Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘book review blogs

Allison’s Book Bag is five years old this month! In honor of this anniversary, you’ll see a new graphic for my blog in the upper right hand side. As with the original, my husband receives the credit for the photo and the design.

Whenever anniversaries come along, I tend to get nostalgic. Just over five years ago, I spent my spring carting home books from our elementary school library to read. This prompted my husband to quip, “You should start a review blog.”

And now I get to think about how Allison’s Book Bag has evolved over the years! It’s grown from one post a week to multiple posts per week. Over the years that number has changed, along with the content. At one point, I was posting close to two times per day, which even my readers agreed was overdoing it. Well, I do tend to have my extreme moments. 🙂  As I enter my fifth year as a blogger, I still plan to post daily except on Sundays. The content, however, will slightly change.

While Allison’s Bag has been evolving, so has my writing life. On a monthly basis, I review books for our local dog club and for our school district’s diversity committee. Some of this work even earns me income! Over three years ago, I also participated in National Novel Writing Month. My novel is still a work-in-progress and so a consumption too off my writing time. Of late, I also took on the responsibility of blogging for a local animal welfare group, along with writing the occasional article for print publication. All of these writing commitments are a lot to juggle!

For that reason, after a thoughtful discussion with my husband, I decided on some changes to blog content. The most important one is that, after this month’s blitz of cultural books, I’ll cut back to just one full review a week. (Of course, I still love talking about books, and so you might find me sneaking in some Quick Takes!) The second change is that on Mondays, I’ll limit myself to sharing personal writing news. Finally, my snapshot meme will now appear on Friday, leaving me with just one (not two) memes for the weekend. So, while I’ll free up needed time, you’ll still receive a diverse mix of content.

Allison’s Book Bag has grown from a few hundred hits per month to a few thousand per month. Thank you for making this happen! Ahead in June, I’m excited to bring you a reviews of books from mostly from Canada and her indigenous cultures. There will also be teasers and interviews, just as you’ve come expect. Happy June!

At age forty-something, I don’t always see myself as someone who is continuing to change. That seems like a description more often used of young people. Through four years of writing posts, however, my focus and intended audience for this blog have evolved.

This blog started as simply an expression of my love of books. Now it’s become a forum through which I can also express my passion for special needs, diversity, and animal rescue. Although my attempts to post reviews here my students never took root, I haven’t stopped seeking out ways to help my students become lifetime readers. For that reason, I often review books for and/or about struggling readers. Since starting my blog, I’ve joined our district’s local multicultural committee, whereby I seek selections from less-often represented countries to review. I’ve also begun regularly reading books about our furry friends, posting reviews both here and in our local dog club newsletter. Members of our club have even started making suggestions for what I might next read!

The original but short-lived intended audience for my blog were my students. Now my audience has broadened to include those whom I network with through memes, authors whom I stay in contact with after interviews, and…. really anyone who appreciates books for young people. My favorite memes are the weekend ones: Saturday Snapshot and Six-Word Saturday. I also enjoy adding my input to Current Reads and Wishlist Reads. Some authors have become my Facebook friends. Just as many tend to remember me when a new book of theirs comes out. As for the last audience, according to various news reports there are quite a few people out there just like me. In other words, those who are older in their body but youthful in heart. 🙂

Something else has changed too about my blog. Within my first year, authors expressed appreciation to me for creating teasers for when I featured their books. I myself enjoyed the opportunity to discover some of their biographical info. While I still research and report on the background of almost every author I profile, I’ve also started to mix up features. When a topic of a featured book inspires me, I write a personal piece about it. At other times, I whip up a supplementary educational article to provide readers with extra facts. Of course, supplements take time, which is why I also continue to play with the schedule for my posts.

As my own writing continues to develop, I’m sure my blog will stretch in other ways too. Already I have a round-up planned for July of realistic middle-school fiction, as part of research for my novel. It’ll be interesting to see what the future will hold. Please continue to join me in making this an online community of readers. 🙂

Happy Third Anniversary!

You should start a blog of children’s book reviews. You’re always reading children’s books anyway. You might as well review them.

Inspired by those words spoken by my husband, this introverted resource teacher and aspiring novelist launched a blog. Allison’s Book Bag started with an average of ten hits per day and about three hundred hits per month. From there, it climbed to an average of fifty hits per day and about fifteen hundred hits per month. This past fall, it fell just short of two thousand hits.

