REVIEW: Idiot Boys by Bradley Butterfield

Idiot
Four Stars

When I was a lowly English teacher, I waged an ongoing war with our school librarian. In the sweet, precious old woman’s efforts to be worldly and up-with-the-times, she steered kids towards certain books, almost to the point of maniacal focus. Nerds got Harry Potter books. Athletes got Mike Lupica. Black girls got Toni Morrison and Alice Walker. Thugs got S.E. Hinton. And that was the end of it.

On the surface that might not seem so bad. At least she cared, right? But the war began the day a charming black girl came to me and asked to borrow my Harry Potter books (this was when they’d first come out, and cost about $30 apiece…I was incredibly selfish with my books back then). I asked her why she didn’t find them in the library, and she said our librarian wouldn’t let her check them out. She’d been told she needed to be reading “important” books that would shape her as a black person.

I don’t need to go into details, but after the librarian’s car suffered a mishap that I refuse to openly take credit for, the war was finally won and the students were allowed to check out any books they wanted.

So why did I bring that up? Because Idiot Boys is decidedly a “boy book.” I know, I know…there’s no such thing. Books are for everyone, regardless of gender or race or hobbies. So why would I say such a thing?

It’s not that women can’t appreciate Idiot Boys, it’s that we would read it and shake our heads sadly, all the while picturing the cast of characters with faces of actual human males that we know. We all know a lot of “idiot boys,” or at least knew them while they were still young and doing stupid stuff. At the same time, Idiot Boys might spark a trip down memory lane for more than a few of its male readers.

It’s not at all unpleasant, but I tend not to love books that leave me wondering how the author managed to get as far as he did in life based on the sheer amount of marijuana consumed before he was old enough to even drive. It is, however, one of those books about a life that caused friends of the author to tell him, “You’re gonna write a book someday, I just know it!”

And he did. Now, all content and strange antics aside, the book is very well written and is on par with those coming-of-age stories that people rally behind. It’s like Catcher in the Rye, if it hadn’t been depressing and filled with questions about where the ducks go in the winter. It has all the epic storytelling of a great road-trip novel, like Dharma Bums or Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, all without taking itself too seriously or trying too hard to be one of those books, and without actually going very far.

BookBaby Just Keeps Getting Better

BookBaby has one of the best offers in the publishing world for self-publishing or small press publishing (we’re required to state that Author Options has a great service, too, otherwise the Christmas party this year is gonna be real awkward). Unlike the world of the so-called vanity press–many of whom are so shady you’d be better off throwing copies of your manuscript from a high place and hoping people send you money–BookBaby is one of the rare options that produces a high-quality book, has live customer services agents who will speak to you, and (get this) doesn’t take a percentage of your sales after the fact. You pay up front, and you’re done.

Check out their newest press release on their print-on-demand service, and the highest author royalty in the business:

BookBaby expands Print On Demand service to pay out highest royalties to self-published authors

With POD on BookShop™, indie authors earn more, get paid faster, and enjoy guaranteed in-stock inventory status.

Pennsauken, NJ, July 13, 2016 BookBaby today announced its Print On Demand (POD) service is now available through its BookShop™ direct-to-reader sales website. Authors will earn an industry-leading 50% of the selling price for printed books sold through BookShop while enjoying all the convenience and low inventory costs that make POD an attractive option for authors.

“Authors haven’t made much money with previous POD programs, and frankly, that’s just wrong,” says BookBaby President Steven Spatz. “When authors sell their printed books through BookBaby’s BookShop, they’ll make more than anywhere else.”

For example, a typical Digest-sized black and white soft cover that retails for $9.99. Amazon will pay authors between $1.34 to $3.34 royalties. If that same book is sold through BookShop, authors will earn $5.00. BookBaby’s POD service can also include hardcover books, a book selection not found in other POD programs, including CreateSpace.

BookBaby’s new service addresses two other issues with Print On Demand programs.

