Category Archives: Daily Life

The Best Books I Read in 2015

I did this last year, and don’t know if anyone cared or not, but eh, I enjoyed it so I thought I’d do it again. Here are my five favorite books I read last year. As I’m a writer myself, my readers often ask me what my favorite books are, and I think they’re disappointed when my personal reading choices don’t mirror what I write. Consider yourself warned.

NOTE: they weren’t necessarily published in 2015; I just read them then. They’re listed in the order I read them.

The Best Books I Read in 2015:

The Death Class by Erika Hayasaki

On the surface, this nonfiction book is a look at a popular college course on death and the charismatic professor who teaches it. But the book is so much more than that. It’s a human interest story about students struggling to deal with mental health issues and learning to find their own ways in life and coping with the hassles of growing up and coming of age. It’s about an extraordinary professor who teaches dignity in dying and, as such, helps her students embrace the fleeting essence of their lives. I highly recommend this to everyone, everywhere. One of the best books I’ve read in a long time.

Finders Keepers by Stephen King

The second Bill Hodges book (though you don’t have to read the first to enjoy this one). This is definitely up there with my favorite King novels. I couldn’t put this one down! The fact that it involved a writer and a lost manuscript only added to my enjoyment of the story. If you’re a fan of Mr. King, definitely check out this series. I can’t wait for book 3!

Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County by Kristen Green

Set in my own backyard, practically, this opened my eyes to things I hadn’t known existed, literally. I naively thought Brown v. Board of Education “fixed” segregation overnight. Boy, was I wrong. Though this was a bit heavy-handed at times, it was a real eye-opener, and enlightened reading in today’s troubled times.

The Martian by Andy Weir

I was late to the party and just read this book this year. Of everything else I read, this was seriously the number one best book, bar none. I seriously could not put it down — and as I read the Kindle version, I couldn’t flip to the end to see how it all played out (which I tend to do when things get hairy!) so I was up until two in the morning just so I could finish it. I thought I’d read it before seeing the movie, then ended up not seeing the film because I didn’t want to spoil the book, it was that good. I might catch it on DVD at some point, but GOD! This book! If you haven’t read it, go read it NOW!

Horns by Joe Hill

If nothing else, 2015 was the year I discovered Joe Hill. Oh, I knew he was Stephen King’s son, and I had NOS4A2 on my Kindle for ages, but I hadn’t read anything by him until this past August. Then I couldn’t STOP reading him! Everything he writes is magic, same as his father — the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree in this case (thank God). Of all his novels to date, though, Horns is definitely my favorite. It unravels slowly, like an intricate puzzle, and as the pieces begin to fit into place, I found myself reading faster and faster just to be able to see the bigger picture. I loved loved LOVED this story. I’ll definitely read it again in the years to come.

The Best Books I Read in 2014

Since 2011, I’ve been doing the Reading Challenge on Goodreads, and am always surprised at how many books I actually get through in a year. I mean, I know I’m a voracious reader — I always have a book close at hand, and lately I’ve been reading two or three at a time — but it still comes as a bit of a shock when December 31st rolls around and I see just how many books I’ve read. Last year I managed 154 books. I know there are other readers who do a lot more than that, but I also write my own stories, so I don’t get nearly as much read as I should, I know.

Of those 154 books, five in particular stand out as amazing books that still resonate with me. My readers often want to know what sort of stories I like to read myself, and I think they’re a little disappointed to find out that I don’t actually read erotic romance for fun. I tend to like speculative fiction, particularly apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic stories, and Stephen King is my all-time favorite author. So keep that in mind when you check out my top five favorite books I read last year. They’re listed in the order I read them.

The Best Books I Read in 2014:

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

In this coming-of-age YA story, Austin and his best friend Robby accidentally unleash an unstoppable insect army on an unsuspecting midwest town. To complicate matters, Austin loves his girlfriend but might also be attracted to Robby, who is openly gay. The humor and heart in this story kept me turning pages to see how it ended. I loved every minute of it.

The Troop by Nick Cutter

An excellent horror story about a scouting troop isolated on an island whose members become exposed to a man-made toxin. One of the reviews quoted on the back cover calls it Lord of the Flies meets 28 Days Later. I really enjoyed it a lot, and it reminded me of old school Stephen King. If you like and stories about biological weapons and nightmarish creatures and the disturbing things people do when cornered, pick this up. You won’t be disappointed.

