Tantilizing Tuesdays: Reviewer Spotlights! Jen Forbus

Welcome to our first installment of “Tantilizing Tuesdays: Reviewer Spotlights!” on the blog. The idea is that starting in June every Tuesday we would run a Q &A with book review blogger about their work. We are only asking reviewers whose work we respect and who promote/have affiliate relationships with Independent Bookstores. Hopefully it will produce some new exposure for the reviewer and maybe become a venue for sharing what is working in independent publishing and bookselling.
This week we are talking with Jen Forbus of
http://www.jensbookthoughts.com , a wonderful review blog that focuses of mysteries and suspense ( a genre that Gwenyfar LOVES!) She was kind enough to answer our questions about the reviewer life:

OBOFS: How did your book review blog come about?

JBT: I taught high school English for about 6 years and when I stopped teaching I missed the ability to talk to people about books. At the time I had no idea that there were book blogs, but I came across some and started following them. And when I realized I still needed that outlet to talk about books with people, I started the blog. Part of the realization came about after I attended my first book event and was so excited and wanted to tell people about it. I get that feeling when I read a really great book, too.

OBOFS: What has been the best surprise to come from it?

JBT: Oh my goodness, the best? There have been so many surprises and it continues to surprise me every day. Forced to choose I'd say the connections I've made with other book lovers is probably the very best, although having the opportunity to work as a full time freelancer now comes in a close second! The blog ultimately led to that as well.

OBOFS: What 3 books do you wish you had never wasted your time with?

JBT: These days if I'm not loving a book by page 50 it usually gets tossed to the side. I realized a couple years ago when the books in the TBR pile started stacking up--and falling over--that life's too short to force myself to read books I don't like. I'm not in school anymore and don't HAVE to read anything. Which is not to say that I don't push myself to read things that challenge me. I actually really love reading books that challenge me. That said, all of my choices here came along before I made that important realization:

The one that immediately jumps to mind is Tana French's IN THE WOODS. And I know I'm in the minority on this one. I wasn't upset with the ending like many people were, I just was so apathetic about her characters by about mid-way through the book that I didn't care what happened to them by the end, I just wanted them to go away. And I also thought she could have cut out about 60% of the flowery language as it slowed down the plot. Any language in a thriller should advance the plot or it doesn't need to be there.

ULYSSES. Oh my dear lord. What pretentious tripe. You'll very rarely ever hear me say that about any books (there's a reader for every book), but I get so frustrated with this book appearing on "greatest ever" lists. I feel like people just think it should be there. I took no value away from that book and the only thing I learned was that James Joyce was an elitist. I had to read it for a college class and I'd give anything to have that time back.

For my third I'll say TIME AND AGAIN by Jack Finney. I am just not a time travel lover. I had to read the book for a book club I was in at the time and I found myself constantly picking out all the flaws in logic, which if you think about it, is the definition of such a book. But that's just my personal bias. I hear it was a well-loved book in its time.

OBOFS: What 3 books are beyond stunning for you?

JBT: This one is hard because I can easily give you 30! And then I could break down the lists and give you lists of books that are stunning for different reasons. But so as not to be contrary, for my life as a whole I'd say:

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD - I still believe this is my all-time favorite book.
A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY - I am not a big John Irving fan overall, but this book knocked my socks off.
L.A. REQUIEM - It's without a doubt the book that hooked me completely on crime novels.

Now if you say what 3 recent books are beyond stunning, I'll change my response to:

YOU'RE NEXT (Gregg Hurwitz) - This book had my mind and emotions spinning in so many directions I was thinking about it for weeks after I finished it. It's still a regular recommendation I give to people interested in thrillers
ROOM (Emma Donoghue) - Dark, disturbing and amazing
KINDNESS GOES UNPUNISHED (Craig Johnson) - People are discovering this series now thanks to the TV show, but this has been one of my favorite books since it came out. Johnson's writing is unmatched.

OBOFS: What are you reading right now that you can’t put down?

JBT: How about the book I just finished in the wee hours of last night? WHISTLING PAST THE GRAVEYARD. It's Susan Crandall's upcoming release and it just swallowed me up for the duration of its 300+ pages. I loved the characters, the voice, the sense of time. It's great!

