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Discussion: Writing Reviews – What My Star Ratings Mean to Me

 

 

Do you ever find yourself overthinking what rating to give a book you’ve just finished reading?  Usually the rating comes to me pretty easily, but there are definitely times when I find it hard to settle on one.  It always gets me into that deep thought mode where I really start to think about what those star ratings even mean for me.  What makes a book a 5 star rating vs. a 4 star?  If I rate a book 3 stars, what am I really trying to say about that book?  If I was able to finish a book I didn’t particularly care for, how low does it make sense to rate it?  Should I even rate a book I didn’t finish? What would it take for me to actually rate a book only 1 star? Yep, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, I tend to overthink things a bit.

For me, I think the easiest ratings to settle on are the 4 star reads.  I give 4 stars to any book that I really enjoyed. If the writing is good, the characters are dynamic and complex, and the plot is interesting, you can pretty much count on me giving at least 4 stars.  I looked on Goodreads and I think the majority of the books I’ve reviewed over the years have been 4 star reads.

So if a good book is at least 4 stars, what does it take for me to award 5 stars?  These are usually pretty easy for me as well because for me, it’s an emotional reaction.  Is this a good book or a book that really blew me away?  Did it make me cry, or better yet, was it an emotional roller coaster ride for me?  For me, the 5 star reads really resonate.  They tend to be the stories that stick with me long after I’ve finished reading.  I’ve also gotten stingier over the years about giving out 5 star ratings and have a tendency to award many more 4.5 ratings than actual 5s. More and more I feel like those 5 star ratings should be saved for books that I think are really special.

The 3 star rating is the one I struggle with the most.  Why?  Because I actually kind of hate it.  Even though in my mind, 3 stars indicates that I liked the book but didn’t love it, it still feels like I’m really just sitting on the fence and not stating a firm opinion on the book. Looking back through my ratings over the years, I actually seem to choose one side of the fence or the other.  Rather than give a lot of 3 star ratings, I instead tend to go with either 3.5 stars or 2.5 stars.  Either I lean toward liking it, or I lean toward it not being a good fit for me.

I usually reserve 2 star ratings for books that I was able to finish but that just weren’t my cup of tea. I’ve actually not had many of these over the years. I seem to have either gotten pretty good at picking out books that work for me or else I’ve gotten better about DNFing books that aren’t working. I don’t rate books that I’ve DNFed unless I made it to at least the halfway point.

1 star ratings are pretty easy for me too, mainly just because I rarely, if ever, give them.  I think I would have to have an extremely negative emotional reaction to a book to actually slap a 1 on it and that just doesn’t usually happen.  As I mentioned, I don’t tend to rate books I DNF and if I am able to finish a book even if it’s not a good fit for me, I feel like the fact it was compelling enough to finish ought to allow for at least a 2 star rating.

What I also find interesting is that as I’m reading, I do find that I assign a tentative rating as I’m going along and kind of adjust it up or down as I go, depending on how much I’m connecting with the story.  So sometimes a book starts off slow and feels like it could be a 2, but then it starts to pick up and the ending feels like a 5 star.  I ponder those for a while and usually settle on some kind of average like maybe a 3.5 overall.

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So, what about you?  Do you find yourself thinking about what your star ratings mean?  Do you struggle with certain star ratings more than others?

Getting Rid of Books – How to Decide When It’s Time to Part Ways

This is the time of year when I most often think about parting ways with some of the physical books that fill my bookshelves.  Every year I receive wonderful new books as Christmas gifts and then spend days trying to figure out where to put them because my shelves are already overflowing.

via GIPHY

I have to admit that as a book hoarder collector, I find it very hard to get rid of books. In the back of my mind, there’s always this little voice that tells me I might want to re-read all of my books someday and that it therefore doesn’t make sense to part ways with them.  Spoiler alert:  I rarely EVER re-read books so the little voice in my head is totally full of it.  And now that I’m doing bookstagram, that first little voice has been joined by another that says “Don’t get rid of that book. You might want to use it in a photo layout one day.”  So yeah, fun times, lol.

That’s not to say I never get rid of books though. I do. I have to. I’ve come to accept that my house just isn’t big enough to store an infinite number of books so when I’m maxed out on shelf space, I make the difficult choice to part ways with some books.

How do I decide which ones to get rid of?  Well, the easy ones are the books that I didn’t really enjoy when I read them, especially if I actually DNF’ed them.  Those are always the first to go. I know I’m never going to read them again so I go ahead and donate those, either to Goodwill or to the local library.

