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Topics - Mike D. aka jmiked

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In contrast to what is happening with the court case against the publishers in the US concerning ebooks, it appear that the French government is poised to pass a law prohibiting Amazon from discounting physical books sold in France (or to French customers) by more than 5% and offering free shipping. It appears to be already (since 1981) unlawful to discount more than 5%.

I'm pretty sure Germany (or maybe it's the Swiss) already has a law that prohibits deep discounting.

The law is intended to protect the independent booksellers. I can't say I'm unsympathetic to this, I'd like to see the indies stay in business.

I'd be interested in hearing from any French members of the forum with info on whether or not ebook prices are discounted from list by Amazon in France. Just curious.


The Book Corner / Mystery series recommendation
« on: October 22, 2013, 09:46:20 am »
I'd like to recommend a series I discovered several years ago, after I bought my first Kindle. I don't generally enjoy reading mystery/crime books where a policeman or law enforcement officer(s) is/are the protagonist, but I've become quite a fan or this series.

The series debuted in 1986 with Too Late to Die:

It's the continuing story of Dan Rhodes, the Sheriff of Blacklin County, Texas, and his small band of assistants working out of a small town in rural Texas. There's Hack (the dispatcher), and Lawton (the jailer), who resemble Abbott and Costello in more than appearance. They delight in taking their own sweet time in giving information to the sheriff and get mad at each other when one of them slips up and lets a bit of actual info into the discussion. Additionally, there is Deputy Ruth Grady who is arguably the most normal of the lot. The reluctant coroner is a local veterinarian pressed into service.

Rhodes is a conscientious, mostly laid-back type who is a widower when the series starts, but marries Ivy after a few books. It's  good match. He likes to drink Dr Pepper from bottles and watch old movies.

I started reading the series when only the last one or two of the 20 books was Kindlized. In the last year most of the back list has been converted to ebook format at quite reasonable prices ($3.99 or so).

If you want gritty, this isn't the series for you. Not much violence, no serial killers, no street gangs, no drug wars, no sex or vulgarities, only a few low-key car chases. This is a series I can see myself re-reading at some point a number of years down the road. I like the dialogue between the characters.

Crider has written about 50 or so books in several genres including westerns and horror (and several books for younger readers). He has several other series done over the years. I've read and enjoyed the Truman Smith series (5 books) about a free-lance investigator in Galveston Texas, but haven't yet tried the Professor Sally Good ones (3 books).


The Book Corner / The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
« on: October 21, 2013, 01:20:49 pm »
I picked up this ebook after hearing about it on The Kindle Chronicles. It's a fascinating look into the creation of Amazon, and how various aspects of the company evolved over time.

Going by this book, Jeff Bezos' approach to running a company has a more than casual resemblance to Steve Jobs' tenure at Apple. While it might be entertaining to have a casual conversation with either of them, there's no way I would work for either person.  ;D ;D


The Book Corner / New reading milestone
« on: September 13, 2013, 03:25:37 pm »
I just finished reading my 100th book of the year yesterday. I'm sure it's a personal record. The only reason I even know how many books I've read is that for the last two years I've entered the date completed in a Calibre column (primarily to keep track of where I am in series reading), and it just takes two mouse clicks to sort them by that number. I saw the stats two books ago, and kept track.

The lucky book?

I've been re-watching the TV series Lost over the last month, and I've been reading the entries in this series after each episode to find out all the interesting things I missed. And to get a better handle on the series ending.  ;D

Next up: Martha Grime's The Black Cat.


The Book Corner / Frederik Pohl R.I.P.
« on: September 02, 2013, 05:34:51 pm »
A writer/editor/anthologist/blogger/agent who had a huge impact on the science fiction world over the last 70 or so years. He passed away this weekend.

He won four Hugo and three Nebula Awards, as well as a number of other awards.


The Book Corner / The Carpet Makers coming for Kindle
« on: July 15, 2013, 08:32:48 am »
I just got a notification that one of the science fiction books on my iReaderIQ list was slated for release in several weeks: The Carpet Makers, by Andreas Eschbach. I pre-ordered it instantly.

