Time Off for Good Behavior ~ Lani Diane Rich

  • Title: Time Off for Good Behavior
  • Author: Lani Diane Rich
  • Genre: Mainstream
  • Format: Kindle
  • Source: Own
  • Reviewed by: Olga
  • Rating: 3 out of 5

Description:  For Wanda Lane, life has been one long string of screw-ups. Her abusive ex-husband keeps threatening to kill her, she just lost her crappy job, and a head injury (sustained while diving off the witness stand to attack an obnoxious attorney) has left her hearing phantom music no one else can hear. It isn’t until she hits the rock bottom of her bottle of scotch that she begins to wonder if maybe — just maybe — the problem is her.

On her pothole-ridden path to becoming a decent human being, she makes friends with Elizabeth, a single mother looking for her own solid ground; Father Gregory, the patient priest who counsels Wanda, even though she’s not technically Catholic; and Walter, a Jimmy-Stewart-ish lawyer who is smart, sexy and single… and so far out of Wanda’s league that she thinks he must have been sent from God as one last punishment for her past transgressions. Can an angry, lost woman find her way back from failure, or are second chances the stuff of myth?

Wanda’s gonna find out. You may want to move out of her way.

Review:
Reinventing oneself is a slow and gut-wrenching endeavor. Wanda Lane, the heroine of this novel, only resorts to this painful method when she hit the rock-bottom of her life.

Since college, she has been hiding behind the mask of a rude, abrasive, non-caring broad with anger management issues. She has let the sensitive feminine side of her almost disappear. Constantly in terror of her abusive ex-husband, lest he finds her again, and the abuse resumes, she calls herself a ‘wiseass’, which is as good a definition as any. Hating herself and unable to believe that anyone could like her, she meets any friendship overtures with derision, invariably driving people away. Only a chance encounter with a charming single lawyer William forces her to reevaluate her priorities and attempt to revert to what she could’ve been, if her traumatic marriage didn’t occur.

The complex, controversial theme of this novel is emphasized by a number of truly frightening situations and humorous little vignettes. Some of them made me chuckle. Others cause shivers of dread. All of them kept me turning the pages.

But… I can’t truthfully say that I liked this novel or enjoyed it. I didn’t. And the reason for that: I disliked Wanda. She is a rebellious, self-destructive bitch, and I don’t like or respect such women. I don’t understand her drive to self-ruination. 

For half the book, Wanda either wallows in self-pity or drowns her grievances in whiskey. Hers are real grievances, I’m sure, but her troubles are not the worst in the world, and there are several solutions to her problems, none of which she even attempts. At least at first.

Until a perfect guy comes her way – suave, handsome, wealthy (he is a lawyer), and in love with her into the bargain. Only then does she make a push to clean up her act. As if a guy is a necessity for a woman to live with dignity.

Besides, William is not real. He is too good to be true. I’ve never met such men in real life, and I’m certain no one has. He is a ‘prince charming’ of the author’s dreams, almost a metaphor. Why does Wanda need this Disney-style knight in shining pink armor to put her life together? As if her life is meaningless without a penis to enrich it. It doesn’t feel right to me.

I’ve read everything this writer has written so far, in both her incarnations – Lani Diane Rich and Lucy March – and I intend to continue reading her. She is a great writer, even though her novels are uneven. Some of them I loved dearly. Others left me indifferent. This is one of the latter variety, but I hope the next one would be better. She can do it; I know she can do it. Can’t wait.

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Lady Ceclia (An Autumn Short Story)

Fall has always been my favorite time of the year. Warm days followed by cool nights. The vibrant green leaves turning into a brilliant spectrum of burning flames. It’s not just the color of orange, gold, palest yellow and burnishing reds that capture my greedy eyes. It’s the play of all those shades layered together in a canopy that only nature can provide.

The perfect backdrop for a mysterious and gay masquerade ball! A dance with decadent waltzes, lively foxtrots, hearty reels and a sedate march. The food will be glorious and varied to tempt the most cynical taste buds. Yet, it’s the costumes and masks that are the true lure. To be clothed in a mystical ornament, glittering accessories and hidden from all eyes behind a fanciful mask. The idea of being someone different, doing something a little wicked and getting away with it gave me a secret thrill that I held close to my heart.

