Amazon Discounts More Fun eBooks!

Upstairs at the White House - My Life with the First LadiesThe Forgotten Sister - Mary Bennet's Pride and PrejudiceBall Four - Jim BoutonThe New Avengers - Breakout

Today I took another look at Amazon’s discounted ebooks for the month of April — and I was stunned by how many more ebooks were on sale that I actually wanted to read! Yes, Amazon chooses over 100 ebooks each month to discount to “$3.99 or less”. But this month’s selection just seemed unusually good!

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

Here’s some of the titles that I thought were especially intriguing…

Upstairs at the White House - My Life with the First Ladies

Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies by J.B. West ($1.99)

For 28 years, J.B. West worked at the White House — a witty and discreet man who coordinated all the day-to-day details for the presidents, their first ladies, and the rest of their families. Jackie Onassis called him “one of the most extraordinary men I have ever met,” and when he finally published a memoir, it sold millions of copies and became a New York Times bestseller. Now available as a Kindle ebook, this 381-page classic begins with stories about Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, as well as Harry and Bess Truman and Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower. It’s nice to get a personal glimpse at the lives of the people in power, and West remained in the White House through 1969, so his book also contains some very dramatic stories about the end of the Kennedy administration, as well as the transition to president Lyndon B. Johnson and his wife Lady Bird (and ends with the arrival of president Richard M. Nixon). “Mr. West takes the high road, and we get to enjoy the view with him,” writes one reviewer on Amazon. “Well done, Mr. Chief Usher!”

The Forgotten Sister - Mary Bennet's Pride and Prejudice

The Forgotten Sister: Mary Bennet’s Pride and Prejudice by Jennifer Paynter ($1.99)

Another fresh twist on Pride and Prejudice tells the story of Elizabeth’s younger sister, “marginalized by her mother, and ridiculed by her father.” You may remember the quiet and “plain” who just wanted to read books, but in this new 440-page novel, author Jennifer Paynter imagines Mary finding her own intense feelings — for an impoverished young local fiddle player. Amazon’s description calls this book “elegant” and “graceful”, offering its own new look at Jane Austen’s familiar themes. “It is only after her sisters tease her about her ‘beau with the bow’ that Mary is forced to examine her real feelings and confront her own brand of pride and prejudice…”

Ball Four - Jim Bouton

Ball Four by Jim Bouton ($1.99)

This rollicking memoir by baseball player Jim Bouton became the best-selling sports book of all-time for its wild and funny stories about the major leagues — though it was extremely controversial when it was first published in 1970. (Bouton remembers when the San Diego Padres “burned the book and left the charred remains for me to find in the visitors clubhouse…” adding that “All that hollering and screaming sure sold books!”) Bouton describes Ball Four as “the kinds of stories an observant next-door neighbor might come home and tell if he ever spent some time with a major-league team,” and one of his teammates described Bouton as “the first fan to make it to the major leagues”. Bouton went from pitching in the World Series with the New York Yankees to Seattle’s forgotten expansion team (the Seattle Pilots ) before being traded to the Houston Astros — but he collects together all the lore and the secret taboos of professional baseball in what Time magazine once called one of the 100 greatest non-fiction books ever published.

The New Avengers - Breakout

The New Avengers, Vol. 1: Breakout by Brian Michael Bendis and David Finch ($1.99)

What would happen if every comic book super-villain broke out of prison at the same time? Spider-Man is about to find out, along with Captain America, Iron Man, Wolverine, Luke Cage, and Spider-Woman. It’s six issues of The New Avengers, presented in full color on Kindle Fire tablets (and any Amazon Kindle app), and also in black-and-white for the Kindle Touch and Kindle Paperwhite. And one reviewer notes one of the best things about this collection: “it is funny. Laugh out loud funny!”

Remember, for a shortcut to each month’s discounted Kindle ebooks,
you can always point your browser to:

Take a Tour of Amazon!

Amazon facility tours

“See what happens after you click buy,” teases a new web page at Amazon. At six different fulfillment centers across the United States, you can now take a tour!

