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Lots of Good Books and Some Real Country Music

>Best of 2011, Update 3

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>Well, it looks like Blogger figured out what caused its “routine maintenance” to go so badly yesterday – things appear to be up and functioning correctly again after the crash that lasted for the better part of the last two days.  While things are working again (I’m a little gun shy about the whole Blogger experience after this and other similar incidents), I’ll update my Top Ten lists.

Of the 32 fiction titles considered, Beach Music, Love at Absolute Zero, One Thousand White Women, and The Keeper of Lost Causes appear on the YTD Fiction Top Ten list for the first time.

1. The Glass Rainbow – James Lee Burke (Dave Robicheaux series)

2. Dead Man’s Walk – Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove series)

3. Nemesis – Philip Roth (novel)

4. Beach Music – Pat Conroy (novel)

5. Love at Absolute Zero – Christopher Meeks (novel)

6. Autumn of the Phantoms – Yasmina Khadra (Algerian detective fiction)

7. Standing at the Crossroads – Charles Davis (British novel)

8. Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe (classic British novel)

9. One Thousand White Women – Jim Fergus (Western novel)

10.The Keeper of Lost Causes – Jussi Adler-Olsen (Norwegian crime fiction)

Of the 14 nonfiction titles considered, Tiny Terror, How Literature Works, and The Long Goodbye make their first appearance on the YTD Nonfiction Top Ten list:

1. Wolf: The Lives of Jack London – James L. Haley (biography)

2. Hitch 22: A Memoir – Christopher Hitchens (memoir)

3. Tiny Terror – William Todd Schultz (psychobiography of Truman Capote)

4. Chinaberry Sidewalks – Rodney Crowell (memoir)

5. We Were Not Orphans – Sherry Matthews (memoirs from a Texas home for neglected children)

6. Lincoln’s Men – William C. Davis (Civil War history)

7. The Siege of Washington – John and Charles Lockwood (Civil War history)

8. How Literature Works – John Sutherland (Instructional Text)

9. The Long Goodbye – Meghan O’Rourke (memoir)

10. A Widow’s Story – Joyce Carol Oates (memoir)


The year is not yet half over, so it will be interesting to see how many of the books on the list are still there at the end of December. I would guess about one-third of the titles will survive – at most.

Written by bookchase

May 13, 2011 at 5:11 pm

>The Snowman

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At least according to author Jo Nesbo, Norway has had no experience with the modern day serial killer.  But since the star of his seven-book crime fiction series, Detective Harry Hole, is a U.S. trained expert on serial killers, when one does turn up in The Snowman, the ensuing investigation is in good hands.  The Snowman is the Norwegian author’s U.S. debut, and its release in this country seems well timed to take advantage of the current huge popularity of Nordic crime fiction here.  
On the morning of the first snow of winter, a young boy awakes to find himself alone in the house.  His father is away on business, and the only sign of his mother is her favorite winter scarf – which someone has wrapped around the neck of the mysterious snowman that appeared in front of the house during the night.  Detective Harry Hole, lead investigator, has a feeling that this will be no ordinary missing person investigation.  Only weeks before, Harry received a strange letter, almost a challenge, that was signed “The Snowman.”  Now he wonders if the letter and this missing woman are connected.
As Harry and his small investigative team search for clues into the young mother’s disappearance, they uncover past cases in which the only witness seems to have been the large snowman left behind at the scene.  The oldest case goes back to 1980 but, up to now, no one has connected the cases via the icy calling card left behind by the killer in each instance.  Harry, though, is certain they are connected based on what they have in common: each victim was the mother of young children, each crime coincided with the first snow of winter, and a large snowman was present at each crime scene. 
As the bodies pile up, Harry begins to feel that it is all getting too personal, that the killer now known as The Snowman is playing with him and manipulating the investigation.  In what turns out to be a desperate race to save those closest to him, Harry is led around the country and taunted by the killer’s false clues and finger-pointing right until the moment that it all finally makes sense to him- exactly as the Snowman planned it.
The plot of The Snowman will prove to be more than a bit farfetched for some readers, but the book’s well developed characters, even to the minor ones, make up for some of the stretch required by the plot.  But Harry Hole, even as well developed a character as he is, is still predictable in the sense that he has so much in common with other popular fictional detectives from around the world.  Harry is an alcoholic detective struggling to stay sober (not entirely successfully), a loner both in his personal life and on the job, a roots music lover who makes frequent reference to the song he is listening to at the moment, a man who has perhaps let the love of his life slip through his fingers forever.  That description probably sounds familiar – but Nesbo pulls it off as well as anyone.  The Snowman is, in fact, as intricately plotted as any crime novel I have experienced in recent months.  I am, however, looking forward to the American release of earlier, and likely to be more realistic (that is, less spectacular), Harry Hole novels. 
Rated at: 3.5
(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

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May 11, 2011 at 4:49 pm

Posted in Reviews

>Christopher Hitchens’s "Year of Living Dyingly"

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Christopher Hitchens has written another poignant article (for Vanity Fair magazine) in which Hitchens updates his fans and admirers on his physical and mental condition after having enduring cancer treatments for the past several months.

Now that the cancer has taken direct aim at his vocal chords, Hitchens sees “writer’s voice” much differently than before:

Deprivation of the ability to speak is more like an attack of impotence, or the amputation of part of the personality. To a great degree, in public and private, I “was” my voice. All the rituals and etiquette of conversation, from clearing the throat in preparation for the telling of an extremely long and taxing joke to (in younger days) trying to make my proposals more persuasive as I sank the tone by a strategic octave of shame, were innate and essential to me. I have never been able to sing, but I could once recite poetry and quote prose and was sometimes even asked to do so.

[…]

My chief consolation in this year of living dyingly has been the presence of friends. I can’t eat or drink for pleasure anymore, so when they offer to come it’s only for the blessed chance to talk. Some of these comrades can easily fill a hall with paying customers avid to hear them: they are talkers with whom it’s a privilege just to keep up. Now at least I can do the listening for free.

Please click over to the article at the Vanity Fair website. Christopher Hitchens has definitely not lost his writer’s voice – as you will see from the way he expresses himself in this two-page piece.  But for a man who has been such an effective debater for his entire life, one can imagine the devastating impact the imminent loss of his voice must be having on him.  Hitchens uses exactly the right words (impotence and amputation) to describe the impact of something like this on a man like him, proving how powerful his writer’s voice still is.

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May 10, 2011 at 6:31 pm

Posted in Authors

>The Keeper of Lost Causes

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 The best writers of crime fiction, those whose work is translated into a dozen or so languages every time out, have a way of reminding the reader of just how much we all have in common.  These authors do not settle for writing a series of formulaic whodunits.  They, instead, develop complex, imperfect characters whose personal side-stories are often as interesting as the mystery within which they are intertwined – and they use setting as if it were another main character.   In recent years, so many Scandinavian and Icelandic crime thriller writers have found success in the U.S. that they have carved out their own little subgenre.  Now, it is time to welcome Danish writer Jussi Adler-Olsen, author of The Keeper of Lost Things, to the club.
Chief Detective Carl Morck was one of Copenhagen’s finest policemen for a long, long time.  That all changed on the day that Morck and his two partners were ambushed at the scene of a murder they had just begun to investigate.  When the shooting finally stopped, one cop was dead, one was paralyzed, and Morck blamed himself for letting it happen.  Now finally back on the job, Morck is so grumpy, cynical, and uncooperative that no one, including his direct superiors, really wants to work with him.   So, spying the opportunity to get rid of Morck by promoting him to a dead end job while, at the same time, locking in a larger departmental budget for themselves, the higher-ups jump all over it. 
Thus does newly created Department Q, a one-man, cold-case shop located deep in the department’s basement, become Carl Morck’s baby.  Only after tiring of reading magazines and working Sudoku puzzles (and learning about the extra money allocated to the department on his behalf), does Morck demand that someone be hired to make coffee and organize the departmental files.  He gets more than he bargains for in Hafez al-Assad, a political refugee from somewhere in the Middle East who seems to think that he has been hired as an investigator, not as a broom-pusher.
When, as much to humor Assad as anything else, Morck agrees that they should study a five-year-old file involving the disappearance of a prominent Danish politician, he is surprised that the case actually captures his interest.  Merete Lynggaard was a beautiful woman with unlimited political upside when she disappeared from her holiday ferryboat but, despite her high profile, no trace of her was ever found and it has been assumed that she either fell or jumped to her death.  The more Morck learns from the file, the less he is impressed by the original investigation into the woman’s disappearance.  Might she still be alive after all this time?
The Keeper of Lost Things is a definite thriller, a real race against the clock in every sense, but its particular strength is in the unusual relationship it portrays between Danish detective Carl Morck and mysterious Middle Eastern refugee Hafez al-Assad.  Morck is a burned-out cop and Assad is a man who was hired for his coffee-making and janitorial skills – but together they add up to something much greater than the sum of their parts.  They become one of the most effective, and one of the most entertaining, crime fighting teams in modern crime fiction.  This one is fun.
Rated at: 4.0
Review Copy provided by Publisher

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May 9, 2011 at 6:29 pm

Posted in E-Books, Reviews

>Laura Lippman Winners Announced

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The famous Book Chase Random Number Selector has chosen our three Laura Lippman book winners:

1.  DarcyO – wins I’d Know You Anywhere
2.  Shirley – wins Life Sentences
3.  Marjorie – wins I’d Know You Anywhere


Ladies, please email me at: samhouston23atgmaildotcom with your mailing details.

I will forward the information to the publisher as soon as I have all three addresses – and you will receive your books directly from those kind folks.

Congratulations to the winners, and thanks to everyone who participated in the drawing.

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May 9, 2011 at 6:09 pm

Posted in Blog News

>Last Chance to Enter Laura Lippman Giveaway Contest

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Last call for entries in my Laura Lippman book giveaway.

I’ll be announcing the three lucky winners tomorrow evening, but there is still time to throw your name into the hat.

Just go here: Laura Lippman Book Giveaway and follow the instructions.

Good luck.

Written by bookchase

May 8, 2011 at 12:50 pm

Posted in Blog News

>Happy Mother’s Day 2011

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Happy Mother’s Day, ladies.

Here’s hoping that you are enjoying a nice, restful day wherever you might be – maybe even snaring a little extra reading time.

For some reason (probably because it is so close to Easter this year), this one really sneaked up on me – I recovered my senses just in the nick of time!

