Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category:

2015 Book Blogger Love-A-Thon: Day One



Hello everyone! I participated in the Love-a-Thon last year and thoroughly enjoyed it! Looking forward to participating again this year and meeting all of you (and some of you again!). To learn more about it, please visit the wonderful host Alexa at Alexa Loves Books.

This year, I’m going to only have one post per day. I’ll edit the post with each challenge I’m participating in for that day to avoid spamming myself.


  1. What’s your name? Michelle
  2. Where in the world are you blogging from? DC Metropolitan Area, Virginia
  3. How did you get into blogging in the first place? I have always played around with blogging since it first existed basically. But this blog came out of the post-school boredom and following the example of Steph at Cover2CoverBlog.
  4. How did you come up with your blog name? I have always had the Twitter handle “deckfullojokers”. I didn’t want to have to completely rebrand, but I also liked the meaning of it. Basically, it’s a deck full of wild cards–I have many interests and would talk about anything. My reading choices are much the same. I don’t limit myself to reading only a certain type of book or genre. Playing Jokers was a combination of both the direction I wanted the book blog to go in as well as my enjoyment of that metaphor.
  5. What genre do you read and review the most on your blog? Maybe young adult? But I read and review nonfiction, adult, young adult, genre fiction, really anything. As does my co-blogger Christina and contributors Ellen and Calvert! We are reading omnivores.
  6. What other types of posts do you do on your blog, apart from reviews? We do some discussion posts (want to do more!) and we are brainstorming a new set of features that will bring the blogging community together.
  7. Best blogging experience so far? Having met an author, reviewed his book, and had him continue to be excited about my review and interactions. It was thrilling to feel the connection with the book go beyond just the book itself and reach into an interaction with the author.
  8. Favorite thing about the blogging community? Learning about other readers and book events in the area. I have had a great time going to these events that otherwise I was simply just not clued into. And the support! The conversations!
  9. Name the 5 books you’re most excited for this 2015! I’m not exactly very good at knowing new releases or knowing which ones I’m excited for but I would definitely say A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab tops my list and stays there.
  10. What’s an underrated book or series that you think everyone should read? This is difficult because I don’t know what books or series are actually underrated. So picking one from out of my head randomly, The Hounds of the Morrigan by Pat O’Shea is definitely one of my favorite books that I don’t hear many people talking about.
  11. Which book boy or girl would be your book BFF? This is also hard for me…perhaps I’ll just go with the standard Hermione Granger. 😉
  12. Apart from reading, what are your other hobbies or interests? I am a TV junkie. When I have more time, I also like to knit/crochet, cross-stitch…basically be a little crafty. Video games are also a lot of fun.
  13. Apart from book shopping, what else do you like shopping for? Sometimes clothes, but that can also be very stressful. I have a thing for homemade soaps and novelty food items.
  14. At a party, the DJ suddenly changes the song – and it’s your song. What song would be playing? Maybe Sideways by Dierks Bentley. A good dancing song.
  15. Pick out either a book you want turned into a film/TV show, or a film/TV show you want turned into a book. I’d love to see Vicious by V.E. Schwab actually become a movie.

Book Spine Poetry

pj - michelle

Ellen’s Thoughts: How Should Stories End?

I’m writing this post with one book in mind: The Winds of Winter.  Do author’s owe something to their fans to get a book completed by a certain deadline?

Now, this may apply to any series or novel, but the A Song of Ice and Fire universe is a special example of this problem.  To anyone who has finished the series, it’s no secret that the Game of Thrones series will surpass the books this season.  Already, they have finished the published storylines of Bran, Sansa, and are choosing to leave out several “important” characters.  I say “important” because in the books we have little indication as to whether certain characters that were introduced books four and five will have a major impact on the story.


The TV show has all but spoiled several fairly guessable, but unconfirmed, mysteries of the books.  What do book fans do with the new season approaching?  Do we continue to watch and hope that no material will be released first via TV?  Even if we somehow manage to resist the urge to watch HBO’s fifth season of Game of Thrones, there is little doubt that we will not avoid the click-bait titles or posts on Twitter, Facebook, and every news outlet.  Events, deaths, plot twists will be revealed.

