JS Best Books of 2016

Let me get this out of the way up front: These are not the best books of the year by any metric other than “what I enjoyed most.” If you’re looking for a great read and you trust my tastes, this post is for you.

I’ve done book recommendations for three years running now, usually before Christmas, but with my Big Move I didn’t have time to post about the previous year’s literary gems until now. Enjoy!

The perfect image to talk about some great books and to put in a quick plug for the online Oscar contest I’m running. Join in, win free books!

1) First up is a book I’ve loved for a long time, but re-read in 2016. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien is hard to categorize, but perhaps could be called a “Fictional Memoir.” Transcending the genre of war literature, this novel (or, arguably, collection of stories) is more a treatise on what it means for a story to be true. Highly recommended for lovers of storytelling and its impact on us as people.

2) Next is Hell Divers by Nicholas Sansbury Smith. Nick is one of my writer buddies, and this is the start to his latest series. For my money, Nick is really hitting his stride as a writer here. This book has a unique hook and it hits hard. Book 2 releases this summer and I’m looking forward to seeing where he goes with this world and these characters.

3) Bun by Brian Silveira and Lisa Nguyen is the bizarre and beautiful brainchild of my cover artist for SUPERPOWERED and PATHOGENS in partnership with his wife. After reading book one, I have to say: Brian, you have been holding back on my covers! The art on these pages are creative, detailed, stunning, and masterful. You can read the book for free online, but I’d highly recommend reaching out for a printed copy.

4) Finally, a book I listened to as I’m gearing up to write my fifth Click Your Poison novel, Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. Alfred Molina was the narrator and did an incredible job, but that’s not the reason this book made my list. I’ve read/listened to a lot of classics, but this is one of the few that doesn’t dip into “widow dressing” (describing a scene ad nauseam). It’s also the progenitor for all the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, the restaurant Long John Silver’s, and basically our entire “Talk Like a Pirate” day culture.

Honorable Mentions

I read Best Food Writing 2015 edited by Holly Hughes as part of a book club last year, and there are some fantastic, thought-provoking stories in there. Some of the authors do an amazing job of relating new perspectives on food culture. However, I can’t 100% recommend it, because there were a few stories inside that weren’t quite to my…tastes.

I almost loved Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari. I think I wanted it to either be funnier or more insightful. Though it’s a short read with a little of both, so feel free to pick it up and judge for yourself. Or grab the audiobook and let Aziz make fun of you for being too lazy to read…

So, what do YOU think? Have you read any of the titles listed? Any suggestions for me?

Feel free to comment below, and don’t forget to share and subscribe!


Signed Books Make the Best Gifts!

Looks like it’s a tradition now. First, I offer up my favorite reads of the year. Then, I offer to sign some of my books for you. Which is what’s happening now.


If you’re interested, I’ll sign and ship to you, a friend, family, co-worker, Secret Santa, whoever or wherever. Call it $20 even and I’ll pay for shipping. I’m limited to what I have on hand, so it’s first-come first-served until they’re gone. All three books, same deal. Because flat rate envelopes are where it’s at, unfortunately, I cannot combine shipping costs.

Hit me up on my contact form and we can iron out the payment details over email. I’m going on vacation the second half of December (more on that later — this is going to be a HUGE trip with relevance to Click Your Poison!), so I need all orders in before the 15th of December.

I usually reserve signed books for in-person appearances, so this is a once-a-year opportunity to get me to scribble for you via the internet.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Meeting the author not include. Accessories sold separately. See fine print for details. Exclusions may apply. Not valid with any other author.
Meeting the author not included. No purchase necessary to be a hero or a villain. Accessories sold separately. See fine print for details. Exclusions may apply. Not valid with any other author.


2015 JS Book Recommendations

As I first did last year, it’s time to recommend the best books I’ve read this year. Maybe you’ll like them too. Or, maybe someone on your gift list will.

Turns out, I read a lot of good books in 2015! It wasn’t easy to whittle down the list, but here they are, the five books I absolutely could not put down in 2015. I’ve given a brief explanation why you should read each, but hopefully not enough to spoil anything.

