That's why, way back in 2013 and 2014, I wrote two separate posts (one for my old group blog, one as a guest post for a fellow blogger) offering advice on how to assemble an opening paragraph of a book review. And today, I'm re-visiting and re-sharing these tried-and-true review tips in one new and improved blog post. I've tweaked my old ideas and added a few new ones in the hopes of helping you write the best book reviews possible.
Revised, updated, expanded, and merged into one post for your convenience, here's my master list of tips for starting a book review. If you're battling your brain to develop a fantastic first sentence that varies from the classic "[X book] is [Y adjective or noun]," here are some ideas that could help.
Did the book use a particular writing style, theme, or ploy you've seen before? Use the first paragraph of your review to establish your feelings on that particular element. Then discuss how the element affects the book you're reviewing and whether or not the novel in question lived up to your expectations. Example reviews from me: A Tyranny of Petticoats edited by Jessica Spotswood, Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher, The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton, The Way We Bared Our Souls by Willa Strayhorn
If the book you're reviewing is a part of a series, you can use your first paragraph to establish what you like about the series and what you wanted from the installment in question. You can then talk about how the novel compares to its predecessors and how it builds on the events, character development, or themes of the earlier books. You can also take the same approach with an author in general, discussing what you like about his or her writing before explaining how the novel in question compares to his or her other works. Example reviews from me: Hallowed by Cynthia Hand, Unravel Me by Tahereh Mafi, All Fall Down by Ally Carter
If you're having trouble thinking of a catchy opener, why not borrow from someone else? You can quote an important line from the book (or its epigraph) and then explain its significance—in a non-spoilery way, of course. Or you can repeat a popular idea or saying that the story centers on and analyze the story's success in dealing with the topic. Example reviews from me: Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg, Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross, Rival by Sara Bennett Wealer
Let's Get Lost by Adi Alsaid, Like No Other by Una LaMarche
If a story features an unusual plot or distinct atmosphere, you can engage readers by taking a paragraph to describe the story's setup or feeling. Don't summarize the plot, of course, but try to convey the tone and premise of the book itself. This kind of introduction can be a great way to supplement a vague Goodreads summary or provide a taste of the book's writing style. Example reviews from me: Tighter by Adele Griffin, Another Little Piece by Kate Karyus Quinn, No Parking at the End Times by Bryan Bliss, The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab
Sometimes a book leaves you so torn up, so emotionally distraught that you can't organize your thoughts into a coherent review. Sometimes a complex story leaves you confused as to what even happened, and sometimes an adorable novel will make you want to substitute heart emojis for words in your review. When that happens, be up-front with your readers; start your review by describing your emotional state upon reading the final page, and then go on to list the elements of the book that led you to feel that way. Example reviews from me: The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick, Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard
Don't feel like writing an introduction at all? If you write your review in list form, you can usually get away with including a short intro—or skipping it altogether. Best of all, list-style reviews are easy for your readers to follow and understand, providing a clear, detailed picture of what you liked or disliked about the book. This approach works especially well if you can find a way to tie your list's title or theme into the title of the novel you're reviewing. Example reviews from me: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith, Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley, My entire "Three Reasons to Read" feature
What are your go-to review-writing tips? How do you overcome firs-sentence writer's block? Let me know in the comments, and best of luck with your next book review. I'm sure it will be a great one.