Friday, November 30, 2012

Funny Animal Voiceovers from the BBC

In the spirit of this being Friday, the happiest day of the week for most people I know, I thought I would post a little change-of-pace this afternoon.  And, honestly this cracks me up so much that I really just wanted an excuse to give it a permanent home on Book Chase:

Furry Animal Voiceovers...something for everyone

Thursday, November 29, 2012


Malena is the kind of book that it will haunt a reader long after its final page has been turned.  Considering the novel’s subject matter, the violent takeover of Argentina by a military junta in the late 1970s, this is not particularly surprising.  No, the big surprise here is that the book’s author, Edgardo David Holzman, is a first-time author.  Holzman, himself born and educated in Buenos Aires, recreates the horror of those days in a way possible only for someone who understands both the Argentine culture and the depravity of the military thugs who overthrew that country’s government. 

Kevin “Solo” Solórzano is an American interpreter still reeling emotionally from his wife’s impulsive decision to walk out on their marriage.  Now, involved in a nasty custody battle over their two children, and in desperate need of extra income, Solo accepts a short assignment in Buenos Aires.  He will be part of the Organization of American States Human Rights Commission going there to investigate the treatment of political prisoners in Argentine jails.  While there, he hopes to reconnect with Inés, a woman he was romantically involved with fifteen years earlier.

Diego Fioravanti, a captain in the Argentine army (and part-time tango instructor), is facing an emotional crisis of his own.  Diego knows what is really happening to the students, journalists, and others who dare protest the actions of the new Argentine government.  Desperate to escape the country before his lack of enthusiasm for the new regime places him among the ranks of the “disappeared,” Diego is a man on the run.  Coincidentally, he is also in love with the very woman Solo is seeking, and his association with her has brought her to the attention of those searching for him.

Edgardo David Holzman
Solo learns the hard way how dangerous it is for someone as naïve as he is to meddle in the internal affairs of a country where human rights no longer exist.  Only after making inquiries, does he begin to wonder if his attempt to locate specific individuals only guarantees their torture and deaths?  Solo, shocked and sickened by what he sees inside the Argentine prisons, grudgingly comes to the realization that he and the others are there strictly to observe and record what is happening – not to save individual lives.  Astoundingly, despite what they know will happen to them when observers leave the area, prisoners line up to tell their stories.

Fiction based on real-life events, because of how it personalizes history, often has a greater emotional impact on a reader than that of reading a non-fiction account of the same events.  This is certainly the case with Malena.  Knowing that thousands of people “disappeared” during this awful period of Argentina’s history is one thing; pinning names, faces, hopes, and dreams on a dozen of them is entirely another. 

Sadly, what the author describes here is too common during every century.  The torturers and death squads that Holzman describes in Malena are guilty of exactly the same atrocities we learned of in Iraq, Iran, World War II Germany, and countless other places where “dissidents” were seen as a threat to some brutal political regime.  Edgardo David Holzman reminds us what human beings are capable of doing to each other for all the wrong reasons.  You will not forget this book – or those men and women who disappear inside its pages.  This is their story.

(Review Copy provided by Publisher) 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Book Trailer: "Princess Dancer" from Beyond Grimm

The pace at which the publishing industry is evolving is almost mind-numbing from the perspective of the average book lover.  E-books or tree-books?  Kindle or Nook...or other?  Publishers fighting public libraries, Amazon doing its best to put every other book retailer permanently out of business, indie publisher vs. major publisher, indie bookstore vs. the one or two large chain bookstores that still survive?  What is a reader to think of all of this?

So, I can only imagine what it must be like for authors today who are trying to climb onto that whole publishing merry-go-round for the first time.  And if they do make it that far, how will they hold on without getting spun right back off?

That's why I love to talk about books so much.  It's why I enjoy spreading the word about new writers, debut novels, interesting bookstores, beautiful old libraries, and all the independents out there trying to make it on their own.  I have grown particularly fond of book trailers, those little mini-movies and other clever one-of-a-kind presentations that first bring a new book to the public's attention.

Tonight, I have another first for Book Chase: a "Guest Book Trailer."  I received an email from author Sue Lang regarding her story in the anthology titled Beyond Grimm.  Sue's email included a link to the book trailer she produced to bring some attention to her story and the collection.

