Posts Tagged Book Reviews

The Write Mango Awards

Short story competition judges often bemoan the fact that they receive a lot of entries with depressing or dark storylines and therefore anything a little bit quirky stands out from the rest.

Fresh mango with fork isolated on a white background

17762546 © Rookie72 | Dreamstime.com

The Scottish Arts Trust has gone as far as introducing a new subsidiary award in its short story competition: The Write Mango Award. This award is ‘for short stories that are fun, amusing, bizarre and as delicious as a mango …’

The Write Mango Award can be found within the Scottish Arts Club Short Story Competition. First Prize is £3,000, Second Prize is £500, Third Prize £250 and the additional Write Mango Award is £300 (you do need to indicate when entering that you wish your story to be considered for this award as well as the main one). Entry fee is £10, there is a 2,000 word limit and the stories can be on any theme or subject. The judge is Ian Rankin and the competition closes 28th February 2023.

I’ve just finished a novel which could definitely be describes as ‘bizarre and delicious’. The Beresford by Will Carver is set in an apartment building where new tenants arrive but don’t leave in the way they would expect. At The Beresford there is routine in murder. We know who the killers are but what we don’t know is how it’s all going to end. It’s a dark story but told in such a way that there’s a lot of humour there too. If you’re looking for something a little out of the ordinary, it’s worth a read.

, , , ,

Leave a comment

The Seven Sisters Series by Lucinda Riley

The Shadow Sister

The Seven Sisters – Book Three

A few months ago I mentioned on my Facebook page that I’m currently working my way through The Seven Sisters series by Lucinda Riley. These are wonderful doorstep size tomes which drag you in and make you look forward to any spare minutes for absorbing more of the story. I’m around halfway through the third book, The Shadow Sister. The series was recommended to me by my sister-in-law and it’s a recommendation that was well deserved.
In a nutshell: the elusive billionaire, Pa Salt, dies leaving each of his six adopted daughters a clue about their true heritage. Each book is a timeslip novel which follows one of the girls in the search for their roots. The historical part of each story is based around a real-life happening and I’ve found these educational as well as enjoyable fiction. The contemporary part of the story contains an element of romance. Both parts are equally compelling!

The Seven Sisters by Lucinda Riley

The Seven Sisters – Book 1

Book one follows eldest daughter, Maia, to Brazil in the hunt for her heritage and the historical part deals with the construction of the giant Christ the Redeemer Statue in Rio. In book two, sister Ally investigates her connection to Grieg’s iconic music for Ibsen’s play ‘Peer Gynt’. Book three is set in the UK and features Edward VII and his mistress, Alice Keppel – I have yet to uncover the full significance of this to the search of the third sister, Star, for her roots. It’s intriguing!
An ongoing mystery runs throughout all the books – why did Pa Salt never adopt and bring home his planned seventh daughter? Apparently, all is revealed in the last book of the series, aptly named, The Missing Sister.
Lucinda’s books are popular across the globe and, uniquely for a fiction author from the British Isles, over 90% of her sales have been in foreign languages. According to the Lucinda Riley website, there are plans to create a seven-season TV series based on The Seven Sisters.
Lucinda was diagnosed with cancer in 2017 and died in 2021, aged only 56. ‘The Missing Sister’ was published only three weeks before she died.
If you get the chance to read these books – DO!

, ,

2 Comments

Book Reviewing Opportunities

If you like reading new books by indie authors this could be the opportunity for you:
Reedsy Discovery is recruiting reviewers. The main Reedsy website is full of resources and freelance services aimed at helping writers at all stages of their journey to publication. Reedsy Discovery is an offshoot of this and is designed to spotlight the gems of the indie publishing world. The reviewers on Reedsy Discovery help to identify these gems. Reviewers are unpaid but they do have the opportunity to monetise their reading by accepting tips from people who find their reviews useful.
Interested? Visit the Reedsy website to find out more and to apply.

If you fancy finding out what it’s like to be a competition judge, The Highland Book Prize, uses keen

West Highland Way

The Scottish Highlands

readers from the general public as initial readers. Readers provide a report and scores for each of the books they read and these are then used to compile the longlist for the Prize. Reading for the longlist takes place between July and September each year and has just finished for 2022. However, you can apply now to be on the panel next year. I have now been involved in this for three years and previously blogged about the experience.

Finally, if you enjoy blogging, tweeting and generally shouting about the books you’ve read, NetGalley might be the site for you.  Publishers and authors distribute digital review copies and audiobooks to the NetGalley community, and in exchange, members provide reviews, star ratings, social media posts etc. Some publishers on NetGalley will vet reviewers before releasing ARCs (Advance Review Copies) but others are happy for their books to be read more widely. Register online to be a NetGalley reviewer.

