Free Vacation Reading with Kindle Unlimited

KU logo

Hot vacation tip: sign up for a month’s free trial of Kindle Unlimited before you travel. Amazon’s new subscription service lets you load up your e- or audio-device for the beach, airplane, or campsite with unlimited books — including Boom-Books! Been wanting to read CJ Verburg’s “Croaked: an Edgar Rowdey Mystery” or listen to Charisse Howard’s “Lady Annabelle’s Abduction”? Now it’s easy and free.

Just make sure to read at least 10% of each book you download. Unless an author is published by a big commercial house, that’s the requirement for them to get paid.

When you return home, $10 a month will keep your Kindle, Galaxy, or iPad full of virtual adventures. Or switch to Amazon Prime, if you’d rather read just one free book a month but have your other Amazon orders shipped for free; or try a different subscription service with Scribd or Oyster.

And don’t forget your local library, the ultimate source of free books!

Pros & Cons of Kindle Unlimited vs Scribd, Oyster, Prime, or Playing the Field

tankSo Amazon’s launched another invasion of the literary world.  Kindle Unlimited, its new subscription service, allows members to “buy” as many of the alleged 600,000 e-books for sale on Amazon as they wish, all for a monthly fee of $10.  Also included: more than 2,000 audiobooks.

“Buy” means that the books you acquire stay on your e-device for as long as you keep subscribing.  Discontinue KU and your shelves go empty.  That’s to stop readers from signing up for a month (or a month’s free trial), loading their Kindle or iPhone with thousands of titles, and jumping ship.

How does KU compare with existing subscription services Scribd and Oyster?

  1. gaiman_bookshelvesMore books.  KU offers 600K, Oyster 500K, Scribd 400K.
  2. Audiobooks.  KU has them, Oyster and Scribd don’t.  In this respect, KU’s chief competitor would appear to be Audible, also an Amazon company, which offers a $14.95 monthly subscription.
  3. Different selection.  The Big 5 traditional publishers (Random House-Penguin et al.) have opted into Oyster and Scribd but out of KU.  Indie/self-published e-books on Smashwords are available on Oyster and Scribd; for KU to include an indie e-book, it must be enrolled in KDP Select, i.e., available only on Amazon.  (It may be sold elsewhere in print and other forms.)
  4. Sampling.  You can read an excerpt before buying on KU or Scribd, but not Oyster.
  5. Price? $8.99 for Scribd, $9.95 for Oyster, $9.99 for KU. [Updated 9/15/14]
  6. Flexibility?  All three services let you read on whatever device you like.
  7. Quality?  Oyster and Scribd both get some books direct from the publishers; others come from Smashwords, which processes self- and indie-publishers’ Word or EPUB files through its own “meatgrinder.”  The result on the e-page depends on the compatibility of the original file with the processing system(s) as well as the user’s e-reader.  A few early e-books on Scribd were badly distorted (they’ve made progress on this, but see the cover L); harder to check on Oyster, with no sampling before you buy.  KU’s e-books are the same ones it’s already selling on Amazon, which means they’ve had to pass Kindle’s quality-control check as well as its customers’ scrutiny.

So who’s likely to get the most out of Kindle Unlimited?  Well, any of these subscription services is a good deal for readers who spend more than $10 a month on e-books.  After that it’s a matter of preference.  If you read mostly New York Times best-sellers, which are mostly published by the Big 5, you won’t find them on KU.  If you prefer how-to books or genre fiction–romance, mysteries, thrillers–KU’s pool is wide and deep enough to feed the largest appetite.  After all, Amazon does (like it or not) sell more e-books than anybody.  So the vast majority of non-Big 5 e-books, from Avon romances to Mysterious Press crime fiction to The Hunger Games and Life of Pi, can be read or listened to for free by KU subscribers.  For occasional readers, the combination of easy online ordering and free shipping, plus one free book a month, may make Amazon Prime a better choice.

science-writerWho else benefits from Kindle Unlimited?  Independent authors might.  Normally non-famous writers form the bottom of the food chain.  Right now, in this highly competitive start-up phase, KU is (however grudgingly) subsidizing authors–who are, after all, where books come from.  Will this new Amazon spinoff pull the same kind of bait-and-switch as ACX/Audible, which took a huge bite out of its authors’ royalties a few months ago?  Maybe.  For now, though, writers willing to swallow the exclusivity clause are cautiously hopeful.

The-Circulating-LibraryMedia reports tend to compare book subscription services to Netflix.  Another way to look at this phenomenon is as a throwback.  Before public libraries existed, lucky readers could pay a fee to borrow books from a private library.  Possibly, as present-day public libraries get up to speed with e-book and audiobook lending (as some are doing), they could pose the stiffest competition for Scribd, Oyster, and Kindle Unlimited.


Ear Holiday! Four Audio Treats

by CJ Verburg

Summer! Whether you’re in the car, at the mall, or on the beach, an absorbing CD or audiobook can screen out boredom and crank up the fun.  Here are two exciting music albums, one multimedia Irish memoir, and one short spicy Regency romance to sweeten your commute, work, or vacation.



FactFlavoredFiction(s) by L.A. virtuoso rock/pop/R&B composer & guitarist Ira Ingber
“[A] masterfully written, crafted and recorded effort from Ira and friends….Our praises start with the writing — Ira has painted a picture here with his words. Close your eyes and you can practically see the story unfold, as if in a movie.” — Recording magazine, cut #7, “French Kissing on the Staten Island Ferry”

Listen to samples or buy the album on CDBaby, iTunes

nicolenoelchancemeyerA Thousand Ways Down by Nicole Noel & Chance Meyer
We wanted to draw lines through time, between our lives and a bygone musical era, by finding their common themes and making music at the intersections…. While our music might tend to drift down through some of the broken places in the world, we hope it ultimately lands you somewhere joyful.”  With a background from jazz to pop to gospel, Nic and Chance have created a wonderful multi-traditional synthesis.

