Saturday, January 30, 2016

When a Book Refuses to Wait Its Turn...That's a Good Thing

One of the book's I'm reading at the moment is Chris Pavone's The Traveler, a spy thriller pitting several bunches of competing spies against each other.  I usually have three or four (sometimes twice that number) of books going at once, but every so often one of the book's jumps out of line and refuses to wait for its next turn at being read.

That's what's happened with The Travelers.  The book is written in the third person from the points-of-view of several of its main players.  There is, however, one central hero, and this poor sap is pretty much led around by the nose by everyone else in the book.  To say that he is confused is an understatement.  The Advance Reader's Edition of the book I'm reading is 433 pages long, and along about page 300 I began to notice my reluctance to switch to another book when current-book fatigue began to set in.  

Now, just a few hours later, I'm on page 402...finally not quite as confused as our hero...and find myself rushing to the end to see who survives the final showdown and what the aftermath of that confrontation will bring.

Congratulations, Chris Pavone, on a spy novel that offers a different reading experience from most of the others in the genre.  I'll be doing a full review on The Travelers in a week or, break over, it's back to the book.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Movies for Readers: The 100-Foot Journey

This week's Movies for Readers is The 100-Foot Journey, starring Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Charlotte Le Bon, and Manish Dayal.  It is a movie about real people living real lives - no super heroes, no explosions, no car crashes (well, there is one near miss), and no vulgarity. In other words, this is a movie for mature audiences who know how to read.

The 2014 movie is based on a novel by the same name that Richard C. Morais published in 2010.  I have been recommending it to friends for the last couple of weeks, and I've yet to find anyone who has a bad thing to say about it.  

This trailer gives a good feel for the movie's tone and quality: 

Movies for Readers No. 15

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Bookseller

The Bookseller is a psychological novel in which the reader spends as much time inside the head and dreams of its main character as it does outside her thoughts.  Sometimes, in fact, it is difficult to tell which is the real world and which is the dream world - and that is as true for Kitty, "the bookseller" for whom the book is titled, as it is for the reader.  Fans of the unreliable narrator device are definitely going to enjoy this one.

Kitty and her best friend Frieda are concerned that the little bookstore they own together may not be long for this world.  Once a thriving place that could depend on walk-in customers served by the city's public transportation system, the bookstore is becoming more and more isolated every day because walk-in traffic has all but disappeared along with the city buses that used to service the neighborhood streets. Worse, new malls are springing up on the outskirts of the city to service suburban customers who no longer even need to come into town to do their shopping. 

Perhaps that is why Kitty lives an entirely different life in her dreams, one in which she is known as Katherine, a name more suitable for the young mother of three children that she is in her dream world.  These dreams, though, are no ordinary dreams.  They are so real, so detailed, and so happy that Kitty looks forward to visiting Katherine's world more and more - especially to spend time with Katherine's completely devoted husband, Lars.  Things are definitely better in Katherine's world than in Kitty's - at least for a while. 

Author Cynthia Swanson
But are things ever that simple?  At the realization that neither of her worlds is perfect, Kitty finds it more and more difficult to live in either of them.  If she could only blend the two, she thinks, picking and choosing what she likes best from each, her life would be perfect - but Kitty knows that is impossible.  Then she begins to wonder which of her worlds is the real one, and more importantly, which one she will choose to inhabit.  

For the most part, The Bookseller is a well-written and intriguing novel, one in which the author slowly provides clues and revelations that will keep the reader guessing right along with its main character.  The problem is that all of that tension ends when Kitty very suddenly figures everything out, and more unbelievably, immediately accepts what she has learned about herself.  The abruptness of the plot resolution left me feeling that The Bookseller may have been edited with a bit too much zeal.  That said, The Bookseller does offer an intriguing psychological puzzle that readers will enjoy trying to solve as they turn its pages.  In the end, it is not a particularly difficult problem to solve, but novel offers a fun ride along the way.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

TMI About Libraries?

