Sci-fi and Heroic Fantasy discussion

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General SF&F Chat > How do you write your book reviews?

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

I've been meaning to ask. How do you write your book review for this particular genre? Do you have a different criteria when you review a Sci-Fi and Heroic Fantasy type of book, as opposed to say a mystery/suspense or a young adult contemporary novel, etc.? How do you approach your book review? Please feel free to share your comments here.


message 2: by Brenda (new)

Brenda Clough (brendaclough) | 337 comments A well-written book is a well-written book. Each genre of course has its requirements, which must be fulfilled. A romance with an unconvincing relationship between the protagonists is not a good romance. So, ideally, the book is a good BOOK and also a good MYSTERY or whatever it is.


message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

i either liked it or not...i ain't no critic


message 4: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 2244 comments I'm not that well organized with reviews. I write what stands out at the time & try to include points that might help my friends make a decision on whether or not to read it. That sometimes includes links & trivia. Other times there isn't much to say. If it's discussed in a group, that often helps.


message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

NYKen wrote: "How do you write your book review for this particular genre? Do you have a different criteria when you review a Sci-Fi and Heroic Fantasy type of book, as opposed to say a mystery/suspense or..."


I don't think I approach it differently than for any other type of fiction (non-fiction does have some different criteria.)

Most important point is whether I liked the book or not. Like Spooky, I am not a critic; I'm not trying to dissect Art. When I scribble a review on Goodreads, I treated very much as I would try to tell a friend why s/he should read something (or avoid something), making some allowance for the possibility that his/her taste may vary. Story, character, setting, pacing, prose style, all the usual factors will influence my enjoyment, but that's more an after-the-fact deconstruction of why I enjoyed something. I mention whatever comes to mind as having been most enjoyable or most irritating.

There are a few factors that may take on more significance in whether I enjoy a SF/F story:

Setting may take on some additional importance: whether it's unique or intriguing. Fantasy can create whole new worlds, and sci-fi can visit any future or travel to the past. (Whereas most Westerns are going to be fundamentally similar, as are most spy novels.)

In sci-fi specifically, the use of actual Science may be more important in my opinion than it would in other genre, depending on whether the book is trying to deal with actual scientific facts (so-called "hard SF"). It can either speculate on possible futures or extrapolate what other environments might be like.

But I still have plenty of room on my bookshelf for simple pulp adventure stories.


message 6: by M. (new)

M. Keep (jmkeep) | 2 comments I really hate thinking of my reviews as 'reviews' because I typically don't talk about the quality of the book. I focus more on how it made me feel, what thoughts and emotions it conjured within me, and what impact it had on my life or the way I view the world.

At least for the good books!


message 7: by Jesse (new)

Jesse Duckworth | 7 comments This is something I to have been trying to get better at. I need to be more active at reviewing. So I appreciate the information.


message 8: by Reed (new)

Reed Bosgoed (ReedBosgoed) | 4 comments When I'm reviewing sf/f books I try to pay special attention to the world building elements of the book, such as the fictional universe and the mythology/technology being used. The more original or creative they are, the better my review will be. In most regards though, I'd review them like any other genre, for story, character and general enjoyment.


message 9: by Mark (new)

Mark O'Donnell | 5 comments Hello all

I have yet to write a proper book review. In the past I have stuck to music and films, however I may well consider writing one on the current book I am reading.

Mark


message 10: by Mary (new)

Mary Catelli | 763 comments I read a book. Then I read it again. Then I sit down and tell people how it opens and what sort of story it is, and then end with a random jumble of stuff in the story after the opening to whet people's curiosity.

(I only review books I like.)


message 11: by Diana (new)

Diana Gotsch | 27 comments How much I enjoyed the book is key. Would you recommend A book you didn't enjoy to a friend no matter how "important" it is? After that I like to consider if the book did what it appears the Author intended. A serious fiction will be held to a high standard than something just for fun. Does a Non-fiction make the point it is trying for or does it miss the mark.

