Tag Archives: book

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).

5 Ways UNDER THE UDALA TREES Tore Apart My Heart—A Book Review


“E’li, E’li, la’ma sab ach tha’ni? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” is the question Ijeoma asks in the novel UNDER THE UDALA TREES by Chinelo Okparanta. The year was 1968. Her father was killed in Nigeria’s violent assimilation of Biafra, her mother—at the end of her wits. Tears will fall from your eyes as Ijeoma prays, “Dear God, I want to be happy. Please help me to be happy.”


Not knowing what to do, Ijeoma’s mother sent her away, to be properly cared for and taught. During this separation, Ijeoma fell in love with another girl. This girl: a Hausa girl, someone Ijeoma’s Igbo people would never associate. This girl: a reader of the Koran. All things: an anathema.

We witness Ijeoma’s struggle in finding love, eventually succumbing to the heart-wrenching persuasion of man-woman marriage. The pages are near-impossible to read as the husband struggles to find his love; the pages even more difficult once Ijeoma’s child Chidinma is born.


Punishable by death—stoning—still today in the northern states of Nigeria: loving someone of the same sex. “There’s nothing more important now than for us to begin working on cleansing your soul,” says Ijeoma’s mother. “Nwoke na nwunye. Adam na Eve. Man and wife.” Ijeoma feels of her mother: “In this moment, she felt more like another warden than my own mother, more like a husk—more an emblem of motherhood than motherhood itself.”

It’s not just about a love between two girls: it is about love. “Maybe love was some combination of friendship and infatuation. A deeply felt affection accompanied by a certain sort of awe. And by gratitude. And by a desire for a lifetime of togetherness.”

Two men found naked: beaten to death. A woman: burned alive. “If you set off on a witch-hunt, you will find a witch.”


Author Chinelo Okparanta expertly mixes in her vast knowledge of the Bible, verses all included, as she tells the story of struggle and of love. The mother, Ijeoma, the people all around, each coming to a realization of who God is, where He abides, and the trueness of their hearts.


This is the third book I’ve read that is based in Nigeria. The latest being the multi-award-nominated THE FISHERMEN. I am honored and humbled to be back in Nigeria. Okparanta’s pictures are clear and beautiful. She has a way of relaying the old folk tales that make you a witness to the grandness and simplicity of Nigeria’s finest and scariest elements. It’s mesmerizing.

“The saying goes that wood already touched by fire isn’t hard to set alight.” Aside from the tales are the sayings, each with special, driven-deep meaning. One after another, they sink into your soul.


Okparanta is another gifted author to arise out of the Iowa’s Writing Workshop. Her craftsmanship is evident in her spare and lyrical prose. The short chapters tempt you to flip from one page to the next. The story and the elements all play together, scratching your mind and tearing your heart.

“Sometimes it is hard to know to whom the tragedy really belongs.” UNDER THE UDALA TREES will cause me to ponder this question a long, long time.

Top Ten Tuesday: Reasons to be glad that I’m back from vacation (GIVEAWAY announcement)

I recently returned from a trip in the deep, deep, dark, dark woods. I literally went over the mountains–several of them–and kept going. I was sitting somewhere near the border of Maine and Canada, measurable by latitude and longitude, versus the nearest street corner. Needless to say, I didn’t have cell phone coverage.

What could have looked like this:

Thankfully turned out more like this:

I had a great time connecting with family and nature. I’m also glad to be back!

Here are ten reasons that I’m glad to be back:

1. Announcing the winner of the ARMADA giveaway!

Nearly three weeks ago I posted a contest celebrating 300 blog followers. In that time, I’ve gained nearly 50 more followers!!! THANK YOU, everyone!!

The winner of the book ARMADA is Msbiblioglasses. I’ve reached out to her, asking for an address to send the book.

2. Announcing ANOTHER contest!!

I just posted my review of UNDERMAJORDOMO MINOR by Patrick DeWitt. It just so happens that Ecco Books gave me an extra copy to give to one of YOU!!


Thanks to Tamara Welch for helping me work out some kinks in my last contest. (You should follow her rockin’ bookish Twitter account at @rockstar1023.)

Click below to submit an entry to the contest (U.S. Mailing addresses only; an international contest is coming soon–I promise!). You can get a free entry just by clicking and answering a simple question, or more entries for following me on Twitter and Tweeting a message about the giveaway. Anyhow:


If I set it up correctly, you can get an extra entry for sending a Tweet. Try the button in the link above and see. The contest runs through 9/23–good luck!!

