Tuesday, June 24, 2008

In the Book Reviewer Hot Seat: Little Willow

Next up in the hot seat, the force behind one of the most comprehensive YA and MG book review blogs in the industry, Little Willow!!! We literally have to raise the roof to fit in all the books she's read and reviewed! In fact it is so crowded, we must part with one--and you can leave a comment for your chance to win Bewitching Season by Marissa Doyle! (Deadline to enter is June 29th, winner announced June 30th).

Okay, here we go with some quick stats:

What's your handle? Little Willow
What kind of books do you review? Most of what I review is young adult fiction, but I read and enjoy a wide variety of books: classic literature for both adults and children, contemporary adult fiction, fantasy, horror, and mystery, contemporary juvenile fiction, non-fiction works pertaining to Ancient Egypt, math, science, and language, the occasional biography, some picture books, and other reference materials. I love words and will read the dictionary for fun.
Approx # of books reviewed?Hundreds.
Where can we find your reviews?
http://slayground.livejournal.com/
http://slayground.livejournal.com/tag/reviews
I also post some of my book reviews at other websites and online communities, such as Young Adult Books Central, The Edge of the Forest, Amazon, and the readergirlz forum. As a freelance journalist, I sometimes submit my reviews to print magazines and papers as well.
Reading turn-ons:Realism. Compassion. Intelligence. Imagination.
Reading turn-offs:Cliches. Excessive swearing. Debauchery.
Class of 2K8 books Reviewed:
The Opposite of Invisible by Liz Gallagher (author interview)
(I also created Liz's website:http://www.lizgallagher.com/)
Shift by Jennifer Bradbury (author interview)
Read My Lips by Teri Brown (author interview)
Alive and Well in Prague, New York by Daphne Grab (author interview)
Undone by Brooke Taylor
Samantha Hansen Has Rocks In Her Head by Nancy Viau

I have additional titles in my to-read pile:
A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce
Bewitching Season by Marissa Doyle
Braless in Wonderland by Debbie Reed Fischer


Wow, awesome list! Okay, let's get into the tough questions, shall we. 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.

The first time I went online was in the spring of 1997, shortly after the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer started airing. I went to the show's official website and found a forum there. Realizing that I needed a handle, I came up with Little Willow. At that point in the show, the character of Willow was a book-smart brunette, so I related to her. I tacked on the Little because I was younger and shorter than the actress who portrayed her.

"At that point in the show..." are you distancing yourself from Evil Willow perhaps? Since we know you're not evil (stay away from that black magic, okay?), let's talk about your grading system and how that translates to the reader?

I don't usually grade books in my reviews, but in some of my booklists, like the Tough Issues for Teens booklist- I give each book a rating according to the United States movie rating guide - G, PG, PG-13, or R - based on content, and a number of stars - four being the best - based on quality, in my personal opinion.

Book ratings are a hot topic right now, but we could be here all day if we started discussing that! Tell us--how do you pick the books you review? Or are they picked for you?

Some book reviewers are employed by newspapers, magazines, websites, etcetera, and they may or may not have to review certain titles. I'm not employed by any such publications. I work as a bookseller full-time and blog about books to share my love of literacy with others. I review books I enjoy and want to encourage others to read.

You say you read books you enjoy, but 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 read a variety of books. No matter what the genre, I love when a book impresses me and surprises me a good way.

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

Ask booksellers, librarians, friends, family, and other trusted individuals for recommendations. Don't form an opinion of a book strictly based on the cover, nor strictly based on someone else's review - read it yourself! One person's junk is another person's treasure, so you might greatly enjoy a book that someone else reviewed negatively, and vice-versa. Readers: Read to learn. Read to experience and consider new things. Read to escape. Read for the story. Read just to read. Authors: Be yourself. Believe in your book, your story, your characters, and your writing. Be positive, realistic, and optimistic. Your book will find its way to those who will appreciate it. Consider your audience. Think about why you wrote the book and for whom it was written. Don't be pushy when approaching reviewers, buyers, and others in the book community. Tell them about your book and see if they seem interested. Don't demand that they read it, review it, buy it - just talk about it.

Great advice! Let me ask you something else, if you really aren't feeling a book - will you make the ultimate sacrifice and finish it for the sake of the review?

If I start a book, I have to finish it. That's my own personal rule. On average, I read a book a day, more if there are picture books and short works in the mix!

One a day! WOW! So 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?

