Armchair BEA: Children’s Literature

Today’s Armchair BEA topic is Children’s Literature:

From picture books to middle grade to young adult novels, this is a category that encompasses books that young and old alike flock to on a daily basis.

As a reader and as a mom, I love children’s books. When my kids were little, we had piles and piles of board books in every nook and cranny of the house. As they got older, we’d hit the library each weekend and come home with armloads of picture books. Older still, we moved on to chapter books and kids’ non-fiction books on topics as varied as jellyfish, how to build a castle, and what life is like on the International Space Station.

Now that my little guy is not so little any more (just graduated from elementary school!), his tastes have matured as well. We still read out loud together at night, although I’m guessing that he’ll tell me he’s too old for it in the not-so-distant future. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying it while I can. I love revisiting old favorites and discovering new and amazing authors and titles, and I love even more seeing my son get excited by a new book or be filled with wonder as we explore magical lands.

I think of all the books we’ve read, the best reading experiences for both of us have involved books about magical worlds. This is just my opinion, of course, but I do believe that children who are exposed to the wonders of fantasy through fiction grow up to appreciate a much broader scope of literary genres and imaginative flights of fancy. My personal favorites include:

  • The Harry Potter series. I’ve read it countless times on my own, and most recently read the entire series out loud (!) to my son over the course of a 10-month period. Amazing experience.
  • Narnia. I missed out on these books as a child, but I’m now reading these with my son and finding so much to love.
  • The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials series) by Philip Pullman.
  • Half Magic and Knight’s Castle by Edward Eager. Or really, anything by Edward Eager.
  • A Wrinkle in Time.
  • The Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce. For slightly older girls, especially, a fantastic series with an unbeatable girl power message.

I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of reading good quality children’s literature, even when my son is too old and too cool to have his mom read to him any longer. There’s something so lovely about these books — the ability to dream, to take chances, to imagine, to believe.

So yes, I read children’s books, I review children’s books, and I love children’s books!


Armchair BEA: Non-Fiction

And for today’s second Armchair BEA topic: Non-Fiction — do you read it? do you review it? what types of non-fiction do you prefer?

My reading preference is strongly, strongly, strongly (yes, strongly!) weighted toward fiction — but I do sneak in some non-fiction, here and there, as the mood strikes me.

In order for me to read non-fiction, I have to feel some sort of attraction to the topic, and the writing has to be sharp and flowing. I shy away from how-to books, business-themed books (except those that relate to my real-world career), or anything that strikes me as dry and dusty. Very subjective, I know, but there it is.

I’ve had the best non-fiction reading experiences with memoirs, adventure stories, and books that focus on a particular person or challenge. Another category I enjoy is science — the weirder, the better. Basically, if it reads like fiction — fast-paced, interesting or quirky characters, some suspense or drama — I’ll give it a try.

Favorites from my recent reading history* include:

  • Ice Bound by Dr. Jerri Nielson (featured as my Flashback Friday pick today): The memoirs of the South Pole doctor who treated herself for breast cancer while “wintering over” in Antarctica.
  • The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure: The experiences of a woman and her obsession with Laura Ingalls Wilder. (Seriously!)
  • Into Thin Air and Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer. Two very different topics, one amazing writer.
  • Life by Keith Richards. Just because.
  • The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum.
  • The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game by Michael Lewis. Yes, I read a football book. And I liked it.
  • Packing for Mars and Stiff by Mary Roach. If you think science can’t be hilariously funny, then you’ve never read Mary Roach.
  • Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

That’s just a smidgen, but you get the idea. I’ll always be a fiction girl at heart, but give me a good, well-written book that surprises me, intrigues me, or keeps me guessing, and I’m in!

*I realize that most of these are books that I read before I was a blogger. I’ve provided links to the two that I’ve actually reviewed here. In theory, I have no problem with reviewing non-fiction books on Bookshelf Fantasies — I just don’t read that much non-fiction; therefore, I don’t review much of it either.

What are your non-fiction tastes? Any favorites to recommend?

Armchair BEA: Ethical Blogging

This is my first of two items for today, playing along with today’s Armchair BEA topics.

