Monday, August 31, 2015

Heads in Beds

The subtitle to Jacob Tomsky’s memoir, Heads in Beds, tells the book’s potential readers pretty much what to expect from it.  That subtitle reads: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality, placing the book firmly in that category of insider looks at various service industries – anything, say, from restaurants to cab drivers to hotels, and the like.  In almost every case, the author of these books comes across as some combination of angry, fed up, sarcastic, demeaning toward customers, and just plain nasty.  Tomsky does not come across as angry about his plight in life as some of the other writers of these memoirs, but he does conform to the general pattern via his sarcasm and condescending attitude toward those seeking shelter for a night or two in whatever establishment happens to employ him at the time.

Jacob Tomsky is one of those unfortunate college graduates who completed his education in a field that does not exactly offer great odds of employment upon graduation: Philosophy (if I remember correctly).  All most by accident, Tomsky - a military brat with no real roots - began his hospitality career in New Orleans as a hotel parking valet, one of those guys largely dependent upon tips for the bulk of his spending money.  And he did well, learning all the little tricks that bring larger tips along the way, a lesson that will serve him well no matter what position he holds in the industry. 

Author Jacob Tomsky
He did so well, in fact, that within months he was plucked from the car-parker ranks and placed in charge of over 100 people responsible for cleaning and preparing rooms for the next day’s guests.  And, despite his obvious lack of enthusiasm about his new position, he did well enough with it to be moved again, this time to the front desk where he was able to put his tip-harvesting skills to good use.  (I hope I have not chronologically flipped these two positions, but I don’t have a copy of the book with which to check my memory.)

Sadly, however, Tomsky seems to feel that he has become trapped forever (primarily because that is all he has ever done) in a lifetime spent greeting hotel guests, lying to them, and ultimately milking them for every extra dime he can squeeze out of them.  He does not want to be there, but it is all he knows.  Thus, the sarcasm of his tone and the language he uses to describe his experiences with guests, co-workers, prostitutes, and hotel management.  That is not to say that Tomsky does not tell some interesting anecdotes in Heads in Beds, because he does.  Some of them are funny, some are sad, and more than a few are disgusting, so he does deliver everything promised by the book’s subtitle. 

Some readers, especially those who believe hotels are ripping them off, will find one section of the book to be particularly interesting.  This is a list of tips and reasons that hotels will almost certainly always remove any disputed charges to the room minibar or movie services.   In the end, however, Heads in Beds is pretty much just another memoir exposé of a type that has just about been done to death now.

Post # 2,549

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Scarlett Johannson Is Not Happy About This Book

Actress Scarlett Johansson
Actress Scarlett Johannson really, really wants French author Grégoire Delacourt's novel Le Première Chose Qu'on Regarde (The First Thing You See) banned.  But it is not going to happen.  Instead, the book is being translated and published in the U.K. by Weidenfeld & Nicolson on September 10.

Johannson did win a portion of the lawsuit she filed against the French publisher of the novel, but she prevailed on only one count of the suit and collected only a small portion of the amount she was demanding.  According to The Guardian:
“All of Scarlett Johansson’s demands were rejected except one thing that was seen to be an attack in her private life over two relations that she never had,” Emmanuelle Allibert of the publishers J-C Lattès told the Guardian at the time. “All her other demands … were rejected, notably that there should be a ban on the book being translated or made into a film. We just have to cut out the bit about the affairs.”
The novel's plot does sound rather interesting: a man begins a relationship with a woman he believes to be Johannson, only to learn that she is really just a Scarlett Johannson lookalike.  Delacourt describes his novel this way:
“So I asked myself, as an old advertiser, a young writer, and a father of a normal age, what we were doing to our children to stop them liking themselves as they were. And I suspected that appearances (fashion, models, actors) had become a more important model than what is inside.”   
So what do you think?  Should writers be allowed to use real celebrities as fictional characters in their books, novels in which they can place those celebrities into whatever positions or circumstances they believe move the story along?   The judge in Johannson's lawsuit did, in fact, rule that she was defamed by the book but he also ruled that the book can be translated and published around the world.  Is he right?  

