Saturday, July 29, 2006

How to Eat a Book Review...

What kinds of information do you look for in a book review? First of all, a good book review won't reveal plot points or give away "spoilers." You know how it is when someone is talking to you during a movie and says, "Ok, here's where Indiana Jones just shoots the guy who just did the scary, fancy sword stuff!" You want to smack that guy. It's like blowing the punch line. Don't tell me. I want to experience it myself. Otherwise, why read it?

While it is fine for a reviewer to tell you he hated it/loved it, you also don't want to hear too much of "I hated that book and here's why." Back to the movie illustration, how many times did you read a bad review of a movie, and you went anyway and loved it? Or vice versa? It is a matter of what you like--bottom line. A good reviewer helps you to judge for yourself with just a few clues to help you to choose.

The reviewer should be hitting these kinds of points: characterization, a little bit of plot, message ( and the tone,) style, setting, genre--and finally, enjoyment. You should be able to categorize the book and make a judgment on whether you would enjoy the book or not.

Yesterday I mentioned my friend, Judy Gann, who is a librarian and an author. (By the way, if you are headed to the Oregon Christian Writers Conference, say hi to her from me! She's on faculty.) Judy told me that while librarians don't have all the answers, they have tricks up their sleeves to find out (a good librarian is worth far more than rubies. Judy is a gem.)

She said, "Librarians don't have all the answers. We just know (usually!) where to find them. ...libraries have online sources for finding fiction books--Novelist, Genreflecting, What Do I Read Next?. These are great for the question: 'I loved this book! Do you have another one like it?'"

These sources mentioned are expensive databases, says Judy.

She says, "At my library we can access them(the sources mentioned above) online (with our library card) through the library's Web site. If not available on your library's Web site, ask your librarian if they can access them for you."

(Back to me and what I say )One of the places I like to find reviews on Christian books is Faithful Reader. You can search through the books, reviews, news and find just what you want to read. By the way, if I am reviewing a book, I NEVER look at someone else's review of the same book before I write. What I say about a book is completely my own

Another place to look is at Look at the reviews there, but beware--like your crazed friend who loves e.e.cummings' poetry and that Steinbeck character (ok, I read Steinbeck and while I suffered, he did write well, I grant him that much...sigh,) remember that not all of these reviews are reliable. They will, however, give you some insight into whether it is a book you might like.

Looking is for free. Note the reviewer's comments with caution, but do note the emotion because a reviewer on Amazon will not usually post unless there were some strong feelings one way or another. Also, note the reviewers who post their real name. If they do this, they're putting their own reputation on the line. You can check the reviewer's profile by clicking on their name. Even people like editor/author Terry Whalin post reviews on

Now, get out there and find a good book. (Don't forget to tell me your current favorite book, too.)


Terry Whalin said...


Many writers can write book reviews--if they try. You've put together some great advice in this post. Thank you.

The Writing Life

Cara Putman said...

Thanks for the tips, Crystal. Eopinions is another good place to look at reviews. They seem to go into a lot of detail there. Really stretched me to write one on Violet Dawn for that site