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Difficult Choices – Why You Can Only Find Some Books On Amazon

April 10th, 2016 No comments
Unlocked handcuffs

Time to break my books out of Amazon exclusivity! Photo credit: Insulinde via Visualhunt / CC BY-SA

As an author, I naturally want my ebooks to be available in as many places as possible. I want to put them on Amazon of course, but also in the Apple bookstore, Kobo, BarnesandNoble.com. Heck, if I could, I would dress up in a pink tutu and magically sprinkle print copies of my books onto every bookshelf in the world – The Book Fairy! (You know, if breaking into strangers’ houses wasn’t considered such a social faux paus).

Despite my personal preferences, you may have noticed in the past that only Falling, the first book in my Girl With Broken Wings series, was available on platforms outside of Amazon. The rest of the books were trapped, Rapunzel-like, exclusively on the giant retailer. Several readers have asked about this, so I’m going to lift the curtain of the publishing world and explain why authors face so much pressure to publish exclusively through Amazon…and why I’ve decided to buck the trend.

A Little Note About Amazon

Amazon is by far the largest book seller in the world; and not by a small margin. Barnes and Noble – one of the last remaining chain book sellers, is like a cute little smart car compared to Amazon’s growling monster truck.

Don’t think Amazon is a courteous, polite driver in that monster truck. No, it is all about rolling over the competition with its huge tires and selling power. Amazon knows that it benefits when books are only available on Amazon.com. It also knows it has a ton of leverage, because it can offer authors access to more readers than any other book selling platform.

Is Amazon – engines growling – going to use this leverage?

Uh, yeah.

KDP Select

Amazon wants exclusivity. Amazon has reader leverage to offer authors. What does it do?

Answer: It builds a program called KDP Select. In a nutshell, the job of KDP Select is to entice authors with all sorts of special privileges in order to convince them to publish exclusively on Amazon. Authors who sign on the dotted line (okay, it’s really just a super easy box that they click) agree to keep their books exclusively on Amazon in exchange for some pretty sweet perks.

What’s so awesome about KDP Select that so many authors would be willing to turn a cold shoulder to all their less cool publishing friends like Kobo, iTunes, and Nook? Lots of stuff, it turns out. KDP Select members can run special promotions on their books not available to other authors and set their books for free, which regular authors aren’t allowed to do on Amazon.

(Note: You may have noticed that, as of this writing, both Falling and Employment Interview with a Vampire are free on Amazon. Yep, there’s a super sneaky, complicated way of making this happen. Let’s just say that I am an author ninja!)

Probably the biggest benefit of going steady with Amazon is that signing up for KDP Select allows an author to enroll their ebooks into the Kindle Unlimited Program. This is Amazon’s book subscription service that lets readers borrow an endless supply of participating books. Emphasis on the word participating. Things may be different for Lee Child or Stephen King, but for us smaller authors, the only way to get into the program is to agree to go exclusive with Amazon.

This is a hard choice for authors. The Kindle Unlimited program offers authors the opportunity to earn more money, oftentimes more than what we can earn on all the smaller book selling platforms combined.

On the other hand, we also want to offer our books to readers across the spectrum. We know that some readers only own Nooks and that others shop through the iTunes store or through Kobo. Seems kind of mean to cut them out or force them to download a Kindle app or purchase a more expensive print book off of Amazon.

Breaking Out

So, what choice did I make? Weren’t you reading the beginning of this blog post? I went for the money, of course! I signed up almost all of my books exclusively with Amazon for the better part of two years. I kept Falling out of KDP Select, because it was already free on Amazon. This led, inevitably, to readers finding Falling on different book selling platforms and then getting justifiably ticked off when all of the rest of the books in the series were on Amazon.

I was never comfortable keeping all of my books on Amazon, but the extra income was…how shall I say, too good to refuse. However, over time, scammers learned how to manipulate the way Amazon paid out royalties on books in the Kindle Unlimited program. It’s this whole big, complicated story, but the bottom line is that legitimate authors started earning less and less. Amazon has promised to fix the system and filter out the spammers, but to me, this was as good a time as any to jump ship and go wide.

Yes, this means losing money, at least in the short term, but my hope is that with a little elbow grease and hard work, I can introduce my books to readers on all the different platforms. Regardless, it feels good to break my books out of the Amazon tower. To be clear, my books are all still for sale on Amazon, but they are no longer participating in the Amazon Unlimited Program.

