Book Reviews 101

Let’s talk about book reviews for a moment, shall we? Grab some coffee. This is a long lesson.

You picked up a book, you read it, you loved or hated it, and now you’d like to write a review on it for whatever reason you may have. Maybe you enjoy writing book reviews. Perhaps you’re good at it. Or maybe you’d just like to let the author know what you thought of their book. Whatever your reason for writing the review, I’d first like to thank you for taking the time to do so, as so few readers do. Even if it’s a shitty review, as in you loathed the book, you still took the time. The one true blessed thing about Amazon, however, is that you can NOT leave a rating without writing a book review. Anonymous ratings are for cowards, and the reason I say that is I have known people to rate a book low out of spite for one reason or another or simply because the author pissed them off somewhere along the line. Don’t do that. It’s stupid and childish.

So let’s discuss the quality of your review.

You do NOT have to be a writer to write a decent book review. Just write your feelings on the book itself, how you thought the author did in conveying the story to you, what you think might have been included/excluded, but most importantly, write your review on the merit of the writing. Was the book easy to read with no or few errors? That’s great! Add that to your review. Did the book pull you into its world and make you lose track of time, or did you find it hard to put down? Awesome! Write that in the review. Did you have trouble finishing the book because it just didn’t hook you? Write that in the review! Were the characters flat, cardboard cutouts with no depth whatsoever? Then write it down.

Don’t nitpick at the author for not including enough sex in the book. Perhaps the story had a broader design and sex was only minimal for a reason. Maybe it wasn’t marketed as erotica. You’ll need to know this before you write your review. Not all paranormal romance has the characters constantly fucking. The term “paranormal” means that the story includes vampires, shapeshifters, ghosts, demons, angels, or all of the above. The term “romance” means there is a romantic element to the story. If you want to read erotica, then by all means pick up an erotica book. They aren’t difficult to find. But don’t berate the paranormal romance author simply because there wasn’t enough sex in their novel. Patricia Briggs fades to black in her Mercy Thompson series, and look how popular those books are! She writes one helluva story. Don’t compare the author to the main character(s), either. The question you should be asking yourself in regards to the characters is did they develop and grow throughout the story? Did the characters learn something from their experience? Are they flat? Did they pull emotion from you, and if so, which emotions?

Yes, those examples are very specific and a little personal, but I’ve seen much worse on others’ books on some of these sites. However, these are the things you need to look at in order to write a decent book review. Reviewing books involves critical thinking. This is something learned in Psychology 101 or any criticism course. You must ask questions about the book in order to find the answers you’ll write down in your review.

Or you can just tell me to fuck off and write your review however you want, but know that I used to write this shit for a living, so you may want to pay attention.

Below is one of my more recent reviews on the graphic novel Witch Doctor, Vol. 1: Under the Knife:

witchdoctorv1_coverAmazon description: The Doctor is in! House M.D. meets Fringe in the first Skybound Original from The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman’s new comics imprint! Meet Vincent Morrow, a doctor looking for a vaccine… for the apocalypse! Horror gets a brain transplant in Witch Doctor, the book Warren Ellis calls “Mental!”

Story: Brandon Seifert
Art /cover: Lukas Ketner

Price: $12.99

Diamond ID: OCT110522

ISBN: 9781607064411

Published: December 14, 2011

Series: Witch Doctor

“A glimpse into the future of horror comics” – Bloody Disgusting.

Meet Dr. Vincent Morrow, the Witch Doctor, in the smash hit debut title from Robert Kirkman’s Skybound Originals line! Dr. Morrow’s looking for a vaccine – for the apocalypse – and in his quest to understand the biology of the supernatural, he faces vampires, demonic possession, faeries and more.

“Arguably the most accomplished debut by a pair of new creators in recent memory.” – Broken Frontier

“I crave something NEW. WITCH DOCTOR is that something… it’s new, original… and exciting.” – Robert Kirkman

Review:

I kind of grew up with comic books because my uncle is a huge collector. I was introduced to the Uncanny X-Men at a very young age—the Dark Phoenix is still my favorite to this day—and pretty much the entire Marvel Universe. I remember it vividly. I wanted to be the Dark Phoenix. I wanted that kind of power—destroyer of worlds. Hey, I was just a kid. What did I know? Now I create and destroy worlds within the pages of novels. It’s far better than the powers DP holds, in my opinion.

A friend handed Witch Doctor to me and said, “Have you seen this? You need to read it.” At first, I didn’t think much of it. He’d handed me a graphic novel and I dig graphic novels. I said, “Yeah, sure, I’ll read it” and set it on the coffee table.

It sat there for weeks before I finally picked it up.

This is the first graphic novel that has had me laughing out loud in the doctor’s lobby and thinking halfway through it that if they EVER make a movie out of this one, Sean Patrick Flanery needs to play Dr. Vincent Morrow. Having met Mr. Flanery, I know he could pull it off.

