Blogger Spotlight

In the Spotlight: Joe from Black Sail Books

Featured in the Blogger Spotlight today I’m excited to introduce you all to, Joe from Black Sail Book, one of the first book blogs and bloggers I discovered and one of a handful that inspired me to get back into book blogging myself. Joe has a great website and does a few neat features, one of those being his Sunday Newsletter—don’t miss it.

First of all, Joe, would you like to tell us a little bit about yourself.

Sure thing! My name is Joe Michalowski and I live in a small suburb about an hour away from Boston, Massachusetts with my wife of four years, our almost 1-year-old daughter, and an adorable dog named Fallon. I spend the work days running content marketing for a small startup company from my home office and save reading/book blogging for late nights after everyone has gone to bed. My wife and I like to spend our free time relaxing on the couch and watching TV. But we’re always counting down the days to the next Disney vacation.

What got you hooked into book blogging to begin with?

There were really two things that got me started with book blogging. First was just some general dissatisfaction at work. For a long time, my primary job was to write blog posts and other kinds of content about B2B technology. The role started to get a bit stale and I wanted a more creative outlet that I could enjoy in my spare time (and hopefully build up into something bigger).

The second thing was that I wanted to get back into reading for fun. I’ve always loved books, but went years without reading fiction for fun. Business books and career-focused activities dominated my spare time for a while. And without any readers in my friend groups, I didn’t have a lot of motivation to change that. Starting the book blog and connecting with so many readers on Twitter has really gotten me excited about reading again, so I’ve been hooked since the site went live on New Year’s Day 2020.

What is it about speculative fiction, that makes this your go-to genre?

These days, I’m reading almost entirely for escape and entertainment. I love diving deep into themes, but if picking up a book starts to feel like a chore I’ll just sink back into the never-ending library of Netflix shows. After formulaic thriller novels started feeling stale, I started coming around to speculative fiction (and fantasy, specifically).

Speculative fiction slowly became my go-to because it matches the kinds of TV shows and movies I enjoy most. I’ve always loved The Lord of the Rings (the movies first, then finally read the books and those are amazing). I watched the first episode of Game of Thrones the first night it released based on a preview I saw on HBO (had no idea it was even a book series at the time…woops). The BBC’s Merlin has been one of my favorite shows for a long time.

I’m no speculative fiction veteran (yet). But these kinds of stories will continue to be my main focus because they offer the escapism and entertainment I want from reading.

What have you read recently, that’s outside your comfort zone?

Such a great question. Does February still count as recent? It feels like a lifetime ago. But the best example I have is The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

I never would have expected I’d buy a copy of a Victorian-era fantasy love story with a circus setting—let alone enjoy it. There were just so many other book bloggers talking about it and my local Barnes & Noble had it featured as a staff pick for weeks. I couldn’t resist.

Despite my skepticism, I really enjoyed The Night Circus. Morgenstern’s writing is beautiful and the mysteriousness of the story kept me engaged from start to finish. It definitely got me to expand my reading horizons a bit.

Who are your top 5 favourite authors, and why?

Oh man, a tough question. There are still so many incredible SFF authors I haven’t gotten to yet. A lot of this list is just based on the authors who have helped form my reading habit.

  • Neil Gaiman: Hands down my favorite author (and one that I wish I knew about sooner). It started with an audiobook of Norse Mythology and I loved it. I moved to American Gods—loved it. Read The Graveyard Book, Good Omens, The Sandman comics. Loved them all. The storytelling just clicks with me every single time.
  • Brian K. Vaughan: I discovered Saga earlier this year (thanks to some great book bloggers) and was totally blown away. I need to get into some of his other work, but Saga alone puts Vaughan on this list for me. The world building, the suspense, the emotional weight of the storytelling. It’s all so great.
  • Anthony Burgess: I spent much of my last year of college studying Burgess for a thesis project. I remember being so confused and impressed by the Nadsat language he made up for A Clockwork Orange. Then I gained a deeper appreciation for his work as I read a few of his other novels and dove deeper into his background.
  • Daniel Handler/Lemony Snicket: A Series of Unfortunate Events had the biggest impact on my reading habits when I was little. Without this series, I’m not sure if reading would be such a big part of my life.
  • James Patterson: Likely not a popular pick in SFF circles. But I have a soft spot for Patterson because he got me out of a years-long reading hiatus. It’s a long story, but finding a random Patterson novel during a long power outage helped me start reading for fun again.

What’s one of your top fantasy reads and why?

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman has been my favorite book since the moment I read it. It’s such a beautiful story and it gripped me from the very first page. It’s simple yet powerful, as you’d expect from Gaiman. One of two books that have ever made me cry.

What’s one of your top SF reads and why?

Now this is an area I really need to work on. My SFF reading has really only started since the book blog went live. And honestly? It’s been all about fantasy for the most part.

However, I think I can slot Saga in as an answer here. There’s some heavy overlap with fantasy, but it’s a space opera at the core. We could nitpick about the genre, but it’s just an incredible story through and through. The artwork is consistently simple yet beautiful and the twists and turns are endlessly entertaining. One of my new all-time favorites and I can’t wait for new volumes to come out.

Audio books: Yes / No?

Absolutely! I’m not a power listener or anything, but I love using my credit each month. It’s a great way to keep up the reading habit even when things get busy. They’re perfect for long walks I take to break up the work day.

What will make you DNF a book: bad characterisation, weak plot, lack of world building?

I try to be as open minded as possible and I do my best to buy books that won’t drive me to DNF. But if I’ve given the story a fair shot and I’m still bored? I’ll have no problem setting it aside. As much as I appreciate beautiful prose, impressive narrative structure, and deep character dives, I need to enjoy the overarching story.