Oh, yes! As a kid, I re-read my favorite books and checked out cherished stories from the library again and again. It was like visiting friends. Books I've read a countless number of times include Anne of Green Gables, The Westing Game, The Phantom Tollbooth, and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. A few years ago, I sat down with The Great Gatsby intending to simply locate a quote within its pages and ended up re-reading the entire book right then and there. I enjoy reading and re-reading Christopher Golden's books.

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

I like when reviews are informative, passionate, and truthful! Be it a professional or a more informal review, it ought to include the book's premise as well as the reviewer's thoughts on the story and the writing. The style and length of the review may depend not only on the book, but also on the reviewer and/or the publication. Some magazines and reviewers follow a strict format and adhere to a word count. I write what I feel.

Tell us about the last time your jaw dropped open,you laughed, or you cried while reading a book.

Yesterday, I read Toys Go Out: Being the Adventures of a Knowledgeable Stingray, a Toughy Little Buffalo, and Someone Called Plastic by Emily Jenkins and illustrated by Paul O. Zelinski. It made me laugh and smile quite often. It was absolutely precious. I simply did not want to let that book go! I returned it to the library this afternoon like a good little patron. I eagerly await the sequel, Toy Dance Party, which comes out in September. Maureen Johnson's books (and her blog) crack me up without fail. Christopher Golden writes jaw-droppers. Thief of Hearts, the second book in his line of Body of Evidence mysteries, truly made my jaw drop. I couldn't believe my eyes when I read a certain chapter. Oh my goodness. There are few books (or films or TV shows) that bring me to tears. The Book Thief did. So did Wizards at War, one of the Young Wizards novels by Diane Duane.

The Book Thief claims the life of yet another hankie! Now, for a favorite question of any avid reader of YA or MG books. Is there any character in a book that you wish would come to life? Or any place you wish existed?

Yes! Oh, there are so many I could list. I'll limit myself to ten or less right now, or I'll never shut up. Characters I'd love to speak with:
Nick from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables
Turtle from The Westing Game
Parker from The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson

Places I'd love to visit:
Phantásien from The NeverEnding Story by Michael Ende (Fantastica in the English version of the book; called Fantasia in the films)
The Kingdom of Wisdom from The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
Strangewood from the book of the same title by Christopher Golden
Never Land from Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

Those would be amazing places to visit! What books do you find yourself recommending over and over and why?

I recommend my favorite books and authors to people every day, but I also pride myself on the ability to personalize recommendations for each reader. I cherish books like Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll and books by Christopher Golden because they are intelligent and inventive.

Okay, you know it's coming, are you ready? Here it is: the Extra Scandalous Question! Really bad reviews - do you ever fear giving them?

I read hundreds of books a year, but I do not review every single book I read. At my blog, I review books I really enjoy and those that I think my readers will like. There are plenty of books I do like that I simply haven't the time to review. I would rather post about good books than bad ones. I write my blog for other readers. I'd rather spend half an hour writing about someone or something I believe in. Time is precious - why waste it being negative? I want to accentuate the positive. If I were writing a weekly column for a publication that asked me to review certain titles, that would be a different situation, but I would still always be honest.

Being positive is a good thing! Now for a bad thing--Ever had an author get upset with you? (It's okay - you can tell us, just don't name names!)

Yes, I have, and it hurt. I always get upset when someone doesn't like me.

And what advice do you have for authors who get a bad review?

Of course, an author hopes to receive favorable reviews. Everyone likes being liked, and anything negative in life can sting. There's a difference between offering constructive criticism and tearing something or someone apart, between being thoughtful and being flat-out mean. As I said earlier, I encourage authors to believe in their stories and in themselves. Don't get hung up on any negative reviews. Keep writing.

Great answer! One last question:if they aren't scared off by all that bad review talk and an author would like you to review her book, what should she do?

To me, there's a difference between asking, "Would you like to read my book?" and "Will you review my book?" The latter implies a written review, published in some way, while the former is more casual and less pushy.

Here are some places you can find Little Willow:

http://www.slayground.net/
http://slayground.livejournal.com/
http://www.slayground.net/yourgirl/
http://www.slayground.net/rocktherock/
http://www.slayground.net/bildungsroman/

Don't forget to leave a comment for your chance to win Marissa Doyle's Bewitching Season! Little Willow has yet to review it but here's what others are saying:

"This wonderfully crafted debut novel braids several very different storylines into an utterly satisfying whole." --Booklist, starred review

"Doyle offers a heart-throbbing romance full of magic and royal-court intrigue....Fans of historical mysteries will find this a page-turner."--Kirkus



30 comments:

Book Chic said...

I already own Bewitching Season, so don't include me in the contest.

