March 29, 2017

How to Be an Amateur Bookstagrammer

I wrote the following article for my feature writing and reviews class, and my prof assumes we'll be trying to send our articles into magazines but, honestly, the best audience for this piece is...well, you guys. So I hope you enjoy the lessons I've learned over the last ten months on Bookstagram.

I had the perfect shot set up: the book was perfectly posed on the patio pavers with bright red sunglasses atop the green cover, and I’d placed my lemon yellow Polaroid camera next to the book. I crouched down and moved my phone around so I could capture the best angle. Just as I snapped the shot, a furry body popped into frame. My curious dog, Sunny, couldn’t resist investigating my photo props. I nudged him away and eventually got the shot I wanted, but the photo I ended up posting to my Bookstagram account featured my dog.

Authors, publishing houses, and book bloggers have all joined various social media sites in an effort to reach a broader audience, especially teenagers. To this day, book publicists testify that a recommendation from a friend is one of the top ways a book is sold, and sites like Twitter and Instagram are best for this, apart from word-of-mouth. There are Instagram subsets for everything under the sun—travel, food, pets, you name it. So why shouldn’t that include books? It’s increasingly easy for teenage readers to hop on the Bookstagram bandwagon as well. After all, Bookstagram isn’t all about the followers or taking cool pictures; it should be about sharing books in creative ways with fellow bibliophiles, and there are inexpensive and fun ways to do that, even if your day-to-day life is busy. 

First of all, you don’t need fancy equipment to be an amateur Bookstagrammer. If you want an opportunity to practice professional photography, you’ll need an actual camera, lighting equipment, and editing software. But if this is just a hobby for you, then all you need are a smartphone and plenty of books, plus simple backgrounds and props. I use random things from around my room as props—nail polish, sunglasses, other books, book swag, etc. Another amateur Bookstagrammer, Samantha from @readingwithsam, told me she likes to use fake flowers, candles, CD booklets, lights, make-up, and different stuff she already has in her room. She gets the crafty stuff from cheap craft stores, and the dollar section at Target is another good place to look. Background-wise, I use plain blankets and my desk. Other Bookstagrammers use white bedsheets, sheet music, and maps. You also don’t need to have Photoshop or any other editing software to make your pictures look good post-photoshoot. Samantha uses the filters on her iPhone—her favorite is Fade—and I will edit right in Instagram, especially if the natural lighting wasn’t great on the day I took the photo. Instagram filters are also great for setting the mood, and they’re accessible and free. 

Having few resources can make anyone think harder to create good pictures. Be inventive—print out things from the Internet, handwrite letters, use different angles, bake food based on things mentioned in the books, etc. One of my favorite shots came about one night over Christmas break when I was bored and desperate to entertain myself. I’d recently acquired face paints from my hall’s free table, although I didn’t know why I’d taken them. When I glanced at my nightstand and saw the book I was currently reading—The Secret of a Heart Note by Stacey Lee—an idea hit me. I could paint my hand and arm to mimic the floral border of the book’s cover. I used the face paint to imitate greenery, branches, and flowering vines in a variety of shades—lavender, maroon, navy, and bubblegum pink. The result wasn’t as bad as I expected, considering I’m not an artist. So think outside the box and don’t be afraid to get dirty in pursuit of the perfect picture.

If you’re a busy college student, you often have to squeeze all of your photoshoots for a week into one afternoon or evening. That way, you have pictures all ready to go on your phone to post whenever you can. So that I have all my ideas ready for these photoshoot series, I keep a running list of ideas in the notes app on my phone. I know what books I’d like to photograph soon or if I have a picture theme I want to explore. For example, this year, I’m trying to feature more diverse books, and part of the list in my phone contains diverse books I own. If I’m running low on picture ideas, I’ll turn to that list and see how it inspires me. I also have photo ideas for when I go home on breaks and have access to more of my personal library and other props, since there’s only so much a dorm room can hold. Either way, though, doing a bunch of photoshoots in one afternoon can help you in another way—it means you’ll often have similar backgrounds and set-ups for the shots, which in turn forms your individual style.

