Delighted to welcome back author and prolific book reviewer Robbie Cheadle, to share her criteria for writing a book review. I am sure useful for both authors who would like to know the key elements likely to be taken into account as well as fellow reviewers.
Prior to starting my blog in October 2016, I had only ever written a book review for school purposes. Those were grudge purchases and done with the aim of getting a good mark not highlighting for other readers the pros and cons of the book.
Since I started blogging, I have written over 150 book reviews and have gradually developed a method of assessing a book and a style of writing book reviews. Although I read all sorts of books from poetry and memoir to children’s books and thrillers and horror books. I read both classic books and contemporary novels.
I have five primary pillars that I consider, to a greater or lessor extent depending on the genre and nature of the book, when writing a book review.
Pillar 1: Plot
One of the first things I do when writing a book review is to give an overview of the plot. This must be sufficiently detailed to give a potential reader an idea about those aspects of the story that make it interesting and an enjoyable and worthwhile read, but it should not include any spoilers. The things I consider when assessing the plot are as follows:
- Is it unique? Is the premise new and exciting to me or have I read something similar before? This analysis extends to both the story line and, in a series, the nature and style of the writing. Do I feel there is a “sameness” about the writing that detracts from my reading pleasure;
- What is the pace of the book? Is it fast paced, aiming to keep you on the edge of your seat, or is a slow burn novel;
- Does it make sense? Does the story hang together realistically, or does it rely on unreasonable coincidences to make it work? I prefer the plot to be properly worked out so that the author does not have to resort to unlikely solutions to make it all come together at the end; and
- Is the ending satisfying? Do the mechanics of the plot come together properly and not leave me guessing about certain threads and aspects of the book? I do not like having to draw my own conclusions and fill in the missing pieces that I think should be resolved in the book. Obviously, there are some books which are intended to leave certain aspects unanswered and for the reader to draw their own conclusion about the subject matter because there is no definitive answer.
- It also must be appreciated that a book that is a memoir or a historical biography is not going to have the same level of plot as a thriller. This does not mean these books do not have a plot, it means that the plot will be more subtle such as the spiritual or emotional development of the main character or the resolution of a family conflict.
Pillar 2: Intended audience
Consideration of the intended audience is vital when reviewing a book. You cannot look for the same level of detail and complexity in a book aimed at middle school children as you would in a book aimed at adults. While children do like to be stimulated and can appreciate a reasonably complex plot, they cannot cope with high levels of intense emotion and any blood and gore as well as sexual innuendos should be limited.
I recently read a review of a book I had just reviewed (I always read a selection of other people’s reviews after I have written my own) which was for middle school children and which described a series of shark attacks. One reviewer commented that he thought the descriptions of the attacks should have been gorier and more detailed. I disagree as I believe graphic depictions of violence can be frightening, and even confusing, for children.
The nature and genre of a book needs to be considered when assessing the style of the writing. A book like George Orwell’s 1984 is going to contain far more detailed description, characterization and explanation than a short and sharp cozy mystery like Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express.
I also consider the time when the book was written. Classic books such as Charles Dickens’ novels were written at a time when lengthily description and excessive detail were expected by readers. I don’t believe it is appropriate to make negative comments about a style of writing that is old fashioned. In these cases, I prefer to look to the merit of the plot and story and its ability to stand the test of time due to its on-going relevance to readers.
Pillar 3: Characterisation
Characterisation is close to my heart when it comes to reviewing a book. I am a people lover and it is the characters in a novel that grip me and bring the story to life. When I review a book, I consider the characters, their age and their background, and how that fits together with their actions and reactions throughout the story. For example, in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Abraham Van Helsing is an experienced and respected medical doctor. He is a man of science who the other characters rely on to help save firstly, Lucy’s, and then Mina’s, lives. At the same time, he is a man who can accept that Dracula is a vampire and is drinking his victims’ blood and turning them into vampires. The reasons that he can be so open minded are shared in the book and are attributed to his upbringing in a town and country where the people, while deeply religious, are also superstitious and steeped in tradition and mysticism.
Another great example of excellent characterization is the Time Traveler in H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. The Time Traveler had to be an outlier in his time and a man of extraordinary innovation, determination and adaptability to undertake the building of something as unusual and front-running in its technology, as the time machine. These characteristics define him as a man and create the correct expectations in the reader for when he does manage to transcend space and time in his marvelous machine. His demonstrations of adaptability and resilience in the future time zones he visits are believable and almost expected by the reader due to his background.
