How to Review Books

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Even though the title of this post might make you think that I’ve got my shit together and I’m going to provide you with a list of 1-10 steps to review a book…you’d be mistaken. I have no idea what I’m doing when (and if) I review a book, and the more I talk to people over on Bookstagram about this, the more I’m learning there is no right or wrong way to go about reviewing books. When I first started this Bookstagram, I spent time only periodically mentioning books, what I was reading, or books I was buying, and that was pretty much it. Taking pretty photos was the name of the game. Then, once I started receiving books from publishers in the mail, I started thinking that I needed to up my game and write more reviews on my blog and Instagram and interact more professionally on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, my blog, or wherever else book reviews are valued. These publishers are reaching out because they want to generate some buzz about a book and we are the ones to do it. I wouldn’t call us smaller accounts ‘influencers,’ but publishers are definitely looking for some buzz when they send you a book and there is some responsibility associated with this. So, after about a year or so of being pretty serious on Bookstagram, I got my shit together and I created a spreadsheet where I itemized books I received from publishers, took note of what was asked of me, marked where and how I shared about the book, gave a star review, marked if I had mentioned it in Bookstagram yet, etc. All was good and I was feeling like I was finally in control of this thing called Bookstagram (PS this is a hobby. No one pays me to do this. Sometimes, I receive a free book in the mail, but that’s it. I think I forget that sometimes). Anyways, I digress…So all felt more organized and less chaotic for this hobby of mine and that felt good. That is…until I received a book in the mail from a publisher that I thought I was going to love, but ultimately, I found problematic parts that rubbed me the wrong way. I was all prepared to create that perfectly honest post, but all of a sudden, I went down a spiral of slight panic (if I’m being honest). Here is my dilemma (also-completely 1st world problems so take this anxiety with a grain of salt but still…). 1, I want to have good relationships with publishers who send me a free book and hopefully, generate more good buzz to get the word out 2, I want to make sure I never dissuade anyone from reading a book they may like and 3, I want to review books in a 100% authentic way for all of you reading my reviews. Is there a formula for that? Is there a way to organize my reading life that will accommodate all of that? The odds of me buying a book I don’t love are slimmer, but being given a book by a publisher that I wind up not loving is more possible. Will I piss off a publisher if I give their book a negative review and that’s it for my time of receiving books to read and review? Will a reader be turned off from a book that I didn’t love but they might?! I’m telling you-I went down a crazy rabbit hole of insecurity and a bit of anxiety with this one. BUT, my best end result from a lot of thinking was this…You do you Boo. A friend of mine on Instagram (@caseythereader) mentioned that publishers know that not all books are for everyone. And that’s so true. We all know that. I might recommend a book to a friend and they wind up reading it and not liking it. It’s a bit of a bummer, but we all move on (hopefully after a good discussion if it’s your friend). Obviously, this discussion doesn’t usually happen with a publisher, but still-I’m positive Casey was right. They know not every book is for everyone. Secondly, I never want to be dishonest in a book review. Or be deceitful in any way just to save face with a publisher and therefore continue to get free books. That was the overwhelming advice I received when I threw this question out to the Bookstagram community. Be honest! Thirdly, find some good things to mention in your review. There is always some good things in every book and they are worth mentioning. After all, this book is someone’s pride and joy that they created and it’s been through a lot of eyes before it got to me. If it’s published, odds are, there are some good things worth mentioning. Fourth, if there are problematic things in a book, they are worth mentioning in a constructive way too. And lastly, I don’t have to review every book I read. That’s probably not even possible anyways, and also-most books I receive from publishers do not mention HAVING to write a review about the book anyways. In fact, they oftentimes say, if you liked the book, feel free to rate and review it. ‘Liked’ being the key word. So there you have it folks! I have come up with a plan for myself in terms of how and when I rate, review and post about books. Here is it if you’re interested:

  1. If I receive a book from a publisher, write the info down and any details I might need (follow ups, emails, pub dates, requests for review, Instagram post dates, etc) and put it in my pile on ‘books from publishers’
  2. If I purchase or get a book from the library-I do me! (it will likely sit on shelf longer than I want it to. Story of my life lol)
  3. Post a photo on Instagram upon receiving a book, purchasing a book, or starting to read a book.
  4. If I enjoy the book, read, rate, post and give it all the love (with details why). Write a blog post too! THE BEST FEELING!!
  5. If I felt meh about a book, just give it a star review on Goodreads and move on. People don’t necessarily care about a meh book. It’s always hard to articulate why I felt meh about it anyways, so just move on (unless of course I made a promise to receive a book in exchange for an honest review. In that case, give an honest review). *this rarely happens
  6. If I personally found something problematic in a book, it might be worth mentioning (but again, I don’t have to). Be truthful, find the positives and be specific. A blog post is optional, but give it a few days before I write it. Time is think is always good 🙂 Same thing as #4-if I made a promise to exchange, do that.
  7. Remember this is not a job, it’s a hobby and I’m usually under zero obligation to review a book. It’s kind of part of the unwritten deal and best practice if the book was from a publisher, but, for the most part, I’m under no obligation.

So that’s my plan from now on. Praise the good, possibly mention the problematic and leave the meh alone. *this may all change tomorrow and I’m okay with that too 🙂 But also-this is a hobby and I need to stop worrying so much about this and start reading! That’s what brought me here to begin with.

What is your method of reviewing books? Do you feel you need to review every book you read? Are you more choosy with book reviews? Is my anxiety at fault for all of this?! 😉 Head over to Instagram and let’s chat! Find me @bookishfolk

bookishfolk…read instead.

A Nearly Normal Life

Author: M.T. Edvardsson

Published: June 25, 2019

Publisher: Celadon Books 

Where I picked up my book:  Publisher (#partner) THANK YOU!

Key Words: legal thriller, family dynamics, fast-paced read

My Rating: 3.5

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My Thoughts:

I really enjoyed this book and it kept me on the edge of my seat for the majority of my reading. Granted, I don’t read a lot of thrillers, so they usually do this to me…but the way this one was set up (split into 3 sections/perspectives-Father, Daughter, Mother) really kept me enthralled. It would be a perfect summer read, beach read, airplane read, or in my case, an up all night, go to the gym just to read, sort of read 🙂

First, it’s a family drama and I really love those. Family dynamics are always interesting to me, but add in a murder and how parents would cope with that, I’m all in! I kept thinking about how my family would cope with something like this and it totally brought a whole different perspective to the book. I was completely wrapped up in thinking about the family dynamics, not only in this plot, but in my own family life as well.

Second, the multiple perspective approach where the novel is broken up into 3 sections and each section tells a different perspective from each family member is fantastic. There are always multiple perspectives to a story and we don’t always get to hear about how others feel, or we are told how others feel from the bias of the narrator. In this story, we are given a first hand look at how each family member deals with the murder as well as it’s aftermath. We see their individual strengths, weaknesses, secrets and truths and it was like reading about a study in human behavior. I was hooked!

Third, it reminded me a bit of Miracle Creek and I really enjoyed that book. With that said, it made me think about what lengths I would go to in order to protect my child or a member of my family. I don’t know if I have an easy answer for that, but this book is sure to make you think about it.

I do have two small things that I didn’t necessarily love about the book that I think are worth mentioning. One, the father (his perspective is the first section) is a pastor and anything religious, even a slight mention of religion, is usually a trigger warning/turn off for me. I found myself feeling kinda weird about his character and the religious talk. There is a lot more to him than just his religion and job, but it was definitely there and a focus of his perspective and wasn’t my favorite. BUT, it does lead to some good questions-do religious leaders hold a moral compass? Should we take religious leaders at face value? ect. so that was something to think about. Second, I kind of guessed the ending-but again, that didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book at all, and I’ve read reviews where that was not the case for many people, but just something to keep that in mind!

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I wasn’t necessarily blown away, but I was completely sucked in throughout the entire reading and personally, that is the purpose of a thriller! I would recommend it to anyone that enjoys a great, face-paced thriller full of family drama, moral and ethical thinking and decision making in the plot and is told from multiple perspectives. I’ll be thinking about this family for a while.

Summary (via Goodreads):

M.T. Edvardsson’s A Nearly Normal Family is a gripping legal thriller that forces the reader to consider: How far would you go to protect the ones you love? In this twisted narrative of love and murder, a horrific crime makes a seemingly normal family question everything they thought they knew about their life—and one another.

Eighteen-year-old Stella Sandell stands accused of the brutal murder of a man almost fifteen years her senior. She is an ordinary teenager from an upstanding local family. What reason could she have to know a shady businessman, let alone to kill him?

Stella’s father, a pastor, and mother, a criminal defense attorney, find their moral compasses tested as they defend their daughter, while struggling to understand why she is a suspect. Told in an unusual three-part structure, A Nearly Normal Family asks the questions: How well do you know your own children? How far would you go to protect them?

bookishfolk…read instead.

Why I’m breaking up with the TBR list

Do you create a monthly TBR list at the beginning of the month and stick with it? I have so many good intentions to do so, but low and behold, the end of the month comes and generally speaking, I haven’t read a.single.one of the books in that pile. What is wrong with me?! That’s what I think every month when this happens. I see everyone’s TBR piles on Instagram at the beginning of the month and then their checked off lists at the end of the month and I’m all like, welp…another month bites the dust. And that’s not right. In fact, I’ve been reading fantastic books all month. I’ve been talking about books to everyone I see. I’ve been loving what I read. That’s where the focus should be but instead, this TBR piles staring at me from the dresser is where my focus often lands. So…this got me thinking about my personal reading habits, unique personality traits, the way I create intentions and why the heck I can’t seem to stick with a list of books to read to save my life. Here is what I came up with. If you are anything like me, this post might help you feel less guilty about your TBR list and instead, embrace the lack of that pile knowing you’re just doing you!

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  1. I get a lot of books from my local library and I’m at the mercy of the library as to when those books come in. So there are months when I get 8 books ready for me and usually, I only have a few weeks to read and return them. I LOVE MY LIBRARY and am always here to support them in any way possible. Public libraries raised me and they will always hold a special place in my heart. Supporting them in the least I can do. Plus, books are free for the borrowing!! 🙂
  2. I get a fair amount of ARCs from publishers and I try to read and review them before they are actually published. They just show up in the mail so I’m never sure what is coming at me month to month. I COULDN’T LOVE THIS MORE IF I TRIED and feel so honored to receive the best mail a lady could ask for. Literally. Book mail is my love language.
  3. I love to get new books and am always on the lookout for my new favorite read. With that, comes impulsive buys and impulse holds at the library. And then I must read said impulse book. Apparently, I’m slightly impulsive lol. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I stay up to date with books and publishing trends and feel in the know about it (for once in my life I’m in the know because seriously, anything else-that has NEVER been the case for me).
  4. I LOVE to read bookish blogs and follow a TON of fantastic bookstagrammers over on Instagram. I’m always getting excited over another book someone has mentioned and must find a way to read it asap. Seriously, my phone is FULL of screenshots of books I must read ASAP. Spreading the love of book and finding ‘my people’ has been the best gift I’ve ever received and I’m here for it.
  5. I’m a mood reader for sure! I often find myself with a pile of books I’ve brought on vacation with me or think I’ll tackle over the  long weekend, and yet,my mood has me heading to the bookstore or perusing my shelves to find a specific genre that I’m in the mood for. That doesn’t bode well for a TBR list. Following my moods has ALWAYS led me to great reading experiences though, so I would never want that to change. It works for me and I’m so happy about that.
  6. I can often be found perusing my local bookstores and making purchases if I find something I want. And then I must rush home and get down to business (aka reading the book I just bought). My wife and I often go on bookstore dates and it’s our absolute favorite! Again, not great for a TBR pile, but FANTASTIC for my local community! I love to support my local small businesses. It’s the heartbeat of the community and keeping your dollars local is always good for everyone involved.
  7. Lastly, I join a lot of large buddy reads over on Instagram because I love talking about books with other book lovers and those tend to pop up randomly. Some great ongoing buddy reads that I really enjoy happen with @readwithkat (I just read ‘Five Feet Apart’ with her and loved it) and @nycbookgirl (I just finished ’84, Charing Cross Road’ with her and also LOVED it. Books about books and bookstores-yes please). Plus…making more bookish friends is seriously changing my life for the better. I’m in, always, for that!

So…if anyone is like me and can’t seem to stick with a TBR list, here are some possible reasons why but also, the beauty of it. Thinking about it has helped me just acknowledge that I might not be that person who has a photo of a pretty pile of books at the beginning of the month to get through. And after working that out, that’s okay with me. I hope you find some solace with loving however it is that you read. And now…off to read a book that wasn’t part of this month’s TBR list and couldn’t be happier about that 🙂

bookishfolk…read instead.

The Dinner List

Author: Rebecca Serle

Published: September 11, 2018

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Where I picked up my book: Free from publisher (THANK YOU)

Key Words: Fantasy, Magical Realism, Romance

My Rating: 4 stars

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Synopsis (via Goodreads):

For fans of Me Before You and ONE DAY comes a wondrous novel of first love, loss, and the dinner of a lifetime.

When Sabrina Nielsen arrives at her thirtieth birthday dinner she finds at the table not just her best friend, but also her favorite professor from college, her father, her ex-fiance, Tobias, and Audrey Hepburn.

At one point or another, we’ve all been asked to name five people, living or dead, with whom we’d like to have dinner. Why do we choose the people we do? And what if that dinner was to actually happen? These are the questions Sabrina contends with in Rebecca Serle’s utterly captivating novel, The Dinner List, a story imbued with the same delightful magical realism as Sliding Doors, and The Rosie Project.

As the appetizers are served, wine poured, and dinner table conversation begins, it becomes clear that there’s a reason these six people have been gathered together, and as Rebecca Serle masterfully traces Sabrina’s love affair with Tobias and her coming of age in New York City, The Dinner List grapples with the definition of romance, the expectations of love, and how we navigate our way through it to happiness. Oh, and of course, wisdom from Audrey Hepburn.

Delicious but never indulgent, sweet with just the right amount of bitter, The Dinner List is a modern romance for our times. Bon appetit.

My Thoughts:

This is a magical book that left me thinking long after I read the last sentence. What 5 people would you invite to a dinner party, dead or alive? What would you want to talk about? Would you make it an exciting, fun party full of laughter, good times, joking around and just a purely enjoyable time? Or would you get serious here and try to make some changes, either in the world at large, or in your own world? Or would it be a mix of both? I’ve been putting together my list and surprisingly, it’s bringing up a lot of emotions that I wasn’t expecting would happen after reading this book. First, I’d have Oprah, because duh. And I’d definitely have Obama because also…duh. I’d probably have my parents (we haven’t spoken in almost 9 years. Long story short-I’m gay. They are uber Christian. It’s painful and sad, but I want to definitely be a part of the conversation that my parents, Oprah and Obama would have.) And then I think I’d have my wife there. She’s my rock, a stable person in my life (the most stable), and my grounding force when I get crazy, erratic and hysterical. (shhh…that never happens 😉 ). I could just imagine this scenario and all the feels I’d be feeling. I think I’d want/need her as a grounding force. So there you have it-my 5 people. But can Michelle come too? I feel like her and Barack should count as one. So…Oprah, my parents, the Obama’s, and my wife. Done 🙂 Oprah, Obama’s…if you’re listening, let’s make it happen.

The book looks at various relationships throughout the plot and all are important to Sabrina (the main character) and all are important to us as the reader. The one relationship that I kept holding onto most was the friendship between Sabrina and her best friend, Jessica. Maybe I’m at the stage in my life where friendships are getting harder and harder to maintain as some of us move away, live in different cities in Colorado, get married, start having children, buy houses, get into the meat of our jobs, etc. but it just had me thinking long after I finished the book about my personal friendships. My friends mean a lot to me. As I stated earlier, I do not have family in my life anymore, and my friends have truly become my family. They are my support system and my people I go to for all sorts of things in my life. If you’re close to your mom…picture all the times you go to her to talk, for advice, to pass something by her, to go shopping with, to have a cup of coffee with, etc. This is what I do with my best friends. But similar to Sabrina and Jessica, I feel like it’s becoming progressively harder to maintain those tight friendships like I once did.  Life is busy and the days of hanging with my friends for days a time, talking, laughing (and probably drinking) are over and it sort of feels like adulthood is settling in and we are being forced to find a new normal as we settle into life . It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I just want to make sure to be vigilant of these changes and ensure we don’t lose them altogether. All this to say, I miss my friends, I look at my younger self and good times fondly, and could 100% relate to Sabrina and Jessica in the book.

If you like your fiction with a side of magic, grab this book-you won’t be disappointed. And the best part is…it’s out today for all to enjoy! Let me know what you think after reading it!

HERE is the link to get yourself a copy!

bookishfolk…read instead.