Tag archives for Blogger Query

Blogger Query – The Tattered Scroll

BloggerQueryThe Tattered Scroll wasn’t called The Tattered Scroll when I started reading Jeff’s blog. It was called Fantasy Book News & Reviews and later Genre Reader. So I’ve been following Jeff for a while now. So he really couldn’t be lacking in my Blogger Query series. Fortunately he agreed and you can find his answers below.

Let’s start with the basics. Who is Jeff?

Let’s see…I’m a dad of a 5-year old daughter, a husband, a mobile software developer, a meteorologist, a reader, and a big sports fan (especially baseball and american football).

What got you into blogging?

I wish I could say it was to share my love of epic fantasy, which is all I read when the blog first started as Fantasy Book News & Reviews back in 2007. But the real reason I started the blog 5+ years ago is to get review copies. Not because I wanted free books, but because I wanted books early. I was an impatient reader, so if I could cut 2 months off my wait time to read a highly anticipated book by getting an arc..I was all for it. I know that doesn’t sound very noble, but its the ugly truth. The even uglier truth is my blog never really caught on with publishers, so the dream of arcs barely materialized. Once I had been blogging for awhile, I realized I liked the blogging process, the occasional author interview, talking with other readers in the comments…which is the reason the blog is still around 5 1/2 years later.

Why The Tattered Scroll?

This one is also a little weird. I started a new job in January 2011, and my employer blocked access to the Blogger domain. So I could not access the blog during work hours. Thus, I decided to move the blog to its own domain. As for the new name, I wanted something that said ‘this is a book blog’, but I did not want it to be a fantasy specific name, since I was beginning to read and review some non-fantasy books (primarily espionage). [Ed. Note: I was around for this, I even voted in the poll.]

What is your unique selling point? Interviews, humour, news coverage?

Hmmm…I guess my unique selling point might be the e-book deal posts (though only good for those in the US), my “Fantasy Series Ending in 2012/2013″ page, and maybe my reviews and thoughts on e-readers and tablets. I would like to continue to blog more about my e-readers and tablets..especially posts related to tips & tricks for reading on those devices. [Ed. Note: You’re definitely the only one I know who tests and reviews all these devices.]

What are your goals for your blog?

My biggest goal is to maintain enough interest to keep the blog going. Several times in the last couple of years, I’ve come close to ending it. After 5 years, I know my blog isn’t going to be one of the big ones, but that’s not a huge deal. As long as I still enjoy it, and people still read it sometimes, I’ll likely keep plugging along. But it does get tough sometimes, especially if I spend 40 minutes writing up a review (or a Reaction, as its called on my blog), and the review gets no comments. So then I think: “was the review terrible?”, “was no one interested in the book”, “did anyone even read the review”..all of those thoughts are hard. Though maybe they are just a sign of blogger who is too sensitive. It’s not like I comment on every review I read, either (though due to the internet restrictions at work, while I can read most blogs I follow, our internet filter prevents me from being able to comment).

One of the eternal book reviewer debates is to rate or not to rate? Where do you stand on the issue?

I go back and forth on this one. For some reason, I like to rate espionage novels, but not fantasy novels. No idea why. I did rate books during the early days of the blog, but the more reviews I wrote, the harder it was to rate a book. Before I could apply a rating, I had to look back at ratings for previous books, and determine how the just reviewed book compared to other books. It made the whole rating thing too complicated, so I dropped it.

Negative reviews, yay or nay? And why?

I believe in being honest, so I tend to post my thoughts on a book no matter how much I liked or didn’t like it. Though if I truly dislike a book, I will likely stop reading before the end. My to-read pile is so big, I don’t have time to read a book I don’t like, just so I can say I finished it. Sometimes when I stop reading a book, I decide not to mention it on the blog. But other times, I will write up a “Couldn’t Finish It” post about the book, describing why I didn’t like a novel enough to keep reading. These posts are tough, because I don’t like being negative. But at the same time, I don’t want my blog to appear to be just a series of “this book was awesome” reviews. Negative reviews are even harder when it happens to be a book I received for free as a digital arc. I feel bad for writing a negative post, then sending an email to the publisher saying “thanks for the book, here is my review which totally rips the book”. At the end of the day, though, I want to post by honest thoughts, whether it is a book I bought, or a book I received from the publisher.

You tend to read (and review) a wide variety of genres: thriller, crime, fantasy etc. Do you find reviewing one type of book easier than another?

Actually, I do find it easier to write reviews of thrillers and mysteries. I’ve mentioned on the blog (about 100 times) how bad of a review writer I think I am, and that I dread sitting down to write a review once I’ve finished reading. There are so many bloggers that write high-quality reviews, that maybe I let it intimidate me a bit. Dunno. I think it would help my fantasy reviews if I took notes while I read. Many fantasy novels are so long… many times as I read I will think “I should mention this in my review”, but by the time I finish the book, it’s been 2 weeks and I have forgotten most of my mental notes. However, taking notes would take the fun out of reading for me, as it would make reading feel more like a chore. Also, I find that thinking about the review while reading a book, distracts me a bit and puts up a little barrier between me and the book. So all of those things combined lead to me disliking the entire review writing process. Not a good thing for a book review blog, huh? However, when I read espionage novels, the review writing process doesn’t interfere with my reading as much. I think part of the reason is that I don’t have to think about detailing the world and the setting. Since the espionage novels take place in our world, usually current day..that means I don’t have to spend the time or mental energy to figure out how to put that stuff in a review. I can just say the espionage novel takes place in the current time, and jumps between the USA and Europe, and readers can fill in the rest. Which means I can concentrate more on reviewing the story and characters, instead of a fantasy world and its history. Guess this answer has gone on long enough. I just hope it made sense :) [Ed. Note: It does, though I’d have put it the other way round, as I find reviewing thriller/espionage/crime far harder due to the need to keep from spoiling the plot, which is far easier for me in reviewing speculative fiction.]

You’ve often stated your preference of reading only finished series. Does that only apply to fantasy series or to crime/thriller series as well. If not, why the different approach?

This does not apply to espionage books, mostly because each book is self-contained. Yeah, the characters in an espionage series will appear in multiple books, but the storylines are (usually) taken care of within a single book. My “book memory” isn’t great (maybe because I read while listening to sports on tv in the background), so I have a REALLY hard time remembering details in a series if I have to read each book 1 year (or more) apart. That is the biggest reason I prefer completed series in fantasy. If I read as they are published, I miss way too many little hints and details from the previous books. And thus the impact of the story is lessened. For espionage, all I have to remember from book to book are the characters, and because the authors know a reader might be jumping into book 3 or book 8, they are pretty good about filling in any character background a reader might need to know in the new book. And once again, the real world factor comes into play. With espionage, I don’t have to remember the world’s history, political alliances, etc, like I do when returning to a fantasy series. Thus, I don’t have any problems reading espionage books as they are published.

How important are blogs to your reading choices?

Since the only other blogger I follow that reads espionage is Civilian Reader, blogs don’t really impact what I choose to read. And when I read fantasy, since I tend to wait for the series to be complete, I’ve had several years of reading blogs, forums, reviews to determine whether a series is for me (or not). I guess blogs do play a role for me, but not usually in the “I’m gonna read this book next” way.

How do you think blogs and reviewers fit in the book business?

I’m not really sure. I guess our reviews are like a publicity tool, though I think it makes bloggers nervous (or indignant) if you phrase it that way. While we review to share our opinions of books, we do want others to read a book that we really liked. So I think blogs serve as an “unofficial” publicity outlet, whether we want to admit it or not. But the trick is to prevent author or publishing ties from corrupting our reviews.

What is your current read and what book are you most eagerly awaiting?

I just finished The Gray Wolf Throne by Cinda Williams Chima last night and each book in the series has been better than the one before. I own the last book in the series, The Crimson Crown, but haven’t started reading it yet. I’m also reading The Big Maria by Johnny Shaw, which is a bit of a caper novel filled with lots of low-brow humor. I’m enjoying it quite a bit. I need to read The Intercept by Dick Wolf next, since I specifically requested that one. As for what I am eagerly awaiting..A Memory of Light, even though my goal of being ready for it will not happen. I am only on book 5, so I have a long way to go. I am also greatly looking forward to The Enemy by Tom Wood due in May 2013. I believe this book came out in the UK last year, and I have impatiently been waiting for a US release. His first novel The Killer was awesome (he went by the name Tom Hinshelwood then).

Is there something else you’re obsessed with other than books?

Other than the easy answer (my family), I would say sports and gadgets. I tend to buy just about every e-reader that comes out. I might not keep them if I don’t like them, but I usually end up buying them to try it then returning to the store if I don’t feel its worth keeping. I currently own 4 e-readers (Nook Simple Touch, Kobo, Kobo Mini, Kindle Touch) and 3 tablets (iPad 3, Nexus 7, Kindle Fire HD 8.9). And am always keeping up with what is rumored to be coming out next. [Ed. Note: Any plans to test the iPad Mini?]

Finally, I have to stay true to my roots and ask a librarian question to finish off with: Do you shelve your books alphabetically, by genre or do you have an ingenious system?

For some reason, I only read espionage novels in e-book format, so most of my novels are fantasy. I used to shelve them in 2 big categories, and 2 minor categories. The big categeries were Read or Not Read, and the minor were by format. So I would group my unread tpb and hardcover books together, my underead mmpb books together, my read tpb/hc books together, and my read mmpb books together. A year or so ago, I got rid of the read/unread categorization. So now all of my books are grouped into 2. The hardcover and tradepaperback fill my 7 bookshelves, and my mmpb are stacked on the floor. I am gradually getting rid of my mass market paperbacks, as they are getting replaced by digital books. But I still buy hardcovers, which means I own one physical copy and one digital copy of each fantasy book in my collection.
Thank you, Jeff! You can visit Jeff at The Tattered Scroll or follow him on Twitter and Goodreads.

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Blogger Query – Fantastically Epic, All Night Long…

Taztic of Fantastically Epic, All night long… (or as it’s been recently renamed, Fantasy Reviews by Taztic) is a fresh new face on the blogging block. Her point of view, mostly reading and reviewing epic fantasy, is an interesting one and I was curious to see what the blogging world looked like for a relative newbie, so I asked Taz for a Blogger Query. She said yes and I had a lot of fun with her answers. I hope you do too!

Let’s start with the basics. Who is Taztic?

Taztic is a female ostrich :-) I bury my head in fantasy novels when real life gets too much! I’m a Brit who works as a software programmer in a hugely male dominated environment, and a lot of the time my 9-5 is the stuff of nightmares. Reading is my escape. As soon as my young son is in bed of an evening I’m flat out on the sofa with a cup of tea and a good book.

What got you into blogging?

Well, I’ve got to confess first off that I haven’t got properly into it yet! I *wanted* to start a blog where I could talk about my love of Fantasy and hopefully find some like-minded souls, because no one in my family, nor any of my friends are into the genre at all. And I get lonely! That was the idea, but I’ve not found my blogging feet yet, and realistically I think it’ll be the New Year before I really settle into my groove. I’ve got plenty of reviews stacking up in readiness though :-)

Why Fantastically Epic, All night long…?

With a full-time job and a three year old Son, I don’t get much time to myself. My only reading time tends to be late at night, and I’m usually lost in one Fantasy Epic or another until the wee small hours. I’ve to be up at 6 during the week, and often I’m reading so late that there’s really no point going to sleep at all. [Ed. Note: I applaud the fact you can keep your eyes open past 10.30 PM on a week night! I’m usually so knackered the book lands on my nose at ten.]

What is your unique selling point? Interviews, humour, news coverage?

Hmmm. I was hoping that my USP would be a pure focus on Epic. I’ve seen a lot of blogs featuring Urban heavily with some Epic sprinkled about, but I wanted to be ALL about the Epic..kind of, inflicting my obsession on the Blogosphere. I’m still not 100% convinced that’s a wise idea, as I’d imagine most people like a broad spread of the genre, but I’m totally Epic at heart and I do think it’s best to stick to what you know, and talk about what you love.

