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My first edition of I Ask You went over better than I had anticipated, with a lot of great input from my readers. That one was focused around interviews and it’s had a direct impact on how I approach my interviews.

To that end, I thought it was about time for another edition. This time I wanted to tackle a subject that has seen a fair bit of discussion over the past several weeks around the ‘net: Reviews.

What makes for a good, interesting review?

Some things to think about: How much plot synopsis do you like? Do you like in depth literary reviews full of quotations, passages from the novel, solid examples? Or more off the cuff reviews? Who are some of your favourite reviewers? Whose reviews do you not enjoy a whole lot?

Discussion
  • Aura June 27, 2008 at 4:29 pm

    Guess I’ll start this off…

    I like reviews that give a personal opinion on the book and don’t read like the paragraph on a book’s back cover, with more compare and contrast rather than plot summary and quotations. I like to know what sets the book apart from every other book on the same topic. Also, is the book a fun, fast read, or does it provide a lot of food for thought?

  • ediFanoB June 28, 2008 at 4:40 am

    I read your question yesterday and then I started to think about my answer.

    Today I’m back again. Fortunately someone did the first step.
    Thank you Aura. You expressed my expectations concerning a review very well.

    But I was also surprised. I expected more comments on this topic.

    I think there are a lot of people who read your blog but they don’te like to share their likes and dislikes.

    So you asked for favourite reviewers.

    These are my favourite reviewers so far:
    – Patrick at http://fantasyhotlist.blogspot.com/
    – Graeme at http://www.graemesfantasybookreview.com/
    – Robert Thompson at http://fantasybookcritic.blogspot.com/
    – Robb at http://www.blogorob.blogspot.com/
    And of course you, Aidan

    I’m member of Goodreads and it’s interesting to compare reviews from one of the guys mentioned above with the in parts very emotional and personal comments from Goodreads members.

    This year I wrote my first review and to be honest I didn’t expect how difficult it is.

    So I enjoy reading reviews from people like you Aidan who write reviews a lot better than I do.

  • Larry June 28, 2008 at 4:50 pm

    Well, I discussed something akin to this here, but I’ll reiterate my points there by stating that a “good” review is an honest, focused writing that shows that the reviewer engaged him/herself with the text and didn’t settle for regurgitating the press kit information. Unless I have the time to read umpteen blogs a day (and I usually don’t), I rarely read more than a handful of times people whose reviews come across as being “amateurish.” If I wanted to read the review equivalent of some drunken person spouting off in the bar on his/her opinions regarding whatever, I’d go down to the bar and get wasted, so I could appreciate it better ;) So yes, I do prefer some insight and evidence provided for it. As for favs/anti-favs, not going to get into that, as I still have a lot of room to improve. But I will give you an outline for a review I’m in the process of completing for publication elsewhere:

    I. Elements that made original book (Aeneid) memorable.
    A. The “singing,” “buffeted much on land and on sea,” “suffered much in war,” until triumph.
    B. Notion of a hero who was the object of fate and not the bringer of fate – different from Greek notions.

    II. How Graham (Black Ships) and Le Guin (Lavinia) deal with it.

    A. Shift away from the poetic devices – no active gods/goddesses.
    B. Portraits of Aeneas interacting with the authors’ created characters.
    C. Voices provided that were absent in Vergil’s original

    (Note: These are meant to repeat, as it’ll be Graham reviewed first, then Le Guin in this dual review).

    III. How Graham’s work compares to Vergil
    A. Pacing
    B. Language employed
    C. Strengths/Weaknesses of the characterization

    IV. Le Guin’s work in comparison
    A. Textual inferences to Vergil
    B. Her reading of Aeneid and how it influences her tale
    C. Pacing
    D. Prose
    E. Strengths/weaknesses in the characterizations

    V. Conclusions
    A. What Graham added to the legend
    B. What Le Guin added

    While this is subject to great alteration here, I do tend to have an outline of sorts before I write my longer reviews that are intended for publication elsewhere. Wouldn’t recommend this approach to all, but it certainly helps in centering one’s interactions with a given text and I have high hopes for the finished review being one of my best yet.

    There, ya wanted me to reply, so enjoy the verbiage! :P

  • ediFanoB June 29, 2008 at 3:20 am

    Larry,

    I read your message with interest. Form time to time I take a look at your blog. Unfortunately I missed the discussion on your blog. As I’m interested in this topic I will read it soon.

    Anyway whether I like or dislike a review is very subjective.

    I read reviews because I want more than a blurb can deliver.

  • Jebus June 29, 2008 at 10:44 pm

    Just make it personal and tell us what you did and didn’t like without giving away too many spoilers. I detest reviews that are cold and uppity, you know the ones where they try and squeeze in as many big words as possible.

    Just give me your general feel for the novel and characters and maybe compare it to other works you have liked or disliked because it is a truism that if several reviewers say “if you like Erikson…” or “if you’re a big fan of GRRM…” or “it’s kind of like a combo of Erikson and Le Guin…” then that will give me a reference point to work from.

    Above all be honest and clear, no spouting of metaphysics or crap like that, just tell me if you liked it and why. Or more importantly if your didn’t like it and why. Most of us are adults, we can figure it out from there.

  • Jeff C June 30, 2008 at 10:34 am

    I meant to comment on this post last week when i first saw it. I am mainly here to see what others have said. For those that have read my reviews for awhile, its obvious this is a question i struggle with, since i have tried 4 million different review formats in less than a year :)

    So far, what I assumed has been right. I think most folks just want a more conversational, less literary review. Something they can read it just a couple of minutes to get an idea of what the reviewer thought..but with enough info to compare the reviewer’s taste to their own (so they can decide if things that bothered the reviewer would also bother them). Maybe a good way to look at it, from the writing the review standpoint, is to just pretend to you are telling your best buddy what you liked (or didnt like) about the novel, and whether you would recommend it. I think the less formal reviews are more approachable.

    While I think there is certainly a place for the more literary reviews (And those definitely take more time and talent to write), they appeal to less people overall (maybe they feel more like academic reviews than a review from a normal reader?).

  • Swainson July 1, 2008 at 12:30 pm

    I have for the first time tried to write a review, not just talk and will be reading with interest the comments here.

  • Banotti April 20, 2009 at 2:43 pm

    For me it is about searching for a hint that will touch me. This hint usually takes form of a sudden feeling of happiness. Reviews I don’t like are those that leave strange alienated feeling in me and leave me disconnected. Also, I almost always skip the plot part since short descriptions of plot always sound dumb to me and I have never bought a book based on plot. Further, I think good books are not about the plot, but about the uniqueness of authors character and outlook on world. If reviewer can pinpoint this, then I consider the review done right. I search for a specific words that will prove to me that the reviewer really experienced the book. And passion is very important.