October is one of the few autumn months I do love from the sound of its name to the fact that the tenth month of the year hosts the most awesome holiday ever, but this is not an early gush out post for Halloween. It’s Sunday, I am here and it’s time for another round of “Reviewer Time”. I hope you have your seatbelts on, because it’s going to be a wild ride with Adele aka Hagelrat and Chris aka Geek Monkey from the super fun and exciting “Un:Bound”.
“Un:Bound” is quite a challenge to relay in just one commentary, mainly because the blog is still experiencing changes and its dynamics are kicked in high gear. The big idea behind the buzzing with activity blog is to be a part of a web zine. So far Adele is still making all of this happen and a main page exists with archives, team member information, some short stories and even a division open to young adult readers called “Young & Unbound”.
At the time being we are witnessing the metamorphosis from one blog to something more, which is why there may be some chaos involved when you browse. As far as the actual design goes I grew to like the black and hot pink combination, although the former is not a color to my liking at all. I enjoy the simplicity involved, but think the zine would benefit from a more structured main page and less color involved other than the hot pink.
Content-wise there is much to look forward to. With a team of six reviewers there is a rotation system involved and as a reader you get to sample different reviewing styles and techniques, which ultimately complement each other in terms of diversity. Adele delivers relatively short recollection of her own thoughts without much detail given about the novel itself, while Chris writes a more typical conversational middle length review.
Harbringer tends to add a lot of personal elements to his forewords as an introduction to a review and definitely adds a chance for the readers to interact with him one way or the other. Manga Cat is ditzy, chaotic and do resemble the cheery atmosphere manga and anime emits, though her lack of structure, absence of breaks and tendency to side track are not my thing. This is more or less a personal matter of taste than a critique, although I do prefer encountering paragraphs from time to time. Fresh on the team is Stray Taoist and so far from what he exhibited I am interested to read more of him as his language and expressions suit me as a reader. Last but not least there is the Ravenous Wednesday dedicated to romance, but since that is not my cup of tea I am not the one to give a reputable or the very least objective opinion.
Basically “Un:Bound” is buffet, pardon my food analogies. There is plenty to choose from and all you have to do is pick what works for you from long to short, from conversational to more analytical. There are naturally extras like news bits and interviews, some of which podcasts. The unifying theme here is fun, while reading, so it’s definitely uplifting to be a commenter there.
Harry Markov: Adele, you know how this works, so I expect you to be bale to produce answers even while sleep walking. Who are you and what the heck do you do, when you are not on UN:BOUND? Chris, the same applies to you to.
Adele Harrison: Yup, I've seen a few of these, can't promise to be witty but here goes. When I'm not on "Un:Bound" (when am I not on the internet somewhere?) I am a Transport Officer for the local council, which means I stick bus shelters in places that inevitably offend someone, I put in cycle paths and of course I get the road dug up. I am evil!
Chris Voss: One of the following is true: I’m actually a spandex-wearing superhero, fighting crime in the barrios of Mexico under the nom de plume Geek Monkey, my reviewing gig on Un:Bound serving as my mild mannered alter ego. Or… I’m just this guy, trying to find a way to juggle being a husband, a father, and a Geek as he reconciles himself to the fact that he’s closer to 40 than 30, and no matter how hard he wishes the parachute pants that were in fashion when he was a kid are never coming back in style, and who, when not working for a major financial institution he’s not allowed to name for fear of violating company policy, can be found engaging in all the things a husband, father, and geek typically does, except that he also writes about it afterwards. Choose either one.
HM: I enjoy torturing people with crazy lists, so get your thinking caps on and share three things that your readers will have no idea about you. [both]
AH: Oh hell, OK I suppose people who've only ever visited the review site wouldn't know the following:
I tried learning to play bass guitar and occasionally pick still pick it up to practise, but I'm hopeless.
My husband has banned me from singing except when I am totally alone in the car/house and all the windows are shut. Yup, I'm that awful.
I absolutely loathe mushrooms, they are foul and evil and I hate that they turn up in everything, it's inane and pointless but really they make me shudder.
CV: 1) I never wear white socks. Ever.
