Another Column at MyShelf.Com

Between the pages, Past
A Mystery Column
By Dennis Collins

Book Reviews

      A few years ago I had the opportunity to replace departing columnist and book reviewer Susan McBride here at Fellow author and friend Nancy Mehl recommended me for the job. Back then I had just had my first mystery novel, The Unreal McCoy published and figured I was on my way to becoming the next Elmore Leonard. My reviewing experience had been pretty much limited to the reviews that I wrote over at I’ve learned a lot since then.

    I became acquainted with book reviews as a young boy growing up in post-war Detroit when my mother would send me and my older sister out every Saturday afternoon to the newspaper stand at a busy intersection to pick up a copy of the New York Times. I don’t know what the newspaper cost back then because I was way too young to be trusted with money; that was my sister’s job. Mine was to carry the heavy newspaper. The only part that my mom read was the book section and she generally made notes about the best sellers and then waited for them to hit the local library. I believe that’s when I first became aware of reviews but hadn’t passed the “See Spot run,” stage of my personal reading development. I always knew I wanted to read one when I grew up. I think that’s why I’m having so much fun here at Myshelf.

     As I have the chance to interact with other reviewers I find that the approach to writing reviews varies greatly from one commentator to another. I recently shared a panel with four other book reviewers at a writer’s conference in Chicago and was quite surprised at the different viewpoints. One fellow who wrote reviews for a medium size newspaper said that he tries to balance amount of positive vs. negative reviews he writes. I was rather taken aback by that viewpoint. That type of thinking demands that you find something negative to write about someone’s work simply because it’s time to hammer somebody. Another reviewer said that she would never say anything bad about any book no matter how she felt personally.

    Here at Myshelf we have many book reviewers with many different inclinations. I guess that’s one of the reasons that I am so comfortable in the Myshelf family. I have started to read some books that simply didn’t appeal to me and rather than write a review tainted by my personal taste I put out the word over at Myshelf and someone else had a second look at it.

    One of the things that I consider to be flawed in the collective thinking of many reviewers is that they write their reviews with an editor’s eye. In other words they use the same mindset that they would in evaluating a manuscript for the publisher, noting things like sentence structure and point of view.

    To begin with, many of the books that we review are ARCs, uncorrected proofs and may not represent the finished product so I never comment on technical details. But in my opinion the most important things are uncomplicated flow, a good story, and solid characters. I think it’s the reviewer’s job to evaluate a book with the reader in mind. Will the public like it? All I can hope for is that a substantial number of people share my leanings.


2006 Past Columns

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