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Pavement Bookworm Is Making a Difference

Philani Dladla, The Pavement Bookworm
Way back in January 2008, I started a post category that I labeled as "Readers."  I use the label to highlight a special kind of reader, a person whose love of books has inspired them to do something that will likely change the lives of others.  If you check my sidebar, you will see that this is the 80th posting I've made about "Readers" in what is almost now eight years.  So they are out there...and people notice them and love them for what they do.  This guy, though, is definitely one of my favorites out of all eighty people I've highlighted.

Twenty-four-year-old Philani Dladla has become known as Johannesburg's "Pavement Bookworm" because of how he supports himself by selling books on the corners of that city's streets.  But Philani is no ordinary panhandler or recycler of books he finds in the trash.  Philani, you see, only sells books he has himself read and he offers a detailed book review with each purchase - and prices his books according to how much he enjoyed them.  But there is a whole lot more even than that to this man's story, and has the rest of the story:

“With some self-motivation and a lot of self-help books, I made the decision to stop taking drugs. But while I was helping myself I also wanted to help the other people I had been living on the streets with. So I started using the money I got from selling books to buy everyone soup and bread everyday instead of spending that money on drugs. Seeing their smiles motivated me to keep using the little I had to spread happiness. From that point on, I knew I never wanted to go back to being a drug addict.”

Click on the line to learn more about Philani.  And if you are still not sold on this guy, take a look at this YouTube video in which he explains himself in great detail:

Philani mentions in this segment that he is working on his memoirs and, while there are not a lot of 24-year-olds whose memoirs I would be much interested in, I would love to see his story get published.  He is an amazing young man.

Post #2,547

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Fixer

The Fixer is my first experience with a Joseph Finder novel, and I have to admit that near the beginning of the book I experienced one of those “been there, done that” moments that had me questioning my intent to finish it.  But I persisted, and that turned out to be a good decision on my part because, in the process, I found out just how good a storyteller Finder is.

The “been there, done that” moment hit me when I realized that the thriller’s basic plot sounded very familiar to me.  Many, if not most, people have probably read at least one book, or seen at least one movie, in which the main character stumbles upon a small fortune in cash, or gold, or jewels, etc.  Then, in a weak moment, our hero decides to keep his find all for himself.  Bad move, that – and the rest of the story involves the guy trying to keep from being maimed or killed by the bad guys who want their loot back.  Well, that is the basic premise of The Fixer.  But Finder throws so many twists and turns, fun characters, and side plots into his story that I could not wait to see what was coming next and ended up quite enjoying the book.

Rick Hoffman’s (our hero) friends would probably agree that his judgment is not always the best.  Once a well respected up-an-coming investigative reporter, Rick made what turned out to be a terrible mistake by letting a slick Boston magazine hire him away from his newspaper job.  Now the magazine has failed and Rick, along with most all of his co-workers, is history.  Things have gotten so bad, in fact, that Rick is camping out in his father’s old house, an unheated structure that seems just about ready to fall down around him. 

Author Joseph Finder
Rick’s luck changes -but not for the better - when he finds a large stash of cash hidden in the old house by his father.  How did it get there?  Does it belong to his father, who has not lived in the house for eighteen years, or to someone his father had been hiding it from?  Rick, though, can’t resist the lure of all that cash, and when he starts throwing hundred-dollar bills around, he draws the notice of some very bad people – and they want their money back.  But, even more, they want Rick to stop trying to figure out why it was in his father’s house in the first place.

If The Fixer is typical of Finder’s writing, the man certainly knows how to tell a good story and give his readers a fun ride.  This definitely will not be the last Joseph Finder title I read. 

Thriller fans should enjoy this one. 

Post #2,546

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Bogota Man Rescues Trashed Books. Shares Them with Community.

A Bogota trash man at work (not Mr. Gutierrez)
Ready for another great story about how one avid reader, in this case a man with an especially huge heart, can impact the lives of hundreds of poor children?

Well, let me introduce you to 53-year-old Jose Gutierrez, a garbage truck driver in Bogota, Columbia.  Gutierrez, himself an avid reader of the classic authors and more current literary fiction, just could not stand to see the books he found on his route through the wealthier areas of the city to be destroyed.  He took them home instead...and according to this U.S. News report, he starting sharing them with the kids in his neighborhood.

He says books are luxuries for boys and girls in low-income neighborhoods such as his, with new reading material at bookstores too expensive. There are 19 public libraries in Bogota, a city of 8.5 million, but tend to be located far away from poorer areas.
"This should be in all neighborhoods, on each corner of every neighborhood, in all the towns, in all departments, and all the rural areas," says Gutierrez. "Books are our salvation and that is what Colombia needs."
20,000 books and counting.  Readers are, indeed, very special people.  (By the way, I see that Anne Rice has taken to calling avid readers "People of the Page."  I smile every time I see that.

