Most book reviews are not entertaining. They grind axes that should best be left in the woodshed. They get really snarky. Sometimes they don’t review the book at all, instead reporting only on the reviewer’s place in life and his/her attitude toward the author.
At a minimum, a good book review should include a brief synopsis, follow the plot, address the characters, riff the dialogue, and comment on the pacing. Also, it should cover the story mechanics, flow with the language, and convey the message of the story. In short, a good book review should make its point with focus, clarity, and substance.
A good book review should have both positive and negative points, with a balance. Sometimes you write a review with the intention of giving a new writer a leg up; in that case, you may take it a little easier on him/her than you would on, say, the Larssons of the world. Sometimes, though, your true, toxic feelings toward the story are so powerful that you have to just let rip; in that case, it’s a lot easier if the author has already bought his yacht with the massive profits. Always, you need balance, because, as a reviewer, your integrity is on the line.
A good book review should also include an excerpt or two. Not only do you want to give a potential reader an opportunity to sample the stuff, but you also want to remain true to the material. An excerpt keeps you honest.
A good book review should address the two most important aspects of the reading experience: the reader’s enjoyment and the story’s consistency. Enjoyment is a subjective thing, of course, but in the end, you have to pass judgment. That may be why the rating system is so popular; it’s just so easy.
Consistency, on the other hand, should be totally objective. We’ll cover that in the next installment: Synthetic, but Consistent.