Friday, 28 August 2015

EFL e-reader reviewed: Against the Night + How to write a book review.

When I say "Let's write something today." most reactions are negative. Writing in a foreign language is the hardest thing to do as it requires so many skills: reading the task properly, vocabulary suitable for the topic, good grammar & spelling, and most of all, planning.

I had a surprising response last term to a request I made of my Proficiency students. For their holiday homework I suggested they read a book or watch a film and write a review. With nothing but a skeleton plan and a few hints and tips I left them to it. I didn't even put limits on word count so there was total freedom in the task. The reviews I got back were enthusiastically written, there was the odd Instance of Internet pilfering but plagiarism is a crime easily spotted by using Turnitin!

Below you will find a similar skeleton plan to the one I gave my students and a sample review to illustrate how to put it into practice! Why don't you give it a go? Remember reviews are real writing that you can post on the Internet on sites such as Amazon or Goodreads and get feedback from your work.
You already know, if you read my stories, that I have a penchant for spooky, weird fiction (better known as Speculative Fiction as the writer speculates on a certain situation or the future). Generally speaking, I read this genre writing too. With that in mind, I went searching for an affordable spec.fic. graded reader (a book written or abridged to make it suitable for specific learning levels) to use in this blog post and, low and behold, I found the perfect candidate in Against the Night from Hippo Books
  • 1. Title, author/editor/contributors, publisher, edition, type of work. You may add other important information here too.
  • 2. Summary of the story without spoilers (giving the end away). If you tell the whole story in the summary there will be no reason for the potential reader to open the book!
  • 3. What you thought of the characters/story-telling/stories both good and bad. (This could be 2 or more separate paragraphs.) This is where your vocabulary really comes to the fore. Give reasons for your point of view and use expressive vocabulary.
  • 4. Recommendation. Here you can give details of the audience the book is/should be aimed at, the price and availability.
NOTE: It might seem a bit more than obvious to state this, but you do have to have read the book you are reviewing so that you can provide some details about it in the review! I advise you to jot down a few things that you like/dislike as you read to save going back through the book searching for the bit you remember but may not be able to find again. (If you are reading an e-book you can do this automatically on the text using the features of your e-reader.)

Ghost story anthology Against the Night, written by Patrick Kennedy, Cooper Baltis and Danny Weiss, is published by Hippo Books. The collection includes six spooky and traumatic tales written specifically for students from upper-intermediate level (CEFR B2+) and beyond.
The anthology opens with Floating Girls by Cooper Baltis. Set in Idaho, it is the chilling tale of two ghost hunters' encounters with the other side. Messages by Patrick Kennedy, transports the reader to Mexico City to solve a murder mystery. Gone by Danny Weiss investigates strange disappearances in Boston. Sixteen Years by Patrick Kennedy looks at the lives of three school friends and how they have changed over sixteen years of course! Danny Weiss's Mr. Clean is a blood curdling urban legend and in the last story, Mechanical Turk, Cooper Baltis explores the haunting world of antique collecting in a tale reminiscent of traditional horror.
All the stories are written in short parts and chapters so not only is Against the Night a versatile class reader that can be adapted to short lesson times, perhaps as an end of the lesson read, it is also suitable for home study for learners who have limited reading time or short attention spans. The stories are gripping and compelling, although Gone was a little confusing as there are a host of characters to keep track of. The stories take the reader across Europe and America, meeting a multicultural blend of characters without falling into stereotype traps. Such a chilling read is it that your blood will run cold but that's to be expected from an anthology of ghost stories! The recommended age range is 8-18 but some of the content such as over consumption of alcohol, may not be considered appropriate for primary ages. The overuse of dull adjectives (big) was a little grating and not to be expected of an Upper Intermediate level reader however, the majority of the vocabulary was varied enough to be educational. The e-book was missing a Contents list so I could not jump straight to the story I wanted to read first.
All in all, Against the Night is a thrilling introduction to ghost stories! Recommended to students of High school age and up the e-book is easily affordable at 2.99.
This review is also on Amazon, where I bought the book, and on Goodreads. Remember you can do this too - don't think that reviewing has to be just for your teacher, you can post your reviews on these two sites easily and many others as well.


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