To date, I have found three sites that offer free books in return for the reviews that you write for their books:
1. By far, Thomas Nelson Book Review Bloggers Program, to me, is the best. Simply request a book, and they will send you the book. Read it up critically, and write a constructive, fair and balance review. Click here to join. This program also has a self-regulating mechanism, in that, you can only request one book at one time, and may not request for another until you have posted your review. For some books, you also have to submit the review by a dateline. According to Michael Hyatt (the President and CEO of Thomas Nelson) their goal is to recruit 10,000 active bloggers to join the program.
2. Ligonier Ministries is a Reformed, evangelical, non-profit organization founded by renowned Calvinist theologian, R. C. Sproul. This site has a Blog For a Free Book program, but they will send a pdf copy to review first, and only send you the physical copy upon completion of your review; and everyone knows the difficulties to reading the entire book on your laptop screen. Click here to join.
3. NavPress is the publishing ministry of The Navigators. They have a Blogger Review Program for their selected books. Enter the coupon code and the price of the book will be deducted down to the absolute $0.00. However, you still have to pay for the shipping fees and this can come up to be quite a lot if you are staying in a far away Asian country like me. Click here to join.
Benefits of joining a blogger book review program
Besides the advantage of getting the book you reviewed for free, you also get the chance to read other people's reviews, and in some sites (e.g. Thomas Nelson Book Review Bloggers Program), you can also take advantage to use the free resources like cover art, video or audio clips (when available), external links to other related items, etc to include in your review. Another advantage is, by joining a blogger book review program, we can discipline ourselves to finish reading a book within a stipulated time.
How to write a review?
I have found two helpful articles with very practical tips. I have summarized the main points of the two articles here. For details, click here and here to read the articles in entirety.
1. Review title: Use the book title as a guide for your headline title and post slug
2. Introduce the book, author, and the topic in the first paragraph.
3. Keep it all simple, readable and maybe to less than 500 words (or depending on the stipulated number of words allowed by the specific website you intend to send your review to)
4. It doesn’t have to be a seminary-worthy book critique or sophisticated. Take out your academic formality, just tell us about the book, how it impacted you and interact with the content.
5. Include what you liked (or loved), what you disliked (or hated). Rate it too.
6. One of the best ways to give a short review is to talk about one chapter specifically.
7. Give practical takeaways. “On page 13, he talks about this great marketing idea, so I implemented it in my church and saw [number] of people fill out guest cards, etc.”
8. Add an appropriate category, like “leadership.”
9. After you’re done, read through and do a quick edit of your post before publishing.
10. Include two or three related books in bullet points form that people could check out (including your Amazon links in those as well)
11. If you have time and the book you're supposed to read is interesting-read the whole thing.
12. While you're reading take notes (either by highlighting the book or jot down in pieces of paper) of whatever strikes you as interesting or powerful, or wrong.
13. Start writing your review whenever something you read triggered your thoughts or opinion. Continue reading the book. Continue writing.
14. But what if you do not have enough time? You can still write a great review even if you do not have time to read the whole book, or if it's boring. In that case, make sure to read as many of the beginning chapters as you can. Then read the book from behind, as much as you can. While doing that, remember step 12, make as many notes as possible (either positive or negative way). After reading the front and the back, skim the rest of the book to connect the dots.