Monday, August 31, 2009
Sixteen-year-old Samuel has had to do a lot of growing up in recent months. What was once a normal family of four is now down to just Samuel and his father because, after their mother’s death, Samuel’s brother left home to attend college. Samuel’s father, grieving the loss of his wife, works longer hours than ever and Samuel finds himself alone much of the time.
Despite his good grades, Samuel is a bit of a rebel at his small-town-Georgia high school, and many of his friends have a similar attitude about school. Samuel, however, is more fortunate than most of his friends are because his teachers, aware of his home life, are willing to cut him some slack as long as his grades remain high. Samuel is happy enough to take advantage of the situation but things get complicated when, after struggling to come up with an idea for his class video project, he decides to verify and document the existence of the deformed triplets.
Samuel’s first look at the triplets leaves him utterly horrified and repulsed by what he sees, yet he becomes so obsessed about the welfare of the babies that he cannot stay away from the old house where they live with their mother and a much older brother. It is his compulsion to see the babies again that ultimately exposes the shocking dark side of Samuel’s own nature and, when he is caught snooping one time too many, lands him squarely in the path of a psychopath.
I will remember Wait until Twilight more for its mood and atmosphere than for its plot elements because, frankly, this is a creepy book, one filled with the kind of depravity seldom found in a serious coming-of-age novel. Samuel, despite the trauma of what he learns about himself, does a lot of growing during the course of Sang Pak’s story but the book loses some of its potential impact as a result of its rather over-the-top ending. There is a lot to like about Wait until Twilight, including its sympathetic main characters and its overall tone, but its less-than-satisfying ending overwhelms much of what precedes it.
Rated at: 3.0
Sunday, August 30, 2009
I watched the movie version of The Kite Runner early this morning before I took my father out for our regular Sunday lunch date and I found it to be one of the better movie adaptations that I've seen in quite a while. The written word can place a reader inside the heads of the main characters in a way that movies cannot equal, ensuring that one has a clear understanding of the motivations, emotions, and thought processes of those characters. Movies can come close but they do so by eliminating plot elements or action scenes because the amount of material that can be covered in two hours, or less, is limited.
Movies, however, have a distinct advantage when it comes to scenery and atmosphere, especially with readers like me who struggle with visualizing foreign locations and cultures. The Kite Runner movie excelled in doing just that because much of the film was shot in China and Afghanistan. In the case of the China sequences, the scenery was breathtaking; in the case of what was shot in Afghanistan, the look was so authentically bleak that it was impossible to escape the helplessness of a population so completely under the thumbs of 7th century barbarism.
As always, though, I am going to recommend that you read the book before you watch the movie. This movie is a perfect companion piece to Kahled Hosseini's powerful novel - but it is still only that, a companion piece, and I think that is as good as it ever gets.
My September 12, 2007 review of The Kite Runner
My September 22, 2007 post on the movie
My October 6, 2007 post on why the movie release had to be delayed for 6 weeks
I don't know that anyone still rents DVDs - if so, this one is worth the effort. It is also playing on Showtime right now for anyone who has access to those films.
Friday, August 28, 2009
Melinda Harmon and Mark Mangelsdorf, after relatively brief interviews were allowed to get on with their lives. Melinda left Olathe, not to return until she was finally charged with the crime more than two decades later. Mark, who resumed his classes at Olathe’s MidAmerica Nazarene College, and who eventually earned a Harvard MBA, faced much greater pressure from Olathe authorities until he, too, left the state for good.
By the time two Olathe detectives decided to resume the department’s investigation into David Harmon’s murder, Melinda and Mark were doing quite well for themselves. Melinda, by now the mother of two children, was living the good life with her wealthy dentist husband in Ohio. Mark had reached the top management echelon with some of the largest companies in the world, including a vice-presidency with PepsiCo, and was living with his wife and two children (he had three children by an earlier marriage) in one of the wealthiest suburbs of New York City.
Life was sweet for Mark and Melinda, but all of that would come crashing down when the two Olathe detectives knocked on each of their doors to begin the hard work that the department never got around to doing in 1982. That the two were finally brought to justice is a credit to the men who reopened such an old case; what happened in the courtroom and in the district attorney’s office when the two murderers were returned to Olathe was a disgrace.
Marek Fuchs covered the David Harmon murder story for three years for the New York Times and, as a result, he is well acquainted with all of its players and with the politics of Olathe, Kansas, including the Church of the Nazarene’s influence there and the political ambitions of some involved in prosecuting the case. Unfortunately, however, A Cold-Blooded Business reads more like an extended newspaper story than like what one generally expects to find in today’s almost novelized true crime books. As despicable as Melinda and Mark obviously are, Fuchs does not dig deep enough into their personalities to explain, or even to theorize much about how two such supposedly deeply religious people can be capable of doing what these two did. A Cold-Blooded Business comes in at barely 200 pages and it left me wondering who Melinda and Mark really are and why they killed David Harmon. David’s family is probably wondering the same thing.
Rated at: 3.0
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Visions of America is divided into 13 chapters, one for each of the 13 original colonies. Each chapter focuses on a theme critical to Shom’s vision of America, including photographic essays on American icons, Native Americans, Black Americans, small town America, the open road, and American presidents. Taken together, the 13 chapters, and the photos used to illustrate them, unite to create a clear picture of what makes the American experience unique. Paul Sohm has, indeed, photographed democracy.
