Wednesday, June 25, 2008

In the Book Reviewer Hot Seat: Reviewer X

She's a new kid on the block with only 25 books--but for only being in the book reviewing biz for 3 months, she's on a roll! X marks the spot in our Hot Seat! Also hot is Brooke Taylor's debut novel Undone! All you need to do to be entered to win is post a comment by June 29th, winner will be announced June 30th!

Okay, Reviewer X, let's review the facts:

What's your handle? Reviewer X—but my real name's Steph. :)
What kind of books do you review? Anything. (But I have a soft spot for YA books because, wouldn't you know it, I am a young adult.) I have no inhibitions in my reading habits. ;)
Approx # of books reviewed?25 or so? I've only been around for three months, so I'm working on it!
Where can we find your reviews? On my blog, I also post them on Amazon and Good Reads for good measure.
Reading turn-ons: Dude. Great characters and great prose. Biggest example is Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld, my favorite book of all times. Not much of a plot there, but Curtis Sittenfeld's prose is flawless and her character, Lee Fiora, is very relatable. <3>
Reading turn-offs: You would think this doesn't happen a lot, but of the books I've read recently, about half have this undying tendency of ending abruptly. I'm not too sure why—is it a word count limit authors are pushing? Or are they getting bored with their own books? Please, don't end your book right where the real story begins! The only things worse than this are weak writing and horrible characters.
Class of 2K8 books reviewed: I've read both Undone by Brooke Taylor and Braless in Wonderland by Debbie Reed Fischer, but neither of those reviews are posted yet because I'm working with Debbie in branching off an event based on fashion books for my blog and I'm in the process of interviewing Brooke. Oh, and Nancy Viau offered me an ARC of her novel this morning!

Awesome! Okay, so as you know, we love the crazy handles book reviewers come up with—tell us how you came up with yours!

The original name of my blog was X-Rated Reviews. I created the name Reviewer X to give my blog's name some ambiguity. (I love ambiguity.) See, it could be just another meaninglessly chosen name—X-Rated Reviews; but it also could mean reviews rated by someone named X. I ultimately changed the name because I hated it, so now my blog is just the self-titled Reviewer X entity.

LOL. And maybe people might think you reviewed something other than YA books, eh? So how did you get into the book review biz?

I wanted to talk to authors. I wanted to interview them. So I created a blog, emailed Lauren Baratz-Logsted (lovely lady, by the way) and she got back to me within hours agreeing to do an interview. I sent off the questions, she sent them back the next day, and bam, blog was finally started. From there on out I have started several other features, like Young Adult Weekly, Reviewer Profiles, and Author Weeks. All of it brings me a wider crowd and what can I say, it's a blast talking to you beautiful author people!

Aw, thanks, we love doing interviews and talking to book lovers! What we don't like is not knowing if 4 stars is a great accomplishment or means we need to take up tennis. Describe your grading system and how that translates to the reader?

I've been back and forth on my grading system, from a 5 star scale to a 1-10 grade and now I'm at letter grades, which I love and have decided to stick to. The official key reads something like this:

A: Dude, this is incredible.
B: Great read.
C: Meh...
D: Tanks, but doesn't fully suck.
F: Are you kidding me?

You can also translate this into a star system—A is five stars, B is four stars, and so on.

The letter grades are very appropriate for YA and MG novels, just like being back at school! Okay, so 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?

As a reviewer, I receive quite a few books from authors and publishers, so that puts the whole "picking what books you read" thing into perspective. I love the variety of books I've been receiving, though, and it's probably good that I don't choose all books I get. This way, receiving a lot of books I probably wouldn't have picked up if they hadn't been sent to me, my knowledge of the YA field grows exponentially. Whoever complained about an expanded horizon?

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

Whoa, hold up—you guys worry about attracting our attention? Really? It seems to me it's the other way around. Honestly, a simple email to the reviewer will do—we love receiving free stuff! 'Cause if piquing our interest is what you're worried about, you've got no problems—email, email, email!

Now, my question to you guys is: Does it bother you when reviewers email you asking for ARCs or review copies?

(Would this be the place to add in here that I am dying to read so many of the Class of 2k8's books and if anyone wants to send an ARC or something to me, I'd jump on you and scream in delight?)

LOL. Hold on while I hop up into the hot seat... Yowzer--it really is hot up here! Okay, forgive the politically correct answer--but it just depends. As the letterhead states, we're a diverse group of debut authors so the answer varies depending on the author and more importantly the book's publisher. But I don't think any of us like to say no, especially when a reviewer is dying to read our books and would jump and scream in delight. :-)

Okay, back in the hot seat X. If you really aren't feeling a book—will you make the ultimate sacrifice and finish it for the sake of the review?

If it won't cause me any internal bleeding then sure, why not. However, my health comes first and if a book is radioactive waste, it gets tossed aside and reviewed from a partial read because number one rule of writing is not damaging your readers' insides.

