Friday, October 11, 2013

Interview with Alana

In continuing the Interviews with the Reviewers series, my guest today is Alana,  the lady behind Book Talk with Alana.

About Me:
I am a reading coach in a public middle school in Jacksonville, FL and the mother of two teenage boys.  In addition to reading and blogging about books, I also blog about Caribbean music and culture, as well as write and perform spoken word poetry.  I am active in my local community on a variety of social justice issues and am working with my church to create an adult education program for Haitian immigrants learning to speak English.  I can be reached on Facebook at, on Twitter @stufjustgotreal, via email at, and of course through my blogs:
 Book Talk with Alana and  Caribbean vibes with Alana.

Do you have specific genres that you review, and what is your favorite one?

I prefer to review fiction, though I would consider nonfiction on a case-by-case basis. The genres that I enjoy the most are urban fiction, sci-fi/fantasy (especially doomsday/apocalyptic themes), mysteries, historical fiction (I love stories about 18th and 19th century kings and queens) and anything with a Caribbean theme.  I also enjoy young adult fiction because of my background as an English teacher and reading coach.

On average, how many books do you review each month?

I generally review 2-4 books per month. 

Do you accept unsolicited review requests, or do you only review books you select yourself?

I generally review books that I select, though I do accept requests through my blog and through Goodreads.  I’ve actually discovered some great titles from unsolicited requests.

Considering the recent surge of self-published books on the market, what is your experience with self-published titles?

Overall, I see the quality of self-published titles improving over the years.  I think there is still a stigma attached to self-published authors.  Some of it is just bias, but some of it is genuine criticism because unfortunately, all authors don’t take the time to make sure their work is edited and polished.  However, I really enjoy the self-published titles that I have discovered since starting my blog.

As a reviewer, you have to state your honest opinions. Do you publish all reviews regardless of the rating?

Yes.  I don’t really “rate” books per say, giving them a 1 star, 2 stars, etc.  However, I do state my honest opinion.  With that being said, I don’t review every book that I read.  I have rejected authors because the book was simply too short for me to review, and sometimes, I just like to read for pleasure and not just to review.  I’m getting ready to participate in some book tours on my blog, and I also get some unsolicited requests, so I will give my honest opinion and not just say everything is wonderful if it’s not.  I try to be positive overall and not just totally trash a person.  I’m a writer myself, so I understand how hard it is to put your work out there for the world to read and judge.  I think if my blog were American Idol, I would be more Paula Abdul than Simon Cowell, lol.

Is there any particular book or author that set the benchmark for you in a specific genre?

I read so much and I enjoy so many titles, that it’s hard to pinpoint one book.  Overall, my favorite books and authors have a Caribbean background.  Part of my family is Bahamian, so this is natural for me.  Paule Marshall, who is the daughter of Barbadian immigrants, and Colin Channer, a Jamaican author, are my absolute two favorites.  I’ve read everything that they have written.  My favorite book by Ms. Marshall is The Chosen Place, The Timeless People and my favorite book by Mr. Chandler is Waiting in Vain.  As far as sci-fi, I’ve read Ray Bradbury since I was in junior high, but there are a ton of awesome sci-fi authors out here today, including Rick Yancey and Ben Winters, just off the top of my head.  When it comes to young adult fiction, Sharon Flake, Sharon Draper, and Gary Paulsen have some wonderful novels out there that are really engaging to the students that I work with.

What was the catalyst for you to become a reviewer, and what keeps you going?

I started doing book reviews simply because I’ve been a bookworm since I was a child, and I also love to write, so I thought, what better way to combine my two passions than by starting a book review blog.  As my blog develops, what keeps me going is the excitement that I see from independent authors when I publish their reviews and interviews.  It makes me feel great when I see them spreading the links all over their social media sites.  I like the feeling of helping someone get some much needed publicity and giving them the encouragement to keep going when it might seem tough and easy to give up.  When I started my blog, I didn’t really intend to review self-published authors, I started with traditionally published works.  After working with several great self-published authors though, I really want to continue.

In your opinion, do you find the new titles original and creatively executed, or do you see more of a repeat of the same (think Hollywood's surge in remakes)?

I do see some formulas in the writing I have reviewed, however I have found a good bit of creativity in the works that I have reviewed thus far.  I have read interviews from other book reviewers and some of them say that they stay away from self-published titles.  Perhaps they have had bad experiences, but I’ve been very fortunate so far.  Overall, my experiences with the new titles have been very positive and I’ve seen some great plots and character studies.

Out of all the books you've read, are there any particular books or characters that stayed on your mind?

Oh wow, that’s a hard question.  I really get into the books that I read so many of the characters stay with me.  It’s hard for me to pin down one book or character in particular.  I think for me, the characters that stay on my mind the most are the ones in books that don’t have a ‘happy’ ending, or in which there are loose ends in the resolution.  I wonder what will happen to them, if they will make it, be happy, etc. 

What is the one review you are the most proud of, and why?

The reviews that I am most proud of are the ones of self-published books.  The authors are so grateful and appreciative of the coverage.  Michael Myers, author of Deadly Eyes, A.J. Walkley, author of Vuto, and you, Henry, made me feel really good about my blog and like I was really serving a purpose.  Don’t get me wrong, I would love to interview ‘big name’ authors-who wouldn’t, but they will get publicity and sales regardless of appearing on my little blog.  The independent authors are the ones who make my day.  Knowing that someone is eagerly waiting to see their book show up on my blog, and waiting to share it with friends and families, makes being a book review blogger very rewarding.

I would like to express my gratitude to Alana for answering my questions, and for all the hard work she puts into her two blogs. Please show her your support by visiting her links and spreading the word. Book talk with Alana
          Caribbean vibes with Alana

I have three authors lined up to participate in this interview series (as reviewers, of course), and a couple of bloggers. If you would like to nominate someone, please post a comment or contact me directly. Likewise, if you have any questions you would like to ask my guest, both current and future, please post a comment.