Each of the book’s chapters is filled with memorable photographs, but I suspect that each reader will be particularly drawn to one or two chapters because of the personal memories they stir. For me, there were two: Chapter Seven, “Song of the Open Road” and Chapter Ten, “E Pluribus Unum,” the chapter on sport (especially the baseball and marathon photos). Others, I am certain, will find their own favorite chapters.
Visions of America is more than a coffee-table book of photos. Each chapter is built around an essay of Sohm’s in which he visits the theme being illustrated by his photographs. In addition, Sohm often shares anecdotes about the pictures themselves and the effort and planning that went into creating them. Sohm’s essays, powerful as they are, are short and to the point. They are so perfectly paired with a set of photos to illustrate the message of each chapter that one comes to realize that neither the essays nor the photos would have nearly the same impact if offered alone.
I have spent nearly a month with Visions of America and I keep coming back to Chapter Seven and the sentence that always ends with me studying Sohm’s pictures of the American open road,”Few things are more American than getting in your car and driving cross-country.” Simple as that sentence is, it never fails to make me wish I were behind the wheel again and wandering rather aimlessly from one small town to the next. That kind of driving is my idea of the perfect vacation and it probably always will be that way. The sentence brings back countless memories of family vacations spent on the road with my parents and brother. I learned as a child that I enjoyed the road trip more than I did the destination, and Sohm’s photos remind me of why I still feel that way.
Visions of America is a masterpiece. It is an inspirational reminder of what this country once was and what it can be again if we remember who we are. I plan to leave the book out for friends and family to browse through; it is good medicine for these tough economic times. (Click on the photos to see larger versions of them.)
Rated at: 5.0
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
I have had had three very close calls in less than a year involving drivers paying more attention to their cell phones than to their driving. In each instance they slowly drifted over into my lane but I was able to get their attention in time by laying on my horn until they became aware again of their surroundings. Adults are every bit as guilty of this stupid habit as are teens and young adults - each of my near-misses involved a mature female driver behind the wheel of the other car.
And, of course, it's not just texting that causes this kind of accident. Some people become every bit as dangerous to themselves and others simply by trying to speak on a hand-held phone while driving.
Please watch this video and please share it with others if you have a website on which it can be hosted.
The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession
That John Gilkey is an obsessed book collector is beyond question. Gilkey’s gnawing desire to own rare books, however, does not make him unique – or even uncommon. People collect a variety of objects for a variety of reasons and many of them do become obsessed with the chase and the displaying of their “trophies.” What makes Gilkey unusual enough to have a book written about him is that he entirely satisfies his urge to own rare books by stealing them. Price is no object for a man who never intends to pay for the books he adds to his personal library.
In The Man Who Loved Books Too Much, Allison Hoover Bartlett combines Gilkey’s story with that of the man who became obsessed with stopping his thefts, rare book dealer Ken Sanders. Against all odds, she was able to befriend both men to such a degree that she was able to gain insight into what motivated each of them – one to steal books and the other to spend countless hours trying to stop him.
Bartlett spent a great deal of time getting to know John Gilkey. She visited him in jail when he was serving time for stealing expensive items from rare book dealers; she interviewed him extensively while he was a free man; and she visited his mother’s home where she was allowed to see some of the books being kept for him there. However, as Ken Sanders, the man most responsible for putting Gilkey behind bars for extended periods of time reminded Bartlett, Gilkey is a born liar and what he says can never be trusted. Bartlett, though, despite Gilkey’s lies and distortions, develops a sound theory as to why he is so driven to steal rare books despite the increasing regularity with which he is caught and sent to jail.
Book dealer/detective Ken Sanders seems to have been more of a challenge for Bartlett than Gilkey turned out to be. Sanders seemed reluctant to discuss in any detail what motivated him to dedicate so much of his life to Gilkey’s capture and arrest. He preferred, instead, to let his actions speak for themselves. Sanders did open the door to the world of rare book dealers for Bartlett by placing her in contact with many of Gilkey’s victims, and she combines the insights she gained from those interviews with her own research to recount the history of book lust and book theft from the earliest days to the present.
This is the perfect true crime book for book lovers, a morality play to remind even the most obsessed of us of the dangers of those obsessions.
Rated at: 4.5
Monday, August 24, 2009
You folks made this one easy. I have three bound short stories to give away courtesy of Libby Fischer Hellmann and I have three requests for a copy. This is a special short story in which Hellmann's two main characters in Doubleback (each of whom has a fictional series of her own) meet for the first time.
So, I need mailing addresses from: RhapsodyInBooks, Alissa and Janda/Anne so that I can get these into the mail to you.
Email the details to me and I'll have them to each of you ASAP.
Congratulations - you're going to love this story.
Frederick LaCroix was fortunate that his work took him to the same part of the world in which his father had seen so much combat during the war. This would allow him to spend six years retracing his father’s wartime footsteps in the Pacific while searching for surviving family members of the Japanese soldier whose flag had been in LaCroix hands for more than 60 years. Despite the high odds against his success - and the frustrating dead-ends he encountered - LaCroix persevered long enough to see his search end in a moving Tokyo ceremony during which Lieutenant Ishizuka’s family gratefully accepted the bloodied flag once carried into battle by their lost relative.
