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How to Write a Book Review

So You Want to Review Books- (1)Back in college, my writing professor would leave books in our mailboxes with notes that usually said something like “Review this book for Church Libraries.” More often than not, the books were horrible, and writing the reviews felt a lot like a writing major’s version of hazing. Especially since they didn’t have anything to do with our grades.

So I never thought I would actually seek out book reviews. Yet here I am with a blog that I started just so I could review books.

I’ve developed a basic template for writing reviews that’s based on what I learned in college, what I did when I made manuscript suggestions as an intern at Bethany House, and what works I, as a reader, want to know when I read a book review. Here are the basics:

  1. Take notes as you read. This isn’t really part of the template, but it’s an important step that I always regret skipping. Are there things that cause you to stop and re-read? Things you find confusing? Or endearing? What do you love about the book? How would you have done it differently if you were the writer? Or if you had been allowed to make suggestions to the author before it went to the presses? Are the memorable quotes or passages you want to draw attention to?
  2. Summarize the book in a few sentences. Introduce your reader to the main characters and plot or the thesis and background of the book. Sometimes I introduce the author and talk about whether I’ve read their work before. When appropriate, I explain how their life or experience qualifies them to write the book.
  3. Explain what you liked about the book and why. What worked? What made you turn the pages? (Personally, I think this is harder to pin down than what I didn’t like.)
  4. Explain what you didn’t like about the book and why. I always try to be gentle and give helpful feedback. If the writer actually reads your review (and it’s pretty likely), give something they can use to improve future writing.
  5. Compare the writing to other books and authors. This will help your readers identify it as something they should or shouldn’t read. This is an important part of reviewing a new or unknown author’s work.
  6. Make some general comments about the book. Overall, did you like it or dislike it? Is it something you’d recommend to others? Would you read other books by the same author?
  7. If appropriate, recommend the book for a specific audience. Is it a good choice for women? Moms of  young kids? History buffs? Readers of Ray Blackston*? Fans of Downton Abbey?
  8. Offer any necessary warnings. Are there any elements the reader should be warned about—controversial subjects, graphic scenes, sexuality, politics, language, theology issues?
  9. Make some personal comments about the book. Did it remind you of something that happened in your own life? Did it challenge you or give you a perspective you haven’t considered before? Why did you choose to review it?

Want some examples?
Tide and Tempest by Elizabeth Ludwig
Gypsy Duke by Felicia Mires
Ten Great Dates by Peter & Heather Larson and David & Claudia Arp
Unrivaled by Siri Mitchell

*Bonus book suggestion: Read Ray Blackston. He’s awesome.

This is the second post in a series on becoming a book reviewer. Check out my first post, So You Want to Review Books?, and stay tuned for new posts about my star system for book reviews and the challenges of reviewing books.