And…drum roll….all of my books in my Girl With Broken Wings series and The Vampire’s Housekeeper Chronicles are available on:

I’m sorry it took me so long!

Sad Endings Make Me Sad, and Other Profound Thoughts

March 31st, 2016 No comments
sad woman

This was pretty much me for the rest of the day after I read the Red Wedding chapter in A Storm of Swords. Photo via Visualhunt.com

I just finished reading a really good book series. As per my usual, I fell right into the story, heart and soul. So when one of the main characters died valiantly saving many innocents from a dire threat and another character was permanently maimed, it felt like I’d lost two dear friends in one fell swoop.

It actually hurt me in my soul.

I definitely had some bad flashbacks to previous reading-related trauma, like the Red Wedding scene in the Song of Ice and Fire series. My favorite character was treacherously murdered in that scene. I remember desperately trying to hold myself together after finishing that chapter and then tearing up as I drove home. (Note to self: Maybe stick to playing Candy Crush at the public car wash.)

That night after completing this latest book series, I lay in bed feeling the loss of those characters. I started thinking about books that end in tragedy and came to this profound conclusion:

Sad Endings Make Me Sad

Sad books don’t sit well with me. It feels like I’ve put in all this time and effort, invited characters into my life, and then the author sucker punches me and skips away laughing at the end.

Happy endings are so much more satisfying. Yep, I clearly see the double sexual meaning in that last sentence, but I can’t figure out a good way around it. Let’s ignore that and move on. I enjoy books that end on a good note, because even after I turn the last page, I can still imagine my favorite characters alive and well living in their new happy circumstances. It’s like knowing your best friend from high school is happily married with two adorable kids just like she always wanted. You two haven’t spoken in years, but it just feels good to know that she’s out in the world doing well.

Sad Endings Are More Powerful

As I lay in bed fretting over the loss of my favorite character instead of, you know, actually going to sleep, it made me realize that tragic endings are usually far more powerful than happy endings. It hurts the reader to lose a character, and it also hurts the other characters in the book as well as the fabric of the story’s universe. It’s like a festering wound that makes the story stick with me.

A happy ending lets me close the book (metaphorically since I read everything on a Kindle), sigh contentedly, and then move onto the next book.

Choosing an Ending

All of these considerations are more relevant than ever as I put the finishing touches on Flying, the last book in the Girl With Broken Wings series. My characters inhabit a very dangerous world that has become ever more perilous at the start of Flying.

When I was originally sketching out the book, I grappled with how I wanted it to end. I could see both an ending of supreme tragedy and an ending of unity and second chances. (Trying so hard not to create spoilers!) Even as I started writing, I wasn’t sure who was going to survive and who was not.

Regardless of the final outcome, Flying is a very dark story. Tarren, Maya, and Gabe each face dire challenges, and no one comes out of the book unscathed. Tragedy has a purpose. It is a sculpting force. It can break survivors, or it can make them stronger and fuel heroic acts.

Not every character will make it to the end of Flying, and the ones who do will bear new scars. Tragedy is hard on characters and readers, but it also gives a story a profound edge, maybe makes us a little more appreciative of the light.

As for whether the book ends in tragedy or joy…you’re just going to have to find out for yourself. (You knew I was going to say that, right?)

Why You Need to Care About What’s Going on in America’s Most Violent and Hopeless Neighborhoods; My Review of Ghettoside by Jill Leovy

March 18th, 2016 No comments

Cover -- Ghettoside by Jill LeovyI picked up Ghettoside, because I wanted to try and understand why crime was so rampant in certain neighborhoods across the country. Was it poverty? Gangs? Drugs?

Ghettoside, by Jill Leovy took me across the the train tracks and into the living rooms within the ghetto as well as inside the police station where detectives work unrelentingly to solve the black-on-black murders that almost never make the news.

Leovy tackles the tragic statistics of black-on-black murder head on and digs into the causes that have turned small enclaves in Los Angeles into festering dens of gang activity, crime, suspicion of the police, and a heavy sense that the rest of the outside world doesn’t care.

Leovy’s greatest talent is her ability to humanize those who call the ghetto home and those who try to make it a little safer by putting murderers behind bars. We meet dedicated detectives, kids who join gangs for the protection they provide, prostitutes who risk their lives to testify in court, and broken-hearted parents who lose their children.