The ball was everything I could ask for and more! Armed in my dark fairy costume and mask, I found myself in more than one dance with men of wild repute. One of them, the infamous Lord Alexander, paid more than close attention as the night drew closer to midnight. He was everything my lady Mother had advised against. Tall, bright copper blonde locks that fell adorably over his face, wicked green eyes and a smile that promised decadent delights that no true lady should ever consider. Rumors say that he’s ruined more than one proper young miss and that he’s been caught with several of the married ladies of court. Drowning in his green eyes, the feel of his strong arm beneath my hand and the way he whispered naughty observances in my ear-I willingly fell beneath the charming rakehell’s grace.

That night, we stole away from prying eyes and he taught me how to kiss, to tease his lips with mine, the way my body will shiver at a simple touch, shudder under a flicking thumb, come alive in swollen need and the truth of a man’s passion. The hardness of his rampant rod and the primal cries of release. He praised my quick wit, alluring curves that begged for touch and the innate sensuality that eagerly caught onto the act of love. He promised to meet me the next night. He said that there was so much more he would teach me about love. That what we had was only the smallest taste of many wild hedonistic pleasures that I have never could have dreamed.

I eagerly drank in his passionate whispers, his promises and voluptuary designs. I did not hide my moans or trembling loins from his sight as he cleaned the flood of our releases from between my legs, upon my belly and thighs. I held close every piece of our memories to my heart and replayed them over and over again as I waited for the next night.

One night became two in a bewildering purgatory of wild imagination and no information. Two turned into three. The days passed in sullen drag of lifeless mud. Even the autumn colors and weather failed to rouse me from the dreadful well of misery I have become.

Then I found fire.

A furious fire of a woman scorned.

An urgent note arrived from a dear friend who has fallen ill. Of all my friends, Lady Amelia was my best friend. We told each other everything and she is the sister of my heart, if not family. Of everyone I know and love, she is pure in heart and angel in life. Where I could not find the spirit to care for myself, I drew up strength to be strong for her. I found a spark of my old self, dressed and left to see my closest friend. I found her listless and drawn. I thought she had caught a cold or bodily ill. Instead, with some persistence, I heard a familiar tale of deviltry, curiosity, debauchery, promises and heartbreak.

Apparently, Lord Alexander has been a very busy man. Very busy indeed.

Sorrow for broken dreams quickly burned beneath the lava thick heat of my anger. Dangerous hatred drew several plans and rejected each until a sound strategy set. I shared my intentions with Lady Amelia and vowed that she would be avenged. That we would both be avenged.

It was simple matter to approach my oldest friend. He fostered with my own family when he was young and we have been close ever since. As Lady Amelia is a sister of my heart, he is a brother of the same. Then all I had to do was draw Lord Alexander out, which I did. The fool never suspected.

I watched avidly as my family wrought their own vengeance on Lord Alexander on a fine autumn day. The fiery leaves a splendid foil his rude comeuppance.

****

This short story was inspired by another short story that I read. Both of the stories are part of a writing challenge for September 2013. Hopefully, you will enjoy reading this story as much as I had fun writing it. Enjoy! Comments are always welcome.

Where Should You Publish Your Book? by Erin Elizabeth Long

April 15, 2013

Lots of information ahead. But first, a cartoon!

Barnes & Noble recently rebranded its self-publishing portal, changing the name from “PubIt!” (which, because I am immature, always pronounced “pube-it”) to “NOOK Press.” (Sidebar: Is “NOOK” actually an acronym? If not, why it is in all caps?) David Gaughran speculated that the move is part of a larger plan to sell off the Barnes & Noble brand while maintaining the lucrative NOOK brand. Even if that’s not the case, I think the rebranding was a smart move. They added an online editing tool that looks pretty neat, although perhaps not as beautiful or shiny as Apple’s iBooks Author. What’s less exciting, however, is that you can no longer update or correct an eBook on NOOK Press without losing your reviews, ratings, and sales rank.

