I have decided to start interviewing book reviewers on my blog for the following reasons:
- Book reviewers hold a lot of useful literary insight for writers.
- Book reviewers are very valuable to us when our books are published. It is useful to see how their book reviewer mind works.
- I believe getting inside the mind of a book reviewer will make an excellent blog post.
To kick off my new Book Reviewer Interviews slot is Cleo Bannister.
I am so excited because Cleo is one of my favourite book reviewers. I buy books according to what she says.
If you are not familiar with her blog ‘Cleopatra Loves Books’ please check it out.
Welcome Cleo, I am thrilled that you have agreed to this. Please have a seat in my new book reviewer chair!
Tell me about yourself.
Well that’s a daunting opening question! I am a forty-something woman, I have no pets and my favourite colour is purple!
I’m quite small, straight-talking although hopefully not to the point of rudeness and I have a distinctive laugh and actually say ahh tissue when I sneeze!
I work in the Legal Department of a company that renews Intellectual Property rights, and since I’ve been there for over thirteen years I can imagine the glazed looks on all the readers faces, so I’ll quickly move to the fact that I live in Jersey in the Channel Isles which people are always far more fascinated about.
It’s what’s known as compact living, anyone who is stupid enough to think that a large proportion of the island don’t know what they said, did and wore at any given point in time is much mistaken. Although it’s a beautiful place to live, in the winter there isn’t an awful lot to do other than socialise and so we jokingly refer to ourselves as 90,000 alcoholics clinging to a rock! I’m not, an alcoholic (I am fairly sociable) because if I drink too much the words on the page tend to swim and the reason why I’m being interviewed is because I’m a booklover and I think I’d crack up if I couldn’t get my daily dose of reading in!
What made you start reviewing books?
I started reviewing books on Amazon in 2010 as a way of having a record of the books I read because I have the memory of a goldfish when it comes to names so people would say ‘have you read xxx?’ and I’d look blankly at them needing a bit of hint to place the book – I also frequently borrowed the same book with a different cover from the library that I’d already read.
My early reviews were exceptionally short but served that original purpose but then it grew as I started to depend on reviews when choosing books and in turn wanted my voice to be heard in the crowd.
How many books do you review a month?
I can comfortably read 10 books per month and I review each and every one that I finish. Last year’s total was 145 books which works out at about 12 books per month. In between the reviews I do memes on the blog with features from upcoming books, the occasional blog tour or interview with an author and sometimes random pieces about book related stuff.
What is your selection process for reviewing a book?
- Have I read and awarded 4 or 5 stars to the author before?
- Does it have a synopsis that appeals?
- Has it been reviewed and recommended by bloggers whose opinion I trust?
- If I’ve been offered or can request it from a publisher/author, do I have a slot in my schedule? My book reading is planned to the nth degree on an excel spreadsheet – once the slots are full for a month, that’s it, no more. At the moment I have books scheduled up to July as I like to review close to publication date, and then there is the books I already own that need to be read too, oh and the ones I buy for myself because I need them!!
My main interest is crime fiction particularly that which looks at the why of a criminal act as much as the who but I do read other genres too, it’s good to have variety.
What is your book review process?
I rarely make notes, the only exception is if I’m on holiday and have a number of reviews to write on my return.
I’ve always wanted my reviews to be the gut reaction when finishing a book and in the early days I was really disciplined about not opening the next book until the one just finished had a review written, sadly I’m not that good anymore so I tend to write my review and then go back through the book trying to find the names and places to check I’ve got them right.
If I’m reading on my kindle I will highlight passages if I want to refer to them in the review but nowhere as frequently as I should.
What do you think makes a good book?
For me I have to be able to believe in the characters, which shouldn’t be mistaken for liking them, in fact my favourite characters tend to be the wolves in sheep’s clothing types. But characters alone do not make a book, there has to be a solid plot preferably a clever one by which I mean one that makes me think or encourages me to put myself in ‘someone else’s shoes.’
If it has a historical aspect then it has to be well-researched, I know all sorts of random things and if something is not in the right era it lifts me out of the story. So to sum up in a single sentence:
A good book is one that I can believe in from the beginning to the end, and that I am totally immersed in while I’m reading it.
Which 3 books have caught your eye recently and why?
Haha only three – I have a list of books so long but three books which aren’t part of a much loved series (of which I have so many to juggle) are:
- Kate Summerscale’s The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer is much anticipated as I loved The Suspicions of Mr Whicher. I love historical true crime and this sounds like it will pack a real punch.
- I also want to read the late Margaret Forster’s last novel, How to Measure a Cow an author who writing was often about real women and as a result creates exceptionally well-drawn characters.
