The Fine Print of Self-Publishing by Mark Levine

The Fine Print of Self Publishing really is an excellent primer on working with small print companies.  There are a few discussions on large print houses (should one be lucky enough to get a large contract) and publishing without a company, but the focus is on avoiding common pitfalls that defeat publication.  For first time authors who aren’t sure what avenue to pursue now that they have written a book, this can be very eye opening and the information extremely useful.

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The book breaks down as follows: The basics of self publishing; self publishing essentials; from manuscript to distribution; The profile of a great self publishing company; The fine print of publishing contracts; E book publishing; Marketing your book; An apples to apples comparison of major self publishing companies. Included in the appendixes are : Standard POD trim size offerings from lightning source; self publishing checklist; e-book distribution and royalties comparison; Tips for recognizing a great self publishing company; author volume discounts; return policies for book production files; author royalties: print sales; author royalties: hook sales; book marketing checklist.

As can be seen from above, very specific and detailed advice and recommendations are given. Bot soft topics are covered too – most particularly how to separate yourself emotionally from your work so you can properly market it. Vanity vs self publishing, and the need to invest in your work are the heart of the advice here. Time and money (and luck) are requirements for a successful book.

I found this to be very useful, thorough, and informative. The author comes from the perspective of a publisher, writer, and marketer of books. Although sometimes it felt like an extended advert for his publishing house, it’s a small nitpick in an otherwise informative book.

Reviewed from an ecopy provided by the publisher.

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Gardening Secrets from National Trust Head Gardeners

Gardening Secrets by the National Trust is a collection of tips from the gardeners of some of the greatest estates in the UK. Each gardener shortly discuses one small subject – from potting to soils – and each is suitable only for residents of the UK (specific to climate and conditions).

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The topics are diverse and there are quite a few of them: ferns, labeling, summer bedding, topiary, winter interest, pruning roses and trees, labelling, mixed border, wild flower meadows, composting, weed control without chemicals, plant propagation, soft fruit, kitchen garden, and more.

Although the tips are brief they are very informative and in depth. There are discussions, call outs, and then each section ends with tips.

In all, some very interesting topics and tips for UK residents.  Reviewed from an ecopy provided by the publisher.

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Removed (Nogiku Book 1) by SJ Pajonas

The Nogiku series is an expansive and imaginative dystopian sci fi with a strong Japanese flavor. Although the concept is interesting, the writing did let it down a bit. The logic doesn’t always hold up and a cliche romance through the middle bogs it down. Admittedly, I found myself bored half way through and kept hoping something interesting would come along and live up to the promise of concept.

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Story: Sanaa lives an unimaginative life, content to be an engineer in a post apocalyptic Earth city. Upon her 20th birthday, everything is about to change as she learns she is a unique snowflake with a heavy historical burden she will have to live up to – or die.

The conceit of the worldbuilding is that the Earth has suffered a vaguely defined environmental collapse and most of humanity perished. The Japanese, since they are ‘so technologically advanced’, make up the lionshare of survivors in a city in Canada.  The city has been planning to colonize a new planet now that the Earth has been devastated – those plans are about to come to fruition has the story commences.

As usual with this type of story, the cliche father figure has a lot of secrets about Sanaa’s past and only doles them out sparingly throughout the story – even though her life depends on knowing them. As well, the reasons to protect Sanaa and how they go about doing so make little sense. I found the side characters frustrating to read.

Most of the plot is inert – it’s almost like a filler second book rather than an introductory first. I’d say 80% of the book is this: Sanaa swoons over cute guy, something might happen, Sanna swoons over cute guy, something might happen, Sanaa flirts with cute guy, something may happen.  Ad nauseum.  As such, this is really a romance more than dystopian or sci fi.

The characters were paper thin – Sanaa’s love interest is so bland as to be opaque. Cute, young, rich, sword wielding marshmallow prince charming whose every thought is Sanaa’s happiness.  He had absolutely no personality and self – it was all about telling us how he is the perfect ideal man.  Other characters, friends, etc. all fared the same: father figure, friends, etc. had no nuances whatsoever.