At the risk of crossing the "Too Much Information" line, I have to tell you about the three rather disturbing library-related news articles I spotted this afternoon:

  • The Pennsylvania Superior Court, according to has upheld the sentence handed out to a man who exposed himself to a woman in the Paoli Public Library.  Convicted of open lewdness and indecent exposure, the man was sentenced to 9 to 23 months in prison.  The county judge who imposed the sentence, in an understatement, put it this way, "People go to the library, you know, they expect to have peace and quiet...but not to be exposed to such rude behavior."
  • Another court decision, this one in Wisconsin, affirms that a patron does not have a constitutional right to watch pornography on a university computer.  The story comes from and adds that the appellate court involved ruled unanimously that the $295 citation issued to the man was valid because he did not prove that his First Amendment rights include the right to watch pornography "in a public library or in any other public place."
  • And then there's the case of the recently identified serial-pooper who on two occasions decided to do his thing in a Bryn Mawr public library stairwell.  As of this afternoon, the man has not yet been arrested and charged with criminal mischief.  Facebook, according to the New York Daily News website is having fun with the story.  Comments there mention "the National Poo Database," "public enemy number 2," and the like.
What a day in the library...TMI?

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Burning Room

Harry Bosch's days with the LAPD's Open-Unsolved Unit are numbered - and have dwindled down to what Harry considers to be a precious few.  Harry figures that if he doesn't rock the boat so much that the upper brass finds a reason to cut him loose early, he might have one more year in him before the department forces him into retirement.   But it won’t be easy because a cold case with huge political implications has just been dumped in Harry's lap.

Ten years ago a Mariachi band guitar player took an unexplained bullet in a very public setting.  The good news was that the bullet did not kill the man; the bad news was that it lodged deeply in his spine and paralyzed him.  All these years later, the man has died and the coroner declares his death to be directly attributable to the bullet in his spine - meaning that the cold case has now become a murder case. 

Harry Bosch has a long history of letting his mouth get him into trouble when it comes to dealing with fools and incompetents, especially when he is forced to directly report to one or two of them.  He just can't help himself; Harry takes his job seriously and unsolved cases haunt him forever.  So when told to back off on an investigation for political reasons, Harry is much more likely to find an under-the-table way to get the job done than he is to back away as ordered. This is not a habit likely to endear Harry to his superior officers.  And this time around, things are even trickier than normal because he is also responsible for mentoring and training Lucky Lucy Sota, a brand new detective just assigned to him, and Harry does not want to get her fired from the department on her first case. 

Author Michael Connelly
The Burning Room is more than just another chapter in the long career of Harry Bosch because, just as Harry realizes that he will not be with the LAPD much longer, fans of the longtime series face the same reality.  Those of us who have aged right alongside Harry (and who have experienced many of the same frustrations and joys) know what he is going through at this stage of his career and life, and we particularly enjoy Connelly's evolution of the Bosch character's state of mind.  That is perhaps the greatest appeal these days of the Harry Bosch books to readers who have read all or most of the series.  Michael Connelly's mystery plots are still some of the finest ones being written today, but to readers like me, it is all about Harry. 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Social Justice Warriors Intimidate Canadian Independents to Pull Politically Out-of -Favor Authors from Shelves

Social Justice Warriors Always Lie by Vox Jay
What a damn shame.

Politics is a dirty word, especially these days when compromise seems to be an impossibility in the minds of those on either end of the political spectrum. Conservatives call liberal names; liberals blast conservatives for existing. And it seems to get worse every year.  But say what you will about conservatives, it does seem to me that political intolerance of the other side even existing and having a voice is more often a characteristic of the liberal left than of the conservative right.

Here's an example from Canada of the kind of personal attacks that those who pride themselves on their "tolerance" are capable of aiming at those who do not agree with them (per
File 770, the blog of three-time Hugo Award winner Mike Glyer, reports that bookstore owners in Toronto are being approached with negative information about authors who participated in the Sad Puppies Hugo Awards campaign.
The Sad Puppies campaign, as explained in the hyperlink above, was an attempt to expose political favouritism and intolerance in the sci-fi and fantasy community. If this latest incident is anything to go by, it continues to be a dispiriting success.
There is no doubt that some sci-fi authors hold views that are alien to much of mainstream, liberal opinion. However, the SJWs who are trying to drive them out continue to fail to grasp that no political opinion is justification for exclusion from awards participation, bookstores, or the sci-fi community at large. The point of sci-fi is good sci-fi, and the point of awards is to recognise good sci-fi, not politically conformist opinions. 

So is it acceptable to censor those whose political or social beliefs we disagree with? Can we not admit that some we disagree with are capable of creating worthy works of art?  Is this not, as Brietbart puts it, a little bit too "ISIS-like" to allow?  The scariest part of this whole thing is that, to a degree, it seems to be working.  Some Canadian independents have taken the targeted authors off their shelves.  GoodReads has closed at least nine author accounts on the site and banned those authors for good.

