The Chocolate Lady’s Book Review Blog

Davida Chazan calls her book blog The Chocolate Lady’s Book Reviews. She has been writing on-line content including reviews and articles of all kinds since about 1998. In 2013, she began specializing in writing book reviews. Welcome, Davida.

Why did you start blogging about or featuring books? I actually started out writing consumer and product reviews of all kinds, on all sorts of content sites (most of which, if not all, are dead today). However, I found that I liked writing book reviews the best.  Partially because not many people on those sites were writing them, and partially because I just love reading books, so why not review them, right? When these content sites (most of which were pay-per-click) died their slow and painful deaths, I decided to start my own blog, and book reviews seemed to be the most appropriate subject on which to concentrate, all things considered (as in, my education, my present “day job” profession, and my experience).

What type of books appeal to you and why? I’m an adult, literary fiction lover for the most part. I especially like to read works by new or lesser known authors. Maybe that is my way of finding my niche – discovering writers, including those who are publishing independently or even self-publishing. But to be honest, although there are some genres I refuse to read (fantasy, horror, erotica), I’m willing to read almost anything else. It is the reading that’s appealing, in and of itself.

Do you concentrate on a specific genre? If so, can you tell us a bit about your passion for that genre. As I noted above, literary fiction is my basic genre, but I tend to read lots of female authors – many of which write women’s fiction, but not all. Perhaps my favorite is historical, biographical fiction – I like to learn about times in history from the perspective of people – especially women – that might not be as well known as they should. I’ve learned about so many women that history has either overlooked, ignored, or under-represented, and the impact that they’ve made on the world is frankly, amazing! And the thing is, I was really bad at history when I was in school – until high school. That’s when we had this great program of combining history and English. We studied history through literature and literature through history. It made history come alive through reading beautifully told stories. I didn’t need to remember dates and places; I could read about the people and their motivations who lived during those times, and understand so much more about what their worlds were like. Such an eye opener! Too bad that program doesn’t exist anymore (that I know of).

Who are your readers and followers? How do you engage with them? Gosh, I really don’t know who they are. I just seem to get followers and readers randomly – at least that’s how it feels. I mean, I’m on a whole bunch of Facebook pages and I’ve made “friends” that follow me that way. I’m also on Instagram and Twitter and lots of other sites, but I’m not all that popular (relatively speaking). But mostly, I follow lots and lots of book bloggers, and I’m guessing most of my followers come from there. As for engaging with them, I comment on their blogs, and reply to their comments on my blog as well. I’ll tweet blog posts, like tweets, and retweet blog posts, too. But I do it instinctively, not strategically. If I feel something, I’ll like or comment or tweet or whatever. If not, then I don’t.

If you have a blog, what features does it offer? For example, ‘best of’ lists, author interviews, a book rating system. Well, right now I have a fairly new feature called TCL’s Countdown Questions. That’s where I ask authors to answer five, fast and fun questions. I generally post those on Tuesdays. Right now, I’m limiting them to personal friends and authors with books I’ve read and reviewed. But when I run out of them, maybe I’ll open it up to other authors as well.

When the mood strikes, or when I don’t have book review to post, I’ll sometimes post what I call literary musings, which are just essays on some topic that strikes my fancy. Often, I’m inspired by something I’ve seen talked about in some article, or on a Facebook page, or from a blog I’ve seen.

I am now an avid participant in the monthly #6Degrees of Separation meme, and I’ll occasionally participate in other memes, like Top Ten Tuesday or the like, when the mood strikes.

I’m involved in a few reading challenges, like the Historical Fiction one, the New Releases one, and the Big Summer Book one. I don’t do many blog tours, though. Maybe when I retire next year, I’ll get back to doing those.

Also, every year I do a “best of” list of my favorite books published during that calendar year. It is usually top five – since I’m a slow reader (30-40 books a year, not all of which are new releases).

As for rating books, I used the five-star method, including half stars. Mind you, lately I’ve found that half stars might not be precise enough. For example, I’ve read several books this year that deserve 4.75 stars – they’re almost perfect, but not quite. I’m thinking of revising to a ten-star method, and including half stars, but that seems sort of petty, and a bit too pedantic for me. We’ll see!

What ways do you use to attract new readers and followers? Good question, and not something I think much about, really. I mean, I follow other bloggers, and post links or comments on bookish Facebook pages, and hope they’ll follow me. Again, I’m not really all that strategic or proactive about it. If I see a blog or a Facebook page I like, I’ll follow it. If they visit my blog and follow me, that’s great.

How do you interact with authors and publicists? Whenever and however I can, and usually only by luck! I’ve gotten to “know” a couple publicists over the years, who send me emails. As for authors, usually they contact me, mostly after I tag them on reviews, but I have been known to “stalk” some authors I really like (thankfully, no one has complained to the FBI or Interpol yet).

