Where To Find: Free & Cheap Books

As an avid pursuer of the next great read, I am constantly in bookstores, reading the New York Times Book Review, on Amazon and Goodreads, and talking to my coworkers and friends’ moms (lol but for real) and students about books: What’s out there, which I might like, and which are must-reads.

But as you know… books can get expensive. So here are some of my life hacks for getting books on the cheap: 

1. Overdrive

I JUST found out about this resource this year…and it’s life-changing. If you have a library, you have something like Overdrive that offers e-books to anyone with a library card. I use the app version, but you can also use the webpage on your computer to check out and read books as well. Once you get into the system, you simply find your library, log in using your library card, and you’re good to go. Yes, the books still need to be checked out, and have due dates (along with limited copies, and therefore waiting lists for new/high-interest books), but Overdrive is a game changer. Once checked out, most books download to your device as a Kindle book. Plus, any notes or mark-ups you make on the library copy of book will save in your account and transfer to your book if you end up buying it later. Books can easily jump across different devices as long as you’ve got the necessary apps downloaded. SO COOL.

It also offers AUDIOBOOKS!!!!!! For those of you (like me) who need something to listen to during travels/long drives, this is pretty awesome. I 100% deleted my Audible account because of this service. LOVE IT.

Side note: If you haven’t done so yet, make a point to collect library cards if you move, or trade numbers with trusted family/friends in other areas. That’s the best way to navigate Overdrive (imo). I have South-Central Wisconsin, Arlington, DC, and Alexandria library cards, and therefore can scan multiple collections to see who has which books available when I want to read them (or the shortest wait list. Either one.)  Guys, you need to get Overdrive

2. MackinVIA

This is my school’s version of Overdrive. So it might a resource for other library systems, too? Either way, here’s your reminder to ask your librarian if they have an e-book system available for you. 

3. The Library

(Duh. Unless you’re like my mom and can only think about the germs library books collect.)

4. Personal Libraries of Friends & Relatives

Unless you’re an only child/freak about sharing your stuff like I am, borrow and lend from a trusted friend! All throughout college I got my books from a girl in my cohort, and a boss who loaned me her books from time to time. The best part: It’s free!

Stipulation: I say friends because acquaintances can’t always be trusted to return your books… and I add family because you’ll most likely see them again so you can demand your books be returned to you. Tbh you just need to keep track of that stuff. I once lent a coworker my hardcover of JK Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy, then proceeded to move back to college and would have never seen that book again had I not RSVP’d to a work party later in the year and hounded him to bring the book with him. Upon its return, this dude had the gall to say he didn’t even finish it because it was “boring” (OMG can you believe this guy?! I mean, it was grown-up British-suburb-style JKR, but what did he expect?!)! My best piece of advice would be to simply have long-ish conversations about your reading before you trust others with your books. Hint: If people always agree with you or are wishy-washy when you talk books, it might be a sign that they don’t actually care, so try not to force books on them needlessly (Can you tell I’m over-protective about my books?).

5. Little Free Libraries

Have you noticed any cute wooden houses that are too big for birds but strangely located next to a sidewalk? Then you’ve seen a Little Free Library! (Hopefully this is old news to you. I know I have like three of them in a two-block radius of my house (lucky me!).) These can be hit or miss; On one hand, it can be as amazing as lending a book from a friend without having to ask them… or returning it. On the other hand, it can be as anti-climatic as going to a Goodwill and seeing only yellowed romance novels. You win some, you lose some. They sure are adorable, though. 

A sampling of Little Free Libraries located around my neighborhood.

6. Library Sales

As a first-year teacher of middle school Reading, I have become obsessed with finding library sales near me. To find these, I’ve been using booksalefinder.com. The site looks a little ad-heavy, but it’s supremely helpful – you can filter state, zip code, etc. to see where sales are near you. Library sales (like the ones the site tends to list) generally sell lightly used books for under $5 – I got 215 books for $175 this spring! (I’m insane, I know. I’ll never read them all, I know. But what’s life without goals?! Without something to look forward to?!)

An awesome library sale in Arlington, VA sold books for 50 cents to a dollar each – !

7. Garage Sales

This seems too obvious, but I sometimes forget they exist, so here’s your reminder. Garage sales definitely put you at the mercy of the seller’s book tastes, but if you’re lucky you’ll hit up some gems once in a while.

