Wednesday, May 31, 2017

On why Comixology Unlimited isn't worth it (but the app is)

I recently tried out a 30-day free trial of Comixology. It enabled me to try out a bunch of new comics and dip my feet into the comic world, but overall, it wasn’t worth the $5.99 each month and I cancelled my subscription.
There were a lot of good things about Comixology. First of all, the app is fantastic. DEFINITELY GET THE APP if you’re into electronic comics. The comics are very high quality and look beautiful on the screen, something I wasn’t expecting with a simple app. Best of all, the app allows you to look at each box individually. You can look at the full page to do your reading, but you can also tap twice on a specific area to zoom in on that and read the comic closer up and from box to box. It’s an excellent way to read comics and makes it easier to read instead of having to zoom in on each little part. Also, you download the comics straight to your device, which is very convenient and makes it easy to read offline with a little planning ahead.
While the app was fantastic, I was less pleased with the actual Comixology Unlimited subscription. The Unlimited subscription is actually very limited. The selection of comics is a lot smaller than the comics that are available electronically. Most big superhero comics were not available at all on Comixology Unlimited. The comics that were available typically only had the first comic or first volume available on Unlimited. The rest were available for purchase, but it was disappointing to get to read the first couple comics and then not being able to read the next one without forking over more money. Don’t waste your money on the subscription when you’ll just be buying the comics anyway.
The Comixology Unlimited subscription is a great resource for someone who is just beginning to read comics, but for anyone else, the subscription will be a waste of money that is better spent on buying the comics themselves. If you’re interested in electronic comics, I would definitely recommend using Comixology. The app is gorgeous and has a large selection of comics to purchase and download to your device. I highly recommend it.

How do you read your digital comics? What other apps are worth looking into? What comics would you recommend? Do you prefer your comics in paper or digital?

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

May: Best and Strangest

May has been a fun month - I got back into audiobooks, read a LOT of egalleys, and got adjusted to using a new Kindle (which has made it a lot easier to read egalleys and to get new books - though I don’t love the Lending Library so far)! I also decided to start keeping track of where I get my books from - it’s changed quite a bit over the last few months now that I am getting egalleys and audiobooks - there’s little need for me to check out library books these days. I want to see how this changes over time. Also, I’ve been extremely busy getting ready to move, so that has taken a large chunk of my time. In spite of all this, I did manage to read quite a bit this month.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
  • On Writing by Stephen King - This guide on writing by one of the more prolific authors in our time is fantastic, entertaining, honest, and incredibly helpful. Anyone with a desire to write and/or publish needs to read this.
The Builders
  • The Builders by Daniel Polansky - This book is a wild west Ocean’s Eleven take on Redwall - and it’s awesome. Dark and yet hilarious, this is an excellent (and fairly short) read for fantasy readers.
Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman

Detention Land
  • Detention Land by Susan Orion - A boy is stuck in detention endlessly for his recurring crimes. Who is the woman who is always there to talk to him? What are the reasons behind his actions?
    • I didn’t enjoy this book. It wasn’t all that well-written, the plot wasn’t compelling or all that interesting, and I didn’t enjoy the ending at all. The whole story is told either through the boy’s diary or through his conversations with the woman while he’s in detention. It’s slow and uninventive and just strange (and not in a good way - in a discomforting way). I wouldn’t recommend this. It’s slow and strange and I can think of very few people who would enjoy this.


This month:
Library books: 1
Books I bought: 1
Overdrive Audiobooks: 4
Egalleys: 6
Goodreads Giveaway wins: 1
Amazon Lending Library: 1
Free books on Kindle: 1
Gifts: 1
Borrowed from friend: 0
Book Swapped: 0
Available online: 0
Total: 16

What did you read this month? Anything wonderful? Anything bizarre?