So where does George R.R. Martin fit in this sequence?  He sold rights to an unfinished work with no timeline on when the books would be released.  Rumors have surfaced that The Winds of Winter, book six, will not be released in 2015 – meaning that if season five of the show doesn’t surpass the books, season six will.

ADancewithDragonsbyGeorgeRRMartinA Game of Thrones was published in 1996.  This means that diehard fans have waited almost twenty years for the story to conclude.  I finished A Dance With Dragons in 2013.  I’m by no means an original follower.  I have not deduced any major theories of my own; however, /r/asoiaf is great when you are bored.  I am worried about the possibility of the show ending the story first.

George R.R. Martin has detailed the major plot-points in the A Song of Ice and Fire series to the Game of Thrones producers.  I think it would be tragic to see the conclusion on screen before reading the author’s words.  HBO’s Game of Thrones has done a fantastic job adapting the lengthy books to ten episodes per season, but there is so much internal conflict, dialogue, and character development missed by only watching the show.

With nineteen years to develop and grow his fan-base, you would think that his priority would be to finish the books.  Yet, George R.R. Martin has spent much of the last three years on tour or writing an episode for the show.  Book-first fans are not being too critical of him by demanding the final two books.  No one wants a second-hand finish.

Despite my opinions, we need to forgive George R.R. Martin.  Yes, we will almost certainly see the ending on screen before on paper.  Yes, the television show will leave out many characters.  Yes, we will miss several major events.  Let’s not forget that the show can err; the television show is not in George R.R. Martin’s control.  What is in his control are the final two books, and I, for one, want to read an excellent book.  I don’t want a rushed finale.  I want the best ending that I can get.  If I have to wait another two years for The Winds of Winter then so be it.  The books have proven to be worth the wait.

Stories should end first through the author’s hand.  It is a tragedy to potentially witness your favorite characters’ triumphs, failures, and conclusions through other means.  An unfinished epic was sold.  Here lies the problem.  Optimism of a producing a completed, written series by now no doubt prompted the sale.  We cannot change this decision, but we should not berate Martin.  He is the person responsible for getting us hooked on Game of Thrones in the first place.


Christina’s 5 books on the period of the American Revolution she recommends:

As an undergraduate student, I took a couple classes on the period of the American Revolution. During my master’s classes, I chose to focus more in-depth on this period and found books I very much enjoyed and learned from. Here are five books I recommend on the period of the American Revolution for the reader looking to learn more beyond a general synthesis of the period:

  1. The Marketplace of Revolution by T. H. Breen – I reviewed this book here and only gave it 3 ½ stars. However, I must say this book has stuck with me. Breen focused on consumerism in the period leading up to the American Revolution and how this contributed to the revolution conceptions and outbreak. He argued there were two separate revolutions during this time, one commercial and one political. Overall an interesting side to the causes of war I recommend for the reader looking to learn more on the period.
  2. In the Midst of Perpetual Fetes by David Waldstreicher – I found this book to be very interesting, entertaining, and another read that stuck with me over the years. Waldstreicher focused on the development of American nationalism as seen through toasts, parades, and other celebrations and events. This book started in 1776 revolutionary America and continued through the post-revolutionary period. Overall, a captivating read with an easy to remember and reference back to argument and supported research.
  3. Founding Brothers by Joseph J. Ellis – I like this book. I have read it a couple of different times and have pulled away something new each time on the revolutionary generation. Ellis focused on little-known events that affected the American Revolutionary period, from secret dinners where the location of the American capital was discussed to dueling founders: Hamilton and Burr. This book was a fairly quick read and exhibited a little known side of the founding fathers’ generation.
  4. Sex about the Rabble by Clare A. Lyons – This book offered a detailed look at sexuality in Philadelphia across class, gender and race from pre-revolutionary to post-revolutionary America. Power and gender roles went through transformations during this time as the period progressed and the perception of strict virtue of the upper and middle classes developed. Lyons offered a different and important look at the revolutionary period through gender perceptions and changes.
  5. Defiance of the Patriots by Benjamin L. Carp – While I only gave this book three stars on Goodreads initially, I recommend this book as a great pairing with Breen’s The Marketplace of Revolution. Carp explored the marketplaces’ contributions to the outbreak of revolution further, with a focus on the Boston Tea Party. For those of you who have watched the new History channel series, “Sons of Liberty,” this books adds further details to the events that took place in Massachusetts. Carp focused on Boston as one of the first to react to the Acts in the colonies passed by Parliament and how this led to the American Revolution.

