December 19th, 2014
It’s a battle we never expected — and a surprisingly exciting story. There’s an author facing accidental censorship at the hands of robot runs amok, and a giant corporation confronting an internet-empowered artist. And what’s at stake is the quality of the words we read every day — or at least, the words that we’re reading on our Kindles.
But it all starts with a humble horror novel by author Graeme Reynolds…
Sunday Reynolds told another story on his web site — that Amazon had removed his ebook from their site. It was a full year and a half after he’d published it, but apparently Amazon had just now noticed something that they really didn’t like. (They probably didn’t fully review his book — and in fact, probably aren’t reviewing any ebooks that authors are submitting.) But this time, one of their customers had complained.
The complaint? There were too many hyphens in his ebook.
“[W]hen they ran an automated spell check against the manuscript,” Reynolds explains on his blog, “they found that over 100 words in the 90,000 word novel contained that dreaded little line. This, apparently ‘significantly impacts the readability of your book’ and, as a result ‘We have suppressed the book because of the combined impact to customers.'” The author shares some colorful thoughts about the originator of the complaint, but followed up with an e-mail to Amazon pointing out that the use of a hyphen was 100% proper English.
It must’ve been particular galling, because (according to his post) he’d spent nearly $2,000 to have his ebook edited by a professional editor. But it was even more galling when he received a follow-up response from “Melania G” at Amazon which refused to resolve the situation! Melania’s e-mail said “quality issues with your book negatively affect the reading experience,” and reiterated Amazon’s position, that “we have removed your title from sale until these issues are corrected.”
It was fun to read the reactions at a technology site like Hacker News. (“Amazon is probably trying to correct publishers who copy-and-paste their hardcopy texts…taking with them artifacts from the print designer, like forced hyphenation.”) And another commenter pointed out this wasn’t really war on the hyphen, then. “So really the title of the post should be ‘Collateral damage when Amazon went to war against bad punctuation,’ which casts Amazon’s motives in a different light.”
The novel’s author was still upset, judging by his blog post, where he explored the ramifications of Amazon’s decision. (“Is J.K Rowling going to have to take down Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince until she sorts out the blatant hyphenation in the title?”) But it looks like an honest mistake, since his post now ends with a happy update from the author. “The book is now back on sale.
“Common sense seems to have prevailed….”
December 15th, 2014
Amazon’s got more holiday deals today. A Kindle is now just $59, and their voice-activated “Fire TV” set-top box is just $79. And they’re also offering a $114 Fire HD7 — and a Fire Phone for just $229.
But I have to admit that shopping on Amazon at times feels like a “guilty pleasure”. For example, on a rainy morning last week, I did what feels like a terrible thing. There was a wonderful book that was on sale at Barnes and Noble, and I’d wanted to buy it as a Christmas gift. But that morning I’d been planning to enjoy a warm, cozy morning in that bookstore’s Starbucks. So after I settled in with my hot tea, I’d fired up my laptop, went straight to Amazon’s web site, and found a copy of that book that was $5.00 cheaper.
And then I ordered it from Amazon — while I was sitting in Barnes and Noble.
Barnes and Noble did get some money from me — when I paid for that delicious (but over-priced) Starbucks tea! And in the end, even when I purchased the book, it was just giving money to one giant corporation instead of a different giant corporation. You could argue that it’s reasonable (and very “American”) to shop wherever the price is cheapest. And of course, sometimes this can work against Amazon, too…
For example, this morning Amazon announced that they’re discounting their “Fire TV” stick to just $79. That feels like a great price, and my girlfriend and I do enjoy watching Amazon’s shows with her “Apple TV” set-top box. But that’s been complicated to set up, since we first have to start Amazon’s app on her iPhone, and then get the phone to communicate with Apple’s box. I thought maybe my girlfriend would appreciate Amazon’s easier solution, since it’s already connected to all of Amazon’s Prime TV shows — and can also be activated using voice commands.
But then I found even cheaper FIre TV sticks that were turning up for sale on Craigslist. There were even some eBay auctions selling Fire TV sticks which were brand new — and still sealed up in their original packaging — for less than $50. And if I didn’t want to wait for Craigslist, I could drive across town to pick up one today from somebody who lives in my community. Plus, I’d get to see another human face, hold the merchandise in my hands, and have an actual conversation about why they were selling it, when they’d bought it — and how they were enjoying their holiday season!
