Tag Archives: NetGalley

Review: Haiku Princess – Poems in Ascending Order of Profanity

Haiku Princess: Poems in Ascending Order of Profanity

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Writer – H. O. Tanager

This book of poems by H. O. Tanager delivers on its promise of ascending profanity, while doing little to prevent the dip in quality at each stage. The book is divided into five stages: Cradle, Maiden, Lady, Crone and Holy One, which seem to bare little relationship with the subject matter of the poems.

What makes the later sections boring is less the use of crass words for ejaculate, but the fact that several of the earlier Haiku’s in the cradle section are actually quite clever and evoke more of the imagery, mood and juxtaposition that good Haiku achieves.

Take this example from cradle:

Post big-bang,

did the infinitesimal point

sigh, wonder why we’d gone?

or this one:

How many times do I

have to tell you not to

lick people’s food?

Both are clever in their own way. The first is probably a more classic example of what everyone expects Haiku to be. The second is funny less because of the subject matter, and more because that phrase becomes a Haiku with a little rearranging.

And then we have this (probably one of the cleaner things I can share from crone):

What to say when she

catches you on a porn website.

You’re just in time.

I guess we do get a bit of a switch in the last line, so this is better than some. But I don’t know if it’s funny. Let me clear that I’m actually not against bawdy poetry (I am the owner of a book of 100 limericks by Isaac Asimov). But if it’s going to be Haiku, then it needs to surprise, and probably amuse. There are many examples in this book that fail to do either, and a few might even manage to offend.

The illustrations seem fairly disconnected from the subject matter, and are in different styles in each section. The author is talented at image manipulation, if not manipulating words into images.

Honestly, the best part of the book is the about the author. The author apparently has a background in engineering, technical writing, performance art, psychology, non-profit arts organizing and parenting. More overlap than I would have expected, though a bit of a hodge-podge.

You wanna read good Haiku? Check out Brian’s Haiku 365 project. It’s free and more likely to amuse or enlighten.

(2 stars | Maybe a couple of OK bits, but probably not worth reading the rest)

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Black Science Vol. 3: A focused and emotional story

Black Science Volume 3

Writer – Rick Remender, Artists – Matteo Scalera, Dean White

Black Science Vol. 3 (Cover)

After the meandering second volume, Black Science comes back around with a bang for its third outing. This time the Anarchist League of Scientists find themselves stranded on a Roman-esque world which has been devastated by a plague. Their opposite number dimensionauts from this world brought the plague with them in their travels through the onion, only adding to the destruction and death that comes with traveling between planes of existence. Prime Grant McKay has been restored from his apparent demise at the end of the first volume, and is fighting for his kids, the way home, and to save this devastated world.

Remender has never been shy about killing off main characters. I said at the end of the first volume that I wasn’t sure how many people would be left standing by the end (probably just the two kids, I’d guess). By my count, at least four characters are killed or are near death at the end of this volume, by as McKay’s return proves, nothing is quite certain.

Family is at the center of this arc, from the other dimension’s Sara trying to protect the kids she’s seen die too many times, Grant fighting to restore his family, or Rebecca’s true motives for wanting to complete the pillar (hinted at in Volume 2). The narrative is tightly focused on loss, both the personal losses suffered by the characters, and the destruction their pursuit of science has wrought.

Despite these heavy themes, the book manages to be playful at times, the vaccination spreading machine in particular was quite amusing. Scalera’s designs area a little more muted than the beautiful first volume, but still quite engaging.

Kadir gets short-shrift, with very little page time, mostly spending it complaining that people don’t appreciate him enough. He was the most interesting thing in Volume 2, swearing to protect Grant’s kids as he dealt with the consequences of trying to sabotage the dimensional pillar. He was complex, layered, and pragmatic. In this volume he comes across as whiny, like the difference between how Loki is portrayed in Thor versus The Avengers (films).

As with the previous volumes, we’re left with a pretty significant cliffhanger. At this point there are so many forces trying to kill the dimensionauts, take over all the worlds, or just wreak general havoc, that it’s a wonder the body count’s been as low as it has. More than the previous volume, this ending has me waiting with great anticipation for when the series returns in November.

