Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Secret Society Girl by Diana Peterfreund

iconiconNot very long ago, I read two books in Diana Peterfreund's Killer Unicorn Series: Rampant and Ascendant.  I liked both books enough that I decided to check out some of the other YA novels by the author.  I'm on the wait list at my library for Morning Glory, and I also decided to check out her Secret Society Girl Series.

Secret Society Girl was nothing like what I was expecting.  It was so different from Rampant and Ascendant that I could have sworn a different author wrote it.  Whereas the Killer Unicorn Series was pretty chaste (you know, unicorns and virgins), Secret Society Girl talks about one night stands, friends with benefits, and "hit lists."  It's all hilariously done, too.

I was also surprised that there was such a mature theme to the novel.  Amy is tapped for the oldest secret society at her high-powered college, a society that has traditionally only ever included men.  This is the first year they have ever tapped women, and the backlash is immediate: The alumni on the board try to kick the new members — and those who tapped them — out of the society, and start pulling strings to ruin their budding careers.  Amy and the rest of the new members have to decide whether they are going to fight back.

I was thinking it was going to be more of a "fluff" YA series, but I was pleasantly surprised.  Secret Society Girl was in turns laugh-out-loud funny and scream-out-loud infuriating, but there was nothing "fluffy" about it.  It's an excellent novel for teenage girls who for the most part, I'm guessing, don't know much about feminism or the women's movement — but it was also a very satisfying novel for me, a 30-something feminist (just turned 31 today!).

I've already placed a hold on the next book in the series — I can't wait to see where Amy goes from here!

Edit 4/26/2011: Ms. Peterfreund visited to point out that the book wasn't actually billed as YA, so I changed the label on the post.  I'm listing it as chick lit, even though my library lists it as romance and fiction, because it's more fun than most fiction, and I'm not sure the ending qualifies it as romance, either — it's not a "happily ever after" sort of ending, which I think is a requisite of a romance novel.

Edit 12/29/2012:  You can see my reviews of the rest of the books in the series here:
Under the Rose
The Rites of Spring (Break)
Tap and Gown

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Green Living for Dummies Mini Edition

iconiconI blogged about several green living ebooks for Earth Day, but I thought I should revisit the ebooks and write a little more about each one.

Green Living for Dummies Mini Edition was only about 40 pages long, just the first few chapters of the full-length book, which is why it only cost a dollar.  It had some good information in it, though, everything from ways to save energy around the house to a section about organic foods.

The best part of the book, and the part that made the dollar price tag worth it, was the section on green household cleaners.  There were a number of really useful suggestions on how you can use everyday household staples, such as white vinegar and baking soda, to clean your home.  There are some really great suggestions in there — information you could get off the Internet if you hunted for it, true, but for a buck you don't have to hunt!

I'm interested to see how the Smashwords freebie I also recommended on Earth Day will compare to this one.  Stay tuned.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

iconiconWhew! It's not often a book takes me an entire week to read, but then again, not many books are as long as this one.  On my Nook The Name of the Wind comes up as 711 pages, which is more accurate than usual for an ebook (the paperback is 722 pages).

Anyway, Michael has been harassing me about reading this book for a long time.  Patrick Rothfuss is one of his favorite authors; he even reads his blog regularly.  Finally he offered to buy me the ebook if I would read it right away.  How could I say no to that?

I have to admit it, though — he was right!  It was a wonderful book, and even though it took me a week to read it, I felt like I couldn't put it down.  I guess I was busier than usual — I know that several evenings I was too tired to read for long.

Michael compared The Name of the Wind to Harry Potter when he was trying to describe it to me, and I see a vague similarity, but that's about it.  The main character, Kvothe (or Kote), tells the story of his youth, of going to the university to study magic (referred to as sympathy in the book), but other than that it's as different from Harry Potter as night and day — far darker and more serious.  Harry Potter seems to focus a lot on homework, exams, and silly stuff like Harry sleeping in a closet under the stairs or magic giving his cousin a pig's tail.  In The Name of the Wind, on the other hand, Kvothe loses his family in a terrible massacre (and reading about the actual massacre is much different than Harry just knowing his parents died when he was a baby) and is forced to beg and live on the streets for the next several years of his life.  Also, instead of focusing on homework, there is much more about Kvothe's quest to find out more about the creatures that killed his parents, his constant rule-breaking (he gets whipped as punishment!), the fact that the university has an insane asylum to house all the students who have gone nuts because of their studies, and the rather sinister efforts of one of his fellow students to have him killed.

Now, some of these things sound rather similar to what happens in Harry Potter, but I assure you, they come across as much different.  J.K. Rowling tends to keep Harry Potter pretty light, but The Name of the Wind is anything but that.