There you have it… a mix of books on the causes and transformations that took place in society during the period of the American Revolution. These are a just a small handful of books I recommend on the period. Do you have favorite books or authors on revolutionary America? Share them here!

pj - christina

Michelle’s Ramblings: Falling Out of Love with Reviews

If I go to Goodreads, I see at least four books that I have finished and have yet to review:

And if I was to follow the promise I made last year when the drama happened with Goodreads deleting reviews, I still have so many reviews to cross-post here.

So what’s going on?

I think I’m falling out of love with reviews.



I’m not sure I was ever really in love with reviews, but I certainly looked forward to typing up my thoughts about a book as soon as I finished. It was almost a completion of a cycle for me. But as soon as you fall out of the habit of doing it, it becomes harder and harder to want to write about it.

And yet, I still enjoy discussing books. What’s the difference between a review and discussion?

discussionI don’t know. I don’t think any of my reviews have been anything more than me just talking about the book. But I sometimes wish there was more of a dialogue about the books than simply just a one-way conversation.

Perhaps if I could begin vlogging like I have been wanting to, where I simply state out loud my thoughts about the books or do a group video with others that have read it. It’s certainly worth considering.

But reviews have always been the way that I record my thoughts on a book because my memory is always so shoddy once some time has passed since its completion. I think more than anything, I need to return to reviewing a book as soon as I finish. But I still need to figure out how to increase discussion. Let’s rant about books together!

pj - michelle

New Contributor: Introducing Ellen!

You’ve seen her latest review and she’s written about rereads. We’re very pleased to formally introduce Ellen as the newest contributor to Playing Jokers!

Weintraub-Ellen-PhotoMy name is Ellen, and I am a Virginia native who moved from the beach to the DC area. I received my BA in History and am currently pursing a Masters in History with New Media and Information Technology emphasis (wow, that’s a mouthful). Basically I will be learning how to portray history in a technical age – think digital exhibits, archives, etc. Outside of school, I enjoy painting, photography, running, lounging at the beach or pool, examining new ASOIAF theories, and a good Doctor Who binge on Netflix.

I was not an early reader, if anything I remember protesting the readings I had in 1st and 2nd grade. Talking animals were not something I related to. Like many others, Harry Potter changed my mind about the “magic” of reading. After the first movie was released, I read all the published books in about 3 weeks. After waiting for midnight releases, the remaining books were read in a day each.

To me reading is an adventure that allows you to experience a new world and culture. Whether on my Kindle or book in hand, I can lose track of time with a good story.

Type of books I read:

I am the biggest fan of series – Harry Potter, A Song of Ice and Fire, The Century Trilogy, Hunger Games, True Blood, and the list goes on.. I love getting to know characters and having the more personal connection that a series supplies. Historical fiction (Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men is one of my favorite non-series books), historical non-fiction, fantasy, and a hint of science fiction with dystopian society are the genres I enjoy most.

Reviewing style:

This will vary depending on book. For non-fiction, I tend to critique more on style and argument. When reading fiction, my biggest concern is the quality of the story and the character development. I am more forgiving on vocabulary, grammar, and editing as long as the plot is exciting.

  • Do you have a preference between physical books or ebooks? I prefer physical book and being able to actually SEE my progress, but I recently have gotten more use out of my Kindle because of the convenience for travel and instant reading.
  • What are your favorite authors, or in other words, your must-buy authors? JK Rowling, GRRM, Ken Follett, and many historical non-fiction writers like Erik Larson, who writes non-fiction in a fictional style, Christopher Clark, Margaret MacMillan.
  • What was your favorite book assigned in school? Of Mice and Men
  • Which books do you have strong feelings about (really hate or really love, or anything in between and sideways)? I will always defend Harry Potter.
  • How many books are on your ‘to read’ list? According to Goodreads, currently 19 :)
  • Do you have a preference between short books or long books? I like longer books, but the George RR Martin Dunk and Egg short stories are awesome.
  • What book are you looking forward to reading the most? If it’s ever released, The Winds of Winter, but I’m currently waiting for The Edge of Eternity to be available from my library.


