Monday, February 28, 2011

Harper Collins cripples the ebook lending industry

I read some alarming news a few days ago: Someone reported on the Barnes & Noble thread that one of the major book publishers was putting ridiculously strict new restrictions on how their ebooks are lent.  I waited a few days before blogging about this in order to gather more information and get confirmation from my library that this is true.  Unfortunately, it is true — Harper Collins is trying to cripple the ebook lending industry by limiting how their ebooks can be lent.

Here are a few pertinent sources:

HarperCollins Puts 26 Loan Cap on Ebook Circulations, from the Library Journal
Publishers force Overdrive to change public library lending, from the Barnes & Noble forums
New eBook and digital content licensing terms for library lending, from the MobileRead forums

Basically, Harper Collins became concerned with the fact that ebooks are theoretically eternal, since they don't suffer the same wear and tear as physical copies.  (I'm not sure I buy that reasoning, since future changes in technology will presumably make current copies obsolete.)  Therefore, to try to make their ebooks mimic the lifespan of a physical copy, they have limited their ebooks to being lent only 26 times each before the library needs to repurchase the ebook.  This means that libraries with 2-week loan periods will have to repurchase the books every year, while libraries with 3-week loan periods will get an oh-so-generous 18 months before their books expire.

The idea that this mimics the lifespan of a physical book is utter nonsense.  How many times have you checked out a physical book from your library that is more than a year old — and found it was in good, readable condition?  Pretty often, I'm willing to bet.  I've checked out books with cover illustrations that are laughably outdated, books that have been taped and rebound and recovered, and yet are still making the rounds.  Libraries are remarkably good at getting the maximum mileage out of a book.  In fact, my college library had books on their shelves from the early 1900s.  I'll bet those have been checked out a whole hell of a lot more than 26 times.

Besides the fact that this is obviously way too conservative a restriction, the long-term implications are concerning.  First of all, as pointed out in the MobileReads thread, the next logical step is to start limiting how many times buyers can read an ebook before it stops working forever — never mind that some people take better care of their books than ever, and that as a result many books last for generations.

Let's face it, this decision has nothing to do with protecting writers' work (as they claim) and everything to do with greed.  The files you download from the library are protected against copying and sharing, and self-destruct after the loan period has ended.  You have to be a computer whiz in order to strip the DRM and steal an ebook, particularly a library ebook, whereas you need no such skills to walk into a library and slap a book down on the provided copiers — or, heck, if you don't want to have to pay for copies, whip out your iPhone and photograph every page to make your own DRM-free ebook using a free PDF-writer app.  The idea that ebooks are less secure than physical books is ludicrous.

No, clearly Harper Collins thinks that if they do this, they'll make more money.  I argue that they won't, and will in fact only succeed in pissing off potential customers.  People don't like it when big companies get too controlling.  But besides that, libraries simply can't afford to replace ebooks year after year, so they won't make more money from the libraries.  And, let's face it, people who check books out from the library aren't going to go out and buy the book just because the ebook is no longer available from their library.  They are just going to get the physical copy instead.  People use libraries to save money, and they aren't going to change that attitude because Harper Collins decides to play God — they will simply get the physical copy from the library instead.

My hope is that the library community and their patrons will put up enough of a fuss that Harper Collins will back down.  If this move upsets you, please consider writing a polite email to Harper Collins and letting them know.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Jane Eyre coming to the big screen again

iconiconI'm still working my way through Pride and Prejudice: The Wild and Wanton Version (a review coming soon, I promise), but in the meantime, check out this blog post from NPR: A new movie version of Jane Eyre is coming out next month!  Some of you may remember that I'm a big fan of the BrontĂ«s, so it will probably come as no big surprise that I plan on seeing it in the theaters, if it goes there!

It'll be interesting to see how it is.  I think I've watched most of the movie adaptations of Jane Eyre out there — a few years ago, hubby and I watched several of them before we went to Haworth.  A lot of adaptations cut out some part of the plot, usually Jane's time with her cousins after she runs away from Rochester.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to seeing this new one!

Edit 8/3/2011: While I was updating my affiliate links, I noticed that you can now preorder the new Jane Eyre on DVDicon!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Elements of Copywriting by Gary Blake and Robert W. Bly

Originally posted in June of 2006, this is another of the reviews from Reading 4 Writers, my old blog dedicating to reviewing writing-related books. Although I didn't have as much to say about this book compared to Bob Bly's other books on copywriting, I found it to be a very helpful book for writers and would-be writers.

iconiconIt's almost laughable: when I recently checked out a bunch of library books on copywriting, three of the books were by Robert Bly! Before we left for our vacation, I grabbed a few books to take with me, and one of them happened to be The Elements of Copywriting, the third book by Robert Bly that I've read on the subject. (This particular book is also co-authored by Gary Blake.)

Having read three books by Bly, almost right in a row, I've noticed many similarities between them. Certainly an aspiring copywriter shouldn't have to read all three. My favorite was the last book I reviewed, The Copywriter's Handbook, but The Online Copywriter's Handbook is useful too - just a little more outdated.

The Elements of Copywriting is also a tad bit outdated - it was published in 1997, almost a decade ago. The chapter about the internet is the most noticeably outdated.

The biggest benefit of The Elements of Copywriting is that it is more condensed than the other books - so if you just need to know the basics, you might prefer a slightly shorter book. However, I still prefer The Copywriter's Handbook, which contains some very helpful information for Internet copywriters.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Kathryn Stockett sued over The Help

Yesterday NPR announced that Kathryn Stockett is being sued for using someone's likeness in The Help without their permission.  Her brother's family's nanny, a woman named Ablene Cooper (compare to Aibilene Clark, the character in the book), claims that she explicitly told Stockett NOT to use her as the basis for a character in the book, but Stockett did anyway.