3. I read lots of books in the woods. Now to do the reviews.

Here’s one of the reviews I posted (did three yesterday): IDYLL THREATS

4. Catching up on Twitter.

Wow! A lot can happen on Twitter while you are away. Today is no exception: with the release of FATES AND FURIES and a slew of other books, along with Agatha Christie’s birthday, and the Man Booker Short List announced. Wow!!

Feel free to follow me or send me a Tweet: @ryan_reads

Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered!

5. Catching up on Instagram!

My bookstagram account is now up to over 500 followers–thank you!!! But let me pause and direct your attention to an awesome account to follow: @books_with_taylor. Taylor is an up-and-coming publishing industry rock star. She was with Algonquin and is now with Scribner. And, yes, those are authors she’s standing with in all those photos. For example, you can go there and see her with Liz Egan from A WINDOW OPENS.

6. Did I mention I read lots of books while away? Yeah, lots of them.

Here’s my review of the self-help, change your habits book TRIGGERS.

7. Yes, a LOT of books.

@books_with_taylor above introduced me to David Cronenberg’s CONSUMED. You may know him from movies like THE FLY or HISTORY OF VIOLENCE. Expect more of the same in the book. (In case you didn’t click the link, my review says: it’s really good!). Not for everyone. Here’s the NSFW–VERY NSFW–trailer for the book. Yes, you can see read typical Cronenberg stuff like this:

8. I mean like, a TON of books.

Here’s one that game out today: SUPERBETTER. Whether you play video games or not, you can get–not just better–but SuperBetter at life. Jane McGonigal is the “first person in the world to earn a Ph.D. studying the psychological strengths of gamers and how those strengths can translate to real-world problem solving.” She takes her TED talks and puts it to great use in her second book. Go for it!

9. So many books.

I linked it above, but I finished up UNDERMAJORDOMO MINOR while in the woods. It was quirky and very good. It’s a lesson on life, but mainly about love. Make sure you click the entry above!

I also read IN A DARK, DARK WOOD, which I hope to review tomorrow.

10. Back to you and this blog.

A lot happened in the short period I was away. I think I would like to start a new segment on Friday called FRIENDSHIP FRIDAY. This Friday I will be talking about planning for upcoming books and writing to the publishers to request those books! If you have any tips, please let me know in the comments below. I’ll be sure to point back here and perhaps to your blog.

So, while I had fun, it’s good to be back!

From Frozen to Snowden, Jonathan Franzen’s PURITY is a book for our generation—a spectacular display of craftsmanship!

Purity by Jonathan Franzen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Controversy aside, Jonathan Franzen is an incredible author. With PURITY, he proves to be one of the greatest. In effortless strides, Franzen covers everything from God to politics, the environment to the internet. He takes us to Germany in the 1950s, down to South America, and back again to Germany when the wall came down, all with stops in Colorado and California. He touches upon—trounces upon, really—all the modern zeitgeists, from Frozen to Snowden. At its essence: purity. Beyond, yet including, sexual reference, the definition of pure is called into play in terms of money, acquaintances, and action. And: the differences of loneliness and companionship. No matter your opinion of the author himself, this book speaks of brilliance.

Bound in debt, hidden from wealth and murder, the character Purity—Penelope or Pip these days—Tyler is the driving force in Franzen’s character-developed novel. Her feelings: “the world was as obstinately unfixable as her life was.” She felt her friends slipping away in endless Tweets and Likes, her living situation was questionable, at best, and as for her mother: “she could feel herself starting down the road to be a friendless person like her mother.” Hermit-like, not even revealing her true name, Purity’s mother was hiding many secrets. Yet, it’s amazing what love will hold bound.

“You’re a very good person. You’re just in a bad dream.” The comparisons of Franzen to Dickens are well justified. Through the strength of his characters he illuminates the boundless issues of today, where we find ourselves “trusting in technology instead of taking care of people” in a country that is “…a testament to badass firsts.” A country that is “first in prison population, first in meat consumption, first in operational strategic warheads, first in per capita carbon emissions, first in line for the Rapture.”

In the midst of powerful observation comes tender emotion. As with any of us, the heart of the human spirit persists throughout an environment of difficulties. It’s amazing to watch Franzen dial down from the macrocosms of social and political injustices to pause in moments of personal reflection: “I’m starting to think paradise isn’t eternal contentment. It’s more like there’s something eternal about feeling contented.” We witness Purity transform from a self-doubting young woman to a self-confident, though still fragile, woman—all through decades of worldwide change. I’m in awe at the ease Franzen achieves this.