I couldn’t stop reading Ghettoside. Every page pulled me deeper and deeper into a place within my own country (actually, my own state of California) that I know so little about. The primary story of the murder of a black police detective’s son drives the plot forward, but truly Leovy’s deft portraits of the people who live and serve in the ghetto that stuck with me long after the last page.

This book was enlightening. I walked away with a much greater sympathy for the people trapped in the ghetto, incredible respect for the officers who serve these areas, and a better understanding of the highly complex problem of violence that requires the attention of a nation to fix.

Ready Player One Review: A Must-Read For Anyone Who Grew Up In The 80’s, Loves Videogame Culture, Or Who Always Roots For The Underdog.

February 10th, 2016 1 comment

Book cover, Ready Player OneThe world is a crappy place in 2044. People are starving. Indentured servitude is a thing. Murders are so common they barely make the news. The one escape is the Oasis, a massive virtual reality world teeming with possibility. Within the Oasis, a clever avatar can gain power, prestige, and just about any ability they can imagine.

In the real world, Wade Watts is a chubby, shy, and impoverished orphan trapped in “the stacks.” In the Oasis, however, he is Parzival, dedicated Gunter. Both Wade and Parzival have one singular purpose in life. They will find Halliday’s egg.

Five years in, most people assume that Halliday’s egg is a fantasy. When co-creator of the Oasis, James Halliday died, he hid the egg somewhere within the Oasis, trapped behind three gates that can only be opened with three keys. The one who finds the egg, earns Halliday’s massive fortune, and – even more valuable – control of the Oasis. For five years the first key remained hidden, that is until an avatar’s name finally hit the scoreboard. That name was Parzival.

When Wade discovers the first key to the gate, the race is on to find Halliday’s egg. Wade will have to use all of his cunning not to mention his encyclopedic memory of 80’s pop culture to stay ahead of his fellow gunters, as well as Innovative Online Industries, a merciless business enterprise that is willing to find the egg (and take control of the Oasis) at any cost.

Ready Player One was a constant and enjoyable adrenaline rush. Author Ernest Cline does a fantastic job of creating a believable and fantastic world, where reality and fantasy merge so deeply that the line is hard to distinguish. The Oasis springs vividly from the MMORPGs today, and is kind of like World of Warcraft mixed with Second Life mixed with Cline’s own imagination. The fact that these kids of the future are steeped in 80s trivia just adds to the fun. The clash of past and future works in dazzling fashion.

The exciting plot and engaging characters of Ready Player One is worth the read on its own. Wade is a sympathetic character, and it won’t take you long to start seriously rooting for him to somehow outsmart the well-moneyed and malicious IOI. However, there is a lot more to this novel if you want to dig deep. Cline challenges us to consider the risk of giving into the siren’s call of technology as a cure-all and of ignoring the decline of our real world in the process.

A must-read for anyone who grew up in the 80’s, loves videogame culture, or who always roots for the underdog.

I’ve Just Realized That I’m A Total Review Hypocrite

February 4th, 2016 1 comment
Embarrassed baby

Total review hypocrite here, nothing to see! Photo credit: Mandajuice via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

Trying to get reviews for my books is kind of the bane of my existence. Reviews are more important than most readers realize. They help give an ebook credibility. Think about the last time you scrolled through a list of books on Amazon. Your eyes scanned the title and the book cover…and the star rating. You probably looked at the number of reviews too. It’s hard to miss, since the book’s rating is right at the top of each book’s page.

Reviews are also important, because many of the best advertising opportunities for authors only accept books with a certain star rating (usually at least 3.5 stars) and a minimum number of reviews, (anything from 10 reviews to 50). This is the reason you’ve probably noticed that most indie books, (including mine), conclude with a slightly desperate request from the author for their readers to leave a review.

<<< Want to write a review, but not really sure how? Here’s my quick and easy guide to writing an awesome book review>>>

But Writing a Review Is Hard…

Here’s the rub…writing reviews more than kind of sucks. At least for me. I always feel like I have to be thoughtful, clever, and insightful in my reviews, but what I really want to do is just start reading the next book in my list. Writing a review seems like homework, and once I’ve got that thought in my head, it gets lodged there. Writing a review becomes just about the last thing I want to do, along with cleaning the grout in my bathroom and clipping my bunny’s nails (which he treats with the same amount of hysterics as if I were giving him a live autopsy).

