Posts Tagged Book Reviews

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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Book Reviews in Magazines

There’s always something new to learn about the book promotion business.

Over the last bank holiday I went away for the weekend and picked up a lovely free glossy magazine in one of the cafes. It had lots of interesting pieces about the surrounding area, a page of readers’ poems and a book review page. On the review page was an interview with a local author who suggested that writers struggling to get traditionally published could, instead, make their work available on Kindle.

I saw this as an opportunity to contact the editor, agree with the local author’s advice, suggest that the aspiring writers in the magazine’s readership might be interested in Kindle Direct Publishing for Absolute Beginners and ask if it could be included on the magazine’s book review page.

The editor replied and agreed that my book would be of interest to the readers … and that the cost of inclusion on the review page would be £100.

I was quite taken aback, not having realised that there was a charge to appear on magazine book review pages. But on reflection, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. A magazine book review is like an advert and we expect to pay for advertising. It’s common knowledge that publishers pay for display space in the major book shop chains – so they probably don’t mind paying for magazine review space.

I politely replied to the editor, confessed my ignorance and didn’t go ahead with the review because I wasn’t sure it would generate enough sales to pay for itself. The editor did explain that since it was a free publication they were reliant on generating income where they could – which I could understand.

Am I the only one that didn’t realise this was how things worked?

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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

I’m currently reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

It’s set just after the end of WWII and the book comprises a series of letters to and from Juliet Ashton. She is an English writer looking for her next ‘big idea’. By chance she hears about the existence of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and decides to include it in an extended feature article for The Times. The various members of the society write to Juliet telling her how it was founded accidentally to escape the wrath of the Germans, they also write about the hardships of life under German occupation and about other things in their lives. Juliet also corresponds with her editor, her best friend and the rich Markham Reynolds, who appears to be trying to woo her. There may be more, but I’m only part way through the book so I’ll let you discover that for yourselves.

So far, I’ve found the book charming and easy to read – and it’s teaching me a lot about history.

But, as a writer, what interests me most is the story of its author, Mary Ann Shaffer. Mary Ann was an American born in 1934. In 1980 she visited Guernsey and left with a fascination with the history of Channel Isles during WWII. She was a ‘hobby’ writer, always working on something but never completing anything to her satisfaction, however around twenty years after her visit to Guernsey, and encouraged by her writing group, she started work on The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The completed book was snapped up by a publisher just before Mary Ann’s health began to fail. When the book’s editor requested some changes, Mary Ann wasn’t well enough to do them and so her niece, Annie Barrows (also a writer), stepped in to complete the book. Mary Ann died in early 2008, knowing that her only novel was to be published in thirteen countries but she was never able to enjoy its international success.

What’s the moral of this story? Get writing before it’s too late! Like all writers, I’m guilty of procrastination but the more birthdays I chalk up, the more aware I become of how little time we have. So I’m going to try to take Mary Ann’s story to heart – if I ever produce a best-seller (extremely faint chance, I know) then I want to be around and healthy enough to enjoy it!

And, if you need still more inspiration before facing that blank document, A Writer on Writing – Advice to Make You a Success, is only 99p until Monday 11th May 2015.

A Writer On Writing

 

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It’s the taking part that counts

‘It’s the taking part that counts’ is a phrase often bandied about to make people feel better if they don’t win or get placed in a competition. Mostly it just washes over us and we’re still fed up that we didn’t get a prize. Perhaps we even think about throwing in the towel and not bothering to enter any more competitions. Last week I had an experience that made me truly agree that it’s not the winning, it’s the taking part that counts.

My Speakers’ Club asked me to represent them in a Speech Evaluation Contest against two other clubs. This involves giving a four minute speech on the strengths and weaknesses of a ‘target’ speech which all three competitors have just watched. I was a bit reluctant since I’ve only been in the club eighteen months but decided to have a go anyway. My fear was that I wouldn’t be able to think of anything to say or I would dry up or I would speak in a muddled, incoherent way.

On the night, I discovered that one of my competitors runs a public speaking coaching business and the other had been education director of his club for fifteen years. This gave plenty of opportunity for making a fool of myself! Needless to say I came third (i.e. last!) in the competition BUT I was surprised to feel good in the face of defeat. There were lots of positives from the evening: I’d spoken to a larger audience than usual, I’d taken part in a speaking competition for the first time, I lasted the full four minutes, I’d been a ‘team player’ by agreeing to take part and my fellow Club members told me I hadn’t disgraced myself or let down the Club. I came away on a high!