That’s the one thing you can’t buy from Amazon…
December 11th, 2014
Every Christmas, I really enjoy reading some fun and special Christmas ebooks on my Kindle each year. Amazon’s Kindle Store is full of surprises every year, and it’s really delightful when you discover a new ebook about Christmas. (Especially when it’s by an author that you already know!) It turns out that some of the greatest authors in history have written Christmas stories — and they’re all available for free in Amazon’s Kindle store!
A Christmas Carol by Charlies Dickens
It’s not just a story about Christmas. It’s partly responsible for the way that way celebrate it. The story by 31-year-old Charles Dickens “was one of the single greatest influences in rejuvenating the old Christmas traditions of England,” according to Wikipedia, which notes it was published just as new customs were established like tree-decorating and Christmas cards. The book helped to popularize these traditions, though ironically, the story was immediately pirated after Dickens published it, and he realized almost no profits from the story himself!
I’ve enjoyed the way Charles Dickens writes, with simple yet very moving stories — and I’m not the only one. On Amazon’s list of the best-selling free ebooks, A Christmas Carol is currently #11. And interestingly, it turns out that Charles Dickens followed this up with even more Christmas stories — including The Cricket on the Hearth, The Chimes, and The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain.
All there stories are available for free in Amazon’s Kindle store.
Old Christmas by Washington Irving
He was America’s first internationally popular author, and he wrote two timeless stories — Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. But he also fathered many of our Christmas traditions. At the age of 29, when he was starting his career in 1812, Irving added five nostalgic Christmas stories to a collection of writing, and for one dream sequence, imagined what would happen if St. Nicholas flew over the forests in a flying sleigh. That’s believed to have inspired many of the subsequent stories about Santa Claus and his flying reindeer!
And the stories had an even greater impact. Irving also researched holiday traditions as far back as 1652, and according to Wikipedia, and his popular stories “contributed to the revival and reinterpretation of the Christmas holiday in the United States.” Even Charles Dickens himself said that Irving’s stories influenced his own famous novella, A Christmas Carol.
A Visit From Saint Nicholas by Clement Clark Moore
Here’s something fun to download: the original text of “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” (One historian called it “arguably the best-known verses ever written by an American,” according to Wikipedia.) But you can only find the free ebook if you search on its original title — “A Visit from Saint Nicholas”. If you search for its first line — “Twas the Night Before Christmas” — Amazon’s Kindle Store will only show paid versions
There’s some interesting trivia about this story. In its first printing in 1823, Santa’s reindeer were named “Dunder” and “Blixem,” which are the Dutch words for “thunder” and “lightning.” But over the years their names changed into the more familiar-sounding “Donner” and “Blitzen”!
Christmas Eve by Robert Browning
He’s one of the most famous poets of the 19th century — and he in 1850 wrote a stark but thoughtful poem about visiting St. Peter’s church in Rome. It ultimately turns into a discussion about the nature of faith, but it was the first poem he published after his marriage, according to Wikipedia, and gives rare hints about the famous poet’s own religious views. One reviewer on Amazon described it as “A strange flighty trek in and out of trances and chapels to see rainbows and versions of God.” But another reader complained that they’d found it difficult to even read the poem, because the ebook wasn’t formatted properly.
“Who in their right mind eliminates line breaks and thinks they can get away with it?”
December 8th, 2014
“Today only!” reads the headline on the front-page of Amazon. They’re offering a 50% sale on their best version of the Kindle Fire HDX. Normally the 4G version costs $279 — but they’ve slashed its price to $139.
Amazon’s actually discounting two versions of their Kindle Fire HDX. For just $20, you can get the same table with a massive 64-gigabyte storage capacity. Of course, both devices also come with unlimited storage in Amazon’s “cloud”, so it’s not as important as it used to be. But the biggest advantage is their 4G network connectivity, which makes downloads much faster for movies and music.
Their screen resolution boasts a whopping 323 pixels-per-inch, so the colors always look rich and video. And of course, there’s a front-facing camera, so you can enjoy live video chats on Skype. But another great thing about HDX Kindles is they come with Amazon’s built-in Mayday button. Press the device, and a live Amazon operator can be viewing your screen with you and delivering free technical support!
Amazon’s discounting these because they’re the third-generation models (rather than the more-recently released versions). But it’s a great value for the price, and it’d still make a great Christmas gift. But if you’re interested, you’d better hurry. “This offer is valid today only, December 8…” Amazon warns on its web page, adding “or while supplies last.” I’ve always wondered if people purchase the discounted tablets — and then try to sell them later on eBay at full-price.
At prices like this, I’m almost tempted to try that myself!