Manning Up….er, Womaning Up

But I know that reviews are incredibly important, so my goal this year is to write a review for every book I read. I’ve come up with a fail-proof system for accomplishing this – I simply won’t start a new book until I’ve written and posted a review for the previous one.

Imagine how smug and self-congratulatory I felt after making this resolution. Yeah, J Bennett’s getting serious this year. Helping authors. Doing her part. A hero? No, no, well, maybe a little.

Then, this morning, a realization hit me with the gentle tap of an aluminum baseball bat. I am a total review hypocrite.

Books Aren’t the Only Things That Deserve Reviews

This whole time, I’ve been patting myself on the back just for writing a handful of book reviews, as if books are the only things in the world that need reviews. All around me, every day I consume media, use products, and patronize businesses that live or die in a big part on reviews. Have I written a positive review of the CrossFit gym where I’ve been a dedicated member for over two years? What about the brilliantly made podcasts that I gobble up like the last chocolate cupcakes on the planet? Or any of the myriad things that find their way to my Amazon cart?

I never once considered writing reviews for any of them.

Shame on me.

My rating and review might convince another person to try out a product, business, or media that I love. That person could then become a loyal fan and continue the positive cycle.

My new challenge to myself is to be an equal-opportunity reviewer, to support all the things I really like, whether it be a book, my dentist, or the new headlamp I just bought on Amazon. I encourage you to consider posting more positive reviews as well and give a little boost to the businesses and products that have served you well.

Categories: Essay Tags: ,

Book Review of The Book Thief

January 28th, 2016 No comments

Cover of The Book ThiefDeath has a lot on his plate, especially in the 1940s as Europe erupts into war. And yet, every once in a while, Death gets distracted. One of those distractions is Liesel Meminger, a young girl who lives with foster parents in a small town outside of Munich. Liesel is a strong-willed girl who discovers the beauty and the power of words after her caring foster father, Hans, decides to teach her to read. Liesel is also a thief. Her first stolen treasure is The Gravedigger’s Handbook, snatched from the snow besides her brother’s grave.

As Liesel grows, reads, plays soccer, collects laundry, and avoids kissing her best friend, Rudy, the guns of war begin to erupt all over Germany. A promise Hans made many years ago leads him and Liesel to keep a very dark and dangerous secret, one that could save a life or put theirs in jeopardy.

Author Markus Zusak has woven a rich tapestry of words, images, and social commentary all bundled together into a few years of Liesel’s life. His ability to create complex characters and force them onto morale precipices in such a dangerous and uncertain time keeps The Book Thief moving at a good pace.

However, Zusak has a tendency to get drunk on his own words, swooning into melodramatic cascades of contemplation and constantly interrupting the story with special asides – some of which add substantially to the story and others that are as annoying as flies landing on the page.

Still, I can’t help but give this book five stars for the brilliant cast of characters Zusak created, for the intimate German town he built, and for ringing a good many tears out of me at the end.

How The Movie Ant-Man Kinda Sent Me Into A Spiral Of Despair

January 17th, 2016 1 comment
I just want to ruin your PB&J sandwich. Don't send me into battle against my will! Photo credit: Thomas Shahan via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND

I just want to ruin your PB&J sandwich. Don’t send me into battle against my will! Photo credit: Thomas Shahan via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Ant-Man. Dude gets small. The premise seemed simple enough. Given that it was a superhero movie, there was no notion that I wasn’t going to get around to eventually seeing it. In my typical six-months-behind-the-curb-of-pretty-much-everything fashion, I finally saw the movie last weekend, even though it hit theaters in July of 2015.

My friends said it was okay. Amusing. Not as good as Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy, but worth seeing. I believed them. I watched the movie. I spiraled into an ever deepening hole of despair.

Take One on Ant-Man – The Non-Hyperbolic, Normal Person’s Rendition

Scott Lang (played by Paul Rudd) is just your average hottie thief (not robber!) with a Robin Hood complex looking for a second chance after a prison stint. Too bad his ex-wife won’t let him hang with their daughter, and – oh yeah – she’s dating a cop.

Fortunately, it just so happens an eccentric rich scientist named Dr. Pym (Michael Douglas) needs a guy with Scott’s unique talents to stop his power-mad protégé from recreating his too-dangerous-for-the-world shrinking technology. (Peter, debauched, wreck-of-a human-being from House of Cards graduates into a lamb-slaughtering, mad scientist for this role). Why, out of all the people in the world – including Black Widow, Captain America, and Samuel L. Jackson – does Pym choose Scott?

