Friday, February 28, 2014

When to post reviews of brand new books?

With all the blogging advice to be found around the internet, I have debated this question quite a bit. A lot of conventional wisdom dictates ARC reviews be posted within a few weeks of the book's release date, either before or after. In my very unscientific observation, it also appears to me (especially for the BIG blogs) pre-release reviews seem to be somewhat favored. I could be wrong, so don't quote me on that -- it's just the impression I've gotten over time as I've been flitting about the blogosphere.

The problem is, I don't think that works for my blog. First of all, I don't have any kind of established relationship with publishers -- I'm a small-timer and I'm totally cool with that. I've never emailed anyone to request a title, so there has never been a written commitment to post by a certain date. The ARCs I'm lucky enough to receive are mostly from giveaways and contests -- mainly GoodReads or Shelf Awareness ads. Most of the time (especially with that last one), I never quite know if I've been chosen to receive a title until it's on my doorstep. Sometimes that leads to an unexpected glut of books all coming out around the same time, even though I've only ever been chosen for a small percentage of these contests. I've had my share of book-blogger fails, mainly in the form of ARCs collecting dust long past when they should have been read and reviewed. I've tried to forgive myself my past (inexperienced) transgressions, even though I still feel guilty about them. I have committed to a more conscious effort to I give newly received ARCs greater priority (and to not enter so many contests!), but that still doesn't mean I am going to write pre-release reviews.

I want to help get the word out about great new books, but for my blog, pre-release reviews just don't seem to work. Even when I do review an ARC well before it's publication date, I prefer to post on the release day itself, at the very earliest. There is often so much pre-release buzz, I think sometimes bloggers forget the majority of people (myself included most of the time) need to actually wait until the publication date to get their hands on a new book. I'm not naming names, but take for example this tweet I just spotted by a book blogger:
"If you haven't already picked up ___ by ___ you're missing something in your life"
It was referring to a book on my wishlist by an author I've read before, so I immediately thought I got my dates mixed up and missed the publication date. The tone of the tweet also made it sound like it had been out for a fair bit of time. Except it hasn't. The release date is not even here yet, but this makes it sound like it's already on the shelves. PET PEEVE. I'm not quite sure how that is doing the book any favors. Granted the release date is only a few days away, but still.

I am of the belief that if I'm going to pique someone's interest in a book, they should be able to get hold of it, if they so choose. Don't get me wrong, it's totally OK for other bloggers to write pre-release reviews, as long as the date issue is clear. I understand the desire (and the need) to get buzz going about new books beforehand and I know they are valuable contributions to the book community. I just hope that for a small timer like me, it's OK to sometimes not do things exactly the same way as everyone else.

* * * * *
So fellow book bloggers, I'm curious -- how do you handle ARCs and when do you post reviews of brand new books?

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday (#22): Books That Have Been on My Shelf for the Longest, but I've Never Read

Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

I fess up to having tons of unread books on my shelf on a regular basis, but I thought it would be interesting to take an even closer look at my collection and see which ones have been gathering dust the longest. I'm not quite sure if this will be more like rubbing salt in a wound or an exercise in motivation -- only time will tell! I don't keep any kind of exact records, but I can guarantee these have all been (unfortunately) neglected for more than a few years...

The movie trailer looked good so I bought the book...

Atonement, by Ian McEwan
P.S. I Love You, by Cecilia Ahern

I totally loved Oprah's book club, but never read half the books I picked up...

Daughter of Fortune, by Isabel Allende
The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follet

Back Roads, by Tawni O'Dell
Open House, by Elizabeth Berg

One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez
Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez

I snagged these from the bargain table of the B&N down the street from my college. I graduated in 2007... 

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova

I have a tattered copy of this one from my Mom that is probably older than I am. I can't even find a cover image for that edition...

Light a Penny Candle, by Maeve Binchy

I liked The Poisonwood Bible when I read it for a high school class, so I picked up this one too...

Prodigal Summer, by Barbara Kingsolver

I freakin' love this series, but haven't read the latest installment because I knew the wait for the next one would be soooo long when I got it. And it's still not published yet...

An Echo in the Bone, by Diana Gabaldon

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What un-read books have been on your shelves the longest?

Sunday, February 23, 2014

What is *Normal* Book Damage?

One of my last purchases of 2013 before I got serious about reining in the book-buying was from I've used this site for years and 98% of my transactions have been problem-free. A few months ago, I had that problem where I was sent two ARCs instead of finished copies, but generally speaking I've had very good experiences. After this last fiasco though, I've decided it's a very good thing I've curbed my internet book shopping because this transaction left a really bad taste in my mouth.

It was bad enough the seller took three weeks to ship the book instead of three business days as she was supposed to. But to add insult to injury, I opened the package to find my "very good" condition book had the spine broken in three places, creases on the covers, and a tear at the bottom of the front cover where it is separating from the spine. Now, I've mentioned many times before my love of used books and used bookstores. I don't need every book I purchase to be in pristine condition, but this kind of damage according to guidelines qualifies the book as "acceptable" condition -- the lowest of the five categories and a full two levels below "very good."

