Monthly Archives: May 2012

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Headed Toward Bankruptcy

Many of you may remember Houghton Mifflin as the popular textbook publishing company. But since Education Media and Publishing Group acquired it and Harcourt in 2006 and 2007, the company has been burdened with financial struggles. Now, according to The New York Times, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has begun a bankruptcy process to eliminate its $3.1 billion of debt.

It’s part of a long-term restructuring plan that would turn its debt into equity. Company officials say the Chapter 11 process will benefit the company in the long run, as Julie Bosman explains.

“By converting our existing long-term debt to equity, we will put HMH in a much stronger financial position for the future,” [Linda K. Zecher, president and chief executive of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt] said in the e-mail, adding that she expected the process to be completed by the end of June.

Zecher promises that business will continue as usual. There are no plans for layoffs, and the process should be completed by the end of June. She says the company still has $135 million in cash on hand for the company’s use.

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Review: The Other Wes Moore

Contributed By Walter Smith Randolph

“I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.” Those lines, written by Sir William Ernest Henley, also appear in the afterword of The Other Wes Moore. These lines are partially the premise of this nonfiction book written by Wes Moore, a Rhodes Scholar, war veteran, and White House Fellow.

Moore tells the tale of two Wes Moores. One Moore is himself. The other Moore is a man with the same name, around the same age who lived in the same neighborhood. Moore, the distinguished man and author, became interested in Moore, the prisoner, when they both made news. The author, who was named one of Ebony magazine’s “Top 30 Under 30” in 2007 was featured in local newspapers for being named the first black Rhodes Scholar to come out of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The other Wes Moore made the local television news for his role in the murder of a Baltimore cop. He fled to Philadelphia where he was eventually arrested. One Moore’s face made The Baltimore Sun. The other Moore’s face made “Wanted” posters. The Other Wes Moore is a book about choices and how circumstances influence choices.

Through interviews and vivid storytelling, Moore tells the tale of two lives intertwined because of a similar name. The gruesome parts of the book are page-turners. Some of the chapters are like something out of Law & Order. Moore describes shoot-outs, drug deals and burglaries. The difference between Law & Order and The Other Wes Moore is this is real life. There are consequences to the choices made by these two individuals. One Wes Moore is a bestselling author. The other Wes Moore is serving a life sentence inside a Maryland state penitentiary. But the book doesn’t stop there.

Moore gives details and explains why the men made they decisions they did. He explains the experiences leading up to decisions that ultimately decided these men’s fates. We understand why Wes Moore, the war hero, didn’t fight back when he was called the n-word near the campus of his military school. We also understand why Wes Moore, the murderer, decided to get back into drug dealing after he tried to escape. Moore doesn’t make excuses for the decisions. He just explains them. You may become empathetic but not sympathetic to the stories. Although you can be the captain of his soul, your circumstances can dictate how you steer your ship and how you master your fate.

The Other Wes Moore is a gripping real-life tale of two men whose lives become intertwined. It shows how people who may seem very much alike can be so different. If you’ve ever wondered “what if” about the choices you’ve made, you should definitely pick this one up.

Walter Smith-Randolph is an award-winning journalist who currently reports for the ABC & CBS affiliate in Elmira, New York. The New York City native just got an iPad and is open to book suggestions and fun apps–Angry Birds is getting old. You can follow him on Twitter @WalterReports.
Get The Other Wes Moore in paperback for $10.20

Or on your Kindle for $11.99.

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New Books From ‘Fifty Shades’ Author E.L. James

After taking the country and general female population by storm, Fifty Shades of Grey author E.L. James told USA Today recently that she’s got two other novels stashed away. One is erotic, the other young adult paranormal. Not much more is known about the books other than E.L. James’ thoughts that they won’t be able to live up to the hype of Fifty Shades, as Carol Memmett explains.

“I’ve got several more good ideas but how do you follow this?” she says referring to Fifty Shades. “I’ve set the bar quite high in terms of storytelling.”

Will you read her other books? Even a young adult paranormal one?

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Review: Fifty Shades Darker

****Spoilers are included in this post, with the assumption that you’ve read Fifty Shades of Grey and probably already have a good idea about what happens in the second book. Consider yourself warned.