1) I’ll start with a book I’ve been meaning to read for a long time, Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. If you don’t mind dark and gritty (and if you read my books, I assume you don’t), this book is simply stunning. It’s on the top of my “read again if you ever decide to write a western” list.

2) The next two are books I’ve loved for a long time, but re-read this year, so I’ll lump them together. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller and Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. Many people read these books in high school, but I’d recommend saving them for (or re-reading later with) an adult’s perspective on the world.

3) While writing SUPERPOWERED, I got into a lot of graphic novels. One that has stuck with me and that I continue to read as issues are released is Saga by by Brian K. Vaughan (Author), Fiona Staples (Illustrator). It would be overly simplistic to call the story Romeo and Juliet set in space, but I think it’s great proof that adding a different spice (and this one is spicy!) can completely change a familiar dish.

4) The Girl with all the Gifts by M. R. Carey. Minor spoiler: This book contains sentient zombies. Which, normally, I don’t like. I’d rather see new human perspectives in the zombie apocalypse than I would like to see the ZA itself re-invented. That said, this book has a lot of heart and a lot of creativity, without too much gore. Stuff it in the stocking of the most sensitive zombie fan you know.

5) Rounding out this year’s list in the only Indie book on here (I know, I should be better than that!): Reapers by the Thornton Brothers. What starts off as a clever Lord of the Rings parallel to the Iraq war (our cast is comprised of “black ops” rangers, but the setting is high fantasy) eventually evolves into something much more. I won’t say too much, because there is some massively creative storytelling in here.

Honorable Mentions

First, we have The Strain by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. I went into this story blind, simply because GdT is one of my favorite filmmakers, and the audiobook is narrated by the delightful Ron Perlman. If you want your own Monet Experience, I’d highly recommend picking up the book and diving in. The opening air of mystery is fantastic. It didn’t make my top reads cut, however, because it’s a cliff-hangar book. None of the story is resolved by the end and I’m assuming you have to read all three to get any closure. To boot, Perlman only narrates the first book. So I’ve started watched the TV show instead of continuing the series.

Next up is All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, which falls just short of amazing. The book jumps around its timeline, presenting some chapters in a WWII “present” and then going back to the backstory for others. I know this is a popular technique to keep readers hooked by teasing the climax, but I feel like it cheapened the experience here. In fact, if you decide to check out this book, I’d recommend you go through and write down the dates at the front of each chapter, then read the book chronologically. I’m willing to bet you’ll have a brilliant experience with it.

Over the summer, I listened to the audiobook of A Long Time Until Now by Michael Z Williamson. On the cover, it shows a caveman, a centurion, and a modern US soldier standing atop a jeep and fighting off ice age beasts. Nuff said, right? I’m a sucker for a good time travel story. And I wanted to love this one, but there just wasn’t any interpersonal conflict in the novel. Several groups of people were shuffled through time, and they were all just like, “cool, let’s do this.” I needed a bit more.

I was looking forward to The Fold by Peter Clines for a long time. It’s the sister-book to 14, which was one of my favorites of the previous year. The story is still a lot of fun, but the main character’s (minor spoiler) perfect “mimetic memory” is too much of a superpower. I loved the average Joe falls into a crazy world that 14 gave me, but the protagonist of The Fold feels like an AI computer and so the stakes were lowered. I always felt he’d come out on top. Still, this book was worth the read and I’d check out another written in that same universe.

Finally, we have Armada by Ernest Cline. This author is on fire, and he’s delivered another fun book, but not quite to the level of his first, Ready Player One. This book feels just a little bit too inspired by Ender’s Game and the conclusion felt somewhat truncated. That said, it’s a fun, quick read (or a cool listen by narrator Wil Wheaton). Worth it, but not amazing.

So, what do YOU think? Have you read any of the titles listed? Any suggestions for me?

Feel free to comment below, and don’t forget to share and subscribe!

Signed Books For Christmas?

The earlier blog entry on my favorite books of 2014 got me thinking. I may not have a new book out this year for the holidays, but I do have a few extra copies of INFECTED and MURDERED lying around.

If you’re interested, I’ll sign and ship to you, a friend, family, co-worker, Secret Santa, whoever or wherever. Call it $20 even and I’ll pay for shipping. I’m limited to what I have on hand, so it’s first-come first-served until they’re gone.