The Sky Rained Heroes (“The sky rained heroes upon the astonished earth.” – H.G. Wells, The World Set Free - 1914), is told largely through the war letters written by Captain LaCroix to his parents. LaCroix was a dedicated letter-writer and his letters set the perfect tone for his side of the World War II experience. It is, at times, difficult to remember that the letters were written by a young man barely into his twenties – except when he loses his struggle not to brag about the danger of his training and flight missions while in the next breath telling his parents there is no need to worry about him.
LaCroix researched Lieutenant Ishizuka’s war record to such an extent that he is able to recreate the lieutenant’s Philippine experiences right up to the fateful day on which he lost his life to shrapnel created by bombs being dropped on the Japanese by Captain LaCroix and his fellow fighter pilots. By alternating the book’s chapters between the viewpoints of Lieutenant Ishizuka and Captain LaCroix, the author manages to put a human face on both men, treating them as the equals they were, two men caught up in the whirlwind of war.
The Sky Rained Heroes offers a brief history of the war’s Pacific Theater but, more importantly, it is the story of how two families were brought together 60 years after the war to honor the memories of two brave men who fought that war from opposite sides of the battlefield. Frederick LaCroix has done his father and Lieutenant Ishizuka proud.
Rated at: 4.0
Sunday, August 23, 2009
This link goes to a live camera at the San Diego Zoo, a camera placed in the zoo's Panda habitat to show live shots of what the bears are up to.
As I type this, one bear is just beginning to squirm and seems to be waking up for the day - very gradually, just like the rest of us.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
As the novel opens, David Loogan is in search of a special shovel, one that will work well in tight quarters. Loogan, a man already hiding from his past, has made the ill-fated decision to help his friend (and boss), Tom Kristoll hide evidence about what happened at Kristoll’s home earlier in the evening. Loogan is no fool, and he knows that what Kristoll wants him to believe about the incident is, on the one hand, too neat, and on the other, full of holes. Loogan, though, is loyal to the man who gave him his new start as an editor at Gray Streets, a mystery magazine, and perhaps because he is sleeping with Kristoll’s wife, he feels compelled to do whatever Kristoll asks of him.
Things go well enough that night but when people associated with the magazine start turning up dead, Loogan begins to realize the danger in which his misplaced sense of loyalty has placed him. Not only is he suspected by the Ann Arbor police of being a murderer, the real murderer is determined to add him to the growing list of formerly-breathing Gray Streets employees.
Clearly, author Harry Dolan is a man who appreciates classic American noir crime fiction. Bad Things Happen is a combination parody/tribute to the crime writing school made famous by the likes of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, James Cain, and others, and one can visualize many of the book’s scenes as part of the old black and white movies of that era. One has only to read a list of the names of the book’s main characters to get a feel for the atmosphere Dolan wants to create for his mystery. We have: David Loogan, Bridget Shellcross, Rex Chatterjee, Nathan Hideaway, and Casmir Hifflyn, for starters. It is almost enough to make the reader yearn for a quick game of Clue between chapters.
Bad Things Happen, though, has more than nostalgia to offer its readers. Its finely-crafted plot, filled with unexpected twists and turns, will keep readers guessing the murderer’s identify all the way to the end – wondering even to the last page if they have it figured out this time. David Loogan, Ann Arbor detective Elizabeth Waishkey, and Waishkey’s daughter, Rachel, are memorable characters and, at some point, they deserve a chance to live again in a sequel to Bad Things Happen.
If you know and love the American noir school of crime fiction, the updated version of the genre presented by Harry Dolan in Bad Things Happen is certain to make you smile.
Rated at: 5.0
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
First, I want to mention a wonderful project that author Melanie Wells has recently launched to raise money for the fight against adult illiteracy. Melanie calls it "I Told Two Friends" and, if all goes well, she hopes to earn about $100,000 for the cause. It works this way:
Book lovers are invited to visit IToldTwoFriends.com. There they will find an invitation to help fight illiteracy through a chain reaction. They are asked to buy two copies of the psychological thriller, My Soul to Keep, by Melanie Wells and give them to two friends and encourage those friends to also join the campaign by visiting the website and buying two books for two other friends …and so on and so on until thousands of dollars are raised to help eager adults learn to read these sentences.[..]
The goal of the I Told Two Friends campaign is to sell 100,000 copies of Wells’ books. For every copy sold at retail price, Wells will donate 100 percent of her profits to ProLiteracy.[...]
Wells encourages those who take part in the IToldTwoFriends.com effort to creatively record their efforts. Videos of the book exchanges and documentation of the books purchased will be published on the site. Prizes will be given along the way for most friends enlisted and most original documentation efforts.I reviewed the book here on Book Chase and can recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good story. If there is such a genre as "Christian Thriller," this is one of the best of the type.
Readers can participate at www.IToldTwoFriends.com and www.proliteracy.org and can follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/
Second, is word that author Carolyn Rubenstein is giving away a Kindle each day between yesterday and Friday to celebrate yesterday's publication of her new book, Perseverance. I'm a little late with this announcement, but you still have a couple of shots at winning a free Kindle:
Click Here for Chance to Win a Kindle
Good luck - but Hurry!
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
I remembered tonight that several of you did seem to have a genuine interest in the music, so I decided to post the link to my second blog here.
