Archive for eBook Reviews
Verdict: 5 Stars
What happens when you saw off your thumb, but the dysfunctional people in your life are so convinced that you did it on purpose to hurt yourself that you start to wonder if they’re right?
Jagerfeld’s New Adult title, Me On The Floor, Bleeding (translated by Susan Beard), opens with that scenario. While trying to make a wooden shelf for sculpture class–a running theme in the book in which literally every individual she talks to about the shelf tells her that a shelf is not a sculpture–seventeen-year-old Maja Mueller accidentally saws off her own thumb. Her classmates’ reaction is swift: they take out their cell phones and photograph the incident.
Through the story, Maja’s complex life unfolds. Only a day after the thumb is stitched and bandaged, Maja heads to her mother’s house three hours away for her mom’s custody weekend, only to find that her mom isn’t there. She hasn’t answered any phone calls or texts, and didn’t leave a note. Maja spends a lonely weekend coping on her own, but comes to make some pivotal decisions during those independent days.
What actually makes Jagerfeld’s title so compelling is the fact that, prior to the digital revolution of the last few years, it most likely never would have reached US readers. Its Swedish publisher (Stockholm Text) might have decided to have a complete re-write for American audiences, as the book is full of grammar conventions and scenarios or landmarks that could leave some readers feeling lost. This title was definitely written with European readers in mind, but that’s what made the experience all the more interesting. As more and more international authors’ works reach global readers, these little nuances will become more of the mainstream and less daunting to audiences.
Me On The Floor, Bleeding will be released July 3rd and will be available from Amazon and through the publisher’s website, stockholmtext.com.
Verdict: 5 Stars
I wish I could be as good at anything as Khaled Hosseini is at storytelling.
The highly anticipated third novel, And The Mountains Echoed (Riverhead Books), which set records for print and digital pre-orders through online retailers, is again set primarily in Afghanistan and again features powerfully impactful characters. And again, as with his other novels, Hosseini’s complex characters and the vivid backdrop of the beguiling region won’t leave the reader any time soon.
This title opens with a young son, Abdullah, unknowingly accompanying his widowed father as he takes Abdullah’s young sister, Parwana, to be sold to a wealthy family in Kabul. That one event sets in motion myriad ways that nearly a dozen characters’ lives are interwoven. Uncles, servants, businessmen, even relief workers to the war-torn area have their stories laid open in a seemingly disjointed way, only to have the reader turn the page and discover that what would be strangers are actually crucial background players in one another’s lives.
What could be a criticism of Hosseini’s book, the fact that each new chapter opens with only a date and not a name, really only serves to further demonstrate his master storytelling skills. Within a few paragraphs of each new chapter, most of which are being narrated by a new voice, the reader not only understands who is speaking but also how he plays a role in the story, without needing to have it spelled out.
Verdict: 4 Stars
The Sea of Tranquility (Atria) has everything I don’t look for in a book. Chapter-by-chapter point of view switches, mysterious story lines that don’t become clear until the last page, and characters so full of raw and deep-seated hurts that you feel like an intruder just for reading about them. So it was surprising to even me that this book was a one-sitting read, something that I couldn’t put down until I’d made my way to the end to see if these people turn out okay.
Told in alternating viewpoints from the two main characters, Josh and Nastya, the reader is given only partial glimpses at a time of the endurance race the two teenaged protagonists have had to run. Josh, whose entire family has died before the book’s opening, and Nastya, whose musical prodigy status was ripped apart by a violent attacker who destroyed her hands and her soul, are left holding the pieces of their former lives and slowly learn to let their other carry a piece of the burden.
In keeping with the fact that Nastya stopped speaking about a year after her attack, the book doles out the details painfully slowly. While that is part of its allure, I was left occasionally feeling like I didn’t know enough to keep reading. Fortunately, the writing style was so spot-on that I was easily caught back up by the end of the chapter, only to be left disoriented again and repeat the cycle until the very end of the book.
Millay’s book could easily blur the lines between young adult and new adult, and effortlessly crosses back and forth between the two genres. The characters’ ages and the high school backdrop speak to younger adults, but the conflicts and plot are not for the fainthearted.