Note: In all three cases above, the books are supplied in digital format, i.e. not paper books.

, , , ,

Leave a comment

Talking About Authors and Reviews

Last week I watched a Facebook Live broadcast by the Empowered Author Group. It was facilitated by Sam Missingham and Katie Sadler. The chat covered a range of topics from how to deal with reviews, how to encourage readers to leave reviews and what to do with those reviews when you get them. I jotted down the points that resonated with me.

  • Reviews are subjective and what one reader hates, another will love. Anyone who’s ever been in a book group will know that a single book can generate a whole range of love/hate discussion.
  • Authors need to develop a thick skin. This is not just for reviews but for an author’s life in general. The knock backs are many and we have to develop the skills for dealing with them.
  • Many authors never read their reviews. If this is you, it can be useful to get a trusted friend or partner to read them to extract any constructive comments that be used in the writing of the next book. For example: A popular character could make an appearance in a sequel.
  • If you are ever tagged in a positive social media comment, always respond with a thank you.
  • The question was asked about how useful it is to get reviews from friends and family. In theory, Amazon does not allow reviews from friends and family, some will get through and can create a useful starting point. However, be aware that if these reviewers usually favour a different genre, their reviews on your book may mess up Amazon’s algorithms. For example, if your brother usually reads Westerns but reviews your Romance novel, Amazon may start showing your book to Western readers and this may limit your potential for sales. It can cause similar confusion on your ‘Also Bought’ lists. It might be better to get friends and family to recommend your book on their own social media and in real life. Or perhaps they could request it in the library or order it through a bookshop.
  • Actively encourage readers to review or rate your book using your social media presence. 
  • At the end of each book put a polite request for a review.
  • Build up a group of early readers or a ‘Street Team’ who will be happy to receive and review an early copy of the book and to shout about it for you. (Early readers can also be found by making your book available on NetGalley but this can be an expensive option unless you have a publisher willing to pay.)
  • Blog tours are a good way of generating reviews. Build your own tour (Reedsy has a list of bloggers) or pay one of the excellent tour organisers to do it for you.
  • When you get good reviews, use them for marketing purposes. Put them out on social media and in press releases.

It’s not easy to encourage reviews – most of us probably never thought about leaving a review until we became writers ourselves. So prize those coveted words of praise. And remember that even bestsellers get some bad reviews.

If you fancy writing a greater length about a book you’ve enjoyed, the Marlborough LitFest 2022 Love Books Competition gives you that opportunity (closes 1st July 2022).

Happy reviewing!

, , , , , ,

4 Comments

Reading: Solitary or Social?

Reading is a solitary pastime. We sit alone, in silence, our mind in another world and ‘do not disturb’ exuding from our concentrated expression. Reading is a hobby not easily shared with others.

Wrong!

Reading is becoming an increasingly sociable activity. Books connect people, both online, in the virtual world and in real, face-to-face society. Don’t miss out by reading in a bubble, try some of the following:

  • Join a traditional book group. Most groups read one book a month and meet to discuss their opinions (depending on the group there may be coffee, wine or cake …) I’ve mentioned before that I run a book group at my local library and the library or bookshop is a good place to start if you’re looking for a group. Alternatively, start your own. A friend of mine formed a group with her neighbours and they take it in turns to host the meeting.
  • Join a Shared Reading group. I’ve written before about these groups connected to The Reader charity. There is no ‘homework’ reading. It is all aloud during the (usually weekly) meeting.

    Book Fest Sutton Coldfield Library

    Bookfest Sutton Coldfield Library

  • A couple of weeks ago I was a volunteer at Bookfest in my local library. It was a festival of children’s books with lots of author events and activities. I was one of three people on the front desk answering questions and directing people to events. It was fun to be with like-minded book lovers making an event happen that would be too expensive to stage without volunteers.
  • Search out a Facebook group that discusses books. A few to get you going:
    Imogen Clark’s Book Café – Imogen is a best-selling author
    The Book Club – a large and busy group with occasional ‘real-life’ meet ups
    Romantic Fiction Book Club – run by the Romantic Novelists’ Association
    If you can recommend any others, please add them in the comments at the bottom of this post.
  • Review your favourite books online. This could be on Amazon, Good Reads or NetGalley (where you can request advance e-book copies of new novels to review). Or start your own book blog and get social in the virtual world, interacting with readers and writers.
  • Start a book exchange at work, church or wherever groups of people meet. See if you can encourage non-readers to try a novel. What greater gift can you give someone than the love of books?

Reading and the love of books can be as solitary or as social as you choose. Whichever way you do it – happy reading!

