8 Ways I Choose My Next Read

February 24, 2019

How Do I Choose My Next Read?

8 Ways to Choose Your Next Read

Image Source: Canva

Modern Mrs Darcy  inspired my thoughts about how I choose my next read during a recent webinar (paid content so I can’t provide a link). Thanks to Modern Mrs Darcy for causing me to stop and consider my strategies. This not a summary of her webinar, but its my response in exploring this topic. *This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

8 Ways I Choose My Next Read

1. Genres & Covers

As tempting as a great cover can be, the genre and diversity aspects are more important considerations for me. I have set a goal to read more nonfiction as well. When choosing books, I’m intentionally looking for authors of color and authors who are women. I actively look for more “own voices” literature. In addition, I like to balance my reading with some Middle Grade and Young Adult selections.

Covers are not that important to me. Since I read ebooks almost exclusively, it’s not as easy for me to fall back on the tried and true strategies most commonly used if you were browsing physical copies in a book store. For example with an ebook, it’s more difficult to select a book by a cover because it doesn’t jump out at me the same as when I’m comparing it with fifty titles before me on a shelf at Target. When purchasing ebooks, I’m usually more focused on the kindle price! However, when I see a book reviewed, I definitely make a mental note about the appeal of a cover. Sometimes I can’t even remember what the title of my book looks like when I’m reading it because it’s not sitting around on an end table…..once I open it on my kindle and start reading, I never see the cover. Some of the covers I’ve recently loved include Amal Unbound, The Ensemble, How to Find Love in a Bookshop, Refugee, The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls. One cover I don’t love and it almost caused me to miss a great read is Eden. Choosing a book by a cover is one of the disadvantages of reading ebooks, but it’s one of the most popular ways of choosing physical books. How many of you choose a book by the cover? What’s the last book you chose exclusively for the cover?

2. Trusted Reviewers

Because I’m part of the Bookstagram community (Instagram for accounts devoted to books and reviews) and follow many review blogs, I have identified several reviewers whom I trust in choosing books for my TBR. Find a blogger who focuses on the genres you love, and then also follow their reviews on the blog, Instagram, Twitter, Goodreads, and Pinterest. One of my most trusted sources for summer reading ideas is the Summer Reading Guide from the Modern Mrs Darcy website. How many of you choose books based on trusted reviewers?

3. Amazon and Goodreads Reviews

I pour over Amazon and Goodreads reviews in the following ways. First I check the 3 star reviews and then the 2s and 1s. I really want to know what issues other readers have with the book. I balance these out with a few 4 and 5 star reviews which are always glowing but are useful for identifying some strengths. I spend more time in the 3, 2, and 1 star range trying to identify any triggers (such as graphic violence, explicit sexual content, profane language, abuse, etc.) or possible pace, plot, structure, and/or writing problems. Then I evaluate the importance of these issues (balanced by the strengths) and if I can live with them during the reading experience. The danger with perusing reviews is that you might come across spoilers. Do you check out Amazon and/or Goodreviews before making a reading decision?

4. Pre Reading

If I were in a bookstore or library, I might do some pre reading: the first page, a random page from the middle, the introduction/preface and acknowledgments (this will sometimes give interesting information about the author’s purpose or reasons for writing the book), and the publisher’s summary on the back cover or flap. I’m careful and skeptical about the publisher’s sales pitch. Sometimes it doesn’t truly represent the content of the story or is misleading. With an ebook, I depend on the Amazon feature which allows me to download a sample. This gives me an idea of the writing style and tone. One more idea if you have multiple books in your hand that you want to read, is to “speed read” (I first heard this term and concept from Kate Olson Reads) each book for a certain amount of time (for example, three minutes). Do you scope out potential reads using any of these strategies?

5. Blurbs

One area that I honestly give very little weight to are blurbs by other authors found on the cover or inside pages. It’s my opinion that these blurbs have been carefully curated and cultivated…….perhaps these authors are friends or neighbors or in the same writing group. I’m a bit skeptical and usually don’t let them sway me. This is a personal opinion……do any of you feel the same way?

