Wanna read books for free? Here’s how.

For those of you who are avid readers, you might want to investigate a service called NetGalley. I have been using them for seven years and have read hundreds of books for free. The only catch? I have to read them on my Kindle (or Nook or equivalent device) and then write a short review that I then post to Amazon, B&N, Goodreads, and other bookselling websites.

It is a terrific service which publishes the pre-publication versions of books, which used to be called galleys back in the days of Gutenberg, to a select audience of what they call “professional readers.” These versions often have small editing mistakes but are otherwise close to the actual text that you will see in the finished book.

The workflow is as follows. Once you join the service, you will get weekly notifications in your email about upcoming new books. Sometimes there is a short description, and you can click on that and get a longer one that will give you an idea if you are interested in reading the book. The service is used by both new authors and established ones alike, and there are tens of thousands of readers and authors using the service. Some books are immediately available for download; some will require the publisher to approve your request. Sometimes I get turned down, but usually within a day or so I have a new book waiting for me in my NetGalley account. I then send the digital file to my Kindle reader, and within minutes I can be reading a new book. Pretty neat, this whole internet thing, right?

I would say over the past several years I go through phases where I read more books on my Kindle than in print, and then the reverse. Given that bookstores have been mostly closed for browsing under the pandemic, I have gone back to using my Kindle more.

The NetGalley service keeps track of when the book is actually available for sale on the book ecommerce sites and sends you a tickler so you can post your review accordingly. That appeals to me, because I like to be in the first batch of folks posting my review.

There is a wide range of books available on the service, and this also includes audiobooks as well as the traditional printed text. You can set your subject matter preferences and other parameters for your account. If you don’t want to wait for the weekly notifications, you can browse for new titles at any time.

If you really like a book and want to get to interview the author, NetGalley will help facilitate that relationship. They also make it very easy to take your review and get it put on the bookselling sites with a couple of clicks.

As I said, the service is free for readers. They make their money from publishers (and self-published authors) who pay a fee to post their galleys on the service for a specific time period. The fees vary from a single book for $450 for six months to discounts for multiple books for publishing houses or members of various publishing associations.

I will be giving a seminar on NetGalley in September for the St. Louis Publishers Association. Email me if you are interested in seeing this presentation.

book review: Make it, don’t fake it (Sabrina Horn)

I’ve know Horn and worked with many of her staff for decades, since I am a freelance journalist that has written about many of her B2B enterprise technology clients.  Reading her book Make it, Don’t Fake It was part trip down memory lane, part catching up on key moments of tech history, and part appreciating her advice.

I think like many business books, the first half is strong and full of creative and great suggestions on how to become more authentic and more honest as a business leader. For example, she writes early on in the book “when you are first starting out, doing and being anything to win business is tempting and also dangerous.” I liked that she poses the question, ”Am I ready to become a business founder?” and that you need to carefully consider the exact role that you want to play in your company. She takes you through a process to disarm your fears and minimize the risk of starting your business with a series of exercises that are well worth studying. But you need the practice and the patience to do the work – if you didn’t think similar items in “What Color is Your Parachute” were for you, then this book’s advice is wasted.

Horn also gives an analysis of the common traits in the best and worst employees she has hired over the decades, something that I as a manager can relate to. For example, people who could do things that she couldn’t, and respected my authority as a boss. (I once had an employee who refused to acknowledge that simple fact, and while he was very smart, he was impossible to manage.)

Ultimately, the “hardest thing about building a great brand is keeping it that way,” and she goes on to suggest ways to investigate initiatives for both business expansion and contraction while listening to your customers and your staff carefully. And running a postmortem exercise after every time you make a big mistake or fail to get some important client.

Horn comes down on the tech bro culture, but she could have strengthened and sharpened her analysis and made it more relevant, especially in this hyper-woke world where culture can be tricky to navigate. And as this tweet proves,  “online a lot of people benefit from appearing to be friends so that they can push their brand. I don’t have it in me to be fake and play those kinds of games.” There are many dimensions to being authentic, indeed.

Book review: A Dark and Secret Place

The copycat serial killer on the loose is a common plot point, but this horror/thriller takes things a step further. Some of the steps I can’t reveal without spoilers but let’s just say this novel has some very strange stuff going on and it plumbs the depths of psychosis of several of its characters. The POV is from the daughter who has found out her mother killed herself, and she tries to figure out what happened. The two were never very close, and the death brings out many life moments that were swept under the rug and placed into dark reaches of her memories. While I am not a big horror genre reader this book worked for me as a pure thriller and mystery. The characters ring true and of course the bodies begin to pile up as the copycat killer continues to strike. Highly recommended.

Book review: Chasing the Lion

54860446The workings of a counter-terrorism elite strike force are at center stage in this thriller. The team is threatened by a clever adversary who is taking advantage of the inauguration of a new president just days away. If this sounds like a story that is ripped from current events, it has plenty of realistic passages as the team struggles to figure out what is the exact nature of a threat that combines chemical weapons with potentially mind-altering drugs that could be dispersed across the Washington Mall the day of the inauguration. If you are a Clancy fan you will like the explanations of the military hardware and weaponry but there is a lot of spycraft to keep you entertained too.

