Thursday, April 12, 2018

Thoughts: 5 Things I Have Learnt as a Blogger



Looking back, I released recently that I have been blogging and writing book reviews for near on ten years. A part of me feels a little disappointed that I have not attained more success and popularity, but another part of me recognizes that I am not the most perfect or consistent blogger and that it can be tough as a South African blogger to attain the sort of stats American and UK bloggers enjoy.

And that's ok. I am here doing my thing and will definitely take what I have learnt the past decade and try more consciously to apply it.

I also didn't start blogging because I was concerned about popularity. It was an outlet for my bookish passions and it serves that purpose well, no matter how many people read my posts.

If you are looking to start a blog or make yours better, here are some of the key things that stand out for me that I have learnt:

An earlier header while I was still figuring out brand identity.

1. Review What You Like

I admit that I fell into the trap of chasing popular titles so that I could have reviews that I perceived as "current" and what people were interested in buying right then. It seemed to be the best way to get page views and growing my audience.

What I didn't realize at the time was that a review of a popular title gets lost in a whole sea of similar reviews being posted at around the same time. If someone is searching for reviews of, say The Hate U Give, a book that has been on the NYT Bestseller list for over a year now, they will find hundreds of them.

Also taking this approach not only makes reading a chore ( I don't know about you, but I am not that keen to read some of these new, hyped books), it is also bloody hard to think of anything unique to say about the book that other bloggers have not covered already.

I can use all the rant reviews for Zenith as an example. They all say pretty much the exact same things about the book and few Booktubers actually have something new to bring to the discussion. But, it's cool to hate so the views rake up anyway.

This year, I am going to be focusing on books that I want to read, not books I feel like I have to read. I will be able to write more reviews and will hopefully also introduce new books to readers they might not have considered reading before. I also want to keep things positive because I need that kind of energy and the Internet doesn't need more mean, petty people.


2. Numbers Don't Matter

I used to get really bummed out that my stats were not that great compared to other bloggers. I felt like I was incompetent and not doing the right thing. It was so easy to let posts that were "poor performers" get me down, that I forgot the whole purpose of the blog.

If you are blogging for popularity, it affects your approach to the posts you write. Also, just because something is popular today doesn't mean it will be popular tomorrow. I mean, look at fidget spinners.

We live in a fast paced world where it is easy to lose your relevance. People have such short attention spans, jumping from one viral thing to the next like bees to flowers. And everything, particularly blog content is so subjective. It's impossible to stay on trend and still write authentically.

Rather than writing content that I assume will appeal to readers, I am just going to write what I feel like writing about. And if it only resonates with one other soul out there, then that's ok.

Write for yourself first. If you can do this, you will be surprised at the results and what posts readers will enjoy.

Blogging became a great networking tool for me. This was the first ever bloggers' event I attended at Skoobs.

3. Be Yourself

I see so many people in the book community trying to emulate those who are perceived as more successful than them. It is so obvious, it make me cringe. The sad part is, I used to do this too. The fact is, bloggers and influencers who gain success and large amount of followers do so because readers and viewers like who they are as people and have trust in what they say.

It takes time to develop your own voice and every writer is influenced by other writers. But, the more you write, the easier it will be to develop your own style. I find if I read my post a few times before hitting the Publish button, I pick up parts that don't sound like something I would actually say if I was in a conversation with someone. I strive to keep my blog in my own voice and it can be quite humbling to realize how often I subconsciously copy someone else.

Being yourself also creates a level of authenticity that will help readers trust in what you have to say. This is why I am so wary of big influencers these days who do paid promotions. Like, are they really that excited about that book or is it just because they are getting paid to talk about it?

Paid promotions are tempting and often how bloggers and vloggers turn this thing into a career. But I will not go that route with this blog. Getting review copies is one thing, but being paid to promote those books completely wipe away the honesty factor.

Also, don't be afraid to use your blog as a networking tool. I have met so many awesome people through blogging and events. 


4. Domains Make a Difference

For the longest time, I thought I could make it work with just my .blogspot.com address. I also thought it was a lot more costly than it actually is to maintain a personalized domain. 

Not having a proper URL unfortunately hurts a lot of bloggers because it shows a level of complacency when it comes to setting the blog and brand identity up properly. Your URL is the first thing potential visitors see and it looks really unprofessional if they have not set up a personalized domain. 

Since moving to www.urbanisedgeek.co.za, there has been a marked increase in traffic and hits from search engines. It was the best move I could have made not just for the blog, but in my overall online brand. There is the added benefit of having an e-mail address that reflects your blog instead of  using a gmail or other generic account.