Stop asking stupid questions!

I suppose you also want to know why Pym doesn’t just give Scott a ring and ask, “Hey, I’ve got a bad-ass suit that shrinks and an army of ants to control. You in?” This, instead of paying a woman to talk up his massive safe to some dude who talks to other dudes who just happen to eventually talk to Scott’s adorable, hilarious, and utterly scene-stealing roommate (played by Michael Pena), who then mentions it to Scott who just so happens to shortly thereafter arrive at a key personal crisis that launches him back into his old criminal ways. Pym then allows Scott to steal his previously stated extremely dangerous, seemingly irreplaceable, and oddly perfectly fitting suit and just try it on wily nily. No worries that Scott could up and die or kill someone or simply run away with the precious suit.

Well, the answer to that is…STOP ASKING STUPID QUESTIONS. It was all part of Pym’s brilliant plan to recruit Scott, train him in the uses of the suit, and inadvertently set up a tepid romance between Scott and his daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lily) which possesses all the tension of a wet noodle.

Oh, and one other thing. In no actual relation to the technology surrounding the suit, Pym has also – just as a hobby – discovered a way to mind control ants to do his bidding. Can he control other things that might be additionally useful for Scott’s mission, like hornets, black widows (not the kind in skin-tight body suits) and mosquitoes carrying loads of dysentery?

What did I say about asking stupid questions? The movie is called Ant-Man. ANTS! The guy controls ants. Okay, so cue the training montage. Failures. Everyone is all frustrated because Scott keeps running his handsome face into doors. But then, poof, he gets it. He’s ready to go.

What follows is sometimes massive but usually very tiny fighting and lots of ants getting fried in the quest to help Scott.

Yep…here we go.

Take Two on Ant-Man – My Horrified Viewing of Unnecessary Ant Slaughter

If you are of a certain generation, then Ant-Man will not have been your first introduction to ant violence. That’s right, I’m talking about Antie from Honey I Shrunk the Kids. I consider it my pre-Mufasa Mufasa moment. At least in Antie’s case, he was killed protecting one of the kids from a scorpion.

In the case of Ant-Man…well, the dude straight up mind rapes ants all over the place and makes them put their little ant lives on the line to help him in his quest. Ants die. The ants were totally minding their own business, doing their thing of getting in everyone’s way and ruining picnics, when Scott up and enslaved them.

For all its silliness and the fact that I was completely aware that all the ants were CGI (I promise I’m not writing this from an anti-ant violence picket line of one in front of Marvel studios), Ant-Man made me think of how easily we dismiss insects. By “dismiss,” I mean squash them and swat them and squish them. If someone leaves their dog out in the cold, the internet is up in arms, but we kill bugs without remorse, without even a thought.

Couldn’t Scott have, I don’t know, shrunk a motorcycle and grappling hook and pretty much done all the same stuff the ants did for him? Look at Yellowjacket. Yeah, he be crazy and not at all a friend to lambs, but at least the dude realized – hey, instead of inventing a way to force ants to do my bidding maybe I just add an awesome jet pack to the suit and lasers. Cause we all know lasers make everything better.

I’m even thinking Ant-Man could keep his name without the ants, because he still gets small. Makes a certain kind of sense if you like doofy, completely un-intimidating superhero names.

So, Ant-Man, how about not killing lots of CGI ants in your next movie? I’ll let you keep the almost-painful-to-watch romance with the if-being-annoying-was-an-Olympic-sport-she’d-get-the-gold Hope. Be a hero. Free the ants!

Categories: Essay Tags: , , ,

Book Review of Dreamland By Sam Quinones

January 14th, 2016 No comments

Cover of Dreamland

Rating: 5 Out of 5 Stars

Last year, I started seeing news stories popping up about middle class kids in the middle of the country dying of heroin overdoses. It didn’t make any sense. I always associated heroin with crime-infested urban areas in the 70s.  How could it possibly be ending up in the veins of cheerleaders, football players, and college kids who grew up on Main Street?

Dreamland gave me the answer. Author Sam Quinones, a veteran journalist, dug into this story and what he found was both fascinating and depressing. Dreamland takes readers down a peculiar journey were two potent forces – big pharma and a novel new take on drug dealing – inadvertently collide. The results created a massive plague of addiction and death across the country. People got hooked on OxyContin and then switched to the potent, readily available, and cheap black tar heroin which was streaming across the border from a single small county in Mexico.