The books that are harder to choose from are those that I liked but didn’t necessarily love.  I kind of cheat when it comes to these books.  I’ll pull them off my shelves to make room for newer books, but I won’t part ways right away.  Instead, I box them up and shove them in the back of my closet.  If I haven’t given any of them a second thought after a few months, then I’m good with getting rid of them.  Because I did enjoy these though, I’ll usually show them to my mom and sister, who are also avid readers, and give them first pick if any are of interest, then I donate the rest.

I have an even harder time parting ways with classics. There’s just something about them that makes me feel like I should hold on to them, even if I didn’t particularly like them when I read them.  I have two copies of Moby Dick sitting on my shelves right now, for example, and I absolutely hated that book when I read it.  And as you can see from the photo above, they’re not even pretty copies of the book. Maybe it’s the collector in me or maybe I subconsciously think it makes me look smart to have classics on my shelf. Or maybe I think my son might want to read it someday. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just weird, lol.

So if classics are a struggle even if I didn’t like them, what happens if I actually loved a book?  Well, you can pretty much forget me ever parting ways with it.  It’s just not happening. Those are the books where those little voices in my head always win out.  Thankfully, although my methods are clearly far from perfect, it seems to work out well enough. I’m typically willing to get rid of just enough books each time to make room for the new ones.  If that ever ends up not being the case, I guess I’ll have to re-evaluate what I’m doing, but until that time comes, I’m content with my system.

 

So, what about you?  How do you decide which books to part ways with?

Discussion Post: Sentimental Attachment to Books

 

Every year, as the holidays approach, my sentimental side kicks in and I start thinking about special gifts that I’ve received over the years.  Gifts from my son, gifts from my husband, and gifts from my parents are normally the first ones that come to mind, just because they’ve spent more time with me than anyone else and they just know what I’m going to love and treasure.  This year, however, the special gift that came to mind was actually a book so I thought it would be fun to share the story of this gift on the blog.

As a lifelong avid reader, I’ve of course received tons of books as gifts over the years.  I’ve received new releases, gorgeous hardcover editions for my collection, books that friends and family have loved that they think I should read, gift cards to go shopping for books of my choice, etc.  The bookish gifts are endless and I love them all.

All of that said, however, my all-time favorite bookish gift is actually a ratty old copy of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird that was given to me by my reading teacher when I was in the eighth grade.  We had just finished reading the book and doing a whole unit on it in class.   It was the first real “grown up” book I had ever read, and to this day, I still remember just how much the story and its themes resonated with me that first time I read it.  Once the unit was over, the teacher told us that it was her all-time favorite book and that she hoped we had loved it as well. Then she told us that the copies we were reading from were ours to keep.  I had never owned a “grown up” book before so I was just tickled to death to take home my very own copy of To Kill a Mockingbird and put it on my shelf.

 

 

I’ve since added much prettier editions of the book to my collection, but I still have that ratty old paperback sitting on my shelf.  I’ve read it and re-read it so many times over the years that I’m amazed it hasn’t disintegrated, but no matter how ratty it gets, it will always be my favorite edition of the book because of that sentimental attachment.

 

Question:  So, how about you?  Have you received any special books as gifts over the years?

Discussion: How My Reading Tastes Have Changed Over the Years

 

If you follow my blog, you’ve probably noticed that I have pretty eclectic tastes when it comes to the books I read.  A quick scan of my review archives will show that I’m a big fan of fantasies, science fiction, mysteries and thrillers, historical fiction, and retellings, just to name a few.  I haven’t always had such varied tastes in books, however, which got me thinking about just how much my taste in books has changed over the years.

I think my taste in books really started to evolve and grow once I started buying my own books.  When I was a kid, my parents bought my books so they decided what I read and when I was in high school and college, my reading choices were mostly determined by what was on the course syllabus.  Needless to say, I was fully immersed in classics during most of those years.  Don’t get me wrong though. I adored most of the classics I read and when it was time for me to take control of my book buying and actually read for pleasure rather than required reading, I still stuck with the classics for a number of years.  I fell in love with Pride and Prejudice when I studied it in college, so I felt compelled to then go on to read all of the rest of Austen’s novels on my own.  I did the same with countless other classic authors – Dickens, Hawthorne, the Bronte sisters, Hardy, Shakespeare…you get the idea.