The character isn't totally drawn from life, but apparently there are some significant similarities: the first name and initials, obviously, but also the fact that both the character and the real woman had a grown son die, and both have a gold tooth.

Personally, I'd have a hard time arguing (with a straight face) that the character was me because of a gold tooth, but I guess it's all in the number of similarities.

NPR asks the question, how much borrowing is fair?  And honestly, I don't think Stockett did anything wrong.  She changed some details — maybe not all, but enough that apparently one-third of the argument is based on the presence of a gold tooth (?!) — and also, as Stockett notes, the character is a heroine, so what's there to be offended about?

One of the comments on the article made the point, "Would Ms. Cooper still be suing Ms. Stockett if the book wasn't a big hit and hadn't made a ton of money?"  And I think therein lies the crux of the matter.  Cooper is pissed off that Stockett made money off of her likeness — otherwise why would she have taken so long to come forward?  The book has been out for two years now!

In my opinion, Stockett didn't do anything wrong, though I can't say it was the brightest thing to do — I mean, really, couldn't she have given the character a different name and eliminated the gold tooth?  And maybe make it a daughter who had died instead of a son?  Small changes, but changes that would have completely eliminated Cooper's claims.  Even with those few similarities, though, I don't think what Stockett did was wrong.  The character is still only loosely based on real life (otherwise they would have had more than a gold tooth to prove it), and let's be honest here, all writers base their work on real life to a certain degree.  Some of the best literature we have immortalizes real people: Little Women, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, even the Chronicles of Narnia.  Are we really going to allow this case to determine that it's no longer okay for writers to draw inspiration from real life?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

So it's war: eBook stores vs. Apple

I just got wind of a war that has apparently been brewing all month, between the ebook stores (starting with Sony) and Apple.

Apparently, it started when Apple rejected Sony's ebook reader app, on the grounds that Apple has now decided to disallow any apps that allow customers to make or view purchases that Apple didn't get a piece of.  In other words, unless they get their cut on all ebook purchases made from Barnes & Noble, Amazon, etc., they aren't going to allow those ebook stores' apps anymore.  According to a thread on the B&N forums, Apple is going to remove the offending ebook reader apps from the App Store, including the Nook app and the Kindle app, on July 1st.

It seems that Apple is becoming a bit overreaching.  They 30 percent commission that they are demanding on all ebooks sold through ebook store apps would eliminate the ebook stores' profit margin, since 30 percent is what they get from the publishers for selling their books.  No way are they going to agree to giving up all their profits to Apple, yet that's what Apple is demanding — and, according to Sony, they have been unwilling to work with the ebook stores for a different arrangement.

On another, but similar, note: Apple has even reportedly designed their iBooks software to detect if a device has been jailbroken, and to lock the consumer out of their entire iBooks library until it's fixed. 

This stinks of monopoly, and reminds me of why my dad hated Apple when I was growing up.  Moves like this in the '70s and '80s severely limited how many people used their computers, since nothing was compatible; it was, in my opinion, devices such as the iPod (and, later, the iPhone and iPad) that saved them.  But as this article notes, ebook reading is one of the iPad's selling points, so a move like this one may hurt their sales.  Is Apple returning to the same narrow thinking that they had when I was a kid?

Sony is fighting back, though, by announcing that they are considering pulling their music from iTunes entirely.  I don't know what Barnes & Noble and Amazon are doing, but I rather doubt they'll stand for this.  My concerns are:

* Will I still be able to use my Nook app, or is Apple going to remove it from my iPhone entirely?

If they perform the "hand of God" act of removing the app from my phone completely, I will be PISSED.  That's exactly what Amazon did a while back when they reached into customers' Kindles and removed 1984, and it pissed people off then, too.  We'll see if Apple is actually willing to go that far, or if they will let those of us who already have the apps continue to use them.

* Will I be able to use another ebook reader app to read my B&N ebooks?

I've already checked on this, and the answer is, YES.  Bluefire Reader allows you to read B&N ebooks, even the encrypted ones.  Obviously, it's more work than using the Nook app, because you have to download the ebook file on your computer and then transfer it to your iPhone, just as you would with a library ebook.  You also have to enter your name and the credit card number on your account when you open the book the first time, as that's how it's encrypted.  But in my opinion, it's worth it to continue reading ebooks on Apple devices if this goes down the way Apple is threatening.  Besides, Bluefire is actually a better reader than the Nook app: It's faster, crashes less often, and has more features to offer.

I don't think Bluefire will be affected by this new decision of Amazon's, since it seems like they are only blocking the ebook sellers' apps.

It'll be interesting to see how this pans out, but as long as I can continue to read my ebooks through Bluefire — even if it's not as convenient — I'm content!  Of course, it may have an impact on my choice when it's time to replace my phone, since I won't support Apple with my next phone purchase if they ruin this for me.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Copywriter's Handbook by Robert W. Bly

This review is another from my old blog for reviewing writing-related books, Reading 4 Writers. Although this review was originally written in May of 2006, it's still a relevant review for a great resource for writers.

iconiconNot long ago, I posted a review of Robert Bly's The Online Copywriter's Handbook. When I picked up the next of my stack of library books to review, I realized it was another of Bly's books: The Copywriter's Handbook.

If I was impressed by the previous book, I can't even begin to tell you what I thought of this book! It contained some of the same information, sometimes even word-for-word, but it also contained a lot of new information.

Oddly enough, I thought the chapter on writing for an online format was more helpful, in some ways, than The Online Copywriter's Handbook - although that may have to do with the fact that The Copywriter's Handbook is several years newer, and therefore more up-to-date. For instance, Bly tackles the relatively new realm of SEO writing, and gives some tips that you won't hear from anyone else online - particularly the article factories who want SEO articles.