December 1st, 2014
Wow! Amazon’s discounting over 2,000 Kindle ebooks in a huge Cyber Monday sale. “The Biggest Kindle Book Deal of the Year,” reads a new headline on their front page. And it links to a massive selection of discounted Kindle ebooks in nearly a dozen different categories.
O’Reilly Books — another online bookseller — is offering their own massive new sale through Tuesday, December 2nd: 50% off on every ebook. They focus more on technology titles, but they’re very popular with tech-savvy shoppers. And their ebooks can be uploaded onto a Kindle (or synced with online cloud services like Dropbox or Drive). They’re boasting that their ebooks are DRM-free — so it’s another great place to shop for ebook bargains.
I see 2,034 different titles listed on sale at Amazon.com — and it’s fun to see which one became the #1 best-selling ebook for this Cyber Monday sale. Currently it’s Business Adventures: Twelve Classic Tales from the World of Wall Street by John Brooks, a contributor to The New Yorker. It was just published in 2014, so it’s a brand new book with a lot of “buzz” — but author Pat Conroy also land two of his novels on Amazon’s list of the best-selling ebooks for Cyber Monday. (Prince of Tides and The Great Santini.) And several other popular authors also have discounted ebooks on Amazon’s best-seller list today, including Michael Chabon, Carl Hiaasen, James Herriot.
Of course, Amazon is discounting more than ebooks today. There’s a separate web page for their other Cyber Monday Deals, which include and At one point they were selling Halo 4 (the popular videogame) for just $14.99 — and even if every copy gets “claimed,” there’s a wait list for more people who are also interested in the special price.
But even if you’re only interested in ebooks for your Kindle, today’s the one day of the year where they’ve discounted over 2,000 of them…
November 27th, 2014
Amazon’s announced a special Black Friday sale on Kindles which is starting today! This morning Amazon began discounting all of their Kindle readers and color tablets, meaning you can now buy a Kindle for as low as $49. A banner on the front page of Amazon announces “Black Friday starts now!”
You can also buy Amazon’s color, high-definition tablet HD6 for just $79. That’s their smaller six-inch device, but even Amazon’s seven-inch HD7 tablets are on sale for just $109. (Normally they’re $139, so it’s a savings of over 20%.) And Amazon’s also discounted their glowing “Kindle Paperwhite” readers. Their newest black-and-white readers are now finally priced below one hundred dollars — at $99.
Those are the four deals featured on Amazon’s front page — but there’s one more deal if you click through on their link. Now you can get Amazon’s Fire Phone for just $199– a savings of over $250. It’s “unlocked”, meaning you can use it with any carrier now (instead of a mandatory contract with AT&T). And when you purchase your $199 phone, you’ll also get a full one-year membership in Amazon’s Prime service (which gets you free movies and TV shows, and even free Kindle ebooks!)
It’s a larger selection of deals than Amazon has ever offered before. (Although Amazon has traditionally started their Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving Day, instead of waiting for all the other discounts on Black Friday.) Some people are waiting in line right now to be the first through the door at the big “box” stores” for their limited-supply discounts on Black Friday.
But if you’re shopping for a Kindle, you can always just enjoy the holidays at home — and then order one online!
November 25th, 2014
A funny thing happened on the way to Thanksgiving. I did my traditional holiday give-away for my ebook The Turkey Mystery Rhyme, making it free for three days. But then I noticed that Amazon had included this short rhyming “mystery” for children in its free “Mystery Anthologies” category.
And that it had become one of their top 5 best-sellers!
There it was, my cartoon turkey, peeping out from its cover next to “Lust For Blood” and “Detective Riker Short Stories: Tales of the Greatest Private Eye in London.” To be clear, I did list it as a children’s mystery, but I never thought it belonged in Amazon’s “Mystery Anthologies” category. But now not only was it appearing there — it was climbing its way towards the top! And now all of those hard-boiled, murder-investigating detectives were sharing their screen with a cartoon turkey…
No Mercy promised “Edge-of-the-seat dark, disturbing, police procedural murder mysteries.” The Depot investigates the “secrets of a murder that took place eighty years ago.” There’s stories about police detectives, about blackmail, and about revenge. And then, my children’s story.
“For Thanksgiving, try this game.
Find the guilty turkey’s name….!”
A less-ambitious crime, to be sure. (Maybe the real mystery is how Amazon categorizes the ebooks in their Kindle store?) I know there’s all kinds of mysteries in the world, but it’s still hard to see how Amazon could mistake this for an anthology. (It’s the only book on the page that’s written entirely in rhyme!) Although there is still a mystery to be solved…
Now the farmer, laughing, said
to the turkeys by his shed
“Was my turkey-keeping lax?
