9/24/14

Reader Appreciation Week: Best 7 Places to Find Free Books

After 3 months of Steampunk Summer, you either have 1 of 2 reactions right now.  You miss it, and you're ready for the next one.  (Yes, there will be more!)  Or Victorian steam talk wasn't your thing, and you're ready to move on.  I understand you all completely.

So I thought this first post of fall should be for readers of all kinds.  Fiction and nonfiction.  Paperback and ebook.  And definitely for those on a budget.  Let's say a budget allowing only free books.

Here's a list of the best 7 places I know of to find free books online.  (And by the end of the year, I'll have a free offering for you as well.  Sign up for my newsletter on the right or under Connect with Me so you don't miss out!)

Photo courtesy of Kondoros √Čva Katalin

Amazon has numerous free ebooks available in every category under the sun.  The 100 bestselling free ebooks are here, but you can find the most popular free ebooks in any category from there.  You can also do a keyword search for whatever interests you and sort the results to start with the least expensive (i.e., free).

One Hundred Free Books posts multiple free ebooks every day in a wide range of categories.  It's a free, useful service for readers who don't want to spend time combing through Amazon.  Every book they share is free - just double check before you buy to make sure a special deal hasn't ended.  You can sign up for email alerts through their website as well as follow them on Facebook, Pinterest, and other social media sites.

Freado is an interesting site.  The books shared here are an eclectic mix of genres as well as offerings from independent and traditionally published authors.  You can play games to earn points and use them to bid on ebooks and paperbacks, but some giveaways cost nothing.  Other books are automatically won by those who excel at the games.  Find out about current giveaways here.

Smashwords is a publishing site for independent authors that, like Amazon, has thousands of free ebooks to choose from.  (Over 45,000 right now!)  Click here to look at the newest free ebooks.  You can also search by bestsellers, highest rated, book length, and other options.

LibraryThing lets authors and publishers give away free ebooks and paper books.  You can maintain virtual bookshelves there, connect with other readers, and rate/review the books you've read.  With over 674,000 books already handed out, why wait?  Join LibraryThing here and get started browsing the available books - some have dozens of copies available, some only have 1.

Goodreads operates on the same principle as LibraryThing.  Stock a virtual library of books you've read, let others know what you thought of them, and enter to win giveaways.  Goodreads at this time only lists giveaways for paperback books not ebooks, so for the page-turning crowd, this is perfect.  Here are the giveaways ending soonest.  You can also search for those most requested, written by popular authors, and most recently listed.

BookBub is another ebook promotion site in the spirit of One Hundred Free Books.  What's great about BookBub is that you can customize what genres they email you about.  They pride themselves on only sharing high quality ebooks. To sign up and get started, go here.

Feel free to share this list and comment on where you like to get free books!

9/17/14

Steampunk Summer: Award-Winning Author Ginn Hale on Sci Fi, Fantasy, and Steam-Powered Imagination

2 1/2 years ago, when I got my first ideas for Steampunk Carnival, I had to admit I knew next to nothing about steampunk.  I knew it relied on steam power and the Victorian era, but that was about it.  So I searched the internet to find books that could teach me about the genre.  A list of steampunk books on Wikipedia led me to Wicked Gentlemen by Ginn Hale.  The premise and characters intrigued me, so I bought the paperback and sat back to set off on my new adventure.


“Hooked” explains how I felt by the end of the first page, but “spellbound” is closer.  I fell in love with the main character, demon Belimai Sykes, and his gritty, grimy world.  I’ve never been so invested in a literary love triangle as I tried to figure out which man (yes, Belimai’s gay, only adding to his allure) he belonged with:  the man who’s his polar opposite or the being Belimai once gave up everything to save.

I started the book pacing myself, treating myself to one delicious chapter a night.  Somewhere near the middle, though, this wasn’t enough, and I devoured the rest of it.  The fast but natural pace of the plot inspired the way Steampunk Carnival flows - no stops until we get to the final destination of that last, haunting page.

So it's my greatest honor and pleasure to introduce this guest post Ginn Hale wrote to cap off Steampunk Summer:

Ginn Hale in some seriously inspired goggles.

In a time before steampunk.

Sometimes it’s easy to think of steampunk as little more then a feisty heroine in a leather corset, sporting a pair of goggles while she tinkers with some clockwork device. However I believe that steampunk has had a far greater effect on speculative fiction than just promoting pocket watches and dirigibles.

Not so long ago both science fiction and fantasy were realms of rather rigid definitions— at least as far as publishers were concerned. Science fiction took place largely in space or on alien worlds of the far future. Fantasy novels more often than not were expected to fit a mold cast by JRR Tolkien decades before: wizards, elves, and dwarves battling some terrible—often painfully generic—evil.