It's called Bluegrass and Honky Tonks (a title which has offended a few purists on both sides of the equation already). I am posting lots of video that I've taken in the last several months, much of it local to Houston, lots of music news, and even some heartfelt opinion guaranteed to offend at least 50% of the people who read it. If you are interested, or even curious, feel free to click on the link and check out how it's grown since June 6, the day I posted there for the first time.
Ursula Hanks, in her memoir entitled In My Heart, gives a frank account of what she and her parents faced together in the last two years of her parents’ lives. It is a sobering reminder that even someone as willing to take in their parents as Hanks was is never really prepared for the reality of the situation. It is also a reminder that the experience, difficult as it may be, can result in some of the fondest memories a child will be left with at the passing of her parents.
Hanks admits that when her father announced that he and her mother were ready to move in with her the first emotion she felt was fear, fear of the unknown. Could she do this? Was she physically and emotionally capable of providing her parents with the kind of care demanded by their age and health? Her mother was already suffering the effects of Alzheimer’s, and the exhausting around-the-clock care she required was what had convinced Hanks’ father that the two of them could no longer live alone.
Hanks was lucky to have a supportive husband who believes in the sanctity of family and friends, a man who wholeheartedly supported her decision to bring her parents into their home during their last years of life. Hanks found, however, that even two men who respected each other as much as her father and husband did would argue frequently when forced to spend so much time together, something that for a while drove her to distraction.
In My Heart is not sugarcoated. It is an honest account of what happened when Hanks suddenly found herself living with her aging parents every day. There were good times and there were bad times. The beauty of her message is that the experience made the four of them closer than they would ever have been otherwise. Hanks was able to have intimate conversations with her father during which he offered more details about his World War II experiences as a German soldier than he had been willing to share with her during her entire lifetime. She was able to be with her mother every day, just as she had been while growing up and, despite her mother’s continuing slippage into Alzheimer’s merciless grip, the times they spent alone together were moments she still treasures.
In My Heart comes in at barely 100 pages but it has a lot to offer to those who are wondering how they can possibly cope with the needs of their own aging parents. It may be the personal story of one remarkable family, but it proves just what can be achieved when one’s love of family is put to the ultimate test. It offers hope to the rest of us.
Rated at: 4.0
Monday, August 17, 2009
You might also recall that I mentioned in the comments after the review that I might have a surprise this week regarding the book and its two main characters.
Well, here goes: Libby Fischer Hellmann has very graciously provided me with several copies of a specially written, limited edition short story in which PI Georgia Davis and video producer Ellie Foreman meet for the first time. Fans of Hellmann's novels will know that the two women are featured in novels of their own and, most recently, in a new novel that sees them working together for the second time.
The short story is in the form of a little 15-page paperback and each copy is numbered to indicate its place in the limited edition. I'll be honest - I received four copies of the story (numbers 31-34) but I am only giving away three of them as prizes. This time I can't resist keeping one for my own collection.
I really want the three giveaway copies to go to the readers who will most appreciate them. All you need to do is post a comment to this announcement telling me why you want one of the three copies Libby is allowing me to give away here on Book Chase. I will judge strictly on what I perceive your level of interest to be and, if I end up with more than three entries in a tie, I will use my magic random number generator to break the tie.
Don't be intimidated or embarrassed about expressing yourselves. I don't want to discourage any entries; I only want to place these stories in "good homes." (That last bit is another of my lame attempts at making a joke - sorry about that.)
Sunday, August 16, 2009
In a variation of "buy one, get one," publishers are offering best-sellers for free on Amazon and other retailers. The latest is the Kindle version of James Patterson's "The Angel Experiment," a four-year-old release that is the first book of the "Maximum Ride" young adult series. It joins Greg Keyes' "The Briar King" and Joseph Finder's "Paranoia" as the biggest movers on Amazon.com's site in recent days.[...]
"The Angel Experiment" was originally released in 2005, and its free e-book release may have been timed to generate some buzz for the movie version, due next year. And that is exactly the point.
The idea of giving away the e-books is to boost the sales of others, which usually cost about $10 online.
Free e-books encourage consumers to try out new authors. Likewise, a free e-book that offers an in-depth interview with a famous author could prime the pump for paid sales of the writer's next work. In fact, authors could stand to benefit greatly from using one work to market another: Offering "The Angel Experiment" at no cost could be a very effective way of igniting excitement -- and ticket sales -- for the soon-to-be released film.I forgot how much fun marketing can be, even in an environment like today's in which products come and go at a rapid pace. I am one who refuses to believe that printed books are doomed. Perhaps I am overly sentimental about "real books," and my thinking is of the wishful variety, but I hope that the sales of e-books eventually will subsidize the printing and marketing of physical books for those of us who will forever prefer them over the bits and bytes we download for other reading devices.
I can't read e-books in bed and wonder just how anyone might do that in a way that doesn't jeopardize the life of the reading device when it slips from their fingers as they fall asleep. I can't tell you how many times I awake in the morning to find a book splattered on the floor on my side of the bed. I haven't counted, but I probably have 250 e-books now, of which I have read no more than 20. I find reading an e-book to be a totally different experience from reading a printed book. Reading in the e-book format is destined, for me, to remain a second choice, something that will only happen when circumstances make it impossible or impractical for me to carry a printed book with me.
I am, however, pulling for e-books to reach whatever sales level it takes for them to help publishing houses stay afloat, the more the merrier. But my first choice will always be books-on-trees.
