October 28, 2013

Review: Oyster, the "Netflix for Books"

After hearing a lot about Oyster (often referred to as the "Netflix for books") and reading mostly positive reviews, I decided I wanted to check it out myself.  Oyster is available on Apple devices running iOS7, and I downloaded both the iPad and iPhone version to test them out. It is no longer invite-only, so anyone can sign up for an account and a free 1-month trial. After the trial ends, it costs $9.95 a month to continue with the service.

I've been using the app for about a week now, but I'm already really liking it. I've finished one book and started a couple more. I thought I'd share my first impressions and opinions here. Let me know what you think if you decide to sign up for the free trial! 


Book discovery is easy. On the app's home page you'll find spotlight titles, popular titles, and recently added titles along with other curated lists. Once you start reading books, you'll also see personalized recommendations and books similar to ones you've already read. You can search for specific authors or titles, too. It looks like there is also the possibility to add friends and see what they are reading or marking as favorites. I haven't explored that feature since no one I know personally is using Oyster yet. 
Browsing YA titles
Choose from over 100,000 titles.  The selection is better than I originally expected. Right away, I found dozens of titles that I was interested in reading and added them to my Reading List for future reference. It appears to be mostly backlist titles. I noticed a lot of former bestsellers and award winners--books that have been on my TBR list for a long time. I found some books on Oyster that aren't currently available for download through my local library's OverDrive service, too. 

Read an unlimited amount of books. This is a definite plus for heavy readers like me! You can devour as many books as you want. And if you don't like a book you can just close it an instantly start another one. I tend to read 15-20 books a month on average, so $9.95 is a huge bargain. 

Start reading instantly. Books download quickly to your device--no waiting!

Sync reading across devices. This is a plus for us Apple addicts who want the ability to switch back and forth between the iPad and the iPhone. 

Read offline. Your 10 most recently opened books are downloaded and stored on the device for offline reading. This is helpful for me since my iPad Mini uses wifi-only, and I like to have access to some things offline in case I am stuck somewhere without internet (oh, the horror!).
Recently read books
The reading experience is pleasant. You can choose from 5 different themes to customize your font and background color. My personal favorite is "Crosby" because I like sepia-toned backgrounds.  You have the option of adjusting your font size and screen brightness as well. 

Instead of swiping sideways, you swipe up to turn the page. This took some getting used to since other reading apps make you swipe sideways, but it actually feels more comfortable to swipe up with my thumb while holding the device with one hand. (Another option is to tap the sides of the page to go forward or backward.)

While reading, you can view how much reading progress you've made (by percentage), how many pages you have left in the chapter, and how much reading time is left in the chapter. 
Reading with the "Crosby" theme
U.S. only. If you're not in the U.S., you don't have access to Oyster yet.

No Android app. I'm not sure if an Android app is in the works, but for now Oyster is only available for Apple devices running iOS7. 

Only 1 of the "Big 5" publishers has made their books available (Harper Collins). I assume they are trying to make deals with other major publishers for the future, though. 

No frontlist titles or current bestsellers. This isn't a dealbreaker for me since I read a lot of backlist titles, but if you're someone who wants to read books when they are released, this is something to keep in mind.

Costs about $1 more per month than Scribd. Scribd offers a similar eBook subscription service for $8.99 a month. They also offer a free trial

No highlighting. This is something I do frequently when reading in my Kindle app, so I wish there was the option to highlight while reading in Oyster. (Edited to add: As of 1/14 the app has been updated to include highlighting and note-taking options!)

Reading with a backlit screen can cause eye strain. But as I mentioned before, you can change your background color or adjust the level of brightness if needed.

In my opinion, the pros outweigh the cons and the Oyster app is worth the $9.95 subscription price, especially for someone who reads as much as I do. It is easy to use and provides instant access to eBooks along with a pleasant reading experience. The eBooks available on Oyster are different enough from my local library's eBook selection for me to justify paying for access to them. 

I definitely suggest giving the free trial a shot!

I would like to know more about how authors and publishers are compensated for making their eBooks available to Oyster. If anyone finds this information, please share. 

October 27, 2013

Stacking the Shelves (8)

Stacking the Shelves is hosted by Tynga's Reviews.
 It's all about sharing the books you are adding to your shelves, may it be physical or virtual.


Print Books for Review:

Audiobook for Review: 

eBooks for Review: 

What have you added to your shelves lately? 

October 19, 2013

For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

Description: It's been several generations since a genetic experiment gone wrong caused the Reduction, decimating humanity and giving rise to a Luddite nobility who outlawed most technology.

