Friday, June 27, 2014

Fostering a Blogging and Reviewing Mindset in South Africa

So this article was published yesterday which references an article in the M&G and created a nice bit of discussion in Facebook which has prompted me to get my thoughts out and send them into the void. Basically, the debate revolves around the reviewing culture in South Africa and that there simply is not enough reviewing going on.

As others have pointed out, the writer of this article does raise some valid pints, but his point of view is very linear. Would my humble YA blog, for example, count? Should reviewers only promote local books or reading in general?

There are passionate book lovers in South Africa and many of them run blogs similar to this one. What they have observed is that the majority of hits come from outside our shores.

Here are the pageview stats of this blog in the past month:

United States
South Africa
United Kingdom

It is clear that my audience from the US is nearly double that of my SA audience and I do very little marketing that side outside of Goodreads.

Why is this? Firstly, no one quite does fanaticism like the Americans. They live and breathe their passions and have a massive book blogging community. They shout their fandoms from the rooftops!

Plus they have midnight launches of popular titles, blog tours, cover reveals and are literally on the cutting edge of what is happening in the publishing world. They host tons of giveaways and have ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) coming out of their ears. In fact, many bloggers have so many books for review, they end up having giveaways simply to clear space on their shelves. Now that is a problem I would love to have.

The problem, I believe is not that we in South Africa are not reviewing books. Or that we simply do not have that mentality. I believe the problem lies deeper than that.

We need to address the matter from a grassroots level. I personally feel very disconnected from the international blogging scene. I have very little access to giveaways and am fortunate to get one ARC a year. Often, by the time a popular title comes out in SA, it has already been out for a month or more overseas, enough time for the international audience to latch on and review and do all the work in terms of generating public opinion.

Plus, new releases are usually in the trade paperback or hardcover formats. So if I was to keep up to date and post relevant reviews of bestsellers, I must brace myself for shelling out R250 plus for a title. This results in my blog always been a little behind the global trends. This is not a complaint, mind you. Simply an observation. Books have become somewhat of a luxury in this economic climate.

Having said that, I can look at a shining example of where getting ARC's and support from publishers have helped the blogging community. I was one of the proud folks to receive an ARC of The Three by Sarah Lotz. My review was up a week before the actual publication and also appeared on Women24. Not only was I rewteeted by the author, the INTERNATIONAL publisher retweeted me as well. This did wonders for my Twitter activity and blog traffic. Why? Because I was able to review something pre-publication when the public interest was hot.

But that is just one aspect. I do get review copies from publishers. In fact, they have been amazing lately in terms of supporting bloggers and reviewers! This is a very important part of creating interest in reviews and reading in general and I thank all the publishers for this! Thank you! Whenever I get new books from publishers for review, they are usually mentioned on twitter, on a blog post and I always take a photo of the books too as they always have such gorgeous covers. Thus, great exposure before I even crack open the spine.

But, how do we expand the reach of reviews we write? I have some ideas.
  1. Have a review board in every bookshop where reviews can be posted and swapped around each week. Not just reviews from the booksellers themselves, but from the reader on the street. Provide opportunties for readers to voice their opinions on an easy platform.
  2. Bookshops can have a WhatsApp / Twitter handle where people in the shop can send quick, 140 character reviews of a book referencing a specific code. "Like this book? Tweet us your thoughts with #codehere"
  3. Exclusive Books had the ingenious idea of getting teens to review books by offering them a monthly prize in the form of a voucher. Brilliant! This gets kids reviewing and generates reviews on their otherwise review-sparse website. Plus reviews from the target audience are a lot more relevant than some 30 year-old blogger's opinion. Yes, that would be me.
  4. Bring back newspaper reviews in all forms of publications. Not just what the editor thinks is good but what the reader loves! And not just bestsellers that anyone can find in the bookstore's Top 10. Think outside the scope of what everyone else says we should be reading.
  5. Bloggers with established audiences can get non-bloggers to try their hand at blogging by writing guest reviews on books they themselves either don't have time to read or are outside of their interests (hey, if you're willing, pop me a line!).
  6. Bloggers themselves should network more. Go to bookshops and drink coffee and talk raucously about their favorite books within earshot of others. Do non-bloggers actively read blogs? How else can we gather interest outside of our usual communities?
The responsibility is in the hands of the publisher, blogger, reviewer and reader.

There is a guy on the streets of Johannesburg who offers up reviews and sells his books for small change. I am sure you have heard of him. We need more people like that who are not afraid to wave the banner for books they love. And we need to stop looking down on people who do not read "acceptable" books with "real literary value". If you love Twilight, why should you not be proud? At least you are reading and that is more than a lot of the country is doing.

So, there is my two cents on the matter. Drop me comments with your thoughts and ideas. I look forward to hearing from you!