  • Faster payment: BookBaby deposits authors’ money into their accounts within one week after book orders are shipped. That compares to the standard 90 to 120 days lag in payments from Amazon and others.
  • Guaranteed accessibility: Authors’ books are always in stock and ready to ship to readers—a feature exclusive to BookBaby.

“During last Christmas, every POD program suffered through long periods where books were listed as out of stock,” says Spatz. “Tens of thousands of authors were frustrated by Amazon and Barnes & Noble supply chain breakdowns. But that can’t happen with BookShop. We don’t have to worry about inventory—we print and ship directly out of our factory to the reader. In fact, we guarantee our books are available 24/7 throughout the busiest holiday season.”

BookBaby authors will be seeing more new features and services on the BookShop platform in the coming months. “With this new addition, our self-publishing authors have a true one-stop shop for readers to find more information about our authors and their books,” says Spatz. “It’s a critical resource for achieving success in self-publishing, and BookBaby is the only company that offers it.”

BookShop is a free online storefront exclusive to BookBaby authors, giving them an easy way to earn more money selling their printed books and eBooks directly to readers. Minimal set-up is required to get started and authors have full control over their page content.

More information about Print On Demand on BookShop can be found at https://www.bookbaby.com/bookshop.

REVIEW: The Curve by Jeremy Blachman and Cameron Stracher

curve
Five stars

What’s better than a biting satire about a corrupt for-profit law school aimed at catering to those students who never had a chance (or the genetics, or the connections, or the silver spoon) of getting into Harvard Law? A book about this very subject written by two Harvard Law graduates.

Set in the fictitious Manhattan Law School–which sounds like it could be a serious institution of higher learning, doesn’t it?–the sad reality of the school mirrors its location along the banks of a polluted body of water adjacent to Brooklyn. Adam Wright, a one-time eternal optimist who leaves behind the pressures of a law firm  in order to give a professorship a try, quickly finds there’s nothing Ivy League-ish about his new position. From zombie-students who are just there taking up space to the understanding that sleeping with the students in exchange for a better grade is unacceptable unless the student is a third-year, everything that’s wrong with the legal profession is compressed into one sad law school.

So then, why is the book so darn funny? The authors have done a masterful job of creating a completely surreal environment that quickly draws you in and makes the bizarre seem acceptable. The writing is stellar, of course, but not just good, it’s masterful.

The real horror of the book? Well, let’s just hope works like this one remain firmly entrenched in satire, and don’t ever, ever cross over into plausible reality.

 

REVIEW: The Anxious Lawyer by Jeena Cho and Karen Gifford

Lawyer

Five Stars

“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” — Dick the Butcher, Henry VI by William Shakespeare

With famous quotes like that one floating around, it’s no wonder that members of the esteemed legal profession need a little encouragement now and then. Sadly, the above quote is NOT disparaging lawyers or expressing Shakespeare’s true thoughts on the profession; the character who speaks it is actually saying that lawyers and judges are the mighty hand that holds justice–and therefore, society–together, and that the only way to achieve their goals of utter lawlessness will be to get rid of every last attorney.

But that doesn’t stop the quote from appearing on coffee mugs, or stop people from making shark jokes whenever lawyers are in the room. One noted cafe across from a Southern courthouse had a permanent sign in the window that advertised “chum” as the special of the day.

Poor lawyers…they really do want to be a force for good, but their role in society is often a thankless one.

But the best thing about The Anxious Lawyer by Jeena Cho and Karen Gifford is that anyone–shark profession or not–can benefit from the information on centering yourself, finding and relying on an air of gratitude every day, and incorporating meditation into your daily regimen. While it bills itself as an eight-week course to a “joyful and satisfying law practice,” its benefits will go on far past those mere two months, and can improve anyone’s daily life, work place relationships, and job satisfaction.

One of the most crucial perceptions that the authors address is also the most incriminating. Imagine walking into a lawyer’s office, knowing that your life may very well hang in the balance due to criminal charges, an insurmountable lawsuit you face, or other grave situation, and seeing a yoga mat spread out on the floor, incense burning on a nearby table, and whale song music playing softly through hidden speakers. You’ll probably back away slowly, then bolt for the nearest law practice that isn’t run by hippies.

