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Sunday, 16 August 2015

It's Never Been a Better Time to Be a Reader - Kindle Part One

First let me start out by saying that I'm an absolutely voracious reader. I consume books at a very rapid rate, and I'm addicted to them. If I don't have at least one more book lined up for when I finish the one I'm currently reading, I feel very anxious. I need my fix. So, believe me when I tell you that if there are more free books out there than even I can keep up with (and they're in my favourite genres), I'm not blowing smoke. In fact, my phone is now completely overloaded with books waiting to be read. The vast majority of those books were completely free, and I downloaded them legally from Amazon.

So let me tell you how it works. No, it's not a gimmick of any kind where you have to jump through any hoops other than technological ones in the form of downloading the Kindle app and the books themselves. There are two websites out there that I will recommend that sends you daily e-mails about free or nearly-free books. They don't send you anything else. No spam at all. One is called Sweet Free Books, and the other is BookBub. The other thing you'll need is an Amazon account. Just do their free sign-up thing if you don't already have an account.

Both mailing lists ask you for your genre preferences, and that's what they send you for recommendations, which include the Amazon link for getting the books you choose at that price. Now sometimes these deals go fast, but usually I can try the next day and they're still there - some last much longer.

This works whether you have a physical Kindle or not. If you have a smartphone or a computer, you can read Kindle books. They have a downloadable app for iOS, Android and BlackBerry. They even have it for Windows phones. They also have the app for your Windows PC, and possibly others. Just go to this link for the various apps. They can send it direct to your phone or e-mail you a link.

Personally, I didn't like reading on my laptop. Reading on my phone, however, is a totally different story. You can change the font size, type and colour, it's convenient, and you can carry dozens of books around with it - potentially thousands, depending on your phone's memory capacity. You can also move the Kindle app to your replaceable memory card, so you have a lot of storage capability for books. It is so much more convenient (and lighter) than carting your current books around, and then your next one just in case you finish the one you're already reading.

The other thing people need to know about, is that you can look at books by genre and sort by price on Amazon, and you're going to find hundreds of free books available to you at any given moment. This is where I've managed to increase my collection so quickly. One or two books a day is great, and probably more than I'm going to be able to read, but I'm a total hoarder when it comes to reading material.

One more area to scavenge for free reading material are places that store out-of-copyright, or public domain books. After a certain number of years books lose their copyright status. It's usually somewhere between fifty and a hundred years after the death of the author, depending on which country you live in (and I believe it's the reader's country of origin, not the author's, but I could be wrong). So, if you've been looking to catch up on the classics, those are great places to start. Project Gutenberg has a huge collection. Google Books is doing some sort of online indexing now, too, but I haven't ventured into that except when researching specific topics and I haven't downloaded anything. Keep in mind that the major databases have books in multiple formats, so if you have a Kindle app you're looking for the mobi format. Sony has a reader, as does Nook, and Kobo, etc., so make sure you pick the right file format.

However, if you're looking for a book on one of those sites and it's not available in mobi, you can download what they do have and convert it very easily using I use this site for so many different things, and I have for years. The conversion works perfectly as far as I can tell. The link I've provided is for converting everything from Word documents to PDFs to LIT into mobi files. They also have audio and video converters on there, so it's a really helpful website for pretty much anyone. I used to use the Microsoft reader, so I've got tons of books I've had to convert from LIT to mobi.

Let me reassure you once again that everything I've told you here is legal. These are books that are either out of copyright, or the authors have chosen to give the Kindle versions of their books away. Now this is the only part of the whole thing that you might be able to call a ploy. The reason authors give away their books is because they're hoping you'll love their work and want to buy the rest of them. Now for those of us who love books, paying for a book isn't a hardship if we can afford it. We want to support the authors, because we want them to keep writing, and a good book is well worth its price. This works especially well when an author has written a series, and at the end of the first book, which they've given away free, there's a link not only to rate the book, but also to purchase the next book(s) in the series.

I'm perfectly okay with that. In fact, it makes things really convenient for me if I love what I'm reading. In most cases the subsequent books are also very reasonably priced. Indie authors are doing this all the time, and they can afford to when they publish with Kindle. Amazon gives authors great royalty percentages on their books, unlike traditional publishers where authors will often make only a dime or so per book sold. Kindle authors can sell a book for under a dollar, and still make five times as much on it as they would have with a traditional publisher. They're cutting out the biggest middle man. Amazon would be there anyway at the end of the retail chain, but suddenly the reader is no longer paying the bloated salaries of publishers that don't really do much to help their authors anyway.

"Yeah, but are the books any good?" I can hear that question a thousand miles away. There is an absolute plethora of amazing authors out there, publishing independently. I have friends who have written great books, like the Time Change series written by +Alex Myers. They're great books, fast-paced, fascinating, and with a ton of research put into them. No, I'm not saying those are free. I got copies of them so I could review the first one, and he was kind enough to send me a couple more of his books because I was so thrilled with the first one I read. I'll be re-reading the first two Time Change books shortly, because I plan to buy the third one.

