Tag Archives: book reviews

Friendship Friday: How to create book reviews that write themselves.

Last week I created a post about getting free books from big publishers, including links on contacting them. This week, I’m making things easy for you: creating reviews that write themselves (almost). Granted, this won’t turn you into Ron Charles, but maybe someday…or even better!


I’ve run into several people who are nervous about writing a good review because they got a free book from a publisher. Two things:

  1. The publishers rarely read your reviews.
  2. Everyone else rarely reads your reviews.

CopyBlogger.com says that only 2 out of 10 people that click on your posts actually read them. If you don’t believe me, let’s take two quick tests. First, here’s my review of Jonathan Franzen’s PURITY. Did you click the link? No? Point proven. You did? But you didn’t read the whole review, right? Point proven. Second, have you ever hit “like” on a Facebook post that your friend posted of their 3-year-old daughter in a ballet recital (but you didn’t really watch the video)? Point proven.

Here’s a great comedy sketch from comedian Louis CK about that same thing:

In my review of SUPERBETTER, Jane McGonigal says that we can reprogram our brains by telling ourselves that our nervousness is energy. It works! I’ve also found that having a plan helps, too.


I love book quotes. Warning: sometimes book quotes can bog you down. Capture your favorites and log them. If you want to be really lazy (aka cheating) you can go to Goodreads and see some of the best quotes from your favorite book, selected by the community.

If you followed the advice I gave last week about getting free books, you may have discovered that many publishers include press releases or publicity sheets. These may include anything from a longer version of the book’s description to copies of news coverage. It’s awesome! Some people may balk at possible “spoilers”, but I prefer to call them a roadmap of what you’ll be reading. They help you read faster and retain more.


In one sentence (come on Twitter users!!) come up with the one thing you want to tell other people about the book. The more salacious or captivating, the better. If you want to tell us about the sex scene with the Martian queen, awesome!

This may be the most difficult part of writing the review. That’s a good thing. This exercise will inspire you and set a direction for the rest of the review. The co-founder of Twitter said that confinement inspires creativity. Give yourself one sentence to get our attention; you’ll be amazed at how everything flows from this.


Book reviews are like the cheesy movie trailers from the 80s. The best reviews give a flavor of the book with a bit of commentary. Like those trailers from yesteryear, you’ll get scenes from the movie/book and you’ll get narrative that tells you what to expect. Look back at the headline you wrote and now write down three or more bullets that capture the main themes from the book.

Let’s pretend we’re going to review THE KARATE KID, the book. The headline may be: “Can a kid find love and win the karate championship?” Your subheadings might include:

  • Bullied in L.A.
  • Karate fixes all
  • True love (note: ALWAYS have a subheading about love)
  • Wax on, wax off


Remember your bucket of quotes that you collected? Dump them out! Give your subheadings some space and put the quotes in, under the appropriate subheading.

Let’s go back to THE KARATE KID for example:

  • Bullied in L.A.
    “Friend? Oh, yeah, those guys.”
    “No the problem is, I’m getting my ass kicked every other day, that’s the problem.”
  • Karate fixes all
    “Go, find balance….Banzai, Daniel-san!”
    “Karate come from China…hundred year later, Miyagi ancestor bring to Okinawa.”
    “I thought it came from Buddhist temples and stuff like that.”
    “You too much TV”
  • True love
    “Hey, you got a name?” “Ali…with an I. Hey, what’s your name?”
    “Why next time?” “Because we didn’t bring a bathing suit!”
  • Wax on, wax off
    “Make block. Left, right. Up, down. Side, side. Breathe in, breathe out. And no scare fish.”


You don’t have to be a grammar wiz to string this together. Say something you like or something you don’t like about the book, and then lead to a quote. Say something about the book’s premise or happenings, then lead to another quote. Bounce from quote to quote until you feel you’ve completed the picture.

Don’t feel like you have to use all the quotes. Don’t use any if you don’t want. They are there to help you if you want them. Make sure there’s plenty of YOU in the review. Talk to ME. It’s a conversation of you, telling me, about the book. These are tools to help you.


