My Reading Journal and How I Write Reviews

My Reading Journal and How I Write Reviews

This is going to be a two-for-one post because my reading journal is also where I keep my notes for book reviews. I’ll first share how I keep my reading journal and then I’ll share how I write my reviews.

There’s a billion ways I’ve seen people take notes. Some folks keep it all in their heads. Other folks write in margins of the book and tag pages with book darts or tabs. Even further, other people just take notes on their phone. The first step is to find the best way for you to organize your thoughts.

I love having the book journal because I like having all my notes in one place. I also love being able to go back and see all the books I’ve read. Granted, I also have a spreadsheet to keep track of all the books I read, but I also love reading how I felt and what the books were about.

First off, the tools:

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My philosophy when it comes to journaling is use whatever materials you like. Journals are made for you, so design them however you want to design them. Make them feel good for you because you’re the one archiving your thoughts into a physical place.

I write my notes in two separate columns; a plot side and a thoughts side. The plot side is riddled with spoilers and points from the book. This side is mostly for me so I’m reminded of what happened in the book and can reference that in my reviews. I don’t include the spoiler parts and if the plot would spoil the book, then I try to avoid adding them to my reviews.

The thoughts side is where I put down…well, my thoughts. Characters I like, how I think the book is going, and some dislikes. Glaringly obvious issues that made me cringe or questions I asked myself. I really love writing this stuff down so when it comes to review time, I can easily recall those points. I hate it when I write a review and forget something I wanted to add, then have to go back and add it in. Usually I forget to add it in.

I also like to start each page with a few notes to myself. For example, I note if the book is a reread or if I’m doing a buddy read with someone or how I came across the book. I really like making my reviews more personal by adding a little about why I started reading this book or if I’m doing a specific challenge. I just think it gives my reviews a little more of a personal touch than facts.

The best part about this is that it fosters more thinking and thoughts. For example, if I write a note saying I read a book for a reading challenge, then I might be inspired to write about the challenge later on. Inspiration comes from anywhere, so writing down my inspiration inspires more!

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For decorating my book journal, it’s really all over the place. I love working on my handlettering skills by writing out the title of the book with marker. Sometimes I decorate the page and sometimes there’s too many thoughts for me to sacrifice that space. I like using colorful pens to match the book cover colors. This is really just me doing what I like and you should be inspired to do the same!

As for writing reviews, I like to think of readers when I’m writing a review. What information will make it easy for the reader to read and understand if the book will be for them? For me, that’s writing style, characters/plot, and overall feelings.

How is the writing style? I always think of this one first. How was the overall reading experience and did the writing get in the way of that? Think about the pacing, the perspective, and other little attributes of the author’s writing. Does it read quickly? Does it drag in the middle? Is there representation and did it do it properly?

How are the characters/plot? Is it riddled with tropes? Is it based on actual events? Providing some plot or points in the plot that you loved or hated will help. Which characters did you love? Which characters made you seethe with hatred?

What are your overall feelings? Would you recommend this book? I feel like everyone has an overall feeling about a book even if it’s short or just the rating. If you were to elevator pitch this book to a friend, what would you say?

I also like to get inside the author’s head. What were they thinking when they wrote a specific section or why they wrote a character a certain way. I like to figure out where the author was when they were writing the book to help better understand what I read. Here’s some more things I like to keep in mind:

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Only include a summary if the synopsis doesn’t do a good job explaining the book. I hate being in the dark about a story and I most definitely dislike vague synopses. I like sharing a little bit of the story I read so that other readers can get a good idea of it too. I get wanting to create buzz about a book, but it doesn’t help readers make the crucial decision on whether to actually read it. However, I avoid including synopsis if it will spoil the book or if the book is so long I can’t condense its plot into a few sentences.

Avoid bashing a book. I don’t know what it is about the Internet and opinions, but people love expressing them online especially if they’re a negative opinion. I don’t have any problems with negative reviews. I don’t mind if books didn’t work for someone or it made someone feel uncomfortable. I don’t mind if the book did have a great plot or you didn’t resonate with the characters, but please don’t continuously talk about how terrible a book is. These kinds of reviews really help no one with understanding if the book is worth their time. It’s also really unproductive to just hear someone complaining without resolve or reason. Usually if I see a Goodreads review riddled with eye-rolling gifs, I just scroll past it. Bashing a book means you’re going through special means to make sure the author feels terrible for writing their book. I never know if I should read a book when the review just stomps it into the dirt.

