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Review: The Word Exchange

The Word Exchange
The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon is a book that I have very mixed feelings about.
Let us start by imagining a world where our cell phones anticipate what we need before we need it. We begin to wonder what our grandparent’s birthday is and it springs to life with the information we need. All it required was a thought. That word on the tip of our tongue appears on the screen just before we need it so you can complete your thought without missing a beat. If you can imagine that, then you can imagine the power and obvious desirability of the technology in this book.
The Word Exchange is an online marketplace where words are bought and sold. Did you forget the definition of a word? Have the definition instantly available for mere change. A quick micro-transaction and viola, the word you intended. But we get pretty familiar with the words we use, don’t we? What if we became so dependent on technology that our brains no longer stored memories as efficiently since we have these nifty devices reading our thoughts and providing the data we seek?

The Word Exchange pulls a very clever trick here. The characters in our book write definitions for the NADEL, a dictionary. Their vocabulary is spectacular. I had to use the ‘word lookup’ feature of my Kindle Paperwhite frequently, especially during the first quarter of the book. It provided an incredibly unsettling feeling that maybe this dependence on technology is already happening to us. Maybe we are already forgetting these words that were once a part of our language.

This trick, in my opinion, was only clever because I was able to very quickly grab a definition. If I was reading a paper copy, I don’t think I would have spent the time looking up words. Although perhaps it would have been sufficient to drive a different point home. That point being that if we’re not using this language, we lose it. If it isn’t saved somewhere, it could be gone forever.

On this premise the book succeeds.
Then comes the Word Flu. The Word Flu is an illness that strikes and presents much the way the flu does that we’re familiar with. High fever, nausea, vomiting, etc. However, the Word Flu also presents in such a way that words in your vocabulary are replaced with others. Often times nonsense.

Since a condition of my early readers copy is that I not share any text, I will prepare my own example.
“Why is everyone oxbowing at me,” she wondered. “I did remember to kaneek my pants, right?”
And this example also serves to make one of the points of The Word Exchange. Words are powerful. They are functional. Is everyone looking at her? Is everyone shoving her? Did she remember to wear her pants? Or zip her pants? Words disappearing is problematic for society.

It’s also problematic for the reader. At least for this reader. I read to disappear into a story. I was never able to comfortably settle into The Word Exchange. These breaks would snap me back to reality while I considered what was actually trying to be said.
This is one of those instances where I think the author was making a point but that it also worked against them. The mechanic is beautiful and works. Unfortunately it works to a fault. I found myself hating to read this book.

The books pacing seemed glacial until about the halfway point. From there it seemed to accelerate to a snail’s pace. I think the author or editor must have known that because they occasionally dropped hints that certain parts of the story would pay off later. An example might be something like, “And I’d learn soon that it wasn’t so cut and dry.” They had to keep dangling a carrot. I considered walking away repeatedly and only the obligation to the review kept me hanging around. But I was miserable finishing.

The characters were good enough, I guess. Our character lead Anana was likable enough but also capable enough that I never really feared for her all that much. I guess that makes sense though since much of the danger was presented toward people she cared about, and not necessarily directed at her. Also, despite her being in near constant motion it seems like she’s more a victim of circumstance rather than actually moving the story forward. Honestly it feels like most of the book is just happening to her, she’s not manipulating her circumstances at all.

As for the other characters, Anana seems to care about them but I never saw enough to share in her feelings. I really found myself even struggling to care about anyone beyond her. Even when they set the stage for a romance, I couldn’t care less.

So I guess that’s probably enough. The things that work in the book work tremendously. I get the idea that in the future the Word Flu could really disrupt us due to our growing dependence on technology. I get the idea that words are powerful and losing even some of them could be disastrous. The story itself though, the meat and potatoes of The Word Exchange were just meh.

This one was a hard one for me, folks. And it kills me to dislike a book that executes its premise so well. But here we are.

Good alnox, my friends. Gritbaugh.

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Review: Welcome Home

WelcomeHome

This book is not my typical fare. But as an aspiring writer and blogger, it should be. Nick Thacker is the man behind LiveHacked.com. The website touts itself as a place where you can learn to “write better, live well, earn more.” And it appears to be working for Nick.

Since he’s not one to hog all the glory to himself he decided to write a book teaching you, the writer, how you can repeat his success but more importantly how you can avoid making the mistakes he did in getting his home base off the ground.