What are your goals for your blog?

Just one goal really, which is to make some new friends. Does that sound sad? Lol. With my young Son at home I never go out, literally, if I’m not at work I’m home looking after him, and whilst I have no complaints about this at all, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t get lonely once in awhile. So really I’d love to just to ‘meet’ some folk who enjoy the same type of books as me, and this is one way I can do it from my living room.

One of the eternal book reviewer debates is to rate or not to rate? Where do you stand on the issue?

It’s one of those things that I think is useful up to a point. If I’m having a browse on Amazon the starred reviews are a handy way for me to get a feel for opinion within just a few seconds. But past that, it’s tricky. How do you ‘rate’ a piece of art that is so very subjective? It’s impossible really. Stars out of five, or marks out of ten, don’t really work for me personally beyond that initial quick marker. I’d rather see something like a thumbs up or a thumbs down, followed by a detailed explanation. I can see a place for rating, but it’s not for me.

Negative reviews, yay or nay? And why?

Honestly? I know people often have a whale of a time with these, but I’d rather not spend my time on the negatives if I can avoid it. If I don’t like a book, nine times out of ten I won’t finish it, and I’m not going to review something I’ve not finished. I’d happily post a “DNF” with a quick reason as to why, but it would be extremely brief. I’d rather spend my time reading and talking about the titles that have completely blown me away. For me, my workday is filled with so much negativity that I like to steer clear of it after hours as much as I can.

Epic fantasy is your niche by your own admission. What is it about this particular flavour of fantasy that you love so much?

It’s all my Mum’s fault. [Ed. Note: Bravo, Taz’s Mum!] I borrowed her copy of The Hobbit when I was nine, and that was it for me. It’s a genre that filled my childhood completely and instead of growing out of it I just grew more and more into it. Back then it was the magical aspect I think, the dragons and the fatherly wizards and what have you. These days it’s priceless to me for the escapism value, I don’t want to read about the world I live in, I want something completely different at the end of the day. I want to be taken to entirely new worlds and spend hours there learning how everything functions. I love complex magic systems and intricate plots, oodles of world-building detail and endless miles of fantasy landscape to get lost in. For me there’s no other genre that’s so vast and consuming. I’m a total Epic junkie.

If someone asks you for a recommendation for a gateway novel for epic fantasy that isn’t Tolkien or Martin, which would you recommend and why?

Anything by David Gemmell. He’s a wonderful entry point for the genre as he’s hugely accessible and can turn an Epic in less than 400 pages, so people don’t feel so overwhelmed.His Rigante series has always been my favourite, and Sword in The Storm is the title I most attempt to foist onto non-Epic fans. With Gemmell it’s all about the characters, he’s such a master of his craft. I can’t ever recommend him highly enough. He’s the only author I’ve ever shed a tear over when I heard of his death. [Ed. Note: Another one of the authors I need to read, as all my friends love him.]

How important are blogs to your reading choices?

They’re becoming increasingly important as I slowly find my way around the Blogosphere. I’m starting to rummage about in people’s review indexes so I can see who has similar tastes to me and pick up some new recommendations that way. Same for Twitter, I’m still finding my feet and trying to figure out the best way to filter information, but there’s a wealth of reading choice gold out there just waiting for me!

How do you think blogs and reviewers fit in the book business?

I’m not too sure just yet if I’m honest. I think long-standing, reputable blogs must be a pretty useful, and hugely cost-effective resource for publishers. But like anything on the Internet, there’s an awful lot to wade through before you find the good stuff. I guess if publishers have the time to find the right Bloggers then it can be a marriage made in Heaven.

What is your current read and what book are you most eagerly awaiting?

I’m reading John Gwynne’s Malice at the moment, and I’m really looking forward to Sanderson’s A Memory of Light. If only because I can’t imagine a book with a chapter containing 79,000 words. One chapter! I ask you!

Is there something else you’re obsessed with other than books?

Just my Son :-) It’s hugely predictable I know, but he’s my world :-)

Finally, I have to stay true to my roots and ask a librarian question to finish off with: Do you shelve your books alphabetically, by genre or do you have an ingenious system?

I group by series, and arrange by size. Many moons ago I used to run the SFF section in a local bookshop, and I have a very odd and long standing habit of ‘fronting out’ my core titles, even though it looks a bit odd with just one copy! Funnily enough though, last night I watched my Son carefully arrange his Thomas the Tank Engine books by colour…and that got me to thinking….. [Ed. Note: Alright! You’ve a little librarian in the making there :-D]

Thanks, Taz! And I hope you’ll find your blogging rhythm soon, as I enjoy your reviews. Please check out Taz’s blog, you can also follow her on Twitter.

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Blogger Query – Angels of Retribution

One of the bloggers I’ve only started following more recently is Abhinav Jain, the man behind Angels of Retribution and a regular contributor over at The Founding Fields. I discovered Abhinav on Twitter, where he showed up in my Twitter stream more and more often. I discovered a blog with interesting mixed content run by a blogger who lives in a country halfway round the world from me! I was very interested in learning more about him, so I asked him for a Blogger Query. In addition, as part of his Advent Reviews Abhinav will be guest reviewing here tomorrow, so check back then to check out his reviewing chops! For now though, let’s check out his response to my Blogger Query:

Let’s start with the basics. Who is Abhinav Jain?

Simple kid from Delhi, India who started reading at a very early age and became, umm, infamous within the entire family for being a reader. Always been interested in science fiction and fantasy since the late ’80s and ’90s Disney movies were a huge part of my viewing growing up and I loved all the superhero cartoons on Cartoon Network like Space Ghost and what not. These days I live in Dubai and work with my dad. Reading and writing and reviewing are like my guilty pleasures/hobbies/entertainment now and I love it.

I currently run my own blog “Sons of Corax” and contribute as a prolific book reviewer for “The Founding Fields” and the occasional movie reviews for “Just Beyond Infinity”. And finally, I also serve as sort of an editor for the Bolthole Black Library fan-forum’s blog “The Bloghole”.

What got you into blogging?

Writing, really. I had a blog in the late-2000s where I posted my thoughts on a work-in-progress novel I had started writing back in high school. It was very, very short-lived and after a couple more false starts, I just gave up on all of it. The blogging discipline wasn’t there and I found out that I didn’t have as much to talk about as I had hoped.

Then in 2011 I was like, ok, let’s do it again. I was about to kick off my writing aspirations by working out some submissions for a tie-in military SFF publisher and I thought blogging about the whole deal would be nice. The blog started as a way for me to talk about the lore and general background for an army inspired by the IPs held by the publisher and has morphed dramatically into what you see now, some 19-20 months later.

Why Angels of Retribution?

Time to indulge the tabletop geek. I got into Black Library’s tie-in fiction for the Warhammer 40,000 tabletop games sometime early in high school. That interest later transformed into me playing the actual tabletop stuff, starting in December 2007, and I was an avid player at my local game store for almost a year and a half.

Space Marines were always my favourite army (and still are), so when I decided to try my hand at writing in a more… professional manner, I based my submissions for Black Library on the army I used to play. And called them the Angels of Retribution. The name fit thematically very well with the background I was writing on them and since it’s such a cool name, I went with that as my blog title.

In an earlier incarnation they were known as the Sons of Corax but I dropped the name, which is why the blog address is different from the blog title. [Ed. Note: Ah, I had wondered. Also, I think one day I might have to try some Black Library as so many people who’s opinion I respect seem to enjoy them a lot!]

What is your unique selling point? Interviews, humour, news coverage?

I don’t think I have a particular selling point really. The best piece of advice I’ve ever come across with regards to blogging is that you need to have that one selling point, that your blog needs to be focused on something. Sadly, I’ve never been able to adhere to it. From posting details of my “theoretical” tabletop army I use as inspiration for some of my writing, to talking about my writing in general, to posting flash reviews, to posting my first proper reviews, to do after-action reports on events I’ve been to, my blog is all over the place really.

I used to post some fan fiction on it up until about a year back but that creative outlet died out all of a sudden. I just could not keep writing more stuff. It was like hitting a massive brick wall that you just can’t get past. Then, for this year I decided to do both a writing challenge and a reading challenge, for which I’ve aimed to do monthly reports.

For those interested, my writing challenge is to do roughly 420,000 words in total, which include essays on various topics that get posted on the blog, the monthly reports, all my creative writing, book reviews, movie reviews and the like. As of 15th November, I hit that goal, largely thanks to my ongoing NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) project and there’s an outside change that I could actually hit half a million words all told this year.

The reading challenge was originally to do read 200 novels (and novellas). That later changed to include audio dramas as well. Then audiobooks. Then comics. Then the number changed to 250. Then to 300, and now finally, to 400. As of writing this, I’m sitting at 335/400 and I’m definitely going to hit the number.

People apparently like reading about my progress with both, so I guess that’s one of the things in my favour!

Currently the bigger selling point of my blog is a guest post series I’m running, “Names: A New Perspective”. Borne out of two of my articles from last year where I talked about coming up with character names and the like, I asked a bunch of debut authors from 2011-2012 in September if they would be interested in doing something similar in guest posts of 500-1,000 words. The majority of them agreed, and the response from readers and the authors themselves has been fantastic, more than I had even hoped for. Right now I’m working on getting the second batch of guest posts ready. The invites have been sent out and the acknowledgements are flooding in, which pleases me immensely. And this time, its not just debut authors from the last two-three years that I’m inviting, but the more established authors as well. [Ed. Note: I really love this series. If you haven’t been following it, do go check it out!]

What are your goals for your blog?
The blog has grown dramatically in the last ten months most of all. Sticking to somewhat of a regular posting schedule has helped immensely, as has keeping my content within a wide range of topics. One day I will talk about the relationship between publishers and reviewers, and another day I will talk about a specific lore event in an-going tie-in fiction series. Another day I might post teasers of my various works-in-progress, such as my current one for NaNoWriMo.

The goal for the blog is just to provide interesting content for people. Given all the general blogging I do month-to-month, my personal blog used to be only a small part of it and that’s really all I would like to change. Part of that is that reading review blogs has been quite inspirational. “A Fantastic Librarian”, “Bookworm Blues”, “Staffer’s Book Reviews”, “Bastard Books”, “Civilian Reader”, “Paperless Reading”, “SF Signal”, “The Functional Nerds”, “Fantasy Faction” and several others have been a huge part of that experience. [Ed. Note: Why thank you, that is some august company you’ve included me in.]

I look at all these blogs, and I want to do something similar to what all these blogs do. I have, in my 19-20 months of blogging, reached a point where there are people out there who are very much interested in me opining on a variety of topics. Whether these people agree to disagree with me, my opinions matter to them.

Honestly speaking, I think that’s all a blogger can really ask for. And I just want to maintain that interest and respect. I have received incredible support from authors and reviewers alike, so I want to do my small part in giving back to the entire community.

One of the eternal book reviewer debates is to rate or not to rate? Where do you stand on the issue?

I firmly believe that a review should be rated. A lot of people find ratings to be a poor representation of their reviews, that somehow it infringes upon the integrity of the review. I can respect that, but I firmly disagree. Thing is that we live in a very fast-paced world that is interconnected to the max. At any given time I can be interacting with a person from anywhere in the world, whether in the US West Coast, South Africa, Norway, Philippines, Japan, etc, all from the comfort of my own chair, listening to anime music or Bollywood tunes. Our speed of consumption is, frankly, out of control and struggling to meet with the demands of this fast-paced world.

Using “shorthand” is inevitable if expect to keep up. Review ratings are similarly inevitable since they are part of that “shorthand” culture. So while we, as reviewers, may not feel comfortable at all in reducing our thoughts and opinions to mere ratings, we are still fighting an uphill battle, and are turning away a portion of readership by not giving them that facility.

Now, ratings are a horrible mess in general, I will agree on that. For me, a 5* rating just cannot rightly express where I stand on a book (or any other format), which is why I find Goodreads ratings to be so problematic. Personally, any book I rate below a 7 I find to be not worth it, so a 6.5 would mean that readers really should stay away. But that doesn’t map so well with Goodreads. Or with Amazon. Or any other place using a 5* system. To me, a 10* makes sense, since it allows room for more nuance, which is to be reflected within the body of the review. Even then, something is missing, which I cannot really articulate.