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Include content warnings for sensitive readers. In 2020, we all have our thing. I don’t think there’s a human in the world that isn’t going through something at this very moment. I have my thing and because we all have our thing, we should be mindful that some subjects may warrant bad feelings. When I’m reading reviews, I want to know if there are certain triggers included in the story. This allows me to either prepare myself for the content of the book or make me reconsider reading the book all together.

There is a belief that including content warnings are a spoiler. I don’t believe that. I don’t think you’re spoiling a book if you note there’s a rape scene or the content deals with suicide. If anything, it makes the reader more aware and prepare for the scene if they choose to read the book. I would much rather know what I’m getting myself into than blindly go into it and trigger myself.

You don’t need to be a cunning writer to write reviews. I see a lot of folks go through a lot of work to sound like a professional book critic in their reviews. I love the eloquent writing, but I don’t think it’s a per-requisite to writing good reviews. Good reviews allow the readers to understand the book better. What did you like and what you didn’t like will help make up the minds of other readers. You can write it in a very professional style, but I love reviews that read like I’m talking to my friend. And of course I take friend’s suggestions over a professional reviewer.

But generally, just share your thoughts! They don’t have to be the most erudite things. Honestly, reviews should be written not only for the reader but for yourself. If you have thoughts and need to share them or write them down, go for it! There’s no hard and fast rules, but I do hope that the points I mentioned help give you some sense of what goes into writing a review. Be honest. If you didn’t like the book, share why you didn’t like it. If you loved the book, share that too. No one should find fault in either of these kinds of reviews and if people disagree, then people disagree.

The big takeaway in all of this is that books aren’t made for everyone. It’ll either be a hit or a miss and that’s just human nature. Make the reviews for you and what you’ll find is that others felt the same way.

Wilder Girls by Rory Power // Book Review

Wilder Girls by Rory Power // Book Review

I went into reading this book imagining it was going to be the Lord of the Flies for girls, but it’s really not close to Lord of the Flies aside from the fact they’re quarantined to an island for 18 months with no idea if they’ll ever get off.

42505366Here’s more about Wilder Girls:

I’m going to start recapping the book by first explaining the strange circumstances. There’s an all-girls academy on this little island off the coast of America. At some point prior to quarantine, the girls were infected with some strange disease. They don’t know much about it and neither do the people in charge or the government, so that’s what left them to quarantine them there. The disease itself is crippling. For some girls, it kills them right away. For others, it mutates their bodies taking away their vision, their limbs, their tongues. One girl even grew a second spine that sits outside of her back. The other part is that it affected the island itself. Animals have gone blood thirsty and vines have a mind of their own. No one leaves the safety of the school and the girls are also taught to fight against whatever monsters exist outside the school’s grounds.

So now that you know what’s going on outside of the story, it’s also about three girls who live in the same dorm room and are the best of friends. When one of the girls goes through more mutations from the disease, she’s put into an infirmary room to recover. When one of her best friends notices that she’s disappeared from the infirmary, the girls start to panic as they take matters into their own hands and explore the treacherous island meanwhile all hoping that a cure will come any day now.

This story is so atmospheric bringing a sense of the isolation, fear, and friendship between these girls. If you’re into thrillers, female friendships, and adventure, then this is the book for you. Trigger Warning: This book does depict some pretty gruesome scenes as well as loss and grief.

This book had me running the gamut of emotions. I was scared because the monsters and the disease are absolutely frightening. The ending was also super scary and while I don’t want to give it away or spoil it, just know that the fear runs throughout the novel. It’s so excellent in its horror portions.

But the other part of this book is the female friendships. Oh goodness. I feel like our real-life female friendships are based off a mutual understanding of one another and our situations. We find camaraderie with other women because they’ve been through something similar to what we’ve been through and that’s exactly what happens here except the circumstances are more life-threatening than say my life.

