Five Ways to Get Free (Or Nearly Free) Books

There are lots of places to get free books. As voracious of a reader as I am, only a couple of these had hit my radar before I started writing my own books.

1.       Kindle Unlimited. For a small fee, you can read as many books as are listed on KU as you wish. If you are a “whale reader,” this is a good option. I read about 3-4 books a week, and would probably save myself about $20 a month if I did this.

2.       Local Library. If you have a kindle, you can download both books (and audio books) from the library, as well as just walking in and borrowing books. You can put yourself on a waiting list too.

3.       Email book lists. This was one I had no idea existed. To promote books, authors will pay money to get their book onto one of these lists on a specific day. The cost to the author ranges anywhere from $750 to $20, depending on the list. The cost to you, the reader? NOTHING to get the list, and most of the books that are on the list are either free, or just 99 cents. You can also specify the genres you are interested in and only get recommendations in those. I like Book Bub and Fussy Librarian. Book Doggy is pretty good, too. If you poke around, you can join things like “Voracious Readers,” where you pay a small fee to read free books in genres you like, and in return, you write a review in GoodReads or Amazon.

4.       Join an author newsletter. Depending on the author, you’ll get a pretty well-written missive once or twice a month, and they will often have a book fair link on it, that will in turn guide you to MORE free or nearly free books to take a look at. They are delivered via a service (I use Bookfunnel) that I PROMISE is not a scam thing. You just click on the book, and they will email you the ePub. Then you just forward that to your Amazon Kindle account (or Kobo, or whatever you have) and presto-chango, that book will appear on your electronic reading device. There are easy directions to follow the first few times until you get the hang of it. You can join mine (AND GET A FREE BOOK TOO!) by clicking here:

5.       Become an ARC reader for an author you like. ARC stands for Advance Reader Copy, which is sent out before a book is published. It is HOPED that you will write a quick review (honestly, we do not need to be a book report. Two or three sentences are perfectly acceptable, and SUPER HELPFUL.) You can find these via author websites or their newsletters.

Some of these options will ask you to fill in your email in return for the free book. This is not a bad thing, I promise. Authors just want to keep you informed of what they have going on, and often their newsletters will contain links to get even more free books. If you ever decide the author is sending you too many emails, or your vibe no longer fits their offerings, just unsubscribe. Please don’t mark the mailer as Spam, though. We get dinged by our mail providers when that happens, and the rest of the 1,687 people on the mailing list may not get deliverability. Just unsubscribe. I promise, we writers won’t take it poorly if you do. Here is a bookfair I am part of so you can practice… and with this one you can win prizes too.

Another thing—I just had this happen, and it ruined my entire day. People read an entire book, and then return it. Amazon lets them do this. It’s AWFUL to wake up to a deficit on your royalty payments. It’s one thing if you mistakenly ordered a book and want to return it. It’s a whole other really shitty thing to read the book and then (thinking ha, ha, ha, Ima gonna pull one over on the ‘Zon) return it. Amazon isn’t getting dinged. The authors are. I pay a restock fee as well as getting my $1.30 royalty, or whatever it was, taken away. I guess this whole thing started with a viral TikTok, where it was “cool” to do this, and that no one got hurt. Well, authors do. Don’t be shitty. I get being thrifty, but as I outlined above, there are lots of ways to get free books that don’t include shafting the writers. Jeez.

On Preparing to Travel

At long last, a postponed trip to Greece is here. The last throes of planning, list-making, and researching are done. I have tickets for everything I need to have tickets for. I’ve made a copy of my passport, left itineraries for my loved ones, just in case. I even got travel insurance.

I’m travelling to a brand-new place for me, Greece, specifically the island of Crete. I’ll be doing some touristy, sight-seeing things like taking a Cretan cooking class and going to visit the Palace of Knossos, and visiting a Hammam. I’m also (this will sound antithetical) gearing myself up to slow way down. I’ll be turning off my social media, disengaging from my life here in the States. I’m genuinely sorry I will miss a couple of weeks of celebrating your birthdays on Facebook.