Most readers will skip to your ratings and disregard your review since all they want is a quickie. The trick I think is to establish yourself as someone whose reviews matter, in terms of content presentation. And you have to put your faith that what you have written is worth it as well.

Negative reviews, yay or nay? And why?

That would be a yay for me. Simple reason being that just doing positive reviews all the time is such a bore! When I write a review, it is to present my opinion on the publication at hand. I rarely think of how that review serves the blog-reader. I’m just interested in presenting my own experience, in the vain hope that people out there will somehow react to that experience. All reviewers are readers, and we read books that are good, books that are bad, and books that fall somewhere in between. So why should we present only our positive thoughts? Some reviewers will argue for negative reviews from the perspective that not doing those reviews is a disservice to the reader. My take is that not doing that is doing yourself a disservice, and that it prevents you from being honest, in that regard.

All that said, I’ve had a very bad experience with a negative review, for an audio drama by an author who is very highly regarded by the fandom. The sheer hostility I fielded for that review, not to mention the author fan-wanking that I saw, was just staggering. It showed me that some people just cannot take a criticism for what they consider to be, well, holy and perfect and untouchable. In the end, all it did was reinforce my drive to do negative reviews, although I don’t do much of those since I’m generally an easy sell on a book and rarely rip into anything with a vengeance. Only when an author seriously misrepresents a culture, for instance, will I get worked up, as was the case with a recent debut that whitewashed an entire culture into a parody that was little more than a “westernisation” of the source.

It’s all a weird thing really, and I certainly don’t consider myself to be normal by any means.

You live in Dubai. Is there a lively SFF scene there? Is there much SFF written in or translated into Arabic?

You know, you totally have me there. I really have zero experience in this area. Part of it is that when I came to live in Dubai with my parents, a bookshop here was the term people used for a place where you get school/college textbooks, office supplies, school supplies, and not fiction. A true bookshop was super rare, partly because any such were found only in the most remote locations of the city. My school-friends, most of them, read “Western” fiction from what I remember anyway. So I never had exposure to Arabic fiction, even peripherally. I also don’t speak Arabic, which is another stumbling block.

I can tell you however that a fair amount of “Western” fiction is translated into Arabic. A jaunt into any of the newer bookstores, such as Borders and Kinokuniya, proves that. Again, since I don’t speak Arabic, I almost never venture into those sections. [Ed. Note: Abhinav linked me to this very interesting interview (in English) with an Arabic SF writer, who, to break all preconceptions we might have about the region, is female!]

A lively SFF scene though, depends on what you mean. People here are crazy about “western” fiction. Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Game of Thrones, Twilight, Avengers, Batman, The Hunger Games, Expendables, Forgotten Realms, you name it. We had the first ever Middle East Film and Comic-con in April this year and the turnout for that was fantastic, in part because we actually had folks like John-Rhys Davies (The Lord of The Rings), Jason Momoa (Stargate: Atlantis , Conan, Game of Thrones), Mark Sheppard and Luciana Carro (Battlestar Galactica, Supernatural), Laurie Holden (Walking Dead), and Alodia Gosiengfao (world-renowned cosplay artist) as guests. That was a huge star power boost since they also joined various panels! We had Avengers-themed cars on display. Lots of cosplay, and so on. The event has been given the go ahead for a second year and I’m all pumped up for it. I can finally get my SFF fix locally and don’t need to spend $3,000 anymore! Not that I wouldn’t mind doing that, you see.

We also had the one-and-only Alastair Reynolds himself as a guest for a book festival in early March, although I was travelling at the time and couldn’t meet him.

In the past year or two there has been a large increase in books with settings inspired by the Middle East and by A Thousand and One Nights. Do they get it right, in your opinion? Do you enjoy these novels or do they bother you?

I’ve read little of that subset, and what I have, failed to work for me. There’s this one debut fantasy novel that came out last year that was said to be very Persian-themed, but reading through, I never quite got that feeling. I am no expert at all on the topic of course, but still, I believe the author never committed fully to that idea, that he stopped midway. A shame really since I was so very much looking forward to it, based on blogger-buzz.

Now, one thing you have to keep in mind about a place like Dubai is that something like 80-85% of the population, if not more, is made up of expatriates, like myself. We live here, we work here, we have families here, but in the end all we are all just guests. In an environment like Dubai’s melting pot of cultures and ideologies, much more of a “chaotic mess” than say Los Angeles, you really don’t get a cohesive cultural feel that says “this is uniquely middle eastern”. And since Dubai is generally very pro-west, that influence is very, very strong here in most things.

If I lived in another Middle-Eastern country, I could perhaps answer that question more fully.

How important are blogs to your reading choices?

They are a huge part of my online experience. I am, however, a lurker most of the time. I read the reviews, the articles, the interviews, etc, but I rarely participate. That’s because I feel the blogger has written something that I fully agree with and as a response I can’t add anything useful other than an “I agree”. Simple as that. [Ed. Note: This is so my problem as well.]

Several of my favourite reads of the year have been blogger recommendations. All the more important since I tested waters this year with genres outside of the typical and mainstream SFF.

If you are a book blogger, then you most definitely need to spend time going through a variety of other blogs in that blog-space. They will take you down roads you never imagined and in the end you will grow on a personal level since you are exposed to that very variety in the first place. If you are insular and close-minded about it, your blog career will most likely be a very solitary one. Visitors alone won’t give you that same fulfilment as other bloggers will.

How do you think blogs and reviewers fit in the book business?

Our responsibility as bloggers/reviewers is to spread the word. That’s really the end all and be all of it. Whether that word is good or bad is incredibly subjective, and you can’t take that into consideration really. While most publishers send out books to us because they want us to provide with positive endorsements, I don’t think it is as clear-cut as that. Let’s be fair. We all like different things. Having two people with the same likes and dislikes is next to impossible. So it is with books. What works for you does not necessarily work for me, and vice versa.

The way I look at it, while a clear positive endorsement is the meta goal, publishers work with us because they want a fair assessment of the products they are putting out, day in, day out. You would be hard-pressed to find something out there that has a truly universal appeal. So what the publishers really want is that we generate enough of an interest in the product. That’s their basic, grass-roots level goal. If there is interest, there is demand. If there is demand, there is sale. After that, it just becomes a matter of how far that interest spreads, the further the better.

What is your current read and what book are you most eagerly awaiting?

My current read is an anthology called The Other Half of The Sky. It is published by Candlemark & Gleam, edited by Athena Andreadis and Kay Holt. This is an anthology of short stories by various authors, featuring female protagonists in situations where you would typically find male leads. Such as a Starship captain, or a detective, or such. It’s a really interesting anthology, with a much broader range of styles and content than I had expected. Looking to finishing it in the next few days.

Most eagerly anticipated, that would be Gav Thorpe’s Ravenwing. This is a Black Library novel for the Warhammer 40,000 setting and features one of the most secretive Space Marine chapters, the Dark Angels, as they hunt down some ancient enemies who are part of the chapter’s greatest personal shame. Very, very much looking forward to this.

Is there something else you’re obsessed with other than books?

Do comics count? [Ed. Note: Yes!] I rediscovered the joy of the format in April/May with the two volumes of Kill Shakespeare, written by Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery, published by IDW. I’ve been on an incredible roll since!

Other than that, it would have to be video games, although my interest has largely mellowed out in the last couple years since I’ve been spending a large amount of my free time on my writing and reading and reviewing. Currently playing Mass Effect 2 and enjoying it.

Finally, I have to stay true to my roots and ask a librarian question to finish off with: Do you shelve your books alphabetically, by genre or do you have an ingenious system?

No method to my madness, I’m afraid. Books are put together largely by which series they are a part of, and which publisher. Very meta.
Thank you, Abhinav! You can find Abhinav’s reviews at Angels of Retribution and The Founding Fields. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads. Don’t forget to check back for his guest post tomorrow!

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Blogger Query – Grasping for the Wind

John Ottinger III is the man behind Grasping for the Wind, the home of good reviews, Geek Media Round Ups and the weekly #sffwrtcht’s. John’s style of reviewing is eloquent and analytical and one that closely aligns with how I like to review—though whether I achieve it, is debatable. John is also closely linked to the National Buy A Book Day Foundation, a charitable institution which we can all support whole-heartedly I think. So I decided to ask him for a Blogger Query and here we are. Let’s have a look at his answers!

Let’s start with the basics. Who is John Ottinger III?

Little old me? Who am I? Nothing spectacular. I’m a 32-year-old father of a newborn who currently owns and operates his own classical education center and is undergoing the unique torture that is a master’s degree in literature. I’ve been a private school elementary teacher, a financial underwriter of nonprofits, a part-time janitor, surveyor, and Chick-Fil-A employee. All of which makes me uniquely un-qualified to write about books.

What got you into blogging?

A friend. I believe the conversation went something like this:

(A comfortable couch in a nondescript suburban home.)

Friend: Hey, John, you are a loudmouth and pretty opinionated. Have you ever thought of starting a blog?

Me: What’s a blog? (This was before texting or I would have said “WTF?”)

Friend: It’s a website thingy where you write your thoughts and post them to the internet. I’m running a host for free blogs, I can hook you up.

Me: Sure, why not?

And a legend was born…

Why Grasping for the Wind?

As a name or favorite pastime? Seriously, though, the title comes from Ecclesiastes, where Solomon states that “all is vanity and grasping for the wind” on more than one occasion. It has always been a favorite saying of mine so I thought I’d use it as a blog title. Then, as the blog matured, it made sense. I’ve gone through year after year of many of the same literary arguments being hashed and re-hashed, perhaps differentiated by new tech, but philosophically the same. That’s not to say those arguments aren’t (A) fun and (B) worth having – though they do sometimes feel like a lot of grasping for the ineffable. Do these literary things matter? Really? To me, yes. To a starving kid in Africa? No. So I hope the title helps me remember that while literature and all its attendants are fun, interesting and even important at times, in the scope of eternity, they lack touchable substance.

What is your unique selling point? Interviews, humour, news coverage?

Since I have taken on several contributors, I can now say that interviews, reviews, and news coverage make up the bulk of the material. I handle reviews, Bryan Thomas Schmidt is on interviews, and Pipedreamergrey handles news coverage. Between the three of us, the band rolls on strong – though more players are always welcome.

I think too, the fact that the blog has stayed focused on books has kept us smaller in terms of rankings and readership, but has also let us appeal better to likeminded individuals – those who might not even own a TV, or who at least prefer the written word over the hurly burly of television and movies.

What are your goals for your blog?

Goals? I have to have goals? Truth is, I don’t really. I want to write about what I want to write about. If people want to read what I write, awesome! If not, that’s cool. I just want to share what I love, and so do my contributors. [Ed. Note: That’s a great goal!]

One of the eternal book reviewer debates is to rate or not to rate? Where do you stand on the issue?

I don’t rate. Having been around since 2004, I have seen the same dogs eat this same vomit over and over again. Ratings are great if your goal is to get quoted on the back of books – publishers love that stuff. If you are writing for others, ratings might be useful, if your readers can get a grasp on your system and you are consistent over time in your blogging career. I feel that is impossible to do if you do it for any length of time. Rating, to me, dampens the overall conversation about books that I try to foster. A rating puts a numerical value on the quality of a reading and to me, numbers just don’t speak (ask the fifth graders I used to each – I couldn’t add to save my life – and then I went to work in finance. HAH!). Words tell me so much more than any number can. Those are the readers my reviews speak to. So to me, ratings dull the perception of the nuances of a book. They undermine the ability of a word-only review to educate the potential reader as to the multiplicity of the good and bad elements that are inherent in every book.

Negative reviews, yay or nay? And why?