 

    

 

After a while though, I started to get a little bored with the classics.  They started to feel so dated and I really wanted something more modern.  That was when I entered my Chick Lit phase.  For a few months, I couldn’t get enough of books like The Devil Wears Prada, The Nanny Diaries, and Bridget Jones’s Diary.  I think that phase directly coincided with me moving out of my mom’s house and getting an apartment of my own.  I identified with the characters in those books so much at first, but I got burned out on that kind of Chick Lit pretty quickly.  Maybe they started to remind me too much of my real life, I don’t know lol, but I bailed and moved on to Fantasy novels.

 

     
 

Fantasy and science fiction novels were the ultimate escape from reality for me and unlike the Chick Lit, which I maintain was just a phase, fantasy and sci fi remain some of my favorite types of reads today.  I actually started my fantasy reading by re-reading a favorite childhood series of mine, the Chronicles of Narnia, and then I moved on to The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and eventually to Harry Potter.  The Martian was probably the first book that really made me interested in sci fi.

 

         

 

I have to admit that I mainly picked up Harry Potter to see what all of the fuss was about.  I was teaching high school English at the time and many of my students were walking around with Harry Potter books in their backpacks.  Getting students excited about reading is always so challenging so I just had to know what it was about those books that had them all so captivated.  Like my students, I immediately became hooked on the series and then began to explore more YA books because I realized that I was missing out on some pretty amazing reads.  Before becoming hooked on Harry Potter, I had lived with this notion that I was too old to read books like that.   Once I entered the “Screw it, I’m a grown ass woman and I’m going to read whatever the hell I want to read” phase, however, it felt like a whole new world was opened up to me.  Again, a quick glance through my review archives will show that not only do I read a lot of YA books now, but they are often some of my highest rated reviews.

Novels like The Nightingale and The Light Between Oceans introduced me to historical fiction, which quickly became another love of mine.  I was initially drawn to novels set around WWII, but now I find myself looking for novels that focus on periods in history that I’m less familiar with.  In some ways the historical fiction calls to me because I find it similar in style and theme to some of my favorite classics but yet most of what I read focuses on 20th century historical events so they don’t feel quite as dated as the classics do.

 

     

 

I then felt the need for a little excitement and mystery in my life, so I delved into the world of mysteries and psychological thrillers.  Oh yeah, as much as I complain about them now, I was totally on board with the Gone Girl/The Girl on the Train trend.  Even though I grew tired of the unreliable/unlikeable narrator trend that those books ushered in, I remain a huge fan of psychological thrillers in general.  Ruth Ware is a new favorite of mine, and I also love Meg Gardiner’s UNSUB series.

 

       

 

Spring boarding off those thrillers, I have also most recently started to get into what I would call domestic dramas.  Books like Big Little Lies have been grabbing my attention, the ones that focus on neighborhoods and the idea that everyone is hiding something and no one’s lives are as perfect as they would have you believe.  This type of story seems to be the latest trend in fiction, and I’m hoping it sticks around for a while because I truly can’t get enough of books like this.

 

     
 

Another trend that I fell in love with and can’t get enough of are retellings.  My love for retellings started with Marissa Meyer.  I adored The Lunar Chronicles and her Queen of Hearts retelling, Heartless.

 

     

 

I try to imagine what it would have been like to run into me at a bookstore 20 years ago versus today.  In both scenarios, my arms would have been loaded down with books.  The main difference is that while back then, my book haul would have been classics, classics, and more classics.  Today, anything is fair game to end up in that book haul.

 

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How have your reading tastes changed over the years?

Discussion Post: My Complicated Relationship with Book Series

I’ve had book series on my mind a lot lately. I think it stems from the Top Ten Tuesday topic a few weeks ago where we had to list ten series we want to read but haven’t gotten around to yet. I did my list of 10, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized I could have easily listed 2 or 3 times that many series. That of course got my wheels turning and thinking about not only the series I haven’t gotten to yet but also all of the ones I’ve but have yet to finish. Again, the list is endless. All of this really got me thinking about my overall relationship with book series. Why I put off starting series forever and why even once I start one do I take so long to actually read all of the books?

And here’s what I came up with…IT’S COMPLICATED!

 

 

I seem to have a lot of random quirks when it comes to series, so I thought I’d share and see if I have any kindred spirits out there.

