Amazon Discounts More Kindle eBooks!

2001 - A Space Odyssey by Arthur C Clarke Enter The Saint book cover by Leslie Charteris

Goosebumps - Night of the Living Ventriloquist's Dummy Zane Grey - Dorn of the Mountains


Right now Amazon’s running two special sales on Kindle ebooks. First there’s the “$3.99 or less” sale. (Every month Amazon selects nearly 300 ebooks, which they sell at a discount until the end of the month.) But now Amazon is also running a second sale where the ebooks are even cheaper! On its own separate web page, through September 20th, it’s offering “225 Kindle Books for $1.99 or Less!”

For a shortcut to Amazon’s two sales, point your browser to:

Here’s some of the highlights.

2001 - A Space Odyssey by Arthur C Clarke

2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke ($1.99)

It’s one of the most famous science fiction stories of all time. (In the Kindle Store’s science fiction section, it’s still one of the top 50 best-selling books!) It’s a sprawling 324-page novel about humanity’s migration into space, including a famous confrontation between astronauts and a computer named HAL. But this edition also contains a secret second story about the director of the film, and the man who’d created the book.

30 years after he’d first published 2001: A Space Odyssey, Arthur C. Clarke penned a brand new introduction for its special anniversary edition. And then two weeks later, he received word that Stanley Kubrick had just died. “He was planning a special promotion of the movie in the year 2001,” Clarke remembers, now writing his second new introduction. “I am very sad that I am unable to share the occasion with him.”

Enter The Saint book cover by Leslie Charteris

Enter the Saint by Leslie Charteris

Before he played James Bond, Roger Moore starred as “The Saint”, a suave crimefighter, in a TV series which ran for 7 years. But that series was an adaptation of a very popular series of books, which was written over a period of 35 years by a colorful author named Leslie Charteries. Now his books have finally found their way into Amazon’s Kindle store — and Amazon’s discounting two of them to just $1.99. “Enter the Saint” was his very first story about the tough swashbuckler who goes up against a mob of drug smugglers. And they’re also discounting another book with three more classic stories, in a 282-page collection titled The Saint vs. Scotland Yard.

Goosebumps - Night of the Living Ventriloquist's Dummy

Classic Goosebumps #1: Night of the Living Dummy by R. L. Stine ($1.99)

This month Amazon’s discounting five different books from R. L. Stine’s popular “Goosebumps” series. There’s Werewolf of Fever Swamp and The 13th Warning, but also two newer entries in the 2012 relaunch of the franchise, which was titled “Goosebumps Most Wanted”. There’s Planet of the Lawn Gnomes and Zombie Halloween — and just in time for Halloween, Amazon’s also discounting a great tale about a ventriloquist’s dummy. One reviewer on Amazon described it as children’s horror literature, adding that Night of the Living Dummy “is quite possibly the greatest Goosebumps book ever written…”

That’s no small claim, since there’s over 60 different books in the series, and It’s hard to underestimate the huge popularity of the series. Over 350 million Goosebumps titles have been sold, and one newspaper even called their author the Stephen King of children’s books. So it’s especially nice that Amazon’s discounting one of the very first books in the series, which they’re lovingly describing as a “fan-favorite thriller and chiller”. (And it even includes new bonus material — about the scary ventriloquist dummy who comes to life…!)

Zane Grey - Dorn of the Mountains

Dorn of the Mountains by Zane Grey ($1.99)

It’s one of the classic western adventure novels — and the book itself has its own story, according to its description on Amazon. “When this powerful tale of adventure, danger, romance, and hope was first published — under the title Man of the Forest — it was dramatically different from what Zane Grey had originally written.” Its plot describes a desperate race against time for justice, and apparently its editors wanted to help speed things up. “Long passages had been removed, other passages written by someone else were inserted, and the hero’s name had been changed to Dale. Now, restored from Grey’s original manuscript, this wonderful novel can finally be enjoyed the way its author actually wrote it.”

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New XKCD Book Discounted 36% for Pre-Orders

New XKCD diagram book - Thing ExplainerXKCD’s web site is now touting its new upcoming book

Amazon’s discounting the newest book by XKCD cartoonist Randall Munroe by 36% — and it’s already become one of their best-selling books! What’s fascinating is the author’s previous book — published one year ago — is still Amazon’s #1 best-selling book in their “Physics” category, edging out Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. And now Randall’s new unpublished book is already Amazon’s #1 best-seller in their “Science & Math” subcategory for scientific instruments, and also #1 in Amazon’s Mechanics category.

For a shortcut to all of the author’s books, point your browser to

The new book is called Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words, and it normally retails for $24.95. But Amazon’s offering a special pre-order discount, selling it for just $15.99. It’s a beautiful collection of “large format” blueprints — 9″ x 13″ — offering the cartoonist’s wry, “detailed diagrams of interesting objects, along with explanations of what all the parts are and how they work,” according to a post on Randall’s XKCD blog. “The titles, labels, and descriptions are all written using only the thousand most common English words.

“Since this book explains things, I’ve called it Thing Explainer.”

Everything from datacenters to tectonic plates, and even all the controls in an airplane cockpit, will all get humorously simple descriptions. And in the blog post, Randall explains that he was inspired by his experience in trying to describe NASA’s Saturn V rocket (which carried 24 astronauts to the moon between 1968 and 1972). “Fire comes out here,” reads the bottom of the diagram, and Randall described the rocket’s control module as a “people box”. Another part of the diagram is labelled “part that flies around the other world and comes back home with the people in it and falls into the water…”

But best of all, Randall’s even describing this book in the same simple style that he’s using for its diagrams. (“I had a good time drawing Up Goer Five, so I decided to draw more pictures like that and make a book of them…”) It’d be a great, geeky gift — a 64-page masterpiece, released on November 24th, so it’ll be just in time for the big pre-December shopping season.

And yes, Amazon is also selling a collection of his popular XKCD comic strip – newly available in paperback format!

For a shortcut to the discounted book’s page, point your browser to

Randall Munroe XKCD book vs Stephen Hawking

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Get a Kindle for $59

Kindle back to school discount

Amazon’s lowered the price on their Kindle to just $59! (It’s a special back-to-school offer, so it’s a “limited-time” price…) That’s more than 25% off its regular price, and it’s a great way to try Amazon’s light readers with the glare-free, black-and-white touchscreen

For a shortcut to Amazon’s discounted Kindle,
point your browser to

The discount applies to Amazon’s six-inch Kindle, but they’re also offering a discount on their “Kindle for Kids” bundle. Now just $79, Amazon’s kid-friendly Kindle ships in a colorful textured cover that protects it from damage. (And to make it even more suitable for children, this Kindle’s screensaver won’t display any advertising.) Amazon’s also offering an extended two-year warranty, so you won’t have to worry about damage to the device, and it even awards “achievement badges” for the ebooks your child is reading.

Kids Bundle Kindle - Back to School
“Lighter than a paperback, holds thousands of books,” Amazon teases at the top of a recent promotional e-mail, which is touting the discount on both devices. I’m tempted to buy the $59 Kindle just to try a more recent version of the Kindle — and it weighs just 6.7 ounces! It’s got a 4-week battery life, according to Amazon’s specs, though it’s got a lower “pixel density” than the Kindle Paperwhite or the Kindle Voyage. But the Paperwhite now costs twice as much, and the Voyage is more than three times as expensive.

It’s the cheapest Kindle I’ve ever seen — and yes, it would make an awesome back-to-school gift!

Remember, for a shortcut to Amazon’s discounted Kindle,
point your browser to

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Amazon, Bookstores, and the Search for a Lost Novel

I learned a lot about books — more than I’d meant to — while preparing a blog post last month. It’s a personal story, full of real highs and some real frustrations, and a few moments of honest-to-god history. And it all ends up with a picture of a little boy waving at a train…

I was thrilled when my book club finally agreed to read one of my all-time favorite novels. But could I still find a hardcover version of the original 1943 novel? By the end of that evening, I’d visited six different bookstores, and only one of them had a copy on their shelves. But even more startling, I discovered that two of my favorite bookstores had gone out of business!

Nothing by the Author…
Only one obscure book by the author…
Out of business
Had the book!
Out of business

Shakespeare and Co in Berkeley - June 21st
After 50 years, Berkeley’s “Shakespeare & Co.” closed in June of 2015

In the end, it was easier to just purchase the book on Amazon — especially since I was able to locate both editions. (The revised 1966 Dell paperback, and the original Harcourt Brace and Co. hardcover from 1943). And I was delighted that I’d even found a version with the original dust jacket… William Saroyan had won a Pulitzer Prize just three years before he wrote The Human Comedy. So it felt tragic that it was so difficult to find a bookstore that would sell me a copy — and very important that I pursue this to wherever it led…

I’d live with these books for the next month, revisiting its story of small-town America — and discovering all the startling differences between the original and revised editions. And the very first difference I discovered was pretty substantial — every chapter’s title had been changed. “All the World Will Be Jealous of Me” had become simply “At Home”, and “You Go Your Way, I’ll Go Mine” had become “Mrs. Sandoval.” Soon I was stunned to discover that that pattern was repeating for every single chapter, which suggested more rich details that might be slipping away…

 A Song For Mr. Grogan  Mr. Grogan
 If a Message Comes   Mrs. Macauley
 Be Present at Our Table, Lord   Bess and Mary
 Rabbits Around Here Somewhere   The Veteran
 The Two-Twenty Low Hurdle Race   Miss Hicks
 The Trap, My God, the Trap!   Big Chris
 I’ll Take You Home Again   Going Home
 Mr. Grogan on the War   The Telegram
 To Mother, with Love   Alan
 It’s Your Misfortune and None of My Own   After the Movie
 A Better World, a Better People   Valley Champion for Kids
 Let There Be Light   The Holdup Man
 Death, Don’t Go To Ithaca   The Nightmare
 Be Happy! Be Happy!   Mr. Ara
 There Will Always Be Pain in Things   Mrs. Macauley
 All The Wonderful Mistakes   Lionel
 Leaning on the Everlasting Arms   On the Train
 A Letter from Marcus to His Brother Homer              Marcus
 Here is a Kiss   At the Church
 The Trees and the Vines   Spangler
 Ithaca, My Ithaca!   Ithaca
 Love Is Immortal, Hate Dies Every Minute   The Horseshoe Pitchers
 The End and the Beginning   The House

Wait a minute — there’s two different chapters that are both named “Mrs. Macauley.” (See what happens when you name chapters after their primary character?) It was fun exploring the book for its changes, both big and small, and the second difference I discovered was just one word in the first chapter. But it still seemed like it was a pretty important change…

The little boy turned slowly and started for home. As he moved, he still listened to the passing of the train…and the joyous words: “Going home, boy — going back where I belong!” He stopped to think of all this, loitering beside a china-ball tree and kicking at the yellow, smelly, fallen fruit of it. After a moment he smiled the smile of the Macauley people — the gentle, wise, secret smile which said Yes to all things.

