And now, an unsolicited opinion about what makes a good book review

I was having an email chat with a reader who mentioned she really doesn't know what to say when she writes her many book reviews, so she usually justs offers a rather detailed summary of the storyline.

Most on-line booksellers have a section where they repeat the back cover copy, so while detailing the plot doesn't hurt (like spoilers without warnings, argh!), it probably isn't all that helpful, either. A sentence or two to introduce your review or intertwined with your thoughts is probably more efficient. An ideal book review, in my humblest of opinions, would also contain at least some (certainly not all, unless you don't mind rather lengthy reviews!) of the following:

What the reader thought of the book in general. A couple of examples: Was the premise unusual? Done with a fresh slant, or maybe a little blah? Did it seem contrived or unrealistic, or natural and real? If it was a mystery, did it keep you guessing? Or did you know whodunit? If the plot contained a surprise, did you see it coming or did it catch you off guard? Were there too many characters? Was it a pleasant reading experience, or do you feel that was five hours of your life you'll never get back (ouch!)?

What the reader thought about the characters. Were they likeable? Well-defined? Motivations explained? Not?

What the reader thought of the author's style. A few examples: Was there a tendency toward too much repeating? (I've been guilty of that one, but I've gotten a lot better!) Was the dialogue natural-sounding or stilted, the narrative passive or alive? Did the story start right away, too slowly for your taste? Were the details of the scenery just right, too detailed, or did the reader feel like they were being told and not shown?

What the reader would have liked to see explored in more depth, or could have done without knowing? I've read a couple of books where the characters were into knitting, and by the time I was through I felt like an expert on yarn. Even books I've overall loved have had some parts I didn't care for.

How did the reader feel about the ending?

And most importantly, would the reader recommend it to other readers?

All authors want the reading public who have invested time and sometimes money in our stories to feel it was time well spent, but we know that won't always be the case. When readers write reviews that say simply, "Wonderful!" with no supporting information, I have to wonder if they're friends of the author (and if they say, "Terrible!" I wonder if they're enemies of the author). A good review can be helpful for both readers and authors.

As always, I wish you good reading!