I’ve done a few in the past. I think of most of my reviews as part positive, part negative. I like to point out what I liked and don’t like about a work. Therefore, all of my reviews are negative in that sense. However, the only time I will post a massively one-sided negative review is when an author has massively disappointed me or the hype I bothered to read led me astray. This does not happen often, and usually only with established authors that are either overhyped or have begun to believe their own press and by extension stopped working hard on writing and instead work harder on churning out something to publish to make some more money. They have name recognition, so success is in the bag and publishers will lap up anything spit out of their pens with no regard for quality or completeness. (I’ve got a review of Legion by Brandon Sanderson coming out soon which falls into this camp.) [Ed. Note: This is the review John mentions.]

Sorry for the length but you hit one of my soapboxes. At any rate, negative reviews occur in my writing, but more by chance than design. As I write the review, my thoughts coalesce, and the review – intended to be both positive and negative – may find itself skewed one way or another. More than once someone has said I wrote a negative review when I thought what I had written was positive. So one person’s positive is another’s negative. Which goes back to ratings. Ratings, at least would make this clear. But I don’t want to be so clear. Sometimes, after re-reading a review someone else thought was negative, I realized I really did not like the book, though I thought I had. Ratings would have left no room for discussion  – the book club conversation – on the merits or detractions of a narrative.

How important are blogs to your reading choices?

NOT. AT. ALL. I know that is ironic, given my hobby, but my perceptions are easily skewed by others when it comes to reading. I’ve read too many bad books as a result. I let the publishers and authors promote, and I pick from what they have to say rather than peers. Though I will admit to being an avid fan of several professional book blogs – those usually attached to media empires and news organizations. Oh, and Hugo Winner SF Signal, who I very rarely contribute to. Them, I’ll listen to.

This is not to disparage my colleagues. Many book bloggers are online acquaintances, even – dare I say it? – friends of mine. What they do is important to many and they ought to keep on doing it, I just personally find it all rather distracting.

How do you think blogs and reviewers fit in the book business?

Very well. We are needed. Ebook publishing has opened to door to so much that someone needs to provide filters. Even when book blogs all review the same book we are providing this service. Any books so widely covered lets readers know that the book was worth several looks by multiple personalities. To me, that says, “Hey, there is something to what the publisher is saying about this book!” And when a blogger/reviewer touches on a book that is getting little traction or fits into some small subcategory, s/he asks their readers to take a second look. And of course, on a higher plane, reviewers are adding to the conversation about a particular work. I believe the conversation is paramount. We write about books because we love books, and we want others to love books, and want to take to other people who love books, who then talk back. It’s a massive circle, but it is beautiful in its perfection.

September 7th of this year was the second annual National Buy a Book Day. Where did this celebration of everything book originate and how did you get involved?

Three places can explain all this to you.

1. The original post by Phil Athans that started it all

2. How I got involved

3. And the organizational website

I know your reviews, interviews and articles have appeared in several distinguished (online and print) publications. Are you also a fiction writer? If so, where’s your focus? Long-form, short-form? SF or Fantasy?

I do not write fiction. I have no talent for it. I’m an analytical mind (think: Lit Prof) rather than a creator. I wish I could be, I yearn for it on occasion, but the truth is that Tolkien’s subcreation is out of my reach at the moment. Given time, maybe I’ll try, but for now, I’m content.

What is your current read and what book are you most eagerly awaiting?

Currently, I am reading Erin M. Evans BRIMSTONE ANGELS: LESSER EVILS, the sequel to her Forgotten Realms novel BRIMSTONE ANGELS. I’m reading it because (A) my review is blurbed on the inside cover and (B) Erin M. Evans’ is a sword and sorcery writer par excellence.

I’m looking forward to reading A MEMORY OF LIGHT, Terry Pratchett’s DODGER, and the Forgotten Realms books slated for the end of the year. Otherwise, I’m open, and let whimsy take me to my next read.

Is there something else you’re obsessed with other than books?

Nope. Why would I? I kid you, of course. I’m obsessed with my wife, my 3-month-old son, classical education, and my church. Who has time for more? [Ed. Note: Well, I think that’s enough to being going on with! Plus Gawain (how awesome is that name!) is adorable. Proof!]

Finally, I have to stay true to my roots and ask a librarian question to finish off with: Do you shelve your books alphabetically, by genre or do you have an ingenious system?

Oh, goodness. That’s a story and a half. I’ll keep it short and just say that I once used to do it alphabetically, then I switched to shelving by quality of bookshelf (long-term keepers in the glass fronted case I built myself), then I got married and our thousands of books were shelved by subject. Most still are, but beyond that, there is no real schema. Now it is mostly by space and room consideration. Those we want people to know we read in the public areas, those we don’t in the bedrooms and home office – generally organized by subject. (The office also includes my several hundred-copy TBR pile.) It works for us, and it means I get to see my copies of GRRM, Pratchett, Eddings, Jordan, Beagle, and Jacques while sitting on my couch enjoying my current account of faraway peoples and places.
Thank you, John! Again, you can find John on Grasping for the Wind and on Twitter. You can also like Grasping for the Wind on Facebook.
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Blogger Query – Only The Best SciFi

A regular commenter and someone I’ve been following for a while, Bryce has not one, but two blogs he contributes to, as well as recently pass the bar and being a dad to three really young kids. Naturally I wanted to know his secret, so I asked him for a Blogger Query. This is the result:

Who is Bryce?

Bryce (oh no, how do I get out of third person?) is a recent law school graduate, married for just over 4 years with 3 children. Right now, I’m just coping with raising two newborns and a two year old. I knew twins would be hard, but my knowledge was more than wanting in that regard. It’s lots of work, but completely worth it. These kids are so much fun.

I hope to be able to practice law in a civil firm that practices multiple types of law, to be able to see what I like, but I’m also one of those rare breeds who actually enjoys family law. It’s one of those areas, especially representing children, where you can really make a difference in people’s lives.

What got you into blogging?

I’ve loved reading my whole life and always gravitated toward science fiction and fantasy. That love of reading brought me to George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones, which in turn brought me to his website to see when the next book would come out, which then got me checking out forums (especially sffworld.com). [Ed. Note: What is it with GRRM and leading people to discover the online book community? He’s like the gateway drug or something.]

From there, I started feeling like an expert in all things SFF. I would go into book stores and employees would ask me if I heard about certain books or events that were happening (such as HBO adapting Game of Thrones) and 9 times out of 10, I knew more than them. The other time I knew just as much as them. :-)

It was only a logical conclusion to start blogging and sharing my knowledge. Not to mention, I thought if schmucks like me can do it, why not?

Why Only The Best SciFi?

This may be better answered in the next question, so I’ll cop out for now.

In addition to Only The Best SciFi you also run The Stamp (of Approval). Why two blogs?

I always wondered what people thought of this and I think Brandon Sanderson’s new novella, Legion, does a good job describing it…

Okay, I’m not schizophrenic, at least I think not, but here’s the story. I started The Stamp (of Approval) on my own around 2009. I was an even bigger commenter back then and got around to quite a few blogs. Only the Best was one of those.

I not only won a giveaway they were hosting, but I was even crazy enough to email the person running the blog, Alec Coquin. Alec was thinking about expanding the blog at the time to three bloggers and conscripted me to join in with a post or two a week.

EdiFanoB was the other blogger (of Edi’s Book Lighthouse). To make a long story short, Edi decided to go out on his own, Alec started law school himself, and I have been the main blogger for the last year or two.

Alec still posts every now and then (to keep people on their toes) and Only the Best is still his blog. I kept The Stamp because it’s a place where I can put stuff that doesn’t really belong on the shared blog or that’s more personal to me. It’s been heavily neglected, however.

What is your unique selling point? Interviews, humour, news coverage?

Let’s see… all of the above. As in, I’m terrible at all of the above.

I interview every now and then, I post news that’s interesting to me, but my main focus is on reviews. There’s been a certain lack of time in my life, especially lately with the twins, where my main focus has been reviews. [Ed. Note: Seriously Bryce, you’re such a slacker! I had a hard time keeping up with just one infant, nevermind two ;-)] I try to make them entertaining and fun, but I just don’t have the time anymore to do a great job like so many blogs out there.

What are your goals for your blog?

I don’t have any huge goals with the blog, it’s mainly my outlet for my own personal enjoyment and to stay connected with the community. I love talking about science fiction and fantasy and reading in general and a blog is a great way to be a part of the discussion.

At the same time, it’s been an amazing way to geek out and be a fan. I’ve meet so many authors that I even consider friends and talked to authors that I never would have had the chance to talk to, it’s tons of fun. One of the coolest was when I received an email from China Miéville out of nowhere. [Ed. Note: That definitely earns you bragging rights, that does.]

One of the eternal book reviewer debates is to rate or not to rate? Where do you stand on the issue?

I’m a very big proponent of ratings. I don’t think they stand-alone very well, but I think they’re a great way to get a feeling for a book from a reviewer you trust. In addition, sometimes I just don’t have anything really bad to say about a book, but a rating can keep that review in check because I can still like a book at 3 out of 5 stars.

Negative reviews, yay or nay? And why?

Definite yay. First of all, they tend to be the most entertaining. That’s a lot of the reason why I read blogs, for entertainment! Also, they tend to be much more informative about a book. The reviewer obviously has some good reasons for disliking the book, and they will point you to those parts, and maybe that’s something I would actually enjoy.

Lastly, they have a tendency to get people reading the book anyway. Once a negative review goes up, everyone wants to see if they think the same way.

I think this question has a lot to do with who the blogger’s audience is. If it’s authors and publishers, then negative reviews may be out of the question. But, if it’s readers, then as a reader, I prefer to hear what books to avoid. [Ed. Note: I think that as long as a negative review isn’t just a bald ‘It’s crud, don’t read it.’ but a well-reasoned exposition as to why a reviewer didn’t get along with a book, most authors and publishers aren’t principally opposed to them.]

Wait, but why are my reviews are mostly positive? Nice try, that wasn’t part of the question. There goes that schizophrenia again.

How important are blogs to your reading choices?

Well, not quite as important as Amazon recommendations…wait, no, that’s not right.

Blogs are hugely important to me. Maybe even HUGELY IMPORTANT. Blogs (and Goodreads I should say as well) essentially make up my reading list. I get some ARCs that I can’t resist and I still have huge lists of books I’ve picked up from forum recommendations, but on the whole blogs are where I find out if books are even worth picking up.

How do you think blogs and reviewers fit in the book business?

I think it’s something that’s quickly becoming important, but still not quite there yet. The select (or should I say elite) group of people who use blogs are probably those who buy the most books. But there’s really not that many of them when you think of it.

Being online, I feel like everyone in the world is a consistent reader, but it only feels like that because they’re the people I find myself amongst. It’s amazing how many people don’t use the internet or even some type of recommendation system to find books. They just grab whatever’s convenient.

I just barely got my wife to sign up for Goodreads and she’s been able to see how much better life can be when you are able to search for books you might like.

I see blogs and reviewers becoming more and more important as the world gets on the internet more, but “book readers,” or “bibliophiles” just seem to be stuck in the past. And maybe the Amazon review, terrible as it may be, is just too convenient to expand one’s horizons. [Ed. Note: Hopefully that will change now all the sock-puppetry has been revealed.] I could go on, as you can see, but I’ll leave it at that.

You recently became a dad to two beautiful baby girls. Do you plan on reading them all your (age-appropriate) genre favourites? If so, which ones?

This is something that I can’t wait for, more than I can’t wait for anything, I can’t wait to read my favorites to my children. I already have a shelf where I’m setting aside age-appropriate books and I’m dying to get to it.

I mentioned before that I have a 2-year-old son, Dylan, and already attempted to read him The Phantom Tollbooth. It has lots of pictures, so I figured it might work, but he’s still at the age where all his books take about 3 seconds per page and he’s off to something new. [Ed. Note: Oh, soooo familiar. I swear at this age they have the attention span of a goldfish.]

Some others include A Wrinkle in Time, The Neverending Story, The Blue Sword, A Wizard of Earthsea, The Hobbit (of course), and more. I already started telling Dylan the story of The Hobbit and he’s now afraid of dragons in his closet….whoops. :-) [Ed. Note: Great choices. *quickly adds them to the to-read-to-Emma-list*]

What is your current read and what book are you most eagerly awaiting?