That's the magic of being a reader (or a writer, which I'll get into in the second part of this blog when I write it), in this 'day and age' as they say. There's a connection between reader and author unlike anything that's come before. Indie authors are approachable usually. Often they're looking for feedback on their work. I read a book recently that was a really great story, but badly needed editing, so I e-mailed the author. I explained that I'd given him four stars on Amazon, and my reasons for not giving him five. Seriously, though, if you do that please be kind. Authors can be very sensitive. A story or book can be like one of our offspring, and we want everyone else to love it, too. Make any criticism constructive. I try to be very careful about what I say, and how I say it, because if I like someone's work enough to want to go to the effort of critiquing it like that, I really want them to continue writing.

Thankfully the author I wrote to seemed to agree with what I'd said, and told me that I had given him new encouragement to finish the sequel. As I said, magic. He knows that there's a fan out there who likes his brainchild enough to help it grow up a little bit. And he'll be letting me know as soon as it's available so I can read it right away.

Of course, it's not just unknown or indie authors that are giving deals. I get quite a few that are New York Times Bestselling authors. Alice Hoffman, who wrote Practical Magic (yes, the one that became the movie with Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman), recently released a book that ended up on my e-mail list of deals. It's a great marketing tool. A few people get the book and start raving about it, and soon others are buying it at full price, or at least buying other books by the same author.

I've been reading a lot of dystopian, apocalyptic fiction lately. A fair bit of zombie stuff, along with a few aliens, and a disease or two wiping out most of the population. It's a pretty specific interest area, but as I said there's an absolute plethora of free books on Amazon. Barnes & Noble does the same thing, but at a smaller volume, so I haven't bothered with a membership with them. I don't need it.

One series I read recently (that started with a free book), was just wonderful. I don't know the author personally, though I might e-mail her just to beg her to write another book. Her name is Sarah Lyons Fleming, and the first book in the series is, "Until the End of the World." There are three novels in the series, and one novella. At first glance the title made me think it was going to be a romance. Sure, there are relationships in it, but the main theme in the books revolves around a zombie apocalypse caused by a virus developed by the army. The main character's parents were what are called 'preppers' who were of the homesteading type. They had backpacks ready to go at all times, a cabin with solar capabilities, canned food to last for years, you name it. Since I'm already personally interested in the topic, the stories were great from that perspective alone. On top of that, I fell in love with the characters. Important people die, and you actually care that they're gone.

As you can imagine, I posted a great review for all of the books, other than the novella which I just haven't gotten around to posting yet, except for giving it the five stars through my phone app.

The abundance of book is like a utopia for me, as I (ironically perhaps) read about dystopias. Those e-mails from BookBub and Sweet Free Books are ones that I eagerly anticipate each day, wondering what new literary treasure awaits me. Don't get me wrong. I have hundreds of actual books on my shelves. I prefer hardcover when it comes to reference material I keep for my research, or even oversize softcover. I need to be able to glance over at the page continuously sometimes, and my phone shutting off automatically would get annoying for that. However, it's just easier to relax with my phone for recreational reading, and outright reading of non-fiction.

If you're a reader (and I assume you are if you're even bothering to read this particular post), you'll be ecstatic if you delve into these waters. They're filled with wonderful stories, and every story that you read makes you a better person. Fiction teaches understanding and empathy in people, so if your kids have smartphones encourage them to read on them instead of spending hours on social media. There's nothing more important to the development of human beings than reading, and the freedom to read as we like. From the time I got so angry reading Fahrenheit 451 that I threw the book across the room when they started burning books in the story, I've fervently believed that reading was vital. I was a young kid doing a book report - fifth grade I believe, because I remember who my teacher was - yet, books were so important to me even then.

I never finished reading Bradbury's book, though I will someday, but my teacher didn't punish me or give me a bad grade. In fact, I wrote the report based on what I'd read so far, if I remember correctly, and then explained what happened to my teacher. She was actually rather impressed by my ferocious love of books, and I got a really good mark.

Escapism is necessary to a healthy psyche. It helps us cope when things are difficult, allowing us a release valve. Some forms of escapism are harmful, though, whereas reading is not. The more we read, the more we open our minds and hearts. The more people in this world who do that, the more likely humanity is to move forward, rather than petering out.

Now, turn on that device and get downloading! Happy reading everyone!!