Set this up sooner rather than later. There are plenty of hosting companies to select from and lots of tutorials that will enable your to link your Blogger / Wordpress site to the domain.


5. Don't Give Up

Many blogs get started up with the best of intentions and then, because life or the realization that it can be hard work comes up like this massive stumbling block, bloggers stop posting.

Like loom bands, there are so many abandoned and neglected blogs out there, cluttering the universe. Don't do this to your blog. You breathed life into it and to just abandoned it is not fair to both the blog and yourself.

There were many times when I had to deal with work and life issues and felt like kicking this whole thing to the curb. I am glad I didn't and stuck with it. Like I said, I started this whole thing for a reason and it still remains a huge passion project for me. The blog is my way of reconnecting with my love of word and reading and it feels so good when someone comments or shares my posts.


People say blogging is dead. That is like saying writing is dead. Passion is dead. If this is something you want to to try, just do it. And don't worry about what you write or keeping on theme. It is your space so own it.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Mini Review: A Proposal For the Officer by Christy Jefferies (Mills & Boon)


Title: A Proposal For the Officer
Author: Christy Jeffries
Publisher: Mills & Boon True Love (March 2018)

She was used to flying solo…
But that was before Kaleb came on board! 
Temporarily grounded combat pilot Molly Markham didn’t come to Sugar Falls to get serious about a man she barely knows! But when Kaleb Chatterson becomes her unexpected hero, she agrees to date the billionaire software developer to keep their secret from getting out. Except the sexy brainiac—and her pretend boyfriend—is fast turning into the man of her dreams…
Another M&B review!

I really loved this one, and found it to be much stronger than Her Las Vegas Wedding in terms of plot and character. Getting the bind-up of these two is certainly worth it, though.

For those cynics who assume Mills & Boon is about fainting females who simply need a male to complete them, this story will completely bust that assumption.

Molly is a strong, independent lead, who in spite of challenges, stands her ground.

Kaleb is a good match for her, as he is just as stubborn.

I also loved how this book dealt with real issues, such as Molly's Type 1 Diabetes. I actually learnt a lot about this condition from reading this and was so happy that it was done in a realistic way.

Mills and Boon are clearly no longer about having perfect characters and I am loving the True Love range in particular.

There will be even more Mill and Boon Mini Reviews this month, so check back!

Don't forget to pick up the latest titles at your local CNA or subscribe to their bookclub if you are looking to get your fix.

www.millsandboonbookclub.co.za 

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Thoughts: On Second-hand Bookstores and My Top Spots

It's expensive to be an enthusiastic reader in South Africa. Buying books new is just simply not an option for a lot of folks as the price of a new mass market paperback now hovers around the R200 mark.

Also, if one reads 5-10 books in a month, this can tally up very quickly!

This point was made very clearly to me yesterday evening when I was browsing at my local Exclusive Books (Ok, I was really hoping for them to finally get stock of Children of Blood and Bone, with no luck...). A girl was clutching at a copy of The Red Ribbon by Lucy Adlington and asking her mother if she could get it. The mom turned the book over and, with a dismissive sneer, said, "I am not paying R170 for a book. We can go look at the second-hand book store and get four books for this price."

I felt bad for the kid. She clearly wanted the book and might not find reads she was as enthusiastic about owning at a second-hand store. What makes this even sadder for me is that The Red Ribbon is not some fluffy faire. It looks at the fictionalized lives of the seamstresses of Birken-Auschwitz and weaves in a message of friendship and hope. While this is not the focus of this post, I felt that, had the mother not been so dismissive and read the back of the book, she might have seen more than just the price and realized the true value of the book.

However, readers do need to buy new books as they are ultimately the suppliers for second-hand bookstores, so it can be a bit of a vicious circle.

Therefore, I do advocate supporting local bookstores and buying brand new books, however, I also love bargain-hunting and searching for hard-to-find older titles. There is definitely a place for both kinds of stores as long as books find their way to readers.

There are some really awesome second-hand stores in Johannesburg with really helpful staff and excellent selections. Here are my top 5 recommendations.

All these stores offer the option to trade books back for store credit.


1. Books Galore - Lonehill



One of my favorite spots, Books Galore in Lonehill Shopping Center has been around for many years and offers a great selection of genres, often getting in newer titles as well.

They have, in particular, a fantastic children's selection for all ages and will usually have stock of the more popular titles.

The staff are dedicated and friendly with an excellent knowledge of stock-on-hand.

