I've been reviewing for various publications for a few years now - mostly young people's literature. I worked in that area of libraries so had open access to the latest. Most of it good. I sought out reviewing opportunities and tried to choose something that I might not usually have chosen to read.
Thus Ben Julien's Runes saga trilogy. I would say that I don't usually read fantasy, but there are always exceptions. I reviewed two and went out and bought the third.
And Suzy Zail's The Tattooed Flower - Zail's memoir of her father, his life shaped by his Holocaust experiences.
I've enjoyed the challenges of writing to various house styles, especially with API which had a strict academic style which included use of footnotes.
Usually I read fiction. Those who never read may dismiss fiction as frivolous, but I find it inherently representational of cultural practices with a strong dose of inquisitiveness and confrontation. You can learn a lot about a culture, and cultural attitudes, by reading the fiction.
In my latest stories to read I have learned a little more about depression, media intrusion (see Loathing Lola for more on this), disability attitudes, bullying and resilience.
I chose Australia Dances from M/C because it is completely outside my comfort zone. Nonfiction, and about dancing. I respect the form, it's not as if I'm reviewing a rugby league biography! I danced as a child - ballet and jazz ballet - but I hardly think doing the 'scarecrow dance' will have prepared me for this book. So I will read it with a fresh perspective.
Librarians, teachers and parents, and readers in general are the people who read reviews to find out what's worth buying. It's important to me to write a real review and not some gushing adjectival dump of praise. If the reviewer doesn't like the book they ought to say so, but constructively. Similarly, if the book's good, articulate why and how. It may be the tipping point in the customer's decision.
I was disappointed with Steven Herrick's Slice, so I'm going to have to justify that opinion. Because some people will love it. Was expectation a factor? Yes. I think his verse novels are beyond brilliant. This was his first YA prose novel, second prose novel overall. But it was more than it not being a verse novel. I'll explore all the issues in my review for CMISFF*
* update 3/6 - in writing the review I realised the strength of Slice is the strong father-son dynamic. The title and blurb do the book no favours.
Read Rob Rimmer's balanced review of Slice on M/C.
I chose Shark Girl because it's a verse novel from an author I hadn't read before, and The Worst Thing She Ever Did because I knew nothing about the plot and was incredibly curious. What did she do?? Both great books, and I'm very pleased I've read them.
There are some common desirables in a review which I use to best illuminate the quality of the story - mentions of viewpoint, intended audience, character and plot development, setting, stylistic devices, authenticity, comparisions to other similar tales (if these exist), points of difference, and presentation (particulary for picture storybooks and nonfiction).
But, inject your own personality into the review too. Just don't let it overshadow the review - like this grandfather about Lewis' The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe:
“I bought these books to have something nice to read to my grandkids. I had to stop, however, because the books are nothing more than advertisements for “Turkish Delight,” a candy popular in the U.K."
Is there a particular reviewer you follow? Or a brilliant review you've read? Share it here.