The book starts by defining what exactly a home base is. It’s a platform you control, and own, on your own terms. It isn’t Facebook. It isn’t Twitter. It isn’t Google+. It’s your own blog on your own host, preferably. Those other social media outposts are subject to the whim of the owner.

For example, Facebook could one day decide to start charging you to get your message across to folks who’ve already indicated that they like you and want to hear from you. Oh wait. I guess that’s already a reality.

And see? That’s the reason you need a home base. So some monster corporation can’t freeze you out of your own audience or make life unnecessarily difficult.  Social media is great. It’s a crucial aspect of building your marketing home base but the idea is not to setup base on those social media sites, it’s to setup outposts that lead people to your home base. They are recruiting stations. Tools.

That’s why you need a home base. And that’s what Welcome Home helps you do. The chapters move at a quick clip and provide enough detail to teach you what you need to know without burying you in unnecessary information. The information is presented in such a manner that you feel excited to begin his method. It seems so easy.

The book addresses the topics I’ve mentioned above but also goes into detail such as what blogging platform Nick prefers (WordPress), what Plugins he prefers (many) and what tools he uses to schedule and automate his presence (Buffer). Chapter twenty-one is the automation chapter and in my opinion that chapter alone is worth the cost of admission. In fact, I find myself eager to get this review finished so I can start putting some of those plugins/apps into place and signing up for some of the same services that hooked me in.

And really that’s what this is about. Hooking in your readership. Building a relationship with them. Turning them into your fans by providing them value. And ultimately getting permission to share your message with them directly.

So how can you be sure Nick knows what he’s talking about? That depends on you, I suppose. But I can tell you how I’ve made that determination. It worked on me.

I am an aspiring writer. I found Nick’s site, somehow. And after reviewing the page I decided there was enough value to be found that I wanted to hear from Nick directly and signed up for his 20-week fiction writers course and newsletter. I never do this. But Nick promised me a great value and he’s delivered thus far. And as I read through his book Welcome Home I’ve discovered that it’s all part of his master plan. It wasn’t by mistake or happenstance that he hooked me into LiveHacked.com. It was very intentional.

And now he’s handing you the keys to the kingdom.

The keys to your own castle. Your own home base. Welcome home.

Time is Money: FreeMyApps

Do you know there are companies out there that will pay you to try their apps? FreeMyApps is one such app/company. Basically how it works is an app developer comes to them and says ‘we’ll pay you to get your audience to download our free app’. FreeMyApps takes their money, assigns a credit value to the app and tells you to download and use the free app for 30 seconds. When you do, you’ll get that credit value added to your account. In return, you can exchange those credits for things like iTunes gift cards, Amazon gift cards and currently Postagram gift cards.

It’s a win-win-win. We get gift cards. FreeMyApps gets money from the app developer. And the app developer gets thousands of new downloads of their free app which gives them a) exposure and b) help climbing the App Store charts which is how a majority of folks find out about new apps.

The question that remains is Would you like to get paid to try out apps? There is a minimum time investment, no monetary investment, and it actually pays off. I’ve been doing it for a while now. Here are the things I’ve earned on my iPhone.

IMG_15357/28/12 – $10 iTunes Gift Card
6/27/12 – $10 iTunes Gift Card
5/11/12 – Sky Gamblers: Air Supremacy ($4.99 Value)
3/15/12 – iPhone ($4.99 Value)

Try not to pay too close attention to how long it took me to earn each reward because I have gone through streaks of checking the app daily and a whole lot of ignoring it for weeks at a time. I missed a lot of point generating opportunities.

So let me show you how this works.

On your iOS device, go here: http://m.freemyapps.com/share/url/ad72160a

It will walk you through the setup which does involve installing a “verify settings” profile. This just allows FreeMyApps to make sure that you had the app open for 30 seconds.

Then it’s just a matter of downloading apps and earning points. I’ll show you.

When you launch the app (web shortcut, really) you’ll see the following loading screen:

IMG_1529

When it loads completely you’ll see your credits balance as well as what apps you can install to earn points. To download, you just click the credits button next to the app. For the app below you’d click the +120 credits button.

IMG_1531

The only app I have available is The Daily however you’ll notice in the text that it says iPad ONLY! That means I can’t download it. But that shouldn’t stop you from trying. There was an app on there recently called CoolIris that also said iPad only but it was a universal app that worked on iPhone. I got credit for that install. So go ahead and try the iPad apps too.