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May 8, 2011 at 12:42 pm

Posted in Blog News

>Never Say Die

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Susan Jacoby would have more appropriately titled Never Say Die, her look at aging in America, if she had called it The Worst Years of Our Lives – for that is what she predicts the ninth and tenth decades of life will be for those “fortunate” enough to live very far into them.  (I do want to note that she clarifies the purpose of her book with its subtitle: The Myth and Marketing of the New Old Age.)  She sees few exceptions (and she attributes most of those to class and money) to the rule: those who reach old old age invariably enter a world impacted more by Alzheimer’s, poverty, family neglect, suicide and assisted suicide, and painful disease than by everything that came before. 
To Jacoby, this is a given, and there is no room for debate.  She believes that those who are blind to this truth have been brainwashed by unscrupulous marketers having some dubious product to sell, some magic pill, cream, liquid, book, or surgery that promises to stop aging in its tracks.  As millions of baby boomers reach or approach their 65th birthdays, it is more and more difficult to avoid these hucksters.  They are everywhere.  We are, after all, easy-sells; we want desperately to believe that the suffering associated with the aging process will be defeated just in time for us to enjoy life well into our nineties, if not beyond. 
As Jacoby points out, it is not that older people become obsessed by death.  Rather, it is that death “becomes a more conscious presence” in their lives as the decades pass.  Losing grandparents is somewhat expected and acceptable; losing parents, less so; and losing siblings, old high school friends, and office mates at a steady clip is what finally hits home – we, too, are going to die soon.  At sixty-five it is still easy for many of us to believe that the “best years of our lives” are still ahead of us but at eighty-five only “a fool or someone who has led an extraordinarily unhappy life can imagine the best years are still to come.”
Never Say Die is a wake-up call, a warning that old age is best handled by preparing oneself for it long before it happens.  Jacoby warns of the generational warfare that is likely to erupt when younger workers can no longer afford to finance the medical costs required to keep their elders alive.  The difficult choices that have been avoided by politicians for decades will finally have to be made.  Those who can afford to save enough to pay their own way in old age need to do just that.  Those who cannot, face a much less clear future because it will be up to politicians to figure a way out of the impending mess.
It is impossible, of course, to avoid politics in any discussion of health care and caring for a rapidly aging population in the future.  Jacoby, however, takes the approach of blaming almost everything bad on conservatives and giving liberals credit for almost everything good.  It is only in the book’s last few pages that she effectively dares to criticize the liberal point-of-view at all.  Jacoby’s criticism of conservatism often can be justified – but the tone of that criticism, as seen below, often lessens its credibility:
“Since we do not euthanize the old when they become too expensive (teabagger fantasies notwithstanding), society winds up paying in the end if government does not require young adults to contribute to the maintenance of a strong public safety net.”  (Surely Jacoby understands the sexual connotation of the term “teabagger,” but she chooses to use it anyway.)
“While I considered John Paul Stevens the wisest member of the Supreme Court before his retirement at age ninety, I shudder to think about the possibility of Antonin Scalia serving on the Court until his late eighties.”  (Agreeing with Jacoby’s political point-of-view earns one a free pass that disagreeing with her politics does not earn.)
“Many of these people are former full-time retirees who were victimized by conservative-backed federal policies that enabled companies to break their pension and health care promises to retired workers.”  (This issue is not as black and white as Jacoby portrays it.)
“The rationally-challenged but cleverly opportunistic fringe was represented by the shameless hustler Sarah Palin, who – blogging away viciously after walking away from her job as governor of Alaska – transformed entirely voluntary consultations into “death panels” that would decide whether old people and children like her son with Down syndrome would continue to receive medical care.”  (Here, in her choice of adjectives, Jacoby shows her own irrational hatred of Sarah Palin and the “fringe” she represents.)
Never Say Die has some important things to say about medicine, aging, long term care of the elderly, and the hucksters trying to make a fast buck from a generation’s wishful thinking.  It is, despite the author’s failure to resist taking a few cheap shots at those who happen to disagree with her, a good addition to the conversation.
Rated at: 3.5

Written by bookchase

May 7, 2011 at 2:31 pm

Posted in E-Books, Reviews

>No More Questions!

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StoryCorps, an independent nonprofit, offers all of us the chance to record stories from our lives (in conversation with friends and relatives) before it is too late.  Since 2003, more than 30,000 such conversations have been collected and preserved by StoryCorps at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.  StoryCorps provides the participants with a free CD copy of the recording for sharing with others, and some of the recordings are featured each week on NPR’s Morning Edition.



This newly completed video is presented just in time for Mother’s Day and to bring some well deserved recognition to this amazing project.  Anyone interested in recording the life stories of their own loved ones should go here for more information about how to get that done.


No More Questions! from StoryCorps on Vimeo.

Kay Wang, a feisty grandmother, was pretty much dragged against her will into a StoryCorps booth by her son and granddaughter. Though reluctant to be there, Kay still had stories to tell — from disobeying her mother and fending off her many boyfriends while growing up in China to adventures as a store detective for Bloomingdale’s. Kay’s sassy personality and sense of humor comes shining through!

StoryCorps also offers a special Mother’s Day Book of its own:

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=boocha01-20&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=1594202613&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr

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May 5, 2011 at 6:55 pm

Posted in YouTube

>Love at Absolute Zero

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For such a young man, Gunnar Gunderson has already accomplished a lot. The 32-year-old has his University of Wisconsin physics classes to teach, and his lab research has him solidly near the lead in a race against some of the best physicists in the world to be the first to create a new form of matter known as Bose-Einstein condensates. And now that the university has given him tenure, things are sure to get even better for Gunnar.

Well, not necessarily. Now all he can think about is finding the woman of his dreams, the soul mate who will plug that final hole in his life – and Gunnar is allowing himself three days to get the job done. After all, what good would the scientific method be if it could not be used to find a wife quickly and efficiently?

Love at Absolute Zero is about a brilliant man naïve to the ways of the world. He might be an inspired scientific researcher but, when it comes to women, Gunnar hasn’t a clue, so he begins with “Observe and Hypothesize,” confident that he will be in the arms of his true love in just 72 more hours. Along the way, Gunnar will have adventures, both large and small, that he never anticipated when he began his search, and he will learn the difference between scientific and creative thinking. For Gunnar, it is all about the destination; for the reader, it is about the hilarious journey that gets him there.

It is impossible not to like Gunnar Gunderson. As he progresses from one disaster or near miss to the next, one views him with a mixture of compassion and laughter, but he is such a good-hearted young man that it is impossible not to root for him (even while, on occasion, wanting to shake some sense into his head). Christopher Meeks has created a memorable character, a man with a uniquely interesting take on life, and he makes Gunnar real by allowing the reader to see him through the eyes of a wide cast of secondary characters: his students, his speed-dating partners, his mother and sister, his research partners, and a passel of very confused Danes, among them.

Love at Absolute Zero is likely to appeal to a variety of readers. The romance at its heart is leavened by references to what I can only assume is real science, and by humor ranging from near slapstick to the kind of inside jokes scientists tell each other at the water cooler.

As Gunnar puts it so well, “people were just elements looking to be a compound.”

Rated at: 5.0

(Review Copy provided by Author)

It might seem a little ironic after giving  Love at Absolute Zero such a positive review, but I do think that you will find this article of Chris’s to be very interesting (especially considering its title);

How to Go Bankrupt Thanks to Really Great Reviews

Written by bookchase

May 4, 2011 at 3:35 pm

Posted in Reviews

>Laura Lippman Book Giveaway

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I mentioned back on April 19 that her publisher has been kind enough to offer me three of Laura Lippman’s books as giveaway material here on Book Chase.  This is in celebration of the trade paperback release of Lippman’s I’d Know You Anywhere.


Well, today’s the day.  I am ready to take entries for two free copies of the new trade paperback and one copy of Life Sentences.  All you have to do to enter is to leave a comment to this post expressing your desire to win one of the books and choosing a number between one and twenty (please take care not to duplicate previously chosen numbers).  I will use my handy, dandy random number selector to choose three winners from the entrants.  The first and third winners chosen will receive copies of I’d Know You Anywhere and Life Sentences will go to the second randomly selected winner.


I do suspect that many of you are already familiar with Laura Lippman and her well written psychological crime novels, but those of you who are not might want to take a look here to get a feel for what her work is like:


HarperCollins Laura Lippman website

Book Description of I’d Know You Anywhere

 There was your photo, in a magazine. Of course, you are older now. Still, I’d know you anywhere.

Suburban wife and mother Eliza Benedict’s peaceful world falls off its axis when a letter arrives from Walter Bowman. In the summer of 1985, when Eliza was fifteen, she was kidnapped by this man and held hostage for almost six weeks. Now he’s on death row in Virginia for the rape and murder of his final victim, and Eliza wants nothing to do with him. Walter, however, is unpredictable when ignored—as Eliza knows only too well—and to shelter her children from the nightmare of her past, she’ll see him one last time.


But Walter is after something more than forgiveness: He wants Eliza to save his life . . . and he wants her to remember the truth about that long-ago summer and release the terrible secret she’s keeping buried inside.

Laura Lippman Biography


Browse Inside I’d Know You Anywhere

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May 3, 2011 at 6:24 pm

Posted in Authors, Book News

>One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd

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Alternate history, that literary genre in which an historical event is tweaked, removed, or reversed, can be interesting.  It is always great fun to play the “what if game” with the actual events of our shared past: “what if the South had won the Civil War,” “what if the Normandy invasion had failed,” or “what if John Kennedy had not been assassinated?”  Much fascinating fiction has originated from those and similar questions.  Jim Fergus plays a more subtle version of the game in One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd.”  He wonders what might have happened if, in 1875, President Grant and Little Wolf, chief of the Cheyenne nation, had agreed to exchange one thousand white women for an equal number of Indian horses.

Grant is at first shocked and disgusted by Little Wolf’s proposition, but he has to admit that the idea makes sense.  Since, in the Cheyenne culture, children belong to the tribes of their mothers, Little Wolf sees the “Brides for Indians” program as the best chance to assimilate his people peacefully into the white culture that seems destined to overwhelm his own.  Grant, on his part, hopes that the women can influence their husbands into accepting, or at least tolerating, white ways and religions to the point that open warfare with the tribe can be avoided.  Thus is born the secret “Brides for Indians” program, a program that will require Grant’s people to scour mental institutions, debtors’ prisons, and other jails and prisons in search of the one thousand women needed for Grant to meet his part of the bargain. 
May Dodd, resident of a Chicago mental institution, is one of the first women recruited to go west to meet her new Indian husband.  May has been institutionalized by her father for the unpardonable sin of bearing two children out of wedlock to a man beneath her social status.  To her father’s way of thinking, no woman in her right mind could do such a thing – his daughter has to be insane.  Rather than spend the rest of her life locked up, May, ever the adventurer, leaps at the chance to regain her freedom by becoming an Indian bride for the required two-year commitment. 
Author Jim Fergus

One Thousand White Women is told largely in the words of a series of journals May begins to record almost the moment she decides to make her break for a new life.  Through these journals, we meet May’s colorful traveling companions and learn of their adventures and hardships as they begin their new lives as wives of men with whom they have so little in common.  The women, although they will suffer the hardships of winter encampment, inter-tribal warfare, kidnappings, and one horrible night when their men succumb to the evils of alcohol, find that they are learning as much about what is good and proper in society as they are teaching.  But is it all too late to save the Cheyenne from what the army has planned for them?

The audio version of One Thousand White Women is read by Laura Hicks who does a remarkable job with the various accents and languages she has to deal with: two of the characters are Irish, one is Swiss, one is from the Deep South, one is an ex-slave, and some are French.  Hicks handles all of these accents well, in addition to voicing a believable version of the Cheyenne language.  This one should appeal to a variety of readers, among them: alternate history fans, western fans, and those who enjoy feminist novels with especially strong female characters.
Rated at: 5.0

Written by bookchase

May 2, 2011 at 5:10 pm

>Beach Music

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That Pat Conroy is not the most prolific writer in the world is an understatement.  Longtime Conroy fans have grown accustomed to the several-year wait between his novels, and for them the publication of a new Pat Conroy novel is a big deal.  I am one of those longtime Conroy fans myself but, for some unexplainable reason, I left Beach Music on the shelf for close to sixteen years before finally reading it this month.  Perhaps it was just comforting to know that I had a “new” Pat Conroy novel waiting for me anytime I was ready for it.  That is the closest I can come to explaining my decade-and-a-half wait.

Beach Music was worth that long wait. 
Even casual fans of Conroy’s writing would recognize this 1995 book as a Pat Conroy novel.  It focuses on another large, dysfunctional Southern family filled with over-the-top siblings and eccentric parents; the narrator’s high school friends are a uniquely memorable bunch (this time one of them is running for governor of South Carolina, one is a successful Hollywood producer, another is a writer, and one is a Catholic monk); and the book is as much about coastal South Carolina as it is about the people that live there.
Jack McCall and his friends came of age as university students when they and other South Carolina students could no longer ignore what was happening in Viet Nam – but the war that made them grow up nearly destroyed them in the process.  Some relationships were ruined forever and others were salvaged only after the smoke finally cleared.  Now those relationships seem to be coming full-circle as Jack McCall and his old friends are forced to relive the terrible days of protest, betrayal, and death they experienced two decades earlier.
After his wife jumped to her death from a Charleston bridge, Jack, a writer of cookbooks and travel guides, took his toddler daughter Leah to Rome in hopes of starting a new life for them there.  During the several years they have been in Rome, Jack has cut off all contact with those he left behind in South Carolina, and Leah’s Southern heritage is acknowledged only through the tales and legends Jack uses as bedtime stories.  But now Jack receives the only news that could force him to go home: his mother is dying of cancer and she wants to see him.
Ready or not, Jack is suddenly thrust back into the arms of his family and friends, many of whom are thevery people that helped drive him away a decade earlier.  He is almost overwhelmed by his larger-thanlife brothers (one of whom is a mental patient), his alcoholic, former judge of a father, and his dying mother – and, he has to face his wife’s parents, whom he has not seen since they tried to take Leah away from him following their daughter’s suicide.  If that were not enough, politician Capers Middleton and Hollywood producer Mike Hess, two of Jack’s closest childhood friends, are forcing him to relive the Viet Nam era events that emotionally crippled everyone in their small circle.

