extra oomph. Ari from Reading After Midnight is the perfect  example of the right  amount of graphics and stellar writing.

  2. I definitely agree with your thoughts. I've actually done a post regarding my reviewing process...here it is:


  3. I do love when bloggers can work in pictures-I usually only include the book cover but I love those who can work in multiple pictures to support their words. I also admire bloggers who can be brief but not too brief (I need more than one paragraph!)

  4. I think that when pictures actually support the review, it's fine. I think when they are simply strictly animated GIFs, I want to pull my hair out. I also think it's essential to have the cover in there :)

  5. I completely agree about the reviews that bash the books. I cannot understand how a series of pictures and ugly words do anything but get a crowd going - it tells me nothing about the book and is only hurtful all around. I find it embarrassing to the community at large, and I love this community too much. 

    The reviews that I take most seriously are the ones that tell me something about the story, complete with the elements. That being said, not all of my favorite bloggers put those things in their posts. That's okay, but when I'm looking for books to read/recs, I'm looking at the ones that include the elements. Setting, world-building, language, etc. 

    One more thing I didn't include in my post but maybe should have: when I read a book for a review, I "review" it. But if I'm reading a book that a bazillion other people have read and talked about, I usually don't do the same type of blog post or review, I'll do a different format and make it much less formal and much more casual. It breaks up things on my blog a little bit, makes it a little more fun for me, and isn't the same ole' thing people have already read a thousand other times. Because seriously, we don't need another review of Anna and the French Kiss, at least not by me. So we will have something different very soon! MWAHAHAHA... 

    And seriously? Jenny at Supernatural Snark has this way with words that makes me feel like I'm reading about books while sitting on top of a soft, floaty cloud eating cotton candy, so eloquent is her speech - and then she has the days when she does the book cover feature, and I laugh until tears stream down my face. I love that blog. She is great.

  6. I'm totally there with you. Great post. I like hearing why something personally worked for someone or not. I think that's a big part of enjoying a book. Is how it personally affected us.

  7. I'm in absolute agreement. I'm a big fan of reviews that can combine personal reaction with more objective evidence - it always convinces me that the reviewer is being sincere and has good reason for recommending the book.

  8. You know you and I are on the same page with reviews. I don't mind a negative review, in fact I like them because they normally make me want to pick up the book just to see if I disagree, but I abhor the ranting "reviews".

    Everyone of course has their own reviewing style, and I think that's part of the fun of visiting other blogs, but the bloggers whose opinions I consistently trust and the reviews I take note of are the ones that go beyond a mere summary of the book and explain what worked and what didn't for them specifically. Based on their thoughts, I'm then able to determine if the same things will or will not work for me:)

    You are of course one of the opinions I value most, and even on the rare occasions we disagree I always respect the way your voice your thoughts. Love you to pieces:)

  9. I agree with all points you look for in a review. I appreciate some good GIFs every now and then, but if it doesn't make sense, I won't continue to read the review. 

  10. A few months back I wrote a post about this but I still haven't published it. But I'm with you, I want to know why you like it or don't like it. I don't like ranting, though a mini rant is okay as long as they aren't picking on the author. I want more than just a summary. And I don't want a two sentence review. It needs some MEAT in there.
    I'm kind of an eclectic reviewer as I don't stick to one formula. Some books there's just not much to say. Others I could talk all day. Sometimes its just me, I cant find the words and rather then stress about it I just say what I can and try to explain things the best to my ability. I know I'm not the best reviewer out there, but I'm certainly not the worst so I just try to be okay with what I am.
    Fantastic post Melissa!

  11. I completely agree..nothing annoys me more than following a link to a review to find that it is nothing more than a rehash of the plot with one line at the end saying "I liked it"

  12. I am looking for your FF post, did not find it, but did become a new follower anyway, sorry to comment here instead. Here is my FF link 

  13. Thank you for following my blog, Michelle! I'll be sure to check out your FF :)

  14. Right? It's not a book review...it's an opinion full of spoilers haha

  15. I'll agree with you on that. GIFs can add to a review, but they shouldn't BE the review, in my humble opinion.

  16. You flatter me, and I adore your soul. And yes, we all have our own unique reviewing styles. Heck, that's a great thing! It's a matter of being thoughtful though...and tactful. And un-douchey haha

  17. GIFs generally irritate me in a review, although I do know a few reviews who use them well. It has to be limited and not interrupt the content. I think also think it's important to go beyond like or dislike and get into the details. I try do to so, but it can definitely be hard. Especially in finding things to say about a character other than "she's a nice girl."

  18. As an author I can tell you what I don't like. SPOILERS, without a big old fat "SPOILER ALERT". I'm going to have go look at all your blogs now. Thanks for the post and the interesting comments.

  19. I really can't say, just feel something, that is what I want from a reviewer. It can be short, it can be long, honestly it can have pics if they so choose, I just want to know how the book was

  20. Great post! If possible, I always want to know the person's reasons for why they liked/didn't like the book or elements in the book. Don't just say you love or hate it and then give no explanation (even though sometimes that's really hard to articulate). Ooh, and I'm not a fan of spoilers, either. At least not spoilers with no warning!

    BTW, thanks for that! You're one of the blogs that I consistently read and love--you're a terrible influence on my book buying habits (and by that I mean awesome).

  21. I really enjoyed this answer! Interesting and insightful. Hope you have a great weekend!





    New follower :) 

  22. I loved this post. You're right, a review should tell why the story was good or why it was bad.  Not simply state "it was good."  I also hate when a story is spoiled without tags covering the spoiler!  So annoying.  Thanks for the lovely post. :)

  23. I'm looking forward to reading more discussion posts like this one from you! I agree with a lot of the things you mentioned. I don't like reviews where it just simply states: 'This is a good book' I need reviews to show me how the book is good, not tell me. Since I came back from a hiatus not long ago, I'm still trying to find new ways to make my reviewing better.  I think that every blogger should have their own unique voice and not try to imitate someone else's


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