And finally, what aspect do you like most about book blogging?

The wonderful community, without a doubt.

It took me a while to finally make the site public. I honestly thought I’d be publishing blog posts into the void—that no one would ever see them. The site went live when I decided I’d be happy just to have a creative outlet for my thoughts about books and reading. Imagine my surprise when I started connecting with so many great book bloggers. Everyone is so supportive and it’s awesome to have people to talk to about books. Interacting with the community on Twitter has kept me so motivated (and I get all kinds of inspiration for new posts from reading everyone else’s content).


Joe Michalowski is the Founder of Black Sail Books, a book blog dedicated to reading for fun and escapism in science fiction and fantasy stories. Every other Sunday, Joe sends out a newsletter packed with the latest bookish content for people who love reading. When he’s not writing about reading or diving into a new story, Joe spends time with his wonderful wife, beautiful daughter, and adorable dog.

You can follow him on Twitter @blacksailbooks and keep up with new articles by subscribing to the newsletter.

23 comments on “In the Spotlight: Joe from Black Sail Books

  1. Avatar
    Rebecca | Velvet Opus

    Nice to know more about you Joe! And great interview, as always, Alex!

    • Alex

      Thanks, Rebecca. I love doing this series, and finding out more about our fellow book bloggers. We’re certainly a lively bunch of SFF bloggers. And Joe has a great blog.

    • Avatar
      Joe Michalowski

      Thanks for reading, Rebecca! Really loved answering Alex’s questions 🙂

  2. Avatar

    Excellent interview! I’m really curious what the other book is that made Joe cry. 😆

    • Alex

      Oh, you and I both, maybe he will tell us one day. 😀

      • Avatar
        Joe Michalowski

        Wish this was more exciting haha. It was The Ocean at the End of the Lane. What can I say? Neil Gaiman gets me 😂

        Others have come close, though. A few devastating moments in Saga for sure!

        • Alex

          Oh, now we know. Thanks, Jo. I haven’t read any Neil Gaiman, yet, but now I’m really curious and just might get this one to find out just what about it made you cry!

  3. Avatar

    Joe is a great guy and finding out a little more about you has been great too!

    • Alex

      It’s one of the reasons why I wanted to do this kind of blogger Q&A, so that we could all talk about and share our love of genre fiction.

    • Avatar
      Joe Michalowski

      Well thank you!! I keep saying it. But just so flattering to be asked to take part in this kind of thing. So nice to hear all the kind words from people and just know people enjoy the blog. Can’t thank Alex enough 😊

      • Alex

        Indeed, for me, it’s been a blast asking all the book bloggers whose blogs I love to stop by and read. And it’s great to know so many others are enjoying this series too, Joe.

  4. Avatar

    Oh Alex, I love these interviews! 🙂
    And so great to know a bit more about Joe, who I’ve always pictured as a piratical sort (because of the Black Sails!) – but now I think we need a list post from him on the books that’ve made him cry! 😀

    • Alex

      Thank you for saying that, it’s really appreciated.

      And yeah, I had this funny mental image of Joe in my head too that, well, didn’t line up with someone who cries about a book. And I’m so glad he’s just like the rest of us. 😛

      • Avatar
        Joe Michalowski

        Happy to hear I can surprise people 😂 I sort of intentionally distanced myself from the blog because I felt so awkward about writing in public. Y’all make it very easy to open up more, so grateful for this feature.

        As much a I love reading, there are so few books that just completely consume me. Think that’s what makes the difference for me to cry. The other one was The Ocean at the End of the Lane, but I’m on the lookout for another author to give me that emotional punch!

        • Alex

          That’s the wonderful about book blogging and being an avid reader, that we can go online, share our love with people who understand, and make some great connections. And no one bats an so much as an eyelid when you say a book made you cry, or laugh, or happy. We get it!

  5. Avatar

    Great interview, Alexandra💜 Another audiobook lover!

    • Alex

      Thanks, Jo, it’s been a fun series to do and you just know I so want to ask you to take part! And adding in the audio questions was just a silly thing to try and gauge just how many readers like the format. You, I know do. But it seems far more popular than I had first thought.

      • Avatar
        Joe Michalowski

        Yes, Jonetta!! They’re just fantastic.

        Not sure if it’s like this for you, Alex, but I have such a hard time writing reviews for audiobooks. I’m a big notetaker while reading and I just can’t do that with audiobooks. And I’m usually multitasking in some way, which makes it hard to stay super focused on every beat of the story. Great for entertainment, but you won’t see much audiobook talk across the blog.

        I was a bit surprised myself to find that the format is so popular. Makes sense when I think about it though 🙂

        • Alex

          I haven’t become a big audio listener, as I have difficulty focusing in on the stories without wanting to go do other stuff. So of those I have listened to, I find I have to ignore everything else, and I mean, everything. But I know they can be addictive, like watching a fav TV show. The better the narrator the better the experience.

          And note taking? I use little sticky tabs to mark passages to remind me. I also write my review within a day or so as well.

  6. Avatar

    Another great interview! I often make eye contact with The Graveyard Book. Sounds like I need to pick up a copy!

    • Alex

      Thanks, Jake, appreciate that. And yes, The Graveyard seems to be one of those books we both need to read. And we’re taking bets on what other book made Joe cry! 😀

      • Avatar
        Joe Michalowski

        I left multiple people hanging on this question haha. A super delayed response for everyone, but it’s another Gaiman book—The Ocean at the End of the Lane. There’s just something about those stories that get me.

        The Graveyard Book is just such a simple, easy read. Highly recommend it!

        • Alex

          Well, it sounds like you are going to make me a Neil Gaiman reader, Joe! I get really intrigued when people find a book, or author, that speaks to them. I so have to know why. 😉

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