Book reviews differ from book reports in that they offer the reader more than a simple synopsis of a title but an actual critique or evaluation of the work being presented while incorporating several valuable aspects. One of them being the author's writing objective and how good or bad of a job they did in accomplishing it. In addition, the review also serves other important purposes. Not only does it allow prospective readers to preview the contents of a book but it also opens a dialogue of discussion with other reviewers, the author and the general audience that the book is directed towards.
The structure of the book review varies considerably and ultimately depends on the style and approach of the reviewer. Experienced and more seasoned writers utilize different approaches in structuring and style which may be in opposition to what is traditionally done. But in general the book review follows the same pattern as any other piece of writing in that it should have a clear introduction with a thesis statement or main objective, a body that develops the argument and provides supportive evidences and a final recommendation to the reader on whether to pursue the title or not.
*Book reviews should be concise writings ranging from 500-1000 (shorter or longer depending on the publication or the writers preference). Though if writing a review for academic purposes its likely that your professor would prefer something on the shorter end of 500 words or less.
Characteristics of a great review
So what makes a good book review a great one? Many book reviews fall short in two key areas; (1) either they provide too much summary with no true analysis or well-thought out evaluation or (2) they provide mostly evaluations and judgments without a thorough and substantial summary to provide the reader with a good background on the topic being discussed.
With that being said, a really great book review plays a excellent balancing act. The review provides a well-crafted argument for or against the writer, sufficient evidences to back it up and an out-of-this-world summary that provides the gist of the book without giving away the ending.
To help you nail down your great review some key questions to ask are as follows;
What is the book's genre and audience?
Why did the author write the book, what is his main objective or goal?
How well did the other do in fulfilling his or her objective? (this is where you need to have a strong argument as well as evidences)
For example; If the book you're reviewing is a nonfiction children's tale, you may ask some of the following questions in preparing for your review; Did the author properly develop all of the characters? How well were the main ideas relayed throughout the book? Does the book have a message? How well does the author do in relaying that message? Were the scenes compelling and vividly drawn?
Step 1: Read the book and take focused notes
Focused and serious note taking is a great skill to have when critically reviewing any material or location - whether its a book, article, restaurant or museum. Keen, targeted and specific questioning as well as avid observations are the foundations of compelling and intriguing evaluations. Your side notes and interesting ponderings are all part of developing a good argument for your paper. When evaluating the author you need to make sound, genuine judgments and the notes you take while reading (whether mental or written) are your set of affirmations or evidence to back up your statements and claims.
Aside from developing your argument you also need to have some basic information about the book acknowledged in your review as well. A quick list of things you want to jot down or look out for when reading are as follows;
The main argument and overriding theme or message
The writer's voice and tone
Setting and Plot
Step 2: Identify your response to the book
Your initial reaction to the book should be considered when formulating your review. Even if you took lots of focused and detailed notes, sometimes the 'big picture' isn't made clear to you until you just reach the conclusion of the book. Some questions to ask yourself are; Did I learn anything from what I just read? Was a moved or affected by the material? Do I feel compelled to share this information with others?
Step 3: Develop an easy to follow outline
Having a precise game plan to follow will allow you to simply construct your first draft and ensure that you address all the necessary points expected of you when presenting your critical book review. A sample outline can be seen below.
Identifying information such as the book author, title, copyright information, and publisher (price and ISBN number if suitable)
Descriptive details such as the type of book, genre, table of contents, book cover, a little background information on the author and any significant roles they play (for example if the author won the nobel prize or is a well-known political figure etc.)
The author's main idea and your thesis statement about the book (identifying what you will be covering in relation to the author)
Additional introductory options; you may choose to also add a short anecdote about your first impressions of the book, or small quote or snap shot of what the audience can expect and so on
Restate in different words the main argument of the book or the author's objective
Give a brief recap on the plot, setting, and characters (try not to give away the ending)
For books that are not in story form simply give the audience the main points that were covered or addressed in the book
Present clear arguments regarding your observations and what particular evaluative points you will be addressing
Provide evidence to support your claims and your commentary on the author and his or her writing
Share your last thoughts and conclusionary statements. Provide a recommendation that matches your overall argument and position.
After identifying a clear outline to follow you can begin formulating your first draft. Though keep in mind that the above outline is only a sample and doesn't have to be followed exclusively. Each writer has their own unique style and way of delivering similar information, though the main objective is that you provide a sound evaluation and book critique that is helpful and useful to your audience. As long as you take your time in preparing a proper argument that truly evaluates the author as opposed to just adding a few lines of opinion to a simple book summary you should easily produce an at least satisfactory first book review.
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