Yet, medical professionals and speakers alike have supported the benefits of meditation for so long that everyone from preschools to prisons are incorporating yoga and deep breathing time into their daily routines. So why shouldn’t the people who stand before a judge and argue for our best interests also benefit from a healthy body and a clear, centered mind? Meditation should be a requirement for high-stakes professions, not the butt of a joke. Hopefully works like this one will bring that notion into the mainstream.

New Content by JK Rowling Posted on Pottermore

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Author extraordinaire JK Rowling has posted new writing over at her site, Pottermore, entitled,  ‘Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry’. Much like fans could be sorted into their Hogwarts’ houses and be issued their perfect wands, users will find similar fun through the Ilvermorny School.

The Ilvermorny School is the US-based contingent of Harry Potter’s wizarding world. Much like the fourth book in the series, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, saw the convergence of multiple wizarding schools from outside the UK, Ilvermorny is the previously-unrepresented school located on Mount Greylock in Massachusetts.

The school’s houses are based on mythical creatures’ names instead of the four founders, as Hogwarts was. The houses are Thunderbird, Horned Serpent, Pukwudgie, and Wampus.

To read the latest short story (found here) or to play along in the house sorting fun, visit Pottermore.com and sign in.

REVIEW: Return to Lan Darr by Anderson Atlas

Capture

Five stars

We recently reviewed book one in the Heroes of Distant Planets series by Anderson Atlas, so it was a pleasure to read a preview copy of the second book in the series. While too many action/adventure titles aimed at middle grade and “younger” young adult audiences seem to focus on the “movie-worthy” adventure–meaning the Hollywood-esque action series, as if the author wrote it with a movie franchise in mind–it’s refreshing to read a series that actually works in the crucial world building that so many fantasy fans crave.

Both of Atlas’ books have relied heavily on the type of characterizations that made books like A Wrinkle in Time, The Chronicles of Narnia, and even the Harry Potter series so popular with readers. The main characters not only travels to far off places, but he meets a widely varied cast of alien creatures in every new location. The creatures themselves not only have full enough physical descriptions to hold the readers’ interest, but they have their own backstory and struggles woven in.

Speaking of struggles, Return to Lan Darr opened with one of the most realistic and timely portrayals of modern-day teen problems that any book has presented in a long time. It’s particularly upsetting to read ridiculous or outdated portrayals of bullying, and the concept that a handicapped student (the main character was paralyzed in the car accident that killed his parents) is “untouchable” when it comes to bullying is horrifically inaccurate. School systems and administrators like to tell themselves that any student with special needs is somehow safe from that kind of thing–mostly because we like to tell ourselves that adults would never bully a handicapped person, so therefore kids would be kind enough to leave him alone–but as Atlas clearly demonstrates, it is simply not true. After Allan’s diary where he writes down his adventures on Lan Darr (from book one) is stolen and passed around the entire school via a Facebook-like social media site, he has more incentive than ever to try to get back to the planet and fight Jibbawk in order to save his new friends.

Return to Lan Darr will be available summer 2016.

Sourcebooks Partners with Natl Geographic on Interactive Kids’ Books

If we could spend a whole day with any entity in the publishing industry, it would be the powerhouse team at Sourcebooks. Great company, great vision, great willingness to embrace all sorts of change in the book business…yeah, awesome. What really sets them apart is the fact that other publishing houses both big and small are imploding from their own inability to grab a vision and go with it, while Sourcebooks is reshaping everything from the gift book market to the education sphere.

Take a look at their latest announcement here:

National Geographic Kids and Put Me In The Story™ Ignite Children’s Curiosity

in New Personalized Books

Win a Trip to the San Diego Zoo in the Little Explorer Drawing Contest

Naperville, IL, May 16, 2016—Put Me In The Story™, the #1 personalized books site in the United States, is partnering with National Geographic Kids to create two personalized educational books for kids—National Geographic Little Kids Book of Dinosaurs and National Geographic Little Kids Book of Animals, available now on PutMeInTheStory.com.