I read this book when the English translation first appeared in 2005, and was impressed. Here's the publisher's blurb:

Since the time of pre-history, carpetmakers tie intricate knots to form carpets for the court of the Emperor. These carpets are made from the hairs of wives and daughters; they are so detailed and fragile that each carpetmaker finishes only one single carpet in his entire lifetime.

This art descends from father to son, since the beginning of time itself.

But one day the empire of the God Emperor vanishes, and strangers begin to arrive from the stars to follow the trace of the hair carpets. What these strangers discover is beyond all belief, more than anything they could have ever imagined...

Brought to the attention of Tor Books by Orson Scott Card, this edition of The Carpet Makers contains a special introduction by Orson Scott Card.

At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.

Yeah, OK, it's a publisher's blurb. But this book was unlike anything I had ever read before. It's more of a series of interlinked stories told over a period of years than it is a novel. It reminds me of the movie The Cloud Atlas in some respects (except this story is linear).

If this sounds at all interesting, avoid learning much more about the book and just go for it. The denouement is surprising. Pre-knowledge would be like someone telling you the ending of M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense and then saying you that you simply must see it.  ;D

The author takes his time developing the story; it's not an action-packed work. It's a reflection on how power corrupts. And on a galactic scale, the corruption can have immense effects. It was a thought-provoking book for me. People have said it's a good book to recommend to those that say they don't like science fiction. It may be. Or I may be a loonie.  :o

It will be interesting to see if I think as highly of it upon a second read.


Let's Talk Kindle! / New update feature?
« on: July 02, 2013, 08:29:17 am »
I just noticed that there's now an option on the Manage Your Kindle Page to automatically download updated books. I don't know how long that has been there. I'm not sure whether to enable this or not. If there is some sort of notification pushed to the Kindle or an email sent, then I'd do it, but I'm not sure I want something to happen without my knowing. Has anybody used this feature?


The Book Corner / The Mystery of a Hansom Cab (1886)
« on: June 29, 2013, 09:54:31 am »
I finished reading this early mystery a little while ago, and thought I'd post a message about it. The Mystery of a Hansom Cab by Fergus Hume was self-published* in 1886. After achieving some success with it (selling 100,00 copies in Australia), he sold the American and English publishing rights for £50 (about $5,500US today). Not a trivial sum in 1886, but after it was taken over by a publisher it went on to sell over 500,000 copies world-wide (enviable even today). It was allegedly the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's first Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet.

Quote from Goodreads:

"In the dead of night, on a dark, lonely street in Melbourne, a cabby discovers that his drunken passenger has been murdered--suffocated with a chloroform saturated handkerchief. The murderer, his motive, even the identity of the victim are unknown." 3.5 stars.

Here's a link to the free Kindle version which I read (it has typos):

and link to the free version on Mobileread (likely to have no typos):

The Mobileread version is a .prc format, which will read just fine on your Kindle, but will have to be side-loaded.

I enjoyed this novel. I'd give it 3 of 5 stars. It's typical of the time, you won't find any deep, psychological observations of the characters, or any explicit sex or violence. If you like fast-paced stories, then novels of this era aren't for you. It's a satisfying mystery, with several layers to peel away.

There have been several movies of this work, as well as stage and radio plays. As recently as 2012, an Australian TV movie was made, available on DVD from Amazon (I may buy this next month).

Fergus Hume went on to write over 100 novels and short stories, and died in 1932.


* Showing that becoming a successful author by initially self-publishing is not a new phenomenon.

The Book Corner / Another absurd publication date
« on: June 04, 2013, 07:35:15 am »
I got a notification this morning that The Cat Who Went to Paris is available for pre-order, due out on January 1, 2036.

This is the second time this book has been listed for pre-order. The first time was about two years ago, and it stayed listed for over a year before I got a message that it had been de-listed.

One of the few books to which I'd almost give a 5-star rating. Maybe whoever inherits my Amazon ebook account will enjoy it.  ;D


The Book Corner / Newly enKindled mysteries by Stuart Palmer
« on: June 03, 2013, 09:36:15 pm »
I just saw that two dozen or so of Stuart Palmer's mysteries have made it to the Kindle courtesy of Otto Penzler's Mysterious Press.