I'm afraid the mood I am in when I read the book may effect what I have to say. I suspect that many times I an unfair to a book. So in the end my emotion plays a large part in what I write.


message 12: by Kevis (new)

Kevis Hendrickson (kevishendrickson) | 44 comments Generally, if I think a book rates 5 stars (which is very rare for me) I'll mention what I like about it and why I rated it so highly. I don't usually bother to mention faults unless the book is 4 stars or below, which happens to be where most of the book I read fall. I think its helpful to readers to explain the pros and cons of a book. But there are a lot of authors out there who can't take criticism and I'm finding myself less inclined than before to bother posting reviews. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if going into the new year, I stopped writing them.


message 13: by Brenda (new)

Brenda Clough (brendaclough) | 337 comments An author who complains of a review is a fool, and you should ignore her or him. Your opinion is your own, and you are fully entitled to it. If your review is silly -- if like the famous 'how to annoy an author' web page you are posting about how the plastic on the shipping box was torn and therefore you are giving the book one star -- the readers of your review can surely see that, and judge your worth accordingly.


message 14: by Kevis (last edited Nov 26, 2013 09:25AM) (new)

Kevis Hendrickson (kevishendrickson) | 44 comments Brenda wrote: "An author who complains of a review is a fool, and you should ignore her or him. Your opinion is your own, and you are fully entitled to it. If your review is silly -- if like the famous 'how to an..."

I totally agree with you, Brenda. In fact, some of my own personal favorite reviews are ones that have been critical of my work. I never once threw a hissy fit over a critical review. In fact, I find some of them very informative and try to learn from them when possible. I'm even amused by some of the really harsh reviews where the reader took a hatchet to my books because if there's one think I love, it's a passion reader. I know I'll have officially arrived when I get an expletive-laced, Gif-filled review, lol.

In the end, we all don't and can't like the same books. Unfortunately, there are authors out there who can't take the fact that not everyone will be in love with their books. It's a shame some of them also like to post retaliatory 1-star reviews from sock puppet accounts to other authors who don't post a 5 star review for their books.


message 15: by Jeffrey (last edited Nov 26, 2013 10:06AM) (new)

Jeffrey | 11 comments I have reviewed about 80 books this year. I try to winnow out the bad ones or the ones I am not interested in reading before I read them. But some slip through. I pretty much do a little about my feeling about the book in the beginning, a general outline of action in the middle -- hi points etc, a few questions about where the author is going and overall exposition at the end. If the book is good or bad I say so. Reality is the review is my opinion about the book. There are books in genre fiction that are continuations of a story that for whatever reason fail to measure up to the first book or other books in the series. I think people are interested in knowing that, and in sf and fantasy we do end up reading a lot of series, trilogies etc so we are frequently confronted with whether we should continue to soldier on WOT for instance. I tell it like it is good bad or indifferent


message 16: by Brenda (new)

Brenda Clough (brendaclough) | 337 comments There are no rules about what a review should be like here on Goodreads. (If you were reviewing for say the NY REVIEW OF BOOKS then yes, they have their rules, since it is their playground.) If you want to express your feelings, great. If you want to write a literary analysis of the symbolism of the novel as it relates to the policy of the US in south Africa, by all means! People write and post reviews for their own reasons.
I personally write reviews so that I can remember what I've read. The pure act of writing helps me to remember, and then I can always go back and look at the books on my shelf to see. I am often surprised to learn that I have already read a given book.


message 17: by Randy (new)

Randy Harmelink | 931 comments Brenda wrote: "There are no rules about what a review should be like here on Goodreads."

Ahem. That was a big issue a few months back:

https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/...
https://www.goodreads.com/review/guid...


message 18: by Brenda (new)

Brenda Clough (brendaclough) | 337 comments Yes, but nobody is saying that it has to go into the literary value, or that you must make a judgment about artistic worth. You can write more or less what you want, within those parameters.


message 19: by [deleted user] (new)

Op-Ed piece in NYTimes today, Banning the Negative Book Review, poking fun at Gawker's new policy.


message 20: by Jeffrey (new)

Jeffrey | 11 comments If there were no negative reviews we would all be watching Halloween 24 reading Sword of shannara 26. Oh right, we are.


message 21: by Mary (new)

Mary Catelli | 763 comments eh, if we concentrated our reviews on the books we think good, that would filter.

