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Chronicles of an Obsessive Bookseller: The Snowball Book Slump Effect

The Snowball Book Slump Effect

In my last Tackling the TBR post I mentioned I’d gotten myself into a reading pickle, signing up for too many things and having next to no progress on my priority titles. After some serious analyzing, I think I’ve finally identified the cause behind the book slumps I’ve been experiencing over the last few years. I’m calling it the Snowball Book Slump Effect.

In my entire book-loving life (…10+?) I’d never experienced a reading slump until I became a blogger and joined an online book community. I can remember times before that when certain books seemed to take me forever to get through, but those unfortunate circumstances were rare (even more so when I mastered the art of the DNF) and never sent me into actual slumps.

So what changed? Obviously joining the book community added even more opportunity cost considerations than I’d faced as a bookseller. So many titles!! And so little time. It made prioritizing reads even more important (see my TTT feature), but that in itself wasn’t enough to send me into a slump. If anything, it encouraged me to read more and made it easier to hand pick stellar titles. So I ask again, what happened? It’s only after this last month of analyzing my reading habits that I finally figured out exactly what has been leading me down the path of less enjoyment:

Reading schedules.

It started with ARCs. Reading suddenly became something I did on a deadline, and I can say with completely certainty that the stress always affected my overall enjoyment of the stories. I recognized the problems right away, yet it was something I was reluctant to give up because having access to early titles is the absolute bomb and building good relationships with publishers is part of my overall goal to establish myself as a credible spec-fic reviewer. It served my biggest passion, so it had to stay, but I did get a lot smarter in how I managed my time (see ARC Management Tips: How to Avoid Over-Requesting). I figured out how to schedule things far enough in advance to avoid the pressures of ASAP reviews, and what’s more got realistic about what volume of obligations I could actually handle, and for what titles I was willing to sacrifice leisure reading time for. People make the mistake of undervaluing their time in this regard. Books take a LOT of energy and commitment time to read, and the longer you’re in the field, the less you find yourself willing to risk that precious leisure reading time for anything short of the best titles. This is why I never accept self-published requests, and very rarely pick up anything unsolicited unless I was planning to read it eventually anyway and other authors, friends, or publishers are involved. It’s all about balance.

What started with ARCs eventually evolved into a paid reviewing gig (of audiobook production quality) which I also let get away from me for a while. At first I was so excited for the opportunity that I went overboard. Most of my selections in the first couple months were good books, just not ones I’d identified as high priority for myself. But I was dazzled by being able to call myself a professional reviewer, receiving a ridiculously small paycheck (just getting one was enough, trust me), and seeing my writing in print. However, it quickly brought up many of the obligational issues I’d had with ARCs early on, but these schedules were so much more strict that it often required me to abandon whatever I was enjoying midway to make sure I had enough time to complete my review copies. Scheduling these meant I had to plan all my other reading around them. That in itself wasn’t too bad when done right, but it’s the combination of all these things that snowballed me to hell.

Another thing that has popped up over the last few years is access to digital library books. I absolutely love how many free titles are available from my TBR, but as someone who thrives under predictability, I absolutely LOATHE the crap-shoot nature of the checkout system. I can’t plan, and every time I think I have everything figured out, a title that wasn’t supposed to become available for several more weeks pops up and I jump at the opportunity every time, even if I’m not ready for it. Because, as Murphy’s Law would indicate, when I finish a book and am ready to immediately start another one, there is never anything ready to check out unless I pounced on it earlier and have been playing “beat the clock” with it for a couple weeks. Now it’s on a looming deadline too. Utilizing the library has saved me literally thousands of dollars in book purchases (I should calculate the exact amount one of these days just for kicks), but it comes at the sharp cost of my leisurely reading. I feel like I have to read whatever becomes available while I have it, and that’s annoying. I’ve debated on more than one occasion between saving money and the quality of life improvement that arises from having books purchased and alway accessible.