Book review: You will remember me


This thriller is an excellent study of what happens when trust goes out the window between a couple. The phrase what you don’t know could possibly kill you comes to mind, but I don’t want to give away any plot points. Let’s just say that when a boyfriend goes missing meme is well thought out and isn’t as much of a trope as you might think. You see the novel from the perspective of the boyfriend, his girlfriend, and his stepsister, all of which have something to hide about their dark pasts. Granted, they all have their justifications about keeping the truth from the others in this novel, and as the book evolves you get to see these reasons and make some judgements about them. I found the novel a fascinating character study and well worth your reading time, and made me think about whether we really ever know anyone that we love or spend time with. And you will remember the plot of this book for some time too.

Book review: Just Get Home

This novel about one night in LA post-quake reminds me of the movie Magnolia where we follow several characters as they try to deal with their lives and another disaster over the course of a single day. One young mother is out on the town with her friends, her young child left at home with a sitter. Another teen girl has been raped by some thugs,. Both are trying to get home and suffer various adventures along the way, eventually joining up in their travels that involve spending the night in Griffith Park. Having lived in LA for several years, I found the situations interesting and captivating, and the characters are strongly drawn and compelling. How the two relate to each other from different backgrounds — the older woman lives in Van Nuys where the other says, “people with money don’t live in Van Nuys” is also a major sub-plot. I highly recommend this book.

Book review: Tell No Lies

An innocent hike starts out this mystery by Allison Brennan where a women is unexpectedly killed, somewhere in the southern desert near Patagonia AZ. Soon an entire FBI field team is investigating her apparent murder, and before long we learn to respect this undercover motley group that includes agents posing as bartenders, factory workers, and others that are brought in to solve the case. What I liked about this novel was the very realistic treatment — or so I imagined — about how the team works together, including a love affair between team members that isn’t entirely kosher. There are lots of bodies as the book progresses, and lots of bruised egos to, some deservedly so. While Patagonia is a real town, the rest of the book is the author’s responsibility and she pulls it off quite nicely. Highly recommended.

Book review: The Jigsaw Man

Detective Inspector Anjelica Henley has a problem. A new series of copycat murders have happened that mimic a perp whom she put behind bars previously. She is also in love with one of her bosses at her police unit, to the concern of her husband. After fending off an attack by the perp, she returns to duty to deal with the copycat killer. The bodies start to pile up and her husband wants her to quit the force. “I want the job and I want my family. It just seems like I can’t have both at the moment,” she says at one point. Their marital conflict drives some of the more interesting plot points as Henley zeros in on the killer.

It is a classic situation but artfully told with some great characters and plot points. Even though I am not very familiar with the London locales the story still kept me engaged until the end. For thriller fans I would highly recommend this book written by Nadine Matheson.

Book review: Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers

The characters in this novel are smitten with love and don’t know how to process their feelings, thanks to a number of missteps throughout their childhood. The cast are mostly black or brown lesbians, which adds a nice dimension to those of us who would like to read novels of these characters. I found myself immediately warming to the opening premise: two women vacationing in Vegas get drunk and then married despite having just met. And while the situation could easily have degraded into a bad “Hangover” spin-off, the book remains true to their characters and brings us deeply into their world. The couple is an interesting pair: a recently minted astronomy PhD and a radio talk show host who reminded me of Allison Steele of my youthful days listening to WNEW-FM. The book will challenge you to think about love and loss and conflict and reconciliation, and I highly recommend it. You can buy Honey Girl here.

Book review: Tom Clancy’s Net Force Attack Protocol

This is the latest in a series of books written by others, in this case by Jerome Preisler. I had high hopes for this book, which is part of a series  about a new cybersecurity-enhanced Seal Team type of military commandos. This shows how good an author Clancy is, and how Preisler is just a pale imitation. Like the “Rocky” movie sequels, the book picks up where previous books end, so you really can’t realize your full value if you read it as a standalone volume. And it just ends at some random plot point, without really resolving many of the characters’ situations. Like Clancy, it is filled with jargon, weaponry, mil-speak, and plenty of explosions and gun play. Unlike Clancy, none of this really makes much sense or is essential to moving the plot along, or even mildly interesting. As someone who works in cybersecurity, I thought its treatment of the IT issues were just juvenile and superficial and didn’t draw me into the narrative or characters. Plus, the actual advanced cybersec defenders are less dependent on those macho things that shoot bullets and more on using their brains and computer skills.  If you are hungry for more Clancy, pick up one of his old classics like “Red October.” Or if you want to read a series that has much better character and plot development how an actual cybersec team works, check out this series.  In either case, you should give this Protocol a pass.

Buy the book from Amazon here.