Happy Banned Books Week!

Every September, I tell myself that this year is going to be the year that I’ll finally sit down and write the perfect, awesome, emotional, and overly informational post on Banned Books Week. But every September, I lose track of the days, or something comes up, and before I know it the fourth Sunday comes right around the corner and I’m just sitting there, palm to face, muttering variations of “Not again ” and “I’m such an idiot.”

Spilled milk aside, I do want to at least TRY to talk about literary censorship within the United States. As fun as it is to stick it to the book-haters revel in the mass enthusiasm that the book community is generating over this annual event, I think it’s important to understand WHY this event is happening. And I want to explain why I choose to participate.

But it’s already past midnight where I’m at, and while I’m not exactly Cinderella I need some semblance of a full night’s sleep if I’m to be expect to be a functioning human tomorrow morning. So I will leave aforementioned dream post to another day. Hopefully a day that happens to fall within this week.

In the meantime, I want to wish all of my fellow Stateside bookworms a very, very happy Banned Books Week!

Happy reading,

Jen

P. S. – What are you guys reading for Banned Books Week? I’ll be reading Joseph Heller’s classic, Catch-22.

Bye bye #BBSReads

So, #BBSReads. 

I finished all three books, and I think I could have actually squeezed in a fourth had I not gotten completely sidetracked by Clockwork Prince and Clockwork Princess. (Both of which were purchased copies, so I couldn’t count them towards the readathon.) The first couple days of the readathon were a bit slow. I was visiting family that weekend, and so most of my time was spent doing stuff with them. I did manage to squeeze in a few hours of reading, though, and by Day 3 I finished my first book, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare. I’m planning on doing a standalone review of the book soon, so I’ll go more into detail about what I thought about the book then. But for now, I’ll just say that it was exciting, and very action-packed. Narrative-wise, it wasn’t as polished as Clare’s subsequent books in The Infernal Devices. The prose in City of Bones was rather choppy, and veered on cheesy at times. And the drama, while catalyzing, was a little much for me. (Dare I say, soapy?) But the book was enjoyable. 

I followed with City of Ashes, which is the next book in Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series. The main story arc progresses, but at a much slower pace than I thought was necessary. Also, the romantic drama at this point got more irritating, and I was pretty certain that Clare only included certain scenes to artificially propel the angst. By the end of the book, I was wondering why Clare decided to stretch out the series into six installments. I feel she could have condensed the story into a trilogy, and the series would have been better for it. But we’ll see. Maybe there’s some plot twist in City of Glass that requires an additional three books to resolve. 

I finished the readathon on a much different note—a historical mystery called The Hangman’s Daughter. I didn’t get to finish it in time—dang it, The Infernal Devices!—but I had a lot of fun reading it. The central mystery was fascinating, and it kept me guessing all the way to the very end. There’s elements of spookiness to the story—like man with the skeleton hand—that made me wish I had saved this book for Halloween. I really liked the titular hangman, Jakob Kuisl, and his spirited daughter Magdalena. I like that Jakob was a compassionate man, shrewd and intelligent, and incredibly progressive for his time. (17th Century Germany, where witch hunts were still in vogue.) He insisted that Magdalena be taught to read and write, and is himself very well-read. His friendship with the physician’s son, Simon, was also one of my favorite things about the book. (Also, I’m just tickled by Simon’s fascination and love for coffee, which at the time was considered an exotic drink in Germany, and not entirely orthodox.) The author has so far penned three follow-ups to this book, and I am eager to read them all. 

Overall, the readathon was a BLAST. I had so much fun, and in part it’s thanks to YOU guys who read a long with me. You guys definitely made the experience all the more enjoyable, and I hope you guys had fun as well! I’m hoping to do the readathon again next year. The one thing I want to do differently is to also include daily challenges or activities, along the lines of Booktubeathon. I think it would make the experience all the more fun and interactive. But otherwise, same time, same theme. See you guys there?

Happy reading,

Jen

TBR for #BBSReads

Okay, so my TBR didn’t turn out the way I had expected. (For one thing, I was envisioning a higher stack of books.) But roll with the punches, as it were. And anyway, there’s still time for one more library visit, so who knows. I may be able to find a couple more titles to read.

In any case, this is my TBR. In all its diminutive glory.

256683 1582996 hangmansdaughter_hres

*tada*

In all seriousness, though, I’m excited to start The Mortal Instruments series. I’m seriously hooked on The Infernal Devices, and am looking forward to seeing the world of Shadowhunters and Downworlders translate into a contemporary setting. As for The Hangman’s Daughter—I actually didn’t know much about the book until I looked it up, like, a few minutes ago. From what I’ve gathered, it’s a historical thriller that follows a family of professional executioners in 17th Century Germany. A murder happens, a witch-hunt is involved. And somehow, the aforementioned family is called upon to find the killer. Pretty interesting stuff.