Monday, May 29, 2017

On overlooked classics everyone should read

There are the books that just about everyone has read (or at least has heard of) and these are the books that we all consider classics. One rung down the ladder are the books that tons of people read and highly acclaim and suggest everyone should read, but they’re less common than the regular set of classics. These are my overlooked classics that most people read, but that don’t get the attention they rightfully deserve.
My list today only contains books that I’ve rated 5 stars on Goodreads - so be assured that they’re excellent.
  • Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes - Charlie is a mentally disabled adult who undergoes a surgery to alter his brain - with dramatic effects. I’ve read this book at least 5 times and it’s one of the few books that I own and refuse to give away now that I’m done. It’s dramatic, it’s endearing, it’s heartfelt and heartbreaking at the same time. It’s wonderful and dark and sad and beautiful.
  • The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien - This collection of stories set during the Vietnam War ranges from hilarious to downright disturbing. It’s one of those books that sticks with you and makes you look at history in a new light. It also makes you consider modern warfare in a new light and made me curious about Vietnam - prompting some enlightening discussions with my dad about what his childhood memories regarding Vietnam. Anyone with any interest in warfare or 1960’s/1970’s history needs to read this book.
  • The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt - Holling Hoodhood is your typical 1960’s suburban middle schooler, but his world is expanded by reading Shakespeare and witnessing the changes in the people and society around him. This is an excellent YA book with some great messages and some interesting historical perspectives. It’s a well-done combination of middle school drama, 1960’s events, and Shakespeare readings.

My list is short (for now) and will probably expand as I continue to read and expose myself to new authors and literature. But having a short list gives you no excuse not to read these books - I can almost guarantee they’re at a public library near you. Get reading.

Are there any books you think I should’ve included? What would your list of overlooked classics consist of?

Friday, May 26, 2017

On reading more to write better: Lemony Snicket and writing voice

Image result for lemony snicket picture
Lemony Snicket's investigating knows no bounds.
As writers, it’s often difficult to know the most effective way to tell a story. Often, the story itself is the easy part. But how can you tell it in a way that makes it new and interesting and worth reading? My suggestion is this: take a few notes from Lemony Snicket.
Snicket (also known as Daniel Handler) became quite famous for The Series of Unfortunate Events, a children’s series about three orphans who have terrible things befall them while they try to uncover the mysteries their parents left behind. Snicket has a very unique and distinct voice in telling the story. Just take a look at a few of these quotes:
  • If an optimist had his left arm chewed off by an alligator, he might say, in a pleasant and hopeful voice, “Well, this isn’t too bad. I don’t have my left arm anymore, but at least nobody will ever ask me whether I am right-handed or left-handed,” but most of us would say something more along the lines of “Aaaaah! My arm! My arm!
  • People aren’t either wicked or noble. They’re like chef’s salads, with good things and bad things chopped and mixed together in a vinaigrette of confusion and conflict.
  • Taking one’s chances is like taking a bath, because sometimes you end up feeling comfortable and warm, and sometimes there is something terrible lurking around that you cannot see until it is too late and you can do nothing else but scream and cling to a plastic duck.
To begin with, Snicket’s way of talking to the reader is very conversational. It’s as if Snicket is writing a letter to a good friend, or to someone that he hopes to become good friends with. The tone is warm and friendly, while still conveying an overall message of despair and agony when Snicket tells us over and over again that only terrible things are going to happen to the Baudelaire’s. In spite of all the terrible things he’s relating, Snicket keeps the tone light partly by dispensing little bits of wisdom (such as those quoted above) that aren’t told in profound ways, but in silly and easy to understand ways. Since this is a children’s series, this method works phenomenally - it puts Snicket on the same page with the reader without talking down to them. It also gives him a chance to use some hilariously bizarre explanations, metaphors, and stories. Snicket stays on the reader’s good side while telling of some very terrible things that happen. The combination of all these makes Snicket a unique storyteller and a part of the story.
Snicket’s narration enables him to make himself a small character within the story. He gives us a reason that he’s telling the Baudelaires’ tale - he’s researching them and trying to track the kids down. Throughout the books, Snicket chooses to become a bigger part of the story by adding in other family members, such as Kit Snicket, who help the Baudelaires and help tell us more about Lemony Snicket and his role in everything. Having the narrator be an observer to the main character’s plight isn’t anything new (just check out Stephen King’s Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption), but making the author a character in the story does take things to the next level.
So what can we take away from Snicket’s writing? First of all, start figuring out how exactly you want the tone of the story to be - is it lighthearted? Is it dark? Is it a strange mix of both? Then, once you know the feeling you want to put in your books, start writing that way. Practice copying the tone of authors who write the mood you want to convey (or even mix authors if you haven’t found anything you like) if you’re stuck and not sure how to write what you want. Then, once you have their techniques down, start looking at you can tell the story in a way that other authors have told it before, but make it unique by putting a twist on it or taking it to the next level. Once you have the correct tone down, you need to find a good narrator. Who do you want to be telling your story? How involved in the action are they? Is one of the characters narrating or is there no clear narrator? Don’t be afraid to look at the pros and cons of each possible narrator. You can even practice writing scenes from different points of view to see who makes a more effective narrator. If you find that a different narrator brings a different tone to your work, don’t be afraid to change your overall tone to fit a better narrator. Keep finding your tone and testing out narrators until you find one that really works for you - that tells the story how it deserves to be told.