And just as there are negative reviews that send me scurrying to buy the book -- alas, I no longer get the column of the reviewer who reliably labeled characters too good to be true, but he was great for a time -- there are positive reviews that put me into full flight.


message 22: by Mary (new)

Mary Catelli | 763 comments And there's a limited amount of time to review books. Pointing someone away from a dozen turkeys is hardly helpful because there are thousands of turkeys. Pointing someone toward one gem is useful, not matter how many other gems and turkeys exist.


message 23: by Jeffrey (new)

Jeffrey | 11 comments I like that thought Mary. I review to point people to good books worth reading and read reviews for information. Thousands of books, we want info to figure out best books to read


message 24: by Randy (new)

Randy Harmelink | 931 comments Wouldn't that mean the lack of reviews is a negative thing? :)

OTOH, I can see this type of thing on NetFlix. Most television series have very high ratings, when compared to movies. That's because only those people that LIKE the series are voting on them. While movies tend to get a larger variety of viewers that rate them. This skewing was especially apparent when NetFlix used to let people rate the individual seasons of the TV series -- you would see the ratings inflate, because only those that like the show go on to each later season.


message 25: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 2244 comments Their decision to ban negative reviews is ridiculous. Certainly some went over the edge, but that often reflects more on the reviewer. They come off sounding like an ass.

There are millions of books available. I read a paltry 150 or so a year & have been for over 40 years. Some are re-reads, so I've maybe read 5000 books in my life. If I'm lucky, I might read another 5000, a miniscule percentage of the books available today. In another decade?!!! I need all the filtering help I can get.

Some people adore books with no punctuation. That's fine for them. I HATE them. I want to know so I cherish negative reviews. They're often the only place that I can find people raving about the my own pet peeves.


message 26: by Jeffrey (new)

Jeffrey | 11 comments Jim

I agree. Movies get bad reviews. Food critics critique some very harshly and broadway critics make such harsh reviews that whether a play goes on is solely due to that fact. I made the same point to an author and her response was to call some reviewers "trolls". I think again that reviews r just one filter. I read them and write them in ordeer to help others read good books. I guess the dividing line shd be no ad hominum attacks on author's character. To me everything else is fair game


message 27: by [deleted user] (new)

Randy wrote: "I can see this type of thing on NetFlix. Most television series have very high ratings, when compared to movies. That's because only those people that LIKE the series are voting on them...."

You see this in a lot of book series, too. After the first or second book in the series, only people who like the series are reading and reviewing it. So if you look at Goodreads ratings of Twilight, Harry Potter, Lost Fleet, Honor Harrington, Wheel of Time, Wool, Riyria, you tend to see a gradual increase in the ratings as the series progresses.

(With a few exceptions: None of Scalzi's sequels to Old Man's War have scored as well as the original, and the Wheel of Time series has a dip - justified, IMO - around 8-10. But overall, readers, and thus reviewers, gradually become self-selective for those predisposed to like the book.)


message 28: by [deleted user] (last edited Jun 26, 2014 06:30AM) (new)

Jeffrey wrote: "I agree. Movies get bad reviews. Food critics critique some very harshly and broadway critics make such harsh reviews that whether a play goes on is solely due to that fact. I made the same..."

I especially appreciate the reviews, negative as well as positive, of my Goodreads' friends and others whose reviews I follow here. I at least have some impression of their taste. A thoughtful positive review might alert me to reasons I personally wouldn't care for the book, and a thoughtful negative review might point out reasons why I'd like it more than the reviewer.

I find the books I have the strongest feelings on, positive or negative, are the easiest to review. I can either gush or rant at length. It's those 2-star and 3-star books that are usually hardest to explain an ambivalence.


message 29: by Brenda (new)

Brenda Clough (brendaclough) | 337 comments The other reason to review is that your books are like shells -- the record of your growth. You can know a lot about a person by looking at all the books on their book shelves. (There is another whole ginormous thread somewhere here on Goodreads dedicated to the proposition that you can select a girlfriend or boyfriend by looking at their bookshelves.) So looking at the books that a person has reviewed here on Goodreads can be revelatory.


message 30: by Diana (new)

Diana Gotsch | 27 comments When reading the reviews trying to decide about a book I sometimes find the negative almost more help than the positive. Is the writer is complaining about some of the same things that bother me? Does He/she call the book silly or shallow? (some days shallow is just what I'm looking for)Too much sex or violence? Too little sex or violence. It can tell me what to expect.