I’m currently reading Janny Wurts’ To Ride Hell’s Chasm. Great stand-alone book in a market that’s hard to find stand-alones.

I’m eagerly awaiting Peter V. Brett’s The Daylight War. I will literally stop everything to read that. What a great series.

The other one I’ll drop everything for is John Marco’s The Forever Knight. It’s had a rough road to publishing, with the manuscript sitting with the editor for years (yes, with an “s”), but it’s finally coming out early next year.

Is there something else you’re obsessed with other than books?

I used to be really obsessed with swimming. I swam constantly, even raced an Olympian or two, but now I’m terribly out of shape. I’m a big fan of waterskiing and really anything in the water.

Finally, I have to stay true to my roots and ask a librarian question to finish off with: Do you shelve your books alphabetically, by genre or do you have an ingenious system?

I like to think of mine as ingenious. What I do is organize by “read” and “to-read.” I only have so much shelf space, so the “read” ones go in the back or on less visible shelves while the “to-read” books go in the front or on the top where I can see them best. Usually they’re arranged by what I’d like to read soon. [Ed. Note: That is ingenious.]
As you can imagine, this system tends to split up series, but I’m okay with that. Any chance to rearrange my bookshelves is fine by me, it’s like being a kid again playing with all your old toys.
Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, Bryce! You can find Bryce at both Only The Best SciFi and The Stamp (of Approval) or follow him on Twitter or Goodreads.

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Blogger Query – A Fantasy Reader

Phil, the blogger behind A Fantasy Reader, is another of those bloggers I stumbled on way back when. His main focus is Epic Fantasy, but he covers other subjects as well. My favourite type of post of his are the polls he does. He comes up with a poll and does a sort of round up article when they wrap up, that I always find very interesting. Plenty of fodder for a Blogger Query in my opinion, so I asked him and Phil said yes. Thus, today I get to share his answers with you lot. I hope you enjoy them.

Let’s start with the basics. Who is Philippe Sylvain?

A 33 years old geek who sort of evolved into a software architect taking some free time to write a Fantasy reading blog. I have a son who is slowly showing some sign of geekiness but I can’t be blamed for that! Imagine the library of Fantasy books he has access to!

I live in Canada, more exactly in Quebec, and as most of my fellow Quebecers, my native language is French. Sadly, though, I don’t like translations much and there’s only so much Epic Fantasy written in French (good ones at least). I’m desperately trying to evade from the real 20th century reality through Fantasy reading, gaming and watching movies, provided that it’s in the past or future and swords are involved! I’m also trying to write a novel but I have always been kind of lazy about it even if I accumulated lots of ideas over the years… can someone kick my ass or lend me some free time?

What got you into blogging?

After roaming the web in hunt of interesting Fantasy to read and following several blogs over the years, I developed a compulsion to share my opinion with others, whether they wanted it or not! Seriously, I wanted to write about my reading experience in a more exhaustive way than writing comments on the reviews of other bloggers and I wanted to share interesting tidbits and news about Fantasy, mostly Epic, with everyone willing to listen.

Back in 2009, the relation between the bloggers and their followers fascinated me. I wanted to share this kind of relationship even if I knew I wouldn’t gather the traffic of my favourite blogs at the time, A Dribble of Ink, Speculative Horizons, Dark Wolf’s Fantasy reviews, The Wertzone or Mad Hatter’s Bookshelf & Book Review. Things have changed since then and I found out that traffic isn’t the most important element of blogging, but at least, I have developed this connection and found it gratifying.

Moreover, it was a challenge I issued to myself. As I mentioned, my native language is French. Therefore, writing a blog in English allowed me to practice my skills.

Why A Fantasy Reader?

Simply put, it’s what I consider myself to be as a literature addict, an important element defining me. When I started the blog, I had no inkling as to the quantity of visitors I would bewitch and the name of the blog wasn’t really important. Aside from some titles with dragon in it, the only other name I thought about was Mightier than the Sword, part of the famous quote but the name was already taken by Aidan from A Dribble of Ink for a page about his projects. By now, I think that the name is too generic (maybe a small missed opportunity at coolness and it would look weird if I’m ever blurbed in a book) but I’m used to it and associated with it so it won’t change.

What is your unique selling point? Interviews, humour, news coverage?

I think that the specification of the blog for Epic Fantasy could be labelled as unique. However, it can also be a double-edged sword since someone looking for the whole Fantasy spectrum could be disappointed even if I cover larger than the sub-genre from time to time. Then, what ends up as my final and most important selling point is probably my reviews and the personality I put into it and into the subjects and polls I explore, that’s the heart and soul of my blog.

What are your goals for your blog?

To keep blogging as long as possible! I hope I will always have enough time to share with everyone who is passionate about Fantasy literature, especially Epic Fantasy. I’m also thinking about a return to interviewing, even if I know that I have only one posted so far, mostly because the two ones I sent afterward where turned down for lack of time from the authors… Finally, I have an idea for the blog I’m developing and you should hear about it soon enough.

Another goal would be to have a greater presence on the social networks (with everything related to the blog) but I lack time to do so.

One of the eternal book reviewer debates is to rate or not to rate? Where do you stand on the issue?

I’m in an eternal state of questioning about the subject and I blogged about it. Every time I rate a book I review I reconsider the reasons behind it but I still prefer to score them. Sometimes, I feel like a rating is not a good representation of what I’m trying to convey with a review I wrote. I fear that some visitors will only scroll down to the score and miss every nuances that I bring in the review. That’s one of the reasons why I broke my ratings into five specific scores and an overall score.

When you look at the ratings on websites like Goodreads, I think that the number of ratings eventually gives it some credit. However, I will always stay dubious in front a rating without a review to back it up.

Then, there’s also the rating system involved. I like stars more than a ten points system (mostly because of the half points) but I asked my readers about it and they said they preferred the actual system. In the end, is it important if books get an 8.7 or 8.5? It’s a way of showing that you preferred one of them but the value of it stop there and it becomes problematic when you compare the ratings between books. With stars though, it’s harder to differentiate the better book, I see it more as an expression of a feeling, like highly recommended or stay away from it.

Negative reviews, yay or nay? And why?

Absolutely, they are important and have a purpose that can’t be denied. However, the justification behind it is paramount. Bashing an author or his work is out of the question but the readers have to know it if you didn’t like something, that’s one of the reason why they follow you, provided that the reviewer is able to articulate clearly what he found to be negative about the book. Even if a review is negative, it could be an interesting read for someone else by judging the criteria that made the reviewer dislike the book.

Two years ago, there was an extensive debate about it after a negative review by The Speculative Scotsman for The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman. The power of a negative review was analyzed and the principal aspect that was highlighted was that someone who hears about a negative review could be influenced by it without taking into account the opinion of the critic in comparison with it. I don’t believe that it’s actually the case with many readers. Usually, we share several interests with the reviewers we follow and we come to know their taste. Then, it’s easier to make a well-considered decision based on the review, negative or not.

In my case, I can’t say that it happened very often to write one and I think that it’s a sign that I was able to choose the books I wanted to read without stumbling upon one deserving a negative review. I tend to finish every novel I pick up (with one small exception in the last years) and therefore if I read a book in the future that I really don’t like and find the need to share, a negative review it will be.

One of the regular features of your blog, is the polls you run which I always enjoy. How do you come up with those? Are they just questions that come up, which you save or do you sit down and think of one when it’s time for the next poll?

It’s a mixture of both. Most of the time the questions come to me when I’m reading some comments on a blog or looking into the talk of the town in the Fantasy blogosphere and I always hold a list of future polls I want to make. There are so many subjects to explore! On the other hand, sometimes I have to dig deeper to find an interesting idea. In these cases, one hour in the spa with my girlfriend and a good bottle of wine always ends up bearing fruit. [Ed. Note: That sounds like an interesting approach ;-)]

Originally, I wanted to get to the bottom of the elements characterizing the typical reader of Fantasy. However, as I always mention when I write a retrospective of a poll concerning this kind of subject, it is far from scientific, mostly so when taking into account the number of participants!

By your own admission, you’re a serial series starter. Is there one series, beyond the obvious ones such as Martin and Jordan, that is taking way too long to be wrapped up to your liking?

If indeed I am a serial series starter, which is the case, we seem to be partners in crime! You’ve got quite an impressive list! [Ed. Note: Guilty as charged! I do seem to start a lot of series.]

Aside from the ones you mentioned, I don’t think there really is a series I’m reading right now that is taking too long to end or is becoming too diluted, it’s more a question of eagerness for me. In fact, since there are precisely so many series to follow, I rarely feel impatient toward an author because a series would take time before finishing. However, the danger of spreading the storyline in too many directions like Jordan did is always present in big series and authors like Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss and Brent Weeks will have to be careful not to fall into the trap with their current work.

How important are blogs to your reading choices?

Blogs have a considerable importance for my reading choices, mostly to discover new books that flew under my radar. When you find a blogger with similar taste, it becomes a great source of potential books to pick up. I still spend a lot of time reading reviews from other bloggers but the only direct influence it has in my choices is probably my reading pile order. As you mentioned, I’m a serial series starter but I will often base my choice from the new releases from the series that I have already started. Moreover, since I receive so many books from the publishers, more often than not, my choice will be from my gut feeling after reading a synopsis.

How do you think blogs and reviewers fit in the book business?

I think that the relationship between bloggers and the business is mostly a healthy one. The blogs have an important role and the publishing industry realize it. We do indeed receive ARCs and free books but for the most part, the majority of us are staying impartial. Word-of-mouth, be it in a positive or negative manner, has always been one of the best form of promotion for the book business and blogs are one of the best word-of-mouth evolution on the web. The blogs are often creating the buzz the publishers are looking for. Will it remain so, I can’t tell but even if there seems to be no end to the new blogs popping up, the book business can’t miss that opportunity.

What is your current read and what book are you most eagerly awaiting?

I’m currently reading Red Country by Joe Abercrombie, which is probably the book I was most eager for in 2012 and listening to The Blinding Knife by Brent Weeks. So far, both are pretty amazing.

Even if it may not be the best book of the year, I’m certainly eager about A Memory of Light to finally find out how Rand will save the world. Aside from this, I’d say that Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch and the second Stormlight Archives novel by Brandon Sanderson are at the top of the list. In addition, aside from George R.R. Martin and Joe Abercrombie, one of my favourite authors is Steven Erikson. He will probably come up next year with the second novel for the Kharkanas trilogy but what I’m most eager for from him is his future Karsa trilogy, which seems too far away!

Is there something else you’re obsessed with other than books?

Gaming! I have been playing video games for much longer than I have been reading. I admit that I easily get lost for hours when I’m playing a video game, mostly so when it’s an immersive RPG and I often miss hours of sleep to play longer. It’s something that sadly, I’m unable to do when reading since I have a bad tendency to fall asleep with my book in hands if I’m reading late at night. With my son now of an age to play, I think that good playing times are ahead of me! [Ed. Note: That sounds like fun.]

However, since I don’t have enough time to write everything I would want to write on my blog, I’m only writing some rare digressions about gaming on A Fantasy Reader.

Finally, I have to stay true to my roots and ask a librarian question to finish off with: Do you shelve your books alphabetically, by genre or do you have an ingenious system?

I believe that most of the librarians in the world would be extremely disappointed to see the way I shelve my books. First of all, it’s not by genre since a significative number of my books are Epic Fantasy. Therefore, I haven’t come up with anything clever. I would say that it’s essentially classified by authors that I like and by the bookbinding type of the books. The authors whom I love best are entitled to the upper shelves and the hardcovers and paperback are grouped together whereas the mass-market paperback form piles on the shelves. In some cases, as for the last books of Joe Abercrombie, I tend to show the most beautiful covers by putting them up front.
Merci beaucoup, Phil! You can find Phil at A Fantasy Reader or follow him on Twitter.