First up: Ethics in Blogging

We’re getting back into discussion mode in a big way today with the topic of “Ethics in Blogging.” What guidelines must we follow as bloggers–attribution, disclosure, honesty? Have you had an experience with plagiarism (victim or perpetrator?), and how did you deal with it? Do you have recommendations to new bloggers about how to ensure that credit is given to whom/where it’s due?

Perhaps because I’m still relatively new to the blogging world, I haven’t personally run into any problems, although I’ve seen a lot of discussion and comments on the topic. I actually have a fairly vivid fear — not so much about real plagiarism — but more about being accidentally influenced in some way before I’ve really formulated my own thoughts. For that reason, I try to avoid reading reviews of anything I’m thinking of reviewing until after I write my own.

The only hard and fast rule that seems to apply on a regular basis, at least for what I tend to do on my blog, is to give credit to meme hosts and link back to their sites. I’ve had a couple of nice bloggers ask to reblog something I’d written, and I was happy to say yes — and happy to be asked. It hasn’t come up for me yet, but of course I’d expect to do the same.

I did make a boo-boo early on, when I copied a book cover image from a blog instead of from Goodreads, and used the “copy from URL” tool instead of just copying the image itself. Months later, I guess someone must have clicked on the image and linked to the other site. That blog owner sent me a fairly nasty comment on how rude I was to link to his site without permission. Fortunately, I have moderation turned on for new commenters, and so that comment did not go public. Unfortunately, he did not provide me with any contact information, so I was unable to respond, explain that I’d made an error, and apologize. I did take down the image and the link, but it left a rather bad feeling in the pit of my stomach.

The issue of giving credit can be a thorny one. In this age of Facebook, Pinterest, and Tumblr, where cute pictures get shared and forwarded constantly, I think the mindset often becomes that any picture that’s out there on social networks is fair game. And that simply isn’t the case. I try to be mindful of what I copy and give appropriate credit, and mostly stick to using book cover images (which, from everything I’ve read, is okay to do) and photos I’ve taken and uploaded myself. I do want to explore further the various resources out there for public domain image archives. Suggestions, anyone?

On the issue of reviews and the necessary disclosures, I suppose I should count my blessings, for once, in that I really don’t get that many ARCs! Most of the books I read and review on my blog are books that I’ve bought or borrowed. When I do write a review based on an ARC, I make sure to indicate the source of the review copy. The whole point, for me, of starting a blog was to have an outlet for saying what I think — so that’s what I do. I will say that if I don’t care for a book, I’m more likely not to post a review at all rather than writing a bad review. Again, I started a blog to share my love and excitement about what I’m reading, and I’d rather not dwell on the negative. As my mother always taught me, “If you have nothing good to say, don’t say anything at all”!

I had no idea, when I started blogging, that there were so many issues to think about. For the most part, I think the basic rules of being a good person work as guidelines for being an ethical blogger as well:

  • Don’t take what’s not yours.
  • Be polite.
  • Don’t put other people down.
  • Treat others in the way you want to be treated.
  • Be lavish with praise; be careful with criticism.
  • Always ask permission before touching someone else’s stuff.
  • Share when asked, and people will be happy to share with you.
  • Making fun of others doesn’t make you look good; it makes you look mean.

I know there are several sites that have published some great “Blogging 101” guides, and I’ve found those incredibly helpful. (Of course, I’m drawing a blank on what those sites are right now!). There’s a lot to know and a lot to consider, and I do truly believe that most of the mistakes that bloggers — especially new bloggers — make are honest goofs that come from not knowing or not being aware, rather than coming from intent to deceive or to take someone else’s work.

What kind of guidelines do you keep in mind as you work on your blog? Where do you see the biggest pitfalls and challenges for bloggers? I’d love to hear your thoughts on these issues.

Armchair BEA: Literary Fiction

And for today’s Armchair BEA topic: Literary Fiction — how do you define it? What are some great examples?

