One Great Way to Write a Book Review

About every five weeks I write a book review. Since December 2007, I have written 148 book reviews of military history books for my website Kepler’s Military History Book Reviews. Front Row Monthly noticed my love for reviewing books. Last year they published twelve of my reviews in their Front Row Lit Magazine.

I love reading, receiving review copies in the mail, having authors and publicists asking if I am interested in reading their book and interviewing the author.

In recent days, the newspapers and Internet have had negative articles about some 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 was used to write the review and was sent by the publisher, author, publicists or media groups. Here is one great way to write a book review. It is my philosophy for writing a review.

Read the book. I know; it seems obvious but read the book! You might find out the author did a very good job.  She or she probably invested two to four years of their life in the book project, so read the book.  Don’t 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 that 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.  I am widely read in history with a general background in all areas of US and English History and 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 genre does it belong to? Narrative history, historical fiction, memoir?
  • What about the style of writing? Is the author a good story-teller?  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 ghost writer or co-author?
  • Does the book touch your heart and mind?  Does it move you to an emotional or volitional climax about the topic being read?

Keep track of the storyline 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.a.  Give a brief history of the author with some relevant information such as earlier works, awards, etc.

  • 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, etc.).
  • 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. An example of the most frequent comment are 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.


Downtime – I’ve never been one to take downtime very seriously. I rarely do anything for rest and relaxation. It seems like a poor use of time. Lately, I’ve been forced to reevaluate my view of downtime.

Recently, pneumonia has been the catalyst causing me to reevaluate and to take it easier. I was embracing life at my usual 90 miles an hour. Getting up early and writing the first few hours of the day seven days a week were routine. Well. the illness had me where I couldn’t do it. My brain either through exhaustion or the medications just had little in the way of creativity. It was like I had checked out and went to the ends of the earth.

I learned that if I don’t give the brain some down time, if I try to force thinking and productivity, it won’t happen. What will happen is I’ll either just sit and surf the Internet or write poor quality at best text.

While I have had paid sales in the last year, nineteen pieces I placed were nonpaying. I finished a novel. I’m shopping it with agents at present.

As I write and publish more I realize everyone looks at what I write gets looked at under a microscope. People still believe writing is no more than my hobby and a waste of my time.

When I get rejections, I allow myself a to feel sorry, but don’t let it get me down. When I allow myself to process the bad, I can usually bounce back a lot quicker than if I just try to carry on.

It matters not if accepted or rejected today. What matters is that I write. If I’m going to be a writer, I have to write.

I am a Military Brat

Pease Air Force Base at Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The picture was taken in the May 1966 from the balcony of the operations building. I was in the 7th grade. There is one KC-135 and six B-52s on the runway.
Pease Air Force Base at Portsmouth, New Hampshire. There is one KC-135 and six B-52s on the runway. The picture was taken in the May 1966 from the balcony of the operations building. I was in the 7th grade. I lived on Pease AFB from February 1966 to May 1967 and was in the 7th and 8th grades while we lived there.

What is a military brat? A military brat is the son or daughter of an airman, marine, sailor, or soldier. These children of career military have common characteristics. They grew up in a community of service. Sacrificing for the greater good is part of their character. They moved on average once every three years to a new state, region, or country.

Academic studies show military brats lack racism.1 They are the only color blind group in the USA. They are the most open-minded of any subgroup in the world. They are more tolerant and embrace diversity with respect for others better than their civilian counterparts to include those raised in liberal homes. They are equally respectful and tolerant of conservative, moderate and liberal points of view.2

They adapt to change and new situations better than any group in the United States. 2

They are socially independent. They do well in personal relationships. They put the needs of the other people ahead of their own needs.

Military brats who grew up as military dependents particularly in the late 1940s to early 1970s are kinder, caring, and more loyal than their raised as civilian children counterparts. They were higher achievers academically and professionally make the best employees due to characteristics like self-discipline, self-starter, flexibility, and their personal fiscal responsibility. 2

Most military brats do not have a real home town.2 Most do not know their cousins, aunts and uncles or grandparents very well. Many, including me, do not trust the governments of North Korea, Russia and China.