(4 stars | You might want to go back and read Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 if it’s been a while)

*I received a free ARC from NetGalley in return for an honest review

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Friday Reviews: Comic Strip Edition

Today we’ve got a couple of comic strip collections, a compilation of classic strips from 50 years of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, and the second volume of Katie Cook’s charming web-comic, Gronk.

Woodstock: Master of Disguise

Writer and Artist: Charles Schulz

WoodstockCoverI’ve been a lifelong fan of Peanuts and have at different times in my life related to Charlie Brown or Snoopy. Every Christmas my parents give me the next volume in Fantagraphics’ wonderful archive of Peanuts comics (which is nearing the end after over a decade of publishing these volumes). And I’ve bought my share of themed collections focusing on Scouting, Writing, Baseball or specific characters.

Perhaps Snoopy’s expression on the cover says it best about this volume. Woodstock may have earned himself a place on Whoopi Goldberg’s chest (weird intersection of Trek and Peanuts trivia), but he’s better in small doses rather than as the main event.

I like the inclusion of the head beagle strips and the scouting strips, but both of these have a lot more to do with Snoopy than they ever do with Woodstock. We also get pieces of strips that would form the basis of Snoopy Come Home and a lot of hockey and football strips where the joke is usually Woodstock being crushed by the football.

Peanuts is a lot about repetition if you think about it. The best running gags are Charlie Brown losing (almost) every Baseball game, missing the football, Snoopy fighting the Red Baron and getting his every literary work rejected. But collections of those strips show the ways in which Schulz changed the gag every time so even though we knew what was going to happen, the joke was still funny. Woodstock jokes, on the other hand, are really all the same.

The one thing this collection brings out is that while Snoopy loves Woodstock, he doesn’t always like him very much. Play a drinking game with this book and take a drink every time Snoopy says “stupid bird.” You’ll enjoy the book all the more.

The activity section might be okay for kids, but doesn’t add much. This is also a bit nit-picky, but I actually prefer the strips in their original black and white form over any recoloring. The Sunday color is fine, but I like the plain presentation Fantagraphics has chosen over this re-colored collection.

(3 stars | There are a lot of great Peanuts collections out there, but this one is just okay)

Gronk: A Monster’s Story Volume 2

Writer and Artist – Katie Cook

GronkVol2It’s probably best to look at Gronk less as comic strip and more as a poster book with a cute loveable character. There are lot of pages here that would make great posters, coffee mugs, mousepads, etc. There are visual gags of movies, art, and even other comic strips like The Family Circus.

We do get a nice prequel story involving an early intersection between Gronk, Dale and kitteh and there are some recurring gags with Gronk discovering the joys and perils of the iPad that are decently funny.

Again this is cute, funny, geeky and a little sweet book and most pages would be great printed on the side of a coffee mug or as a background. It’s just a shame we get so few of these both on-line and in these collections (less than 60 strips here).

I will say that here re-coloring brings a lot of vibrancy to the art. The web-comic is in black and white and often has a half-finished quality. These collections really make these characters come to life and while this book isn’t very long, you’ll still enjoy it.

(3 stars | Probably more of a 3.5 because of the art and geek parodies)

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Manga Madness

Well, I’ve been meaning to write this post for a couple of weeks now, and finally have a good morning to sit down and do it. As I’m typing my fingers are being gently massaged by my vibrating keyboard as my laptop does burns. Again, these are all books I received from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review, including Pride and Prejudice which I actually had to request (more on that later).

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Anomalby Nukuharu

51uYmefdybLThis is actually a collection of stories from indie Japanese Authors, published by Gen Manga Entertainment. The cover story is so-so, featuring a man with a hundred eyes all over his body helping a man to see, but then holding that gift over him. “You know those eyes I gave you? Pretty great huh?” We’ve got a detective who solves crimes by reenacting the actions of the murderer and victim with his male partner (so if you like a little yaoi action there you go). The later stories are more interesting, in part because they stray into weirder territory that seems very distinctly Japanese.

Next is a man falling in love with a demon (yokai), who he’s known since childhood. She mainly loves for him for the delicious spells he utters, and even gives him the chance to turn back the clock when he is nearly killed by demon spirits, to live his life again happier. But my personal favorite of the collection is the girl who wants to hug demons (even if they don’t want to be hugged). To accomplish this goal she tries to become head of the demons with the help of her guide, who also happens to be her schoolmate. In this case the demons possess a human carrier, and manifest by being vaguely ghostly creatures with cute pig eyes, a jagged mouth, and little horns. What’s not to love?