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

My Latest Snuggle Buddy

I'm madly in love, I tell you. After months of aridity - more months than I care to count - I'm finally getting it again. Coffee that is. I finally got a new coffee maker, and the coffee to go in it, and I'm thrilled to death to be able to report that I had my first cup today. Wow, yum. That's all I can say. It's the perfect little doodad for me, too. Just look at the picture and you'll see what I mean. It does a cup at a time, which is all I can drink usually anyway. It came with a mug, scoop, and permanent filter. It's absolutely sublime. I'm sure the infatuation will fade eventually, but for now I will revel in newfound love.
My New Snuggle Buddy

Additionally I've had some other wonderful things happen lately, and maybe a not-so-wonderful wake-up call, or two. For starters, I'm working on this great project. It's a video about rape prevention, protection and recovery. As usual I'm working with my friend and business partner, +Steve Kovacs, who is really pushing this project. It says wonderful things about him that he feels this is so important. It's a multi-prong approach to dealing with rape. Not just for women, either. It's for parents who want to teach their boys not to rape, and their girls not to engage in victim-blaming. It's for anyone who wants to physically prevent being raped using techniques from a real expert (that would be Steve, since he's a 9th Dan Black Belt in Minna Jiu-Jitsu, and the soke of that style), and it's for anyone who wants to recover from rape.

So, in the spirit of having to be on film for certain segments of this project, I knuckled under and decided it was time to do the wild and crazy things I've been putting off. Such as dyeing my hair a crazy colour, growing my nails, wearing make-up, etc. I actually had to go out and buy make-up, because mine is long past any expiration date. The one thing I should have bought, and didn't, was mascara. That's the one you have to watch for when it comes to bacteria getting into your eyes. I think I've got a fairly recent one, however, so I'll take a chance. After all, the colour I get never really changes.

I wanted to get a haircut, too, but chose a six-pack of beer after a hard day's shopping, rather than walk several blocks to the hair place. I was already worn out, and hey, The Beer Store was right there (yes, it's actually called The Beer Store here in Ontario, Canada). I hadn't had beer in so long. Sadly, six beers were only enough to get me mildly tipsy, despite the fact that I rarely drink. I have a very high tolerance for alcohol for some reason. Probably the Irish and Scottish in me.

I chose Manic Panic's Hot Hot Pink for my new crazy colour. I'm not stripping it first, so it will come out sort of a raspberry colour I think, which really isn't extreme, but I'll get there eventually. I'm personally angling for bright purple, blue or green at some point, but I'll surf through all the colours at some point.

I was a little confounded and depressed by the whole make-up thing. I mean, even the regular, drug-store type stuff like Revlon is getting expensive. $17 for an ounce of a substance that's actually supposed to look invisible - also known as foundation. $70 later, and sans mascara or blush, we left the cosmetics department. Ugh. Still, it'll be fun to play dress-up.

I've finally managed to set up my shot appointment again, too, for those ultrasound-guided injections into my hips. Took weeks of calling, but I finally got bumped way ahead on the list. I already had an appointment for July 3rd, but they cancelled, so by rights they had to put me in ahead of the pack. Yesterday I saw my doctor for a physical for the first time in about 4 or 5 years, and went through the whole deal. I also got my tetanus shot, and all the bloodwork, plus a liver function test and a check on my B12 levels. I'll probably have to go back in once more to get my vial of B12, along with some needles, but if I have to go in there for the shots I'll never stay with them consistently. Other than that, assuming my results are relatively normal from the tests, I won't have to go back to my family doctor for years again, and I'm fully up-to-date on everything. Yeah, baby!

I've been put on Tylenol 3s, since I was taking far too many Tylenol 1s. This will save my liver a lot of aggravation, and hopefully I'll notice fewer issues with my blood sugar. She's also sending me for an x-ray and ultrasound on that knee I hurt in March. This was the first time a doctor has looked at it. I know, I'm terrible, but not being able to get down the stairs at the old place meant not getting to the ER when it would have made a difference. And then I procrastinated even though I knew something was still wrong with it.

There were two things from Friday and yesterday that I wasn't exactly thrilled with, but I maintain my positive attitude anyway. The first is that it looks like our 15-year-old cat has cancer, but she's still healthy and probably has a lot of life left. She goes back in a couple of weeks for a check-up and possible testing. I don't think surgery will be viable, since they would have to remove her mammary area pretty much completely, along with spaying her to get rid of the hormones. The vet said the tumours tend to come back pretty aggressively if they miss anything, though, and it's very hard to get it all. Plus she's not exactly a kitten anymore, so I'm not sure if we'll put her through surgery. We'll decide when the time comes. As I said, she's still acting completely normal, and the vet said she seems healthy and active, so we're not borrowing trouble.

The other item that wasn't great was my weight. I'm heavier than I've ever been in my life, and I can't fool myself into thinking it's muscle these days, so I need to get a lot more serious about that exercise plan I mentioned in my last post. If I average out what I've done since my birthday, I'd say I've been getting some pretty loose exercise a couple of times a week. It's not enough. I can still do sit-ups, touch my toes, and boogie to the music - I just don't look as good doing it. So, it's time to do more than a little yoga and a few sit-ups. I have to build up some muscle to start burning up my stored energy (also known as fat).

Still, things feel really good for me today. Knowing most of my issues are being taken care of, and that I've gone ahead with the plans I made for my life this year, makes me feel positive about pretty much everything. And now to celebrate, I think I'm going to snuggle up with that adorable little coffee maker again, and possibly wheedle another cup for myself. The first one went down just a little too smoothly.