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Do Book Reviewers Need To Learn How To Craft a Good Book Review?

It’s a legitimate question. I’m talking about book reviewers who hang out in places like Goodreads or who blog about books. So, how do you craft a good book review?

The first point I wish to make is, as an author, I welcome the not so good reviews especially if the reviewer makes valid points and makes them in a constructive way.

Writers aren’t perfect. They make mistakes and it takes time to learn the craft of writing. I know that applies to me. What doesn’t help a budding writer is a disparaging review – a nasty review. For goodness’ sake, we are all human beings. Plus, writers don’t need reviewers needlessly inflicting mental scars on a writer’s already fragile ego.

I found this information useful in formulating how to write a book review:

The article starts off with this invaluable piece of advice: “A book review describes, analyzes and evaluates. The review conveys an opinion, supporting it with evidence from the book,” and “Review the book you read — not the book you wish the author had written.”

It continues:

Writing a Fiction Book Review
Note: You don’t have to answer every question — they’re suggestions!

Points to Ponder:

What was the story about?

Who were the main characters?

Were the characters credible?

What did the main characters do in the story?

Did the main characters run into any problems? Adventures?

Who was your favorite character? Why?
Your personal experiences

Could you relate to any of the characters in the story?

Have you ever done or felt some of the things, the characters did?
Your opinion

Did you like the book?

What was your favorite part of the book?

Do you have a least favorite part of the book?

If you could change something, what would it be? (If you wish you could change the ending, don’t reveal it!)
Your recommendation

Would you recommend this book to another person?

What type of person would like this book?

Rosie Amber’s Book Review Blog contains some useful templates. You can find them here.

Rosie also offers some advice to wannabe reviewers. She says of potential review team members:

You are willing to post a balanced review of a reasonable length (average 200-400 words) on Amazon.com, Amazon UK and Goodreads, and your blog if you have one, though a blog is not essential.

You are willing to write honest reviews. I do not run a 4/5* only blog, and we pride ourselves on our reviews being honest, but balanced and constructive. Half stars are admissible, though I do not allow less than 3* on the blog, as I do not like to ‘trash’ books; if you take a book and honestly feel that you can’t give it 3* (which means ‘it’s okay’ on Amazon), we can talk about it. I don’t encourage reviewers to reject books once they’ve been taken, but understand that this is sometimes unavoidable.

‘Trash books.’ Now, that’s interesting! What do you think of this book review? Trashing it or not?

Other reviews state that the story starts out slow. That’s a severe understatement. Not only does it start out slow but remains slow and tapers off leaving you wishing you hadn’t bothered in the first place.

This is a testament to the fact someone can have a lot of anecdotes they’ve accumulated throughout life, but stringing them together does not a novel make.

Ouch! It’s a Goodreads review of one of my books – Who The F*ck Am I? Book 1 in the Steve Regan Undercover Cop series. It was my first go at writing fiction based on my own true undercover cop days. But. it is fiction!

I learned from the experience and, yes, I wish I had started the book differently but that’s hindsight for you.

Allow me to share with you what others have said about the same book:

I felt this story started out slow. The slow just did not hold my attention. I did not connect with the characters. This was just a boring read for me. I do like that this was a real undercover operation. I like that this was a real undercover officer. The story was well written.

I really have no problem with that review. She was honest, pointing out what she did not like and what she did like. Nothing nasty! That’s okay.

This book pulled me in from the start and had me engrossed to the very end.
The authors experience and knowledge of being undercover trying to infiltrate a drug cartel completely shone through giving me shocking glimpses in to the underworld.
The characterisation was brilliant and really gave a sense of the atmosphere and place.
The tension level was just right urging me to keep reading on.
I enjoyed this book very much and will be keeping an eye on this author in the future.

Same book. Different opinion.

This one is a review from a proper book reviewer and is an excellent example of a balanced review:

This book has something going for it in that an ex-undercover officer wrote about crime, so I think that is partly what made this very believable, even though I found some of their actions a bit on the shocking side. Pros – the characters are original and engaging and the plot is well thought out. The world is described well and it’s easy to picture the scene as you read along. Cons – this was a real slow starter. If you get through the first few chapters, you will be in for an engaging read. I like when a book starts out fast and peppers the action with the descriptions as we go, this one did not. But don’t let that hold you back – the real-life experiences of the author does the book justice. Reviewed by Cyrene

Now to the glowing reviews – the ones I read whenever my confidence is shaken:

