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.