This book is beyond wicked. It’s sick, twisted, bloody, hysterical, and I am completely hooked by its story line. I love all of the mythology pulled into the story, including the sword Dr. Morrow wields. Penny Dreadful and the doctor’s assistant Eric Gast are both great characters whose humor rivals the good doctor’s. My favorite line from Penny, when Dr. Morrow is “interrogating” a vampire, is “Does it sparkle?”

The story is compelling and far better than some novels I’ve read. It is split into four chapters, each covering a different aspect of what the doctor does, or what they deal with as a team, such as demons, faeries, fish people, and a vampire. Really, a lot of parasites are involved, but I don’t want to give too much away.

If you’re a graphic novel or comic book fan and like those along the lines of The Walking DeadSpawn, etc., definitely check out Witch Doctor if you haven’t yet. It’s worth the read!

Needless to say, Witch Doctor just gained a new fan!

You can buy Witch Doctor, Vol. 1: Under the Knife via Amazon or Image Comics.

~~~~~

As you can see, I really loved this graphic novel, and though I wrote this in first person and got a little personal with it (how could I not?), I still covered some basics. I don’t give too much away when telling you what the story is about, which I think is very important. This isn’t a book report; it’s a book review. You don’t want to spoil too much for other readers. I’ve written reviews on a few graphic novels now, and still have quite a bit more to do.

Now I’ll show you one of the reviews that landed me a copy edit job for life:

REVIEW:

SunderedJanuary2012Sundered is the first book of Shannon Mayer‘s Nevermore trilogy, a Zombie-ish Apocalypse novella series.

Compared to “I am Legend”, Sundered will take you into the dark realms of an apocalypse, with a new breed of zombie that will have your heart pounding, your palms sweaty and the pages flying. A Novella with true bite.

This is Ms. Mayer’s first release, and it’s a good start. The story is an “I Am Legend” meets “Resident Evil” book, in that the creatures are similar to the “vampires” in I Am Legend without the vampire aspect but having the wolf pack mentality, and the cause is similar to the Resident Evil drug/toxin that kills everyone off. Except in Sundered, people don’t die from getting the Nevermore shot; they become feral predators. Quite the unique little twist—one of many within the book.

Readers can easily identify with Mara, the main character. She’s trying to lose weight and trying to get pregnant…again. After having a miscarriage, her world was devastated and it threw her into a deep depression. But when the Nevermore “miracle” drug becomes available, Mara’s excitement can hardly be contained. Her husband Sebastian isn’t quite so convinced, but when Mara goes in to get the shot, her world shatters once again. She discovers it may have been her saving grace, but as the apocalypse takes hold of the world around them, Mara soon learns that not every story has a happy ending.

The novella could have used another edit, as the timeline is a bit off in one area, but all in all, Sundered is a quick, easy, and entertaining read. Listed as paranormal romance—and no, there is no “zombie” sex, thankfully—Sundered is full of warmth and the power of love at its best, and heart wrenching at its worst, enough to make one cry. Three. Times.

We welcome Shannon Mayer into the world of published authors and look forward to reading more from her.

You can find Shannon Mayer on her website: http://shannonmayer.blogspot.com/

The entire Nevermore trilogy is available at the following links:

Sundered – Book 1

Bound – Book 2

Dauntless – Book 3

Scattered – Short story – Scattered first appeared in Forever Nocturne e-zine‘s October 2011 edition under the title No Way Safe.

~~~~~~

As you can see, I wrote this review a bit different, but even when telling you what the book is about, I still don’t give away too much. Shannon Mayer has since redone the cover for Sundered and asked me to do a copy edit, which I did for both Sundered and the second book, Bound.

Now, the next thing I have to say is going to make all of my author friends’ jaws drop, if it doesn’t kill them. The day I learned how to write a decent book review was the day I learned how to write a book synopsis, thanks to CJ Redwine. Most authors hate this process because it truly is excruciatingly mind-numbingly dreadful. I’m not saying that you, as a book reviewer, have to learn how to write a book synopsis. I’m just saying that’s what helped me figure it out and it made my reviews even better. The book synopsis focuses on very specific elements and includes all spoilers. After all, it’s meant for the editor your agent is trying to sell your book to with your entire novel summed up into a few pages or less. Trying to sum up 80 thousand words into 1500 or less is pure torture. Now you know why authors despise it.

*NOTE: I took CJ’s Query and Synopsis workshops a few years ago. I believe she’s started them up again. Just click on her name above and it’ll take you to her website.

This last review example is one I think best shows the synopsis version of my review writing, and it’s not a glowing review.

Review:

Shadows in the Dark - LD HutchinsonShadows in the Dark is LD Hutchinson‘s debut novella, the first of a series encompassing a novel.