I’m a fairly relaxed traveler these days. While I like to do a lot of advance planning (as in, I started using Duolingo to learn Greek a couple of years ago, and I love staring at maps and bus schedules), over the years my desire for a don’t-miss-anything trip has vanished. I’m looking forward to simply wandering the streets of the ancient cities of Chania, Rethymno, and Heraklion. To staying in a stone house built into the side of a fortress and a 15th century Venetian palazzo turned into a hotel.

Old places resonate with me. There’s something about touching stones laid by people hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of years ago. Seeing art created by artisans long turned to dust, but what they made, how they saw the world, is still here. It makes me misty. I’m looking forward to wandering twisty streets that evolved from animal trails, poking my head into odd shops, having a beverage in a tiny tavern, or trying a new dish.

The other non-touristy part of this trip will be ultra-active. My friends and I are travelling to the south of the island, to a tiny village called Loutro. It’s only accessible via ferry or walking. No cars. Cash only, too, no ATMs. Side note: I got my Euros, which are different colors and sizes for different denominations. I wish American money was like this.

During the second week, my friends and I will join with some other folks to do a SwimTrek trip. We’ll be swimming in the Mediterranean sea daily, around 2-4 miles a day. There will be boats if we get tired, or just don’t feel like swimming further, so still a vacation, not an Olympic event. There will be villages to explore, castles to climb to, and walks along the coast. The village we are staying in is right on the E4, the long hiking route that traverses Europe. It’s also near where Paul washed ashore in the 1st century as he travelled the known world spreading the gospel. We’ll be swimming off of that beach.

It will be quiet. I will be in my own little room overlooking the sea. There will be coffee, and I will keep a travel journal. This is my idea of heaven.

To prep for the trip, I’ve been swimming, of course. I am a pretty strong swimmer, kind of metronomic as in once I start up, I just sort of… keep going at a measured pace. It’s a different kind of swimming in the ocean. You’re more buoyant, which is nice, but no walls to turn off of, no convenient straight line to follow beneath you. Waves and sea creatures will keep it interesting. I haven’t been able to practice those things. No open water swimming here in Texas that I’ve taken advantage of… there are alligators in all the lakes here, and ehhh… I’d frankly rather swim with sharks, not that there are very many of those where we will be.

I’ve also been walking and laying out, so I have a nice base tan. I know, I’m so old school about that. At least I wasn’t laying out with baby oil, a foil reflector, and my Tab cola sitting next to me. I’ll use reef-safe sunscreen during the swims, and wear a hat, I promise.

As always, I am waiting until the last few hours to pack. I’ve made a list though. I’m going carry-on, and if anything is forgotten, you can just pop into one of those shops and purchase it. My kindle is loaded up, although I am giving hard consideration to toting a hefty paperback (IQ84) as well, just in case it craps out. My sons have assured me I can just use my phone, no real need to get a Greek sim card, and instructed me where to turn roaming on and off so I don’t get a surprise bill later.

I’ve also pre-loaded next week’s blog, in keeping with my promise of writing one a week for at least a year, and I got out a short story to a dark mermaid anthology I’m hoping to be part of. Book 5 of the Darkwood series is still in progress. I’d wanted to have the first draft done before leaving, but didn’t quite make it. It will still be done before the end of the year, I promise.

For now, Kalispera!

On Interviewing a Broadway Performer

In my capacity as a theatre critic for John Garcia’s THE COLUMN here in Dallas, I see one or two shows a month. Most are regional or community theatre shows. Occasionally, I’ll do a review of a touring company coming through town. It’s a gig I enjoy.

Of course, during Covid, there was no theatre to cover. Then I had two shows of my own to direct for local companies. It’s really just in the past two months that I’ve been getting back to doing this job that allows me to be of service to my theatrical friends and the audiences who may (or may not) want to go see a show.