So, what’s all this got to do with writing? It’s to urge you to enter writing competitions even if you think you don’t stand a chance of winning. You will learn and gain experience from each competition entry, it might be writing to a tight deadline, trying to write to a different word count than usual or experimenting with a new genre. Don’t worry about winning, concentrate on the challenge of producing the best work you can.

And to get you started, have a go at one (or more!) of these:

Erewash Writers’ Group New Writers’ Competition –   3,000 word short story. There is a £40 first prize and a FREE basic critique. Closes 26th March 2015.

Nuneaton Writers’ Circle Flash Fiction Competition – free entry. Prize is 1 year’s free membership of Nuneaton Writers’ Circle. Closes 27th March 2015.

Alfie Dog Review Competition –  download a story from Alfie Dog during March 2015 and write a  short review. First prize £100.

Enjoy the taking part!

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Write a Review and Win a Book Journal

Karen’s Story, the second in the Museum of Fractured Lives series is available free from all Amazon sites until Wednesday 16th October.Book Journal

Karen’s Story is contemporary women’s fiction (although some men may enjoy it too). It is the tale of a single woman’s quest to find a man to father her baby. She tempts a work colleague to commit adultery. But he has a secret and their affair has devastating consequences. At approximately 8,500 words the book can be described as a long short story or a ‘flash’ novella.

To celebrate I am running a competition to win a Book Journal (pictured). It is full of pages on which to keep a record of all the books you’ve read – great if, like me, you tend to forget what you’ve read or which author you particularly enjoyed. There’s also a section to keep a list of ‘Books to Read’ – useful if an interesting book is mentioned on the radio or TV or a friend recommends a novel they like.

All you have to do to enter is:

  1. Download a free copy of Karen’s Story – The Museum of Fractured Lives to your Kindle, tablet or PC. If you use Amazon.com the link is here or search for ASIN: B00F3FMHSK.
  2. Write an HONEST review on Amazon.
  3. Email me at sallysjenkins@btinternet.com and let me know which review is yours.

All the emails will go into a ‘hat’ and I will draw one at random after the closing date, which is midnight Saturday 26th October 2013.

If you would like more than one entry into the draw, simply leave another review for any of my other books (you may have them sitting unread on your Kindle after previous free promotions, or you can buy them) and send me another email.

I have thought about the ethics of this competition i.e. people gaining entry to a prize draw in return for writing a review. I have decided it is acceptable (and hope you do too) because:

  • there is no guaranteed prize
  • winning is not dependent on the content of the review or the star rating
  • the practice is well-established, for example Story Cartel offer prizes of Amazon vouchers, Kindles and books to readers leaving reviews (scroll down the page on this Story Cartel link to see the details).

I hope you enjoy Karen’s Story!

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Giving-up on a Book

I feel guilty this week because I gave up on a book half-way through.

It’s something I never used to do but as I get older I am gradually doing it more often. And every time I do it I feel bad. I don’t know why I feel bad – it’s not as if the author is breathing down my neck checking that I read every word or that I’m going to be tested on it at a later date.

Maybe it’s because I’m acknowledging that my choice of book was not up to scratch or because I’ve wasted my time getting as far as I did with the book – when I could’ve been reading something better.

I won’t name this book but the jacket is covered with glowing review excerpts from all the major newspapers. So I feel that I should have enjoyed it. Does that mean there’s something wrong with me?

I’ve just had a look at the book’s Amazon reviews, they are all 4 or 5 star except one. That single 2 star review makes me feel better – so at least I’m not alone in being unable to appreciate this book which the Guardian tells me is ‘a real page-turner’ and the Literary Review says is an ‘impressive piece of storytelling’.

How do you deal with books that don’t live up to expectations?

Finally, here are a couple of quotes that I’ve come across. Take them as a confidence booster. Forget all those ‘I’m not good enough’ voices in your head and just sit down and write!

To live a creative life we must lose our fear of being wrong. Joseph Chilton Pearce.

I am the MASTER of my FATE. I am the CAPTAIN of my SOUL. William Ernest Henley.

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