Sunday, May 17, 2009

Reviewer Time: Ana & Thea [The Booksmugglers] PART 1

So what happens, when you get two bibliophiles with a lot of free time on their hands, a lot to say and a knack for typing fast? The answer to that question is the guests for today’s “Reviewer Time” feature: Ana & Thea also known as the Booksmugglers. I usually couldn’t keep up with the tempo of the activity and the sheer length there, which proved to be pretty unwise on my part, because this is the place to be, if you want to end up in a lively discussion and still laugh your guts out.

“The Booksmugglers” can easily be called and institution, which I am left to believe is run by more than ten people to manage the frequently updated posts, comments and web presence as a whole, which is an impressive feat on its own. And so is having a privately owned site, which carries the spirit and the style of the booksmugglers, lots of smuggled books. I am going to keep the visual part a bit short, since there is too much ground to cover and a good place to start would be with the book reviews. Now these gals have an eclectic taste in literature and pretty much everything from romance to horror to fantasy and sci-fi and all in between will be present. And it’s not all about novels. You have comic books, graphic novels and movies and, and, and. This site is pretty much like a huge bookstore, but for reviews and the reviews can’t get longer.

What the booksmugglers like best is being organized and being eloquent in their opinion. This means that one review will be segmented into categories and each category will be traced back to the Bible in meaning and interpretation. This is perfect for people that love rambling and are way too curious for their own good. This includes me, but then again the massive size of even a single review written by either smuggler makes me doubt my resolution to even start reading. Because amongst other things I am lazy as hell and long reviews, given my usually small time opportunity to spend on other blogs, give me hell. So imagine what happens, when the smugglers gather up for a joint reviews, which are always fun, especially when the ladies stand on different opinions and like to disagree with each other.

I will tell you what happens: a “Book Debate”, which might not always be the blogging version of a boxing match to prove, who is right, but usually has as a reason to defend or bash a book, the public either denounced or worshipped and the smugglers couldn’t help, but say “What the…?” Can you sense the evolution: single review => joint review => book debate? But it’s not all reviews with passionate opinions these fun fun reviewers do. Among other things a frequent reader will be pleasantly surprised by a sudden opportunity to chat with an author and read about books and such that made it to the big screen and see the differences. There are themed weeks, which are always fun, and posts with the schedules of appearance on the site and ponderings about literature, reviewing and etcetera.

Perhaps the most original apart from the joint reviews is the Guest Dare and From the Dungeons… special features. The first category forces book bloggers to step outside their comfort zone; sit on the literary version of a bed of nails and review a book from a genre that leaves a bitter taste and a numbing feeling in the brain [I am to be their May victim]. If this doesn’t sound like fun, then you might like to see what the past has to offer as these bibliophile sleuths vacuum the dust from long forgotten titles and have a nice talk about them.

WAIT! It gets even better. They love it, when you go to their site and give them an excuse to procrastinate from work and answer your comments [I am looking at you Ana *clears throat*], so that you know your opinion has been appreciated. But let’s let the girls speak for themselves and since they have so much to say, this feature will be split in three parts. Yes, this interview will be a trilogy, because the smugglers like to tackle any task in novel size: Here is the first batch of answers, covering just the basics:


1. We usually know not enough about the people behind cool things, unless they are actors or musicians, which instantly gives the public the right to know everything. So spill the beans. Who are the Booksmugglers in real life?

We should get our own Saturday Morning Cartoon intro and theme song. Hehe. Ok, seriously, The Book Smugglers are a two woman team, Ana and Thea.

Thea: I’m a former portfolio analyst (you guessed it, recently joined the zombie masses of unemployed), with an unshakable reading habit. I’m 24, was born in Hawaii, grew up in Japan and Indonesia, but moved to Los Angeles for university and I’ve been here ever since. Besides an unhealthy obsession with stockpiling books, I’m an avid sports fanatic (Lakers, UCLA Bruins, Dodgers, anyone that faces any Boston team), and bonafide pop culture addict (hello, LOST obsession).

Ana: I am a 33 year old (GAAH, when did THAT happen?) half Brazilian, half Portuguese born in Brazil, living in the UK for the past 5 years. I have a history degree gathering dust somewhere around the house and I love to read above anything else. I HATE sports but share the pop culture addiction with Thea especially Lost, which is what brought us together.

2. Tell us three things that people would probably never ever guess about you. Apart from the whole, we smuggle books illegally.