All of that aside, the addition to my reading life that had the biggest effect on book slumps was signing up for Buddy Reads. If you don’t know what those are, they’re basically online threads where people converge to read and discuss books together. Kind of like an impromptu/impermanent book club. It’s a truly rad way to connect with people all over the world with common book interests, and I absolutely love sharing my passion with other people in this way. However, when it comes down to it, a schedule + peer pressure (aka other people counting on you to be there) = reading panic. And here, finally, is where the snowball effect takes place.

I’d schedule out one or two BRs for the month, making sure to leave significant buffers between books. However, my reading planning NEVER cooperates with reality, and inevitably I start to fall behind. Then between reads I try to squeeze in my paid obligation reviews and in the meantime a book I’ve been waiting on for months becomes available at the library and certainly I can squeeze that one in too and before I know it I’m only halfway through the first BR while working on an obligation read and have already started that library hold (which I won’t finish before it goes back to the library and I’ll have to wait another several months to see how it ends) and I find myself in an awkward position of starting yet another BR and putting all the other books on hold or bailing on people who I was excited to read with. Usually I end up saying “I’ll be late” and by the time I get back to it, my hold has expired for THAT book and I’m outside the socially acceptable timeframe to join the conversation, anyway. Not to mention that through all of this I also always have a digital ARC copy going and omg I’m overwhelmed. ::inhales::

This is how the snowball always seems to happen, and it results in a packed 5+ book lineup in my “Currently Reading” shelf.

Enter the slump.

Which book should I focus on now? Should I bounce back and forth? Go in order of obligation? I have to hurry though because the next round of paid reviews are coming due and yet another long awaited hold has become available at the library. What do I do?! ::sobs::

There ends up being too many things going on at once. I’ve discovered I thrive under any system that has me finishing books consistently. The payoff I get from checking “Finished Reading” is one that fuels my motivation way more than I’d originally thought, so any time I get myself buried like this, enthusiasm dies and reading becomes a chore. I end up feeling pressure no matter what I read because I have all the other half-finished titles looming over me. Instead of reading more, my daily page count consumption plummets to 0%-25% of what it is during peak months. I’ll go several days without reading anything, and often will get back into it by starting yet another book that oddly has no pressure associated with it because I didn’t start it during the snowball. I’m literally escaping from reading certain titles by immersing into something new.

Eventually I’ll chip away enough not to feel as overwhelmed. Usually this requires abandoning a few titles, rushing through others, and effectively vanishing from online communities so I’m not reminded constantly of my plight. On average, a single month of snowballing takes me three months to fully dig myself out of, and that’s a long time to feel like you’re not enjoying books as much as you could be. I’ve done this to myself at least a dozen times throughout the last three or four years, and a couple of bad back-to-back snowballs led me to the biggest slump I’ve ever experienced. I wasn’t reading, I wasn’t reviewing, and all of my important-to-me book-related goals came to a screeching halt (problems associated with this lasted almost two years until I figured out a new system to handle keeping an online presence while dealing with a book slump. I’ll probably do a separate post sharing my experience and tips on that later). So the only thing to conclude is that all these things combined are making it very difficult for me to enjoy my favorite hobby.

… but it stops now. I have a plan.

1. Continue Arc Management

This one is the easiest of my strategies because, as mentioned above, I already have a good hold on my process. I’ve mentally added to it recently by only committing myself to one ARC per month. And it’s working. When I’m not stressed about other reading problems (facepalm), reading ARCs is completely manageable and stress free. Another thing I’ve been doing is checking often enough to sign up for reads several months in advance, which also takes the pressure off. Before these last two months hit, I had a three month buffer. Now I’m feeling a slight edge to focus more…

2. Show more restraint with Paid Review Obligations

To keep a healthy balance, I’ve discovered I can handle only one of these per month. Every single time I see awesome titles in my lineup and request more than one, I regret it. Always. Because it means up to half of my audiobook enjoyment for the month is obligation-driven and that doesn’t allow me as much time for the titles I’ve identified as high-priority/important to me. A lot of times I get myself into this mess because the shiny titles available are ones that EVENTUALLY would be high-priorities (often new series starters from authors I love), but the way they affect my current priorities is just not worth it. Restricting myself to a single title per month will go a long way in alleviating some stress. The due date for those reviews creeps up on me faster than any deadline I’ve faced in years, and so I have to make sure I have them read well in advance (so, naturally, whatever else I’m enjoying at the time takes a backseat). These are cause for the most stress when I mismanage them because I have a contract to provide my content by a specific date and it has to be good because it’s published both in print and online. Half-assing it just won’t cut it.