It’s good to keep to a certain style for uniformity’s sake. Of course, you can always have a few different-looking pictures, but a style makes it possible for people to know what to expect and to know if you’re an account they want to follow. Some Bookstagrammers use a lot of props; others always feature certain colors, lighting, angles, or set-ups. Early on in my time on Bookstagram, I would feature stacks of books, but I realized that was too overwhelming and I wanted to be able to focus on one or two books at a time. I also tend towards photos where the book is in the center of the shot. Take several practice pictures just to identify your style and then stay consistent. Another way to create a consistent brand is to always post around the same time of day; it’s generally accepted knowledge that the early morning and evening are the best times to post to get a lot of views so take that into consideration and then post around the same time every day so people come to expect your posts. 

When posting a picture to your Bookstagram account, it’s important to utilize hashtags in your caption to  reflect your picture’s content. I generally tag the book and author, as well as the publisher (or their young adult imprint’s social media account name), a significant prop, the color scheme, or the theme of the picture. For example, in a Valentine’s Day post showcasing P.S. I Like You by Kasie West, a YA story reminiscent of the movie You’ve Got Mail, I used the following hashtags: #psilikeyou, #kasiewest, #youvegotmail, #valentinesday, #ireadya, and #bookstagram. 

More general hashtags include #bookstagram, #youngadult, #currentlyreading, #tbrstack, and #shelfie, and I’ll include some of those every time I post, as long as it fits the photo. This will help more people find you and may even help you form friendships with other bookish people, which is how Samantha and I met. 

I was browsing the #bookstagram hashtag one day, and I found Samantha in the recent posts. Her photo drew my eye since she’d used Taylor Swift Polaroid pictures as a prop, and Taylor Swift is one of my favorite music artists. So don’t hesitate to search hashtags either and find out what other people are posting pictures of. Bookstagram should not be a bubble where you only focus on what you post. You should also use it as a tool to interact with other book-lovers. In early February, I posted a picture of my latest #quietYA recommendation—#quietYA is a movement to draw attention to the books that don’t make the bestseller lists or win awards—and someone commented, “This is going on my wishlist now! I love reading your recs.” Comments like that are why I am a book blogger and use Bookstagram; I want people to read the books I love.

The best part about Bookstagram is learning as you go. Sure, you’ll make mistakes, but don’t take them too seriously. Any hobby should be about having fun and sharing that fun with others, and Bookstagram is no exception, especially because it can be inexpensive and relatively easy as long as you have a creative mind. If you want to be a Bookstagrammer, be one, and don’t let anyone tell you you’re doing it the wrong way.

March 28, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Authors I'm Dying to Meet


I haven't been able to meet nearly as many authors lately as I wish I could have, so this post is about all the authors I hope to meet soon.


Author of some of my most favorite books, including Second Chance SummerSince You've Been Gone, and The Unexpected Everything.


One of my favorite contemporary romance authors.


I've been a fan of Heidi's since before The Girl from Everywhere released, and I'd love to meet her in person some day.


Obviously I need to get my copies of This Side of Home and Piecing Me Together.


I would love to meet her and thank her in person for the magnificence that is The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You.


I think one of my friends has met her? But I totally need to hear her talk about The Naturals, and The Fixer, and her upcoming book and also get all of my copies signed.


Without her books, I probably wouldn't have gotten into YA, so she needs to be thanked in person for that. She also wrote one of my favorite series that I read as a young teenager, so hugs need to be given for that.


If I loved an author's book, I want to meet them and get it signed of course, but I've also heard that Becky is just a really fun author in person, even more so than on Twitter.


I loved Written in the Stars, so do I need more reason than that?


(I would've met her at NoVa Teen Book Fest if I hadn't gotten sick... :P)

What authors do you want to meet?

March 26, 2017

Rewind & Review #82


~Spring break happened. I spent most of it on the couch, watching TV.
~Struggled to get back into the flow of homework and work after spring break. I think this happens every year.
~Went to my university's junior-senior dance on Friday night. I would've had a lot of fun...had I not gotten elbowed in the mouth 45 minutes into the dance. I spent most of my time nursing a bleeding lip that is now swollen and split. I'm eagerly anticipating all the questions I'll get about it. (Not.)
~Ever since I came down with the flu/a bad cold over spring break, my focus and energy haven't been there for blogging. So, apart from reviews, blog tours, and meme posts, I'm cutting back even more on posts. Hopefully this isn't too disappointing! I'm hoping this change will jumpstart my enthusiasm for blogging, so that when I start posting more fun stuff and discussion topics again, I'll be able to do them really well.