Verdict: 5 Stars
As an entire subset of reading, business books have got to be the most diverse. Titles that promise to reinforce business ideas or shake things up give us new catch phrases like “out of the box” or slogans about colorful parachutes. They seem to develop an almost cult-like following among certain sectors of industry, with well-dressed professionals standing around holding paper cups full of coffee and asking each other, “What do you mean you haven’t read so-and-so? He’s changing the whole paradigm!”
The interesting thing about this business book, though, is that not only does it not force its way onto the scene with catch-phrases, but that its creation was actually born from a whole new attempt to shake things up in one key business: publishing.
Finding the Next Steve Jobs by Atari founder Nolan Bushnell was the first title released by innovative self-publishing platform NetMinds. Launched earlier this year, NetMinds brings together authors and industry professionals in a very complex system that lets self-published authors pay a portion of the professionals’ fee, as well as pay them via a portion of the royalties. This method ensures that top talent come to the project, but also that those professionals can build their portfolios with high-caliber projects. One of the immediate differences with this title is the Contributor page in the front cover, which lists the names and roles each person played by collaborating on this book.
Bushnell, who founded more than two dozen companies, is credited with seeing something unique in Steve Jobs and giving him his first real ” shot.” As the author describes in the beginning of this book, he was also very supportive of Jobs’ plans to leave Atari and create a little start-up known as Apple.
One of the things that makes Bushnell’s title, co-written with Gene Stone, so appealing is the high level of interest in the subject. This isn’t some far-reaching book for MBA students to read to “get ahead.” Apart from the international interest in Steve Jobs as an individual, Nolan’s title is actually about finding creativity and not being afraid of it. The author shares anecdotes from his many business ups and downs, while still bringing the subject matter back to creativity and how to ignite it. Whether you’re a CEO of a company or you’re the guy who dumps the garbage can in the CEO’s office at night, finding new ways to think about situations and how to put those ideas into practice is a skill that all people can stand to embrace. This isn’t a business book, it’s a “being alive” book.
Verdict: 5 Stars
The Bleiberg Project is an immensely readable and captivating thriller whose action takes place over the course of only a few days. Nazi plots, Mossad agents, CIA covers being blown, and a few innocent bystanders getting lured into the chase all make this an intense read. And while other reviews of this title have been stellar, my interest in this book is that I probably would have never been lucky enough to read it or ever hear of its talented author if not for digital publishing.
Le French Book is a digital-first publisher whose function is to take the French-language bestsellers being written by some of the greatest contemporary writers in France and translate those books for international audiences. Authors whom many of us may never have had the opportunity to discover are now being placed on retailers’ virtual shelves right alongside domestic authors we know and love.
One of the most crucial aspects of Le French Book and Khara’s Bleiberg Project is the translation. Important enough that the professionals are given credit alongside the authors on the publisher’s site, book translation is no small feat. Every nuance and idiom has to come through flawlessly, as they do in Khara’s title. Written by a French author and translated by a UK-born professional living in Berlin, the book is impossibly detailed and accurately spoken, which is especially exciting that the bulk of the book is set in the US and its main character is an American day trader on Wall Street.
In this title, successful trader Jay Novacek is only mildly disturbed by the news that his father, who abandoned the family more than twenty years ago, has died. The fact that the news was delivered by two full-dress soldiers carrying a folded US flag only adds to the confusion, as does the discovery that Novacek’s Wall Street boss is actually his godfather and a CIA agent. Novacek is thrown into a plot dating back to Hitler’s regime and that carries deadly consequences.
Verdict: 5 Stars
In this look at one of the most devastating natural disasters in US history, digital publishing is responsible for a number of key factors. First, the timeliness of the book is important, as ebook-only publisher Untreed Reads released the title to coincide with the anniversary of the 1906 earthquake and resulting fire that destroyed San Francisco. But perhaps more importantly, this work was created to dispel a lot of the long-held beliefs about the San Francisco earthquake, which can be a risky investment for a more traditional publisher, especially when some of the incorrect beliefs and myths that are explained in the book border on conspiracy.