Good luck with your writing! Don’t forget to continue reading more to write better. If you need a reminder, just remember what Lemony Snicket has to say: When trouble strikes, head to the library. You will either be able to solve the problem, or simply have something to read as the world crashes down around you.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

On how to win Goodreads Giveaways

For years, I’d been entering Goodreads Giveaways and yet I’d never won a single book. Now, in the past 4 months, I’ve been sent 13. Some have been fantastic, some have definitely not been my cup of tea, but either way, I received free books AND a chance to expand my reading horizons.
While Goodreads does pick winners somewhat randomly, there are a few things you can do to be a more eligible participant. So here is my simple step-by-step guide for winning more free books:

  1. Read A LOT.  If you have 2 books on your Goodreads bookshelf, you probably aren’t going to be a good candidate for more books - you don’t look like a reader! Add more books that you’ve read and if you’re in doubt that it’s enough, add a few more.
  2. Review everything you read. Authors want their books to go to people who are willing to read their book and write an honest review about it (any publicity is good publicity). If you have never written a review before, you aren’t a good candidate for the giveaway. It may seem daunting to go back and write a review for a bunch of books you read years ago, so you don’t have to do that. Write review for your favorite books or any you’ve read several times. Then, start writing reviews for each new book that you read. Not only will this help you to become a better reviewer, but it’ll help your chances of winning books - you regularly review books, after all.
  3. If you do win a book, read it soon and review it quickly. For a while, I was receiving all sorts of books from Goodreads giveaways. I’d read one and write a review and win another giveaway that day. Some days, I won two or three Giveaways at once after a quick read and review! After awhile, I got bogged down with books and stopped winning new ones when I’d receive old ones. After all, it was taking me a couple months to get to each book, so I wasn’t nearly as reliable of a reviewer as I had been before.
  4. Connect with authors of books you read. While this may not help you win more giveaways directly, it gives you an opportunity to connect with published authors. A lot of these people are self-published or are working with a micropress, so connecting with someone who read and enjoyed their book can be a huge deal. There are a few authors who friended me on Goodreads after I reviewed their book and now follow everything I read and review. This is an excellent way to connect with authors and also to market their books (and others’ books) a bit more - the more friends you have on Goodreads, the more people will see what books you’re reading, and the more publicity those books will get.

If you want to read more on this topic (and see the articles I read that helped confirm my suspicions), Michelle Booth has written about it, as has Janet Tavakoli from The Huffington Post.
If you’re an author trying to get your book promoted more, this post by Cathryn Ryan Howard has some tips about using Goodreads Giveaways.

And here are a few books that I’ve won via Goodreads Giveaways that intrigued me, made me think, haunted me, etc:

Have you won anything on Goodreads? Are you looking for new ways to get FREE BOOKS or are you currently half-buried in the books you already own?