, , , , , ,

4 Comments

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell

The brilliant thing about book clubs is the encouragement and opportunity to read books outside your comfort zone – that’s how I found myself reading The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists

It’s a thick book written over 100 years ago and viewed by some as a classic. It has much to say in favour of socialism and the edition I read had an introduction by Tony Benn. However it is possible to push the politics to one side and read it as a piece of social history.

The story centres around a group of painters and decorators living in poverty. They are in and out of work depending on the season and very badly treated by their rich, fat cat employers. Health and safety is non-existent and this is long before the safety net of the welfare state and the NHS. The book follows these wretched men and their families over a twelve month period, contrasting their circumstances with those of their bosses.
I found the first chapter hard going – there were far too many characters introduced all at once. But I persevered and the subsequent chapters focused in on individuals which made the going easier. I became fond of Owen, the deep thinker of the group, and young Bert, who worked for nothing in an exchange for an ‘apprenticeship’ which taught him only the skills of being a dogsbody. I also felt for their wives, who often went without food so that their children and husband could eat.

Verdict: It took me three weeks to read the book and only 30% of the book club members stuck with it all the way through. It made me incredibly glad that I wasn’t born 100 years earlier into a society that had to live hand to mouth. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is not a ‘good’ read but I’m very glad I’ve read it – in the same way that I’m often very glad I’ve been to the gym even though pounding the treadmill or doing sit-ups was not a good experience.

, , ,

8 Comments

Rosie Amber – Book Reviewer

Rosie Amber is a reader extraordinaire, in August alone she read and reviewed thirteen books, ranging from The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson through The Honey Trap by Mary Jane Baker to Wild Boys After Dark by Melissa Cooper. Rosie also has a team of reviewers and book bloggers whose reviews appear daily on Rosie’s blog.

So last month I approached Rosie and asked if she, or her team, would like to review Bedsit Three. She agreed to offer it to her reviewers and three .mobi files (for Kindle) went off to her team. Two of those reviews have now been completed.

Both reviewers awarded four out of five stars.

If I was doing my sales pitch now I’d just quote you the good bits but I’m going to be honest and quote the constructive criticism too – criticism that I’ll be taking particular note of as I work on my second book.

On the positive, Terry Tyler said, “… the characterisation is extremely good – I loved the parts about the increasingly disturbed Ignatius, and Sandra and Ian are both real and likeable, the sort of characters you root for. The plot is perfectly paced, alternating between the three main characters, with no boring bits; I was not tempted to skip read at all, and read 80% of it in one sitting.”
On the negative, she said, “On occasion I felt the dialogue was a little unlikely, and I thought Ian’s story was too speedily and rather drearily wound up in the epilogue (I hoped for so much better for him!), but these are my only complaints, and they are but minor.”

On the positive, Judith Barrow said, “I really enjoyed this novel, it’s a good psychological thriller that steadily builds in tension until the end. Sally Jenkins’ style of writing is easy to read without being cosy. Her words take the reader steadily through the plot without revealing too much, yet there is also subtle foreshadowing. .”
On the negative, she said, “My only disappointment in the whole of this book was with the dialogue. Sometimes, with all of the characters, I thought the dialogue was stilted (perhaps a little contrived?) and didn’t fit their portrayed personalities. Every now a then a section of speech felt as though it was there, not so much for exposition, but for explanation to the reader.”

Thank you very much Terry and Judith for your comprehensive and helpful reviews (I’ll definitely be watching my dialogue next time!). And many thanks to Rosie for setting the whole thing up and tweeting tirelessly!

Bedsit Three by Sally Jenkins

, , , ,

3 Comments

How to Write a Book Review

I recently heard the book blogger Kim Nash speak in Leicester and she gave her personal rules for writing book reviews. This is what she said:

  1. Be kind.
  2. Indicate how the book made you feel.
  3. If reviewing on your own blog or website, always include links within the review to where the book can be bought.
  4. Don’t review a book that you don’t like.
  5. Share the review on social media.

Points 1 and 4 might cause some of you to raise an eyebrow. But I agree with Kim. If the book is a full-length novel, someone has sweated blood for months, maybe even years, to write it and the last thing they need is a kick in the teeth from a reviewer. So, if you can’t write something kind then don’t write anything at all. Similarly, don’t choose to review a book in a genre that you don’t like because you won’t give it a fair chance. With the Amazon ‘Look Inside’ feature it’s easy to get an idea of whether a book is going to be to your taste before you buy. If you notice formatting issues within a book, it’s kinder and more helpful to contact the writer direct so that the problems can be corrected, rather than point them out in an Amazon review that will remain on the site permanently, even after the errors have been corrected.

Remember – when you review a book, especially by a newish indie author, you are treading on someone’s dreams.