As you can tell, I enjoy a good GIF image. I’ve also been known to include links to other reviewers, outside sources, and my own, horribly drawn pictures. It’s all about telling the story. The more pictures and media you include, the less people read, the more people say “great review”. Read that last sentence again. It’s true. (Admit it: you do it, too.)

For example, here’s my favorite music from THE KARATE KID. No, it’s not “you’re the best…there is….”. It’s the beautiful song that plays as Daniel practices his crane kick on the beach in front of the setting sun.

Fast forward to about 1:20 into the video for the MOST BEAUTIFUL music and scenery you’ve ever witnessed.


Indie Thursday: Battle of the Bulge

Last week I started a segment reviewing indie, self-published, small publisher books. Remember: THE MARTIAN was originally self-published! Fellow book bloggers, take heed of those emails in your inbox, you may have the next Matt Damon on your hands. Or something like that.

BTW: here’s Andy Weir’s “ask me anything” on reddit today.




Glenn Livingston must have seen my review of The Tapping Solution for Weight Loss (for women). This book is a more machismo, more demonstrative approach to weight loss. He determines that “ALL of your fat thinking shall be deemed “the Pig!”” and that you have to learn “to cold-heartedly ignore its squeals.” This book isn’t about acceptance or comfort, this is a book about taking control. Like a man.

Livingston takes the approach like The Diet Fix, where he doesn’t create a diet for you, but “cementing our ability to stick with the Food Plan of your choice.” He uses the metaphor of “the Pig” throughout, looking at food outside of your plan as “That’s Pig Slop…and I will Never Eat Pig Slop Again!” He wants there to be no ambiguousness in your plan. He wants to know that you will, not that you can. He wants you to “cage the Pig and let it suffer!”

He does have a section that is optional reading where he offers his learning. Mainly, “whole, unprocessed, organic plant foods–and a modest amount of organic animal protein.” Again, this is able to be skipped and not part of the theme and function of the book.

Livingston is also very generous with the plans and worksheets and extras that he offers for free on his site NeverBingeAgain.com. While I typically like the softer, more gender neutral approach to weight control and health, his techniques do prove useful for controlling my inner pig.

Though there are many days when I just want to celebrate who I am:


Philip Caravella’s book is cut-and-dry. He’s been a doctor for a long time, specializing in weight loss, health, fitness, and diabetes management. He takes all of his findings and puts them in a book. The chapters are topic to topic. There are bullets and underlines and everything is easy to digest. There’s just no pizazz. You won’t find this on Oprah.

From my research on weight loss and management, his ideas are on par. Much of the same in what I found in EAT MOVE SLEEP. The basics are:

  • Eat fewer calories than you need, or
  • Increase your current activity and eat the same, or
  • Decrease your current calories and exercise more.

Straight forward. “Moderation is key in nearly all aspects of a healthy and useful life.” He has the typical provider approach to saturated fats and carbs, despite some of the recent evidence found in books like The Big Fat Surprise. It’s all even keel.

The only thing I noted about this book is that the chapters seemed out of order. The first chapters talked about dietary options in schools and control of diabetes, then he spoke about exercise, then toward the end he talked about diet and controlled eating.

Short version: don’t over do it (even mindlessly).

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Top ten reasons to do a top ten list…on a Tuesday

I’ve been avoiding top 10 lists like the plague. Why? Because I’m lazy. I thought book reviews could be my bread and butter–and they still are–but there are reasons to do a top 10 list. And here they are:


Seriously. Everyone on my friends list seems to be doing Top 10 lists. The Bookish Barrister and Caught Read H&nded follow the protocol of what specifically to do each week. They are quite talented and have huge followings. Then folks like Shaina Reads breaks the mold and goes with a Top 10 list of “giving a shit”. So, I’ll start here with my first ever top 10 list.


My latest blog post: a book review.


Do you want to win a copy of ARMADA? Sure you do! Click here.


Whoever thought taking pictures of books could be so much fun! There’s a great community of book take-a-picture-ures, too. AKA bookstagramers. Here’s mine.


Two things foster creativity: constricted space and a long list of things to come up with. Examples: Twitter and Top Ten lists. By the time you get your brilliantly constructed sentence to fit within 140 characters or struggle to come up with those last two items, your brain will have expanded to twice its size. Or something like that.