2) I can sleep with both eyes open, which freaked my wife out the first time she saw it, and
3) I only have one kidney, meaning that if you try to incapacitate me with a kidney punch, you better aim for the left one, ‘cause the right one’s gone, baby.
HM: I haven’t discussed usernames for awhile with bloggers they are usually straight forward and usually involve the blogger’s name, but I am compelled to ask. Why a rat and why a geek monkey and what the hell is ‘hagel’?
AH: Hahaha, it's really dull and long story but the short version is, I needed a user name that wasn't going to be used by anyone else. I kept pet rats for years (named for sci-fi series) & hagelslag is a Dutch toast topping that my Dutch flatmate got me hooked on at uni. I swear, it was free samples and before we knew it she was importing to feed my habit.
CV: Well, the easy answer is that Geek Monkey is the name of my personal site (cheap plug: www.geekmonkeyonline.com), where I blog about life, the universe, and whatever word won’t be cause for litigation from Douglas Adams’ estate, and archive all the reviews I do for other sites like Un:Bound. But going further back, I’ve always been conscious of the fact that I’m very proud of being a Geek, of unabashedly loving things I do, so having “Geek” in whatever name I used to represent myself online was important. “Monkey” came into play because as a child I had a stuffed monkey instead of a teddy bear, and it just sounded good when put together. Sort of like chocolate and peanut butter.
HM: “UN:BOUND” is far more than a review blog. It’s supposed to be a webzine, but it’s not exactly one with issues and cover art and submissions. I have been perplexed by this, so Adele what gives? What’s the glorious design in mind?
AH: It's not really a webzine either, it's a bit betwixt and between. Eventually I'd love to expand it to 'zine status, but I appreaciate that's a hell of a lot of work for everyone involved and for now I am just working on improving the design and content supporting the review blog. We've managed to twist a few arms and post some short stories and I'd like to see more of that. I am also working with the graphic designer behind our logos to generally make the site look and feel clearer and more professional. Now Stray is on board of course I intend to pick his brains on the tech issues. Give us a couple of years and maybe the blog will be supporting a full on 'zine, but we've a way to go yet.
HM: How exactly did the idea for “UN:BOUND” form in your head and how close are to bringing it to complete fruition?
AH: I found myself wondering what books i'd read over the years. I could pretty much estimate how many and I remember certain series or books that I loved, but I have no idea what books i've forgotten, obviously. Anyway I started off thinking i'd record my thoughts on the books I read and related things. I guess I have already far surpassed what Un:Bound was when it started life as "hagelrat's book blog" (which is why it's hagelrat in the review link, not unbound).
HM: Since I have been a bit neglecting of Chris, I have one for you. As far as I know you are the second person in rank after Adele here. How did you two meet and how did you get involved with her projects?
CV: Second in rank? Does that mean I finally get to wear my sergeant stripes? Hooray! Adele might correct me (I’m old, after all), but I think we each found the other on our personal blogs - the earliest comment I was able to find was from May of 2007, and we talked about reading Franz Kafka. For years some friends and I had been keeping a list of every book we read, nominating a Book of the Month and then arguing its merits with other. That experience turned into Monkey Reads a Book, a small review blog we that unfortunately just drifted away – I was the only one consistently reading and reviewing! When Adele mentioned she was starting up a book review site and asked for volunteers, I saw a chance to do a couple of things: expand the audience I could potentially reach, and have some fun just being the writer – not worrying too much about administrative tasks, like making sure there was always fresh content. Plus, and this is just my personal opinion, the name Un:Bound is fantastic – how could you not write for it?
HM: You are perhaps the most cluttered together band of reviewers under one virtual roof and I am curious towards why that is so. Also do you plan on expanding the family even more and what is the strategy behind recruits? [both]
AH: Cluttered is a good term. I like that. For me, it's because the people I know online and in real life are like that. A number of people answered my original open call but only Chris really stuck. The team are all people I am friends with completely separately from the book thing, I didn't meet any of them through book blogging. Personal blogs, marrying into the family and working with their parents provided my team. I like it that way. It's a little chaotic, but it keeps it fun. I guess everyone will have their fave team member. A quick note on the Ravenous Romance gang who have a regular spot, that's all down to an online friendship with Dana. I can't remember whether I read her book and then started chatting or read her book because we were chatting, but anyway it's a lot of fun.