- And because a list from me wouldn’t be complete without one psychological thriller I’m going to pick Gilly McMillan’s book The Perfect Girl as her debut completely wowed me.
Are you a fan of a good plot twist?
I am but not just for the sake of having them and the more of these types of books you read the more contrived the poorer imitations can feel. I certainly think the format of multiple twists, especially when loudly announced on the cover, mean that reading the book can become more of intellectual puzzle about what the twist will be rather than being immersed in the story itself – I guess I’m trying to say, there should be a balance and not every book needs one and in some cases they detract rather than add to the story. It also makes it exceptionally hard to review as there is little you can say about that type of book without ruining it for others and I make it an absolute rule not to have spoilers in my reviews.
How important is an opening chapter?
The style of writing matters in the opening chapter, it has to be something that I find appealing, not too complicated, there is nothing worse than an opening chapter that has too many characters to remember before you have some sort of context to put them in, especially if you’re like me and have a blind spot when it comes to names. There are some writers that I know I’m going to love from the first page but I haven’t put my finger on what the elusive quality is, but it definitely has to do with the style of writing. If I feel like I’m being told something by a trusted friend then I’m won over.
How do you approach a review if you have not enjoyed the book?
It may sound harsh but my blog is for readers and not for authors or publishers so I am honest in my review with a one caveat:
I always bear in mind that what I don’t like in a book maybe what someone else really loves, some aspects are down to personal taste for instance I don’t like anything supernatural and therefore I’ll say that within the review if it that put me off but will talk about characterisation, plot etc as positively as those aspects deserve.
I don’t finish books that I haven’t enjoyed from the beginning so there is always something to say and I try hard not to be too cruel and trash everything about a book.
The hardest books to review are those that fall at the mid-way point, those that I don’t get really excited about nor dislike because it can be hard to pinpoint what I did really like about it.
What do you think is more important – plot or characters?
Both – I do like a good plot but if the characters aren’t realistic then I don’t tend to believe in the plot. Likewise if the characters are great but nothing happens then it’s not really going to hold my attention.
Do you find it hard to forget a good book?
Yes – the downside to writing my reviews soon after reading them is that you don’t always get a feel of how long a book will stay with you. The books I rate highest and therefore recommend to other readers in person, are those I remember well.
Have any books made you get emotional? Any examples?
I’m not a really emotional reader but sometimes a book does just get to you!
My example is The One Plus One by Jojo Moyes that I read while in my sick bed – there I was totally involved with a story about hope, not a ‘big issue’ but it had me howling. That in itself would have been fine except I got a DHL delivery whilst I was in full sobbing mode, not really the image I wanted to present to the poor man who knocked on my door.
I have been caught out a couple of times reading on holiday in the past but I’m more cautious about my public reading choices these days.
Do you have a large book collection at home?
Not as large as I’d like. I do have quite a few books but there are some that have been abandoned over the years that I wish I’d kept, especially my childhood favourites, but then we would need a library in the house – now there’s an idea!
If you are mid-way and struggling with a book – what do you do?
That’s a tough one, I usually give a book 20-25% before deciding to give up, longer than that I feel I’ve already invested the time and should maybe limp on to the end.
What is your biggest book reviewer success story?
The book that made the biggest change to my reading was reviewing Rosamund Lupton’s debut novel, Sister on Amazon which I did just before it got selected for the Richard and Judy book club. I got masses of positive votes which I’m sure is the reason I got asked to join Amazon Vine.
Being offered ARCs was new to me and I broadened my horizons by choosing books I would never have bought for myself and found myself enjoying the variety.
On my blog the biggest success has been The Book of You by Claire Kendal which is about a stalker, this review which was originally posted on 6 February 2014 has been viewed by readers at least once every week since and is my most visited review of all time.
I’d like to thank you for your questions, I come to visit your blog every time I need a lift as it never fails to make me smile and I’m honoured to be chosen as an interviewee.
Wow Cleo, I loved your answers! Your love and passion for books came through in this interview.
I liked how you were emotional for the DHL Delivery man after reading a book. I am always emotional whilst reading books.
This interview has made me want to work harder on my characters. I want to be able to insert the reader into my character’s shoes.
I have really enjoyed interviewing you and I am just going to nip off to make some book purchases…sigh!
Here is a photo of Cleo busy reading and reviewing.
If you are a book reviewer and would like to be interviewed on my blog please leave a message in the comments section and I will make contact with you 🙂
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/9611371@N03/7040599487″>Helmut’s House</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>(license)</a>