Books I Received for Review
The Girl with the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke (from AW Teen via NetGalley)
Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh (from Penguin via First to Read)

Books I Bought
You're Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner
American Street by Ibi Zoboi
Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood
Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour

Books I Read
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine (reread)
Wanderlost by Jen Malone (reread)
Geekerella by Ashley Poston
Traitor to the Throne by Alwyn Hamilton (4 stars)
City of Saints and Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson (3 stars)

Blog Posts You Might've Missed in the Last Few Weeks
   (from 3/13-3/18)
   (from 3/19-3/25)

March 25, 2017

Review: Geekerella

30724132
Geekerella by Ashley Poston
Grade: C
Release date: April 4, 2017
An e-galley was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for review consideration.
Summary: Geek girl Elle Wittimer lives and breathes Starfield, the classic sci-fi series she grew up watching with her late father. So when she sees a cosplay contest for a new Starfield movie, she has to enter. The prize? An invitation to the ExcelsiCon Cosplay Ball, and a meet-and-greet with the actor slated to play Federation Prince Carmindor in the reboot. With savings from her gig at the Magic Pumpkin food truck (and her dad's old costume), Elle's determined to win unless her stepsisters get there first. 

Teen actor Darien Freeman used to live for cons before he was famous. Now they re nothing but autographs and awkward meet-and-greets. Playing Carmindor is all he's ever wanted, but the Starfield fandom has written him off as just another dumb heartthrob. As ExcelsiCon draws near, Darien feels more and more like a fake until he meets a girl who shows him otherwise.

Part romance, part love letter to nerd culture, and all totally adorbs, Geekerella is a fairy tale for anyone who believes in the magic of fandom."

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: There's been a ton of nerdy books cropping up in YA lately, and while Geekerella does little to set itself apart from the crowd, it's still a fun story.
There were strong elements to Geekerella - ExcelsiCon, the costumes, Calliope, and the Magic Pumpkin. But I felt like they were dragged down by a cliche stepmother, a cliche stepsister, and a lack of chemistry. I just didn't buy that Elle and Darien were into each other. And while Catherine and Chloe were stereotypical and nothing out of the ordinary for a Cinderella retelling, Calliope surprised me in many good ways. I could see how she tried to be a better person but was scared to break out of her shell and upset her mother. I also liked her romance sub-plot, although it was a bit unexpected. Honestly, a story with her as the protagonist might've been more fun. I enjoyed how Sage fit the fairy godmother role, and I loved how all the people at the Con came together to help Elle out.
The movie filming seemed to go awfully fast (but then, what do I know?), and I didn't like anyone in Darien's circle, especially Brian. Which, I'm sure we weren't supposed to like Brian, but he annoyed me too much. Elle wasn't an exciting protagonist. Of course I rooted for her because her life was ridiculously unfair, but at the end of the day, there are heroines I liked more.
There's a smattering of s-words, but nothing worse than that. Violence and romantic content are all super clean.

The Verdict: Nice if you want something fluffy. A bit blah otherwise.

Will I be adding this book to my library?: Eh, probably not.

March 24, 2017

Random Friday: Saving It for a Rainy Day



Want to participate in Random Fridays? Just do the following: 

  • Include the above image in your post and link back to my post.
  • Blog about this week's topic.
  • Add the link to your Random Friday at the bottom of this post
Do you have anything you're "saving for a rainy day"? I definitely do.

I have literary-inspired webseries that I keep saying I'll watch, but I don't. I have an inkling it's because I want to binge as much of them in one sitting as I can.

There are TV series and movies in my Netflix queue that I keep saying I'll get to, but I never start them. On a related note, I really wanted to watch Heroes because it had Milo Ventimiglia and superheroes, but Netflix removed the show before I could. (Can Netflix stop removing TV shows and movies, please???)

There are books I want to reread that I don't. I could divide those into two categories: I don't want to reread them because I'd want to read them again as soon as I finished them and that's frowned upon, and the books I don't own copies of that I keep saying I should reread so I can see if I want to own them.

I also have recipes that I think I'm saving for a rainy day. On breaks, I have plenty of time to bake stuff but I usually don't...or I make old favorites instead. I currently have 90 pins on my food board (as of writing this post in mid-February); that's 90 recipes I have yet to try. So what's stopping me?

Am I really saving these things for rainy days? Or am I just putting off watching/reading/baking something that I don't really want to watch/read/bake?