Authors Gladys Hansen, Richard Hansen, and Dr. F. William Blaisdell, all highly respected and honored in their fields, sorted through exhaustive archives on the event that historians have long believed claimed the lives of 478 people. Their research, begun by Gladys Hansen almost forty years ago, led to the conclusion that the number is actually closer to three thousand people. But after noting the diligence and quick work of the city leadership in gathering personal accounts from the event and storing newspaper articles from papers around the country whose reporters covered the devastation, the logical conclusion in the face of so much stored up evidence is that the city’s political and economic leadership attempted to downplay the horror of the event.
Still other myths about that event are also closely examined by the authors. A rumored street riot sparking a brawl between members of two of the city’s immigrant populations apparently never took place. The rumors about the mass shootings of private citizens by US soldiers were apparently false, as well. Possibly most disturbing, the researchers were able to uncover numerous leads and documents that point to the existence of crucial records and accounts of the events, records that were commissioned by the city leadership, only those records have vanished, possibly because they contain evidence of the devastation that the leadership didn’t want coming to light.
Most appealing from a historical and literary standpoint, however, is the fact that this title does what the various committees formed immediately after the earthquake were supposed to do: gather personal accounts from the people who lived it. Their stories are finally being told, more than 100 years later.
Verdict: 3 Stars
Kate Atkinson’s highly-anticipated recent novel, Life After Life (Hachette Book Group), not to be confused with a novel released only the week before with the same title by Jill McCorkle, came out to instant success. Named an Amazon Best Book of the Month pick and with some praise-filled reviews by some very well-known authors, fans of Atkinson’s many previous titles were no doubt not disappointed.
The novel opens in 1910 in a very Downton Abbey scene. A young upper middle class family is expecting the arrival of their third child, who is sadly born dead due to complications. The scene reopens, and this time the doctor arrives in time to save the baby, Ursula. What follows is the life story of a person who cannot seem to stay dead. While Ursula is every bit a mortal human being, with every death–and there seem to be more opportunities for death for this character than one would expect in a normal person’s lifetime–she is reborn in the current time period.
It was actually very fun that the serene British countryside setting at the beginning lulled the reader into a shocking sense of false security about where the story was heading, with the greatest problems being a young and shamefully unwed mother in the family and whether to break with convention by calling the cook by her actual name rather than her household position. However, it took a while to break into the real tension of the story, namely when Ursula becomes an adult. While the storytelling was flawless, it was very difficult to care about Ursula; who needs to turn the page to keep reading when the worst that can happen to this woman is that she has to go back to the beginning and start fresh?
There are some jobs you just don’t want to have. You don’t want to be the advertising agency’s superstar laxative account genius, you don’t want to be the technology-challenged associate who accidentally fires an executive with one wrong keystroke, and you certainly don’t want to go to work one day as a forty-six-year-old creative who gets fired by mistake, on your stay-at-home husband’s birthday, no less. But those scenarios are all part of the rat race in Helen Klein Ross’s Making It (Pocket Books).
Audrey Walker took a real hard look at her life after a computer-user error caused her to lose her job with Tadd, Collins ad agency on the brink of her son’s departure for college. The safety net of the power life she thought she had created for herself unraveled, thread by thread. When the glitch is discovered, Walker throws herself back into her job with a new mission: make sure she’s not expendable, ever again.
Unfortunately, the corporate world can be cruel and arbitrary. The power players know how to call the shots, and having an extramarital affair with the head of a newly merged ad agency that targets a much younger demographic and clientele isn’t the most sound reasoning. But after her near-calamity, Walker alternates between throwing caution to the wind and digging her heels in.
What really sets Ross’s title apart is the immediacy and allure in her writing and her subject matter, the latter of which is something many readers might have a hard time even feigning interest in. While popular television programs about the world of advertising like the series Mad Men have made good fodder for their entertainment value, it’s altogether something else to read a novel based on the ins and outs of corporate advertising. While the corporate world and its callous regard for sales figures over people might not hold much promise for most of us, the story and character development in Making It is compelling.
Judging from how hard it is for an author to write and publish a book, it’s quite possibly exponentially harder for two authors to write and publish a book. That difficulty might only be compounded when one of those authors is a historian and the other earns his keep as a futurist. In Vintage Tomorrows: A Historian and a Futurist Journey Through Steampunk into the Future of Technology (O’Reilly), Carrott and Johnson tackle the task of dissecting how steampunk can help us understand where we are headed.