What trends or changes have you noticed in the book world? Lots more people are self-publishing or going the smaller publisher route, from what I can see. Plus, I think the book blogger world has gotten bigger because of ARC sites like NetGalley and Edelweiss. That means that authors are getting a wider, more international audience – including in more remote non-English speaking countries. Of course, I’m glad that brick and mortar stores are still out there, and apparently doing well, but there was a time when it looked like they might go the way of the Dodo bird.

I’ve also noticed that younger readers are getting excited about books and blogging about them. There was a time when you couldn’t get younger people to read anything at all outside of school, and then television, movies, smart phones and other electronic devices might have kept people from reading altogether. But like with print vs eBooks, I think the tide is turning here as well. Getting people excited about books seems to be a recurring trend and the older generation should encourage this as much as we can.

If you could wave your magic wand, what would you change about the book industry? I’d make the people who give out awards and make yearly lists look at all the titles published by independent and small publishers, as well as self-published books when they start handing out their laurels. I’d also like to see the big-name review sites look at them as well (such as the NYT, which has notoriously BAD book reviews, mostly written by authors who are about to publish their own new books. These tend to be very critical, often include horrible spoilers, and seem to be written to basically turn people off to the books they’re reviewing. I believe they do so to say “yes, well… don’t bother with that book, read mine instead”). It seems to me that whenever there’s a huge sensation and buzz out there about a certain book, that book was invariably published by a big publishing house. They all seem to ignore the fact that there are authors out there, publishing excellent books, through their own efforts or with smaller publishers that might be even better than the ones the larger houses are hyping all over the place. For example, this year, I read a book called “The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt” by Andrea Bobotis. It was a debut novel published by Sourcebooks Landmark, and it blew me away, it was so beautifully written, with such a touching story, and no other book has topped it this year. Is anyone talking about that book? No, they’re talking about “The Testaments” by Margaret Atwood. Okay, fine… I’m sure Atwood’s book is great, and deserves all the kudos it gets. But this one… it just burns me up that it isn’t getting the attention I think it deserves. Sure, I’m just a blogger. Obviously, I have no real understanding of what is literary talent and what is not. That may very well be true, but I’ll tell you something – back when Fredrik Backman was about to publish his first book in English “A Man Called Ove” I read that book as an ARC and I knew right away that he was an author to keep an eye out for, and look at him now! So, keep an eye out for Bobotis – trust me, she’s another one on the rise.

Just for the fun of it, I’ll give you three more authors that I totally adore, and who I think are all sorely underrated. Ariel Lawhon, Greer Macallister and Jane Davis. Bet you’ve never heard of them. Well, you should learn their names; they’re marvelous authors!

I’m delighted to host you today, Davida. Many thanks for sharing your ideas about books, blogging and the publishing industry. Of course, you could also tell us a few of your favourite chocolates!

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION  FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY (see left hand sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

A passion for reading with bookstagrammer @basicbsguide

Katie – aka @basicbsguide – is passionate about reading. She began using Instagram to share that passion some time ago. I’ve known Katie since she was a baby – and she’s one inspiring woman! Today, she’s sharing her story.

Why did you start blogging about or featuring books?

To be honest it was quite accidental.  I was recovering from a battle with breast cancer and was looking for an outlet to share my story and also talk about my favorite hobby – reading!  I soon found out that there was a warm and welcoming community of book lovers and I haven’t looked back since.

What type of books appeal to you and why?

I try my best to read diversely and over the past year have let mood dictate my reading life, but the stories that stay with me the longest are the ones that make me feel deeply and understand humanity and situations that are often unfamiliar to me.  I want to be a better person and I think through stories we can make strides towards that.

Do you concentrate on a specific genre? If so, can you tell us a bit about your passion for that genre.

For quite a while I was a thriller junkie and that got old very quickly.  I can only handle so many unreliable narrators.  Now, I tend to spread the love around and dabble in historical fiction, contemporary romance, literary fiction and lately nonfiction.

Who are your readers and followers? How do you engage with them?

My largest and most interactive following is on Instagram.  I post daily where I share reviews, feature upcoming releases and often follow along in book challenge prompts from other “Bookstagrammers”.  I also share quite a bit of my breast cancer journey and life in my Instagram stories and have a monthly story selfie challenge, where I encourage others to show their face.  Social media can be a place that people tend to hide behind the account so I’m trying to encourage people to make deeper connections.

If you have a blog, what features does it offer? For example, ‘best of’ lists, author interviews, a book rating system.

I don’t have a blog as of yet but I often wonder if I’m better suited for the blogging world.  I love sharing my story, inspiring others and having meaningful conversations.  Right now, Instagram is the place to be for the conversations and interactions.

What ways do you use to attract new readers and followers?

I host the occasionally giveaway for a new and upcoming release, consistently engage in others posts and reviews and again host my weekly selfie challenge.

How do you interact with authors and publicists?