This is just the first book of a much larger story — the second book came out just recently.  Michael is currently reading the hardback, which he purchased, but I'm going to get the ebook out from the library.  It's a bit longer, so it may take me a little while to read, but I'm going to read a couple of other things first.  I need a short break from overly long books!

Friday, April 22, 2011

eBooks for Earth Day

What better way to celebrate Earth Day than with ebooks?  Digital books are perfect because every time you buy an ebook, you are saving trees.

Here are a few environmentally-conscious ebooks to consider.

iconiconThis is a short little freebie from Smashwords.  The image link takes you to the Barnes & Noble page, but you can also get it directly from Smashwords.com in any format.  I downloaded the ebook and started flipping through it, and it seems like it has quite a few useful tips for reducing your carbon footprint — and your bills.  I tend to be a little skeptical of self-published books, because so many of them seem to be poorly written and edited, but this one looks pretty good so far.  In any case, the price is right, so it's worth checking out!

iconiconI've gotten one of these ebooks before, Diabetes for Dummies Mini Edition.  I wasn't too impressed with that one, but I think that had to do with the author and the content rather than the "mini edition" style of book, which appears to be the first handful or so of chapters in the full-length book.  The ebook is just a little shorter than the Smashwords freebie, but it's a little bit better written and organized, as you might expect.  The content seems to be similar, although I'll compare them in more detail once I have an opportunity to read both all the way through.  At just 99 cents, this ebook is a pretty good deal.

iconiconIf you want something a little longer and more detailed than the Smashwords title, check out 365 Ways to Live Green by Diane Gow McDilda.  I haven't purchased this one, but it sounds like an all-in-one manual for green living.  According to the description, it has recipes for biodegradable cleaning products, tips on what ingredients to avoid in foods, and suggestions for what plants will benefit your yard the most.  The ebook only costs $6.36, too, so it'll save "green" in more ways than one.

iconiconGood habits are best learned when you start them early in life, so teaching your kids now to take care of the environment can stick with them for the rest of their lives.  As you can imagine, 365 Ways to Live Green for Kids is the kids' version of the above book.  Judging by the description, this book focuses more on the "why" — which is perfect for kids, actually, if you think about how often that word passes their lips!  The idea is that you can use this ebook, which also costs $6.36, to get your kids excited about taking care of the environment.

I was trying to find an ebook on making your home office green, since that would be extremely interesting to me — as a freelance writer, I work from home — but none seem to exist.  Perhaps I ought to write one!

Get Water for Elephants for only $2.17!

iconiconKoboBooks.com is offering a $2 off coupon right now on non-agency ebooks (which cannot be discounted) — just enter the coupon redtag2 at checkout.  Since Water for Elephants, which I reviewed recently, is only $4.17 on their site (more than $2 less than at Barnes & Noble), you can get it for a whopping $2.17 with the coupon.

I checked the ebook out from the library when I reviewed this book a little while back, but I loved it so much that I jumped on this chance to buy it at a good price.  It's one of my top favorites that I've read in a long time, if not the top favorite.

Great timing to offer the ebook at such a great price, since the movie comes out in theaters today!  Are you planning to go see it?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Indian Givers by Jack Weatherford

iconiconI've always had a fascination with Native Americans, so when I saw Indian Givers, I was immediately interested.  I don't remember where I first spotted the book — on Barnes & Noble's website, maybe? — but my library didn't have it available in ebook, so I requested it.  A few days later, they added it to their catalog.  I really love that about my library!

Anyway, it quickly became clear to me that although Indian Givers was chock-full of fascinating information, it was also a fairly scholarly work — the kind of book that you really need to focus on in order to get anything out of it.  Because I can't read this kind of book for hours and hours without tiring, like I can less scholarly books, I decided to read more than one book at once.  While I was reading Indian Givers, I started and finished both Willow and Fireflies in December, which gave me just enough "down time" with my reading that I was able to do a better job of absorbing all the information in Indian Givers.

The message of Indian Givers can be summed up in a short sentence: When America was discovered in 1492, the Indians were far superior to Europeans and Asians.  Most of us don't realize how extensively Indian culture impacted European and Asian culture.  Everything from their methods of government to their food was absorbed into our culture, almost without us even realizing what was going on.  Other things, such as their more advanced medical knowledge, was flat-out ignored, leaving Europeans to "discover" or "invent" the same thing the Indians already knew, decades (or in some cases centuries) later.

For instance, the natives had cures for malaria and scurvy.  The cure for malaria was absorbed into European culture, but the Indian cure for scurvy was ignored, leaving sailors to keep dying of it for years before some European discovered vitamin C.  The book also reports that Indians in South America were doing complex surgeries with obsidian blades and drilling holes in patients' skulls to relieve the pressure from trauma to the head (successfully!) long before Europeans even understood the circulatory system.

