Category Archives: Reading Initiatives

World Book Day: What makes a review?

World Book Day: What makes a review?

Happy World Book Day to one and all. I have fond memories of book-themed occasions having received annual book vouchers at school and prize book gift vouchers when I achieved in my subjects. Yes I was that geeky student waltzing off to his nearest WHSmith to cash in for previously un-bought Hardy Boys, Sharpe, or Robert Ludlum story depending on my age. Reading is wonderful, a medium that interacts with its consumer in a way movies cannot. The writer can spell out every little detail he likes, but what those mean to the reader is completely individual. Therefore every person has a slightly different encounter with a book. With the movies, an extra few layers of our imaginative powers is removed. Forsaken for million dollar special effects budgets. That’s good too. But it doesn’t beat your imagination…

So while I hope everybody is enjoying the various events that have been ongoing across the web and in libraries and community centres I have a reading themed question to ask.

You may already know that my short story The Lazarus Experiment was available for free last weekend as part of an anniversary celebration – one year since I submitted the former #tuesdayserial weekly tale to my publishers Books to Go Now. It’s now back on sale in the Kindle stores at its regular price (77p in the UK.. 99c or $1.22 in the US.. the website seems to keep showing me different prices, but I’m not American anyway…) which, lets face it, is the price of a chocolate bar and cheaper than a cup of tea in most places. One of the bonuses for me as a writer, and my publishers, this week has been the sudden appearance of reviews at last!

One reviewer over on Amazon scored my tale about Frank Swan with 4 stars, suggesting whilst she had received it free it would have been worth paying for. Jackpot! Cannot ask for more from a reader than satisfaction and endorsement like that…

The other reviewer over on the UK Amazon however scored the World War 2 set science fiction tale with just one star. One. Uno. Jeden. Een. This is the intriguing part however… the review is largely positive – crediting the plot and wanting more. However it is the lack of the more which hurts the review. With this reviewer saying if he had paid for such a short story he would have been very unhappy.

Quite the contrast between the two reviews eh? Ah, the life of the author…

I have politely pointed out that Amazon does indeed show how short the story is, and that it is tagged and promoted as a short story, but have thanked the reviewer anyway for what I feel is a fair review. It is short after all! I only responded to the review because I did not want people to think myself or my publisher to be trying to con people – it is clearly marketed in a similar way to other short stories available on the e-book market and anyone following my twitter or Facebook streams knows I am at endless pains to include the #shortstory hashtag. Short stories are back in vogue like they haven’t been since the pulps of the 30’s and 40’s or Dickens before them. I am happy shouting from the rooftops that I write them.

And yet… it has got me thinking about what goes in to a review?

What makes a story 5 stars, and another one 1 star?

It’s certainly a question with unlimited answers but to go on the second reviewers apparent scale, then War and Peace, the famously long tome by Leo Tolstoy, would be a five-star extravaganza… even if its mode of writing bores the tears out of you (as it does me). Likewise the movie Godfather may struggle to get 1 star because people prefer the 90 minute feature, despite its unquestionable status (go on i dare you…) as one of the finest films of all time.

When I review something I do it from the perspective of how the book, music, movie makes me feel. Did I enjoy it? It’s as simple as that. Obviously i expand on that notion. But if it gave me great pleasure, if I went to bed each night early just so I had more time to read more of the book…then I give a positive review. Even if it’s not technically perfect or dare I suggest it, it’s too short.

So what makes you give one star, three stars or five stars to something?

Do you start in the middle at three stars and add and detract as I do?

Or do you have some arcane method that involves the slaughtering of a turkey and the drawing of a circle in front of your bookcase in its blood? Hey, it takes all sorts…

Please leave your thoughts in the comments, and feel free to tweet me on twitter or drop a message on the Facebook page!

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Posted by on March 1, 2012 in Reading Initiatives


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England’s Bookstart Stops

Boy reading a book

No book gifting anymore...

It is with immense disappointment that many of us all logged online to that stream of consciousness that is twitter to learn that the Department for Education, the body responsible for broadening the minds of our young and inspiring them to success has cut its funding to the English book gifting programmes (Bookstart, Booktime and Booked Up) by 100%. Which is a novel way of saying, they’ve scrapped the programme. Oh, and it only applies.. you guessed it.. to England.