Bly also goes into great detail about things that were not covered in the Online Handbook at all, such as writing ads, press releases, and direct marketing materials. Another chapter covers how to find a job with an advertising agency - oddly enough, Bly doesn't seem to think too highly of freelancing - and the final chapter tells non-writers how to work with copywriters. (I know of several past editors and employers of mine who need to read this...) All of the information is very thorough and helpful.

It's a great book to have on your shelf for easy reference - there are so many pages that I stared at for quite some time, desperately trying to memorize the information there for future reference. There was just too much to take in, though, so I'll probably be buying the book myself just as soon as I have a little extra money - and I'd recommend the same to just about any other writer.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Online Copywriter's Handbook by Robert W. Bly

Here is another of the reviews from Reading 4 Writers, my old blog for reviewing writing-related books.  It's an older post, dating back to May 2006, the early days of the blog, but it's still a pertinent review for copywriters.  Enjoy!

iconiconThe Online Copywriter's Handbook by Robert W. Bly seems to be pretty well-known, as I know I've heard the author's name bandied about in other copywriting books.

It's quite obvious why I've heard Bly's name before. His book is fantastic. He presents a very thorough how-to, which appeals to entrepreneurs and beginning copywriters alike. His writing is so engaging that it's easy to see he must be a very successful copywriter - although I normally skim major chunks of these books, I found myself slowing down and reading this one in detail.

In chapter one of the book, Bly talks about the factors that have molded the nature of the Internet and the habits of its users. To quote Bly: "According to Dan Poynter, author of The Self-Publishing Manual, 80 percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year. He also notes that 70 percent of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years, and 58 percent of the adult population never reads another book after high school."

Those statistics are positively staggering. Can you imagine never reading another book after graduation? Ever? In your entire life?

With hooks like this, Bly's book really draws you in, makes you understand the audience that online materials must be written for. After reading that first chapter and all its shocking revelations, I was committed: there was no way I wasn't going to finish that book.

The rest of the book is quite useful, too. Bly walks you through webpage creation, banner and newsletter ads, direct mail, and ezine publishing. The book is written so that readers with absolutely no knowledge of copywriting will be able to follow it, yet I - with my whole year-and-a-half's worth of experience - didn't feel talked down to or offended.

Most of the writing books I've read and reviewed, I would recommend checking out from the library before making the decision to buy. The Online Copywriter's Handbook, however, is different - I firmly believe that this is a book every writer needs in their library.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Hiding Place by Karen Harper

iconiconAfter my scathing review of The Struggle, I must say, I am glad to be able to give a positive review.  After reading about the juvenile troubles of the Vampire Diaries, I desperately needed to read something a little more grown up, so I chose Karen Harper's The Hiding Place.  This book, I must add, was the first successful ebook acquisition recommendation I made to my library.  They bought it less than a week after I recommended it.

The Hiding Place is a novel about a private investigator named Tara who, for some reason I cannot fathom, was married to an insanely traditional man from an insanely powerful family.  You know, the kind of rich, powerful men who like to keep their women barefoot and pregnant.  After having been married for a couple of years, Tara and her husband were having problems, and then Tara wakes up from an 11-month-long coma to find that her husband had divorced her in the interim.

It turns out that that's not the extent of her husband's betrayals, however.  The novel begins a couple of years later.  Tara is the temporary guardian of Claire, the daughter of her murdered best friend, whom she was trying to protect the night she was hit in the head with the butt of a rifle, causing her coma.  Her friend's brother, Claire's uncle, has just come home from Afghanistan, where he was training tracking dogs for the military, and he quickly becomes involved in helping Tara to solve the mystery of who has been after her — and what really happened to her while she was in that coma.

I figured out the truth of what happened to her in the first few chapters of the book, so the ending may not be a big surprise to you, but it's still a really good suspense novel, well researched and very authentic.  It also takes place in Evergreen and Conifer, in Colorado, just to the west of where I live, which made for a nice local flavor.  Definitely an enjoyable book if you like suspense!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Struggle by L.J. Smith

iconiconA little over a week ago, I blogged about The Awakening, the first book of the Vampire Diaries.  I wasn't terribly impressed — it was kind of like being back in high school, since the main female character is the queen of the school and, frankly, rather juvenile and snobbish.  But the book also ended on a cliffhanger, and despite my better judgment, I wanted to see what would happen next.

The next book, The Struggle, is also rather juvenile, I'm afraid.  Now the queen of the school has two vampire brothers fighting over her, and a former member of her little clique is trying to ruin her reputation.  Yikes.

Some YA novels transcend their genre, and are read by many adults.  The Struggle isn't one of them.  It's definitely written like it's geared to young girls, and probably rather superficial ones too, judging by all the high school drama.  I'm guessing L.J. Smith either was a cheerleader, or never got over wanting to be one.  Harsh, I know, but jeez...  If writers like Stephanie Meyer can make millions of adult women relive the excitement of their first loves, why is it that L.J. Smith's books do nothing but remind me why I hated high school?

Unfortunately, I still want to know what happens, but I'll need another short break before I put myself through another 200 pages of Vampire Diaries!

Friday, February 18, 2011

The New Publicity Kit by Jeanette Smith

The review that follows is one of the posts from Reading 4 Writers, my old blog for reviewing writing-related books. Since I rarely ever updated that blog, I decided to shut it down, and I am gradually adding some of the reviews to Livre du Jour.

iconiconThe New Publicity Kit: A Complete Guide for Entrepreneurs, Samll Businesses & Nonprofit Organizations, by Jeanette Smith, is a little outdated (1995) but still contains some pretty good starter information. In particular, the book has several chapters to help first-timers write press releases in newstory and feature formats. The book also explains press kits and other forms of free or low-cost publicity available for do-it-yourselfers.