The translation on a few of these might be a little rushed, and admittedly none of this is top-grade material. But the art is excellent and varied between the different authors, and the dialog is punchy in spots. There’s probably something for everyone to love in this collection. Most of the stories have a pretty light touch, so don’t expect horror in the traditional sense as you might have assumed from the product description. (4 out 0f 5)

Outlaws of the Marsh (Volume 1)by Wei Dong Chen

51TAHRbPsBLThis is a manga adaptation of an ancient Chinese epic (which is sometimes also known as the Water Margin). This is an epic in every sense of the word (the Amazon copy of one of the more well-known translations of this story is 2008 pages, the sample alone feels like a book). 108 spirits are let out into the world and must be defeated.

The main story revolves around Jin Shi, as he goes from being a brash young man to a trained and disciplined fighter. There have been many inspired manga adaptations of this story, including Outlaw Star (a sci-fi Anime in the vein of Cowboy Bebop). This title does not live up to some of the other works in this genre. It is clearly aimed at children, and the dialogue is painful. Just about every awful foreign film trope is in here. Presumably the original is in better shape, though it’s hard to tell.

The artwork is blurry and again looks like something out of a child’s picture book. Even in the action sequences, you get little sense of the motion of the characters, and their expressions rarely vary. The main benefit to this story is making me aware of the longer epic which I might read some year when I have the time. (2 out of 5)

Pride and Prejudiceadaption by Stacey King

815KJlGdCKLI’m giving this book three stars, which if anybody knows me is like someone else giving it five. I’m not particularly a fan of Jane Austen’s work, but as is the case with a lot of NetGalley stuff, this seemed too weird to pass up.

The artwork is more in the style of Revolutionary Girl Utena, with pointed chins and sour expressions, though I swear the father is cribbed from the dad in Fullmetal Alchemist. The adaptation is pretty straightforward, with bits of humor in tipping the mother into full anime stereotype, with stars for eyes as she dreams of marrying off her daughters into money. The book proceeds in chapters which I assume correspond roughly to the chapters in the novel (though I’ll admit I didn’t pick it up to verify).

Probably the best bits are the little four panels comics in between chapters, that adapt more humorous or speculative scenes from the book. Even as I found myself wondering what the hell any of these people would want to do with each other, these comics gave me a chuckle. Again, if I was going to read Pride and Prejudice, this would be the way to do it. (3 out of 5)

Kamen (Volume 1) – by Gunya Mihara

81W48sIDyrLI actually caught a snippet of this in the Gen Manga collections sold on Amazon and had been intrigued, so I was pleased when I saw this on NetGalley. A man wakes up wearing a talking mask. If he takes it off, he will die, and because it is covering his mouth, he cannot speak. Throughout the whole volume, we learn only about the man through his actions, and the commentary of the mask which can sometimes be kind of funny.

The man is captured and brought into servitude in a castle under siege. The female leader of this group has challenged an outside opponent because of their corrupt ways and now faces the potential annihilation of her people, all while dealing with her uncle and his own political machinations. The masked man takes to protecting a young nearly dead girl and at one point fights off dozens of opponents while carrying her in one arm.

Much more of an action comic, this does fight sequences very well, and the design of the mask is intriguing and even vaguely familiar. I would suggest skipping to the back of the book for the character descriptions and some background information on the time period and geo-political situation. I found this a little confusing just from the information provided in the story. Overall, I’m interested to see where this is going, and was pleased to find Volume 2 now available on NetGalley as well. (4 out of 5)

 

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Batmen and Bastards*

*Bastards is used here in the literal sense as you’ll see from my review of The Illegitimates. Actually, for that matter, Damian was born out of wedlock too unless you think Bruce Wayne’s marriage to Talia Al Gul is actually binding.

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Running a bit late on getting a manga NetGalley post together so maybe next week. Probably one of the only ways I’m going to read Jane Austen though. More on that next week. In the meantime I’m pleased to share my review of a couple of hero titles, all featuring the sons and daughters of well known heroes.