There’s no catty girl who despite all the changes is still catty. The girls in this book are all friends because they’re all dealing with the deaths of their other friends, the mutations in their bodies, and the utter isolation of being quarantined to your school. And imagine being in that state for 18 months without seeing or speaking to your family, without setting foot off the property. Without any cellphones.

The bond between the girls either platonically or otherwise (there’s some LGBTQIA+ representation in this book) is so strong. It makes you consider how you and your friends became so close and appreciate that friendship a heck more.

I will say that the most surprising part of this book was the ending. I don’t want to give it away, but once the girls find out the truth about the outside world I started to cry. You will feel so much for these girls, hoping for the best for them. You hope that they see the end of their misery or the silver lining amongst the mutations. I literally threw this book across the room because it was upsetting me so much.

All in all, a tremendously beautiful read for this debut author. At certain points, I found myself a little bit bored or just reading to get to another girl’s perspective, but pretty much at the halfway mark this book really takes off. I will most definitely be reading more from this author in the future.

 

When You Have An Unpopular Opinion

When You Have An Unpopular Opinion

So you just finished that widely-loved novel and…you hate it. Well, not hate it but you just don’t get why everyone else loves it.

No, it’s not even that.

Every time I finish a book and my opinion is different than everyone else, I feel like a salmon going upstream while everyone is going downstream. It’s like you force your brain to like it even though your brain is telling you no. And now, you need to face the public. You have to tell people what you think. It might be at your book club meeting. It might be your review for Goodreads, but somehow you’re going to have to go against the grain even though you wish for otherwise.

What do you do? Do you admit to not liking this book? Do you cover it up? How do you manage an unpopular opinion?

Unpopular opinions have one big word in it; opinion. When it comes to an opinion, immediately your first thought should be that what you believe and what you think is entirely yours. Dogs you like, political statements, food preferences, beer choices, everything you’ve ever enjoyed and liked and didn’t like in this world all boil down to this:

And opinions are important. We live our world around our preferences and what we think. Our opinions shape who we are and what we believe in. However, it isn’t the truth. It’s your truth and it can possibly be the truth for someone else.

So what do you do now? How do you express your unpopular opinion?

Well, the first thing I can tell you is don’t lie. Don’t say you liked a book when you didn’t because the chances there will be someone else who picked up on the things you didn’t like and can relate to your review. Don’t say you hated a book because everyone else did. If you like a book that everyone thinks is bad, there might be something there that everyone is missing.

Secondly, when it comes to books regardless if you liked it or not, it’s me and not you. Don’t fault the book for being bad for you. Don’t hate yourself for loving what other people consider bad. Can you see if the book will be good for other people? Did the book open your eyes? Do you know if others will enjoy it despite your unpopular opinion? Are there any merits in the book that you can agree were good?

Finally, encouragement. Encourage others to read it and being honest will help them to be honest too. Encourage this opportunity to talk about the points in the book. Dissenting arguments aren’t the end-all of a book opinion. It could foster some amazing conversation with others (in a respectful manner) and it could also change your mind about the book. However, the end game with encouragement is to share your thoughts and have some pretty decent conversations.

In the end, unpopular opinions don’t mean that the book is terrible or amazing. It just means it didn’t work for you. You can be honest and share your thoughts without the feeling that you’re about to have stones thrown at you. And if there is a stone cast, well, we all know what happens next.

My Review Process and Why I Write Reviews

My Review Process and Why I Write Reviews

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A friend of mine posed the question earlier this month about reviews. Why do you write reviews of books? What is your process? Why is it important to you?

For me, there’s a few reasons why I review books. Many of them are so I can remember what I’ve read. I even go back to them when I want to recall what I liked and didn’t like. You know that feeling you get after you’ve watched a TV show or a movie and you just have to talk to someone about it? That’s specifically what I feel whenever I finish a book. I want to talk about it and since I’m alone here, I usually talk to myself.

On top of that, I have a really bad memory. I’ve tried different memory games and helping with improving my brain, but I still can’t seem to remember little minute details. For example, I always forget people’s names. I will end up describing characters as “the main guy who killed the other dude.” I hate that about myself and I try to improve it as much as I can. However, some details always fall through the cracks with me and it really bugs me. This is also why I keep a book journal. I might even start ordering my pages to include character names, essential plot points, and other things I tend to forget.