There are two things to remember when reading this book:

1) The book is geared toward the small business owner,

2) The internet technology mentioned in the book is so far outdated, it's practically from another world; these days, so much more news is on the Web that any writer of publicity materials will probably be writing directly for an online audience.

There is an awful lot of information for beginners in this book, such as how to format manuscripts and what a press release consists of, but it would probably be helpful for a writer (or, as the book was intended for, an entrepreneur) who wants a little guidance writing publicity materials for the first time.

Borders files for bankruptcy

When I was at Barnes & Noble on Wednesday, I heard someone mention Borders's financial problems.  Sure enough, NPR did a story on Borders filing bankruptcy.

I have to say, after hearing last year that Barnes & Noble was struggling, I am relieved now that Borders is taking the fall instead — and that Barnes & Noble seems to be doing better, thanks to the Nook.  My husband and I have often discussed the difference between Barnes & Noble, and why we like it more than Borders.  One of the biggest reasons I can see is that Barnes & Noble feels more like a bookstore, whereas Borders is more of a media store — much more of their store is dedicated to movies and music.  I know Barnes & Noble sells movies, music, and even kids' toys, but they stash their non-book sections in the back of the store, so that there is nothing to disrupt the bookish feel when you walk in the door.  Borders has always felt to me more like Media Play (remember them?), and has lacked that welcoming feel that I get from a bookstore.

Borders will be closing 200 stores, but they'll still be around.  In fact, the NPR story says they are still hoping to be a "vibrant national retailer of books — and other products."  Sounds to me like they haven't learned a thing.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Flying Changes by Sara Gruen

iconiconAfter reading Riding Lessons in about 24 hours, I knew it wouldn't take me much less time to read Flying Changes.  And in fact, I couldn't put it down last night until I'd finished it around 3:30 in the morning.  I'm a bit tired today, but oh, it was worth it!

In this sequel, Annemarie is struggling with whether to let her talented daughter ride competitively; her memories of her near-fatal riding accident when she was competing as a teen cause her a lot of hesitation.  However, it soon becomes obvious that Eva is headed down the wrong path unless she has something like competitive eventing and training to fill her time.

At the same time, Annemarie is dealing with a lot of uncertainty about the future in her relationship with her childhood sweetheart.  And with all of this as background noise, the ultimate tragedy takes place.

Besides the fact that it's about horses and it's the sequel to Riding Lessons, there was another reason I was so keen on reading Flying Changes.  I discovered last November that Flying Changes was a NaNoWriMo novel.  Since every year I do NaNoWriMo — National Novel Writing Month, a challenge to write a 50,000 novel in one month — I was delighted when I found out that a popular published author does it too!  In the acknowledgments at the back of the book, Gruen says, "To my writing group, who propped me up and generally kept me going with consistent love and support."  I can't help but wonder if she is talking about her local NaNoWriMo group — typically, local groups form and meet several times during the week to write or just to talk about their novels.

Sara Gruen's books are filled with lines that would make great quotes, but before I finish this review, there is one in particular I'd like to share, because it so closely mirrors how I feel about my horse.  Granted, I'm not the world-class rider Annemarie is, but just the same, I understand this feeling of intimacy with a horse:

Hurrah transports me, and I give myself over to him. When I ride him I'm a different person — confident, competent, operating at a level somewhere below latent thought and in absolute concert with the magnificent animal beneath me. When I slide from his back, I am recharged and whole. How could I possibly let anyone witness that? It would be like letting someone watch me make love.

THAT is what it is like to love a horse.

Free ebooks for President's Day

Barnes & Noble is giving away 13 free classics for President's Day.  All of the books seem to be American history-themed in some fashion: Thomas Paine's Common Sense, Frederick Douglass's My Bondage and My Freedom, and some of America's most well-known novels, such as Tom Sawyer, Moby Dick, and O Pioneers!  Some of the freebies are repeats from last summer's weekly classics giveaway, but at least half of these haven't been free before (because I didn't have them).

President's Day free BN classics

I don't know how long these will be free — it could be a week, could only be through Monday — so get them while you can!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Riding Lessons by Sara Gruen

iconiconAlthough both of the next two books I'll be blogging about are fiction, I've categorized them under "horses" because there is no doubt that's what they are: novels, sure, but horse novels.

Riding Lessons is clearly written by someone who knows horses and knows the horse world.  It's a sensory feast for anyone who loves the barn as much as Sara Gruen clearly does: She describes the smell of the barn, the feel of the horse, even little details that bring it all to life, such as the cross ties clinking against the wall as you release each one, or the water that runs down your arm and into your shirt when you give a horse a bath.  That she includes these details brings a delightful authenticity to her books.

A fellow boarder at my barn recommended Riding Lessons and Flying Changes to me ages ago, but it wasn't until they showed up in my library's selection of ebooks that I finally got around to reading them.  I raced through Riding Lessons in a little over a day, and I'm sure I'll be done with Flying Changes almost as fast.  I just can't seem to get enough of either of them.

Riding Lessons is about Annemarie Zimmer, a former Olympic-bound eventing champion who hasn't ridden since a freak accident destroyed her body and her horse.  Although surgeries and months of rehabilitation put her back together physically, she never got over the loss of her horse.  She even married in order to get away from her parents' horse farm, because she couldn't stand the painful reminders.

Now she is getting a divorce, her relationship with her teenage daughter is on the rocks, she's lost her job, and her father is dying.  With her world falling apart, Annemarie returns home to the horse farm to take over managing it for her parents.  She discovers that her high school sweetheart is now a vet and runs a horse rescue.  When she sees a rescue in his pen that looks exactly like her lost horse, she adopts him and begins the process of healing him — and herself.

In some respects, the plot line of the book resembles a train wreck, not because it's bad, but because all of the conflicts in the novel descend on Annemarie at once: her divorce hearing, her relationship with her daughter, her problems managing the horse farm, and the truth about who her rescue horse really is.

