Tuesday Thingers

Tuesday Thingers has moved since I last took part, and is currently hosted by Wendi’s Book Corner. This week’s question:

Do you use a rating system on your blog? How do you feel about using the rating system provided on sites like Library Thing and Amazon? When looking up information on a book you are interested in, do you use the ratings provided by these sites (or similar sites) to help you make the decision on purchasing the book?

I don’t bother using a rating system on my blog nowadays. This is partly because if I don’t like a book, I’m not always sure whether it’s me or the book — I suffered some memory damage a few years ago and couldn’t read at all for a couple of years, and although I’ve recovered, I still occasionally bounce off books for reasons connected with that episode rather than either the intrinsic quality of the book or how well it matches my reading tastes. I think it’s also a lot more useful to both myself and to other people to set out what I did or didn’t like about the book, and why.

There are also occasional books where it would be unfair for me to give a star rating, because my personal rating of the book doesn’t match how I think the book might work for other people. A particular example of this would be the manga Confidential Confessions 1. I didn’t even finish it, because it simply wasn’t my thing; but I’m not the target audience and I could see that it was probably a good book for those who are. How do you give a simple star rating in those circumstances?

With looking up books on LT and Amazon, I can find the star rating useful, but it’s really the spread of ratings that’s useful rather than the average, and even that is in connection with the text reviews rather than by themselves. For example, sometimes there’s a clear love/hate divide on a book, which is useful to know as long as there’s enough information in the text reviews for me to assess which camp I’m likely to fall into.

Amazon requires you to give a star rating to post a review, and LibraryThing doesn’t. This is why I have more book reviews on LT than on Amazon nowadays.

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5 copies of my books up for grabs

LibraryThing has just added a Member Giveaways programme, which amongst other things allows authors to give away review copies themselves rather than having to prod their publishers to join the Early Reviewers programme. I have put in five copies of Lord and Master, but am happy to change the book to one of my other solo titles from Loose Id at the winner’s request. The draw on mine closes on 22 Feb.

There are some other interesting titles up as well, and the giveaways aren’t just restricted to people in the US. You need to be a member of LibraryThing to register for a book draw. The FAQ for Early Reviewers and Member Giveaways is here:
http://www.librarything.com/wiki/index.php/Early_Reviewers
and the list of currently open Member Giveaways is here:
http://www.librarything.com/er/giveaway/list

You can filter the list by country, and by who’s giving away the books (author, agent, publisher, reader, etc), and sort by number of copies offered, start date or end date of the draw.

Book log — January 2009

Only two books (and a bit), because I wasn’t feeling that great for one week of it and didn’t want to read on the bus.

Robert Louis Stevenson — Treasure Island
The world does not need another review of this, especially as there are already 66 on LibraryThing. So I will merely note that I think this is the first time I’ve read it since I was Jim’s age, and even as an adult I found it a thoroughly entertaining yarn. Pulled from Project Gutenberg and read on the Cybook.

Frances Hodgson Burnett — The Lost Prince
Another Cybook read, reviewed earlier today.

The “and a bit” is one of the short stories in the collection I received just before Christmas in the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme, Why the long face?. I am ashamed to say that I didn’t read it over Christmas because, well, Christmas; and then I managed to physically lose the book for a couple of weeks. Contemporary short fiction isn’t generally my thing, but this collection looked intriguing, and I enjoyed the single story I’ve read so far. Looking forward to reading the rest of it.

In spite of my errant ways, I received another LTER book on the last day of the month, and a further one at the beginning of February. The tonsillitis hit me before I could get to any of these LTER books this week, but I shall report in due course.

Book review: Frances Hodgson Burnett — The Lost Prince

A boy’s adventure story first published in 1915 — while it’s fiction, it’s clearly inspired by real events and politics in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The book opens in London, where young Marco Loristan is living with his father in impoverished exile. Marco’s father is a player in the politics of his war-torn homeland, the fictional country of Samavia, and has raised the boy to be a patriot even though Marco has never seen his homeland. They have travelled extensively in Europe, and the multi-lingual Marco has learnt to guard his father’s secrets and pass as a local wherever he might be.

By chance Marco meets The Rat, leader of a group of London street urchins. The Rat is a cripple, but has a brilliant mind and a fascination with politics and military tactics — and a talent for creating detailed stories to entertain the group he leads. The two boys bond, in part because both Marco and his father recognise and take seriously The Rat’s grasp of military tactics, and when The Rat’s father dies he is taken into the Loristan household.

Samavia is war-torn because for the last few centuries it has been squabbled over by two families of pretenders to the throne. The last true heir was lost when his father tried to kill him, but it is rumoured that he survived, and that his line still exists, waiting in exile until they hear the call to the return. When the time comes to send a message to the secret network of patriots that the lost prince has returned at last, the boys volunteer to be the messengers. As they point out, nobody will suspect two young begger lads, one of them a cripple. And so begins an adventure across Europe, as they take the signal to a variety of secret agents, avoiding traps and counter-agents along the way. The two boys are very different, but well-matched, and make an excellent team. Their travels and travails make for a cracking adventure story.

It’s obvious to the reader from the first few chapters that Marco’s father is the lost prince, but has deliberately kept Marco unaware of this. Marco is intelligent enough, but The Rat is a much more imaginative and lateral-thinking boy, and this is shown well as they progress across Europe and The Rat begins to suspect from the reactions of their contacts that Marco is rather more than he knows.

It’s an interesting read from a current-day perspective. There’s a clear assumption that the lost prince and his descendents are the Right Ruler because they’re the legal heirs, and that Monarchy Is Good; but layered over that there are clear indications that Marco is a good person who will make a good king in future years because he has been brought up to be a good person and taught how to be an effective leader, rather than being so simply because of who his ancestors are. There’s also a strong strand of Buddhist philosophy in the book, and it’s made clear that part of what makes Marco’s father an effective leader of the exiles is his encounter with and willingness to learn from a Buddhist guru. While he’s willing to fight when necessary, he has learnt self-mastery and a willingness *not* to fight, and taught that to Marco. While the book’s often rather predictable (in a way that is perfectly reasonable in a children’s adventure book), it’s rather more than formulaic. And of course there are now additional layers to the connections with real history, because Samavia is rather obviously set in what later became called Yugoslavia.

I enjoyed this a lot. If you’ve liked some of Burnett’s other work, it’s well worth downloading a copy of this one from Project Gutenberg and giving it a try.

It’s available as a free download from Project Gutenberg and other public domain book sites, but because it’s now out of copyright you can also buy it in a whole slew of POD print editions at Amazon UK and Amazon US. Personally, if I wanted a paper copy I’d look for a cheap second-hand copy of one of the old editions rather than one of the new expensive POD editions.

LibraryThing entry.