message 31: by [deleted user] (new)

when i look at something on amazon, be it a book or app or whatever, i go right to the 1 star reviews now that i think about it...that has saved me from buying alot of junk


message 32: by A.L. (last edited Dec 25, 2013 03:26PM) (new)

A.L. Butcher (alb2012) | 127 comments I don't always review, but at least on GR I try and rate. Reviewing I try and avoid simply retelling the story but I will say how the book made me feel, what I liked or didn't like and sometimes whether I would read another by this author. I tend to make my own judgement on books so I am not not sure whether my reviews are helpful to others or not;)

Usually I will talk about whether the characters are engaging, did the plot keep me interested, sometimes if there are editing issues, although I don't tend to mind if the story is good. Also if there are any glaring issues like inconsistency, weak research etc.


message 33: by Heidi (new)

Heidi Garrett (heidi_g) As I don't consider myself a "book reviewer" per say, my book reviews are very informal. Since I like to gush, I usually focus on what I really loved about the book. Sometimes, I'll throw in what I call a "Bah! Writer's quibble." In 2012 I started writing my book commentaries in first person, present tense, stream-of-consiousness, on my blog. Kind of like "I'm reading this and this is what it's making feel and think of." Those are the funnest for me to write, and I fell off doing them towards the end of 2013, so I'm hoping to do more in 2014.

However, I admire people who can write more formal/structured reviews, and appreciate what they contribute to the reading/writing community.


message 34: by Kala (new)

Kala | 1 comments I almost always go for the reviews when I'm starting something new or I'm getting frustrated with a book that I'm currently reading. I think a helpful review can include personal feelings of the book as well as information about the main character and plot. Sometimes I look for small spoilers (especially when I'm particularly frustrated) because that can motivate me to finish a particularly troublesome book (ie. Look! It's about to get good! Give it a couple more pages/chapters to redeem itself!).

I haven't been great about reviewing but I have been trying to review my latest find right after I finish. I hide anything that I might consider to be too spoiler-y but if I found it difficult to read I include that statement and what I found annoying. I also tend to include a time frame (6 hours vs. 2 weeks) in which I finished the book to estimate ease of read and level of addiction the book installed.


message 35: by Dave (new)

Dave (dcr_writes) | 45 comments I've just started reviewing seriously, both here and through NetGalley. Even though I write myself, I try not to focus on the writing as much as the reading experience.

I read a lot of books, so the thing that I rank highest is readability. If the book keeps me reading, I can forgive all manner of flaws. For me the purpose of a review is not so much to recap the book as to recap the experience in such a way as to draw those readers who would like that book in, without catching those who would not.


message 36: by Michael (new)

Michael Casey | 44 comments I don't write reviews anymore. One, I'm not sure I'm qualified, since many times I can't tell exactly why something worked or didn't which makes my reviews useless to other readers. And two, I got into it with an author once on Amazon. Gave the book a single star because of terrible grammar and POV issues (I had no clue whose POV the thing was written in, and it wasn't omniscient. ) It was like the author felt the need to show EVERY character's thoughts. It made it really confusing. The thing had a great cover and blurb, though. I always read the sample now. Anyway, the author started explaining his grand vision in the comments, I still didn't get it and he got huffy. Said that since I admited not "getting" it and admitted I didn't make past chapter 2, I shouldn't leave a review. I took the review down and haven't left one since. Screw it. Too much trouble.


message 37: by [deleted user] (new)

authors, like politicians, should have thick skins if they want to read their press


message 38: by Mary (new)

Mary Catelli | 763 comments I only review books I like. That helps.