“Put Me In The Story is an ideal partnership, offering a new and creative way for kids to interact with our content,” said Erica Green, vice president and editorial director at National Geographic Kids Books.

In National Geographic Little Kids Book of Dinosaurs and National Geographic Little Kids Book of Animals, children will learn about their favorite animals and dinosaurs and be asked direct questions to help them connect, relate to, and learn about each creature.

“We are delighted to begin this partnership with National Geographic Kids,” said Dominique Raccah, CEO and publisher of Sourcebooks, Inc., which created Put Me In The Story. “Their dedication to the education of children is something we treasure. Together, we have created books that will ignite children’s curiosity and fascination with animals, nature, and the world through reading.”

Each book can be personalized with a child’s name on the cover and throughout the book, photos, and a dedication message. Plus, at the end, kids can fill out a personalized activities section about their favorite animals or dinosaurs.

Put Me In The Story and National Geographic Kids are celebrating the launch of the new books with the Little Explorer Drawing Contest. Parents can visit the contest page to enter and download a free coloring page. They can also generate extra contest entries by sharing their child’s coloring pages using the hashtag #ColorAndExplore or by uploading the drawing directly on the contest page.

The Grand Prize winner will receive a four-day, three-night trip for a family of four to San Diego to visit the San Diego Zoo and celebrate the zoo’s 100-year anniversary, as well as copies of the National Geographic Kids personalized books. Two runners-up will receive personalized books and one-year subscriptions to National Geographic and National Geographic Kids magazines. Contest begins May 16 and ends June 17.

Big Book Club News from OverDrive

OverDrive, the powerhouse behind ebooks and other forms of digital media making their way into public and school libraries, are one of our favorite companies. They are risk-takers, and along with a fey key companies (looking at you, Sourcebooks!) they are always willing to experiment in order to make books and media available to all. On top of that, they’re library gurus, and libraries need all of the support network they can get.

Take a look at today’s press announcement from OverDrive concerning the future of book clubs in the digital age:

Public Libraries Launch Next Chapter of Book Clubs
Digital Book Clubs increase visibility, community engagement by reaching more readers

CLEVELAND — May 9, 2016 – You know that feeling: you finish a good book and you just have to talk about it with someone. It’s one of the reasons why Book Clubs have become extremely popular. Now, as eBooks are available from public libraries, readers are joining the next chapter of Book Clubs, Digital Book Clubs to discuss the next great read. Public libraries across the country are hosting and promoting a digital version of a local Book Club with simultaneous access to eBooks and audiobooks, enabling dozens of “city read” and “one-book, one community” programs.

According to BookBrowse, 22 percent of readers belong to at least one digital Book Club with friends and family (Book Clubs in the USA, July 2015). OverDrive is maximizing the scalability of digital by supporting citywide and global digital book clubs through public libraries. New York Public Library is using their eBook collection for the Gracie Book Club where First Lady Chirlane McCray will collaborate with authors to select six books to read and discuss with fellow New Yorkers over the next year. The first book, Bright Lines (Penguin Random House) will be discussed by the city of New York on Tuesday, May 17th. The Gracie Book Club was launched earlier this year to begin a citywide conversation on the diverse experiences of New York City’s many communities as depicted through the lens of literature.

Last month, OverDrive helped Cityread London (UK) go digital by working with Canongate to offer Ten Days in eBook format to participating libraries in London for the April 2016 program. Additionally, OverDrive works with publishers and thousands of libraries and schools three times a year for Big Library Read, a global Digital Book Club that connects millions of readers around the world with the same eBook from their local library. These programs have reached thousands in the communities they serve and have increased visibility, reach and engagement for the selected digital book.