I kept reading expecting something to happen – and it didn’t. Sanaa trains. Sanaa goes to work. Sanaa goes out to eat. Sanaa flirts with cute boy.  I wanted more.

Admittedly, I was disappointed by Nogiku and started skimming. The next two books promise fantastical places but I just don’t know that I want to be disappointed again.

Reviewed from an Ecopy provided by the publisher.

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How to Mulch by Stu Campbell

I have greatly enjoyed the Storey Basics line of books – they always establish the perfect line between informative but concise. There’s no fluff and the presentation is clean, easy to follow, and with illustrations as needed.

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With How To Mulch, I was greatly surprised by how much there is to know about mulching – how one type of mulch makes a huge difference to a certain plant than another and how you can kill your plants if you do it incorrectly.  The difference between a nice garden and a rich and healthy one can often come down to the mulching.

The book breaks down as follows:  Whys and whats of mulching (benefits, drawbacks, definitions); Types of mulch (bark and wood, other plant products, paper mulches, inorganic mulches, how to choose a mulch); Here’s how to mulch (mulching 101, mulching ornamentals, mulching vegetables, mulching fruits), Index.

In the first section, the book discusses important points such as nitrogen, pests that live in the mulch, water and moisture, when not to mulch an area or how mulching poorly can adversely affect your garden. Organic solutions to pest control (e.g., slugs and snails) are also provided.

The second section covers the different types of mulches possible. Inexpensive choices (e.g., newspaper) are contrasted with more expensive varieties (organic mulch made of cocoa). From plastic, to textile, to stone, there are quite a few choices and certain mulches can make or break your garden.

The last section is full of useful how-to information. The basics of laying, spreading, when to mulch, seasonal mulching, and then specific advice for both ornamentals (e.g., roses) and vegetables. This may include a rose pot over a rose for Winter or spreading hay along drain lines in a vegetable garden and then covering completely once the plants have sprouted. Instructions for each type of vegetable, from corn to celery, show the need to know how to best protect or complement each type of plant.

In all, a very thorough book that will help gardeners make the most of their work outdoors – protect, nourish and enhance their gardens.

Reviewed from an ecopy provided by the publisher.

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Kingdom Lights by Steven VS

The Kingdom Lights felt very much like a book in search of a more serious pedigree in a sea of fairly simplistic middle grade reads. But while not terribly written, characters were flat, the tone passive, and modern vernacular very anachronistic even for a book set in current times but with an alternate universe type of twist (read: magic). A lamentable amount of parallels to Harry Potter was also problematic.

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Story: Celes Vale lives on the ground with others who do not possess magic. When it is discovered that he has magic suddenly on his 12th birthday, he is sent up to Gardarel, a floating City of magic. There, while enrolled in a magicians school, he will make friends and enemies and uncover a plot by a great evil magician.

First and foremost, although this is a set in modern day but alternate universe (references are made to the our current world as ended), it read a lot like a fantasy. I am not sure the current world elements were even needed since nothing of current society remains in the book’s world other than vernacular, oddly enough. It is all sketchily drawn, though, and I didn’t get a feel of the setting at all. The twelve year olds talk like modern day teens, e.g., ” You alright?” “That’s cool!” but then summon creatures with magic and travel to floating cities. The milieu just didn’t feel well thought through beyond a superficial outline.

The characters were very unemotional – reacting (if at all) on the most basic of emotions. There was no complexity whatsoever – watch ordinary 12 year olds play at a school and you soon understand that there is always a complex undercurrent going on even at that age.  But not so here. The side characters were forgettable and the main character even duller.  I read another review where the reviewer said that a statue was the most interesting character. I really had to agree, as sad as it sounds.

I found the worldbuilding even odder when it comes to naming. We have the unique named Celes – and he’s surrounded by Sam, Adam, Jaime, Arthur, Tom, etc. The character was screaming ‘special!’ just a bit too obviously. And why is everyone still using fairly biblical names except one?