Loved this interview, and I LOVE Little Willow- she's just awesome, and I love reading her blog! She's on my livejournal friends list, and it's great to read her entries every day. I'm surprised she has the time to work as a bookseller, read a book a day, and keep up such an amazing blog. How do you do it?!

Also, just wanted to say *hugs* in regards to the upset author thing you mentioned- that's so sad!

shina-laris said...

Thank you for the interview! Reading a book a day is amazing; I can't imagine doing that and working as a bookseller and blogging at the same time.

Erin said...

I heart LW!

anna j said...

Sounds like a great book . . . and I do not own Bewitching Season, so please DO include me in the contest :-)
Thanks!

cyn2write said...

Wow, great interview, little willow! A book a day? Wow!

Lenore said...

Wow so 365 books a year :)
And LW did so well on the 48 hr reading challenge. I love her reviews.

Jessica Burkhart said...

Maureen Johnson has the ultimate blog, I must say. :)

Liviania said...

I already own Bewitching Season, so don't include me in the contest.

I found Little Willow's blog awhile ago and lost it. I'm glad I found it again!

RR2 said...

I LOVE little willow's blog.

Beth Fehlbaum, Author said...

Great interview! I look forward to Little Willow reviewing Courage in Patience!

Thanks for the add!
Beth Fehlbaum, author
Courage in Patience, a story of hope for those who have endured abuse
http://courageinpatience.blogspot.com
http://www.kunati.com/courage-in-patience
Chapter 1 is online!

Kristin Tubb said...

I want to spend the day hanging out with Turtle Wexler, too! Just hope I wouldn't do anything that would get my shins kicked! :-)

Great interview, Little Willow! Thanks!

Kiki said...

Wow, I wish I had the time to read a book a day. I feel like such a sloth!

The Compulsive Reader said...

Wonderful interview! Thanks for sharing. Your reviews are awesome!

And thanks so much for the chance to win!

TCR

jmprince said...

Wow! Little Willow is totally prolific!
I'm jealous!

Vivian said...

Yay for LW! Great interview!

Bunny B said...

Oooo... I'd love to read Bewitching Season! Sounds fun! Thanks!

bunnybox9 at gmail . com

Book~Adorer said...

I would love to own Bewitching Season so please enter me! I've never heard of Little Willow but I most definitely will be visiting her blog now!

debbierfischer said...

Thanks for sharing some of your insights with us, LW. You have some great advice for us authors.

Danielle Joseph said...

Great interview! Little Willow, I am in awe of how many books you read. I'm also glad soemone else has the same rule as me, once I start a book, I must finish it!

Anonymous said...

Great interview!! I really want to read this book, Enter me please!!

Grace L

Tori said...

It was great to learn a little more about the young woman behind the blog -- one of my favourite blogs! :) Awesome interview!

daphne grab said...

lw, you give an awesome interview and great advice!!

courtney said...

Little Willow's contributions to the blogosphere book scene are incredible. Her reviews are favs of mine. This (and the others) are great interviews, Class of 2k8! Well done. It's been awesome getting insight on the people behind the reviews. :)

Meredith said...

I totally agree with the reading turn off of excessive swearing. It drives me crazy!

~Meredith
rosesaremyfavorite@hotmail.com

Breanna said...

I love Little Willow, she's great. =)
That's so many books to read in a year. I wish I could read as fast as she does!

Great interview! Please enter me to win Bewitching Season!

-Breanna

Anonymous said...

Really impressed with the number of reviews done. That's just amazing. I can barely describe a book's plot to my friends. haha.

Carmen T
carmenalexistsang@gmail.com

terriclark said...

What a great interview. I love your positive philosophy on things, Little Willow.

Anonymous said...

Really want this book, heard alot of good about it. Little willows blog is cool and those pics look cool.

ryan
bigriz11@yahoo.com

Reviewer X said...

Enter me, please!

slayground said...

Many thanks to the Class of 2k8 for including me in their series of Book Reviewer Hot Seat Interviews, and thanks to everyone who left a comment here or at my blog.

Book Chic, Miss Erin, Reader Rabbit, Debbie, Vivian, The Compulsive Reader, Tori, Daphne, Courtney, Teri, and anyone I accidentally missed: Thank you for the kind words.

Book Chic: Re: How I do things: I multi-task.

Breanna, Carmen T, TCR, Liviania, shina-laris, Book Adorer: Nice to meet you!

Danielle, Leonore, Kiki, and cyn2write: I read really quickly.

Hi Jessica!

Kristin: Just don't pull Turtle's braid. ;-)

Meredith: Indeed!