Beach Music is pure Pat Conroy.  It is another passionate, larger than life, love story filled with memorable characters and side-stories that immerse the reader in a part of the country that Conroy so deeply loves.  Pat Conroy is a Southern writer and he is proud of it.  His is the generation most impacted, and most scarred, by the Viet Nam War and, in Beach Music, Conroy brings to vivid life the era that so terribly changed this country forever.

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April 29, 2011 at 6:21 pm

Posted in Reviews

>Mission Accomplished: Mother and Daughter Book Club Ends Ten-Year Run

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The Walnut Creek, California, Mother and Daughter Book Club is about to close its doors after a remarkable ten-year run.  Amazingly enough, the book club is only breaking up at all because the “daughters” part of the equation is moving on to college in just a few weeks.

The Walnut Creek-based book club met recently to review all the book club picks and reminisce experiences over the past decade. Books from the “American Girl” series were among the group’s first choices before they soon graduated toward young-adult novels, their themes ranging from lighthearted to serious. As the girls matured, so did the book picks, Allison said.

[…]

“In middle school, when our daughters would not sit with us one-on-one to talk about sex, drugs, friendships, confidence, or values; they talked endlessly about those issues in book club. Through books, we helped our girls navigate these hard years, and made sure they heard our opinions and perspectives, as well as those outside their comfort zone. We made sure the girls knew they had five other moms, and that if for some reason, they couldn’t turn to their own, they had one of us.”

The book club was a safe haven for these mothers and their daughters, a neutral site where they could discuss all those “growing up” topics in a nonjudgemental setting.  These young women and their mothers will remember the Mother and Daughter Book Club for the rest of their lives – and well they should.  What a great idea…what a great story.

The whole story can be found here at MercuryNews.com.  Please take a look.

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April 28, 2011 at 6:16 pm

Posted in Readers

>How Literature Works: 50 Key Concepts

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John Sutherland’s How Literature Works: 50 Key Concepts is a reader-friendly summation of literary theory that few avid readers will be able to resist. Each of Sutherland’s concepts is presented in a concise, four-page essay formatted to highlight its main points for the quick reference of readers wanting to review or reinforce their understanding of specific points. Each essay, for instance, opens with a summary/introductory paragraph in bold print and includes a timeline of key dates pertaining to the concept being discussed. Each piece also includes a “boxed” story about, or example of, its subject concept and ends with a clever “condensed idea” summation of its four-pages. As I grew more and more intrigued by Sutherland’s ability to summarize four pages of complex thought into just a handful of words, the “condensed ideas” soon became my favorite part of the essays.

The “condensed ideas” are particularly helpful when trying to recall the meaning of some of the book’s vaguer literary terminology, but even the explanations for more commonly understood terms can be fun. Examples include:

Hermeneutics – “Reading literature and understanding literature are two different things.”
Intentionalism – “What a work of literature means is not always what the author means it to mean.”
Translation – “It’s impossible – but what option do we have?”
Irony – “The camera may never lie. Literature does. And cleverly.”

As the book moves from literature’s origins toward its future, the essays are presented in six distinct sections: “Some Basics;” “Machinery: How It Works;” “Literature’s Devices;” “New Ideas;” “Word Crimes;” and “Literary Futures.” Considering how rapidly everything associated with publishing is changing today, readers will find the “Word Crimes” and “Literary Futures” sections of the book to be particularly interesting.

“Word Crimes” focuses on things like plagiarism, libel, literary lies and ghost-writers. Sutherland is particularly hard (deservedly so) on Herman Rosenblat who, in 2008, published a completely fictitious account of his Holocaust experiences, in effect, placing the authenticity of other Holocaust memoirs in greater doubt for those already disinclined to believe them. Sutherland, in this section, also addresses subjects such as the Tom Clancy and James Patterson “factories” that continue to top the best seller lists despite minimal contributions from the two writers, and the allegation that Dick Francis wrote none of his own novels.

How Literature Works finishes, appropriately, with essays on “The e-Book” and “Literary Inundation” (part of the “Literary Futures” section). As Sutherland emphasizes, today’s reader is faced with more choice than ever before in the history of the world. But that is not necessarily a good thing. As he puts it, “We are faced with the paradox that our ignorance (with the mass of books necessarily unread by us) is growing faster than our knowledge…not a new problem, but the scale of it is terrifyingly new.”

Perhaps it is time for readers to reflect for a moment on the nature of literature itself, precisely what it is that draws them to the printed page every day of their lives. They, and all future readers, because of the sheer volume of new material available to choose from, will find it more difficult than ever before to make wise choices about what they read. Books like How Literature Works will help them make those choices.

Rated at: 4.0

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=boocha01-20&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=0199794200&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr

Written by bookchase

April 27, 2011 at 2:13 pm

Posted in Reviews

>Favorite Bookstores

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>Like most avid readers and book collectors, I have my favorite bookstores.  Some of them are local, some are one or two states away from Houston; others are across the Atlantic.  One that I’ve mentioned before is Shakespeare and Company, a Paris bookstore that has to be seen to be believed.

George Whitman and daughter Sylvia in his bookstore bedroom
Painting by Rosy Lamb

Shakespeare and Company, in its current incarnation, was reborn in 1961 when George Whitman opened up his English-language bookstore in the heart of Paris.  Whitman, who was born in 1913, plans to live in the bookstore until he reaches his hundredth birthday.  Thankfully, his 30-year-old daughter plans to keep the store open even after her father leaves the business.

This is a must-see spot for book lovers but, despite its proximity to Notre Dame, it is easily missed unless one is specifically looking for it.  This video gives a taste of what the bookstore is like, but hardly does justice to the real thing:

This April 21 Los Angeles Times article brings the Shakespeare and Company story current – and what a story it is.

Written by bookchase

April 26, 2011 at 7:15 pm

Posted in Bookstores

>The Love of My Youth

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Although Miranda would never consider Adam to be the “love of her life,” beyond a doubt, he was the “love of her youth.”  Adam, in his turn, feels the same way about Miranda.  In what was the first serious experience with love for both of them, Miranda and Adam fell madly in love in the mid-1960s when both were 16-year-old high school students.  They seemed destined to spend the rest of their lives together until Adam made one terrible mistake – a mistake he has felt guilty about for more than thirty years, a betrayal of her trust so terrible that Miranda has never gotten over it.
When, in late 2007, the two of them, now not having spoken for three decades, find themselves in Rome at the same time, each rather reluctantly agrees to a brief reunion there.  Adam hopes to find that what he did to Miranda did not destroy her, that she is healthy and happy with the life she created for herself after the shock of his betrayal – most importantly, that an apology from him is not something she needs to hear.  Miranda, who takes pride in her personal courage, decides to meet with Adam because she feels that a woman her age should not have anyone in her life that she feels incapable of facing.  
Thus begins a series of long walks around the city during which Miranda and Adam have long philosophical conversations about everything but what tore them apart in their early twenties.  Both are as reluctant to confront that horrible memory directly as they are to discuss any details or feelings about their families.  The more the pair talks during their exploratory walks around Rome, the more the reader begins to wonder whether their relationship was doomed even before Adam’s fatal error – whatever that error may have been.   
By alternating flashbacks to the 1960s with scenes from the present, Gordon emphasizes how little Miranda and Adam have changed.  As a young man, Adam was focused exclusively on a future as a successful concert pianist; he demanded that his girlfriend (and any future wife) dedicate her life to helping make his dream come true.  In Adam’s mind, Miranda’s dreams and ambitions were secondary to his, if they were to be considered at all.  The young Miranda, however, believed she could change the world, and she was willing to place herself in danger in order to do so.  What she was not willing to do was to view her ambitions as less important than Adam’s. 
The Love of My Youth builds slowly, steadily increasing the reader’s curiosity about what really happened, what terrible thing Adam did to destroy the relationship forever.  Gordon adds layer after detailed layer to the characters Miranda and Adam until they become very real, if flawed, people.  Gordon has, in fact, achieved the difficult task of making this reader care about her two main characters without liking either one of them.  Fans of previous Mary Gordon novels are likely to enjoy this one.
Rated at: 4.0
(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

Written by bookchase

April 25, 2011 at 5:33 pm

Posted in Reviews

>Hunting Book Titles Like Easter Eggs

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I often find myself playing a little side-game while reading a novel with a less-than-obvious title: can I spot the exact reference, usually buried deep inside the novel, where the title’s origin and meaning will be revealed?

I was starting to give up with Pat Conroy’s 628-page Beach Music when it finally happened on page 475 in a scene in which Lucy is releasing a bunch of endangered loggerhead turtles so that they can make their run to the water:

“These are South Carolina turtles like my boys here,” Lucy said, smiling at us. “I think they listen to the waves. I think they just love beach music.”

Conroy did use the term a few other times in the book, such as on page 620 when quoting a “suicide letter” written by Shyla to her husband, Jack:

“I’ll listen for your knock and I’ll open the door and I’ll drag you up to that room where we danced to beach music and kissed while lying on the carpet and I dared you to fall in love with me.”

These references, however, pertain to the songs that Jack and his friends listened to on their transistor radios when partying on the beach together, or to the music played at Southern dance clubs in those days (sixties and early seventies).  I think that the book’s title is more fitting when considered in the context of the page 475 reference and have to believe that’s what Conroy had in mind.

I always get a little kick out of noticing the title references – but I usually forget to mark the page so that I can come back to it.  I can give one more recent example, though, this time from James Lee Burke’s Glass Rainbow (page 200):

“We’re all dust. At a moment like this, you get to look through a glass rainbow and everything becomes magical, but when all is said and done, we’re just dust. Like the people in those paintings. We don’t even know where their graves are.”

Maybe you play the same game?

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=boocha01-20&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=0553381539&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr

Written by bookchase

April 24, 2011 at 9:52 am

Posted in Book News

>The Hazel Dickens Time Machine Has Been Silenced

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>America lost one of its most precious national treasures yesterday when singer Hazel Dickens died at age 75.  Hazel, who died of complications from pneumonia, had been ill for some time, finding it more and more difficult to travel to concert dates around the country.

Hearing Hazel Dickens sing in a live performance was like being handed the keys to a time machine set to stop at a time when country music was still in its raw infancy.  Those wondering what original country music sounded like before it was commercialized in the 1920s have only to listen to a Hazel Dickens recording to feel the power and beauty associated with the music of those early days.  Thankfully, Hazel leaves behind a respectable number of recordings for those of us still here.  Sadly, however, we are no longer able to ride that time machine back to a Hazel Dickens concert.

I was lucky enough to climb on that time machine only once – in June 2007 when Hazel performed at the International Bluegrass Music Museum’s annual festival in Owensboro, Kentucky (ROMP).  Regular ROMPers were not surprised when a huge thunderstorm began to roll in to Yellow Creek Park that afternoon, complete with spectacular displays of lightning and loud bursts of thunder.  Hazel was in the middle of her second song of the day when festival organizers decided to clear the stage for the safety of the performers; the danger of a lightning strike was just too great to allow the show to go on even though it was still not raining.  But the rain did come, and it came in buckets for more than an hour.  By the time the stage was deemed safe again, Hazel (probably for health reasons) had left the park for good.

Hazel was scheduled to appear at ROMP the next year but had to cancel her appearance on her doctor’s orders.  She was simply too ill to travel to Kentucky that year, but even though I never had the chance to see her perform again, I will forever treasure the one-and-a-half songs I witnessed that June 2007 afternoon in a secluded little Kentucky public park.

Hazel Dickens was a union advocate, a feminist, and one of the women who paved the way for females to make their mark in bluegrass music.  She and her partner, Alice Gerrard fronted their own bluegrass band when that was simply not done.  Their vocals used the same arrangements used by their male counterparts, breaking new ground for women, and changing the music in a way that opened the door for all those female bluegrass singers who have followed them.

Hazel was very special to me and my bluegrass-loving friends and we will miss her greatly.  Considering her ill health, her death is not a shock or a surprise – but realizing that I have forever lost my chance to climb back onto the Hazel Dickens time machine really hurts.

Rest in peace, Hazel.  We loved you then, and we love you now.

Written by bookchase

April 23, 2011 at 1:21 pm

Posted in Country Music, YouTube

>Kindle Users to Join the Long Library Queues with the Rest of Us

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I wonder if Amazon’s announcement that the company has partnered with OverDrive to make it possible for Kindle-users to download books from local libraries will be the final nail in the coffin of Sony’s e-book Reader?  Amazon’s slowness in making it possible for its Kindle to connect with public libraries has been about the only good thing Sony still had going for it in the e-book-reader wars.  Now, Sony is saying goodbye to even that last advantage.