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Blogger Query – Nethspace

Today it’s my pleasure to bring you a Blogger Query with another of the SFF blogosphere’s longtime contributors, the esteemed Neth, from Nethspace. Neth is one of those bloggers that anyone who has spent some time following SFF book bloggers will have heard of at least once. He was one of the earliest book bloggers I encountered on discovering the blogosphere and I’ve been following his reviews ever since. So for me it was logical to ask him for a Blogger Query and he was kind enough to agree. You can find his answers below.

Let’s start with the basics. Who is Ken?

Ken is just a guy who likes to read and share his thoughts about the books he reads.

I’m an engineering geologist who gets to work on some really cool projects and I’m a husband to a wonderful wife and the father of two incredible children. I serve on the executive board of a non-profit professional society and try to maintain a social life. So, I’m busy, overcommitted and don’t sleep enough. Reading is about the only hobby I’ve managed to hold on to and the blog serves as an outlet for that.

What got you into blogging?

Boredom (and a little help from my friends)

Back in 2006 I was an active member and moderator over at the now defunct Wotmania (particularly the other fantasy portion of the message board). I frequently recommended books to people and was encouraged to flesh things out into review-like forms. The message boards there were terribly formatted and difficult to use, so I wanted a place on-line to hold all of my reviews and recommendations.

Around this time there was this guy named Pat came around asking about starting a up blog and seeking thoughts and advice from many of the active members. He started a blog and it became widely popular. One day when I was quite bored I figured I could start a blog as a place to store my reviews and recommendations since it seemed like a good place for that sort of thing.

I was quite shocked to find a few days later that a whole bunch of people were reading it. And I was even more surprised when people starting commenting – and some of those people were editors and publicists. I started to take things a bit more seriously and asked Pat for some advice. I asked some publicists if they had any books they wanted to send me – I got quite a few. Publishers were always asking Pat if there were other bloggers they could send books to – Pat would send them my way. And things grew from there.

Why Nethspace?

Ah well, as with many on-line identities, it’s a bit silly. My name is Ken, or more correctly, Kenneth. Since I go by Ken for my ‘real life’, I figured that Neth was a good name for my online personality, which is in many ways quite different from the guy most people meet in person and have a beer (or three) with. Once I settled on Neth, I just added Space to the end to properly mark my territory (peeing on the computer didn’t seem like a good idea).

I’ve often considered changing it to something more general that reflects what the blog is actually about, but I like it as it is and I don’t really mind it if I lose some potential traffic because the blog name is a bit different.

What is your unique selling point? Interviews, humour, news coverage?


I’ve done interviews, I do lots of reviews, I (occasionally) write rants and other discussion pieces. I’ve done other things over the years – random photos, link roundups, cover art posts, etc. But lots of blogs do all those things, and many of them do them better than I ever have.

So, the truth is that the only unique selling point I really have is myself – or more correctly, my perspective, thoughts and opinions. I try to articulate them such that others can understand enough to agree or disagree at numerous levels. I hope that I have some thoughts and opinions that others find rather interesting and valuable. I’ve learned over the years that an attempt to be objective on a blog is silly and that I should really focus on being subjective, though with lots of backup. I don’t do things because I think others would like them, or because I think it’ll be good for my traffic (though there may have been a few instances in early days of the blog). I simply stick with what I find interesting and go from there.

What are your goals for your blog?

Survival – at least that’s what they are right now. I simply don’t have the time I used to – I’m busy, very busy and my reading and blogging time is very limited. So, posting enough to survive is about all that’s on my mind.

But, it really is all about expressing what I find interesting. I primarily do this through reviewing the books I read. I don’t expect that to change, though anyone who counts the frequency of my posts knows I don’t post as often as I used to.

One of the eternal book reviewer debates is to rate or not to rate? Where do you stand on the issue?

Ahh…ratings. Well, I suppose the first point is that I do rate the books I read and have done so since I started the blog. However, you will have to search pretty hard to find those ratings since I don’t actually place them on my reviews anymore. I also do the star ratings at Goodreads.

Now for the detailed discussion: I dislike ratings because they attempt to sum up far too many unrelated things into a single number/rating. So, what happens if I really, really enjoy a book while realizing that it actually has numerous flaws and that ‘craft’ of the writing isn’t really all that sophisticated. What happens when I read a book and recognize that it’s stylistically brilliant and wonderfully crafted, but for whatever reason I didn’t care for it in the end? It’s impossible to reflect those subtleties in a score. Which is why I no longer post scores with my book reviews.

Now, why do I bother with scores at all anymore? For a couple of reasons. I started scoring my reviews because a lot of people really like to see an overall score. It made sense to me at the time I was starting my blog, and frankly at time when my reviewing skills weren’t all that honed.

But, with hundreds of reviews under my belt, each with a numeric score, the nerdy scientist in me can’t help but notice that I’ve got a statistically valid sample to work with. And if I compare those scores with all sorts of numerics of the books I’ve read (such as demographics of the authors, date published, provided by publishers, etc) I can quantify trends in my reading habits, actually have an idea of how consistently I review books, and identify some of my inherent biases. So, the simple truth is that the only reason I still do scores is so I can play around with their statistics. I wish I had more time to do this, but for an example of some what I’ve done, take a look at this post where I try to look at whether or not my scores indicate that I’m easier on books provided by publishers versus books I’ve bought myself (the answer is that I’m not showing any real bias one way or another, but of course it’s complicated and not all factors are controlled for).

As for the typical star ratings at places like Goodreads and Amazon, I find those especially problematic. First, they are full of dishonest and incorrect scores (really, someone shouldn’t give a book 1 star because they couldn’t find it at a store or the price of the electronic copy is too high and let’s not even start on all of the truly fraudulent rankings). But they are also incredibly skewed by each individual’s sense of how the rankings work and the definitions that are used in guidance. Throw in the reliance that search engines have in these rankings and things get even more problematic. For an example of how authors stress over this (and often go too far), check out this review where I was taken to task for ranking a book 1 star on Goodreads. Unfortunately the author didn’t come out looking too good, but I think it’s a good understanding of the constant fear that many authors (particularly new authors) have regarding a low star rating in places like Goodreads and Amazon.

Negative reviews, yay or nay? And why?

I’m all for negative reviews, as they are incredibly valuable pieces of information. A good negative review is often much more interesting to read (and to write) than a positive review. And at least the way I choose to handle them, I want someone to be able to think – ‘all the reasons you hated that book are reasons why I think I’ll love it’.

But the truth is that I don’t write many of them. And that’s more of a reflection of the books I choose to read than anything else. I have very limited reading time, and I choose books to read that I think I’ll like (it’s more complicated than that, but that’s good enough for here). So, most of the books that I read and review are books that I like. But if I don’t like a book I don’t hesitate to say so.

How important are blogs to your reading choices?

Hmm….not as important as you may think. I have lots of books that I know I want to read, and with my limited time, that’s pretty much all I ever get to these days. However, there are a few bloggers out there who I know well enough to be able to judge their opinions versus my own. And I value their opinions a lot.

You started Nethspace in 2006, so you could say you’re one of the nestors of the SFF blogosphere. What has changed in the years you’ve been blogging? How has (online) fandom and book blogging evolved?

Well, first I have to say that I love a good Greek reference, and I of course am quite humbled by the honorific. However, I decided to dig a bit deeper than the typical ‘wizened old leader’ type of one line explanation and I found it quite interesting. Nestor is credited with giving both good advice and completely ineffectual advice, though he is generally unquestioned and looked upon quite positively. So, I’ll take the Nestor reference in a bit of a different direction – the ineffectual one. Many of my contemporaries who began blogging around that time are the true big dogs – Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist (he began in 2005 I believe) and The Wertzone come to mind. Both receive traffic that is at least an order of magnitude greater than my blog. I’ve actually remained fairly consistent over the past 5 years or so without much growth. Which I think says a lot about me as a blogger – mostly that I’m not particularly ambitious and am comfortable with my limited role, but now I’m coming dangerously close to dodging the interview question (given this is an election year in the US, dodging questions seems to be something of a sport, but now I’m digressing even further – no wonder my traffic is so much lower than those other blogs, etc. etc.)

Anyway, a lot has changed over the time I’ve been blogging. Back in the ‘good old days’ I’d literally get emails from publishers begging me to allow them to send me their books. There weren’t many of us, and many of the old traditional print sources of fandom were still trying to figure out what form their online presence should take. Adding to that, I was a pretty novice reviewer back then and I’m still surprised that anyone read those early reviews of mine.

Once it became clear that bloggers were getting free books and relatively easy access to authors themselves, everybody wanted in. Things literally exploded and everyone wanted review copies. This of course as bad – the market became oversaturated, blogs came and went quickly and publishers were left trying to navigate a tricky market, while readers of blogs were drowning in numbers. And all of the free books being thrown around lead to the standard cries of collusion and such that we still see today. [Ed. Note: Don’t we just..]

I think that things have settled down quite a bit. Sure, lots of blogs are still out there and more start every year. But the expectation of receiving free books from day one seems to be diminishing, and bloggers seem to be getting better about figuring out where they fit in to the big picture. And I think that the overall quality of blog reviews has grown quite a bit – or at least the best bloggers now are better than the best bloggers were a few years ago (even though some of them are same people).

It’ll be very interesting to see where things go from here – I don’t think that blogs are a medium that will endure through time (though I could be wrong), so I expect things will change. How much and how fast I’m not sure about. And will I be a part of the change or apart from the change remains to be seen. The honest truth is that I’m happy doing things as I do now and I see no need to change even if everything evolves beyond me. Of course I could change my mind …

How do you think blogs and reviewers fit in the book business?

Well, in a world where neighborhood bookstores are closing and reviews are bought and sold in the dominant places like Amazon and Goodreads, a few good bloggers with known and trusted opinions are especially important. This is the modern version of word of mouth and it’s a crucial part of marketing in a consumer based society. Blogs and reviewers fit squarely in this.

Of course there actually seems to be a pretty good business in writing (fake) reviews, so it’s also a big (and growing) part of the business. Amazon can’t be trusted, traditional outlets like Kirkus can be bought, etc. But a reviewer could make something a career out of fraudulent reviews if they are willing. *I don’t think this is where you were going with this question, but I went there anyway* [Ed. Note: Perhaps not, but it’s your prerogative to answer how you like ;-)]

What is your current read and what book are you most eagerly awaiting?

As I’m writing this, I’m reading Trapped by Kevin Hearne. It’s good, fun, comfort reading for me. Urban fantasy set in Arizona and full of nerdy wish-fulfillment and superficial musings. It’s like candy – I know it’s not so good for me, but it tastes too good to go without. [Ed. Note: And who could resist a dose of Oberon?]

A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson is absolutely the book I’m looking forward to most. I’ve been reading this series for nearly 20 years – it led me to internet message boards and eventually to blogging. It’s a trip down memory lane. It’s flawed and still my favorite. I’m sure I’ll be writing a lot about A Memory of Light and The Wheel of Time as the series comes to end.

Is there something else you’re obsessed with other than books?

Obsessed with? Well, my family is about the only thing that comes close to obsession. A boring answer perhaps, but the truth.

However, if you’re looking for more interests of mine – I love the outdoors and things like camping and hiking, I’m a homebrewer, beer snob and lover of Scotch whisky. Traveling is one of the great joys of my life, and I enjoy eating a wide variety of food.

When you travel, you often post a picture of the view out of your room. Which one has been your favourite over the years?

It’s hard to say – probably a picture of a view that I’ve not ever posted. In the last few years I’ve had great views from places like Oakland (great view of the bay), Anchorage, and others. But I suppose in recent times, it would be Romania. That was an awesome experience (even if I worked for the vast majority of it), but I had a wonderful time and experienced a very different culture. [Ed. Note: I remember that trip! I really enjoyed the posts you wrote about your time there.]

Finally, I have to stay true to my roots and ask a librarian question to finish off with: Do you shelve your books alphabetically, by genre or do you have an ingenious system?

