I've been thinking of doing a bookish gift post that had a specific fan theme, and since it's the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice I spent this weekend surfing the web for Jane Austen themed doodads. It should be no surprise, knowing how popular Jane Austen is, that I found a lot of Jane Austen themed objects. This is even with me making sure I wasn't repeating bookish gifts I had featured here before. Enjoy. (Click pictures for enlarged views).
1. Jane Austen bandages ($5) 2. Jane Austen Literary Chocolate (set of 6, €25) 3. Pride & Prejudice Hollow book safe ($62) 4. Jane Austen - Pride & Prejudice illustrated postcards (set of 5 - about $10) 5. Replica of Jane Austen's ring (£130 in gold, £60 in silver) 6. Pride & Prejudice Literary Transport mug (£7.95) 7. Made You Book sweatshirt ($42.99) 8. Pride & Prejudice peacock cuff ($40) 9. Pride & Prejudice book scarf ($42)
10. Totes Adorbs pillow ($20) 11. Persuasion Book Purse ($55) 12. Jane Austen Bust (£18.00) 13. Austen hand drawn quote bookmarks ($12.51) 14. Jane Austen Book Titles Tote ($23.63) 15. Mr Darcy Literary T-shirt ($24.95) 16. Baby Lit Board books - Pride & Prejudice (counting); Sense & Sensibility (opposites) ($9.99) 17. PBS: The Complete Jane Austen Collection DVD combo ($111.99)
18. Cozy Classics Board Books (Emma and Pride & Prejudice - $9.95 each) 19. Pemberley Rose Soy Candle ($12) 20. Jane Austen Silhouette necklace (pendant is laser cut in acrylic) ($19.90) 21. Pride and Prejudice pouch ($12) 22. "I Dearly Love a Laugh" quote pendant ($37.39) 23. Jane Austen mini button ($3) 24. Jane Austen library travel tin candle ($8) 25. Jane Austen graphic novels - Marvel classics (retail price between $15-$20 each) 26. Jane Austen stamp set (£5.30) 27. I Heart Darcy tote ($20) 28. From the Desk of Jane Austen - 100 postcard set ($20) 29. Gail Wilson Jane Austen inspired doll ($595 finished, $125 kit, extras from $10)
30. Penguin Clothbound/Hardcover Classics (about $20 each) 31. Persuasion mug, Pride and Prejudice mug (£8.95) 32. Jane Austen/Mr. Darcy cookie cutter set (about $16) 33. Persuasion book clutch (other Austen covers available! - 60€) 34. Jane Austen and modern day DVDs: Lost in Austen and Clueless ($4-$10) 35. Jane Austen font (free for personal use) 36. Jane Austen and Bollywood DVDs: Bride & Prejudice, Aisha (Emma adapation), and I Have Found It (S&S adaptation) ($6-$15 each) 37. Jane Austen quote pencils (6 NZD)
Hope you liked these! If you're interested in more of this kind of thing, check out the bookish gifts tag. P.S. There are so many Austen-inspired books I could have put here but I restrained myself. And if they existed, I would have included pre-order links for The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Austenland. Next time.
This is a review of a book provided to me by Orbit books.
The Premise: In the town of Lonne, in the country of Lirionne, a merchant dies, leaving behind his eight daughters. The women can't own their father's business, and without their father, they're destitute. The only path is for the oldest to marry so her husband could own the business and let her level-headed sister run it. This way they should make profit in a few years. The only problem is that no marriage can take place without a dowry. To save their sisters, two of the women volunteer to be "sold". Karah, the second oldest and everyone's favorite, secures a remarkable price at Cloisonné House, the best keiso house in the candlelight district. Eccentric Nemienne, the other sacrificing sister, turns her oddness into an asset when she goes the Lane of Shadows to become a mage's apprentice. Meanwhile, a bard named Taudde is caught in Lonne (in violation of the the treaty of Brenedde) and is forced by his captors to carry out their agenda. As war looms between Lirionne and its neighbor, Karah earns a protector in Leilis (a young woman who is not a servant but also not a keiso) against the jealousy of the other deisa, Nemienne explores the mage's house and is led to unexpected places, and Taudde struggles to escape the conspiracy he's been entangled in.
My Thoughts: House of Shadows is a multi-protagonist story where the point of view cycles between three main characters. The first chapter's focus is on the sisters and their decision to sell two of their number, the second's on Leilis of Cloisonné House, and the third's on Taudde and his difficulties. Because of the rotating points of view, it takes a third of the book (about 100 pages) before a unified plot makes itself known. (This review is going to talk about the threads, but not necessarily explain how they interweave because I try not to give away specific details on plot if it happens after page fifty).
There's always the danger with multiple protagonists that I'll end up invested in one character's storyline and want to skim everything else. At first I was afraid this would happen here because I really liked Karah and Nemienne's storyline. The death of a merchant father, the eight sisters--each with their own unique ability, and the necessary sacrifice to sell their loveliest and their strangest, infused the story with a fairytale quality I wanted to explore. I saw Beauty and the Beast in the sisters trading themselves in for their loved ones' comfort. I wanted to dive into a story that revolved around their training to be a keiso and a mage. The shift to Leilis, a servant who is not really a servant was a surprise, but she was still in the same orbit as Karah, and smooths Karah's transition into the House, so it wasn't a bad shift. Also, Leilis is mysterious and I wanted to figure out what was behind someone who could be unobtrusive and also navigate the in-house politics of Cloisonné. It was when the the story moves to Taudde in the third chapter that I struggled the most. That's when I really had to accept that the focus wasn't just on the two sisters forging new lives. On the other hand, with Taudde, the the scope of the story widened from personal drama to political intrigue. This wasn't the story of two sisters that I was expecting, but the world building combined with wanting to know what was going on lured me forward.
What I liked about the world building in House of Shadows is that you can feel the influence of other stories on it, but it still remains distinct from them. I've already mentioned fairy tales when I talked about the sisters' story, but there's also hints of it elsewhere: an unexplained curse, enigmatic animal guides, a man with an iron will. The sense of fairy tale also compliments how the magic of Lirionne is described. Lonne seems to be seeped in magic, yet most of the city is totally unaware, so when it is encountered, it's strange and secret. I felt like there was a sense of wonder and mystery because here was something complex and unpredictable. The best example of this (and my favorite) is the mage's "oddly outsized" house built into the mountain, where rooms may move and hallways stretch and bend. I love the "magical buildings that grow at will" trope.
Another influence I could see was Japanese culture -- appearing here as the keiso, Neumeier's version of geisha, with an emphasis she says, on "their roles as artists and high status women". Beautiful, respected, and independent thanks to their artistry, keiso are sought after and could even marry, becoming "flower wives" to wealthy men (their sons would be acknowledged by their fathers). I liked that this suggests a different kind of world building than the default Western-based one. The cover reflects that, depicting a girl with with Asian features, but in the book, race is actually hazy: Karah has blue eyes, "creamy skin", and "clouds of twilight hair", Leilis has "storm-gray eyes" and hair "so dark it was almost black", while another character has "dark eyes" and "straw-pale brows", his hair, "a shade lighter". That this story nods at Japanese culture, but it's only a facet of the world building, not all of the world building, is good too.
Overall: This was a nice multi-protagonist story and bonus: it's standalone, which isn't too common in Fantasy (the ending leaves the door ajar for further adventures, but I haven't heard any news about a sequel). The one complaint I have is that I wouldn't have minded getting to know individual characters more, but it didn't feel like there was room for that and to have the plot threads interweave so neatly and so well-synchronized. Character development is a big part of my personal scoring system, but I loved the world building, so in the end this fit into a middle-ish "liked" category for me.
The Book Smugglers - 8 (Excellent)
Bunbury in the Stacks - " I enjoyed the fairy tale beginning, but it was from halfway through to the end of this book that I was truly glued to the pages and unable to put it down."
I don’t think it comes as that great a surprise to anyone that follows this blog that it’s been in a quiet state for the past few months. I had the best intentions at the beginning of the year to balance the blog with the new job, but somehow at the end of the work day I’ve used up all my enthusiasm for things that require brainpower. I want nothing more than surf tumblr and check my TiVo queue. Ah, sweet laziness, I wallow in thee.
Some of this is that I have to focus on the new job and I should be using my grey matter for that, but some of it is just getting into a funk from not posting for a while. Things were better: after BEA and the BEA Blogger Con, I got some of the enthusiasm back, and I was posting again and visiting blogs I like.
Then this summer I was put in a leadership role at work. On one hand: Kick-ass opportunity. On the other hand: I am figuring out the work-life balance all over again now that my role changed. There are so many more meetings, so many more decisions, so much more email, so much more responsibility. And I’m new at this. Sometimes at the end of my day I just think, “I am exhausted!” but I think once I adjust I will find the balance again. I swear, I see land in the horizon! It’s just not something that happens overnight.
I haven’t read that much this year. Reviews are taking me longer to write than they used to. I feel bad about that. I’m still working on it. I’m pretty stubborn. I like this space of mine online. I am keeping at it. Consider this post a declaration: “I’m still here.”
So if you have any lovely tips on work-life-blog balance, I would love to hear them. I KNOW I’m not the only one who has had to deal with adjusting to a new job, and I wonder what other people do to get blogging in. Work on the blog super-duper early in the morning? Super late at night? Write up a ton of posts in the weekend and schedule them for weekdays? Write partial posts on your smartphone? I need to learn the ways.
To celebrate the paperback release of Thirteen by Kelley Armstrong, the final book of the Women of the Otherworld series (available August 6th), Plume has offered a copy for this blog's readers.
The gripping, epic finale to the bestselling Otherworld series
A war is brewing and the first battle has already been waged. After rescuing her half brother from supernatural medical testing, Savannah Levine—a young witch of remarkable power and a dangerous pedigree—is battered, but still standing. The Supernatural Liberation Movement took him hostage, and they have a maniacal plan to expose the supernatural world to the unknowing.
Savannah is fighting to save her world as witches, werewolves, necromancers, vampires, half-demons, and all the forces of good and evil—including the genetically modified werewolves known as hell hounds—enter the fray. Uniting Savannah with Adam, Elena, Clay, Paige, Lucas, Jaime, Hope, and other denizens of the Otherworld, Thirteen is a thrilling conclusion to this blockbuster series.
- This giveaway is for U.S./Canada only
- Contest ends: Sunday, August 4th.
- One entry per person please!
The Premise: It's fall semester of freshman year, and Cather (aka Cath, the Less Adventurous Twin), feels lost amongst the other undergraduates. Her sister Wren has basically abandoned her ("if we do this together, people will treat us like we're the same person"); her dad is home alone and Cath worries about that; her roommate Reagan is scary, and comes with the too-friendly Levi, who is in their room all the time. All Cath wants is to be left alone to work on her massively popular and novel length Simon and Baz fan fiction, Carry On, but college is getting in the way, and college is hard.
My Thoughts: Reading Fangirl is a comforting exercise. It's one of those books where you open it's pages and don't notice the words because it takes no time to be engulfed. What's more, nothing extraordinary may be happening on the page -- moving into the dorms, briefly meeting a new roommate, saying goodbye to relatives, but there is an engrossing quality to how the characters reveal themselves through their everyday interactions. Well, sort of everyday. It's not every day you move away from home and have your support system disappear. Titular character Cath thinks that college is hard, but I think the real issue is having to do it alone. Without her twin Wren at her side, Cath is too anxious to even go to the cafeteria by herself and lives off a stash of energy bars rather than find out where it is. She sits in the bathroom stalls quietly crying while the other girls in her hall are meeting one another. She is a quintessential introvert, her mind focused on an inner world, and who doesn't like to get out of her comfort zone. Her sister may call her 3 year (now long distance) boyfriend an "end table", but Cath is content with things being as they are.
You know where this is going. Cath can't have the world stay safe and easy, and it won't pause for her. Eventually she has to interact with others and be absorbed into new people's orbits, and no matter what she does, other people and their lives affect hers. First (and most obvious) to impact her is her sister's desertion, a strange flip in loyalty that leaves Cath floundering, but her sister is not the only family member that can rattle Cath. In college itself, Cath can't avoid her roommate Reagan or the ubiquitous Levi, but then there's also people from her classes like Nick from Creative Writing and the assortment of new acquaintances Cath picks up because she doesn't want to be rude.
What I liked though, is that Cath got to stay herself while having to accept change. This is not a story with the moral that being introverted does you no good; it's perfectly fine to be that way. In fact, one of my favorite parts of the story is Cath's private world and her devotion to the Simon Snow series. Fan fiction is so popular now, it's practically mainstream, but I don't think I've ever heard of a story that embraces that subculture the way that Fangirl does. I don't think of myself as part of that subculture, but even I know about 'slash' and 'ships', and there's a certain joy in recognizing that Simon Snow is a riff on Harry Potter. Obviously (points at book blog), I get the whole fan and being into books thing, and any time Cath waxed poetic about characters she loves, or I read excerpts of Simon Snow or Cath's fan fiction (placed like intermissions between chapters) and recognized elements, I grinned internally. I loved how this is important to Cath's life and reflects as such in her conversations and relationships. Simon or simply, "stories" and "storytelling" is shared ground between Cath and others and there are a lot of scenes where it is the bridge between minds.
For all of Cath's fangirl-ly-ness I connected with Cath while also not really connecting with her. The introverted, wanting-to-be-alone parts I could understand, but some of her more extreme coping mechanisms (like not bothering to find the cafeteria and essentially starving) I could not. It doesn't matter though. What matters is that even if I didn't always understand her, I always felt for Cath. It was the same for the secondary characters who didn't always make the best choices but managed to make me care about them. This is what I want New Adult fiction to be--not a marketing term that means sex, but an extension of the coming-of-age tale into a post-adolescent bracket. Fangirl captures the awkward unsure side of tasting independence for the first time.
The last thing I want to say about Fangirl is that it is surprising. There were some things that I was expecting, but in the end, this story made it's characters a lot more complicated than I thought they were going to be, and thus bucked all my predictions. This includes a blossoming romance that I thought was going to be smooth and sweet but defied me by being almost painfully uncertain instead (and was the better for it). If you think you know what's going to happen after reading the first 50 pages, you'd probably be wrong. The plot is essentially about relationship growth, and every single relationship Cath began in safe little boxes and mushroomed out to be unique and nuanced and entirely different beasts from which they began.
Overall: Really, really, good. I found very little to complain about, and when I did, it was always a personal reaction to a character's actions and no reflection on the actual writing or story -- not worth going over in this review. And it actually seems to get better the more I reflect on it after finishing it. I hadn't read anything by Rainbow Rowell before but it hasn't missed my attention how many fans she has in the book blogging community. I waited in line for a copy of Fangirl because of the hype, and it was a very long wait. I can tell you now: it was utterly worth it.
P.S. How about that cover? I felt proud of myself for recognizing the artwork of gingerhaze.
Buy: Amazon | Powell's | The Book Depository
Not yet as far as I could tell (I searched amongst my book blog friends), but if I missed yours, let me know.
My Thoughts: This is a book that I bought for purely shallow reasons: the cover pleases me. I like the use of the white background, the title placement, and the unexpected figure hanging from a ceiling beam. It does have a bit of a young adult feel (young woman on cover seems to equal YA these days), but I didn't really realize it was YA until I looked it up on the publisher's website. Despite just wanting this book because it's so pretty, I didn't pounce until I found a nice used copy because of on-the-fence (not really stellar, but not hating it either) reviews from reviewers I trust.
So. Thieves, guilds, remarkable orphans, and a pantheon of gods that can directly communicate with their worshipers (if they so wish to). These are very well-worn tropes of fantasy and they form the building blocks of the world within Thief's Covenant. I don't really find this a bad thing, it's comfort food if it's not new-to-you, and fun if it is. What I think this story does differently is that injects an entertainment to everything. What I mean by that is: no matter what grim thing is happening on the page, the prose manages to veer off into humorous territory. You can start a scene where grim Guardsmen are examining the grisly remains of a dozen aristocrats, the floor positively awash in blood, when the focus shifts to the rafters above them where a whisper-conversation is taking place between Adrienne and her god Olgun. They're both in shock because, well what kind of secret cult keeps written records?!
I liked the humor to a certain extent. When the jokes were gentle elbow-nudges, I was on board, but it could get rather slapstick-y, which is less of my cup of tea. Either way, there's enough lightheartedness in here for me to appreciate the entertainment. One running gag was how basically everyone was after Adrienne/Widdershins but she always manages to one-up them. The Guardsmen are after Adrienne for one reason, and Widdershins for another. The Finder's Guild are after Widdershins for her general cheekiness, and there's a third group that just wants to find Widdershins/Adrienne to kill the survivor of the massacre. The whole book makes me think of a hall of doors chase scene mixed with elements of 'Home Alone'. Whenever Adrienne is caught, I feel like she always turns it around, leaving her captors worse off.
What is surprising is how this type of humor is juxtaposed with violence. That's where my one real complaint about the story stems from -- strangely, more because of how the secondary characters suffered than for the violence itself (although that was also jarring in the midst of what is mostly a caper). I felt like with so many throw-away characters, no chance for something deeper than a set of archetypes as the supporting cast. I would've enjoyed delving further and seeing their relationships with Widdershins develop. Maybe the point is to keep Widdershins isolated, or to add grit to the story. I don't know, all I know is I wound up feeling unfulfilled, and questioning if how things played out was how it had to go. The humor and adventure in the story mostly balances out this ruffled feeling, but didn't erase it entirely.
I have the second book of this series, False Covenant, on the to-be-read pile. I plan to read it soon.
Overall: The world building is typical fantasy fare and the secondary characters don't really get the development they could, but the prose and humor evens things out so what you are left with is something that falls squarely on middle ground. I would recommend this as something to try if what you're looking for is simply entertainment.
Buy: Amazon | Powell's | The Book Depository
The Book Smugglers - Joint rating was: 6 (Good, recommended with reservations)
Bitching, Books, and Baking - 5 beaters (out of 5): "There are WORDS in them thar pages! Glorious, well thought-out WORDS!"
Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell - "The ever so cool Widdershins made this my fav Marmell book to date"
This review is based on a finished copy of the book sent to me by SOHO Press.
The Premise: Every year, a time traveler travels to the same time and place: the Boltzmann Hotel, Manhattan, 1st of April, 2071, and celebrates his birthday with different versions of himself. It's a tradition he started when he was eighteen years old and invented his time travel raft. On his thirty-ninth birthday, the party is different. This time he discovers what the elder versions of himself have been hiding from the younger ones - that there's been a murder, and the victim is his forty-year old self. Unfortunately, no one over forty can remember exactly what happened, and they are panicked. The time traveler has to solve the murder before he becomes the victim.
My Thoughts: I loved the convoluted mystery implied by the premise of Man in the Empty Suit. With one man the center of everything - the future victim, the investigator, and all the suspects, I thought I was going to experience something very surreal, like an M.C. Escher image where everything loops cleverly back to the beginning. This story starts promisingly down this vein, but doesn't quite complete the circuit.
This is how it all begins in the first fifty pages: the time traveling narrator enters the hotel and he's persuaded to go above the third floor (a rule he had previously not broken) with an older version of himself. Then the older him sneaks off by taking the elevator back down and is found dead despite being supposedly alone in the car. Suddenly our narrator is surrounded by the older contingent of his birthday party, the Elders, who are all 'helpfully' giving him information about the murder and laying the whole problem in his hands. Our narrator, surrounded by himself has to mentally nickname his future selves based on their distinguishing features: Screwdriver, Yellow, Seventy, the Body. They all form a sort of secret club within the party, helping the narrator as he scrambles from the body to the ballroom and up and down the floors, trying to find clues while keeping his younger selves ignorant. This was all very weird, in an awesome way, but then all of a sudden there's this paradox thrown in. And then a woman.
Somehow, the focus is taken away from the murder, and what I'm reading isn't really a murder-mystery. This is more like a strange tale that examines this one character, his relationship with himself, a woman, Time, and whether everything he's doing is predetermined or if he can change his fate. In theory I should be having a great time, but in reality I found myself sort of drifting through the pages. This wasn't a difficult book to read (I was never confused about what was going on), nor did it drag, but I did feel like there wasn't really a point to everything and the plot was just muddling along. I think if I was the sort of reader who could be content with what I got, which was personal growth, independent agendas, and time travel strangeness, I would have fared better, but my problem was that I had expectations that weren't met. That this was a murder-mystery, first of all. If that wasn't going to happen, I would have settled for some clever Möbius plot. Neither really panned out for me, and this left me discontent. For a long time after I finished Man in the Empty Suit I wondered if I had actually missed some vital piece of information that would have satisfied these expectations, but I have flipped back and forth through the last hundred pages and haven't found it yet. Maybe I should be satisfied with the quiet and reflective ending instead of wanting a flashier one, but I'm not. To me, the way the story ended revealed that there was no plan. I felt like this story was pants-ed and not plotted, and it bugged me.
If plot is something that doesn't quite work for me, sometimes the characters make up for it. In this case, our narrator (he never gets a name by the way, which I actually like), isn't the easiest to relate to. I mean, who is the type of person to use their time-traveling raft to do nothing really special but study history, not for humanity, but for his own curiosity, and who likes to spend his birthday (for years and years!), with no one but himself? He's so self-involved, that he wants to be the center of attention at the party where all the attendees are himself:
"Thoroughly frozen now, I rubbed my skin dry with my palms and then pulled my new clothes out of my travel bag: a suit, the Suit. At last my turn to wallow in the shit of self-adoration.
Every year the entire party -- all my selves-- paused in respect when the Suit made the Entrance into the ballroom. All my other visits to the party were tainted. I always tried too hard to be the center of attention, even with myself. Especially with myself. But the Suit was beyond that; everyone paid attention to him without any effort on his part at all. A few times I tried to get close to him, to get a sense of when I might be him, but I had never been able to get his attention. It was as if he were attending a party to which no one else was invited."
This self-absorption is reflected in every character that is him. Granted, the younger members of the party are immature in obvious ways (drunk throughout the party, or openly resentful), but while the Elders are more concerned about the welfare of the group, they are still selfish in their own ways. And does our protagonist grow in this book? Well he's forced to go through a period of growth and eventually sees his own flaws, but it takes him a long time. So long that I spent most of the book not liking him.
Maybe this review sounds like a rant, but I'm trying to work through what's not working because there's something here, something that could be really good, but it's not enough. I'm really close to having some undefinable list of personal requirements met that would leave me satisfied, but this story and I, we didn't quite click.
Overall: My expectations led me astray on this one. I wanted one thing (crime solving, or time travel awesomeness), but I got something else (I'm not sure what to call it). The way this story bucked expectations is a positive, and I don't think I could say I've ever read anything like this, but in the end I'm more of a feeler than a thinker when it comes to my reactions to things, and I just wasn't getting what I wanted out of this story.
Buy: Amazon | Powell's | The Book Depository
One of my favorite people in the world (and partial originator of the 'janicu' nickname) came to New York City last week over Memorial Day Weekend. Besides our usual (the MoMA: all six floors, and then food), we visited Book-Off, which is at 49 W 45th St, just a a short walk from Grand Central.
This place is magical. Basically it is a used book store, but it's a Japanese chain so there are a lot of Japanese books and manga there. There used to be a Book-Off about 10 minutes away from me in Hartsdale, NY but that was a short-lived venture - probably because there were a lot more books in Japanese than English and I don't think very people really knew it was there. But this Book-Off, the one in NYC? It has plenty of English books. It has rows and rows of used DVDs and CDs in the front, a huge sale section in the back, magazines to one side, and then a floor below with Japanese books and manga, and an upstairs balcony with I think non-fiction (but don't quote me because I was just glued to the fiction shelves, salivating and petting bindings). Also many books are on sale for $1. MANY MANY books. The books that are not on sale: about $2.50 for a paperback and $5 for a hardcover. It's not too shabby. I also prefer it over the Strand when it comes to its selection of genre fiction: SF&F and Romance in particular. The Strand does have a bigger YA section and general fiction section, but I think Book-Off beats the Strand's prices because all the books at Book-Off are used.
You can open the drawers on the bottom of the shelves and there are more books!
Anyway, if you happen to be in New York City, I'm just saying this place exists.
This past Thursday and Friday I was at the annual Book Expo America held at the Javits Center in New York City. I also attended the BEA Bloggers Conference (formerly the Book Bloggers Conference) on Wednesday. Here's my (supah long) report of these things.
BEA BLOGGERS CONFERENCE:
BEA Bloggers is a book blogger convention affiliated with BEA. You may or may not recall, but last year I had a horrible time dealing with registration for the BEA Bloggers Con, and after that I was rather disappointed in the conference itself. That was the year the convention was bought by Reed and it felt like the new management didn't really understand book bloggers and it led to there being a ridiculous amount of promotion to a captive audience amongst other blunders. This was not really what I'd paid money to have to deal with, and from the posts online there were a lot of book bloggers that shared my disappointment. Thankfully Reed Exhibitions seemed to be listening, sent out surveys to book bloggers, and set up a conference advisory board to make this year's conference better. Even with this, I dragged my feet when it came to registering again this year. I only live a train ride away and I can afford to go (I know I am very lucky to be in my situation), but last year honestly drained me. On top of that I've been neglecting book blogging because of my full-time job. I finally decided to go a week before the conference itself, but a lot of bloggers who went last year told me they were skipping the BEA Blogger Con if they were coming to BEA at all.
So with that optimistic preamble, how was it?
I think it was a lot better than last year. This time I had minimal problems registering (I had the page open too long and it didn't register me when I hit submit, so I had to redo it all. It also hiccuped and sent me back to the main BEA registration page, not back to the BEA Blogger Con registration page), I felt like the con was more about book blogging than it was about promoting things to book bloggers than it was last year, and I also felt like this year I learned something from a couple of the panels that I attended. On top of that there seemed to be more effort to represent the different genres of bloggers in the panels with a YA and adult blog track, genre fiction like Romance and SFF were better represented, there were more book bloggers on panels about book blogging, and it felt like the way the sessions were timed at 45 minutes this year allowed for more sessions and decent breaks between them.
On the other hand, there is still room for improvement. I'm not convinced the keynote speakers fully understood book bloggers (maybe we should do away with the keynote speeches - I'd personally be OK with having the time to talk to people over breakfast/drinks instead), I had some trouble deciding what sessions to attend because all I had was a title and no description, and there were still a few comments by some non-book-blogger speakers that made me pause. Most notable for me were remarks about "being nice". I'm going to say I think their hearts may have been in the right place but I was wincing internally. Between the opening keynote speaker's comments on negative reviews and a couple of other offhand comments in other sessions (from mostly non-book blogger panelists) telling bloggers not to post on controversial topics for page views and not to fight with authors on social media, I left the con wondering a little bit about how book bloggers are seen by those who are in the publishing industry. In my mind the comments suggest a disconnect from the book blogger's perspective. There could be some validity to the speakers' comments, but reviewers have been targeted for critical reviews that were not attacks on an author, posting on controversial topics is not necessarily a bid for attention, and as for fights over social media--there are always two sides to every story. Maybe I'm feeling defensive of being a book blogger and I'm taking some comments and seeing a pattern where there isn't one, but this was food for thought for me after BEA. Anyway, putting that aside, I really did feel a lot better about the con compared to last year - but last year set a pretty low bar. If I don't go next year it would be more about having gotten what I can out of this con rather than anything else. That said, there are bloggers who were more disappointed than I was.
The opening and closing keynotes and the Ethics Panel Luncheon were events that was shared universally by all attendees, but in the morning and afternoon there were sessions where there was a choice between two options. In the morning there was a YA focused track and a non-YA focused track (which they called "adult") to choose from, .and in the afternoon the sessions were more about general blogging topics.
These were the sessions I attended:
- Opening Keynote (Will Schwalbe)
- Adult Editor Insight Panel (other choice: Young Adult Editor Insight Panel)
- Adult Book Blogging Pros: Successes, Struggles and Insider Secrets (other choice: Young Adult Book Blogging Pros)
- Ethics Forum Luncheon
- Blogging Platforms (other choice: Taking Your Online Presence Offline)
- Extending the Reach of Your Blog Online (other choice: Book Blogging and the "Big" Niches)
(I skipped the Closing Keynote with Randi Zuckerberg)
Opening Keynote: I saw that there was a camera set up but I am unable to find the video online, but I found a nice recap from a fellow blogger here that I thought hit the highlights. The general feeling I came away with was that Schwalbe had a genuine enthusiasm for books and for how reading connects people. He had some poignant things to say about the book club for two he had with his mother after she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and he talked about the different definitions of success in publishing with a story about connecting to one reader at a book signing, but he also said a couple of things that I don't think he realized were a bit touchy for his audience. This included talking about the affect that "negative reviews" have on authors with advice such as "keep in mind the human beings behind these books". I wish I could find the video so I could just link to it and ask people to watch and decide how they feel about what he said. Overall it was a nice speech and I thought Schwalbe's earnestness very likable, but his comments about negative reviews have me mulling days later. OK, let's move on.
Adult Editor Insight Panel: This turned out to be a buzz panel where each of the editors discussed books they were particularly excited about this year. Joshua Kendall of Mulholland Books talked about two books: The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes (who won the Arther C. Clarke award for her Zoo City), about a time traveling serial killer ("imagine Silence of the Lambs written by Margaret Atwood"), and S, a book by JJ Abrams and Doug Dorst which he says reorients your experience as a reader (he compares it to House of Leaves) and is a book about storytelling. There will be 20 to 22 pieces of ephemera related to S and the first one is a postcard from Brazil (see picture below). Patrick Nielsen Hayden of Tor Books discussed Jo Walton's What Makes This Book So Great, which is a collection of selected tor.com essays by Walton in which she rereads books and discusses them; Twenty-First Century Science Fiction, a collection of science fiction stories; and The Incrementalists by Steven Brust and Skyler White, a supernatural procedural centered around a society with special powers and a goal to make the world a little bit better a little bit at a time. Mary-Theresa Hussey talked about The Returned by Jason Mott, which is about people who have died returning to their families, and Sarah Beth Durst's first adult trilogy which begins with The Lost, and is about a small town in the desert where missing things go - this includes the heroine, Lauren. Out of all the books discussed, I was most interested in Sarah Beth Durst's and Jo Walton's, so they're going on my "what to watch for" list.
Adult Book Blogging Pros: Jim Hines was the moderator here, with bloggers Mandi Schreiner from Smexy Books, Rebecca Joines Schinsky of Bookriot, and Sarah Wendell from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books making up the panel. I was excited by this one because the panel was full of actual bloggers, and two of the blogs were Romance, which I felt was a genre that is hugely popular and strangely underrepresented at this con in previous years. This was a fun session and I thought the panelists had some good advice, notably from Sarah Wendell: "your opinion belongs to you, no one should tell you it's not valid". Also Jim Hines specifically joked about being in front of book bloggers and holding back from pitching his books. I thought this showed awareness for staying on topic and why the audience was there that was refreshing. Another thing I thought was a good takeaway was their discussion on social media and how it didn't always have to be about books - that just linking to your posts on twitter isn't enough. They recommended being multidimensional and not being afraid of being vulnerable because people will connect to you (Sarah of Smart Bitches said she just has rules about what she won't talk about - like the mafia, don't talk about the job, don't talk about the family).
Ethics Forum Luncheon: I think a couple of years back there was a rash of posts about FTC disclosures and we've had previous sessions on this at BBC, so I wasn't unfamiliar with the topics at this forum, but this is still a useful panel nonetheless. Jane Litte of Dear Author moderated a discussion with Richard Newman of Hinch Newman LLP and Professor Geanne Rosenberg of Baruch College. First the speakers went over their credentials, then they discussed what the FTC guidelines for bloggers were. Basically you must disclose if you got a free product to review or are compensated in any way. It should be noted that the FTC is more concerned about reviews that are falsely positive in order to sell a product rather than reviews that are not positive. Disclosure should be clear and conspicuous. After this there was some discussion of ethics and conflicts of interest (something that gets in the way of or appears to get in the way of clear, unbiased, independent opinion), and then the floor opened up to questions. I wish I could say I paid more attention, but I'm afraid I zoned out after a while. :\ ETA: I meant to link to this Book Smuggler's post in which they pointed out some of the problems with this panel which includes calling ARCs "free".
Blogging Platforms: This might have been one of my favorite panels because the women who were in it (Rachel Rivera of Parajunkee, Evie Seo of Bookish, April Conant of good Books and Good Wine, and Stephanie Leary - a Wordpress consultant) went into some more technical detail of the day-to-day differences between some of the more popular blogging platforms (specifically blogger and wordpress were compared, and then the differences between wordpress.com versus wordpress.org were discussed). I have a wordpress.com site because I cannot be bothered to deal with self-hosting, keeping code up-to-date, dealing with security and backing up my blog that is involved with wordpress.org, so this panel cemented my continuing laziness, but may eventually get fed up with some of the plugins I can't get on the .com end. There was also an interesting discussion of useful-for-book-blogger wordpress.com plugins, including one for star-ratings. Plus I'd always been curious about blogger so it was interesting to have it's pros and cons laid out even if I'm not really ever going to move there.
Extending the Reach of Your Blog Online: I was seriously waffling over sitting in on this panel until the moderator busted out a laptop and we realized that a powerpoint presentation was happening. It was a long day and I needed some visual aids in my life. The panelists were Mandy Boles of The Well-Read Wife, Malle Vallik of Harlequin (moderator), Eric Smith of Quirk Books, and Robert Mooney of Blogads. Basically this session was about using social media in order to drive traffic to your blog. Mandy Boles started by saying she thinks that the next big thing after twitter and facebook is instagram because it is on its way to having 100 million users within 3 years. She talked about how she uses Instagram, and then moved on Vine, which is like Instagram except users share 6 second long videos. She recommended using the availability of hashtags in both these social platforms to get yourself noticed. [FYI: both of these social apps are geared towards Apple customers, and I am anti-Apple, so for those of you like me: Vine just became available on android this week]. Eric Smith talked about how offline events can produce traffic online - for example he has something called the Geek Awards that has created traffic for his blog. Finally Robert Mooney recommended using Stumbleupon because 'stumbles' last a long time, while on twitter you post a link and the effect of bringing in traffic is only a temporary blast. He also recommends Reddit but cautions that you can't just jump into the Reddit community, you have to be a "good citizen" and "do your research" before you dive in.
BEA: THE HAUL, THE PEOPLE
I attended BEA on Thursday and Friday (I thought about also going Saturday but I was pretty pooped by then). As usual it was pretty crowded and crazy, but this year I think I had a better time dealing with it. It helped that there weren't that many books that I HAD to have so I wasn't really rushing around. There were some long lines though - I think I waited up to an hour to get a couple of books signed. I didn't really go straight to the most crowded areas when BEA first opened it's doors so maybe I just wasn't looking at the right time, but to me it didn't seem like there were as many books out on the floor as before. It might be that there just was less Young Adult and Science Fiction & Fantasy out though because a couple of people told me they thought there were more books this year. I did feel like it was a lot harder to get extra copies of books. I was trying to get certain YA books that other bloggers asked me to look out for, but the publishers were pretty strict about the popular titles.
Anyway, here's my haul. I tried, but I have a hard time saying "no thanks" when someone hands me a book. This means there's a couple of YAs in here that I'm debating if I'll keep because I don't really know what they're about (The Wolf Princess and Catena in case you were wondering). The total is: 19 books, 1 sampler book, 1 novella.
As usual, seeing blogger friends was the best part, so I was happy I got to spend some time walking around with Stacey (USAToday's HEA and Heroes and Heartbreakers), and with Heidi (Bunbury In the Stacks). It was brief but I finally met Alyssa of Books Take You Places. I also met Andrew of Raging Biblioholism (he writes lovely reviews, you should all mosey over to his blog and check them out).
I saw a few other bloggers briefly through the days (Ana and Thea, Elizabeth, and Memory), but I wasn't able to find everyone I knew who was there. I have to say I was really missing a few bloggers that I had connected with at previous BEAs who decided not to come this year - it felt strange not to see some of my fellow YAckers and Kristen of Fantasy Cafe. BEA wasn't the same without them, but thank goodness for the Internet.
Overall, I was exhausted after three days, but BEA did it's job in making me feel re-energized about reading and blogging, so this means I'm probably going to be posting more regularly around here and visiting and commenting on other book blogs again. Watch this space. :)
To celebrate the publication of Deborah Harkness' Shadow of Night in paperback on May 28th, the publisher Viking/Penguin has offered a copy of the book, along with some alchemical symbol buttons to give away to a reader of this blog.
A Discovery of Witches introduced reluctant witch Diana Bishop, vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont, and the battle for a lost, enchanted manuscript known as Ashmole 782. Harkness’s much-anticipated sequel, Shadow of Night, picks up from A Discovery of Witches’ cliffhanger ending. Diana and Matthew time-travel to Elizabethan London and are plunged into a world of spies, magic, and a coterie of Matthew’s old friends, the School of Night. As the search for Ashmole 782 deepens and Diana searches for a witch to tutor her in magic, the net of Matthew’s past tightens around them, and they embark on a very different—and vastly more dangerous—journey.
Please go to this page at the specficromantic blog to enter!
- Sorry, this contest is just for U.S. addresses this time
- One entry per person please
- Contest ends Wednesday, May 22nd (midnight EST)