Without a doubt, Amazon is doing the right thing for its customers.  But those customers are likely in for rude shocks the first time they try to “check out” a book from their local libraries.  Even without the millions of Kindle-users in the queues, checking out an e-book has been no easy task.  It is all a matter of supply and demand – and most public libraries are already finding it near impossible to keep up with the demand for e-books.  Throw the new Kindle-based patrons into the mix, and the wait is likely to be one of several weeks for access to even a relatively popular title.

Rather than helping to shorten the wait-time for library patrons, publishers, still unsure how to deal with public libraries and e-books, are actually a big part of the problem.  Libraries face at least three challenges when acquiring e-book copies, especially copies of popular titles: high base prices vs. their very limited budgets for what are considered to be extra books; not all publishers are willing to sell e-books to libraries; and, at least one publisher will only allow its e-books to be checked out 26 times before they must be retired forever.

There is little doubt that Amazon’s entry into your public library will bring the e-book/public library business model to a crisis much sooner than would have otherwise happened, forcing publishers to take a more reasonable approach to libraries – or to concede that market to other publishers willing to grant more equitable terms.  In the short run, this will further frustrate those who enjoy the convenience of acquiring library books from the comfort of home; in the long run, it will probably help to equalize the current e-book supply/demand imbalance a whole lot sooner than expected.

We’ll be watching.

Written by bookchase

April 21, 2011 at 5:31 pm

Posted in E-Books, Libraries

>The Long Goodbye

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Death is something with which baby boomers are becoming more and more familiar. Older boomers, now well into their sixties, are dealing not only with the loss of parents, but with the loss of age group peers and siblings. For most, it is the first time they have had to deal with death so often, or so intimately. Consequently, books like Meghan O’Rourke’s The Long Goodbye, a frank account of the author’s reaction to the loss of her 55-year-old mother, are becoming both more common and more popular.

O’Rourke wrote The Long Goodbye because she believes that Americans have lost the “rituals of public mourning.” She says that, these days, our real grieving is done in private because our culture no longer allows for the kind of public grieving that once “shaped and supported” our loss. Each of us has to define “grief” for himself. Numbed to learn that her mother was dying of colorectal cancer, O’Rourke reacted in a way that seemed illogical even to her. Rather than clinging to the other things she still had in her life, she ended her marriage, quit her job, and started an affair with a man who lived across the country. Her grief was on the verge of destroying her.

As O’Rourke waited for the disease to take her mother’s life, she found it more and more difficult to deal with personal relationships, often having little patience with her father as he struggled to cope with the pending loss of his wife. Then, when it was all over, she wondered if her own life was worth continuing. Now she was divorced, the new man in her life was already gone, and, for the first time, she had to face life without her mother’s love and support. O’Rourke desperately wanted someone to come along and save her from herself because she was unsure how long she wanted to live in a world that, for her, had lost its purpose.

The Long Goodbye chronicles Meghan O’Rourke’s grieving process from the moment she learned of her mother’s imminent death through the year following that loss. O’Rourke, herself a writer and journalist, in an attempt to find out what was happening to her, and what she might expect to happen next, naturally turned to other writers for insight into the grieving process. She offers a lengthy bibliography of books she studied, divided into the sections: “Critical Studies and Nonfiction,” “On the Psychology of Grief,” “Fiction and Poetry,” and “Memoir.”

Despite all of her reading, and the advice offered by friends and family, Meghan O’Rourke learned just how personal an experience grieving the loss of a parent really is. While she did experience some of what her reading, and her friends, led her to expect, much of what she learned from the literature did not reflect what she was feeling. The Long Goodbye is a worthy addition to the literature on the grieving process, and readers will be grateful for O’Rourke’s insights and frankness.

Rated at: 4.0

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=boocha01-20&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=1594487987&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr

Written by bookchase

April 20, 2011 at 11:32 am

Posted in Reviews

>Do You Know Laura Lippman?

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Laura Lippman has been on a roll for a while now so I imagine that many of you are already aware of her crime thrillers.  But if, by chance, you are not familiar with Lippman’s novels and short stories, I have some good news for you.  Publisher William Morrow is making it possible for me to give away three copies of Lippman’s books next month, including two copies of I’d Know You Anywhere which is being released in trade paperback on May 3.

I’ll have more details in a few days (including how to enter the contest), so check back if you’re interested.  If you enjoy crime fiction with a psychological twist to it, Laura Lippman is for you.  You’re going to thank me.

Written by bookchase

April 19, 2011 at 6:46 pm

Posted in Authors, YouTube

>Mothers and Daughters

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The orphan trains (1854-1929) organized by the New York Children’s Aid Society represent a fascinating bit of social engineering.  It is estimated that close to 250,000 children from the East Coast made their way to new homes in the West and Midwest on these trains.  As the trains moved westward, orphans and homeless, or otherwise neglected, children were displayed at local train stations where, one-by-one, they were chosen by families desiring a child.  Oversight and record keeping concerning these “adoptions” was often purposely sloppy in order to ensure that the relocated children would not be able to return to their former home cities. 
Rae Meadows centers Mothers and Daughters around one such train and the little girl whose mother placed her on it out of desperation.  Eleven-year-old Violet would ride her orphan train all the way from New York City to Minnesota, enduring stops along the way where the babies and younger children were snatched up eagerly by families wanting a child.  The older, less desirable, children like her often rode the train to the end of the line where they were offered work rather than a new family.  This would be Violet’s fate.
Mothers and Daughters is the story of three generations of women, a short line beginning with Violet and ending with her granddaughter, Samantha.  In the present, Sam’s 72-year-old mother, Iris, is dying and has asked Sam to be with her until it happens.  Sam is pregnant with a daughter of her own, but Iris will not live long enough to meet her.  Back home after her mother’s death, Sam is surprised to receive a box of her mother’s things that appears to have been unopened for decades.  Among the papers in the box is a little bible dated 1910 – and inscribed by the New York Children’s Aid Society.  Feeling certain that the bible once belonged to her grandmother, Sam hopes to learn, these many years later, how it came into her hands and what connection her grandmother might have had to the aid group.
Meadows rotates sections in strict order to tell the stories of Violet, Iris, and Samantha, three women with very different lives.  Short pieces on Violet (largely concerned with her childhood on the streets of New York and her orphan train experience) are followed by sections on Iris (as she prepares to die) and on Samantha (as she spends time with her dying mother and starts life with her new baby).  Of the three characters, Violet is the best developed and readers will be fascinated by her life on the streets and her experiences on the orphan train.  Iris and Sam have lived more ordinary lives and they are, as a result, less memorable than their ancestor. 
Mothers and Daughters is an interesting intergenerational novel but it does little to explore how the women have been shaped by those who preceded them, somewhat weakening the impact of the individual stories.  The novel’s real strength is in its depiction of the orphan train as seen through the eyes of one little girl who was forced to grow up much too quickly.  Violet’s story deserves a novel of its own; perhaps one day Rae Meadows will give us one.
Rated at: 3.0
(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

Written by bookchase

April 18, 2011 at 5:29 pm

Posted in Reviews

>Why Some Publishers Cannot Afford to Sell Books on Amazon

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That the old book-selling business model no longer works very well is old news.  Common sense, however, still dictates that every copy of a book a publisher sells to a consumer has to be a good thing.  But according to Linen Press (complete article on The Guardian Book Blog), common sense, in this case, is very wrong.  For every copy that this tiny U.K. publisher sells through Amazon, it loses the equivalent of three dollars.  Here’s why:

Amazon don’t tell their customers how much they take from a small publisher like me, nor do they advertise the fact that I have to pay the postage on the books sent to them.

[…]

Linen Press books cost £4 a copy to produce, for several reasons…The RRP is £11.99. The postage is £2.50. On my website I sell the books for £8.99, so I’m not ripping you off; I’m just trying to persuade you not to buy from Amazon.


Here are the scary sums:


Amazon takes 60% of my RRP (in the book trade, the bigger the sales outfit, the bigger the discount they demand from the publisher: Amazon 60%; Waterstones 50%; independent bookshop 35%). On a £11.99 book, Amazon’s takings are £7.20. Mine are £4.80.


Out of this comes £2.50 to pack and post the book to Amazon, and the author’s royalties on a heavily discounted book reduced to 50p. My writers lose out on an Amazon sale, too. That leaves 82p for Linen Press, but the book cost £4 to produce. So I lose £2.18 on every sale by Amazon.

All of this is bad enough (and, yes, the arithmetic shown above is a tad misstated although its bottom line is the same), but the scariest statement in the article is this one:

For all its vast catalogue, Amazon’s market domination is actually reducing choice by squeezing out small publishers who are prepared to take risks.

So for publishers with the per-book cost that is built in to small press runs, selling through Amazon is a whole lot like an individual selling something through eBay.  After paying postage fees to deliver an item and the advertising fees demanded by eBay, there’s very little left to claim as profit for the seller.  That’s why I no longer deal with eBay other than as a buyer.  I wonder how many small, independent booksellers will reach the same conclusion about dealing with Amazon.

Written by bookchase

April 17, 2011 at 3:38 pm

Posted in Book News

>National Library Week 2011

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>It’s National Library Week (April 10-16) and I almost missed it again this year.  So on this next-to-last day of the national celebration of libraries, I want to add my own brief thoughts about my appreciation for our country’s public library system.

The little town I grew up in had what was basically a little one-room library that housed, by my estimation, approximately 3,000 books.  Perhaps 25% of those books were in the children’s section of the library and the rest of them were shelved in the adult section.  Some of my earliest memories of feeling “independent” pertain to hopping on my bicycle and riding the three miles to that little library where an elderly librarian always greeted me with a tight little smile.  This lady had to be won over, and that did not come quickly or easily.  Eventually, though, she began to consider me one of her “regulars” and she took an interest in what I was reading, as opposed to what I should be reading.

She made sure that I had pretty much exhausted everything on the shelves that she considered age-appropriate (and those were some pretty rigid standards in the 1950s, believe me).  Then she surprised me by saying that, if I would bring a note from home giving her the authority, she would enlist me on a reading program of her own design.  From the day I brought her that note, that librarian opened up a whole new world to me.  Suddenly, I was delving into the classics and a whole lot of relatively current adult fiction.  She did shelter me by refusing some of my choices, but she always found a substitute that made sense in the context of what I was asking to read.  All that summer, and the two that followed (ages 10-12 for me), she was my guide.

That woman, in that tiny, underfunded library, taught me to love reading.  She gave me a gift that has lasted a lifetime, one that has given me more pleasure and contentment than any gift I have received since.