First up…

Damian: Son of Batman (Deluxe Edition) by Andy Kubert & Grant Morrison

91lK2HiBbeL._SL1500_Despite growing up with Batman via the animated series and some of the movies, it’s really only been recently that I’ve taken the trouble to read the comics in any serious way. I’ve quickly learned that not only are some titles better than others, but some require you to do a little homework before even being able to read them. Hence, I’ve developed a set of criteria for a good Batman tale that I’ll use to evaluate this book.

Stands Alone: To me, a good Batman tale doesn’t require an extensive knowledge of the current Bat continuity (which has gone through several iterations as a result of the crisis and The New 52). This book gets about a medium grade on that score. I was vaguely familiar with Damian from Batman: Son of the Demon (which apparently is only half in the continuity since it is an Elseworlds tale) and the first volume of Batman and Robin (new 52 variety). This book stands outside current established continuity (since Damian died sometime last year in the comic though you know how these things go, since there seems to be an event to bring him back this year). It didn’t do a great job of clearing up for me that Dick Grayson (the original Robin and later Nightwing) was Batman at the beginning of this tale. So when Batman is killed and Damian is avenging his death, for a long time I thought we were talking about good old Bruce (who shows up later). My understanding of this tale was greatly helped by reading Grant Morrison’s Batman and Son (though issue #666 seems apart from the rest of the material and only makes sense if you know the Batman and Son context).

Keeps the DC Universe out of it: I’m a bit of a purist. I know Batman lives in the same world as the likes of Superman and Green Arrow, but I don’t think it helps a good Batman tale when they show up (an exception being The Dark Knight Returns). The Long Halloween is a great example of a Batman only tale. Damian stays entirely in Gotham, where he should be.

Violence has a cost: Batman does not kill, but Damian as Robin sure does. It makes a little sense since he was raised by the league of assassins, but his violent tendencies force Bruce to come out of wherever he was hiding (seriously thought he was a ghost for a second) and challenge Damian’s right to wear the Robin or the Batman costume. It takes understanding Batman’s creed to really make Damian a worthy successor, though truthfully in Morrison and Kubert’s portrayal he still seems willing to kill. He just gets a little more upset about it and feels guilty when he has to.

Except no substitutes: Just as Damian is taking on the mantle of the Batman, someone is taking up the purple coat of the Joker. Bet the real Joker’s not gonna be too happy about that.

Summary: Like Morrison’s work, Kubert’s telling seems to leave out some crucial information, and makes some jarring plot leaps at times. But some of the humor, particularly in giving an origin story to Alfred the cat, does help to lighten the tale. Kubert’s work is the better part of this collection. Not a very good collection for people who aren’t more familiar with Damian or Grant Morrison’s Batman work. (3 out of 5).

DC provided me with a free electronic copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Illegitimates by Taran Killam and Marc Andreyko

81kn9lt0gAL._SL1500_You might recognize Taran Killam from SNL (or from being married to Cobie Smulders), but apparently he is also quite the James Bond aficionado. So much so that he’s written his own “tribute” comic.

With a title like The Illegitimates I wasn’t expecting very much, but Killam displays a surprisingly good knowledge of Bond pastiches, even in his choice of mothers for his five … er …  successors to the Bond franchise. Well, okay not Bond, but Jack Steele, but you get the point. Agent Steele is killed by his arch enemy Viktor Dannikor in what I have to say is  unfortunately gruesome fashion given the tone of the rest of the book (think fighting on top of a train with a sudden stop from a tunnel and actually seeing the results). Now Olympus (Steele’s MI-5) must replace Steele with his five children out of wedlock, because his skills are genetic apparently.

Given Steele’s jet-setting lifestyle we’ve got a good ethnic variety of progeny, and most fall into particular stereotypes. We have the country hick\marksman, the Mexican Mama’s boy, a Japanese car enthusiast, an African espionage agent, and a computer expert because y’know, the story needs at least one techie. Can this team of misfits live up to their father’s legacy and defeat Dannikor? And who is the mysterious traitor inside their ranks?

Actually, quite enjoyable except for the bits of uncharacteristic violence, and a few unfortunate incest attractiveness jokes, but these are more than made up for with smart nods to the whole scope of Bond films including dams, space stations, and gadgets. (4 out of 5).

