Monday, May 27, 2019

8 Tips to Write Powerful Book Reviews

image with books and text saying 8 tips to write powerful book reviews

When I started my blog, I had no idea what a book blogger was or that I'd become one. Fast forward 8 years, I'm reading and reviewing books by indie and published authors alike. Many don't even mind waiting a few months till I get their review published on my blog and Goodreads. They even understand that I can't post my reviews to Amazon because I'm not in a region where Amazon has direct services.

I've been reluctant to "disclose" what differentiates my reviews from others'. But if it helps others write better reviews and eventually help authors with their books, then why not?

In this post, I'll be sharing what I focus on when reading a book. Sometimes these points might not all work, like when I'm reading a short story or poetry collection. But that's another post to come.

For me, saying that a book is good or bad isn't enough. I feel obliged to say why. Possibly because I majored in English literature and possibly because giving a superficial 'yay' or 'nay' isn't my thing. 

This list will focus on fiction. I plan to write another post on non-fiction books, which I'm picking up more of now, and another on poetry. I'll update with links when I publish those.

So on to 8 main criteria that I focus on when reading fiction.

The first thing I focus on when I read is the narration. Is it first or third person? Is it clear or confusing? If it's in first person, is the main character and narrator interesting and funny? Or are they too talkative and self-absorbed? Because if are, I'm going to be bored to death and will probably drop the book.

Narration may include multiple points of view (POVs). Like having two main characters or two timelines. Are they easy to navigate? Is one view point slower or faster than the other?

I've read a book that had two POV characters, both were narrated in third person but one was action-packed, while the other was tortoise-slow, which had me skimming the slow parts and gobbling the quick-paced ones. This eventually had me docking off a star or two from my review.

Language and imagery
Is the language of the novel I'm reading easy or is it wordy? If it's wordy, can I understand or glean the vocabulary as I read? Or do I have to look up a lot of words in the dictionary? If you're thinking those I had to suspend my reading to check word-meanings for, got a star downgrade in terms of rating – you're definitely right.

I also focus on the smoothness of the language itself. Do I forget that I'm reading and become suddenly transported to the time and place of the book?

As for imagery, it's not a priority but books with imagery help with visualization and can generate ideas for me for poetry or short stories. Some books have great imagery, some don't and that's not a pain point for me. But some others weave their imagery in their text so well, you can't help but point it out in a review.

The 'Show Don't Tell' thing all writers are obsessed with, falls under the imagery. Done well, I point it out because the author has gone to lengths to show and not tell and they deserve to be applauded for it.

Note: In children's and middle grade books, I find it hard to show. So in these genres, you'll likely find a lot of telling – but don't take it out on the author. They are, after all, addressing a much younger audience.

If the book has memorable quotes or speeches, I like to point out those too. Sometimes they may include an image but sometimes they're just beautiful quotes worthy of mentioning. There were several beautiful ones in Isobel Blackthorn's The Drago Tree.

While I don't often directly comment on the setting, it's something I focus on while reading. Can I visualize the setting and events? Or is the setting ever-changing and I can't picture the house where most of the story is set? If I can't imagine the rooms right or if things aren't clear for me, I'll point it out.

Setting also includes world building, especially if the book is set in the distant future, alternate dimension, or a fantasy realm. Being able to see the setting, where the characters are moving and interacting is important.

Plot + Ending
We all focus on the plot or story line; does the story actually have a story within it. What's going on?

A lot can be said about this but the main thing I focus on is how I got from start to finish, were there unnecessary events or details in the text that shouldn't have been there?

The ending is part of the plot. If it's abrupt, was there a need for that? Or did the author make it seem like the lights went out in the middle of the movie? Also, did the ending satiate me as a reader? Or was it cliché or lame? All of this is part of the plot structure and plays a role in my reviews.

Of course, you'll notice that other points mentioned here, like setting, narration, characterization, contribute to the plot one way or another. But I chose to handle each separately since I focus on them separately in my book reviews.

Again an exception to plot movement may be found in book series. Something may happen in book 1 that would have an impact in book 3. It's tough but I know from my personal work in progress that some events that take part in book 1 will affect what happens later in the series. You may not find a direct effect but for me, there will one, I promise.

Suspense vs (Comic) Relief
One of the things I focus on regularly is the suspense and relief equation. Relief can be comic or it could just be a calm scene after a war or heated discussion between the main characters. The thing is, continued suspense will fry a reader's brain.

I had this issue with J.K. Rowling's last installment in the Harry Potter books, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I was shocked and I kept stopping in mid-chapters (something I abhor doing). But I literally couldn't keep reading. There aren't a lot of books that do that but it's important to remember that relief is essential in the makings of a story.