The plot: a mysterious old wizard, who only speaks in riddles, watches over a special boy as he grows up, who then goes to a magic school and makes friends with outcast girl and boy, and overturns a plot by an evil sorcerer while dealing with stupid adults. Sound familiar? felt just a bit too Harry Potter. There are other races/creatures that befriend our Harry here but still – up until the very end the overfamiliarity of the plot, weak characters, lack of impetus of the plot, and real world dialogue made this a hard read to really get into.

The one positive here is that the ending was completely unexpected and definitely NOT Harry Potter. I appreciated that ending but felt it was too late in coming to really redeem the book as a whole.

There was potential here and the author says that the current alternate universe setting will have a large impact in future volumes. I am hoping for better characterization next volume.

Reviewed from an ecopy provided by the publisher.

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How To Make ice Cream by Nicole Weston

Storey Basics line of books take one subject and make it easy to do/make/perform. I’ve found the entire series to be excellent – each provides a good mix of useful information and lack of fluff.

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In this book, author Weston goes over the basics of the two types of ice cream: French (which uses eggs) and American/Philadelphia (which has a stronger dairy flavor). The first part of the book covers how ice cream is made, cooking the ice cream base, choosing an ice cream maker, and then basics such as churning, storing, and scooping your homemade ice cream.  For those that don’t have or want to use an ice cream maker, instructions on creating ice cream without one are included as well (dealing mostly with hand stirring).

The ice cream recipes are smartly laid out, with a bold title, italicized introduction/tips, ingredients in a separate font, and then directions in step by step small block paragraph form. The layout of the book makes it very easy to follow the recipes on e-device or physical copy.

The recipes are broken down as follows: vanilla, chocolate, coffee; fruit and nuts; sugar and spice; gourmet; holiday. There is also a full section devoted to non churn ice cream recipes.  All recipes are indexed in the front for easy reference.

There are a variety of types in here: dark choclate chocolate chip, mocha almond chip, buttermilk, fresh strawberry, creamy lemon curd, pistachio, cinnamon spice, peppermint chocolate chip, fresh ginger, eggnog, cheesecake, and many no churn varieties.  The selection is excellent.

I found the book to be very easy to follow and the recipes fantastic. The difference between store bought and homemade is huge, especially since I can tweak the flavor ingredients to my own personal taste.

As with nearly all Storey Basic titles, the are no photographs, just illustrations of materials or techniques.  It keeps the books clean and simple to use.

Reviewed from an ecopy provided by the publisher.

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Making Vegan Frozen Treats by Nicole Weston

Storey Basics line of books take one subject and make it easy to do/make/perform. I’ve found the entire series to be excellent – each provides a good mix of useful information and lack of fluff.

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In this book, dairy free recipes produce everything from mint chocolate chip to rich sorbets. Traditional milk and cream are replaced with recipes that are dairy and egg free. The book doesn’t use commercial non dairy creamers since they tend to have a lot of unwanted extra ingredients such as sweeteners and chemicals. The focus on the book is to be able to use commonly-available ingredients that can be picked up at most supermarkets.

Soy milk, almond milk, and coconut milk are the bases for the ice creams. Sugar and syrups add the sweetness factor. Note that these aren’t going to make ice cream any healthier – in order to have the smooth richness of ice cream you need to have a high fat content. And in order for the sweet taste, you need sugars.

Most of the recipes do require an ice cream maker and those machines are described in detail so readers will know how to purchase/use one to best effect. Other topics such as storing, churning, and scooping are covered as well. There are recipes that don’t need an ice cream maker (e.g., granitas and popsicles) as well.

Recipes are varied: from vanilla bean (using an actual vanilla bean), chocolate chip cookie dough, chai tea, mocha almond fudge, to peach melba sorbet and blood orange granita.  There are some surprises – ice cream sandwiches, root beer floats, and blueberry balsamic pops.  So we have a combination of the traditional and some new flavors to explore.

The recipes are easy to read, one page per recipe, with a large bold title, italicized introduction/tips, ingredients in a separate font, and then directions in numbered short paragraph form.

Although there aren’t any photographs for the recipes (Storey Basic titles tend to just have illustrations in the beginning), this is still an excellent way to enjoy frozen treats without dairy, using commonly available ingredients, and most fairly easy to make.

Reviewed from an ecopy provided by the publisher.

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