Publishers are capitalizing on this growing trend by working with libraries to put authors’ works in the hands of more readers – digitally. To enable the discovery and readership of popular content and maximize the number of readers served, libraries are taking advantage of publishers’ flexible digital access models on the OverDrive platform, such as per-unit or simultaneous use to support community reading programs.

Digital Book Clubs offer a powerful marketing opportunity for authors and publishers. Promoting an eBook or audiobook to traditional Book Clubs puts that book in the hands of new readers and helps publishers and authors engage and cultivate loyalty among a base of readers. Public libraries across the globe have built engaging campaigns to promote these successful Digital Book Clubs, including dedicated websites, organized group discussions and even special author
appearances, which are helping publishers and authors expand discovery and reach and engage more readers.

Book Review: Surviving the Improbable Quest (Heroes of Distant Planets Book 1)

Anderson

Five Stars:

There’s a serious problem in middle grade fiction, or at least the fiction that is made available to students under the guise of teaching them something. It tends to be watered down or outdated or otherwise out of reach. The readability (in terms of a Fry Readability Formula) too often equates easy to read with “boring,” as if we can’t take a lower level vocabulary and make it interesting or exciting. The flip side is that books with a higher interest level and greater adventure reach tend to have elitist vocabulary levels, as if this book isn’t for you if you don’t already read on a tenth grade level.

Fortunately, Anderson Atlas’ book addresses that very real need. It’s easy to assume from the intro paragraph here that it has a dumbed-down vocabulary, but that’s far from it. It’s more like an incredibly natural vocabulary level, as if the author actually knows some people in the age range of his intended audience (shock and surprise…far too many authors who strive to write for middle grade or young adult readers don’t actually KNOW any; instead, they write the way they think those people SHOULD talk/read).

In Atlas’ book, there are some key issues addressed that MG readers often face: family dynamics, struggles in school, the need to fit in. More importantly, the author has addressed a serious lack in MG adventure books, and that’s the elusive “inclusive” character. The MC, Allan, is a paraplegic whose accident has also left him unable to speak due to the trauma. Instead of being a forced scenario in which the character is in a wheelchair just to prove that he’s “just like us!” this is a character who has faced events that many people never recover from. Truthfully, Allan seems on the surface as if he might not want to recover from it, either.

Instead of being a very fake characteristic for our story’s lead, his physical status is actually crucial to the plot. At times a cross between Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Allan meets a cast of diverse alien characters and is thrown into one dangerous scenario after another. Unlike those other books, Allan’s journey is dark and dangerous and filled with slave traders and meat-eaters named Jibbawk who apparently favor tender humans.

There is no shortage of bizarrely dangerous books aimed at a ten and up audience right now, but they lack something that Improbabey Quest has: wholly fictionalized world building that leads to adventure instead of just survival. Don’t get me wrong, The Hunger Games was fantastic, but it’s too plausible for a younger audience. The ability to suspend all plausibility is what makes this a work of fantasy, and therefore, a “safe” but intriguing read.

Find it here in print and digital.

REVIEW: The Best Goodbye by Abbi Glines

1111

Four Stars

I don’t know how Glines does it, but somehow she manages to keep all the various characters and love triangles and parenting relationships straight in the seaside town of Rosemary Beach! I’d have to have a map and a secret decoder ring handy just to keep everyone straight, and to make sure I wasn’t suddenly pairing off a biological brother and sister (although there are certain fetish genres for that…ewwwwww).

In The Best Goodbye, Glines is at it again when it comes to spinning a fun, sexy, yet completely implausible escape read. I know readers–even romance readers–who would turn up their noses at the highly unlikely stories coming out of this quaint yet dark little town, but that’s the whole point, isn’t it? If I wanted to read a book about a normal guy and a normal girl who do normal things and happen to fall in love in a normal way, those books are a dime a dozen.

Glines’ specialty is the “out there” style of romance, and this one doesn’t fail to deliver in that regard. In this instance, River Kipling meets Rose Henderson, and (no spoilers!) you’ll just have to see it for yourself to find out what makes this one so unrealistic but so entertaining at the same time!

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