Throughout the book, Quinones gives readers a series of heartbreaking vignettes. We meet the confused and devastated parents of dead kids, young Mexicans for whom heroin dealing represents the only path out of poverty, and the small circle of police officers, drug rehab workers, coroners, and judges who fought to bring a voice to this mostly silent plague.

Dreamland was fascinating in the same way of an oncoming train wreck. I wanted to look away…but somehow I just couldn’t. Quinones is a masterful storyteller who follows a complex, sometimes bizarre web of people and circumstances. This isn’t just a book about junkies, dealers, and the people trying to stop them. It’s a book about circumstances. Quinones links the heroin epidemic to the decay of middle America, to the privilege and boredom of today’s youth, to the masterful and manipulative marketing campaign of Purdue Pharma, and a legacy of shame and embarrassment that kept parents from speaking out about their children’s problems.

Dreamland answered my questions about why kids were dying of heroin overdoses in America and gave me so much more to think about. If you can excuse the inappropriate pun, I was hooked from start to finish. I saw an ugly side of America, but one we can’t afford to ignore any longer.

(Note: Links in this post are Amazon affiliate links.)

The Ten Best Books I Read in 2015

January 11th, 2016 6 comments

One of my favorite blogs of all time is Wait But Why written by the indomitable and endlessly hilarious Tim Urban. Recently, Tim wrote a post called The Tail End, in which Tim depresses the hell out of all his readers by calculating how many occurrences of a given activity they have left in their life. Example – Tim is 34 and, optimist that he is, uses a 90-year life expectancy for his calculations. That means, he’s got 60 Superbowls left and 15 more presidential elections. He also calculates roughly 1,220 Chinese takeout meals. Then Tim goes deep. Realizing that he visits his parents about five times a year and assuming they both also live to 90, he calculates that he’s got only about 300 visits left with them optimistically. One take on the article is to realize how precious your time is and spend it with the people you love. (Cue willowy violin music).  The real point, however is – holy crap, I don’t have that many books left in my life!

I read, on average three books a month. I work out, eat healthy, and floss every day (okay, almost every day), so I have a shot at making it to 90. That gives me just 2,160 books left to read in my life. That may seem like a lot, but consider that in 2013 Forbes estimated that up to 1 million books are published each year…and that’s on top of all of the books that are already floating around.

In other words, you and I need to start being more picky about which books we decide to spend our precious, precious time with! No more trying to drag our eyes through War and Peace out of stubborn pride or sticking with something that is okay because we’re too lazy to find something else. The best way to find awesome new books? Recommendations from people you trust.

With that in mind, here’s a quick list of the ten best books I read in 2015.  Any one of these would be well worth your limited and valuable time. (Note: It was hard enough culling this list down to ten. I’m not going to stress myself out by trying to rank them. They’re listed in alphabetical order.)

Cover -- All the Stars in the SkyAll the Stars in the Sky, Book 3 in the Until the End of the World Series

Author: Sarah Lyons Fleming

Genre: Dystopian, New Adult, Zombies

The Gist: In the third and final book of the Until the End of the World series, Cassie is determined not to lose anyone else she loves. She and her small band of survivors are on the run from ever-growing mobs of Lexers (AKA zombies) as they desperately search for a new sanctuary.

Why I Love It: Sarah Lyons Fleming has a gift for writing extremely real characters. Cassie feels like my best friend throughout the series. She’s a kick-ass kind of girl but also thoughtful and awesomely sarcastic. Her setbacks and tragedies are my own, but luckily so are her triumphs! If you want to give this book a try, start at the beginning, with Until the End of the World. At the time of this writing, the book is FREE! No excuses.

 

Cover of DauntlessDauntless, Book 1 in the Lost Fleet Series

Author: Jack Campbell

Genre: Science Fiction, SciFi Military

The Gist: John Geary wakes up from survival hibernation to discover that 100 years have lapsed and he is now revered as a hero by a society that has been mired in constant war during the entirety of his Rip Van Winkle routine. When a massive offensive charge ends in crushing defeat, Geary must take the reins and use some of his old-school knowledge to get the battered Alliance Fleet back home before his enemies, including some within his own fleet, succeed in destroying him.

Why I Love It: Sure, the characters are a little flat, and John Geary is an utter Boy Scout, but the rip-roaring plot makes up for the lack of character subtlety. This is popcorn in word form, and it’s oh-so-good. I gobbled up all six books in The Lost Fleet series and loved every minute of it.

