Review (Plus): “Awake” by Natasha Preston

Awake_9781492618522_35ba1A young girl meets the new, gorgeous boy in her homeroom class and he finds her to be the best thing he has ever seen. The young girl, who we learn is our protagonist, Scarlett, is immediately enamored with the new boy to the envy of her best friend. Sounds pretty typical YA, but poor Scarlett endured the loss of everything she owned in a fire when she was four years old. With the loss of all things material, she also lost her first four years of memories and this is where I was hooked. It is through the pages of Awake by Natasha Preston that we learn Scarlett was destined for greater things than a mere high school romance. She was to be the sacrifice for a Irish cult, Eternal Light.

We see the classroom relationship evolve into dates, meeting parents and falling in love as Scarlett and Noah plan for their future together. The underlying shadows of Scarlett’s past is what kept me turning the pages. I wanted to see what happened in those first four formative years of her life to get her to this time period of blissful ignorance. Noah starts questioning the missing years; Scarlett starts seeing visions and her part of Eternal Life is slowly unveiled through the answers.

In the Classroom:

Bloom’s Taxonomy was designed to promote and encourage higher levels of learning. A student can be given information, but it is the integration of this knowledge mixed with their own ideology that takes it to a higher level of learning. In Social Studies, grades 6-8, students are expected to “integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts” (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.7.)

Awake shows what power a human being can have over another in their thought process. The ability to brainwash is powerful and we see this skill used by Scarlett’s biological parents in the cult, Eternal Life. It is unclear to Noah what the truth is or what he has been taught to believe. Have your students research a cult and its history. Using visual images, video testimonials and written information, have them “distinguish among fact, opinion, and reasoned judgment” (CCSS ELA-LITERARCY.RH.6-8.8.)

History offers a multitude of time periods and people who have been a member of a cult. Scarlett and Noah are not alone in their experiences. It was this key piece in Preston’s latest book that kept me reading. It allowed me the opportunity to experience the fear felt by those who do not know the difference between reality and idealism.


Awake by Natasha Preston (Sourcebooks Fire | 9781492618522 | August 4, 2015)

Paul Downs: Credit Cards

Paul Downs: Credit Cards

We’re continuing our series with guest writer, Paul Downs, author of the forthcoming book Boss Life: Surviving My Own Small Business


One of the best things about writing for The New York Times was the opportunity to shine a light on the shabby treatment I received from large institutions that I am forced to patronize. Prime example: credit cards. Everybody who sells to the public needs to accept them, but the process of choosing a provider is usually given little thought by business owners pressed for time. That’s my story: I was dazzled by a skilled salesperson when I signed up, and then didn’t pay any attention to my monthly charges. It cost me a lot of money. My bank was charging me more than 4.5% of each transaction. After a long shopping process, I was able to bring that down to about 2.5%. This currently saves me about $15,000 a year.

I wrote 6 posts on this subject. This is a relatively long read, and illustrates a distressing tendency in our modern financial culture: if a bank can find a way to rip people off that takes ten thousand words to describe, they’re home free.  No reporter has the time, and few publications have the space, to tease out the precise nature of the shenanigans. Well, I’m not a reporter, and I had the time to follow this story through to the end. And of all of the stories I wrote about, this one has had the longest life. I’m still getting a couple of emails every month from readers, thanking me for shining a light on this sordid business.

I’m putting all six posts below, but if you want to do less reading, just read the first and last. The comments for all of these posts are a minefield – some people have useful information to add, others are just shilling their own credit card companies.

If you haven’t paid any attention to your processing fees since you opened your account, this is a good time to dig into it. A couple of percent on every credit card transaction adds up to real money. And this fall, you’re going to need to start accepting Chip and Pin cards. You might be replacing your Point of Sale card reader anyway.

In the last post I made two recommendations for provider review sites:  Cardfellow and Merchant Maverick. As far as I know, both of the are providing real, unbiased information. The Cardfellow blog, in particular, is very interesting. There may be other sources out there that are comparable. It’s hard to tell – this corner of the economy is infested with shysters and liars.

Whew! That was a lot to say on a complex subject. On to the links:

What You Need to Know About Processing Credit Cards

My Search for Reasonable and Understandable Credit Card Processing

My Search for a Credit Card Processor, Part 2

My Search for a Credit Card Processor, Part 3

Choosing a Credit Card Processor (And Drawing Some Conclusions)

Processing Credit Cards and Anger

Video Handselling at Left Bank Books

When I plan content for Books & Whatnot, I try to have the three pieces ready in advance. But then part of my morning routine is to check email, Feedly, and my YouTube subscriptions to see if anything happened overnight or, in this case, over the weekend that should bump one of the pieces to another day.

On Friday, Left Bank Books in St. Louis uploaded this video titled “In a Dark Dark Wood” to their YouTube channel with this description:

“Did you like Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train? You’ll like this better. Why? Take the twisty, turniness of those plots, then add an evocative setting that takes on a life of its own and distinctive characters you actually care about. As an additional bonus, you’ll get at least a few genuine chills down your back. Just a warning: Don’t start reading if you have anywhere to be. The primary side effect of In a Dark, Dark Wood is an inability to leave your seat until you know what happened. -Sarah’s August Staff Pick, 2015″

A couple of marketing tidbits: I saw it on YouTube, but they also uploaded the video directly to their Facebook page which earns more Facebook algorithm points than sharing a video from a 3rd party source. Also, I love that Shane is wearing a Left Bank Books t-shirt, so the store branding is obvious during the entire video.

I probably should have waited to post it tomorrow after I’d had a chance to visit with the folks at Left Bank Books, but I couldn’t wait. It’s so good.

(And if your store has a YouTube channel, please let me know so I can follow you, too.)

Friday Whatnot: July 31, 2015

When Judy Blume found out that a man posted a flyer looking for his wife’s book that he accidentally gave away, she was touched. Especially because the book was a signed copy of Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret.

She posted this tweet (above) followed by one seeking contact information for the man and his wife. He replied to her this morning. You can follow their Twitter conversation here, and you can find out more about the story of the lost book here.


If you know of any undergraduate students, graduate students or emerging writers looking for an introduction to digital publishing and the New York literary scene, Electric Literature is looking for a couple of editorial interns for the fall.

“As an Electric Literature intern, you are encouraged to become involved in any aspect of our work that interests you. Sure, you’ll go to the post-office, but you’ll also do things like contribute to editorial decisions, interview authors, write articles, and attend literary events.”

For more information, including responsibilities and required skills, visit Electric Literature here.


Here’s a creepy little trailer for We’ll Never Be Apart by Emiko Jean, a psychological thriller for ages 12 and up, about a teen committed to a mental ward after she is haunted by the fire that killed her boyfriend. A fire set by her twin sister.

Video: The Accident Season

In this video, Moïra Fowley-Doyle reads from her new book The Accident Season, a YA novel that explores why every October, Cara and her family become inexplicably and unavoidably accident-prone. The short excerpt Fowley-Doyle reads is enough to pique interest. (Or listen just for the Irish accent.)

Moïra Fowley-Doyle is on Twitter @moirawithatrema. She was also interviewed in The Guardian yesterday.