When you login for the first time though you’ll have a lot of apps listed.

You can tell which apps you’ve received credit for because they will show up as redeemed. If I scroll beneath that banner that invites me to Share FreeMyApps with Friends, I’ll see this:

IMG_1537

I mentioned I’ve been doing this for a while. I can scroll for 10 screens before I get to the bottom. I have a lot of redeemed apps.

In any event, each app has a point value. As you saw above Lemon.com Wallet is offering you 200 credits to download and use their free app for 30 seconds. The Daily was offering 120 credits. And it seems that most apps have a value of around 80 credits.

So how many credits are required for a gift card. That, my friends, is a good question. So lets look at what FreeMyApps is currently offering (as of August 1st, 2012):IMG_1533

$2 Amazon Gift Card – 600 credits.

$10 iTunes Gift Card – 3000 credits.

$15 iTunes Gift Card – 4500 credits.

$4 Postagram Gift Card – 600 credits.

$5 Amazon Gift Card – 1500 credits.

(not pictured)

$1 Amazon Gift Card – 300 credits.

$10 Amazon Gift Card – 3000 credits.

$15 Amazon Gift Card – 4500 credits.

$25 Amazon Gift Card – 7500 credits.

$25 iTunes Gift Card – 7500 credits.

$50 iTunes Gift Card – 15000 credits.

As you can see there are a ton of different gift card denominations with the exception of Postagram which is new to the FreeMyApps rewards family. There are usually some Xbox Live gift cards available too but the rewards change too. Sometimes a $10 iTunes Gift Card is available, and sometimes it’s sold out. But they have been pretty steadily available as of late.

Last week I did the math. If you get the minimum amount of credits per download and you play each app for only the 30 seconds required, then it’ll take you a whopping total of 18 3/4 minutes to earn a $10 gift card. Now what’s cool about that is the fact that you’ll get apps that are worth far more than the minimum amount of credits. For example, today’s Lemon.com Wallet was worth 200 credits. As for the time spent, that’ll probably increase because sometimes you’ll stumble across an app you end up really liking. For example, I downloaded and enjoyed No Zombies Allowed so much that it’s still on my iPhone today.

IMG_1538[1]

One last thing. The first time you load the app you’ll either be excited by all of the credit earning opportunities or you’ll be overwhelmed thinking about all the apps you have to install. If you fall into that latter group don’t be discouraged. After you run through the initial pool of apps it becomes a really easy thing to maintain because you’re just checking for new apps on whatever interval you decide works for you. You can also follow FreeMyApps on Facebook and they’ll announce when they have new sponsor apps.

You can find them here: http://www.facebook.com/FreeMyApps

Here is my workflow in case you were wondering how I handle the app:

1) Download new app through FreeMyApps which redirects to AppStore
2) Use new app for at least 30 seconds
3) Go back to FreeMyApps and see if I got credit – Is it showing redeemed? If not, I go back to the app and use it some more.
4) If I liked the app, I’ll keep it. If I didn’t like the app, I’ll immediately delete it.

If you like what you saw here and want to turn a little bit of effort into gift cards then I’d ask if you’d please use my referral link to start today: http://m.freemyapps.com/share/url/ad72160a (use this link in the Safari web browser). I’ll get 100 credits (a pittance, really) and you’ll get the satisfaction of helping the guy out who told you about this awesome service.

Thanks all. I wish you many, many free gift cards.

If this helped you, or if I’ve helped you in the past, I’d like to ask you to consider making a donation. If you’re not interested, no biggie. Forget I mentioned it. =)

Review: The Concrete Blonde

The Concrete Blonde The Concrete Blonde by Michael Connelly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This one kept me guessing until the very end. On one occasion I really thought I had figured it out. In my own defense, I think Connelly steered us in that direction and when the characters in the book announced my belief I thought YES! I was right.. and then No! I wasn’t. This book has an incredible twist ending.

This book was also equal parts legal thriller as police procedural. This book takes place while Harry and the LAPD are on trial for the supposed wrongful death of an innocent man. The man’s widow says that her husband was not the Dollmaker, as Harry and the LAPD had determined.

The Dollmaker trial is a nice bit of continuity since we heard about the Dollmaker killing in at least one of the previous two books.

Harry and the LAPD are convinced they have the right man until another letter from the Dollmaker and a new body surfaces with all of the murderer’s characteristics. Has a serial killer been allowed to roam free while an innocent man took the blame? Did Harry kill the wrong man? All will be revealed.