Ginn Hale's favorite goggles.
Despite the limitations good books came out of those decades and there were authors who broke the definitions and pushed limits, but the overarching idea of what both genres could be remained largely stagnant.

But then came cyberpunk and steampunk. Between them they expanded not just the cosplay options for us all but also dissolved the line between science fiction and fantasy and reset what speculative fiction could be. While cyberpunk redefined much of the attitude of science fiction, I think steampunk in particular expanded both genres immensely.

Where once science fiction had been defined as stories of our modern age projected forward, now suddenly it could also encompass the futuristic imaginings of ages past. Steam-age space races took off and clockwork robots rumbled to life.  At the same time in the realms of fantasy, mechanical dragons took flight and the arcane magics and spiritualism, which fascinated the Victorians, gave rise to new embodiments of the fantastical.

But beyond that steampunk opened a floodgate for alternate definitions of science fiction and fantasy. If steam powered computers could get folk to the moon then why couldn’t Song Dynasty rockets soar through the skies? If Spring-heeled Jack can return to us from the yellowed pages of Victorian true crime then why shouldn’t the semi-mythic Detective Dee reclaim his mantle as near mystic judge? 

It’s no longer a given that if you’re penning a fantasy novel you’ll be kitting yourself out with forty pounds of elf-chow for the long quest your characters will doubtless undertake. Nor are you bound by the definition of science fiction to set your story in the year 2525 on some desolate moon colony. Breaking the narrow parameters that defined both genres has made room not just for cogs and clockwork but also for countless alternative stories to be heard.

Heck you might even be able to get a book about a drug-addicted, gay demon and his tangled relationship with a corrupt inquisitor published. ;)     



- - -
(Thank goodness, too, because it makes for one of my favorite books of all time.)  Ginn also has several other series and books available, and they all look as good as Wicked Gentlemen.  You can also check out Ginn's website for fan art and other cool stuff.

A huge thanks to Ginn Hale for this brilliant post and to all of my guests and readers.  This is the last official post of Steampunk Summer, but the vintage, alternate history adventures will continue through the fall.  Steampunk Carnival will be on tour in the blogosphere in mid-October, so sign up for my newsletter to get updates on that.  Hint:  There will be a giveaway!

Enjoy the last days of your summer!

9/10/14

Steampunk Summer: Top 5 Steampunk Shops on Etsy

So far this summer, we've looked at the do-it-yourself side of steampunk.  Make your own jewelry.  Sew your own outfits.  Adorn your own hats.

But maybe crafting isn't your thing or you don't have time.  That's where Etsy comes in.  Since everything on Etsy is either handmade, vintage, or supplies you can use for your hobbies, it's a goldmine for steampunk wearables and gadgetry.

There are numerous shops selling everything from gears and clock hands to goggles and waist cinchers.  These are my hand-picked top 5.  My judging criteria?  Creativity, quality, visual interest, and how well the pieces represent steampunk.  Some of the shop owners were even willing to tell me a little about what they do.

The Shop: Seamstress of Steam
What They Carry:  Clothing, hats, jewelry, accessories, decor, and spats

Here's what Katherine at Seamstress of Steam had to say about the genre: "Steampunk for me is all about those small details. I'm always attracted to the shiny copper and buttons like everyone, but it is the ribbon and lace and other small trimmings that put it over the top."

Photo Courtesy of Seamstress of Steam
Her favorite item? "I love everything I make and put a great deal of myself into each and every one of my creations. If I had to pick a favorite, I guess I would say my classic black spats. They are so cute and playful and easy to work into almost any outfit."

Katherine also told me what kind of experience we can expect when visiting her little piece of the world: "When you purchase anything from my shop you are getting a handcrafted, one of a kind item. One of the reasons so many people are enamored with Steampunk and the Victorian era is the attention to detail and craftsmanship that comes from handmade items. I embrace that ideal wholeheartedly with Seamstress of Steam. I love the little details and finishings that make an item one to treasure for years to come. Any item from Seamstress of Steam is professionally crafted, made to last, and will come carefully wrapped in tissue and string like you just picked it up at a Victorian seamstress's shop."

I'm quite fond of Katherine's selection of spats and several of the jewelry pieces.  For classic, classy steampunk - and some items that are modern but retain the vintage/punk vibe, check out Seamstress of Steam.