Certainly I think more people than just horse lovers will enjoy this book, but for anyone who owns, has owned, or simply loves horses, it's a real treat!

The Amaranth Enchantment by Julie Berry

iconiconI stopped reading The Amaranth Enchantment about 4 chapters in so that I could read my Valentine's Day selection, but when I picked it up again, I finished the book in a day.  It was a fun fantasy retelling of Cinderella — so well disguised that I didn't notice until about halfway through the book that that's what it was.

Lucinda was the daughter of wealthy and important parents, but when they were killed in a horrible accident when she was 5, leaving her penniless, she was raised by her aunt and uncle — poor relations by marriage.

Ten years later, a woman known as the Amaranth Witch brings a beautiful stone in to her uncle's jewelry box and requests a setting to be made for it.  Before the work can be done, however, Lucinda's world falls apart, and she finds herself on the streets, searching for the stolen stone.  It turns out that more than just the stone is hanging in the balance: Lucinda also has an opportunity to reclaim her parents' legacy if she can find the magic stone before the evil lord who is also searching for it.

At only about 330 pages (220 on Nook), The Amaranth Enchantment is a fairly quick read, but it's fun and sweet.  Young teenage girls are going to love this unique retelling of Cinderella, but (speaking from experience) adults who enjoy YA fiction will like it, too!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Bringing over book reviews from another blog

I decided over the weekend to let the domain name for another of my book review blogs, Reading 4 Writers, expire.  I rarely ever update the blog, and since all of the reviews fall under the umbrella of this blog, I decided I would just bring over the better reviews and ditch the blog itself.

Rather than backdating the blog posts as I bring them over, I've decided to use them as filler when I don't have anything else to blog about, so you will see them coming through occasionally.  I will always be sure to note that they are old posts from Reading 4 Writers.


Ebooks on NYT bestseller list

Someone on the Barnes & Noble forums pointed out that the New York Times bestseller lists now include ebooks:

As one commenter pointed out, including ebooks on the list gives them credibility.  It took a while for them to gain acceptance, but now that they are, their popularity seems to be snowballing.

It was also pointed out that many of the ebooks on the list are priced over $9.99, which is supposed to be the magic maximum price that customers will pay for ebooks.  Guess not!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Free ebook for Valentine's Day

iconiconThis ebook is only available for free today, Valentine's Day 2011, so download it while you can!  Because most free ebooks are only available for a short time, I tend to download them while they are available, and decide later whether I want to read it.

However, do note that the reviews on this one are a bit mixed.  Apparently it's the text of the original Pride and Prejudice, with some steamy love scenes mixed in.  For die-hard Jane Austen fans, this will no doubt be rather offensive — but at the same time, I am rather curious as to how they pulled it off!

Edit: Read my review of Pride and Prejudice: The Wild and Wanton Edition!

Happy Valentine's Day!

iconiconI was starting to read The Amaranth Enchantment, but when I realized this post was likely going to fall on Valentine's Day, I decided I should read something a little more... romantic.

I didn't have any romance novels on my checkout list at the library.  Because I am constantly downloading free ebooks, though, I have nearly 300 ebooks in my Nook library, so I decided to start there.  Surely there was a romance novel on that list that I'd been meaning to read.

As a matter of fact, there were several.  Okay, more than several.  There are a lot of romance novels offered as free ebooks.

At first, I decided to try Bond with Me, last week's Free Fridays offering.  They even mentioned Valentine's Day in the post, so I was thinking it might be halfway decent.  Ha.  I'm not sure you could even get away with calling it erotica...  Porn, maybe?  After the word "pussy" was used three or four times in the first 30 pages, I gave up.  I find that word insulting, not sexy.  Not really what I was looking for in a Valentine's Day romance, so with a tap of the screen, I rated it (one star), removed the file from my iPhone, and archived the ebook. Maybe someday I'll try it again... though don't hold your breath.

iconiconLuckily I had plenty else to choose from, so I tried again.  This time I opted for Scandal Sheet, a free offering over the summer (still cheap, though).  I believe the author is self-published, but I've heard good things about her, and actually just recently downloaded another of her books, Spying in High Heels.  Looks fun!

Scandal Sheet looked fun, too — and in that respect, it didn't disappoint.  The main character, Tina, is a journalist for a Hollywood gossip magazine, but her column draws some unwanted attention, and she starts getting death threats if she doesn't stop writing about one of the stars... but who?  Tina decides to try to solve the mystery, despite her boss's objections.

Unfortunately, I went from one extreme to the other — I was looking for a trashy romance novel, and while Bond with Me was a little too trashy for my tastes, this one was anything but.  Although there was a love interest — the bodyguard assigned to look after Tina — they share all of about three kisses from the beginning of the novel to the end.  The book focuses more on Tina's investigative efforts.  Still, the story is fun, if a little tongue-in-cheek, judging by the glaringly impossible rescue scene at the end.  I may have been disappointed by the lack of trashy love scenes, but I have to say, I'm definitely looking forward to reading the author's High Heels series.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Self-published success stories for ebook authors

A commenter on the B&N forums mentioned that one of B&N's PubIt! authors, Amanda Hocking, was written up in USA Today:

Authors catch fire with self-published e-books

When I got a B&N gift card for Christmas, I bought a couple of her ebooks — the first ones of two different series, I believe, so they were 99 cents each.  They are vampire and dark fantasy books, and a lot of people on the forum rave about them, so I figured I'd try them out.  Haven't gotten to 'em yet, but I'm thinking I may need to soon:

By May she was selling hundreds; by June, thousands. She sold 164,000 books in 2010. Most were low-priced (99 cents to $2.99) digital downloads.

More astounding: This January she sold more than 450,000 copies of her nine titles. More than 99% were e-books.