I am, of course, not alone.  Here is an example of what libraries can mean to a kid, in this case, award winning children’s author Virginia Hamilton who grew up in little Yellow Springs, Ohio.  Here her husband speaks of how important a public library was to his wife when she was growing up there.

 http://access.openroadmedia.com/api/getPlayerFrameSource.php?playerId=orimPid0&size=medium&distribution_id=168&distribution_code=&infoStr=&share_url=&embedver=2_0    <!–  (function () {   if (window.orimPS == undefined) {   window.orimPS = ‘initStarted’;   var oSc = document.createElement(‘script’); oSc.type = ‘text/javascript’;   oSc.src = (‘https:’ == document.location.protocol ? ‘https://&#8217; : ‘http://&#8217;) + ‘access.openroadmedia.com/api/getPlayerScriptIF.php?&distribution_id=168&distribution_code=&size=medium&embedver=2_0’;   var s = document.getElementsByTagName(‘script’)[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(oSc, s);   }   var intId = setInterval(function () {   if (typeof (OrimPController) !== ‘undefined’) {   clearInterval(intId);   if (window.orimPC == undefined) {   window.orimPC == null; window.orimPC = new OrimPController();   }   }   }, 30);   })();  //–>    

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Written by bookchase

April 15, 2011 at 4:21 pm

Posted in Libraries

>The Siege of Washington

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>

Fortunately for the United States, when the first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, the Southern states were as ill prepared to wage war as the Union states.  Had it been otherwise, the South might have ended the war in a matter of days by overrunning the nation’s capitol and capturing its entire government.  Historians have often wondered why the South did not go for the kill anyway, having more to gain than to lose in a battle to take Washington.  In The Siege of Washington: The Untold Story of the Twelve Days That Shook the Union, historians John and Charles Lockwood explain.
Washington was poorly defended on April 14 when Fort Sumter was surrendered to Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard.  President Lincoln, recognizing the country’s precarious situation, issued a call for troops the next day, Monday, April 15, and several Northern governors immediately began to mobilize state militias for Washington’s defense.  Actually getting those troops to Washington would prove to be the hard part. 
Located some 60 miles south of the Mason-Dixon Line, Washington D.C. was solidly within slave-holding territory, and was, in fact, surrounded by the largely hostile populations of two states seen as likely to secede from the Union: Virginia and Maryland.  The best way to get Union troops to Washington was to use the rail lines that passed through Baltimore – something that the citizens of Baltimore were determined to stop from happening.  As the First Pennsylvania Volunteers, the Sixth and Eighth Massachusetts, and the Seventh New York tried to make their way to President Lincoln’s defense, it became a race to see which army would arrive first: North or South.
John and Charles Lockwood, using private letters, diaries, newspaper stories, and firsthand accounts from Lincoln’s secretaries (John Hay and John Nicolay), paint a vivid picture of life in a city whose citizens expected to be overrun by a hostile army at any moment.  A substantial portion of the city’s population sympathized with the Southern position, adding to President Lincoln’s concern about whether Washington could effectively be defended against an invading Southern army.  As conditions worsened, and it appeared more and more certain that Washington would be invaded, those who could leave, did so.  By April 22, telegraph communication with the outside world had been cut off and it was impossible to reach the city by rail.  As food supplies dwindled and bank runs became the order of the day, the nation’s capitol was truly under siege.
The Siege of Washington is a well constructed, but at times repetitive, account of a twelve-day period (April 14-25, 1861), during which America’s future might have been set on an entirely different path.  The authors, by using the words of those who were there, recreate what it was like for Washington’s citizens as they waited to see whose army would reach them first.  Civil War buffs will appreciate this one.
Rated at: 4.0

Written by bookchase

April 14, 2011 at 5:36 pm

Posted in Reviews

>Will Nicolas Cage Get His Comic Book Back?

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Comes word from ZippyCart, among others, that actor Nicolas Cage, once the proud owner of a pristine copy of Action Comics # 1, the book that introduced Superman to the world, is hoping to call it his own again. It seems that Cage’s copy of the comic, worth at least $1 million dollars, was stolen from him more than ten years ago, vanishing from sight until it turned up in an abandoned storage unit a few days ago.

The locker unit was auctioned off through Riverside-based American Auctioneers… about a month ago, where the comic book, carrying an estimated worth of $1 million was discovered. The locker’s new owner (who chooses to remain anonymous), unsure of the comic book’s value, was then connected with collectibles expert and New York dealer, Stephen Fishler. Fishler originally sold Cage Action Comics #1 back in 1990 and was able to positively ID and authenticate that the comic book was in fact, the one stolen from Cage.


[…]


The DC comic book, widely considered to be the most important one ever published for setting the precedent for superheroes to come, was one of three vintage comic books stolen from high security frames on a wall in Cage’s home back in 2000. The initial investigation received a break when days after the break-in, an L.A. area store owner informed Fishler about a phone call he received for pricing on two of the books Cage was missing. Several months later, the third missing comic book, Marvel Mystery #71, resurfaced on eBay…The investigation ending shortly thereafter, leaving a truly devastated Cage.

Ultimate ownership of the recovered comic book has been somewhat complicated by the fact that Cage reportedly received an insurance company settlement for its loss. Because the book is almost certainly worth more today than it was when it was stolen from Cage, this could get interesting.

Written by bookchase

April 13, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Posted in Book News

>Ape House

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>

The great success of Water for Elephants made it almost a certainty that Sara Gruen’s follow-up novel would suffer by comparison. That one set the bar so high that it would have been a real surprise if Gruen had been able to reach those heights with successive novels. What we know now is that, though she might very well achieve that kind of magic again one day, Ape House is not the one that will do it for her.

Ape House begins rather promisingly in the Great Ape Language Lab where Isabel Duncan and her university assistants are studying the communicative adaptability of a small family of bonobo apes. By using basic ASL (the American Sign Language system), the apes are able to converse with their keepers, even to the point of expressing their desires, emotions, and feelings about their life behind bars. The apes, in effect, have learned to understand, and speak, simple English. Isabel Duncan has, at the same time, grown so close to them that she considers the apes to be family.

All too soon, however, Gruen takes Ape House in the wrong direction. Rather than concentrating on the unique relationship between the apes and their humans, she spends the bulk of the book exploring the romantic relationships of her human characters, in effect stealing any potential magic Ape House had, and transforming it into a mediocre romance novel.

After the lab is blown up by a grotesque group of animal activists, and Isabel is almost killed in the explosion, reporter John Thigpen feels compelled to follow the tragedy to its end despite having to take a job with a trashy Los Angeles tabloid in order to be able to do so. Thigpen had visited the apes only hours before the blast and was changed by the experience, coming away from the lab with the feeling that the apes were every bit as “human” as the newspaper crew flying home with him.

While Isabelle is still recovering from her injuries, the university sponsoring the language lab decides to sell the apes to a pornographic film producer who wants to give the animals their very own reality television show. The bonobos are given their own house, complete with a computer to order whatever they desire (including individual food selections), exercise equipment, comfortable furniture and a big screen television. There are so many cameras in the house that the animals never have a moment of privacy – everything they do is shown on live television, 24 hours a day.

Despite the fact that none of Ape House’s human characters are as interesting (and certainly not as likable) as the apes, the novel spends the bulk of its time on human relationships. Gruen uses these characters, and their efforts either to exploit or to save the apes, to expose the absurdities of modern culture – particularly in regard to reality TV, Hollywood phonies, shrinking newspaper circulation, and celebrity worship. She neglects, however, what would have perhaps saved the book: the interrelationship between the apes and the humans with whom they come into contact. The chance to explore such a relationship is probably what drew most readers to Ape House in the first place, and its near absence leaves the book reading more as farce than legitimate social commentary.

Rated at 2.5

Written by bookchase

April 12, 2011 at 1:25 pm

>Odds and Ends

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>…from another weekend gone forever:

I attended my fourth funeral (three of them of the out-of-town variety) Saturday in the last 8 weeks.  In that short period of time, I’ve lost a cousin, two aunts, and a good friend who was my department’s administrative assistant.  I don’t remember anything even close to this pace ever happening to me before, so I’m hoping it’s over now.  Twice a year is bad enough, but four times in two months is getting to be as scary as it has been heartbreaking.

Do you ever get the feeling that no matter how many books you are exposed to in a given week or month that you are just seeing the tiniest tip of the iceberg?  It happens to me all the time, and seeing something like someone else’s “library loot” post really brings it home.  Take a look at today’s post from Pages Turned.  In this picture are 17 books brought home by a person whose reading taste is usually very similar to my own.  17 books, and I have not heard of a single one of them.  Since we do share a similar taste in books, this kind of thing always makes me wonder what I’m missing while I’m struggling to finish up something that does not quite work for me as I thought it would.  If anyone needs a good reason to abandon “bad books” midstream, this is it:

I’m not a big fan of prime time television programming and have not been since at least the early nineties when I moved out of the country for the first time.  When I got home a few years later, I found it near impossible to close the “culture gap” that developed while I was gone.  I have never cared for all that celebrity gossip stuff, and I found that I couldn’t even recognize the faces of any of the new crop of actors that had grown popular in my absence.  I never did catch up, really.  But along came a NetFlix application for iPad, and I’m suddenly hooked on Grey’s Anatomy, a show I barely knew existed until I started watching it in late February.  Now I’ve burned through the first four seasons and seven episodes of the fifth (it’s amazing how quickly they seem to go by without commercial interruptions) and I’m still hooked.  It’s great fun to watch that many episodes so close together; it is much easier to be impressed by the slow evolution of the characters as they move in and out of the show.  Any suggestions for another series for me to start after I finish season 6 of Grey’s Anatomy?

And, finally, my Houston Astros have two wins for the season.  They played their best game of 2011 yesterday against the Florida Marlins, outscoring them 7-1 and outhitting them 16-4.  In the process, the team doubled its number of victories in one afternoon.  How sad is that?  Well, it took them 9 games to win 2 and they are hugging last place in the NL Central all by their lonesome.  I suspect that’s a spot they will grow very accustomed to as the season progresses.

happier days 


Written by bookchase

April 11, 2011 at 5:33 pm

Posted in Blog News

>Gringos

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Jimmy Burns is an ex-Marine, an ex-dealer in stolen pre-Columbian artifacts, and an American expat living the simple life deep inside Mexico in a little town called Merida.  He does manage to make a living using his old beat up truck to do small hauling jobs to the jungle for archaeologists and others seeking to exploit the country’s buried past, but he is easily distracted.  Jimmy enjoys his down time and is not overly concerned about his future, content to take life one day at a time.
While he may be an idler, Jimmy does care about the people closest to him and he has a keen sense of the absurd.  This is a good thing since his little corner of Mexico is about to be invaded by some of the most absurd Americans imaginable, a group of hippies and slackers who barely know where they are, much less why they are. 
Gringos centers around Jimmy’s search for Rudy Kurle, a young man for whom Jimmy feels responsible after allowing him to wander away from a dangerously isolated dig site.  Jimmy’s search takes him and his crew to an ancient holy site just when dozens of the worthless hippies converge there in expectation of some major revelation.  Here the search grows complicated, and changes focus entirely, when Jimmy is forced to rescue two children who will not otherwise survive the night’s weirdness.
Gringos is one of those novels that suffer from a lack of likable characters to such a degree that it is difficult to care what happens to any of them, including the novel’s supposed hero/narrator.  The whole novel, at times, seems as tired and pointless as the lives led by its characters, making its ending, in which Jimmy unresistingly drifts into the next phase of his life, unsurprising.
Readers captivated by the renewed interest in Charles Portis novels (following the recent success of the movie remake of True Grit) will want to take a look at Gringos since Portis has written so few books.  I would, however, suggest that they might want to read this one after having first sampled other Portis novels.
Rated at: 2.0

Written by bookchase

April 10, 2011 at 3:58 pm

>Hop a Long, Git a Long, Read a Long with Elmer Kelton

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This is a 1982 edition of a western first published in 1963

James, over at Ready When You Are, C.B., is hosting a western reading challenge during the month of May and I’ve been looking through my books to see what I might want to read for the challenge.  I have lots of westerns around the house, but I’m leaning toward reading one or two of these:

This is a 1985 edition of a book published in 1959

This is a 1967 first edition of what Ballantine Books called a “Western Original”


This is a 1975, third printing of a book first published in 1960

You will notice that all four of these westerns were written by West Texan Elmer Kelton. I first discovered Mr. Kelton’s work in After the Bugles, pictured above, and over the years ended up with several hard covers of his and even one e-book double that I recently purchased. Kelton, in my opinion, wrote (he died in August 2009) better westerns than Louis ‘Amour but he never seemed to get the public recognition that L’Amour got.  Kelton, who was 83 when he died, seemed to get better and better as the decades passed, eventually winning “Best Western Novel of the Year” seven times.  I’m always on the lookout for interesting western paperback covers like these but they are getting harder and harder to find.

If you like westerns, or if you want to break new reading ground, go over to Ready When You Are, C.B. to sign up; it’s a one-book challenge, so give it a shot.

Written by bookchase

April 8, 2011 at 7:10 pm

Posted in Authors, Westerns

>Best of 2011, Update 2

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>Hard as it is for me to believe, the year is already more than one-quarter done so this seems like a good time to update my rankings.  As of today, I’ve read 24 fiction titles and 10 nonfiction ones – despite my good intentions, the nonfiction titles are coming slow for me again this year.