There are a dizzying number of platforms and distributors for your indie book. Here’s my  take on some of the major players. Please note that the following constitutes my opinion, based on my personal experience and/or research that I’ve done online. Platforms which I have personally used are marked with an asterisk.

Wattpad*

  • No royalties paid; all books are free
  • Ability to connect with an active community of readers
  • Post works-in-progress or serialize your book
  • Bottom Line: Best for getting initial feedback on a WIP, or to gain fans by posting selected content for free

Amazon KDP*

  • 70% royalties 65% royalties on $2.99-9.99 books, 30% on books priced under or over that limit
  • KDP select program allows for promotion and Prime member borrowing, but it requires exclusivity for at least three months.
  • Largest market share of eBooks
  • Books are sold in Amazon’s proprietary .mobi format (won’t work on NOOK, but an app is available for iPad)
  • Amazon seems dedicated to promoting its self-published authors, often features success stories on home page
  • You cannot set the price as “free” unless you use a promotional day through KDP select
  • Bottom Line: You should publish with KDP. Whether you decide to use Amazon exclusively depends on how well you do in other markets, but you don’t want to miss out on the lion’s share of readers who shop via Kindle.

NOOK Press*

  • 65% royalties on $2.99-9.99 books, 40% on books priced under or over that limit
  • 2nd-largest market share of eBooks
  • Online writing tool (write your book directly in the browser)
  • Ability to invite beta readers (collaborators) to read and comment on an unpublished work
  • Inability to edit a title after it has been published without losing reviews, ratings, or rankings
  • Platform is, at the time of this post, rather buggy, but when it does work, it’s easier than the old PubIt! site.
  • Bottom Line: Unless you go all-in with Amazon, you should definitely consider publishing directly with NOOK Press…just make sure that the manuscript you upload won’t need any changes.

Apple iBooks Author

  • 70% royalties for all price points
  • Gorgeous Mac-only app for creating books (including full-color templates)
  • Projects in the .ibooks format created with the app can only be sold in the iBookstore (as opposed to selling them directly from your own site)
  • Bottom Line: A good choice only if you’re a die-hard Mac devotee and plan to sell exclusively on iTunes, or if you want to create a graphics-heavy, interactive project instead of a text-based eBook

Smashwords*

  • 74% royalties through Smashwords’ store, 60/30/10 split for author/retailer/Smashwords for all other sales
  • Distributes to Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, Sony, Diesel, Page Foundry, as well as their own online store
  • Allows you to set price as free
  • Allows creation of coupon codes for promotions
  • “Meatgrinder” crunches your eBook file into a variety of popular formats
  • Offers no peripheral services like formatting, editing, or cover design, but does maintain a message board for freelancers
  • Bottom Line: If your goal is to distribute to as many potential readers as possible, then Smashwords is worthwhile. The convenience of managing one dashboard instead of eight is worth 10%, in my opinion. 

Lulu

  • ebook and Print-on-Demand services available
  • Encourages authors to buy expensive (and uneccesary) publishing packages
  • Distributes only to B&N, iBookstore, and their own online store
  • Bottom Line: To be avoided. Distribution channels are limited and customer service is allegedly a nightmare. 

Vook

  • Royalties from Amazon at 43.2%, Barnes & Noble at 50%, and iBookstore at 70%
  • Ability to incorporate multimedia into eBooks
  • They supply copy editing, cover design, and book layout for an upfront fee which varies from book to book.
  • Distributes to iBookstore, Amazon, and B&N
  • Bottom Line: I’m not sure what Vook does that you (or a good freelancer) can’t do for yourself. When they first started out, they charged a flat monthly fee (about $10) and paid out 100% of net royalties. They’ve changed their pricing model–and perhaps even business model–a couple of times since then. 

Bookbaby

  • Distributes to all the major retailers (Amazon, B&N, iBookstore) plus a number of minor stores not covered by Smashwords
  • Author must provide their own files in the proper formats; extra fee for conversion from Word or PDF
  • Charges an upfront fee ($99 per book + $19.99 a year), but the author keeps 100% of net royalties
  • Offers add-on services such as cover design and also print runs
  • ISBNs cost $19; usually free on other platforms
  • Bottom Line: If you’re comfortable doing your own conversion work, and if you believe that you’ll be selling enough copies to break even (at $2.99, that’s about 400 copies per book, per year), then this may be a good choice.

