One Great Way To Write A Book Review

Keeping Track of What You Read

Over 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 Dr. 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.

An Editor Approached Me About Writing Book Reviews

In the late 1980s, a magazine editor approached me about writing book reviews. At the time, I was an 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 from time to time. 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.

Kepler’s Military History Book Reviews

In 2003, I started Kepler’s Military History Book Reviews. Since then I have read and reviewed hundreds of military history or military historical fiction books, about 22 per year. The website was named a “100 Best Book Blogs for History Buffs” by OnlineSchool.org in 2009. I receive over 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 for a bad review.

In recent days, the newspapers and the 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 lives 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 concerning my review that he had no doubt I had read the book. By the way, the book was amazing.


Originally Publication: Author Culture
Publication URL: http://authorculture.blogspot.com/2014/10/one-great-way-to-write-book-review.html
Date Retrieved: July 31, 2018
Original Publication Date: Monday, October 6, 2014
Photo Source: Pixabay

Utah Beach: The Amphibious Landing And Airborne Operations On D-Day, June 6, 1944 by Joseph Balkoski

Joseph Balkoski chronicles the events of the day almost minute by minute. “Utah Beach” reads like a great documentary. It is not a memoir. Readers who love first person hubris may find it lacking action.

Balkoski relies mainly on primary sources such as after-action reports, unit journals, and citations to create his blow by blow narrative. Sprinkled throughout the battle account are the accounts of those in the battle. It is a must addition for any D-day library or World War II library.

A valuable resource in the book are the appendices. They include “Allied causalities on Utah Beach and in Cotentin Peninsula, June 6, 1944”, “Medal of Honor and Distinguished Service Cross Awards for Valor on Utah Beach and in Cotentin Peninsula, June 6, 1944”, “First-Wave Units on Utah Beach”,”Initial Parachute and Glider Assault, Cotentin Peninsula, 12:20 – 4:15 A.M., June 6, 1944″,”Ninth Air Force, IX Troop Carrier Command, June 6, 1944″, “Ninth Air Force, IX Bomber Command, Utah Beach Bombing Mission, 6:09 – 6:27 A.M., June 6, 1944”, “U.S. Navy Force U Bombardment Group”, “Captain Frank Lillyman’s Pathfinder Stick, June 6, 1944”, and “Uniform and Equipment of U.S. Army Paratroopers, 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, June 6, 1944”. Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler.

Omaha Beach: D-Day, June 6, 1944 by Joseph Balkoski

Joseph Balkoski’s book on Omaha Beach is a great historical resource like his book Utah Beach. Omaha Beach tells the story of when largely untested American troops assaulted the German army’s Atlantic wall. This is a great read covering the events of the day almost minute by minute.

It reads like a great documentary. This is not written in the format of a memoir. Balkoski relies mainly on primary sources such as after-action reports, unit journals, and citations to create his blow-by-blow narrative. He includes the invasion’s diplomatic and strategic context. Omaha Beach is the closest the modern reader can get to experiencing the Normandy landings firsthand.

Sprinkled throughout the battle account are the accounts of those in the battle. It is a classic. It is a must for any D-day library. It also included comprehensive lists of all Medal of Honor and Distinguished Service Cross winners at Omaha Beach.

It has the Order of Battle, unit casualty list for the first twenty-four hours, a unit organization of a 30-man assault boat unit weapons, and equipment carried in the assault by a typical soldier, and a series of detailed maps allowing the reader unparalleled insight into the minute-by-minute combat on Omaha Beach.

D-Day June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II by Stephen E. Ambrose

dday

Over 1,400 Interviews

The late Stephen E. Ambrose used over 1,400 interviews for his history of the D-Day invasion.

This “oral history” approach brings the reader into the heart of the battle through eye-witness testimony. The tales of the front line infantryman sweeps the reader up into their personal histories.

Individual and Small Unit Stories

Told from the point of view of the soldier and small unit level, Ambrose often failed to describe larger unit actions or explained how the individual actions fit into the total picture. Canadian and British beachheads receive little coverage. Historical controversies are often given minimal coverage. These are simply good stories of many personal experiences

The book is not a textbook for lessons on strategic decision-making or to answer big-picture questions. Ambrose touches on these larger issues in a general focus, but that is not his focus.

The courage of Small Unit Leaders

This is a book about the American achievement in Normandy. The individual courage and independence of the American small unit leaders is the big story of this book.

Ambrose is right on target as he tells the story of their braveness and toughness. I originally read and reviewed the book in 1999.

D-Day With The Screaming Eagles By George Koskimaki

Written by General Maxwell Taylor’s Radio Operator

George Koskimaki the noted historian of the 101st Airborne Division wrote “D-Day with the Screaming Eagles”.  Mr. Koskimaki was 101st Airborne Division Commanding General Maxwell Taylor’s radio operator. Written in 1970, Interviews with hundreds of paratroopers contributed to the book. Their stories are attention-grabbing and captivating. They cover the first hours of Normandy. The book covers only the first couple of days of the D-Day invasion allows fascinating detail coverage.