If the attitudes and reactions of the characters in a book are unbelievable and inappropriate to me, I will not enjoy the book regardless of how brilliant the plot is.
Pillar 4: Research
Most people might think that research is only required for historical novels, but this is not true. It is necessary for all books to be based on factually accurate information if they are to be believable and enjoyable for a reader. If a book is science fiction about a future time, the reader would expect the technology demonstrated in the novel to tie back in some way to our current expectations as to where technology is going. It needs to be grounded in reason and possibility.
If a memoir writer includes information about chronic illness or health problems, the circumstances and symptoms need to be factual. This doesn’t mean that you must be a doctor to write a medical thriller, but it does mean that the basic facts relating to medicinal events and specific medical references in the book need to be correct. Authors do not need to provide masses of detail around specifics like medications and procedures, these could bore a reader who doesn’t need that sort of advanced knowledge demonstration, but it does need to make sense and be reasonable.
Pillar 5: Language and editing
I have left this pillar until last because, although language and editing are important in a book, I accept that the odd slippage can occur, particularly with Indie writers who don’t have access to the same levels of detailed editing that a traditionally published author would have. This does not mean that I can accept a book that is badly written from beginning to end, but it does mean that I have a tolerance level for the odd small spelling mistake or missing word and do not penalize the writer for small mistakes like this. I feel it is a bit petty to note little things like this which only occur a few times in an entire novel. It is a different story if the entire book is poorly written, as I find incorrect language usage annoying. I get distracted correcting it as I go along and am unlikely to finish reading a book that is clearly written by a second English language writer or is badly translated from another language.
In conclusion, the above pillar are the guidelines I use to review and comment on books. I hope that you find them useful and have similar ideas to me as to what elements constitute a good book.
Thank you, Sally, for giving me this opportunity to collect my own thoughts in this regard and to share them with your readers.
About Robbie Cheadle
Robbie, short for Roberta, is an author with five published children’s picture books in the Sir Chocolate books series for children aged 2 to 9 years old (co-authored with her son, Michael Cheadle), one published middle grade book in the Silly Willy series and one published preteen/young adult fictionalised biography about her mother’s life as a young girl growing up in an English town in Suffolk during World War II called While the Bombs Fell (co-authored with her mother, Elsie Hancy Eaton). All of Robbie’s children’s book are written under Robbie Cheadle and are published by TSL Publications. Robbie has recently branched into adult horror and supernatural writing and, in order to clearly differential her children’s books from her adult writing, these will be published under Roberta Eaton Cheadle. Robbie has two short stories in the horror/supernatural genre included in Dark Visions, a collection of 34 short stories by 27 different authors and edited by award winning author, Dan Alatorre. These short stories are published under Robbie Cheadle.
I have been drawn to the horror and supernatural genres of books all my life. At the age of ten years old I embarked on reading Stephen King’s books including The Shining and Salem’s Lot. These books scared me so much I had to put them aside by 6P.M. in the evening in order to get a good night’s sleep but they also fascinated me. I subsequently worked my way through all of Stephen King’s earlier books as well as those of Dean R. Koontz.
I have read a large number of classics, in particular, I enjoy Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Charles Dickens and the works of the Bronte sisters.
I am hugely interested in the history of the United Kingdom as well as the mythology and tales of the paranormal that are abundant on this intriguing European island.
A small selection of other Sir Chocolate stories co-written with Michael Cheadle and other work by Roberta Eaton Cheadle
One of the recent reviews for Through the Nethergate
In this YA paranormal story, Margret moves into an inn her grandfather runs after her parents die. She has a unique gift of seeing the ghosts that live there. My favorite part of this book is the ghosts and their stories, which are taken from history. The attention to detail drew me into the story and tugged at my heart. I loved it when Margret interacted with them, but I couldn’t bond with her at first in everyday life. Yet, the rest of the story was so intriguing and held my attention to the very end. Not only does Margret deal with ghosts, but there are also evil entities involved. The description of hell and bringing in current events was clever. The rich history shared through the ghosts and the good vs. evil theme made this a page-turning read
Read all the reviews and buy the books:Amazon US
And on Amazon UK: Amazon UK
Read more reviews and follow Robbie on Goodreads: Goodreads
Connect to Robbie Cheadle
Website/Blog Roberta Writes: https://robertawrites235681907.wordpress.com/
My thanks to Robbie for sharing her perspective on book reviewing today and she would be delighted to answer your questions. Thanks Sally.