Kobo Writinglife*

  • Really nice, clean interface
  • Uploading a book requires more effort–had to convert the Word file to an HTML file to get it to work
  • Has a very small market share compared to Amazon and B&N
  • Bottom Line: Although it is very elegantly designed, Kobo simply doesn’t move enough eBooks to make managing a separate dashboard worth it.

My Distribution Plan

I’ve experimented with both direct distribution and third-part distributors, and from my experience, managing more than three or four dashboards isn’t worth the effort. I’m willing to pay a distributor a small fee to streamline the process–especially since it makes getting paid and filing taxes much simpler. I’ve tried KDP Select in the past, but I didn’t make very good use of it. (Pro Tip: Since Amazon Prime members only get to borrow one book per month, they aren’t going to waste it on a $.99 short story. Live and learn.) Using what I’ve learned, here’s how I plan to distribute my books in the future:

  1. Upload my shiny new book to KDP and enroll it in KDP Select for three months. Make strategic use of my free promotion days to increase visibility and get reviews.
  2. At the same time, use Amazon Createspace (a print-on-demand company) to offer a trade paperback. KDP Select only restricts eBook distribution, not print.
  3. After three months, step down from KDP Select. Expand channels by distributing directly to NOOK Press and using Smashwords to distribute to minor retailers.
  4. Monitor sales. If I find that I’m selling more than 400 copies of each title through Smashwords channels, I may consider switching to a flat-fee, 100% royalty model such as Bookbaby.

This plan will work best for novels and short story anthologies. For individual stories, which I price at $.99, I intend to skip steps one & two and go directly to three.

So, how do you distribute your books? Leave a comment below.

-=/-\=-

You can find more information about the author and the original post on Erin Elizabeth Long’s website.

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Middlesex ~ Jeffrey Eugenides

  • Title: Middlesex
  • Author: Jeffrey Eugenides
  • Genre: Literature, Mainstream
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: Olga
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:

“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day of January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974. . . My birth certificate lists my name as Calliope Helen Stephanides. My most recent driver’s license…records my first name simply as Cal.”

So begins the breathtaking story of Calliope Stephanides and three generations of the Greek-American Stephanides family who travel from a tiny village overlooking Mount Olympus in Asia Minor to Prohibition-era Detroit, witnessing its glory days as the Motor City, and the race riots of 1967, before they move out to the tree-lined streets of suburban Grosse Pointe, Michigan. To understand why Calliope is not like other girls, she has to uncover a guilty family secret and the astonishing genetic history that turns Callie into Cal, one of the most audacious and wondrous narrators in contemporary fiction. Lyrical and thrilling, Middlesex is an exhilarating reinvention of the American epic.

Review:   
What is Middlesex? According to my dictionary, Middlesex is a county in England. After reading the first page, I decided that Middlesex refers to the sex of the protagonist, hermaphrodite Cal/Calliope. After having read half the book, I found the third interpretation: Calliope spent her childhood in the house by the name Middlesex.

Like its title, the novel is so complex, it defies definitions. On one hand, it is a family saga, tracing three generations of one Greek family from their point of origin – Smyrna burned by the Turks in 1922 – to modern Detroit. On the other hand, it’s a coming-of-age tale of Calliope, a young Greek-American hermaphrodite.

Following the writer’s capricious whim, the narrative jumps between Cal’s current romance in Germany and the amorous stories of his parents and grandparents. The convoluted path of the mutated chromosome, responsible for Cal’s hermaphrodite status, began with his grandparents, who committed a crime condemned by any government or religion on Earth: they were brother and sister.

Along with the 20th century America, Cal’s family suffered and matured. Ford’s auto factory and prohibition years, depression and illegal bootlegging, wars, Detroit race riots and San Francisco gay community: they all contributed to Cal’s story, shaping his family and his personality.