So pay attention, y'all:

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Bookstore Burglar Calls the Cops - Has Dinner While He Waits

According to the MailOnline, a drunk was on his way home in the wee hours of Saturday morning, kebab in tow, when he decided to break into a Tonbridge, England, bookstore.  After making a bit of a mess of the place, and stealing a few pounds from the change-drawer, he decided to read a book from the display window while he paused long enough to complete his meal of kebab and bottled water.  Then, his conscience seems to have gotten the better of him, so he decided to call the local police to confess his crime - and waited for them to come by the shop to make their arrest.

All very strange...but more interestingly, he was reading from a book called Fly Fishing by J.R. Hartley, the make-believe book from a Yellow Pages television ad that ran in the U.K. in 1983.  What makes this a fun story is that real-world author Michael Russell once decided to cash in on the advert's popularity by writing a book he called Fly Fishing: Memories of Angling Days, under the pen-name J.R. Hartley.  The owner of Mr. Books Bookshop displays a copy of the real book in his shop window because he believes it "symbolizes that I can get anything for you."

Keep in mind that this little crime was committed by a 50-year-old drunk, someone who probably remembers the book title from that 1983 television commercial.  Did his memories of better days make him feel guilty enough to call the cops on himself?  I vote yes.

Now, on to the 1983 commercial:

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving

Ben Benjamin used to be a happy man – not merely contented, he was truly happy.  His wife, a successful veterinarian, made the kind of money that allowed Ben to stay home with the couple’s young son and daughter, an arrangement both agreed was, by far, their best parenting option.  He was doing a good job, the kids were healthy and happy, and the family’s future was bright.  But then Ben learned a painful life-lesson, one likely to scar him emotionally for the rest of his life:  “…nothing is indestructible.”   His wife and children were snatched from him in an instant, leaving him with no family, no home, no job, and just barely enough will to go on. 

Down to his last few dollars, Ben decides to try something different to earn his keep.  He enrolls in a night school class called “The Fundamentals of Caregiving,” learns the basics of the job, and signs up with a placement agency.  Although it is not immediately evident, Ben and his very first client, a nineteen-year-old Muscular Dystrophy patient, will become a perfect match because young Trevor, who is being raised by his single-mom, needs a male role model as badly as Ben needs someone to help stabilize his own life – whether he knows it or not.

Jonathan Evison
Ben is riding a rollercoaster of misplaced blame and emotional fatigue and, at the beginning, he sees caregiving as just another job.  After all, it pays only nine dollars an hour, and he has been instructed never to form an emotional attachment to any of the people for whom he finds himself responsible.  But, as Ben and Trevor begin to bond, Ben is surprised by how important the job suddenly becomes to him.  Then, when Trevor’s mother surprisingly agrees to their plan for a cross-country road trip that will allow the pair to visit as many bizarre roadside attractions as possible, Ben and Trevor do some growing up together.

For Trevor, this is a real coming-of-age experience, one in which some of his dreams and fantasies finally do come true.  For Ben, it is an opportunity to change in ways that will permit him to get on with the rest of his life before it is too late, maybe even a chance to start liking himself a little bit again.  Trevor and Ben, along with the three misfits they encounter along the way, form a makeshift little family that none of them will ever forget – and all five will be the better for having been a part of it.

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving is all about life’s surprises – the good ones, and the bad ones.  This is a novel filled with tragedy, emotional pain, and broken people, but do not be put off by that.  True, it might put a tear or two in your eye, but by the time you finish The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, you will be smiling.  You might even be inspired to make a change or two in your own life.

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

Bonus Book Trailer:

Saturday, November 24, 2012

On Maureen Corrigan's Rather Irrational Review of Ian McEwan's "Sweet Tooth"

Ian McEwan
I finished reading Ian McEwan's new novel, Sweet Tooth, exactly ten minutes ago, so this is not meant to be any kind of a review of the book.  This is simply a reflection on Maureen Corrigan's radio review of the same book for NPR.  I listened to that review a day or so ago when I was maybe 100 pages into the novel, and I was immediately struck by Corrigan's anger and the vicious tone she uses to show her utter contempt for Sweet Tooth.

I now understand her references to McEwan's post-modernist tricks and the like, but I am still dumbfounded that she has trashed Sweet Tooth to such a degree.  Corrigan comes across as a feminist who is outraged that McEwan would dare knock that huge chip from her shoulder.  She is angry because the novel's main character is a woman whom McEwan seems to be ridiculing because of the character's low-brow reading tastes - because, according to Corrigan, McEwan is, in fact, ridiculing all female readers.  Corrigan knows, however, that this is not reason enough to condemn the novel - she has to offer more.  So she claims to have the ability to read McEwan's mind, telling her listeners that he is displaying his contempt for all female readers - or for anyone that enjoys fiction, the very genre McEwan has made his life's work.

First, she calls Sweet Tooth "ingenious" and says she "admired" it.  Then she decides she "hates it" because it is like reading the "equivalent of a snuff film."  Frankly, I suspect that Corrigan had her mind made up  about Sweet Tooth long before she got to the book's final chapter in which McEwan uses the post-modernist trick she claims most irritates her.  (It is, I admit, an effective twist that might very well test the patience of some readers.)

Interesting review - I loved it before I decided to hate it because it is the nearest thing to a snuff film that I have ever seen in a book review.  Here is a link to NPR review.  If you read Sweet Tooth, let me know if the reveiw makes any sense to you.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Round House

I have been reading and enjoying Louise Erdrich since the eighties, so I am both pleased, and a bit surprised, to find that her fourteenth novel is my new favorite of them all.  Critics seem to feel the same because The Round House is the recently announced winner of the 2012 National Book Award for fiction.  (Erdrich was also a National Book Award finalist in 2001 for The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse.)

 The book’s narrator is Joe Coutts, a thirteen-year-old Ojibwe boy who lives on a North Dakota reservation with his mother and father.  Bazil, the boy’s father, is a respected tribal judge with jurisdiction over crimes committed by members of the tribe within the boundaries of the reservation.  His mother, Geraldine, is a reservation researcher who verifies the assertions of applicants claiming membership in the tribe. 

Joe, very much a product of his bookish parents, is an avid reader known to delve into his father’s law books on occasion.  He very much admires his parents and hopes to follow in his father’s footsteps someday.  But Joe’s world is shattered one Sunday afternoon in 1988 when his mother comes home bleeding and traumatized by the violent attack she has suffered.  As it turns out, Geraldine’s physical injuries will heal quicker than her emotional ones.  As the weeks go by, she refuses to eat, bathe, or even leave her bedroom.

Because Geraldine refuses to identify her assailant, or even to speak of the attack, Joe and his father decide to investigate the crime themselves.  But, while Bazil often bounces ideas and random theories off his son, he has no idea that Joe is conducting a dangerous investigation all his own – one that could easily ruin Joe’s future or even cost him his life.

Louise Erdrich
At the heart of The Round House are the convoluted jurisdictional issues pertaining to crimes involving Native Americans.  Depending on where a crime takes place, its investigation is the responsibility of either Federal, State, or Tribal Police departments – but only of one of them.  For that reason, the inability to determine the precise location of a crime, which is exactly the situation in Geraldine’s case, is the worst thing that can possibly happen to a crime victim.  That a white man, even for crimes obviously committed within the boundaries of the reservation, cannot, by law, be investigated by the Tribal Police or prosecuted in Bazil’s courtroom, provides the final insult.

Because Joe is telling his story in hindsight, from the viewpoint of the adult he has become, he is able to explore the more subtle issues that never crossed his mind in 1988.  Does the unchecked threat of pure evilness justify retaliatory violence?  Are there circumstances under which it becomes one’s personal responsibility to disobey the law?  When does the real world trump the ideal world?  Erdrich uses Ojibwe legend and tradition to make a strong case that the old ways are still sometimes the best ways.

The Round House is a grim reminder that Native Americans still suffer many of the same indignities they were first subjected to more than a century ago.