Recap: The second book in the Fifty Shades of Grey series, Fifty Shades Darker delivers just that — a certain darkness not seen in the first book. Darker picks up right where the first book ends. The differences have become too great for Ana Steele and Christian Grey. But their break doesn’t last long, and once again, we’re caught up in the whirlwind romance — and mindblowing sex — that is their relationship. But Darker introduces new characters.

There’s Ana’s boss, Jack, yet another man who clearly has a thing for Ana. He gets creepier and creepier as the book goes on, proving that maybe Christian Grey has a point with his absurd overprotection. There’s also Elena — or as Ana refers to her, Mrs. Robinson. Elena is the woman who corrupted Grey when he was just a teenager, the woman who Christian refuses to acknowledge molested him. She also predictably becomes Ana’s mortal enemy and a persistent force to be reckoned with. There’s also Leila, a woman from Christian’s past who has some serious psychological issues.

And though these challenges make the progression of Ana and Christian’s relationship difficult, the two overcome many of their issues as best as they can, and look toward a permanent future together.

Analysis: Finally some depth! Fifty Shades of Grey gets the readers engrossed with oodles of sex. Darker doesn’t disappoint either, but the new characters add a new layer coldness and some action to an otherwise romantic novel. Jack makes inappropriate advances on Ana! Leila breaks into Ana’s apartment! Mrs. Robinson still wants Christian! Though the Leila storyline is particularly outlandish, it makes the story and the relationship between the two protagonists more serious.

As the book goes on, we also learn more about Christian’s childhood and why he is the way he is. Again, we’re getting deeper and darker, which both answers a lot of questions for readers and leaves us wondering more. In Darker, author E.L. James pulls us into the story with more than just sex.

That’s not to say there aren’t some truly ridiculous sequences of events — like the predictable and eye-roll-worthy marriage proposal or that Ana now wants to be treated more harshly during sex. The writing also continues to be poor. But again, if you’re looking to read a book for its literary wonder, this is the wrong book. If you like dirty, scandalous, and romantic, this is the book for you.

MVP: Elena. She’s one of the novel’s biggest villains, but she’s an interesting character and certainly keeps the reader guessing. With Ana so adamantly against her, and Christian so convinced that there are no lingering romantic feelings between the two, it’s hard to pick sides. And Elena’s insistence on becoming friends with Ana is equally as confusing to the reader as it is to Ana. There’s no greater moment of satisfaction than a particular party scene between Ana and Elena toward the end.

Get Fifty Shades Darker for just $9.57 in paperback.

Or on your Kindle for $9.99.

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Out of Spite, Target Will Stop Selling Amazon Kindle Products

Since 2009, Target has been carrying Amazon Kindle products in its stores. Now, the chain, with almost 1,800 stores, is closing the book on their alliance.

Over the holidays, Amazon encouraged people to go to stores like Target to test out Kindle products, before ultimately buying them through the Amazon web site. According to The New York Times, Amazon even offered a promotion on any product that was scanned at the store. This showroom encouragement aggravated Target, leading them to pull the products from their display, as Stephanie Clifford and Julie Bosman explain.

“What we aren’t willing to do is let online-only retailers use our brick-and-mortar stores as a showroom for their products and undercut our prices,” Target executives wrote in a letter to vendors, asking them to think of new pricing and inventory strategies, according to a note that Deborah Weinswig, a Citi analyst, sent to clients.

Target will continue to sell Barnes and Noble Nook products and Apple’s iPad. And though it’s an obvious slap in the face to Amazon, analysts say it might not have a profound effect on the company, since it already sells the most successful e-readers available. What wouldhurt them would be if other stores, like Staples and Walmart, followed suit.

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Harry Potter E-books Available via Kindle Lending Library

Remember that time when J.K. Rowling made it clear that e-book versions of the Harry Potter series would only be available via her web site, Pottermore? Well that has now changed.

According to the L.A. Times, Amazon has purchased a license from Pottermore, and will now offer Harry Potter e-books through its Kindle lending library. To access the lending library, Kindle users must be members of Amazon Prime, which costs $79 a year.

The Pottermore CEO Charlie Redmayne explains why the deal was made.