In the revised edition, “Yes” was changed to “Hello”.

I even discovered a new typo that was introduced in the revised edition. (Unless “indredible” is a word.) But more importantly, in chapter three, they’ve trimmed the conversation where the manager of the telegraph office asks his 14-year-old messenger about what future he’s mapped out for himself. “Well… I don’t know for sure, but I guess I’d like to be somebody some day. Maybe a composer or somebody like that — some day.”

“That’s fine,” Spangler said, “and this is the place to start. Music all around you — real music — straight from the world — straight from the hearts of people. Hear those telegraph keys? Beautiful music.”

“Yes sir,” Homer said.

In the revised edition, the conversation goes like this.

“Well… I don’t know for sure, but I guess I’d like to be somebody some day.”

“You will be,” Spangler said.

I wondered if the author was trying to shorten the book — to make it more like a paperback, for mass-market consumption. (The sentence “You know where Chatterton’s bakery is?” was changed to “Know where Chatterton’s bakery is?”) It’s like watching deleted scenes from a movie. Sometimes you sense that it made the movie shorter, but at the same time it’s also eliminated some context.

An entire chunk of dialogue was cut from the end of the scene at the telegraph office.

“Mr. Grogan went on, his mouth full of cocoanut cream. ‘Do you feel this world is going to be a better place after the War?’

Homer thought for a moment and then said, ‘Yes, sir.’

‘Do you like cocoanut cream?’ Mr. Grogan said.

‘Yes, sir,’ Homer said.

Are these significant changes? If a story’s strength lies in its poignancy, then how do you measure the value of dialogue? Here’s some more sentences that were edited out of chapter 4, when the smallest boy wanders into a conversation with his mother and older sister, asking about the brother who’s gone away to war.

“Where’s Marcus?”

Mrs. Macauley looked at he boy.

“You must try to understand,” she began to say, then stopped.

Ulysses tried to understand but didn’t know just what was to be understood.

“Understand what?” he said.

“Marcus,” Mrs. Macauley said, “has gone away from Ithaca.”

“Why?” Ulysses said.

“Marcus is in the Army,” Mrs. Macauley said.

In the revised edition, that scene was shortened to simply two sentences.

“Where’s Marcus?”

“Marcus is in the Army,” Mrs. Macauley said.

Original cover for William Saroyan's The_Human_Comedy_(novel)

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New Dr. Seuss Book Becomes Amazon Best-Seller!

Dr Seuss cover - What Pet Should I Get

Tuesday a newly-discovered Dr. Seuss book was finally published — and within hours it had become an Amazon best-seller! “Told in Dr. Seuss’s signature rhyming style, this is a must-have for Seuss fans and book collectors,” according to the book’s description at Amazon, “and a perfect choice for the holidays, birthdays, and happy occasions of all kinds.”

For a shortcut to the book, point your browser to

The book is called What Pet Should I Get?, and it features the same two children from Red Fish, Blue Fish. Their trip to a pet store offered Dr. Seuss a perfect opportunity to draw more wild illustrations of animals — including a monkey, a rabbit, and an imaginary creature called a yent. Reviewers on Amazon are applauding the book for its Seuss-ian flavor, saying it’s style and tone feel just like earlier Seuss works. “The book rhymes, of course, and the drawings are bright and colorful…” wrote a retired Navy CPO in Vermont. “Wonderful rhymes and delightful creatures that are sure to entertain the little ones in your family.”

I think it’s funny that Dr. Seuss has now overtaken Harper Lee on the best-seller list at Amazon. (She released a sequel to To Kill A Mockingbird just two weeks ago, and it’s currently
Amazon’s #3 best-selling book.) Although one Amazon reviewer reported that they’d rush to Walmart to purchase their copy, because “Dr. Seuss books are meant to be held and read.”

But the strangest thing is the audiobook version is read by Rainn Wilson. He’s the actor who played Dwight on The Office — the long-running sitcom where he played the strange assistant to the regional manager of a Scranton paper company. Maybe he’s the perfect choice, with his earnest commitment to the importance of choosing the right animal as a pet. (The audiobook and the print edition were both released Tuesday, and both are available through Amazon.

Several reviewers have pointed out that the book has a fun message about choice and decisions and the children confront the classic childhood dilemma. (“Which pet should we get?” is repeated excitedly throughout the book, and Dr. Seuss is more than happy to illustrate all the many options available to the children.) But there’s an interesting “Editor’s Note” tucked away at the end of the book, telling the story about how they recovered this lost Dr. Seuss book.

And it also reveals which pets Dr. Seuss picked out for himself!

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Amazon Discounts Young Adult Fiction

Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer     Malcolm at Midnight book cover by Brian Lies

Homeless Bird cover by Gloria Whelan     Teacher's Pest cover - Lovecraft Middle School book

There’s some wonderful new surprises hidden in the “Young Adult” category of Amazon’s Kindle Store. Every month Amazon selects over 100 ebooks for their special “$3.99 or less” sale. There’s now a whole section of discounted “Young Adult” books, and they’ve discounted some especially intriguing titles!

For a shortcut to Amazon’s discounts, point your browser to

Homeless Bird cover by Gloria Whelan

Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan ($1.99)

This heart-tugging novel won the National Book Award in 2000 for its stunning story about a young girl and her remarkable personal journey. “Like many girls her age in India, thirteen-year-old Koly is getting married,” reads the book’s description at Amazon. But somehow fate charts a different course, and the young girl ultimately must “shed her name and her future and join the hopeless hordes who chant for food.” The story is 234 pages, but it leads to an exhiliarating conclusion. “[C]ast out in a current of time-worn tradition, this rare young woman sets out to forge her own exceptional future. And a life, like a beautiful tapestry, comes together for Koly– one stitch at a time…”

Malcolm at Midnight book cover by Brian Lies

Malcolm at Midnight by W. H. Beck ($1.99)

Malcom is a rat, a pet at a school with a “secret society” of classroom pets who work together to keep the childrens safe. Suddenly their leader — an iguana — is kidnapped, and Malcolm must prove that he’s innocent of the crime. “This engaging middle-grade novel will have readers rooting for Malcolm,” reads the book’s review at Amazon, “as they try to solve the mystery alongside him.” And best of all, it’s been illustrated by Brian Lies, the creator of one of my favorite children’s picture books, —Bats at the Beach !

Teacher's Pest cover - Lovecraft Middle School book

Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #3: Teacher’s Pest by Charles Gilman ($3.03)

“Student council president Howard Mergler is actually a sinister bug-monster in disguise — and he’s summoning swarms of roaches, wasps, fleas, and head lice into the corridors of Lovecraft Middle School!” Eww — it’s another creepy day at Lovecraft Middle School, loving described in a series of comic horror novels aimed at young adults. It looks like he’s having fun — the fourth book in his series is called”Substitute Creature” — and the first three books have all been discounted to just $3.03.

Teacher’s Pest is a well-written book that provides young readers with a little spooky fun,” wrote one reviewer on Amazon, “while also offering them some reassurance that the challenges of middle school are not insurmountable.”

Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer

Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer by Katie Alender ($1.99)

“Heads will roll!” jokes this book’s description at (“…a series of gruesome murders are taking place around the city, putting everyone on edge. And as she tours the sights, Colette keeps seeing a strange vision: a pale woman in a ball gown and powdered wig, who looks like Marie Antoinette…”) This book is recommended for “Grades 7 and Up” , so it’s probably a mistake that it ended up in Amazon’s “Children’s Book” section. It’s a 309-page thriller in which the descendents of French Revolutionaries are apparently being targeted for revenge!

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The Secrets of William Saroyan

William Saroyan

It’s a legend. The Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist was fired from MGM’s film The Human Comedy in 1943. So he adapted his screenplay into a novel, and released it when the film premiered. Then the film was ultimately nominated for five Oscars (including “Best Picture”) and won the “Best Story” Oscar for its fired writer himself, William Saroyan. Later, Louis B. Mayer would recall this as his all-time favorite film…

But Amazon tipped me off to another shocking chapter in the story about the story. More than 20 years later, in 1966, William Saroyan revised his novel yet again — and it was released as a shorter Dell paperback. “The Human Comedy is one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever read,” wrote one reviewer on Amazon, “so when I opened this paperback version, I was devastated to realize that the unthinkable had occurred– the text had been altered!” 53 different Amazon customers nodded their virtual agreement to the criticism — or at least, marked the review as helpful. “The ending that I had so cherished in an old hardback version had been hastily re-written, going so far as to conclude with a completely different final sentence.”

This review led me to my own comparison of the two editions — and I’ve created a table documenting just how different the two editions are. Entire passages have been deleted, about the music of the world, and about how nothing good ever really ends. “I do not know how a publisher could in good conscience alter the work of such an extraordinarily gifted writer…” the Amazon reviewer complained. “The Human Comedy is an incredibly moving book and, unfortunately, this paperback edition does not do it justice.”

A page from William Saroyan's The Human Comedy

The hardback edition was 291 pages long, the paperback just 192. But now a community of readers — the book’s invisible fans — were inspiring me. I spent a few weekends immersing myself in both books, savoring William Saroyan’s stirring portrayal of small-town America — and of life itself. (I’m not the only fan of this novel. Tom Hanks will be appearing in a new movie of the book coming out in December, which will also star Meg Ryan and Sam Shepherd…)

There were some more startling secrets in other Amazon reviews. One schoolteacher had lived near the real California town on which Saroyan based the book. After 42 years of teaching, she’d retired, and then in 1999 visited Amazon to share her own insights. The telegraph office described in the novel — as well as the winery — were both real-life businesses which she’d had her students locate on a map! And she announced that she’d be collaborating with Saroyan’s grand-niece on a college course sharing memories about the famous novelist.