Ana, he’s on to us…
1. I am a badass at Guitar Hero and hold all the high scores at my local bar
2. I have a deathly, irrational fear of moths
3. I am really, insanely competitive – You know Monica from Friends? That’s me.

1. I have night terrors when I usually wake up thinking my partner is an alien. Seriously.
2. I actually prefer the UK weather to the Brazilian weather.
3. I freaking HATE papaya.

3. How did you come up with the bright idea to found your website? There better be some interesting story behind too.

It’s all Ana’s fault.

Ana: Well, you see. It began because I had a Mission. I was always an avid reader (even if my fiction reading had to be put on hold while I was attending Uni) and read mostly “serious” fiction and Fantasy. One genre that I never dared to read was Romance. Then one day, my friend gave me a Romance Novel to convince me that the genre had some pretty good stuff and you know what? She was right. I was surprised at this and kept reading more and more and then went online for recommendations and found the “blogsphere”. I decided that I needed to have one of those blogs in order to talk about romance novels and review these books the way they deserve. Then, I told Thea about it in a PM and I was like:

“Dude, I am starting a blog.”

She said:

“How awesome.”

I said:

“Wanna join?”

She said:

“Hell yes!”

That is an exact transcript of the convo.

4. How did you choose your name and your genres? This is customary generic question, even though the mystery behind the name is a known fact, but still do tell.

Well, Ana and I met on a LOST forum. Yes, we are THAT big of LOST geeks, we would hang out all day on the forum, spoiler-whoring and running amok with time travel speculations, etc. Anyways, we’d known each other for a few months when it became very clear that we also shared another passion – reading. Reading was so much of a passion, in fact, that both of us had to resort to SMUGGLING books home because our significant others (Ana’s Mr. R, and my Mr. R – I swear they are secret brothers separated at birth) were giving us a lot of crap about the growing mountains of books.

So, when Ana and I tried to come up with names for the site, it was a no brainer. We were, we are, we will always be Book Smugglers.

Ana: And the genres came from what we like to read: romance and Fantasy for me, Horror and Speculative Fiction for Thea. But we also read Comics, Graphic Novels, YA, etc.

5. Was it easy to start, was it easy to supply enough books [excluding those you actually bought] and how were you received at first?

Starting out as an unknown blogspot blog, I don’t think either Ana or I ever imagined that one day we’d start getting books for free! We already had been giving Amazon and Borders a ton of business - what with the smuggling and all - so we were pretty set on the book supplies front. But then, one day, less than a month or so into blogging, we received a query from one Joel Sutherland asking us if we were willing to give his recently edited horror anthology a read and review. Ana and I must have sent a good twenty emails or so back and forth, all consisting of : “OH MY GOD WE GOT ASKED TO REVIEW A BOOK AAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!”

Or some derivation of that.

From the beginning, we’ve always focused on making connections with authors first, both the lesser known and then eventually the big time prominent names. From the authors, we came into contact with publishers, and things took off from there.

Of course, Ana’s cheekiness has a lot to do with any contacts we have made. I’m a ginormous pansy when it comes to asking other people for anything – be it driving directions or for review copies. But Ana? She ain’t never scared. Seriously, if it wasn’t for Ana’s persistence and cheekiness, I don’t know where we’d be.

Ana: Thank you, thank you. *kisses self* When we started, I think we were pretty clueless about the whole thing and how much we could get into this business. We had no serious plan, except for reviewing what we wanted. When Joel first sent us that email, it opened an entire new world to me. I was like….maybe if I email *insert author name here* for an interview, she would say yes? And she did. The rest, as they say is history.

6. What’s your approach to writing reviews, your signature so to say that makes you different from all the others? Can you give a tip or share something you do to make it easier for all the aspiring reviews, who have no idea how to start?

As you probably can tell, both Ana and I tend to run on the verbose side. We like to write. A LOT. And, I think this is what gives us our own unique style. We genuinely try to talk about all the aspects of a book that we loved (or hated), and we tend to write in-depth (read: long) reviews. Both of our styles are pretty similar in that sense, so our reviews are more…compatible. Also, since there are two of us, and since we’ve been together from the start, I think this plays into our writing as well. We frequently write conversational style joint reviews where we go back and forth about a novel. Since we have wildly different tastes and opinions, this can lead to some…interesting reviews (just check out our recent review of Strange Angels).