So yeah. That’s it. If you guys are planning to do #BBSReads with me, let me know! I’d love to hear what books you have on your TBRs.

Happy Friday, and happy reading!

Jen

Image credit: 1 / 2 / 3

Boycotting Amazon

It was Super Sushi Pizza that got me thinking about this in the first place.

Weeks ago, I came across her video in which she announced that she was leaving GoodReads, citing the company’s acquisition by Amazon as one of her reasons. While I had at that point been aware of Amazon’s takeover, it struck me as weird that I had never paused to think about what I would do in response. I was—and still am—in a tangled, love-hate relationship with the retailing behemoth. As a paying Prime customer, I love love love the free and snappy shipping. I also love their consistently low prices on stuff, especially books, music, DVDs … the things that often make up my wish list. My family does too, which is why I choose to renew my Prime membership year after year. At the same time, though, I was aware of how Amazon made all of that possible—whispers about poorly-treated warehouse workers, unpaid wages, and the bullying tactics towards publishers, brought to light in the recent and still on-going dispute between the retailer and Hachette. Weirdly, I didn’t bat an eye over it.

But that all changed when I watched Susheela’s video. I don’t know why. Maybe I just needed to see someone do something. Maybe I needed to hear someone talk about it in neat, concrete terms. Maybe it was the proverbial straw in the long line of big company takeovers that have been dominating the news—Comcast, Google, the whole thing with Net Neutrality. I don’t know. In any case, something in me clicked, and I knew I wanted to do something too.

While I will still continue to use GoodReads—I just love the platform too much—I have decided to take my book-buying business elsewhere. Thanks to the booktube community, I’ve discovered a fair number of alternative retailers that can help me with my bookish needs. And I thought I would share them with you—if only to expand your purchasing options.

Barnes & Noble – The irony in supporting them has not been lost to me. Back when the turf war du jour was Big Books vs. indie shops, I was staunchly in favor of the the latter. Now B&N has become the underdog, and I’m seriously hoping that they don’t follow in the footsteps of my much-beloved Borders. Of all the alternatives, B&N is I think the only one to offer what I liked best about Amazon—the discounts and speedy shipping. Free shipping is available for purchases over $25, unless you’re a B&N member, in which case shipping is FREE.

Edit 1:42pm – Bethany reminded me of B&N’s partnership with Google Express, to bring same-day delivery to Manhattan, West LA, and the Bay Area. Nifty! But I don’t see myself using it short of an absolute emergency. (Because really, do you actually NEED something delivered NOW?) NYT has a good article about the partnership.

BookOutlet.com – A very new-to-me discovery from Canada, thanks to Sophia from thebookbasement. I really like their business model—purchasing returns and excess inventory directly from publishers, and selling them at a fraction of the retail price. The books are practically new, save for a small dot or mark from the publishers. AND THEY’RE CHEAP YOU GUYS. It’s really quite lovely. Shipping is pricey, alas, and selection is limited. But keep them in mind if you’re down for a bargain hunt.

Half.com – One of my old favorites, discovered during my college days. (Like heck I was going to pay exorbitant prices for school books!) It’s a secondhand market—for books as well as DVDs and CDs—in varying conditions of use. Shipping is done pretty exclusively thru USPS media mail. ($3.49, last time I checked.) But most things are so cheap, they offset the shipping cost.

Powells.com – This legendary Portand bookstore, I recently discovered, avails their unique mix of new & used titles to online patrons as well! Shipping starts at a flat rate of $3.99, with FREE shipping for orders over $50.

Thriftbooks.com – I just discovered them today, actually, thru Sanaa’s haul video. From what I understand, they’re like Half.com … but better, because guess what? FREE SHIPPING IN THE US. Yes, FREE shipping! *air punch*

Your local independent bookstore!! – At this point, any legitimate book retailer who isn’t Amazon is in my good graces. But I will always have a soft spot for local indie bookstores. Or rather, indie businesses in general. (I point the finger at You’ve Got Mail. And the fact that my family’s bread and butter came from running our family restaurant since before I was born.) Online shopping is amazing, and I probably won’t be stopping that anytime soon. But nothing replaces the sense of community that brick & mortar bookstores offer. Much more those that are run by the folks next door who are probably in the business because they are passionate about books. Which is why I make it a point to purchase from my local bookshops as frequently as I can. Nowadays, most indie bookstores are equipped to ship online orders, so even if you can’t stop by yourself you can still support them by ordering from their website. The downside to indie shops is their limited discounts and sales. But considering what their stores offer me and their neighborhoods, I’ll gladly pay full price if it means that they can stay with us for another month.