There is no real strategy except that I didn't want us all reading the same thing, and keep in mind this didn't start life as a genre blog either, it's just the way it ended up leaning. I don't plan to expand the main Un:Bound team although I am always on the look out for more young reviewers for the under 16's blog.
CV: Cluttered in what way? Content? Our tastes? I think the clutter is more of a recent thing – after all, we were only two until recently! Since Adele’s our “el Capitan” (although always open to suggestions), I’ll leave it to her to explain her recruiting strategy, but on a personal note I think we’re on the verge of turning into something bigger and better than ever before – our different (vast in some instances) tastes make for a wide array of content… I’m sure the focus will remain on genre-oriented material, but the goal, at least in my eyes, is to have a team and environment where anyone can come and geek out about the things they love –be it fantasy, science fiction, romance, crime…our newest member just opened with a article about Marcel Proust! To me the name Un:Bound isn’t just a clever play on book bindings: it’s literally the letting loose of our collective passions, and my hope is that we continue to run with that, and that our diverse roster of writers forward the clarion call that “all are welcome.”
HM: I also wonder how team dynamics are. When there are too many people there ought to be some craziness involved. How’s the experience so far and do you manage the organizational aspects?
AH: Umm, well, officially, Chris gets Mondays, RR get every other Wednesday, MangaCat gets Thursday and me, Harb & Stray float about filling in the blanks, posting over each other and posting on the above days if it gets late, we are really excited about a book and they haven't got in there first. I think more people would be too much, but I like that this allows us all not to feel like we have to produce content every day or even every week. Between us we keep things moving. Also I really hope they all see it as something fun to be involved in, not as some big serious commitment.
CV: There’s a ton of craziness, especially on Ravenous Romance Wednesday! For me the experience has been great – being kind of the oldster of the group it’s a blast to see all the exuberance being injected by Harbinger and MangaCat. Probably the biggest issue is the amount of stuff that piles up on top of each other – sometimes a review will only be out there for an hour before it’s “crushed” by something else. I’m sure once things settle down we’ll find some way to stay organized. Stay tuned!
HM: Because I am tired of rewriting this question 1000+ times, I’ll shoot right from the start. What converted you into a bibliophile?
AH: My mum. I talk about it in one of the very first posts. She used to read out loud to me as a kid, stalking around the room, doing voices and actions and bringing things to life. Also, her book collection at the time filled every inch of space in our old farm house, she's narrowed it down to a couple of thousand now.
CV: Without question my father. When I was eight he gave me his copy of The Hobbit and I was never the same. Hardy Boys mysteries, golden age science fiction…my father had a huge library of books, and to a young near-sighted kid who would rather play Dungeons & Dragons than Football it was a heavenly sanctuary. His tastes informed my own, so my childhood was happily spent devouring things like The Dragonriders of Pern (Anne McCaffrey), The Chronicles of Amber (Roger Zelazny) and The World of Tiers (Philip Jose Farmer), not to mention LOTR.
HM: What’s the thing that pulled you into the world of blogging in the first place?
AH: I sort of stumbled into personal blogging for the hell of it. I'd come out of a really messy break up and lef the forum i used to visit because my ex got himself on there as soon as we split. A blog gave me somewhere to go where no one had to know about it unless I told them. Mostly I didn't. I made new friends and am very glad I found my way to it.
CV: I’ve always loved to write, and when I first started back in 2005 blogging was a channel for me to write my way through a lot of problems and personal issues I was dealing with at the time, mainly centred around my brother, who was diagnosed with something called IgA Nephropathy, a degenerative kidney disease that’s unfortunately incurable. In 2005 we were preparing for a kidney transplant, which is an extremely long process, and the blog provided an outlet to work through my fears directly while also providing an outlet (via book, music, and movie reviews) to escape reality for a while. The response and feedback I received during that time made me realize that writing, whether it’s about my life, the latest Neil Gaiman book or why Francis Ford Coppola’s DRACULA is a misunderstood work of art, is a joy I’m loathe to relinquish.
HM: I have discussed for the past four months individual approaches to writing reviews, but I am tired from that, so let’s shake things up. What’s the one thing about the process of writing a review that gives you a rush unlike any other and what is the one thing you are annoyed about that makes you postpone writing the review?
