“ A book review site. „
Internet abounds in opportunities for writing. This is likely to be the first time in human history that anybody could - if they applied themselves a little - have an audience of thousands, or even millions, even if a fleeting one. In addition to a thriving blogosphere, there are numerous portals acting as platforms for user-generated content: you are reading this thanks to one. Some sites encourage all kinds of content (Helium, Associated Content, Suite101), some are dedicated to one type of article (dooyoo, Ciao, epinions) and some deal with one area of interest (trivago, TripAdvisor). Most appear to be rather sleek, corporate creations. The BookBag has rather humbler roots. It was created by two friends who met on the review writing sites - if you are an old dooyoo hand you might remember Jill Murphy and Sue Magee. As the name implies, the BookBag is exclusively devoted to books. It started three years ago, with some book reviews that Jill and Sue had written for the general opinionated sites, and a few review copies obtained from publishers willing to provide them. They launched in March 2006 and since then the site has grown massively. In addition to reviews themselves, there is also a new and fast-growing features' section which contains interviews, articles and top-picks. There are regular competitions (you can win books, of course). The feature section is growing fast, and they are even branching to other areas of the web, and other media. You can follow the BookBag on Twitter, and recently, they have even launched regular weekly text-message book-picks service. I apologise for the length of this review, but as it's covering both "reader" and "reviewer" aspect of the BookBag, it's really two reviews in one. **The BookBag for Readers** Book reviews are the main raison d'etre of the BookBag. There are now over 2,800 reviews on site, and several new one are added daily. The books reviewed vary enormously. By the very nature of the site, most are fairly recent titles (let's say 2007 onwards), although there are also older books, including quite a few modern classics - but very few books from before 1950. The reviews published by the BookBag are, essentially, readers' reviews. The reviewers choose or request books they want to read, and thus the reviews are mostly positive. Most negative reviews are of a "disappointed" variety rather than "set out for a hatchet job" type. There is no specific editorial line or policy and as the panel of reviewers now includes close to 70 people, you get a variety of perspectives, tastes and individual approaches. There is no such a thing as a typical BookBag review, though if you think of the best readers' reviews you find on Amazon or dooyoo, you won't be far off. I really like the format of the BookBag's reviews. Each contains clearly differentiated buying links to Amazon UK and Amazon US, as well as links to reviews at Amazon and Waterstones. In addition to the main solid body of the review (this is usually somewhere between 400 and 1,000 words), there is a summary which contains vital statistics of the book with the publisher, page count and ISBN as well as a star rating out of five, a quick summary of approximately 30 words and a pointer to whether the book is worth buying, borrowing, both or neither. There are also links to corresponding categories (genre, author, reviewer) and one of my favourite features of the BookBag - suggestions for further reading. You can follow those links all around the site, from review to review, from article to top ten list and back to reviews, immersing yourself in the multi verse of thousands of books. The layout of the review page is excellent. It's clear, uncluttered and seems to have everything in exactly the places it should be. The BookBag doesn't specialise in any particular genre, and you will find anything from vampire romance to literary experimentation, from theology to marketing, from chick lit to Booker short-list, from scientific debunking of woo to (an occasional) misery memoir. I don't follow the publishing news particularly closely, so it's hard for me to say whether there is any prose genre that is not well covered by the BookBag. The site covers mostly copies provided by the publishers, and thus doesn't always contain reviews of the biggest, known and predictable best-sellers as these are often less generous with review copies than less known titles. Quite often though, BookBag's reviewers would read (and report on) a best-seller book even if not provided by with a review copy. They do have a relationship with all major and many smaller independent publishers. British authors (or books originally published in the UK) seem to dominate, and I suspect it's also due to the character of publishing campaigns. Adult literary fiction seems under-represented, while if the BookBag has its particular forte, it is probably the books for the younger readers. From picture books to the mysterious "young adults", there are plenty of excellent reviews of kids' books, and particularly of the titles for older children and teenagers. I like to have a look at the BookBag's front page a few times a week: it's a little bit like having a peek at the "currently reading" pile on a friend's desk, or a browse at the library shelf displaying new arrivals; and oftentimes I discover and subsequently enjoy titles I would have never came across otherwise. It doesn't work as well if searching for a review of a specific book, simply because of sheer numbers of new titles published. The coverage is improving all the time, though. I would like to see the bylines on the front page new review listings, but I suspect this is only consideration for very regular readers who might have developed a liking for particular reviewers. ** The BookBag uses an adopted version of the Media Wiki software. The resulting layout is thus simple, crisp and incredibly easy to browse intuitively. The front page takes you straight to the list of the most recent reviews with cover