March 22, 2017

So You Like... #46

Do you love historical fiction, time travel, and tentative friend groups causing messes? Then you really should catch up on a recent TV show, Timeless. If, however, you've already binged the entire show like me, here are a truckload of book recommendations for you. I usually try to limit these posts to around eight or less, but there were too many good historical fiction YA titles for me to resist.


SO YOU LIKE...




Now you should, in general, read...

21979832 23437156

20983362 22020592


But if you're looking for more specific historical fiction recs, here ya go.

24807186


22718701


24903917


21467481


22875123
(Actually middle grade, but it's still perfect for this list.)


17668473


23280190


23719270


Also, just saying, there should be more recent YA books set during the 1700s because the Timeless crew travels to both the French and Indian War and the American Revolution, so I would've liked to recommend books set during those time periods.

March 21, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Read in One Day


I used to always read books in two days or less but now things are a bit busier at school so it takes me a bit longer to finish books. Still, I've had several over the last eight months that I read in about a day or less because they were just that good.

30653880
1. The Ship Beyond Time by Heidi Heilig

30038906
2. The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord

30312700
3. Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett

30038963
4. Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson

30812700
5. Rebel Magisters by Shanna Swendson

28960100
6. A Million Worlds with You by Claudia Gray

685689
7. Holes by Louis Sachar

25486998
8. P.S. I Like You by Kasie West

27272488
9. Stars So Sweet by Tara Dairman

16068916
10. Two Summers by Aimee Friedman


What books have you read in about a day, or even in one sitting?

March 20, 2017

Review: Blood Rose Rebellion

31020402
Blood Rose Rebellion by Rosalyn Eves
Grade: C
Release date: March 28, 2017
An e-galley was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for review consideration.
Summary: Sixteen-year-old Anna Arden is barred from society by a defect of blood. Though her family is part of the Luminate, powerful users of magic, she is Barren, unable to perform the simplest spells. Anna would do anything to belong. But her fate takes another course when, after inadvertently breaking her sister’s debutante spell—an important chance for a highborn young woman to show her prowess with magic—Anna finds herself exiled to her family’s once powerful but now crumbling native Hungary.

Her life might well be over.

In Hungary, Anna discovers that nothing is quite as it seems. Not the people around her, from her aloof cousin Noémi to the fierce and handsome Romani Gábor. Not the society she’s known all her life, for discontent with the Luminate is sweeping the land. And not her lack of magic. Isolated from the only world she cares about, Anna still can’t seem to stop herself from breaking spells.

As rebellion spreads across the region, Anna’s unique ability becomes the catalyst everyone is seeking. In the company of nobles, revolutionaries, and Romanies, Anna must choose: deny her unique power and cling to the life she’s always wanted, or embrace her ability and change that world forever.
 

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: My biggest problem with Blood Rose Rebellion is that it couldn't hold my attention. By about halfway through my e-galley, I found myself wanting to read any book but this one. It started well enough, with conflict and magic and tension. But I definitely skimmed the second half, just so I could say I finished the book and didn't DNF it. I've had too many of those lately. 
I really loved that it was a time and place in history rarely touched on YA historical fiction. However, I couldn't connect with Anna, and secondary characters, like her cousins and Gabor, were hardly fleshed out. They felt like props moved to advance the plot, not fully-fledged characters around which the plot revolved (and considering that Gabor was the love interest, you'd think he'd have a little more depth). In addition, Anna started to make really stupid choices that seemed out of character. 
I had read some comments on Twitter about the use of Romani vs. gypsy, and so I approached my ARC cautiously. From what I saw in the first half, it seemed pretty accurate that Anna and others would use the slur until they knew better. I cannot speak to if it should've been used at all or not, but as a student of history, I believe we shouldn't try to erase the sins of the past. In historical writing (even fiction), if we pretend that people wouldn't have used certain terms, we are erasing our mistakes and not learning from them. Obviously, writers should not overuse any slurs, but I think they can use it (through POC or ally characters) as a gentle teaching moment to be like, "Hey, no, this is wrong; don't use that word." Anyways, Anna, once she's told by Gabor to use Romani, makes an effort to be respectful and even corrects others. However, one moment I did feel was inaccurate was that Gabor then used the slur on a couple occasions, and Anna did too at times in her narration. After reading the author's note, I can see why the author made these choices, though, and I can see she was trying to respect both history and a marginalized people group.

The Verdict: Could've been so good, but it lacked that extra oomph to make me continue to care.


