Review of Book Review Blogs (Part 1)

I’ve been delinquent in posting as of late due to a sudden flurry of commitments at work and a couple of vacations thrown in the mix (I know — cry me a river). I recently finished reading a few things that I plan to write about soon, but I thought it pertinent to review a few book review blogs.

You see, I’ve struggled with trying to establish an identity for this blog. This is mostly a result of trying to expand my reading breadth. I’ve reviewed science fiction, fantasy, horror, a few mainstream novels, and comics. This includes works from every decade with unfortunately an insufficient amount of new releases. The result is a hodgepodge of random books that have given me a better background of the genre, but leaves a little to be desired for my readers.

A good book review blog has an identity. The reader goes to it not just for book recommendations, but also for entertainment and enlightenment. A good book review blog also has a strong voice, both in narrative style, but also in trying to advance the genre. This will often come in the form of criticism on a particular topic, be it gender issues or frustration with the Hugo ballots. Finally, a good book review blog establishes a personal connection with the readers. The comment streams are active and the blogger responds personally to the comments. The best bloggers do this with regularity.

So without further ado, here are a few of my favorite book review blogs and some thoughts on them.

Staffer’s Book Review: Justin Landon has continued to grow his influence in the blogosphere over the last year, hitting on a number of key issues (e.g. companies stealing writer content, insignificance of the Hugos, the down low on Night Shade). This is easily in my top three of must-read book review blogs, focused more on (epic) fantasy than science fiction, rarely horror, and never comics. Justin reads diverse authors and a bulk of his reviews are devoted to first-time authors. Where I definitely come from an outsider’s perspective, Justin comes from an insider’s perspective. He interacts with authors regularly and is cohosting a “Drinks with Authors” event at WorldCon. The blog has a clear voice and intent on trying to advance the fantasy genre to the next level and he is not afraid to pull punches. Overall, it is a very positive blog, mostly with original content with only a few guest posts. He and Jared Shurin (of Pornokitsch) recently published the start of a new non-fiction series, Speculative Fiction 2012, focusing on the best online commentary from the previous year.

Pornokitsch: This blog is edited by Jared Shurin and Anne C. Perry. Jared has a reading style similar to Justin’s except for his interest in hard-boiled detective fiction. While I don’t read much of it myself, I appreciate his enthusiasm for the vintage titles. The non-fiction collection Jared and Justin put together is just one example of how they collaborate over the Atlantic Ocean. There have been a few companion articles written, such as recently posting a list of the top fifty works of epic fantasy (if you didn’t know, I’m a sucker for lists). Jared and Anne host annual Kitschies Awards for “the year’s most progressive, intelligent and entertaining works that contain elements of the speculative or fantastic.” They are also what I would categorize as industry insiders and Anne will be hosting an author event soon (that includes Tim Powers among others). This blog is also in my top three. Jared and Anne also operate a small non-profit press called Jurassic London

The Book Smugglers: Ana and Thea have a prominent voice as far as book blogs go and they focus on an area that Justin and Jared do not — young adult fiction. They have taken over the helm as editors of Speculative Fiction 2013, which should add some of the younger reader topics to the mix. They have a good pulse on the industry and continue to post with regularity. Topics range from “Old School Wednesday” to “Smugglers’ Stash and News” to “On the Smugglers’ radar.”  They review an enormous amount of fiction (often four books/week) and write with consistency. The layout is stunning with a gorgeous header that is unfortunately tarnished with less-stunning ads on the sidebar. This is a must-stop blog, particularly if you are into YA speculative fiction.

Bookworm Blues: If there’s one thing you can say about Sarah’s blog is that it is heartfelt and honest. She has struggled with health issues and shares her battles willingly in her blog. She is persistent in delivering good content, writing when she is not up to it or arranging for guest posts in her absence. She doesn’t have quite as much of an insider presence as some of the more popular blogs, but her blog is definitely growing in that direction. This is evidenced by a recent series on her blog, “What Speculative Fiction has Taught Me.” Sarah has compassion for others and has focused a series of posts on “Special Needs in Strange Worlds.”

Civilian Reader: Like Jared and Anne, Stefan is a fellow Londoner. He is a workhorse when it comes to posting book reviews and he adds the element of comics into his posts. There are not a lot of reviewers who are able to successfully mix SF and comics well, but Stefan does it seamlessly. With many blogs, I get the impression that the bloggers read and review what they feel they should review to remain diverse and relevant. Stefan, on the other hand, has a distinct taste and remains true to it. He reads primarily male-oriented fiction, even reaching into mainstream authors such as Vince Flynn. The content is great and my only criticism is that the site navigation (created from Blogger) is a bit awkward with pop-up windows and a twitter-style of refreshing when you scroll down. I am truly amazed at how much Stefan actually reads and would be curious what his count is for a given year (it seems like 2 comics a day plus a couple books a week).

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The above book review blogs are not necessarily my top five, but they are most definitely on my shortlist of ones I look at every day. Each has elements that I aspire to and they all offer consistent and good content. I’ll have one more follow-up post with the remaining blogs that I think have reached excellence in book review content.

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5 Comments

  1. Finding a website identity is hard. It’s something I struggle with, and I’ve been running Bookworm Blues for three stupid years. I still have no idea what the hell I’m doing most of the time. That’s half the fun.

    Thanks for the kind words. I appreciate them.

    Reply
  2. I think your site has a strong brand/identity. Frankly, the brand is you, since you share many personal issues and beliefs.

    Thanks for commenting 🙂

    Reply
  3. Nice, write-up, Peter. You’ve captured what makes this set of blogs so great (and long-lasting.)

    And, yes, as you (and Sarah) say, finding a voice and creating a ‘brand’ for yourself as a writer/editor/blogger is very important.

    🙂

    Reply
  1. Review of Book Review Blogs (Part 2) | Odd Engine

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