Post #2,545

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Book Trailer of the Week: "Hollow Man" by Mark Pryor

I have no idea what Hollow Man is about, and Mark Pryor is not an author I'm familiar with...but I really like the book trailer to publicize the novel that Mr. Pryor has put together with a lot of help from his children.  

Well done, guys.

I've said it often, but this one reminds me again of the power of a very short book trailer to place a book I would have otherwise never have heard of of.  I may still never actually read it, but if I spot it in a bookstore, I will most certainly take a longer look at it than I would have before watching the trailer.  And that is what book trailers are all about, really.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Fourth Watcher

Fans of the Poke Rafferty series will, of course, know that The Fourth Watcher (2008) was Timothy Hallinan’s second entry into the series.  As the novel opens, Poke has decided that his new family (Rose, the former bar girl he hopes to marry, and Miaow, the little girl he plucked off the streets of Bangkok for her own good) is the most important thing in the world to him.  He wants to abandon the travel book series he’s been writing so that the three of them can settle comfortably into a stable lifestyle.  

If only her were so lucky.

Rose and her business partner Peachy are finally having a bit of success with the maid service they run using former bar girls as cleaning crews.  By now, with the help of Poke’s investment into the business, Rose and Peachy have given several young women the opportunity to leave the sordid lifestyle associated with Thailand’s sex trade industry.  But now, the business has inadvertently become linked to what appears to be a North Korean counterfeiting ring – an operation that takes no prisoners.

And then things really get complicated.  Two people from Poke’s past, one of whom he didn’t even know existed, come into his world just when he can least afford the distraction.  Poke already has an American Secret Service man after him who would love nothing better than to lock him up for a good long time; now he has to deal with a reunion that will prove to be as dangerously deadly as anything he has ever faced in his life.  He and Arthit, the Thai policeman who is Poke’s best friend in the world, are going to have to scramble if they are going to save the lives of those closest to them.   

The real strength of the Poke Rafferty series is Hallinan’s well-developed recurring characters.  Poke, Rose, Miaow, and Arthit all come with emotional baggage of their own but they meld into a unit that offers each of them exactly the emotional support, love, and friendship they need to finally make something good of their lives.  It won’t be easy, but let it be known that they are still doing fine some five books (and counting, I hope) after The Fourth Watcher.

That said, because I have read the series out of order, I can also tell you that the books get even better as the series ages.  This one emphasizes the “thriller” aspect of the plot to the point that it becomes a bit overcomplicated in the end.  I prefer more “literary” thrillers (yes, I believe there is such a thing), and that’s exactly the direction Hallinan, over time, moves the Poke Rafferty series.  Don’t miss ‘em.

Post #2,543

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Have you read a good t-shirt lately?

A Farewell to Arms
I saw someone wearing this A Farewell to Arms t-shirt yesterday and it was such an eye-catcher that I had to ask about it.  As it turns out, there are a bunch of shirts in the series, all of them using thousands of words from literary classics as background for the illustrations featured on the shirts.  The back of the shirt is solid text from the Hemingway classic.  From even a slight distance, it appears to be a gray t-hirt, but get a little closer and...boom!   You realize what you are looking at.  

Click here to reach the Litograph website where you can see the whole collection of shirts - and lots of other bookish things for sale.

I imagine that most of the shirts on offer will be best appreciated by women, but there are plenty of choices for guys, too.  Hemingway is well represented, for instance, and others, such as The Jungle (by Upton Sinclair) that men will feel comfortable wearing.

The Jungle


Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

The number of choices is actually a little bit overwhelming - and the company also sells posters, tattoos, and totes - so take a look and see if any of them appeal to you.  They are not cheap, but if you read how they are produced (via a process that means they will never fade) one by one, the price makes more sense.

Post #2,542

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Tenacity - And Why Books Need a "Cliffhanger" Alert

Seldom has a book irritated me as much as J.S. Law’s debut novel Tenacity.  And that is saying a lot, because over a lifetime of reading, I have been exposed to some real stinkers.  So what makes Tenacity stand out?

