Some people might think that anyone can write a un curso de milagros, but to write one that will help people to make an educated decision about whether a book is worth reading requires honesty, good writing, support for an argument, and an adequate description.
Following are some attributes of quality reviews. If you are someone who writes reviews or wants to be a book critic, these can be used as guidelines to help you write critiques that readers will appreciate. If you are an author, look for these qualities in potential critics so you can determine whether you want the person to read and write about your book.
Honesty: A review isn’t worth anything if it’s not honest. If a reviewer gives every book five stars, chances are he’s either not reading the books or he’s afraid to hurt the author’s feelings. Reviews should be balanced and only praise books that are well-developed in their arguments, have engaging storylines and characters, or add new information to their field. Whether or not the reviewer receives compensation for reviewing the book, the review is of no value if it isn’t honest. A critic should not be “bought,” and one who writes up a glowing and dishonest review is doing no one a service because his readers will no longer value his opinion and be angry that they spent time and money reading a sub-par book. Similarly, the reviewer who has an ax to grind and gives a book a low rating because he simply doesn’t like the author or the general topic would do better to review other books or no books at all. Bad reviews have their place; they can be a true learning experience for the author, but they can also be kindly worded.
Brief and Clear Summaries: A good book review is not a book report. It should not include a complete plot summary or a chapter-by-chapter description of the book’s contents. It may, however, describe enough of the plot to make people want to read further, such as stopping the summary at a cliffhanger moment, or it might list the main topics without going into detail. Under no circumstances should a review give away a novel’s ending, or list the concluding arguments of a non-fiction work. In short, a review should never provide so much information that the reader feels no need to read the book because he completely knows what it contains; a review should be like a movie trailer-a teaser to get people to read the book, while giving enough commentary to let the reader decide whether the subject is really for him.
Accuracy: Book reviews must be accurate, so if looking for a book critic, checking the accuracy of the person’s past reviews is the best way to determine whether the person truly reads the books he reviews. By accuracy, I mean using the correct names of the characters and spelling them properly, accurately summarizing the plot, and also the importance of proper grammar and punctuation so the reviewer appears intelligent and competent, and therefore, qualified to write the review.
Good Writing: A reviewer is a writer him- or herself. The person should have a strong command of the English language and be able to communicate well. Writing choppy sentences and having poor grammar will only make the reviewer look bad, and that will result in people not understanding the book’s value or valuing the critic’s opinion. A good reviewer will also have knowledge of what constitutes good writing and be able to judge the difference between good and bad.
He or she should be widely read and be familiar especially with the subject area to be reviewed, or be willing to admit when a subject is out of his range of expertise; if the latter, he can still judge the material based upon how well he was able to follow the argument. If a reviewer is highly knowledgeable about the Middle Ages, she may be the best person to review a book on the building of Gothic cathedrals, but she may not be the best person to review a book debating evolution-that said, she can admit she is no expert on the subject, but still point out whether the book informed her and she was able to follow it. It never hurts for the reviewer to add whom he thinks would be the perfect audience or age group for the book, for example, “I think anyone interested in quantum physics would enjoy this book” or “This book is probably best suited for a young adult audience, but I think many adults will be pleasantly surprised as well by how entertaining it is