The book was organized into chapters — the food of the New World, culinary techniques, medical knowledge and medicines, drugs (e.g., cocaine and chocolate), government, etc.  Everything is well-supported with evidence, explanations, and citations.  It's really a fascinating book, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in history or Native American culture.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Kindle throws us a cookie

This morning it's all over the ebook blogs and forums I visit: Amazon has said they'll be opening up the Kindle to library ebooks later this year.  There is already a lot of confusion as to what this means — some people are assuming that the Kindle will support epub files, but I don't think that will be the case.

As some background, the Kindle only supports Amazon's ebook file type.  That means that you cannot read DRM'd epub files on the Kindle, but conversely, you also cannot read ebooks bought from Amazon on any other device — the file format is only supported by the Kindle and their apps for computers and smart phones.  (Books without DRM can be converted into another file format, but most ebooks these days have DRM on them.)  In other words, Amazon has designed an ebook reader that locks you into a relationship with them.  Virtually the only way you can get ebooks is to buy from them, and the more you buy from them, the less likely you'll be to ever switch eReaders — if you do, you'll lose all your books.

Because of file compatibility issues, library ebooks — which are DRM'd epub — have been inaccessible to Kindle users.  Now Amazon says this will change later this year, but they haven't given details on how it will change.  Some people are assuming that like the Nook, the Kindle will start supporting Adobe Digital Editions and epub, but I rather doubt that.  Like Books on the Knob, I think it's more likely that Amazon is working with OverDrive to put out ebooks in Kindle format.  This essentially means that libraries will have to buy their ebooks in two different formats, which of course means they'll be able to afford half as many ebooks.

No telling when this will happen, of course.  Amazon is just saying "later this year," and we've all heard that  one before, right?

In any case, this doesn't change my opinion of Amazon or the Kindle.  I think the Nook is still a much better reader (not to mention it doesn't look like a big calculator) with more features than the Kindle.  And if Amazon does what I'm expecting, and only opens up the Kindle to library books and not all DRM'd epubs, then this is really just a band-aid on a much larger problem.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

eBooks outsell everything else in February!

Check out this thread on the Barnes & Noble forums: According to reports, ebooks were the #1 selling format in February 2011.  If you look at the first post in the thread, which lists the millions of dollars of each format (ebook, hardcover, trade paperback, and mass market paperback) sold in February of every year since 2006, you'll see that ebooks have risen dramatically in the past two years, while hardcover has taken a serious hit this year.  And if you do the math, you'll see that there was actually less in sales in February 2011 than February 2010 — the spending has just been redistributed.  In other words, a LOT of people who were buying hardcover in previous years are now buying ebooks.

I just wish there were some statistics here about the number of copies that were sold of each format.  eBooks usually cost less than hardcovers, so $90 of ebooks is probably at least twice what $90 of hardbacks would be.

Review of eBookFlip.com

One of the nice things about Barnes & Noble ebooks is that many of them are lendable.  The rules are fairly strict — you can only lend a book once, and only for 2 weeks when you do — but it is a nice option if you want to share an ebook with someone outside your household.

Of course, if you are like me, you don't share your books very often.  I read so much, for one thing, that hardly anyone can keep up, even those of my friends who do like to read.  Also, most of my physical books are collectible copies that I hardly let anyone pick up, let alone read.

Since Barnes & Noble's lendable ebooks have hit the market, however, a number of lending services have popped up.  I just recently tried eBookFlip.com, a fairly new one, but I like it because it doesn't cost you anything.  (Some services require that you buy points in order to participate.)  With eBookFlip.com, you earn points when you list your lendable books on the site, lend books to others, and leave feedback for others.  Borrowing a book costs you points, of course, and you have to maintain a 2:1 borrowing-to-lending ratio.

So far I've lent way more than I've borrowed — 5 books lent to just 2 borrowed.  Part of it is because I am in the middle of a long fantasy novel, The Name of the Wind, and I don't want to borrow too many until I get closer to the end of it.  Yesterday I also got a couple of library books that I'd been waiting for, so as you can see I have plenty to read for the moment.  I might miss out on a couple of books by waiting, but we'll see.

Only one of the books I've borrowed have I finished and returned, and that was Fireflies in December.  It was a wonderful book, one that I might consider buying, so it's true that the Lend Me system can actually stimulate sales.  (In some ways it already did trigger a sale for me, because I decided to buy The Hunger Games instead of borrowing it on eBookFlip.com, and purchased my own copy a couple of nights ago.)  However the site will also allow me to get a few books from my wish list that aren't available from the library and that I don't really want to buy.

The site is pretty new and they are still working out some of the kinks, but so far I've been really pleased.  I did have an instance where, instead of a lend offer through Barnes & Noble, I received a file sent to my email — presumably a pirated copy of the ebook, but may also have been a virus or malware (I didn't open it to find out).  I emailed the site administrator, and they immediately banned the user, returned my points, and reset my account so that I could request the book from someone else.