I'm amazed that one author's self-published books are generating so many sales, even on great sites such as  Wow!  I think I will bump one of her books up my reading list, to see if I'll be buying the next ones in the series — and contributing to her February sales...

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Vintage Affair by Isabel Wolff

iconiconBack when I originally downloaded the B&N eReader (the original one, not the Nook app), I got a sample of A Vintage Affair.  We'd been seeing it in the store, and I thought it looked like an interesting novel, so when I found out my library had the ebook, I jumped on the chance to read it for free.

The main character, Phoebe, runs a vintage clothes boutique, which wins my heart right there — between the 1920s wedding dress I got married in and my love of 1950s dolls, I've come to love vintage clothes!

The story was also very unique.  It's partly about the things Phoebe is struggling to deal with in her life: the death of her best friend, breaking up with her fiancĂ©, and her dad's scandalous affair.  Phoebe also meets and develops relationships with two different men: Miles the millionaire, and Dan the journalist.  It's also a great deal about the regrets of an dying woman, a stranger, that Phoebe comes to know and love.

Vintage clothes are the theme running throughout the story.  They are the link between Phoebe and both of the men she forms relationships with.  Time and again, they are also the happiness, however small, that "saves" the women she meets: the honest, hard-working girl who can't afford the perfect dress, the woman who is coming to terms with her infertility, the young woman who breaks out of an emotionally abusive relationship with a white-collar criminal.  And vintage clothes are ultimately the piece of the puzzle that Phoebe needs to bring happiness and closure to her elderly friend's life.

It's an intricate plot, made up of numerous side-stories, all woven together — like the threads in a piece of fabric, actually, in a way.  The threads all come together to form a pattern that is greater as a whole: a story of women finding their way in life.  A Vintage Affair is a well-told story with lots of depth and complexity, and one that I think most women will love!

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Awakening by L.J. Smith

iconiconI have some pretty mixed feelings about this one.  I've never been interested in reading the Vampire Diaries series, although I had heard of it and knew there was a corresponding TV show.  But a couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to download the fourth ebook in the series for free, and I figured I should probably read them in order.  Luckily I was able to get the ebook for the first one from my library, so I was able to try it out for free.

Teen dark fantasy has been quite popular lately, with many of the books — such as the Twilight Saga — being read by adults as well as teens.  I didn't feel like The Awakening, the first in the original series by L.J. Smith (apparently there is also a "Return Series" and a "Stefan's Diaries" series) transcended its YA label, though.  Elena, the main character, is a popular girl and the queen of her small-town school, which makes it feel more like "Sweet Valley High with Teeth" than something adults can really get into.

It's not that it's bad, and actually, I'll probably at least read the rest of the first four books.  The Awakening ends on a cliffhanger, or rather it ends with the feeling that the overall story is just getting started.  Luckily it was a pretty quick read, and I anticipate the others will be the same.  I finished this one in a day, just like The Mockingbirds.

I won't read the next one quite yet, though.  I need a break first — which means I'm moving on to something a little more "adult" for the time being.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

iPad storybook apps

The other night I heard a story being replayed on NPR:

iPad Storybook Apps and the Kids Who Love Them

The writer reviewed a bunch of children's book apps, using his 3-year-old daughter as his "review partner."  These aren't ebooks, really, but individual apps that you download onto the iPad.  (I wonder if they have them for the iPhone, too?)  It sounds like they range from straightforward, ebook-like stories with text, illustrations, and maybe some animation, to highly interactive stories with puzzles and games.

I'm not sure how I feel about the interactive stuff.  It seems like it could attract a lot of the same concerns as TV and video games, except in this respect, it may actually be undermining kids' desire to read for the sake of reading.  I've always felt that TV and video games are dangerous because of how much less kids read when they have those options around, but these apps are different in that they may actually change what kids expect from story time.

I think this is much different than an ebook, even one on a color screen such as the Nook Color, because those behave like a regular book, with just the text and illustrations.  Whether it's presented on paper or on a screen, it's still a book.  Therefore I think I could happily share ebooks with my kids (hypothetically — I don't have any yet!), but I think I would hesitate to equate these interactive apps with story time.

I am curious about what others think.  Do you approve of these interactive storybook apps?  Disapprove?  Or maybe only like them as long as they are not presented as replacements for books?  I'd love to hear from parents as well as those without kids.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney

iconiconAfter all of the dark fantasy I've been reading lately, I was ready for something a little more "normal."  I've had The Mockingbirds out from the library for weeks, and I won't be able to renew it again, so I decided to read it yesterday.  (Yes, I read a book that wasn't an ebook!  Are you shocked?)

In many ways, Daisy Whitney's book was really difficult to read, so I can only imagine how hard it was for her to write.  It's because of the topic: It begins with the main character, Alex, waking up in a strange boy's bed, and realizing she has no memory of what happened.  Although she tries to deny it at first, it is immediately clear to her friends that she has been date-raped.

Unfortunately, their boarding school does not really have any sort of system in place to protect students from crimes like this one, so Alex's friends convince her to go to the Mockingbirds, a secret (from the faculty) organization of students that metes out justice.

The book goes through all of the agonizing reactions a girl or woman who is raped goes through: self-disgust and self-blame, having to face him again, and the indecision about whether she is doing the right thing by taking it to the authorities (in this case, the Mockingbirds).  Although I read the entire book over the course of yesterday afternoon and evening, there were several times that I had to put it down for a little bit because it was so difficult to read.  I wanted to know what happened, but at the same time, it was like I was going through all of it with Alex — except that I had the ability to make it stop happening by putting the book down.

Despite the difficult subject matter, it was a very compelling book, which was what kept me from putting it down for too long.  (Obviously, since I finished it in a day.)  It is also a subject that I think a lot of girls can relate to.  I forget what the percentage of girls estimated to have been date-raped is, but I know it's high; and many of those who haven't been have felt some amount of pressure, or had a boy do something inappropriate that made her uncomfortable, and will relate in that respect.