(Review Copy provided by Publisher) 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving Norman Rockwell Style

Norman Rockwell did it longer - and better - than anyone.  His illustrations have become national icons, and many of the most familiar ones pertain to the Thanksgiving celebration.  Here are some of them, and I wonder how many more there are:

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

"I Want to Read, but My Book Overheated"

Am I the only one working this week?  I'm starting to get the feeling that no one is much around this week - rightfully so, if you can pull it off - but I thought I would share a few odds and ends anyway.

So, let's start off with something that made me smile:

Via: Meme Jelly

Next up is something produced by some of the kids at a local middle school here called "In the Library."  Trying to make a bunch of early teens think the library is a cool place to hang out is not easy, so hats off to everyone involved:

On a much less encouraging note, I see that Penguin has decided to "expand" its e-book lending program to libraries in Los Angeles and Cleveland.  Wow, three whole cities now that these have been added to New York.

Can someone please tell me why publishers (and Penguin is not the only one guilty of this) believe it is necessary to have libraries re-purchase the same e-book every twelve months?  I can understand limiting each copy to one patron at a time, but the idea of having to buy the same book again so soon does not make sense.  It's not done that way with tree-books; those are kept on the shelves until they become stale or fall apart, whichever happens first.  I realize that e-books do not wear out, but one year seems like a very short amount of time for using them.  Do tree-books really last only one year on the shelves of a typical library?  I find that hard to believe.

Note, too, that Penguin does not like the level of security offered by the commonly used OverDrive distribution system and is looking into alternative systems.

Simon & Schuster and Macmillan refuse to sell to libraries at all.  You might want to keep that in mind when you spend your book budget, fellow readers.  It works both ways.

And, finally, did you see "Paula Broadwell"reading from All In on C-Span (Saturday Night Live) last weekend?  It's described this way on Hulu: "Paula Broadwell, the biographer of Gen. David Patraeus' book and one of the women in the center of a CIA sex scandal, gets rather personal during a reading of "All In."  Here's the Hulu link.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Hand for a Hand

Hand for a Hand is author T. Frank Muir’s introduction to North American readers.  The book is part of a crime series that also introduces Scottish DCI Andy Gilchrist, a seasoned homicide investigator faced with a case that will force him to revisit a personal history he would prefer to forget. 

From early in the investigation, two things are clear to Andy Gilchrist.  The killer dumping a female body part every twenty-four hours has a thing for the Old Course in St. Andrews – and he is personally challenging Andy to stop him.  Andy’s life, whether he knows it or not, begins to unravel on the morning that a woman’s amputated hand is discovered in the Road Hole Bunker approaching the golf course’s seventeenth green.  The fingers of that dismembered hand hold a one-word note with a rather obvious message: “Murder.”  Even more chillingly, the note is addressed directly to Andy Gilchrist.

Despite each day’s delivery of a new body part and one-word message, Andy and his team are slow to make much progress toward identifying the killer.  Andy, however, knows some things he is reluctant to share with anyone else – the killer has hinted at his next victim, Andy believes he knows exactly who that intended victim is, and the investigation has become his personal race against the clock.

T. Frank Muir
As in the best of crime fiction, Hand for a Hand includes several interesting side-stories and back plots.  In fact, one of the more intriguing characters in the book, an old nemesis of Andy’s, shares a particularly painful episode in both men’s past that will jarringly impact their hunt for the St. Andrew killer.  Muir reveals details of that incident but, especially considering that two other books in the series have already been published in the U.K., one has to wonder just how much more there might be to their relationship.   

Creators of fictional detectives, because of the multitude of characters preceding their own creations, are faced with the near impossible task of avoiding descriptive clichés.  Avid crime fiction readers are certainly familiar with the generic fictional detective that has developed over time and, rather unavoidably, Andy Gilchrist has something in common with that model.  He is a tad beyond middle-aged, a heavy drinker, and divorced because his wife grew tired of sharing him with the job.  He is also a man who, despite his many regrets, is still prone to repeating the same mistakes that have already cost him so much.

Hand for Hand is a worthy introduction to a promising series.  I am looking forward to future titles, including the two already released in the U.K. (Tooth for a Tooth and Eye for an Eye), because I would like to know more about DCI Gilchrist.

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)