OBOFS: What would you like writers to know about working with reviewers?

JBT: I think the biggest thing for me (I won't presume to speak for other bloggers) is that writers understand I don't blog to market their books. My top priority is to connect readers with books they will enjoy. As a reader myself, I love getting to know the people that are writing the books I read, so I try to offer a venue that allows other readers to learn about the writers and the books. When that can be beneficial marketing-wise for the writers and books I'm featuring, I'm obviously glad, but I don't view that as my responsibility with the blog. And above all else, I have to remain true to myself. When I endorse a book, it's because I loved my experience reading that book, not because of any other reason.

OBOFS: What would you like readers to know about the reviewing experience?

JBT: The reviewing experience is so different for each person. I'm a fusser when I review. It takes me a ridiculous amount of time to write a review because I fuss over the words of the review, how I structure the review. I want to make my review as honest, clear and fair as possible. And the most important part is that if I'm truly excited about a book, I want that to come out without sounding phoney or over-the-top. My goal in writing my reviews is to encourage people to read great books...and to find out about books that they might not otherwise. There are just so many hidden gems out there!

I know it probably sounds silly to most people but when I get an email that says, "I read this book because you recommended it and I loved it!" or "I started reading this author because you featured him/her on your blog and I can't get enough" -- those kind of emails put me on Cloud 9. I just love that I helped make a connection between a book and a reader.

OBOFS: Why did you decide to support Indies with your blog? What would you like the public to know about that decision?

JBT: Gosh, where to even start with Indies....Some of the greatest book people I know are connected to Indie bookstores. Several years ago, I decided to venture out to Los Angeles for the Festival of Books. I had a friend out there who I had never met in person, but had gotten to know online through a mutual love of Robert Crais' work. He encouraged me to come to the festival because it was so great. So, I did. The Mystery Bookstore (which sadly is no longer) hosted a big party the night before the festival started and my friend and I met there at the store; I met the managers there, I met Craig Johnson, Gregg Hurwitz and Chris Grabenstein in person for the first time. It was wall-to-wall mystery book lovers and mystery writers and it was wonderful! That was the beginning of my connection with them and for the next few years, until they closed, they treated me like royalty. Really--and I know they treated all their readers that way.

When Gregg Hurwitz had an event there, I ordered my book from them so he could personalize it. They took pictures as he was signing my book and posted them on Twitter so I could see it at the time it was going on! Another time I called the store during one of their events so I could order a copy of the book (they were live-Tweeting the event) and they put me on the phone with the author. Where else would that be likely to happen? No where I can think of. The store is closed but I'm still friends with the managers and look forward to seeing them at conventions when they are able to attend. We still talk books all the time. That's the thing about Indies. The people in the stores are there because of their love of books, just like I blog because of my love of books. Yes, they're getting a paycheck, but it's as rewarding to them to match up book and reader as it is for me, and maybe even moreso. That's something you can't find anywhere else.

Another bookstore I'm especially fond of, and sadly far away from, is Houston's Murder by the Book. Again, the people there are fabulous. I've discovered so many wonderful writers through their recommendations. And again, they are recommendations based on what they already know I like, not some book they're trying to push for one reason or another. The nice thing about social media is that I can connect with them regularly even though I'm thousands of miles away.

One of the things I like to do when I travel is visit new stores and meet the people there. It's always such a wonderful experience...often the best of my trip.

OBOFS: Where do you want your blog to be in 1 year? 5 years?

JBT: I've been blogging now about 5 1/2 years and I can tell you with complete honesty that I never imagined when I started that it would have led to any of the wonderful things it has. I would have been happy then if one person would talk to me about books. Instead I've met some of the best friends ever, I've interacted with some of my heroes; my blog doesn't make any money but it's led to the freelance work I do now. If 5 years from now people still want to talk with me about books I'll feel incredibly blessed. One of the areas I have been working to improve is my coverage of mystery books for younger readers. I'm not a big paranormal fan, and that seems to dominate their market, but I've been finding some more traditional mystery books that I'm going to give a try. But ultimately, I hope that I'm still able to help readers find great books and whatever the technology is at that time, I'll probably be trying to make it work with the blog! My biggest concern is being able to continue coming up with new ideas to keep things fresh!

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