Welcome to Up Around the Corner, Kira. Could you tell us a little about yourself and what led you to become a book reviewer?
Hi! Well, I’m an author, a musician, a horseback rider, and major book fan. I graduated from the University of Maryland with degrees in Linguistics and Classics. Mythology is one of my favorite subjects, I could talk about mythology all day long. Being such a big fan of books and writing a few myself, it just seemed like a logical extension to start reviewing them. So one day I started up a blog called Magic, Dragons, and Other Fantastical Reads and started reviewing some of the fantasy books I had on my shelves. And it grew from there!
Is there a particular mythology (Greek, Norse, Irish, Japanese, etc.) that is your favorite? If so, what about it captured your imagination?
Probably the Greeks. I was introduced to Greek myths first, thanks to a wonderful picture book given to me by a friend. Sadly, I don’t have it any more and don’t remember the title, but I remember it had some beautiful artwork. Then it was the Roman myths, and after that came Native American mythology and then all the rest. I think what I like about the Greek myths is the drama and humanity of the deities and the stories. The myths are so vibrant and dramatic that I think it’s hard not to get lost in them.
How do you determine what books to read and review for your blog, be they from your shelf, what you come across online or in a bookstore, or receive via a review request from an author or publisher?
First, there’s always the question of genre. I have had a few requests from various folks asking me to review their books, but their work didn’t fall in a genre I would accept. I normally read just about anything (except horror or thriller), but for my blog, I focus only on fantasy, science fiction, and sometimes historical fiction, and that’s it. So if the genre is right, then I’ll read a synopsis of the book to decide whether it’s something I would be interested in. If it is, great! I read and write a review if I like it. I generally don’t ever write a review for something I didn’t like, especially if it’s for an indie author. If I don’t have any pending requests from authors or agents, I’ll choose something off my shelf. I have some 300 books, most of which are fantasy, so I’m unlikely to run out of choices anytime soon!
Most readers understand a good story and engaging characters result in a positive review. But, what, in a novel, can really make it sparkle for you? Conversely, what about a novel would cause you to put it down?
Hmm, good question. The characters are always important for me. If I don’t feel connected to or interested in the characters, I’m probably not going to like the book. But it also needs a good plot and good pacing. If I get bogged down in the middle because all of the action takes place at the beginning and end, I’m going to get bored. I rarely stop reading a book because I’m always looking for the redeeming qualities and I’m always hoping it gets better, but if by the end I feel like the plot wasn’t engaging or interesting enough or the pacing wasn’t well done, then I’m going to feel like the book isn’t very good. But when I read one that is paced well with moments of action interspersed throughout and has a good plot, I’m more likely to overlook other flaws because I’m constantly being engaged by the story. That’s really what I’m looking for—something that I don’t want to put down, even if perhaps the grammar needs work or there are typos here and there. Being pulled into the story makes me more willing to overlook surface flaws.
With that information, could you list several of your favorite novels, and what would be a novel that recently stood out among those you reviewed for your blog?
I just finished one that I beta read for. It was fantastic, with excellent characters and a very inventive plot. If I knew the final title, I would happily share it with you, but I’m not sure the title is decided on. Some favorite novels of mine are Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith, the Cast in Shadow series by Michelle Sagara, and the Fairy Godmother series by Mercedes Lackey. As for standout novels I’ve reviewed, I haven’t done any book reviews lately because I’ve been booked completely for beta reads. But a novel I reviewed that I really liked was Dragon Touched by E. W. Scott. Very creative and captivating, and I’m looking forward to reading it again.
Some readers that visit Up Around the Corner might not know what a beta reader is. Could you describe what beta reading is, including what you, as a beta reader, do and what responsibilities you have?
Sure! Beta reading is sort of like beta testing (a term used in computer and software production). Beta reading is when an author will release a finalized manuscript to a select group of readers. These readers aren’t necessarily good friends, unless those good friends can be completely honest and comfortable in giving constructive criticism. It’s usually better to have your beta reader be a stranger or an acquaintance. The readers then read the manuscript and give the author their feedback. The author can then take the feedback and make final changes to the book before publishing it or sending to an editor for a final review and proofread. Beta reading is usually one of the last stages in the publishing process. It’s a very valuable step because the author gets real feedback from unbiased parties and gets to see how the story is received by actual readers before the book is placed on the market. As a beta reader, I comment on plot, characters, pacing, grammar and punctuation, word usage, my reactions to events or characters, and more in an effort to help the author see how someone with fresh eyes views and interprets their work.
When reading and reviewing, do you have a preference (ebook, print book or audiobook)? If so, what gives one an edge over another?
I always prefer paperbacks, no question. Ebooks are easier when traveling and I can take a large selection with me on an ereader without weighing down my suitcase, but that’s probably the only time I prefer ebooks. I’ve never particularly liked audiobooks. I can’t listen to them in the car because it’s too easy for me to fall asleep with an audiobook on. I have nothing against audiobooks, they just aren’t my cup of tea. Paperbacks are my favorite. There’s something special about holding a book in your hands and feeling the paper as you turn the pages. It makes the experience feel more real to me, if that makes sense. I’m more easily immersed in the story when I read a print book versus an ebook.
As we’re closing in on the end of the interview, Kira, is there anything else you’d like to add or share?
Sure! I’m starting a new feature on the blog called the Self-Published Author List. It’s a list of all the popular self-published authors. The criteria for what makes an author “popular” are listed at the top of the page. I’m open to suggestions from readers for authors to include, so I would love to hear from people with names! Also, I have two fantasy novels available on Amazon and Smashwords that I wrote and published: Rise of the Aligerai and A Shadowed Soul. They’re the first two in a series and the first book is free, so everyone should check them out!
That sounds interesting, Kira.
Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions.
Thank you for inviting me.
Here are a few links where you can find out more about Kira and some about her own published works: