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Harlequin Medical Romance: The Penhally Bay Series

When Mills & Boon celebrated its centennial a few years ago, it commissioned a series to mark the occasion in its Medical Romance line. The series was to be set in the fictional coastal Cornwall town of Penhally Bay and all the novels would focus on characters who came to work or already lived there. Penhally Bay was too small for a full-sized hospital, but one of the focal, continuing characters of the series had established a surgery. The doctors and nurses who worked in the surgery (including Strangers Coming To Town and Bad Boys Returning Home), the patients who came for treatment, and auxiliary members of the town medical community all played main characters in the novels. The town’s location on the coast also provided opportunities for sea disasters and rescues, and the famous cliffs and mines of Cornwall offered even more drama.

The Brides of Penhally Bay series was initially intended to comprise 12 novels, releasing one per month through 2008. It was so popular that it was extended to 16 books, and then a second  8-book series, set in the nearest larger town’s hospital, St. Piran, was begun. Readers were already familiar with St. Piran because that was where serious Penhally cases were taken for hospital care.  In addition, the St. Piran’s Hospital series finally wrapped up the long-running romance of Dr. Nick Tremayne, the head of the Penhally surgery, and his practice manager Kate Althorp. Their complicated relationship had been revealed and developed over the earlier books but never resolved.

As a faithful Medicals reader, I was thrilled to find the series, but as an American customer I was less thrilled to discover that they were unavailable for sale in the US. Luckily I am able to buy UK books, so I snapped up the omnibus volumes available from M&B (4 volumes of 4 books each) and burned through them. Finally, in 2011, the series came to Harlequin’s US bookstore. They are again releasing one per month, on Harlequin’s inexplicable schedule of print before ebook (i.e., a January print book is not released in ebook form until February).

I’m not going to review all 16 books, but with more than half released so far, I thought it would be worthwhile to provide quick summaries of the first eight individual novels and ask readers to chime in with their thoughts (and reactions if they’ve read them). A warning to non-regular Medicals readers: these books feature all the standard tropes. Big Mis, Secret Babies, reunion stories, friends to lovers, non-secret babies, other secrets, etc., plus of course lots of medical stuff. The pleasure, for me, lies in the way the authors deploy these tropes. Some work really well, others not so much. But if you’re a fan of continuity series like me, it’s worth reading them all to build the knowledge of the world.

Christmas Eve Baby by Caroline Anderson. This books introduces both the series as a whole and the first of Nick Tremayne’s children, his only daughter Lucy. Lucy and Ben Carter are doctors and former friends who were driven apart by a family tragedy for which Nick holds Ben responsible. Lucy and Ben meet again and fall into bed with predictable M&B results and have to deal with Lucy’s antagonistic father and make decisions about their futures. Anderson is a skilled writer; she does an excellent job of introducing a large cast of characters and setting the stage for future installments, and Lucy and Ben are very likable main characters.

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The Italian’s New-Year Marriage Wish by Sarah Morgan. Amy Avanti comes back to seek a divorce from her Italian doctor-husband, Marco. Amy ran out on Marco two years ago and went to practice medicine in Africa. They are still very much in love, but Amy refuses to tell Marco the real reason she left, and he refuses to give her a divorce until she explains. It’s a Big Mis meets reunion story. Marco is a gorgeous, sexy, endearing hero of the type Morgan writes so well. Some readers will find Amy sympathetic and others will want to shake her; I fell somewhere in between. The setting is further developed and we learn more about Kate and Nick, but Morgan’s attention to context doesn’t lessen her focus on the main relationship.

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The Doctor’s Bride by Sunrise by Josie Metcalfe. Adam Donnelly comes back to Penhally to rekindle his interrupted relationship with his childhood friend, paramedic Maggie Pascoe. He has some explaining to do, but before they can do much but say hello, they’re both required at a rescue operation that involves Kate Althorp’s young son Jem. Metcalfe offers an unusual setting and time-frame: most of the book takes places in the course of the rescue and Adam and Maggie only communicate by 2-way radio for a large section of the book. Nevertheless, she manages to create a sweet story of reunion and romance amidst a dangerous rescue operation, and it’s not as incongruous as it sounds. It doesn’t entirely work, but it’s fun to watch it unfold.