6. Buzz

I don’t read a book simply because it’s receiving a lot of hype…..I make sure it’s the right read for me. Sometimes if I’m not sure, I allow some time for the hype to die down. I can usually tell if it’s for me because multiple reviewers whom I trust will review and recommend. This is a little tricky because I have a great deal of FOMO and I love to read new releases and be a part of the initial buzz! Although sometimes a great deal of buzz sets the reader up with expectations that are too high and it ends up a disappointing read. Even a favorite author’s new book might not meet your expectations. The last book I read with a lot of buzz was Where the Crawdads Sing and, for me, it lived up to the buzz. What’s the last book you chose based on the buzz? Did you enjoy the read?

7. Best Friends

If you are lucky to be surrounded by readers in your life, you might depend upon a recommendation from a best friend. Before I started closely following reviews, I interrogated my friends that I  met for lunch. My first question was always, “What are you reading?” because I knew that we enjoyed the same genres and quality of literature. Friends were always good for a few recommendations and I had reads for the next few months. My mom shares a Kindle account with me, so her next reads come from my ebook library. Luckily, we have similar bookish tastes. Do you have a friend you can ask for a recommendation? Sometimes I “push” books on my friends by buying them my favorite read of the year for a Christmas gift. Do you receive books or titles from your best friends?

8. Commitments

When choosing my next read, I always have to consider my book club and NetGalley commitments. I’m a part of three book clubs: Modern Mrs. Darcy (online club, $10/month fee, title/discussion threads provided), Postal Book Club (a mailing group of 6 people who share/rotate books and a mailing deadline every two months), and an IRL (in real life) book club (monthly commitment). In addition, I’m under obligation to read and review free books that I receive from publishers via NetGalley (so I monitor pub dates to determine my reading priorities). When I think about my next read, I must take these commitments into consideration first. Do you have a commitment to a book club? If you’re a mood reader (like me) sometimes it can be difficult to read a book you feel like you “have” to read (especially if you have to forgo reading the latest release that’s receiving all the buzz!….or is that just me?).

Do any of these methods for choosing your next read resonate with you? How do you most often choose your next read?

Even though I read about 100 books per year and I’ve done my best to check them each out, not every read meets my expectations. Reading is still a personal experience and no two readers read the same book. One that I love might not resonate with you at all. Only the books I’ve rated 4 and 5 stars will be reviewed on the blog. I want to be a blogger you can trust.  You can always find all my reviews on Goodreads.



Let’s Discuss!

Share with me! How do you choose your next read? What methods have been the most successful for you? Do you have tips/strategies you can add? Is there a book you’ve picked up because of reading a review here?

*This weekend while blog hopping, I came across a post with the same topic…..so enjoy this perspective from bookidote blog



Feedback

I’m curious how my reviews are resonating with all of my followers. If you are a regular reader, would you consider taking one or two minutes to comment about a book you read based on reading a review here? I’d love to hear.



A Few Trusted Reviewers

I follow a lot of blogs…..listed below are a few of the blogs/podcasts that I check most frequently. There are too many to list here…..these are a sample of a few recent posts that I’ve read.

Modern Mrs Darcy Blog & What Should I Read Next Podcast

Jennifer~Tar Heel Reader Blog

The Lexington Bookie Blog

The Secret Library Book Blog

Fictionophile Blog

My newest discovery is Orange County Readers

From the Front Porch Podcast (books reviews/book talk with a side of southern charm)

Reading Women Podcast (reviewing books about women written by women….lots of literary fiction, interviews, and thoughtful book talk)



***Blogs posts may contain affiliate links. This means that at no extra cost to you, I can earn a small percentage of your purchase price.

Unless explicitly stated that they are free, all books that I review have been purchased by me or borrowed from the library.

Book Cover and author photo are credited to Amazon or an author’s (or publisher’s) website.

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How I Write a Fiction Book Review

*this post contains affiliate links

January 12, 2019

How I Write a Fiction Book Review

how i write a book review

Have you written a book review?

Do you write reviews for Goodreads? Instagram? Or occasional blog reviews?

If you’ve never written a review, would you like you to try?

Even if you are an avid reader and are not interested in writing reviews, you might be interested to know how I approach writing a review because it might enhance your reading experience. If you don’t write a review, you might tell a friend what you like about a book or give a video review in Instagram stories, and that involves some of the same thinking and communication skills as a written review. Here’s a behind the scenes look at my process for writing a fiction book review. Usually for a review, I will choose a few of these elements to build my review….it depends on the reading and what impressed me.