A great service, though of course it will only be as effective as its popularity allows it to be, since the site has to get more members in order to offer more ebooks.  I hope it will continue to grow, and be useful to avid readers like myself!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Fireflies in December by Jennifer Erin Valent

iconiconI found this book thanks to eBookFlip.com, an ebook lending service that I will review in another post tomorrow.  Basically the service makes use of the Lend Me feature on Barnes & Noble ebooks, which allows you to lend certain ebooks one time only to someone else with a Barnes & Noble account.  eBookFlip.com simply gets you in touch with others who have lendable ebooks.  Although this is the only ebook I've borrowed through the service so far, my experience was a very good one.

Fireflies in December is very much like To Kill a Mockingbird or The Secret Life of Bees.  Like those books, it's a coming of age story that deals heavily with racism in the South.  This book is set in the 1930s, on a small farm in the South.

The trouble starts when Jessilyn's white family takes in an orphaned black girl, the daughter of their longtime help who died in a tragic accident.  The people in their small town stop being friendly to them, and eventually they even start getting threats from the Klan.  One evening when her parents are gone, Jessilyn is forced to defend herself and Gemma from the Klan with her father's rifle, but all it does is delay the inevitable confrontation.

It's not a very long book — a little over 200 pages on the Nook, which means probably close to 300 in a physical version — but it is absolutely riveting and utterly memorable.  Several days later, I still keep thinking about it.  I cannot recommend this one highly enough!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Willow by Julia Hoban

iconiconAs I mentioned in a recent post, I've been reading more than one book at once lately.  Willow was my "fun" book while I work my way through a much more serious, but extremely interesting, nonfiction book, Indian Givers.

Willow is about a girl whose parents were killed in a car crash when she was driving, about 7 months prior to when the novel beings.  Seventeen-year-old Willow is now living with her brother, who is 10 years older than her, and his family.  Unable to manage the grief and guilt she feels for the accident, she has started cutting herself.

Then Willow meets Guy, a boy at her new school.  He becomes the only person to know her secret, that she's a cutter.  Willow has more or less shut down emotionally, and is reluctant to get into a relationship that will make her feel something, but knowing her secret binds her and Guy more tightly together than she could ever have dreamed.

Okay, I admit it, it doesn't seem like a "fun" book, but it's short (about 200 pages on the Nook) and the type of fast-paced narration YA novels typically are — a nice change from the nonfiction book I'm also reading.  I also fond myself genuinely drawn into Willow's story, and I thought the author did an excellent job of making the reader understand things from Willow's point of view.

My only hesitation about recommending this book is something I read once — that children tend to absorb the bad behaviors from a story, rather than the new, reformed behaviors.  The article was talking about young children and picture books, but I can't help but wonder if a novel like this will give a teenage girl the idea to cut herself in order to be more like Willow.  Of course we can't shelter teenage girls from ideas like this in order to make sure it never happens, but at the same time, I worry about recommending it.  I think it's more the kind of book a girl just has to find on her own.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Beginning, a Muddle, and an End by Avi

Here is the last of the book reviews from Reading 4 Writers, my old writing-book review blog. I had also included a teaser review here on Livre du Jour, but I wanted to preserve the longer review I originally wrote for the old blog, since it was more detailed.

iconiconI picked this book up a little while back because it looked like a cute little book on writing. Well, it was a cute little book, and it had some writing humor in it, but it was admittedly heavier on the puns than the advice.

Edward the ant had a lot of tips on writing (even though Avon the snail was the one writing a book — which makes me think — how often are you given advice by non-writers, as if they know what they are talking about?). Here are few of the more memorable tips:

* Write first. You can always figure out what you've written later.

* Never take shortcuts in your writing, but once you've written, it's wise to make lots of short cuts.

* Many writers think that when they write, it's the words that matter. Not at all. It's punctuation that's most important.

Isn't that one especially true? And now here's my favorite: the rules of writing...

1) Write what you know.
2) Write about what you don't know.
3) Write about what you don't know as if you DID know about it.
4) Make sure that when you're writing about what you don't know as if you did know, conceal the fact that you don't know what you're doing.
5) Always leave your readers guessing.

Finally, a conversation between Edward and Avon:

"What kind [of writer] were you intending to be?"

"A writer you attracts readers."

"Then for heaven's sake, don't write writing. Write reading."

This is the kind of thing in the book — not necessarily useful advice, but little truths about writing told in a cutesy way. It's a short book and fun to read, but more as a diversion than something to learn from.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Diabetes for Dummies Mini Edition

iconJust for fun, and because it was only 99 cents, I bought Diabetes for Dummies Mini Edition to read and review on my diabetes blog, Proud Diabetic.  I thought it served well as an inexpensive (and short) introduction into the disease, but long-time diabetics and those who know a lot about it probably will find it very basic and sometimes a little outdated.

