ABB link-up: Elements of a good book review

Wednesday, October 22, 2014 Permalink

An Aussie Book Bloggers link-up

Some time ago there was a discussion on the Aussie Book Bloggers’ Facebook page about reviewing books. A few people said they saw themselves as book bloggers, rather than book reviewers. I kinda feel like I ‘review’ books. In my blog. I’m not sure what that makes me, but… that’s okay.



My only problem with claiming to be a ‘book reviewer’ is that I don’t know that I’m really up to the task. Sure I’ve been reading books (and lots of them) for over 40 years, I enjoy writing and can string a few words together… but I’ve never done any formal course. (And quite frankly – I’m not really sure one exists. Or possibly many exist, each promoting themselves as THE book reviewing authority.) #Whatevs

I did think however that it might be useful to discuss the elements of book reviewing, or book blogging and hope others will join in the conversation.



I found a link to an ‘elements of good book reviews’ document on the American Libraries Association (ALA) site. Summarised into Deborah-speak and focussing on fiction, good or best practice should include:

1. Bibliographic Information

I know a lot of bloggers include this detail. I don’t at the moment, rather I include links to the publisher’s site, the book and an author site (if one exists). I get that the number of pages might be of interest, but the ISBN? Of course I may well be wrong!

2. Content Description

I know a lot of bloggers cut and paste the official ‘blurb’. At the moment I summarise the plot in my own words, careful not to give too much away. However…. this takes time and I’m wondering if it’s necessary in my blog? (Note that I’m realising I could probably skip doing this in Goodreads, where the review is shown directly below the summary blurb!)

I should note additional hints provided by the ALA recommend NOT repeating words (in the review) which are included in promotional material.

3. Evaluation

The ALA recommend AGAINST the use of excessive positive or negative language. Ummm… oops.

I’m sometimes (though rarely) effusive in my gushing. I like to think that I’m never TOO negative. As someone who’d like to write one day I like to think that even my most negative reviews explain my reasoning. Often it’s because I don’t like the genre itself. Sometimes it may be the characters. Unless the author is super-famous I don’t publish negative reviews in my blog. They just go on Goodreads, The Reading Room and the like. I realise I’m still sharing my negative thoughts and may upset authors, but feel I do need to be honest.

I should mention that even my positive reviews (3 stars or more) will often include negative comments. I am *possibly* hard to please.

4. Comparison

Apparently we should apparently be offering our readers some comparison to other like items. This is something I don’t currently do, but might try. Of course I shudder with thoughts of constant: ‘If you liked Gone Girl, you’ll like xxxxx’.

Or the (sometimes naff) recommendations in video shop magazines – suggestion that fans of X will like Y. I’m not sure who writes that stuff cos sometimes it makes no sense at all. It may include the same actor, or have the same word in the title. Or something equally obscure.

5. Recommendation (final judgement)

I do try to do this, but can do better. In fact, I think I need to consider the whole ‘my thoughts in a snapshot’ option.

Writing the review

As well as the usual writing hints – start with a bang, don’t use slang, use active voice (big oops from me!) etc – there are a few other recommendations included, like ensuring the review NOT be better than the book being reviewed (well, that it not draw attention AWAY from the book under review).

I don’t think my writing’s ever that impressive but I do insert WAY too much of myself into my book reviews. I go off on tangents, share anecdotes and break almost every rule there is when it comes to objectivity. I like to think this adds a little colour, but I may (ahem) be wrong.



My opinion on a book is usually shaped by three components: the prose or the writing itself; the plot; and the characters. Sometimes all three come together and it’s magic, occasionally one aspect suffers and you hate the characters in question or the plot is overly simplistic, and sometimes you hate everything which has happened to me a few times. I do wonder however, if my approach is too simplistic and there are other, more esoteric things I should be considering.

I mean, the ALA document includes a heap of other hints relating to reviewing adult fiction, some I don’t even understand…. like this:

3.1.7. The review should aim, where possible, to state where the work stands in the author’s oeuvre.

This worries me. Should I even be reviewing books given I had to google ‘oeuvre’?

Is a passion for reading, love of writing and vehicle for sharing enough to justify putting my thoughts out into the ether? I like to think so.

But I’d love to hear from book reviewers, book bloggers AND readers.
What do / don’t you like in your reviews? Any other pointers?

(Book bloggers feel free to link-up).

  • Char
    October 23, 2014

    I had to Google oeuvre too. And it doesn’t mean egg in French. Thank goodness because that would make absolutely no sense at all.

    • Debbish
      October 23, 2014

      Although… it would make the review more interesting…. 😉

  • Jen
    October 23, 2014

    I love reading but I’m crap at book reviews. I’d love to do it more, and better. Practise I suppose – if one had the time.

    • Debbish
      October 23, 2014

      Yes… I think probably reading reviews by others is also a big help. It certainly makes me realise mine are sometimes somewhat lacking!

  • This Charming Mum
    October 23, 2014

    This is very interesting. When it comes to book blogging – like any blogging – there really are no rules. Write what you like about the things that you love, I say. But of course if you’re looking towards a paid gig or other reviewing opportunities, some of these points are useful. The one about comparison sticks out for me. I did this for awhile on my blog, but sometimes I felt it was too reductive, or simply unhelpful. Some books obviously work within a particular genre etc, but many others are working hard to be original so it seems silly to say that they’re ‘like’ other authors/books. But I know this approach is used in marketing constantly. Food for thought!

    • Debbish
      October 23, 2014

      Absolutely! Perhaps it’s something I could use only when struck by similarities – as I guess some authors / books remind me of others.

  • MarthaE
    October 29, 2014

    Interesting comments. As bloggers I would say most of us read for enjoyment and do not profess to be professional reviewers. We each establish our own style. I sometimes think mine is too dull (see item 3. of your post) and I rarely make comparisons (#4) as I feel that it might not be fair to newer, less experienced authors. Then again that is not a bad idea when the book compares favorably. I sort of follow the rules I learned of through reading The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing. You have fun articles too, which I don’t as I have no more time. Therefore I like to comment on fun posts that others, like yourself, write. Thanks. 🙂

    • Debbish
      October 29, 2014

      Oh, what a lovely comment, thanks Martha. I just like writing and my blog started with me writing about anything and everything (and dieting in a separate blog). I only noticed recently that I USED to write about television a lot, but I seem to have cut that back as I focus more on my book blogging.

I'd love to hear your thoughts