For a shortcut to Amazon’s new Tour pages, point your browser to

The tours happen on the first and third Tuesday of every month, between 10 a.m and 2 p.m. (“Come see the magic…” urges Amazon on web page.) On Thursday, Amazon surprised the world by announcing the new tours during their standard quarterly earnings call. You can now visit Amazon facilities in California, Virginia, Arizona, Tennessee, Delaware, and Indiana…

The tours take approximately 60 minutes (though spots are limited, and you’re required to claim your spot with an online form). And if you’re thinking of arranging a field trip, Amazon suggests that the “optimal” size for a tour group is 30, though “we can accommodate larger groups, if needed.” If you’re bringing your children, Amazon requires all visitors to be over the age of 6. And if you’re wondering what to wear, here’s Amazon’s official response. “We ask guests to wear closed-toe shoes without heels…”

Imagine tromping around the warehouse where Amazon ships out all their goodies. (It’s almost like visiting Santa’s workshop, since this is where most Christmas gifts really come from…!) But it’s also a strong push by Amazon to win the hearts of America’s consumers. They’re transforming themselves from a giant, faceless corporation into a good neighbor in your community who employs folks just like you!

“Our fulfillment network hired more than 20,000 full-time employees last year,” reads the headline on Amazon’s tours page, “creating jobs and opportunities across the United States.” Another infographic points out that working in one of their fulfillment centers is “Safer than a department store.” (The number of illnesses and injuries reported at Amazon’s warehouses is 51% lower than at a general warehouse, and 33% lower than at a department store.) And Amazon wants you to know that they actively recruit U.S. veterans, and give grants to community organizations…

Amazon may become the most powerful company in the world, conquering the supply chains for virtually every single consumer product, and displacing every store in your local community. Not just retail stores, but also grocery stores, and even pet food stores, movie theaters, and of course, bookstores. “We continue to create jobs across the country,” Amazon says cheerily — and a little defensively — on their tours page. But whether you love them or hate them, either way it’s now possible to at least take a peek behind the curtain and see what’s happening for yourself.

The tours are already proving to be very popular. “An attempt Thursday to book a visit resulted in initial slots in September,” notes one reporter in San Bernardino, “and a follow-up e-mail indicated the dates requested were no longer available.” He then contacted a spokesperson at AMazon who told him that “We’ve had a great response from the community in San Bernardino.

“We’re excited for customers to be able to come see firsthand what happens after they click buy on Amazon…”

Amazon Warehouse Tour

For a shortcut to Amazon’s new Tour pages, point your browser to

Four Big Stories About Amazon

Gary Busey promotes Amazon Fire TV

Amazon’s been tinkering for years, and this month they finally revealed some very big new products. It’s blurring the lines between your Kindle Fire tablet, your TV, and even your kitchen. We’re living in a new world — as evidenced by the fact that state attorney generals have now actually procured refunds for customers affected by alleged price-fixing by the publishers of ebooks. Here’s four of the biggest news stories I’ve seen that convinced me thing some very big changes have started happening right now — another collection of my favorite recent Kindle (and Amazon) news stories. And for each one, I’m awarding “cheers” if the story is a genuinely exciting development — and “jeers” if it feels like another funny misstep!

Cheers for Amazon Fire TV

I was stunned when I heard the news. For $99, Amazon would sell you a device that streams Netflix, Hulu, and other video services directly to your TV. “Tiny box, huge specs, tons of content, incredible price,” bragged the CEO of Amazon, and they’ve even optimized it to pre-download the shows it thinks you’ll want to watch next for faster streaming. Plus, you can broadcast video from your tablet or phone directly onto your big-screen TV (as well as your own home movies and photographs), besides renting new movies from Amazon’s own video store, and there’s also free streaming of music from popular music apps like Pandora (and of course, Amazon’s Cloud Player). There’s even a feature that gives you the option of displaying a song’s lyrics while you’re listening to it — and with an optional controller, you can even play popular games on your TV — includine Minecraft and Despicable Me: Minion Rush!