Which of you destroyed my axe!”
I’m chalking this up to a Thanksgiving miracle. The ebook is fun and funny, so maybe some people will overlook its odd categorization on their way to their next anthology of detective stories. So to anyone who found their way to “The Turkey Mystery Rhyme” in Amazon’s “Mystery Anthologies” section…
Now I have one more thing to be thankful for this Thanksgiving!
Happy holidays, everyone…
(And for a shortcut to this free Thanksgiving ebook,
just point your browser to…)
November 24th, 2014
Yes, it’s that once-a-year tradition, sharing this funny free ebook about turkeys — mine! It’s a fun short mystery that’s written entirely in rhyme, with 12 cartoon-y illustrations that tell the story of four turkeys on Thanksgiving Day waiting for the farmer’s axe. (“But one of the turkeys has a plan to escape!” read’s the book’s description at Amazon. “Can the farmer figure out which one? And can you?”)
It’s called “The Turkey Mystery Rhyme,” and it was a real labor of love. (Every November before Thanksgiving, I make it available for free in Amazon’s Kindle Store.) Over the years the ebook has even had some strange adventures of its own. The day after I published it, I’d discovered that my turkeys had snuck onto Amazon’s list of the best-selling children’s ebooks about animals – and stolen the #73 spot from a book about Curious George!
And my friends surprised me one year by insisting that we all read the whole ebook out loud on Thanksgiving Day. They’d connected their widescreen TV to their computer, so it was mirroring whatever appeared on its desktop, and then they’d pulled up Amazon’s Kindle app on that computer, and led it to The Turkey Mystery Rhyme. It was a great way to get some real reactions to the story, especially since most authors never get to actually be in the room while their ebook is being read! And then we all took turns reading the rhyming story out loud.
“For Thanksgiving, try this game. Find the guilty turkey’s name…”
I remember we had a teenager in the room, and his mother asked if he knew which turkey had launched the daring plan for escape. But that mother was a sharp cookie, and she challenged one of the book’s important fictional premises.
hungering for turkey meat,
In the farmer’s yard’s a spread
where Thanksgiving turkeys bred.
When the daylight brightly broke
all the farmer’s birds awoke.
And, since it’s a holiday,
all turkeys can talk today…
“What?!!” she said, to laughter from the room. “Since when can turkeys talk on Thanksgiving Day?”
“Everyone knows that,” I joked. “You’ve just never been on a farm…” And then we laughed some more, and continued reading…
Have a happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
November 19th, 2014
There’s a surprising announcement on the front-page of Amazon. “Limited time only…” it reads. Amazon’s color Fire HD7 tablet is now just $119!
It’s a “thank-you sale”, according to Amazon. Customers voted Amazon into the #1 spot — “highest in customer satisfaction” for tablets — in a survey of by J.D. Powers. Apple’s iPad came up short, finishing second, and in third place was Samsung’s Galaxy Tab. But Amazon was so excited, they’ve rushed out a discount on their Fire HD 7 tablets.
Normally it retails for $139, but Amazon’s offering a special 15% discount. If you want an even cheaper tablet, Amazon also offers a six-inch “Fire HD 6″ tablet Fire for just $99. You may even start to wonder if Amazon’s selling these at a loss, because Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 4 costs a full $199. Amazon’s tablet has the exact same high-resolution display — with 216 pixels per inch — and the same two built-in cameras. And of course, Fire HD 7 tablets are available in five different colors (Yellow, Pink, Blue, Black, and White)!
But the low price may be helping Amazon in more ways than one. The voting for “highest satisfaction” was incredibly close, and on a scale of 1 to 1,000 the top three tablets were all within six points of each other. Amazon beat Apple by just three points, and Samsung’s tablets were just three more points behind. For years Apple had always won the “highest satisfaction” award, every year that the survey was taken, in an unbroken streak, according to Computerworld — until the end of 2013, when they faced a surprise upset by Samsung’s tablets.
Ironically, Apple iPad’s reclaimed the #1 spot in the “highest satisfaction” survey release May of 2014, but only to lose it again this month — to Amazon! It was Amazon’s “Mayday” feature that customers seemed to like, according to another article in Computerworld. They’d interviewed a senior director at the surveying company, who explained that after talking to 2,700 tablet owners all acros America, they saw a surprising jump in Amazon’s popularity. After finishing fourth in the May survey, “I figured [Amazon’s] scores would improve, but I didn’t think they’d take the top spot!”
Today Amazon is blasting the news. “Fire tablets ranked ‘Highest in Customer Satisfaction with Tablets,’ screams the announcement on their front page. But of course, it’s also becoming a win for holiday shoppers.
“To say thanks, save $20 on Fire HD 7 — limited time only…”
November 8th, 2014
“When it first arrived from Amazon, I didn’t know what it was,” says a little girl in Amazon’s new online ad. And she wasn’t alone — I was also stumped by Thursday’s announcement of Amazon Echo. But it looks like Amazon has created an entirely new category of device!
But let’s let Amazon have the first word. Their ad shows a family — the dad is excited — opening a newly-arrived package from Amazon. We learn that Echo is always on, but it only hears you when you say a “wake” word out loud: Alexa. “Alexa, what do you do?” asks the father.
“I can play music, answer questions, get the news and weather, create to-do lists, and much more.”
“Awesome!” says the family’s teenaged son. “Alexa, play rock music.” And she does!
It’s a little black cylinder — just over 9 inches tall, and three inches wide. (Imagine bending the top of a ruler to get a sense of its size…) And Amazon’s ad shows a surprising number of cases where Echo would come in handy. How tall is Mt. Everest? How do you spell cantaloupe? How many teaspoons in a tablespoon? What day is this?
Echo answers every question — and can even launch your music playlists whenever you ask. A “companion app” lets you control the device from your phone (or your Kindle tablet). Amazon’s Echo device can also function as a gentle alarm clock, or deliver “flash news briefings” from your local radio stations (or ESPN, or NPR…) And I was impressed that Echo even recognizes te command “Tell me a joke!”
With Echo you can also add things to your shopping list — or a to-do list — just by saying them out loud. I wasn’t sure what it was — but it didn’t fool the headline writers at Apple Insider, who called it “a stand-alone Siri-like assistant for your home.” But it seems to me that’s missing the point, since Siri is only on when it’s back in your charger (and not in your pocket). Imagine having a separate device in your home, just for taking dictation or providing a voice-activated way to instantly look up information.
Best of all, it’s only $99 — if you’re an Amazon Prime member, and you’re lucky enough to get an “invitation” from Amazon to try it out. Echo will ultimately be tapping “the cloud” for some of its information — along with Wikipedia — so Amazon may want to first try a “soft roll-out” with just a smaller number of users. When it’s released to the general public, Echo will retail for $199.
Echo can stream music from Pandora, Spotify, and even from iTunes. And of course, it also plays music from your Amazon Music Library, as well as the 1 million-plus songs available through Amazon Prime Music. And honestly, it seems like it’d make a really awesome Christmas gift.
“Alexa, play ‘Tonight, We Are Young’ by fun….”
Remember, for a shortcut to Amazon’s Echo page, point your browser to
October 31st, 2014
I have a special holiday tradition. Each year on Halloween, I creep up on the Kindle Store, and take a peek at just how many zombie titles have crawled out into the marketplace. On Halloween night in 2011, there were 2,269 different Kindle ebooks with their word “zombie” in their title. But by 2012, that number had more than doubled to more than 4,874, and it nearly doubled again in 2013, to 8,052 zombie titles.
And this year? OMG!
Amazon’s Kindle store now has 11,430 zombie ebooks!
I’ve joked about the “rising zombie ebook invasion,” but the numbers really do show an unmistakeable trend. One Halloween, I noticed that one of the top 100 free ebooks in the Kindle Store was something called Super Zombie Juice Mega Bomb. But the real message may be that each Halloween, there’s more and more self-published authors who are writing zombie fiction. Even the Library of Congress only has 783 books with the word “zombie” in their title (up from just 523 in 2011 and 674 in 2013). Oh my god, run everybody — Amazon’s Kindle store now has nearly 15 times as many zombies!!!
Even if they’re not real zombies, there’s something that’s almost viral about their popularity, suggesting that the Kindle store’s amateur authors are especially attracted to the zombie genre. Or are they? Sometimes it’s hard to tell the amateurs from the pros. Take a peek at the new titles, and you’ll be startled at just how many zombie ebooks there are. Don’t look now, but the living dead could be shambling up to your Kindle!
Here’s some of the stranger ebooks.
To be fair, “Texas Biker Zombies From Outer Space” is a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book, “intentionally designed to give the reader an interactive experience using the advantages over print that E-Books allow.” And Zombie Spaceship Wasteland was written by actor/comedian Patton Oswalt, using the horror movie monsters as a metaphor in a collection of essays “vividly evoking his zombie-like co-worker,” according to Booklist‘s review. Even 71-year-old literary author Joyce Carol Oates — twice nominated for a Pulitzer Prize — named her 1996 novel Zombie (P.S.) It’s about a serial killer — named Zombie — who keeps a diary as he pursues his victims.