If you're interested in a more detailed review, check it out on Proud Diabetic.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Horse Boy by Rupert Isaacson

iconiconI can't remember when or where I first saw The Horse Boy, but I know I'd had my eye on it for a while before it showed up on Barnes & Noble's website on sale.  Right now the ebook is only $2.99, so I went ahead and bought it — and devoured it in less than two days.

The Horse Boy is about Rupert Isaacson's efforts to get through to his autistic son.  He noticed early on that Rowan seemed to have a direct connection to animals, and that in fact, his symptoms were less severe when he and his father rode the neighbor's horse.  Later on, he also noticed some major improvements when they spent some time around African shamans, but Rowan immediately started regressing once they returned home.  These observations got Isaacson started thinking about taking Rowan to Mongolia, where he could spend time on horseback and visit shamans to be healed.

Isaacson is a great writer, and retells the story of their journey, from Rowan's birth until the aftermath of the trip to Mongolia, in a way that demonstrates Rowan's slow progress.  Having worked for many years in preschool and after school care programs, and even with a few special needs kids, I could see the improvements in Rowan's language and play throughout the course of the book.  It was fascinating, and although I'm not sure whether I believe it was the shamans who healed him, there was obviously something about this trip that produced some monumental changes in Rowan's behavior and his ability to process sensory input from the world around him.

Although horses play a fundamental role in the story, they are almost more the setting than the focus of the story.  Still, I enjoyed the book very much, and delighted in many of the descriptions of the horses and horse people who made their appearances within its pages.  In fact, it had possibly the best description of horses that I've ever read: "One end where the money goes in, the other end you got to pay people to take it away, and in between an accident waitin' to happen."  So true!

Reading more than one book at once

I don't normally read more than one book at once, but if you'll check the sidebar, you'll see that is indeed what I am doing right now.

I started Indian Givers first, but while the book is very interesting, it's also easy to get burned out on.  I had checked out and downloaded Willow to my Nook as a test (to see if I could put library ebooks on my micro SD card), so I decided to read that at the same time as Indian Givers.

And of course there is the read in-store feature — I've even given that its own section in the sidebar.  With the Nook you can read some ebooks for free an hour every day when you are in the store, so I decided to try that feature out on one of the books on my wish list.  Not all ebooks are available for read in-store, but I found one that I wanted to read (but didn't necessarily want to spend the money on).  Since I can only read it for an hour a day, and we only go to Barnes & Noble once or twice a week, it'll take a while to finish, which is why I made "Reading In-Store" its own heading.

Like I said, I don't usually read more than one book at once, but I've found it's nice to read a short novel at the same time when you're reading nonfiction.  And of course, I will probably always be reading at least two books at once now, so that I can take advantage of the read in-store feature.

What about you?  Do you often read more than one book at once, and why?  How many at once is the norm for you?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

ProBlogger: Secrets for Blogging Your Way to a Six-Figure Income by Darren Rowse and Chris Garrett

Here is yet another writing-related book I reviewed on both Livre du Jour and Reading 4 Writers, my now-defunct writing books blog. I decided to salvage the original post from that blog and post it here. The original post from this blog can be found here.

iconiconIt had been way too long since I updated this blog, so I decided it was about time I read another writing-related book. (Believe it or not, I have a whole shelf full of unread how-to books on writing and related topics.)

This book is ProBlogger: Secrets for Blogging Your Way to a Six-Figure Income by Darren Rowse and Chris Garrett, two highly successful bloggers. Of course, it's highly unlikely that your blog will become the next ProBlogger network, but even so this book has a lot of good tips for both writing and monetizing a blog.

ProBlogger has a little something for everyone. It doesn't go into major detail about how to write and maintain a successful blog, but it does provide some information about optimizing a blog for search engines, writing posts, cultivating a strong readership, etc. It's a pretty straightforward rundown of all the basics, and definitely information worth noting.

The book also talks about the different ways to monetize a blog. One way is, of course, advertising. The authors aren't big fans of AdSense — their message seems to be that a successful blog can do much better with advertisers that they contract with directly. They also mention affiliate programs, such as Amazon's affiliate program, where you earn a commission for products you sell via your blog or website.

Obviously I'm no stranger to either approach, as I use both AdSense and Amazon ads on my blogs. But I also appreciated that the book addressed another way of earning money from your blog: by using it to attract customers or clients for a product or service that you offer. (Examples: Doll Stringing Extravaganza, which I use to attract potential buyers for my short ebook, and my writing blog, which is connected to my professional website and helps to build my reputation as a writer and a blogger.) Selling products, services, or even selling yourself as a ghost blogger are often overlooked, but no less valid, ways to monetize your blog.