3. Manage my Library holds better.

My library introduced a new system for checkouts at the beginning of the year that I’ve been too greedy to take full advantage of so far. Basically, instead of automatically checking out titles you forgot to suspend the hold for, they now have a three day checkout window that requires you to confirm that you’re ready for the book before it checks it out. If you say no or don’t respond, you keep your place in line and the book jumps to the next person. I think it’s brilliant. I know books were being auto-checked all the time by people who weren’t ready to read them (because I’m one of them), so it would sit the full 21 days with each person, thereby drastically increasing the wait time for everyone else. As good as this new system is, I’m still treating some of my checkouts like I did before it came into effect. When a book I’ve been waiting on becomes available, I get excited and confirm the checkout immediately even if I already have too many going to get to it soon. I need to be patient and wait until availability lines up with a lighter schedule so I can get though the entire book without missing the end (recheckouts required) or speed listening. I can do this. I hope.

4. Stop signing up for Buddy Reads more than 2 days out.

Seriously. Any more than that and I can’t be trusted to actually be available to join. These last couple months I tried to schedule things out several weeks, and that just did not work at all. I was late to every single one, missed two, and was so buried that by the time one came around that I was REALLY excited for, I just couldn’t justify adding yet another half-finished title to the lineup… and my new obligations were due. Ugh. Luckily, my group (Fantasy Buddy Reads) is super active, scheduling reads all the time. And we have a nifty monthly schedule that I plan to take more advantage of. If I really want to read something, I’d better be ready immediately. It’s as simple as that.

Overall, not only are these problems sucking the life out of my reading enthusiasm, they’re reducing the enjoyment rating of every single title associated with the snowball. I’m grateful I was finally in a good reading place again before this latest slump hit because it gave me the perspective I needed to figure out which specific actions were affecting me so much. I’d had inklings, but figured my biggest problems were more life-related than book-choice related. But if that were truly the case then why wasn’t I affected when I was going though my Masters program? Changing jobs? Going through breakups? Buying a house? Moving? Giving birth? Having an existential crisis?? Nope. Life variables don’t usually have an effect on my reading. It’s a hobby that’s so important to me, I always manage to make it a priority. Heck, sometimes stress can even make me read more. This is why all the reading drama I’ve had recently has been so distressing. It’s a hobby that has survived the worst of the worst and yet something has been affecting it significantly and I don’t like it Sam I am. I’m grateful I finally got the perspective I needed to figure it out, and I think working through and implementing these new strategies will go a long way towards the reclaiming the reading balance I’ve been missing so poignantly.

… I just need to finish some books first.

by Niki Hawkes

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The Betrothed by Kiera Cass

The Betrothed by Kiera Cass

Title: The Betrothed

Author: Kiera Cass

Series: The Betrothed #1

Genre: Teen Romance

Rating: 1.5/5 stars

The Overview: When King Jameson declares his love for Lady Hollis Brite, Hollis is shocked—and thrilled. After all, she’s grown up at Keresken Castle, vying for the king’s attention alongside other daughters of the nobility. Capturing his heart is a dream come true.

But Hollis soon realizes that falling in love with a king and being crowned queen may not be the happily ever after she thought it would be. And when she meets a commoner with the mysterious power to see right into her heart, she finds that the future she really wants is one that she never thought to imagine. -Goodreads

The Review:

A lot of people seem to be aboard the Kiera Cass hate train. I’m not one of them. Her writing is what it is, and that’s okay that it doesn’t work for some, but the projected disgust at a lot of her works seems a little over the top. It almost feels like shaming her books is what it takes to sit at the cool kids’ table. And if that’s the case, I’ll go sit outside by myself and read her books while I eat.

That said, The Betrothed was not a strong installment. I absolutely loved the Siren and the first two Selection books, but this one left a few key elements on the table.