images and teasers, while the left menu bar allows for browsing by genre, links to different sections of the site, a search function and some Google AdSense ads. Yes, there is advertising on the BookBag, but it's very restrained, and doesn't at all interfere with the normal use of the site. I like the simplicity of the BookBag's design. It's fast, clear and easy on the eye. The browsable categories are intuitive enough and wide ranging. Apart from genre categories you can also see reviews with a particular star rating, reviews by particular reviewers, books by any given author and recent reviews in each genre category. What I would like to see is more sorting options. The category pages are sorted alphabetically by title, but all you can see in addition to the title is author. You need to click on the actual review links to see the star rating, cover picture or any other information about the book. The search function is pretty good, although I would like it to eventually incorporate "intuitive" suggestions in case of typing errors and misspellings. I would also like to be able to sort the search results by one of the categories (date posted, publication date, star rating, author's name and similar). I suspect that for most of the BookBag's users these search and sorting limitations don't constitute a big issue (or possibly not even an issue at all). I am somehow obsessed with lists, rank ordering of things and data-heavy tables and I doubt many other casual or even regular browsers are. The BookBag alleviates my list fixation by presenting their choice reviews in an excellent selection of creatively interpreted Top Tens. There are some fairly standard ones (Classics of Children's Literature, Chick Lit, Cookery and Crime Novels), but there are also some wonderfully ingenious ones, including Dystopian Books For Children, Books For Eco-Warriors, Books For Slightly Geeky People, Tube Reads and a List Of Books To Celebrate Charles Darwin's 200th Anniversary. **The BookBag for Reviewers** The BookBag publishes readers' reviews, but it doesn't operate in the same way as typical consumer review sites do. It publishes one review of each book (although it allows for comments and some reviews have quite a few extensive ones). It's a managed site and has much more of an editorial policy. I think all of that is Very Good Thing. Not only does it ensures a consistent quality of the reviews but also gives it much more of a clout with publishers. To become a BookBag reviewer you either need to be invited by the owners of the site or apply by providing them with a sample review of your own, ideally of a book that's not already covered. The BookBag doesn't have a particular editorial line, but does have a clear idea of what a decent book review should be like. This is all quite clearly specified on the page titled "reviewer vacancies", accessible from the main menu. I have had the honour of having been invited to review for the BookBag soon after the launch and have been reading and reviewing for the BookBag ever since. The BookBag don't directly pay their reviewers - but they provide free review copies. These are posted to the reviewers free of charge and after reading and reviewing, the book is yours to keep or sell (uncorrected proof copies should not be sold - however, most books I have received were not proof copies but normal-looking review copies). You also retain a copyright to your reviews and thus absolved, I have been greedily reposting them on dooyoo and the like, as much for the pennies as for the occasionally more lively comments' exchanges. There is some conflict of interest here, obviously. The BookBag has excellent Google ratings and their reviews are invariably on the first page of results, but any re-posting will affect their number of visits. The owners request that the reviewers wait a minimum of three months before re-posting the reviews on other sites. This is fair enough as it makes no difference to the payment on dooyoo or Ciao, but allows the original BookBag pages to benefit from the initial interest and have the review exclusively for a period. I also do the opposite: if I write about any book that has not been provided by the BookBag, I offer them the first refusal of the review (I have not been refused so far). I also have used the opportunity provided by the BookBag to re-post all my existing dooyoo book reviews. I wasn't paid or offered books for that, but the process was so quick and easy (basically, copy and paste into email with an Amazon link) than I thought it very worthwhile. It contributed to the total number reviews on the site (and the better the site, the bigger the clout with publishers and the more and better books are available for the reviewers). I also like to have all my book-related writings in one place, and I think that people who visit the site read my reviews because of a genuine interest in the book, rather than as a part of reciprocating reviewing community, in-between reading about a chocolate bar and a mobile phone. I know a lot of dooyoo visitors are non-member readers too, but you can't have too much audience, can you? Once accepted into the BookBag Towers, there are two main ways to get books from the BookBag. Firstly, they suggest books for review to their panellists: there is absolutely no obligation to take a book thus suggested and I never felt pressurised in any way. Secondly, there is a page with books for review on the site itself, open for browsing, and existing reviewers can take their pick, on the assumption that a review will be prepared in a two weeks from the receipt. Technically, writing a review for The BookBag is a doddle. You don't upload your own reviews - you email them to Sue who painstakingly codes them all. All you need to do as a reviewer is to provide the Amazon link for the book and follow a fairly simple format. There is no need to come up with a title (I hate coming up with titles!) or advantages and disadvantages, although the BookBag likes to have a 20-30 word summary. I