The best ten fiction books to this point, ranked in order, are these:

1. The Glass Rainbow – James Lee Burke (Dave Robicheaux series)

2. Dead Man’s Walk – Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove series)

3. Nemesis – Philip Roth (novel)

4. Autumn of the Phantoms – Yasmina Khadra (Algerian detective fiction)

5. Standing at the Crossroads – Charles Davis (British novel)

6. Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe (classic British novel)

7. To the End of the Land – David Grossman (literary novel from Israel)

8. Resolution – Denise Mina (crime fiction from Scotland)

9. Bad Intentions – Karin Fossum (crime fiction from Norway)

10. The Finkler Question – Howard Jacobson – (British novel)

Even though I’ve only read 10 nonfiction titles so far, I will go ahead and rank them:

1. Wolf: The Lives of Jack London – James L. Haley (biography)

2. Hitch 22: A Memoir – Christopher Hitchens (memoir)

3. Chinaberry Sidewalks – Rodney Crowell (memoir)

4. We Were Not Orphans – Sherry Matthews (memoirs from a Texas home for neglected children)

5. Lincoln’s Men – William C. Davis (Civil War history)

6. The Siege of Washington – John and Charles Lockwood (Civil War history)

7. A Widow’s Story – Joyce Carol Oates (memoir)

8. Look Away Dixieland – James B. Twitchell (Civil War History)

9. Scorecasting – Tobias J. Moskowitz, Jon Wortheim (sports)

10.Heart of the City – Ariel Sabar (sociology)


I found last year that making this a “live” list results in a more meaningful (more accurate) list than I’ve come up with in previous years when I’ve waited until late December to start the process, so I’ll be doing an update once a month or so.

Written by bookchase

April 7, 2011 at 5:40 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

>The Renegades

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Author T. Jefferson Parker has a theory that outlaws, in the spirit of the old American West, still exist. Parker, in fact, not only contends that outlaws still exist – his theory includes the belief that, just as in gunslinger days, many of today’s most notorious outlaws spend some portion of their lives working as law enforcement officers. In The Renegades, his follow-up to L.A. Outlaws, Parker tells the story of two modern day outlaws, both of whom just happen to be Los Angeles County deputy sheriffs.

Deputy Charlie Hood is one of the good guys. He is somewhat of a loner who prefers to ride the roads at night, even in his off-time, as he grows accustomed to his recent assignment to the county’s Antelope Valley. Charlie would, in fact, be just as happy never to be assigned a partner, but he soon finds himself working with Terry Laws, a man known to his fellow deputies as “Mr. Wonderful.” After Mr. Wonderful is assassinated while he and Charlie are on a routine call, Charlie accepts a transfer to Internal Affairs so that he can get to the bottom of the murder. Perhaps, he thinks, Mr. Wonderful was not really so wonderful after all.

Getting to the truth about his partner’s murder will not be easy – or safe. In the process of figuring out what Mr. Wonderful was up to, Charlie will make some ruthless men on both sides of the border nervous enough to want him dead. And they will do their best to make exactly that happen.

There is a good deal of dramatic action in The Renegades, but Parker has chosen to tell his story in a straightforward manner that offers few real surprises. Once the main characters have been fleshed-out in the minds of readers – and the plotline set in full motion – their ultimate fates are too easily predictable. Part of the fun in reading a police thriller of this type is trying to guess what will happen next as the hero gets into deeper and deeper trouble. Surprisingly, however, that fun is somewhat lessened when, as in this case, the reader always guesses correctly.

The nine-CD audio book version of The Renegades is read to good effect by David Colacci, a man whose voice is likely to sound very familiar to fans of audio books. Colacci’s differentiation of tone, accent, and cadence make the numerous characters relatively easy to follow despite the book’s frequent changes between first and third person perspectives. Not having read L.A. Outlaws, I am uncertain of how wise it is to read this sequel first. Jefferson does make an effort to repeat the key points from the first book to help his readers understand just how Charlie Hood turned into the man he is today, but it is very possible that readers with more background will experience The Renegades very differently than readers coming to it cold.

Rated at: 3.5

Written by bookchase

April 6, 2011 at 2:35 pm

>Lots of Books, Lots of Numbers

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I love LibraryThing – no big surprise there, I’m sure, for most of you, and I’m willing to bet that many of you feel the same way.  (Those of you who are unfamiliar with the site might want to go here. I’ve been a member there since July 2006 and I can’t recommend it enough.)  What makes the site so much fun for me is the way that it blends two of my passions: books and statistics.  My love of books is probably obvious by now.  What might be less obvious, is how much pleasure I take in studying statistics, rankings, lists, and the like.

LibraryThing makes that easy to do.  For instance this is what I learned today in about five minutes of looking at the numbers there:

There are 1,315,207 members, as of this moment. 

Between them, the members have catalogued some 61,322,658 books. That’s an average of just under 47 books per user. 

Of those 61 million books, 6,004,201 of them are unique titles. 

Those same members have written a total of 476,510 book reviews and posted them to the site.

Those are the raw numbers. What really intrigues me, is the detail behind some of those numbers.

The Top 10 Most Collected Authors are: 

J.K. Rowling – 397,655 books
Stephen King – 281,299 books
Terry Pratchett – 234,221 books
J.R.R. Tolkien – 189,282 books
Neil Gaiman – 178,120 books
C.S. Lewis – 174,157 books
William Shakespeare – 150,435 books
Nora Roberts – 135,337 books
Jane Austen – 128,463 books
Agatha Christie – 126,783 books

While I’m not surprised by most of the names on the list, I do find it a bit strange to see Nora Roberts bracketed by the likes of William Shakespeare and Jane Austen. It is, indeed, a strange old world in which we live.

One other tidbit worth sharing today: of the Top 10 books most collected, numbers 1-7 are the Harry Potter novels, followed by The Da Vinci Code, The Hobbit, and Nineteen Eighty-Four. Yes, we as a group, have one heck of a split personality – if not much taste.

Written by bookchase

April 5, 2011 at 6:17 pm

>Bad Intentions

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Bad Intentions is the seventh crime novel in Karin Fossum’s Inspector Sejer series.  I cannot claim to have read all seven of the novels, but the three I have read so far certainly encourage me to seek out the rest of the series.  The books, all of which are set in Norway, are psychological crime novels in which character development and motivation are every bit as important as plot and action.  Those enjoying this type of crime fiction will do well to seek out the work of Karin Fossum.
Alex, Reilly and Jon have been a trio since they were youngsters.  Now that they are young men, Jon is so troubled that he has been confined to a mental health facility for treatment.  Alex and Reilly, hoping to ease their friend’s mind, get permission to bring him with them for a weekend’s outing on remote Dead Water Lake.  When tragedy strikes in the middle of the night, and one of the boys drowns in the lake, the other two wait until morning to report the accident. 
Inspector Sejer, filtering the story about their friend’s supposed suicide through his years of experience, senses that something is wrong.  Things do not quite add up, but there is little he can do to disprove what Alex and Reilly insist happened that night – until the body of another teen associated with Alex, Reilly and Jon floats to the surface.
As Sejer and his assistant, Jacob Skarre, begin to tighten the screws on Alex and Reilly, their best hope is that one of the two will crack long enough to reveal what really happened to the two dead men.  Meanwhile, Fossum carries the reader deep into the minds of several secondary characters that have an interest in the outcome of Sejer’s investigation.
The mothers of the two victims form an unlikely friendship, based at first on nothing but their shared mourning, that surprises both of them with its intensity.  The women see their sons as innocent victims of a world gone mad – but only one of them is right about the innocent part.  Both of them, however, are determined to learn the truth about their sons’ last hours.
Karin Fossum
At the heart of the story is the relationship of Alex and Reilly, a relationship poisoned forever by the loss of Jon.  Alex has always called the shots with Reilly and Jon, and he will tolerate no resistance from Reilly now, just when the wrong move can send both of them to prison for the rest of their lives.  What really happened on the most important two nights in the lives of four young men is slowly revealed as Fossum allows Alex and Reilly to reveal themselves layer by layer. 
Karin Fossum writes rather sparingly (the book is less than 200 pages in length) but she creates such memorable characters, on both sides of the crime equation, that her novels remain with the reader long after the last page is turned.
Rated at: 4.0

Written by bookchase

April 4, 2011 at 6:52 pm

Posted in E-Books, Reviews

>Weekend Random Thoughts and Happenings

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Bonobo Ape

Another weekend, this time a three-day one, has flown by and I’m trying to prepare myself mentally to return to the work-week grind before daybreak tomorrow morning.  It seems more and more often that I approach a weekend with big plans and end it with a bit of a confused whimper because so few of my big plans ever get tackled.

I did manage to get in a good bit of reading- finishing Gringos (Charles Portis) and reading over half of Ape House (Sara Gruen).  The first problem with this weekend’s reading is that I found Gringos to be a major disappointment considering how much I enjoyed reading his True Grit a few days ago.  There has been so much hype about the re-release of the man’s older novels that I couldn’t wait to get my hands on one of them.  Maybe they were out-of-print for a reason?

The second problem with my weekend reading is that I’m finding it hard to believe that the same woman who wrote Water for Elephants wrote Ape House.  This new one started off strongly and I was hooked by the book’s first dozen pages; then, it turned into a Romance Novel and the apes became minor, almost forgotten, characters.  Now, some 220 pages into the book, the apes are starting to take center stage again as “stars” of their own reality TV show.  Really, Sara?

Major distractions this weekend included a Saturday morning garage sale at my daughter’s house in which she and my granddaughter netted all of $150 in sales.  Those things are always fun (to me, anyway) but it was hot and muggy and everyone involved, including the customers, seemed kind of sluggish.  It was so slow at times that I sneaked in some reading of Ape House while waiting for the next customers to drive or walk up.  Thank goodness I remembered to put my iPad in the car before I drove to my daughter’s – my library copy of Ape House resting comfortably on the gadget.

The other major distraction is, of course, the start of baseball season – not that Houstonians will have anything much to cheer about this season, or most likely the next four or five.  Astros fans are enduring a complete rebuild of the team.  It is so bad that my most ambitious hope for the team this year is that it not humiliate itself by losing 100 games.  The Phillies made the Astros look like the Triple A team it really is, defeating us: 5-4, 9-4, and 7-2.  I’m trying to convince myself that I can still enjoy the season by admiring the skills on the opposing teams; after all, the pressure is off Astros fans for the foreseeable future.  Right?  Yeah, sure.

Written by bookchase

April 3, 2011 at 4:59 pm

Posted in Blog News, Book News

>Fortunes of War

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Fortunes of War is one of those “what-if” books that will make the reader wish its premise really could happen.  What if it were possible to identify a “power cycle” pattern that can accurately predict when a country’s political corruption is close to reaching the point where regional or world war will become inevitable?  What if a new watchdog organization could recognize those responsible for this level of corruption soon enough to disrupt it all before another war breaks out?
Fortunately, six Berkley students have done just that.  Unfortunately, by the time they announce their findings to the world in June 1938, it is too late to stop the group of greedy German industrialists that is making Adolph Hitler’s aggression possible.  The students, however, might still have time to do the next best thing because, now that the war is going poorly for the Germans, these same amoral businessmen want desperately to move their fortunes out of Germany and into Swiss banks.  Recognizing their opportunity, the Six Sentinels step in with a plan to make sure that these fortunes will never lead the world to war again.
The Sentinels are a varied group, but they have more in common than just their graduate studies at Berkley.  Each of them comes from one of the world’s most powerful and influential families: Mike Stone’s father is head of a huge New York bank; Cecelia Chang is the daughter of one of Hong Kong’s most influential traders; Jacques Roth is heir to the fabulous Roth banking fortune; Claudine Demauraux is the daughter of a powerful Swiss banker; Tony Garibaldi springs from one of Italy’s major wine producing families; and Ian Meyer is the son of the founder of one of London’s major auction houses.  A group like this one brings major weapons to any battle, but whether or not the six are a match for the Germans who are so determined to kill them is another question.
Like most thrillers, Fortunes of War requires the reader to cut its author a little slack.  There are moments when the close calls and near misses begin to get a little predictable but, if one is willing to suspend disbelief for its duration, Fortunes of War can be great fun.  Throw in a little romance (some might say, a lot of romance) along the way, and this one has something for everyone.
Rated at: 4.0

Written by bookchase

April 2, 2011 at 7:17 pm

Posted in Reviews

>The Special Niche for E-Books

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>I am ready to declare a special niche in my life for e-books – they are perfect for finding older books that I missed when they were first published.  I’m not talking about books from the early part of the twentieth century; I’m referring to books published in the last twenty or thirty years.  What got me to thinking along those lines again was reading Fearless, a book first published in 1993 by an author (Rafael Yglesias) I was completely unfamiliar with until I read the e-book version of the book.  Even in the nineties more books were published than anyone could possibly keep up with – meaning that hundreds, if not thousands, of great ones slipped right through the cracks completely unnoticed.