Speaking of Twitter, here I am: @Ryan_Reads


Life isn’t always about pulling out the tissues and reading Man Booker listed books like THE FISHERMEN. Though that’s “fun” in its own right, it’s nice to relax a bit, get connected with the community, and post a bunch of GIF images. Like this one:


If you scroll down my blog, you’ll see the constant headline:


Oh, look, another GIF!!


I’m convinced that people’s eyes cross when they see the onslaught of reviews. Add in a Glee or Homer Simpson GIF and the page counters light up. Well. They increase by one or two. Hopefully more.


And that’s one of my biggest goals. Blogging, Tweeting, Bookgramming: it all equals community. I want to share what I’ve read with you, and I want you to share what you’ve read with me. We’ll learn together, grow together, and find great book together.

Group hug time:

How about it? Do you participate in Top Ten Tuesday? Should this be a regular thing?

Review: Your Family in Pictures: The Parents’ Guide to Photographing Holidays, Family Portraits, and Everyday Life

Your Family in Pictures: The Parents' Guide to Photographing Holidays, Family Portraits, and Everyday Life
Your Family in Pictures: The Parents’ Guide to Photographing Holidays, Family Portraits, and Everyday Life by Koh, Me Ra
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Two things will happen when you read YOUR FAMILY IN PICTURES by Me Ra Koh: you’ll want to buy a better camera (especially if you are a currently relegated to using your cell phone camera), and you’ll want to buy Me Ra Koh’s other two books.

For the better camera: yes, the author gives great tips on how to take better pictures with your phone or point-and-shoot camera. However…you’ll begin to see all these GREAT pictures featured in the book, many taken with perfect lighting and high-end cameras. The author makes mention in her “recipes” for better photos to change the ISO settings and shutter speed, etc. Many lower-end and phone cameras have these features in a limited basis, but you’ll definitely notice the difference between your pictures and the pictures featured in the book.

As for the other books: the author often mentions them. She’ll talk about camera basics, such as the law of thirds or negative space, but it is enough to make you want to read them. Other reviewers of this book (FAMILY IN PICTURES) have also mentioned how great of a companion all three books have been. It’s not a bad thing, just be forewarned.

Regarding the advice itself, you will see improvement in your overall photos. Me Ra Koh gives some great introduction instructions (e.g., finding the right lighting in your home, what cloths to wear, etc.), and then breaks into situational sections (e.g., holidays, outings, etc.). There are numerous tips here that will give you great ideas on how to take a satisfying photo—with or without that $1,000 camera (though you’ll still want that $1,000 camera).

The quality of this book is top-notch. Don’t let the “paperback” throw you off. The cover is glossy and thick, and each page is full color and glossy as well. It is comfortable to read and easy to look-up particular advice. An electronic version on the Kindle Fire or iPad would be okay, but I would stay away from a Kindle Paperwhite version due to the high amount of color used in this book.

Bottom line: great book for beginners, as well as people with some already established picture knowledge seeking improvement. Not just for families, but for any picture taking featuring people.

I received this book for free for review through Blogging for Books.

You can find this book’s previews and other reviews (current over 30 5-star reviews) on Amazon: Your Family in Pictures: The Parents’ Guide to Photographing Holidays, Family Portraits, and Everyday Life


Review: One Kick by Chelsea Cain

One Kick
One Kick by Chelsea Cain
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

You’re going to love ONE KICK: lots of action, lots of heart, and full of turn-paging readability. Sara Colleton, executive producer of DEXTER, is already lining up ONE KICK as a show. So, yeah, expect Kick Lannigan to be kicking a** on a TV set near you, but meanwhile start digging into this new book series now.

Kick (also known as Kit, or as Beth, which was her name while abducted) has some baggage. It’s what makes her as a character and it’s precisely why we read: we want that diamond-like imperfection. This past history is what makes this action story so nuanced. Author Chelsea Cain dips back into Kick’s history throughout the story, causing tension, anxiety, and pain. As the scenes flip through, you feel where Kick draws her power.