Directing people toward one gem is more use than turning them away from a hundred turkeys, since there are thousands of turkeys, and a gem is good in itself.


message 39: by A.L. (new)

A.L. Butcher (alb2012) | 127 comments I'd say too. It only gets 5 stars if it kept me up reading, or I'd much rather finish reading than do something else.


message 40: by [deleted user] (last edited Jun 26, 2014 06:32AM) (new)

How Amazon and Goodreads are changing Literary Criticism

"A good deal of reviewing, especially of novels, might well be done by amateurs ... whose ideas about [the novel] would surely be worth more than those of a bored professional," — George Orwell


message 41: by Brenda (new)

Brenda Clough (brendaclough) | 337 comments I write reviews rapidly. (Same as posts.) They are swift impressions, not scholarly analysis. I also use Goodreads mainly as a way to keep track of what I have read.


message 42: by Bobby (new)

Bobby Bermea (beirutwedding) | 412 comments It's GoodReads so I generally don't have a reason why I write reviews. I certainly don't have time to write hundreds of reviews that I'm not getting paid for. Usually, for whatever reason, something hits me and I just wind up writing it. Sometimes, it's something about the book that I've always wanted to say. With my five star reviews, I've started looking for some passage that I think really captures the magic of that person's prose style OR a passage that really encapsulates why I love the book. But heck, it's whatever really.


message 43: by Mary (new)

Mary Catelli | 763 comments G33z3r wrote: "How Amazon and Goodreads are changing Literary Criticism

"A good deal of reviewing, especially of novels, might well be done by amateurs ... whose ideas about [the novel] would surely be worth mor..."


In the full essay, he rejected the notion because most books are so bad that no one would read them without being paid for it.


message 44: by Bryen (new)

Bryen O'Riley (BryenORiley) | 3 comments I tend to write reviews like I shop at garage sales...with too much empathy. I am one of those shoppers who don't want to offend the garage seller so I buy something from everyone even if I don't really want it. Therefore, I tend to avoid garage sales.

It is the same with reviewing someone's book. I know it takes a lot of time and effort to write one so I tend not to review a book harshly (or my preference is not to review it at all unless I loved it!). So, basically, I am a wimp when it comes to writing reviews (or going to garage sales)... But I promise I am pretty tough in other areas of my life! {;0)


message 45: by Marie (last edited Jun 26, 2014 10:12PM) (new)

Marie (naturechild02) Bryen wrote: "I tend to write reviews like I shop at garage sales...with too much empathy. I am one of those shoppers who don't want to offend the garage seller so I buy something from everyone even if I don't ..."

I used to be this way. I didn't want to offend anyone but honestly, it's the internet. You can offend someone just as easily by saying nothing at all.

If asked for an honest review, I give one, even if it isn't what they want to hear. As a writer, I realize how important reviews are to an author and how it can help sales. But if your story is crap or your writing horrendous, I have no problem saying that and explaining why because I would want that same kind of honesty in a review for my works.

Whether I like the story or not is one thing but whether it's well told is different and I won't hesitate to point out all that is great or not so great about someone's writing. If it offends the writer, sorry, but maybe they will get an editor next time or take more time to develop their story.
I've had some harsh things said about my writing (recently actually) and though it was like a knife in the chest at first, I stepped away, took a deep breath and tried to look at the piece from an outsiders point of view. And eight out of ten times, they're right. So I thank them and fix what needs to be fixed.
Okay, I've said enough.


message 46: by A.J. (new)

A.J. Martinez (aj-martinez) | 10 comments I like it when reviews are written with detail like this


message 48: by William (new)

William Eckman (brukkaros) | 5 comments I haven't put my reviews on Goodreads yet, but I have two book review blogs, one for science fiction and one for non-fiction.

For science fiction, I rank things by how far they make it down this list: first I want what I'm reading to have decent spelling/grammar and a coherent plot, second I want the science in it to make sense or at least be internally consistent, third I'd like it to be a page-turner, and finally I'd like it to be something I think about after I'm finished reading.

For non-fiction my process is completely different, I rate things higher if they would be a "good read" for a general audience, and lower if I feel they are only of interest to a small group of subject enthusiasts.


message 49: by Brenda (new)

Brenda Clough (brendaclough) | 337 comments You must be a person of great charity and tolerance. If it doesn't have decent spelling and grammar I am out, immediately. No second chances.


message 50: by William (new)

William Eckman (brukkaros) | 5 comments Brenda wrote: "You must be a person of great charity and tolerance. If it doesn't have decent spelling and grammar I am out, immediately. No second chances."

I'm mostly reviewing short stories at the moment; if I was looking at 300 pages full of bad grammar, I might not continue. I also filter out a few of the worst offenders by passing on anything with bad grammar in its marketing blurb.


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