How to Write a Book Review by Kathy Benson

Over the past year I have written nine book reviews, four for Exhale and five for the BlogHer Book Club.

The first book I reviewed was A Gift of Time. I chose it because I was passionate about the book and subject matter. I wanted to help the authors and contributors (which I was one of) raise awareness for this newly published book (January 2011) and shed some light on the option and experience of Perinatal Hospice.

When I started blogging five years ago to keep loved ones informed about our experiences with secondary infertility and loss, I never could have imagined how large a role writing would play in my life. I developed a passion for it and realized that beyond just how therapeutic writing would prove to be for me, I wanted to take it further and pursue writing opportunities for magazines, newspapers, and even books.

I researched how to work on and improve my writing craft, and quickly learned that the more I read and actually wrote on a regular basis, the better writer I could become.

After getting my first book review accepted for the Summer 2011 issue of Exhale, and volunteering for the PR opening on their staff to help build their Social Media presence, our editor, Kristin Binder, approached me about becoming a regular contributor. Kristin was familiar with my writing style, and invited me to write a book and/or movie review related to infertility and loss for each of our quarterly issues.

Around the same time I applied to join, and was accepted into, the BlogHer Book Club program as a paid reviewer.

Prior to this I had little to no experience writing book reviews, but I spent some time reading other people’s reviews to become familiar with the various structures and writing formulas that reviewers use. While these helped me to some degree, I also learned that there is really no right or wrong way to write a book review, and each writer should develop their own style to keep their voice unique.

With each review I wrote I got the hang of the process more.

There are some key elements that I think belong in a book review, most of which are fairly obvious:

1. Title

2. Author

3. Genre

4. Brief Summary of the Premise/Story (without giving too much away)

5. Be sure to note if you are sharing any “spoilers.”

6. Talk about if you think the author(s) was successful in what they set out to cover/write about.

7. Share what you liked and/or didn’t like about the book and why (including the voice and style in which it was written).

8. MOST IMPORTANTLY (in my opinion) connect the story to your own life and world view in a way that will help your readers determine whether or not they would enjoy reading it.

9. I often talk about one or more of my favorite parts of the book and share quotes that most resonated with me. Sometimes I begin my review with one of these quotes as a jumping off point.

10. I talk about any preconceived notions I may have had about the book, and discuss whether the book/author met, exceeded or didn’t live up to my expectations.

11. Finally, I clearly state whether or not I recommend the book, and why, as well as which audiences I think will most appreciate and relate to the story.

If you have never written a book review before or want to hone your skills, I think the best way to do so is practice.

Writing and submitting book reviews for Exhale is a great opportunity for you to get this kind of experience and connect with others in this community who will appreciate reading reviews of books related to loss and infertility.

Here are some links to other sites with helpful tips on how to write book reviews and you can find many more by Googling “How to Write a Book Review:”

How to Write a Book Review – Los Angeles Valley College

Writing with Writers: Writing a Book Review by Rodman Philbrick (from Scholastic.com)

Purdue OWL: How to Write a Book Review (from Purdue’s Online Writing Lab)

How to Write a Book Review by Bill Asenjo (from Writing-Word.com)

Book Reviews – The Writing Center at UNC – Chapel Hill

Here are links to my BlogHer Book Club reviews:

The Beach Trees  (July 2011)

A Good Hard Look (August 2011)

 The Magic Room (December 2011)

 Slow Love (December 2011)

 Why Women Need Fat (January 2012)

 

Over the next four Thursdays, Exhale will be highlighting and sharing the four book reviews that I have written here over the past year.

Then it’s your turn!

If you would like to submit a review of a book, movie or play that deals with loss and/or infertility please email it to exhalesubmissions(at)gmail(dot)com with “book review” “movie review” or “play review” in the subject.

If you have written a book review(s) in the past, what tips would you share for those just getting started?

Whether you have written book reviews, or simply enjoy reading them, , what components do you think make for a good book review?

 

Photo Credit: Kathy Benson

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