In some novels, the main character is sarcastic and/or funny, which allows the author to sprinkle humor, and relief, throughout the book. One of those I recall was The Secret of the Lost Pharaoh by Carolyn Arnold, where one of the characters was hilarious so even when things were suspenseful, Arnold added a little humor to lighten the mood. And I loved it (and the book).

Possibly the most important aspect in the entire novel, or of equal importance as the plot, characterization involves both the whole cast and protagonist's development. Are the characters likable? Are their flaws and positive aspects balanced? Do they start out as scared but then build courage and end up being stronger than they started? Does the novel begin with a character who is too emotionally-controlled but end with them being able to share and communicate what they need? All this is character development. And it's super important for me.

I've read a few books where the main character wasn't likable. And honestly, it was terrible. I couldn't stand the protagonist and barely made it to the end of the book. You can imagine these books didn't rank very high on my list.

I must note that character development is slow or rare in two instances, mystery books (which often have installments) and book series. The characters need to develop both on the course of a single book and the whole trilogy or series. If you're looking for character progression in a mystery book, you won't find much. Or so I've noticed in the dozens I've read.

So, if you're reading mystery or starting a series, don't take it too hard on the author, they need a larger space to develop their character.

Depending on the genre(s) of the book I'm reading, I might point out to other aspects. For example, if it's a horror novel, I'd say it gave me goosebumps or I couldn't sleep because of it. If it's a science fiction novel, I often comment on whether the sci-fi aspect was understandable or over the top and so on.

I noted this in my review of Hero: The Hero Rebellion Book 1 by Belinda Crawford. I was afraid to pick up the book because of the sci-fi element but Crawford made it seem easy. Well, easy for me to read but she put a lot of hard work into the setting and world building.

Again not one of the things I regularly comment on but I do point out a gorgeous cover when I see one OR when the cover doesn't reflect the content of the story.

I recently read a novel where the main character was an elderly knight but the cover indicated a much younger knight. I felt that it was a discrepancy because, let's be honest a lot of people can pick up a book based on its cover. If the cover is misleading, many may feel cheated.

So, these are the main aspects I focus on when reading and reviewing a book. I write down mini notes as I go and add bookmarks.

What do you focus on? May be I can consider it in my next work of fiction.

Also, if you're an author or book blogger, tell me what you think of this list.

Check out my book reviews page for the genres I've read and I'm currently reading. 

Sunday, May 19, 2019

On a Moonlit Night in the Antilles by Sophie Schiller – Book Review

Book: On a Moonlit Night in the Antilles

Author: Sophie Schiller
Number of pages: 76
Publication date: 31 January 2019
ISBN13: 9781794456693

This review was originally meant to be published in April for National Poetry Month 2019 but better late than never. Today, I'm reviewing a poetry collection titled On a Moonlit Night in the Antilles by Sophie Schiller. The collection features poems inspired by Schiller's visit to the Caribbean.

Comprising 30 poems, On a Moonlit Night in the Antilles is a collection of mostly rhymed and absolutely picturesque verse. The poems paint pictures or tell the history of some of the Caribbean's historical figures.

Each poem is followed by a colourful illustration by Skaidra Zayas

One of the most beautiful pieces in the collection is "There Is a Wise Man in the Sea" with the "wise man" being a surprise.

He was at least three feet in length
With flippers that showed that greatest strength
This mast of his aquatic domain
Taught me that "Nature does nothing in vain."

Another picturesque piece is "I Found a Danish Skilling" which tells the story of a Danish ship buried in the sand since 1767. The image it paints is beautiful and each time I read it, takes my mind to an image of ship buried in the sea with divers surrounding it and marveling at it.

In her poems, Schiller uses her surroundings including lizards, birds, and flowers, for inspiration. Her poem "The Oyster" and "I Dive Beneath the Ocean's Waves" are examples of that and must-reads.

As I said, Schiller dedicates several pieces to historical figures in On a Moonlit Night in the Antilles including "The Land of Alexander Hamilton," "The Legend of Kong Juni," and "Queen Coziah."

"In 1733, as the legend goes
In St. John of the Caribbees
Arose a slave both brave and both
Whose name was Kong Juni

This African, a warrior chief
With each whipping he endured
Decided he would never rest
'Til his liberty he had secured."

Some poems are also dedicated to historical places like "Annaberg" and "Charlotte Amalie."

Schiller concludes her poetry collection with notes on some of the poem's topics and historical figures like Kong Juni and Queen Coziah added to Danish impressionist painter Hugo Larsen, who had lived in the Danish West Indies and painted between 1904 and 1907.

It is rare that one falls in love with an entire collection. There were may be one or two poems that weren't "amazing" for me but the collection On a Moonlit Night in the Antilles is definitely one of the best I've read. It's a must-read picturesque selection of poems. I hope Schiller visits more places and writes about them.