Monday, May 22, 2017

On what these goats are currently reading

When I first met these darling goats, I was hesitant to include them in my blog. Goats who can read? Who would believe that? I wouldn’t believe it myself it I hadn’t beheld it and personally interviewed these lovely beings and was impressed not just with their ability to read, but with the sheer depth and breadth of their reading. Let’s meet these cuties:
Theo is still a child at heart. His first great loves are children’s book and now that he’s found a home in a children’s library, he’s wholly dedicated to reading every children’s book ever written. Currently, he’s trying to read up on difficult issues kids face these days, so he’s reading Blubber by Judy Blume - a book all about a group of young Mean Girls. Theo hopes that reading this can help him give good tools to the kids he works with and provide them with books that understand what they’re going through. Theo had to end our interview to run the daily story time - his favorite part of the day.
Benji is a devoted mystery reader with a deep love for anything dark or scary. He loves tortured detectives with a drinking problem, which he acknowledges is a cliche, but loves all the same. He’s currently reading When the Sacred Ginmill Closes by Lawrence Block - which is complete with a boozy and sad detective. So far, Benji says that it’s all he’d hoped for - lots of drinking and three different crimes to solve. At that, Benji ended our interview so he could find out what would happen next.
Gertrude is a tough lady who’s tired of the political drama and unrest these days. She used to spend her time reading activist books, but she decided it was time for a break and time for a bit of self-care, so Gertrude has started reading more self-help books and religious books. Right now, she’s reading The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by Dalai Lama XIV, Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Carlton Abrams. She’s hoping that she’ll learn to make the world a bit of a better place and that she’ll find the peace she’s looking for so she can continue to fight the good fight.

If you like goats and want to meet a few more, check out these goat rescue centers:

Do you know any goats who are reading anything interesting? What are you reading right now and why?

Friday, May 19, 2017

On musicians who read

Image result for musicians reading
Isn't Paul McCartney adorable?!
There are few things hotter than talented musicians who like to read. If you don’t believe me, check out a few of these articles about bookish musicians and the books they were reading when the article was written, or the books that inspired them. In addition to sharing the links, I’m sharing my favorite artist from each post and their featured book.

And here are a few more articles about books loved by musicians and other celebrities:

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Series Review: The Trust Williams Trilogy by Robert Farrell Smith

Image result for trust williams trilogy
“God gave all the gift of Paul
So listen to his will.
The price of cheese may rise and dip,
But Paul is with us still.”

That should give you just a taste of what you’re in for with this series.
My brother was obsessed with audiobooks growing up, so when we randomly found All is Swell: Trust in Thelma’s Way among our parents’ audiobook collection, we knew we had to listen to it. And it didn’t take long for us to fall in love with the story, with the characters, and most of all, with Thelma’s Way. To this day, we can quote various parts of the first book since we listened to it over and over and over again. It wasn’t until years later that we discovered there were more books and we heartily devoured those as well.
The Trust Williams Trilogy follows Trust Williams as he serves a Mormon mission in Thelma’s Way, Tennessee, and then how his life is forever changed by the relationships he develops there. It’s a ridiculous series and I love it.
It has a lot of pros:
  • HILARIOUS - The situations Trust encounters are absolutely ridiculous and wonderful. Most of the things that happen are quirky and funny social situations, but a few here and there are more strange - such as the plot being driven by people’s food storage going awry. It’s funny and strange and light-hearted - and so much fun.
  • WELL-WRITTEN - While Smith isn’t the GREATEST AUTHOR TO WALK THE EARTH, his books are hilariously written and Trust narrates with a distinct voice. Often, the funnier part of the books are the way they’re being told rather than the story itself. Sometimes, when I try to tell someone part of this plot, I get stuck being the way I’m telling it doesn’t sell the story nearly as well as Smith’s telling of it.
  • MEMORABLE CHARACTERS - These are some of the strangest characters I’ve ever met. There’s apostate Paul (who wrote the rhyme I began this with), the wonderful and strange Brother Heck, Trust’s various mission companions, Neal the villain, Trust’s (sometimes) well-meaning parents, and the lovely and elusive Grace Heck. They’re a wonderful mix of heart-warming, strange, and funny that work well and build the world Trust lives in.
And the cons:
  • FLUFFY - I wouldn’t call this a deep read by any means. They’re light, they’re fun, and they’re silly. These aren’t the sort of books that will make you stay all night wondering about the mysteries of the universe. This is both a pro and a con - depending on your mood.
  • WRITTEN FOR A VERY SPECIFIC DEMOGRAPHIC - I love Smith’s books, but all of them are written for Mormons and about Mormons. For me, this works just fine. It does make it difficult when I want to suggest them to people who aren’t Mormon and probably won’t get some of the jokes and probably won’t care about some of the other ones.  

If you’re a Mormon looking for a unique, memorable, and light read, this series is excellent. If you’re anyone looking for a light read and you have a Mormon nearby to explain a few things to do, I would also highly recommend these books. They’re funny and quick and very worth the time.
Note: The first two books in the Trust Williams Trilogy have been combined and resold as Bitten, which is almost always being sold at Deseret Book.