Listen or buy on CDBaby, iTunes, Amazon


renee-audibleLonging for Elsewhere: My Irish Voyage Through Hunger, History and High Times by Renee Gibbons
“Born in a Dublin tenement in the middle of the 20th Century, this dead-poor, curious Irish girl escaped to Paris when she was 17 with the help of a nun, a Hollywood actor, and a kind stranger. … On a ship bound for Egypt with her year-old daughter Aisling she fell in love with a radical longshoreman from San Francisco.” A rollicking memoir punctuated with traditional songs.

Listen (or read) on Audible or Amazon – or see Facebook


Lady Annabelle’s Abduction (Regency Rakes & Rebels, I) by Charisse Howard, narrated by Stevie Zimmerman
In one week, Lady Annabelle Chatfield will marry to save her desperate family. But oh, if her reckless brother Stephen had to die in debt, couldn’t he have picked a younger, handsomer creditor than the Earl of Brackenbury? Then a ruthless stranger climbs into her chamber at midnight, launching a passionate adventure which will turn Lady Annabelle from a girl into a woman.  5 stars!

Listen for $6.95 (or read for 99¢) – Audible, Amazon, iTunes

The Regency Era in America, or Happy Independence Day!

by Charisse Howard

redcoats1Hard to believe it’s been well over 200 years since thirteen British colonies agreed to “dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth [a] separate and equal station.”

Leading the way, and supplying the newly United States with four of its first five presidents, was the Commonwealth of Virginia. Ironic, since this colony was named for Elizabeth I, England’s “virgin queen.” The Declaration of Independence penned by Virginia planter Thomas Jefferson was carried out by his neighbor General George Washington. As president of the new nation, Washington was succeeded by New Englander John Adams, followed by Jefferson and then two more Virginians, James Madison and James Monroe.

George III in his coronation robes, painted by Allan Ramsay

The British king who lost this valuable chunk of real estate was George III. While the American states struggled to form a viable union, King George struggled with mental problems.  That battle too he lost.  In 1811 his son (also George) took the reins as Prince Regent–launching the period we know as the Regency.

A farm similar to Washington’s Mount Vernon and Jefferson’s Monticello is the setting for my novel Dark Horseman; Mystery, Adventure, and Romance in Regency Virginia. The Ballards of Belmont, however, specialize in raising horses . . . which were not pets or a pastime in that era, but an essential source of transportation and labor.

King George III had more real-estate problems than just the American colonies. After they revolted, so did the people of France. The French overthrew their king, but soon found themselves ruled by Napoleon Bonaparte. Hungry to expand his empire, Napoleon decided to conquer Britain.

USmapRegencyThis is how the United States annexed the Louisiana Territory:  Napoleon sold it to the Americans in 1803 to pay for his planned conquest. President Jefferson was no empire-builder, but he recognized a good deal: $15 million to get France out of not just Louisiana and surrounding states, but large parts of what is now the midwest and Canada.

The American takeover brought important changes in the Louisiana Territory. The clash between the still rather Puritanical culture in the United States and the French colonial culture in and around New Orleans affected everyone from priests to pirates. This is the chaotic moment when my Regency Rakes & Rebels romance Lady Barbara & the Buccaneer takes place.

BlanchardchampdumarsNapoleon tried every possible angle of attack on Britain: massing armies at French ports along the English Channel, building a National Flotilla of invasion barges, erecting a triumphal column, even appointing balloonist Sophie Blanchard to help with an air assault.  His hopes died in 1805 when the British Royal Navy kicked French stern at the Battle of Trafalgar.

Part of Napoleon’s plan was to distract the British by attacking their North American possessions.  Britain still hadn’t entirely accepted losing its mainland colonies to the United States, and kept a death grip on its share of Canada, Bermuda, and the West Indies.  So determined were the British not to cede any more turf–but to get back some, if possible–that they cosied up to their longtime enemy Spain, which still held West Florida.  At the time Lady Barbara & the Buccaneer takes place, in early 1814, Britain was moving its North American forces from Halifax (Canada) to Bermuda, and lobbying to share the Spanish HQ at Pensacola.

DeppvsBlackbeard-IAN-McSHANE-in-the-captains-cabin-Disney-960x638Piracy had been rife in the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico some 200 years earlier, since the first treasure ships started hauling booty back to Europe which the colonizers had plundered in the New World.  The “Pirates of the Caribbean” era died out when the nations of Europe got tired of having their ships captured by each other.  Collectively they agreed to quit issuing the lettres de marque under which pirates had claimed to act as agents for one or another government.  But the treasure ships didn’t stop sailing; and as alliances changed, along with local economic circumstances, a new kind of piracy emerged.  LafitteKing

Jean Laffite and his brother Pierre headed a buccaneering operation centered at New Orleans.  They themselves weren’t so much pillage-and-burn pirates as rogue merchants.  The islands of Barataria Bay made an ideal hiding place for ships to smuggle in goods; and when the city of New Orleans got too hot for them, the Laffites established the offshore island of Grand Terre as their central market.  This map from William C. Davis’s excellent book The Pirates Laffite shows where the Regency-era buccaneers plied their trade.  It’s here that Lady Barbara goes to celebrate Carnival (the Puritanical Americans having outlawed Mardi Gras) and finds more adventures than she bargained for.

Barataria Bay, where the Regency-era buccaneers plundered and traded; (c) William C. Davis, "The Pirates Laffite"