Another Amazon reviewer wrote that she’d read the book three times, each at a different point in her life, and each time finding that it had a different flavor. (“This book is like wine; it becomes vintage as you get older…”) But she also shared another fascinating piece of trivia. Saroyan lost his father at an early age, and his uncle — who became a father figure to him — “was taken to war and that was the last he saw of him.” Throughout his novel, the young children in the family grapple with the absence of their own father. “Saroyan dedicated the story to his mother. This is a key element of the story…”

I have my own piece of trivia to share. The same year that the book was published, William Saroyan was married — and he seems to have named one of the characters after his wife. Throughout the novel, a telegram boy worries about his older brother Marcus, who is serving in World War II. In 1943, William Saroyan married a woman named Carol Marcus.

It’s fun to participate in this giant conversation about a cherished novel. “I admit I cried at the end of it,” wrote one reviewer. And another wrote enthusiastically that this was truly “The Great American Novel.” (“Read it or suffer a less fulfilling life than you could have had…”)

Just make sure that you’re reading the right edition!

Original cover for William Saroyan's The_Human_Comedy_(novel)

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Cartoonist Kate Beaton Releases a New Kindle Children’s Book!

The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton

I love comics — especially online comics — so I’m a big fan of Hark! A Vagrant. And last week it’s creator just released her first children’s picture book. It’s fun to see her adapting her simple-yet-imaginative style to a more ambitious project. And best of all, this cutting-edge picture book is available as a Kindle ebook!

For a shortcut, point your browser to

I’ve always liked Kate Beaton’s “peremptory” storytelling, where any premise, historical or otherwise, has to dance along to the cartoonist’s newest whims. She brings the same casual insistence to this story, plaguing her princess with a tiny pony in a land that worships warriors. There’s something exhilarating about the scope of this story, which is either an iconic tale of female empowerment or a parody of our jock-obsessed world. And it’s really nice to see Kate Beaton tackling some full-page drawings, populated with lots of minor characters from around her comical medieval town.

Plus, the drawings look great on the screen of my Kindle. There’s a funny drawing of the princess in her room, which looks like any other child’s room, except it belongs to a medieval warrior. (There’s toys scattered across the floor and a shelf of books over the bed, as the princess lies on her back and idly tosses a baseball into the air — and the horse begins eating her curtains!) And the book’s climax takes place on a big battle field — marked by a “Welcome warriors!” sign. It’s a green, grassy field where warriors are stretching out in their workout clothes, hydrating from a water bottle, or talking to a couch with a clipboard…

The battle itself is a glorious sprawl of details, with crazy colorful people doing funny, silly things. It reminded me a little of those “Fractured Fairy Tale” parodies that they used to include in Bullwinkle’s old Saturday morning cartoon. But don’t worry, no one gets hurt in the battle — even though Otto the Awful charges straight for the princess!There’s people jumping, shouting, and smacking each other with sticks. (Or are those soft plastic tubes, so that nobody gets hurt?)

The whole scene takes two pages — with Prince Pinecone tucked off to the side with her little bug-eyed horse. The busy illustration definitely creates a sense of action, and Beaton even draws someone in the audience wearing a foam finger reading “#1”. (And the man next to him is holding a box of popcorn, and wearing a baseball cap…) When Otto finally charges the princes, Beaton writes that he’s “the meanest warrior of all”! The crowd gasps, and Princess Pinecone grabs for her spitballs…

But instead of charging, Otto suddenly stops to admire the adorable pony — and soon everyone is doing the same thing. “Awww, what a cute little pony!” Otto says, ticking the small animal under its chin. ” Who would want to hurt a roly-poly pony like you?” I have to admit that this turn-around, while funny, was also a little disappointing. “We warriors don’t often get to show our cuddly sides,” Otto reveals, and the princess has found her new calling.

Or at least, someplace where she can unload all those unwanted cozy sweaters that people kept giving her for her birthday! Now they give her a trophy that proclaims her “most valuable warrior.” War is usually pretty stupid, after all — and what’s more important than getting in touch with your feelings? Like a true work of art, it makes you think — wouldn’t this ultimately have been a better outcome for every battle in the Middle Ages?

It’s always fun to be surprised by the brash plot twists of this gentle Canadian cartoonist. I’d especially liked how Beaton drew the princess in a sweater labeled “Special Girl” (when what the princess really wanted were warrior gifts). That felt iconic to me, like it was making fun of the way young girls are sometimes treated as precious (and passive) princesses, instead of letting them play hard with the little boys.

But by the end of the story, everyone is wearing the princess’s cozy sweaters. And they’ve declared her the most valuable warrior of all — because her little pony is so cute!

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Wonderful Memories on the 4th of July

Each summer I look forward to it: that moment on the fourth of July when I start reading ebooks by some of America’s greatest authors. It’s a way to try to appreciate the true meaning of our “Independence Day” holiday. And some of my all-time favorite American authors now have ebooks available in the Kindle Store — for free!

But I also pause to remember one very special 4th of July…

4th of July parade

There’s always a parade down the streets of our town, and one year a friend invited me to ride on his float. So instead of watching the 4th of July parade, I was in the 4th of July parade! What a rush — the whole town, it seemed, was smiling and waving at us as we rode by, and everywhere on that hot afternoon, you saw red, white, and blue. I was feeling a strange euphoria when I finally got home. And that’s when I started reading on my Kindle.

There’s a book called the U.S. A. Trilogy that reminded me of my favorite author, John Dos Passos. He used a stream-of-consciousness technique to mix together newspaper headlines and lyrics of popular songs with longer descriptions of his characters and the challenges they faced in every day life. The book flashes to the lives of his characters before (and after) World War I, and now finally it’s become available as a Kindle ebook. And that afternoon I discovered Amazon’s Kindle Store also has free editions for each of the author’s first four novels!

“The Early Works of John Dos Passos” is available in the Kindle Store as a 514-page collection of those four novels for just $1.99. Amazon named the collection one of their Best Books of 2013 (So Far), and it’s from a publisher called Halcyon Classics. But there’s also a free edition available for each one of the four books in the collection! Dos Passos was inspired partly by his own experiences in World War I, and he writes vivid and intimate stories for the characters in all four of his early novels.

One Man’s Initiation – 1917
Three Soldiers
Rosinante to the Road Again
A Pushcart at the Curb

For $1.99, you can even purchase the professionally-narrated audiobook version for each of these ebooks (except A Pushcart to the Curb.) But because of the Kindle, I was also able to enjoy reading reviews of these American classics from new readers who’d recently discovered them on One reviewer argued that Three Soldiers may be set during the war, but it’s more about one man’s struggle to retain his individuality. (Wikipedia points out that at least one of the soldiers has a military career which is virtually identical to that of John Dos Passos!) And another reader said these four earlier novels really capture the author’s tremendous growth. “It was refreshing to see through this collection how he came to eventually writing the great American classic USA Trilogy and developed a modern style, more complex and textured than any of the other members of the lost generation with the possible exception of James Joyce….”

Of course, I read some other interesting books as part of my all-American afternoon. I flipped through a wonderful postcard-sized print book called Traveling Route 66, which features photographs of highway scenes you might see in the 1950s, from neon signs to various roadside attractions. That book quoted a poem by Walt Whitman called “Song of the Open Road”, which led me to look a free online copy of the complete poem on my Kindle. The poem is also available as a Kindle ebook for 99 cents.

But I couldn’t let the day end without reading at least a few lines of The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. What’s forgotten is that poem is part of a larger work – a kind of American version of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, where six different characters each take a turn reciting a poem on a topic that’s dear to their heart. (It’s also available as a free Kindle ebook.) Tales of a Wayside Inn was written in 1862, during the American Civil War, when poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was struggling with his wife’s death and the injuries of his son, who was serving in the Union army. In this longer poem, “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” is actually referred to as “The Landlord’s Tale”, and after its conclusion, there’s a few more poignant lines that always remind me that holidays are often just a way of remembering, in your own way, all of those who came before you.

The Landlord ended thus his tale,
Then rising took down from its nail
The sword that hung there, dim with dust,
And cleaving to its sheath with rust,

And said, “This sword was in the fight.”

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Free 4th of July Kindle eBooks

Thomas Jefferson

I have a tradition for the 4th of July – and it involves my Kindle. Every year, I point my web browser to Wikipedia’s web page with the fascinating history of the Declaration of Independence. Now Amazon’s Kindle Store has a free copy of the declaration available for downloading (as well as a free copy of the U. S. Constitution). And you can also download the free Kindle edition of Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography, a great read by a man who’s life was deeply connected to the history of America….

Just seven months before the famous document was signed, author Thomas Jefferson had written “there is not in the British empire a man who more cordially loves a union with Great Britain than I do. But, by the God that made me, I will cease to exist before I yield to a connection on such terms as the British Parliament propose; and in this, I think I speak the sentiments of America…”

Wikipedia’s page walks you through all the events that led up to July 4, 1776 — and also provides the complete text of the famous document, along with some good historical context. As the country celebrates the day it declared its independence, I like taking a moment to read some good history – and my Kindle really makes it easy. I think it’s funny that Amazon customers are now leaving reviews of the Declaration of Independence, which currently has a rating of 4.7 stars out of 5. (“As a graduate student in philosophy and history, I heartily recommend this timeless classic to anyone who is interested in political philosophy, and history…”) In comparison, the free version of the Constitution received only four and a half stars. (“Accurate reproduction and free, but does not include any amendments…”)

And because of the Kindle, you don’t have to content yourself with Wikipedia for your American history fix. When he was 65 years old, another American patriot — Benjamin Franklin — began writing a fascinating autobiography of his own life, and it’s available in the Kindle Store as a free ebook!

In fact, more than 200 years later, it’s now become one of Amazon’s best-selling e-books. Franklin had continued working on his biography over the last 20 years of his life, until his death at age 84 in 1790 — noting wryly that “the Affairs of the Revolution occasion’d the Interruption…” It’s especially poignant that Benjamin Franklin began writing it in 1770 as a loving letter to his son. But soon Franklin’s son had sided with the British druing the American Revolution, and Wikipedia notes that they were hopelessly estranged by the time Franklin sat down to write part two in 1784. Now he was 78, and laying down his thoughts in the year 1784 about his ideas for…a public library. And in part three — written in 1788 at the age of 82 — Franklin also remembered inventing his famous Franklin stove…and then declining to patent the invention because he’d created it for “the good of the people.”

It’s a great way to answer the question: What kind of men launched the American Revolution? And it just goes to show you that with a little research, the Kindle can give you an almost magical glimpse into the realities of our past… But there’s also a fascinating story about how the Declaration of Independence first came to be online. 40 years ago, a student at the University of Illinois launched a mission to make the great works of literature available for free to the general public. Remembering the man who’d revolutionized the world of reading by inventing the first mechanical printing press, he named his collection “Project Gutenberg”. By 2009, they’d created over 30,000 free e-texts, according to Wikipedia. And it’s a cause that’s near and dear to the hearts of a lot of geeks online.

But here’s my favorite part of the story. He’d launched this lifelong campaign back in 1971, anticipating all the great literature that he’d be sharing with the entire world, and even making available for new generations to come. So on that first day, 40 years ago, which great work of literature did he choose as the very first one?

The Declaration of Independence.

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Amazon Discounts Avengers Comic Books!

Marvel’s The Avengers has become one of this summer’s biggest movie blockbusters. And to celebrate, Amazon’s discounting the Kindle edition of six big graphic novels starring The Avengers — and there’s also several free Avengers comic books in Amazon’s Kindle Store! And anticipating the next upcoming Marvel blockbuster, they’re also discounting the Kindle edition of a Marvel graphic novel about Ant-Man (called “Small World”).

For a shortcut to the discounted graphic novels, point your browser to

Avengers - Heroes Welcome

Avengers: Heroes Welcome #1 by Brian Bendis and Mark Brooks (Free!)

Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America, plus She-Hulk and The Wasp, greet a young superhero named Nova. But I like the theme of this free comic book — which is heroism, and the personal choices that each individual superhero has to make. It’s a special 14-page introduction to some of Marvel’s most popular characters. And it’s great to see them all in high-definition color in the Kindle app on my tablet!

Captain America - First Vengeance

Captain America: The First Avenger #1: First Vengeance by Fred Van Lente and Luke Ross (Free!)

Captain America is one of my favorite Avengers — and this 2011 comic tells the “origin story” of the man who wears the red, white and blue. It was considered “the official prequel” for Marvel’s 2011 summer blockbuster (the Captain America movie). And four years later, it’s still Amazon’s #1 most popular graphic novel in their “Media Tie-In” section.

Avengers - Fury's Big Week

Marvel’s The Avengers Prelude: Fury’s Big Week #1 (of 8)Free!

This free comic book was the official prelude to Marvel’s The Avengers movie back in 2011. “In a world full of green monsters, gods, and men in iron suits…” asks the book’s description at Amazon, “How will S.H.I.E.L.D. maintain the status quo?” it’s a fun 13-page glimpse into the life of Nick Fury — Samuel L. Jackson’s character in The Avengers movie, who makes the decisions about how to confront the next crazy alien invasion. And if you enjoy the comic, there’s 7 more issues that continue its story!

Avengers Volume 1 - Brian Michael Bendis - The Heroic Age   Avengers - Volume 1 - Marvel Now

Avengers, Vol. 1 by Brian Michael Bendis and John Romita Jr. ($3.99)

Avengers, Vol. 1: Avengers World (Marvel NOW!) by Jonathan Hickman and Jerome Opena ($3.99)

Strangely, there are two discounted Marvel graphic novels that are both named Avengers, Volume 1. One features the spectacular 2011 relaunch of the team for Marvel’s “Heroic Age” (written by long-time Avengers writer Brian Michael Bendis). Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man join Wolverine and Spider-Man for a massive superhero showdown with some time-traveling supervillains, in a story that ends with a great science fiction twist. And the other graphic novel represents a passing-of-the-torch, as Jonathan Hickman took over the series, sending the Avengers into a high-stakes war that leads them to Mars, the Savage Land, and ultimately to the very origins of planet earth!

Thor - God of Thunder - The God Butcher cover

Thor: God of Thunder Vol. 1 – The God Butcher by Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic ($3.99)

This massive 136-page collection collects six issues of the “Thor: God of Thunder” series from 2013, and it’s drawing rave reviews from readers on Amazon. “This is an incredible series with larger than life storytelling brought to life with epic art,” wrote one reviewer, calling the collection “A great jumping on point for new Thor fans, like myself.” In a powerful story that spans thousands of years, Thor discovers a forgotten cave “that echoes with the cries of tortured gods,” according to the book’s description at Amazon. And far off in the future, he must later confront “the berserker legions…as the last god-king of a ruined Asgard!”

Avengers - Absolute Vision

Avengers: Absolute Vision – Book One by John Byrne ($3.99)

I wrote about this one earlier this month. It’s a mammoth collection of original Avengers comic books to commemorate Marvel’s release of their new blockbuster, Avengers: Age of Ultron. This 432-page tome collects 11 classic issues of The Avengers — plus two more of the big “Avengers Annual” issues, as well as Amazing Spider-Man Annual #16, Fantastic Four #256, and Doctor Strange #60. See The Scarlet Witch and The Vision, as well as memorable confronations between Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man — arguing whether Tony Stark has finally taken things too far. And this book even includes a rare story where Hawkeye, Black Widow, and three of their superhero teammates make an appearance on David Letterman’s late-night talk show!

The New Avengers - Breakout

New Avengers, Vol. 1: Breakout by Brian Michael Bendis and David Finch ($3.99)

This 160-page graphic novel collects six issues of “The New Avengers” during their spectacular “Breakout” event back in 2004. The epic story followed the aftermath of a jailbreak of massive proportions, with supervillians from the Marvel universe suddenly running around on the loose. Iron Man and Captain America team up with Wolverine, Spider-Man, Spider-Woman and Luke Cage, and the chase leads them to the Savage Land. One reviewer on Amazon described it as “The Start of Something Great,” and it’s always fun to see a team of Marvel superheroes back in action.

The Mighty Avengers - The Ultron Initiative

Mighty Avengers, Vol. 1: The Ultron Initiative by Brian Michael Bendis and Frank Cho ($3.99)

This 168-page graphic novel collects six issues of Marvel’s “Mighty Avengers” comic. Iron Man (Tony Stark) attempts to rebuild the team, and it’s nice to see Natasha Romanoff (the Black Widow) back in the line-up. They join with Ms. Marvel, The Wasp, The Sentry, and Wonder Man, but soon they’re confronting the evil super-robot Ultron. “A group this powerful should be ready for just about anything,” reads the book’s description at Amazon, “except, perhaps, the return of a genocidal killing machine…”

Ant-Man and Wasp - Small World graphic novel

Ant-Man & Wasp: Small World by Tim Seeley ($3.82)

Many men have worn the tiny, size-shifting suit of Ant-Man — and two of them square off in this entertaining graphic novel. “Eric O’Grady once stole the Ant-Man suit from Hank Pym,” explains the book’s description at Amazon. “But now, Eric is the only one who knows about a secret AIM plot to steal Pym’s greatest invention!” So the old Ant-Man and the new Ant-Man team up for an undercover mission that — aw, you had me at “Ant-Man.” I’m a fan, and I loved this graphic novel.

And this is a great time to be a fan of Marvel comic books.

Remember, for a shortcut to Amazon’s discounted Marvel graphic novels, point your browser to

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Is “The Goldfinch” a Masterpiece – or a Threat to Literature?

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

There’s something dangerous in the “The Goldfinch” — and not just the “high stakes” anxiety that pervades its story. Last year the novel won the Pulitzer Prize, along with a pile of rave reviews from numerous book reviewers (including Stephen King) — but it’s also provoked a high-stakes controversy. According to Vanity Fair, the producers of The Hunger Games are already making a movie (or possibly a TV series) based on the novel. But the magazine also points out that despite its glowing accolades, the book has also received “some of the severest pans in memory from the country’s most important critics and sparked a full-on debate in which the naysayers believe that nothing less is at stake than the future of reading itself!”

For example, The New Yorker wasn’t just unimpressed with The Goldfinch; they argued “Its tone, language, and story belong in children’s literature.” The London Review of Books also complained that the novel was a children’s book for grown-ups, and The New York Review of Books harped on cliches which somehow slipped past the editors, as well as sections which were “bombastic, overwritten, marred by baffling turns of phrase.” Their ultimately question? “Doesn’t anyone care how something is written anymore?”

And The Paris Review was even more blunt, arguing that the novel “doesn’t undo any cliches—it deals in them.” There may have been a gentile literary “patina” coating the novel, but underneath it all was a shoddy work of fiction. So why all the acclaim? “Nowadays, even The New York Times Book Review is afraid to say when a popular book is crap.”

Part of the excitement comes from the fact that author Donna Tartt only releases a new novel once each decade – and she already has a high reputation. I’ve often wondered if that subtly influence all reviewers — of movies, books, and even music. If an artist has created something great, and then they’ve released something else, there’s a buzz, an anticipation, a wave of excitement. It seems like there’s an unspoken pressure not to stop the fun — not to be that one killjoy who blurts out “It’s not as good as what came before…”

Vanity Fair had some sympathy for the editor of the highbrow Paris Review, “who struggles to keep strong literary voices alive and robust, [and] sees a book like The Goldfinch standing in the way.” They tracked down the critical editor to pin down what exactly was the danger of the book’s popularity, and got a very specific response. “What worries me is that people who read only one or two books a year will plunk down their money for The Goldfinch, and read it, and tell themselves they like it, but deep down will be profoundly bored, because they aren’t children, and will quietly give up on the whole enterprise when, in fact, fiction — realistic fiction, old or new — is as alive and gripping as it’s ever been.”

But maybe the last word comes from Jay McInerney. The author of Bright Lights, Big City made his own splashy debut years ago, and 20 decades ago had recognized when the same thing was happening to Donna Tartt. The two authors became friends, and when Vanity Fair wrote their article Tartt was unavailable for comment — but McInerney wasn’t. And he insisted that his friend hadn’t even read any of the reviews — not the negative ones, and not the glowingly positive ones, either. So he’s absolutely certain how she’s reacting to this new controversy over her book’s popularity and the negative reviews it’s provoked.

He says she’s not “losing any sleep” over them.

For a shortcut to the book’s page on Amazon, point your browser to

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Amazon Offers New Science Fiction, Horror, and Fantasy eBook Discounts

Lovecrafts Monsters by Neil Gaiman   The End of the World - Stories of the Apocalypse by Neil Gaiman and George R R Martin
Avengers - Absolute Vision   Ursula K Le Guin - Wild Girls

Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite science fiction authors, and he’s contributed short stories to two wonderful science fiction anthologies. Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin also appears in one of them, and they’re all part of Amazon’s special selection of discounted ebooks for June. They’re even discounting a prize-winning novella by Ursula K. Le Guin — plus a massive collection of comic books starring The Avengers!

For a shortcut to Amazon’s discounts, point your browser to

Lovecrafts Monsters by Neil Gaiman

Lovecraft’s Monsters by Neil Gaiman and others ($1.99)

All the gothic horrors of H. P. Lovecraft are resurrected again by the top science fiction writers of today. Neil Gaiman contributed “Only the End of the World Again,” in which Lovecraft’s “Deep Ones” confront a werewolf in a story that one Amazon reviewer described as ” very original and extremely entertaining.” Amazon’s description of the book promises that “Each story is a gripping new take on a classic Lovecraftian creature, and each is accompanied by a spectacular original illustration that captures the monsters’ unique visage” (by John Coulthart, the illustrator of The Steampunk Bible. There’s 16 stories (and two poems) about classic Lovecraftian characters like Cthulhu, Shoggoths, and Elder Things — presented “in all their terrifying glory.”

Avengers - Absolute Vision

Avengers: Absolute Vision – Book One by John Byrne ($3.99)

A mammoth collection of original Avengers comic books — just in time to commemorate Marvel’s release of their new blockbuster, Avengers: Age of Ultron. This 432-page tome collects 11 classic issues of The Avengers — plus two more of the big “Avengers Annual” issues, as well as Amazing Spider-Man Annual #16, Fantastic Four #256, and Doctor Strange #60. See The Scarlet Witch and The Vision, as well as memorable confronation between Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man — arguing whether Tony Stark has finally taken things too far. And this book even includes a rare story where Hawkeye, Black Widow, and three of their superhero teammates make an appearance on David Letterman’s late-night talk show!

The End of the World - Stories of the Apocalypse by Neil Gaiman and George R R Martin

The End of the World: Stories of the Apocalypse
by George R. R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, and others ($1.99)

George R. R. Martin and Neil Gaiman both contributed stories to this 340-page anthology, which also features works by Orson Scott Card and Arthur C. Clarke. In fact, there’s 19 different authors in what Amazon describes as an “explosive collection of the world’s best apocalyptic writers”. Even the titles are stunning — there’s “Flight to Forever” (a time-travelling story by Poul Anderson), and Arthur C. Clarke’s story is called “‘If I Forget Thee O Earth…”. (And George R. R. Martin’s titled his story “Dark, Dark Were the Tunnels”…) Publisher’s Weekly called this anthology “a moving and powerful reminder of humanity’s capacity for self-destruction and powerful will to survive.” And Amazon’s also discounting the audiobook to just $2.99 (so you can switch back and forth between reading the stories and listening to them!)

Ursula K Le Guin - Wild Girls

The Wild Girls by Ursula K. Le Guin ($2.99)

This remarkable short novel won the Nebula award for science fiction in 2003 — when the author was 73! But it was only a few years ago that it was finally published as a book, and now Amazon’s discounting its Kindle edition to just $2.99. (And if you’ve already purchased a print edition from Amazon, they’ll discount the ebook to just $1.99.) In the Kindle Store, the book’s characters are described as “two captive ‘dirt children’ in a society of sword and silk, whose determination to find a glimpse of justice leads to a violent and loving end…”

As a bonus, this book also includes a special non-fiction essay by the Ursula Le Guin “which demolishes the pretensions of corporate publishing and the basic assumptions of capitalism” (titled “Staying Awake While We Read”.) And the book even ends with a surprising interview with Le Guin “which reveals the hidden dimensions of America’s best-known sci-fi author.”

Remember, for a shortcut to Amazon’s discounts, point your browser to

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The Kindle vs. The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

I just finished reading “The Goldfinch”. It’s a 771-page novel by Donna Tartt, spanning fourteen crucial years in the life of a teenaged boy, and its touches down in several different locations and events — all expertly described by author Donna Tartt. Last year it won the Pulitzer Prize, along with rave reviews from numerous book reviewers (including Stephen King). But I wondered if reading it on the Kindle changed my experience of the book…

It’s not just that it’s harder to flip forward to the beginning of the book. (Although I was stunned at how many keystrokes it took my older Kindle just to peek back at the first third of the book. It required five different actions — pressing Menu / selecting Go to… / hitting the Keyboard button / typing in ‘4210 Done’ / and then pressing ‘Location’ again… ) And it’s not just that I was missing that haunting illustration on the cover of the 1654 painting by Carel Fabritius…

I’d been pushing myself to finish the ebook before a book club meeting on Sunday, so I was trying to read 3% of the book every night this week. “I’m 94% done,” I bragged to my girlfriend one night, and then the next night told her “Now I’m 97% done!” The percentages seemed meaningless — what exactly is 97% of a Pulitizer Prize-winning novel? But it also lured me into thinking there was more to the ebook than there actually was — since it actually ended suddenly at…98%.

It turns out that the last 2% of the Kindle ebook was reserved for a special section titled “Outstanding acclaim for Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch“, listing all the publications that selected it as one of the best books of the year. (The New York Times, Esquire, The Wall Street Journal, NPR’s Fresh Air…) The list goes on and on — the Sacramento Bee, the Seattle Times, the Kansas City Star — and eventually it also included (as well as Barnes and Noble). They’re listed right above the San Antonio Express-News and the Orlando Sentinel. And then there’s many, many pages filled with nothing but quotes from positive book reviews about the ebook I’d just finished reading…

Critics are already complaining about the “overwrought message tacked on at the end as a plea for seriousness” (which is how Vanity Fair summarized one critic’s response). But imagine my experience — waiting for the grand message that makes sense of the pile of plot and characters that filled the preceding 775 pages, only to discover that the book has ended prematurely, at the 98% mark. After weeks of reading and waiting for that thrilling literary pay-off…surprise! This novel has already ended…

So I’d like to suggest that Amazon use the last page of a story as the “100%” mark when displaying percentages in a Kindle ebook. Maybe it’s a technical challenge — these additional pages might be reported as 101% and 102% — but I think that’s preferable to the alternative. These final pages are really just advertising, and they’re much more important for people who are browsing a print copy in a bookstore.

And does anyone who’s finished reading a novel really want to then read excerpts from a review about it from The Sacramento Bee?

For a shortcut to the book’s page on Amazon, point your browser to

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Amazon Discounts Two “Game of Thrones” Graphic Novels!

The Hedge Knight - a Game of Thrones Graphic Novel       The Sworn Sword - a Game of Thrones graphic novel by George R R Martin

Amazon’s got a special discount for people who love “Game of Thrones”. They’re discounting two massive “Game of Thrones” graphic novels to just $2.99. The novels offer a new story written by George R. R. Martin, a “prequel” that’s set 100 years before the events in the popular series.

For a shortcut, point your browser to

“The Hedge Knight” involves a squire who rides into a jousting tournament seeking respect, according to Publisher’s Weekly, and discovers chivalrous heroes who “turn out to be simultaneously smaller and larger than he imagined.” Everyone “is more complicated than they seem,” according to the magazine, and an Amazon customer described this 184-page graphic novel as “an excellent display of chivalry and character… How the virtues of knighthood, of protecting the innocent and poor, combat with the corruption that grows among the nobility who make up this same order.”

And “The Sworn Sword” — the second graphic novel — also tells another new story with the same inspiring characters. This time they’re off on a journey to find a puppeteer named Tanselle — and also avoiding the schemes of a local nobleman, “while a darker, greater thread threatens to unravel long-held truths of the Battle of Redgrass Field…” The co-author of this series, Ben Avery, was personally selected by George R. R. Martin, and he delivers 178 pages with the same familiar and delightful depth. “In classic George R.R. Martin fashion, heroes and villains are never clear-cut,” reads the book’s description at Amazon, “and political alliances threaten to slice the deepest.”

I’m excited because there’s already been a TV adaptation of the popular series of books by George R. R. Martin. HBO premiered its 5th season this week, and promptly set a new record for traffic to their new HBO Now app. But it seems like graphic novels are the perfect “middle ground”, bringing text and images together to bring the magical knightly tale to life.

“The artwork is beatiful and true to story,” wrote another reviewer on Amazon, “and I didn’t feel that anything was left out…”

Remember, for a shortcut, point your browser to

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Last Chance for Amazon’s May Discounted eBooks!

Mozart in the Jungle - sexy book cover   The Girl Who Came Home - a Novel of the TItanic

Agatha Christie - Miss Marple - at Bertram's Hotel   100 Simple Secrets Why Dogs Make Us Happy

I love it when Amazon lowers the prices on Kindle ebooks. And my favorite is their big monthly sale where there’s a massive selection of ebooks for just $3.99 or less. There’s still four days left to check out Amazon’s selection of discounted ebooks for May. And remember, after June 1st the same URL will lead to a whole new selection!

For a shortcut to Amazon’s discounts, point your browser to

Here’s some of this month’s most intriguing selections.

Mozart in the Jungle - sexy book cover

Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music by Blair Tindall ($2.99)

Yes, it’s about classical musicians — but it’s not just recitals and performances in Broadway orchestras, according to this book’s description at Amazon. Instead it reveals “the secret life of musicians who survive hand to mouth in the backbiting New York classical music scene, where musicians trade sexual favors for plum jobs and assignments in orchestras across the city.” (Despite the fancy music being performed, the musicians “play drunk, high, or hopelessly hungover, live in decrepit apartments, and perform in hazardous conditions…”) This stunning 2005 memoir became the basis for one of the most popular original TV shows created by Amazon for their Prime TV service, and its screenplay was co-authored by Roman Coppola, the son of Francis Ford Coppola.

Agatha Christie - Miss Marple - at Bertram's Hotel

At Bertram’s Hotel (Miss Marple Mysteries Book 11) – by Agatha Christie ($1.99)

Out of all this month’s deal ebooks, this was Amazon’s #1 best-seller on the first day of May. It’s the second-to-last book in Agatha Christie’s series of Miss Marple novels, offering 272 pages of some great mystery writing. The story takes place at “a restored London hotel with traditional decor, impeccable service — and an unmistakable atmosphere of danger behind the highly polished veneer,” according to the book’s description at Amazon. It’s received fabulous reviews — “One of the author’s very best productions…” wrote the Saturday Review of Literature, and the New York Times called it “A joy to read from beginning to end…” And best of all, Amazon’s discounted it to just $1.99 — and for just $3.99 more, Amazon will also give you the audiobook, so you can switch between text and audio!

100 Simple Secrets Why Dogs Make Us Happy

100 Simple Secrets Why Dogs Make Us Happy by David Niven, PhD ($0.99)

A book that seems guaranteed to make you smile like a puppy on a springtime morning. “Why do people who have dogs live happier, longer, and more fulfulling lives?” asks this book’s description at Amazon. It points out that years have been spent investigating how dogs have a real positive effective on the happiness and health of their companions, adding that this book reviewed more than 1000 scientific studies, boiling them down to 100 simple secrets. Dogs help us live longer and communicate better (even before you get to the benefits of a regular walk around the block with your favorite pet). Though it’s 226 pages, the print edition was “a tiny book,” according to one reviewer on Amazon, “The kind your parents put in your stocking at Christmas. But it’s also charming, cute, and sure to make you smile….”

The Girl Who Came Home - a Novel of the TItanic

The Girl Who Came Home: A Novel of the Titanic by Hazel Gaynor ($1.99)

The true story of the Titanic — and a group of hopeful Irish emigrants on board — becomes a novel blending fact and fiction into what Amazon calls a “poignant story…that explores the tragedy’s impact and its lasting repercussions on survivors and their descendants.” This is a new book — published just one year ago — and it’s already become a New York Times best-seller. It opens with a homesick Irish teenager named Maggie Smith, who is leaving behind the man she loves, only to wake up in a New York City hospital. (And her story ultimately has a deep impact on the life of an American girl, 70 years later…) Usually this novel retails for $14.00, but Amazon’s discounted it to just $1.99 — and for just $3.99 more, Amazon will also give you the audiobook, so you can switch between text and audio!

Remember, for a shortcut to Amazon’s discounts, point your browser to

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Amazon Celebrates Pac-Man’s Anniversary!

Pac-Man on Amazon's home page

Friday Amazon surprised their customers by featuring a game of Pac-Man on their home page. “Happy 35th Anniversary, Pac-Man!” flashed their cheery message, below a row of golden pixels being eaten by Pac-man, as he turned a corner to avoid the blue-eyed “ghosts” chasing him. It was fun seeing all those familiar colors from the classic video game — the red, green, and orange ghosts — and Amazon even snuck in a pixelized version of the Amazon logo! And they’re also offering discounts on Pac-man games today — including a free version of Pac-man for Android phones and tablets!

For a shortcut to the free Pac-man app, point your browser to

Amazon’s also offering a 75% discount on “Pac-Man Museum,” an app which officially collects together what it promises are “the greatest PAC-MAN games of all time.” Normally this collection costs $19.95, but today it’s been slashed to just $4.99. There’s also 75% discounts on “Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures,” a game based on the popular new Pac-Man TV show, and on a new game called “Pac-Man Championship Edition DX+”. (“There are plenty of different level designs,” writes one reviewer on Amazon,” adding “you can alter the visual style for each map, everything around you changes on the fly, you can be chased by dozens of ghosts at a time. It’s intense!”)

Google’s also celebrating Pacman’s birthday, but of course, you’ll have to search for it. If you type “Pacman” into Google’s search bar, the first result is their own online version of the game, which Google featured on their front page back in 2010 (celebrating Pacman’s 30th anniversary). And they’re also distributing the same free version of Pacman for Android devices in Google’s app “Play Store”.

I commemorated this anniversary by reading some fascinating trivia about Pac-man’s creator, Toru Iwatani (who was just 24 when he created the game!) According to Wikipedia, Toru maintained for years that his inspiration for the yellow character came from a pizza with a slice missing, but in 1986 he qualified this, saying that Pac-man actually was also designed to look like the Japanese character for the word mouth. Pac-man gets powerful when he eats an energizer button, which he says was inspired by Popeye, and he also wanted to encourage more girls to join in the fun of playing video games.

And by 1990, the game had earned more that $2.5 billion — one quarter at a time.

Remember, for a shortcut to the free and discounted Pac-man apps, point your browser to

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Free Comic Book Day and The Kindle

Free Comic Book Day - Batman Superman Divergence Preview Batman Free Comic Book Day - Future's End

Free Comic Book Day - The Simpsons Bongo Free For All By Matt Groening Free Comic Book Day - Dr Who

It’s today! Around the world, comic book stores will give you comic books if you pay them a visit today. And it’s also “Independent Bookstore Day” — a new event started last year which has since expanded to over 400 bookstores across the U.S.A. Amazon is keeping quiet about both events, but many of the free comic books also eventually become free Kindle ebooks! You can still find some of last year’s free titles in Amazon’s Kindle Store — plus a chance to pre-order this year’s free preview of the D.C. Universe’s upcoming “Divergence” storyline.

For a shortcut to Amazon’s “Free Comic Book Day” ebooks, point your browser to

It’s an interesting moment in time. “Instead of heralding the industry’s doom, the death of Borders may have helped clear away competition,” writes The Washington Post, explaining the origins of Independent Bookstore Day. Comic book stores have been celebrating their event for over a decade, and this year both Marvel and D.C. Comics are using it to promote upcoming storylines in their comic books. But they’ll be joined by dozens of independent publishers who are giving away 50 free comic books today. Here’s some of the more interesting titles.

Free Comic Book Day - Batman Superman Divergence Preview

– D.C. Comics offers a comic with three different “previews” — 8-page excerpts from actual upcoming comic books (Batman, Justice League, and Superman). It’s promoting a new ongoing storyline about a war with “the biggest villains in the D.C. universe” — and on Monday, you’ll be able to download it as a free Kindle ebook!

Free Comic Book Day - The Simpsons Bongo Free For All By Matt Groening

– Matt Groening contributed a comic book featuring The Simpson’s. Its title is “Bongo Free-For-All”, and its cover shows Bart and Lisa Simpson (plus his friends Nelson and Milhouse) fighting four other children over their favorite comic book, “Radioactive Man”.

– Marvel comics is releasing a special “Avengers” comic book, celebrating the release of the second movie in their blockbuster franchise. And they’re also giving away a free “Secret Wars” comic showing “the final days of the Marvel Universe as you know,” teasing an upcoming storyline that they’re promising will be “the biggest comic event of the year.”

– Chuck Palahniuk is even contributing a free “Fight Club” comic book (which also includes a new story by Guillermo del Toro based on his vampire novel, “The Strain.”)

Free Comic BOok Day - Neil Gaiman's Justice

– Neil Gaiman’s “Lady Justice” returns to comic book stores. (“Back in print for the first time in two decades!”) It’s a full reprint of the very first issue of the comic book from 1991, in a series that was created (though not always written) by science fiction legend Neil Gaiman.

Free Comic Book Day - Dr Who

– There’s also a Dr. Who comic for fans of the long-running (and recently-revived) science fiction series. (“Take a blistering trip through time and space with three stunning ALL-NEW short stories featuring Tenth Doctor, Eleventh Doctor and the brand-new Twelfth Doctor by the ongoing DOCTOR WHO creative teams.”

– Boom! Studios is releasing a special compendium with 10 stories using several different famous characters including Snoopy, Garfield, and the fanciful muppet characters from Jim Henson’s Labyrinth.

Bob's Burgers

– Bob’s Burgers gets commemorated with this special collection of the best stories from its first run as a comic book, written by the writers and animators of the popular FOX cartoon. (“Thrill to Tina’s Friend Fiction, Louise’s Unsolved Mysteries and Curious Curiosities, Gene Belcher Presents: The Musical, and more!)

– Steampunk Goldilocks. Author/illustrator Rod Espinosa continues his re-imaginings of classic stories by bringing a retro-geeky to the story of Goldilocks. (With a special cameo by Ms. Muffet)

– There’s also comic books with The Tick, SpongeBob SquarePants, Scooby Doo, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

It’s the perfect time to introduce your young family members to the joys of reading comic books. (And the perfect time to enjoy it yourself!)

Remember, for a shortcut to Amazon’s “Free Comic Book Day” ebooks, point your browser to

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Amazon Discounts Eight Amazing Biographies

Bringing Down the House - The Inside Story of Six MIT. Students Who Took Las Vegas for Millions (with Blackjack strategies) Milwaukee Mafia - Images of America

A Prince Among Stones by Prince Rupert Loewenstein - Rolling Stones pictures on book cover Josh Hamilton biography - Beyond Belief

Every month Amazon discounts dozens of ebooks for their “$3.99 or less” sale. But this month I was absolutely stunned by some of the jaw-dropping true stories that they’d put on sale in their biography section. There’s tales about professional gamblers, midwestern mafia members, and even an honest-to-god prince who somehow ended up working with the Rolling Stones. And each of these amazing biographies has been discounted to just $3.99 or less!

For a shortcut to Amazon’s discounts, point your browser to

Here’s some of the more interesting titles…

Bringing Down the House - The Inside Story of Six MIT. Students Who Took Las Vegas for Millions (with Blackjack strategies)

Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions by Ben Mezrich ($1.99)

This remains one of my favorite geek stories of all time: “The amazing inside story about a gambling ring of M.I.T. students who beat the system in Vegas — and lived to tell how.” These college kids crunched the numbers, first forming a card-counting club on their campus. But inevitably they get the itch to try test their skills in a real-world casino — and end up winning millions of dollars. Suddenly the casinos caught wind of their racket, and started tracking the 20-something prodigies. It was loosely adapated into a movie with Kevin Spacey, and one Amazon reviewer applauded this tale of “a constant adrenaline high”. And best of all, it includes a detailed description of Las Vegas card counting — so you’ll know exactly which tricks can help you win big at blackjack!

This book normally sells for $16, so this represents a massive 78% discount. And you can also purchase the audiobook for another $3.99 — and then switch between the ebook and audio versions!

A Prince Among Stones by Prince Rupert Loewenstein - Rolling Stones pictures on book cover

A Prince Among Stones by Prince Rupert Loewenstein ($1.99)

“In 1968 Mick Jagger couldn’t understand why the Rolling Stones were broke,” reads this book’s description at Amazon. “The man he asked for help was a German prince, a merchant banker. They forged an unlikely alliance which re-invented the business of rock ‘n’ roll…” The hardcover edition of Prince Loewenstein’s book normally sells for $27, so this is a massive 75% discount — and it’s a story unlike anything you’ve ever heard before. As the wild band cranked out Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street, this strange new relationship rocked the lives of both Prince Loewenstein as well as Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, and the rest of the Rolling Stones, according to the book’s description at Amazon. ” For nearly forty years Prince Rupert worked with the Stones as-in his own words — ‘a combination of bank manager, psychiatrist, and nanny,’ usually enthralled with his clients but often bemused and exasperated with them, too.” They describe his book as “Coolly impartial and dryly humorous,” and “a refreshingly different take on the rock ‘n’ roll world…”

And you can also purchase the audiobook for another $3.99 — and then switch between the ebook and audio versions!

