When I was an elementary school teacher, I assigned lots of book reviews. Depending on the grade level, I had certain outlines created by a committee or an individual teacher or even the Ministry of Education. None of these templates ever considered the Internet world. Why? Well, in my time, it didn’t exist. These days, the cyberworld is still ignored by schools because their goals are far different from writing a review for Amazon or Goodreads or any of the other myriad online sites.
The goals in school are two-fold. One, the student must prove to the teacher that s/he has actually read the whole book. Thus, a sufficiently detailed summary of the novel is a prerequisite. Two, the teacher focuses on certain skills to be demonstrated, all the way from the ability to predict outcomes based on clues to spelling or grammar.
A review for an online book site is entirely different. Firstly, there should only one goal (although the reviewer may have a personal second). That goal ought to be to tell other readers about your own reactions to a novel you have read. However, some reviewers have a second goal: to support/promote the author OR to take them down a notch.
Let me wax prosaic on the first objective and make my apologies to students who have followed their teachers’ rules into the present. Here are some entirely new ones, from me. When you do an online review, do NOT summarize the book. All the online sites, such as Amazon, provide excerpts, summaries, or synopses. As a reader, I can check out up to three whole chapters for free. I don’t need you to summarize. If you haven’t really read the book, you are just cheating yourself, or the author. And if you are a cheater or have an agenda to attack the writer, I’ll be smart enough to see very clearly through your subterfuge. So please don’t bore me with your perception of the novel’s plotline. Or worse yet, tell me the entire story and spoil the end. Leave the summarizing to the professionals.
What I am interested in is your reaction to the novel. This is your opportunity to write two or three sentences giving your opinion. You are not bound by the old rules. You are relieved of the summary task. You don’t have to prove any expert literary skill to anyone, although you may want to demonstrate correct spelling and grammar to be taken seriously. Your only goal is to tell other readers what you thought of, reacted to or how you felt about this particular book.
This method translates into perhaps five minutes of your time. You don’t have to get very technical about each of these categories, but you can if you want to; e.g. search plot types and categorize the book if the online site hasn’t done it to your liking.
One last thing: about honesty. Of course it’s preferable to be truthful. But that doesn’t have to translate into mean, vicious and soul-destroying. There is a gentle way to say “that jacket makes you look fat”. A professional, responsible way to state that your reaction to the book was negative. I can say, “I disagree fundamentally with the viewpoint” or I can say, “The author takes a stupidly ridiculous stance”. One accepts responsibility for the opinion; the other blames and demeans. Another way to accept responsibility and be professional is to use your own name when you review a book.
Don’t hide behind a moniker. If you are a friend/relative of the author, say so. As a reader, I will take your relationship into consideration. If you are one of my students trying to seek revenge for a low mark on a book report, let me know, and I’ll be sure to put an A on your review this time.
Now, go ahead and review your favourite authors’ books!
Everything you ever wanted to know about Catherine and her books (including contact links) is on her website. Come and visit! www.catherineastolfo.com
Check out Astolfo's latest psychological suspense, SWEET KAROLINE
Catherine Astolfo retired in 2002 after a very successful 34 years in education. She can recall writing fantasy stories for her classmates in Grade Three, so she started finishing her books the day after her retirement became official. Her short stories and poems have been published in a number of Canadian literary presses. Her story, "What Kelly Did", won the prestigious Arthur Ellis Award for Best Short Crime Story in 2012.
In the fall of 2011, she was thrilled to be awarded a four-book contract by Imajin Books for her Emily Taylor Mystery series (previously self-published), and has never been happier with this burgeoning second career!
Catherine's books are gritty, yet portray gorgeous surroundings; they deal with sensitive social issues, but always include love and hope. They're not thrillers, but rather literary mysteries with loads of character and setting. And justice always prevails.