While I’m tempted to give the same answer as I did for definining classics — “I know it when I see it” — I’ll try to actually say a bit more. For me, when I think of literary fiction, I think of books in which the language itself is a key piece of the reading experience. Interesting or unusual word choices, lyrical phrasing, thoughtful use of symbolism, a unique approach to sentence structure — these are all elements that elevate a book for me into the realm of literature. On top of the language itself is the subject matter and how it’s presented. Literary fiction can have any topic, any setting, any type of character — but should have more going on in it than heavy action or a pulse-pounding plot. Literary fiction makes me think about what I’m reading — not just in terms of “what will happen next?” — but really think about the deeper meaning of events and choices, the way the characters express themselves, the signs and symbols that might add another layer to the plot itself. Finally, I tend to equate literary fiction with beauty, especially in terms of beautiful writing and beautiful descriptions.

Some of the best books I’ve read in the past couple of years that I would consider literary fiction are:

  • The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
  • Tell The Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
  • Doc by Mary Doria Russell
  • The Round House by Louise Erdrich
  • The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan
  • The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Another part of today’s prompt from the Armchair BEA organizers is:

Name a novel that hasn’t received a lot of buzz that definitely deserves it.

I think I’ll switch that up a bit and mention an author who deserves much more attention than I think she gets, and that’s Mary Doria Russell, author of five amazing novels (so far!), on topics ranging from space exploration to WWII to the old West to Lawrence of Arabia. What makes each and every one of her novels a literary masterpiece, in my mind, is her incredible talent for choosing just the right words to express a feeling, a mood, a setting, an emotion. Her writing is beautiful and never fails to just slay me; in fact, I wrote a post about the emotional impact her book The Sparrow had on me when I reread it last year.

So, literary fiction. How do you define it? Are you a fan? And what are your favorites?

Thanks for stopping by! Don’t miss my giveaway today, ending soon!


Armchair BEA: It’s a Giveaway Day!

Updated May 31, 2013: The giveaway is now closed. It was quick and fun — thanks for joining in! I’ll be reaching out the winner later today.

Day 3 of Armchair BEA is a fun one… it’s a giveaway day!

Enter to win a $20 Amazon gift card! What better way to start your reading summer than by getting to pick WHATEVER YOU WANT??

Thanks for stopping by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Click the link below to get started. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Armchair BEA: Genre Fiction

The second Armchair BEA topic today is Genre Fiction:

Sci-fi, fantasy, horror, mystery, romance, and more–is genre fiction your thing? Post about the genre(s) you love–or the ones you don’t-

I’ve never been one for strict definitions. If I like a book, I like a book! That said, I do aim toward some sections of the book store more than others.

While I do read straight-up contemporary fiction, I tend to veer off toward the weird, the unusual, the spooky, and the odd more often than not. My reading wanders all over the map, but what I end up enjoying most is:

  • Science fiction/fantasy: I love excellent world-building, new frontiers, unusual circumstances or rules. Throw in time travel, threats to human civilizations, maybe a bit of a humorous approach, some deep interpersonal connections, and I’m there.
  • Paranormal/urban fantasy: I can OD on these pretty quickly, but give me a few well-chosen series to commit to, and I’m happy.
  • Horror: Of a sort. Nothing too gross for me, but I do love a more psychological chill-inducing thrill ride.
  • Historical fiction: When it suits me. I won’t read historical fiction indiscriminately, but if I find a good book or series on a time period that interests me, I’m easily hooked!

What I mostly avoid:

  • Mysteries: I’ll read a good mystery once in a while, but overall, this is a section of the fiction world that I avoid. Much like I don’t watch police procedurals on TV — I’m just not interested in a “case of the week”.
  • Romance: Again, I’ll give any good book a try, but typically if a book has a shirtless man on the cover or a woman who looks like she’s about to pop out of her low-cut dress, it’s not for me.

Outside of the “genre” classification, I find in general that I’m also drawn to:

  • Graphic novels and comic book compilations: I’m relatively new to this world, but over the past few years I’ve absolutely fallen in love with certain books and series, including the children’s Bone series, Fables, and Y: The Last Man, to name but a few.
  • Children’s books: As a mom, I’m always on the look-out for good, engaging middle grade books — but I also enjoy these for myself as a reader. I like smart characters, interesting scenarios, and good writing, and finding a gem for this age is such a delight!
  • Young adult: I’m not a big fan of labels, but I do find so much to enjoy from the young adult shelves. I keep trying to convince my “grown-up” friends to give certain young adult titles a try. Good fiction is good fiction!