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Review: Ascend

Ascend
Ascend by Amanda Hocking

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’m just going to write this review on the entire Trylle trilogy instead of on a single book. The books are short enough that they could have been a single book but that’s beside the point. The prices were reasonable so the complaints shouldn’t be too loud.

Spoiler Alert: I’m covering a whole trilogy here, so there will be spoilers. If you plan on reading this series, I’d skip this review.

The trilogy’s central character is a girl named Wendy who finds out she was switched at birth. She is heir to the throne of a Troll kingdom. Trolls differ from our fairytale versions of them. They are essentially like us but some have abilities like telekinesis, mind speak, can read auras, etc. In any event, Wendy is pulled from the home she knows when a rival Troll faction sets out to kidnap her.

It turns out that that rival faction is actually her father’s tribe. Her mother’s tribe is very strong with the mental powers and is able to reproduce, while her father’s tribe is supernaturally physically strong but their reproduction produces hobgoblins. So the whole of trilogy is about Wendy learning her way as princess while learning how to deal with the threat of her father’s tribe.

The politics and the friendships within this book are fine with a cast of likable characters like Rhys, Matt, Willa, Duncan and Tove. But it’s the romance that quickly grows tiring and irritating. Let’s map out some of the relationships within this book. In Switched, the romantic tension exists between Wendy & Finn and to a much less degree between Wendy & Rhys. In Torn, the romantic tension exists between Wendy & Finn, Wendy & Loki and then Wendy becomes engaged to Tove, not out of love but responsibility to the kingdom. In Ascend, the romantic tension is resolved. Wendy cheats on her husband, giving her virginity to Loki, gets her marriage annulled and then marries Loki.

And there is my issue with this series, our heroine is wishy-washy with her emotions and comes off looking like a whore. The entire series finds her in love with (or engaged to, or married to) one person and giving herself to another. I found myself convinced that if there was ever a book four that I would have absolutely no interest in reading it.

If the book illustrates anything to us it is that Wendy will make a great Queen but a terrible individual. It is that juxtaposition that keeps the trilogy from getting 1 star from me. Wendy is a horrible person with conflicting emotions at every turn of the page, but she’s a great leader. And that resonates a bit more with me. It’s unfortunate that Wendy turned out this way because the story held such promise.

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Review: Switched

Switched
Switched by Amanda Hocking
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you’re familiar with the self-published world of eBook authors you’ve probably heard of the 26-year-old author turned millionaire Amanda Hocking. According to a businessinsider.com article, Hocking is selling around 100,000 copies of her eBooks every month. Those books sell for anywhere from .99 cents to $3. And when you get to keep 70% of that, you’re doing pretty well.

I’m interested in pop culture, and I love reading, so I had to know if this girl was the real deal or just a girl cashing in on the Twi-hards and writing rip off vampire novels. For the record, she does have vampire novels for sale but I opted to give her tremendously popular Trylle trilogy a look. The first book, Switched, introduces a Trylle named Wendy who doesn’t know she’s Trylle. A Trylle is a troll, but not the storybook variety. There are similarities such as a penchant for baubles but you could hardly imagine a Trylle living under a bridge. They seem blessed with above average looks and some have magical abilities.

I was looking for comparisons to Twilight and seemed to find them, but the same could probably be said for just about any popular YA novel these days. Not because they ripped off Twilight but because the love triangle story has been told before. Everything’s been done before, so now it’s just a matter of how well it’s been done. In the case of Switched, it’s been done very well indeed.

The pages turned themselves. I found myself saying I’ll finish this chapter and then reading into the next one saying the same thing. The story is compelling, the characters are well written. Nothing was over explained but I was able to imagine the characters, locations, etc. And since Wendy didn’t know anything about the Trylle before she finds out she is one, the characters can fill in the blanks naturally in conversation, instead of a jarring, unnatural first-person monologue.

This book is well written, but poorly formatted. Nowhere near as bad as I’ve seen them in the past, but enough to know that I would never let my book ship in that condition. It may work fine for Kindle, but I’d want my NOOK book to look just as nice. Finally, it was short. But it was a good story in that limited time. No fluff, just page turning enjoyment. Definitely YA fare though, not that there is anything at all wrong with that.

It gets a Goodreads 3 stars out of 5, no half stars this time. It was better than “okay” and I “liked it”.

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