At BookSirens, we strive to help book bloggers get free books to review. In order to serve book bloggers the best we can, we started Book Blogger Spotlights in October 2018. Every few days, we sit down with a book blogger to learn their story, what inspires them to read and review books, and what advice they have for aspiring book reviewers and authors.
In our second episode, we chat with Sheetal Maurya of Halo of Books, one of the top book reviewers in India today. Sheetal and her team have reviewed over 200 books over the last many years on Goodreads and Amazon combined. Below, she shares book blog ideas, her take on how to write a professional book review, and how to start a book blog. Lets get started!
Many people love to read, but it takes something extra to consistently and honestly review books. What do you think that something is and where do you get that from?
Reviewing a book is a task that needs patience as well as passion to talk about books, regardless of whether one likes the book or not. Apart from this, book reviewing is a responsible task because a review can make and break the book. If I am reading any book for review, I have to read it consciously, understand the plot, evaluate the language, and compare it with the other books I have read. One can develop this art (yes, I am calling it art) gradually by reading passionately and heartily.
How did Halo of Books get started?
I was always a reader and also started blogging in college. I didn't have anyone with whom I could discuss the books I had read. During this time, I stumbled on various book review sites. They impressed me and I decided to give book blogging a try. Thus, Halo of Books was born. :D
Were you blog-savvy when you started? If not, where did you learn about how to start a book blog?
No, I was not. I knew the basics of blogging but when I decided to move my site from Blogspot to a self-hosted website, I didn't have a single idea about how to do it. I researched and found websites like shoutmeloud.com and wpbeginner.com which helped me a lot. My blog-mate Pooja also helped me in many of the technical aspects.
How did you come up with your book blog's name? Were there other book blog names you considered?
I was searching for a name for my site and this name just suddenly came up. Every book has a glowing halo of knowledge, information, and entertainment. Hence, this name was totally apt. No, I don't think I have considered any other name, this was the first and last.
On your blog, you mention that your upbringing, specifically your grandparents' influence, was a big reason why you developed a love for books. Can you share a particularly memorable or happy moment from your childhood which is related to books?
There used to be monthly story magazines for kids like Nandan, Nanhe Samrat and Champak. Those who are from the nineties would know about these. These books were my pals during summer vacation. My Dadaji used to bring these entire books on the first day of my vacation and I guess nothing could beat the joy of receiving them. He always told me to read Chacha Chaudhary's comics as they were full of intelligent humor.
Where do you hope to see yourself and your book blog in 10 years?
Very optimistic question. However, I haven't thought about this. Maybe my website would be the number one in India and gain millions of views per day (yes, I am hoping). I am also planning to start a YouTube channel for book reviews. So fingers crossed!
What, in your opinion, are the elements of a good book review?
A reader's neutral perception to see the plot and express it without giving a spoiler, while at the same time arousing interest in other potential readers.
Do you have an all-time favorite book review?
I love reviewing Ruskin Bond's books, and the review of The Night train at Deoli and Other Stories is one of my favorites.
Do you have an example of an author who impressed you? If so, what specifically impressed you? What did they do differently from the others?
Munshi Premchand, a humble and charismatic writer.
His stories reflect the reality of society, be it Kafan, Gaban, Godan or Nirmala. Every story presents a social message. His stories are normally based in rural areas and I love the way he uses the Awadhi language.
His foresightedness particularly impressed me. Though his stories are written around 60 to 70 years ago, you can find that they are still relevant to today's world.
What advice do you have for bibliophiles who are thinking of starting a book blog of their own?
Have a clear vision of why you want to start a blog. I strongly recommend starting a blog on a hosted platform (if you have capital) as this gives credibility to your work. Keep the blog simple and easy to navigate. Keep the book review format simple. Use social media as much as possible. Instagram has many book blog readers. Learn basic image editing tools like Photoshop. Most importantly, take a review copy only when the blurb really interests you. Be polite while conversing with the authors.
If you could add one feature to BookSirens, what would it be?
I'd really like a section where we could put the number and names of our pending review copies. It would be visible to everyone. Plus, if we could manage our TBR (to be read) piles, that would be icing on the cake. Also, it would be useful to receive automatic reminders when we haven't touched a specific book in our TBR piles for 2+ months.
If you could pick one author, dead or alive, whom you would like to grab coffee with, who would it be?
Go to snack while reading?
If you highlight, what was the last passage you highlighted?
Faith in HIM makes any pain bearable.
Tarikshir by Khyaal Patel.
Most pages you have read in a single sitting?
250 pages. I think it was Karna's Wife by Kavita Kane.
Favorite place to read?
Bedroom, calm and cozy.
There you have it!
If you are an aspiring book reviewer, we hope you picked up some precious nuggets of inspiration and book blogging tips from Sheetal. If you haven't already, we also recommend you join Sheetal and become a book reviewer on BookSirens. BookSirens is a great, free, way to get a never-ending supply of books for book review, in the genres you love. You can read as many or as few books as you want, for free. All we ask is that you try your best to leave an honest review after you are done.
If you are an author looking for the best book review websites, you can read Sheetal's review policy here. Also checkout BookSirens's list of book review sites and quickly find potential book review blogs that are currently accepting books in your genre(s).
Happy reading and writing!