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
tinyurl.com/AmazonAvengersComics


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
tinyurl.com/AmazonAvengersComics

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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
tinyurl.com/ReadTheGoldfinch

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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
tinyurl.com/399KindleEbooks


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
tinyurl.com/399KindleEbooks

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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 Amazon.com (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
tinyurl.com/ReadTheGoldfinch

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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
tinyurl.com/GameOfThronesComic

“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
tinyurl.com/GameOfThronesComic

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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
tinyurl.com/399KindleEbooks

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
tinyurl.com/399KindleEbooks

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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
tinyurl.com/FreePacmanApp

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
tinyurl.com/FreePacmanApp

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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
tinyurl.com/KindleFCBD

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
tinyurl.com/KindleFCBD

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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
tinyurl.com/399KindleEbooks

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
tinyurl.com/399KindleEbooks

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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
tinyurl.com/HillaryEbooks

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
tinyurl.com/HillaryEbooks

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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
tinyurl.com/AmazonButton

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
tinyurl.com/AmazonButton

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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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New Site Mocks the Worst Kindle eBook Covers

Young Tales of the Old Cosmos   How to Deal with Hippo Encounter
Flight of the Intrepid Monkey   Titanimus Makes Jenny a Genie

“Judging a book by its cover is generally frowned upon,” jokes a newspaper in England, “but the same cannot be said for ebooks.” They’re interviewing the creator of a new page on Tumblr called “Kindle Cover Disasters” — and yes, it’s a collection of cover illustrations that are spectacularly bad. You can view all of the awful images — along with the author’s quick assessments of them — by scrolling down the page.

Here’s some of his more interesting finds…

 

Young Tales of the Old Cosmos

Young Tales of the Old Cosmos by Rhys Hughes

Wait, what? I’m not even sure I understand what that means, but oh my god that’s a creepy cover! Human eyes — and even lips — have been cut-and-pasted onto two planets, and also onto the rocky surface of the moon. And according to this ebook’s description, it really is stories about the personal life of planets. “When Pluto is officially demoted from a true planet to a dwarf planet; when the poor moon is infested with clowns…; when the Milky Way wants to make friends… that’s the time they most need our sympathy and support.” You’d think more people would want to read about the clown infestation of the moon, but alas, on Amazon’s list of their best-selling ebooks, this book is ranked #2,179,737


How to Deal with Hippo Encounter

How to Deal with Hippo Encounter by Solomon J. Matt

First, that’s a terrible title. (There seems to be a word missing…) And honestly, that’s a terrible idea for a book, since, really, how big is your target audience going to be? If I actually did encounter a raging hippopotamus, would I rush over to Amazon to purchase an ebook of helpful advice? (Chapter One: Running…) But all of this overlooks the fact that a hippopotamus’s mouth is just plain ugly. Do you really want that enormous pink maw gaping up from the water on the cover of your newest Kindle ebook?


Titanimus Makes Jenny a Genie

Titanimus Makes Jenny a Genie: Book 4 by Betty Crofoot

Where to start? Yes, Jenny’s legs are too short, and those bolts of lightning are clearly the wrong color, but I can’t get past the shape of Titanimus’s body. It’s like an overpadded robot — maybe Klaatu from “When Worlds Collide” — but with a hole in his chest where the cosmos peeks through. In this story Titanimus makes Jenny into a genie, apparently, but its lackluster cover manages to make that look about as dazzling as a quilt at the Andromeda Galaxy’s county fair. This 51-page book is just $5.95, and so far has been reviewed by no Amazon customers whatsoever.


Flight of the Intrepid Monkey

The Flight of the Intrepid Monkey by Mac Zazski

First, that’s another terrible title. But at least this is a full-length novel that’s available free in the Kindle Store, and you have to admire the author’s ambition. It’s a story about fugitives from the law who become intergalactic heroes — an “out of this world love story filled with pirates, ugly secretaries, angry housekeepers, Church librarians…” Unfortunately, author “Mac Zazski” has apparently just cut-and-pasted random photos of people over a washed-out drawing of the solar system, and instead of a poster for excitement, it ends up looking more like a tiny family scrapbook.

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Amazon’s Amazing Deal: a Free FireTV Stick?!

