How To: Book Review

When you last read a good book, or maybe a bad one, did you want to tell someone, anyone, or the world about it? A book review might be a way to convey your thrill or displeasure about a story. In my continued efforts to seek out information that appeals to both writers and readers, I am introducing Phyllis Anne Duncan, a writer and a blogger who reviews books. Ms. Duncan’s article provides core information about “How To: Book Review.”

Happy Reading!
Linda Joyce


How to do a Book Review
by Phyllis Anne Duncan

In high school, I bet you dreaded book reports because they were about dull, boring books, which had been on the curriculum for millennia. But the point of the exercise was that the teacher wanted you to be critical readers. Now, it’s time to put those lessons to work and write reviews for the books on your chosen reading list.

Reading books to review uses a similar process; however, writers who review books take it a step further: You read the book as a writer. That means everything you’ve learned about how to write a good story, you apply to the book as you read it. Are the characters believable and three-dimensional? Is there a protagonist who wants/needs something? Is there an antagonist who’s trying to keep him/her from that goal? Does the tension build to a conflict, and is that conflict resolved?

But the structural aspects of story telling aren’t all to include in a review. You have to look at the technical aspects as well. I’ve given up on only one book an author asked me to review; the grammar and punctuation were so atrocious, they hindered reading the book for comprehension. I know this may upset some writers who believe editors are superfluous, but the story does not “shine” through a mess of miss-used commas and quotation marks, missing periods, and bad grammar.

Thus, if a book needed proofreading, I’ll say that. If it would have benefitted from an editor, I’ll point out where, and I’ll be specific and cite examples where the book missed the story-telling mark.

For example, I recently reviewed a mystery. Red herrings are a part of every mystery, but when you introduce one you have to deal with it before the book ends. This particular book introduced a suspicion that a person important to the main character might have been murdered—and that was it. No resolution one way or the other. A good reviewer can’t let something like that pass.

By the way, those five-star “reviews” friends and family give your book on Amazon? They aren’t reviews. They’re ratings from people who love you, and because they love you, they won’t be entirely honest with you. You need complete strangers who know how to review books to do that for you—but not ones you pay to review. They’re focused on the paycheck, not a critical review of your work.

I don’t charge for book reviews, and I don’t accept free copies to review; I purchase them. I review books because I love to read, and I want to help indie authors in particular offer books to the public that are indistinguishable from books published in a traditional manner.

So, if you’re interested in taking on reviewing as part of your writing portfolio, here are those reviewing tips again:

Questions to Ask While Writing a Review:
Do technical aspects (punctuation, grammar, style) need attention?
Are the characters believable and three-dimensional?
Is there a protagonist who wants/needs something?
Is there an antagonist who’s trying to keep him/her from that goal?
Does the tension build to a conflict, and is that conflict resolved?
Last, but not least, would you recommend the book to a friend?

If you want to see my reviews, go to my blog Unexpected Paths, click on the Published Works tab, and select “Non-Fiction.” You’ll see links to my reviews published on other sites. If you click on the Book Reviews tab, you’ll see the ones published on my blog.

Then, if you want an honest, objective review of your work, send me an e-mail at I limit my reviews to six to eight a year because, well, all that reading and reviewing takes time away from my own writing. If you want to try your hand at reviewing, I’ll be happy to critique your review if you want, so send it along to the e-mail address above.

I’d like to thank Linda Joyce for asking me to guest post, and I hope to hear from you.


About Linda Joyce

Writing is a curious journey. You don't pick it, it picks you. See my website at to learn more about me.
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11 Responses to How To: Book Review

  1. Ms. Duncan – Great information. I just recently read a series of books and have been struggling to express how I felt. This list of questions gave me a great framework and will allow me to write (not sure if I’m going to post) the review. A couple of questions for you. Do you find it harder to review / critique work in genres you don’t normally read or do these questions allow for universal reviews?

    • Linda Joyce says:

      Great question Miss Diva!
      ~ LJ

    • unspywriter says:

      It’s a little harder for me to review something in a genre I don’t normally read. I just keep repeating the mantra, “Critique the writing, not the genre,” over and over and manage to get through it. The questions I pose I think work only for fiction, but I think they’d work for any fiction genre. Thanks for reading.

  2. Jackie Rod says:

    Phyllis, Thanks so much for this informative post. Often, writers lack structure and their stories become unwieldy. When this happens, it’s easy to slight one of the major components of the book and weaken the story. I agree with you, everyone needs a professional reader/reviewer and editor.

  3. Great information! While I appreciate the 5-star reviews from friends, I want more critical reviews. I’ll use these guidelines when reviewing others in the future.

  4. Thank you Phyllis for this wonderful information. It’s been so helpful as I have been reviewing books on my blog with no experience at all.

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