Speaking of power, Kick has reason to be pissed off. As you can imagine, not everything was hunky-dory during Kick’s abduction. She received some training while captive, but received other training under the post-rescued watch of the FBI, as well as on her own. In other words, Kick is a powder keg of violence. This is brought about when certain events trigger her into action. And boy, is there action!

The pages will flip mercilessly through your fingers. Occasionally your brain will kick up and say things like, “hey, wouldn’t the brother hear them fighting upstairs?” or, “surely he’d hear a helicopter landing on the roof”, but let those little thoughts go. Most of this is tightly packed, balls-to-the-walls (sometimes literally) action: you’re along for the ride.

The editor said this is mainly PG-13 level writing, with a little bit of pop to make things interesting. For the most part, I agree. There’s nudity, but no sex. There’s cursing, but I don’t recall seeing the f-bomb being dropped.

Bottom line: awesomely entertaining book with lots of room for continuation. There are a few logic hiccups, but the dips, turns, and surprises make up for it tenfold. I’m looking forward to more!

Thanks Simon and Schuster for providing this book to me electronically for review. I had a blast (and lost a lot of sleep—it was pretty darn exciting).

You can find this book’s preview and other reviews on Amazon: One Kick: A Novel (A Kick Lannigan Novel)


Review: Unwind!: 7 Principles for a Stress-Free Life

Unwind!: 7 Principles for a Stress-Free Life
Unwind!: 7 Principles for a Stress-Free Life by Michael Olpin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

UNWIND! is what you get when you combine the principles of Stephen R. Covey’s 7 habits with that of mindfulness and stress reduction. Sound good? It is!

Authors Michael Olpin and Sam Bracken combine their expertise to craft a quick-read book that gets you into the balance of stress and tranquility. As the opening states, a little stress is healthy, but too much can be catastrophic. The authors use Covey’s already established habits and offer—get ready for it—paradigms! (You thought you were done hearing that ‘p’ word, didn’t you?)

Before launching into their 7 paradigms, the authors do speak to the power of mindfulness, which I love. I am surprised, though, that the authors didn’t really speak to the power of sleep, which Arianna Huffington used to combine with mindfulness and meditation in her book THRIVE.

The author’s 7 paradigms are:
1) Reactive to Proactive
2) Unmotivated to Inspired
3) Pressures to Priorities
4) Hassle to Harmony
5) Anxiety to Empathy
6) Defensive to Diverse
7) Tense to Tranquil

I can testify to the power of each shift of the mind; these things WILL make you less stressed and more capable. The benefits are more than just health. You’ll actually find yourself getting more things done, and get those things done in a more organized, more thought out, better way.

The authors claim that many other books pick apart the “limbs” while this book strikes at the “root” of stress. I’m not so sure those others books don’t accomplish the same. Yes, many “self-help” books may skirt around the issues, but if you’ve already been reading about mindfulness or have been faithfully following Covey’s 7 habits, you may already be ahead of the game.

I would recommend this book to anyone looking to find that balance in life and find the tranquility they desire.

Thanks to Grand Harbor Press and Amazon Publishing for sending me this book for review.

You can find this book’s preview and other reviews on Amazon: Unwind!: 7 Principles for a Stress-Free Life


Review: The Thin Wall

The Thin Wall
The Thin Wall by R. Cyril West
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m keeping this shorter than my other reviews, but that doesn’t lessen the impact this book had on me. If anything, it increases with brevity. The story was exciting, and at times, heart-wrenching. All around, author R. Cyril West has brought about an excellent book: the other reviews, the blurbs, the map—but what created the most effect on me was after reading the book, going back and re-reading the intro by William Beck and reading the end-book historical notes from the author. To realize other human beings, let alone Americans, have been held in secret…well, it is agonizing to think about. Our recent news only highlights how much government involves themselves in covering of secrets that deal with human life, and carnage.

I will add this: I appreciate the author’s involvement with Czechoslovakia in his story. Similar to me recently learning about Chechnya in A CONSTELLATION OF VITAL PHENOMENA, so I learned about so much in West’s story. To read this is to raise awareness of many things outside our protected boxes of information.

Thank you to the author for reaching out to me and providing an electronic version of this book for my review.

You can find this book and a preview on Amazon (along with the other reviews): The Thin Wall: A POW/MIA Truth Novel