FireTV discount on Amazon

Amazon’s FireTV boxes cost $99 — but the same functions are now available for just $39 in Amazon’s new FireTV Stick. But they’ll give you one for free if you sign up for the $20-a-month “SlingTV” service. Frankly, I’m amazed at how low its price has dropped.

Check out Amazon’s cheap FireTV prices at
tinyurl.com/FireTV39

When it was first released last year, Amazon was selling the “box” version of Fire TV for $99, so it already feels like Amazon is offering a massive 60% discount with their FireTV sticks. Maybe Amazon’s calculated how many digital videos you’ll rent from Amazon once you’ve purchased a FireTV stick. And the SlingTV service feels like getting a basic cable TV package at a much cheaper price. I just told my girlfriend — she loves the Food Network — and it’s part of the SlingTV package (along with the Disney Channel, ESPN, TNT, and Adult Swim.)

So why is the FireTV stick so cheap? And ultimately, what’s the difference between FireTV and and the FireTV stick? Fortunately there’s a helpful chart on Amazon, but it makes the two FireTV products look nearly identical. The stick version of FireTV is wireless only — you can’t use a cable to connect it, even if you want to. And the stick also only offers Dolby Digital Plus sound (and not the fancier “5.1 surround sound”).

Both devices can also run games and apps on your big-screen digital TV — though fewer of them will be comptaible with the stick version of FireTV. And there’s also a service for children called “Amazon FreeTime” which is only available on the larger FireTV box. FreeTime gives you a library of child-friendly videos for which you pay a small monthly subscription fee. It’s optional for the FireTV boxes — but the optional service isn’t available if you’re only using a FireTV stick.

I think we’re the winners in a price war between Amazon and the other digital media companies. They’re lowering their prices to attract customers to Amazon’s own streaming media service. “18 times more apps and games than Apple TV,” reads a new ad that just appeared on the front page of Amazon.

They’re anxious for you to try FireTV — and now they’re making it as cheap as they possibly can!

Check out Amazon’s cheap FireTV prices at
tinyurl.com/FireTV39

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Amazon Discounts eBooks for March!

The Girl With No Name book coverRants by Dennis Miller

The Three Pigs by David Wiesner

Every month Amazon chooses over 100 Kindle ebooks to sell at a special discounted price. It’s their “$3.99 or less” sale, and my favorite part of each new month is browsing through the selection to see what’s on sale! There’s discounted ebooks in just above every category, from science fiction to biographies — and there’s even some great non-fiction books.

For a shortcut to Amazon’s discounts, point your browser to
tinyurl.com/399KindleEbooks

Here’s some of the most interesting selections…


Rants by Dennis Miller

The Rants by Dennis Miller ($1.99)

You may remember him as Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update” news anchor, or from his mid-’90s talk show. But he collected together his trademark jokes and insights into a laugh-out-loud collection which ultimately made him a best-selling author, according to the book’s description at Amazon. “The New York Times called Dennis Miller’s Rants ‘a pleasing mix of profanity and wit…that will make fans of his irreverent liberal angst laugh out loud.” And one Amazon reviewer wrote simply that Dennis Miller is one of the five funniest comedians in the world, adding that his rants are among some of the most original stuff to come around in a long time.”


The Girl With No Name book cover

The Girl With No Name: The Incredible Story of a Child Raised by Monkeys ($1.99)

Wait, what? Wow. Just wow…. I can’t even imagine! It’s a true story. In the mountains of South America, back in 1954, a 4-year-old girl was abandoned in the jungles of Colombia, according to this ebook’s description on Amazon. “[H]alf-drugged, terrified, and starving, she came upon a troop of capuchin monkeys. Acting entirely on instinct, she tried to do what they did: she ate what they ate and copied their actions, and little by little, learned to fend for herself.” And so begins the story of her next five years, lived entirely within a family of monkeys. It sounds like an incredible story, and Amazon promises that “this rousing story… will astonish readers everywhere.”


The Three Pigs by David Wiesner

The Three Pigs by David Wiesner ($1.99)

It’s a Caldecott Medal-winning children’s book with a story so mind-boggling that even I had to buy it! A big wolf huffs and puffs a little pig right out of his house — and out of the frame of the illustration. “Come on — it’s safe out here,” he tells the other pigs, who also escape from the other pictures of the story. “We got away from that wolf for good.” Then they frolic in an impossible neverland of pure imagination, which Amazon describes as “a dazzling fantasy universe” — which leads to a wonderful and surprising happy ending.

Smart Women Finish Rich by David Bach

Smart Women Finish Rich by David Bach ($1.99)

It’s a seven-step program that can provide a huge payoff, according to this ebook’s description on Amazon. “David Bach is a financial genius with a passion for helping women get rich,” reads a testimonial by finance writer Laurie Beth Jones. “Read this book–and prosper! And another best-selling author added “Finally, a book for women that talks about money in a way that makes sense. David Bach is not just an expert in managing money — he’s the ultimate motivational coach for women. I can’t recommend this book enough!”


Remember, for a shortcut to Amazon’s discounts, point your browser to
tinyurl.com/399KindleEbooks

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Amazon Celebrates National Reading Month

Amazon Celebrates National Reading Month
March is “National Reading Month,” and Amazon’s greeting it with a special deal on their Kindle! They’ve slashed its price by more than 25% — to just $59. It’s a “limited-time” offer, but it’s also Amazon’s way of making it easier to read. (Especially Kindle ebooks, from Amazon…) And Amazon’s also doing even more to encourage reading….

Amazon’s also created a new web page with links to more special collections of books. “What Will You Read This Month?” the page asks, with another subtitle: “Discover a New Story.” And the first link is Amazon’s impressive list of 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime. It’s “a bucket list of books to create a well-read life,” assembled by the editors at Amazon.

For a shortcut to Amazon’s special page, point your browser to
tinyurl.com/AmazonBookLists

There’s also another link to a fun list of best books chosen by readers from the online community at GoodReads.com. (“Vote for your favorites,” it urges, with several intriguing categories.) There’s Best Books of the 21st Century, Best Books of the Decade: 2000s, Best books of March 2015, and of course — Best Books Ever. The list’s #1 book is “The Hunger Games, with a Harry Potter book at #2 and a Twilight book at #4. “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” came in at #9…

Amazon’s also created a new page called Books to Look for This Spring. (“Twenty books we think you’ll be hearing a lot more about this season…”) Glenn Greenwald has written a new book about Edward Snowden, and 82-year-old novelist Tom Robbins is finally delivering a personal memoir, “stitching together stories of his unconventional life, from his Appalachian childhood to his globetrotting adventure”. And at the end of March, Michael Lewis will release another new investigation into Wall Street — this one highlighting “the good guys” who tried to reform a broken stock market…by creating their own.

There’s lots of new and exciting things to read — and I have to admit that I’m reading more ever since Kindle came into my life. I can imagine a parent giving one to their children, to try to make reading seem high-tech and fancy and cutting-edge. But the most important thing will always be the books, and I feel like Amazon understands that too.

Because they’re celebrating National Reading Month with appreciative lists of some very great books…

For a shortcut to Amazon’s lists, point your browser to
tinyurl.com/AmazonBookLists

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Amazon Announces One-Day Tablet Sale!

Amazon Thank You Sale on Fire Tablets

It’s like a “flash sale”. Until midnight, Amazon’s discounting all of their Kindle Fire tablets by 15%. It’s a special one-day sale to celebrate Amazon’s first-place finish in a new survey about customer satisfaction. “To say thank you, we’re taking 15% off all Fire tablets,” reads an announcement on Amazon’s front page today.

For a shortcut to Amazon’s promotion, point your browser to
tinyurl.com/AmazonThanksYou

That front-page announcement leads to a grid showing Amazon’s Fire tablets — each with its old price crossed out, and a lower price printed in bright orange numbers. The Fire HD6 tablet is now just $84, and the larger Fire HD7 is just $118. (Today only!) And while normally the massive 8.9-inch Fire HDX would cost $379, it’s just $322 until midnight.

