“A passion for reading is not enough”: Pallavi Sareen reveals the secrets of a great book review

Pallavi Sareen

by Timothy Pike

By the time professional book reviewer and journalist Pallavi Sareen turned eighteen, she had already read 1,000 books and written 400 reviews.

You might just say she was cut out for this.

Growing up in northern India, where she still lives and works, Pallavi fell in love with stories at an early age—because she found them everywhere she looked.

“Being born in Jammu and Kashmir was destiny for someone like me who loves stories, as the stories here are present in abundance,” she says. “It was these marvelous stories and astonishing beauty in every nook and corner of the state which never allowed me to leave.”

The more she immersed herself in books—and the stories that surrounded her in daily life—the more intense the desire to read became. The problem was that reading books was only a small part of the overall process of crafting an excellent review.

“What no one tells you about book reviewing,” Pallavi says, “is that just having a passion for reading is not enough. My passion was borderline obsession. I used to read my old reviews and wonder why I had a childish approach—or if I seemed too much like a ‘fangirl’—and after a while I understood that the only reason I wrote reviews was to genuinely convey how I felt, not because I wanted to criticize authors or build their readership using my influence.”

Pallavi’s love of books started early, and at the time, she found herself drawn to many of the same genres as most people her age. “I started reading when I was around thirteen years old,” she says. “Like every other teenager, I adored paranormal fiction, romance stories, or contemporary novels, which were relatable and quite enjoyable back then.”

But it took a new kind of story to push Pallavi into reviewing. “The first review I ever wrote was for Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code,” she says. “Before that I had never read a mystery novel before and I didn’t even know how to write a review. I just had these thoughts and ideas and feelings that I wanted to share with the world, expecting that someone else also felt the same way.” For a while, those thoughts and ideas and feelings were easy to express.

“But then came along a book which totally changed me as a person: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini,” Pallavi says. I tried and tried to express the plethora of emotions swirling inside me but I just couldn’t. But since I had already started a blog, I wished to continue reading books and writing reviews.”

Over time, Pallavi made a few tweaks to her reviewing style. “I learned to take a more thorough approach to writing reviews,” she says. “This I learned after spending hours and hours reading top book blogs and reviews in magazines. I started detailing what I liked and didn’t like, started comparing with other books I had read in that genre and eventually I toned down my fangirl voice and yet remained true to who I was.”

As she got more serious about book reviews, Pallavi began charging modest rates for her time. “I used to do a lot of free book reviews when I was still learning,” she says, “but after giving five to six years to books, I started charging. Many authors and publishers still do not understand why anyone would charge for an ‘honest’ review, but it takes a lot of time and effort to read a book. If someone wants me to spend my time reading what they want me to read, they have to pay up.”

At the same time, Pallavi explains, that doesn’t mean her reviews are anything less than candid. “I don’t write reviews as a form of publicity or included as a paid promotion package,” she says. “My reviews are always genuine.”

To this end, Pallavi will insist on following through on a review even if she doesn’t particularly like the book. “I still read it completely and share my honest thoughts, first with the author,” she says. “If they wish for me to hold out on publishing that review, I respect their choices.”

Like any reviewer, there are genres Pallavi enjoys reading more than others. “My list of favorite genres keeps on modifying as I keep growing,” she tells me. “I went through a young adult contemporary phase where I would literally read all the bestsellers in this genre. But now I like reading historical fiction, investigative real-life stories such as The Siege of Mecca by Yaroslav Trofimov or Underground by Haruki Murakami. I do not like self-help or motivational books. I spent a lot of time avoiding them, but even after I read a few popular ones, my opinion did not change.”

Some of the popular books Pallavi has reviewed recently include And I Darken by Kiersten White, Heartless by Marissa Meyer, and The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon, which was later turned into a movie.

Pallavi even wrote an article about her top ten “less talked–about” books, which included Drowning is Inevitable by Shalanda Stanley, Volition by Lily Paradis, The Summer That Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel, and Nobody’s Goddess by Amy McNulty. “After that article and those reviews,” she says, “these books got some traction in the blogging community.”

As much as Pallavi enjoys writing, she has no plans to pen a novel of her own. “It is the toughest thing to become an author from a reviewer because you become your own worst critic,” she admits. “I tried putting together a coherent book once but I started finding too many flaws in my own writing.”

Her other pursuits probably wouldn’t leave her with much time for that anyway. “I stick to writing detailed research-oriented news articles,” she says. “Journalism is my full-time career, and book reviewing is like an added bonus because the ability to write is very important for a journalist. I think the time I have invested in reading and reviewing books has come in really handy.”

Of course, it’s nice to take a break once in a while. “Apart from reading, I love playing chess,” Pallavi says. “That is one thing I could do all day.”

And now, after all of her success and accomplishments, Pallavi aims to see the world. “The only goal I have left to achieve,” she says, “is to travel the whole world, reading books belonging to different countries, seeing different cultures, and getting a chance to write about it all.”

Need a review? You can get in touch with Pallavi through her listing in the ChapterBuzz Sevice Directory, or through her website, Alextheshadowgirl’s Blog.

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