My Intent. In sharing my thoughts, I need to stress that I am a definite work in progress. Readers have vastly different opinions on books and reviews, and writing a review feels like walking through a mine field at times. I want to provide honest reviews, but I don’t want to offend anyone either or be overly critical of an author. Even though I rewrite and thoughtfully edit my reviews, I realize they can be improved. It’s also helpful to read and learn from the reviews of others. What I’m offering here are steps to begin your thinking process and to explore the planning stage of writing a review.

1

First…

writie a reading review

Photo by Tracy Adams on Unsplash

…and this is not meant to scare you, but… I usually think about how I’m going to take notes. I’ve found that when a thought strikes me while I’m reading that it’s best to write it down. Otherwise, the book takes my mind in so many different directions that I can’t always remember the specific moments that make the most impact. I also like to note at least one quote for my review. For me, it’s convenient to make notes right in the notes section of my iPad as I’m reading because I complete the majority of my reading in the Kindle app on my iPad. You could keep a small notebook or even a scrap of paper that doubles as a bookmark. It doesn’t matter what the note taking process looks like for you. I find that looking at my notes gives me a great starting point for my review. Recently, I read a physical copy of a book and decided that I would simply flag certain passages with little flag post its. Well….my five year old grandson picked up my book one day and little hands removed a few of my post its! Sometimes there are hazards involved with note taking.

Next is the reading…..and I’m considering the following elements:

2

Setting

Using my five senses, can I envision a place? The time period? The atmosphere? The season? When I close my eyes and stop to think about the story, can I place myself in the story? What do I see, hear, touch, feel, taste, smell? What details do I notice? If I’m having difficulty in answering these questions, this might mean a low rating for this element of the story. How important is the setting to the story? Is the setting an important aspect of the story or could the story have taken place in any location or in any time period? Sometimes the setting can be as important in a story as a character. An example of this is Where the Crawdads Sing.

3

Main Characters/Narrator/Point of View

Are main characters well developed? I’m hoping not to find stereotypes (this lowers my star rating). I’m watching for diversity, point of view, and I’m looking intently for character traits. Sometimes there are too many characters and keeping them straight is confusing. Who’s the narrator of the story? Is the story told from multiple perspectives or only one? Are the characters children, young adults, or adults? Or is this a story of family dynamics? Interestingly, the story in The Book Thief is told by Death. That’s an interesting detail for a review!

4

Plot/Pacing

Do the events of the story move the story forward at a nice pace? Or are there places where the story drags? At the story’s end, are you left with unanswered questions and disappointed with dangling story lines? Is the story predictable? (this is something that readers tend to either like or dislike) Does it bother you if you are able to consistently guess what is going to happen before it happens? Honestly, predictability takes a bit of the enjoyment out of the story for me and I usually give those stories three stars. Is the story engaging? Is it a page turner? Is it a happily ever after (HEA)? Is it unputdownable? Is the story character driven or plot driven? An example of character driven is A Gentleman in Moscow, and an example of plot driven is The Great Alone.

5

Important Themes

Themes are the most enjoyable part of my reading experience and my favorite aspect of writing a review. I love a great theme! A story that doesn’t have a few good themes won’t be earning four or five stars from me. I always include themes in my reviews. Common themes include family dynamics (parent/child, siblings), faith, friendship, loyalty, ambition, bravery, determination, survival, pursuing a dream or goal, loss, achievement, overcoming obstacles, grief, etc., etc.

6

The Writing

Does the writing flow? Or are you confused and find yourself rereading for clarification or understanding? Is it evident that the writer excels at her or his craft? With certain authors like Fredrik Backman, I need to stop often and simply reflect on how beautifully the sentence was constructed or how uniquely the thought was expressed (Beartown).  I notice gorgeous and creative figurative language, descriptive details, and a unique turn of phrase (Virgil Wander). The recent trend of not punctuating dialogue (The Boat People) seriously annoys me and slows down my reading pace. Even though the author has a specific artistic reason for using this style (which I appreciate), it still creates a more difficult than necessary reading experience. Personally, I like short chapters. I have a difficult time stopping mid chapter, so I appreciate having frequent opportunities for taking a pause. In addition, short paragraphs lend itself to easier reading. This might be a good place to note that I love reading books by “own voices” authors (e.g. Inside Out and Back Again or The Hate U Give). This is an interesting fact to point out in a review. Some of what I mention in this section consists of personal preferences and will be a small consideration in your rating.

7

Enjoyability Factor

This is one of the most important elements in a book review. Potential readers want to know if you enjoy the book and why or why not. I ask myself: Would I reread this? Does it earn a place on my “forever shelf”? Am I tempted to carry it with me where ever I go? Do I find myself wanting to pull it out and read at stop signs? Would I save it in a fire? Is it unputdownable? Did I read the entire book in one day or one sitting? (Castle of Water) Did I neglect everything else in my life to read this book? Or did I purposefully stretch it out to savor it? Recently, I lent a book to my mother and her complaint about it was that she wasn’t getting her housework done because she was constantly tempted to pick up the book (The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter) to find out what happened next! Do I recommend this book to everyone I see? How many significant connections with characters and/or circumstances have I made with the story? My favorite read of last year (A Place For Us) earned five stars from me mostly because of the emotional connections I felt with the characters. It outweighed every other element of the story. Ultimately, reading is a subjective and emotional experience and no two people read the same book. Does the book give me a reading hangover? That is, do I still think about the story and the characters days and weeks or even years later? This enjoyability factor sometimes determines the difference between a four and a five star read for me. Five star reads MUST meet many aspects of the enjoyability factor. The enjoyability factor will be evident in your review and your enthusiasm will be the part of your review that causes other readers to pick up the book. It’s a good thing to let your enthusiasm for a book show! If I don’t sense a reviewer’s enthusiasm, I think that she/he must not be recommending it despite all the other wonderful points being made. (Some reviewers do not believe in leaving negative reviews, so I’ve learned to read between the lines!)

8

Recommendation

I typically end my review with a recommendation (e.g. “recommended for readers of historical fiction”). You can recommend the genre, the style of writing, the topic, the author, read-a-likes, etc. This is something I look for in a review because it helps me decide if this story is one for me or if it eliminates me. If I write that a book is recommended for readers who love paranormal, what I’m also saying is you might not want to read this if you don’t like the genre. Bottom line, there are kind ways of saying negative things. I’ve developed a few tricks for writing reviews for books that haven’t been the best reads for me. It’s amazing what can be communicated by creating a recommendation statement.

9

Star Ratings

The Five Star Rating System is a fairly subjective and highly discussed rating system. I happen to love when reviewers give me a star rating….it provides a great deal of information at a glance. However, some reviewers avoid the star rating system completely. Goodreads has a guideline for the 5 star system and you can find my complete explanation of my five star scale here. This is a brief explanation of mine: 5=it’s going on my lifetime favorites list; 4=very good read; 3=OK, satisfactory; 2=didn’t like it for several reasons; 1=DNF, not recommended. If you decide to use the 5 star system, I would encourage you to spend some time reflecting on the categories and developing what the stars mean to you and then apply it consistently. I will warn you that it is rather disconcerting to see that someone has awarded 1 star to your 5 star read!

10

Other Considerations

The Hook: It’s always good writing technique to begin your review with a hook. Three ideas for frequently used hooks: create a question (based on a theme or conflict from the story), consider a bold statement (a fact from the story), or find a quote (from your notes!).

Genre: You want to mention the genre in your review. If you’re not sure, check sites like Amazon (looking to see where it’s been shelved is helpful). Keep the genre in mind when writing your review. Does the story accomplish what the genre typically  sets out to do? I try not to rate the story down for standards I would apply to another genre. For example, a YA selection is likely to include teenage angst, so I take that into consideration even though I might not have enjoyed it. Chic Lit is going to be light, predictable, and perhaps filled with stereotypes. Memoirs are going to be focused on self. Science fiction might need a suspension of belief. I need to remind myself frequently to keep the genre in mind. Let the reader know if the book is a genre that you don’t typically read so that your comments are taken in context. Others that prefer that genre might really enjoy the read.

Triggers: It’s always appropriate and considerate of readers to let them know about possible trigger warnings in a way that allows them to make their own reading decision (offensive language, steamy romance, graphic violence, sensitive subjects, etc.). Often, if I feel a need to include a trigger warning, I will place it as a simple *starred note at the end of my review. Here’s an example.

