Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Kindle Unlimited

I know it's no secret that I read a lot. I read almost exclusively fiction, mostly urban fantasy (or paranormal) and mystery/thrillers, with a little "women's fiction" thrown in. I have also almost exclusively migrated to digital, rather than physical, books. I read on my iPhone, my iPad, and on my Kindle Fire. Less on the iPhone, usually if I'm waiting in line for something. Whether I read on the iPad or the Kindle mostly depends on which one is closer to hand.

I follow several blogs that post free and discounted Kindle books, and I'm also on a couple of email lists, so I pick up quite a few free ebooks that way. I keep track of new release dates for my favorite authors, and add upcoming books to my Amazon wish list. If I see a book that I think I might be interested in, I will usually go ahead and add it to my Amazon wish list, and send a free sample to one of my devices.

I know that there are many more proprietary ereaders out there, Kobo and Nook being the ones I can think of off the top of my head. If I see a mention of a free or sale book on one of those platforms, I will usually go get it, since I have their iOS apps on my iPad, but I usually don't even think to go read anything on them, I'm so happy with the Kindle experience.

I have also tried the subscription services -- Oyster, Scribd and Entitle. I believe they are all around $10/month with the first month free. The problem I had with all of them was that I thought it was hard to find books that I wanted to read. I guess it's mostly because I spend so much time on the Amazon site, but Amazon does it so well with the books that they recommend based on my reading habits. The subscription services I mentioned made me kind of nervous, like I had to be sure that I was reading enough books to get my money's worth out of the subscription price (although I didn't pay for any of them, I cancelled before my free month was up). I think a lot of the problem is just like anything else -- it's hard coming into an already-established market and being successful. I have no idea whether they are successful or not, I assume they are, but they just weren't for me.

This is all leading up to a love letter to Amazon's new Kindle Unlimited service. Most of the big publishers aren't participating yet, and who knows whether they will or not, considering everything that's been going on between Hatchette and Amazon, for instance. They say there are over 600,000 books available now; most of them are probably self-published or indie publishers, but I haven't had any trouble finding plenty of books to read. The price is comparable to the others at $9.99/month (with the first month free), and it also includes audio. If there is audio available for a book that you choose, you can listen for free. The subscription also includes three free Audible audio books, one a month for the first three months.

You can have ten books out at a time, with no due dates. When you finish a book, you can return it, just like a library ebook, and get something else, or keep it as long as you want, with the caveat, of course, that if Amazon decides to discontinue the service or something like that, they can suck the book back out of your Kindle, but I think they can already do that anyway, actually.

Oh -- I wrote all that, but the whole point of thinking about it was to comment on something that I keep reading on other commentary about Kindle Unlimited. It seems like everyone who writes about it says something like, "but with Amazon Prime you get a free ebook anyway, plus free shipping and streaming video, and it's $99 for a whole year, so why would anyone want to buy Kindle Unlimited for $10/month and just get ebooks?"

Maybe most people do feel that way, I don't know. And yes, with Amazon Prime, you can read ONE book for free per MONTH. One. And that's it. Not one at a time, ONE. I don't buy enough physical stuff from Amazon to care about the free shipping, and I don't really care about the streaming video, either, so Prime doesn't make sense for me, but Kindle Unlimited is perfect. If you don't read, or don't read much, maybe access to one free book a month is fine. I don't know. I do know that I read at least 100 books a year. This year I've read 115 so far, so considering we're just over seven months into the year, that's about 16 books/month.

Now that my library offers ebooks, I do occasionally get one there, but they don't have much of a selection yet. If it was possible to get every ebook that I wanted from the library, Kindle Unlimited might not make sense, but at least for now, it seems like a great value to me.

I have occasionally felt guilty about buying an ebook when I could request the physical book from the library. It's not the waiting that I mind, usually, but the fact that after reading so much digitally, I find it almost impossible to read a physical book. It feels awkward--I have to hold it open with my hands!--and you have to have a good light, which I often do not. I don't know. I just know that I enjoy reading on my digital devices a lot more than I enjoy holding a book in my hands. I don't care about the feel of a book in my hands or the smell (which a lot of people mention), I really just want the words.

When I was buying books in bookstores, I would sometimes pick up a book that looked interesting, but put it back because of the way it was printed -- too large margins, or too big type, or deckle edges, or whatever. I don't have that problem with ebooks. I can set the font to whatever I want, whatever size I want, and all books are created equal.

