Thursday, June 26, 2008

In the Book Reviewer Hot Seat: Bookami

Another newly blogging book reviewer to the hot seat! Welcome Bookami! And while we don't expect her to be difficult, we would like to give away a copy of A Difficult Boy by M.P. Barker! So leave a comment by June 29th and we'll announce a winner on the 3oth! Okay, before we get to the difficult questions, let's get to know our guest!

What’s your handle? Bookami
What kind of books do you review? Ninety-nine percent of the time it's books for readers 16 and under. I have reviewed one adult book because it tied into a YA memoir.
Approx # of books reviewed? 50
Where can we find your reviews?

Reading turn-ons: When the setting is so carefully crafted in a novel that it becomes another character.
Reading turn-offs: Unrealistic dialogue
Class of 2K8 books reviewed:
Shift by Jennifer Bradbury
Gollywhopper Games by Jody Feldman.
I also bought The Magic Thief by Sarah Prineas and will review it soon.

We love the crazy handles book reviewers come up with—tell us how you came up with yours! A little bit about how you got into book reviewing would be cool too.

I can't take any credit for my handle. My older brother came up with the idea for the name Bookami. As one of my majors in college was French and the way I spell my first name means friend in French, he thought Book Friend would be a cute site for a name, but also, he thought it sounded like Cartoon Network's Toonami line of programming. Since my husband is a publisher of graphic novels/manga, this also seemed appropriate. As far as how I started reviewing books, in 2007 I left my children's book buying position at Borders to become a stay-at-home mom. While that is rewarding, I found that I felt lost without my connections to the children's book world. Hence, why not create a website and review children's books? Double bonus for me was that my other major in college was journalism. I could finally tell my Dad I was using my degree.

Speaking of degrees and school, describe your grading system and how that translates to the reader?

I don't really have a grading system for my site currently (My husband thinks I should have one). Since I'm the only reviewer for the site, I just write whether I like a book or not and support my opinion with appropriate examples.

How do you pick the books you review? Or are they picked for you? Do you ever read books that wouldn’t normally interest you—and if so have you ever been surprised by what you’ve read?

I pick all the books I read, and I do it the old-fashioned way for the most part - I shop the bookstores. I'm in various bookstores at least 3 times a week. Also, my husband and a few friends occasionally supply me with advance reading copies. Since I created the site in January, I find that I'm reading a lot more fantasy, which has never been my favorite genre, but I can say that I'm learning to enjoy it more. The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex was a major pleasant surprise for me. I never thought a book about aliens taking over the Earth would have me laughing out loud and staying up until three in the morning to finish it.

Sounds like a winner! What are the best ways to find new books? Any advice for authors about getting their book noticed by reviewers?

I find most of the books I review just by shopping the shelves. I also subscribe to the daily Publishers Weekly e-mail. This keeps me in touch with the really big books coming out. This is why I read Tunnels, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and Someday This Pain Will be Useful to You. None of these books would have been on my radar, particularly Part-Time Indian because the cover is awful, if it weren't for all the buzz they were receiving. I also always read the author bio before I buy a book. I'm a sucker for a debut novel.

Now that is music to our ears around here! Of course the next topic we'd rather not think about, and yet still we must ask. If you really aren’t feeling a book—will you make the ultimate sacrifice and finish it for the sake of the review?

As my site is my site and no one is telling me what to read, I don't have to finish a book that I don't like, but most of the time I do anyway. I'm a huge John Irving fan, but I really wasn't into Son of the Circus. My husband told me to stick with it through 100 pages, and he was so right. I loved it once I got past that point. The same thing happened to me with Stones from the River. Most books have some redeeming quality that can be called out even in an unfavorable review so they are still worth reading.

And what about the really good ones? If you really love a book—will you read it again? If so—what are some of the books you just had to read more than once?

I sadly don't have time to read books twice. If I really love a book, though, I will keep it on my shelf instead of donating it to the library. Living in an apartment in Brooklyn, my personal space is at a premium. If I keep a book, you know it's really something special.

Do you have a basic philosophy on what should be included in a review—or does it depend on the book itself?

It really does depend on the book itself. When I first started the site, I always included a synopsis of the book before my review. Now sometimes I include the synopsis as part of the review and sometimes I don't even do that. Sometimes I just write how the book made me feel. I also love when reviews include additional reading suggestions. For people who don't live and breathe books, I think it's helpful to be led to the next book you might want to read.

That is a great feature! Okay, tell us about the last time your jaw dropped open, you laughed, or you cried while reading a book.

I cried when reading The Underneath by Appelt. This book elicited such a response in me. It was really just as good as Rawls' Where the Red Fern Grows. No wonder this first-time author was paired with illustrator David Small. Her book totally deserved such royal treatment.

It's amazing to really connect with a book. Speaking of... is there any character in a book that you wish would come to life? Or any place you wish existed?

Since I love American history, I would like if Mannahatta from Gods of Manhattan existed. This wasn't my favorite book by any means, but I love the idea that there is an alternate NYC that is ruled by famous or infamous New York legends.

That would be interesting! What books do you find yourself recommending over and over and why?

I'm always recommending Sarah Dessen novels. I love how her characters seem to have their act together even when their lives aren't quite going right. Elsewhere by Gabriel Zevin is another book high on list of recommendations. But my ultimate go-to-book would have to be Up a Road Slowly by Irene Hunt. It won the 1967 Newbery, but isn't as well-known as her Across Five Aprils. Up a Road Slowly is truly the best coming-of-age story I've ever read. When I can't sleep because my mind is reeling, I start re-reading parts of this novel and always find I'm calmer and happier. You can't ask for more than that from a book.

Wow, it's amazing the effect books have on us! Even bad books. Oh, yeah, we're going there... the Extra Scandalous Question (We can probably just call it the ESQ now, can't we?) . Really bad reviews—do you ever fear giving them? Ever had an author get upset with you? (It’s okay—you can tell us, just don’t name names!) And what advice do you have for authors who get a bad review?

I only started my site in January so I haven't given that many bad reviews. I don't fear giving them, but I do try to find something redeeming about a book if at all possible. For instance, I really didn't like the graphic novel, Amulet. I didn't like the art or the plot, but I could say that at least the relationship between the children and the mom was really nice. I haven't been contacted by any upset authors yet, but I'm sure it will happen. When it does happen, I'll just try to respond to their comments as carefully as I can. If an author gets a bad review, I don't think they should stress. So many writers can't get published. Getting published is the battle. Even a bad review is advertising for a book.

Very true. I think a lot of us have bought a book simply to see--is it really that bad? LOL. Thanks for all the great answers! One last question: if they aren’t scared off by all that bad review talks and an author would like you to review her book, what should she do?

E-mail me at I buy 90% of the books I review. If an author contacts me a few weeks before their book comes out, I'll keep an eye out for it.

Don't forget to leave a comment to win our giveaway book! Bookami has yet to review A Difficult Boy, but here's what other fine reviewers are saying about M.P. Barker's debut novel:

"What was the life of an indentured servant but that of a slave? M.P. Barker brings it ringingly, cringingly to life...A Difficult Boy hinges on the efforts of two boys—one social, one circumstantially remote, soon to be friends—to escape their brutalized existence... Then there is Ivy, a horse that bonds the boys and provides their ticket out." --Kirkus Reviews, First Fiction Special Issue (15 Apr 2008, p. 17)

"How Ethan and Daniel bolster each other and escape Mr. Lyman's tyranny makes for a memorable tale of friendship and a fascinating glimpse into mid-19th-century Massachusetts. Like L. M. Elliott's Give Me Liberty (HarperCollins, 2006), this is an eye-opening look at indentured servitude in American history." --Kim Dare, Fairfax County Public Schools, VA, School Library Journal (1 May 2008)


Meredith said...

I really like the way that your handle came about. It is a great story.


Liviania said...

I enjoyed the story of the handle too.

I've never read any of Irene Hunt's books, although I know several people who were required to in elementary.

Book Chic said...

Great interview- I loved reading it. :) And I also liked the story behind your handle- very interesting.

Anonymous said...

I'm totally going to read your reviews...
cause i love how you recommend Sarah Dessen.
All my friends know that I'm crazy over her books. haha.

Carmen T

jmprince said...

Love the interview.

I just finished Kathi Appelt's THE UNDERNEATH. I can't stop thinking or talking about it now. It's made of awesome!

Breanna said...

Great interview. I agree with everyone else about the story how your handle came to be. =)

Please enter me in the book giveaway!


Bunny B said...

Great interview :)
Bookami sounds cute - but I thought it would have came from something Japanese than French :)

Tabitha said...

Great interview.

Hope you like The Magic Thief!

Little Willow said...

Bookami is a unique and memorable handle. Good pick!

Melissa Walker said...

I love that you're a sucker for a debut! I am too!