Even the kids edition of the Fire HD has been discounted. Normally it costs $149, but today Amazon’s reduced its price to just $126. “If you’ve been waiting, today might be a very good day to buy a Fire tablet from Amazon,” wrote my friend Len Edgerly on his “Kindle Chronicles” blog. “This display of corporate gratitude was triggered by an impressive performance by Amazon in the 2014 American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) rankings released last week…”

Amazon Thank You Sale on Fire Tablets

It’s a big triumph, because general satisfaction is down among all shoppers, according to the results of the study. But Amazon achieved a score of 86 in the survey — the highest of any retailer. Amazon actually scored an 88 last year, but even this two-point drop still leaves them at the top. NetFlix came in second — tied with Newegg (an online retailer of computer hardware and software) — but both Amazon’s competitors only achieved a score of 81.

Amazon’s always been very aggressive about pleasing their customers, Len Edgerly points out — and this survey suggests that it’s working. A lot of Amazon’s customers are now officially reporting that they’ve enjoyed their shopping experiences. And it’s nice that Amazon’s acknowledging that in a way which is actually meaningful to shoppers.

“To say thank you, we’re taking 15% off all Fire tablets…”

For a shortcut to Amazon’s promotion, point your browser to
tinyurl.com/AmazonThanksYou

Amazon Thank You Sale on Fire Tablets

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What’s in Amazon’s 3-D Printing Store?

3D Printed Customized Bobbleheads

It’s been six months since Amazon opened their cutting-edge 3D Printing store — and since then, it’s been stocked with many new weird and wonderful products. They’re created on demand, meaning you can add any thing you want, whether it’s your name, your initials, or even a likeness of your own face. Here’s my selection of some of the most interesting new items.

For a shortcut to Amazon’s 3-D printing store, point your browser to
tinyurl.com/AmazonPrints3D
 

Steampunk Phonecase for the iPhone
iPhone Cases (Yes, Really)

It’s ironic that one of the most popular items in Amazon’s 3-D print store is…a case for your iPhone. (Amazon sells a smartphone too — but Amazon’s own vendors have apparently decided that they’ll get more customers by catering to the iPhone crowd!) But you can order those cases in lots of cool patterns — like the Steampunk pattern above — or get an iPhone case printed with wings, a skull, rivulets of blood, or a nice fractal pattern of leaves. One vendor even created a fancy textured ‘weave’ case — and yes, you can carve out your own text along the side of the case!)
 
3D Printed Twerk Snowflake Ornament

Strange Christmas Ornaments

One vendor got the idea of creating Christmas ornaments with a 3-D printer — and then customizing them with some wild patterns. They’re now selling a snowflake-shaped ornament that’s made out of silhouettes of people twerking. And another snowflake ornament uses silhouettes shaped like cannabis leaves. It comes in nine colors — though I’m guessing the most popular one is green. But at least it shows that anything can be printed with a 3-D printer, and you’re not limited to just jewelry, key rings or a dog tag with your dog’s name printed on the inside…
 

Sterling Silver cuff links 3-D printed

Sterling Silver Luxury Cuff links

A company named UCODO is using 3-D printing to create luxury items out of sterling silver. They’ve created a pair of the most gorgeous cuff links I’ve ever seen — retailing for $255 — but you can customize them with your initials. (17576 possibilities!) And Amazon site also shows a special pair where the initials have been thoughtfully replaced with one four-letter word: ‘Love’
 
 
Doctor Who Tardis Cookie Cutter

Doctor Who Tardis Cookie Cutters

“Make cookies that will be remembered throughout time and space!” promises their page on Amazon. (“Cookie Cutter Novice? Or just need to make lots and lots of your very own edible Space and Time Traveling Call Boxes..?”) This two-piece set of Dr. Who cookie cutters lets you stamp all the necessary details right into your dough, after you’ve cut it into perfect Tardis-shaped cookies. “Worked great for sugar cookies, and cutting out polenta,” wrote one reviewer on Amazon. “The impression stayed in the cookies, even after baking…”

 
 
Amazon 3-D printer makes custom personalized bobblehead

Customized Bobbleheads

imagine buying a bobblehead that’s been customized so it looks like you! You can choose the bobblehead’s eye color, hair color, and hairstyle, and even add eyeglasses. (See a picture at the top of this page.) Even the spring inside the bobblehead is generated by the printer, and it’s only when the bobblehead is produced. “Turn yourself, friends, family, and coworkers into bobble heads,” reads the product’s description on Amazon — which suggests it as the ultimate personalized gift.
 