Milwaukee Mafia - Images of America

Milwaukee Mafia (Images of America) by Gavin Schmitt $2.99

“Milwaukee is best known for its beer—and rightfully so,” reads this book’s description at Amazon. “But in the days of Prohibition, the big alcohol suppliers were not Miller, Blatz, Schlitz, and Pabst. The Mafia had control, and it made its money by running alcohol…as well as with counterfeiting, the numbers racket, and two of the biggest heists in American history. ” Using never-before-published photos augmented by historical archives, author Gavin Schmitt also taps the memories of police officers, federal agents, and even his own relatives for a detailed look at a fascinating forgotten moment in history. It’s a vivid pictorial history telling a story that’s never been told before, according to one Amazon reviewer, who applauds the author for being “the first person to take on the Milwaukee Mafia in print.”

Josh Hamilton biography - Beyond Belief

Beyond Belief: Finding the Strength to Come Back by Josh Hamilton ($2.99)

He’s the baseball player who’s been making headlines this month — for all of the wrong reasons. So it’s fascinating to discover this 2008 autobiography by Josh Hamilton — and some fans have found it to be an especially poignant read. “I read this book in a couple of hours on Opening Day of the 2015 baseball season on the cusp of Josh Hamilton’s most recent relapse,” wrote one reviewer on Amazon, adding “[I]wanted to learn of his journey through his addiction and I was not disappointed. This is a raw, moving account of a very talented man who fell face first into the use of drugs and watched his baseball career plummet…” Hamilton paints a picture of happier times with his loving wife — who announced two weeks ago that she’s now suing him for divorce. But that seems to make it even more precious that in this 2008 book — which normally sells for $16 — readers found “a man talking to the reader with frank candor and honesty…a man bearing his soul for the reader and taking responsibility for his actions.”

And you can also purchase the audiobook for another $3.99 — and then switch between the ebook and audio versions!

Remember, for a shortcut to all of Amazon’s discounted ebooks,
point your browser to

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Is The Kindle Making Us Stupid?

I’m starting an experiment. I’m reading the print editions of books now (instead of downloading their Kindle editions). They’re always free — I’m requesting them from my public library, and apparently nobody else is interested in the books I’ve been checking out. But I’m trying to “re-wire” my brain so it focuses more intensely…

Dr. Larry Rosen once wrote an interesting article for Psychology Today. His blog is called “Rewired: The Psychology of Technology,” and he ultimately confronted a new argument against digital readers – that non-linear reading “is changing our brain and moving us away from deep thought into more shallow thinking”! By non-linear technology, Rosen’s referring mostly to the hyperlinked discussions which happen online, where it’s almost too easy to flit away to a new web page or a new activity (like checking your e-mail or answering instant messages). But author Nicholas Carr predicts that even reading books will soon enter this universe of “interruption” technologies, in which we’re not just reading but also simultaneously participating in a distracted online dialogue related to that same book.

Nicholas Carr is the author of The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. But he received a strong rebuttal from Rosen, a professor of psychology at California State University — who’s also an avid Kindle user! “I bought a Kindle when they first came out in late 2007…” Rosen remembers in his blog post, “and delighted in using it on airplane trips instead of bringing along two or three paperback books.” And Rosen ultimately sees the hyperlinking of online discussions as a good thing. (“As C.S. Lewis said, ‘We read to know we are not alone.'”) “What better way to read a book than to be able to share it as we are reading? Isn’t that what book clubs are all about?

“The difference here is that people will be able to read what other people think about the book as they read. They can even discuss the book live while they are reading it, not when they have read the final page…”

That’s a reasonable position. Even without joining an online discussion, I’ve been reading some free history ebooks on my Kindle, and sometimes I’ll get inspired to dig deeper into some especially intriguing details. (“Wait a minute — the re-supply ship to the Jamestown colony in 1609 actually crashed instead in Bermuda? And they only made it to America because they built two new ships while shipwrecked? And that may have inspired Shakespeare to write The Tempest?“) I think one of the best things a book can do is pique your curiosity. And now it’s easier to act on that curiosity with a Kindle, since it lets you look up any word in a dictionary, and look up any topic in Wikipedia with its always-available wireless connection.

That’s an argument that ultimately going to make us smarter, not shallower. And I think this whole debate can be summed up by two brilliant sentences from author David Weinberger. “Perhaps the web isn’t shortening our attention span,” he wrote in 2002. “Perhaps the world is just getting more interesting…” But just to test this theory, I’m going to try long reading sessions, with a nice substantial print book. One that doesn’t turn into a different book just by pressing a few buttons. One that sits in a single place in our universe, and doesn’t reveal its secrets until you actually turn through its paper pages…

I don’t know if this is an ironic twist, but I actually read Weinberger’s defense of the web in an old-fashioned printed book. (Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A Unified Theory Of The Web.) It was written five years before the Kindle even existed, but there’s now a neat Kindle version of his mind-boggling insights. And yesterday Dr. Rosen’s blog post seemed to make a similar argument.

Sure, teenagers may someday be participating in online discussions while they’re reading a book, but “This is way better than seeing students read the Cliff Notes or not even reading at all.” And ultimately he puts the whole debate into perspective. Are ebooks making us smart or stupid? “As Dr. Gary Small, director of the Center on Aging at UCLA and author of iBrain said discussing online reading, ‘People tend to ask whether this is good or bad.

‘My response is that the tech train is out of the station and it’s impossible to stop.'”

Click here for the Kindle version of Dr. Rosen’s book, Rewired: Understanding the iGeneration and the Way They Learn.

Click here for the Kindle version of Dr. Small’s book, iBrain: Surving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind

Click here for the Kindle version of Nicholas Carr’s book, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains

Click here for the Kindle version of David Weinberger’s book, Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A Unified Theory Of The Web

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The Books of Hillary Clinton

Unique Voice by Hillary ClintonYoung First Lady Hillary Clinton photo from Invitation to White House BookSenator Hillary Rodham Clinton book cover photo - Living HistoryPresidential Candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton book cover picture- Hard Choices

Everyone is publishing books in Amazon’s Kindle Store — even Hillary Clinton. She’s running for President now, and in a weird twist, her whole life story is spread across Amazon’s store in a series of books. Over the last 18 years she’s written three books, and each one is available as Kindle ebook.

For a shortcut point your browser to

America is polarized when it comes to politics, but I always try to understand the candidates from both parties. And there’s a certain amount of history and pageantry that goes along with the role of begin a nation’s first lady. I’m disappointed that there’s no Kindle edition for the book “Dear Socks, Dear Buddy: Kids’ Letters to the First Pets”, which included a fun history of various pets in the White House, plus an inspiring story about how the children’s letters are answered at the United States Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home. And her time in the White House saw the publication of a collection of Hillary’s own writings, plus a lush coffee table book Hillary wrote about state dinners and life at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

But here’s the three Hillary Clinton books that are available as Kindle ebooks.

It Takes a Village book cover by Hillary Clinton

It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us (Updated in 2006)

In 2006 a special “10th Anniversary Edition” was released for Hillary’s 1996 book which included a new introduction written by U.S. Senator Clinton. The topic of children only leads a larger look at society itself and the issues facing us as we try to raise the next generation, according to the book’s description on Amazon, and Hillary’s new introduction even acknowledges the arrival of the internet to our complex global village. One reviewer at The Christian Science Monitor gushed that “it would be a loss if the nation missed this opportunity to address [these] issues…” But I was surprised that even one Amazon reviewer who described themselves as “more right than left” thought Hillary’s writing style was enjoyable, adding “I like to think I can be part of that middle ground — a right-winger who appreciates the intelligent passionate argument that she brings to the table. ”

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton book cover photo - Living History

Living History (2003)

Did you know Hillary’s uncle once tried to kill himself? Or that her mother was nearly abandoned by Hillary’s grandmother? This book offers a surprisingly personal glimpse into the life of a girl from Illinois who grew up to be America’s First Lady, its Secretary of State, and a Senator from New York — and it’s also her highest-rated book among Amazon’s reviewers. I liked how this book pulled together the different parts of her family history, which shows just how much America changed over the last 100 years, especially during the 1960s (when Hillary was in college). Hillary started life as a Republican — before she was 21, she’d already attended the Republican National Convention (where she met Frank Sinatra and John Wayne). There’s also stories about hearing Martin Luther King speak, the women who inspired her, and of course, her life with a young man named Bill Clinton who became President in 1992.

Presidential Candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton book cover picture- Hard Choices

Hard Choices (2014)

Hillary’s most recent book — published just last year — sprung back onto Amazon’s best-seller list when HIllary announced her candidacy. Six days later, it’s still one of Amazon’s 10 best-selling books in their history section’s category for books about women in history — and in their biographies category for political leaders and notable people. It opens with a funny story about hiding in the back of a van to avoid the press on the way to a secret meeting with Barack Obama back in 2008. Hillary becomes Secretary of State, and this book offers fascinating details about the way the U.S. ultimately handled other world foreign leaders. “[O]nce Clinton gets rolling, she does what’s most valuable in this kind of memoir,” wrote The Washington Post, “which is to take readers inside her meetings — sketching portraits of the world leaders with whom she did business…” There’s a revelation about how the U.S. arrived at its (interim) nuclear agreement with Iran in 2013, and colorful stories like Vladimir Putin offering to take Bill Clinton along on an expedition to tag polar bears. “The book includes a lot of information that we never got from the media,” wrote one Amazon reviewer, who described the book as a “wonderful walk through history.”

For a shortcut to Amazon’s Hillary Clinton books, point your browser to

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Amazon Discounts Raymond Chandler Mysteries!

Farewell My Lovely - by Raymond Chandler (book cover)     Playback graphic novel by Raymond Chandler     Raymond Chandler book cover - the little sister

Detective fiction — classic noir-style mysteries by Raymond Chandler — are being discounted in Amazon’s Kindle Store! (Tough-guy detective Philip Marlowe may have a new mystery on his hands — the case of the discounted ebooks…) There’s even a cool illustrated “graphic novel” that’s adapting one of Chandler’s books. And two more of his classic novels have been discounted to less than $3.99!

Here’s the three Raymond Chandler mysteries that Amazon’s discounting.

Farewell My Lovely - by Raymond Chandler (book cover)

Farewell My Lovely ($3.79)

This may be the classic hard-boiled detective story. It’s the second novel Chandler wrote about Philip Marlowe, who “finds himself in the wrong place at the right time,” according to this book’s description at Amazon. Suddenly a routine case leads him into “a ring of jewel thieves, another murder, a fortune-teller, a couple more murders, and more corruption than your average graveyard.” But this 304-page masterpiece aspires to be more than your ordinary detective fiction, with something to say about corruption and our ultimate place among the good guys and bad guys all around us.

Playback graphic novel by Raymond Chandler

Playback: A Graphic Novel ($3.03)

The great mystery writer’s 1948 screenplay was “presumed lost”, according to a review by Publisher’s Weekly. But 20 years after the author’s death, it was re-discovered in a dark and dusty archive at Universal Studios. A French publisher created this slick comic book version, which has finally been translated into English and published as a Kindle ebook. “Betty Mayfield is blond and beautiful and has just been found guilty of murdering her husband,” reads the book’s description at Amazon. This visually stunning and highly original ebook adapts the very last novel by Raymond Chandler, and its description at Amazon promises it’s “a heart-pounding tale of betrayal, blackmail, and murder.”

Raymond Chandler book cover - the little sister

The Little Sister: A Novel ($2.99)

Raymond Chandler wrote only 7 novels throughout his career, and this one was completed when he turned 61. In the story his detective Marlowe is “beginning to tire…” according to one reviewer at Amazon, “and the disillusionment has started to etch permanent lines on him.” But it seems like that makes this the quintessential story of a world-weary detective fighting for right, and the reviewer ultimately lauds this as “An underrated and underestimated effort.” The fast-moving story concerns “A movie starlet with a gangster boyfriend,” according to the book’s description at Amazon, who conspires to lure Philip Marlowe “into the less than glamorous and more than a little dangerous world of Hollywood fame…”

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Install an Amazon Button in Your Home!

Amazon Dash Button
It’s not a joke, The New Yorker assures us. “Many people assumed it was,” they wrote yesterday, “mostly because the announcement came the day before April Fool’s, but also because the idea seemed to poke fun at Amazon’s omnipresence, making it visibly manifest with little plastic one-click shopping buttons adhered to surfaces all over your home.” But yes, this really is happening. You can now install a little button in your home which will automatically order you products from Amazon.

For a shortcut to Amazon’s button, point your browser to

It’s free for Amazon Prime members, if you request an invitation from Amazon at that URL. The “Dash” buttons are even customized with the logos of products you might want to order (like Tide detergent or Bounty paper towels), according to a promotional video Amazon’s included on the page. “A simple way to re-order the important things you always run low on,” its friendly narrator explains, “so you’ll never run out.” And apparently you can set up the button to order any product that you want (using the Amazon app on your smartphone).

Amazon always sends a confirmation to your phone, so you’ll have a chance to review your order after it’s been placed. And don’t worry — by default, the button is set up to place only one order (even if you press it more than once!) Amazon is reaching out to manufacturers now about how they can include Amazon’s magical button as part of their own marketing plans. And what’s really amazing is that after pushing the button, your order will sometimes arrive at your house in less than one hour!

Amazon’s announcing a new one-hour delivery window for members of their Prime shipping service in select target markets. The “Prime Now” service is available in Atlanta, Baltimore, Brooklyn, Dallas, Manhattan and Miami — in select zip codes — for thousands of products that you’d order from Amazon. “We are excited to continue delivering to customers in record-breaking time…” brags Amazon’s senior VP of worldwide operations. “It means you can skip a trip to the store and get the items you need delivered right to your door in under an hour…”

“Since launching, we’ve seen high demand on everything from essentials like water and paper towels to more surprising deliveries like getting a customer a hard-to-find, top-selling toy in 23 minutes!”

The New Yorker had some fun with the announcement, wondering how people would configure their Amazon buttons — and which items they’d re-order again and again? “So far, other than coffee, Amazon appears to be steering clear of offering addictive products with the service. There is no Cheetos button. No Oreos button… And the buttons are set up to place only one order at a time, no matter how many times you press them, which means that Fido or your five-year-old can’t order ten thousand rolls of paper towels when you’re not paying attention.”

My biggest problem was that I thought the whole thing was a joke! Especially since for April Fool’s Day, the link-sharing site Reddit announced a button of their own. When you press this button, it resets a timer that’s counting down from 60 seconds. So far over half a million people have clicked on it, always resetting the timer before it reahes zero — so no one knows what will happen when its timer finally drops to zero.

But if this were Amazon’s button, they all could’ve ordered a half million boxes of Tide!

Remember, for a shortcut to Amazon’s button, point your browser to

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Best-Selling Authors Stage Wrestling Match for Charity

Suzanne Collins vs Stephenie Meyer - Hunger Games-Twilight battle

Suzanne Collins is the all-time best-selling author on the Kindle. But can she defeat Stephenie Meyer – the author of the Twilight series – in a mixed martial arts cage match?

“Suzanne Collins is #1 in the hearts of fans — and in the sales of her books through Amazon’s Kindle store,” WWE chairman Vince McMahon said in a statement from Florida. “So we’re issuing a formal challenge to her on behalf of her rival author, Stephenie Meyer. And to Miss Meyer we say, come and listen to the cheers from a real crowd. Leave your desk behind, taste the springtime air here in Miami Gardens, and come to defend your title out here in the real world.”

“And you can bring along as many of your vampire friends as you want.”

In a promotional video segment, “Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson” was photographed holding printed copies of all the Twilight-series books, and also copies of each of Collins’ Hunger Games books, which he smashed together to pump up the anticipation. “We professional wrestlers all know how to read,” Johnson said in a pre-taped segment. “But do you have what it takes to wrestle? There’s a ring with your name on it at Sun Life Stadium, Stephenie Meyer.”

The World Wrestling Entertainment issued their formal invitation this morning as part of an ambitious ongoing campaign to improve the image of professional wrestling, They’re offering to fund the entirety of the special event “with the two heavy-weight authors” as a prominent part of WrestleMania XXXI. It may not be a fight to the death — like the staged tournaments in Collins’ Hunger Games books — but McMahon alluded to that excitement while urging both authors to accept the challenge by using a quote from the newly-released movie.

“They just want a good show, that’s all they want,” McMahon said, standing near a mock-up of a promotional poster for the event in the back of his broadcasting booth in Florida. But then he looked directly at the camera, and added ominously, “But only one comes out.”

It’s not clear whether the massive popularity of the Kindle can translate into bigger ticket sales for a staged wrestling event between the authors of two popular ebooks. But it’s not the first time that the WWE has tried to attract celebrities into carefully-prepared professional wrestling matches. (Famously in 2004, Vince McMahon successfully lured Lucy Lawless — the original Xena the Warrior Princess — into a staged wrestling match against Sarah Michelle Gellar, who’d played Buffy the Vampire Slayer). McMahon gamely joked that if there’s enough interest in this year’s “War of the Writers,” they might even duplicate the event in 2016.

“Maybe we’ll get J. K. Rowling to wrestle Anne Rice!”

               *                              *                              *

UPDATE: Okay, while it turns out that WrestleMania 31 is a real event, apparently it is not going to feature an appearance this year by Suzanne Collins in a mixed-martial-arts, cage-match fight to the death with rival author Stephenie Meyer. I’d actually be a little embarrassed if you hadn’t already guest that I made this whole thing up, because I wanted to be part of all the fun of April Fool’s Day!

I promise that I’ve never, ever made up a blog post before, and that I’ll never, ever do it again.

Er, except maybe for April Fool’s Day of 2016. :D

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America’s Greatest Novelist Arrives on the Kindle!

William Saroyan
I’m thrilled to discover one of my favorite authors has finally arrived on the Kindle — William Saroyan. In fact, one of my first blog posts here was about the great American novel. Older novels have a different style — there’s romantic novels from the 1800s, or rambling post-modern narratives from Ernest Hemingway. But around the 1940s, you get what I think of as “The Great American Novelists”. That is, people who were consciously setting out to write glorious, high-stakes pageants about life itself. And nobody embodied that better than William Saroyan.

Every man is a good man in a bad world… Every man himself changes from good to bad or from bad to good, back and forth, all his life, and then dies. But no matter how or why or when a man changes, he remains a good man in a bad world, as he himself knows…

That’s from the 1952 novel Rock Wagram, and back in 2010 I was calling Saroyan “the lost novelist”, because you couldn’t find his novels on the Kindle. (Later I even started calling him “The Author You Can’t Read on your Kindle”.) I’d worried that somehow he might not make the leap into the next century, which made it feel that much more poignant when I discovered that an anonymous web surfer had discovered my blog post about Saroyan by typing in that quote. (One more anonymous good man lost in a bad world….)

But four months ago, Saroyan’s books suddenly started appearing in Amazon’s Kindle Store. The William Saroyan Reader is a great place to start, and it includes an amazing story about the author’s life. HIs son Aram shares a stunning passage from “The Summer of the Beautiful White Horse” in the book’s preface.

One day back there in the good old days when I was nine and the world was full of every imaginable kind of magnificence, and life was still a delightful and mysterious dream my cousin Mourad, who was considered crazy by everybody who knew him except me, came to my house at four in the morning and woke me up by tapping on the window of my room.

Aram, he said.

I jumped out of bed and looked out the window.

I couldn’t believe what I saw.

It wasn’t morning yet, but it was summer and with daybreak not many minutes around the corner of the world it was light enough for me to know I wasn’t dreaming.

My cousin Mourad was sitting on a beautiful white horse.

Saroyan’s son says “If there is another single page of prose that better evokes the wonder and mystery of childhood, I would love to know about it.” But then he also points out that his father actually spent his own childhood — from the ages of three to eight — growing up in an orphanage. (Saroyan’s own father — a poet and a minister — had died at the age of 37.) Years later Saroyan won a Pulitzer Prize — and in a particularly flamboyant gesture, he actually turned it down! His son speculates that was Saroyan’s way of thumbing his nose at the “officialdom” that seemed so disinterested during his childhood in the orphanage. And he adds that Saroyan later faced death itself with that same wide-eyed and boyish sense of wonder…

The story about his time in the orphanage is especially stunning because Saroyan’s novels have a special warmth to them — a “camaraderie”, his son calls it — “a dark cheer…a bittersweet poetry.” Maybe that’s what makes it so much more poignant that his stories have now re-awakened in the year 2015, freshly available as ebooks for a new generation of readers. Not every book has arrived yet — we’re still waiting for the Kindle edition of “The Human Comedy,” which is probably Saroyan’s best-known novel. But in the last four months ebook editions have finally appeared for Rock Wagram, Boys and Girls Together, The Laughing Matter, The William Saroyan Reader, and Chance Meetings — Saroyan’s own memoir.

And a great American novelist finally gets a chance to reach a brand new audience.

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