 

1. Series are amazing in the sense that they give me more time to get to know my favorite characters. I especially love all of the added opportunities to get more backstory on them. Lucien from ACOTAR and Holland from the Shades of Magic series immediately come to mind with respect to the backstories.

As much as I love this though, there’s a downside as well. The more I get to know characters, the more attached I get, which means when it’s finally time to say goodbye to them, I’m left with a broken heart. The Harry Potter series is a prime example here. I cried like a baby when I finished that last book.

via GIPHY

So yeah, series can be a very emotional experience for me.

 

2. I’m not really a fan of series where the books can all work as standalones. There are a few I’ll make an exception for, like the Stephanie Plum series just because it’s so hilarious, but otherwise I tend to avoid these. What I don’t like is that each book in a series like this tends to spend a lot of time rehashing and summarizing who all of the characters are and their basic relationships to each other. I always get bored and find myself skipping a lot of pages because it’s like deja vu: “Wait, didn’t I read all of this, almost verbatim, in the last three books in this series?”

via quickmeme.net

My definite preference here is a series where you have to read all of the books in the correct order and where one book picks up right where the last book left off.

 

3. I’m quirky when it comes to series length as well. I enjoy duologies and trilogies, but once I get past the 3 book mark, I start to get a little testy and nitpicky. I find myself more critical of the books the longer a series get, almost editing them in my mind as I’m reading, questioning whether certain passages or, in some cases, whole chapters were even necessary because they felt like filler. I did this quite a bit this week actually as I was reading A Court of Wings and Ruin. I think it’s my brain’s way of trying to shorten the series for me because I’ve about reached my limit.

via memegenerator.net

Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia are probably the only exceptions to my series length preference.

 

4. I typically won’t start a series until at least two books have been published. Why?  Because if there’s a cliffhanger ending in the first book, I want to have the option to keep reading immediately rather than waiting a year to get the next book.  That’s not to say I actually will continue with the series immediately (see # 5)..  I just want to know the possibility is there.  Having that second book at the ready is like a security blanket for me, I guess, haha.

via movieboozer.com

5. I don’t usually like to binge read series. I think this goes back to the whole saying goodbye to the characters issue (see # 1).  In my mind, the faster I read a series, the sooner I have to say goodbye so binging is a big no.

via fyireblue.com

 

So there you have it, all of my bookish quirks when it comes to reading series.  Do we share any quirks?  Do you have quirks of your own when it comes to series?

 

Highs and Lows of Being a New Book Blogger – Lessons Learned

When I first started book blogging, I wasn’t entirely sure that I was going to stick with it. I decided to give it a trial run and take stock of things at the 3 month mark. After 3 months, I’m happy to report that I absolutely LOVE blogging and that I plan to stick with it. Thanks so much to all who have taken the time to stop by my blog and read my posts. It means the world to me 🙂

I’m still new to the game and so don’t proclaim myself an expert by any stretch of the imagination, but here are some highs and lows and lessons that I’ve learned at the beginning of what I hope will be a long journey.

1. It takes a lot of work, so don’t give up. Unless you get really lucky, building a book blog is not like the old Field of Dreams ‘If you build it, they will come’ scenario. Creating your book blog is just the first of many steps in reaching an audience and hopefully leading them back to your site. Once you’re up and running, you have to get out there and start interacting with the book loving community to build those relationships where people want to stop by and see what you’re reading and writing about.

Source:  quickmeme.com

Source: quickmeme.com

I spent a lot of time in my first couple of months just tweaking my blog, adding content, etc., and am just now really getting around to interacting with the book blogging community. If I had it to do all over again, I think I would have started interacting much sooner. Why? Because of #2.

2. One of the best resources for a new book blogger is the book blogging community. As I say, I’ve just really started working on reaching out to them and interacting more, but what I’ve already found is that these are some of the NICEST, most helpful people on the planet. Like me, they WANT to meet and chat with others who share their love of books. They also want their fellow bloggers to succeed and what that means is that many of them are quick to hand out helpful hints and tips. If you have questions, definitely ask a fellow book blogger. They’ll set you straight.

i love you guys

3. ARCs and Galleys and Patience, Oh My! Yes, to be sure, ARCs and Galleys are amazing and I’ll freely admit I get a little giddy each time one of my Netgalley requests is approved. That said, however, it’s important to be patient and to be realistic when it comes to these little gems. As a new blogger, again unless luck is really on your side, you’re going to get rejected more than you’re going to get approved. You have to pay your dues, so to speak, and this all goes back to number 1 – hard work. You have to put in the time to get your blog established, show that you’re going to stick around, and that you can build an audience.