3D Printed Vase from HoloPed

3D-Printed Vase

A high-end nylon polyamid is used to create this attractive piece (in eight different colors) — and it’s the culmination of a lifetime of artistry. A Canadian software engineer (and “a maker by nature”) spent almost 20 years crafting traditional clay sculptures and pottery before deciding to experiment with the new medium of 3-D printing. “I created The Hybrid Core Vase when I was looking for a vase to print for my wife and couldn’t find anything elegant,” explains its page on Amazon.

“I decided to create my own, and have been 3D modeling ever since!”


Remember, for a shortcut to Amazon’s 3-D printing store, point your browser to
tinyurl.com/AmazonPrints3D

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Amazon Sells Same-Day Gifts for Valentine’s Day!

Roses on an Amazon gift card

It’s Valentine’s Day all around the world — and some of the celebration has even found its way to the web, with Amazon sharing some fun ideas for last-minute Valentine’s Day gifts! They’re offering specially-designed gift cards with a Valentine’s Day theme that you can print out (today!) as a gift for your sweetheart. (And for some of the cards, they’ll even let you include your own picture!)

For a shortcut, point your browser to
tinyurl.com/AmazonFebruary14Cards

But for an even fancier twist, Amazon’s letting you deliver your digital Valentine’s Day gift certificate via Facebook! And you can also send your true love a slick digital valentine that’s been customized with your own photo! Just upload it onto the card’s page, and watch the fun begin. And some of the other “digital” valentines are really adorable.

There’s a short film where a cat watches as a dog in its back yard scurrying around on valentine’s day. In another video, a charming puppy sings “That’s Amore” while sailing a gondola through a romantic Italian landscape. In fact, there’s more than 350 cards to choose from — though that’s their entire selection for the year. So some have a “birthday” theme or make specific mentions of other holidays.

And of course, Amazon’s also offering discounts today on their Kindle Fire tablets. You can now buy a Kindle for just $59 — a special 25% discount for Valentine’s Day. And there’s also big discounts on Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD6 tablets, as well as their newest Kindle Paperwhite!

For a shortcut, just point your web browser to
tinyurl.com/AmazonFebruary14

Amazon Kindle Fire HD6 sale

Amazon Holiday Sale on Kindle Fire HDX

Last year I noticed that even Google was getting into the fun. Their Google Play Store had discounted five “romance reads” to just 99 cents, and they’d also got a free video from Walt Disney studios with a Valentine’s Day theme. But there was also a very special animation on the Google home page with a very touching message. There were six candy hearts, but when you clicked on them, a poignant audio clip started to play. “For Valentine’s Day, as people everywhere search for love — something a search engine might not be the ideal tool for — each of these candy hearts brings you a true story of love,” began the narration from “This American Life”. But then it switches to the voices of real people, who describe when they first fell in love.

I hope Valentine’s Day this year is just as special…

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Amazon Discounts Their Kindles for Valentine’s Day!

Amazon Discounts Their Kindles for Valentine's Day

You can now buy a Kindle for just $59 — a special deal celebrating Valentine’s Day. That’s a 25% discount, and Amazon’s even offering to spread that out over five payments of just $11.80 each! But there’s also big discounts on Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD6 tablets, as well as their newest Kindle Paperwhite!

For a shortcut, just point your web browser to
tinyurl.com/AmazonFebruary14

Amazon’s reduced the price of their Fire HD6 to just $84. Described as “the most powerful tablet under $100,” it comes with both front and rear-facing cameras (and a speedy quad-core processor). Weighing in at just over 10 ounces, it still offers a high-resolution screen with a very high pixel count (252 pixels per inch!) And there’s also a special edition for children with a tougher screen (and parental controls) which Amazon is now also offering with a special Valentine’s Day discount.