Overall, though, I’m not a big believer in “wills” and “won’ts”. Convince me that a book is worth my time and I’ll read it, regardless of what shelf it sits on!


Armchair BEA: Blogger Development

This is my first of two items for today, playing along with today’s Armchair BEA topics.

First up: Blogger Development.

The purpose of the conference is to foster “blogger development”–and clearly, that development can go in a variety of directions! Today, we’re inviting you to talk about your approach. Have you branched out into your community? Do you partner with other bloggers? Have you gone “pro” or tried generating some income through your blog? If you’re a long-term blogger, how has your online personality developed over the years?

Tell us about things you’ve done to expand your blogging horizons, and the things you’d like to do but haven’t managed (or figured out) yet. Come back here to link up your post, and then go see what other participants have to say. Let’s foster our development as bloggers and learn from each other!

As a relatively new blogger, still in my first year in the blogosphere, I’m working my way through issues constantly and trying to find the right fit for me. When I started Bookshelf Fantasies, my only goal was to take the scattered bits and pieces of book-related writing I was doing anyway and to put them together in one consistent outlet. I had hoped that writing a blog would give me a good creative outlet, help me find other like-minded booklovers to connect with, and lead me to new and different approaches to thinking about books.

What’s worked for me so far is trying to write or post almost every day; participating in a few — but not too many — weekly or ongoing memes and features; and trying to establish my own rhythms and identity for blogging.

I haven’t thought about blogging in terms of income, and that’s not why I do it. I understand some people find it helpful to become Amazon affiliates, and I could see doing that in order to be able to offer giveaways and other perks that might cost me money. I’m not blogging for money, but I also don’t want to lose money on it!

What have I done to expand my blogging horizons? Well, one thing I’ve done is to start two regular features on my blog. While they haven’t really taken off yet (I get a few participants here and there, but it’s not consistent), I haven’t given up hope! My two weekly events are:

cooltext1045178755Thursday Quotables: Every Thursday, I feature a quote or passage from something I’ve read that week, and encourage other bloggers and readers to link up and share their own quotables from their weekly reading.

Bookshelf Fantasies

Flashback Friday: On Fridays, I highlight an older book that I’ve read and enjoyed, and invite bloggers to post their own Flashback Friday selection and link up!

Of course, the main thing I’ve done to expand my blogging horizons is to visit other blogs, comment, and connect! I don’t think I “got it” when I first started, but now I absolutely do: There’s a whole wide world of amazing bloggers out there, and the number one takeaway for me from my first year of blogging is the wonderful sense of support and community that comes from connecting with other people who care about reading and love to talk about books.

Sure, I’ve had my down days when I’ve felt discouraged: Why aren’t I getting more page views? Why didn’t I get approved for that ARC? Why haven’t more people read that one particular post that I was so proud of? I’ve had to slow down and remind myself that I do all this because I love to read, I love to write about what I’m reading, and I love to talk books with other people who love them as much as I do! All the rest — the stats, the page views, the followers — that’s just icing on the cake!

What I’d still like to do is find new and different ways of connecting with others in the book world, develop new and interesting features for my blog, try to start featuring some guest posts, and overall, continue to be open to new ideas and meet new people.

I’d welcome your input! For anyone who’s visiting Bookshelf Fantasies for the first time, I’d be honored to get your feedback. Thanks for stopping by!

And a final bit of shameless self-promotion: If you’d like to take part in Thursday Quotables or Flashback Friday, I’d be thrilled!

Armchair BEA: The Classics

Today’s focus for Armchair BEA discussions is “The Classics”:

Today, tell us all the reasons why you love classic literature. What are your favorite classics? If you could give a list of classics to someone who claims to hate them to make them change their mind, what would be on it? How would you convince them to give classics a try? And why do you keep coming back to those old favorites?

I suppose we could argue about the definition of a classic. Is it anything over a certain number of years old? Is it something that fits into a certain body of work? Do certain authors count more than others? I guess I go with the “I know it when I see it” standard: If it feels like a classic to me, then I consider it a classic!