A “You Are There” Book

The book gives you the feel that you are there during the frenzied first hours of the invasion. Detailed accounts of the activities of the pathfinders were enthralling. You encounter stories where paratroopers are sleepily drugged by the motion sickness medication they took preflight. You are under antiaircraft fire with them as they make their final approaches to the drop zones. In some cases, you are on the plane as it is going down in flames. You feel the fear of being captured by the Germans. You experience the myriad of broken legs, sprained ankles and other injuries from jumping at too fast of airspeeds and too low of altitudes while being shot at. You land with them in the trees and nearly drown in the flooded areas during your parachute landing. You feel the downright confusion of the event.

Glider Unit Coverage Included

The coverage of the glider units landing later during D-day is information rarely covered in other books. The sharing of familiar stories like Lieutenant Dick Winters leading troops taking out the guns on Normandy has a  freshness that predates “Band of Brothers” by nearly twenty-five years.

I strongly recommend the book. It is necessary for any military history library, college library or community library.  Books like “Band of Brother’s”, “D-Day: June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II”, “Citizen Soldiers” and “The Greatest Generation” follow the historical method used by Mr.  Koskimaki.

A Logic Named Joe

A Logic Named Joe

I love reading and writing short stories. A few years ago I came up with the idea of writing a nonfiction article on the five most influential pre-1950 computers in science fiction. In researching that list of potential computers, I read a number of books and short stories.

E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops” topped off the list. It left me speechless and amazed. I wrote a review of that story. You can find it HERE. A second short story on the list was Misfit by Robert A. Heinlein. You can find my review of it HERE. The third computer I found was “The Engine.” The Engine is a fictional device described in Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift in 1726. You can find it HERE. The fourth is The World of Null-A, sometimes written The World of Ā, is a 1948 science fiction novel by A. E. van Vogt.  You can find it HERE.

“A Logic Named Joe” is a science fiction short story by Murray Leinster that was first published in the March 1946 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. The story actually appeared under Leinster’s real name, Will F. Jenkins, since that issue of Astounding also included a story under the Leinster pseudonym called “Adapter”.

The story is particularly noteworthy as a prediction of massively networked personal computers and their drawbacks, written at a time when computing was in its infancy.

The story’s narrator is a “logic” (much like a computer) repairman nicknamed Ducky. In the story, a logic that he names Joe develops some degree of sapience and ambition. Joe proceeds to switch around a few relays in “the tank” (one of a distributed set of central information repositories), and cross-correlate all information ever assembled – yielding highly unexpected results. It then proceeds to freely give all of those results to everyone on demand (and simultaneously disabling all the content-filtering protocols). Logics begin offering up unexpected help to everyone that includes designing custom chemicals that reduce inebriation, giving sex advice to small children, and plotting the perfect murder. Eventually Ducky “saves the civilization” by locating and turning off the only logic capable of doing this.

“A Logic Named Joe” has appeared in the collections Sidewise in Time (Shasta, 1950), The Best of Murray Leinster (Del Rey, 1978), First Contacts (NESFA, 1998), and A Logic Named Joe (Baen, 2005), and was also included in the Machines That Think compilation, with notes by Isaac Asimov, published 1984 Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

A Logic Named Joe was also published in The Great Science Fiction Stories, Volume 8, 1946 Edited by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenburg, DAW Books, November 1982 ISBN 0-87997-780-9.

The Steel Wave by Jeff Shaara

Summary:

The Steel Wave by Jeff Shaara is the second novel in his Second World War historical fiction trilogy of the European and Mediterranean Theater. He has a fourth book dealing with the Pacific Thater of World War II.

The Steel Wave’s theme is the planning and execution of Operation Overlord. Operation Overlord is the name of the Allied invasion of Northern France.

Character-based Story:

Jeff Shaara uses his familiar character-based story technique of examining the time period from the perspective of the historical figures and adding some composite fictional characters. His method works splendidly.

The Steel Wave is an appealing read. The novel’s pacing is energetic.  I never lost interest.

The author did his research. His insights into the difficulties faced by General Eisenhower, the different leaders, and the soldiers are spot on. He gives the reader an appreciation of the hazards and difficulties that faced the planners and soldiers of Operation Overlord.

We are taken into the discord, hesitations, and ultimate perils with which the Allied generals had to contend. He spends about the first half of the book with these issues.

The Ordinary Soldier’s POV Shown:

A very good job of showing the invasion from the perspective of the ordinary soldiers is made.  He shows how courage along with the ability to improvise when plans broke down lead to success.

This is excellent historical fiction about a well-known subject. The story is well told through the characters. I strongly recommend the book.