 

Cover -- Dragonfly in Amber

Cover — Dragonfly in Amber

Dragonfly in Amber, Book 2 in the Outlander Series

Author: Diana Gabaldon

Genre: Romance, Historical Fiction, Highlanders

The Gist: An accidental tumble through a magical set of stones takes Claire Randall 200 years into the past and into the muscly and delicious arms of the enigmatic highlander, Jamie Frasier. In book two of the Outlander series, Claire and Jamie travel between Scotland and France in a desperate bid to prevent a disastrous battle that will forever destroy the highland clans.

Why I Love It: I’m not usually one for mushy, mushy romance, but author Diana Gabaldon has an amazing gift for capturing even the smallest detail in the most fascinating way. She cooks up multi-faceted characters who caper through a plot that never slows down. The solid, passionate bond between Jamie and Claire provides the foundation for this endlessly enjoyable tale. Give yourself plenty of time to savor this book and make sure to start at the beginning with book one, Outlander.

 

Cover, One SummerOne Summer: America, 1927

Author: Bill Bryson

Genre: Non-Fiction, American History

The Gist: Author Bill Bryson proves that some years are just special. 1927 was one of them. Bryson weaves a fascinating tale stitched together by Charles Lindbergh’s groundbreaking flight across the Atlantic. Bryson takes us through Babe Ruth’s quest for the home-run record, to prohibition, and the introduction of The Jazz Singer with his signature humor and eye for the absurd.

Why I Love It: I love history not for the huge, big events but for the people who make them happen. Bryson sucked me right into 1927 with his trademark narrative voice that can paint a scene in vivid colors and make you laugh the whole time. You will be transported.

 

 

Cover, ShogunShogun, Book 1 in the Asian Saga Series

Author: James Clavell

Genre: Historical Fiction, Adventure, Ancient Japan

The Gist: When English pilot John Blackthorne washes up in feudal Japan, he must learn fast how to survive in this alien culture built on honor, obedience, and rigid ritual as he becomes a pawn in an epic battle of wits, deceit, and blood.

Why I Love It: Up for an epic adventure? Then you’ve come to the right place. Author James Clavell pulls off a stunning achievement in crafting this fascinating, intricately detailed novel that brilliantly clashes two very different cultures against each other. This is one of those amazingly rare books that changed the way I see the world. (See how jealous I got of Clavell’s talent after reading this book.)

 

Cover, SoullessSoulless, Book 1 in the Parasol Protectorate Series

Author: Gail Carriger

Genre: Paranormal, Steampunk, Vampires, Werewolves

The Gist: Being soulless is the least of Alexia Tarabotti’s worries. Not only is she uncomfortably independent-minded and unmarried at the advanced age of twenty four, but she is also, embarrassingly, half-Italian. When a rogue vampire oversteps all rules of social etiquette to try and make her a snack, Alexia is caught up in the middle of a grand supernatural conspiracy, one that will force her to work in tandem with the loud, shaggy, handsome werewolf, Lord Maccon.

Why I Love It: Let me try and count all the reasons that I love this book. Strong-willed heroine? Check. Uppity British manners? Check. Werewolves and vampires running around in cravats? Oh, you betcha! Author Gail Carriger gives us a delightful protagonist, some seriously steamy romantic tension, and a fascinating supernatural take on London. I couldn’t stop myself from reading every book in the Parasol Protectorate series back-to-back.

 

Cover, Spring ChickenSpring Chicken: Stay Young Forever (or Die Trying)

Author: Bill Gifford

Genre: Non-Fiction, Health, Science, Aging

The Gist: Getting old and dying sucks, which is why people have tried from time immoral to cheat this seemingly inevitable process. Author Bill Gifford explores humanity’s quest to stay young forever, examining historical efforts to beat aging and explaining the latest and greatest developments in this field.

Why I Love It: I’ll admit it, growing old is not something I particularly want to do, including the part where I spend my days telling and retelling the epic story of that time the dryer broke and how I was on the phone with the Sears service technician for two hours. TWO HOURS! Didn’t he know it was time for my nap? Bill Gifford weaves science and history into an informative and understandable story that manages to be amusing the entire way through. I listened to this book as an audio book, and it was a fascinating driving companion.