The book also has a chapter on buying and selling established blogs, but I skipped and/or skimmed most of it. I have no plans of doing either right now. I enjoy my blogs too much to part with them, and I have no interest in buying someone else's!

Overall, this is a great book. It has everything you need to know about maintaining and monetizing a blog, whether you are a newbie or a seasoned blogger. It is also written in a very blog-like style — short, to the point, and easy to read. Of course, not everyone who reads this book is going to go on to earn six figures — in fact I'd say it's highly unlikely — but at the same time, it does give you the information you need to develop a decent blog and earn a respectable side income if you so desire.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Sovay by Celia Rees

iconiconI've had Sovay on my list of books to read for several months, ever since I found it in my library's ebook catalog.  After reading Too Good to Be True, the latest in a number of romance novels on my reading list, I decided I needed something a little different.

If I had to describe Sovay really quickly, I would have to call it "Robert Louis Stevenson for girls."  It's a wonderfully researched historical adventure about a well-to-do girl from the English countryside in the late 1700s who dresses as a highwayman, originally to test her fiance's loyalty, but later to try to help her father and older brother, sympathizers of the French Revolution.  Her adventures take her first to London, where she falls into the clutches of a scheming politician, and finally to France.  Everywhere she goes, she and those closest to her are in danger, yet she cannot stop until she finds her father.

Like I said, it's essentially Robert Louis Stevenson for girls.  Sovay's travels, her nonstop adventures, and the way the story is told remind me a lot of Kidnapped, which isn't as well known as Treasure Island but is a fantastic book nonetheless.  Sovay is also extremely well researched, from the history of the French Revolution and the political climate in England at the time, to the scientific experiments and knowledge of the day.

Although the book is classified as young adult, I think it's got enough history and adventure in it to interest more mature readers.  I highly recommend it to anyone who likes historical fiction OR young adult fiction, and I fully intend on checking into the author's other books, as well!

Too Good to Be True by Kristan Higgins

iconiconI've actually had my eye on Kristan Higgins's books for some time now, but it was only when I saw my library had a few of them that I decided to go ahead and try one out.

The ebooks at Barnes & Noble used to be a dollar or two cheaper than they are now, I seem to remember, which is what piqued my interest in the first place.  Too bad I'll have to pay a little more to get them now... or just continue getting them from the library!  Either way, I'm a new fan — this book was so much fun!

Too Good to Be True is about a woman named Grace who makes up a boyfriend in order to get her family to stop treating her like "poor Grace" — and so that her little sister won't feel bad for dating Grace's ex-fiance.  Grace is very noble and wants her sister to be happy, which is pretty amazing, considering.

Anyway, when Callahan the hunky neighbor moves in, their relationship is rocky from the very start.  First Grace thinks he's breaking in and calls the cops on him, and then she bashes him over the head with a hockey stick when he comes to her door.  Not off to a great start, right?  But the entire book is like this — hilarious encounters where you don't know whether to laugh your butt off or feel embarrassed for Grace.  Maybe a little of both.

I loved that Grace's character was funny, down-to-earth, and actually pretty strong, unlike the traditional romance novel heroine.  And the end is quite a surprise, not to mention totally satisfying.  Kristan Higgins is romance for people who don't normally like romance, but who do like books that are laugh-out-loud funny, and full of good fun!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Website updates and observations

I've spent a couple of days going through and updating all of the ads on my blog.  I still hadn't updated many of the Amazon ads from my oldest blog posts (I switched to advertising Barnes & Noble books when Amazon dumped their Colorado affiliates), and I've also been switching all of my ads to a better linking format that Barnes & Noble started offering since I joined their affiliate program.

Of course, I have more than 350 posts on this blog, so as you can imagine, inserting a new image link into every single post took some time — the better part of three days, to be precise.  But now that's all done, the links are all updated, and I feel so much better to finally be rid of all my old Amazon affiliate links.

Going through my old posts, though, I made a few observations:

1) My blog posts have gotten a lot better as I've settled into my self-imposed role as a book reviewer.  My reviews used to be just a paragraph or two about the book I was currently reading, rather than the longer, more in-depth reviews I write now once I've finished the book.  I still like to maintain a fairly casual feel to my reviews, but I think I've improved them so that they tell my readers a little more about the book I'm reviewing.

2) As much as I read, I forget a lot of what I've read.  There were some books I reviewed in the early days of my blog, a good three or four years ago, that I no longer remember reading.  At all.  Not even reading my own review jogged my memory!  Thankfully those seem to be just the books that didn't make as much of an impression on me — the ones that I really liked, or that really moved me, I had no trouble remembering.