Friday, August 14, 2009
Has it ever happened that you were reading a book, a brand new hardcover, not a review copy, and you suddenly come upon a jarringly misplaced sentence? I'm talking about a sentence that changes the whole scene that you have just read, an alternative to the action just described, a version that was obviously considered at one point but was left in the book only because of some really poor editing.
That happened to me this afternoon with a book I just started reading. About 50 pages into the thing, a murder mystery that had completely sucked me in to its story, I suddenly did a literal double-take. I had to re-read the paragraphs three times to make sure that I was really seeing what I thought I was reading.
Now I can't get that blip out of my mind and it's causing me to think less of the book. I know that's not fair, and I suspect I'll be over it by the time I finish the book in a few days, but it sure bugs me right now.
Are editors doing a poorer job than they did in the past? Or do we perhaps become better readers over time as the number of books we have read keeps adding up? This is a bit like watching a movie that you really like until you suddenly recall what a jackass the leading man is in the real world? The movie becomes a bit tainted at that point. Silly, I know. You don't have to say it.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Case in point: I just read a glowing review of Jonathan Tropper's "This is Where I Leave You." I'm sold; I want it. But something's amiss here: Amazon's hardcover price is $15.57, while the Kindle edition sells for $14.01.Now, here is my favorite part of the article (even though I realize it will be a cold day in you know where before any publisher would dare try this idea):
Now, I understand books cost money. There's editing, publishing, and distribution. Paper, ink, trucks, gasoline. Storage, shipping, shelf space, sales staff. And the countless people involved in all those transactions.
E-books, on the other hand, consume zero trees. They weigh nothing, occupy no physical space, and don't get shipped in the traditional sense. Middlemen are few and far between. So you're left with, what, editing costs and the pittance you pay the authors?
Let's get some perspective. Publishers have vast libraries of old, forgotten books that are generating zero income, or close to it. Why can't I buy e-book editions for 99 cents? Last I checked, some revenue was better than no revenue.Book publishers are making the same mistake that music labels have made in recent years. Both businesses are sitting on a goldmine of out-of-print material that generates absolutely zero income for them right now. Why not bring some of those gems out in e-book format as a test to see what might happen when they are made available for a dollar or two. I suspect that the publishers would be amazed at the amount of cash that would roll their way.
Why aren't best sellers priced at, say, $2.99? That's an impulse-buy price, one that would encourage readers to pony up instead of waiting weeks or months to check out the one print copy the library bought.
Sadly, though, I doubt that book publishers are any more visionary than music labels proved to be. Incompetent management has just about killed the major labels; I would really hate to see that happen to the book publishers.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
It all starts for Georgia when Ellie asks her to speak with the mother of a little girl who, only hours earlier, has been kidnapped. Despite Georgia’s advice that the police need to be called in immediately, the little girl’s mother, Chris, fears for the safety of her daughter and refuses to make the phone call. Three days later, when the little girl is released unharmed and appears at the front door of her house things begin to get strange.
Just a few days after the safe return of her daughter, the brakes on Chris’s car fail and she is involved in what the police, at least for the moment, are calling a traffic accident. Georgia, who at times seems to see herself as some kind of avenging angel, has continued to nose around on her own in hope of catching up with the villains who have so badly traumatized the little girl. Consequently, when the child’s father, fearing for the immediate safety of his daughter, agrees to hire Georgia to find those responsible for her kidnapping, she is more than ready to continue her efforts. The pieces finally begin to fall into place for Georgia when she learns that Chris may have embezzled $3 million from her bank employer in a scheme that started not long before her daughter was kidnapped.
Georgia is a fearless and dedicated investigator and, with major assistance from Ellie, she begins to make the wrong people very nervous. Her investigation will carry her from Chicago, where it all started, to Wisconsin, and on to an Arizona border town where the rules of the Old West still seem to be in play while illegal immigrants and drugs cross into the U.S.
By the time Doubleback reaches its exciting conclusion, Georgia is already battered, bruised and having to compensate for a broken arm. Considering the hornet’s nest she has stirred up, though, she is lucky to be alive. She knows that – but she is going to make someone pay, or she is going to die trying, maybe both.
Georgia Davis and Ellie Foreman make a winning team and readers of Doubleback will want to see the two work together again in future books. Author Hellman is in the enviable position of being able to continue with two individual series or to merge the two into a new one. Either way is fine with me because I am now a fan of both ladies.
Rated at: 4.0
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
During those thirty months, I have had three instances where "Anonymous" has stopped by to post potentially slanderous comments about the subject of one of my posts. One attack was on an author, one on a television personality, and one on someone secondarily related to a post.
Luckily for me, Blogger allows its users to set-up instant email notification for when someone makes a comment to any of my Book Chase posts. That allows me to get in quickly to nip the nastiness in the bud before too many people have likely even noticed it. "No harm, no foul" is about all a blogger can hope for when someone with a personal axe to grind decides to hijack a post for their own personal reasons. Even with that policy, though, I did have the brother of an American television icon hint at legal action because I let something get by me for a few days. Let's just say, lesson learned, and that will never happen again.
I bring all this up because the third instance of a crazy, personal vendetta intruded on my life just this week. Now I'm curious. Have you, my fellow bloggers, had this kind of thing happen on your own blogs? If so, how have you handled it, guys?