Amazon Kindle Fire HD6 sale

But don’t forget the Kindle Paperwhite! It’s Amazon’s newest touch-screen Kindle which Amazon claims is like reading on paper. (“No annoying glare, even in bright sunlight!”) Its low power consumption lets you read for a half an hour each day without needing a recharge until the end of the month — and its screen also has the ability to glow softly (for reading in the dark). The Kindle Paperwhite weighs just 7.3 ounces, and its “sleek” design makes it the perfect gift for Valentine’s Day. And Amazon’s now lowering its price to just $99!

Kindle Paperwhite discount

I couldn’t find Amazon’s “terms and conditions” for these offers, but they are warning that it’s a “Limited Time” discount. Presumably these are Valentine’s Day specials, so the low prices should last through midnight on Saturday. If you order by Friday — and pay for overnight shipping — you could have a nice geeky gift for your significant other on Valentine’s Day.

But with prices like these, it’s also a great time to do some shopping for yourself!


Remember, for a shortcut, just point your web browser to
tinyurl.com/AmazonFebruary14

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Amazon Offers Free Philip K. Dick Stories!

Total Recall book cover by Philip K DickA Scanner Darkly book cover by Philip K DickValis book cover by Philip K DickUbik book cover by Philip K Dick

There’s seven free science fiction stories by Philip K. Dick that are now available in Amazon’s Kindle Store. (Many of the famous author’s earliest short stories have fallen into the public domain.) And Amazon’s also discounting the Kindle version of several of his full-length novels to just $2.99!


For a shortcut to Amazon’s Philip K. Dick stories, point your browser to
tinyurl.com/DickeBooks

 
The six seven free short stories are:

        The Crystal Crypt
        Piper in the Woods
        Beyond Lies the Wub
        Mr. Spaceship
        The Variable Man
        Beyond the Door
        The Skull

 
Two more ebooks are available for just 99 cents — the author’s 93-page novel Second Variety, and a special 364-page collection of 13 of the author’s best stories. And the Kindle Store is also offering big discounts on eight more Philip K. Dick novels. 
 

        The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch ($2.99)
        A Scanner Darkly ($2.99)
        The Man in the High Castle ($2.99)
        Ubik ($2.99)
        VALIS (Book 1 of the VALIS Trilogy) ($2.99)
        Time Pawn ($2.99)
        Total Recall ($3.99)
        The Father Thing ($3.99)

 
Most of these ebooks can be synced with their audiobook version, for a futuristic reading experience. While reading the text of an ebook, you can instantly switch over to its audiobook version on your Kindle tablet smartphone – and the audiobook’s narrator will continue reading right where you left off! And Amazon’s offering a special “Read and Listen” deal for three of the ebooks. You can purchase their audiobook and Kindle editions together for just $8!

 
        The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch
        A Scanner Darkly
        The Man in the High Castle

 
But best of all, there’s 26 Philip K Dick novels that are all being made available free for subscribers to Amazon’s “Kindle Unlimited” program!
 
        Total Recall
        The Man in the High Castle
        Ubik
        Now Wait for Last Year
        The Simulacra
        Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said
        Time Out of Joint
        The Penultimate Truth
        Martian Time-Slip
        Eye in the Sky
        The Game-Players of Titan
        A Maze of Death
        Dr. Bloodmoney
        The Crack in Space
        The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch
        A Scanner Darkly
        VALIS (Book 1 of the VALIS Trilogy)
        The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (Book 3 of the VALIS Trilogy)
        Galactic Pot-Healer
        Gather Yourselves Together
        Confessions of a Crap Artist
        We Can Build You
        The World Jones Made
        The Cosmic Puppets
        Dr. Futurity
        Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick

Amazon’s just released the pilot for an original TV series based on “The Man in The High Castle”. (Offering an “alternate timeline” where the Nazi’s won World War II, it presents a world filled with spies and imposters and raises questions about both authenticity and history itself.) Its executive producer is Ridley Scott, who first popularized the author to mainstream audiences with his 1982 film Blade Runner. It’s nice to see that the author’s stories are also being giving careful attention, and that they’ll survive humanity’s ongoing movement towards digital reading formats.

I want to believe there are people at Amazon who appreciate Philip K. Dick just as much as we do.