Palmer was one of the more popular mystery authors in the thirties and forties, and a number of his books were made into successful movies, including ones with his best-known creation, spinster school-teacher Hildegarde Withers.

First one here:

He wrote the scripts for the first three Bulldog Drummond movies (Paramount), and some entries in The Lone Wolf series (Columbia) and also some of RKO's The Falcon series."

An accomplished writer, his characters are memorable for their witty repartee (think Thin Man series).

If you like gritty realism, these books aren't for you. If you like solid writing and well-constructed stories with no explicit sex or violence, no profanity or vulgarities, and interesting characters, then you might give them a try. They are quite reasonably priced, IMHO.

Thus ends my attempt to bring quality, culture, and good taste into the modern wasteland that is contemporary crime/mystery fiction.*


* Yes, I really do believe that most** contemporary crime/mystery fiction is repetitive, unimaginative, derivative drek. Seriously. But you don't have to believe it. I won't be offended.

** Notice I said most.

Not Quite Kindle / Rating systems for books, etc.
« on: June 03, 2013, 11:17:12 am »
I've been looking at the star ratings on various reviews/sites for a while, and I've been struck by the number of people who claim to "like" something, but they give it a 5-star review (out of 5 possible stars).

I may be out of step with the rest of the world here, but when my opinion is "I liked it" or "It was OK", that's a 3-star rating. A 4-star is "I liked it a lot", and a 5-star rating is something I give vary rarely, and only then to something that strikes me as very much above average or exceptional.

On the lower end of the scale, a 2-star review is for something I didn't care for, and a 1-star is for things I actively disliked (typically a book I couldn't or wouldn't finish).

I've discovered that Netflix seems to follow this enlightened system, but I can't recall any others that do although I wouldn't be surprised to find more.

One other thing I have noticed is that many reviewers seem to not be able to say they liked something, they have to "love" it, or "hate" it. The thing that comes to mind with these sort of reviews is that the person writing it must not be very discriminating to live in such a two-valued world, so I'm inclined to ignore their opinion altogether.

A number of 5-star reviews seem to be a misguided attempt to help some person or product out. And I'm not forgetting the people that give books a 1-star review because they are outraged that it is twenty-five cents too expensive, regardless of the merits of the work. But that's a topic for another discussion.

Personally, I'm much more in favor of a 0-10 scale for ratings, as it gives room for a more nuanced, multi-valued approach.

I'm bemused by all the emails I've gotten from vendors (on Amazon specifically) that exhort me to contact them if I can't give them a 5-star rating, when they've done nothing more than drop a product in a container and take it to the post office or UPS desk.

Yes, to some extent I'm cherry-picking data to illustrate a point, and there is a more in-depth analysis that could be made, but I'm just wondering if I'm that far out of the mainstream.


The Book Corner / Neil Gaiman book to be HBO feature
« on: June 01, 2013, 09:55:46 am »
A while ago I saw that Neil Gaiman's American Gods* was slated to be an HBO feature or series.

The morning I found a live blog from Len Edgerly of a discussion with Gaiman at BookExpo America. One entry stopped me in my tracks:

Q. How is The American Gods TV show coming?
A. It’s like a very slow game of tennis. (with HBO). I started it with things not in the book. They keep going, “Can you make it more like the book?” Right now, I finished a script and we’re waiting for their notes.

What could HBO be thinking of? Making it more like the book? They obviously have a newby in charge of the project.


* Possibly the only Gaiman work I started but never managed to finish, despite repeated attempts.

The Book Corner / Are contemporary books overly long?
« on: May 18, 2013, 02:12:17 pm »
Here's Christopher Fowler's* take on this subject:

I have to say I mostly agree. I'd say that most of the SF and mystery classics from years past are less than 300 pages, and in a number of cases are less than 200 pages. And they don't suffer from it.

Thoughts, anyone?


*The author of the Bryant and May mysteries.

