Reading eBooks for Free

In this day and age of technology developments, publishing a first novel isn’t as difficult or as involved a process as was pre-internet. In fact, I remember this one time, I was walking through a shopping mall and a new author was standing beside a stack of books approaching people as they walked past, asking if they liked mystery or suspense novels and then pitching them on his.  I remembered thinking that if that was the way I would have to sell a self-published book I would probably sell one copy to each of my family members (maybe), and that would be it. I’m a terrible salesperson, and talking to each person individually, trying to convince them to buy your book, in a small town, well, it would take a very, very long time for you to spread the word about your book. In the old, pre-internet, days, using traditional publishers was the only way to go.

The internet age has changed the self-publishing field. I self-published without even bothering to send my book out to professional publishers or agents for a few reasons — the primary one being that I’m no spring chicken and I wanted to see it in the hands of readers before I go senile.

However, being self-published means you are responsible for getting your book out there and into the hands of people who might appreciate it. So, I’ve done a ton of research into book marketing in the last few months and what I have happily discovered is that there are plenty of sites where you can offer your book for free and where you can read other people’s high quality published work for free or heavily discounted prices as well. The only caveate to this is that I am only talking about e-books.  While my own preference is for a hard copy of a book, I have become used to downloading works onto my phone — perfect for my 50 minute subway and bus ride to work — and lighter than a book in print!

So, here are a few of my favourite sites where you can find free or discounted ebooks.

Story Cartel: I often use this site to make my own book available to readers. In exchange for a free copy, readers are asked to review it on any site they please. As a writer, I appreciate having a platform for people outside my own personal sphere to be able to find and read my book. As a reader, I have downloaded many wonderful books (and some that are not quite my cup of tea), that I have happily read and reviewed.

Noise Trade: I’ve uploaded my book to this site, which anyone can access for free. There is lots of great content on this site for book AND music lovers. It is a great way to discover indie authors and bands. In exchange for the download, there is a suggested tip tray. Personally, I would rather get reviews than tips, but I get the feeling the site is more geared towards music than books.

Reader’s Favorite: A great site for finding tens of thousands of new books from new and established writers. Writers can submit their book to get one free review from one of their reviewers. Reviewers receive the book for free and you will most likely see your review attached to editorial reviews for an author’s book on Amazon. They also have monthly book giveaway contests that you can enter to win the book of your choice.

The Fussy Librarian: A great site that only suggests free and low-priced eBooks that have received an average of 3.5-5 stars. The review ranges become more forgiving as books have an increased number of reviews. Subscribe to their daily email and get targeted suggestions based on the criteria you fill out in the subscription form.

Riffle: A good site for both discussions and discounted ebooks. You can get all kinds of books for your e-reader or phone. Subscribe to their newsletter to get books to get notified of  free and discounted book deals on your preferred platform (Amazon, Google Play, iBooks, etc.).

BookBub: Another site with tons of high-quality books available at discounted prices. Subscribe based on personal preferences for suggestions sent to your inbox every day.

One final discovery — at first, I was limited to the selection of books I was receiving because I have an iPhone and many of the books that I was interested in reading were only available on Amazon. It took me awhile, but I finally realized that there was probably an app for Kindle on iPhone. Lo and behold there is! So now I have the choice of books for Kindle or iPhone.

These are just a few of the many sites out there with low-priced and free ebooks available.

If you have a favourite site, please suggest it in the comments section.


The Real Farm Shop




In A Vintage Year, Laura Walters yearns for running her own gourmet general store filled with local produce, meats, jams, jellies, preserves and nuts. She knows exactly what it will look like and where it will be positioned on the property, what they will sell and how wonderful it would be. Alas, her dreams are dashed about a quarter of the way the book, and she is truly crushed. While not quite as obsessed as Laura, I too had a dream for running a small, pretty little farm shop that carried local produce, etc.

Over the Christmas break, 1998-99, my husband and I were invited to a wedding outside of Sheffield, England. We took advantage of the kindness of friends and family, farmed out our two kids (the third not even a glimmer in our eyes at that point), and went on a much needed holiday to mid-England. We had a travel agent extraordinaire at the time – in the days when people used travel agents — who booked us into this lovely little B&B outside of Bakewell, close to where the wedding would be.

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On the property of Chatsworth, rear view of the Farm Shop?

When not attending the festivities or visiting with the bride and groom, we hiked through the Darbyshire Dales, enjoying the walks and the weather. On one of our walks, we discovered Chatsworth. While I had seen Pride and Prejudice on A&E a few years earlier, I didn’t know that Pemberly was actually Chatsworth — that is until we saw it. I recognized it immediately. We walked the grounds as I explained to my husband exactly what had transpired in the novel at Pemberly/Chatsworth….I think he might have tuned me out.

After the grounds, we drove around the vast estate and came upon the Chatsworth Farm Shop. I fell in love. I am an architecture buff at heart and this little farm shop was the cutest place I had ever seen. I wanted to live in the area just so I could visit it and buy my food from it every day. It stayed with me. I described it in the book the way I remember it, but memories change as did the Farm Shop. Old stone walls, blue door and shutters, waist-height windows flanking the entrance. From the website, it looks like it’s expanded somewhat.

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The grounds at Chatsworth

The Chatsworth Farm Shop stayed with me in my head and heart. I thought of opening my own in a small town outside the city…but I needed capital; oh and I’d have to uproot my family when my husband was the number one bread earner; oh, and I had no experience (but I do like to cook). So that didn’t happen.  Occasionally I’d pull out the old photo album and take a look at it and dream. And then I saw a way to finally use the place — I’d put it in a novel. In a way, I knew what Laura’s yearning for it was like, since I too, had yearned for it. My yearning, however, was not realistic and better belonged on paper.