Brilliance by Marcus Sakey

Set in a near future where a small segment of the population, called brilliants, are born with superhuman talents and regulated by the government, this book is the beginning of a trilogy about one such man, Nick Cooper, who works for a secret agency to curb brilliant terrorist activity. But when he goes undercover to draw out the mastermind behind recent attacks, he finds himself questioning which side he’s really on. The writing is tight and the plotting superb. If you love the X-Men, you will love love LOVE this story.

The Passage by Justin Cronin

This is a well-written story that starts off really slow. And by slow, I mean I didn’t get into it until around page 270, after the world as we know it crumbled away and the post-apocalyptic wasteland storyline started up. But I’m so glad I hung in there. The US government created a biological weapon to create the perfect soldier, effectively turning former convicts into vampires, who then destroyed most of civilization. A hundred years later, the survivors must find a way to destroy the original virals (the convicts) and hopefully restore peace to the world.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Reviewers call this an adult Harry Potter, but it’s more of a cross between that and The Chronicles of Narnia. I was prepared to write it off as derivative and thought I’d hate it, but I was sucked it from the first paragraph and couldn’t put it down. The story follows Quentin, a high school student (in the beginning) who’s always dreamed of a better life in a fictional world called Fillory, which he read about in a series of childhood books. At 17, he’s super smart and super bored, and resigned to a depressed existence when he’s invited to take a test at Brakebills, a school for magicians in upstate New York. It sounds like Harry Potter, I know, but I assure you, it isn’t.

New Year’s and a new tax

So it’s a new year, and time to make new resolutions I’ll promptly break in a few days’ time. But for now, let’s pretend I’ll update this blog on a regular basis, shall we?

When I posted on Christmas for advice on what to write about here, I had the best of intentions to actually follow through with sitting down and writing about my daily minutiae that I’m sure no one really cares to read about. But then I found out about the new European Union Value Added Tax (VAT) laws that went into effect with the new year and I had to scramble to find a way to make my JMS Books website compliant.

Sure, they probably announced the changes months ago, but why would I bother paying attention to something that happens in Europe? I’m sure I wasn’t the only American small business owner caught off-guard. And, like most of them, my first reaction was why should I even worry about it? I mean, seriously? How could a European country enact a law they hope to enforce on U.S. soil? I sell online. The internet is full of illegal shit.

Then I thought well no, that isn’t fair. I want to be a law-abiding company, and I work with a lot of European authors, who may decide not to continue publishing with me if I don’t take the laws of their countries seriously. But I didn’t see myself registering to pay taxes in 28 different countries, particularly as that would mean coding my site to calculate and collect the taxes accurately, filling out quarterly reports, and filing them in a timely manner.

It was this last I really knew I’d never be able to do. I mean, sure, I could probably find a plugin to help me with the coding, because my site runs on Zen Cart and they have an awesome support forum. But I already collect sales tax for the state of Virginia, and at least twice a year I have to pay a $10 penalty because I forget to file the damn sales tax reports. What makes it worse is when I have to pay the penalty on the quarters when I don’t even have to pay tax, simply because some dumbass (read: me) forgot to file. So I already know I’d be paying penalties in all 28 EU countries for the same reason.

Plus, and here’s the kicker, most of our sales don’t come through my site. They come from distributors like Amazon or Smashwords or ARe. Who will be collecting VAT on their own, so I don’t have to worry about it. I would estimate that the total VAT I would have to pay on an annual basis would be much less than whatever penalties I’d be hit with for forgetting to file the reports.

So, what to do?

Well, apparently the issue lies in what I sell, which are e-books. More specifically, digital downloads, which the European Union describes as a file purchased and downloaded automatically without human intervention. Therein lay the key to my salvation. If you can buy a book and download it immediately, it’s taxable. But if you buy it and someone has to physically attach the book to a message and e-mail it to you, then it isn’t.

Yes, this creates more work for me. But not a whole lot, because on average our site doesn’t get a large volume of orders (unless we’re having a sale, or it’s Sunday when our new books come out). I can keep selling to my customers in the European Union without having to tax them up the wazoo (or incurring penalties for not paying said tax promptly), and the bulk of our sales through our larger distributors will still be taxed, since Amazon et al. are handling that on their end.

And really this is a long-winded way of saying I’ve spent most of this week fiddling with my website bookstore to make it compliant with the new EU VAT law and really, really need to get back to working on my current story because it’s a new year and the holiday’s over.