This past week brought a new addition to my normal duties. Garland Civic Theatre is doing a little-known musical. It’s called “Carnival,” and really only one song from it, “Love Makes the World Go ‘Round” is readily identifiable, even for stage musical aficionados. It opened on Broadway in 1961 to great acclaim, helmed by Gower Champion, who had directed “Bye Bye Birdie” and went on to direct “Hello Dolly” and “42nd Street.” More about that last show (which ran for nine years on Broadway) in a bit. “Carnival” is a musical adaptation of the movie “Lili.” It tells the story of an orphan girl who ends up in a tatty travelling carnival. Her only friends are some puppets, but behind the puppets is a broken man who needs desperately to be loved. It is part big-show, big-number musical, part dark contemplation of not knowing who you are, or how to make it into the next day. I would hope it would get done more, as it’s not your normal fare. Dramaturg alert!

One of the original cast members from the Broadway show ended up being a prolific director of musicals here in the DFW area. His name is Buff Shurr, and he just turned 95 years old. He was in the original 1961 Broadway production, first as a Roustabout and dance captain, and later on tour as Marco the Magnificent, alongside Jerry Orbach at the Schubert Theatre in Chicago. He was being honored on the opening night of this performance.

I had an opportunity to speak with him (and his charming and interesting wife, Janiz, who also worked on Broadway in the specialized capacity of doctor for theatre folks) for a few minutes prior to the curtain going up. He told me a few good stories about working with the original Broadway director of the show, Gower Champion, who regularly enjoyed a glass of milk with an egg in it for his breakfast. He evidently also smoked all the time, which didn’t end up going well for him. Mr. Shurr stated that Champion’s gift was that “He had a sixth sense of physicality. He knew how to group his actors, and to give you interesting rhythms.” Mr. Shurr then demonstrated the syncopated clapping and stomping of one of those dance moves, his whole body engaged, his face alight.

We got to talking about Broadway, and his career path. He told me, “I made one mistake—we all make mistakes, don’t we? Mine was that Gower liked working with me and asked me to come be his assistant on his next Broadway musical which was going to be based on a little Thornton Wilder farce called ‘The Matchmaker.’” Mr. Shurr turned him down to continue to choreograph Industrial shows, which produced a good income. “It was a mistake, that’s for sure,” Mr. Shurr continued. “That musical was ‘Hello Dolly.’”

He had to go meet his admirers who were gathering in the theatre lobby. He’d brought the hat he wore as the lothario Marco the Magnificent to the show, and charmed everyone when he put it on his head and struck a dashing pose. Still a performer.

That was when I took a few minutes to speak with Janiz. She told me she’d been called to be backstage on opening night of “42nd Street” in 1980 by the producer, David Merrick. “He told me just to stand in the wings and have my bag at the ready.” During the enthusiastic curtain calls, Merrick went onstage and announced that Champion had died that morning, not living to see his greatest hit onstage. Merrick had kept the news from the entire cast and crew and had asked the family to keep it a secret as well. Janiz told me it was gut-wrenching, that nearly everyone in the theatre started weeping and that one of the cast members collapsed from the shock. I actually remember hearing about his death while I was at Northwestern, studying theatre. It was striking to be standing next to someone who’d been there that night.

Let me tell you this—later, during the course of the show, there is a fun number, “Sword, Rose, and Cape.” In it, the dancers mimicked the clapping/stomping rhythms that Mr. Shurr had showed to me. I got chills. How wonderful that the continuation of some of Champions’ choreography continued into this production, which Mr. Shurr consulted on.

I wish I’d have had longer to speak with them both. There’s something about hearing that kind of history from someone who was standing on the boards in that space and time that is irreplaceable. Oral tradition is powerful for a reason. Speaking with both of these Broadway veterans gave me goosebumps, as well as a sense of continuity. I felt connected to the talented performers they were recalling who’ve slipped off this mortal coil. Yet here we are, still blessed by their work all these years later.

So to all of you singers, dancers, and performers upon the stage… please keep doing what you’re doing. Our world needs it.

On “The Wrath of Khan” and “The Search for Spock”

Over the past year or so, my husband and I have been taking advantage of seeing old movies on the big screen, hosted by TMC and Ben Mankiewicz. Usually they are classics, like “The African Queen.” Or musicals that are a delight on the big screen, such as “An American in Paris.” We recently saw “Cabaret,” which is still a stunner. I believe next month it’s “In the Heat of the Night,” with Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger tearing up the screen. There are also anecdotes before and after.