AH: When I can't wait to tell other people about a book and then they respond. I love that.
Sometimes I find I really enjoyed a book but I don't know how to explain why. I find that frustrating. I find it so much easier to explain why I don't like something than why I do.
CV: When I can think of a hook that different from the typical intro/declarative statement/book summary/closing I love it – the one thing I’ve learned about writing reviews is that there’s no single way to write one – bringing in personal experiences, anecdotes, and some fresh perspective always makes for the best reviews I’ve ever read, regardless of subject. On the other side of the coin, I hate writing a review for something that left no impression on me – it’s almost like, why put any more effort into a book that didn’t exert any effort on making me like it? Fortunately I haven’t had too many books like that, but for an extra 15 points go back and see if you can spot any in Un:Bound – there’s at least 1 for sure.
HM: Are you a quitter or do you push through a novel, because you have sworn that it’s your duty as a reviewer to read it from cover to cover?
AH: I'm a quitter. I really try to finish review copies but seriously, so many books around and I could never read them all so when they start to depress me just by being in the same room I let myself off the hook. I do always explain if I haven't finished something and why because not everyone will feel the same.
CV: I’m a quitter with a promise to get back to the book if the book promises me it will reward me for it. There are too many excellent books out there for me to waste what little time I have to read – any of you out there with young children will immediately understand what I mean!
HM: Do you judge a book by its cover and how much can a cover prevail over your decision what book to read?
AH: I am terrible for impulse buying and book covers are great for that. I find that a cover by Christian McGrath or Vincent Chong is usually enough to sell a book to me.
CV: I’m ashamed to say I do, and I know full well it’s probably stopped me from reading more than a few good books. I’ll be honest here… I really don’t care for covers that feature mocked-up photographs of people. Call me old fashioned, but I prefer nice illustrations or just a nice text design. The requisite stoning may commence… now!
HM: I see you have conducted some podcast interviews. Due to crazy time schedules I haven’t been able to listen to any of these, but I am curious: How did the ideas for podcast interviews arise and can you describe the process behind one from getting author’s consent to preparation and execution?
AH: Podcasts is possibly giving them too much credit, really they are just audio interviews. When I interviewed Matt Curran I asked him if I could record it for reference because it was face to face and I was bound to miss things. I had to condense two hours of conversation into an article. After that I decided that if people were ok with it and I was able to meet them in person we'd go for a recorded interview. I have no editing skills so they are what they are. One day I will learn to put intro music on and present them properly.
I do have plans for a pre Christmas podcast getting some guys together to talk about what books make good gifts. They all have different reading tastes and read different amounts so it should be quite fun.
HM: Now it’s time for a “Reviewer Time” classic. Apart from enjoying reading the written word, have you ever had any writing aspirations of your own?
AH: Oh hell no. I hated creative writing at school but adored English lit. I am happy as I am.
CV: That’s always a dream for me, though I tend to start and stop much more than anything else. I participate in National Novel Writing Month (www.nanowrimo.com), and right now have about 120 pages of a novel that, when finished, might not be a floundering piece of utter crap. Who knows – maybe if I’m brave enough I’ll post some of it on the site – we have a fiction section now, too!
HM: What is the kind of story that will always engulf you no matter how many times you see it done? Naturally, if you don’t have one, your latest trope obsession applies.
AH: I'm a sucker for urban fantasy at the moment, the better ones have a noir element that with a fantasy setting is just perfect for me. I know there are grumbles that we see the same basic ingredients over and over in UF but there's a comfort factor to that too. It's the mac n cheese of fantasy reading, comforting, reassuring and if not always exciting at least always enjoyable and satisfying. For me anyway.
CV: Maybe it’s a “cheat” answer, but a story that’s well written and doesn’t try to cheat me into feeling something will always engulf me. That may come from the fact that I don’t stick to one type of book – I read more of what I guess you’d call “literary” books that I do fantasy or science fiction. However, lately I’ve been drawn to epic, character-driven fare – Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy is fantastic, and has a fine balance between the obvious fantasy elements and the driving character narrative that makes it all come together.