Where Michelle Has Been

Who is this ‘Michelle’? I feel like I used to see a lot of things about her and books, but she’s been like missing for the past several months? Is she even blogging anymore?

I imagine that is what people may ask. Very regularly, I would feel bad for not doing –something, anything- with the blog. But here’s the thing about blogging specifically about books: if you’re not motivated to read, you’re not motivated to write about books either.

I don’t owe anyone any excuses or explanations, but I’m going to do some explaining anyways. It’s a way to explain things to myself too.

Last semester was not particularly hard, but it made me readjust some of my priorities. I found myself thinking that if I had time to be writing a blog post, I had time to be doing research, or doing some other homework assignment. Surely, I thought, that meant that blogging shouldn’t be a priority.

And then when my time was being monopolized by other things, I found I was reading less. First because of time, then because of lack of interest. Was it just the books I was picking to read not motivating me? Or was I simply not interested in reading?

In early December, I told my coworkers that I hadn’t finished a book since October. It was a moment when I realized how unbalanced I had become in the ways I was spending my time and energy.

Of course graduate school should take priority. And wedding planning is no joke either. All while working full-time means that there are some pretty stressful weeks. The thought of writing 300-500 word blog posts for a post a day is completely intimidating and when you’re stressing about so many other things, you don’t feel like you should be adding any extra stressors.

Then there was the review backlog. I don’t know why I fell into this horrible habit, but I stopped reviewing books as soon as I finished them, creating a backlog of about a month’s worth of books that needed to be reviewed. I still have some books that I finished months ago that I still haven’t gotten around to reviewing. I am not like some people who can read a book and still tell you every detail long after they’ve finished it. I simply forget. I can tell you if a book made me feel strongly one way or another, but that’s about it. Commenting on the finer parts of a plot, writing style, characters, etc.? I have to do that right after I finish the book otherwise they are lost to time (or until any potential rereads).

The things that stressed me out in the fall are not gone. The new semester begins in a week and a half and I’m sure there’s a possibility I will find myself in similar straits as with the previous one. But I want to try recommitting myself to this blog, to any readers Playing Jokers has, and to my co-blogger.

Books are fun. They are a release. Blogging about them is a way to share in that joy with others, join in on conversations, and connect with other book lovers.

I can do that even if I have to start talking about things only peripherally related to books, right?

Tell me that I’m not alone! Are you a blogger that has struggled with keeping it up? Are you a reader that suddenly was completely unmotivated to read? How did you fix it?

As always, thank you all and happy reading!

I am Craving a Good Series

I am craving a good series.

I say that but I already know of a few. I’ve started a few. In fact, let me list just a few of those that I have read the first book or so of and have all the best intentions in the world to finish:

  • A Song of Ice and Fire: I have read the first two in this series, but unfortunately, I fear that I would need to reread them to make much progress towards reading the rest. (Christina just reviewed A Storm of Swords!)
  • Outlander: OMG do I want to read this series right now. Watching the Starz television series of the first book, the only book I’ve read, really makes me want to revisit Claire and Jamie, despite spoiling all the books for myself!
  • The Iron Druid Chronicles: I read Hounded last year and loved it! It’s both funny and suspenseful with a good helping of magical realism.
  • Gentlemen Bastards: The Lies of Locke Lamora was by far one of the best books I’ve read this year. Sure the series isn’t finished (are there any series that are finished these days?) but it’s such a fun fantasy world!
  • Temeraire: I’ve only read His Majesty’s Dragon, and definitely want to continue following the adventures of this cool dragon and his rider in a fun alternate historical fiction!
  • Wine Country Mysteries: Because why not, when you’re in a Virginia Wine and Book Club finish the series that the club kicked off with?
  • Delirium: Okay, I’ve read the first two, and just have never gotten around to the last in the triology, Requiem.
  • The Sweet Trilogy: Loved the first, liked the covers of the rest, never got to them.
  • Pure: One of the most twisted young adult dystopians I’ve read and it left me curious for the rest.
  • Sookie Stackhouse: This is perhaps a maybe…I feel like I should finish the series but I’m not 100% sold on it.