Remember, for a shortcut to Amazon’s Philip K. Dick ebooks, point your browser to
tinyurl.com/DickeBooks

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The Secret Life of Amazon’s X-Ray Service

Ben Stiller reads free Audible audiobook of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

It seemed like a miracle. I was listening to music — and its lyrics started appearing (in time with the music)! It’s one of the new features of Amazon’s music-playing apps. But today I found myself wondering if it’s any better than guessing at the lyrics yourself…

“Lyrics display and scroll automatically line-by-line as the song plays,” Amazon explains helpfully on their web page — showing X-Ray in action on a Kindle Fire tablet. But I first encountered this magical feature on my humble Android phone, when lyrics started appearing in my “Amazon Music” app. I never signed up for the X-Ray service, but one day, it spontaneously appeared in my life. A song was coming down to me from the cloud — but now, so were its lyrics!

I should’ve been thrilled, but instead one of the first things I did was Google “How to turn off X-Ray lyrics”, because at first it just seemed distracting! (I liked it when Amazon’s app displayed a pretty picture of the song’s album cover — instead of shrinking that to make room for a line-by-line print-out of the lyrics.) Plus, Amazon’s lyrics aren’t available for every song, so they kept coming and going, winking on and off like a haunted teleprompter. Finally I realized I could just drag the “lyric window” down using a tiny rectangular handle at the window’s top-center. That revealed the album cover in all its glory, leaving behind just a thin gray rectangle with the words “X-Ray Lyrics”.

But here’s the dirty secret about the lyrics from Amazon’s X-Ray service: they’re not always right. I learned this dark truth after becoming obsessed with the meaning of a particularly fascinating song. I’d watched Ben Stiller’s blockbuster, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and even bought its inspiring sound track. And it begins with a roar — drums and cymbals — as Swedish indie singer Jose Gonzalez launches into an anthem urging “Step outside. Won’t you step outside. Better step outside. Time to step outside…”

But as a chorus of children sing their hearts out, the stakes of the song “Step Out” suddenly become impossibly high and almost nihlistic. “House on fire. Leave it all behind you,” they’re singing in unison — before the lyrics even begin. Or are they? One lyric-listing site decided the lyrics must be “Hearts on Fire. Leaving all behind you…”

I was delighted when I realized that X-Ray lyrics would display their interpretation of the song, so I could see who was right. But I soon realized they were just guessing, just like everybody else. They heard the first chorus as just “Step outside, time to step outside” — repeated over and over again. I can’t really fault them for just typing out “Whoa oh oh oh” once for the first line of the chorus — though that’s also its second and third line. But I have to say I was truly disappointed that they couldn’t solve the song’s most mysterious lyrics.

One site actually transcribed it as “Broke tooth one day, something’s not the same. Blank head, that guy sweeps the floor…” (I’m pretty sure that’s not it!) As the singer breaks it down to a hushed whisper — the one moment of calm after “House on fire, leave it all behind you” — I heard “Broke to Monday. Something’s not the same. Blank head, crossed eyes sweep the floor…” But Amazon’s X-Ray service also transcribed it as “Broke tooth Monday…” (What the hell would that even mean?!)

To be fair, the song’s lyrics are cryptic — and the gentle-but-mumbling delivery of the songwriter only makes them more mysterious. One YouTube video presented the chorus as dark as night “and a light to guide you,” but also made the intriguing suggestion that that despondent chorus wasn’t describing “Feeding appetites” (as Amazon suggested), but “feeding at the tides”… But maybe I should walk away from this experience with a new respect for Amazon’s X-Ray service for lyrics. Because it’s really easy to get the lyrics right when you’re just re-typing something from a CD booklet — but without that, it’s anybody’s guess!

But I’ll always remember a friend in high school who once suggested that songwriters shouldn’t tell their audience a song’s definitive interpretation — because finding your own meaning was part of the fun. So instead of relying on Amazon’s X-Ray service, maybe instead we should just follow the advice of this song’s lyricist. As the music culminates into a wall of sound, he can be heard gently mumbling one more lyric that Amazon’s X-Ray service also didn’t transcribe.

“Just believe, and…”

“Step outside. Take a step outside. Better step outside. Time to step outside…”

 



In some countries, Amazon’s Kindle Store has been offering
a free audiobook version of the short story “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”
read by Ben Stiller

Ben Stiller reads free Audible audiobook of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

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