Yes, some people will borrow from the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library and therefore not buy, but Amazon is paying us a large amount of money for that right, and I believe it’s a commercial deal that makes sense.

It most certainly does make sense, but I’m still surprised Rowling gave up a piece of her monopoly over the series. The e-books will become available via the library on June 19th.

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Great Web Sites for Bookworms

If you’re a bookworm like me — and you probably are, since you’re reading my blog — there are a few fantastic web sites to help you keep track of what books you’re reading, see what people think of them, share books, and know when books are being adapted into feature films. So here you go…take a look at some of the awesome web sites that will enhance your nerdiness and give you a new way to connect with other readers.

Goodreads.com:  Goodreads is one of the more well-known book sites. More and more, I’m finding that people are already familiar with Goodreads, which acts as a social networking site for readers. Once you make a Goodreads profile — for free — you can become friends with other Goodreads users, and search books that you’ve read or are interested in. You can then separate those books into lists: Read, Currently Reading, and To-Read. The lists help you keep track of what you’ve read. Once you finish reading a book, you can also rate it on a scale of 5 stars, as well as add your own review.  This allows your friends to look at what you’ve read, see how much you liked a particular book, and decide whether or not they want to read it. And vice versa. You’re able to view all the books your friends are reading, have read, or want to read, and then decide if you’re interested, based on how they rate it. The web site also offers book recommendations catered to you, based on what you’ve already read.

Bookcrossing.com: Bookcrossing is another social networking site, but it works in a very different way from Goodreads. Bookcrossing acts as an online library, where you can share and trade books with other readers. Instead of letting your old books collect dust on your bookshelf, you can register it on the site, label it, and send it to someone who’d like to read it. Not only can you share books, but you can then track them. Only 29% of the site’s users are from the United States, which means your book could travel anywhere in the world, and you’ll always know where it is. How amazing is it to be able to send your book to someone in Finland, Germany, or even just Wisconsin and follow your book on its journey around the world? Bookcrossing also allows you to borrow books from people around the world, which means you can probably get a hold of books you never thought you’d have access to. Bookcrossing is also free to join.

Readit1st.com: When I know a book is being adapted into a movie, I vow to read the book first, then see the movie. I feel like I owe it to the book, as the original, to read that first. And I don’t think I’m the only one who feels this way. That’s what Readit1st is for; you can sign up for the site and receive newsletters about when the newest book-movie adaptation is coming to the big screen. On the site’s homepage, you can either pledge to read the book first or sign up, saying you’ll read the book whenever you want. But either way, you can get the newsletters. After all, according to the site, 50% of the highest grossing movies of 2010 were based on books. Readit1st is also free to sign up.

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Review: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Recap: As a less than fortunate 7-year-old living in 19th century China, all Lily wants is to become close to a group of “sworn sisters” — or best friends — and marry well. Seven is not typically the time when you think of marrying, but it is for Lily and her family, who live in a remote Hunan county. But everything changes when a matchmaker tells her family that Lily’s feet — the truest sign of beauty, luck, and wealth — can not only lead to a marriage into a rich family, but a “laotong,” or “just same.” A “laotong” is a best friend with whom one forms a much deeper relationship than she ever could with a group of “sworn sisters.”

That’s when Lily meets Snow Flower. The two vow to be best friends in the form of a contract written on a secret fan. Over several decades, Lily and Snow Flower grow to be as close as two people can get. They share secret notes and letters on that same fan throughout the years. They marry. They have children. But Lily produces a number of sons and marries well, while Snow Flower produces stillborns, weak sons, and daughters. She marries a butcher — the lowest of the low, and does not fair well.

With a friendship as long and deep as theirs, it seems unfathomable that anything could break it, but the secrets run deeper than Lily knows. And in the end, the novel — written in first person — becomes an apology note.

Analysis: Though it’s set in China in the 1800’s and devotes a portion of the novel to the Taiping Rebellion, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a story about a real female friendship. In Lily, we see the friend who tries to care, tries not to judge, but in the end, shows selfishness. In Snow Flower, we see the friend who tries to hide her secrets out of shame and holds onto that passivity throughout her life.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a testament to the ways a relationship between two women can change over the years. Little girls, little problems; big girls, big problems, and those problems can have a devastating effect on a friendship. Lisa See’s themes here are similar to those she writes about in Shanghai Girls, but they run just as deep. The end is heartbreaking, but as a woman, it’s completely relatable, making See’s first bestseller an excruciating, but exhilarating tale.