The indecision that Alex goes through is difficult for me, because I know she's right to be pursuing justice, but she really struggles with it over the course of the book.  It's very satisfying, however, to see how Alex grows throughout the course of the book — and throughout the course of the semester.  By standing up for herself, however reluctantly at first, she finds inner strength, but she also discovers that pursuing justice is not the same as pursuing vengeance.  The justice is about keeping students safe in the future, but ultimately, she has to come to terms with what happened herself.

Although the subject matter really can be difficult, I think this is a wonderful example of how YA fiction is often more meaningful and moving than adult fiction.  It really doesn't get much better than The Mockingbirds.

Free ebook and bargain ebook blog

Thanks to the Barnes & Noble forums, I discovered a great blog that lists a lot of free promotional ebooks and bargain ebooks.  The blogger must put a lot of effort into finding these!

Books on the Knob

Just last night, I downloaded two free ebooks: The Iron Kingicon (one I've been wanting to read) and Silver Boundicon.

I'll be checking this blog regularly now.  Gotta love free ebooks!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Skinwalker by Faith Hunter

iconiconSkinwalker was not one of those books that I just blazed through, but interestingly enough I think I might have enjoyed it more for that reason.  Yet another vampire type dark fantasy novel — I've really been reading a lot of these, haven't I? — Skinwalker is actually quite different than the usual.

For one thing, there isn't any love story, especially not with a vampire.  There are a few mentions of sex, but from a fairly carnal point of view, and nothing actually happens.  And definitely no falling in love with vampires.

Jane Yellowrock, quite frankly, kicks ass — and not in a Bella-vampire-prodigy kind of way.  More like a biker chick/Lara Croft kind of way.  She is six feet tall, Cherokee, has hair down to her butt, and is a skinwalker, a shape shifter from Cherokee legend.  And she is tough.  She doesn't take crap from anyone, likes to play with her prey (i.e., everyone), and has a wicked sense of humor.

There are a couple of books in the Jane Yellowrock series, which take place in a world where vampires and witches are "out," like in the Sookie Stackhouse books.  As far as she knows, though, Jane is the only one of her kind.  She is hired by the vampires of New Orleans (who don't know what she is) to track down and kill a rogue vampire, but along the way she answers some of the mysteries of her past.

It's a good story with a unique heroine who really grows on you.  I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the books!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

eBook readers and the orientation lock

I've found that one of the most valuable features in an ebook reader app, after settings such as text size, font, and brightness, is the ability to lock the orientation.  Unfortunately, this feature is often neglected on ebook reader apps — Bluefire Reader just recently added it (which made me very happy, since lately that is the app that I use the most).  Stanza also offers the ability to lock the orientation.  The Barnes & Noble eReader, their first app, also had this feature, but the newer Nook app does not — in my opinion, a major oversight.

The orientation lock is nice because if you accidentally turn the phone a little bit, the orientation won't shift, which is a pain in the butt because it takes a moment to get it to shift back (which interrupts your reading).  I also like being able to lie on my side and read, which doesn't work very well if you have to hold the phone upright to keep the orientation from changing.

Hopefully Barnes & Noble will wise up and add that feature back to their new reader app.  The goal, after all, should be to make reading an ebook as similar an experience to reading a regular book as possible — except where it's better, of course!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Proof of the growing popularity of ebooks

I visited the OverDrive website the other day to look for some information, and found this interesting article:

eBook Checkouts at Libraries Up 200 Percent in 2010

There is no doubt now that ebooks have become increasingly popular.  Even since I started checking out library ebooks a few months ago, I have seen dramatic increases in wait lists on the more popular books, such as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

I, for one, have been slowly reading and returning my "DTB" (dead tree book) library books, and concentrating more heavily on borrowing ebooks.  I like that I don't have to drive out to the library to pick up and return the books, and that I don't have to worry about returning it by the due date or risking fines.  I also like that I don't have to worry about the "ew" factor (some library books are really, really dirty).  And as I mentioned before, the wait times are generally much shorter than for regular library books.  There's a lot to love about library ebooks, and I expect they will continue to grow in popularity!

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo

iconiconAfter all the dark fantasy I've been reading lately, I wanted a break — something a little shorter, lighter, and not about vampires or angels or any other kind of monster.  Browsing through my OverDrive wish list, I spotted The Tiger Rising, a children's chapter book I'd thought looked interesting.  There was no wait, so I checked it out and downloaded the file.  Eight-four pages — perfect.

(A note on ebook pagination: It's not quite accurate.  Adobe apparently determines page numbers by file size, so it's always off.  It usually seems like the actual book is about one-fifth or one-sixth longer than the ebook pagination says it is.  Not that it's that big a deal — I'm more interested in the progress bar that shows how far I am in the book, anyway.)

It took me only a little over an hour to read the book, and something about the way it was written made it feel more like a novella to me than a full-length book.  Or maybe it's just all the long, dark fantasy novels I've been reading lately.  In any case, it was not quite the "light" read that I'd been looking for, even if it wasn't really "dark," either.

The book is about a 12-year-old boy whose mother died about six months ago.  He and his father have something of an awkward relationship, as his father has responded to the grief by telling Rob he was not allowed to cry or say his mother's name.  They even moved, because everyone in their old town kept talking about Rob's mother, and his father couldn't handle it.

In the new town, Rob is bullied incessantly, but he has discovered that if he doesn't respond, sometimes the bullies will stop harassing him.  Enter Sistine, a girl who has just moved to town, too, and who is also down one parent: Her father left her mother for his secretary, and she and her mother moved back to where her mother grew up.