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The Surgeon’s Fatherhood Surprise by Jennifer Taylor. Playboy surgeon Jack Tremayne comes back to Penhally Bay when he gains custody of his 3-year-old son, about whose existence he only learns when the mother dies and leaves him as the custodial parent. Neighbor Alison Myers, practice nurse at the Penhally surgery, friend of his sister Lucy, and single mother of her own 3-year-old, is an invaluable help as he adjusts to instant fatherhood. This is a fairly predictable story of playboy turns family man, heavy on the medical and Tremayne family subplots, but the hero and heroine are likeable and the matching 3-year-olds are not overly annoying.

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The Doctor’s Royal Love-Child by Kate Hardy. This story pairs one of the handsome foreign surgery doctors we’ve come to know and like, Dragan Lovak, with Melinda Fortesque, the town vet who turns out to be a Royal Princess. Her family is pressuring her to give up her profession and come back to assume royal duties. While I’m usually not a fan of princess stories, this one worked for me. Dragan is a wonderful, winning hero, and Melinda is down-to-earth and surprisingly believable as someone who would rather be a wife and vet in a Cornish village.  Pregnancy storyline but not a secret baby.

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Nurse Bride, Bayside Wedding by Gill Sanderson. This story introduces the third Tremayne sibling, Ed, who has returned to Penhally after a difficult tour of duty as an army doctor. He meets ship’s nurse Maddie Granger when her cruise ship is moored in Penhally Bay with an outbreak of Novovirus that puts many elderly passengers at risk. Like the other Tremayne-centered stories, this one has more of a focus on Nick and Kate, as well as on Nick’s relationship with Ed. Ed and Maddie both come with baggage from past relationships which affects their current lives, in Maggie’s case quite directly. The book is competently written but didn’t really do that much for me, in part because I found the shipboard and virus storyline less interesting than those involving village and countryside residents. The patients are mostly senior citizens and the main characters are fairly quiet personalities.

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Single Dad Seeks A Wife by Melanie Milburne. This novel moves away from the surgery staff and Tremayne family and features a relationship between visiting Australian forensic pathologist Eloise Hayden and Chief Inspector Lachlan D’Ancey. Eloise has come to investigate the drowning death of a renowned young Australian surfer, whom Lachlan’s teenaged daughter had befriended. The conflict between them is well-motivated and their growing attraction nicely handled, and the introduction of a mystery subplot makes a nice change of pace. Lachlan is a sympathetic and winning hero and his relationship with his daughter is one of the novel’s strengths. Nick and Kate are important characters and a Big Secret of their past is revealed.

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Virgin Midwife, Playboy Doctor by Margaret McDonagh. The heroine is definitely a virgin, and the doctor is something of a playboy, as advertised, but in McDonagh’s skilled hands this turns into anything but a fill-in-the-trope story. McDonagh is fast becoming one of my most reliable Medicals authors and this novel shows why. Chloe MacKinnon is the midwife at Penhally surgery and while she is attracted to fill-in doctor Oliver Fawkner, the gulf between their respective backgrounds and experience makes her shy away from getting to know him outside work. Oliver is intrigued by Chloe but she’s clearly not the type for a quick fling, and she’s shy but no doormat. For his part, Oliver is a playboy but he’s not a jerk, and his efforts to woo Chloe and win her trust are sweet to read. You can see why these opposite personalities are attracted to each other.

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Recapping these eight novels, one thing that stands out to me is that many of the main and supporting characters are not that young. Several heroes are in their late thirties or early forties, and they are often paired up with heroines in their thirties. Nick Tremayne is well into middle age, and Kate Althorp is no youngster herself. There are subplots with teenagers, and while there are lots of pregnancies and marriages, they don’t seem as overwhelming to me as they might in a group of stand-alone novels because they fit into the warp and weft of village life. Every book in the Penhally Bay series isn’t a keeper, but overall the authors have done an excellent job of creating a shared world that I’ve enjoyed returning to over and over.

How about you? Do any of these stories pique your interest? Have you read them and do you have recommendations? And if anyone wants more information on any particular title, let me know in the comments.

Series at Harlequin

Sunita has been reading romances since she ran out of Cherry Ames, Student Nurse and Chalet School books and graduated to Mary Stewart and Georgette Heyer. Other old favorites include Mary Burchell, Betty Neels, Elsie Lee, and Edith Layton. Among current writers, she reads and rereads Anne Stuart, Tamara Allen, Jordan Castillo Price, Sarah Morgan, Marion Lennox, Josh Lanyon, and Susanna Kearsley.

34 Comments

  1. Darlynne
    Oct 29, 2011 @ 11:08:42

    What a great recap. You had me at “Cornwall,” but lost me at all the tropes, which are just too much to overlook. Big misunderstandings and secret babies make me want to hit something and yet, it’s Cornwall. There is so much else to like, particularly older protagonists, that I may have to take one for a spin. Do you recommend Christmas Eve Baby to start and not send me running for the door?

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  2. Mikaela
    Oct 29, 2011 @ 11:21:58

    @Sunita: I don’t know if it is because I live in Sweden, but I have found that Booksonboard are early with category novels ;). For example I could buy Maya Banks latest Harlequins the same day the print book was released.

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  3. Anne Ardeur
    Oct 29, 2011 @ 11:29:13

    Some of these sound familiar, but I can’t say for sure whether I’ve read them or whether they just have similar plots to other M&B medicals I’ve read. I have read a *lot* of Mills & Boon over the years, as romance was the only decently-stocked fiction section of the libraries I frequented growing up, and M&B made up the vast majority of them. And they were always easy to find (and cheap!) in Oxfam etc, not so much the other genres I enjoy!

    But anyway, back on topic. The summaries sound interesting, and I might have to try to pick some of these up. Would you recommend starting at the beginning of the series, or do they read well as stand-alones/partial series?

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  4. Sunita
    Oct 29, 2011 @ 11:37:31

    @Darlynne: It is most definitely Cornwall, you can smell the sea air in most of these. The authors do a very good job of incorporation setting.

    And I want to stress that not every book uses every trope, by any means. All the Harlequin lines have their own tropes, and Medicals just tend to have more babies. The hero and heroine in the Milburne are in their 30s and 40s and there are no misunderstandings or secret babies. The Hardy has an excellent lead couple as well, not quite as old but definitely grown up.

    Christmas Eve Baby has a pregnancy plot and geez, why not condoms, but if you can get over that hump the rest of it is much better and it does introduce the series well.

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  5. Sunita
    Oct 29, 2011 @ 11:39:51

    @Mikaela: If you are getting the Medicals early then I envy you! For some reason, and only in this line, there is a disjuncture between print and e-release. It makes doing Recommended Reads a bit of a pain (although it lets me fall behind and catch up with the recommendation on the next month, so I shouldn’t complain too much).

    @Anne Ardeur: I read an even later one first and enjoyed it. I’m compulsive about reading in order but you don’t need to in these, except that certain revelations about Nick and Kate are made in later books. If you don’t mind those spoilers, you should be fine.

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  6. Julie
    Oct 29, 2011 @ 11:42:52

    I adore Medical Romances and the Penhally Bay series features some of my favourite writers. This series features some of M&B’s finest IMO and some of these titles are on my keeper shelves.

    I think that it’s best to read these books in order as the Kate and Nick love story is spread out across all of the books.