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?

Hell yes I will! I love revisiting books, whether I hated them or not. (It's funny to see if my opinion changes given time.) As for what books I've loved and reread, well, the list is quite long, but here's an abridged version:

Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld (Best. Book. Ever.)
A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, and The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray
Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings by Megan McCafferty
Looking for Alibrandi (On The Jellicoe Road, which I just finished, will probably be reread many a time—and I also have Saving Francesca up next to read, which I expect will be fantastic) by Melina Marchetta
The Year of My Miraculous Reappearance by Catherine Ryan Hyde
However, the book that I've reread the most is:
The Boys Next Door by Jennifer Echols. Love its everything.

Quite a diverse collection of greatness! I bet it is easy to review books you love and would re-read. Do you have a basic philosophy on what should be included in a review—or does it depend on the book itself?

My basic philosophy for reviewing is: The author wrote a book, right? That took a lot of work. (Queries, agents, editors, copy editors, booksellers, professional reviewers, the readership—all of it is tons of stress, work and pressure.) The least I could do is try to give as thoughtful and detailed a review as possible, whether positive or negative. What I mention in each review (aside from the characters, which I always touch on) depends on each book, but I really do try to give a full account of all my thoughts and reactions to each book I read. This often results in long-winded reviews that probably bore people to tears, but to hell with it. If I get a book to review, I do go through that entire process.

That said, some books do, from time to time, provoke me in such a manner that they cause me to lose the control to my snarky side. Hence a category on my blog called Reviewer X Goes All X. I can get pretty sardonic. (But always with substantiated evidence!)

No need to Go All X! Let's talk about the good times, when was the last time your jaw dropped open, you laughed, or you cried while reading a book?

This wasn't the last book I read, but I thought it might interest you, Class of 2k8 authors, to know that I cried while reading Undone by Brooke Taylor. I remember it distinctly: I was having one of my usual insomnia episodes and grabbed Undone from my TBR pile to read. At 1:30AM or so, I got to a really sad passage and began crying. I got up and went to my laptop to email Brooke about it, actually—at 1:30AM, folks. It was that compelling. (And I proceeded to sleep at 3AM or so, for those interested!)

Last book I read was On The Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta (and I do love me some Marchetta books)—it was great. I got all of those reactions mentioned above from it and more.

Is there any character in a book that you wish would come to life? Or any place you wish existed?

I really want to meet Jessica Darling from Megan McCafferty's books. I think we'd have a lot to talk about because she and I are much the same.

You and Not So, eh? That Marcus wouldn't be bad to meet either. So what books do you find yourself recommending over and over and why?

I always recommend any books by Curtis Sittenfeld, Libba Bray, Megan McCafferty, Melina Marchetta, and Jodi Picoult. (Though, for Jodi Picoult, I'd stay away from any books before The Pact.) Why? Great voice, great characters, great writing, great plots, great messages, great authors, and great books.

Okay Reviewer X, we can't avoid it any longer, it is time for the Extra Scandalous Question—

I love scandalous ordeals!

Then here we go... 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?

No fear. I've given my share of negative reviews so far, and the turnout has been great—people take your opinion more seriously when you offer a balanced perspective. (Or so the people who have emailed have said!) Also, no hate mail thus far, though I am curious! Feel free to tell me what I can do with my blog if I give your book a bad review ;)

As for advice on how to take a negative review, first thing to remember is, it's only an opinion. Yeah, it sucks that you didn't conquer all who read your novel with its brilliancy, but remember, someone's always bound to all-out love it and, like all things in life, someone else is bound to think the exact opposite. Take comfort in that because reviews (especially blog reviews, as much as it pains me to say so) are not know-all-and-end-all. Also, if you're a glass-half-full kind of person, you might to extract something from that negative review to help you strengthen your writing. (And this is considering the review is actually well written and founded—some negative reviews suck, and if that's the case, it's not your problem but the reviewer's. Ignore.)

Good point! 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?

I'll start by saying that the review isn't the first thing you should be scared about; my response to your offering your book is. You might be met with an abundance of exclamation points and capital letters; it's only my usual acute psychosis, really, but it's still frightening. (If you don't believe me, ask Christina Meldrum how I replied to her when she offered up Madapple.) If you can handle my enthused hairball response, and the possibility of a negative (and possibly snarkastic) review, then shoot off an email to reviewerx (at)

Okay, readers are you like Reviewer X and love to get offered free books? Simply leave a comment and you'll be entered to win an ARC of Undone. Reviewer X hasn't written her review yet, but here's what another reviewer is saying about Brooke Taylor's debut novel:

"(Undone) totally grabbed me in and wouldn’t release its grasp until the very last page. The story took twists and turns that I never suspected in the least. I think that half the time I was reading my mouth was hanging open in shock of what had just happened. My only complaint is the book ended!" And Another Book Read

(Click here for more great Hot Seat interviews)


Steph said...