And another point -- I don't know for sure, but I believe Unlimited operates under the same model as the other subscription services and pays authors their free after a certain percentage of the book is read (maybe 20%). So while they aren't getting the revenue immediately, they aren't getting shut out, as it might seem.

Here are a few good books that I have read for free:

The Eighth Guardian (Annum Guard) by Meredith McCardle (YA time tavel paranormal)
Take Me With You by Catherine Ryan Hyde (literary fiction)
When I Found You by Catherine Ryan Hyde (literary fiction)
Vanished by Kendra Elliot (thriller)
Sleep Tight by Rachel Abbott (thriller)
A Trail Through Time by Jodi Taylor (time travel; fourth book in a series)

And the best non-free book I've read recently: "Mortal Danger," by Ann Aguirre. It's $9.99, but you can read the first five chapters free. It was excellent. The book is about Edith, a student at a private high school. Unattractive, unhappy, bullied and humiliated to the point of deciding to kill herself. But right on the brink, she is stopped by a young man, Kian, who offers her the chance to get revenge on the students who tormented her. Revenge isn't free, of course, but it sounds like a good idea at the time.

Edith enrolls in a summer science program away from home, and with Kian's help, reinvents herself as "Edie," pretty, self-confident, smart, with a new best friend and a summer boyfriend. Right away, things start happening to the students who bullied her, and they just keep happening . . . Edie begins to think that the bargain she made might not have been the blessing that she thought it was at first.

Edited to add: Entitle is a subscription service that lets you purchase two ebooks per month for $9.99/month. They do have new releases and best sellers, but during my free period I really struggled to find just one book that I wanted to read, and hadn't already read.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Hand sewing

I've been having a lot of fun with my new sewing machine. I'm probably halfway through my Christmas list. My routine has been to cut fabric a couple of evenings a week, then do a marathon sewing session on the weekend, usually Sunday.

This weekend I also made some pattern weights using this tutorial. They are little fabric pyramids filled with tiny polystyrene beads. I've never liked filling fabric things with beans or peas or rice, because what if they get wet? They're not intended to get web, but stuff happens. I have made eye pillows and stuffed them with rice and lavender, but I also put separate cases on them so if the cases get dirty, they can be washed and put back on the pillow. I think the weight of the rice is probably good for an eye pillow because you do want some weight there to ease tired eyes.

These little weights are used to weigh down tissue paper sewing patterns while you cut them out. I probably should have put something heavier in them, but they may be fine. I'll have to try them out. Right now I just have them piled in a little bowl on my cutting table, which is actually just my dining room table with a cutting mat on it. I think the fabric was a Debbie Mumm print called Alley Cat, but I've had it awhile.

These weights would also be cute beanbags for a toddler, although they might be too small, and too easily put in a kid's mouth. That's another reason why I wouldn't fill them with peas or rice!

I hand sewed the weights shut, and that got me thinking about hexagons again, so I rummaged in my precuts box and got out a mini charm pack of Sweetwater Fabric's Road 15 . I pretty much love everything that Sweetwater does.

I finished the Road 15 charm pack and moved on to Sweetwater's Boo Crew. It's a little early for Halloween, but I love this fabric, too. Little monsters, spiders, a screen door print, etc.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do with them, but I'm thinking something small scale, like mug rugs. For now, I just have zip lock bags full of them. I mostly just like to make them.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

New Sewing Machine

I finally decided to go ahead and buy a new sewing machine. I bought the one I had been looking at at Amazon; I had a bunch of gift card money saved up, so it didn't cost me much. this is the one I got (lists price $349, I had $100 in gift cards, so it only cost me $40!) -- a computerized Brother machine with 70 stitches, most of which I probably won't use. The thing I really wanted in a new machine, besides being able to sew a tight, appropriately-tensioned seam -- was automatic buttonholes, which this one has. There were a lot of machines to choose from, but this one had good reviews. The one feature that made me choose this one was the oversized table. It came yesterday and I read through the manual, threaded it, and sewed a seam, and it worked like a charm.

I may not sit down and do much of anything with it until the weekend, but I wanted to be sure that it worked! It will be fun learning my way around it. I'm looking forward to it.