Address:
Shop LL03
Lonehill Shopping Center
Lonehill Boulevard
Johannesburg

Telephone: 011 465 5524

Opening Hours:
Monday to Friday: 09:30-18:00
Saturday: 09:30-15:00
Sunday & Public Holidays: 09:00-13:00


2. Books Galore - Edenvale / Greenstone



This branch is a new discovery for me, but I was impressed by the helpful and knowledgeable staff.

They have a well-organised store with a nice focus on Fantasy and Sci-Fi.

I particularly loved the recommendations shelves from the two managers, as it adds a personal touch to the store and experience.

The store can be challenging to find if you do not know the Greenstone area well. It is located in one of the smaller centers opposite Greenstone Mall. Just look for Builder's Express and you are in the right place.

Address:
Shop 2a
Greenstone Crescent
Stoneridge Drive
Modderfontein Hill
Edenvale
Gauteng
South Africa

Telephone: 011 452 2421

Opening Hours:
Monday to Thursday: 08:30-18:00
Friday: 08:30-19:00
Saturday: 08:00-17:00
Sunday & Public Holidays: 08:30-16:00


3. Tales and Fables - Victory Park


Based in Victory Park, Takes and Fables has been around since 2006 in it's current form and has an amazing selection of Fantasy titles, including older series such as Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms.

They also boast a large children's section and seem to be very well-supported in the community.

I have been there a few times and have always found something interesting, such as a complete set of The Liveship Traders, by Robin Hobb.

Address:
Shop 14A
Victory Park Shopping Centre
Cnr of Rustenburg and 2nd Ave
Victory Park

Telephone: 011 782 3660

Opening Hours:
Monday to Saturday: 9am - 6pm
Sunday: 9am - 3pm


4. Bookdealers of Rivonia


If you are not a regular in the area, it would be hard to find Bookdealers of Rivonia's new store. Located opposite Rivonia Primary School, this specialist store is away from the hustle and bustle of shopping malls.

They have a great selection of history books, as well as collectible titles.

Their crime and contemporary sections are also well-stoked and reasonably priced. As an example, I found a decent copy of The Snowman by Jo Nesbo for R47!

If this is out of your way, there are other Bookdealers located in the following areas:

  • Melville
  • Birnam
  • Craighall Park
  • Greenside
Address:
40 Wessel Road
Rivonia
Johannesburg

Telephone: 011 234 1250

Opening Hours:
Mon: 9am - 5pm
Tue-Fri: 9am - 6pm
Sat-Sun: 9am - 3pm

If you feel I left out some good spots, please comment below and let me know.

Happy bargain hunting!

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Review: Her Las Vegas Wedding by Andrea Bolter (Mills & Boon)


Title: Her Las Vegas Wedding
Author: Andrea Bolter
Publisher: Mills and Boon (March 2018)

To an inconvenient attraction! 
When hotel heiress Audrey Girard's safe, convenient wedding to a business partner is called off, she's left to contend with her ex-fiance's brother--wild, brooding chef Shane Murphy. And there's certainly nothing safe about Audrey's attraction to Shane--every day they work together is even more dangerously tempting! Could there be a Las Vegas wedding in the cards after all?

Jonathan Ball Publishers kindly sent me a stack of brand-new Mills and Boons for review, which I was so pleased about. Thank you so much Nkanyezi and the team!

Her Las Vegas Wedding was the first one I decided to read. My edition is part of a 2-book bind-up which includes A Proposal For The Officer.


I enjoyed this story, which I felt could easily have been a film starring a younger Gerard Butler. It has a lot of humour and feel-good vibes.

Audrey Girard is a fun, likable character who has a lot on her shoulders as the heiress to a successful Hotel chain. I appreciated that, in spite of her heritage, she was without airs and graces. I loved she was independent and not some pampered princess sitting by the poolside waiting on some shirtless assistant to mop the sweat from her brow.

Shane Murphy is completely swoon-worthy as the leading man. I really enjoyed the culinary details as well, as a lot of this book has to do with the food Shane is preparing for his first cookbook. I actually felt hungry when I was reading this!

I loved how the romance played out and that it wasn't insta-love by chapter two. The characters actually got to know each other and spend time together before passion flared in their loins.

The writing was tight and the plot flowed easily, meaning I read this in one sitting because time just flew by.

If you want some light, easy reading over Easter, this is a good bet, as the second novel in the bind-up is just as enjoyable. It is just R79 at selected CNA's.

Stay tuned for my review of A Proposal for the Officer!