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  7. RebeccaJ
    Oct 29, 2011 @ 12:30:06

    Everything old is new again it seems. When I first started reading M&B’s/Harlequins, so many of them were about doctors and nurses and the operating ‘theater’:) But I also remember that soooo many of those had the “i hate you, i hate you, i hate you, let’s get married’ theme. Probably why it turns me off so much now.

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  8. RebeccaJ
    Oct 29, 2011 @ 12:31:04

    Oh and one of the writers I remember reading many times then…Betty Neels.

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  9. Sunita
    Oct 29, 2011 @ 12:41:57

    @RebeccaJ: Almost none of them have that dynamic anymore, although like you, I remember the old days. We still see that in Presents, but rarely in Medicals.

    Yes, Neels definitely had a book type where the heroine was in conflict with the hero for much of the book (in the more annoying ones she would flounce a lot).

    @Julie: Definitely you miss the development of the Nick and Kate relationship if you read out of order.

    I agree with your assessment of the series. Going back and rereading for this summary, I was struck by the consistently high quality.

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  10. Sarah_Florida
    Oct 29, 2011 @ 12:42:27

    I have enjoyed several of Margaret McDonagh’s books, including the one mentioned, and she is now an author that I look out for.

    ** spoiler **
    My mom tells me that in one of her latest books (don’t know the title but I think its the St Pirans series)  the heroine has HIV. I don’t know if there have been any other series books that have this theme so it could be a first for Mills & Boon.

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  11. Jane
    Oct 29, 2011 @ 13:29:41

    I just added the Fictionwise links because there is a 55% off sale and the entire series is $13.03 (I have a buywise membership). It is easiest, if you want to get the series, to go to Fictionwise and then hit “Advanced search” Type “Penhally” in the Keyword and choose “Harlequin” as publisher. All 8 titles will come up.

    The Fictionwise code is 102811.

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  12. Becca
    Oct 29, 2011 @ 14:08:00

    I’m confused – for 8 titles, I get something over $32.

    Also, the format is Secure Ereader – I take it this is not something I can read on my Kindle. Can I convert with Calibre, or are they DRM’d?

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  13. Sunita
    Oct 29, 2011 @ 14:14:30

    @Becca: Once you put in the code (below the “Ready to Checkout” section) and then update your cart, the price should drop.

    Yes, that is a secure format. If you have the Calibre plugin for de-drm then you can convert for Kindle compatibility, but not otherwise.

    @Jane: Those recurring Fictionwise codes are going to bankrupt me and use up all my hard drive space.

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  14. Brian
    Oct 29, 2011 @ 17:38:54

    I read the M&B omnibus versions of these a while back and liked them for the most part (some were obviously better than others). Didn’t know about the St. Piran’s Hospital series so I’ll have to look into that (I’m a sucker for a series).

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  15. Statch
    Oct 29, 2011 @ 18:01:18

    Thanks for the Fictionwise link, Jane! I wasn’t expecting another good discount after having the 60% one so recently. I hadn’t read any of these but had the Sarah Morgan one in my TBR list. I had read one other by Margaret McDonagh (Emergency Doctor Claims His Wife) and I had a note that I didn’t care for it and thought the characters acted too immaturely, but I just bought this one and really like it (about halfway through). Unfortunately, Fictionwise only has one other by her.

    This was a great summary. I’m sure it took some time to put together — thanks for doing it, Sunita. There were several other authors on the list that were on my ‘read one book – don’t buy more’ list so I’m going to give them another try too.

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  16. RebeccaJ
    Oct 29, 2011 @ 18:20:04

    @Sunita..LOL! I don’t remember the “flouncing” but I remember the ‘operating theatre’ because I had NO IDEA what that was all about….AND the moors! They were always taking a walk on the moors when they were deep in retrospection:) Had no idea what that was for the longest time either. Throw in a heroine named Petra and we’re good to go!

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  17. Danielle D
    Oct 29, 2011 @ 20:14:51

    I’ve never read this line.

