In this interview, I chat to Jake, sci-fi and fantasy book blogger over at jakeisreading, to find out more about him and his reading habits.
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I first met Jake on Instagram just over a year ago now when he came across my blog. I am a big admirer of his blog, I love its clean design and his cute origami dragon icon! We also have pretty similar taste in books, so when he recommends a book, I’m almost certain to enjoy it too. Plus, he recently interviewed a couple of authors on his blog, which gave me the idea to try and interview some authors on my blog here. So he’s definitely an inspiration and I am very excited to be chatting with him!
Below, I catch up with Jake to find out more about him, his reading habits, some of his favourite reads and his tips for aspiring authors (and his adorable cat, Mephi!).
Tell me about yourself!
I’m originally from Australia but moved to the UK back in 2013. I now live in South London with my partner and our adorable but demanding cat, Mephi! You didn’t ask for a photo, but I’m sending you one anyway because catdad.
I’ve had various nursing and healthcare jobs, but I’m currently working on a hospital IT project.
I think I’ve always been a reader! I have early memories of going grocery shopping with my mum, and she’d buy me a new book if I could read the title. I think that validation is probably why I’ve recently developed a book-buying addiction.
Tell me about your blog — when did you start blogging, and what inspired or motivated you to begin?
I started blogging in May of last year, so it was very much a product of lockdown #1! When I found out about NetGalley through reading Goodreads reviews, the idea of getting free books (BEFORE they are released) was incredible to me! At first, I thought book bloggers only reviewed on Goodreads, so that’s what I did. But eventually I discovered the Book Twitter and Bookstagram communities and started to meet other bloggers!
What type of books do you usually review? What are your favourite genres?
Almost exclusively science fiction and fantasy. I sometimes branch out to horror or thriller books, but I often regret the departure from my favourite genres.
I don’t really have a favourite kind of book beyond that, but I tend to be more interested in books with queer characters. These were much less common when I started reading SFF as a kid, so it’s still a real thrill to read characters in these genres whose experiences and stories more closely align with my own. Sci-fi and fantasy authors who write with diversity in sexuality, gender, culture, ethnicity and faith are receiving much more recognition and exposure — it’s an exciting time to be a reader!
Where do you find books to review?
I started out by requesting books through NetGalley, but as I made connections on Twitter, I started coming across self-published authors and book tour organisers actively seeking reviewers. It’s been a little while since I’ve participated in a book tour, but I’d love to do it again soon — it’s a lot of fun to be involved!
Occasionally I get requests to review through my website, which is the best compliment ever.
Tell me about your review style.
I have no idea how I’d describe my writing style, but I can tell you about the process?
Firstly, I always like to write my own brief blurb/plot summary without giving away too much of the story. Before starting my blog, I’d find a book in a bookshop that sounded interesting, then search for it online to see if Goodreads or somewhere else had a different summary. That alternate wording provided a little more insight beyond the outside cover to help decide if it would be a book I’d love. So, I try to provide that service for other people (though it’s often the most time-consuming part of writing a review).
Beyond that, I talk about my favourite aspects of the book and anything else that stood out to me. I try to suggest similar books (whether in tone, writing style, or plot) to help people decide if they’re likely to enjoy the book I’ve reviewed (though I try not to say things like “THIS GENERATION’S TOLKIEN”).
The last thing I like to include in my reviews is a list of trigger warnings (not to be confused with content warnings). It’s hard to do this extensively enough to be helpful since readers have such different experiences. Still, I keep an eye out for story elements that aren’t mentioned in the blurb and could be sensitive for some readers. It’s great that authors are also starting to do this!
Do you give your books star ratings? How do you feel about rating books? (I know this was a bit of a controversial topic a while ago!)
Yes! I use a 5-star scale with half stars. This was such an interesting conversation on Twitter — it made me really consider how I think about reviewing.
I decided that my star ‘rating’ is simply an indicator of how much I enjoyed the book, fully acknowledging that this is entirely subjective. After all, anything can affect my enjoyment of a book: maybe I just finished another novel that blew me away, or I woke up on the wrong side of the bed, or the font is too small, or I had a couple of wines while reading and I’m just really feeling the love. The idea is to indicate my overall reading experience in supplement to my review, not to provide a final verdict on the book’s quality. I think you risk being reductive in rating any form of art without acknowledging that this rating is a product of your own experience.
How has being a book blogger changed your reading habits? Has it exposed you to a new favourite genre or a favourite author?
Not a reading habit as such, but I think it’s pretty funny that I initially joined NetGalley to save money on books (I went from buying 5-6 per year to 20-ish a month).
Book blogging has really changed the way I discover new books to read. I used to be at the mercy of whatever was in stock at my local Waterstones, but now, I learn about new titles and authors from bloggers I trust and keep an eye out for books stirring up excitement. A fantastic thing about online bookish communities is realising there are WAY more books out there to suit your personal taste beyond those that are deemed more marketable.
Blogging also introduced me to self-published and indie press books, things I didn’t even know existed before I started reviewing! Without blogging, I would never have discovered amazing books like The Aggressive by Gem Jackson, White Trash Warlock by David R. Slayton or The Boy Who Walked Too Far by Dom Watson!
Indie authors have far more creative control over what they write, which can lead to really interesting and exciting results.