Elliot North has always known her place in this world. Four years ago Elliot refused to run away with her childhood sweetheart, the servant Kai, choosing duty to her family's estate over love. Since then the world has changed: a new class of Post-Reductionists is jumpstarting the wheel of progress, and Elliot's estate is foundering, forcing her to rent land to the mysterious Cloud Fleet, a group of shipbuilders that includes renowned explorer Captain Malakai Wentforth--an almost unrecognizable Kai. And while Elliot wonders if this could be their second chance, Kai seems determined to show Elliot exactly what she gave up when she let him go.

But Elliot soon discovers her old friend carries a secret--one that could change their society . . . or bring it to its knees. And again, she's faced with a choice: cling to what she's been raised to believe, or cast her lot with the only boy she's ever loved, even if she's lost him forever.

Inspired by Jane Austen's Persuasion, For Darkness Shows the Stars is a breathtaking romance about opening your mind to the future and your heart to the one person you know can break it.

My Review: I was first drawn to this book by its gorgeous cover, and the title sounded interesting, too. (I actually thought it was set in space before I read the plot description!) After seeing so many of my fellow bloggers and librarians give it 4- or 5-stars, I knew I needed to finally start this series. I haven't read Persuasion, but I don't think that affected my enjoyment at all. It does make me want to pick up the Austen novel and see how they compare!

The world-building was excellent, and the characters were believable and relatable. I really admired Elliot as a character who was born into a rigid caste system, questioning the values she was raised with. She had to choose duty over following her own heart's desires, but she still quietly rebelled in her own way. The ethical issues that were raised in the story were thought provoking, and I found myself wondering what I would have done in Elliot's situation.

I loved the way that letters were inserted in between chapters because the told the story of how Elliot and Kai's friendship grew in the past despite the cultural obstacles they faced. The letters also showed character growth over time for both Elliot and Kai. And that last letter - ah! My heart!

I'm looking forward to picking up Across a Star-Swept Sea next and returning to this fascinating world.

October 9, 2013

Freakboy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark

Release Date: October 22, 2013 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) 
I received a review copy from the publisher via Edelweiss.

Description: From the outside, Brendan Chase seems to have it pretty easy. He’s a star wrestler, a video game aficionado, and a loving boyfriend to his seemingly perfect match, Vanessa. But on the inside, Brendan struggles to understand why his body feels so wrong—why he sometimes fantasizes having long hair, soft skin, and gentle curves. Is there even a name for guys like him? Guys who sometimes want to be girls? Or is Brendan just a freak?

In razor-sharp verse, Kristin Clark folds three narratives into one powerful story: Brendan trying to understand his sexual identity, Vanessa fighting to keep her and Brendan’s relationship alive, and Angel struggling to confront her demons.

My Review: I was really impressed with this novel in verse told from 3 different points of view. Each character had a distinct voice and was honest, raw, and relatable. I think the choice to tell the story from 3 different perspectives was important because it reminds us that everyone has private struggles and issues to work through, even if their life seems great on the outside. 

I think this book would be a great addition to a public library's YA collection. Give it to fans of the novels in verse by Ellen Hopkins or those who like character-driven novels about real life issues. 

Buy from Amazon: Freakboy

October 7, 2013

Time After Time by Tamara Ireland Stone

Release Date: October 8, 2013 by Disney-Hyperion
I received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley.

Description: Calling Anna and Bennett’s romance long distance is an understatement: she’s from 1995 Chicago and he’s a time traveler from 2012 San Francisco. The two of them never should have met, but they did. They fell in love, even though they knew they shouldn't. And they found a way to stay together, against all odds. 

It’s not a perfect arrangement, though, with Bennett unable to stay in the past for more than brief visits, skipping out on big chunks of his present in order to be with Anna in hers. They each are confident that they’ll find a way to make things work...until Bennett witnesses a single event he never should have seen (and certainly never expected to). Will the decisions he makes from that point on cement a future he doesn't want?

Told from Bennett’s point of view, Time After Time will satisfy readers looking for a fresh, exciting, and beautifully-written love story, both those who are eager to find out what’s next for Time Between Us's Anna and Bennett and those discovering their story for the first time.

My Review: I had been in a sort of reading slump lately, and this was just the book I needed to bring me out of it! I flew through it and finished it in a day, which is rare for me.