have really enjoyed my co-operation with the BookBag. Apart from free books, I feel that writing for them vastly improved my reviewing skills and broadened my reading horizons. When selecting a book to review "spontaneously" on dooyoo let's say, I would have usually chosen one that I really liked or about which had something very specific and special to say: I would make my decision to review after reading. But with the BookBag books, the decision to review is taken before even touching the book. I used to find it quite hard, at first, to find something to say about the vast majority of books that were, well, just fine: worth reading, but neither mind-blowingly special nor terribly bad. I learned to do it and it changed my approach to writing reviews, but also to reading. Reviewing in this way, I believe, not only made me a better review writer but also, arguably, a better reader. More cerebral, perhaps - because I do tend to form judgements and even sometimes take notes (quite extensive ones in case of non-fiction) while reading - but also more appreciative of what the type, genre and a particular title are all about. The BookBag doesn't forbid first-person comments, but strongly discourages padding, over-long plot accounts and extended personal intros. I stopped worrying about crown-worthiness of my book reviews (and I have to say that the proportion of my book reviews that do get crowned here has fallen down massively) and it helped me to edit better. There is also the feedback - less so from readers reading your reviews (although there is a little bit of that) and more so from authors. It's very rewarding indeed to see your review quoted on a personal site of a major author - or even have your words quoted on a book's blurb! For some reason, readers' reviews from dooyoo, Ciao or even Amazon never get treated that way. A managed site with an editorial policy makes for a much more respected platform. I can't really think of any disadvantages of reviewing books for the BookBag. It's only open to reviewers living in the UK due to postage costs, which as for now anyway, doesn't bother me. I would like to be able to see a number of views for each of my reviews. I would prefer to edit my reviews for changes and corrections myself rather than having to email any changes in the same way I email the original review. These are all pretty minor quibbles and I am really struggling to come up with anything remotely serious. *** Although I wasn't instrumental in creating the site, I have been following the fates of the BookBag almost from its foundation, as a reader and as a reviewer. I am hugely impressed by what Jill and Sue have achieved in the last three years - and proud to be able to count myself as one of the BookBag reviewers. If you like reading books and about books, it's very much worth a regular browse. If you write good book reviews - write some for them.
If you enjoy reading books of any sort, then you really should take a look at www.thebookbag.co.uk. This is a wonderful website where you can read many unbiased reviews about any number of books. I was first alerted to thebookbag when I suddenly started noticing a postscript on a fellow dooyooer's reviews saying that his review had already appeared on this site. I thought I would take a look and I was very pleased I did. When you first go to thebookbag you find yourself at the home page. Here you find an introduction telling you what the aims of the site are - basically to tell people about books and help them decide if they would like to read them. At present there are over 1200 reviews on the site and these are being added to all the time. The newest ones are listed on the home page too. The reviews are entered under different categories. These fall into Fiction, Non-Fiction and Childrens and within these there are a number of sub categories. All of the books are also added under their authors as well. You can search for a particular book or authors or you can just browse. When you find a book you want to find out more about you can click on the title and this takes you to its review page. All the reviews are set out in the same way. The main review takes centre stage, but also down one side there is a summary which is worth reading first and this will give you an idea whether you want to read the whole review. There is also a star rating and recommendations whether to buy or borrow. All of the reviews are not too long and the reviewers are encouraged to write less about the plot and more about their own opinions and reactions. People reading the reviews can also leave their own comment about the book that is being reviewed. So who are the people who are writing these reviews? Well the most obvious thing to say is that they are all book lovers, but also they are just ordinary people like you and me. In fact anyone can apply to become a reviewer for the bookbag. The process is very simple and I should know as I have recently become one myself! When on the site click on the about us page. This will give you a list of the main contributors, and if you are a regular on Dooyoo or Ciao! you might recognise a couple of names. At the bottom of that page you are invited to click on 'reviewer vacancies'. This page gives you some guidance about the sort of reviews they would like and also invites you to send them of a review of a book you have already read. If they like it they will ask you to tell them a bit more about you and your reading likes and dislikes. Before you know it, you are being sent up to date books to read, enjoy and write about! The site has just been revamped and it's really easy to navigate. There are also competitions and links to Richard and Judy's book club. I think this site has something for everyone. It's great if you just want to find out about new books - either for yourself or your family. And it's also very good if you want to become more involved and start writing about the books as well. Either way, I thoroughly recommend it so definitely, go and take a look!