I knew when I read the author’s first book Undercover: Operation Julie although non-fiction that he could make the transition to writing fiction; I was right. He has an ease of language that lends itself to storytelling; he tells it as if he was there in the plot and why shouldn’t he having been an undercover cop in the real world? Not that Steve Reagan is meant to be him, but having the experience means he can do whatever he wants with his fictional characters and they will always be believable. Wasn’t too sure about the title until I began to read it and hope it doesn’t put people off from reading this book. Thrown into an undercover world where the Legend (who you are meant to be) is created for you it’s only a matter of time before the one starts to interfere with the other and you ask that question.
There aren’t many crime authors who could write a scene where a big gangland mobster puts a hand to your head as if it were a gun and simulates a close contact assassination that is frighteningly real except someone who has been there and done that!
The book is three dimensional, it’s not merely a descriptive adventure into the shady world of the criminal, it’s multi-layered and analytical which is often missing from other crime author’s work. I was extremely impressed by the prose. His characterisation verges on exceptional as is their interaction with each other. Stephen Bentley is a real contender in the world of crime writing, I hope he sticks at it. I think he has a real gift and insight into the criminal mind which I would love him to explore. Pat McDonald British Crime author. 

 

Stephen Bentley is a former undercover cop and the chief protagonist of this book just happens to be… an undercover cop. So, we can pretty much accept that the author knows his subject, which shows throughout every page of this gritty, realistic account of a case undertaken by Steve Reagan and his partner, Red. The pair, looking like two aging hippies, live out of a battered old Ford Transit van, which helps to reinforce their cover as a couple of unscrupulous small time criminals with aspirations to rise through the echelons of the criminal world. They make contact with two characters, Blue, and a shady and dangerous Canadian, Bill, the man who seems to have the connections they are seeking.

Let me add that in response to a couple of reviewers who thought the book started slowly, this is a story based on the way a real life undercover operation is conducted, with painstaking attention to detail, in every way, as the lives of both cops are at stake every day. One mistake and they would very quickly end up in a cold, shallow grave, miles from anywhere. It is NOT a typical, ubiquitous US style ‘up and at em’ cops and robbers drama. This story puts the reader right there alongside Reagan and Red as they gradually worm their way into Bill’s plans. We will later discover that neither Blue nor Red are all they at first appear to be, but, no spoilers from me.

Reagan soon finds himself on the horns of a dilemma however, as the prospect of going ‘rogue’ begins to encroach on his thoughts. Could he really put aside his principals and all he has worked for as an officer of the law in exchange for the lavish riches and lifestyle offered by Bill and his ‘connections’. This dilemma is further reinforced when Red is sidelined by an accident and Reagan is left alone to deal with the drug cartel. He has good reasons for jumping either way and only by reading the book will you find out which side he chooses.

Mr. Bentley has created an ensemble of truly realistic characters, pulled together in a gritty, pulsating crime thriller that I can only describe as a good old-fashioned page turner. His writing style carries the reader along with him as the plot develops and we suddenly find ourselves careering towards a chillingly alarming and thrilling finish. This is real, thought-provoking British crime drama at its best. I actually found myself wondering just how much of the real Stephen Bentley was contained in the personality of Steve Reagan. I’m sure some of the essence of the author helped to make the character of Reagan so believable and easy to identify with. The ending came all too soon, leaving me wanting more, which is of course the mark of a good series, isn’t it? Leave them waiting for the next thrilling instalment? Well, he has succeeded in doing just that.as I will now eagerly look forward to the next book in this thrilling and enthralling trilogy. In the meantime, I will content myself with awarding this first episode a well-deserved five stars!

Having stayed with me so far, let me say this is NOT a rant. I genuinely believe some people who review books should learn the craft of doing it. I don’t mean those ‘customer comments’ on Amazon. I’m referring to people who review on specialist sites like Goodreads.

The review that prompted this post was written by an anonymous Goodreads user calling herself Minion Reviews. I did send her a polite private message making it clear I was not ranting, adding that having been threatened by gangsters in real life, I could cope with her review.

I wrote that I simply wished to make amends by asking her to review Dilemma, Book 2 Steve Regan Undercover Cop. I pointed out to her that I was aware of the ‘slow start’ to Book 1 and had done things very differently in Book 2. To date, I have not received a reply.

If she does reply, and says she purchased my book (which I doubt), I will arrange for a refund.

In the meantime, you can read the opening chapter and more from Dilemma, below using the ‘Look Inside’ or ‘Preview’ button, followed by Who The F^ck Am I? I think you will see a difference!

It’s called a learning curve.


A final thought: it’s funny this Goodreads reviewer, like some others, mentioned the slow start to Who The F*ck Am I? It actually reads/sounds better when narrated in the audiobook version.

I think this glowing review on Audible UK goes a long way to validate what I say about the virtues of the audiobook:

Fictional Operation Julie 

I really enjoy Stephen Bentley’s books. This one is literally a fictional version of Operation Julie. As a person who has recently read, ‘Undercover: Operation Julie’, I loved how this book wasn’t too far away from the real story but took some characters and gave you a (probably) fictional look into their lives. I look forward to hearing the other audiobooks in the Steve Regan series!

Some readers/listeners actually get it!

Audible US link

Audible UK link

Happy Christmas Minion Lovers!

 

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