If you ever get a chance to visit the Darbyshire Dales, Chatsworth is well worth a stop if you’re a history or architecture buff. The countryside is stunning, and the farm shop is wonderful.


Perfection is Boring: Harris Tucker 2.0

I admit I have been living with Harris Tucker, the main character of A Vintage Year for more than twenty years. Over the years, he has morphed into a far more realistic and interesting person. When I first created Harris he was a pro-golfer, not a pro-tennis player (because I played more golf than tennis in those days) and he was in a completely different story — an eco-thriller (Laura was there with him too). He had only one flaw — no sense of direction. He was kind, thoughtful and had done a business degree while playing on the golf team at Stanford. He spoke fluent Spanish and was respectful of everyone and every thing. He came from a loving family and had one sister. His family was a bunch of academics — his sister had a Ph.D. and his parents were professors at Carnegie-Mellon University. He was considered the black sheep of the family — the hugely successful and absolutely perfect black sheep. And, he was boring. Well, I don’t mean completely boring, but from a writer’s perspective he was.

Flawed characters are so much more fun to write. They get into all kinds of trouble. They create interesting circumstances on their own, and they show that they are human — just like the rest of us. When I first began writing Harris, I wanted him to be perfect because I thought that if he wasn’t, we couldn’t like him as a character. As I grew older (and more mature) I realized that the people I liked to read about, whether biographies or fiction, were flawed in various ways. And then I realized that I still liked them — or hated them or found them interesting. Once you accept that really flawed characters give you, the author, the broadest range of choice, you begin to see that the perfect “Knight in Shining Armour” character is like cardboard. They are predictable, there is no challenge they can’t overcome and they don’t reflect reality. Sometimes that’s okay, but I’m at a stage in my life where I don’t read or enjoy fairy tales anymore.  I need real (ish).

In my mind, Harris Tucker becomes a reluctant Mr. Darcy — perhaps the most perfect (slightly flawed) character of all time. It isn’t by choice that Harris does what he does. He has grown up and learned what it is like to accept responsibility and see it through. He is still relatively selfish and still has an ego, but along with it, he has drive and direction and loves others while being loved and accepted despite his flaws, and that is so much more satisfying than perfection.

What happens to professional athletes after they retire?

A few years ago friends of our went to a University of Notre Dame football game. They told us what they saw was a group of very young men, the football players, being treated like kings by their fans. We wondered what life for most of these kids would be like after they’d graduated, since most of them wouldn’t be playing professional football after university. We wondered if they’d miss that time in their lives, if they’d constantly revisit it in their minds, or if they’d be able to move on and be content with what they’d had.

Then I started wondering about how professional athletes handle retirement since so many of them retire in the 30s for physical reasons. We see that some adjust really well and go on to rewarding second careers in commentating, but not all of them can or want to do that.

John McEnroe is a great example. He was never one of my favourite tennis players, but as a commentator (which he’s now been doing longer than he was a professional tennis player), he is fantastic. He knows how to relate his own experience to those of the players and brings us along with him as he describes how they are probably feeling in the middle of a match.

To transition from being in the lime light, competing for trophies, receiving cheers (and boos) from the crowd, to being a commentator, the person who reports about the person on centre court, must have been difficult at first. Your ego must take a real beating. You realize that time has passed and you are no longer the centre of the universe, that your time is over. If however, you get past that and accept it, then you can transition on to other rewarding careers or activities…assuming you know what you want to do.

In Harris’ case, he had basically been in denial that his time in the lime light was over. He had never thought about what to do after tennis because his entire existence right up until the day he retired was about making it to the next round. His decision to retire was abrupt, even he didn’t know it was coming, but his body gave out on him. So he never really accepted that it was over.

Because he was only 32 when he retired he was still young, vibrant with tons of energy but nowhere near the centre of the universe. Harris feeds off crowds so when they aren’t focused on him he isn’t sure how to behave or what to do. He ended up doing pretty much nothing until he’d successfully whittled his bank account down to almost nothing. At least, not enough to live in the style to which he has become accustomed for the rest of his life.

The reason I started the story eight years after retirement was because I wanted to see what he would do when he was financially forced into a corner. Until that time, there isn’t a story to tell since he wandered aimlessly from party to party because he knew how to win tennis games and celebrate and that was about it.

Having no money left forces him to evaluate his life and what he wants to do with it. That’s also when the unpleasant side of his personality comes out. It’s also the most fun to write about!



Book Review: The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed AmericaThe Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a very well-written, incredibly researched book. I’m not so sure I see the connection between the psychopathic serial killer and the building of the White City. In my mind they are two very distinct stories that happen to take place at the same time. My preference was for the building of the World’s Fair — I found the information fascinating and suspenseful — if building a world’s fair could be suspenseful. I’m an architecture buff and have visited Chicago’s beautiful city several times, but never the site of the fair. Now I want to go back and do a tour of this site now that I’ve read the book. There are so many interesting facets to the building of the fair that I didn’t think it needed to be interrupted with the incredibly disturbing details of the serial killer. Why I hadn’t heard of him before I’m not really sure. By rights, he should be more famous than Jack the Ripper.
I’ve read the endnotes and Mr. Larson’s explanation of why he chose to blend the two stories — the lightness of the fair vs. the darkness of the murders, but since one is about an individual and the other is about civic coming together, I’m still not convinced they needed to be in the same book — granted, that’s just me. However, it was a good read and kept my attention through the entire book. I did like the way he wrote; you really felt as if you were there, watching the action unfold. It read like a story and definitely not like a dry history book.

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