My blog also started with the modest goal of reviewing books recommended by my students. About eight months in, I interviewed my first author, loved the contact, and began more serious promotion of authors. From there, I worked on increasing connections with authors and publishers. I continue to receive many complimentary emails.

By my second year, I was also sometimes having to dedicate entire months to requests which I had accepted. Not wanting to lose sight of my original goal of reviewing books for fun, I tried to find balance by squeezing in Quick Takes and setting aside time for Round-Ups. Midway through my second year my husband pointed out that, despite my steady growth in hits, I was receiving minimal comments. This led to my participation in Memes.

So what’s next for Allison’s Book Bag?

  • I have already implemented a review rotation schedule. This allows me to accept the best requests for reviews, but also to review classics, popular books among my students, international books, and even bestsellers.
  • Just as importantly, I hope to continue with my participation in Memes, something which has left me with less energy for reviews but has also proved more enjoyable than I expected. It’s been fun getting to know other bloggers and to write about more than just the strengths and weaknesses of my latest read.
  • Inspired by my recent reads of picture books, however, I do plan to make one change. Instead of posting Quick Takes on Mondays, I intend to review picture books and maybe other short stuff like collections of poems or essays.

To celebrate my blog’s anniversary, I’m dedicating this month to reviews of four editions (2008-2011) of The Best Teen Writing by The Alliance of Young Artists and Writers. As normal about this time of year, I’ll also cut back on my posts during the months of June and July. Expect to see only my Memes and a weekly review. This will allow me to focus on summer courses and of course vacation time.

Thanks to everyone who reads my posts. Also I greatly appreciate all the kind words from fellow Meme participants during my time of grief (job loss, miscarriage, death of pet) this spring. I love this online community of readers!

One of the perks of an online reviewer is having the opportunity to highlight a relatively unknown gem. Behind Green Glass is such a book. If you haven’t already checked out the book or my review of it, this fantasy novel is a sweet coming-of-age story about friendship, romance, and acceptance.

Another perk is the doors it opens to meet authors. It is my delight today to chat with newcomer Amanda von Hoffman. Many thanks to her for quickly sending me out a review copy of her book! My apologies for taking a couple of months to finally post my review of it. Additional thanks for her timely turnaround on questions, just two days, and even responding to a follow-up question. 

Allison: Are you like Isolde? Did the inspiration for any of your characters from personal life?

Amanda: I am quite a bit like Isolde.  I am shy, I was homeschooled, and I grew up in a rural town. Unlike Isolde, I grew up with two parents, a brother and a sister. Sadly, I don’t have Isolde’s ability to paint.

Matt Richards is a bit like my husband. Physically, they don’t resemble each other, but Matt is very talkative like my husband Kirk. They both play guitar.

Allison: You gave Isolde the surname of Rackham as a tribute to Arthur Rackham, one of your favorite fairy tale artists. Is there significance to the names of any of your other characters?

Amanda: “Matt” was one of the names my mother-in-law considered when naming my husband Kirk. “Richards” was my mother-in-law’s maiden name. I also have a niece named Maddy.

Allison: You live in upstate New York. Did this locale influence any of your scenic descriptions? (By the way, I really liked your descriptions!)

Amanda: Thank you 🙂 My life in northern New York definitely has influenced the setting in Behind Green Glass. This area practically begs to be written about. The autumns here are breathtakingly vibrant and lovely.

Allison: How does it feel being a writer amongst a family of painters?

Amanda: I wish I could paint like my father, sister and brother! I envied them, but I’m glad I can express myself through writing.

Allison: How does being a librarian influence your writing of fiction?

Amanda: I don’t have my MLS degree, so technically I am not a librarian. I do work in a public library as the Patron Services Supervisor. I’m lucky to have books always at my fingertips, and I love reading. My coworkers and patrons also recommend books I wouldn’t have thought to pick up, and I’m usually pleasantly surprised. The stories I read inspire my own.

Allison: What are some of your favorite finds as a librarian for young people?

Amanda: I love being a reader’s advisory! A few of the books I recommend to teens are The Bloody Jack adventures by L.A. Meyer, Juliet Marillier’s Wildwood Dancing and Howl’s Moving Castle by Diane Wynne Jones.