Monday, August 10, 2009
As a strict rule, I do my best to avoid “romance novels” because I have yet to find one that actually seems real to me. I do not mean to put down an entire fiction sub-genre because I know how popular romance novels are. But I know myself well enough to understand that they are not for me, a fact of life that makes reviewing one difficult. I do not know that Mary Verdick considers herself a romance novelist since this is the first of her books I have read but I would call As Long as He Needs Me a psychological romance novel. And it was the “psychological” part of the novel that appealed to me.
Kitty and Clem Johanssen have decided to celebrate their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary with the kind of cruise they have dreamed about for years. Kitty and Clem have done well for themselves in small-town America, raising a family of three children, and running a large general store in their little town. Life has not always been easy for the Johanssen family, but now the time seems right for them to splurge on their dream vacation.
The vacation, however, is destined to be nothing like what they expected. Things get shaky right from the beginning when, in a rush to get to the cruise boat on time, Clem is so slow to react to two New York City con men that they snatch all of his cash and rush off before he realizes what has just happened. Clem is understandably upset, but his immediate reaction is to blame the entire city, not himself, for what happened. It is only later, after he has had time to consider exactly how it all happened, that Clem blames himself.
Clem, though, does more than just blame himself for losing their vacation money. He allows the theft to rob him of all self-confidence and he behaves in a way that starts to undermine Kitty’s own faith in their thirty-five-year marriage. As Clem withdraws into himself more and more, and begins drinking heavily, Kitty faces a crisis of confidence almost as serious as the one he suffers – and reacts almost as badly.
Kitty, alone as she is for much of the trip, has time to think about all that has happened during her long relationship with Clem, and the reader finds that the Johanssen family has had more than its share of ups and downs. The marriage, again facing an uncertain future, is very lucky to have survived for so many years.
Mary Verdick tells a good story. There are numerous twists and turns involving every member of the family that help explain the present day behavior of her two main characters. I was at first filled with sympathy for both Kitty and Clem but, by the book’s end, my sympathy was gone, along with most of my respect. I found both characters, in their eagerness to blame their own bad behavior on the behavior of others, to be rather weak people and I started to believe that they deserve each other. That may, or may not, be what the author intended; even after an extra few days thinking about that, I am not sure.
Rated at: 3.5
Saturday, August 08, 2009
Isn't it amazing that this style was once used as a serious delivery system for propaganda? Have we really gotten that smarter or were we just seriously naive in the first half of the 20th century?
Friday, August 07, 2009
The story begins in 1953, at a funeral being attended by Matthew Braddock, a retired reporter who only coincidentally became aware that the woman whose funeral he is attending has died. Elizabeth Stone played a large role in Braddock's earlier life but he has had not contact with, or word about, her in decades. Braddock will not, however, just walk away from the funeral to resume his retirement and old age. Rather, after the funeral, he is provided with a packet containing detailed memoirs that will answer all the questions he had failed to answer more than forty years earlier.
London 1909 - Braddock is hired by Elizabeth Stone to find the illegitimate child mentioned in her late husband's will so that his estate can be settled in an orderly and timely manner. Elizabeth Stone, who claims to have been unaware of the existence of such a child before seeing her husband's will, tells Braddock that she is not overly concerned about the child's existence and that she simply wants the child found so that her husband's affairs can be finalized to the benefit of his heirs and creditors.
Braddock, though, being the suspicious reporter that he is, begins to look into Stone's business affairs and soon comes to question the way that John Stone supposedly met his death. Was the fall from a window that killed him an accident as is officially reported by the police? Was he pushed from the window? Did he jump? What does soon become apparent is that neither John Stone nor his widow, Elizabeth, are the people they seem to be.
Stone's Fall is told in three separate parts, each part taking place in a different city and in a different generation. Part I, London 1909, is the story of Matthew Braddock's investigation and what he learns about the Stones, both in the past and in the present. It ends at the point at which Braddock believes that he is forever done with the Stones and their confusing history.
Part II, Paris 1890, takes the story back a full generation and explains how Elizabeth came to be the woman she is and how she first encountered her husband. This section develops some of the minor characters from Part I and begins to hint at answers to the questions left open by the first segment of the book. One character, in particular, Henry Cort, takes center stage and the reader is given insight into how the man who appeared to be such a villain in Part I came to be that kind of person and what motivated him to do the things he did for his country.
Part III, Venice 1867, takes another step backward in time and allows John Stone himself to tell the story of his life, the story of a young man who discovers that he has a talent for making money and for rationalizing his behavior and code of ethics to his own satisfaction right into old age. It is in this part that the whole story and all of its rather complicated character relationships finally become clear. That does not happen until very near the last paragraph of the book in a revelation that will have most readers shaking their heads in admiration. Others might just find the ending to be a bit to coincidental to suit them (I was one of those and, thus, my rating of 4.0 rather than a higher one).
Iain Pears has created a book that is both beautifully constructed and beautifully written, a book in which his readers can totally immerse themselves into three very different worlds. It is a book that demands complete attention from its readers if they are to feel fully its intended impact. Its length, in conjunction with its complexity, means that it is not an easy book to read, but it is definitely a book that rewards those who give it the time and attention it deserves.
Rated at: 4.0
Thursday, August 06, 2009
What’s the most serious book you’ve read recently?
(I figure it’s easier than asking your most serious boook ever, because, well, it’s recent!)