This has changed greatly over the past couple of years.  I have now built great relationships with publicists so many of the books that I’m interested are showing up for consideration as opposed to me searching them out.  I love interacting with authors and would love to help promote and read every book but we know that’s not possible. I’m careful in my acceptance of review copies as not every book is meant for me.  I do have a little free library and many authors have sent me copies to put in there, which I’m happy to do.  When I read a book, I’m passionate about, I usually reach out to the author and publisher to try to figure out a way I can let a wider audience know about the book.  I’m a champion for authors and books I fall in love with.

What trends or changes have you noticed in the book world?

Over the past year, Instagram has become a bit saturated with book reviewers.  Everyone is wanting the “free books” and has forgotten why they even starting blogging and reviewing in the first place.  I’m hopeful that the true book lovers will stick around for the long run. I also think bloggers and authors are taking a step back from blogging and joining the Bookstagram community.

If you could wave your magic wand, what would you change about the book industry?

I think one of my biggest complaints is when the marketing of a book is way off base.  I saw this most recently with Lisa Taddeo’s novel, Three Women.  I was fortunately able to see past the marketing and found great value in the women’s stories but I think for most it was difficult to get past what they expected going in.

Thanks so much, Katie. Truly appreciate you sharing your thoughts and insights. Katie’s interview is part of a series on book bloggers and bookstagrammers. Stay tuned for more about those who share their passion for reading with others. 

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION – and other ideas about reading –  FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Bookstagrammer Alex – @bookandteapairings

As mentioned in last week’s blog post, I’m featuring book bloggers and bookstagrammers and the wonderful work they do to publicize and celebrate books. Today we have Alex whose Instagram id is @bookandteapairings.

Why did you start blogging about or featuring books? I was living in Singapore at the time I had this idea to pair books with tea.  I had access to so many wonderful Southeast Asian authors and regional teas, and I wanted a forum to highlight these diverse authors by immersion through local tea pairings.  I have always found that a sensory experience enhances my read!

What type of books appeal to you and why? I tend to gravitate towards historical novels because I love reading about worlds that are different from my own but which carry universal themes.  It is for that reason that I have become so enamored with authors from diverse walks of life who can bring forth fresh perspectives.  For example, I recently posted about a book called Sarong Party Girls by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, a Singaporean author.  The entire book is written in Singapore dialect, or Singlish. There is a slight learning curve, but it was my favorite read of the summer!

Do you concentrate on a specific genre? If so, can you tell us a bit about your passion for that genre. I organize my pairings by collection.  Right now, I am in the middle of my Japan Collection, in which I feature Japanese authors and books relating to Japan.  I recently came back from a trip to Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka, and I emerged with an endless supply of books and tea and pairing pictures! Organizing my pairings by collection has opened a window for me to read books that I never would have otherwise chosen or even known about. Next up is my Haunted Tales Collection. I’m already sleeping with the lights on!

Who are your readers and followers? How do you engage with them? My followers are an amazing group of readers who want to fully immerse themselves in diverse books through tea – and sometimes tasty treats!  Since I read every book and try ever tea I post, I can give my followers ideas for pairings that I have tested myself.  I love to take my followers on a journey to a particular place through my pairings, which I have done on my travels in Bali, Australia, New Zealand, and the Maldives.  I love to hear feedback and book recommendations and am always so inspired by other bookstagrammers!

If you have a blog, what features does it offer? For example, ‘best of’ lists, author interviews, a book rating system. I am working on a blog currently and hope to have it up and running soon.  My ultimate goal is to start a book and tea pairing of the month club and ship pairings to you, so you don’t have to leave your book nooks for a pairing!

What ways do you use to attract new readers and followers? I try to vary the genres of books and tea I highlight, so that readers and tea drinkers with diverse interests are always stimulated.  I hope that doing so attracts followers with a full spectrum of interests.

How do you interact with authors and publicists? I have a few friends in the publishing industry, and I love to hear about upcoming novels and authors to watch out for! If there is a novel that speaks to me or that would fit in a collection, I reach out to the author to see if a pairing would be of interest. It is a pleasure to work with debut authors who deserve encouragement and love from the bookstagram world.

What trends or changes have you noticed in the book world? I love that female authors and authors of color are consistently featured on bookstagram pages. I see bookstagram as a microcosm for book engagement, so it is very encouraging!

If you could wave your magic wand, what would you change about the book industry? I would love to see more books in other languages get published and translated into English.  I dabble in French-to-English literary translation, and I see too many worthy diverse books that do not get selected for these opportunities.  I am heartened to see bigger publishing companies like Amazon Crossing making huge strides in the translation industry, and I can’t wait to see more of that!

Many thanks for being the first in this series, Alex. I’m sure many of my readers will check out your books and teas. And good luck with your blog – keep me posted.

Photo courtesy of Alex at @bookandteapairings.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION  FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.