Thursday, November 27, 2008

Book Reviews: Advice from an Expert

Multi-genre author Mayra Calvani is our guest today on Straight From Hel. Not only is she the author of the supernatural thrillers, Embraced by the Shadows and Dark Lullaby, she has been a reviewer for ten years. A regular contributor to Blogcritics Magazine, she’s also a member of Broad Universe, Authors Coalition, and The Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators.

If you’re interested in writing book reviews, whether for your own blog or professionally, Mayra has some advice for you. Welcome to Straight From Hel, Mayra.

When I was a beginner, maybe during the first half year, reading the blurbs and promotional material that often accompany review copies had an influence on my review. I think perhaps the reason is that back then I still didn’t trust my judgment of a book one hundred percent. I would read a book and find it mediocre, but then I would read all these raving reviews about the book on the back cover or Amazon and I would tell myself, ‘Hmm. Maybe I’m wrong about this book. Maybe it’s a lot better than I think.’ But as I grew more experienced in the art of reviewing and found out the truth about promotional materials and some of the misleading reviews on Amazon, I became more confident. For a period I stopped reading all types of reviews and blurbs associated with the book I was to review. Now, after being a reviewer for almost a decade, it doesn’t make a difference one way or the other. I will write a negative review even if the rest of the world says it’s wonderful. Or the opposite. A review is one person’s opinion, after all, and I can’t compromise that. Without my own personal judgment, my review has no value. So what I would advise novice reviewers is to trust their minds and their judgment and not to let themselves be influenced by the press release that often accompanies review copies nor by any other reviews that have been written about that particular book, no matter their source. Just because a reviewer from Library Journal or Booklist liked the book, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you will too.

Thank you very much, Mayra.

Mayra keeps a blog, The Dark Phantom Review, where she regularly posts reviews and author interviews. To learn more about her book, The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing, visit You can also visit her website at: For her children’s books, visit

Feel free to ask Mayra a question or say “hi” to her in the Comments section.


  1. That sheds light on a topic I've rarely ever heard discussed. Thanks for your insight, especially the point you made that the review is "one person's" opinion. Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. Though I agree with your definition of a book review, I have to add a plea for the author. Certainly, if a book stinks, the reviewers shouldn't be singing its praises, but if it has at least some things going for it, I would credit the writer for those things and encourage him/her despite the issues not to my liking, which also would be mentioned. I am not suggesting that a review paint a dishonest picture or create unrealistic expectations. It simply should be fair and do no harm if possible. We all work so hard to get to the point of publication that I think we should be supporting each other where we can.

  3. John, that "one person's opinion" is something we should remember, whether we're writing the review or reading a review. I'm glad you mentioned that.

  4. That's right. Everyone has an opinion. It's hard, but I try not to be influenced by what other people say. I'm not always on the same track as them.

    Morgan Mandel

  5. Paula, I don't do professional reviews, but will occasionally post one here on Straight From Hel. Mayra's the professional. But speaking from my non-professional view, I try to do what you said -- find something I did like about the book. If I absolutely hate the book, I don't review it. I guess that's the luxury of being a non-professional reviewer. But it makes my stomach hurt just thinking of a reviewer demolishing a book of mine.

  6. The only bad review I ever had came from a librarian who panned my book because she thought it should have been written about the old houses in our town. This was after I spent nearly four years reading 97-years worth of microfilmed newspapers for a centennial book that has sold steadily for over 25 years. Her review, unfortunately, kept my book out of the Library Journal. So I agree that the reviewer should find something good about the book although she thinks she could have written a better one.

  7. That's tough, Jean. One reviewer keeping your book out of the Library Journal. It really does make you think twice about what you say and how it can affect the author and the book's future.

  8. Thanks Mayra. This topic of honesty in reviews has been discussed a lot recently.

    Happy Thanksgiving to all.

  9. Thanks for visiting Straight From Hel today, Mayra. Until I started blogging, I don't believe I'd ever done a book review. I'm glad to hear from an expert.

  10. I've read and reviewed The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing. Mayra does give advice in the book to always try to find something good to say about the book even if you don't like it. She suggests that the reviewer mention people who might like the book.

    In addition to honesty, she also emphasizes objectivity.

    Amateur eviewers can choose whether to review the book or not, and like Helen, I don't review books I hate. However, a professional reviewer doesn't always have that luxury; she may have to write a review of an assigned book whether she wants to or not.

  11. Hi all,

    Helen, thank you so much for hosting me on my tour. I'm so sorry I wasn't able to stop by the day this was posted--my daughter and I have been ill with the flu!

    I agree that a fair book review should point out the good and the bad! I'm always sensitive to the hard work of authors. It takes a lot of work and dedication to complete a whole book!

    Thank you all for your comments and for following my tour! I hope you all had a Happy Thanksgiving!


  12. Excellent Job and Keep ti Up!

    Ask an Expert


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