E-books give me a second chance at them.  There is no way a bookstore can keep a huge backlist on its shelves, but by shopping online, I can build my own backlist.  I’ve read True Grit and Fearless in the last couple of weeks, both of which are prime examples of the kind of good stuff I’m looking for now in e-book format (of course, True Grit has been re-released as a tie-in to the new movie, but it is still an example of what I’m seeking).

Another thing I like about the “e-book backlist” is that publishers and publicists are producing interesting tie-in material to go along with the books they release.  Authors are making themselves available for interviews, many of which are filmed for general release, like this one by Rafael Yglesias, himself:





So, trusty iPad in hand, I’m discovering the alternate reading path that I missed the first time around.  This is starting to be a whole lot of fun.

Written by bookchase

March 31, 2011 at 5:45 pm

Posted in E-Books, YouTube

>Resolution

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Resolution is the final book in Denise Mina’s Garnethill trilogy and, although it makes for a powerful and disturbing standalone novel, it has an even greater impact if the three books are read in the order in which they were released.  Sadly, as Resolution opens, not much has changed for Maureen O’Donnell and her friends.  Everyday life in Glasgow can be tough enough, but Maureen, still recovering from the murder of Douglas Brady, her former lover, seems to be having way more bad days than good ones.
Never comfortable with the idea that Douglas left her a substantial amount of money when he died, Maureen blew through all of it before she realized that she would be taxed on her windfall.  Now she owes more in back taxes than she makes in a year selling bootleg cigarettes in her little stall at Paddy’s Market.  The trial of her lover’s killer is fast approaching, and Maureen feels certain that the man is somehow behind the mysterious packages that have started to appear at her door.  And, just when she thinks things cannot possibly get worse, Maureen learns that the man who abused her when she was a child, her own father, is back in Glasgow – living with her sister and newborn niece.  Maureen’s drinking is worse than ever, so bad that her friends are worrying about her blackouts and the mysterious bruises on her face that come and go (the source of those bruises is finally revealed at the very end of the book).
To say the least, Maureen needs a distraction if she is to save herself.  She finds one in the person of an old woman she knows from Paddy’s Market.  Sensing that the old woman is being physically and mentally abused by her gangster son, Maureen and her two friends decide to help the woman.  After the older woman ends up in the hospital with broken bones, the trio of wannabe do-gooders stumble onto a complicated scheme involving forced prostitution and political collusion that they are determined to expose.  Maureen, already feeling threatened by the potential release of Douglas’s killer, has now doubled the number of men who wish her dead.
Denise Mena’s downtown Glasgow is not a pretty place because Mena pulls no punches in portraying life there for those at the bottom of Glasgow’s economic and social ladders.  It is a bleak setting filled with people the reader would not willingly choose to associate with in the real world.  Even Maureen is someone most would avoid if they encountered her on a downtown street.  Aggressive, down-and-out alcoholics with chips on their shoulders are simply best avoided.  Mina’s talent is to make her readers care about people like Maureen, care enough about them to want to understand and accept them for what they are.
Denise Mina is a gem.

Written by bookchase

March 30, 2011 at 6:06 pm

Posted in Reviews

>In the Mail…

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Today’s mail delivery included a nice surprise: a new book from Oxford University Press.  This one has a publication date of April 14 and  is called How Literature Works: 50 Key Concepts and it is authored by John Sutherland.

The first thing I noticed about the book is the feel of its cover.  This is a paperback but the book’s front and back covers feel as if they have been plasticized, giving them a slick texture that I could not help running my fingers across while trying to figure out how the publisher got this effect.  Too, the book’s turquoise color jumps out at you.  That’s about it for cosmetics, however.  As you can see from the picture, other than the color and texture of the cover, the book has a relatively generic look to it.

But, of course, it’s what’s inside the covers that really counts.  The book’s introduction describes it as a “toolkit,” one that “the well-equipped reader will want to have.”  The 200-page book encompasses 50 “big ideas” about literature, each individual section presented in an easy-to-read format illustrated with offset quotes, timelines, and a one-paragraph summary/definition of its particular “big idea.”  The book is further organized into six major sections  (each containing a few of the 50 ideas): Basics, How It Works, Literature’s Devices, New Ideas, Word Crimes, and Literary Futures.

The very last piece in the book, Idea 50, is titled “Literary Inundation,” and it addresses the tsunami of the written word facing today’s readers.  It offers suggestions as to how to cope with the great deluge and notes the ironies of the situation – such as the fact that books are being published at a faster clip than at any time in world history just when more and more bookstores are closing their doors.

How Literature Works looks like fun, and I can’t resist delving into it despite the fact that I’m already reading four other books.  Some books just feel right from the second you pick them up.  For me, this is one of those.

Written by bookchase

March 29, 2011 at 7:13 pm

Posted in Book News

>Fearless

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Max Klein has serious problems when it comes to flying.  Like pretty much everything else in his life, Max sees flying as just another disaster waiting to happen.  But, remarkably, when he finds himself in a passenger jet that is almost certainly going to crash, Max is one of the calmest people on the whole plane.  He is the guy who takes the time to comfort a young boy who is traveling alone, assuring the boy that everyone will be alright despite sincerely believing they would all soon be dead.  Then, improbable as it is, the pilot makes a miracle landing without killing everyone and Max becomes a folk hero.  Suddenly, the man who was terrified to fly feels invincible.
Carla Fransisca, on the other hand, boarded the plane with her young son figuring that this was going to be just another plane ride.  Now, because she was unable to save her son, Carla is crushed by the realization that she failed in the most important job of her life.  She blames herself for the toddler’s death and seems perfectly willing to live the rest of her life in seclusion.  `
Fearless begins with an airplane crash, one so vividly described by Rafael Yglesias that readers with even a tinge of the fear of flying will find themselves cringing at what the passengers are enduring.  The book looks at how people react to almost dying, how it changes the way they see the world and how they plan to spend the rest of their lives.  Living on “bonus time” is, it seems, a blessing for some, but a burden for those overcome by survivor’s guilt.
When, in the aftermath of the crash, Max finally meets Carla, he feels compelled to help her through the grief of losing her only child.  As their spouses watch helplessly from the sidelines, Max and Carla must decide who they will be for the rest of their lives.  This 1993 novel, part comedy and part tragedy, is both entertaining and thought provoking as it forces the reader to consider how he might react to his own near miss.
Rated at: 4.0
(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

Written by bookchase

March 28, 2011 at 7:39 pm

Posted in E-Books, Reviews

>From Self-Published to a $2Million Deal

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Amanda Hocking

From self-publishing to a book deal worth a supposed $2 million – that’s what’s happening to one 26-year-old from Austin, Minnesota:

(Complete Austin Daily Herald article can be found here.)  



…She’s spent years writing and rewriting books, always dreaming of becoming an author. She’d been thinking about paranormal novels before the “Twilight” craze hit the pop culture scene, but the vampire mania helped her decide on paranormal romance as a genre she could have fun with. Since then, she has written about teens and vampires, troll princesses, zombies and more.

She sold about 25,000 books online in mid-October, and was steadily working to put out one book a month on Amazon.com. Fast forward a few months, and as of Wednesday, Hocking has sold 1,030,768 books and counting.

[…]

Hocking’s book deal with St. Martin’s revolves around her “Watersong” series, a story arc involving sisters and sirens (the Greek monsters who lured sailors to their doom) she’s been toying with for some time. While the first book is due out by fall 2012, she’s free to publish other books online so long as they don’t interfere with the “Watersong” publishing schedule.

Stories like this one are becoming more and more common, proving once again what a rapidly changing world we live in.  Self-published e-books can sell hundreds of thousands of copies for unknown writers.  YouTube videos can be used to publicize self-produced music – and linked to iTunes to allow relatively unknown singers to make a decent living.  Throw in Facebook, MySpace (although this site seems to be fading fast) and a few other sites, and anything seems possible.  Even those who do not become big “stars” in the publishing or music worlds have a chance to earn some decent money and go farther than they otherwise ever could have hoped.

The business model definitely changing.  Publishers and music labels are having to adapt to a world they never expected to face.  Already, the music industry has crippled itself by fighting all this new technology rather than embracing and adapting to it.  Sadly, as their reaction to the whole e-book episode indicates, publishers are beginning to move down the same path chosen by the labels.

As consumers, we have to ask ourselves if this new way of marketing artistic content is good, or bad, for us.  Are we missing out on something potentially great because the big corporations cannot spend the kind of money they spent in the past to publicize artists?  Or, is the opposite true?  Are we being exposed to more talent than ever because “new media” make it possible for everyone to get their shot?  How many talented writers are going nowhere because they do not have the skills or desire to market themselves at a time when publishers are not spending the money to nurture people like them?

What bothers me a bit is that I have seen very few stories like this one about “serious” writers.  It seems, from what I’ve seen so far, that the only ones becoming successful self-published e-book authors are those writing off-the-wall thrillers, cookie-cutter romances, or books about zombies and vampires.  Where are the self-published authors who write serious literary fiction or nonfiction books?  Are they out there?  If you know of any who fit that description, please let me know so that I can take a look at their work.

Good thing or bad thing?  It’s just not that simple anymore.

Written by bookchase

March 26, 2011 at 12:45 pm

Posted in E-Books

>Why Didn’t I Think of This?

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>Here’s yet another idea that has me slapping my forehead in disgust because this kind of thing never occurs to me.  It’s clever, its simple, and it got published as a really cool children’s book.

Take a look.

Written by bookchase

March 24, 2011 at 5:06 pm

Posted in Book News, YouTube

>The 10 Books I Just Had to Have – But Still Have Not Read

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I’ve seen this meme in several different places in the last couple of days (but I think it originated over at Tales from the Reading Room): The Top Ten Books I Had to Have – But Still Haven’t Read.  My only problem will be keeping the list to only 10 hardcovers that I could not wait to get my hands on but failed to read – so far.

1. Beach Music by Pat Conroy – I bought this one the week it first hit the bookstores, way back in 1995 and it still sits on my shelf just as bright and shiny as the day I brought it home.  Reading it was one of my stated goals for 2011 but I’ve grown a bit superstitious about this one, sort of holding it back so that I will always have a new Pat Conroy novel in my back pocket.  I’m starting to doubt that I will read Beach Music until Pat gives me a new one to hang on to.

2. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan – Does anyone remember what a smash hit this novel was when it first came out.  It clearly marked Amy Tan as one of the decade’s most talented newcomers and I had to get my hands on a copy.  I did – that was 1989.  It’s a First Edition copy and its now worth several hundred dollars, I’m told, but I still haven’t read it.

3.  The Satanic Verses by Salmon Rushdie – I’m sure everyone remembers the tremendous controversy generated by Rushdie’s supposed insult to Islam, the jihad declared against him, him going into hiding in the U.K., etc.  I stumbled upon two first edition copies of the book and snapped them up, thinking they might become rather valuable.  They did – at least for a while – and I traded one copy for a pristine first edition of The World According to Garp.  Still haven’t read the other copy that’s been on my shelf since 1989.

4.  This Body of Death by Elizabeth George – Much like my silliness with Pat Conroy books, described in number 1, it feels good to have an Elizabeth George in the bag for when I want to visit some of my favorite fictional characters.  I do have reading this one as one of my 2011 goals but it has been on the shelf since May 2010 already.

5.  The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway – This is a beautiful collection of Hemingway’s short stories I picked up, brand spanking new, in 1987.  I love Hemingway and I’m learning to love short stories more every year – haven’t read a one from this book.

6.  The Complete Western Stories of Elmore Leonard – Leonard is an excellent writer of westerns, both novels and short stories, and this is a collection of those short stories.  I really enjoy seeing this book on my shelf; it is a quality publication and feels good in my hands.  Have I read any of the stories since buying the book in 2004?  Don’t ask.

7.  The Raj Quartet by Paul Scott – I bought this one at a time I was particularly enthralled by stories about the British experience in India.  This seemed like the perfect collection to give me a better feel for the period as it was experienced by both sides.  As I recall (and my memory may be faulty) PBS or some network was also televising some of Scott’s work.  So I grabbed this collection – in 1976 – and I have still only read the first novel in the book, The Jewel in the Crown.

8.  Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut – Over the years, I have really tried to like Vonnegut’s books.  I really have.  In fact, I bought this hardcover at full price (only $17.95, plus tax, but those were 1987 dollars).  It is still brand new but I doubt I could get my money back on this one if I tried to sell it to the collector market.  Maybe I’ll even read it one year but Vonnegut has not been an acquired taste for me even all these years later.