Sometimes I tire of opinion sites. Wading through countless identikit reviews to find my next purchase can get a man down. It was therefore a pleasant surprise when I stumbled across the Bookbag, a brand new book review and recommendation site that has somehow managed to escape the trappings of the standard opinion site. The Bookbag differs from other opinion sites in that it does not offer the reader/browser the chance to rate the reviews according to their usefulness, helpfulness or by how much you like or wish to suck up to the writer. The Bookbag does allow you to comment on the content of the review but refreshingly these comments are vetted for content so there is a nice lack of What a good writer you are comments with them being limited to the books contents and its authors. What I also like about The Bookbag is there is no need for membership or registration. This is a site set up for readers browsing for their latest indulgence. Membership would offer no rewards or benefit that are not already fully available and The Bookbag does well not to offer this option. Monthly innovative competitions merely require sending to the supplied email address and comments are vetted using your own email address. Perhaps, in the interests of the technophiles out there I should say a little about the site layout itself. It is crisp and simplistic with an easy on the eye large blue font on white background. A complete lack of ads and flash imagery which will hopefully remain the case is a rarity in itself. Despite The Bookbags ready admission to links to Amazon.uk of which they will benefit if a purchase is made, the links are so unobtrusive as to be non-existent to the casual surfer. Navigation is swift and easy with the homepage providing one click links to all the genres on offer. The decision not to over complicate the genres is inspired. This means with an initial split of five categories there is no overwhelming of information and searching amongst the genre for a book you want is ridiculously easy. However, perhaps due to the fact the site is obviously in its infancy there is a distinct lack of variety in the book reviews on offer. An over emphasis on Crime Fiction is noted although undoubtedly this will balance out as the site evolves. The Bookbags reviews are what separates this site from so many others. This is a site obviously designed by book lovers, for book lovers. Reviews are open eloquent, imaginative and offer an impartial viewpoint in genres you may not have even considered. The reviews have no particular layout yet manage to give a clear impression of what the book is about, and whether it is worth reading. The merits of books are discussed without waxing lyrical about the number of pages or characters and the descriptive ability of the reviewers is something I rarely see elsewhere. It has been a long time since I have consistently read and enjoyed a book review from start to finish yet The Bookbag offers reviews that hit the mark every time. Perhaps, because there are only a few dedicated review writers on the site, I did find a lack of variety in the books covered and not as many new reviews I would like but again, this is a site that will constantly evolve. At present I could be considered a weekly visitor but as its popularity increases and the number of reviews progress I can see myself being a constant visitor. It is certainly amongst my bookmarks. What is this site missing? Well although I love the simplicity of it you could accuse The Bookbag of looking amateurish in places. The nearly entirely blue fonts make the site easy to read but makes it all a little samey. However, remembering this is a site designed for book lovers and not web surfers it certainly serves its purpose. Although the standard of review is exceptional I feel there is a limit to the books that may be covered despite the owners claims of not being tied to a particular genre a one-sidedness will become inevitable without an influx of reviewers to cover the multitude of genres out there. These are but minor trifles in an ever expanding buffet but ones that in my mind needs addressing in the future. Nonetheless, The Bookbags claims of being, The corner of your local library is very apt and browsing it makes me feel part of an exciting new book club which has no catches and will only get better. I certainly recommend this as a site for the future and it can only continue to get better. Anyone who loves a read and is looking for their next one should visit www.thebookbag.co.uk.
