Welcome, returning and new readers alike, to Curiosity Quills’ weekly forays into the wider network of book websites. Review blogs are well established by now as one of the best and most popular routes by which readers find recommendations for good quality books in the endless slush pile of new and otherwise unknown authors.
This is word of mouth, made grand and far-reaching by the power of the internet age, and in this column we will spotlight a different blog to talk about what they review, how and why, helping you find new places to scour for awesome books.
Joining us this week is BJ of Dark Side of the Covers to tell us about managing the TBR, the joys of steampunk, and the books that made her year.
CQ: To start us off, tell us a bit about your blog, and what new readers of your site might expect to see.
BJ: Dark Side of the Covers is, in a nutshell, “Where werewolves eat vampires, the fae have fangs, and clockwork creatures kick zombie ass.” The focus of the blog is speculative fiction reviews, served up with creativity and a quirky dash of humor. You’ll find all sorts of review formats – “Life Lessons Learned…” lists, interactive quiz-style reviews, reader polls, and so on.
A favorite feature on the blog is the “Let’s Talk About…” column, where we as a community gloat, laugh and lament over elements of fiction, writing and blogging. I’m also really excited about the recently-launched Indie Views feature, showcasing indie authors – it’s been a lot of fun learning what these talented (and brave!) writers drink on a Friday night, whether they could survive the zombie apocalypse, and, of course, what makes them tick as writers.
CQ: You wrote on your blog about managing the TBR pile. Do you have it under control or is it still huge?
BJ: Of course it’s under control! Everything is organized and planned out months in advance. Oh, by the way, would you be interested in purchasing some lovely Ontario swampland? Okay, okay…in all seriousness, it’s a struggle, but I work really hard to keep a 4-6 week buffer between accepting a review request and posting the review. It’s a constant juggling act involving requests and books that I choose independently. I strive to keep things in balance by being extremely picky about what I read, and I never surrender the right to quit reading a book if it’s not a good match for me. (I don’t post DNF reviews, though, because I don’t think that’s fair to a story.)
CQ: How many review requests do you receive in the average month? What really grabs your attention in a query, and what earns the email a one-way trip to the deleted folder?
BJ: In an average month, I’ll look through a minimum of 25 review requests, often more. As much as it grieves my inner bookworm, the reality is that I have to pass up on a lot of potentially great stories due to time constraints. This makes me rather cut-throat – if a query is missing information that I specifically request in my (easy to read and oh-so-entertaining) Review Policy, such as a link to an excerpt, it goes straight to the trash. Same goes for genres that are irrelevant to the blog; your autobiography may be fascinating, but unless you’re the last living werewolf, I’m not interested.
CQ: What was your hidden gem of 2011 – the book you hadn’t been heard of till an author/publisher asked you to review it or a friend shoved a copy under your nose?
BJ: Rebel that I am, I have to pick two – Perception by Heather Cashman
, a dystopian YA fantasy with amazing characters set in a fascinating world, and My Memories of a Future Life by Roz Morris
, which is literary-fiction-with-spooky-time-travel-mystery-twists. I loved them both, and have been recommending them to friends as “intro to indie” titles ever since.
CQ: You mention steampunk as a reviewed genre. What defines steampunk for you, and what do you love about it? You also mention YA. Do you think there’s been a swell in YA books, or have they always been there in force just never given the name?
BJ: There are a lot of opinions on what Steampunk is and isn’t; for me, it’s all about the humanity vs. technology conflict. The best Steampunk fiction takes the Big Questions about humanity – our responsibilities as creators, finding the line between good and evil – and then explores those questions while dressed in corsets, goggles, and flying an airship. Reading Steampunk makes me feel like a little kid playing Pirate Queen on the jungle gym…there’s this wild abandonment to imagination that’s intoxicating.
As for YA, I think it’s been with us for a long time (Little Women, anyone?), but the scope and visibility of it have sky-rocketed thanks to Harry, Bella and Katniss. I’m often asked why I – who can no longer pretend I’m a YA – read the genre. I’m a character-driven, and my enjoyment of a story is directly related to the depth of the characters. Because YA tends to be about self-discovery, the characters often show more growth and evolution than you may find in a similar adult book. After many discussions with other adult YA readers, I’ve come to the conclusion that YA also fills a void in the speculative fiction market, by offering PG-rated romances. Just because readers want a dark and dangerous world, doesn’t mean they want to read explicit sex; YA gives them exactly what they’re looking for.
CQ: Do you cross-post to other sites (GoodReads, Amazon, Shelfari etc) and what are your opinions on these kinds of sites?
BJ: All of my reviews are cross-posted at GoodReads, which I consider an invaluable tool for organizing my TBR, tracking my reading habits, and stalking my favorite authors. (In an entirely uncreepy and harmless way, of course…) I’ve experimented with posting elsewhere, but GoodReads wins out for ease of use, and the social element/community there is wonderful, too.
CQ: And finally, use this space to give a shout-out to one of your own favourite book blogs.
BJ: There are so many creative, insightful book bloggers it’s hard to pick – but I’ve got to holler at Lan from The Write Obsession
- she’s consistent, insightful, and delightfully honest. Plus, I love the active discussions that take place in the comments following her posts. A visit there always makes me think!
Thanks again to BJ! If you’d like you blog featured on the Book Blog Spotlight, email me at email@example.com