I also started writing reviews because there was a big conversation happening in my head after I’ve finished reading the book. There are unanswered questions or bits of books that I need to possibly remember for the next book. I just want to remember it all, but sometimes I don’t even remember if I read the book this year.

That’s why I started writing reviews. My reviews are part book report and part pros and cons list. It’s a way for me to remember what I read, but also to get out all those feelings I have about the book. If you’d like to know more about my process, read on!

Here’s my rating system

  • Five Stars: It blew me away. I will be talking about this book for years
  • Four Stars: This was a really great book. I will definitely suggest it to others and possibly read other books by the author
  • Three Stars: Decent read. Nothing wowed me, but it wasn’t bad.
  • Two Stars: Meh. There’s a lot of problems in this book and can definitely be better. Lots of potential, but little bit was met
  • One Star: I don’t really rate 1-star books because if it’s that bad then I usually don’t finish reading it.

Here’s what I always look out for in reviews

The Writing Style

Writing style is super important to me. It’s a technical aspect of storytelling and each author has their own style. Some authors like to get into the details of everything like Ian McEwan or Marlon James. Gritty details where you have no room to interpret the space on your own. It’s cool because a lot of people love reading books like this. Other authors are a little bit more efficient and lets you paint a little bit of the world on your own. I prefer to read authors who are faster at getting to the point than waiting around watching the scenery. It’s a personal choice and I try not to fault books for this. However, sometimes the language can be so dry and boring that I can’t help but to note that I nearly fell asleep.

The Characters and Their Development

Characters are obviously important. However, characters are also made up people in an author’s head. What did the author do to make these characters stand out? With all that power to develop a character, you’ll be surprised to read books where the characters are dull or boring or just bleh. I like my characters with gumption; those with a personal style and vibrato you don’t see everyday. I also like my characters to be human. If they’re supposed to be human or emote like a human, then I want to see that in the story. I want elephant tears when the love interest dies. I want gut reactions to things that you’re supposed to react poorly to. I don’t like when characters know everything or deduce too quickly. It takes away from the natural process of finding the answer. Extra props if you’re able to diversify your characters. Why do all characters need to be white? They don’t, which is something we all can take some cues from. I don’t fault a book for not having a diverse cast, but it wins extra points.

The Story

It’s tough to come up with a story nowadays that’s true and original. However, I’m the type of person who enjoys the journey than the destination so if your story is one told many times before I don’t really care. What I care about is that this story that’s been told before keeps me engaged. Is there cohesion? Do all the themes and topics the author brings up move together in an elegant ballet? Is it too obvious that a love story is being forced? Is it painful to read the gruesome battles in fantasy stories? When stories have a natural flow to them, then it’s heaven. I absolutely love it when an author is able to surprise me with a story that moves in one direction and comes out different in the end. And that it makes sense. It has to make sense to me otherwise it’s a nonstarter.

I also try to remember that one flaw in a book doesn’t strike the entire thing as bad. Sometimes authors use social issues like racism, classism, sexual identity, etc as a way to convey a certain theme. It’s hurtful to read, but as long as it makes sense with the story or brings up topics of conversation, then I’m fine with reading about them. However, I know this can be a deal breaker for many and that’s another post for another day.

 

Everyone Knows You Go Home by Natalia Sylvester

Everyone Knows You Go Home by Natalia Sylvester

I love fantasy stories. I love when there’s someone risking everything they have and love for the better of a group or nation of people. I love people who fight against adversity and maybe they don’t always win, but they don’t quit. And while stories like this one aren’t fantasy, it’s the heroism and strength of its characters that make you wonder if fantasy is based on real life.

Continue reading “Everyone Knows You Go Home by Natalia Sylvester”

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

It’s Pride month and I haven’t read any books for it yet. So I decided to do two. One is Guapa by Saleem Haddad and the other was this one. The month is still young, so I might just pick up another, but until then here’s what I thought of They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera.

Continue reading “They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera”