People Who Are Most Thankful for Their Kindles

Turkey reading a book
I’m trying to get into holiday spirit – and I was really touched by a story about a stroke victim who was re-learning how to read using a Kindle…

61-year-old Tom Calteux was a former photo editor at a Milwaukee newspaper, but at the age of 49 — 12 years ago — the stroke took his ability to read. He’s spent over a decade in therapy, and “When he had trouble, you could see tears develop,” remember one of the pathologists. She reports that now using the Kindle has been “uplifting” — both emotionally and psychologically — and an Amazon representative confirms that there are “a number of stories about stroke patients across the country using Kindles to help with their reading.

I guess I felt like I should take a moment this year to be thankful — and to think about all those people, somewhere around us, who are very thankful for their Kindles.

* Thanksgiving always holds a special meaning for the families of soldiers who are stationed overseas. And some of those soldiers are now reading on their Kindles, according to stories being shared on the Kindle online discussion forums. Author Edward C. Patterson organized “Operation eBook Drop” in 2009, in which authors agreed to provide free ebook coupons to “any deployed Coalition Armed Forces member with a Kindle.”

In a little more than a year, they’ve now distributed over 440,000 coupons to the soldiers for at least 2,000 different ebooks which were contributed by over 522 authors. And earlier this month, they received a thank-you e-mail from a medical sergeant named Dakotah Hayes. “This means so very much to myself and my entire team… This is our job and we do it because we enjoy helping others at home and over seas, so to receive even a word of thanks is more than we could ever want. Thank you for your support and your generous gifts.”

* Two optometrists in Texas write a web blog about optometry, and report that Amazon’s Kindle “holds a lot of promise” for people with serious eye conditions, including glaucoma, macular degeneration, and retinitis pigmentosa. Last year one of the eye doctors told Publisher’s Weekly that “Numerous people contact me about it — some are legally blind, some have a hard time seeing…” The Kindle can obviously convert any text into an instant large-print book, but its screen may be even better, because “contrast and brightness are very important for someone with low vision.” In addition, some arthritis or MS patients have trouble even holding a book — and the Kindle’s lighter size is making it easier for them to read.

* Finally, I’ll never forget the story of a concerned mother in North Carolina who wandered into Amazon’s Kindle forum and posted “I could cry…I am so happy.” Her 14-year-old daughter had struggled in school, and never read any books for enjoyment. But one day she picked up the family’s Kindle 2 — and surprised them all by suddenly starting to read. “After hours of reading I asked what the difference was between the regular book and the Kindle. She said she would get very overwhelmed by all the words and the size of the book which would make it difficult for her to stay focused. For whatever reason putting the font size up one notch has done the trick!”

Now somewhere in America, there’s a mother who’s happy because her child finally found a way to enjoy reading, and “She hasn’t put the Kindle down since!”

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A Free, Funny Thanksgiving eBook

One very special Thanksgiving, I decided to write a funny ebook about turkeys. And this week, I’ve decided to share it with all of my readers for free. Just point your computer’s web browser to , and Amazon will send it to your Kindle at no charge. And if you read it on your Kindle Fire (or on one of Amazon’s apps), you’ll even be able to see the illustrations in color. Have a happy Thanksgiving!

Here’s the backstory…

After years of blogging about new authors writing exciting new ebooks for the Kindle, I’d finally felt like I just had to try writing one too. So I dreamed up a wild story about four talking turkeys thare all awaiting the farmer’s axe on Thanksgiving Day — except one of them has a plan for escaping! To try to make it even more interesting, I included 12 different illustrations, and I even wrote the whole thing in rhyme.

“For Thanksgiving, try this game. Find the guilty turkey’s name…!”

But then a strange Thanksgiving miracle occurred. Amazon surprised me by publishing my book within just 12 hours from the time I’d submitted it to the Kindle Store. (I’d heard longer estimates of “24 to 48 hours.”) So I woke up the next morning to discover that somehow my turkeys had somehow already snuck onto Amazon’s list of the best-selling children’s ebooks about animals – and they’d stolen the #73 spot from a book about Curious George!

Curious George ebook

I still get a smile when I remember that Thanksgiving. Within another hour, The Turkey Mystery Rhyme had made it into the top six on Amazon’s list of children’s ebooks about birds, one notch above a book I’d first read back in first grade! I wrote to one of my friends that “I was almost paralyzed with excitement when I finally saw it for the first time on Amazon.” And it also made me pause for a minute during the holidays, and think a hopeful thought about the future.

“I love books, And when I read books, I go to a special place. And now I’m in that special place – I’m on the other side of the page, so to speak. And that makes me feel somehow like I’ve inherited some of the importance of the other books I usually read. (Now instead of looking at other people’s books at and their thumbnail images, it’s my book, and my thumbnail image…)

I’ve really been struck and blind-sided by how easy it was – how it all came together, and how everything I needed was already there…”

It was the day when self-publishing first started to feel real to me – with all the big things that that implied about the future of books. And with that in mind, I ended the e-mail by saying “I’ve tried to savor this day because it will always be my only first ebook.”

So visit this URL to check out my free rhyming Thanksgiving turkey mystery…

And I hope you all have a very happy Thanksgiving.

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The Best eBooks for Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving Curious George book and Kindle ebook cover

Thanksgiving’s almost here!

If you’re traveling for the holiday – or just have some extra time to relax — I’ve picked out a few Thanksgiving-related ebooks. With all the excitement around the upcoming holidays, I’m already feeling grateful… that I’ll finally get some time to read on my Kindle!

Here’s some of the best Thanksgiving ebooks — in different categories — that I found in Amazon’s Kindle Store.

The Best Romance
“Thanksgiving” by Janet Evanovich

Best-selling author Janet Evanovich wrote several funny mystery novels — but she actually began her career writing romance novels at the age of 45. One of her first books was “Thanksgiving,” written in 1988, describing how overworked Megan Murphy meets a good-looking doctor at historic Williamsburg, Virginia. (Megan’s enjoying a cup of hot cider and two sugar cookies from the Raleigh Tavern Bake Shop when she discovers the doctor’s giant pet rabbit is eating a hole through her skirt!)

According to the book’s description on Amazon, “she meant to give its careless owner a piece of her mind, but Dr. Patrick Hunter was too attractive to stay mad at for long,” and soon “the two are making Thanksgiving dinner for their families.” And 12 different Amazon’s reviewers gave it five-star reviews, including one who wrote that “If you’ve enjoyed Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, you’re going to get a kick out of her stories for the Loveswept Romance imprint…”

And best of all, you can also listen to the book. A
special audio version
is now being distributed as a holiday CD!

The Best Cookbook
Thanksgiving 101 by Rick Rodgers

Perdue Farms sells over $4.6 billion worth of poultry every year, and for eight years, Rick Rodgers was their media spokesman. He traveled the country giving classes, according to Amazon’s description of the book, and delivers “everything, absolutely everything, you would want to know about buying, thawing, prepping, and roasting a turkey.

“You needn’t look any further. There’s a long question-and-answer-style section that anticipates any questions you might have. Then it’s right on to everything from Perfect Roast Turkey with Best-Ever Gravy to Holiday Meatball Lasagna.” And in addition, there’s lots of recipes for stuffings, side dishes, appetizers, and even leftovers. 29 of the book’s 34 reviewers on Amazon gave it five stars, while the other five
awarded it four. It’s a classic — Amazon’s first review of the book was written in 1998 — but even today, it’s become one of Amazon’s best-selling holiday cooking books.

The Best History Book
Of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford

Who better to tell the story of Thanksgiving than the pilgrims who lived through it? (My favorite chapter was the one about the very non-Puritan antics of Thomas Morton…) William Bradford began writing his history of America’s most famous pilgrims back in 1630 (according to my anthology of American literature), and he continued chronicling their life up to 1647. But the invaluable manuscript was never published in his lifetime, and after Bradford’s death, his family passed it down through the generations.

The precious unpublished memoir traveled its own complicated journey, down through Boston’s Old South Church, and eventually even back to England. Finally it was published in 1856 — a full 200 years after it was written. And now today, thanks to the Kindle, we can take peek into the lives of the very pilgrims who first started celebrating Thanksgiving.

The Best Children’s Book
Happy Thanksgiving, Curious George

Just 12 weeks ago, a new Curious George book appeared, and this one has a special surprise. Yes, you may have read other children’s books about the playful and accident-prone monkey… But this one rhymes!

George wakes up in the morning.
Something smells quite nice.
He knows for sure he wants some —
A piece, a smidge, a slice.

He rushes to the kitchen
and there he sees the man —
with yellow hat an apron,
A turkey in the pan.

The turkey’s in the oven.
It takes some time to cook.
But every now and then
George can’t help but take a look….

Uh-oh, I bet there’s going to be trouble.

Hope you have a happy Thanksgiving!

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How Zombies Took Over Amazon’s Kindle Store

Cover illustration from R. L. Stine's Goosebumps zombie high school ebook
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 just 2,269 Kindle ebooks with their word “zombie” in their title, but by 2012, that number had more than doubled to more than 4,874. And by the next year, it had nearly doubled again, to 8,052 zombie titles in 2013. The plague seemed to be slowing — in 2014, there were just 11,430 zombie ebooks in the Kindle Store. But this year? OMG!

Amazon’s Kindle store now has 15,659 zombie titles!

What’s fascinating is that over time, the number of zombie titles doubles, and doubles, and doubles again.

Year        Zombie Titles
2011        2,269
2012        4,874
2013        8,052
2014        11,430
2015        15,659

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 843 books with the word “zombie” in their title (up from just 523 in 2011 and 783 in 2014). Oh my god, run everybody — Amazon’s Kindle store now has 18 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.

Zombie Girl Invasion
Wesley and the Sex Zombies (Free!)
The Scarlet Zombie Sketchbook #1
A Girl’s Guide To Falling In Love With A Zombie

Zombie Road Trip
Jesus vs. the Zombies of Perdition
Zombie Day Care (Free!)

Rock And Roll Reform School Zombies
My Life as A White Trash Zombie

Zombie Lust and The New Flesh


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 Kissed a Zombie and I Liked It
Married with Zombies
Zombie Blondes
Confessions of a Zombie’s Wife

Never Slow Dance with a Zombie

Zombie Queen of Newbury High
Zombie Fight Song
Jesus Camp Zombie Bloodbath

Battle of the Network Zombies Hungry for Love: An Anthology of Zombie Romance

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, a professional writer who’s published his own 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…

Goddamn Redneck Surfer Zombies
Zombie Dawn Apocalypse
Breaking News: an Autozombiography

The Christian Zombie Killer’s Handbook

Zombie Combat Manual
The Zurvivalist – Real Life Solutions to Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse
Zombology: A Zombie Anthology
Brains: A Zombie Memoir

Zombie Sniper
You Might Be a Zombie and Other Bad News
Zombie P.I.
Why I Quit Zombie School

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!

Zombies vs Unicorns
Zombies Sold Separately

Every Zombie Eats Somebody Sometime: A Book of Zombie Love Songs

Zombies for Jesus
Attack of the Shark-Headed Zombies

Jailbait Zombie What Do You Do With Dead Zombies?

The Art of War for Zombies – Ancient Chinese Secrets of World Domination, Apocalypse Edition
Superheroes vs Zombies The Adventures of Zombie Boy Zombie Butts from Uranus

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…

Zombies vs. Nazis
The Zombie Cookbook

501 Things to do with a Zombie Zombies Wearing Hats Zombies Hate Vegetables, Too
Grampa’s Zombie BBQ

Love in a Time of Zombies An Inconvenient Amish Zombie Left Behind The Da Vinci Diet Code Truth
Zombies Don’t Play Soccer

Dr. Zombie Lives Next Door
Paul Is Undead: The British Zombie Invasion

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…

Zachary Zombie and the Lost Boy
Jude and the Zombies
Peter Crombie, Teenage Zombie
Nobody Wants to Play With Zombie Jesus

Jasper, the Friendly Zombie
How I met Barbara the Zombie Hunter
Zombie Joe and the Pogo Stick legs

Growing Up Zombie
Oh No, Our Best Friend is a Zombie!

Zombie Mommy
Phredde and the Zombie Librarian
Day of the Field Trip Zombies

So I had to laugh when I saw an ebook titled “Where are the Zombies?”

Dude, you’re not paying attention. They’re everywhere!

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Amazon Gives Away Free Stuff for Halloween

Batman Li'l Gotham Halloween coverFor Halloween, Amazon’s Kindle Store is offering a funny free comic book that looks at Batman when he was a child — as part of D.C. Comics special series, Li’l Gotham. It’s one of two stories in D.C.’s “Halloween Comic Fest 2013”, a 22-page holiday give-away that’s a nice way to celebrate. “Every once you in a while you just want to see the citizens of Gotham in a new light,” wrote one reviewer on Amazon, “and that’s exactly what this book is all about.” And of course, they added that the artwork of the superheroes as trick-or-treating children “looked like fun to draw!”

And for Halloween night, you might also want to download the free audiobook version of Dracula by Bram Stoker. It’s read by a long list of narrators that includes Tim Curry — who played the lurking evil in the TV adaptation of Stephen King’s It, and of course also starred as the crazed libertine scientist in the The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Why is Amazon doing this? To show off their special feature they’re making available for audiobooks, “Whispersync for Voice”. Now if you’re reading the text of an ebook on any Kindle, you can instantly switch over to its audiobook version on your Kindle tablet (or in a Kindle app). And the audiobook’s narrator will continue reading right where you left off!

“Most people I know believe that if they only had more time to read, they would be more imaginative, more interesting, and more successful,” the founder of once said in an excited press release. “Whispersync for Voice directly addresses that need. The ability to seamlessly switch back and forth between reading text on any Kindle and listening to the same title in audio on your smartphone [or on your Kindle Fire tablet] — and always pick up where you left off — means that the story can continue during those times of the day when you cannot look at a screen.” It’s a feature that’s exclusively available on the Kindle, with specially-enabled ebooks that are sold through Amazon’s Kindle Store.

And it seems like Halloween is the perfect time for a ghost story that’s delivered by a whisper!

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My Favorite Joke About Halloween

Laughing Halloween jack-o-lantern pumpkin cartoon
I’ve found a lot of good information over the years about the Kindle at its page on Facebook, and also on the other Facebook pages from Amazon. But one Saturday morning, Amazon caught me off guard. They posted a Halloween riddle!

“Where does a ghost go on Saturday night?”

Amazon was asking its Facebook fans for the answer, but this game took a strange twist. “Guess the answer, or share your favorite pun-filled Halloween joke in a comment below,” Amazon urged their readers. And somehow this provoked an enormous flood of very creative responses. By the time Halloween rolled around, Amazon’s riddle had already racked up nearly 700 different responses from all around the country.

So where does a ghost go on Saturday night?

“To the BOO-vies?” suggested a college student in Georgia.

“To see his ghoul-friend!” suggested another student in Oregon.

“To the spooktacular,” suggested a woman in Arizona.

“Wine and Spirits store” suggested a student in Texas.

“To the spook-easy for a beverage,” said a man in California

“He goes Boo hopping, of course,” posted a woman in North Carolina, “for a bit of brew and spirits.”

I was a little frustrated that I couldn’t find Amazon’s official answer — but I was equally impressed there were so many possibilities! Where does a ghost go on Saturday night?

“The boo-ling alley,” suggested a student in Chicago.

“to the BOOlavard!!” posted one California college student.

“To the boooonies,” posted a woman in Florida.

“Anywhere where he can boo-gie,” suggested a man in New Jersey.

“Up to their boo-doir for some Resting In Peace?” suggested a woman in Arizona.

The best answer of all seemed to come from a Kindle owner. (“Ghosts sit and read boo-ks!”) Another user suggested ghosts go “To BOOks-a-million,” and one comment was apparently inspired by the new popularity of ebooks, posting “Wherever it is, it’s sure not the booooook store.” Author Sharif Khan even used the opportunity to promote his books on Facebook. “Ghosts like to visit my author page and click ‘like’ for some strange reason. It’s a mystery.” But my favorite response wasn’t a pun at all. (“Those ghosts. You can always tell when they’re planning something mischievous — they’re so transparent!”)

What would’ve been confined to a classroom was a virtual conversation across the entire country. It wasn’t even confined to America. Someone even posted an answer from a college in Bangalore, suggesting that on Saturday nights a ghost likes to “Hang out at his favorite haunt!!” And a man in England made a very clever pun, suggesting the ghosts who want to gamble go “To a wraith track!” Halloween had magically united everyone for a moment around a riddle of the random ghost. So one more time — where does a ghost go on Saturday night?

“Scare Dancing!” said a woman in Kentucky.

“He goes to Ho-boo-ken, NJ,” suggested a man in Pennsylvania.

A student at Ole Miss thought the ghosts would go to “A footboo game!”

A student in Michigan suggested “a Boomitzvah!”

“To a boootiful place,” said a woman in Delaware.

“I’d tell you,” posted a woman in Wisconsin, “but it’s un-boo-lievable.”

One response even came from a mother.” My 10 year old says ‘roller scaring’!” And instead of karaoke, one woman suggested the ghosts would sing “Scareyoke!!”

“to the boondocks…”

“to the booseum, to see the moan-ets”

“Out with the ghouls?”

“To the bar and ghoul.”

“To the Ghostry store.”

“the boo-tique”

“To a boo-ery! Haha!”

“He goes BOOzing with his friends! :)”

“He goes bar haunting!”

“That way he can drink some boos…”

“Up to their boo-doir for some Resting In Peace?”

“to his Mummy’s?”

“to the booty parlor”


“he went to amusement park for (roller GHOSTER)”

“No where,” suggested one woman. “He’s got no body to go with.”

“He goes out to eat and orders Ghoulash. ”

“He works the graveyard shift”

“Out on the Ghosttown of course!”

“Deer Haunting”

“To bed because the sunday they have to get a booo_ stershot”

“She doesn’t go out…she needs her Boo-ty sleep!”

One Missouri student even contributed her own Halloween joke. “Why was the skeleton afraid to cross the road?” she asked. “Because he didn’t have any guts!” And even shorter one-line came from a woman in Arizona. “A Skeleton walked into a bar, and asked for a beer and a mop.” And a woman in Alabama offered this Halloween pun. “What do you call a witch who lives at the beach? A sand-witch!!”

Soon it wasn’t just Amazon’s ghost riddle any more, but a wave of everyone’s most-favorite Halloween joke.

“What do you call a hot dog with no center? A hollow weenie”

“What do Italian ghosts eat: spookghetti”

“What do vegetarian zombies eat? Graiiins, graiiins!”

“What happens when a ghost gets lost in the fog? He is mist.”

Maybe I’m just a big kid who loves the holidays — but it was nice to see so many people having some Halloween fun. It proves that Amazon’s been successful at building a small community of fans for themselves on another social network site, today I also noticed another way Amazon’s integrating themselves with Facebook. When you add something to your Amazon wish list, they can automatically post an “update” about it to your own Facebook page (or your Twitter feed — or even send an e-mail about your wished-for items to your friends). In the long run Amazon may get a few more sales.

But for consumers, it’s also just a new way to have fun.

Happy Halloween!


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Fun Halloween Games For Your Kindle

Kindle game Futoshiki - Halloween edition

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, so I love the fact that there’s Halloween games you can play on your Kindle. Even black and white “e-ink” Kindles can share in the fun, since many of these games were written before Amazon had even introduced their own line of color touchscreen tablets. It’s really fun to see game developers taking their established Kindle titles, and updating them with special Halloween editions.

I think the most interesting title ever for a Kindle game was Ghostboy and the Nameless Grave. It describes itself as “An Interactive Children’s Book for Kindle,” and I’m really impressed by its funny, elegant graphics. (The size of the game file is 4.6 megabytes). On his birthday, a little boy named Tristan is haunted by a little ghost girl, and the game’s description on Amazon promises that as its four-part story unfolds, “your child explores a town full of mysteries on the night before Halloween.”

But one Halloween, the best-selling game in the Kindle Store was the “Ultimate Halloween Quiz” — which actually became one of the top-40 best-selling items in the entire Kindle store! HandyX had already created seven other “interactive quiz” games, but this one promised questions about monsters, magic, and other October-appropriate topics. “Do you know Mary Shelley from Marilyn Manson, or Freddy from Jason…?” asked the game’s description at “Questions topics include horror movies, Halloween facts, scary novels, gruesome history, magical creatures, myths and legends. Halloween will never be the same!”

And there’s also a spooky version of the Sudoku-like logic puzzle, Futoshiki. “Futoshiki Halloween Edition takes an eerie twist as witches and zombies take over in a graveyard game board,” warns the game’s page in the Kindle store. There’s a dangerous-looking tree in the background of the game board, and the top of the screen even includes the silhouette of a witch. But somehow, the stark contrast on the Kindle’s black-and-white screen seems to fit the holiday perfectly.

But I think my favorite game is the special Halloween version of Blossom. This has always been one of my personal favorites, and it’s fun to see it getting a holiday makeover. In the original version, you’d rotate squares in a grid to connect a network of pipes to make some flowers blossom. But in this Halloween edition, those restful flowers have been replaced by jack-o-lanterns — and instead of a watering can, they’re connecting to a black witch’s cauldron!

Kindle game Blossom - Screenshot of Halloween edition

And believe it or not, there’s now even a Halloween version of Mahjong Solitaire. “This game is so fun it’s scary!” reads its description in the Kindle Store, which promises to complement its 13 different layouts with two special Halloween tile sets. Their pictures include pumpkins, tombstones, and even something that looks like a smirking ghost. At $3.99, it’s one of the more expensive Kindle games — but if you like Mahjong Solitaire, this looks like a fun novelty.

And there’s one more new game in the Kindle Store with a special connection to Halloween. The makers of Slingo have just come up with “Poker of the Dead” — which combines the challenges of the classic “Texas Hold ‘Em” card game with…zombies! It’s a seven-day tournament (with 10 hands per day), with a dramatic backstory adding the complication of an onslaught by the living dead. But fortunately, according to the game’s description, your zombie opponents “have no brains, never fold, and will always call your bet.” The phrase “winner takes all” gets a whole new meaning, but if you defeat all these poker-playing zombies, you’ll live to fight another day.

Amazon’s newest free game isn’t quite as creepy — but they’ve taken a classic logic puzzle and given it a nice Kindle adaptation. “Grid Detective” recreates those story problems you may remember from puzzle magazines — where, for example, there’s four people receiving four kittens that are four different colors. So who got which kitten? The game offers a series of cryptic clues — but you can “crack the case” if you carefully track them all, and also make the right inferences. In the paper-and-pencil version, you’d have to draw your own grid to keep track of all your deductions, but Amazon’s made this game much simpler to play by creating their own detailed interface. It may not be the most mysterious game ever, but the whole “intrigue” theme seem appropriate for Halloween.

It just makes me smile that independent Kindle developers are dreaming up their own fun ways to celebrate Halloween with a Kindle!

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Free Scary Kindle eBooks For Halloween!

Edgar Allen Poe

Every October I start enjoying Halloween early — and not just that new chill in the air or the dead leaves blowing by. There’s a special mood in 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 Spectre Bridegroom, plus 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!

The Complete Tales of Edgar Allan Poe

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!

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Amazon Discounts More Kindle eBooks!

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

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


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

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

Here’s some of the highlights.

2001 - A Space Odyssey by Arthur C Clarke

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

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

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

Enter The Saint book cover by Leslie Charteris

Enter the Saint by Leslie Charteris

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

Goosebumps - Night of the Living Ventriloquist's Dummy

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

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

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

Zane Grey - Dorn of the Mountains

Dorn of the Mountains by Zane Grey ($1.99)

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

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

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New XKCD Book Discounted 36% for Pre-Orders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Randall Munroe XKCD book vs Stephen Hawking

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Get a Kindle for $59

Kindle back to school discount

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Amazon, Bookstores, and the Search for a Lost Novel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes sir,” Homer said.

In the revised edition, the conversation goes like this.

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

“You will be,” Spangler said.

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

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

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

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

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

‘Yes, sir,’ Homer said.

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

“Where’s Marcus?”

Mrs. Macauley looked at he boy.

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

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

“Understand what?” he said.

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

“Why?” Ulysses said.

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

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

“Where’s Marcus?”

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

Original cover for William Saroyan's The_Human_Comedy_(novel)

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New Dr. Seuss Book Becomes Amazon Best-Seller!

Dr Seuss cover - What Pet Should I Get

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

For a shortcut to the book, point your browser to

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

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

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

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

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

Remember, for a shortcut to the book, point your browser to

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Amazon Discounts Young Adult Fiction

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

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

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

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

Homeless Bird cover by Gloria Whelan

Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan ($1.99)

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

Malcolm at Midnight book cover by Brian Lies

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

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

Teacher's Pest cover - Lovecraft Middle School book

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

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

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

Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer

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

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

Remember, for a shortcut to all of Amazon’s discounted ebooks,
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The Secrets of William Saroyan

William Saroyan

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

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

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

A page from William Saroyan's The Human Comedy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original cover for William Saroyan's The_Human_Comedy_(novel)

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

The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton

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

For a shortcut, point your browser to

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wonderful Memories on the 4th of July

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

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

4th of July parade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Free 4th of July Kindle eBooks

Thomas Jefferson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Declaration of Independence.

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Amazon Discounts Avengers Comic Books!

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

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

Avengers - Heroes Welcome

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

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

Captain America - First Vengeance

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

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

Avengers - Fury's Big Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thor - God of Thunder - The God Butcher cover

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

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

Avengers - Absolute Vision

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

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

The New Avengers - Breakout

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

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

The Mighty Avengers - The Ultron Initiative

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

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

Ant-Man and Wasp - Small World graphic novel

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

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

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

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

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

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lovecrafts Monsters by Neil Gaiman

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

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

Avengers - Absolute Vision

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

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

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

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

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

Ursula K Le Guin - Wild Girls

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

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

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

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

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The Kindle vs. The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Amazon Discounts Two “Game of Thrones” Graphic Novels!

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

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

For a shortcut, point your browser to

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

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

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

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

Remember, for a shortcut, point your browser to

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Last Chance for Amazon’s May Discounted eBooks!

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

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

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

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

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

Mozart in the Jungle - sexy book cover

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

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

Agatha Christie - Miss Marple - at Bertram's Hotel

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

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

100 Simple Secrets Why Dogs Make Us Happy

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

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

The Girl Who Came Home - a Novel of the TItanic

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

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

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

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Amazon Celebrates Pac-Man’s Anniversary!

Pac-Man on Amazon's home page

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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