What upcoming (or new releases) are you most excited about?
Can I say “all of them”?
I’m looking forward to The Living Waters by Dan Fitzgerald, which comes out next month. Among hundreds of other newly released self-pub books, I want to read Legacy of the Brightwash by Krystle Matar and Dreams of the Dying by Nicolas Lietzau. I have a copy of both, thanks to a generous Twitter friend 🙂
How have COVID and lockdowns changed your reading routine ?
My favourite time to read is during my commute — I get too easily distracted when I’m at home. Since I worked through the lockdowns, COVID hasn’t really affected my reading routine.
I now work from home, so I’m trying to get up early to still start my day with coffee and a book (and by early, I mean more than half an hour before I’m due in a meeting).
Are there any books that you would never have come across if you were not a blogger? What are some of your favourites?
Most of the books I’ve read in the last year or two, to be honest! Apart from the self-published books I’ve already mentioned, We Men of Ash and Shadow by H. L. Tinsley is a recent favourite self-published book.
I was also lucky enough to receive some books from Neon Hemlock recently, a small press specialising in queer speculative fic, mainly anthologies and novellas. I loved Glitter + Ashes, and I still think about Yellow Jessamine all the time, so I’m excited to read more of their stuff!
What would your advice be to new authors — any dos or don’ts that you’ve come across while reading?
I think recaps and trigger warnings should be the norm! Also, consider paying for a map when your characters undertake a significant amount of travel or if you’re using many location names. Your readers will thank you!
Some advice I’d give to newly self-published authors who are looking for their readers:
- Use blog tour companies. Most self-pub books on my TBR are there because I’ve read reviews from blog tours and noticed the hype.
- Invest in your cover design. It can make a difference!
- SPFBO and SPSFC. ’nuff said!
- I’ve heard self-promo as an author can be a nightmare, but don’t sign up to every single social media platform to promote your book — you’ll be overwhelmed. Find the ones you enjoy the most and engage in the community — social media, and therefore self-pub book promotion, is more relational than you might think.
- Don’t mass-message or spam book reviewers. You’ll have more success by researching blogs and finding reviewers who are a good fit for your book. Don’t forget that bloggers often come with their own social network, which can be just as important as the number of Amazon reviews you’ve accrued.
What’s your favourite reading spot?
Probably the top deck of a bus! My reading nook isn’t set up yet 😀
What’s your blogging routine? How do you keep track of your books to review?
That’s pretty straightforward for me since I rarely read more than one book at a time — hats off to the people who have the memory for it! At the moment, I’m playing catch up with NetGalley, so that’s essentially my to-do list. When I was doing more blog tours and accepting review requests through my website, I made a list of books I needed to review with their publish date and expected review date.
What are some of your proudest achievements as a blogger?
Learning how to use WordPress! Just kidding (kind of).
This is the second time I’ve been interviewed for someone else’s blog, which is such an awesome experience! Reading and reviewing can be a rather solitary hobby, so it’s a really nice feeling when someone is interested in your opinion and experiences.
I’ve personally interviewed two authors, Linden Lewis and Essa Hansen, which was really amazing! It’s a privilege to talk to the authors of the books you love and ask all your burning questions, which is has been a highlight for me.
Who are some of your favourite indie authors and bloggers?
I think I’ve covered most of my favourite indie authors already! A really cool novella, and the first indie book I ever had the opportunity to review, is Dust & Lightning by Rebecca Crunden. She’s also sent me a copy of her new book, These Violent Nights, which I’m really looking forward to reading.
There’s a tonne of indie books on my TBR list, so if you ask me again in a few months, I’ll have plenty more names!
In terms of bloggers, I’ve met so many lovely people, and I have so many blogs I love visiting, I’m sure to miss someone out. But since I missed blogger appreciation week recently, I did want to shout out to a few book bloggers, specifically those who helped me on my reviewing journey:
- Rebecca of Velvet Opus – for teaching me the ways of Twitter and book blogging!
- Alex of Spells & Spaceships – because his was the first blog I ever saw that made me think, “holy shit, I want to do that”.
- Ollie of Infinite Speculation, Rin of Thirteenth Shelf, Sam of The Book in Hand, Night of So Many Books, Caitlin of Realms of My Mind, Peter of The Swordsmith, Mayri of Bookforager, and of course, Claire of Lecari – Whether they like it or not, I consider these folk my original crew. They gave me the confidence and encouragement I needed to get into this blogging thing. And they all do fantastic stuff!
- Paul of Wyrm’s World – Also of the Original Crew, and the best guy I’ve never met. Paul needed his own shout out, not least of all because I’m currently writing this using his Grammarly account — he’s just that kinda guy. Hurry up and write a book, Paul! We all know it will be brilliant.
- Arina of Wyrm’s World – From memory, I think Arina just kinda rocked up on my blog out of the blue and has given me so much encouragement since then. She’s one of the most intelligent people I know and probably the most underrated blogger ever. Subscribe to her blog or any one of the million projects she has going.
There’s a whole chonk of a category missing which would be titled “incredible bloggers I’ve met since the early days”. Hopefully, y’all know who you are!
And finally, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t waste time on it if it doesn’t bring you joy 🙂
You can find all of Jake’s reviews and interviews on his website at jakeisreading.com.