Jeers to Amazon’s Gary Busey Campaign

Amazon’s CEO also pointed out that if you’re looking for a specific show, their Amazon Fire device comes with “Voice search that actually works means no more typing on an alphabet grid!” Fair enough — but they’ve unveiled a truly bizarre ad campaign to promote their new device…starring Gary Busey! (“If you’re like me, you like talking to things. Like, ‘Hello Lamp…’ “) The ad shows the 69-year-old actor — who was nominated for an Oscar in 1978 — as a crazy and volatile, yelling at his TV to “find Gary Busey,” only to reveal that that’s now actually possible with the new Amazon Fire device. It’s a good way to convey Amazon’s point — that “it’s frustrating when things don’t listen. Especially high tech things…” But I have to admit that I was a little uncomfortable with their use of Gary Busey , who really did suffer a serious head injury during a 1988 motorcycle accident.

Cheers to Amazon Dash

Amazon is still quietly invading our homes — and with more than just Kindles. They’re testing a new handheld device called the Amazon Dash, a small device that lets you scan bar codes in your own home. If you’re in one of the lucky cities that has Amazon’s same-day grocery service, then this device has some truly incredible potential. You swipe it over the bar code of any product that you want to re-order, and it’ll magically appear in your queue of items for delivery! Most of the items will actually arrive the next day, according to Amazon’s promotional video — but it’s not limited to just grocery items. In one case, they show a woman ordering a new set of guitar strings, and promising that it’s “shopping made simple,” Amazon has complemented its functionality with a slick tablet app!

Jeers to My 73-Cent Refund

I’d been excited when I saw the announcement. “In December 2013, a federal court approved legal settlements by publishers Hachette, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and Penguin in antitrust lawsuits filed by State Attorneys General and Class Plaintiffs about the price of eBooks.” The end result was a refund to customers like me, and we received a credit right in our Amazon accounts to compensate for any financial hardship we’d suffered from illegal price-fixing by ebook publishers. (Click here to see your refund.) That’s all very well and good, but what wasn’t good was the amount of my credit: just 73 cents!

Maybe I can use the credit to go buy myself 73% of 99-cent ebook!

Easter Special! A Kindle Fire HD for $119

An Easter Egg marks Amazon's discounts on the Kindle Fire tablets

Surprise! Amazon’s offering more discounts on their Kindle Fire tablets. This week, to mark the Easter holiday, they’ve lowered the price on their color, high-definition Kindle Fire HD tablets to just $119! And they’re also offering big discounts on their newer Kindle Fire HDX — both the 7-inch and 8.9-inch models!

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

I guess when you’re Amazon, the word holiday is pronounced “limited-time offer”. But apparently Amazon can’t decide how much money to let you keep. Below the Kindles, they describe the offers like this.

     Kindle Fire HDX 8.9″ from $379 $339.
     Kindle Fire HDX from $229 $199
     Kindle Fire HD 16 GB from $169 $129

But the final price is actually $10 cheaper for the Kindle Fire HD if you’re willing to settle for the 8-gigabyte model. That’s just $119 — while the higher price tag ($129) is only for the 16-gigabyte version of the Kindle Fire HD. And it’s only $70 more to try Amazon’s newest version of a multimedia tablet, the Kindle Fire HD. The low Easter prices tempted me into doing a head-to-head comparison of the devices!

So what’s the difference between a Kindle Fire HD and a Kindle HDX? Well, there’s 50% more pixels per inch in a Kindle Fire HDX, for one thing — so their picture should be even sharper! The Kindle Fire HDX also ships with a faster quad-core processor (versus the dual-core processor on the regular Kindle Fire HD) — though I imagine you need a fast processor just to handle all those extra pixels. With the Kindle Fire HDX, you also get a front-facing camera (and a built-in microphone) for video chats — and the larger 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HDX also comes equipped with a rear-facing camera. When you put them all together, you end up with very high-resolution images that you can broadcast in real-time using your Kindle Fire HDX — and it’s even equipped with 4G capabilities, so you can use the latest high-speed mobile networks.

So if you get tired of hunting for Easter eggs this weekend, you can treat yourself to a high-tech gift. Maybe it’s Amazon’s way of saying… Happy Easter!

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

New Amazon Kindle Fire ad

Amazon Discounts Neil Gaiman – and More!