Overall rating for On a Moonlit Night in the Antilles by Sophie Schiller: 5 stars.

Note: I received a free copy of On a Moonlit Night in the Antilles from its author Sophie Schiller in exchange for an honest review.

Update: Check out Nadaness In Motion's exclusive interview with Sophie Schiller, where we talk more about her debut poetry collection, finding inspiration in travel, and more.

Connect with Sophie Schiller via Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Friday, May 10, 2019

The Knight's Secret by Jeffrey Bardwell – Book Review

The Knight's Secret by Jeffrey Bardwell is a bit of a strange fantasy with some creativity in terms of characters and ideas. Having said that, I think the book could use some work because the first two chapters were amazing then the story dragged.

The book opens with Kelsa's grandfather, Sir Corbin, being invited to give a speech before the new Empress. However, shortly after he dies – before making the trip. So, Kelsa and her mage mother cook up a plan to transform Kelsa into Sir Corbin, take on the role, and give the speech.

The Knight's Secret is narrated from Kelsa's perspective, first as a girl, and starting chapter 3 as a woman pretending to be a man. An old one.

There is lots of humor, especially how Kelsa adjusts to being an old. Imagine a 16-year-old girl turning into an 80-year-old man with a lot of health hazards!

"It was an effort to straighten myself, not from any aches – though my body had those aplenty – but from old habits. Kelsa sat in the saddle like a sack of potatoes…but the great Sir Corbin? The Hero of Jerkum Pass always perched in his saddle like he had a spear shoved up his backside."

In terms of characterization, I loved Kelsa and her witty, sarcastic comments. She is the main character after all. And she does all the hard work in the novel.

The language in The Knight's Secret was fine, with little imagery. Narration was a bit difficult to navigate. Even though it's all from Kelsa's perspective, when she becomes her grandfather, she thinks as a man and would occasionally comment that some fleeting thoughts are Kelsa's.

I applaud Bardwell for his idea of transformation but felt it was a bit confusing at times. Still, the book wasn't as fast-paced I would have liked. Remember the speech from chapter 1? By chapter 10 or later, it's still not written or given.

I came to a point where I was thinking of dropping the novel altogether but decided to give it one more chapter to decide. Luckily, that chapter kept me going till I finished it.

Did characters ever talk so much? In The Knight's Secret they do. A freaking lot! There was a ton of dialogue in the book. And while I favor dialogue over endless descriptions, I felt that The Knight's Secret had too much that just didn't move the action or novel forward. I honestly started skipping lines.

I rarely comment on book covers, unless they're wicked amazing, but in The Knight's Secret, I felt there was a discrepancy since Sir Corbin was over 80 years old. When Kelsa transformed, she looked like her old grandfather. Not the young-looking knight on the cover. I like the cover but I just don't think it's fitting for this book.

There was also some adult content that I had not been expecting. Considering who the characters were, it wasn't particularly interesting. Or I wasn't willing to read this.

A lot of secrets and information the reader has been craving throughout the book are revealed at the end. But let's not talk about the end because I felt the story ended abruptly. I understand that series tend to have open endings, but this was odd. I felt like I was watching TV and the lights went out in the middle of the movie, not that I got semi-satisfying ending.

Overall, I think the book could use some work. Hence, my overall rating is 2.5 stars.

Note: I received a free copy of The Knight's Secret from its author Jeffrey Bardwell in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Takhayyal Writing Prompt 96: Ramadan Lanterns

Welcome back Ladies and Gentlemen, Artists, Poets, Writers, Authors, Dreamers, Friends and Family; Welcome EVERYONE to Nadaness In Motion's MONTHLY picture-prompt writing challenge Takhayyal or Imagine.

Arabic for Imagine, Takhayyal is a challenge for writers of all ages and genres; a place to spark creativity and explore new genres.

The month of May this year coincides with the holy Muslim month of fasting, Ramadan. I found this image I had saved a while back to be the perfect celebration and means of inspiration where hundreds of millions of people come together to fast and be united.

You're free to interpret the image as you see fit. May be take your Muse in an oriental realm? Or imagine what it would be like to be surrounded by these beautiful lanterns? What about characters? What does their seller think, feel, or even want in life?

As always, your imagination and your words...

Your post can be in English or Arabic, prose, poetry, short story, flash fiction, an imaginary situation, an artistic thought; you name it and write it.

General rules:
·        No nudity, violence, and/or abuse.
·        Leave the link to your post in comments below OR post your piece as REPLY to this post
·        Your piece MUST be inspired in some way or other by the above picture
·        Multiple entries allowed
·        It is not required but it is a nice and encouraging gesture to comment on others' pieces.
·        Feel free to add your Twitter handle (@....) so I can tag you in my tweets!