Let's Talk Kindle! / New Kindle Display?
« on: May 14, 2013, 07:04:30 am »
I just saw an article on Slashdot that says Amazon has just bought Liquavista, who has developed a new type of display. Details on the display here:

Amazon announcement guoted here (you have to scroll down the page to the updated section):


An interesting article on the development of the suspense/thriller genre in books and movies back in the 1930s. It's fairly lengthly.


Let's Talk Kindle! / Tor's DRM-free anniversary
« on: May 02, 2013, 09:25:56 am »
I saw this today.

Tor books dropped DRM on all their books one year ago. The interesting part of the article was the statement:

"As it is, we’ve seen no discernible increase in piracy on any of our titles, despite them being DRM-free for nearly a year."

Good for them.


Amazon has announced the acquisitions of publishing rights to two best-selling authors of mysteries and thrillers: Leslie Charteris's Saint books (49 volumes) and Gladys Mitchell's books (71 volumes).

The majority of Mitchell's work has never been published in the US. She was enormously popular in the UK and Europe, outselling Agatha Christie many times. She was considered to be on a par with Christie and Dorothy Sayers. I've had to buy the two or three of her books from the UK to read them in years past (although several have been recently available through the Kindle store).

There was single series of TV movies made in the UK from Mitchell's books starring Diana Rigg as The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries, which totally distorted the nature of the character.

Most of us are aware of the movies and various TV series of Charteris's character The Saint, but few have read any of the books. I have the complete collection in DTBs, accumulated over the last 50+ years. The adaptations took a few liberties (especially the awful Val Kilmer movie), but at least the character was recognizable.

These won't be to everyone's taste, having been written mostly in the 1920s through the 1970s, but I like them and will be filling some of the holes in my collection. I like them.


I just got a notification that You're Stepping On My Cloak and Dagger by Roger Hall will be published in a Kindle version on 11 May.

It's been out-of-print for decades, except for a minor print run by US Navy small press run in the early 2000s. I'm the proud possessor of a first edition hard-cover, but I pre-ordered this ebook without a second thought. I've given away more paperback copies than I can count to friends over the years.

It's the story of one man's experiences in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the precursor to the CIA. As one reviewer put it: " If Dave Barry had been eligible for enlistment in 1942 this is the the kind of book he might have written. Roger Hall's account of his time in the O.S.S. is full of dry wit, bawdy humor, accute assessments of the Army's intelligence operations during World War II, and his own vivid personality".

I found this to be a funny, funny book.


Let's Talk Kindle! / Getting a new Kindle!
« on: April 22, 2013, 08:54:34 pm »
Except it's another Kindle Keyboard like mine and it's going to my brother. I finally talked him into buying an upgrade to replace the K2 I lent him quite a while ago.

I think he will like it. Much better display.


I don't think anyone has posted this recently, but if you aren't using the KB search function to find books, you're missing out on a valuable feature.

The standard Search feature via the text entry at the top of Amazon's product pages is terrible. It seems to default to a keyword search and gives many results where some author/publisher has just typed in an author's name as a keyword to get hits on their unrelated book. It also give Audible books.

Harvey has given us an easy hook into Amazon's Advanced Search feature so we can limit the books to only an author, either or both public domain or not, subject, when published, language, maximum price, and more.

You can even sort by most recent, reader reviews, price, bestselling, etc.

This feature has saved me a lot of time and trouble. Thanks, Harvey.

Find it at:

or click on [advanced] near the top of the KB pages where it says "find e-book"


Not Quite Kindle / The Bletchley Circle (TV series)
« on: April 22, 2013, 09:55:58 am »
If you enjoy British crime/thrillers, you might give the new series The Bletchley Circle a try. It premiered Sunday on PBS in my area. The first episode is being replayed next Saturday.

The series features four women who were code-breakers at the famous Bletchley facility in the UK during WWII. The series picks up their lives six years later. A good write-up at:

I liked the first episode, even though it deals with one of my least-favorite topics to watch: a serial killer of women. Apparently, it's already been picked up for a second season.


The Book Corner / Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light
« on: April 13, 2013, 09:27:49 pm »

This was one of the more entertaining and engrossing books I've read in a while. I've pretty much always been a movie buff, particularly of suspense movies of the nineteen-thirties, -forties, and -fifties.

