Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Art of Starting a Book Review: Nine Ideas for Bloggers

First sentences are always the hardest. Whether you're saying hello to a stranger or drafting a novel, crafting the perfect introduction can take more energy than any other part of the project. Writing a book review is no different.

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

Talk about your feelings and expectations going into the book and explain why the story exceeded, met, or disappointed them. This works well for novels with heaps of hype or that are outside your comfort zone. Example reviews from me: 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 RossRival by Sara Bennett Wealer

If a book turns out to be dramatically different than its cover or synopsis would indicate, I often start out my review by pointing out the misleading element and discussing the way it skewed my expectations. It can be easier to talk about what a book is not rather than what it is, and describing your preconceptions provides the perfect segue into your thoughts on the book itself. Example reviews from me: Let's Get Lost by Adi Alsaid, Like No Other by Una LaMarche

What did you love more than anything else about the book you're reviewing? Write an opening paragraph about that element, followed by paragraphs about how your favorite aspect affects other aspects of the story. Ask yourself, "How does X impact Y?" and find a way to tie each point back to the first paragraph. Example reviews from me: Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour, Inland by Kat Rosenfield

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. 

8 comments:

  1. These are such helpful tips! I'm definitely bookmarking this for future reference. Thanks, Emily!

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  2. I love how you've formatted this actually - with all the main points in huge font :) But yeah, some of these tips are really handy! Saving for my future book reviews! Especially the one about series - I've actually been having a hard time writing a review for The Winner's trilogy books, which I just finished!
    Thanks for the awesome post :))

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  3. These are so helpful! I find it especially hard to START a review, but once I do I'm okay. I usually go to Goodreads and read some reviews on there so I can better collect my thoughts and see if I agree/disagree with points others brought up. And I think painting a picture is the most useful thing to do but also the toughest to execute well. This is such a brilliant list, Emily!

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  4. Hi Emily,
    I've written several book reviews, and I have another coming out soon.
    I met you on Briana's site. You said you appreciated blogging tips, so I came over. I also blog about blogging tips and greatly appreciated the validation Briana gave to all bloggers like Briana and me who offer blogging tips in order to help people with their blogs. Maybe you can check out my blogging tips site since you said you appreciate the tips. Here is the link to my About page, so you can read more about me. http://mostlyblogging.com/about/.
    Janice

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  5. Great tips for a newbie like me! Thanks for sharing!

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  6. This is really helpful! I know some people consider book-reviews boring, that's why it's not as popular as other type of post, but this post really gives a lot of amazing idea to spice things up! <3

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  7. I always love how you start you reviews, so thank you so much for putting these tips together! I'm definitely going to use these ideas the next time I write a review. :)

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  8. Nice column! This column raises a lot of things we need to keep in mind when writing a book review. Book critique writing has always been demanding, because good book critiques are not easy to write.

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