MVP: Lily. Both Lily and Snow Flower demonstrate flaw after flaw throughout the novel. But Lily finally comes to terms with what’s happened between them. She apologizes and makes up for it as best as she can. It takes a lot of strength to persevere through what Lily has, but she does it with elegance.

You can get Snow Flower and the Secret Fan in paperback for $10.20.

Or on your Kindle for $10.99.

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William Morrow Toughens Up on Book Bloggers

There are dozens of people, like myself, who blog about books. As part of my hobby, publishers send books to me for free for review on my site. It doesn’t happen often, but I get enough of them — enough that my bookshelves are starting to fill up in my tiny apartment. But some of the more serious bloggers are on blogger lists with the publishers, and have books sent to them constantly, generally about a month before the books’ official release.

But now William Morrow — a division of HarperCollins — is starting to define rules for these bloggers, most of which are not paid and do it for the love of books. According to the L.A. Times, William Morrow sent out a letter to bloggers back in December, explaining that they must read and review the books on their site within a month of receiving. They were told, in a very passive-aggressive letter, that if they didn’t, they would no longer be able to accept free books from the publisher:

If it isn’t already clear, WE LOVE THAT YOU LOVE OUR BOOKS!  And to allow us to continue to offer free copies and free shipping to you committed book reviewers, we will be tracking how many reviews we receive from you.  If we notice that you request books but aren’t posting your comments or sending us the link, we may suspend your ability to receive review offers from us.  We know you’re busy bloggers -– if you don’t think you’ll be able to post a review within a month, please pass on that offer so we can continue to offer you free books in the future!

How is this fair, when most of these bloggers — as I mentioned earlier — are doing this as a hobby? This is not an obligation. Blogger outrage resulted in William Morrow sending out another email the next day that promised “Not posting a review within a time period will not earn anyone a suspension from the list.”

So what was that all about? First, William Morrow sets guidelines, then takes them back. I wonder if the guidelines initially were set because the publisher could not afford to give away so many books. By setting guidelines, it sets some up for failure and would ensure that fewer books would be given away. But ultimately, the giveaways are then blogged about. Readers come across the reviews, and buy the books. Doesn’t giving away books to bloggers ultimately lead to more positive sales? To set guidelines for book blogging is completely baffling. Publishers should be happy to get the exposure at all. The authors I’ve worked with in the past certainly are.

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Why It Pays To Be a Tweeting Author: Jennifer Weiner’s ‘Bachelorette’ Gig

For most of us, social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are domains to express how we feel about, well, pretty much anything. Sometimes we’re funny. Most of the time we’re not. But we tweet anyway in the hopes that someone will read our 140 attempts at getting attention. If you’re a bestselling author and write for a living, you know people will see those tweets. But when In Her Shoes author Jennifer Weiner wrote a Facebook post about Jason Mesnick from The Bachelor a few seasons back, she was surprised at the response she got.

So began her weekly Bachelor/Bachelorette live-tweets, which have now led to a new gig at Entertainment Weekly, according to a post on her Facebook page last month. Though I’ve been unable to find out any more details about it, Weiner states “I am THRILLED to announce that, starting 5/14, I’m going to be live-blogging ‘The Bachelorette’ for the kind folks at Entertainment Weekly! Stay tuned for details…”

Coincidentally, EW wrote up this article on Weiner and other celebrity tweeters in January. In the reality world of The Bachelor/Bachelorette, Jennifer Weiner has become a favorite tweeter. In fact it earned her a spot on Time‘s list of 140 Best Twitter feeds last year. So it’s no surprise it would lead to an EW gig like this. Weiner is outspoken, hilarious, and seems like the best friend you’ve never met — all perfect attributes for a good live-tweeter.

So for all your Bachelorette fans, here’s Weiner’s Twitter handle, @jenniferweiner, if you’re looking for someone to gossip with about the drama that’s set to begin tomorrow night at 8pm on ABC. Will you tune in?

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