Allison: In Behind Green Glass, Isolde finds a book at the library called Fairie Lore. What books would you recommend to readers who wish to know more about fairies?

Amanda: I recommend Shakespeare’s play “A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream.”  Modern faerie novels often draw from this play. Juliet Marillier and O.R. Melling are two authors who provide rich historical background about faeries, in particular Irish legends and tales of the Sidhe (“The Good People”).

Allison: You said you’d like to attempt a fairy tale retelling. What would you like to tackle?

Amanda: I’d like to retell Twelve Months or The Snow Queen in novel form.

Allison: What has the reception of Behind Green Glass been like amongst your library patrons and in your community?

Amanda: I’ve had patrons and coworkers tell me they really enjoyed the novel and ask for a sequel. Their responses make me feel wonderful. I appreciate all of their support.

Thank you for this opportunity! Please let me know if you have any other questions.

Allison: You know, I do have another. What are you working on next?

Amanda: I’m working on a steam punk novel and a couple of stories for different anthologies.

Today’s teenager market is so saturated with fantasy that paranormal offerings are featuring less common creatures such as angels, fae, familiars, mermaids, and selkies. Into this bloated market comes a novel that is not just another fantasy. Behind Green Glass by newcomer Amanda von Hoffman possesses such an innocent and sweet quality that, despite its uneven quality, I ended up really liking it.

Meet Isolde Rackham, a shy and artistic sixteen year old who blushes when introduced. She and her mother have moved into the old haunted farmhouse in Thornville. Although Isolde doesn’t initially know the farm’s troubled history, she gets this eerie sensation of being watched. To shake off creepiness, she rummages through a drawer for matching socks where she finds a false bottom with a hidden emerald colored glass. Although I will reveal that in the glass Isolde sees the mystical Lyric who believes he is a ghost, you will need to read Behind Green Glass for yourself to discover his true identity, other secrets that she uncovers, and the dangers she encounters because of all the revelations. One of Hoffman’s quiet strengths is how she builds suspense and unfolds mysteries. I will not to ruin that experience for you.

Hoffman undertook a second challenge by making Isolde an awkward and introverted teenager. Isolde is not even rebellious; she generally complies with her mother’s orders. When Isolde does defy her mother, she also contritely accepts her punishment of being sent to her room. In contrast to today’s novels with their confident and defiant female leads, Isolde may serve as a more realistic role model for shy teenagers who surely must still exist. As for me, I related to Isolde’s conflicted emotions: She loves her mom and understands her desire for solitude, but also fights against their sheltered life. She looks forward to a visit from her extroverted friend, but also fears Maria will outshine her. She wishes for the cute boy to notice her, but blushes and wishes to hide when he does. Other books that portray introverted teenagers often fail to truly capture shyness or create sullen characters that are about as appealing as a tooth extraction. In contrast, Isolde is painfully shy but endearingly real.

Description is another of Hoffman’s strengths. Her pages are abundantly decorated with tight phrases that evoke visceral sensations: “his bare feet made little noise as he ran across the field”; “as if she were a little girl again drinking warm milk sweetened with honey”; “leaves were beginning to fall and dry like tiny discarded pages”. Depending on the scene’s need, Hoffman has superbly created beauty or fear with the sheer power of words.

Unfortunately, the occasional lengthy expositions between these nifty descriptions threatened the effectiveness of otherwise charming scenes. I had already understood the relationship between Isolde and her mother through their interactions; Hoffman didn’t need to elaborate with two pages of explanation. Nor did I need a page of exposition to understand the divorce of Isolde’s parents. Some of the character speeches also suffered from the same ailment, which is why I do not refer to them as dialog. Even if in real life we know people who bore us with monologues, this doesn’t mean we will find it cute or tolerable in our fictional characters.

Its occasional overformal tone side, Behind Green Glass is a gentle book that wiggled its way into my heart. The main characters are people whom I would talk to and hang out with if they lived near me. Thornville is a pretty place. As I reached the end of each new chapter, I couldn’t wait to find about more about the farm’s secrets and the mystical creatures. The cover’s description of the book as “a fantasy novel” belies its depths; it is also a coming of age story of friendship and romance, with an underlying theme of acceptance. Amanda Von Hoffman should have a bright writing future.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

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Allison’s Book Bag will no longer be updated. Thank you for eight years!

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