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Posts Tagged ‘book reviews’

Most of y’all know I’m a longtime reviewer for Shelf Awareness (best. gig. ever). That usually means I get a delicious stack of print advance copies to try out every month. But due to the pandemic, my last stack of physical ARCs arrived in mid-March. (Shortly after that, the stay-at-home orders came down, and many publicists and editors – including mine – couldn’t get to their offices to distribute books.)

Since we usually read two to three months ahead (those books I got in March all had pub dates for May, though some of them have been pushed back), we had to shift to e-galleys quickly. I was (am) not a fan of this idea: I love physical books, their heft and feel and smell, and I also don’t want one more reason to scroll on a screen. But my sister has lent me her long-disused Kindle Fire, and after several weeks of denial/procrastinating/avoiding reality, I finally have it set up for digital reading. (I’m requesting books through both Netgalley and Edelweiss, and the experience in both places has been mostly fine.)

It’s not as good as a “real” book, and I’m still reading physical books when I can: either rereading old favorites or working through my long-unread stacks. But the e-reader experience is much better than scrolling through files on my laptop, and it means I can still do the freelance work I love.

Like so much of life under quarantine, it’s not what I would have chosen, but here we are. I am (simultaneously) frustrated, trying to make the best of it, and intensely grateful that these are my problems.

Are you reading digitally in these strange times – or do you normally? Any tips?

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I’ve been reading Shelf Awareness for nearly three years, thanks to my sweet roomie Bethany, who forwarded it to my inbox, saying, “You’ll love this.” Usually, when she says that, I pay attention – she knows what I like, and a quirky, informative newsletter packed with book industry news and reviews of great new books? Yes, please.

When I started reading the Shelf, I wasn’t working in the book industry or even doing much writing for pay (this was during one of my stints as an admin assistant). Although it was aimed at folks who worked in the book trade, I devoured it – especially the reviews. And it’s now an essential part of my weekday mornings – catching up on industry happenings, drooling over the reports from various conferences, cheering at the profiles of independent bookstores, and laughing at the goofy getups donned by the reading Buddha (the logo) on holidays.

This winter, the Shelf announced they were hiring reviewers for a new edition aimed at readers – and I immediately drafted three sample reviews, polished them, proofread them obsessively, then sent them off via email. I could hardly believe my eyes when Marilyn, who manages the reviews, emailed me back and said I was in.

Me, a reviewer for the Shelf? I felt like one of the cool kids, like I’d gained entry into some elite society – one whose secret code language revolved around books. And when the packages of galleys started arriving in the mail, I felt positively giddy. You mean I get paid to discover great books and write about them?!

I’m one of several dozen reviewers scattered all over the country, so I haven’t met any of my Shelf coworkers face to face. However, we exchange frequent and often hilarious emails, chatter about books online, and generally rejoice over the fact that we get free books and get paid to talk about them as much as we want!

Then, yesterday, I had a comment on this blog from Erica Bauermeister, author of The School of Essential Ingredients and, recently, Joy for Beginners, both of which I loved. I gave Joy for Beginners a glowing review in the Shelf, and Erica thanked me graciously. I clicked over to her website and guess what I found on the page for Joy?

My Shelf review. Excerpted. (Scroll down.)

I definitely feel like one of the cool kids now.

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Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading, Lizzie Skurnick
I heard about this book via Book Club Girl, and found it fascinating. Skurnick gives us a tour of numerous beloved teen novels – dealing with romance, puberty, tragedy, the supernatural and other topics – with guest essays by other authors. Her list includes lots of books I’ve never read, but I still enjoyed the essays on those, as well as fresh takes on some of my favorites. Fascinating, if you love girls’ young adult lit. (Warning: occasional expletives.)

The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin
I’ve been following Gretchen’s blog for months, and was THRILLED to read her long-awaited memoir of her year spent studying happiness. She has lots of fascinating insights, and she’s able both to be honest and to laugh at herself. I love her tender descriptions of her family, and her epiphany that “the days are long, but the years are short.” My husband is reading it month-by-month this year and said he quite enjoyed the January chapter.

This I Believe II: More Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women, ed. Jay Allison and Dan Gediman
When I was taking Ali Edwards’ Yesterday and Today class online through Big Picture Scrapbooking, she mentioned this NPR project and the books born from it. I’d heard of This I Believe before – our Bible class even did a series, a few summers ago, where various people, including me, presented their essays – but I’d never read them in book form. I loved this collection, and have shared several of them with my students. This collection is such a thoughtful, wide-ranging, thought-provoking snapshot of American belief – essay topics range from the Holocaust to the pizza delivery dude. I highly recommend both the book and the Web site.

Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart, Beth Pattillo
My friend Anne, knowing I’d enjoyed Jane Austen Ruined My Life by the same author, kindly sent me a copy of this one. It’s set in Oxford – always a plus – and compellingly written. I liked Claire, the main character, even while I felt sorry for her and grew a bit exasperated with her. And I liked the fact that she wasn’t a Jane Austen addict – just sort of fell into a seminar, literally. I’d have liked to see her explore more of Oxford beyond Christ Church, but I suppose I’ll just write about it in my own memoir. Recommended if you like Jane Austen, chick lit, Oxford or Beth Pattillo’s writing.

Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery
The famous redhead is one of my beloved childhood heroines and friends – and oh, I loved revisiting her childhood. I was never given to fits of temper like Anne, but I was always given to imagination and dreams, and wandering in the woods at my grandparents’ house. I love Anne’s story and her imagination – but every time I read this book over again, I’m more conscious of how much Marilla loves Anne, though she doesn’t like to show it. And I always, always cry when sweet Matthew dies.

Anne of Avonlea, L.M. Montgomery
I’ve read the Anne books so many times that I have whole sentences – including line breaks – committed to memory. There’s a lot of comedy in this second volume, particularly when Anne and Marilla adopt a pair of twins – but I also love reading about Anne’s adventures in teaching and her dreams of what lies around “the bend in the road.” The story of Echo Lodge and sweet Miss Lavendar is one of my favorite parts of this book, and well, I just love the teenage Anne. I think we would have been friends.

Anne of the Island, L.M. Montgomery
When I felt lonely or scared as a college freshman, I pulled out Anne of the Island and reread Anne’s adventures at Redmond College. I sympathized with her feelings of insignificance at first – but I love the cozy times with the girls at Patty’s Place, which resemble my own experiences with Bethany, Joy and the House 9 girls at ACU. The ending of this book is heart-stopping, and then beautiful – the scene where she realizes (spoiler alert) that Gilbert is going to live is one of the best in the whole series.

Anne of Windy Poplars, L.M. Montgomery
Anne’s adventures as a school principal in Summerside, away from her beloved fiance, have some odd parallels to my time in Oxford, away from my beloved Jeremiah. I wrote as many emails as Anne writes letters, and met quite as many quirky, interesting people (though I’m not a born matchmaker, like Anne). I love her evenings in her tower room, her witty descriptions of the people she meets, and her landladies – “the widows” are sweet, and Rebecca Dew is hilarious.

Anne’s House of Dreams, L.M. Montgomery
This fifth book resonated deeply with me this time – I’ve always enjoyed the account of Anne and Gilbert’s newlywed years, but since I’m now a married woman myself, it strikes a deeper chord. I love imagining their little house of dreams and the people who visit it – and Captain Jim Boyd is one of the best characters in the series. (As is Miss Cornelia, who endures through the next three books.)

I’m so enjoying this trip through the Anne series, which for me is also a trip down memory lane. There will be more Anne reviews next month – but I’ve also got lots more in the stack. Stay tuned!

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