Monday, March 26, 2018

Review: The Eulalie Park Mysteries by Fiona Snyckers


Series: The Eulalie Park Mysteries
Author: Fiona Snyckers
Publisher: KDP / Self
Marcel Faberge is not a popular man. When he turns up dead, there is no shortage of suspects. Unfortunately, one of them is Fleur, the best friend of private investigator, Eulalie Park. 
Fleur was last seen threatening Faberge in front of dozens of witnesses. A knife from her coffee shop is the murder weapon. 
Will Eulalie be able to prove her friend's innocence before she is arrested for murder by Prince William Island's newest chief of police, Donal Macgregor? In a world where Russian mobsters rub shoulders with crooked racehorse owners and shady businessmen, Eulalie will need all her skills to unravel this mystery. 
But Eulalie Park is no ordinary PI and Prince William Island is no ordinary place. Anything can happen here, and probably will.
And so begins the first of an exciting, new series reminiscent of Nancy Drew by South African author, Fiona Snyckers.

When I saw the first book, Hooked, was launched, I was drawn in first by the cover and then by the promise of  the unexpected. Unfortunately, I am notorious for collecting books on my Kindle and didn't get around to reading it right away. This didn't stop me from getting the second and then third books and then beginning a Eulalie bingefest.

Some of the things that really stood of for me with the first two books were:

  • A unique, fictional setting that is as well-rounded as any real place would be.
  • A strong, spunky main character who can handle herself and doesn't need a man to rescue her.
  • A supporting cast of characters who honestly feel like real people.
  • These books would make a great TV show as they feels if they are structured in a similar way with character continuity from one book to the next and opportunities to get to know Eulalie better.
  • There is a touch of romance that doesn't dominate the story and is also interesting to read because of the interactions between two very different people.

Each book in the series offers a stand-alone mystery building on the context from the previous books. So, you really do need to read them in order! There is also an interesting twist which I am not going to reveal but I can promise makes this series even more fun and compelling!

Both Hacked and Hooked were quick, addictive reads and will be perfect for the upcoming Easter weekend. The third book, Haunted, is also out and I really do suggest you get all three on your eReader as you will be as eager to keep going as I was. Eulalie is basically Nancy Drew for an older audience and I am loving it.

Thoughts:The Legacy of Mills and Boon



When I mention that I am reading a Mills & Boon novel, people generally react with a sneer and some disparaging remark. I honestly don't get it and I think it ties in nicely with my chain of thought lately around why people won't just let other people read what they want.

Firstly, any negativity towards Mills & Boon as a franchise is not founded on anything other than pure disdain.

Some fast facts about Mills & Boon to put you into perspective:
  • The company was founded by Gerald Mills and Charles Boon in 1908. This means that, in its various incarnations, Mills & Boon has been around for 110 years!
  • The brand grew to such an iconic status that a Mills & Boon title was added to a time capsule in 1982 to mark the 60th anniversary of the BBC.
  • Mills & Boon was added to the Oxford English Dictionary and is defined as a "romantic story book" in 1997.
  • They are the world's leading publisher of romance fiction.
  • Each month, Mills and Boon publish 120 titles and currently represent an author base of 1500.
  • Every five seconds, there is a new Mills & Boon purchased in the UK.
  • Presently, Mills & Boon / Harlequin is owned by and run as an imprint of HarperCollins. 

What baffles me that, in spite of Romance being the top-selling genre in the world, how many people react so negatively towards it. Personally, I think this is why it does particularly well on eReaders. Because those who love it don't have to make it obvious what they are reading and can happily sit in public and pretend they are reading the latest Dan Brown or something even more pompous.

Random Stranger: What are you reading?
Romance Reader: Oh, ah... Waiting for Godot.

And that is the point where Romance Reader sends a small prayer that the Random Stranger hasn't actually read the book mentioned and won't ask any further questions.

Not that I am that reader, of course. I openly read 50 Shades of Grey while eating my sushi dinner.


There really should be nothing shameful in enjoying some fun romance. Mills and Boon, especially. They are designed to have happy endings. The reader knows that, no matter what strife the couple may encounter, at the end of 200 pages, the couple are either wed or soon to be anyway. You are guaranteed that, even if nothing else in life works out, a Mills and Boon always will.

So I can see you skeptics out there asking me about them then being predictable. Well... yes. They are. But that is not why people love them. It's all about the journey you take with these two characters and experiencing how their relationship blossoms. Their first kiss and their first night together.

It doesn't matter if someone is single or in a happy relationship, either. There is a simple, comforting joy in picking up a Mills & Boon and escaping for a few hours. Some say that this can be problematic as it places unrealistic expectations on real relationships, but I disagree. It's escapism, pure and simple. It just gets critiqued far more than other forms of it.