My official system is alphabetical by author in two categories – books I’ve read and books I’ve not read. However, it gets much more complicated. I have books spread all through the house and not just my ‘official’ bookcases. Some are boxed, some are in the kids’ rooms, some are in other categories (such as nonfiction), and others just get stacked on the floor. I used to divide mass-market paperbacks from the others and separate out books I haven’t read between books I bought and books publishers sent to me. But I’ve found that simpler is better.

Thank you, Ken! I especially enjoyed your in-depth answer on the evolution of the blogosphere. You can find Ken on his blog and follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and on Goodreads.

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Blogger Query – The Mad Hatter’s Bookshelf and Book Reviews

Another blog I’ve been following since forever is The Mad Hatter’s Bookshelf and Book Reviews. The Mad Hatter has been around since 2009 and is one of the more prodigious readers I’ve come across. I wanted to learn more about the man, the blog and the hats, so I invited Michael for a Blogger Query. He said yes and today you get to read the results.

Let’s start with the basics. Who is Michael?

A man with obsessive tendencies, especially in regards to books and hats.

What got you into blogging?

It is all my wife’s fault. It goes a bit deeper than that though. I lost touch with one of my bookish friends a few years ago. We use to get together every few weeks and trade and talk books. Once we fell of out touch rather than my wife be stricken with me telling her about all the books I’ve read she thought I should inflict it upon the internet since I was spending time reading other blogs. Don’t get me wrong my wife is a reader too. I don’t think I could be married to someone who isn’t, but we don’t always mesh on tastes. [Ed. Note: Oh, I know how that goes!]

Why The Mad Hatter’s Bookshelf and Book Reviews?

Honestly, I came up with a bunch of ideas and found out they were all used. I nabbed Booktionary.blogspot.com and was just going to call it The Booktionary for awhile, but my book shelves at the time had lots of hats on them. I said jokingly to my wife that I should just be The Mad Hatter and it stuck from there.

What is your unique selling point? Interviews, humour, news coverage?

I like to think I mix up my content a lot. I don’t like doing the same type of post back-to-back though it has happened occasionally. My character interviews are probably my favorite thing. I’d like to do more, but it takes finding the right character I think I can play with and an author is willing to go back-and-forth with me like Kevin Hearne’s Atticus or Gail Carriger’s Alexia and Lord Maccon.

What are your goals for your blog?

To have a good time, inform readers, and for time-to-time spark a larger conversation.

One of the eternal book reviewer debates is to rate or not to rate? Where do you stand on the issue?

When I first got into blogging I liked ratings, but as I’ve progressed as a reviewer I’ve grown less interested in them. I do rate using hats as the score indicator, which is more out of habit now, but it still makes me laugh a little. 3 out of Hats you know. Who does that? Anyway I actually changed my rating system last year form X out of 10 to X out of 5 as the larger system left too much variance. Is there really a big difference between a 7 out of 10 and an 8 out of 10 when if I wrote the review another day I may be swayed one way or the other by distance from the work? Not really. So a X out of 5, at least to me, gives it a more general sense and also matches up better with the star system on Amazon and other sites where I put my reviews up. I also don’t rate every book any more.

Negative reviews, yay or nay? And why?

Yes, because above all things I try to be honest with my assessments. Sure I’ve been glowing towards books at times and I’ve done what I later consider to be hatchet jobs that usually come about because something profoundly disappoints or infuriates me.

There are some bloggers who say they don’t do negative reviews because why spread negativity? I say why let other people read a book that might not be worth their time? A well written negative has both turned me off a book and turned me on to seeking it out. Because as everyone has seen tastes vary greatly. One person’s A Game of Thrones is another person’s Da Vinci Code.

You’ve recently done some micro reviews. I’d imagine those are harder to write than full reviews as you have fewer words in which to give your opinion. Is that observation correct?

In my case no. My micro reviews came about because over the last year I’ve fallen behind in regular review writing and there were books I wanted to talk about more than my reading log allows. The micro reviews are mostly comprised of notes/thoughts I made during the reading of the book or half finished longer reviews that I condensed down. I don’t take notes with every book, but if I have a thought I’ll e-mail myself the note. Sometimes my notes are longer than my review. For The Way of Kings I had almost 2,500 words of notes for a review that ended up just shy of 1,600 words.

How important are blogs to your reading choices?

Fairly important especially with other bloggers I share similar tastes with. Graeme of Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review and I have a scarily similar takes on many books so usually if he goes bonkers for a book I know I’ll generally like it. He’s a bit more into Zombies than I am though. [Ed. Note: Uhm, yeah way more into zombies than me as well.]

How do you think blogs and reviewers fit in the book business?

Just like they always have. Bloggers are just a new label that has been on the rise. You could certainly say long-time Amazon reviewers and forum frequenters have been bloggers for longer than most of us “bloggers.” As for how they fit in the “business” they are just a more personal outlet publishers now can have access to.

What is your current read and what book are you most eagerly awaiting?

You caught me between fiction. I did just finish The Kingmakers by Clay and Susan Griffith, the last of the Vampire Empire books, which mixes Vampires, Steampunk, Magic, and Romance perfectly and hearkens back to the adventure pulps of old. Good stuff. Right now I’m reading the Hellfrost Players Guide for a Savage Worlds role playing game I’ll be starting soon. I’m planning on something a little different with my character. He’ll be a Frostborn Half Giant, which is a little against the rules as half breeds aren’t usually allowed in the world, but I’ve worked out a heck of backstory that the GM (Game Master) feels will fit in with his plans. I’m thinking of calling him Riskin Frostbane. He’s not a nice fellow and is probably going to get my group into all kinds of trouble.

What I am looking forward to? I can’t limit myself to just one. So how about 3? The first would be Martha Wells’ The Siren Depths. The world is just incredibly original. The next is Joe Hill’s Nos4a2 as his last novel Horns blew me away. And I like short fiction so I’ll throw John Joseph Adams’ The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination into the hat. [Ed. Note: I see what you did there ;-)]

Is there something else you’re obsessed with other than books?

Well, hats of course. I have probably more than 2 dozen. I’m also a bit of a gamer usually going for more involved board games such as Pandemic, Small World, or Dominion.

Last February you blogged about your gorgeous new bookshelves. Did I mention I was jealous of those? Anyway, at the time they were lovely and neatly shelved. Are they still as neat or have your recent procurements already overflown your available space?

Those shelves are still fairly neat, but not in the pictures are another 4 free standing bookcases that get most of the new books and they do usually have a couple of piles of books sitting precariously on the edges. Though I did just do a book purge giving more than 70 books to my local library.  The influx of review copies has gotten a bit out of hand and I barely ask for specific books anymore. Plus I still buy books at a prodigious rate.

Finally, I have to stay true to my roots and ask a librarian question to finish off with: Do you shelve your books alphabetically, by genre or do you have an ingenious system?

My long term plans call for alphabetizing my collection, but right now it is more haphazard  My collectible books usually go in one area grouped by author. I do have Steampunk and anthology sections and also I like to keep some favorite books at eye level. Just a habit I guess or a lightly veiled attempt at getting visitors to ask me about some of my favorite books. I also keep review copies I intend to read on one shelf versus a shelf of purchased books I’d like to read sooner than later. So like I said it is a bit of mess, but it encourages me to look around a bit when deciding what to read next. And if asked for a book I can usually tell you right where it is located.

Thank you, Michael! Go check out The Mad Hatter’s Bookshelf and Book Reviews if you haven’t already and you can follow Michael on Twitter as well.

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Blogger Query – Battle Hymns

A blog I discovered more recently, I think late last year, is Battle Hymns. Its proprietor, Ryan, is a great guy and I like the sense of humour he displays in his posts. He’s also recently gained his Early Childhood Education degree, something which I think is awesome, both as a mum who thinks that you can’t have enough passionate educators out there and as someone who works at the other end of the spectrum of education; I see them once they start university. I wondered how his love of SFF came into play in his work, plus I wanted to know more about the man behind Battle Hymns, so another Blogger Query victimsubject was found. Here’s what Ryan had to say for himself.

Let’s start with the basics. Who is Ryan?

I’m a thirty-one year old guy who was born and raised in Maine, but decided to swap coastlines and move to Seattle when I was 21 because Seattle seemed like a cool place to spend my twenties.  It turns out I was right, ‘cause I’m still here ten years down the road.

By day, I play a number of playground sports professionally and I also have an impressive winning percentage in a variety of board games.  When I’m not doing those things I’m doing all the other important tasks required of a child care director.  By night, when I’m not too tuckered out, I blog.

What got you into blogging?

I started blogging because I was into all these “nerdy” things like Fantasy /SF, comics and heavy metal. No one else I knew was really all that into them so I had no one to talk to about all this great stuff that I was excited about.  I was an active member on SFF World, which sorta scratched that itch, but it wasn’t quite cutting it, so I decided to start my own blog.  Here I am nearly three full years later and still cracking away.  It’s been such a positive experience too.  I’ve made lots of friends, discovered a bunch of incredible blogs, and have built up a book wish-list that should keep me going for the next few decades.

Why Battle Hymns?

Ha! Why indeed?  I often ask myself that same question.

Well, there’s this metal band called Manowar who, (and I apologize to any Manowarriors out there), are incredibly cheesy…talented, but ultimately very cheesy.  Their album covers are like these ridiculous Frank Frazetta homages that depict the band members all shirtless and with shredded bods. [Ed. Note: Nothing wrong with a good Frank Frazetta hommage!] There’s usually some swords, or battle axes on the cover, not to mention flames and/or lightning going on as well.  Anyway, they have the best album titles.  Stuff like “Hail to England”, “Kings of Metal”, “Triumph of Steel”, and of course, “Battle Hymns”.  I thought Battle Hymns would be a cool name for a blog that deals with stuff like fantasy, comics and metal.  I also thought it was kinda funny.  It’s one of those things that are a joke that only I laugh about.

What is your unique selling point? Interviews, humour, news coverage?

I guess my unique selling point is that I cover multiple topics.  I do book reviews, mostly fantasy novels, but also a healthy dose of science fiction and a smattering of crime and literature.  I also give an equal amount of coverage to my other big love, comics.  I mostly cover independent, creator owned comics and steer clear of the capes and tights stuff, but I still appreciate and cover that side of comics, just in smaller doses.  The last thing I cover is metal music.  I really love that stuff, but that portion of the blog is becoming increasingly less of a factor as the months and years progress.

In the past year or so, I’ve had the pleasure of conducting a couple of author interviews at the blog, and that has been a really great experience.  I’m a bit shy when it comes to asking folks if they’d be up for that sort of thing, so I need to toughen up if I’m gonna keep that part of the blog going. [Ed. Note: Pro-tip: start with fellow blogger, far less intimidating ;-)]

What are your goals for your blog?

As I mentioned earlier, the original goal of having a place where I can talk about the things I love with like-minded people still stands.   I also mentioned this already, but I’d like to get more author interviews on there as well.  At the end of the day, my goal is to ensure that the stuff I put up on Battle Hymns focuses on quality of content over quantity.

Oh, and I can’t forget the ultimate goal: have fun.  It’s not like I’m getting paid or anything, so it’d be stupid to not enjoy a leisure activity.

One of the eternal book reviewer debates is to rate or not to rate? Where do you stand on the issue?

Personally, I’m a rater.  I rate everything; the quality of my last dinner, my bus commute, the cuteness of my friend’s pet cat… Cats get rated on a scale of 1 to 100 in the areas of cuteness, softness of fur, and personality.  I have yet to meet a cat that scores a perfect 300.

Anyway, as you can see, nothing is safe from my personal rating scales.  That being said, I can see both sides of the issue, and have toyed with the idea of doing away with my rating system on a few occasions, but it is hard to go against my basic nature.

For my “Kicking it Old School” feature, (where I review SF/F books that were written before I was old enough to read, hence the “Old School” part), I’ve tried to make the rating a fun part of the review by making the rating itself part of the old school experience.  For example, at the end of my review of Poul Anderson’s Ensign Flandry I gave it a score of 6.5 slap bracelets. [Ed. Note: Slap bracelets! Oh man, those were the bomb when I was around ten!]  I’ve tried to carry on that tradition of giving all my “Kicking it Old School” reviews  a grade attached to some sort of old school trendy item.  I’ve covered reebok pumps, and cassette singles so far, and have barely even scraped the surface of possibilities.