The word brat is not derogatory. It stands for:

B – Born

R – Raised

A – And

T – Trained1

I’m a military brat. My father served in the United States Army, United States Army Air Force and the United States Air Force (USAF). He retired from the USAF.

I am also a former United States Army officer. Growing up as a military brat helped prepare me for my service. It was all natural and comfortable to me. I felt it was where I belonged more than anyplace else in my life.



Mur Lafferty wins the 2013 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

Mur Lafferty is the award for the 2013 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

Mur Lafferty is the award for the 2013 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. It is the award for the best new professional science fiction or fantasy writer of 2011 or 2012, It is sponsored by Dell Magazines. It is not a Hugo Award, but administered along with the Hugo Awards. It means she is awesome!

Check out her podcast at:

Buy her book “The Shambling GUide to New York City” at



Noble Warrior: The Life and Times of Maj. Gen. James E. Livingston, USMC (Ret.), Medal of Honor by James E. Livingston, Colin D. Heaton, and Anne-Marie Lewis

Noble Warrior: The Life and Times of Maj. Gen. James E. Livingston, USMC (Ret.), Medal of Honor by James E. Livingston, Colin D. Heaton, and Anne-Marie Lewis is more than the story of Maj. Gen. James Livingston and how he earned the Medal of Honor. It is an excellent book on leadership that uses his story to convey the lessons.

We learn how he went from North Georgia College and Auburn University to joining the United States Marine Corps, getting his commission and his journey to fighting in Vietnam to his post-combat career. The book is excellent. It is well written and well documented. It helps us understand the life of a Marine and his leadership.

Livingston makes clear his motivation for the unlimited and occasionally ruthless training programs for which he was known. He had his Marines doing physical training in the combat zone. He maintained discipline – personal hygiene (including shaving), weapons maintenance, and personal equipment. He was a leader by example. I have no doubt his leadership saved many lives. His men were physically fit, their equipment well maintained and in good repair, and he had earned their follow-up by providing leadership.

Livingston recounts how their under strength battalion landing team found itself in a three-day life and death battle against 7,000 experienced North Vietnamese regulars.

I found myself wondering how bad it really was as I turned the pages of the account. The narrative was captivating. He clearly painted the picture where you felt like you were there with them. I was amazed when the men left the steaks and soft drinks behind to dash to the aid of the fellow Marines. It told me a lot about how he had trained and prepared his men to be Marines. How they put the good of the mission and the unit above individual needs.

Lance Cpl. Valdez’s account of Captain Livingstone never taking a step back or flinching got my attention. It reminded me of how our actions speak louder than our words. His men saw him lead out front.

His having them fix bayonets and then a movement where he used “the tested and tried edict of penetrating and then widening the hole. We had practiced these types of small-unit maneuvers and were good at it.” Again I see the leadership. This is more than just doing your job.

These are the things you have to do to be ready. These are the types of preparation than save lives and win battles. When you do what you should do you are viewed as hard. From reading the book I am convinced that only because he had paid the price in preparation, maintained the discipline having them stay fit, sharp, and their weapons maintained allowed them to overcome such a huge force.

Livingston returned to Vietnam and was involved in the frantic mass departure of Americans and Vietnamese as Saigon fell in 1975. He retired from the Marine Corps in 1995. He went on to a successful public service career where he advised on the recovery from the destruction of Hurricane Katrina. He does not hold back where he thinks the responsibility lay for that catastrophe.

The book is excellent. It would be a good addition to any military history or Vietnam War library. I see the book also as a good case study on how to do it right in the midst of a very bad situation – an outstanding resource for junior officers of all branches. The emphasis on physical training, weapons maintenance, and the basics of being a good Marine (or soldier) should inspire all junior leaders to do their job as it should be done. The use of the sidebar and the stories was excellent. It was like an in-depth look at the main event I was reading.

Major General Livingston for your service and leadership to the United States, thank you. To Colin D. Heaton and Anne-Marie Lewis for allowing the story to be told where you get a since for the personality and grit of Major General Livingstone, thank you. To all three authors – well done.