This book covers Hitchcock's life from his birth (of course) in 1899,  his movie career from his early days as a title-card writer and general dogsbody in the silent era through to his last film as director, and then to his death in 1980.

Since I'm almost as interested in the details behind movies as I am in the actual movies, I found the details of how his movies came to be made to be fascinating. He hardly ever got the stars he initially wanted. He was in constant conflict with studios over one thing and another.

Each movie he made is subject to an in-depth description of creation, shooting, and editing here… this book is 20270+ locations, all text and no pictures. The index from the DTB version is included, but there is a note at the beginning that the page numbers aren't valid and the reader should use he Search function of his/her ebook reader. This is the first time I've seen a publisher acknowledge this fact.

I found Hitch's writing process to be a bit surprising. He would hire a writer (or writers) and they would spend months developing a script, then when it was finished he would let that writer go and hire another and redo the job. Sometimes he even hired a third writer to finish it. He always took the last cut but never put his name on the writing credits, despite the fact that most of the work ended up being his (or at least he made major tweaks). He worked with some of the most famous writers of the day, including James Agee, Eric Ambler, Robert Benchley, Robert Bloch, Evan Hunter, Raymond Chandler, and others (all mostly uncredited).

His wife Alma Reville was his constant assistant, and much of his success can be attributed to her influence. He didn't appear to do much without her approval and/or collaboration.

This book also has an entry what seems to be all the TV episodes. It's interesting that his contract with the network gave him the ownership of the episodes after broadcast (if I recall correctly), an unheard-of concession at the time. Or even now.

I'm in the midst of a re-watch of most of his pictures, courtesy of Turner Classic Movies and Netflix. Next up is Blackmail (1929), credited as Britain's first talkie. Hitchcock filmed this movie as both a silent and (secretly) as a talkie version. I plan to re-read each of the sections of the biography after watching the associated movie. I have the silent version recorded*. I have seen it as a talkie.

I tried watching one of the films he made for the British government as a war propaganda effort, but it was in French and I wasn't in the mood for what was essentially a documentary.

I'll likely be re-reading parts of it for years to come.

I watched the movie Hitchcock this week. While not entirely accurate (at least according to this biography), it had the general idea of things. I didn't entirely buy Anthony Hopkins as Hitchcock, but liked the film nonetheless. Helen Mirren was fine as Alma, and Scarlett Johansson was OK as Janet Leigh.


* Later: Contrary to the statement of the fellow who introduced the film, it was the talkie version.

Not Quite Kindle / Did anyone watch Last Resort?
« on: April 13, 2013, 08:09:39 pm »
I have the last six episodes stacked up on the PVR and need to decide whether to spend the time to slog through them or just delete them to free up some space.

Any recommendations? Did it actually go anywhere, or just crash and burn?


The Book Corner / Arthur C. Clarke on Kindle
« on: February 28, 2013, 08:29:34 am »
The are several Clarke SF books that were published late last year that seem to be on sale at $2.99 each until 10 March. I picked up several. One I would recommend is Childhood's End, arguably his most famous novel. The City and the Stars is another I picked up, as well as a volume of collected short stories. Clarke wrote excellent short stories. His collection Tales from the White Hart (not enKindled yet) is a gem.

If you're looking for a lot of characterization, his work isn't for you. If you are looking for an imaginative, well-written plot, give it a try.


The Book Corner / Albert Payson Terhune ebooks
« on: February 01, 2013, 08:17:38 pm »
I just saw that half-a-dozen of Terhune's books are in the Kindle store for free (public domain). They include his most famous dog novels and a mystery. They were written around the 1920-1930 era and were extremely popular in the day.

Sappy, sentimental, and mostly unrealistic canine behavior (IIRC), but good, clean family stories well told. I read them all as a teen-ager and liked them very much. We'll see if they hold up now that I'm a real old guy.  ;D

I also got the mystery. I didn't know he wrote any mysteries, but I saw some good reviews, so I'll give it a try.

There are reports of a few minor typos.


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