Bookstart was established by the Booktrust in 1992 and has gifted an untold number of books to schools and parents over the last eighteen years. It was almost ritual to receive a token at school once a year and head on either to the school library to trade it in or to the local bookstore depending on its organization that year. I am not amongst the crowd crying out that this is the sign of the end days, as I believe the majority of parents can and should be investing in their own child’s future – charity stores often have cheap books and the library is both free and tends to have a collection of books they are disposing of.

However the fact that some parents are bone idle enough not to do this meant programmes such as Bookstart and its ilk were a way to encourage book reading in groups who weren’t surrounded at home by a general love of reading. Why do I think reading is important? Well because it is the reading of ideas. I believe strongly that the most important faculty of a child to nurture and encourage is their imagination. What this imagination, fueled at a young age, can turn itself towards as the child grows up is limitless. Ideas have no boundaries and a life totally of their own. For the considered cost of this programme I cannot see any justification for it being axed when our biggest performing companies are dodging billions in tax, and council services are wasting needless millions on branding. Where is the David Cameron’s fair society in that? I forgot, that was just a silly idea. And ideas have a price.

At least 1,000,000 adults who would not have normally picked up a book shall have the opportunity in 2011 on World Book Night as previously mentioned on here.

Shame about their kids.

Feel free to share your thoughts on the cancellation of the programme and the general state of book reading in the UK and abroad. If you live in America or Europe, do you have similar schemes? Have they been affected in the downturn?

Perhaps this is just not a big deal and it’s been blown out of proportion. Share your thoughts below.

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Posted by on December 22, 2010 in Reading Initiatives


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A World Book Night In

WBN SUPPORTEROn Saturday, 5th March 2011, two days after World Book Day a new event has been added to book loving calendars worldwide. This is World Book Night – the biggest celebration of adult books and reading ever attempted. A night in which 1,000,000 books will be given away by readers just like you to encourage people to pick up and start reading.

I think this is a genuinely lovely campaign as the drive to get people reading shouldn’t be focused on children alone. Just think almost 1 in every 60 people in the country will be given the opportunity of reading some of the best literature around. The books can be donated by ‘givers’ to individuals, groups, libraries etc.

As well as giving books away, the campaign is providing information on accessing local libraries and reading groups and promoting such a worthy aim is always good.

The 25 books being given away this year are;

Kate Atkinson – Case Histories (Black Swan)

Margaret Atwood – The Blind Assassin (Virago)

Alan Bennett – A Life Like Other People’s (Faber/Profile)

John Le Carré – The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (Penguin)

Lee Child – Killing Floor (Bantam)

Carol Ann Duffy – The World’s Wife (Picador)

Mark Haddon – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Vintage)

Seamus Heaney – Selected Poems (Faber)

Marian Keyes – Rachel’s Holiday (Penguin/Poolbeg)

Mohsin Hamid – The Reluctant Fundamentalist (Penguin)

Ben Macintyre – Agent Zigzag (Bloomsbury)

Gabriel García Márquez – Love in the Time of Cholera (Penguin)

Yann Martel – Life of Pi (Canongate)

Alexander Masters – Stuart: A Life Backwards (Fourth Estate)

Rohinton Mistry – A Fine Balance (Faber)

David Mitchell – Cloud Atlas (Sceptre)

Toni Morrison – Beloved (Vintage)

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Half of a Yellow Sun (Fourth Estate)

David Nicholls – One Day (Hodder)

Philip Pullman – Northern Lights (Scholastic)

Erich Maria Remarque – All Quiet on the Western Front (Vintage)

C.J. Sansom – Dissolution (Pan)

Nigel Slater – Toast (Fourth Estate)

Muriel Spark – The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Penguin)

Sarah Waters – Fingersmith (Virago)

To read the official press announcement click here.

To register as a potential ‘giver’ of books click here.

Closer to the date I intend on posting a review of my favourite choice of the available books on their list. Of the listed books to be given away, which is your favourite? Is there a book you would have liked to have seen on the list as an example of a ‘reading-turn-on’?

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Posted by on December 16, 2010 in Reading Initiatives


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