HM: On the polar end, what is the current trope or tropes that annoy you beyond words?
AH: Am I allowed to just say Twilight or have i made myself clear on that on every single blog that ever mentioned it already? Honestly the only thing that really gets to me is lame female leads. I thought Bella was awful, I hated Tess of the D'ubervilles because she was wet and idiotic. I'm not very keen on bad male leads either, but it's idiotic girls that get me.
CV: “Annoy” may be too strong of a word, but I’m not particularly interested in the whole “Urban Fantasy” thing at the moment (readers, you may re-commence your stoning) – which is kind of hypocritical since the novel I’m writing kinda sorta might be considered a part of that genre. I’d rather read something where an entire world system is constructed, complete with philosophies, religions, and cultures. For my helpings of reality mixed fantasy elements I tend to turn more toward mainstream literature that features both, like the works of Tom Robbins, Christopher Moore, and Jonathan Lethem.
HM: Okay so what are your future plans for Un:Bound. What do you hope to accomplish? What is the vision and the mission statement for the future?
AH: World domination? I think we just keep going. Most of the stuff that has happened wasn't really planned so I shall see what happens next. If any of the others have ideas for improvements or expansion then i'd love to hear them because I think more than anything I see it becoming less actively mine and more of the team's baby. I also anticipate Mangacat guiding us through her animation degree a bit. Maybe we can get her making animated book trailers for reviews. ;)
CV: Again, that kind of talk I leave to el Capitan, but for me, I’ll just repeat what I said before: I hope Un:Bound can stretch out and expand to include many different types of writing, and continue to be an open place where anyone who’s interested can join in and express themselves, whether it be through comments, contributions, recommendations, or anything. Un:Bound = To release or let free.
HM: Well it’s curtain time, which means that the closing words are up to you. Hope you had fun.
AH: Sorry if I've waffled a bit. It's easy to talk about Un:Bound because I love the blog and my team so much. Thanks for having us Harry!
CV: Harry, thanks for the great questions and for joining our ranks and contributing some great words to the site – you’re always welcome and since we’re not revoking your access, I fully expect to see you write some more great stuff for us!
BONUS QUESTIONS FROM THE UN:BOUND COMMENTS
From Steven Savile: Ever written a review so scathing the publisher has taken you off their review list?
AH: Hahah, not as far as I know. Certainly although I try to be honest I don't go out of my way to be mean. I also feel I have to explain reasons why I don't like a book with much more care than the reasons I do. It's easier to make a splash being a bitch but that's not why I do the blog. I suspect there are one or two authors who won't be seeking me out in future though.
CV: No. If I really hate a book that much I simply don’t review it and let the publisher know I might not be the best fit for reviewing a book of this kind. There has been one instance, though, where I tried to write as benign yet true review as possible for a book I loathed, and the publisher immediately contacted me asking if I could review the author’s other new book as well. This is where the “best fit” comment comes in. And yes, the review in question is on the site, though I won’t confirm or deny your guesses as to which it is.
From K.A. Laity: Have you ever changed your mind about a review afterwards, or suddenly decided that you missed something key?
AH: Oh yeah, not so much change my mind but I am always realising I missed something I want to say. I need to get into the habit of jotting important things down while I read. One example is when I was sent Cat Connor's Killerbyte, the little quote right at the beginning was sufficient assurance I was going to love it and I was right and I meant to say so, but I forgot till about a week later. Still I've said it now, so that's one omission corrected.
I have sometimes gone back weeks later and thought, actually that doesn't really express quite what I wanted it to.
CV: Absolutely! I’ve actually done it more with film reviews than book reviews, simply because oftentimes 2 hours isn’t long enough to really make you mind up about a film, whereas the days (or weeks) spent with a book will give you the time to find your true feelings. I read William T. Vollmann’s The Ice Shirt twice before I had my eureka! moment, and read three books by Chuck Klosterman before finally understanding and feeling what everyone else thought about him. My biggest turnaround, though, had to be with Kurt Vonnegut, whom I love dearly, and Slaughterhouse Five, arguably his “greatest” novel. I’ve read it now six times, and only on the fifth time did I finally come around to its particular brand of genius. It’s still not my favorite, but I “get” it’s stature in people’s hearts now.