Well, how about this?  The thriller is intended to introduce a character that will continue on in a whole series of books about her exploits as an investigator in Britain’s Special Investigation Branch’s “Kill” Team.  In layman terms, that means that she is a homicide detective who works on cases involving military personnel.  Nothing wrong with that and, in fact, that is a proposition just different enough to intrigue readers who might be a bit bored with the more usual crime fiction environments out there.

But Danielle “Dan” Lewis, God bless her heart, is a slow learner.  The book opens with a bit of Dan’s backstory, a story in which her stubbornness and failure to trust her team enough to have someone provide backup for her almost got her killed.  Only her physical agility and a whole lot of luck allowed her to survive a physical confrontation with the serial killer she and her team were trying to identify.  But did she learn anything from that escapade…you know, maybe about making sure a backup is in place next time she goes snooping in an isolated place?  Apparently not, because Tenacity ends (if you can call it an ending – more on that in a minute) just about where it begins: with Dan Lewis fighting for her life, alone, in a desperate situation in which she has no right to expect that she will survive. 

Law does a good job in developing the Dan Lewis character.  Despite my low opinion of her common sense and ability to recognize death traps, I think I understand the character and what makes her do such stupid things.  The author even managed to give a little depth to two of the book’s side-characters, a couple of men who try desperately to protect her from herself but are so frustrated with her that they have just about had it.

Submariner and Author J.S. Law
Much of Tenacity takes place within the confines of a nuclear submarine in which Dan has inserted herself as the only female on board – with predictable results.  I enjoyed learning about  the day-to-day routines in that kind of environment and a little bit about what makes submariners tick.  They are a special breed, and Law, being one of them, knows what he is talking about and it all seems very real.  That is the real strength of Tenacity because the plot, although interesting, is not all that surprising.  But just when I was prepared to give the book a 3.5-star rating, I read the last few pages.  And exploded.

The book has no ending.  It just abruptly stops after setting up a cliffhanger that will presumably lead to Book Two of the Dan Lewis series.  No, no, no…that does not work.  I consider it less than honest to pull this stunt unless the publisher slaps a warning label on the book cover so that I can decide up front whether or not I want to invest five or six hours of my life in reading such a book.  This is the kind of literary misstep that, in my estimation, is worth at least a one-star deduction on any book.  Reader beware.

(Advance Reader’s Edition of the book provided by the publisher for review)

Post #2,541

Friday, August 21, 2015

Of Mice and Men

Hard as it might be to believe, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men is part of the American Library Association’s “Most Challenged Books of the 21st Century” list. Way too often, small-minded people manage to wrangle just enough political power to do harm to those wiser than themselves, as is the case with those who strive to keep Of Mice and Men out of public and school libraries.  They complain that the book is “anti-business” or that it condones euthanasia, or that it is filled with racial slurs and overtones.  God bless their little hearts.

The book was written in 1936 and it is very much a reflection of its author and his times, a period during which men were often driven to wandering the country, taking whatever work they could get to sustain themselves for another day.  Such was the case for George Milton and Lennie Small, two men who had known each other since childhood.  George has always looked out for his friend Lennie because the huge Lennie is too slow-witted to take care of himself.  George tells Lennie constantly how much easier his life would be without him having to worry about Lennie all the time but, truth be told, he would probably be lost without Lennie.

As the two approach the farm where they have found new work, George tells Lennie to keep his mouth closed, to let George do the talking until they have been accepted.  And even though Lennie “forgets” to do so, they manage to become part of the harvesting crew.  All goes well, and the crew bosses are especially impressed with Lennie’s strength and production, until Lennie starts to exhibit some of his peculiar ways.  Lennie is a giant who has no real conception of his own strength, and he is a man prone to panic – a lethal combination in a man Lennie’s size. 

Author John Steinbeck
Throw into the mix a previous misunderstanding between Lennie and a little girl that he and George are still running from, a batch of new puppies that Lennie too much loves to pet, and the boss’s pugnacious son and the son’s flirting wife, and you have all the makings of an inevitable tragedy.  And happen, it does.

Steinbeck wrote Of Mice and Men with a stage production of the story always in mind.  The book’s six chapters are grouped in pairs meant to be adaptable into a three-act play and, in fact, Of Mice and Men has enjoyed great success both on the stage and on the screen.

And there are still those out there who want to ban this wonderfully moving story.  Unbelievable. 

Post #2,540