Photo Courtesy of EDM Designs
The Shop: EDM Designs
What They Offer: Jewelry, cufflinks, goggles, and glasses

Although my path crossed a little too briefly with Ricky, the jewelry designer/artisan for EDM Designs, due to time constraints, her passion for steampunk is obvious.  She's endlessly creative and strives to be unique in more than just her creations.  I'm completely fascinated by the different colored glasses and goggles in her shop.  Her jewelry carries the same aesthetic of metal and shine, complexity and simplicity.

For some serious conversation starters and statement pieces, browse Ricky's handiwork at EDM Designs.


Photo Courtesy of JK Steampunk Design
The Shop: JK Steampunk Design
Their Specialty: Jewelry, cufflinks, and tie tacks

What makes JK Steampunk Design such an intriguing shop is the heavy use of clock and watch parts.  All of the jewelry and accessories have a feeling of movement, industry, and solidness.  These designs would look great on any time traveler, antique dealer, or animal aficionado.
Photo Courtesy of Catherinette Rings


The Shop: Catherinette Rings
What They're Known For: Rings, watches, tie tacks, and sculptures

I've had my eye on Catherinette Rings for over a year.  Their rings have a unique, striking style.  Some of them feature an animal eye motif.  Others have owls, watch parts, and painted buttons. Their metal insect sculptures are gorgeous - perfectly suspended between gothic, terrifying, and beautiful.

I know I promised my top 5 picks, but since the 5th shop is temporarily closed, I'll feature it separately when it reopens.  If you want to bookmark it or save it as a favorite until then, go to Velvet Mechanism.

There's only one week left in Steampunk Summer!  Award-winning author and queen of steam Ginn Hale wrote an amazing piece for us for next week.  Sign up for my brand new newsletter (to the right or on my Contact Me page above) to make sure you don't miss it!

9/3/14

Steampunk Summer: THIS is Alternate History; A Book Review

I dabbled in creating an alternate 1880's for Steampunk Carnival.  Electric lights aren't on the way yet. Neither is the telephone. And someone assassinates a public figure who in real life lived another 21 years and passed away 900 miles from where he meets his end in my book.  But much of the book is historically accurate down to clothing, accessories, and certain phrases of speech.

This is certainly not the case for The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder, which I've been devouring this summer.  His characters don't just live in an alternate world full of historical figures, some recognizable and some unfamiliar.  The main character, Sir Richard Francis Burton, becomes increasingly aware that two timelines exist.  In one, the real one, he marries his girlfriend Isabel, accepts a post abroad, and continues his writing and translating work.  However, as Burton investigates a string of attacks on teenaged girls by a bizarrely costumed phantom, he diverges from history into a wild, fantastic adventure.

Click to learn more about Mark Hodder's steampunk epic.

It's incredibly interesting to read this book as an American since it's deeply steeped in British history.  I get to enjoy the characters strictly by the information given to me, that Burton's meant to settle down with Isabel (relatively speaking - he is an explorer with numerous real-life adventures mentioned on his Wikipedia page).  But certain names - and futures - are wider known.  The young paper delivery boy who turns out to be Oscar Wilde.  Charles Darwin and the theory of evolution turn up. Queen Victoria, who actually survived numerous assassination attempts, succumbs to one early in the book, the reader's first clue that alternate history is definitely on the table.

But what of the other half of the characters Burton & Swinburne mentioned on the cover as being the major players in this story?  Algernon Charles Swinburne quickly emerged as my favorite character.  With red hair aflame on his head, this skinny young poet moves excitably and spontaneously through a life of alcohol and whimsy.  His libertine sensibilities, especially his tendency to follow in the pain-as-pleasure footsteps of the infamous Marquis de Sade lead to some of the most uproarious moments in the book.  (Trying to punish a masochist with a physical beating just isn't going to work!)  You can read about the real poet Swinburne here.  (The Wiki pages are worth checking out for the pictures alone, each man exactly as described in the book.)

There are so many beautiful things about The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack.  You don't have to know anything about any of these people to enjoy it.  Mark Hodder sets up everything you need to know and integrates it seamlessly into the storytelling.  Even the elusive villain, Spring Heeled Jack, is a long-known urban legend in the UK, and Mark Hodder makes the myth his own with this book. Every scene, character, and steam-driven contraption is described in creative but believable detail.  Each chapter opens with a quote from a character, figure, advertisement, or propaganda literature, adding even more depth to an already full-bodied world.  There's no "just getting your feet wet" with this story - it's all in or not at all.  And if you like it, the adventures continue as the series goes on.

The ending wraps up nicely with plenty of room to move forward into the sequels. If you're looking for steampunk in the form of a rollicking, action-packed adventure peopled by mad scientists and roguish personalities, look no further.