9.  The Collected Stories of Richard Yates – I love Yates’s novels but have read only one or two of his short stories.  I figured this nice collection would be a way to catch up on those, so I grabbed the book in May of 2001.  And there it sits, still taunting me with its beautiful presence.

10.  Careless Love: The Unmasking of Elvis Presley by Peter Guralnick – This biography is almost 700 pages long, counting the footnotes, but it is the second volume (I think) in Guralnick’s Presley bio.  I bought it in 1999 thinking that I would hold off from reading it until I could find an equally nice copy of the first book, Last Train to Memphis.  Still looking.

So there you have the ten unread books that jump off the shelf at me every time I approach them looking for something else to read.  They whine; they tear up; the scream as loud as they can – and I still ignore them.  One of these days…

Written by bookchase

March 23, 2011 at 8:14 pm

Posted in Blog News, Lists

>No Sharing, Suckers!

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Remember when Amazon made the big announcement that some of its Kindle books would be available for sharing with your friends (or family, if you have no friends)?  Of course, the whole thing was pretty much just a big slice of PR baloney because each e-book could only be loaned once for 14 days – and never again.  So along came sites like Lendle where book owners could list their books for sharing with others who offered to do the same.  The more books you listed, the more books you could borrow from someone.  It was all done by the rules: each book was only good for one 14-day swap and then it was retired forever.

Sweet deal, right?  Well, it was apparently too sweet for Amazon (or, more likely for the publishers that produce Kindle books for Amazon) so Amazon pulled the plug on Lendle yesterday by denying the site access to its Kindle database.

E-book buyers already give up a fistful of rights one expects to have when buying a book, especially the right to resell the book to another buyer.  That’s bad enough, but throw in the inconvenience caused by the fact that Kindle books are pretty much readable only on a Kindle; the ridiculous refusal of certain publishers to sell e-books to libraries, period; and the limit that one particular publisher places on how many times an e-book can be checked out from a library before it has to be repurchased, and one begins to think these publishers don’t have the first clue about marketing their shiny new golden eggs e-product.  If book publishers learned nothing from what happened to the music industry in the last decade, they deserve to suffer the same fate – and they will.

Consumers are going to find ways to get cheap e-books.  They might prefer to borrow them from others of the same mind but, if publishers refuse to let that happen, there are plenty of ways to get at the books.  It might not be legal, but it will happen.  Pirate sites are already out there, but they are tiny compared to what was available (and still is) for CDs and movies.  If publishers do not start playing fair with their customers, however, those pirate book sites will not stay tiny for long.  When consumers feel cheated, they see little wrong in cheating back.  Is that where the book world is headed?

Who benefits from this boneheaded Amazon move?  Publishers?  Retailers?  Customers/readers?  The unfortunate answer is: no one, absolutely no one.

Jeff Croft, Lendle co-founder, tells his side of the story here.

Written by bookchase

March 22, 2011 at 7:23 pm

Posted in E-Books

>True Grit

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Tom Chaney makes the biggest mistake of his already despicable life when he murders Mattie Ross’s father and robs him of his horse and the cash in his pockets (including two unusually shaped, and easily recognized, gold pieces). Now he has to deal with Mattie Ross, the murdered man’s fourteen-year-old daughter, a girl who will not rest until she sees Tom Chaney hang for the murder.

Mattie makes the trip to Fort Smith, Arkansas, with two missions in mind: claim her father’s body and send it home for burial, and hire someone to help her capture his killer. The first task is a relatively easy one, but the second is more of a challenge. Mattie, though, knows exactly the kind of man she is searching for and, once he sobers up, U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn seems to be the answer to her prayers. He is a man with true grit enough to match Mattie’s own.

Rooster Cogburn has a history of his own, having ridden with the infamous Quantrill’s Raiders during the Civil War, but he is smart enough to keep the odds in his favor. Not only has he accepted a $100 contract from Mattie Ross to capture her father’s murderer; he also draws a U.S. Marshall’s salary and hopes to claim the bounties being offered on Chaney and others traveling with him. After LaBoeuf, a Texas Ranger/ bounty hunter, offers to split the bounties with Cogburn, the two men decide to team up – and to sneak out of Fort Smith early enough to leave Mattie far behind. It would not be that easy.

True Grit is first rate western adventure as seen through the eyes of Mattie Ross, now an old woman recalling the adventure of a lifetime she experienced at age fourteen. Young Mattie sees the world in black and white terms. She wants Tom Chaney to hang for the murder of her father or she wants him shot dead if it proves impossible to take him alive. What’s right is right, and she will not rest until she makes it happen, even if she has to shoot the man herself.

There is adventure in True Grit and there is humor. The more subtle humor stems from the way that the roughest and toughest characters in the book speak their dialogue. Even in the heat of battle, or while throwing personal insults at each other, Cogburn and the rest speak in Mattie Ross’s voice, including her vocabulary and grammatical style. It took me more than a few pages to figure out that the book is more a monologue than a traditional novel. The reader is hearing the elderly Mattie Ross recount her adventures, and each of the characters, from Rooster to Tom Chaney, speaks the way that Mattie would have spoken had she been in their shoes.

It is easy to see why True Grit made Charles Portis’s reputation; it is a shame, however, that Portis wrote so little else. This is one of those books that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages, and it is good to see that the new movie version has given it new life.

Rated at: 5.0

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=boocha01-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&asins=159020459X&ref=tf_til&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr

Written by bookchase

March 21, 2011 at 5:51 pm

>Ching Chong! Asians in the Library Song

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>Time for something a little different.

It seems that one UCLA student does not appreciate people talking on their cellphones in the study area of the school’s library.  Hard to argue with that sentiment – if only she had stopped there.  The young lady, unfortunately, proceeds to mock the “Asians” who have offended her.  Her YouTube “vlog” is a hit – something I suspect she now regrets.  Note: The most offensive part of the young lady’s rant is not included in this particular clip but is definitely mocked in the lyrics of the answer-song.

One young “Asian” has decided to respond, in song, to her concerns (Beware: there is at least one “F-bomb” involved here) and the rest is history.  Lesson learned?

Written by bookchase

March 20, 2011 at 5:43 pm

Posted in Libraries, YouTube

>We Were Not Orphans

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The Waco State Home was officially established in 1919 with the purchase of 95 acres of land located near what is now the business section of Waco, Texas.  The Texas Legislature intended the grounds to be used as housing for a portion of the state’s children whose parents could not afford, or refused, to care for them.  The home, which closed its doors in 1979, accepted only white children between the ages of four and sixteen until the 1960s when the impact of the Civil Rights Movement began to be felt.  It is important to note that, as Sherry Matthews makes clear from the title of her new book, these children were not orphans; they were taken into the Waco State Home as wards of the State because their parents were not caring for them properly.
We Were Not Orphans is about the Waco State Home, those who worked at the facility and, most importantly, the children who spent formative years there.  Matthews, one of whose earliest memories is that of her three brothers being carried away by strangers to live at the Waco State Home, knows first hand the impact that the Home had on thousands of Texas families.  Her brothers would remain at the Home for six years; some children would spend more than a dozen years there; and others would be adopted, never to return to their parents and siblings. 
In 2008, while attending a reunion at the Home with one of her brothers, Matthews floated the idea of publishing a collection of firsthand accounts of life at the facility.  The response she received from other attendees was so positive that she began the work that would result in We Were Not Orphans.  Matthews worked with dozens of the members of the Home’s alumni association, gathering as many of their firsthand accounts as possible, and she researched whatever public and private records to which she could gain access.  There is no doubt, however, that the book’s real power and impact comes from the 54 taped interviews, divided by decade, that are transcribed in the book.
Sherry Matthews
What Sherry Matthews learned was not pretty.  Despite all the good that was accomplished at the Waco State Home, much damage was also done to the children who lived there.  That the staff was peppered with sadists, rapists, perverts, and incompetents was a well-kept secret because those with the power to do something about the problems tended to look the other way.  This often willful inattention to what was happening in the boys’ and girls’ dormitories allowed horrific child abuse to exist there for several decades.  It was only in the early 1970s that any real change in that regard came to the Home – just a few years before it was closed and converted into a psychiatric residential treatment center for young people.
In the meantime, young girls became pregnant and disappeared from the school, physical discipline often resulted in bloody children or broken bones, male perverts observed little girls in their communal showers, and children were used as slave labor to run a 235-acre farm rented by the Home.  Sadly, even though most of the damage was done by a limited number of child abusers, no effective effort was made to end the abuse until a Federal judge stepped in and ruled that living at the Home equated to “cruel and unusual punishment.”
No so surprisingly, however, many of those who are quoted in the book consider going to the Home to have been one of the best things that ever happened to them.  This is especially true of individuals who came to the Home during the Depression era because, for many of them, it was the first time they had enough to eat.  They were also blessed with a decent education, the chance to earn a little money all for themselves, scheduled outings, and a structured system that helped prepare them for life after the Waco State Home.  In many ways, they were better off than the brothers and sisters they left behind.
While the reader will come away from We Were Not Orphans disgusted by how long it took officials to clean up a terrible situation at the Home, he cannot help but be heartened by the utter resilience of most of the children who passed through those doors.  There is a lesson to be learned here and we can only hope, for the good of the children still living in such places, that the right people have learned it.
Rated at: 5.0
(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

Written by bookchase

March 17, 2011 at 6:11 pm

Posted in Reviews, YouTube

>Water for Elephants: The Movie

with 4 comments

>I reviewed Water for Elephants back on December 15, 2008, giving it a 4.5 rating.  That missing half point was deducted because I found the ending of the book to be a bit farfetched despite the fact that it is exactly the kind of ending I would have wished for the book’s main character after getting to know him so well.  I thoroughly enjoyed (as I was at the same time horrified by much of it) the story, even ranking it number three on my Top Ten Fiction Books for 2008.

Now here in 2011 the book is generating even more buzz than it did when it was first released.  That is, of course, because 20th Century Fox is about to release its version to movie theaters across the world.  The book has even been re-published with one of those movie tie-in-covers I hate so much.  My first impression, based entirely on this one movie trailer, is that the movie will not quite do justice to my imagination – but isn’t that almost always the way when a book comes to film?

I’m sure I will see the movie eventually, but probably in the comfort of my own home.  What do you think?  Is the trailer enough to get you excited about this one (it certainly appears to be beautifully filmed)?

Written by bookchase

March 16, 2011 at 8:17 pm

Posted in YouTube

>Burned by an E-Book

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Here’s one more reason that e-books will never equal the real thing.

We’ve discussed before why libraries carry such a limited selection of e-books (certain publishers refuse to sell to them) and why they have so few copies of the titles they do carry (publishers will only sell them a certain number of copies and they try to limit the number of times an e-book can be “checked out” before it has to be repurchased by the library).  All of that means that library patrons will almost always have to queue up for an e-book, placing it on hold for a few weeks before it becomes available for download to their e-reader.    Then, when the book finally becomes available, it will only be available for checkout for a few days (usually five) and can only be read for fourteen days after it has been downloaded.

Well, that combination of silliness caught up with me today.  After waiting six weeks to get a copy of Tony Blair’s memoir, A Journey, I will not be able to finish it before the file becomes unreadable on my iPad.  Remember, we’re dealing with an e-book here.  Since I didn’t have a physical copy of the book to carry around, I failed to realize that the book is 720 pages long.  For that reason, I didn’t start reading it soon enough to get it done before the file becomes unreadable  – something that happens tomorrow.

My choices, you ask?  Only one comes to mind: queue up again for the book and resume reading it in another month or so.  The book cannot be renewed for another two weeks because the “corrupt by” date is built into the file on my iPad.  I realize this is only likely to happen with exceptionally long books, and that it is partially my fault for not checking the length of the book early on, but this is just more evidence that e-book publishers don’t get it.  (The OverDrive software does not show page numbers by default – a conscious effort to change the display is required for that to happen.)

One thing for certain is that I will not be rewarding Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, publisher of A Journey: My Political Life, by purchasing a copy of the book for my shelves or for my iPad, nor am I likely to line up again and wait my turn for a library copy.  Two can play at this game.  Unfortunately, even though it is not by choice, the book officially becomes my second abandoned book of 2011.

Written by bookchase

March 15, 2011 at 6:28 pm