Ana: I recently wrote a post about this – about my reviewing process (link: I think the more the time passes, the more I am aware of what I like or dislike and HOW I read a book and WHY I feel about it the way I do. I found the criteria that Philip Larkin followed when doing the Booker Prize and I thought it was so very helpful – because it was close to I do when I read and review and it helped me organize what is essentially a very subjective art.

His criteria were:
*can I read it?
*if I can read it, can I believe it?
*if I can believe it, do I care?
*if I care, what is the depth of that caring and how long will it last?

I would also add: Am I having fun?

7. What’s your reading schedule? How do you arrange your day to find time to read and review to keep up with your insane posting frenzies?

Thea: Dude, you have NO IDEA. Ana and I like to organize. We have a strict blog schedule with everything planned out at least a month in advance. We have giant whiteboards (which were my idea). I kid you not.

As such, we have a pretty strict reading schedule as well. I happen to be one of those people that can read very quickly, while doing almost anything (i.e. walking, cooking, watching TV, on the treadmill, whatever!), so finding time to read hasn’t ever been a problem. The bigger issue for me is forcing myself to read a book that I just might not be in the mood for at the moment, because of schedule obligations. And, sometimes, putting up multiple reviews a week can take its toll, especially when things are complicated with work, or I have to study, or some other crisis comes up.

Ana: I luurves my whiteboard. It is so pretty and it lists everything I need to read and when.
I read everywhere and all the time. I took my book to a Counting Crows concert last Thursday. I don’t read as quick as Thea because I have yet to gain the ability to read whilst cycling or walking– DAMN IT – so I need to make up for it.

Stay tuned for more of Ana & Thea tommorrow. You know you want to. :)


Tracy said...

Great interview!

Ana - Night terrors about your partner being an alien? lol (I'm sure it's not funny at the time though!)
Thea - I think you're gonna have to come to my house and teach me some Guitar Hero tricks cuz I suck! My 11 year old daughter is kicking my butt. lol

Wow I had no idea about the white boards. You guys ARE organized! It obviously works though because you have a fantastic blog and have turned me on to some great books. Keep up the good work..please. :)

Ana said...

Thanks Tracy!

Seriously, I scare the shit out of dear partner - and he wakes up really grumpy. Because when I think he is an alien? I poke him and ask...hey, are you an alien? where is Russ? LOL.

The white boards: we love them, we should take pictures!

Anonymous said...

Lovely interview, everyone!

Thea, Ana: whiteboards?? *dies* A month in advance? Ahhh! So jealous of your organization lol. No - really, I just turned chartreuse. *g*

Now, let me go exploring this new-to-me blog. Laterz, peeps!

Harry Markov said...

Tracy: hope you stay for the next installments. Fun is included as per se and the white boards got me wordless for quite a while.

Kmont: Yeah, I turned green at that too and sure stay and read and notice how awesome I actually am. :)

Ana: I want a post dedicated to the task of planing a review schedule. HAH!

Holly said...

I am also extremely jealous of your white boards and over-organization. If only...

Great interview ladies. Your personalities really shine through. If I wasn't already a HUGE FAN, I'd definitely want to become one after this. ;0)

Ana said...

Kmont - actually, right now, I know what I will be reading and reviewing till August 12th.

We simply HAVE to otherwise we would be lost.

Holly, shuddup. Don't make us blush....oh ok. do.

Holly said...

Ana, you know what you'll be reading and reviewing until AUGUST?? Cripes. I barely know what I'm going to ready today, much less months from now.

And you know how much I love you, don't try to pretend like this is news. :P

Harry - thanks for doing such a great interview! I really enjoyed it and can't wait for the next installment.

Harry Markov said...

Thank you Holly. The August bit scared the crap out of me too and I really do need the organization skills.

I hope you come by later tomorrow and Tuesday to READ MORE from these two. :)

Ana said...

But Holly don't you girls get ARCs as well? How can you keep up? To begin with , we tried with Google Calendar but we needed the VISUAL to keep us on track.

Thea even took pictures with her whiteboard - she took it to her bed. LOL.

It was a life saviour.

Holly said...

Yes we do, but we don't organize them out that far. Mostly we have a basic spreadsheet with a list of books that give us a general idea of when something needs to be posted.

We aren't at all organized like you are. It's more of a, "OMG HOLY EFFING CRAP I CAN'T BELIEVE I FORGOT ABOUT THIS BOOK" then staying up until 3 a.m. to read/review it on time. :P

Thea said...

Harry, you are the coolest :) Thanks for letting us party over here for a couple of days, and for the awesome introduction!