Brian David Johnson (@IntelFuturist) spoke during a keynote presentation at last week’s Tools of Change conference about how science fiction and steampunk actually impact readers’ perceptions of both the very real history and future that they envision. While steampunk is an almost revisionist history of what we wish the olden days had been like, science fiction is the future that we can only hope for and strive to make into a reality.
In Vintage Tomorrows, the authors met and interviewed some of the most well-known names in their genres to decide on the impact of both. The work is filled with anecdotes and intriguing photos, some of which the authors admit were taken with a camera phone because the opportunity to document something profound presented itself and was not to be missed. And because, thanks to faceless mass technology rather than steampunk, camera phones are pretty sophisticated these days.
Throughout the interviews, though, the reader begins to learn that steampunk is not at all limited to being a genre of writing, but is an actual tangible lifestyle for its hardcore fans. It’s not about dressing up in pseudo-Victorian garb and attending ComiCon, instead it’s about the culture of taking an object and recreating it into a new technology that suits the user’s purpose, about the age-old craft of tinkering with something until it becomes new again.
One of the most summarily profound quotes in the book comes from the authors’ interview with Robert Martin Armstrong, founder of Steamcon, who said, “We are reimagining the Victorians’ original views of the future. Their science fiction has become our science fact. Steampunk is a group of people looking back to look forward again and say: ‘What if?’” And truly, the what-if presented in the book is about reimagining the future before it ever happens in order to shape it into what we all want it to be.
One of the saddest disappointments in reading is to wait longingly for a book based on its author’s merits, only to have it turn out wretchedly. Unfortunately, I’ll Take What She Has is the epitome of such a book. Truthfully, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that the book is full of angst and discontent, as its title suggests.
Despite its easy to follow and lyrical writing, the text is nearly 400 pages of the main characters Nora and Annie griping about what they do not have in life. It doesn’t seem to matter that Annie has two beautiful children and is taken care of by her partner, or that Nora has a wonderful husband, even if they are as of yet childless. The entire book is nothing but self-centered complaining from two women who cannot see how good their lives are, while sneering down their noses at women who have made choices different from their own.
It is those other characters whom I could most feel for. Cynthia, the lithe and gorgeous woman who marries the man the Nora still pines for, and the women in the town who apparently married too well for Annie’s tastes, are all the victims of our so-called heroines’ jabs and criticisms. Snide remarks about their wealth, their makeup, their parenting styles all lead the readers to have absolutely no sympathy or common ground with the two women with whom we are supposed to identify.
There are some bright sides, such as the portrayal of characters that the heroines want us to hate but that we just can’t. The anxiety and tension created by these relationships is well-written and unforced, a real tribute to the writing style and author’s craft.
It’s been nearly six years since fans of the Newberry Honor book Hattie Big Sky closed the covers on the story of a sixteen-year-old orphan who tried–and ultimately, failed–to make a success of the Montana homestead claim left to her by a long lost uncle. We cried right alongside her as the hail storm destroyed the crops she needed in order to pay off the claim, and a piece of our hearts died right alongside hers as the tiny Muller daughter died in her arms. It was so real to readers because it was real to the author, who pieced Hattie’s story together from family stories and historical accuracy.
The research that Larson put into her first Hattie title comes through again as she picks up where Hattie’s life on the farm left off in Hattie Ever After (Delacorte). Now working as a cleaning girl in a boarding house, Hattie’s less-than-glamorous life takes her to unexpected heights as she travels to the big city of San Francisco to try her hand at writing. Her childhood friend Charlie is home from the fighting in WWI a changed man, more certain than ever that he wants to settle down with a wife and family, even as fellow reporter Ned tries to keep Hattie in the middle of the excitement of big city life.
When other authors have tried to revisit a much-loved young adult title after years apart, the results have sometimes been disastrous. The voice that once enthralled readers is no longer the same and the author’s own life circumstances have led them to alter the story line or insert some of the agony of their own lives into those of their characters. Larson stays remarkably true to Hattie’s story, all while recounting details of post-WWI west and treating readers to the same fears and insecurities that led the once Hattie-Here-and-There to find fault in herself.