Sistine is the complete opposite of Rob.  Where Rob isn't allowed to show emotion, Sistine has it in spades.  Rob has learned to keep everything bottled up inside, but Sistine is full of anger at her mom for losing her dad, and is convinced that her dad will come back and take her away with him.  And where Rob is scared to fight back, Sistine fights at the least provocation.

And the two unlikely friends have a secret: Rob has found a tiger in a cage out in the woods.  Rob is in awe of the tiger, but Sistine evidently sees something of her herself in the tiger's being caged, and wants to set it free.  It's a tough ending to read, because I knew they were making the wrong decision — but I wonder if kids in the age group the book is intended for would realize the consequences of Rob and Sistine's decision.

I've thought a lot about the ending and what it means.  On a very basic level, setting the tiger free represented Rob letting his emotions out, but there was something more, too.  You had the sense afterward that Sistine wasn't so angry anymore, and Rob was ready to stand up for himself.  In addition to the metaphor, the children were obviously responding to the shock of having made the wrong decision.  There's a lesson in there somewhere: It's not as easy as simply letting something go.  Life isn't that romantic; there are consequences.

This is one of the things I love about children's books — there are so many levels of meaning, so many things to think about!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Top downloads from Project Gutenberg

If you aren't convinced yet that ebooks have their uses, consider this: You can download tons of free ebooks that are in the public domain from Project Gutenberg.  Although I used to download free classics from via Google Books, I started downloading them from Project Gutenberg because the files are in better shape.  The Google Books files aren't formatted very well for epub, so they don't read well on the iPhone's little screen, and there are tons of mistakes where the scanning software misinterpreted the text.  Project Gutenberg does seem to edit the files (or get their volunteers uploading the books to edit them), so I don't see as many errors — AND the ebooks are better formatted for epub.

My favorite way to access the Project Gutenberg ebooks is via Stanza, an iPhone e-reader app that has a direct link to PG.  No transferring the files to my iPhone — I can just upload the ebooks directly.  Very nice.

Anyway, I was having a little fun with Project Gutenberg the other night, checking out the new additions, and spotted the "Top 100" link in the sidebar.  Here's the top 5 for the last 30 days, as of yesterday:

1. The Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana by Vatsyayana (34964)
2. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (31274)
3. The Song My Paddle Sings by E. Pauline Johnson (23563)
4. How to Analyze People on Sight by Elsie Lincoln Benedict and Ralph Paine Benedict (23435)
5. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (22953)

It amuses me to no end that the Kama Sutra takes first place. Move over, Mark Twain!

The fourth book is kind of amusing, too, if you can appreciate the humor of a 90-year-old self-help book — you can view the HTML version on your computer here.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Crescendo by Becca Fitzpatrick

iconiconI just have to say...  ENOUGH with the cliffhanger endings, authors!  Sheesh!

I've never seen so many cliffhanger endings on books as I've been seeing lately, since dark fantasy series have become so popular — and since there have been more series in general.

I'd been waiting to read Crescendo for a while — I read Hush, Hush just over a year ago, and loved it.  When Crescendo came out, I immediately got on the wait list at my library, but not before quite a few other people got on it ahead of me.  As a result, I just finally got it a couple of weeks ago, and just yesterday got around to reading it.

And I loved it.  So much, actually, that I read the entire thing in one day.  Luckily I didn't have much else to do yesterday, so I wasn't totally shirking all of my responsibilities — I have a couple of days' lull right now before work picks up again for February, and since we are currently in a deep-freeze (yesterday's high was -1), it wasn't like I was going anywhere!  So I was perfectly able to hang out and read all day.  I love those kinds of days.

As a refresher, Hush, Hush is about a girl, Nora, who falls for a fallen angel.  Patch does get his wings back at the end of the first book (I know, spoilers! sorry!), and becomes Nora's guardian angel.  In Crescendo, however, that quickly goes awry.  Before long it becomes obvious that someone is after Nora — again — and it's starting to look like that someone is Patch.  There's also a new guy in town, someone Nora knew as a child, and it's perfectly clear that he's into some bad stuff, too.

The ending is quite the cliffhanger, though.  Almost as soon as Nora is safe, she is presented with a brand new predicament, even worse than before — and there the book ends.  And I'm going to have to wait until October to find out what happens!  Damn it!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman

iconiconI had a hard time trying to classify this one, so eventually I put it under the memoirs label.  Orange is the New Black is about the author's 13-month prison sentence for a 10-year-old drug trafficking offense, a mistake she made when she was fresh out of college and fairly naive.

Having made some mistakes in my past as well (though none of them drug-related), I sympathized with her fear throughout the entire process: going to court, getting charged, and ultimately going to prison.  Not that I've ever been there, but I know how scary it can be to suddenly feel that you are on the wrong side of the law, and have to face the consequences for your actions.

But Kerman's book isn't just about that.  She also talks about the unexpected friendship and solidarity she found in the women's prison.  Granted, she didn't do hard time — Danbury seems like it was a pretty good place if you have to serve a prison sentence — but it was clearly the friends she made that helped get her through it, and vice versa.

Almost buried in the stories of these friendships is the moment when she realized that she had done a bad thing.  I think she went into prison almost feeling that she'd been wronged, that her crime was justifiable and she shouldn't have to do time for it.  But while in the prison, she saw the devastating impact of drugs on her friends' lives, and realized how WRONG her crime really was.  She didn't put much emphasis on this revelation in the book, but it was there nevertheless, and I think it illustrated how much she grew as a person during her time in prison.

I know sometimes nonfiction books can be dull or difficult to follow, but this was not the case at all with Orange is the New Black.  The book is well-written but also interesting and compelling, written in a conversational tone that makes it easy to read.  And it's definitely a fresh subject.  I know this isn't the sort of book everyone wants to read, but if the idea interests you, I urge you to pick it up.  I think you'll be surprised how much you like it.