3) Ebooks are rarely the cheapest edition.  I've changed my links so that I always link to the cheapest edition, as per my sidebar (see "About Livre du Jour").  For YA books, the ebooks are consistently the cheapest edition, but with adult books and especially bestsellers, that's rarely the case.  The ebooks are sometimes about the same price as the mass market paperback, but more often, they are a couple dollars more.  This is annoying to me, as both a blogger and a reader — I personally don't like paying more for an ebook than I would for a cheap paperback, and as an affiliate marketer, I wonder if ebooks being the cheapest edition available would actually increase my affiliate sales.  Ebooks make a great impulse buy, because the buyer can download them immediately, unlike DTB (dead tree books) that you have to wait for while they ship.

Going through old posts is an interesting experience.  Luckily for me (oh boy) I'll probably need to do it again sometime soon, because a few of the cheapest editions I've linked to are bargain books, so when they are no longer available I'll need to update the links!

Warrior's Woman by Johanna Lindsey

iconiconLast month, I wrote a rather scathing review of this book.  What can I say, other than that I spoke too soon?  Even after I wrote the review, I kept trying to read it, and eventually got sucked in.

Warrior's Woman still won't win any awards in my book, but it didn't turn out to be as bad as I expected.  After 50 or 60 pages, I stopped feeling confused about all the creative futuristic words, devices, and so on, and was able to settle in and enjoy the story — more or less.

When I was in high school, I loved Johanna Lindsey's historical romance novels.  There was always an undercurrent of male domination that bothered me a bit, but her heroines were strong and fought back, even if they didn't always win those fights.  (Now I rather wish they won a little more often.  "Domineering male" can't really be so many women's fantasy... can it?)  This one was no different.

Oddly enough, a little trashy romance has somewhat whetted my appetite for Johanna Lindsey.  I have my eye on another book of hers, A Man to Call My Own, although that may have something to do with the fact that it's set on a horse ranch.  It's a historical romance, the kind I'm a little more used to from Johanna Lindsey, so I guess we'll find out if it was really the futuristic setting in this one that I didn't like — or that I've outgrown the interests of my teenage years!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials boxed set

iconiconI've been doing a little blog maintenance the last few days — updating some old ads on my earliest book reviews, for one thing, and going through some old links.  While updating my ads for The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass, I discovered this nice little boxed set.  It would be a lovely addition to a children's or YA book collection, or for someone who really likes this trilogy.

I've been thinking it's about time for me to reread these books — I like rereading YA fantasy favorites like these every few years — so maybe I'll have some brand-new reviews and thoughts to share sometime soon!

Where I find free ebooks

Since I started reading ebooks last summer, I've acquired roughly 700 ebooks — I have about 450 in my Barnes & Noble library, and around 250 that I've gotten from other sources (Kobo, Sony, Copia, etc.).  The vast majority of these have been free ebooks, usually limited-time promotions from the author or publisher.

Typically promotional freebies aren't available for long, so I usually check my sources every day, first thing in the morning before I get to work.  Sometimes I check again later in the day, too.  There is the occasional promotional freebie that is only available for a day or even just a few hours, and I don't want to miss out!  I also tend to download any freebie that I think I might be interested in — I can always decide I'm not and delete it later, but generally if you don't get it while it's available, you're out of luck.

So where do I get most of my free ebooks?  Here are a few of my favorite sources:

The free ebooks thread on B&N's forums — There are some devoted forum members who update this every day, so it's worth checking regularly!

Books on the Knob — Although the blogger's main focus seems to be Kindle books, she also provides links for free books available on other sites, such as B&N, Sony, Kobo, Smashwords, etc.

Smashwords — This is a site for indie authors and small publishers to sell their ebooks, but there is also a pretty extensive list of freebies, and they occasionally have coupons and sales as well (such as during Read an eBook Week).

Girlebooks — This ebook publisher has a nice selection of free classics.  The advantage over Project Gutenberg (see below) is that they have covers!

Project Gutenberg — This is probably your best source for free classics and other ebooks that are in the public domain.  They don't have covers or metadata, but you can add those yourself in a program such as Calibre.

There are probably other sources for free ebooks, but these are the ones that I use most often.  If you have a source for LEGAL free ebooks, let us know in the comments, but be warned that I will not post links to anything that appears to be spammy or that offers pirated ebooks.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business by Entrepreneur Press and George Sheldon

Here's another book that I reviewed several years ago for Reading 4 Writers, my writing-book review blog. I also wrote a teaser review here.  The more detailed review from the now-defunct writing blog is below.

iconiconWeeks ago, when I was browsing the business section at Tattered Cover, our biggest independent bookstore here in Denver, I ran across this book: Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business and More, by the Entrepreneur Press and George Sheldon.