The 40th anniversary director’s cut of “The Wrath of Khan” was like putting on a pair of cozy fuzzy socks and sweatpants for me. I started smiling the moment the excellent James Horner soundtrack began, and the theatre darkened. More about the movie in a moment.

 I got to work for a few years within the Star Trek universe on both Voyager and Deep Space Nine as a writer’s assistant. The adventure and honor of it was not lost on me, I promise you. I also met a friend for life in the process*, so double good things came from it.

The original Star Trek series, along with “Wild Wild West” are among the very first television shows I remember watching on our little black and white television when I was five or six years old. The way the characters related to each other, had adventures, and told stories has stuck with me for a lifetime. Remember when Capt. James West had his hands handcuffed behind his back, and then jumped over them to get free? The actor loved doing stunts, so they got him to do all sorts of crazy escapes. Curious to know how many remember that exact moment. The show pioneered the steampunk genre. We will not speak of the terrible movie remake.

I always related to the sidekicks. Mr. Spock, Artemis Gordon, Chekov and Mr. Scott were among my favorites. I got to meet James Doohan once. He was a delightful man, charming as could be. I think I almost fainted. In later years, I watched “In Search Of,” just so I could see more Leonard Nimoy. I always wanted to be a Vulcan.

That “The Wrath of Kahn” got made at all is a miracle. The first movie was dreadful, there’s no denying it. Thankfully, it’s also quite forgettable. Among Trek fans, it has a similar reputation to Season Eight of the Show That Shall Not Be Named (dracarys). Now that said, I’m glad the first movie existed. At one point, I was gifted a silk jacket that belonged to the special effects crew of that movie. Possessing anything Star Trek is cool to me. It got burned up in The Fire.

The movie holds up pretty well, even at 40 years old. The gravitas and pure spite Ricardo Montalban embodies as Khan holds the whole thing together, and extra points for bringing an old episode from the original series to the fore. He stops just this side of chewing scenery and is utterly mesmerizing. I love his final lines quoting Captain Ahab. “From hell’s heart, I stab at thee. For hate’s sake, I spit my last breath at thee.” He really sells it. Side note: I had to laugh when I learned that most of his crew were working Chippendale dancers at the time of the shoot. They had to cast them to keep up with Ricardo’s I-do-a-lot-of-pushups chest.

 I still squirmed when the bug thing was put in Chekov’s ear. It’s a memorable moment. The interplay between the main characters is a little strained, the dialogue a little too on-point for parts of it. True to 40-year-old movie making, the pauses are excruciatingly long, and well, special effects were still in their infancy. However, the “I have been, and always shall be, your friend” scene STILL makes me cry, although I know what happens later. I remember seeing this thing when it came out in the theatres and SOBBING, and then Mr. Scot piping “Amazing Grace” as the pod is jettisoned into space…. Oy.

As we came out of the theatre, I realized I just HAD to see “The Search for Spock” right away. My husband indulged me. This one also held up. Made only a couple years later, in 1984, and kind of on the cheap compared to the other movies, you can see the jumps forward in technology and creating special effects. DeForest Kelley finally gets his moment in the sun as an almost-main character and has some very fun moments as Spock takes over his body. Leonard Nimoy directed it and did a good job. You know he knows his audience. This one doesn’t make me cry, although Spock’s last line, “Jim. Your name is Jim,” got me. I also love that they got Dame Judith Anderson to step in and use her incredible voice. Good casting.

This one also has the benefit of an unrecognizable John Larroquette as Maltz, a Klingon second in command, and Christopher Lloyd (Doc in “Back to the Future”) as the main evil Klingon. He looks like he had a great time with it, shouting his Klingon lines with a zesty fury. It has a quick appearance of Tribbles, too. You really can’t go wrong with that.

All in all, a nice double feature.

*Looking at you, Sandra Sena.