Will I be adding this book to my library?: No.

March 18, 2017

Review: The Heartbeats of Wing Jones

27835606
The Heartbeats of Wing Jones by Katherine Webber
Grade: B
An e-galley was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Summary: Wing Jones, like everyone else in her town, has worshipped her older brother, Marcus, for as long as she can remember. Good-looking, popular, and the star of the football team, Marcus is everything his sister is not.

Until the night everything changes when Marcus, drunk at the wheel after a party, kills two people and barely survives himself. With Marcus now in a coma, Wing is crushed, confused, and angry. She is tormented at school for Marcus’s mistake, haunted at home by her mother and grandmothers’ grief. In addition to all this, Wing is scared that the bank is going to repossess her home because her family can’t afford Marcus’s mounting medical bills.

Every night, unable to sleep, Wing finds herself sneaking out to go to the school’s empty track. When Aaron, Marcus’s best friend, sees her running one night, he recognizes that her speed, skill, and agility could get her spot on the track team. And better still, an opportunity at a coveted sponsorship from a major athletic gear company. Wing can’t pass up the opportunity to train with her longtime crush and to help her struggling family, but can she handle being thrust out of Marcus’s shadow and into the spotlight?

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Upon finishing The Heartbeats of Wing Jones, my first thought was how lovely it was. There is nothing particularly groundbreaking about Wing Jones, but it is simple and thoughtful. There are plenty of characters you'll want to root for and plenty of natural beautiful diversity to boot.
I appreciated how actions weren't excused but also how everything was more light gray than anything else. I also loved Wing's growth and her fantasy of the dragon and the lioness (I definitely saw her grandmothers in her imagination's companions). I appreciated how they were rooted in her culture. 
I liked Wing running. It showed her strength and individuality and determination in so many ways. I loved how all of the supporting characters - Marcus, Aaron, Monica, Eliza, Wing's mother, and Wing's grandmother - had distinct personalities and they had different opinions and roles, all of which came across nicely. And I really liked Aaron and Wing together. I would've liked to see her support him a little more, but he builds her up in such a good way and she doesn't need him, but they work well together.
I caught maybe a dozen s-words. Teen pregnancy and an abortion are referenced in conjunction with a (very) minor character.

The Verdict: Really good. I know my review is a bit vague, but I thoroughly enjoyed this one. The only reason it gets four stars, and not five, is because I didn't get that feeling in my gut that solidified it as an all-time favorite.


Will I be adding this book to my library?: Probably at some point.

March 16, 2017

Review: P.S. I Like You

25486998
P.S. I Like You by Kasie West
Grade: A+
Summary: Signed, sealed, delivered…

While spacing out in chemistry class, Lily scribbles some of her favorite song lyrics onto her desk. The next day, she finds that someone has continued the lyrics on the desk and added a message to her. Intrigue!

Soon, Lily and her anonymous pen pal are exchanging full-on letters—sharing secrets, recommending bands, and opening up to each other. Lily realizes she’s kind of falling for this letter writer. Only, who is he? As Lily attempts to unravel the mystery and juggle school, friends, crushes, and her crazy family, she discovers that matters of the heart can’t always be spelled out…

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: In case my review for By Your Side had you fooled, I love Kasie West's books (just not her most recent one). P.S. I Like You, which I read the day it released, was an absolute delight.
In a lot of ways Lily reminded me of Anne Shirley. They're both imperfect, opinionated, and have dreams. P.S. I Like You is also in the crop of YA titles that have recently been appearing that are basically YA versions of You've Got Mail.
I really enjoyed that Lily and her guy didn't get together in the last chapter, that they found each other a little sooner so we got to see them beginning a romantic relationship. I also liked that we knew about halfway through who her pen pal was.
P.S. I Like You has got great family dynamics going on, between Lily's mom and dad, who are a bit embarrassing (as parents of teenagers can be) but also very supportive and who act like parents. There's also her older sister and then her little brothers, who add comedy and awkwardness. The one relationship not fleshed out as I wanted was Lily's friendship with Isabel. It felt surface level at times and like Isabel was just there to further the plot and be a sounding board for Lily, not like she was her own person who happened to play a supporting role in this story.
Super clean, both language and romance-wise. 

The Verdict: Such a fun, swoonworthy read that I want to reread over and over again.


Will I be adding this book to my library?: Already did.