Kim also works for the publisher Bookouture and she gave a tip about doing a cover reveal. Apparently the best time for doing these on social media is 4:45 pm – this is when you’ll catch most people. Announce in advance that you’ll be doing the reveal at this time and make sure that the book’s Amazon page is open to accept pre-orders at this time too. If the cover provokes a reader’s interest, you want him to be able to order it immediately rather than have chance to forget about it.

, , , , ,

10 Comments

Win a Year’s Subscription to Writers’ Forum Magazine

Today is launch day for House Guests and Other StoriesHouse Guests and Other Stories

This is a collection of fifteen short stories, many with a twist, some to make you smile and all of them guaranteed to entertain – and there’s an excellent ‘guest’ story by Iain Pattison.

If you pre-ordered the e-book, a copy should be whizzing its way to your Kindle at this very minute (assuming that you’re not in airplane mode). If you inadvertently forgot to pre-order, don’t panic! Amazon still have a few copies left and one can be yours if you click here – but don’t delay, House Guests is on course to become the first e-book ever to sell out on Amazon!

So, now you’ve the bought the book, we can talk about the competition to win a year’s subscription to Writers’ Forum magazine. I got very excited when I dreamed up this competition. I was going to make you all work hard by writing an honest review (good or bad) for House Guests or any of my other books and then drop you in a prize draw. HOWEVER, I then came across this blog post by Molly Greene. It talks about Amazon reviews and, amongst other things, states that Amazon, “do not permit reviews that are posted in exchange for compensation of any kind, including payment (whether in the form of money or gift certificates), bonus content, entry to a contest or sweepstakes, discounts on future purchases, extra product, or other gifts”. The competition I wanted to run would have given entry into a sweepstake in exchange for a review.

So, instead, I am giving you an easy life. Contenders for the Writers’ Forum subscription must subscribe to this blog (there’s a ‘Sign Me Up’ box towards the top right of the screen) AND must also sign up for my newsletter by clicking here. After signing up, look out for confirmation emails (check your spam) that you must click in order to activate the subscriptions.
The newsletter is a ‘work in progress’ and will be a very infrequent affair. All the e-marketing gurus advocate a mailing list, in case other forms of social media disappear as the next ‘big thing’ rolls in. If that happens I would hate to lose contact with you all.

You can earn an extra entry into the draw by sharing this post on either Twitter, Facebook or your own blog. If you do this, please let me know by adding a comment to this blog post, just in case I miss it.

The closing date for the competition is midnight on Tuesday 29th September 2015 (UK time).

Writers’ Forum is a UK monthly writing magazine. It’s full of advice on how to write, what to write and where to sell it. Every issue is packed with information and inspiration. An annual subscription is worth between £38 and £56 depending on where in the world you live. This prize subscription can be sent anywhere in the world.

Now put the kettle on, grab a biscuit and relax with House Guests and Other Stories.

, , , ,

27 Comments

Toby’s Room by Pat Barker

Toby’s Room by Pat Barker was the latest read at the library book club where I am a volunteer coordinator. Toby's Room by Pat BarkerIt generated an interesting discussion on a range of topics.

Toby’s Room is set during the first world war. Toby and Elinor are siblings and have a very close relationship. Toby goes off to be a war medic and is declared missing in action. Elinor is desperate to find out what has happened to him.

Toby was a papyrus twin. This means his twin died in the womb and as Toby continued to grow he compressed and flattened the dead foetus. So we talked about the effect on a surviving twin when his sibling dies at or before birth. One of our group surprised us by revealing that she was a twin and her sister was stillborn. Throughout her life she has always felt something was missing and she’s also felt guilty that she may have caused the death of her sister by ‘stealing all the goodness’ in the womb. She remembers in her childhood this being said aloud in her presence.

Many of the characters in Toby’s Room are artists and eventually Elinor gets a job drawing wounded soldiers who have terrible, disfiguring facial wounds. The hospital where she works and the artist and surgeon that she works with are real people and details can be found in the Gillies Archives. So we talked about the horrors of war and the advancement of surgical techniques.

We also talked about a scene in the book where Toby’s uniform is sent home in a parcel. When it is opened the smell of the battlefield fills the nostrils. It’s difficult to imagine the terrible emotions this would evoke in a family.

In our group the book got a mostly positive response. We thought the first half was particularly good and enthralling. The second half seemed to be dragged out a little and some thought the ending was too sudden. The reader does find out what happened to Toby – but I won’t spoil it by telling you!

We all agreed that we had learned something new about World War I from the book and that it had definitely been worth reading. If you’re in a book group, Toby’s Room is a good choice.

And if you’re thinking of writing rather than reading a novel, you might be interested in this Online Novel Writing Master Class with Bonus Manuscript Critique for £29 from Amazon Local.

, , , , ,

8 Comments