My first experience with Mills & Boon was picking up a pile of second-hand books from a charity store and binge-reading them over summer holidays. Admittedly, this was  a good 15 years ago and the books were significantly less racy, however my teenaged self still got flutters!

There is also a Mills & Boon for every kind of reader, with specialized imprints so you know right anyway what to expect from the story.

These imprints have changed over the years, but the ones currently found are:

  • Modern - classic themes featuring strong, alpha-male heroes. This is the line to check out for millionaires, playboys, secret babies and more.
  • True Love - focusing on the heroine, these books feature feel-good themes with sweet and captivating romances.
  • Medical - relatable characters in a medical setting, these feature Doctors, drama and, of course, romance!
  • Historical - including anything from ancient civilizations up to and including World War II, this imprint offer longer reads with sweeping stories.
  • Dare - steamy reads with a strong connection between the characters.
  • Heroes - crime and mystery provide the backdrop to romance in these action-filled books.
If I have given you an urge to try out the new, revamped Mills & Boons, they are available at select CNA and Pick and Pay stores or via subscription on www.millsandboonbookclub.co.za.

Stay tuned to the blog for reviews of some of the latest titles!

Friday, March 2, 2018

Thoughts: Writing Reviews, Their Impact and Online Bitchiness - Zenith and Sasha Alsberg


I have been thinking a lot lately about bloggers, BookTubers and other people who review books. I was already in a conflicted space when Zenith, the hyped debut novel of prominent BookTuber Sasha Alsberg and her more established co-author, Lindsay Cummings, was released.

Zenith, having tasted the NYT bestseller list in its self-published form, debuted at number 7 in its first week of release under publishing house Harlequin Teen. The book has, since then, fallen completely off the list.

So what does this mean? Why has such an anticipated book basically fallen off the bestseller radar?

This is going to be a long post so grab some tea and let's unpack everything and take a critical look at the online book community and the impact it has on selling books.

Sasha Alsberg - Author Photo

Sasha Alsberg is pretty much a celebrity in bookish spheres. She started her channel, abookutopia, in 2013 and was literally one of the pioneers in the BookTube space. At the time of this post, she has 366 000 subscribers, putting her at number two on the list of most popular YouTubers (Number one is the insane Christine Riccio of polandbananasBOOKS). Obviously, her signing a book deal was a huge thing and was often talked about on her channel well before Zenith was published.

What people seem to forget though, is that Sasha is only 20. A young age to have already spent 5 years of her life in the public eye with the pressures of creating content and keeping her thousands of subscribers happy. Up until the release of Zenith, she was BookTube's golden girl, running a massive content creation regime and making public appearances at all the Cons and major book launches. Readers across the globe looked up to her and trusted her opinions on books.

Surely, that amount of pressure is quite a load to bear as it is. Now, with the hype around Zenith, fans had even bigger expectations and doubters were waiting in the wings, hoping that her book would fail.

Let's face it. Fame is a raging asshole (I went there. If you don't get the reference, just watch any scathing review of Zenith). There was bitterness by the truckload when she landed the book deal that only escalated when the book was released. Disgruntled people felt that Sasha had used her existing celebrity status to get published and that she didn't have to work very hard for the opportunity. I think this influenced a large number of reviews.

All you have to do is a search for Zenith reviews on YouTube and probably 90% of them are of the rant variety. Some are pretty fucking mean about it too. Yeah, I see all those YouTubers who are also writing books of their own jumping on the Zenith-bashing bandwagon. Because it's cool and probably fuelled by bitterness.

You have to question people's motives behind leaving rant reviews. A lot of them had not even finished the book and were basing their opinion on other opinions because they wanted the views while they were hot.

And this, dear readers, is why Zenith is suddenly not the hyped book it was made out to be.

Does this then mean Zenith is really a bad book? And how much stock can we really put on these reviews? Should you read it?

It was co-authored by a 20-year old. Who is going to write a masterpiece at that age? Sure, some have been successful, but they have had time to edit and were away from the pressures of a hyped-up fanbase. Especially when they are writing to please fans and trying to create a world and universe they hope they will love.

I am reading Zenith now and I regret seeing all those bad reviews before I had been able to form my own opinion of the book. Huge regret, as I honestly feel Zenith is not all that bad, but my judgment remains clouded.

I feel bad for Sasha and the vitriol she has gone through and I really urge everyone to read the books that they find compelling and not just because people are hyping it. Because sometimes, the hype is also a lie.

Stay tuned for a full review in the next few weeks! I promise to be 100% honest and fair, as always.