If you don’t know where to find your nearest indie dig, IndieBound is a good place to start. Just plug your zip code into their handy locator, and presto!

Your local library! – Obviously, you can’t buy books from libraries. (Unless they hold library sales. In which case, scooooore!) But I think they’re worth keeping in mind, esp. for books that you want to read but don’t feel committed to shelling out money for.

** If you’re wondering why I didn’t list Book Depository, it’s because they are an Amazon acquisition. Have been, since 2011. While BD continues to operate independently, their profits funnel back to their parent company. It’s quite sad, really. And ironic. BD was started by an ex-Amazon employee. And they had stood as one of Amazon’s major competitors. So much for that.

* * *

I’m not here to dictate where you take your money to. But I will strongly encourage you guys to look into the matter yourself, and decide where you stand on it. At the end of the day, Amazon is just another legitimate business with great perks. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with acquisitions, or being a big business, or slashing prices to grow your customer pool. But my gripe—and my reason for shunning them—is the human cost at which all these great perks are made possible. Granted, we aren’t dealing with sweatshops, child labor, slave labor, and the terrible environmental consequences that you find at the dodgy end of fast fashion. But we are dealing with blatant bullying, underpaid employees, and a company that may very well fix itself as the world’s sole book retailer, the way things are going. (Read: monopoly. Read: not a good thing.) Whether we choose to believe it or not, the reality is that we do vote with our money. And I for one am not going to support Amazon. Not until they quit their antics and, at the very least negotiate with Hachette—and all other book publishers—in a professional manner based in good faith. Otherwise, I may just pull out entirely from Amazon. No sense in supporting such a business.

If you’re not sure where to start, may I suggest the following:

Cheap Words – A very lengthy piece from The New Yorker, but an excellent read that is well worth your time.

Authors United – This ad ran in last Sunday’s edition of The Los Angeles Times, and features an eyepopping signature list of around 900 authors, all of who have been directly affected by Amazon’s strongarming tactics. Ahem, bullying.

Amazon’s War on Hachette is Vintage Jeff Bezos—Controlling, Ruthless, Vicious … and Probably Good for Customers – A piece from the opposing side, arguing that Amazon is only doing what it does best—putting the customer first.

I want to clarify—I am no longer purchasing books from Amazon, but am still open to purchasing other things from them, albeit as a last resort. It’s inconsistent, i know, but until I locate alternative retailers for my other purchases, I have to consider Amazon.

I’m curious as to where you guys stand on this—if you’re boycotting Amazon or still purchasing from them. Let me know in the comments below. I’d also love to know if you know of any other book retailers that I haven’t mentioned.

Until next time, happy reading!

The Bye-Bye Summer Readathon!

Dear readers,

You are cordially invited to the first ever

BYE-BYE SUMMER READATHON

hosted by yours truly

to be held on August 24 – 31, 2014

wherever you happen to be in the world

*

RSVP is not mandatory

Heck, attendance isn’t even necessary

But if readathons are your thing

then by all means

FEEL FREE TO READ ALONG

(Otherwise, I shall be reading all by my lonesome.

Which is okay. 

But still.

It’s more fun when others get in on the party.)

*

Hey guys! So, I’m doing a reading thing. Brought to you by a combination of two things:

1) I haven’t visited my local library in YEARS, and I miss going to the library, and I miss borrowing books, and I want to remedy that. Also, libraries are awesome and they need our support if we hope to keep them around.

2) Summer is coming to an end, and I thought a readathon would be a fantastic way to see summer off with a bang.

Frankly, I have no idea what I’m doing, and it’s all pretty spur-of-the-moment, and I’m harboring doubts as to whether I’ll actually manage to pull off this thing—but hey! Better tried and failed than not try at all, right?

Right.

Here are the details, if you guys want to join the fun:

☼ The readathon begins at 12:00AM on 8/24/14, and ends at 12:00AM on 9/1/14. This is not time zone-specific, so start and end whenever the clock strikes midnight for you.

☼ Read ONLY books that you have borrowed from your local library. Or, if you’re in a pinch, a personal library of someone you know. (Please, PLEASE make sure to actually borrow the books, and not, you know, filch them.)

☼ Read from whatever genre you want. Young adult, sci fi, paranormal, non-fiction … the library is your limit!

☼ Also, you do NOT have to read from a physical book! While I prefer “real” books, you are welcomed to read ebooks if that is your preference.