Neil Gaiman - 1602 graphic novel cover Lost Cat book
Pride and Prejudice and ZombiesEllery Queen - The Greek Coffin Mystery

Amazon’s discounting Kindle ebooks again — over 113 of them! Every month they choose over 100 books to discount for their “$3.99 or less” sale, and this month’s selections include a mind-boggling graphic novel by Neil Gaiman, a fascinating new perspective on the life of a cat, and an ebook that one reviewer called “one of the greatest mysteries ever written”.

For a shortcut to the discounted Kindle ebooks, point your browser to

Here’s some of the most interesting selections…

Neil Gaiman - 1602 graphic novel cover

1602 by Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert ($3.99)

As Queen Elizabeth’s reign comes to an end, strange thunderstorms cover all of Europe — and she summons her royal advisors, Sir Nicholas Fury and Dr. Stephen Strange. It’s a fascinating blend of real history with characters from the Marvel comic book universe, as the British monarchy confronts the appearance of “witchbreed” among them who possess unexplainable super powers. (There’s a daring blind minstrel named Matthew Murdoch, and a young boy who’s fascinated by spiders by the name of Peter Parquagh…) It’s a complete graphic novel that’s wildly imaginative, collecting all 8 issues of Neil Gaiman’s original stories (which gave Marvel comics an entire alternate universe for future stories). And it’s presented in full color on Kindle Fire tablets (and any Amazon Kindle app), and also in black-and-white for the Kindle Touch and Kindle Paperwhite. And you’ll never guess what happens when the royal family receives a visit from the Incredible Hulk…

Lost Cat book

Lost Cat by Caroline Paul and Wendy MacNaughton ($1.99)

A loving couple loses their cat, but then it happily returns just a few weeks later. Where did it go? It’s a mystery that the couple sets out to solve in this delightful true story which is both funny and heart-warming. “Using GPS technology, cat cameras, psychics, the web, and animal communicators,” explains the book’s description on Amazon, “the authors of Lost Cat embarked on a quest to discover what their cat did when they weren’t around. Told through writer Caroline Paul’s rich and warmly poignant narrative and illustrator Wendy MacNaughton’s stunning and hilarious 4-color illustrations, Lost Cat is a book for animal lovers, pet owners, and anyone who has ever done anything desperate for love…”

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith) ($2.99)

It’s in the “romance” section of Amazon’s book deals, but this updated Jane Austen classic has a twist. Zombies! This surprise hit became a New York Times best-seller in 2009, for its fresh, original take on a classic romance about love and society in pre-Victorian England. This book playfully weaves the old plot into a new one. (“Can Elizabeth vanquish the spawn of Satan? And overcome the social prejudices of the class-conscious landed gentry?”) And while Jane Austen is listed as the book’s “co-author,” you’ve never seen Mr. Darcy in a situation like this…

Ellery Queen - The Greek Coffin Mystery

The Greek Coffin Mystery by Ellery Queen ($1.99)

It’s one of America’s most famous mystery writers, and one of his first novels (when the young detective was still trying to prove himself). As the son of a New York cop, Ellery Queen was a “headstrong young genius,” according to this book’s description, and he confronts a very complicated case that involves a
blind man’s house next to a mysterious church graveyard. One reviewer on Amazon called the 299-page novel “Quite possibly one of the greatest mysteries ever written,” citing “delicious twists and turns”. They list a dazzling array of clues (and red herrings), and several reviewers came to the same conclusion: “The grand finale is mind boggling.”

Remember, for a shortcut to each month’s discounted Kindle ebooks,
you can always point your browser to:

More Strange Songs in Amazon’s Kindle Ads

Dog licking a Kindle from Amazon TV ad

Ad: Zest
Song: “Lover’s Cravings” by Bibo

Amazon is actually giving this song away free — just point your browser to . It provided the background music for one of Amazon’s most likeable Kindle commercials, and it’s part of a larger trend. Looking back over the history of Amazon’s advertising, you can see more examples of the thoughtful ways they’re presenting their new digital reader. And they’re using some very special songs to help share the idea that a Kindle can really become part of your life

This “zest” ad offered a nice collection of cheerful clips showing the Kindle in several cozy (although somewhat unlikely) places! (Like in a basket on the handlebars of a bicycle, or even getting licked by a dog…!) And to set the right tone for this bouncy ad, Amazon ultimately selected just the part of the song where the vocalist is singing “la la la,” over a guitar and the rhythm of clapping hands and set of maracas. But it turns out that when you download the longer (free) version of the song from Amazon, it’s actually got some very thoughtful lyrics. The song is by a British music producer named Bibo, but sometimes I like to think of it as commenting on the way that ebooks can resurrect great works of literature that were written centuries ago…

     Lovers’ names, carved in walls,
     overlap, start to merge.

     Some of them underneath.
     (Maybe) they appear, in graveyards.
     (Maybe they) fade away, weathered and
     overgrown. Time has told.

     Meaningful hidden words,
     (Sudden)ly appear, from the murk.
     (Maybe they’re) telling us, that the end
     never was, Never will.

     Words have gone. Meaning will
     (never) disappear, from the wall.

Screenshot from new Amazon Kindle television ad - The Book Lives On

Ad: The Book Lives On
Song: “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk” by The New Pornographers

When Amazon lowered the price for their lightest Kindles to just $139, they also released a new ad that was clearly aimed at a younger market. It showed bright-faced young 20-somethings enjoying their Kindles in casual settings — on the grass, in a coffee shop, lying outdoors in the city, or while jogging past a lake. And to give this ad a dynamic feeling, Amazon used a recently-released song by a hip Canadian indie band called “The New Pornographers”, which delivered a near-nonsensical stream of positive-sounding words. “Silhouette, tell me a tall tale, go. Shout it out… Sweet talk, sweet talk…”

But using the rest of the song’s lyrics would’ve just been confusing!

     A mistake on the part of nature,
     You’re so fair and so fey that you’ll sit anywhere.
     I’ve pencil sketched the scene.
     It’s feeling Byzantine.

     Mistakes on the part of nature,
     The living proof of what they’re calling love,
     On certain sideway streets
     Where things that don’t match meet.

     A mistake on the part of nature,
     You are a tall glass, a blast from the past.
     Yeah, things were simpler then.
     You ask exactly when.

     A mistake on the part of nature.
     It’s forgiven. Move on.
     Won’t wear my Sunday suit to walk that street.
     That would feel Byzantine…

     Amnesia becomes ambition.
     Ambition becomes a new sort of
     Charming simplicity,
     Like always, Byzantine…

Singer Annie Little - from the first Amazon Kindle TV commercial Fly Me Away

Ad: “Fly Me Away”
Song: “Fly Me Away” by Little & Ashley

Even Amazon’s earliest ads for the Kindle had the same theme: trying to make this new technology seem friendly, comfortable, and easily approachable. In fact, for their first ads, they held a contest to see who could create the best home-made ad for Amazon — and the winning entry was slapped together in less than a week! “We misread the contest rules and thought it said ‘Make your own Amazon Kindle commercial,'” remembers one of the ad’s two creative directors — a photographer who specialized in stills, with no experience moving pictures. But their solution was to film 30 seconds of stop-motion animation, showing off all the fantastic places you can imagine when you’re reading on a Kindle.

The ad eventually won Amazon’s contest (leading to a series of six more ads) — and its music matched the theme perfectly! “Fly Me Away” is a tender acoustic duet about “Silver Moons and paper chains, Faded maps and shiny things…” But making the charm even more authentic is the fact that the song’s vocalist, Annie Little really is the woman who actually appears in the ad — and she’s signing a duet with her real-life fiance! (Marcus Ashley…) It took two different 7-hour sessions to complete all of the stop-motion animation around — but the visuals and the song both delivered their fanciful message about how Amazon (and their Kindle) offer “A million different ways to go”.

     Silver Moons and paper chains,
     Faded maps and shiny things.
     You’re my favorite one-man show.
     A million different ways to go.

     Will you fly me away?
     Take me away with you,
     My love.

     Painted scenes, I’m up all night.
     Slaying monsters, flying kites.
     Speak to me in foreign tongues.
     Share your secrets one by one…

     Now I can’t think what life was like
     Before I had you by my side.
     Can’t say what I’d do without you,
     Knowing what it’s like to have you.

     Hidden walk ways back in time.
     Endless stories, lovers cry.
     In my mind I’ve been set free.
     Will you take this Journey, you and Me?

     Will you Fly me away?

     Take me away with you, my love!