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  18. Julie
    Oct 30, 2011 @ 04:39:05

    @Sunita Kate and Nick’s story concludes in the first book in the St Piran’s series Wedding of the Year by the wonderful Caroline Anderson. In St. Piran’s, there’s a new long-running story about Megan and Josh, former lovers who meet again.

    The Margaret McDonagh HIV book is Italian Surgeon, Forbidden Bride. Margaret McDonagh writes emotional and heart-wrenching romances and this book is one of her best.

    It’s funny how the Medical Romance is always considered by many to be a very conservative line, when in fact some of romance’s most controversial and daring plots are found within this series.

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  19. SHZ
    Oct 30, 2011 @ 05:30:40

    That baby terrifies me.

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  20. Sunita
    Oct 30, 2011 @ 09:57:28

    @Julie: Thanks much for that info! I’ve avoided the St. Piran’s series because I knew once I started I’d be hooked, but here I go again.

    @SHZ: I know. Apologies. I can’t decide if it’s the giant head, the smile, or the Christmas red.

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  21. Sarah_Florida
    Oct 30, 2011 @ 12:12:26

    Another medical romance author I was recommended is Anne Fraser. I am currently reading Prince Charming of Harley Street and enjoying it.

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  22. Sarah_Florida
    Oct 30, 2011 @ 12:18:20

    @Julie I read the St Pirans book that Sarah Morgan wrote (and loved it btw) and was intrigued by the Megan/Josh story line so I asked her on twitter in July if she was writing their story and she replied that there were no plans at that time but that who knows what might happen in the future. I was a little disappointed as I felt Josh/Megan needed a conclusion.

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  23. Sunita
    Oct 30, 2011 @ 19:59:46

    @Sarah_Florida: DA has reviewed Anne Fraser a couple of times, including a review of Prince Charming. I didn’t like the latter as much as you do, but I agree that Fraser is definitely an author I look out for.

    Thanks for the info on St. Piran’s! I have the Morgan in my TBR and look forward to reading it.

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  24. Julie
    Oct 31, 2011 @ 01:14:47

    @Sarah_Florida It’ a shame that there are no plans for the Megan/Josh story at the moment. I thought that another series would surely follow and they’d get their own story. Maybe M&B will have a rethink.

    I’ve read a couple of Anne Fraser books and liked them too.

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  25. Amy from Harlequin
    Oct 31, 2011 @ 17:51:20

    I’d like to clarify the ebook release dates for the Medical Romances — only the direct-only lines published in North America through our Reader Service program (such as Medicals, and a few special continuities) are a month behind print. It’s an issue with source file availability we are looking to improve on. The vast majority of Harlequin ebooks go on sale at the same time as print. Hope that helps!

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  26. Sunita
    Oct 31, 2011 @ 18:30:20

    @Amy from Harlequin: Thanks so much for commenting, Amy! I should have made it clear in my review that I was talking specifically about the Medical line. I can imagine it’s as frustrating for Harlequin and the authors as it is for readers.

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  27. Statch
    Oct 31, 2011 @ 19:54:43

    I read Christmas Eve Baby by Caroline Anderson, and liked it so much that I bought four more by her. (Darn you, Fictionwise sales.) I also read the Sarah Morgan. I did find the heroine a little annoying, but Morgan is such a good writer that it was plausible to me why she was that way. (I kept being annoyed, then thinking, “Oh, okay.”)

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  28. Amy Andrews
    Nov 01, 2011 @ 20:34:54

    Love the Penhally Bay series. Yes, I may be biased but to be honest I love linked books full stop.
    If the readers here enjoyed Penhally they might also like another couple of linked medical series.

    The four book Single, Free and Fabulous in Sydney series by Fiona McArthur, Carol Marinelli, Emily Forbes and Amy Andrews (yes, there goes that bias again!) brings a young, fresh, flirty feel to the medical line as it tracks the lives and loves of four newbie nurses living together in a house situated in a gorgeous coastal suburb of Sydney. It’s out now.