Firstly, she didn’t take the time to establish the main character’s credibility. Her merit as the perfect candidate for the king was just a given, and I think it would’ve gone a long way to start the story earlier and SHOW how she’s different and what circumstances made her that way. As it stood, it was baffling enough to see how vastly opposite she was from her incompetent and overbearing parents, yet she miraculously knew how to perfectly navigate court life and the attentions of royalty. It just didn’t add up. So the only thing left to assume was that all of her success has been based on purely superficial things, which is very much not a satisfying thing to read about… unless it’s intentional and part of the character’s growth arc (it wasn’t). It was mentioned a couple of times that the lady was the only one to make the king laugh, and she wasn’t desperate for the throne or his love, so I suppose those are decent reasons for her to stand apart. But it wasn’t emphasized, the characters even going so far as to discuss how random the first encounter was and how it could’ve been anybody. None of it accounted for the how’s and why’s of it all. I wanted more development.

Second, the character didn’t have to struggle for anything. Wealthy, beautiful, witty – this character entered the picture with the world at her feet and only petty court ladies and her own questionable decision making as obstacles. Skill without having earned it in stories is unrelatable, unbelievable, and a bit of a snore. As conflict is inevitably what drives a story, a character plodding along without anything substantial to overcome was just meh. It was doubly annoying for the character to be given the world on a silver platter only to dash it to pieces without a care. She’d faced some trials by the very end of the book, but it was a bit too late to make up for the lack at the beginning.

Finally, the character didn’t exhibit a lot of emotion. If she didn’t appear to care, why should the reader? A king is fawning over you? Cool! We’ll see how long it lasts. That bitch over there is calling you names? Whatevs, I think I’ll just make friends with her. Your parents are trying to rule your life? Meh, I do what I want anyway. It all sounds rather cavalier, but in execution it led to a character that just appeared to be floating through life without any real drive or desire to contribute to her own future and well-being.

Recommendations: The Betrothed was not one of my favorites. It did not highlight the things Cass does well, and that’s unfortunate. If you’re going to try one of her books, pick either the Siren or the Selection series, but be warned that her works are incredibly polarizing. I, personally, have delighted in a few of her books and still plan on picking up future releases (aside from this series). It just missed the mark. For an adult, anyway. My observations are mostly craft-related and I don’t think my 13 yr old self would’ve cared about any of that, but rather just delighted in the loveliness of the setting, the clothes, the jewelry, and perhaps would’ve even been enamored with the love story. Tame enough for younger eyes, I think this one would be better suited for tweens and early teens.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: American Demon by Kim Harrison

American Demon by Kim Harrison [June 6, 2020]

Title: American Demon

Author: Kim Harrison

Series: Return to the Hollows #1

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: What happens after you’ve saved the world? Well, if you’re Rachel Mariana Morgan, witch-born demon, you quickly discover that something might have gone just a little bit wrong. That the very same acts you and your friends took to forge new powers may have released something bound by the old. With a rash of zombies, some strange new murders, and an exceedingly mysterious new demon in town, it will take everything Rachel has to counter this new threat to the world–and it may demand the sacrifice of what she holds most dear. -Goodreads

The Review:

If you can just mentally delete the epilogue that ended the series at book #13, American Demon is a fantastic continuation to the Hollows series.

I kind of like that American Demon is an (initially) unplanned continuation because otherwise the series might have felt too drawn out. Now it’s moving forward with a fresh intention, and that’s exciting. The book dealt with the aftermath of the crazy things that went down in the first series, and it truly felt like a new beginning in this world. Harrison did an excellent job expanding the playing field by adding a bunch of new characters, and the demon Hodin became an instant favorite (I love characters with duality). But the best part is that this new installment is still filled with the characters we’ve built connections with over the first 13 books, so it already has that developed depth that makes longtime fans like me fawn over every page.

I was enjoying the story for all the things listed above, but what really set this book apart as a strong addition to the series was the inclusion of a lot of complicated spellwork. It was awesome! I remember Rachel spelling in previous books, but I don’t recall it ever being quite this involved. She was trying to develop a new spell, and I found every stage of the process absolutely fascinating. I hope this leveled-up component continues in the next book.