Friday, June 27, 2014

New Pillow Cases

Sometime last year I found a very cool pattern for making pillow cases (I paid $6 for it, I think, but it looks like it's free now), and thought I might make pillow cases for the people on my Christmas list. Like most things, though, I was too ambitious, and I ended up making a pair for my parents, several little travel pillow-size ones for myself, and a Halloween one for Bob. He's the one who always changes the sheets on the bed, and ever since I made that case, he's been using it on his pillow.

Last week he remarked that I needed to make some more, and with that encouragement, I spent some time on Sunday making three new sets of cases -- one with fish and various sea creatures (these are on our bed now), one set of Independence Day cases with flags, Victorian children, and fireworks, and one set with cowgirls and western boots. Not because either of us have any particular affinity for cowgirls or boots, I just loved the colors, basically.

It's a super easy way to make a pillow case in no time at all. I've seen other patterns on the web called "burrito" or "sausage" pillow case patterns, and they're all basically the same. This one calls for 3/4 yard of the main fabric, 1/4 yard for the cuff, and a small amount (1-1/2" x width of fabric) for the trim. So I bought 1 yard each of two prints to make two coordinating pillow cases, and used fabric that I already had for the trim. You just cut each of the larger pieces into 3/4 yard and 1/4 yard pieces, and cut the thin strip for the trim, then you stack the fabrics and create the "burrito." I used quilt clips instead of pins, but pins work just as well.

It's kind of funny -- it's been awhile since I made them, and it's hard (for me, at least) to grasp how the pattern works. You just have to take it on faith, both in the burrito-making phase, and the seam sewing phase that produces French, or hidden, seams. There are no raw edges at all once you're finished.

My sewing machine is pretty old, I bought it maybe 15 or 20 years ago. I've had a lot of trouble getting the tension right, and I was about to the point of giving up. I was looking at new sewing machines online, and read one review that said a certain machine didn't do very well if you went too fast, so I experimented with mine, and sure enough, it does a LOT better if I go really slowly, but that's not my default speed. I want to just ZIP through a seam, if it's a straight one. So I'm still thinking about getting a new machine; Bob said I should, that if I'm going to be sewing a lot, I should at least have the right tools. Also, my machine doesn't make buttonholes, and that's something I would really like to have.

This is the one I'm leaning toward, because of the wide table. It has a lot of good reviews. I may try to look at one in person somewhere and see what the prices are locally. I'm not going to rush into anything, but I'm still thinking about it.


Monday, June 09, 2014

Getting better, finally

So I think I'm finally getting better. Like the nurse said, I waited another week to see if the antibiotics were going to help, and they didn't. We went to Omaha for a wedding over the weekend, and while the wedding was nice, and it was great seeing good friends, Bob got food poisoning, and I coughed all night, and it was basically pretty awful.

I ended up at Walgreen's at 6:30 in the morning on Sunday buying Gatorade and various over the counter meds, and then was back again a couple of hours later to pick up prescriptions -- fortunately we were traveling with Bob's best friend, who is a doctor (the father of the groom)!

The hotel graciously allowed us to stay a few extra hours until Bob felt better. By around 2:30 we got him stabilized enough to pour him into the car and drive him home. It took him a couple of days to get his strength back, but he felt a lot better once I got him home, let him sleep for a few hours, and fed him some chicken soup.

I called my doctor again, and got another appointment. They took another chest x-ray and said nothing had changed, so gave me a prescription for prednisone and one for a different, stronger, antibiotic. After taking them for two days, I woke up on Sunday morning with a red, puffy face, which I assumed was an allergic reaction to one of the meds. I wasn't sure what to do, since it was the weekend, so I called my insurance company's Ask-a-Nurse, who recommended I call my doctor's office and talk to the doctor on call, which I did. I was advised to stop taking the antibiotic, and they called yet another one out to the pharmacy for me to pick up. Another $40 prescription down the drain. It's bad enough when you actually get to take them . . .

I took Benadry last night both to calm down the allergic reaction and to sleep, and I slept all night, I think for the first time in weeks. So I don't have to sleep on the couch anymore! I'm still coughing a little, intermittently, but the wheezing is gone, and I'm getting my energy back. Every time I exerted myself at all, I was very short of breath, which was awful. The doctor's diagnosis says "reactive airway disease," which I think actually means asthma. So who knows? All I know is, I feel much better.

And then, to round out my week o'fun, I had a mammogram today and visited my ob-gyn for my annual checkup. Just all fun and games around here!

I've spent the last couple of evenings making jewelry and restocking my Etsy shop with new goodies.