    And next year 7 Downunder medical authors are involved in a linked series all set at fictitious Sydney Harbour Hospital. The authors involved are Marion Lennox, Alison Roberts, Amy Andrews, Fiona Lowe, Melanie Milburne, Emily Forbes and Carol Marinelli.
    I think there’ll be something there for everyone!
    Amy

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  29. Statch
    Nov 02, 2011 @ 16:01:04

    @Amy Andrews, I love your books! I already had two of the books in that Single, Free & Fabulous series, including yours, but haven’t read them yet so didn’t realize it was part of a series. I’ve put the titles below, since I had a little trouble searching around to find them under the mini-series label. (It looks like Carol Marinelli’s book isn’t available from Fictionwise; hopefully it’ll be there next week. The ’102811′ 55% off Fictionwise coupon is still working today.) Is there an order they should be read in?

    Amy Andrews – Waking Up With Dr. Off-Limits
    Fiona McArthur – Survival Guide to Dating Your Boss
    Carol Marinelli – Cort Mason – Dr. Delectable
    Emily Forbes – Breaking Her No-Dates Rule

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  30. Amy Andrews
    Nov 02, 2011 @ 16:39:04

    HI Statch – lovely to hear you love my books :-)
    Yes the order is – Carol, Fiona, Emily then me. The e-harl website has them all.

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  31. Brian
    Nov 05, 2011 @ 23:45:54

    @Amy Andrews: Good to hear about the Sydney Harbour Hospital series. To bad HQN (or someone else) doesn’t have a listing somewhere of all the various mini-series that’ve been done over the years. I’ve looked and anything I’ve found has been very incomplete.

    I just finished the first two St. Piran’s books and liked them both quite a bit.

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  32. anne lawless
    Apr 15, 2012 @ 07:21:54

    hi would like to know is there is a follow up to josh and megan from st pirans can anyone help

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  33. Rod
    Jun 07, 2012 @ 23:55:49

    Fascinating rundown. My hiorsty is similar. I started with an ebookwise 1150. I read mainly public domain stuff and it hit me how much public domain stuff is really out there. I loved that device, and I mourned its loss when I accidentally dropped it while in Boston (ironically, to give a lecture at Emerson about ebooks). I used a Sony 505 and cybook as well. Loved it, though I had performance issues with Sony. Continued public domain stuff and still bought mostly print books (mainly on half and library book sales). Wasn’t in the least bit tempted to buy any ebooks though I downloaded a lot of creative commons stuff. I was extremely disappointed with the quality of epubs and the hardware constraints. Nobody was really trying to make great-looking ebooks for easy reading across platforms. Ipad radically changed my reading habits. I no longer worried about format compatibility or DRM as much. I bought several nonfiction titles, some on Amazon, some as PDFs which I read on good reader. Previously I felt reading PDFs was counterproductive. Now I no longer avoid PDFs because I know I can read them easily on ipad. I keep all the city’s bus schedules as PDFs in Good reader, as well as Paris Review interviews and climate change documents. Also, exhilarated to browse through feedbooks, PG and other places using Stanza. finding public domain has never been easier. I really don’t have problems paying for fiction content, but most of the fiction which interests me is still available for cheaper as a print book. I expect this to change quickly. Except for special interest nonfiction (in which I’d be willing to pay a little more), I really can’t see myself paying more than $3 for a creative title. But I see myself buying a lot more of it. Let me just say: I have nothing against Lulu/smashwords titles, but neither site really let you browse easily. I’d be more likely to buy things from those sites if they were mentioned on a blog or mailing list. But i think smashwords is great. Up until recently I used to say that 90% of my reading was still done with print books. With my ipad, I think the ratio has gone to 50% (especially since I take a lot of mass transit). As much reading as I do on the ipad, the glare makes it hard to read in a lot of circumstances and frankly I don’t like reading the ipad late at night my eyes need a rest. for this reason I will be buying a Nook touch tomorrow!

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