“Secrets were power. Money was power. Being needed was power. Power, power, power: how could the world be organized around the struggle for a thing so lonely and aggressive in the having of it?” The regaling of Franzen’s world (matching closely our own) is not without pointed lines at his own success. “You must always be considering how important you are, how newsworthy, and this divides you from yourself and poisons your soul.” Though it is important to note that this is not a distraction, just an interlude, to Franzen’s finest, most beautiful work. With fun, comes soul-searching, deepening questions, such as: “Was there anything crueler, from the person who’d rejected you, than compassionate forbearance?”

There’s a little bit of everything for everyone in PURITY. As the book’s description states, it is a “grand story of youthful idealism, extreme fidelity, and murder.” This is a book for our generation, no matter your age. It’s one of the finest examples of craftsmanship you will find.


Thank you to FSG for sending me a copy of this book to review. I recently featured PURITY in a “Want Wednesday” post with some of the outstanding pre-launch coverage PURITY was receiving.

One of the best books you’ll read this year: Bill Clegg’s DID YOU EVER HAVE A FAMILY

Did You Ever Have a Family
Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“She read novels, modern ones, about families and secrets and love.” June Reid watched her book-loving daughter die, burned alive. Also: her boyfriend, ex-husband, and daughter’s fiancé. “Funny how disasters can make you see what you could lose.” “The house without sound is now loud with nothing, no one.”

Why do we read such sad, tragic novels? Because “wounds can sing a beguiling song”. In the case of Bill Clegg’s DID YOU EVER HAVE A FAMILY, the “song was irresistible”. In masterful, heart-wrenching prose, the author is able to captivate our sense and definition of family. “No one can see wilting petals from the pews.” Clegg takes us close to each element of human connection, be it: race, social status, age, or gender. He helps us to “remember thinking this is what it feels like to be home. Here. In the space around and between us.”


Aside from the June’s devastating loss, is the loss suffered by Lydia, the mother of June’s boyfriend. Her story is “about a girl who made the wrong turn in the forest and had no way out.” Her thoughts: “I’ve never been anyone except someone’s housekeeper, daughter, wife, girlfriend, or mother, and in all of those roles I have failed and now I play no role.” In such tragedies, there’s a domino falling effect of pain. Though, in tragedy, there is the reverse stacking effect of support: “Thank God she has someone to look out for her. Thank God any of us do.”

Clegg takes us coast-to-coast, past to present, looking at and analyzing the power of connectedness and of the human spirit. Though trials face us all, poor to rich, white to black, gay and straight, we all have something within ourselves that’s a puzzle piece longing to be fit together. DID YOU EVER HAVE A FAMILY is a triumph in solving these questions, not in complexity, but in barebones, vulnerable storytelling. “This was not lonely or angry or lusty or grieving. This was human.”

“The world’s magic sneaks up on your in secret, settles next to you when you have your head turned.” Don’t expect to leave this book dry eyed. “Grief can sometimes get loud, and when it does, we try not to speak over it.” The agent-turned-author carefully constructs his novel to use both first person and third person perspectives of a wide range of affected characters: neighbors, lovers, wedding planners, and hotel workers. As each witness speaks, peeling away the layers of their story, we sit mesmerized by its trueness. “Rough as life can be, I know in my bones we are supposed to stick around and play our part.”

No doubt, DID YOU EVER HAVE A FAMILY is one of the best novels you’ll read this year. It is a triumphant entry for Bill Clegg, easily putting him among the highest ranks of authors, making this book worthy of its Man Booker list.

You may wonder about the North American cover of this book: orange, faded, beat up. Even the inside binding has purposefully portrayed faded white spots on solid green backing. Not to spoil much for you, but Lolly kept journals in orange notebooks. June found and read these, “To be given a glimpse now was a bitter miracle, a ghostly caress that left more regret than solace.”

Clegg has worked on this novel for over a decade, yet I can’t help but draw comparisons to the Christmas morning house fire, in a similar area of Connecticut featured in this story, where a mother lost her parents and three children. Here’s the New York Times coverage: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/26/nyr…

Do yourself a favor, read DID YOU EVER HAVE A FAMILY. And once you’ve defined who your family is—give them a hug, hold them tight. Cherish them.

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?