Negative reviews, yay or nay? And why?

Yay.  But that comes with a caveat.  I’m all for negative reviews where the reviewer can back up their negative opinion with plenty of evidence.

This is a situation that has popped up a couple of times for me. While it’s easy to just rip on a book, I’ve always tried to actually articulate what qualities or aspects of the book contributed to the negative experience.   Sometimes this is a difficult task, but if you can do that, without being a dick, you’ve actually done something useful and contributed to the conversation about the work.

When I’m researching a new title to see if I think it is something I want to read or not, I always seek out at least one negative review, that way I’m getting a variety of opinions and can make a more well-informed purchase.

You work in education, do you get to introduce children to the wondrous world of reading? And if so, do you slip in some child-friendly SFF when you can?

Yeah, I do.  And it is awesome.  Every Monday is Cocoa, Comics and Cider day at my child care, and the kids all sit around sipping hot, tasty beverages and read comics. [Ed. Note: Awesome!] Some of the staff have been known to do read-alouds with the kids, and the current read-aloud book is The Black Cauldron.

In all honesty, it’s not too hard to get kids reading SFF.  They love that stuff, and it has become a big part of popular culture.

On your blog you cover a lot of comics and graphic novels. Do you think these can more easily enthuse younger readers to reading for themselves and good story-telling than traditional books?

Comics definitely enthuse a young reader, that’s for sure.  There are tons of great comics out there for young readers, and I think the comics medium does a great job of representing a variety of backgrounds, experiences, and cultures that any reader, young or old, can relate to… They also manage to provide a nice escape too.

In recent years I’ve started to see more and more kids reading comics so I guess they do provide an “in” to the world of reading.  But traditional books, especially titles that fall under the SF/F category, are incredibly popular these days, and they’re a big reason why many kids pick up a book.  In the end, I think there are more useless distractions than ever before vying for kids’ time these days so anything that gets kids reading is a good thing. [Ed. Note: Amen.]

How important are blogs to your reading choices?

Absolutely vital.

When it comes to books, I would say I get first exposure to a title thanks to one of the many amazing bloggers that make up the Fantasy/Science Fiction blogging community.  I’ve been following blogs for far longer than I’ve been blogging, so I’ve come to trust quite a few bloggers and their tastes.  I would also say that thanks to bloggers, I’ve been exposed to books that I would never have read if not for some other blogger giving that book a review.

The best thing about the Fantasy/Science Fiction Blogging community is that we are an incredibly diverse group, and as a result, have tastes that cover the entire genre quite well.  I’ve been reaping the benefits of that for years, and have a ton of awesome books on my shelves as a result.

How do you think blogs and reviewers fit in the book business?

Well, as I said above, probably 99 out of 100 books I buy I get because I discovered them while reading blogs, so from my perspective, they are a very important part of the book business.  I love going into a bookstore, picking up a book, and seeing blurbs from bloggers on the covers, or inside the flaps.  That’s pretty cool.  It also points to the fact that bloggers are a definite piece of the book business pie.

What is your current read and what book are you most eagerly awaiting?

At this moment I’m reading the third volume in the Hellboy series, The Chained Coffin and Other Stories.  I haven’t decided if I’m a fan of the Hellboy stuff yet.  I love the art and the way Mike Mignola ties in folklore and myth into the stories, but the narrative tends to be a bit repetitive.

I try to alternate my books and comics reading so my next book will most likely be a Haruki Murakami novel. I’m long overdue to read something by that guy.

As for the book I’m most eagerly awaiting?  I’m pretty excited about Red Country by Joe Abercrombie.  That guy is a hit maker.

Is there something else you’re obsessed with other than books?

I am definitely obsessed with NFL football.  (Watching it as I type!)  My Sundays during the months of September through January tend to be pretty unproductive as my ass is usually on the couch watching football.

Finally, I have to stay true to my roots and ask a librarian question to finish off with: Do you shelve your books alphabetically, by genre or do you have an ingenious system?

Funny you should ask.  Mayhem and disorder once ruled my shelves, but not any longer.  And it’s all your fault. ;)

I’ve been an avid Blogger Query reader since day one, and every time I would read your last interview question I would get these little pangs of guilt in my stomach as I envisioned how you would be appalled at the lack of order on my shelves.  When I recently moved, I decided to do something about it, and when I was setting up my bookshelves in my new place, I alphabetized them once and for all.  I gotta say, I’m happy with the new system.  [Ed. Note: Ha! My job here is done.]

Thank you, Ryan! If you haven’t visited Ryan’s blog before, Battle Hymns is well worth a stop-over.

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Blogger Query – Between Two Books

Yagiz, of Between Two Books, is also one of the contributing reviewers to Speculative Book Review. I always enjoy his reviews and I’ve been following him ever since I discovered the book blogosphere. In addition to being an interesting reviewer, Yagiz also has an interesting background, having lived in three wildly different countries throughout his life. How this had influenced his SFF reading was something that interested me a lot, so I asked him for a Blogger Query. Here are his answers.

Let’s start with the basics. Who is Yagiz Erkan?

In a few words: A happy man :). If I need to add a few more details: I’m a 38 year-old book-lover. I live in Cork (Ireland). I’m married. My beautiful wife and I had a son 20 months ago. He’s pretty much at the centre of anything going on with our lives at moment. I play guitar. I like to do pencil drawings. I enjoy scuba diving and good wine (not altogether). And finally I’m a software engineer.

What got you into blogging?

I’ve always been a social person and always liked to discuss with my friends about the things they like, their ideas and their opinions on various subjects, etc. As a person who’s lived through the development and popularization of Internet, this side of my personality pushed me to remain active on-line as well. Anyone old and techy enough to remember early 90s would probably be familiar with the era where IRC (Internet Relay Chat) was the king. Starting with IRC (with a very cheesy nickname) [Ed. Note: Who didn’t have a cheesy nickname in the early days of the internet?], I’ve always kept and enjoyed an on-line presence. I’ve developed (and co-developed) on-line user groups, have moderated and administered popular forums and have blogged on my company web site for a long time. Therefore sharing my humble opinion about books that I read on-line came naturally. I was discussing about them on various forums (especially on SFFWorld) and decided to write the same things as blog articles in a better structured manner.

Why Between Two Books?

It probably should have been “Torn between two books” :). I always complain that there are too many good books to read but not enough time. Therefore choosing a book to read is often a difficult thing to go through and the books that I decide to read later torment me :). So I imagined myself undecided between two books but in reality there are many more than two.

What is your unique selling point? Interviews, humour, news coverage?

Oh! To be honest, I’ve never thought that my blog had a selling point. I’ve never been an aspiring writer and haven’t studied writing and literature seriously. I’ve never been involved in it professionally either. Therefore I’m coming at this from only a reader’s perspective. It’s about the books and my thoughts and feelings about them. So if there has to be something, my selling point would be my humble opinion.

What are your goals for your blog?

Nothing less than world domination (insert evil laughter here)! These days my goal is to get back to a decent cadence. But in general my goal is to create a social opportunity to discuss about books.

One of the eternal book reviewer debates is to rate or not to rate? Where do you stand on the issue?

I agree. This is one of the eternally debated subjects. I used to think that rating was a very important part of a review. However now I don’t think that it is indispensable. Actually it is probably better if no rating is provided. I think we should convey that score throughout our reviews.

Negative reviews, yay or nay? And why?

Of course yes. But just like in any situation involving negative feedback, things have to be said properly and more carefully. It is also harder to write a good negative review. I, for one, spend definitely more time and am more careful if I need to write a negative review. It is a bigger responsibility. Not only towards the author and the publisher, but also because a negative review is perceived as more credible by the readers. [Ed. Note: That’s an interesting observation, about the credibility of a review being greater if it’s negative. I’d always just kept that to the reviewer, as in the reviewer is more credible when she writes both positive and negative reviews.]

You blog at both your own blog and Speculative Book Review. Why two blogs? And is there a difference in how you blog for either?

I first started to blog on Between Two Books. Then, a few of us (from SFFWorld Forums) got together to create a bigger and more diverse place under the name of Speculative Book Review. I don’t explicitly behave differently when I blog for one or the other. Obviously, I’m only responsible for a portion (a rather small) of the content on SBR however on BTB I decide on the entire content. Does it make sense to keep a personal blog in my case? To be honest, I’ve already thought about concentrating all on SBR but I’m not convinced that I have to pull the plug yet.

You live in Ireland now, but I know you’re originally from Turkey and that you’ve lived in France. Have you only ever read SFF in English or did you read it in Turkish and French as well? France has a healthy SFF publishing culture, but is there much SFF published in Turkey?

Very interesting question. My parents have always loved books. Me and my brother grew up with books and encyclopaedias around us so it was natural to pick something and try to read. My parents taught me to read pretty early. I knew how to read properly at 4. Until the end of my teenage years I did most of my reading in Turkish. Unfortunately we didn’t have a well developed national SFF scene back then. It is currently more vibrant. Now… don’t get me wrong. Turkey has produced very good writers but most of them are only popular nationally. Only a few like the 2006 Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk, or Yasar Kemal have been able to reach an international audience. However, even though fiction has been popular in Turkey, SFF has never achieved a proportionally important status. Therefore all of my genre reading was in Turkish in those years. I was a fan of King and Koontz at a pretty early age. I got into sci-fi and fantasy later.

I moved to France when I was 18 and as you just mentioned, France has a strong national SFF market. Not only as novels but also as graphic novels. So, wine was not the only thing that I learnt to appreciate there :) FNAC was a great place to go and spend some time. *sigh* I had so much time during those years, it’s hard to believe now.

Moving to Ireland in ’99 allowed me to become more familiar with the UK SFF scene. My wife doesn’t want it, but I would probably move to London just to get closer to the events and the community.

Currently I do most of my genre reading in English. I also occasionally read in French, in Spanish and in Turkish.

How important are blogs to your reading choices?

Very important. There’s a big list of them that I regularly follow and a shorter list of bloggers whose opinions and tastes display parallels with mine. Rightly or wrongly, I base most of my new author discoveries on their recommendations.

How do you think blogs and reviewers fit in the book business?

Seeing a book blog simply as a promotion engine would probably be too short as an answer. As I’ve already mentioned, I love the social side of Internet. It is a great enabler for people who want to get together for some common cause. And the community that forms naturally, that lives, feels and reacts together and that evolves according to what the external agents present is an amazing thing. I think this is the true power of blogs and reviewers. It is probably similar to swarms and the swarm behaviour. There’s no single commanding brain but the behaviour of the whole can almost be perceived as the behaviour of a single living entity.

What is your current read and what book are you most eagerly awaiting?

Currently I’m reading Adam Nevill’s Last Days. He is an absolutely brilliant writer. No doubt, he is one of the rising stars of Horror. [Ed. Note: To prove Yagiz’s point, Nevill won the August Derleth Award, one of the BFS awards, for The Ritual.]

There are a few upcoming books that I’d like to hold in my hands immediately, but the first on my list is Joe Abercrombie’s Red Country. Very recently they announced a delay for the US publication, but thankfully the UK publication has remained unaffected.

Is there something else you’re obsessed with other than books?

Obsessed? Hmm. That has a rather negative connotation in my mind but exercising is one other thing that I cannot live without. I’m a gym regular and I’ve played Water-polo for a long time (even though I’ve officially taken a break since the birth of my son I’m planning to get back to it soon).

Finally, I have to stay true to my roots and ask a librarian question to finish off with: Do you shelve your books alphabetically, by genre or do you have an ingenious system?

:) I think mine is a mixture between the age of the book (the more recent ones are at a more accessible height) and its genre. I have a separate section for my signed copies and for my graphic novels.

Thank you, Yagiz! That peek at Turkish and French SFF was fascinating and I hope my readers will agree with me. You can find Yagiz at Between Two Books and Speculative Book Review and you can also follow him on Twitter.
By Published Posted in article, interview | 3 Comments
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