Cal’s personal journey starts in the second part of the book. Raised as a girl, loved and cherished by her parents, Calliope knows nothing about her unusual sexual proclivity, nor about the errant chromosome. She is a lovely girl until puberty struck, and the sin of her grandparents at last catches up with her. When instead of breasts and a period, Calliope starts developing a mustache, her parents and herself begin to worry.

The writer is extremely honest in describing Calliope’s turbulent thoughts and her recalcitrant body’s refusal to cooperate. Terrified of her impending visit to a gynecologist, she fakes her period, and her mother immediately calms down. But the girl doesn’t. She knows she is a freak. But she doesn’t know what kind. And like many teenagers, she is ashamed to ask.

Calliope’s search for sexual identity and her decision to live her life as a man forms the last part of the book. From Detroit to New York to San Francisco, from the upper middle class, loving Greek family to the sleazy strip club for sexual freaks, the newly-minted Cal travels the road of self-discovery and learning. His emotional nakedness finally brings him to self-acceptance and pride in being what he is – different. And the book that started with a question ends on a hopeful note – back home in Middlesex.  

Unique and contemplative, the novel is full of philosophical and historical detours, mysterious medical references and hilarious observations of human follies, but above all, it is a marvelous read. The author’s fantastic command of the language made me frantically turn the pages. It felt like a verbal cake, rich and chocolaty, a treat for any word lover. It is no surprise that in 2003, Middlesex won the Pulitzer Prize, the highest American award for fiction. 

A note of confusion: I’m not sure what pronouns are appropriate for Cal/Calliope, so I alternated between ‘he’ and ‘she’, ‘his’ and ‘hers’.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore ~ Robin Sloan

  • Title: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
  • Author: Robin Sloan
  • Genre: Contemporary, Literary, Mystery
  • Format: Audiobook
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 5 out of 5

Description:  The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon out of his life as a San Francisco Web-design drone—and serendipity, sheer curiosity, and the ability to climb a ladder like a monkey has landed him a new gig working the night shift at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after just a few days on the job, Clay begins to realize that this store is even more curious than the name suggests. There are only a few customers, but they come in repeatedly and never seem to actually buy anything, instead “checking out” impossibly obscure volumes from strange corners of the store, all according to some elaborate, long-standing arrangement with the gnomic Mr. Penumbra. The store must be a front for something larger, Clay concludes, and soon he’s embarked on a complex analysis of the customers’ behavior and roped his friends into helping to figure out just what’s going on. But once they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, it turns out the secrets extend far outside the walls of the bookstore.

With irresistible brio and dazzling intelligence, Robin Sloan has crafted a literary adventure story for the twenty-first century, evoking both the fairy-tale charm of Haruki Murakami and the enthusiastic novel-of-ideas wizardry of Neal Stephenson or a young Umberto Eco, but with a unique and feisty sensibility that’s rare to the world of literary fiction. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is exactly what it sounds like: an establishment you have to enter and will never want to leave, a modern-day cabinet of wonders ready to give a jolt of energy to every curious reader, no matter the time of day.

Review: 
I can just imagine a group of nerdy, but hip guys sitting around, drinking beer, and solving all of the world’s problems. During the course of the conversation, they lament that no one has ever truly written a book designed to appeal to fantasy-reading, dungeons & dragons playing media techno-geeks who have a deep appreciation for cheesy 80’s movies. Clearly, one of those guys thought the idea still sounded good after the buzz wore off and decided to go for it. That book is called Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. How do I know that it probably went down like that? We sense our own kind (except the “guy” part).

I love this book! While I found a lot of geek culture references to be highly amusing, I can see where the mass market audience might not get the humor. Also, the abundance of high tech references will date this work quickly. I don’t care, I still love it. In fact, the potential lack of appeal to the masses may make me like it even more – they DID buy into Twilight, ’nuff said.

The main character, Clay, is so nerdy, but lovable. I absolutely love the way that as he pulls his friends into the mysteries of Mr. Penumbra’s shop, he thinks of them in terms of D&D roles. I sympathize with his struggle to find his place as an adult. It is like the bookstore provides a safe refuge from the fickle and chaotic storm of corporate America in down-size mode.

The excitement of Clay’s merry little band of misfits is palpable as they try to solve the Penumbra’s puzzle. There are no explosions or assassination attempts, and yet this book is chock full of adventure, albeit a dorky one.

Whether you are a hard-core geek, or geek-light, I recommend you read this sooner rather than later to get the most bang out of the pop culture buck. What are you waiting for? Go get it. Shoo!

The Life of Pi ~ Yann Martel

  • Title: Life of PI
  • Author: Yann Martel
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Source: Kindle
  • Reviewed by: Mark, Guest Reviewer
  • Rating: 5 out of 5

Description:  Life of Pi  is a masterful and utterly original novel that is at once the story of a young castaway who faces immeasurable hardships on the high seas, and a meditation on religion, faith, art and life that is as witty as it is profound. Using the threads of all of our best stories, Yann Martel has woven a glorious spiritual adventure that makes us question what it means to be alive, and to believe.

Review:  The novel ‘Life of Pi’ was only on my distant radar, until I saw the stunning scenes of this mega-3d movie made by Ang-lee. Of course, I wanted to go ‘book first, movie second’, since the other way around just doesn’t work as well, so I jumped into the novel to free myself to see the movie.

The Life of PI is the story of a young man who is a religious studies and zoology major in college. He sees truths and beauty in 3 major religions so chooses to follow them all. This spiritual world gets hammered and tested when a shipwreck leaves him lost at sea on a lifeboat along with some of the animals his father was transporting to sell to other zoos.

The novel was simply tremendous. The writing was both easily digestible and yet filled with deeper implications. Piscine’s, or “Pi’s” thought patterns were intriguing, including his initial inquisitiveness and near naivety before the shipwreck, to his brain’s struggle for survival and the delirium that follows, to his post-rescue riddling of the insurance representatives investigating the cause of the crash. (This is not a spoiler, since the reader knows right up front that Pi survives.)

This novel can be read simply for an action, intrigue, and the survival story which rivals any other, but my guess is there are tons of English professors who would love to see their students turn in papers with the following as subjects:

~Symbolism of the Hyena, the Orangutan, the Frenchman, and especially, Richard Parker The Tiger. Does the tiger represent fear, nature, the Id and savagery of man, childhood demons conquered? (‘you’re going to be a goat fed to the tiger,’ his brother had warned him as a child.)

~Compare the Tiger in Life of Pi to the volleyball ‘Wilson’ in Castaway. Okay, you may just get some laughs and nothing higher than a B+ if you write this paper.

~Compare and contrast life on land, on the boat, and on the island.

~Role of carnivores versus omnivores in the novel.

~Nature of storytelling itself.

The power of stories as providing meaning and creating larger than life myths are referred to throughout the book, and how their power fuels spiritual faith. (Pi laments the lack of more grandiose stories in Christianity). Does belief in a story make it more or less true? When you are trying to tell the truth, is it best to do so in Fiction?

Ah, to be in school again and spend hours writing such a paper into the wee hours of the night. Good for me, I can just enjoy and think as deep or shallow as I’d like.

Among many others, one thing that has stuck with me is the things Pi had to do to get by. Eating animals as part of survival is described as both barbaric and instinctual, and the degree of Pi’s desperate hunger leads to desperate measures. While reading, I made some out loud gasps at some of the ways Pi survived, causing others in the room with me to turn their heads and wonder what was on my kindle.

But upon completing the novel and still savoring its taste, I found myself noticing all the food I waste and imagining what I would eat ‘if I really had to’. Like Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle,” Life of Pi maybe aimed for the heart but accidently hit the stomach as well.

The odd thing is, many readers will discuss back and forth what was real and what wasn’t real in the novel, but I like to believe, as I think the author and Pi himself believe, that it doesn’t matter and it misses the point. Truth exists in the eye of the storyteller and the observer, and in the mind of the reader, so if you read about it, saw it in your minds eye, then it happened.

This novel fired on all cylinders, and I’m going to be waving it under the noses of readers everywhere. And just like Tom Hanks who missed Wilson, and Pi who misses his tiger, I miss reading this novel each night. At least I still have the movie.

Mark Matthews is the author of STRAY and The Jade Rabbit. He blogs at Running, Writing, and Chasing the Dragon.