Hit me up on my contact form and we can iron out the payment details over email. Priority mail is 1-3 business days, so you’ve got a week or so to get your orders in!

I believe this makes my first “online author signing.” I usually reserve signed books for in-person appearances but you’ve caught me in a rare non-Grinch mood. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!


Five Books for Christmas!

None of these books are Christmas themed, but they all make great gifts.

No, SUPERPOWERED won’t be out in time for the Holiday Season. So I figured I’d do the next best thing and recommend the best books I’ve read this year (even though Click Your Poison Books make great stocking stuffers… /end_shameless.plug)

Here they are, the five books I absolutely could not put down in 2014. I’ve given a brief explanation why you should read each, but hopefully not enough to ruin your chances of a Monet Experience.

1) First up is The Martian by Andy Weir. This book is probably the year’s biggest self-publishing success story. From obscure indie, to bestseller with movie rights optioned by 20th Century Fox, Mr. Weir’s ride is enviable to any author. But I didn’t know any of this when I picked it up, and that’s not the reason you should. You should read it because it’s a great book! Fast-paced, believable near-future science fiction at its best. In fact, once you’ve read this one yourself, check out my Martian Theory.

2) Next is Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, a non-fiction book that bills itself as “The Story of Success.” This is a book that will change the way you look at the world. Do you really need more of a recommendation than that? I listened to the audiobook here and it’s one of the few author-narrated books that doesn’t suffer from the lack of a professional voice actor. Good luck reading this one and not telling everyone you know about what you learn from it.

3) As part of my superhero research, I picked up Watchmen for the first time. Written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons, this graphic novel redefined comic books. All the dark and gritty superhero movies we love so much owe their existence to Watchmen. I learned much about writing a compelling superhero tale from the pages within, and though I didn’t really enjoy the movie when it came out, I had a newfound respect for the film after reading the book. Isn’t that always the way?

4) After thoroughly enjoying The Edge of Tomorrow with Emily Blunt and Tom Cruise (you can read my blog on the ending if you’ve seen it), I sought out the script and novel All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. And while they don’t line up with the movie much at all, I enjoyed the novel in its own right. It’s a much more philosophical and romantic journey, clearly inspired by videogames, but still kicks ass and takes names with buckets of sci fi action.

5) Rounding out the list as my anchor is the Ex series by Peter Clines. Start with Ex-Heroes and go from there. The book is heralded as The Walking Dead meets The Avengers, but for my money, it surpasses both. As someone who writes zombies and superheroes myself, this series is right up my alley and highly recommended as worthy of your time.

Honorable Mentions

First we have Wearing the Cape by Marrion Harmon. Another self-published gem, Mr. Harmon has some extremely creative ideas in here. I enjoyed the read overall, but it didn’t quite make my list because of the simplistic characters. Caveat: I don’t read much Young Adult, so I wasn’t the target audience, but if you’ve got a youngster on your list–go ahead and pick this one up.

Next is The Boys written by Garth Ennis and iillustrated by Darick Robertson. Another superhero tale that I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s dark, twisted, and rounds out with a great surprise. The only reason it doesn’t make my list is that it’s too gratuitous. If you’ve read my books and chosen some of the more sinister options, you know that’s saying something. I don’t mind dark and gritty, but this graphic novel went over the top IMO.

My other favorite non-fiction read in 2014 was Why Evolution is True by Jerry Coyne. I had no idea just how far science has come since Darwin first published his theory, and this book does a great job presenting those proofs. Want to know how new species come about? This book will explain it. My only complaint is that the author spends a bit too much time battling his religious opposition in these pages, to the point that it might turn off some readers who would otherwise give the book a read with a more open mind.

Rounding out the honorable mentions is Suicide Squad written by Adam Glass and illustrated by Federico Dallocchio. I only read a few issues of this bad-guys-are-the-good-guys graphic novel, and while I initially enjoyed the story, it didn’t manage to hold my attention. That said, I am really looking forward to the movie!

So, what do YOU think? Have you read any of the titles listed? Any suggestions for me?