An email to the seller was met with a rather rude response -- I've sold on myself, so I know exactly how I would have handled a complaint of this type, and it's a far cry from the "customer service" I actually received. Now it's my own fault for buying from a newbie seller, but minimal feedback usually doesn't deter me as long as it's positive feedback. Anyway, her email quickly made clear she had no knowledge of's Item Quality standards because she told me she, "believed it to be in perfect reading condition, and as a soft cover book, it has normal damage for having been read." Forgetting the fact that she listed according to her own standards instead of the website's, that last part really irked me!

It got me thinking, too -- what does the average person consider "normal damage" to a book? I have no problem reading a book into tatters -- my Diana Gabaldon books are practically crumbling apart -- but under no circumstances would I try to tell anyone else they are in good condition, especially if I were trying to sell them (not that I ever would!). Am I crazy to think creases, rips and mutilated spines are not "normal"? These things happen, I know they do, but they are not normal for a trade paperback only read a time or two, if you ask me.

My early Outlander books are about 20 years old.
I bought them used & have read them several times.
These babies have been loved, not abused!

It really bugged me that she tried to blame the book itself instead of human carelessness saying, "Spines are cracked when the book it sufficiently opened to read with that quality of book." As if every book that's ever been read automatically gets a cracked spine. I'm sorry, but trade paperbacks published in recent years are pretty well made, in my opinion. We're not talking about 1,000 page mass markets, like the photo above. I don't think I've ever broken the spine of a trade paperback, come to think of it!

Fellow book-lovers, please weigh in about what you consider "normal damage" for previously read books -- I'd like to think I'm not crazy, but am I?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress

The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress, by Ariel Lawhon
Series? No
Publisher: Doubleday
Date: Jan 28, 2014
How did I get this book? free Advance Reader's Copy from the publisher via Shelf Awareness for my honest review
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
GoodReads | Author | Publisher

This book is a fictionalized version of a real-life unsolved mystery -- the disappearance of New York Supreme Court Justice Joseph Crater in 1930. As the author explains in her notes, her inspiration came from the idea that someone knew what really happened, even if the truth has never seen the light of day. How the story plays out in the novel is pure speculation, but it's rooted in the known facts of the case.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I started this one, but it really did grab me right from the first page. The voices of Stella (the wife), Maria (the maid), and Ritzi (the mistress) are very distinct, so I had no trouble following the story as it bounced between their different perspectives and also back and forth in time as more information is revealed about the events surrounding the disappearance. Each of the women is fully fleshed out and their individual stories are also an interesting look at the role of women and the obstacles and challenges many faced in that time period. Lawhon manages to bring an era to life, including both the glitz & glamour and the seedy underbelly.

While I was previously completely unaware of this particular event in history, apparently there are many who have followed the case and there has been much published about it over the years. Having recently discussed how accurate historical fiction is (or should be) over on Charleen's blog Cheap Thrills, I found it incredibly helpful that Lawhon wrote a detailed Author's Note at the back of the book in which she distinguishes between what is historically accurate and what is the product of creative license -- brilliant!

Explore more:
Read an excerpt
Reader's Guide/Discussion Questions

Reading Challenges:
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My Kind of Mystery
Historical Fiction
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Friday, February 14, 2014

The *Problem* with New-to-Me Authors

Of course we all have bigger and better things to fret about, but as a reader, the phenomenon of finding and loving a *new* author can be both exhilarating and somewhat distressing. For me, it usually goes something like this:

Before I start reading: "You know I've heard of this author, but I've never tried any of her books. Maybe I'll give this one a shot." Proceed to buy book.

While I'm reading: "Holy crap this book is AWESOME! How have I never read anything by this author before?! I definitely need to read her other books too!

After I'm done reading: Wait, she's written 17 other books? How am I ever going to find time to read 17 other books when my TBR list already has 400+ books on it?!?!

Later, most likely at a used bookstore: Oh gosh, they have all of the 17 other books by this author. They don't cost very much, and I really liked that first book I just read. Proceed to buy books. (Admittedly, I don't always buy all the books, but I do always want to.)

After taking the books home -- two possible scenarios:
#1. I neglect all the other books I was planning to read and plow through my lovely new stash just like I thought I would when I was standing in the bookstore.

#2. My lovely new stash collects dust for quite a while before I eventually start slowly reading them in between other books.

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Far too often, I end up in scenario #2. I have so much enthusiasm -- certainly enough to acquire the books in the first place -- but then I remember all the other things I want to read or should be reading instead and the plan to binge on this new-to-me author's books goes out the window.

Even scarier, this sometimes happens to me without actually having read a single one of an author's books! I'll hear great things about a certain series or author from trusted sources and just know we're a perfect match. Then, I spot them on a bargain rack,, or at the used bookstore when I have a lot of credit saved up... You'd think I could get just one or two to start with, right? But, nooooooo, it seems all 17 books jumped into my shopping basket! I wonder how that happened...