My favorite classics are:

  1. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
  2. Any/all stories by Edgar Allan Poe
  3. The works of William Shakespeare
  4. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  5. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  6. Anything and everything by Jane Austen
  7. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

If I were trying to convince someone that classics are not all dusty and boring, I think I’d give them a few of the above, especially:

  • A Tale of Two Cities: This book really has it all! Drama, intrigue, plots, suspense, legal drama, historical fiction, mistaken identities… all the elements of modern-day TV dramas, in one terrific book.
  • Pride and Prejudice: I think it would be hard to find someone who hasn’t been exposed to at least one TV or movie version of Pride and Prejudice or any of the dozens of modern fiction retellings, sequels, and monster mash-ups. I think the popularity of the story helps keep it fresh and accessible, and it tends to be a good jumping-off point as an introduction to the rest of Jane Austen’s works.
  • Little Women: This is one that really feels universal. Do girls still read this growing up? The four sisters, their ups and downs, games and romances, successes and disappointments, are truly timeless. And again, given the numerous movie versions and the pop-culture references (remember the Friends episode where Joey read Little Women??), this doesn’t seem like an old, forgotten book.
  • Brave New World: If you haven’t read this one in a while, I strongly suggest going back to it. It’s amazing, really, to see how much the author got right. So many of the science fiction elements of this book can be found in our world today — it’s downright eerie!

As for why I keep coming back — well, there’s always something new to discover! I just re-read Jane Eyre for the first time in about 10 years, and was amazed to discover how fresh and sharp the dialogue is. When I stumble across some random “classic” short story and realize how much it gives me to think about, it makes me want to pull my older books off the shelf and read them all over again. True classics still have something to say that relevant even in a different time and a different society, and those are the ones that really last.

Armchair BEA Introduction Post

Count me in as one of the gazillion book bloggers who couldn’t make it to New York this week for Book Expo America and the Book Blogger Convention. Some day, some year, I’ll be there! Meanwhile, Armchair BEA is the virtual event for the rest of us. All week, there will be different topics and link-up opportunities for bloggers, and today, I’m jumping in with my Armchair BEA Introduction:

Please tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you? How long have you been blogging? Why did you get into blogging?

My name is Lisa, and I’m a life-long bookworm. Sadly, I never did quite figure out to how read for a living. Almost one year ago, I decided to finally jump into the ocean of book bloggers and created my own little corner of the Interwebs: Bookshelf Fantasies. It’s been an amazing ride so far! I’m really enjoying the challenge of putting my bookish thoughts into words, sharing with other folks who love books as much as I do, and meeting so many fantastic book bloggers!

Where in the world are you blogging from? Tell a random fact or something special about your current location. Feel free to share pictures.

I’m blogging from San Francisco, California — which, despite its reputation, is not foggy 365 days a year! It just feels that way sometimes. I love San Francisco for many reasons, but a great one is that no matter what kind of setting you’re in the mood for, you can get there in less than a day’s drive. I live a few blocks from the ocean, but can easily get to the mountains, to the desert, or to a grove of redwood trees. Simply beautiful! Like most San Franciscans, I’m not actually native, but after 20 years, it’s starting to feel like I am.

What are you currently reading, or what is your favorite book you have read so far in 2013?

I just finished reading The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey, and it blew me away! Other favorites this year are The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway and Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell.

Which is your favorite post that you have written that you want everyone to read?

Purely for sentimental reasons, I’d pick a post I wrote last September called “A Bookish Sort of Romance“, which is the story of how my husband and I first connected. And yes, there were books involved!

What is your favorite part about the book blogging community?

As someone relatively new to the blogging world, I’d say that my favorite thing about being a part of the book blogging community is realizing how many amazing connections I’ve made in such a short amount of time. All of a sudden, I feel that there are so many people I know who share my interests, who “get” how exciting it can be when a new book arrives, who loves to trade ideas, tips, recommendations, and squeals of delight about our bookish habits. I absolutely love the idea that I now have book friends around the world! I get the warm and fuzzies just thinking about it.

So, hello and welcome, my Armchair BEA buddies! I’m happy to meet you… and maybe next year, who knows? In person in NY, perhaps?