It was great to continue Anna and Bennett's story, and I have to say that I enjoyed reading from Bennett's point of view even more than Anna's. For some reason I just connected with his character more, and it was really interesting to be inside his head as he grappled with difficult decisions about how to use his ability.

Sometimes I get nervous about reading time-travel stories because the plots and timelines can confuse me, but this story was easy for me to follow despite Bennett's shifting between past, present, and future. I think I'll be more likely to pick up stories featuring time travel in the future.

While the plot was interesting, my favorite thing about this book was the characters and their relationship. Anna and Bennett's romance felt real and I was really invested in finding out what would happen to them and how Bennett's ability would affect them. If you're looking for a satisfying, emotional love story with a time-travel twist, look no further than Time After Time!

October 5, 2013

Stacking the Shelves (7)

Stacking the Shelves is hosted by Tynga's Reviews.
 It's all about sharing the books you are adding to your shelves, may it be physical or virtual.

Borrowed from the library: 

NetGalley and Edelweiss (December review copies):

What have you added to your shelves this week?

October 2, 2013

The F-It List by Julie Halpern

Release Date: November 12th 2013 
I received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley.

Description: With her signature heart and humor, Julie Halpern explores a strained friendship strengthened by one girl’s battle with cancer. Alex’s father recently died in a car accident. And on the night of his funeral, her best friend Becca slept with Alex’s boyfriend. So things aren’t great. Alex steps away from her friendship with Becca and focuses on her family. But when Alex finally decides to forgive Becca, she finds out something that will change her world again--Becca has cancer. So what do you do when your best friend has cancer? You help her shave her head. And then you take her bucket list and try to fulfill it on her behalf. Because if that’s all you can do to help your ailing friend--you do it.

My Review: First of all, that cover is gorgeous! It's what initially drew me to this book, and I was not disappointed.

The F-It List was a quick and enjoyable read, which seems strange to say given the seemingly depressing subject matter. Alex's sarcastic, sometimes crude sense of humor and her witty banter with Becca helped to lighten the mood a bit. I loved their strong friendship and how they were able to forgive one another for mistakes made. 

Alex had a lot on her plate between dealing with grief over her father's death, helping Becca complete her bucket list, and recognizing her growing feelings for Leo (as Leo also dealt with his own family tragedy). 

Fair warning -- there was some cursing (the title should tip you off to that) and some descriptions of sexual encounters. But don't let that deter you from reading--it would be a shame to miss out on this engaging story of grief, friendship, and love. 

October 1, 2013

Top Ten Book Turn-offs

Top Ten Book Turn-Offs 
It's rare that I'll stop reading a book. I usually try to finish everything I start, but these are some turn-offs that will make me consider putting a book down or giving it a lower rating.

Bad audiobook narrator
Sometimes I'll start an audiobook and immediately have to turn it off because there's just something unpleasant about the narrator's voice. At this point I'll switch to the print or eBook version.

It's annoying when characters fall in love instantly without even knowing anything about each other. Part of the fun for me is reading about how relationships between characters develop over time. Give me a slow-burn romance over insta-love any day!

Cheesy dialogue

If the characters talk like they're in a soap opera, it's a turn off. I need realistic dialogue that's not too over the top or cheesy.

Obnoxious love interest

If the love interest is an obnoxious jerk, it's hard for me to understand why the main character falls for him or care what happens to them.

Slut shaming 

Female characters who judge other women's lifestyle and clothing choices and call them "sluts" are the worst. I don't like it when characters use "slut" it in a joking matter with their friends either. Just STOP. 


Stereotypes based on race, ethnicity, social class, gender, etc. = major turn off. 


Sometimes the plot is just too predictable. For some reason I'm okay with this in movies, but I have higher standards for the books I read.

Repetitive word use

Sometimes an author is particularly fond of a certain word or phrase, and it keeps popping up over and over.  I remember in one of my high school classes my friends and I kept a tally mark of every time the author used the word "dubious" in the book we were reading. If the word/phrase is repeated enough to distract from the reading experience, that's a big pet peeve of mine.

Deus ex machina

(Definition: When some new event, character, ability, or object solves a seemingly unsolvable problem in a sudden, unexpected way.) I don't notice this very often, but it's frustrating because it seems like lazy plotting on the author's behalf. All of a sudden the seemingly insurmountable problem is solved in a convenient, coincidental way.

Lack of voice 

I read a lot of books with alternating narrators, and if I can't distinguish one character's voice from another, it's difficult for me to keep reading. 

What are your book turn offs? Are your book turn offs similar to mine?


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