For many years, I was an avid reader. I read at every opportunity and had a passion for reading. Somehow, when the Internet arrived, I stepped out of my shell, and instead of reading books, read websites. Recently, having stumbled across TheBookBag.co.uk, certain changes have happened to me, and I want to describe the experience, because to me it was a valuable one. I realised upon reading the site, which has been made by two ladies who love books, that I had found a website that has an honest approach to reviewing books. In fact, here I would describe the Internet as paramount to my experience moving from the country to the town. Surrounded with places to look at, I was hopelessly lost. Websites giving details about books were not always as honest as I thought they should be. I had bought books through many websites, and their descriptions varied from mediocre to unreadable, and many of the purchases I made were based on reviews that were either too cleverly intellectual to actually understand, or lacking information that would have made a difference to my stance on a book, and found the experience disappointing. It was almost like picking out bits of reviews and piecing them together to get the full story and even then, I often made mistakes in my choices. Thus, I stopped reading. I don't have unlimited resources. I cannot justify buying at will, and when I came across this site, was pleasantly surprised by its' simplicity of navigation and overall honesty in presentation. I had saved a review found on another website intending to purchase a book, although having read the review on this site, decided that the site merited further investigation, and actually saved me money on a purchase that I would have regretted. I could equate the experience of this website with thinking of the Internet as a vast city of lost people, and there, it was akin to finding that old fashioned shop with bullseye glass windows, and assistants that actually wanted to assist and advise, which was indeed a rarity and amongst its' pages, I found the will to start reading again, switching off the Internet at night, and remembering the value of the written word. The site's presentation is pretty simple, being started by two ladies that wanted to share their love of books with the public, with no bias towards selling certain authors, or what writing was the latest fashion. The writers on the site know how to present reviews on the books that they read, and here, they offer the visitor a choice that many other sites do not. On each page of each section, ranging from Fiction to Factual, Practical and Children's genres, you are presented with a full review, or for those with less time to read a description, a mini synopsis of what the book is like. There is also a star rating for each of the books which is self explanatory. Here again, the ladies have thought of the potential buyer of books, and books are categories as to whether they think the book worthy of purchase, or indeed of borrowing. This really does help, since many books that I have bought in the past have been disappointing ones that I have inevitably sold at a loss. When commenting on a young writer's work, I was actually astounded by the information that the review imparted, in that the child was thoughtful enough to have outlined the age for which he would recommend the book and here, he had taken the time to explain why in a simple and understandable and logical manner. I commented upon this review. Here, the site differs from many, and the next day I received an email asking if I minded if my comment was published on the website. This pleased me, because it felt like the ladies give very careful attention to detail and care about people who browse their site, a service that to me is otherwise lacking on the Internet, a vast place where individuals like me get lost, like a country girl on their first week in a huge city. Navigation of the site is rather clever, and very quick. Whoever put the site together put a lot of thought into it. At the bottom of the page, there is a google search, and here you can chose whether you search the site itself or the Internet, and to me, this really was simple. It is almost as if the ladies are saying that if one does not find what they are looking for here, there are other options although I found several books to order amongst the pages of reviews that are added to regularly enough to hold my interest. One of the best features of the site is that the owners are not looking for reviewers and do not advertise like other review sites do, thus keeping control of the integrity of the site, and the value of its' contents. In order to encourage guest writers, there is a monthly competition, and the competition that I entered on the site was one for a review on an autobiography or biography connected to film. My entry into the competition was acknowledged straight away, and the prize offered to the winning contestant was a copy of The Time Out Film Guide for 2006, which I thought an appropriate prize for someone interested in this subject. Their competitions are also listed on other sites, which makes access to it quite wide, and competition worth the effort, even if you do not list amongst the winners. I believe that the participation is worthwhile because trying to attain the standard of reviews shown on a site like this is a good standard to aim at. The linking of reviews on books of a similar nature is also quite clever, because the reader is left with great comparisons between books on similar subjects. My list all ready for purchase, I shall buy through a link provided on this site, because I really do not begrudge the small payment that the site gets from Amazon.co.uk for the purchase that I make, because what the site offers is rare and honest, easy to understand and accurate and buying my books through the link is my way of saying thank you for the information