Just so people know -- I did not mean to stick that bit about "omg I would love some class of 2k8 books!" in there. Needy = blah. Ignore. =)

Thanks for having me, Brooke and other debut author-type chums!


Amee said...

Awesome interview. Steph is one of my favorite reviewers and best friends so I'm really happy she was able to do this!

Anonymous said...

Steph ROCKS! I love her blog and it's one of my faves to check every single day, lol.

And I do love getting free books! :) hehe, but I already have a copy of Undone, so don't enter me for this contest either.

Anyway, just want to say again that Steph is awesome, and I'm glad that she was included during this wonderful week! I'm proud to be alongside her (among others) in the reviewers interviewed this week.

Kate Fall said...

Another great interview! This has been a really fun week ... nice to know when I'm reading reviews a little about the reviewers.

Anonymous said...

Hi Steph - Thanks for a really in-depth peek into how you evaluate books. You put so much thought into your reviews and I love visitng your blog because you just never know what you're gonna get! I'm really looking forward to our fashion book week. :) deb

Jessica Burkhart (Jess Ashley) said...

I heart Libba Bray's books, too! :)

Lenore Appelhans said...

I NEED to read Undone, pick me! Oh and I've been hooked on Reviewer X since the first time I visited her delightful and insightful blog.

N.A. Nelson said...

Great stuff, gals! I already have an ARC of Undone, so no need to enter me, but I just wanted to chime in and rate this interview an A! ;)


Steph said...

Hey, all! Woot, such nice comments thus far. Let's address them all, shall I? :)

A: Thank you! <3 You know you're my favorite one, too. <333 once again, haha.

BC: Awww! That is so, so nice! You guys. You're making me blush. Oh, and just so you know, I totally saw your guest blog over at Jocelyn's -- I'm reading it now, actually. So cool! And once again, thank you for dropping by and, you know, praising me. My cheeks will go back to their normal shade sometime soon...

Kate: Thanks! :D

Debbie: Aww, yay! You know, it's so flattering to see author faces around as regularly as you come, and I guess this would be the time to tell you how great it is to see you comment every so often. Thanks! And I can't wait til our event either. Things are already moving, slowly as they might be. :) Thanks, again!

Jessica: I breathe Libba Bray. Seriously.

Lenore: Undone's great, I hope you win it! Also, what the hell? Your book is way more insightful than mine! And don't you dare deny it, cos you and I both know whatever you say is untrue in this regard :P

Nina: Yay! Thanks! :D

Now, mis amigos, yo tenho que leer.


Unknown said...

Who doesn't love free books?

Am I the only person who doesn't really like Libba Bray's books?

Michelle O'Neil said...

Great interview! I would love to read Undone.

Enter me in the contest please!

Anonymous said...

Awesome interview! Sign me up for the contest

Breanna said...

Ooooh I'd love a copy of Undone. Please enter me! I keep seeing great reviews on it. =)

Great interview, Reviewer X is awesome!


Anonymous said...

LOVE this interview! So funny. I love snarkiness. I just can't help it.

Meredith said...

This is a great feature, interviewing the reviewers!


Anonymous said...

Gotta say, I love reviewers.
Prepares me for books I want to read.
Warns me against books that I shouldn't.
I read enough books that one should think that I should be a reviewer...
but it's a lot harder than it seems. haha.
So good job. =)

Carmen T

Anonymous said...

"Am I the only person who doesn't really like Libba Bray's books?"

I haven't even read them, lol, though I do enjoy Libba as a person- she's hilarious! So I may enjoy her books, I dunno.

How come you don't like them? And if you don't feel comfortable talking about it here, just email me, lol. I'm very curious about why people don't like certain books (usually because if I like them, I will argue to defend their honor, lol).

Also, Steph, you need to comment! I don't care if you can't be entered into the contest, I still wanna hear your thoughts!! Please comment- I need some lovin' over there on my guest blog, lol. I'm very needy like that. :P

Elainareads said...

Great interview. I love Reviewer X's blog I think I go there more than I go to mine lol.

Please enter me.


Anonymous said...

Good Job Review X, totally awesome interview. Would love a copy of Undone, keep hearing good things about it. It's definitely on my radar.

Anonymous said...

Such fun, Steph!
-Nancy Viau

Shooting Stars Mag said...

Wow!! Tons of success for a new blog. That's awesome. You know I love your blog Steph, it's pretty fantastic! :)
Great interview. I love this idea.

And Undone looks amazinggg.


Rachael Stein said...

you're awesome steph :D great interview!

Bunny B said...

Great interview! Reviewer X has always been in my reader ;)

Chelsie said...

Whoever complained about an expanded horizon?

Steph, that is the coolest quote evar =D


Anonymous said...

What an awesome interview, I love steph's review site.

Sign me up for the book!