Monday, October 6, 2014

One Great Way To Write A Book Review

Nearly twenty-five years ago I read Louis L’Amour’s book, “Education of a Wandering Man”. L’Amour kept a journal recording the books he read year by year. About the same time, I attended a writer’s conference in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Christian author Calvin Miller was the featured speaker. He also mentioned keeping track of what you read. He suggested writing a one-page summary and your thoughts about the book. I thought L’Amour and Miller’s ideas were good. I added a twist of my own. Instead of just a summary, I wrote a brief book review.
In the late 1980s, a magazine editor approached me about writing book reviews. At the time, I was associate pastor and Christian school principal at First Baptist Church in Jasper, Texas. I edited our church newsletter. In addition to writing a weekly column, I wrote and included reviews of Christian books. The book review became a popular feature. It significantly increased sales of the reviewed book at our local Christian bookstore. The magazine editor received my church newsletter and read my reviews. He asked me to write reviews for his publication. I started receiving review copies of books in the mail. Free books! For a reader like me it was wonderful.
In 2005, I started posting my reviews on-line on Yahoo 360. In 2007, I started Kepler’s Military History Book Reviews. Since then I have read and reviewed 155 military history or military historical fiction books, about 22 per year. The website was name a "100 Best Book Blogs for History Buffs” by in 2009. I receive 25 requests a month to read and review books. I accept very few of the requests.
What do I get out of it? First, I get the satisfaction of reading the book. I love reading and history. This is a great way to read new material and get review copies of the books.

Second, I share my love for history in general and military history specifically.

Third, I try to be a good finder in what I read. I will read the entire book. Sometimes it is a struggle, but I look for the good.  I do not say it is wonderful if it is tough to read, but I do not read looking for the bad.  I am blessed getting to review the books. A few times, I will not post a review, instead of giving a one-star review. Most authors prefer no review to a bad review.
In recent days, the newspapers and Internet have had negative articles about some book reviews. Regarding any review, I have written on Kepler’s Military History Book Reviews; I received no payment. The only compensation was the book that I read. The publisher, author, publicists, or media groups sent it to me or I purchased it.
One great way to write a book review... 

Read the book. I know; it seems obvious, but read the book! You might find out the author did a very good job. He or she probably invested one to four years of their life in the book project, so read the book.  Do not even think about writing a review of something you only skimmed or only partially read. Reading the book is critical to a good review.

Know what you are reading. If you don’t understand the book or subject area you are going to write about, you cannot write a good review. If you are reading a nonfiction book on a topic you know little about, make some effort to learn something about the topic. I write military history book reviews.  I have a formal background in history with a bachelor’s degree in the subject. My emphasis was in military history. I am widely read in history with a general background in all areas of English History and United States history. I am a serious student of US Military History.
Make notes about what you read. You may want to make note of key phrase or sentences as you meet them. You can quote them in the review. As you read, ask yourself:

Who is telling the story? Is it in first person or third person?

What is the book’s genre? Narrative history, historical fiction, memoir?

What about the style of writing? Is the author a good storyteller? Is it serious scholarship with footnote after footnote? Is the style conversational or is it full of big words that need a dictionary at your side? Does it paint a word picture in your mind? When was it written? Was there a ghostwriter or co-author?

Does the book touch your heart and mind? Does it move you to an emotional or volitional climax about the topic?
Keep track of the story-line or chronology of the book. It will help you when reading long, complicated works.
Know the author and his or her works. When you finished gathering the information, and you have enough notes, then you are ready to write the article.
Start with an introduction. The way you start will depend on your target audience. Consider beginning with a paragraph that describes your first impression of the work, or an interesting story that you had experienced through the book, or a more technical introduction where you briefly state the author, title, publisher, and any other information about the book you see pertinently.  I like to ask a thought-provoking question. An example is “Have you ever wondered what it would be like being a marine in Iraq?” It gets the reader thinking. Give a brief history of the author with some relevant information such as earlier works and awards.

Cover the structure of the book without giving away the plot or ending.

Explain your opinion of the book and give a summary of the review.

Finish by recommending the book. State who would benefit and enjoy the book, using general terms (students, veterans, seniors).

I like to tell the reader where and how they can get the book.
Include your full name in the end with the date of the review. On my book review site, I allow feedback. I have had a few authors contact and challenge me. I have had some authors point out grammar or spelling errors I have made in the review.
An example of the most frequent comment is in the words of David Laskin of the University of Washington. He wrote, “The Long Way Home: An American Journey from Ellis Island to the Great War”. He thanked me for reading the book. He said from my review he had no doubt I had read the book. By the way, the book was amazing.

Add to Technorati Favorites
Bookmark and Share


  1. Thank you for this very relevant post. I review books (and sometimes movies on my blog). But before I buy a book, I find it really important to read reviews about the book. And I have found some reviews to be quite unhelpful. Like someone who writes that a book is amazing but only attributes to it 3 stars. Or someone who says the book wasn't a good one without saying why. Book reviews are important. If the author took the time, effort and energy to write a whole book, the least a reviewer can do after reading that book is take the time to write a proper review.

    Tell the World

  2. This is terrific advice, Jimmie. Thanks!