☼ There is no limit—or threshold—for the number of books to read. Just read as much as you can, as fast as you can. No one is keeping count except yourself.

☼ An online presence is not a prerequisite to participate. However, should you feel inclined to document your readathon experience online—whether on a blog, or Twitter, or Youtube, or whatever—you are more than welcomed to. I for one will try to do a combination of live-tweeting and booktubing. (Although I’m still figuring out a formal hashtag. Is #farewellsummerreadathon too long, you think?) #BBSReads, y’all!!

☼ Last but not least—have fun!

I think I’ve covered all the bases. If you guys have any questions, let me know in the comments below.

Happy reading!

Ch-ch-ch changes

Hey guys! Hope you have been well. I wanted to check in with you all about some changes that I will be making to this blog effective … pretty much now.

1) No more blogging schedules! As much as I like the idea of having a blogging schedule, I just can’t sustain it. I simply don’t have the time. Nor the energy. And keeping a schedule really wasn’t doing any good for me. Rather than feeling more organized, I felt incredibly pressured and rushed, to the point where I didn’t even care WHAT I posted about so long as I posted SOMETHING to keep this blog “active.” And that, to me, totally defeats the purpose of my blog. I have always maintained my previous blogs on an entirely voluntary basis. If I didn’t feel moved to write something, I wouldn’t. And that has produced more genuine, heartfelt writing than any rigorous schedule ever did. So I’ll stick to that. Don’t care how many professional bloggers tell me otherwise.

2) No more writing like the book reviewer I am not! It wasn’t until, like, earlier this week that I realized for the first flipping time that I haven’t been writing like myself. At least, not on this blog. I think part of it had to do with WordPress—which I never felt at home with in the same way that I did with LiveJournal—but I think the majority of the problem came down to me wanting to write like the bloggers that I admire. I don’t think there’s a problem with admiring people for the way they write. It does, however, become problematic when you—or rather, I—take that to the next step, and start trying to write like them … because you think your own voice sucks. Honing one’s voice is something all writers and bloggers struggle with at one point. But I think it was a particularly difficult task for me because I had, at some point, picked up the notion that to be a proper writer, or a proper blogger, or a proper adult, meant having to write in a certain voice. As a result, I went to war with myself, attempting so so hard to “fix” my voice so that it would sound just as polished and successful and cool as all those writers that I admire. What I failed to understand, all those years ago, is that being a proper writer AND a proper adult means writing exactly in the voice that you have.

So here’s to a new beginning—and to a doing away with trying so hard to be someone I’m not. I won’t ever write like the writers I admire, but that’s okay. In fact, that’s absolutely ideal.

3) In which I plunge into the world of … booktubing? Whoa, didn’t see that one coming, did you? Ha. I didn’t either. In fact, if you were to tell my former self that one day I would not only talk—on my own volition—into a camera, but also upload it onto the Internet for everyone to see … I would laugh in your face. Or spit coffee at you, depending on how early in the morning you decided to approach me. But here we are. Yes, this is for real. Yes, this is not a joke. Yes, I don’t really know where I will be going with it. But I’m excited to find out!

I’ve long known about this thing called vlogging—which I understood to be blogging … but on video—but I never, ever felt any interest for it. This all changed earlier this year, when I watched and fell in love with The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Suddenly, vlogging looked … cool. Fun. And incredibly doable. This feeling continued as I got into Emma Approved, and intensified when I found out about Booktube-a-thon* and discovered that, lo and behold, there is a THRIVING community of bookworms on Youtube that absolutely rocked my socks off with their enthusiasm, passion, positivity, and inclusiveness. From there, it didn’t take much self-persuading to set up a channel.

I’m still in the processing of setting everything up, but once I’m done—namely designing and uploading a channel header that doesn’t embarrass me—I’ll share the link with you guys. I’m super excited to start my journey into booktubing, and I can’t wait to share this next chapter of my bookworminess with you guys.


And … that’s it! I’m excited for all these changes, and hope that you’ll stick around to see them in action.

Happy Friday!

* Thanks to Carina for the head’s up!

IF YOU LIKED : Anya’s Ghost


Welcome to the inaugural post of my new blog series, If You Liked! I was inspired to start this after reading the fabulous blog, Go Book Yourself, and thinking it would be fun to try my hand at book recs. I’m limiting this series to a once-a-month basis, so expect to see more of these on the last Friday of each month. Hope you enjoy!

If you liked Anya’s Ghost, why not try…

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley

Coraline, by Neil Gaiman

… for more stories featuring plucky girl leads, mystery, and a dash of the creepy.


Readers—What have you read lately that you would recommend?