Be Specific: Do not say “I liked it.” Include specific examples of what you liked (using ideas from your notes). When we were in school, we learned Point + Example for expository writing. This is a good model for writing a review, too.

Tone: Is it suspenseful? Thrilling? Melancholy? Reflective? Humorous? Pedantic? Agenda driven? Heartfelt? Informative? Atmospheric? Romantic? These are examples of descriptive words you can add into your review that gives readers more insight into what to expect from the reading experience.

Summaries/Spoilers: Although it’s common to begin a review with a brief summary, it’s not absolutely necessary (official summaries are readily available on Amazon or Goodreads). I like to start a review with a general summary (in my own words) because it provides context for the remainder of my review. Be careful not to reveal spoilers. Sometimes, I refer to the synopsis on the back cover when writing my summary, but I find that it can also include spoilers. It’s forgivable to reveal small inconsequential spoilers, but please avoid spoiling the main resolution or final outcome. If you know your review will include spoilers, you can warn readers at the beginning that the review includes spoilers (Goodreads has a spoiler alert function as part of writing a review).

Author’s Note: I hope you always read the author’s note (if provided). It can greatly enhance your reading experience and provide an important perspective. I remember when I read We Were the Lucky Ones, I was struck by the author’s note that the story was really her family history, and it made the story even more meaningful for me and I was sure to include that information in my review.

Extra Resources: Sometimes authors will include extra resources like maps, illustrations, links, photos (especially if it’s a fictionalized biography). Specifics like this might be nice to mention in a review. It’s also interesting and helpful to include links to outside sources in your review if available. For example, I recently reviewed a fictionalized biography about Dorothea Lange and I included three links to YouTube video clips about her life.

Length: Reviews can be short or more detailed. For a blog post, I will write a longer review than what I write for Goodreads. You can pick one of the above elements as your focus or select a few elements. Sometimes it helps to develop a template (e.g. one sentence summary+a sentence about characters or plot or theme+a sentence about what you enjoyed most about the story+a sentence about recommending the read).

Proofread: I always read my review several times to proof for spelling, punctuation, word usage, verb tense agreement (I like to write book reviews in present tense), sentence structure, clarity,  clear communication of ideas, etc. I also consider if there is a kinder way to say something if I’m being critical.

Do I Need to Write a Review? First, writing a review is a perfect way to support an author and authors greatly appreciate reviews. If you tag them on Instagram, many of them will respond with a “like” or a comment. Out of consideration, I only tag authors when I write very positive reviews. If you start writing reviews, keep in mind that you are not required to write a review for every book you read! Sometimes I simply give it a Star rating on Goodreads and leave it at that with no explanation. Or if it’s a book that I really dislike, I will shelve it as a DNF on Goodreads with no review or star rating. If I can’t say one good thing about the book, I usually won’t write a review. Although if I do review a book I dislike, I’ll start off with a statement of what I appreciate about the book and then add statements about what “I wish…” would have been different. For an example of one of the most negative reviews I’ve written read here. For an example of a recent book I felt meh about read here. If I can’t give a book a 4 or 5 star rating, I usually won’t feature it on the blog. Occasionally, a 3.5 will be featured. When you see a book review on this blog, I want you to be able to trust that I’m sincerely and wholeheartedly recommending it (even though you may end up with a different opinion).

Criticism: Your reviews are public so be prepared for a variety of responses. Most commenters are kind and will make comments like “I enjoyed it.” Very rarely you might receive a negative comment such as “I do not agree at all.” If I disagree with a reviewer, I usually do not write a comment. If I comment, I relate it to something positive she/he said in their review. (practice “eye roll and scroll” and “let it be” as the kind response)



Let’s Discuss!

I hope this gives you some ideas and encouragement for writing reviews! If you have specific questions, I’d be happy to address them in comments.
*TIP: Start in Goodreads with giving a Star rating and writing a one sentence review!
Which of these elements is easiest or most difficult for you to address in a review?
If you’ve never written a review, I hope this information is an encouragement for you.
If you’re an experienced reviewer, what tips or ideas can you add?


#writeareviewandsupportanauthor