Sure, go ahead and request a few, but do so realistically, and don’t take it to heart if you are not approved. You can always blog and write book reviews about books that have already been published while you’re building up your audience and paying those dues. If you’re like me, you probably have a huge TBR pile of books that you’ve already purchased, so blog away about those! If money is an issue and you can’t purchase many books, don’t forget about the Library.

If you are still dying to get your hands on ARCs, try entering giveaways. Goodreads has tons of them everyday, and if you pay attention on social media, many members of the book blogging community frequently do giveaways as well.

4. It’s important to be organized. Try to come up with a blogging schedule that you can keep up with. As much as I would love to be able to blog every single day, I know my schedule won’t allow it. I try to post about 3 times a week, usually somewhat spaced out, to make sure there is always new content when visitors stop by.

And not only come up with a blog schedule that’s doable, maximize your free time and write posts in advance and schedule them. If I have a block of time where I can write uninterrupted, I try to write out 4 or 5 posts ahead of time. That way they’re in the queue and ready for posting for those times when I’m too busy to come up with anything to post.

5. Book blogging isn’t just about reviewing books. Book reviews are just the tip of the iceberg. You can expand beyond those and create more original content by participating in some of the great weekly features that are hosted by other bloggers in the book community. So far I’ve tried and liked Waiting on Wednesday and Top Ten Tuesday, but there are tons of others as well. These are great because they tend to generate more interaction with fellow bloggers, at least for me anyway, than the book review posts do, and they’re great for coming up with a posting schedule like I mentioned in number 4 above. Because of the weekly features I participate in, I automatically know what I’m doing on Tuesday and Wednesday each week.

Aside from participating in weekly features, you can also write original content like discussion posts where you can blog about anything of interest to you. After all, it’s your blog. Write about whatever you want to. This is actually my very first discussion post, so fingers crossed that people actually want to discuss the topic, haha. 

6. The Agony and Ecstasy of Social Media. Social media can be awesome. I love twitter in that, aside from blog hopping and directly commenting on people’s blogs, it seems to be the easiest way to reach out and start that all important relationship building. That said, however, OMG. It seems like every other person who follows me is just trying to get me to buy their books. I don’t even read DMs anymore unless I’m sure they’re from a fellow bookblogger.

7. Read what YOU want to read. It’s easy to give in to the pressure of so many people contacting you to promote their books. At first it’s exciting to be wanted, but for me at least, I have to stick to my guns and only read what I truly want to read. Otherwise, the blog becomes a chore and boy do I hate chores, haha.

book gang

8. Comments are LOVE. When I first started my blog, I told myself that I was just doing this for me, that I’d be cool if no one ever commented on my posts. Boy, how wrong I was! I think getting my first comment on a post stands out as one of the major highlights so far. Starting out as a new book blogger can be a lonely experience. You’re the new kid on the block and at first it can feel like you’re on the outside looking in at this awesome community that you want to be a part of. Don’t get discouraged though because in time, that first comment will appear and it will be the most glorious thing ever to know that someone actually read what you wrote. I’m thankful for every comment that I get and I do try to go back to that person’s blog, if they have one, and comment back.

My face the first time someone commented on my blog

My face the first time someone commented on my blog

9. Stats. As a new book blogger, I think stats can be one of the most discouraging things and so I try not to focus on them too much. Again, as with all other aspects of blogging, be patient. In time the stats should follow. And regardless of the stats, if you love what you’re doing, keep doing it. 

10. Your blog, your rules. Don’t be afraid to experiment. If you try something and it doesn’t work, change it up and try something new. Again, it’s your blog so you have the ultimate say so in what you do there. There’s no right way and no wrong way to blog.

11. No matter what, just be yourself. This is probably the most important thing I’ve learned so far is that no matter what you do, just be yourself. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. We all have those bloggers that we admire and it’s cool to draw inspiration from them, but ultimately, trying to be like someone else is because you think it might make you more popular with fellow bloggers, is just going to end up making your blog a chore rather than a pleasure.

Source:  thedisneyprincesstumblr.com

Source: thedisneyprincesstumblr.com

So, there you have it in a nutshell — my first 3 months as a book blogger. Let me hear from you now. What are some highs and lows you’ve experienced and lessons you learned as a new blogger?