That list doesn’t even include those series that I read the first book and perhaps did not feel so inclined to continue but wouldn’t be completely unopposed to seeing it through.

That’s a lot of series. A lot of pages. A lot of time.

As a book blogger, I think that there is a certain pressure to keep up with the next big book. Do you have enough review copies? Have you read them? Reviewed them? Okay, on to the next review copy!

It doesn’t leave a lot of time to read one series. Additionally, if the only content appearing on the blog is just for a certain book series, there is a belief that readers would become bored. Who wants to read yet another post about this series you’ve posted about all month?!

But on just the other side of that coin, there is a certain frustration that comes when you have no time to read a series. It’s hard to balance both reading a variety of things to keep up with the current trends of books and to complete a series.

I recently played around with my Goodreads’ to-read shelf. I discovered that those that were on there because I bought the book with the intention of reading, reviewing, and giving away and those I had received specifically for a review numbered at 25 currently. I’d say that is pretty darn good in comparison with others. Keep in mind though, that I am a slower reader than others. 25 books is half my year’s reading goal. If I were to take in no extra books for 6 months, I could reasonably figure to finish all those books and be completely free to read whatever I wanted, to include finishing any of those series above.

But do I want to set out on such a mission?

I’m outlining three steps that I want to take to work my way to more reading freedom and open myself up to reading more series:

  1. Go through that list of 25 books and figure out which ones I would be okay simply giving away without reading. This is a difficult thing to do. It’s almost painful for me to part with books that I have, particularly those that I have bought, and find them new homes without first offering my opinion on them. But 25 books is a lot and some of those books have been languishing for quite a while. Surely, I could borrow a copy from somewhere or someone later if I so feel the need to read it.
  2. Limit my requesting of review copies. I’ve been doing this for a while anyways. My Netgalley score is abysmal so I am trying to request a few copies here and there to slowly chip away at it and there’s something thrilling about receiving physical review copy in the mail from giveaways on Goodreads or other sources. But it’s less thrilling when it takes away time from reading a book you might be more in the mood for. I need to continue to work to limit my requesting to keep the list of ‘other-than-series’ books on the lower side.
  3. Alternate between a series’ book and a non-series book. Instead of waiting until all 25 books are off my list, perhaps if I alternated which books I read, I could achieve a better balance between the continuity of a series and reading something new.

I’m surely not the only one feeling this way! How do you decide which books to read? Are you reading any series lately? Which ones?

The Just In Case Book Habit

Getting to work for me is very difficult. Without going into too many details, I am not allowed to park at the building I work at and instead have to take a shuttle from the closest train station to the foot of a hill that the building sits on. It is maybe a five minute ride, sometimes longer or shorter depending on traffic and how long the bus sits before leaving. I generally carry a backpack to and from work. It allows me to carry more things than a purse as well as being easier on the back (it is quite a hill!). I pack that bag every day. In it might hold a laptop, wallet, badges, a lunch bag, a sweater, a hairbrush, an umbrella, and…a book.

When do I have time to read that book?

I typically don’t. But because of that five minute shuttle ride, I continually fool myself into believing that I would be completely amiss without packing that book. What if the shuttle takes forever to leave the stop? What if I’m waiting forever for it show up? I would lose out on all that time to make progress on my latest read.

But I don’t have time to read that book. At most, I might be able to read two pages depending on the book. Is that worth the damage the book takes in my bag? I had one book that ended up sporting the mess of an exploded leftover Chinese dinner that I was taking in for lunch. Most books get banged up corners, a bent cover, and other signs of being thrown into a bag with way too many things.

