The following interview was originally published at Pat Stoltey's blog on April 12, 2012.
Lesa Holstine is a librarian, blogger, and award-winning book reviewer. The Library Manager of the Velma Teague Branch Library, Lesa received the 2011 Arizona Library Association’s Outstanding Library Service Award. She is a contributing reviewer for Library Journal and book editor of the Glendale Daily Planet. In 2009 and 2010, she won the Spinetingler Award for Best Reviewer.
A popular guest on other blogs, Lesa appeared on Kaye Barley’s Meanderings and Muses in May 2011 with a post on Sisters…in Crime and on Janet Rudolph’s Dying for Chocolate in December 2011 with her recipe for Layered Mint Chocolate Fudge.
Pat: Lesa, how and why did you get started writing book reviews?
Lesa: Hmm. It’s been years. I first starting writing short book reviews when I was working on Captiva Island, and I did a weekly book column for the local newspaper. Then, I reviewed young adult materials for VOYA magazine (Voice of Youth Advocates.) When I moved to Arizona eight years ago, I was sent to a workshop, and learned how to blog. I decided to use my blog to share books. I was at a new library where I didn’t know the patrons. I knew the people who used my library in Florida, so I was able to share books with them all the time. I wanted to share my excitement about books, so I started reviewing them. I’ve been sharing my love of books for eight years on my blog.
Pat: What are your basic rules for writing an award-winning review?
Lesa: I wouldn’t really call them rules. I share my love of books, and try to be kind to the people who read my reviews, and the authors. I guess the most important rule is that I NEVER give away an ending. In fact, I try to summarize a book just enough to make it interesting. I don’t want to give away the plot. And, then, I share my opinion. I never promise a book review. If I don’t like the book, I will seldom review it because I don’t have time to waste on a book I don’t like. That’s why you seldom find a negative review on my blog. And, if I’m not crazy about a book, I can usually find something positive to say about it. It doesn’t mean other readers won’t like the book just because it wasn’t for me. I do tell authors or publishers sometimes that I just can’t read the book, and that they’re better off with no review than a negative one. Kindness goes a long way.
Pat: Do you read and review self-published books (why or why not)? How about ebooks?
Lesa: I can only think of a couple self-published books I’ve read and reviewed, and they were by established authors already. I’m sorry. I’ve read some self-published books that badly needed an editor. I’m not super-critical, but when editing starts to bother me, I know the book wasn’t ready for the real world. I do read ebooks once in a while, when I can’t wait to get my hands on a new book, or if it’s the only way to get an Advanced Readers Copy. I prefer an actual book in my hands. I spend my whole work day at a computer. I don’t want to feel obligated to read anything on a screen when I get home. Give me a paper book any day.
Pat: What genres do you cover besides crime fiction? Do you review Middle Grade and Young Adult books?
Lesa: I cover women’s fiction. I review that for Library Journal, and I have some favorite authors. I’ll read some sports books, some memoirs or biographies. I like some urban fantasy. I review a few Middle Grade or Young Adult books a year, but, again, they tend to be some favorite authors, such as Rick Riordan. I’m a big fan of his Percy Jackson books. I discovered The Hunger Games before it became popular, and introduced that whole series to my nephews. Overall, though, crime fiction is my genre. Almost 75% of what I read last year was crime fiction.
Pat: How many advance reading copies do you receive from publishers or authors each month, and how many books do you actually read and review per month?
Lesa: I receive 30-40 advance reading copies a month. I usually manage to get through fifteen to twenty books a month.
Pat: How do you choose which book to read? What do you do if you can’t get into the story or characters after a chapter or two?
Lesa: I don’t review books much ahead of release date, so quite often I pick books based on their release date. However, every 3 months, I have to ensure that I’ve read books available in the library. I do a quarterly brown bag luncheon for patrons and talk about fifteen recent books. So, they have to be books my patrons can put their hands on at the time. Usually pub date helps with the choice. Then, I have the authors I ALWAYS read. I’ll pick up Rick Riordan’s latest one. I used to pick up Robert B. Parker’s latest books. When a new book comes out by one of my favorite authors, it moves to the top of the pile. If I can’t get into a story, or don’t like the characters, I drop that book and move on to the next one. That popular quote, “So many books, so little time,” is definitely true. I don’t have time to waste on books I don’t enjoy.
Pat: Do you post your reviews at online bookseller websites?
Lesa: When I love a book, and remember to do it, I’ll post it on Amazon. But, it’s not my priority. My blog is my priority.
Pat: Your blog, Lesa’s Book Critiques, has a nice variety of reviews, your own posts, book giveaways, and guest bloggers. Do you have specific rules and guidelines for guest submissions?
Lesa: I don’t have many guidelines for guest bloggers. I tell authors the post can be any length. I encourage them to discuss their latest book, their characters, or their writing. I hope that it will be entertaining. I want it at least three or four days before the posting date. And, I want a .jpeg picture of the author.
Pat: Just for fun, when you were ten years old, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Lesa: I wanted to be a teacher at that point. But, by the age of sixteen, I wanted to be a public librarian. I started working in my home town library in Huron, Ohio as a page when I was sixteen. I knew that’s what I wanted to do.
Pat: Have you ever thought of transitioning from reviewer to writer?
Lesa: No, I don’t think I have the creative gene. However, I have written the chapter on mysteries for a forthcoming reference book, the latest edition of Genreflecting.
Pat: As a reader/reviewer, what’s the best advice you can give a beginning novelist who’s struggling with that ever-troublesome first chapter.
Lesa: I’m afraid I really don’t have advice. I’m not a writer, so I can’t tell them how to solve their writing problems. But, they better catch a reader’s attention in the first fifty pages. Many of us won’t read any further if you haven’t enticed us by then.
Thanks for answering my questions, Lesa. Learning how book reviewer read and how they approach the review process is helpful information for writers.
Lesa blogs at Lesa’s Book Critiques. She can also be found on Twitter as @LesaHolstine and Facebook as Lesa Holstine.