Although I'm not really a startup freelancer anymore, I thought this book might be of interest to some of my readers. It's a pretty handy guide to freelance writers who are just starting out. It covers a lot of topics that newbies often ask me about, such as:

* Getting started
* Daily schedules
* Finding work
* Querying
* Marketing
* Expenses

The book also talks a bit about copyediting and proofreading, and provides a chart with standard copyeditor's marks (something you'll need to know if you want to get into copyediting).

What I found really interesting was what the book had to say about magazines. The author adamantly insists that you should NOT write for markets that pay on publication, because they can hold your manuscript without publishing it or paying you for however long they want. For a discussion about this hardline approach, please see the post about pay-on-publication markets on my regular blog.

If you are a newbie freelance writer, or just wanting to break into the business, this book does a good job of painting a well-rounded picture of everything you need to get started. You can also save a little money if you get this book in ebook formaticon.

Frankenstein's Monster by Susan Heyboer O'Keefe

iconiconI'd seen Frankenstein's Monster in my library's list of ebooks, so when I heard a friend was reading it, I decided to try it.  First I reread Frankenstein, which I didn't enjoy as much as I had in the past.  Part of it was that I already knew so well what happened that I had a hard time focusing.

Frankenstein's Monster is essentially a sequel from the monster's point of view, picking up after Frankenstein's death.  At the end of Mary Shelley's classic, Frankenstein convinces his friend Walton to take up the hunt for the monster.  O'Keefe's sequel starts after Walton has been chasing the monster for an entire decade.

I think O'Keefe's sequel is told in a similar style to the original: in a sort of a meandering, "next this happened," kind of way.  At first I didn't like the style very much, but when the monster — who has taken his creator's first name, Victor — sought out Walton's family, I started to find the story more compelling.

Much of the book deals with the evolving relationship between Lily, Walton's niece, and the monster.  Interestingly, it seemed like as the book progressed, and more human the monster became, the more monster-like Lily became.

It was an interesting journey, and one I ended up liking much better than I thought I would at first.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson

iconiconJust yesterday, I was talking to a fellow boarder at the barn where I keep my horse, and she said she was currently reading Stieg Larsson's trilogy.  She was on the third while I was only on the second, but since I'd seen the movie and was far enough into the book to know the movie followed it pretty closely, we were able to have a pretty decent discussion about the books.

One observation that she made about the books that I have to agree with is that they are extremely dark.  In fact, she was thinking about taking a break to reading something else before finishing The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.  I definitely felt like The Girl Who Played with Fire was darker than the first one, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and it sounds like the third one gets even darker.

Although Lisbeth Salander is largely the focus of these books, it's not until the second one that you start learning a little more about her (even though the movies actually incorporate some of the second book's revelations into the first installment).  You start understanding a little more why she is the way she is — but also how permanent and far-reaching the effects of her past have been.  There is no "fixing" Lisbeth.

Unlike the first book, in which Lisbeth played a supporting role in helping Mikael Blomkvist solve a mystery, in The Girl Who Played with Fire she is the focus of the mystery.  Suddenly accused of committing three murders, Lisbeth has to find out why.  In addition to the police investigation and her own, Blomkvist and another friend are each running their own separate investigations, each trying to help her in their own way.  Unfortunately, the police and her friends aren't the only ones looking for Lisbeth, and the mystery has to be solved before the wrong people find her.

I'm really enjoying these books.  Lisbeth is a fascinating character, one that defies the standard definitions of "good" and "bad," and who you can't help but root for.  I love the detail in the novels, and the suspense is well-maintained throughout.  Although the first novel took about 100 pages to really suck you in, I thought this one picked up a little more quickly.  I'm looking forward to reading the third and final novel — hopefully I'll get it from the library soon!

I love my Nook!

My Nook came on Thursday, and I've had a great time playing with it ever since.  I've downloaded and shelved perhaps half of my Barnes & Noble ebooks — I have acquired more than 400, so it's taking a while to organize them all — and I've transferred a few library ebooks over too.  I've also ordered a micro SDHD card to expand the memory, and I'm waiting for that to arrive before sideloading my many other ebooks.  (I have about 200 more to sideload once the card comes.)

I made two other Nook-related purchases.  One was a neoprene sleeve to carry it in — Barnes & Noble sells many discontinued Nook accessories for discounted prices on eBay.  And because I want to be able to carry it with me most of the time, I also bought a new purse that's a little roomier.  I've never been a fan of big purses, so I tend to get them only as big as they have to be to carry my stuff — if I weren't diabetic and didn't have all that gear to carry with me, I don't know if I'd even carry one at all.  But now that I have something so important to carry with me, I went shopping and found a cute purse with enough room in it to stash my Nook.

I linked to some other reviews of the Nook recently — check out Nook anticipation and Nook vs. Kindle — but once I get a little more experience with using it, I plan on writing my own review.  For now, suffice it to say that I absolutely love it!