 

Cover, The MartianThe Martian

Author: Andy Weir

Genre: Science Fiction

The Gist: Mark Watney has a problem. That problem is Mars. Specifically, the fact that he is on Mars, accidentally abandoned by his crew that are now on their way back to earth. With unrelenting determination, endless MacGyver-like tricks, and an indefatigable sense of humor, Mark will find a way to survive…or die trying.

Why I Love It: I want to marry Mark Watney. The Martian is filled with his journal entries as he tries to survive on a planet that is constantly trying to kill him. I was instantly sucked into his plight, rooting for him despite the seemingly hopelessness of his situation. Author Andy Weir does a “stellar” (har, har) job of crafting a believable story filled with intricate details that are (usually) understandable to all the non-rocket scientists reading it.

 

Cover, Writing From the HeartWriting the Heart of Your Story

Author: C.S. Lakin

Genre: Non-Fiction, How-to, Authorship

The Gist: Author C.S. Lakin offers up this short but powerful guide that shows authors how to craft a story with heart, feeling, and depth.

Why I Love It: In a self-publishing world that sometimes seems obsessed with figuring out how to write faster and pump out more and more books, Writing the Heart of Your Story is a refreshing book that focuses on the craft. Many of Lakin’s lessons are not new, but she has a way of making them feel profound. This was my favorite writing book of the year. If you’re not an author, you are grudgingly allow you to skip this book.

 

 

Cover, XenocideXenocide, Book 3 in the Ender Quintet

Author: Orson Scott Card

Genre: Science Fiction

The Gist: One little planet in a vast solar system could hold the key to finally discovering a way for different sentient creatures to live peacefully together. Too bad the Starways Congress sees Lusitania as a perilous threat and is intent on destroying it. Ender and his small circle of friends and family work against the clock to stop the oncoming Armada, figure out how to control descolada virus, and keep the peace on a very divided planet.

Why I Love It:  Okay, so my “Gist” for Xenocide doesn’t even come close to giving this book its due. I can’t say much more than read it! Even if you don’t normally pickup science fiction, read this book. Along with Shogun, this was the only other book I read this entire year that reached all the way into my soul and left it changed forever. This book is about more than aliens and spaceships and faraway planets. It’s about how we treat those who are different than ourselves and our potential as a race. So, you know how I was all like, “Read this book!” I lied. You really want to start with book one in this series, Ender’s Game. Read that. Then Speaker for the Dead (book two)…and then read Xenocide.

 

So, there you have it, my book recommendations lovingly placed into your keeping. I hope that I can be the instigation for a little soul soaring, big belly laughs, and maybe even a few tears wrung out for characters in their greatest times of need. Remember, your final book tally is a finite thing. Recommendations are a gift, and I hope you’ll spread the love by recommending your favorite books to your reader friends, family, and acquaintances. Happy reading!

Teeny Tiny Note: All of the Amazon links in this blog post are Amazon Associate links. That means if you use the link and make a purchase on Amazon, I get a teensy commission. I only use Amazon Associate links when I am already planning on linking to Amazon. The links do not affect my opinion or my book recommendations.

Forgiving Tarren — (aka A Frustratingly Vague Blog Post About FLYING)

October 18th, 2015 1 comment
Sad Statue of Man

Kind of a little drunk on PicMonkey photo editing service right now.

I’m worried about Tarren. Okay, holding the truth stick now, I’m always worried about Tarren. He can be exhausting sometimes. How he shoulders all the responsibility for keeping his family safe, and how he has internalized the guilt about what happened with his sister, Tammy. How he pushes, pushes, pushes himself and still never feels like he’s doing enough.

Worrying about Tarren is about as normal as breathing for me. But this time it’s different. As I slowly turn all the thoughts that have been spinning around my brain for years into the first draft of FLYING (the final book in the GIRL WITH BROKEN WINGS series), I’m extra, double worried for Tarren. His secrets are finally coming out, and they’re not all flattering.

Tarren has always held himself to an impossible moral, physical, and mental standard, and Gabe and Maya are often the victims of his burdensome expectations. Behind his back they call him a robot, and sometimes it seems so easy to believe this is true.

But Maya, Gabe, and you, the reader, know better.

Tarren has done such a good job of playing the hero, but every cape has its unraveling threads. In FLYING, you will see the threads of Tarren’s cape, and I hope you won’t be disappointed in him.

I hope you can forgive him for being wonderfully, beautifully, tragically human.

(Look for FLYING to swoop in the first half of 2016.)