Feel free to comment below, like, share, and subscribe (top left)!

Lessons Learned: Free ebook Promotion

[In keeping with my New Year’s Resolution, here’s some info about what I’ve done right and what I’ve done wrong. First entry in the Lessons Learned category]

First, a quick overview for those not in the know (or wanting a refresher) about a KDP Select ebook promotion over amazon. To be enrolled in KDP Select, an ebook must be exclusively available for sale on the amazon kindle for a period of 90 days. During that 90 days, the book may be offered for free or as a $0.99 sale for up to 5 days. I went exclusive with Amazon last year because, as another perk, readers can “borrow” your book for their kindle for free (while the author still enjoys a royalty) and these “borrows” are still incorporated into sales ranking. My sales from all outside ebook channels were quickly eclipsed by borrows, so I’m very pleased with that decision, but this is my first KDP promotion.

Why buy the cow when you can have the milk for free? I’ll admit, it seemed counter-intuitive to me at first. How can you possibly make a living as a writer giving your books away for free? First and foremost, it should be noted that this tool should be used wisely, and in such, promotions should be limited. Give away your book too often, and your sales will fall through the floor. That’s why I chose to promote INFECTED a month after the release of my new book, MURDERED (after it had time to gain a few reviews), and why I’ve made clear that it’s available for free 8-10 Jan ONLY.

It’s all a game. A free ebook promotion should be treated like a strategy game, with free downloads counting as so much monopoly money. The only difference is, if you win, to the victor go the spoils. That is to say, if you play the game right, you can see some rewards in the real world. The first benefit is increasing your standing in the amazon ranking system. You know that section under the product description on an amazon page where it says “Customers who bought this also bought”? That’s you now. With this marketing tool, every free download counts as a purchase. So, with several thousand downloads, your book will now appear all over amazon’s sales rankings.

Amazon is the banker, and it’s your job to make sure your book passes “Go” as many times as possible. C’mon, doubles!

Second, is increasing your book’s presence. As any new author will attest, getting people to discover that your book exists is the hardest part. Giving away your book is a great way to increase word-of-mouth buzz, especially if you have multiple books in a series. People who enjoyed your book during it’s limited free promotion may convince their friends it’s worth it to pay for the experience once it’s no longer free. They may also check out your other books themselves.

The cornerstone of your strategy is visibility. There are many websites out there dedicated to letting readers know when a great free deal comes along, and it’s in your best interest to use them. Some are paid services, but have proven worth it to many authors. The bigger ones have hundreds of thousands of subscribers who might be interested in your book. It’s likely that many who frequent free book email-blast and announcement websites weren’t out looking to buy anyway, so don’t think of these free downloads as lost sales. Think of them as new opportunities.

Allow me to break my strategy down for you. I went with a “go big or go home approach” and I used a total of 44 websites to announce my giveaway (staggered over the three-day period), only 4 of which were paid services. I also used the model put forth last year by Elle Lothlorian, combined with a few other tricks I’d picked up in my research. Like her, I’ll break down exactly what I did and how it worked out for me.

Paid Services: BookBub, an oft-touted service considered by many to be the #1 way to announce your promotion, was my front line. I contacted them first to check their availability and settled on Friday, January 10th for their announcement. The second heavy hitter is Book Blast, and they were able to accommodate me for January 9th. The third biggie I chose was Kindle Fire Department, who had an opening to feature INFECTED on January 8th. Not that it was my intent, but I ended up being featured by these websites from least popular to most. I think this has actually helped my “snowball effect” greatly. As I’m writing this on day two of the promotion… we’ll see! The fourth paid service was Sweet Free Ebooks, a $5 posting set to go off on January 9th.

Free Services: For the other 40 announcements, I used a list on eBook Booster (you can pay to have your book submitted automatically, but I took a full day to contact them myself) and the list on Author Marketing Club. INFECTED was set to be reviewed by Horror Novel Reviews and I asked if they could time it to coincide with the promotion. I also had reviews set up for MURDERED over at Evolved World and You’ve Got Red On You and asked if they would give a shout out for the promotion as well. All three requests were kindly granted.

So… Ready for some results and numbers? Check out INFECTED Promo Results (Day One)