gained on the site. They do stress that whilst the links are available to browsers of the site, no one should feel an obligation to use them, although to me, they merit the small payment that they receive. One of the downsides of the site is actually that the links to Amazon.co.uk are not obvious at first, although I developed a technique here of cutting and pasting the title of the book, going to the home page and clicking the Amazon.co.uk banner and pasting the title into the Amazon search field. It is relatively simple and easy to get used to. Having looked further into this, the link is actually on the right hand side of the review at the bottom, and I could have saved myself a lot of time had I seen it. Little by little, the site is being added to, and my visit to it has rekindled my old love of reading and after I have finished the books that I have, I shall be taking the ladies' recommendations in my future purchases, and buying through their site, which is extremely simple and easy to do, and which costs me no more than had I bought the books direct from Amazon themselves. Before leaving the site the last time, I mailed the ladies for news of new additions to the site, and believe that this will generate interest and look forward to news. Tea cup in hand, I go to this site, which I have chosen to keep to favourites, and spend time with the ladies that have given me the opportunity to chose my books a little more carefully than I have in the past. More tea anyone ? Rachel X
It was not by chance I stumbled upon this site, but I think I saw the link in a forum under a username and thought to myself, What is this all about? so, being the nosey old so and so that I am, I surfed along and came upon this. Not the analytical type, you will have to forgive me if I approach this somewhat different to an internet site but at the same time, The Bookbag is not your typical internet site as you will see. Two naughty schoolgirls who have never grown up thank god, have frequented review sites such as Dooyoo and Ciao for half a decade, bringing with them a charm, wit and also a sense of enjoyment to the sites. Their reviews have been of such an exceptional standard that anyone with half an eye for a good read will always be riveted to their personal feelings on any subject. So it came as no surprise to me, when first casting my curious eyes upon their project that it was a welcoming site and the homepage was simple, warm and colourful. I think I used the word simple to describe the site but please do not take that as amateur or makeshift, as Sue and Jill have had a little bit of help to make this as professional as many a site I have visited. I do believe they received a bit of help from another review site guru known as Keith (Alkiliguru if you are familiar with Dooyoo or if you want to check out this chap for future internet business.) but I feel that the heart of the project was their own. The blue writing on the homepage makes you feel like you are in a cottage kitchen, and their introduction is superbly written to make you feel welcome and that you are not there to be sold to. Scrolling down the homepage you find the latest book reviews, presented in a clear an easy to view fashion with a picture of the book to give you even more idea what it is you are looking at. By simply clicking on these pictures you get to read the whole review if you wish to do such a thing. They set the categories out along the side so that if you wish to look by genre, you do not have to scroll, tab, click then search, makes for a much quicker and easier and less of a fuss. Just so you know what the sections are at the moment, here is a horrible list type thing. Biography & Autobiography Children's Books Cookery Books Fiction Home and Family Politics and Society Once you click on any of these sections, the books that have been reviewed can easily be found here. Now there about us tells you who they are etc and adds a personal feel to the place. None of this big corporate feel and it kind of makes you feel like youre in part of someones diary, looking from the inside out if you know what I mean. The you might enjoy link gives you a personal insight into their associated links and websites they enjoy using and that you may like to try yourself and the competitions they have are fun and enjoyable, with a chance to be a guest writer and win a prize to boot. Now that is basically the website as a whole, but not why I am writing this or why I think it is something special in this world of impersonal, amateur website mayhem. Having written reviews for so long, I became bored and a bit disillusioned with the standard and layout of review site reviews. They tended to be for the crowd rather than for the reader and aimed at personal gain rather than pleasure and this is why The Book Bag or Bookbag Towers as they like to call it, grabbed my attention and interest. Both of these naughty grown up schoolgirls have rekindled their writing pleasure and managed to get this over in their own unique styles. No more writing to impress or to gain reward, yet their writing seems to wake the passion for reading in this once gluttonous reviewaholic who longed to be entertained and enthralled by people who wrote with a passion. Once more I see that sun shining from a computer screen and I feel myself being lost in a world of charismatic entertainment achieved only by reading something from someone who really enjoys writing. Bookbag is a breath of fresh air in a carbon dioxide reviewing environment and I recommend anyone with an inkling for reading work produced with passion to nosey on down to this site and have a butchers for themselves. I can only shout from the rooftops my admiration for two people (and Keith) who have taken review writing to the next level. Go on, go to www.thebookbag.co.uk and prove me wrong, but I feel if you go there to do that, you will be proving yourself wrong.