Have a good weekend!

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Robots, Rocket Girls, Meteors and Glow-y Eyes

As you might have guessed, it’s time for another NetGalley installment or “all Ben really does any more is read comic books”. Hey, I’ll have you know I also wrote 1000 words toward a new story this week, and 1000s more in a technical manual. So, hah! I honestly think there are some of you out there who will like these books better than I did, so don’t let my picky-ness deter you if something sounds interesting.

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Alex + Ada by Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn

coverThis is miles better than Luna’s other work Girls (which I dropped hard after the first issue). That said, there are some pacing problems, and Luna’s artwork still has a tendency toward sullen, bored looking characters.

Alex is still moping after the loss of his girlfriend. His sexually precocious and apparently loaded Grandma suggests he buy an android to take care of his “needs.” Actually, she’s such a nice Grandma that she buys him one for his birthday.

Don’t leave yet. Alex isn’t as much of a creep as some of Luna’s other characters. He doesn’t know what to do with this gift he doesn’t quite want and yet is intrigued by. The problem is Ada is too agreeable. She does whatever he tells her, doesn’t have an opinion of her own, and can’t really form much of a connection with him. Alex, intrigued by robots with more full intelligence and looking to mod or hack Ada, goes online and easily finds a community willing to make her into a real girl. Will Alex + Ada form a real bond, or will she run away screaming?

Well, you’ll have to wait till the next volume, cause Luna + Vaughn take an entire book to tell maybe two issues of story. There are some laughs with a robot asking for cheesesteaks as fuel, and, well, the sexually precocious grandmother, but it’s a long walk to get there. Luna’s depiction of on-line communities is interesting, if you really like hexagons. In short good, but you’ll need more to know if this is really going anywhere. (3 out of 5)

City: The Mind in the Machine by Eric Garcia

downloadWhat if you built a system that scoured every camera, every piece of data it could find, and tried to detect and prevent crime, re-routing resources where they could best keep your city safe? And what if this system was as dumb as a bag of hammers and couldn’t tell a group of kids playing cops and robbers from the real thing? Answer, the most common of sci-fi tropes, you need the human element.

Ben Fischer helped develop this system, Golden Shield, and conveniently (for the plot) lost his eyes in a train gas incident and now has been fitted with cybernetic eyes that also connect to his brain and to Golden Shield. Pretty soon he’s using expensive tram cars to stop car jackers and getting more play with the ladies, as all those who are cybernetically confident tend to do. But when he actually tries to track down the terrorists who bombed his train, his handlers in Homeland want him shut down, with extreme prejudice.

Look, it’s not bad, and it has a few laughs, but it’s basically any action movie with a few sci-fi trappings. Except for Golden Shield, and a few flying drones, everything is decidedly of this period. The story takes place in San Francisco but very little of the actual city bleeds into the plot. It misses some opportunities to really comment on our loss of privacy beyond being able to tell if your buddy’s popcorn is burning, or creepy amounts of detail for a first date. Good bubblegum read, but nothing to suggest this will be a thoughtful continuing epic. (3 out of 5)

Rocket Girl by Brandon Montclare

coverThis book has no pretensions of being profound, as evidenced by the reproduction of the conversation between the creators on its creation. That said, it is enormous fun. 15 year old New York Teen Police Office DaYoung is sent back to the past to stop the technologically advanced world brought about by Quantum Mechanics. She rockets (heh, get it) back to the year 1986 from an alternate future 2013 in which teens are cops because adults can’t be trusted, and DaYoung suspects Quantum Mechanics of sending its own tech to the past to invent it sooner.

Amy Reeder’s reproductions of 1980s New York and its alternate future are a visual delight, as are the antics of the Rocket Girl. Of course within a few pages she saves someone dangling off the statue of Liberty, and breaks up a robbery by sending fruit flying, all while eluding the cops in increasingly acrobatic, or clever camoflage ways. And I’m a sucker for the commissioner in 2013, a kid (well maybe he’s 20) in an over-sized trenchcoat with a big cigar. He looks hilarious and acts accordingly.