A few new to-me authors I've run into this dilemma with:

Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Jane Austen

James Rollins
Tess Gerritson's Rizzoli & Isles books
Janet Evanovich
Phil Rickman

General Fiction
Chris Bohjalian
Elizabeth Noble
Sarah Smith
Sarah Waters
Joanne Harris
Katherine Webb
Sarah Addison Allen
Elin Hilderbrand
Susanna Kearsley
Isabel Allende
Lauren Willig

Please tell me some of you can relate! I have been doing very well with my new Golden Rule of Book Buying this year which has really helped curb my impulse shopping, but having credit at used bookstores is definitely still my weakness. Does anyone else have conflicted feelings like this? Which authors have been new-to-you recently? I'd love to know :)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Release Day Review: The Winter People

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon
Series? No
Publisher: Doubleday
Date: Feb 11, 2014
How did I get this book? free Advance Reader's Copy from the publisher via Shelf Awareness for my honest review
My Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
GoodReads | Author | Publisher

This book takes place in West Hall, Vermont, a small town notorious for old legends and mysterious disappearances. Switching between the present day as two daughters desperately search for their missing mother, and the early 1900's telling the story of the "mad" woman who used to live in the very same farmhouse. It is suspenseful on both fronts as you try to piece together both the current mystery and the century-old one.

I didn't fully realize when I started reading there were going to be paranormal elements and I was definitely skeptical when I first saw the book heading in that direction. My initial reservations were quickly cast aside though as I got pulled in by the plot and the characters. Jennifer McMahon's writing captured the eerie, creepy feeling of the story perfectly and kept me flipping the pages late into the night. She has a real knack for telling you just enough to raise the hair on the back of your neck, but then leave the rest to your imagination -- your imagination probably being worse than anything written down in black and white!

This book has solidified Jennifer McMahon as a new favorite author of mine and I will definitely be reading anything new she writes in the future. The only other book I've read by her previously is last year's The One I Left Behind, so I'm really looking forward to finding some time to read through her backlist!

Reading Challenges:
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My Kind of Mystery

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Thoughts on Books that "Count"

Now that we're into the second month of 2014 and I've read countless posts about reading goals and challenges (not to mention the ridiculous number I've joined myself), I've been thinking a lot about the idea of counting books. Not that long ago, quite a few bloggers I follow participated in the latest round of Bout of Books as a jump-start to the new year. I didn't participate myself, but I read quite a few update posts and perused the comments, intrigued by the idea of a week of intensive reading. What surprised me the most were the comments by some people who felt what they read didn't really "count." These people were not criticizing each other -- in fact, every single comment I read was supportive -- they were instead criticizing themselves! They were saying how much better the other person did because they only read: easy books, short books, novellas, graphic novels, audiobooks, etc., etc. -- whatever genre or format they felt to be "less than" worthy. They were putting themselves down because seemingly, they felt like they were "cheating" or not challenging themselves enough.

I understand the temptation to do this kind of thing, but I am also a firm believer that a book is a book, period. It doesn't matter if it's short or long, easy or difficult, if I want to read it, it's a book (and it counts!) Looking at my GoodReads challenge progress, it would be easy to start worrying about people judging my reading choices -- of the nine I've read so far, only three are full-length books in the most traditional sense. The others are a combination of poetry, short stories, and children's books, three of which I listened to on audio. I try not to entertain such silly thoughts, but I will admit those Bout of Books comments allowed some doubt to creep into my mind. But, just as with body image (and just about every area of life), I am convinced we are always harder on ourselves than we are on each other. You know the adage, "don't say anything to yourself that you wouldn't say to a friend?" I think that's might be something for us book bloggers to keep in mind too!

Personally, I never choose a book solely for it's length or ease of reading for the purpose of inflating my yearly number of books read. I doubt there are many people who do, but if that's their prerogative, who am I to judge? I have all different interests and while the majority of books I want to read are "full length" books/novels, I think I may have subconsciously neglected other types, possibly feeling like they don't really "count" without even realizing it! So going forward, I'm making it a point to not limit myself and make sure I don't fall prey to self-criticism for my reading choices. The list of books I want to read is long enough and varied enough that I definitely have options for just about every mood or scenario. There's nothing wrong with choosing a book from that ever-growing list that is lighter/easier/shorter, for any reason and I shouldn't waste time or energy wondering if it should "count" or not. We can't read long, heavy books all the time, (or at least I can't!)

One genre I think often falls into the "it doesn't really count" category in people's minds is children's books. Not YA necessarily, actual kids books -- but there are so many classic ones I haven't read, and if the mood strikes, I'm going to read them! This past weekend, I dove into Shel Silverstein's A Light in the Attic and I couldn't put the thing down! It's one of those books I never read as a kid (not in full, anyway) and I was only more intrigued after learning it made the ALA's most frequently banned & challenged list. Where a book is located in the library should not diminish its value. There are treasures to be found in all sections, including those that happen to be shelved in the area that also hosts Mommy & Me storytime.

There are all kinds of reasons for reading books and I'd much rather focus on those than come up with reasons against reading anything I'm genuinely interested in. We don't all like the same books, and we all have our reasons why certain authors, genres, etc. don't interest us. That's totally fine, but worrying that someone (or yourself) will deem a book not worthy enough to "count" should not be one of them.

So, I'm making 2014 a judgement-free year -- who's with me?