Tracy - Aww, thanks! My Guitar Hero skills were hard-earned. I think the hardest switch is from easy to medium - I literally stood there screaming at my pinky finger: "You do it right or I will BREAK YOU OFF!" From there, hard and expert are far less daunting :)

KMont - Oh yes, whiteboards. *grin* They are beautiful. Seriously Ana, we should have included pictures.

Holly - Thank you *hugs* And you're one to talk! You ladies have so much content every single day, I'm in constant awe :)

Mandi said...

Nice interview, I'm ready for party two! You guys make me laugh. Very cool you met on a Lost forum:) I always look forward to your Lost recaps (and your book reviews ;)

Tracy said...

and the white boards got me wordless for quite a while.Harry - yes, my mouth hung open for an astounding amount of time on that one as well! lol And I'll definitely be around for the next installments.

Thea - you threatened your pinkie finger? huh. For some reason it just never occurred to me to do that. lol Seriously I think I'm getting completely uncoordinated in my old age.

Ana - Yeah, I can see how your Mr. R. would be a little grumpy after being asked if he's an alien again and again. You think he'd be used to it by now. Geez. :)

You all know what you're reading until Aug.? My head swims wondering what I'll read NEXT! lol

Adele said...

awesome I love these guys!

KT Grant said...

Thea is afraid of moths? Learn something new everyday!

The Smuggle ladies rock. I kiss their feet and bow down to their book godliness.

KT Grant said...

And I have seen Ana's whiteboard and her book room. neener neener.

Lady of the Review said...

As always you ladies impress me to pieces. :)

Your blog is probably my favorite to go to for reviews because they are so concise and to the point. Also, I love your LOST overviews. :)

How do you go about your review process? I know when I write mine, it's pretty much off the cuff. I'm thinking y'all aren't like that. :)

Ana said...

Aww you guys are so cool! Thanks you for the luuurve.

KB, you totally saw my whiteboard, you are witness: isn't it great?

KT Grant said...

As I looked at the whiteboard in wonder I thought, wow. And my name was on it :D
As for myself, I fly on the seat of my pants. Have no set schedule.

Ana said...

Lady of the Review: I think one of the questions is about our reviewing process.

But in short, I usually read the books and earmark everything I think relevant. Then, as I read , I write down keywords about the characters or the story. Then, when I finish the book I let it sink in for a couple of days at least before I write the review. I usually start writing the review with the conclusion, I have a hard time starting a review.

I also start every book expecting it to be a 7 rated book. It means I hope the book will at least be very good. This is the minimum I expect from a book. Then depending on what happens in the story and how I feel about it, I either lower or raise the rate.

Does that answer your question?

Carolyn Crane said...

Great interview! Thanks for asking so many excellent questions: this was very informative. Love the blog, too!

Ana and Thea, I had no idea you two were so organized and together! That's such a funny story about your first book offered for review. That guy knew what he was doing.

Ana said...

CJ, and he is a good writer too. His second book just made the final ballot for a major Horror Prize. We are very proud of Joel.

Karen Mahoney said...

AWESOME interview!! Can't wait for Part 2! :)

Harry, I love that you know Ana & Thea. They are my girls. Me and Ana hang out in London and she rocks!

*lowers voice* I have even seen Ana's whiteboard.


orannia said...

This site is pretty much like a huge bookstore, but for reviews...That is the best description! Great review Ana & Thea - and great questions Harry! Am so looking forward to Part II :)

And I just LOVE the whiteboards...

Harry Markov said...

Holly: That's basically how I proceed with my review duties, Hah!

Thea: No big deal. I love company. Wish you could stay for-evah!

Mandi & Tracy: Glad that there will be more public for the next part and there will be more interesting revelations.

Katiebabs: I feel envious. I wanna see the whiteboard too, but Ana will take pictures.

Lady of the Review: This one will be answered today, so stay tuned. :)

Karen: Sure I know them. What kind of a reviewer would I be, if I didn't. Anyways glad you enjoyed it. Stay tuned as well.

CJ: I've really just begun answering questions and they get really weirder.

Orannia: :) Thanks a lot for the kind words. I like to take pride in my interviewing abilities.

Sarai said...

Okay maybe Tracy and I should look at the whiteboard idea for DIK???? Geez maybe then I would know what is going on all the time.
You guys are too funny and interesting now i'm green with envy.

Anonymous said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Harry Markov said...

Alana: Thank you for stopping by and I will be looking forward to seeing you here. :)

Anonymous said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


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