While there are some logical questions to be asked, like why the Quantum Mechanics scientists of the past would help the rocket girl thwart their own future success, or why DaYoung would want to take away a future where she gets to fly around and fight crime (except maybe for an over-developed sense of justice). That said there are twists and turns to surprise you, and a sense that even with the first arc closed, there’s a lot more to come in the past. The comic also does some great side-by-side panels of both timelines, unfolding the stories in parallel as if they are happening at the same time. All-in-all, great fun that’s bound to get even better. (4 out of 5)

Meteor Men by Jeff Parker

coverYou and a bunch of your teenage friends, and really everyone in the town, are sitting on your farmland looking at the meteor shower when something falls out of the sky. Suddenly you are the proud owner of a meteorite, well one that has split apart and has a suspiciously uniform hollow part to it. Between trying to assert your ownership of the rock from your over eager scientist friend, and finding a strange alien being in the woods who speaks to you telepathically and likes barbecue sandwiches, your life has suddenly become pretty hectic.

Turns out there are hundreds (maybe thousands) of these meteors that fell all over the world, and yet somehow this teenager out on the farm is the only one who can really communicate with them. And what happened to your boss at the gas station anyway?

This book is kind of E.T. meets Spider-Man 3 (trust me, you’ll get it when you read it). Of course you’ve got a government that over-reacts to the alien beings and tries to kill them all, only to discover they are basically invulnerable and can fling things really far. Oh and they seem to be really protective of this kid and misinterpret almost any action as a threat.

There are a few surprises, particularly the choices and attitudes and the end, but the ending also seems kind of abrupt given the setup. The artwork for the night sky is pretty good, and they do a pretty good job with the teenage moppet, but the alien design is pretty standard and most of the other characters fall into established roles. You’ve read this story, seen this movie, or watched this TV show before, but this is another competent execution of it. (3 out of 5)

Next week I might change things up and review some NetGalley manga. Till then, what are you reading?

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eBooks by the shovel full

I picked up my first Nook this weekend.

The stated purpose of this second eReader is to proof the EPUB version of the fractal book, and indeed I’ve already learned a number of formatting tips I’ll be passing along in a future post. But one clear advantage to the Nook is the SD expansion slot. This one hardware difference gives the Nook the ability to carry as much as ten times the content of the Kindle.

Now how am I going to fill it?

One way I’ve been trying recently is NetGalley. NetGalley offers advanced galleys of upcoming books, some immediately available and some available upon request. I got ahold of Burning The Page from this service, and have already queued up the next couple of books including Love and Math. NetGalley’s especially good for bloggers, or those with healthy GoodReads followings, as requests for books have a greater likelihood of going through if you have a lot of followers. And best of all, it’s free, and you get to read things before the general public.

Another bundle service I came across from my PW Daily e-mails is the simply titled ebookbundles.com. This site is actually four sites, or four bundles, general fiction\non-fiction, romance, sci-fi, and fantasy. The prices tend to be between $5.99 to $9.99 for four to five books, most of them DRM free. I bought my first of these bundles about a month ago, in large part because the cost of one book in the bundle on Amazon was the same as the cost for five on this site. Not all of the books are available for direct download, however. For those with DRM you’ll need to work with Adobe Digital Editions to retrieve the books. NetGalley uses this program for some of its books as well. Adobe Digital Editions is not perfect, and doesn’t seem particularly good at transferring libraries between computers, but it will work for transferring books to your eReader. The site seems a little dodgy at times, but tech support is very helpful if you have problems. There are a couple of free books as well you can get by signing up for their newsletter. I’ve been signed up for about a month and only get the occasional e-mail to it’s not too spammy.

Last but not least is a bundle starting yesterday from the StoryBundle site. For $10 you can pick up eight science fiction titles including a never before published novel from Frank Herbert (author of Dune), or you can pay as little as $1 for six books. I have heard of a number of these authors , and this seems like a low risk way to try them all. The books are available in Nook and Kindle formats so I can read them on both my eReaders. And they are DRM free. Definitely recommend if you are the least bit interested in sci-fi, though the site runs all sorts of bundles so check back to see if they have something more your speed.

And speaking of Bundles, the fractal bundle should be ready in a couple of weeks. Keep watching this space.

Any other places you get eBooks, particularly in bundles?

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