But yeah, most of the titles in the Kindle Store aren’t as ambitious.
I can understand why some of these books aren’t in the Library of Congress. (It’s probably more surprising that there’s any zombie books in the Library of Congress.) But to explore the popularity of stories about the shambling undead, I asked my friend Thomas Roche, a professional writer for more than 15 years, who’s just published his first novel about zombies. Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten a quote back.
I think zombies may have actually eaten his brains.
Or maybe he’s just busy reading all the ebooks he’s competing with…
That last book is actually the newest book in R. L. Stine’s popular “Goosebumps” series of scary stories for younger readers (which have sold more than 350 million copies. I used its colorful cover at the top of this blog post. It’s easy to laugh at the titles, but they may have tapped into a storyline with some primal universal appeal. Some authors have enjoyed wild success by re-creating our darkest nightmares, and maybe that’s the ultimate irony.
It’s not that the zombies are attracted to our brains. It’s that our brains are attracted to zombies!
There’s even zombie Christmas books, believe it or not, including A Christmas Carol of the Living Dead: a zombie holiday tale. (Plus A Zombie Christmas and “A Christmas Wish: A Zombie Tale for the Holidays.”) If you think that’s confusing, try reading The Christmas Zombie: The story of why zombies celebrate Christmas. And if you’re just looking for holiday cheer, there’s It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Zombies (Christmas carols “composed specifically for…the decomposing).”
Some authors have also tried their hand at creating zombie books for other holidays. (Like Dangerous Hunts: A Zombie Father’s Day Tale.”) And A Very Zombie Holiday even follows a zombie father as he attempts to celebrate every holiday with his living family. And for educational purposes, there’s also something called Zombie Ed Counts To Twenty, and its sequel, Zombie Ed Loves Halloween. (“Text-to-speech enabled… Finally! A zombie book for children! “)
And — uh-oh. Here comes another wave of more strange zombie ebooks…
This trend probably all started when real-world bookstores started seeing big sales of a 2009 parody novel called Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (crediting Jane Austen as a co-author). It rose to #3 on the New York Times best-seller list, according to Wikipedia, apparently spawning a new generation of even stranger zombie novels — and zombie ebooks.
And there’s zombie parodies of other books — like Zombies of Oz (and The Terrible Zombie of Oz). There’s also The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Zombie Jim and Wuthering Heights and a Werewolf…and a Zombie Too.” Someone’s even written zombie versions of a Sherlock Holmes story, a book of zombie fairy tales, and a zombie version of The War of the Worlds (“plus Blood, Guts, and Zombies”). And if you liked Great Expectations, you might try Pip and the Zombies, by Charles Dickens and Louis Skipper.
In the two years since Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the concept has apparently festered its way into a full-fledged literary movement. I was surprised to see a book titled simply Zombies for Zombies — until I realized it was a parody of the “For Dummies” book (receiving thirteen 5-star reviews). There’s also The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Zombies, which strangely is not a parody, but an official title in the “Idiot’s Guide” series, which traces the origin of zombie stories with chapters about books, movies, and comic books. But just when it couldn’t get any creepier, I discovered that there’s even some zombie books that are actually about personal investing.
Zombie Economics: A Guide to Personal Finance
How to Prosper During the Coming Zombie Apocalypse
Workplace Of The Living Dead: What Zombies Can Teach Leaders About Engaging Employees
Zombie Project Management
And there’s also some zombie history books. (Which, honestly, throws some doubt over their historical accuracy.)
A Zombie’s History of the United States
A Tale of Zombies in Czarist Russia
A Tale of Zombies in the Old West
Everything My Grandmother Taught Me about Killing Zombies
The Eagle has Re-Animated
Pappy’s Old Time Zombie Radio Show
Zombies Take Manhattan
There’s something strangely inspiring about the sheer number of books that have ultimately been inspired about zombies. It’s nice to see this massive outpouring of new creativity, as people all around the globe start wondering what’s going to happen in their own imaginary zombie scenario. In fact, zombies are turning up in a surprising variety of different kinds of books. Though some authors even seem to think that maybe the lonely zombies just need a friend…
So I had to laugh when I saw an ebook titled “Where are the Zombies?”
Dude, you’re not paying attention. They’re everywhere!
October 28th, 2014
Every year I enjoy the whole week before Halloween — and not just that new chill in the air or the dead leaves blowing by. There’s a special mood for the end of October, and it’s the perfect time to try reading some of the greatest scary stories ever written. Especially since now, they’re all available as free Kindle ebooks!
And Kindle Unlimited subscribers can even listen to their audiobook versions for free!
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
Ichabod Crane had heard the ghost stories about a headless horseman that rides through the night. On that very night, traveling home alone himself, under the light of a full moon he has his own legendary encounter with…ah, but there’s a twist at the end. And all these years after first hearing the story, I’ve discovered it’s just part of a much larger work. Washington Irving was the very first best-selling author in America, and he’d followed up his first sensational debut with a new collection of essays and stories — including some scary new folk tales that he’d actually made up himself! This collection also includes the famous story of Rip Van Winkle, who falls asleep before the American Revolution — and wakes up 20 years later, after the colonies have revolted and formed their own independent nation!
Edgar Allan Poe wrote a surprising number of America’s best-known horror stories, including Fall of the House of Usher and The Pit and the Pendulum. His poetry is also very dark — Ulalume actually takes place around Halloween night — but his obsession with morbid themes also ultimately led him to become the author of the first detective story every written. It’s a murder mystery, of course — you’ll never guess who actually committed The Murders in the Rue Morgue — and Poe later even wrote two more stories using the same detective — The Mystery of Marie Rogêt and The Purloined Letter. But there’s also a surprisingly scary tale where a murderer is unmasked in the most shocking way possible — entitled “Thou Art the Man”. Twist endings were actually very popular in Poe’s time, and I’ve been surprised just how well some of his stories hold up!
Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Percy Shelley died when he was 29 — though he was acclaimed as one of England’s greatest romantic poets. Some of this is through the efforts of his wife Mary, who promoted and edited his poems. And it’s been said that he may have had an infleunce himself on her intense novel, Frankenstein. Its idea came from a nightmare, and turned into her gothic story about about a promising young man who suffers the death of a loved one, and then embarks on a scientific experiment which he’ll later come to regret. It was first published anonymously in 1818, though it’s since gone on to become a classic monster story. (And Wikipedia has uncovered another strange historical twist. Mary WollstonecraftShelley was actually romantically interested in Washington Irving, the author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow!)
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Written just 126 years ago, Dracula is relatively modern for a classic horror story. Its author, Bram Stoker actually died in poverty just 14 years after publishing Dracula, according to Wikipedia, and his horror novel didn’t become popular until well into the next century. (It just goes to show how the invention of moving pictures changed everything — including the way we experienced our monster stories.) But interestingly, an early fan of the novel was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the Sherlock Holmes series. If you reach back 100 years, you’ll find lots of clever authors who appreciated both mystery and menace — and the joys of a good scary novel.
And 100 years later, you can read them all for free on your Kindle!
October 21st, 2014
Here’s a Halloween treat! Amazon’s dropping the price for the Charlie Brown Halloween app for both Kindle Fire and Android devices. It’s a special surprise that just might bring back some fond memories of “hallowed evenings” past. And I feel a little smile every time I see tbe title: “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!”
Last year I passed out our trick-or-treat candy while entertaining myself with this app. It recreates the classic TV special perfectly, with the original voices and a nearly identical artwork — except now the story is interactive! Linus is still spending Halloween night in a pumpkin patch, but you can actually poke your fingers into the drawings to make all the Peanuts characters jiggle around. And it’s narrated by Peter Robbins, who provided the voice for Charlie Brown in the original 1966 TV special!
Because it’s an Android app, you can play it on any of your color Kindle tablets or on any Android device! And I was impressed by the smooth interface, which includes an old vinyl record on the game’s menu page to represent the narration. (Which you can turn on and off…) But best of all, it’s got all the sequences you remember from the TV special, with some of the artwork even laid out like a newspaper comic strip. It was a real thrill to see Charlie Brown’s big pile of autumn leaves again — and then to see Linus trying to jump into it while holding a wet lollipop!
If you don’t have a Kindle Fire, there’s still some other Halloween games available at Amazon for the black-and-white Kindles. I love “Futoshiki Halloween Edition, and there’s also a Halloween version of the game Blossom. There’s even a Halloween version of Mahjong Solitaire, and if you’re looking for something scarier, there’s also a text adventure “Choice of the Zombies”.
But I have fond childhood memories of watching “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”. So if you’ve always wanted a free app that revives this Halloween tradition…there’s a special treat waiting for you tonight in Amazon’s appstore.