Really?  Is this what we've come to, people? 

What is happening in Toronto right now did not develop overnight. This ugly fight has been brewing for a while now - please click this link to get the rest of the story. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Movies for Readers: All the Pretty Horses

Today's Movies for Readers is one of several Cormac McCarthy books that have been filmed in recent years, All the Pretty Horses.  The movie was released in 2000 and stars young versions of Matt Damon, Penélope Cruz, Henry Thomas, and Lucas Black.  It was directed by Bill Bob Thornton.

Fans of Cormac McCarthy's fiction probably already know the plot, so let's just call it one of the most brutal coming-of-age movies that you will ever see.  It is well acted, beautifully shot, and very moving.

Movies for Readers No. 14

Thursday, January 21, 2016


Bullies represents itself to potential readers as an "account of one writer's unlikely friendship with his childhood bully," a premise likely to appeal to readers who as children experienced either side of the bullying equation.  And for a rather brief few pages that is what it is - but all too quickly, the book changes into a social history of the city of Oakland, California, combined with the history of motorcycle clubs in that part of the state.  Interesting as those topics may be, I suspect that many readers will be disappointed that so little time is devoted to the psychology of bullies and their victims.

Alex Abramovich and Trevor Latham first met in the mid-eighties inside a fourth grade classroom in Long Island, New York, but Alex was a year younger than Trevor, the boy who would become his "mortal enemy."  The boys had a lot in common, mainly that formerly athletic fathers who had once raced motorcycles were raising both of them in single-parent households.  Despite their similarities, the boys spent much of the next three years fighting, kicking, and clawing at each other.  Trevor's impact on Alex's life was so great that by the end of the fourth grade Alex was playing hooky, and by the end of the fifth grade he was failing most of his classes.  At the end of the sixth grade, Alex's father moved him from the area, but it was too late. The damage was already done, and five years after the relocation, Alex would drop out of high school.

Despite the miserable three years they shared, Alex did not think about Trevor again until the day he stumbled upon an Internet reference to him indicating that Trevor had moved to the West Coast where he "started a motorcycle club."  Alex, intrigued by the possibility of contacting his childhood bully, sensed from the start that their story was one that he wanted to tell.  Surprisingly, when Alex and Trevor would finally sit down together in California, Trevor's memory for details from their childhood easily surpasses Alex's recall of those days. Trevor even remarks that he had considered himself the one who was being bullied, not that he was doing the bullying.

Author Alex Abramovich 
What began as a catch-up visit between Alex and Trevor would turn out to be much more than that when, in 2010, Alex moved to California to immerse himself into Trevor's violent lifestyle of excessive and constant boozing, street fighting, scheduled fight club events, and so much petty crime that the Oakland Police Department was largely forced to ignore it.  As an honorary member of Trevor’s motorcycle club, Alex experienced all the ups and downs of that violent lifestyle right alongside his old nemesis (including firsthand experience with the Occupy Oakland movement that plagued that city) but the two of them never took the time to figure out what had happened to them as children.

And that is a shame because it is what I wanted most to learn about from reading Bullies.  That said, those seeking an inside look into the rogue motorcycle club lifestyle are sure to enjoy and appreciate the book. 

Book Chase Turns Nine Years Old

Just a quick note here to acknowledge an anniversary that I missed yesterday: Book Chase is now nine years old (and I'm a bit shocked at still being here).

In just a few minutes, I am going to post a review of a nonfiction book called Bullies: A Friendship that will be the 1,036th book review posted to Book Chase.  That's one way to measure the blog's longevity, but I measure it in another more important way: in the number of good friends I've made during the past nine years, friends I would have met no other way. Thank you for being here.  You have enriched my life in ways I never expected, and I'm thankful for having met each and every one of you. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Porn on Library Computers? Yes or No...

Is something like this the only answer?
By now, just about every public library of any consequence makes at least a few computers available to cardholders.  Most of those computers are placed in such a manner, however, that private viewing is difficult to achieve.  Most often, patrons walking past the computer area (even if the computers have "privacy shields" can easily see what is displayed on several of the computers at a time - and that includes any children who happen by.  This, of course, creates a huge problem for librarians and parents when adult patrons insist on using the computers to access pornography.

