By L.J. Roberts
It took many years and steps before I considered myself a professional reviewer, and that was only after a period of being a paid reviewer for a major mystery magazine. Over time, I have developed a list of elements I use, albeit not literally, as a guideline when reading books for review. These elements are so engrained in my Virgo brain, that I’m very aware of them as I read, make notes and write my reviews.
1. Hook – The sink or swim moment. The opening needs to grab and compel one to keep reading.
2. Setting/Descriptions/Sense of Time and Place – Does the author create a true sense of where and when the story takes place, and make the reader feel as though they are with the characters; part of the story.
3. Characters/Character Development – Whether hero or anti-hero, principal or secondary, the characters should seem real. Even a villain can engender some sense of empathy. Characters need to be distinct. On page 200, we should remember who they are as easily as when we first met them.
4. Dialogue – It should flow easily and seem natural, reflecting the characters’ personality and situation, including social, economics, education, and nationality. It's also a good way to inject humor.
5. Plot – If the plot doesn’t work, the book doesn’t work. Is it believable/ interesting. Is it without holes or require one to make assumptions. Avoiding clichéd themes is good; i.e., serial killers, the disappeared/kidnapped woman, the child in jeopardy, but even those can work if the story is strong. Most of all, the plot must make sense and make the reader care what happens.
6. Voice – Cadence, Flow, Style – An author’s voice is so important. It needs to be genuine and natural. Some authors truly make you feel as though they, personally, are telling you a story, and that’s great. Even without that, having an even flow to the story is desirable. Having humor, unforced, unexpected, often wry, is memorable and engaging. But if that isn’t part of the author’s voice, it shouldn’t be forced as readers will know it.
7. Originality – This may be the hardest one. It’s not necessarily a matter of finding a topic or a character never before seen, but more of presenting an idea in an original way. Still, while this is an important element, it’s one which bears the least weight.
8. Pitfalls – That's a separate topic to come later in Part Two on August 20, 2018.
9. Overall Quality of Writing – This is the summary of all the parts. It’s the final impression. It is where the author, with a minimum of devices, draws the reader into the story on page one and refuses to let go until that final page. It’s where you close the book and, if all the elements work, you may think “Wow!”. This is the one that determines whether you’d would read more books by this author. Even more importantly, this is the element that determines whether you’d recommend the book/author to others.
There you are. Every reviewer has their own style, of course, yet the most important thing to me is that I give fellow readers an honest opinion. But in the end, “It is purely my opinion.” Part Two will run on August 20, 2018 on a book’s Missing Element.
LJ Roberts was born with a book in my hands. She is a reader and reviewer of mysteries; a compulsive hooker--the crochet kind, not the street kind--and one who never leaves home without her camera. Her reviews are seen by over 13,000 people/review, including a monthly email list of 500 subscribers. In 1993, she became the coordinator of the East Bay Mystery Readers' Group. LJ started reviewing formally in 2004, spent three years evaluating manuscripts for Poisoned Pen Press, and was a paid reviewer for The Strand Magazine. In 2010, she started my review site "It is purely my opinion," and is a Top 1% Reviewer with over 1,300 followers on Goodreads athttp://www.goodreads.com/user/show/250195, as well as in the print magazine Mystery Readers Journal, and on numerous online sites.