Meeting Jimmie Rodgers by Barry Mazor
I'm not sure that it comes out in my review just how detailed this Jimmie Rodgers "biography" is. It does not follow a conventional biography format and, in fact, Jimmie is dead and buried before the book is much more than one-third of the way read. This is, instead, a book on music history, in particular the musical family tree of Mr. Rodgers who, according to Barry Mazor, was able to influence multiple genres ranging from blues, to punk, to country, to rock and roll. The book also lists countless recordings that make Mazor's case.
Meeting Jimmie Rodgers is every musicologist's dream and, as an avid amateur musicologist and recordings collector myself, I found it quite satisfying...and very serious.
Wednesday, August 05, 2009
First comes the semi-funny Stephen Colbert bit about the library that supposedly recalled a 7-year-old's library card - and then comes the other side of the story.
A MESSAGE FROM THE LIBRARY BOARD PRESIDENT
I am compelled to write because certain entities have continued to tell a story that is not factual and this has left a number of misconceptions in the minds of people. These people, without having the facts, are making hurtful and incorrect accusations about the staff of the Memorial Library of Nazareth and Vicinity. We had a recent example of how commenting on a situation without the facts can lead people to regret their comments so let us get to certain facts.
1.Dominic Phillips has not been banned from the Nazareth Library.
2.Dominic Phillips still has a valid Nazareth Library Card. This card will continue to be valid until it expires on 12-31-09.
3.No employee of the Nazareth Library ever called the Phillips’ home and said otherwise. The message left on the Phillips answering machine was from an employee of the library branch in Palmer Township.
4.The woman in the piece on the television show The Colbert Report, Leslie Burger, is the Director of the Library in Princeton, NJ. (68 miles away from Nazareth according to Rand McNally directions).
5.The interior library pictures were taken at the Phillipsburg, NJ library.
6.Neither the Nazareth Library staff nor the Library Board were approached by the producers or anyone else connected with The Colbert Report, nor were the staff or the Board given a chance to talk with them, or present our information to them.
7.We did not draw up the library district boundaries. This is done by a bill passed by the State Legislature and signed by the Governor.
8.Tatamy Borough was temporarily part of the Nazareth Library as part of a State funded grant back in the 1980’s. When the grant finished, Tatamy Borough, through its duly elected officials, decided not to pay for continued participation by the Borough. This is their right and their obligation to act in the best interests of their residents as they see it. Let me opine that as these officials were reelected after this, a majority of the residents of Tatamy must have agreed with them. It is also instructive to know that Bushkill Township was also a part of that grant and those elected officials did decide to permanently join the Library.
The first article published in the Express Times was not entirely accurate. There was a second article which made some effort to correct some of the misconceptions that arose from the first. Newspapers, at their heart, attempt to inform the public. I have no doubt that was the intent of the Express Times when it ran the first article, although I would have preferred that it had waited and done more investigation so that its story did not have factual errors. However, The Colbert Report is an entertainment forum on a channel called COMEDY Central. To be candid, I am both shocked and saddened to see how may people, many with advanced education and degrees, can watch a show on Comedy Central and assume that they are being given FACTS.
Maybe if people realized the show went to New Jersey to do a story about a Pennsylvania Library, they might question why. After all, New Jersey libraries are run pursuant to New Jersey law and Pennsylvania Libraries are governed by Pennsylvania law. Could it be that librarians familiar with Pennsylvania laws and procedures might not have given the show what they wanted for their episode? I will let each person make their own judgment. What I will question is how people could be saying all of the things, with such hate and venom, when they don’t know what in blazes they are talking about.
Any person who has sent a nasty e-mail to the library or posted a nasty comment on a blog somewhere who did not know at least 5 of the 8 facts I listed above (one more than half) should be ashamed of themselves for making these comments without a factual basis to do so. Has our society really gotten that gullible that we believe what we see on a comedy television show as fact and make no effort to use any critical thinking or do our own investigation? Everyone who has enough ability to send a hateful e-mail could have checked the Library’s web site and read the membership criteria and policies for themselves. Maybe it would be a good idea for all of us to go to our own libraries and take out 1984 or Animal Farm and learn something from all of this. And the first lesson should be not everything you see on television or even in the newspaper is correct.
John Reinhart, Library Board President
Tuesday, August 04, 2009
Trees all over Houston are being taken down right now in anticipation of what could happen if a hurricane strikes Houston again this year. The area looks and feels normal again (with the possible exception of Galveston Island) and no one wants to have their house crushed two years running - thus, the sacrificing of hundreds of healthy trees growing in dangerous spots.
The size of the tree only comes into perspective when I pan far enough back to show the two-story house behind it. This guy must have had quite a view from up there.
Monday, August 03, 2009
One website, though, is more akin to the Wild Wild West than it is to a typical book review site. It is a place where book reviewers can expect to be cursed, laughed at, and otherwise abused on a regular basis (if tarring and feathering or stocks were available, I would really be worried). Amazon.com, though, can be a nasty place for book reviewers with thin skins. Dare to post a review on any political book, either positive or negative, and watch the “helpful/not helpful” votes come rolling in from people who have not read the book - but hate its author. Dare to post a negative, or even a mediocre review, of a book by a big-name, mainstream author and expect to have your very IQ challenged by the author’s rabid fans.