But it isn’t just for work that I carry a book, just in case. Going to the dump, the drive might be longer. While the fiance drives, might I have the chance to read? So I place a book in the door pocket just in case. Do I read it? No, because I get motion sick easily these days. I’m going out for the day to my parents. I bring a book, just in case.

Sometimes bringing a book with me is like a security blanket. It’s like having your best friend ready to bail you out of a bad date. While the time to read doesn’t present itself as often as I might hope when I bring my books with me, it isn’t a habit I’m likely to break any time soon. I’ve been bringing books with me just in case for almost as long as I have had the love to read. It is not surprising that such a habit would be hard to break, that it would provide such a sense of stability.

Perhaps this next time, I’ll want that just in case book.

Let’s chat! Do you bring books with you? When did it come in handy? Does it affect the kinds of bags you use?

pj - michelle

My Introduction to Vlogging! In time for Booktubeathon!

I did you guys. I kind of did it.

I mean, it’s not like completely horrible. It’s on the side of a little embarrassing, but I figure it can only get better.

I made a vlog!

I had heard of this thing called Booktube-a-thon a little while ago on Twitter and wanted to make my debut by the start of it so that way I could benefit from the large community event. I’m no stranger to read-a-thons (though I am barely successful at them) so I figured it would be a good starting point for me.

Well, I can be a bit of a perfectionist and I didn’t want to just post videos using my laptop’s camera. It’s grainy and I’m snobby. So I tried using my point and shoot camera. Which worked great until all the takes I was doing were for nothing because my memory card was minuscule and couldn’t hold any videos.

I was about to go either buy a new camera or something when Emily from Oh Magic Hour offered a very common sense solution: get a larger memory card. So off I went to Target tonight, grabbed a 16 GB memory card (my old was like 512 MB!)  and a cheap tripod (which admittedly is too short for my preference so I set up the tripod on top of chairs). I went down into the basement that has obnoxious red walls, but super bright track lighting, adding my own snake light behind the camera, and voila! I have a one-take vlog.

Now, I would love to learn how to edit next. Like making it so the title image is nicer, and cutting out the pieces were I look particularly embarrassing. And I probably won’t wear an orange shirt in front of the red wall again. But I think for a rushed and first attempt, it’s not half bad!

Have any tips, questions, or comments? Please let me know! I want to be like a sponge as I figure all this out. And while I’m very busy this month, there’s no time like now to try something new!

pj - michelle

Experimenting with TweetDeck, Pinterest, Instagram & Giveaways

experimentclipartSo I am not exactly new to blogging. I’ve had my fair share of live journals, xanga, nerdy pursuits and so on that mean that I’m not new to technology and how to use it. Playing Jokers has been around now for a little over a year, but I’m still evolving and learning. And while I feel like that person who is constantly saying, “oh but once things calm down I’ll do that…” here are the things I’d like to start experimenting with for the blog:

  • Tweetdeck: I literally have never even looked at this, but I’ve heard rumors that this allows you to schedule tweets. I -think- this is how people end up tweeting about their blog posts throughout the day even if they are likely working or otherwise busy. I’d like to use this to better advertise my posts.
  • Pinterest: I’m engaged and I’ve still barely used pinterest despite it basically being a wedding planning tool. But I know bloggers do use it to help promote their blogs and I think it would do me some good to experiment with that. I already cross post onto my Tumblr account but I’m sure cross posting on Pinterest would also do some good.
  • Instagram: I would love to be more organized and post a snapshot of my post on my Instagram account. Again, this is an advertising move, but I also think it would add some meat to my instagram account–I only joined like 3 weeks ago! I’m still figuring it out and I think making it clear on there with the right hashtags that I’m a book blogger and here are my posts makes sense.
  • Different types of giveaways: I think I’m officially over with rafflecopter giveaways. At least, over only hosting giveaways that way. I’ve been reading a lot of different people’s thoughts on those types of giveaways and they certainly aren’t all positive. Additionally, I would love to experiment with hosting a Twitter only giveaway where you have to follow me and retweet by a certain day, or comment by a certain day on an Instagram picture.

Do you think I’m on track with those experiments? What am I forgetting? Any tips?

pj - michelle