8. Scholastic Warehouse Sales

Remember those monthly book flyers from elementary school? The ones that you gave back to your teacher with a check from your mom and, magically, a few weeks later, those books would show up on your desk?! I was one of those kids who liveddddddd for those book flyers, and school book fairs, and Scholastic is the company that puts them on (And yes, they still do book sales in schools. My teacher status puts me in the know. Yes, kids are still mostly interested in the fun pencils and stuff rather than the books. But some nerds like us dig the books, too 🙂 ). This Scholastic warehouse gig is exactly like stepping inside a book flyer… except it’s a warehouse and all of the books are exposed and in stacks, aisle upon aisle… it’s a bibliophile’s paradise, and you have to have an experience like this at least once in your life. 

When I was a kid, my parents received a flyer about a Scholastic warehouse sale every year in June after I got out of school. I’m still not sure what kind of witchcraft did my parents pulled to find out about these, but if you have a Scholastic warehouse near you, this is an amazing way to get books (new books!) on the cheap, especially books for young folks, published by Scholastic (obviously. But I still had to say it). 

I still have the boxes from these sales in my childhood closet – I asked my dad to snap a picture for me to post!

9. Costco

Yes, I’m saying it. I just got a Costco membership for the first time in my life (#momstatus #idontevenhavekids) and they sell books there, mostly for the same price that Amazon would sell it. Not sure about the ethics of this, but hey, it exists. And, I picked up a signed copy of The Hearts of Men in a Wisconsin Costco on my last trip!

10. Amazon

Okay, let’s be real, yes I’ve bought books from Amazon, but you also have to think about the negative impact the company has on the local bookstores we all love. PSA: Read the next paragraph. 

Last but not least, books on the cheap are great, but if you’re looking for new books, a lot of times we readers just have to bite the bullet and pay cover price for them. Remember to support your local independent book stores! A lot of the ones I’m familiar with have to do a lot of business just to break even, so they love your love. It literally keeps their doors open (I worked for a small independent toy store that my neighbor owned when I was a teen, so I know from experience that small businesses really do love your love!). Don’t let online sales force them out of business! You can also do what I do, which is read books for free, then buy the ones I really need to have on my shelves from the lovely independent stores I love. 

Go forth and read cheaply!

Book Review: Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan

The Basics: 

Clocking in at a whopping 587 pages, Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan is a multi-layered book that is hard to categorize, but will easily win your heart. Part historical fiction, part fantasy, the book centers around a harmonica and a prophesy that three sisters lend to a boy lost in the woods. This frame narrative holds together the three successive stories, which culminate in a literary crescendo. The harmonica finds its way to those who need it, starting with a birthmarked boy in Germany during Hitler’s rise to power, two orphaned boys in Philadelphia during the Great Depression, and a Mexican-American girl in California during the era of American’s Japanese internment camps. Friedrich, Mike, and Ivy all share a special connection to music that helps them through their various hardships…. Which sounds vague, but I can’t give too much away. The wonder is in the mystery, and no synopsis will do it justice!

What I Liked About It: 

There is an element of mystery in the book from the start. Three sisters trapped by a witch in the woods? Music as the uniting factor? All of these different storylines? That all end in cliffhangers?! My main concern throughout the book was “how does this all come together?!” and it kept me reading feverishly. I love books that have that effect on me. I have to admit, though, I once flipped to the back pages and read the ending before I was even halfway done with the book. Luckily, it didn’t make sense to me at that moment, so I just sped up my reading until I could fully enjoy the natural journey of the book.

And enjoy it I did. The three major story sections are so well written that you really fall for the characters -Friedrich and Ivy’s stories were my favorites – and when each section ends in a cliffhanger, it’s maddening beyond belief (in the best way possible)! But each time a story ended, I knew the next tale would be just as riveting. As you continue to become emotionally invested in the next character, and the next, and after entering three different worlds spanning three contentious, important historical moments, the book rewards you with the MOST AMAZING ENDING EVER. What I mean is, the ending is worth the wait, if you can stick out 500 pages to get to a good ending.

The Downside: It’s long. It’s meant for middle grades readers (and up, of course), but I don’t know a ton of 9-12 year olds (or… me) who have the patience to wait for the ending to come together without peeking.

Overall Rating: 4.5/5

Why I’d Recommend This Book: 

Even if you’re not the type of reader to tackle a book this large, you HAVE to read Friedrich’s story. This section of the book goes on my required reading list! It’s so good because, though I’ve read pretty much every book about WWII that has ever existed (I had an obsession for a while, okay?), the context here was so different and new. Friedrich and his family are not Jewish. Friedrich has a birthmark that makes him the object of teasing, but he has a very loving family in his father and older sister, who have always taken care of him. His love for music shines throughout the story. Then, while his sister is away at nursing school, she becomes a member of the Hitler Youth, throwing Friedrich and his father into turmoil – especially when it is no longer accepted to be neutral in Hitler’s Germany, or have a birthmark. This take on family dynamics in Germany was so fresh, and so compelling. A must-read!