Billings television station KRTV today tells the story of one library there where "not everyone agrees those reproductive organs should be on display on the facility's computers."
"It's tough in the library profession to balance the First Amendment right," said Michael Carlson, Billings Public Library Assistant Director. "There are a lot of libraries that do not filter at all. They believe the First Amendment right. We're very cognizant of that. You try to take in account your community you serve."
Of the 89 computers of the Billings Public Library, 85 have filters.
The other four come with privacy shields both above and below, both of which do not completely censor the content to a passing patron in the vicinity at that moment.
So what's the answer, librarians?  This seems to be more than just a clash between constitutional rights and community standards.   Do we need "adult only" computer rooms? Or can we simply place adult computers in a public section of the library where children are unlikely to find themselves?  In my library, most of the computers sit right next to the DVD shelves that house both children and adult movies, so kids are all around the computers constantly.  (I don't know that porn sites can be accessed on the Harris County, Texas, library system computers, however.)

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Julian Fellowes to Serialize His New Novel

Julian Fellowes: Member of the House of Lords, Actor, Screenwriter, Director, Novelist
Julian Fellowes, creator of the popular television series Downton Abbey, has decided to introduce his new novel, Belgravia, to the world as a serialization via an app especially designed for the novel.  According to The Telegraph, subscribers will have a new chapter of the book delivered to their device of choice on each of eleven successive Fridays.
 Each instalment will be delivered in text and audio formats, and come with multimedia extras including music and family trees. Customers can either subscribe for £9.99 or pay £1.49 for each instalment which will be sent to their device every Friday. Alternatively, fans who prefer can wait until the printed edition of the book is published in June.
It is not all that surprising that Fellowes has come up with such a different way to market his novel.  His timing could not be more perfect because striking while the iron is hot is never a bad thing in marketing a product - and the Julian Fellowes iron will probably never be hotter than it is today.  The six seasons of Downton Abbey recently ended in the U.K., and the period drama's final season is currently being aired in the U. S. (episode 3 of season 6 has just been broadcast).  

You would be forgiven if you think this is Fellowes's first novel, but  according to the linked article, he published one called Snobs in 2004 and has two romance novels to his credit  (under the pen name Rebecca Greville).  I'm a bit curious to see how this all works out for Mr. Fellowes and whether or not it might serve as a model to be used by other writers in the future.

In this video, Mr. Fellowes points out that this is not a new television series...but in my mind I can't help but add the word "yet" to the end of that sentence.  It just seems inevitable.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Great Typo Hunt

Jeff Deck is a member of what some sarcastically call the "Grammar Police," although in Deck's case publicly misspelled words seem to bother him even more than grammar abuse does.  Keep in mind, too, that despite the less-than-kind remarks often directed at Deck and his fellow grammar cops, there are thousands of them out there.  Odds are, you know one yourself - or, deep down in your heart, you are one.  Deck and his friends, though, decided to take their policing to the next level.

Deck created the Typo Eradication Advancement League (TEAL), planned a road trip of almost 12,000 miles that would take him across the country and back correcting typos, and recruited three friends who would share individual parts of the trip with him.  Along the way, Jeff, Benjamin, Jane, and Josh would encounter every response imaginable from the people whose errors they asked permission to correct, including: indifference, belligerence, amusement, whole hearted support, and in one unfortunate case in which they failed to ask for permission before making a correction, being charged by the government for defacing federal property. 

Ultimately though, TEAL's mission would develop into more than just a one-time road trip to correct grammatical and spelling mistakes on a few hundred grocery store, restaurant, and mall signs because Jeff and Benjamin began to realize that the real "point of the mission was to inspire other ordinary people to speak out when they see mistakes."  As editors, they knew how important moving beyond the "first draft" is to the clarity of written communication - and that is the message they wanted to spread across the country, one correction at a time.

Jeff Deck and Benjamin Herson
Those approached by the TEAL team were not the only ones to learn something from the encounters.  Jeff and Benjamin, because of the variety of feedback and responses they received from those they approached, found that they had "taken a tour of basic human interactions."  From their rather random sampling of humanity, they experienced the whole gamut of reactions from people suddenly faced with unexpected challenges and problems.  The TEAL team, it is safe to say, learned as much from the trip as the people they spoke with along the way.

The subtitle to The Great Typo Hunt is "Two Friends Changing the World, One Correction at a Time" - a lofty goal, to be sure.  Perhaps Jeff Deck and Benjamin Herson did not, after all, change the world, but they changed themselves, and that may be the more important thing.  Grammar policemen everywhere (and I use the term here in the most complimentary way possible) will enjoy this book.  It is a little dryly written at times but it is a true adventure for Deck and Herson's fellow nerds, among whom I count myself.