The Hollows is one of my top urban fantasy series. It’s not my overall favorite, precisely, but it is responsible for a couple of my single favorite scenes across any genre. Harrison really knows how to build momentum, and she has truly dazzled me with some of her most epic moments. But that gradual momentum that always leads to amazing payoffs takes time to develop. And so, as we’re just beginning another story arc in American Demon, the pacing is rather casual throughout most of the story. Which is just fine, because when a series touches you like this one has me, even the slower parts have a lot of merit. It was a great way to ease back into the world.

Recommendations: this is a must-read for fans of the series – the story quality continues as strong as ever. With that in mind, I wouldn’t recommend new readers diving in without first reading the main Hollows series. Also, Harrison published a really good prequel novel (The Turn) that she referenced often in American Demon, so if you haven’t had a chance to read that one yet, I think it added a lot to the experience.

I want to thank Berkley Publishing Group, Kim Harrison, and Netgalley for allowing me access to an early copy of American Demon – you made my year! 

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin

The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin

Title: The Stone Sky

Author: N.K. Jemisin

Series: Broken Earth #3

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: This is the way the world ends… for the last time. The Moon will soon return. Whether this heralds the destruction of humankind or something worse will depend on two women. Essun has inherited the power of Alabaster Tenring. With it, she hopes to find her daughter Nassun and forge a world in which every orogene child can grow up safe. For Nassun, her mother’s mastery of the Obelisk Gate comes too late. She has seen the evil of the world, and accepted what her mother will not admit: that sometimes what is corrupt cannot be cleansed, only destroyed. -Goodreads

The Review:

The Stone Sky left me shook.

I had so many mixed feelings after finishing it (…in 2017. I’ll explain). On one hand, there had been a lot of buildup in the previous two books and I wasn’t totally convinced I liked the direction the story headed for about the first 75%. I was worried it wasn’t going to live up to my incredibly high expectations. And then some of the most truly profound scenes played out and I can still feel the emotional reverberation every time I think about it even years later. This trilogy is brilliant.

I held off on writing a review for two reasons: 1. When I finished it, my feed was filled with countless solid 5-star reviews and I didn’t feel strongly enough about my criticisms to become a rallying counterpoint to all of that positivity (and didn’t really want to because of how special the series had been for me overall). And 2. It left me so confused that I didn’t know how to express my slight disappointment at the direction but at the same time emphasize the 10+ star scenes that still kind of haunt me to this day. Do I dock my rating for what I didn’t like? Or keep it a solid 5 because the amazing parts were strong enough to overpower everything else? I think with time and perspective, I can finally land on 4 as a rating for this specific book with the disclaimer that the series still feels like a solid 5-stars as a whole. There are so many things I loved about it, but my favorite element by far is the basis for why parts of the books are written with different POV styles (specifically the controversial second-person present-tense passages). It’s brilliant. Or did I say that already? 

Ultimately, even though the story didn’t go along with any of my theories, it still shattered me. It’s also my emphatic, quintessential recommendation whenever someone mentions “unique” or “cool writing styles” or “unconventional.” It’s truly a masterpiece. My only recommendation: experience it for yourself.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review Addendum: The Shadow of What Was Lost by James Islington

The Shadow of What was Lost by James Islington

Title: The Shadow of What Was Lost

Author: James Islington

Series: Licanius Trilogy #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 5/5 stars!

The Overview: As a student of the Gifted, Davian suffers the consequences of a war fought—and lost—before he was born. Despised by most beyond the school walls, he and those around him are all but prisoners as they attempt to learn control of the Gift. Worse, as Davian struggles with his lessons, he knows that there is further to fall if he cannot pass his final tests. But when Davian discovers he has the ability to wield the forbidden power of the Augurs, he sets into motion a chain of events that will change everything. To the north, an ancient enemy long thought defeated begins to stir. And to the west, a young man whose fate is intertwined with Davian’s wakes up in the forest, covered in blood and with no memory of who he is… -Goodreads

The (Updated) Review:

Responsible for one of my favorite reading experiences in 2017, I originally reviewed the first two books for a newspaper. I addressed the series as a whole and didn’t have the word count to really delve into specifics of each book. I also averaged my ratings of the two into a 4.5. Not a bad rating, but it didn’t accurately reflect my experience with each book. After finishing my reread in preparation to finish the series, now seems like a great time to update my review.