Movie Review: The Fault in Our Stars

Title: The Fault in Our Stars
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Laura Dern, Willem Dafoe
Director: Josh Boone
Studio: Temple Hill Entertainment

I am always wary when seeing a film based off one of my favorite novels. There is so much that could go wrong. But I was so excited, I coughed up the R122 (including popcorn and coke) and treated myself to a movie night. I also went by myself, as I knew there would be tears involved.

Before I break this down into the Good, Bad and Ugly, a warning. I will be cross-referring the movie and the book so a BIG SPOILER ALERT if you haven't read or seen either.

The Good
  • The dialogue was faithful to the characters, a lot taken verbatim from the novel. I loved this touch, as it was really like the book had come to life.
  • Shailene Woodley clearly got the character of Hazel and captured her well for the most part. I saw no traces of Tris, another popular YA character from the book and film Divergent. She was suitably emotional and angry and sad. I loved her as Hazel.
  • Willem Dafoe was brilliant as van Houten. I couldn't believe that it was him at first, as he looked so different to his usual self. His dry delivery of lines and his whole demeanor was spot on.
  • Laura Dern as Hazel's mom. I remember her from Jurassic Park and am sad she hasn't done a lot of mainstream stuff since. She really did a great job capturing all the emotions and conveying them with a special maternal warmth. Loved her.
  • The little speech bubbles and the scene overlays to illustrate tests and e-mails.
The Bad
  • Ansel Elgort was not how I pictured Gus. And I know it has been said before, but he was Shailene Woodley's brother in Divergent. Perhaps if this had been released first, I would have been comfortable seeing them in different roles.He did get Gus's bouncy personality, but his delivery of lives sometimes came across as overly saccharine. Maybe he was also simply outshone by Shailene.
  • The soundtrack just didn't work for me. I expected sweeping, emotional songs and score and it was, frankly unmemorable. I did not walk out of the cinema feeling like I wanted to buy the soundtrack NOW.
  • Where was Hazel's scar from her surgery? and surely during the sexy scene, she would have had more scarring because of the drains and other procedures?
  • I wanted more of Isaac. I also wanted more of the Price of Dawn banter and Hazel's reaction to that.
  • I also wanted Hazel to meet with her friend at the mall, as that shows a glimpse of Hazel pre-cancer and how it affected her relationships with people. There was a lot left out in that sense that I felt could have bettered the characters on screen. Like why no mention of Gus' ex?
The Ugly
  • Honestly, there was nothing screamingly bad that stood out. So, yay TFIOS Movie Edition!
I loved this. Criticism aside, they did the best job possible with the film in keeping it faithful to the characters.

Folks who have not read the book can comfortably see the film. Even more so after my spoilertastic review! Yay! One of my colleagues, a tough guy in his fifties, was raving about it. So it does have a universal appeal.

As a side note, I know I am older than the target audience for this role when I found myself admiring Hazel's dad over Gus.

This is Sam Tramell, better known for his role in True Blood as Sam Merlotte. *clears throat* Okay.

    Monday, June 23, 2014

    Brithday Book Purchases

    So I turned 30 last week. Yay! I am embracing the dirty thirties and refuse to act older at the same time!

    Because it is not "right" for 30 year olds to read and love YA outside of Harry Potter. Whatever. I wave my YA banner high and with pride!

    I spoiled myself a lot this week, but also got some nice book vouchers from my wonderful friends. This is what I bought:

    Prodigy and Champion - Marie Lu

    Woohoo, I have the complete set! I loved Legend and and super excited to wrap this trilogy up!

    City of Heavenly Fire - Cassandra Clare

    I has it! The final book in The Mortal Instruments! It's super thick and I need to read books 4 and 5 but I will get there! I just had to get it and complete my collection.

    Splintered - AG Howard

    I am totally judging this one by this gorgeous cover! As it is by a lesser-known publisher, I was not expecting to find it in SA. If you are looking for a copy of this Alice in Wonderland tribute novel, hit up your local Reader's Warehouse. They have it for R79.

    The Waking Dark - Robin Wasserman

     I enjoy Robin Wasserman's writing and this was an absolute steal at R59 at Reader's Warehouse! Zombies!

    The Bone Season - Samantha Shannon

    I have been so, so excited about reading The Bone Season, but patiently waited for it to come out in a smaller format. Granted, it set me back R180 anyway, but totally worth it. And a nod to Bloomsbury for the stunning quality of the binding of this. It's top-notch and feels solid in my greedy little reader paws. I have been popping into bookstores for weeks hoping to find this and now I have it! Mine!

    The Fiery Heart - Richelle Mead

    I am a die-hard fan of Vampire Academy and Bloodlines. Really, I have no excuse for purchasing this so late. I am actually rereading the previous book in the series to prepare for this! Adrian POV!

    City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte

    This book has been quite hyped by the book community and I love the concept. I put off buying it as it's hefty price tag (R220 for a normal paperback) seemed a little steep. But I had the vouchers and sucked it up and am really looking forward to picking it up. It also strikes me as a great read for a wintery evening.

    Fire and Flood - Victoria Scott

    Completely spontaneous purchase. I get that it will be similar to The Hunger Games, but I am looking forward to reading it and getting my own opinion. Plus the cover is gorgeous!

    I haven't been so excited about a book haul in AGES. I really hope these great titles will get me out of my reading slump.

    Any interesting book purchases over your weekends, folks?

    Tuesday, June 10, 2014

    The Fault in Our Stars: My Thoughts Before the Film is Released

    If you haven't heard about The Fault in Our Stars, duck your head out from under that rock and go grab yourself a copy of this amazing book.

    I reread TFIOS (as it is known by fans and follow bloggers) last week and I was so overwhelmed with thoughts and feelings that I really wanted to to express them. It warranted a blog post, I felt. People must know!

    But first, a little background is required. Cancer sucks. It has particularly touched my world lately. Three people in my life lost their battle to cancer this year alone. I have had several family members pass away as well of various forms of the disease over the years. It just seems like everywhere you look, cancer is staring you in the face.

    TFIOS deals with cancer. It deals with living with cancer and the imminent sense loss cancer brings. But it shines with optimism and hope in spite of this. For me, one of the most poignant messages is that life is short and we should live every day to its full worth. A cancer diagnosis is not the final chapter in life. Like Hazel discovers, there are experiences worth having and people who want to share in those experiences.

    After setting the book down, feeling quite shattered, I wondered if I could last through the film. It is just too close to home right now. But then I realized that is exactly why I should see it. Why everyone who is mourning the loss of a loved one should see it. Or read the book. Read the book first!

    It will break your heart, but in doing so it will also provide some sort of comfort and understanding too. Those who have not had cancer cannot know what it is like. Hazel's quirky narrative, which I hope will come through in the film, gives an often flippant look at cancer and how people with cancer are perceived by others.

    In this day and age where cancer is so commonplace, can we really afford not to open ourselves up to experiences such as TFIOS offers? There are also other books that should be read. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness is one obvious example. Fiction provides a very gentle means of dealing with reality.

    What I am trying to say with this post is go read the book. See the movie. Cry. Get angry at cancer. Cry some more.

    Some TFIOS quotes that perfectly capture the book:
    • “Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.”
    • “What a slut time is. She screws everybody.”  
    • "If the inevitability of human oblivion worries you, I encourage you to ignore it. God knows that’s what everyone else does.”
    • “Whenever you read a cancer booklet or website or whatever, they always list depression among the side effects of cancer. But, in fact, depression is not a side effect of cancer. Depression is a side effect of dying.”
    • “It seemed like forever ago, like we've had this brief but still infinite forever. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities.”  
     I hope I have inspired someone out there not to be afraid. Never be afraid of grieving for fictional characters for isn't that ultimately the purpose of their creation at the end of the day? To help teach us about the nature of loss and how to cope with our own.

    Monday, June 9, 2014

    Review: Easy by Tammara Webber

    Title: Easy
    Author: Tammara Webber
    Publisher: Penguin (2012)

    Rescued by a stranger.
    Haunted by a secret
    Sometimes, love isn't easy...

    He watched her, but never knew her. Until thanks to a chance encounter, he became her savior...
    The attraction between them was undeniable. Yet the past he'd worked so hard to overcome, and the future she'd put so much faith in, threatened to tear them apart.

    Only together could they fight the pain and guilt, face the truth - and find the unexpected power of love.

    A groundbreaking novel in the New Adult genre, Easy faces one girl's struggle to regain the trust she's lost, find the inner strength to fight back against an attacker, and accept the peace she finds in the arms of a secretive boy (from Goodreads).

    Sometimes I am just really in the mood for a soppy, emotional read. I had heard good things about Easy but had very little clue what it was actually about. Let me state right here that something going into a book completely ignorant is the best way as you allow the book and the characters to surprise you. Because of this, I am going to try not to go into too much detail as I really want you to have the same experience I did with this book.

    I also didn't realize that Easy is actually classified at New Adult, which would make this my first official New Adult review!

    Right, so I started this last night and flew through it, finally putting the completed book down just before midnight. What a freaking ride! There are characters worth loving and characters you want to beat into a pulp. There are wild emotions and gorgeous sexy moments that will leave the more prudish reader feeling a little hot and bothered.

    If Sarah Dessen had to write something for the NA market, I imagine it would be something like this. And that is saying something as I am a HUGE Sarah Dessen fan.

    I loved this book. It is worth every single moment and I know that I will be revisiting it at some stage.

    Do pick this up! But remember that it is not a suitable read for younger readers, even though it gets stuck in the YA section in most bookstores!