The strangest thing about Amazon is that a generous portion of the abusive comments attached to book reviews come directly from the authors of those books. It is hard to understand what the authors think they will gain by making personal attacks on readers who have panned their books, but I suppose such behavior is cheaper than the therapy from which they would more readily benefit.
Even big-name authors tend to blow their stacks every so often about book reviews but few of them respond the way that Alice Hoffman did publicly a few weeks ago to one newspaper reviewer who dared question the quality of her latest novel:
“Now any idiot can be a critic. Writers used to review writers. My second novel was reviewed by Anne Tyler. So who is Roberta Silman?”That kind of response creates a “no-win” situation for an author, as Hoffman found out by the amount of scorn hurled her way by the media and public alike. Is Hoffman suggesting that seasoned readers and professional critics not dare review a book unless they, too, have been published? Sales are all about word-of-mouth nowadays and Ms. Hoffman’s elitist attitude makes clear how unhappy she is that word of a disappointing novel spreads quickly in today’s marketplace - no matter who the author may be. More to the point, why should readers even trust reviews written by other writers since so many writers trade cover blurbs and reviews with their friends and colleagues over entire careers?
Even as prominent a book reviewer as Maureen Corrigan (of NPR, book and newspaper fame) knows what to expect from certain negative reviews. However, few handle the situation as cleverly as Corrigan did this weekend when she disguised her review of the latest Nora Roberts tripe as an opinion piece about the frustration of reviewing the books of an author who sells the huge number of books sold by Roberts. (I read Corrigan’s piece in the Houston Chronicle on Sunday morning, but here's a link to the whole review at the Washington Post site.) According to Corrigan:
“It doesn’t much matter what I say about the new Nora Roberts novel; most of the adult female population of the planet is going to read it anyway. It’s a staggering understatement to say that Roberts is review proof.”Now that she has done her best to discourage a “deluge of emails” from Roberts fans, Corrigan has her say:
“If I pan the novel, I come off as a snooty-pants literature professor, and I’ll be deluged by emails from her ticked-off fans. If I gush over it, I’ll be suspected of trying too hard to be just a regular gal…”
“I’m going to say what I think straight out: Black Hills is synthetic mind candy. It’s not even very satisfying synthetic mind candy, such as, for instance, Clive Cussler in his prime or Patricia Wentworth’s soothing Maud Silver mysteries.”Next consider that Nora Roberts has written more than 160 bestsellers, 39 of which have debuted at No. 1 and you will better understand Corrigan’s take on this new one. While thinking about those numbers, you might also consider the national embarrassment of what is called the NYT Fiction Bestseller List.
“This latest smooch-and-shoot saga spans three decades and many twists of the heart. To give Roberts her due, she keeps this fluff aloft for hundreds of pages (partly by repeating the same sex scene every other chapter or so). Black Hills isn’t much of a suspense story and the romance is so silly that it isn’t even good fantasy fodder, but none of Roberts’ fans will give a hoot.”
Me, I hope to keep Corrigan’s tongue-in-cheek approach in mind the next time I am called a bunch of names over at Amazon. If it happens to a critic as good as Corrigan, I will just remind myself that I am in good company despite my amateur status.
Sunday, August 02, 2009
According to the Dallas Morning News, McMurty made remarks during a recent visit to his old home town of Archer City, Texas, that strongly hint that his days of fiction writing are behind him:
"It's a finite gift, for sure," he says of novel writing. "I'm about at the end of it. I can write certain things. I don't think I can write fiction any more. I think I've used it up over 30 novels. That's a lot of novels."[...]
"Most great novels are written by people between 40 and 60, or 35 and 60," he says. "Not too many great novels are written by people over 75. Hardly any. Maybe Tolstoy."The article also delves into McMurtry's huge book collection and the bookstore he opened in Archer City. Take a look at the whole article for much more detail on that interesting aspect of the author's life but one section did jump out at me because of its tone:
Rhino Ranch represents a first for McMurtry, whose tetralogies include the powerful series that spans Moving On, All My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers, Terms of Endearment and The Evening Star. (He also has written a Lonesome Dove tetralogy.)
Rhino Ranch concludes his only quintet, the other four volumes being The Last Picture Show, Texasville, Duane's Depressed and When the Light Goes.
McMurtry claims to have not a single customer from Archer City and says his fellow citizens would prefer to see Booked Up packed up and gone. "They hate them," he says. "They're very uneasy about those books. They're not comfortable with all that knowledge being around."It is impossible to tell, of course, whether McMurtry said this with a smile on his face and was making a little "inside" joke or if he might be feeling that it really is impossible to go home again. I hope he's not becoming bitter and depressed about a perceived lack of appreciation from the townspeople for his efforts to do something for Archer City.
His hometown, to which The Last Picture Show was "lovingly dedicated," hasn't changed much over the years. He calls it "a mean little oil-patch town, not welcoming to outsiders."
McMurtry, as the article goes on to say, is also convinced that newly published physical books will become a thing of the past within another generation, a prediction that has to bother any book lover, especially one who owns more than 300,000 of them.
I can't help but find this whole interview to be one of the saddest ones I've read in a while. The real truth of the interview seems to be "between the lines,"something I didn't realize on my first reading of the quotes. A second time through the article, though, left me with the feeling that McMurtry is perhaps more than a little depressed about his stage of life, something I can understand but really hate to see in a man I've admired for so many years. I hope I'm wrong.