What dark things lie in wait for you when you least expect it? Vampires? Avangeline used to think they weren’t real, until she was told that her best friend has been one for years now, as well as her fiancé, and most of the other people she knew. Later, she finds out what she really is … The heir to a Vampire clan, and the only thing that can stop a war between good and evil.

LD Hutchinson has an intriguing concept with Shadows in the Dark. She’s combined vampires and witches in a very novel way to my knowledge thus far, though we don’t know much more than that. Why? Well, I was hoping this book wouldn’t be only the first part of a bigger novel, given its price, but it was at just under 16 thousand words, which makes for a disappointing ending simply for the fact that I can’t continue reading until the next book is released in July. The author has told me there will be approximately five to six books in the series.

Avangeline is a young woman without much of a past, but is destined for something far greater than she ever possibly imagined. She’s not a very strong heroine, at least, not yet, save for a brief moment, but the potential is there. This first part of the series shows us the very beginnings of what she learns about herself and her fate.

Phoenix is the vampire sent to protect her, and he’s not real thrilled about the job. He starts out interesting and then suddenly turns into a jerk shortly after Sarah, Avangeline’s best friend, mentions that he’s . . . well, a jerk. He seemed very childish in nature after that point and made me almost not care about him, yet I’m intrigued to learn more.

The prologue is intended to be read as a letter from one character to another, though I wish it had been clearer about its intent before the end of the letter. The second person point-of-view threw me at first. A salutation at the beginning, or italicizing the text would have been helpful. The rest of the story is in first person POV.

I am, however, very curious about the history involved with this story—the vampire clan history. I really liked what was mentioned of it and expect to learn more in the future releases.

As a reader, I liked the novella, which is why I’m giving it 3 stars (my star rating system: 1=hated it, 2=disliked it, 3=liked it, 4=really liked it, and 5=loved it), and because I’m curious enough to continue reading the story, so kudos go to the author for that. It’s a difficult feat with me. As a writer, it holds a few similarities to my own vampire book series, but only a few, and reminded me of a few things I need to clarify down the road. I thank the author for that. As an editor, I wanted to get out my red pen because it is in desperate need of a good edit by an experienced editor, and it should be priced at $0.99 simply because it is not a full novel. A full-sized debut eBook would be priced at $1.99 or $2.99. But, as I said, I really liked the concept, but think it could be so much better overall.

If grammatical and punctuation errors don’t bother you as a reader, then you’ll enjoy this short novel. If you’re an editor like me, be warned because you’ll want to get out your red pen too.

I do believe that, much like the story line, this author has a lot of potential to grow into a wonderful writer. I wish her the best of luck and look forward to reading the rest of this series.

**NOTE: I have yet to pick up this series again, so I have no idea if she’s improved. Also, someone mimicked this review on the same book, almost verbatim. It made me laugh.

~~~~~

Here you see how I explain the issues with the story and you can see what annoyed me about it. I’m not attacking the author, but not really the story, either. After I give you the back-of-the-book blurb and introduce the book, I start the first two paragraphs with each main character. That stems from the book synopsis writing. After I give a brief intro on each character, I go into detail about the story and give my thoughts on it as a writer and editor.

Also note my rating system in boldface in the midst of that review. That’s it, plain and simple. That’s the way it should be. On Amazon, I don’t believe you can write a review without leaving a rating, just as you can’t rate a book without writing a review, so this rating system is universal, or at least should be.

The trick to writing a decent book review is simple: intro the character (no more than a few), intro the story itself (what’s it about), answer your critical thinking questions, address any editing issues if they exist, and sum up YOUR reflections on the story.

You thought I was joking about the long lesson, didn’t you? Hope you had enough coffee. Now get out there and write some awesome book reviews! Truly show the author that you thought about their book. A good author will thank you, even if you didn’t like their book; whether in reply or in silence, they will thank you nonetheless.

Quite simply, there is no reason to nitpick the story. If it’s a ton of errors, yeah, wow, mention it. But, if it’s a small thing or two, why drop the rating over something so trivial? We’re ALL human; we ALL make mistakes. This is NOT a reality show and there is NO drama. You know that shit is scripted, right? Yes. It is.

At Just Ink Press, my publishing company, there is a form you can fill out when you find errors in our books. We like to know about them so we can fix them, because even with three sets of eyes on a book, we’ll still miss a thing or three.

Happy writing!

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2 thoughts on “Book Reviews 101

  1. i see no comments saying…”Oh ya, that G really knows a good book” or “man, i really need to not let a good book G recommends sit on my coffee table for months…” 😮

    • Oh hey, Hershel, I see you’re alive again. =p

      You’re upset bc I didn’t include a letter? LOL That review went live on a site where I can’t use names unless you’re the author. Deal.

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