Remember, for a shortcut, just point your web browser to tinyurl.com/CharlieHalloween
October 15th, 2014
Amazon’s just announced a big sale on their Kindle Fire HDX — a $20 discount! “Built for work and play” reads their headline, describing “the 7″ tablet with an with an ultra-fast quad-core processor, powerful graphics engine, world-class Dolby Audio, a perfect-color HDX display, and Mayday.” Now you can get a new one for just $179!
It used to cost $50 more when it was first released, but even then its reviews were amazing. “Far better than an iPad,” wrote one reporter at ZDNet, adding “what Apple bought to market, Amazon has improved upon dramatically.” Even at $229, its price was much lower, but there were also more tangible benefits too. “Side-by-side, the display on the Kindle Fire HDX blows away that of the iPad.
“Not only do the colors look superior and more vivid, but also the brightness is better and the way blacks are handled – especially in video – is much more even…”
Of course, Amazon has even cheaper tablets. I’m amazed that a Fire HD 6 now costs just $99, and the Fire HD 7 is just $139. But the HDX has a stunning high-definition display (with 323 pixels per inch), and a faster quad-core processor which makes it extra responsive. Even its battery will last 11 hours without a charge
But the best thing about the Kindle Fire HDX may be its special on-device “Mayday” button. You can actually summon a live Amazon representative whenever you want, so any technical issues can be resolved instantly. Yes, some Amazon customers abuse the privilege with silly questions like “Will you read me a bedtime story?” But when I’ve got a technical problem with my device, I want it gone just as soon as possible.
Because then I can go back to having fun with my high-definition tablet…!
October 8th, 2014
We all love reading Kindle ebooks, but today I noticed a very special page on Amazon. Their own editor’s had assembled a collection of what they considered the best new books of October. It’s a great selection of brand new books and Kindle ebooks — and a fun way to browser for something new to read..
Amazon’s editors even broke down their selections into 16 different categories. (There’s the best new biographies, children’s picture books, and even the best new Graphic Novels…) “We’re happy to share with you the unique mix of books that our editors have hand picked as this month’s best,” Amazon says at the top of the page. Here’s a look at some of their picks for the most interesting new ebooks of October.
The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson
His last book, Steve Jobs, became a record-breaking best-seller (based on 40 interviews between the author and Jobs over the last two years before his death). Now Walter Isaacson looks beyond Apple Computers to the other pioneers — both past and present. Steve Wozniak gets some attention, along with Bill Gates, Larry Page, and Tim Berners-Lee. But Isaacson also looks back to female pioneer Ada Lovelace who in the 1840s wrote about an “analytical engine” proposed by Charles Babbage — and also wrote the very first computer program.
Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris
Maybe you remember him from How I Met Your Mother. (Or from Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle…) But this Tuesday, Neil Patrick Harris takes his unpredictible personna to a whole new format. “Tired of memoirs that only tell you what really happened…reads his books description on Amazon. “Seeking an exciting, interactive read that puts the ” back in ‘aUtobiography’…?” Calling it “a Joycean experiment in light celebrity narrative”, Harris has written an entire autobiography that’s written in the second person — all about you!
“You will be born to New Mexico. You will get your big break at an acting camp. You will get into a bizarre confrontation outside a nightclub with actor Scott Caan. Even better, at each critical juncture of your life you will choose how to proceed. You will decide whether to try out for Doogie Howser, M.D. You will decide whether to spend years struggling with your sexuality. You will decide what kind of caviar you want to eat on board Elton John’s yacht.
“Choose correctly and you’ll find fame, fortune, and true love. Choose incorrectly and you’ll find misery, heartbreak, and a hideous death by piranhas…”
Prince Lestat: The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice
After more than a decade, Anne Rice returns to her “Vampire Chronicles” series with a new 480-page novel about the vampire prince Lestat. “The newly resurrected, but no less rebellious, Lestat addresses a mysterious twenty-first century vampire genocide,” Amazon writes in their description of the book, “with the same panache, self-absorption, and drama readers have come to know and love. ” The book jumps from the present to the past, and its sprawling story “raises interesting questions about the boundaries of science, conflicting beliefs, and a universal need to belong”. Even more interesting, the book has already become Amazon’s best-selling suspense novels — three weeks before the book is released on October 28th!
“Go Add Value Someplace Else: A Dilbert Book” by Scott Adams
Scott Adams will release a brand new collection of Dilbert cartoons in just three weeks (on October 28th). And the Kindle edition is just $8.49. For past collections, at least some Amazon reviewers complained that the cartoons were hard to read on their small handheld Kindles. But comic strips have always looked great on the larger screens of Amazon’s Kindle full-color tablets — so hopefully this collection will find a happy audience of satisfied readers!
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