I loved The Shadow of What was Lost my first time through, but somehow it was even better the second time. I think I mentioned an issue with repetitive word choice near the end to justify the docking of .5 stars, but whatever pedantic mindset made me focus on that must have vanished because I didn’t notice it this time around (and I was looking). I completely loved every single moment. So much so that my re-evaluation places it with a solid 5 stars and a spot on my very conservative all-time favorites shelf.

The book does an amazing job providing that nostalgic classic fantasy/adventure feel. Between the likable nature of all the characters, the lightheartedness of the beginning chapters, and that exciting first spark leading to adventure, it reminded me of the likes of Brooks, Eddings, and Jordan. But it only got better from there as Islington used some cool concepts and concise writing to modernize the story. I love classic fantasy, but find its simplicity something I have to be in a specific mood for. Islington managed to provide the best of new and old. Combine all of that with with a quality Michael Kramer audio production, and we have a winner.

I loved the pacing, the characters, the adventure, the carefully parceled-out information, the twists, the world-building, all of it. The only thing that made it difficult on the first go-round was the similarity of many of the names. It made it difficult and slightly stressful to keep track of everyone. But this time I just kind of sat back and trusted that it would all come together, and that helped a lot. I’m sure these issues would’ve been nil had I been reading the physical copy, but for obvious reasons (Michael Kramer), I sacrificed some clarity for the experience.

Recommendations: this is a phenomenal start to a series that only gained momentum on the reread. I’d hand it to fantasy readers who love that classic fantasy feel, but crave something more complex. I’m reserving final recommendations until I read the last book, but consider The Shadow of What Was Lost an official Obsessive Bookseller favorite!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Tackling the TBR [58]: June 2020

tackling the TBR

It’s once again time for my favorite feature: Tackling the TBR! There’s nothing I love more than picking out which books to read next, and this slightly organized method of reading has really amped my enjoyment to the next level. Bring on the mantras!

Read the best books first.
&
Life is too short to read books you’re not enjoying.

However you put together your TBR for the next month, the goal is to reduce the amount of obligation in reading and increase the fun.


Here’s a look at how the system works:

1. Identify the titles that take top priority in your TBR.
2. Combine them all in your own Tackling the TBR post.
3. Throughout the month pick from that pile as the mood strikes you.

Here’s what mine looks like:

June 2020 TBR Tackler Shelf:

Physical Copies:

Audiobooks:

I went a little overboard last month signing up for ARCs and setting up Buddy Reads. I think my key to reading a lot is the freedom I get from being able to follow my whims. If I schedule a Buddy Read further out than a week, I’m seldom in the mood to join when the time comes around (plus I suck at timing books out, so I’m inevitably trying to finish one while starting another and that’s where major book slumps happen). So I decided going forward I’m going to request BRs only for books I’m getting ready to start because I hate flaking out on good people.

And ARCs… I wrote an article a few years ago called ARC Management Tips: How to Avoid Over-Requesting and since then I’ve followed my own advice to a T, keeping my feedback ratio at 100% for things I’ve requested (I’m a little shy than that on unsolicited copies). But since I got more active with publishers again, I noticed I’m starting to miss the time I was spending on reading backlist titles. I’m still only requesting ARCs from my most-anticipated list on goodreads, but it seems like more and more of those are becoming available (oh, the hardships lol). I had just decided to give myself a break from ARCs (because, after all, I can still get them and read them on release day) when Emerald Blaze popped up… yeah all my plans out the window. 

The point of all of that is, now that I have my flair for reading back, I’m searching for balance. The reading sweet-spot, if you will. I think I’m getting closer to discovering it…

Mirage, Emerald Blaze, and Death and Relaxation are review obligations and all the other titles are books I’ve been eager to get to. Emerald Blaze is obviously #1, but I’m oddly excited about Betrothed by Cass (my major guilty pleasures).


Have a great month in reading!

by Niki Hawkes