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


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 Malenaare 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) 

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:

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:

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:

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.

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) 

"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.

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)

Book Trailer of the Week: "Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made!"

Most of the book trailers I stumble upon have been viewed anywhere from a few dozen times to a few hundred times when I find them.  That’s just the nature of book-releated videos on YouTube…definitely a limited audience for these things on a site dominated by music videos and the antics of celebrity fools (such fools of which there seem to be an infinite number and variety).  This trailer however, has already been viewed over 15,000 times, making it one of the most popular ones on the site.  Whether that popularity turns into actual book sales, of course, remains to be seen.

I find the whole idea that a couple of kids in Mississippi would spend seven years of their lives re-shooting every single scene from Stephen Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark to be absolutely fascinating.  You read that correctly…every single scene.  Run a few of those spectacular Raiders stunts through your head for a moment and you will realize how amazing their achievement is.  Now their movie is being shown in theaters, and there’s a new book all about it: Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made.  As the author notes in the video, this is really a story about friendship, one that, in this case, was almost permanently destroyed by the girl who came between them.

 15th Book Trailer of the week in a continuing series of unusual and memorable book trailers spotted by Book Chase

Louise Erdrich Wins National Book Award for Fiction

Because I never manage to read all the shortlisted books, I do not normally spend much of my emotional energy pulling for a particular book to win the National Book Award for fiction.  But this year, probably because I just finished (and so much enjoyed), Louise Erdrich’s The Round House, I was really rooting for it to win.  And it did!

I have enjoyed reading Louise Erdrich since stumbling upon Tracks in 1988.  After that one, I immediately ran out to find a copy of her 1984 National Book Critics Circle Award for best work of fiction, Love Medicine, and I have been a fan ever since.

Erdrich is an interesting, and very talented, writer.  She is half Chippewa (her mother) and half German-American, and writes pretty much exclusively of the experiences of modern Native-Americans as they struggle for an identity in a country that still, often as not, treats them as second-class citizens – especially if they stay on the reservation.

The Round House is a memorable coming-of-age story of a boy who, although he is growing up inside the boundaries of a reservation, is the only child of one of the more prominent families on the reservation.  But it is really the story of the boy’s mother, a woman who suffers a brutal crime for which the legal system offers no remedy.  Erdrich exposes and explores a legal question that still makes it difficult, in some cases, for Native-Americans to find justice in our legal system.  I believe the jurisdictional problem Erdrich speaks of will surprise – and outrage – her readers.

Honestly, because I have only ever picked one other major book award award correctly, I did not expect The Round House to win.  For that reason, my review is not quite ready for posting.  I’ll just say, for now, don’t miss this one…more later.

Moby-Dick Big Read, Chapters 33-40

Chapter 35 illustration by Robert Fearns

Chapters 33-40 of Moby-Dick total 36 pages and conclude at page 179 of my Library of America edition of this classic novel…still no sighting of the big guy, himself, however.  Chapter 41 is titled “Moby Dick” and Chapter 42 is called “The Whiteness of the Whale.”  Will Moby Dick make an actual appearance then?  Well…

These chapters are largely introductory ones in which the hierarchy aboard the ship is explained, beginning with the high status of the “harpooneer,” “a class unknown of course in any other marine other than the whale fleet.”  The status of the harpooning class is rather obvious when one considers that the success of the entire three-year voyage largely depends on having competent whale-stickers on board.

After contrasting the living arrangements of the men and their officers, Melville describes the ship’s three mast-heads, high perches manned by whale-spotters in two-hour ships during daylight hours almost as soon as whaling vessels leave port.   According to our narrator, an ordinary sailor will spend the equivalent of “several months” at the mast-head over the course of a long voyage.

The reader also learns in this section of the book of the regimented hierarchy of the “captain’s table,” a table in which the officers are served in order of rank – including the quantity of food they can expect to receive.  Melville sets the scene this way: “Over his ivory-inlaid table, Ahab presided like a mute, maned sea-lion on the white coral beach, surrounded by his war-like but still deferential cubs…They were as little children before Ahab…”  We also get a peek at the contrast between what happens at the Captain’s table and the atmosphere at that same table when the harpooneers use it for their own meal.  Let’s just say that the young serving boy seriously fears that, if he is not careful, he might just become part of the cannibals’ meal.

Up on the quarter-deck, Captain Ahab gives his crew the kind of charismatic pep-talk that few would have expected from the usually reticent captain.  By the end of Ahab’s tirade, all but a handful of those on board (mostly of the officer class) are more than willing to risk life and limb to help the captain avenge the loss of leg to the great Moby Dick.

Dive Deeper (by George Cotkin), my companion piece to the novel, uses these chapters to offer another set of interesting insights into Melville’s themes, the influence of Moby-Dick on generations of writers, and Melville’s conscious effort to transform the novel into something more important than a money-maker.  The country’s struggle to survive the slavery issue – and race relations, in general – are, according to Cotkin, “resounding themes in Moby-Dick,” something obvious even to a reader like me who often struggles to identify “theme.”

More surprising, is Norman Mailer’s revelation of how greatly he patterned his first novel, The Naked and the Dead, after what he “stole” from Moby-Dick: “I was sure everyone would know.  I had Ahab in it, and I suppose the mountain was Moby Dick.”

I am particularly fond, this time around, of the reading offered of Chapter 34 by Charlie Phillips.  Mr. Phillips has a pleasant, and surprisingly easy to follow, Scottish accent that works very well for this chapter about the captain’s dinner table.  Here’s a YouTube video of what I believe is the correct Charlie Phillips as he explains his studies of Bottlenose Dolphins off Scotland’s west coast…and a link to the chapter itself.

Chapter 60 was just released today by the Big Read people, so I am rapidly losing ground.  My four-month project to read Moby-Dick and Dive Deeper together is starting to look more like a six-month project.

One-Use-and-Out for 35% of E-Book-Readers?

Photo Credit: The Digital Reader 

Something called (according to Shelf Awareness) surveyed almost 2,000 e-book-reader owners recently – and uncovered a few surprises in the process:

  1. 337 (17%) claim to use their reader at least once a week
  2. 575 (29%) say they use their reader every day
  3. 694 (35%) say they used their reader one time – and don’t plan to use it again
I find it rather amazing that more than one out of every three owners of e-book-readers find that, after using their readers only one time, they have no desire to ever use them again.
More than half of this once-and-out group say they simply don’t have the time to use an e-reader, so they probably aren’t regular readers, and I wonder how they ended up with a relatively expensive device in the first place.  Just over 20% say they received the reader as a gift and don’t need it.  And, finally, 25% say they prefer tree-books to e-books.
Personally, I own a Sony Reader but have not used it for months because of the e-book applications available for the iPad.  So far this year, I’ve read 9 e-books – after reading 17 of them last year.  An e-book version of a book is never my first choice.  I only read them when publishers insist on sending only electronic review copies, when I want to read a classic not in my personal library, or when I take an e-book out of my county’s library system.
How about you guys?  Are you as surprised as I am?

Too Bright to Hear, Too Loud to See

Rightly or wrongly, readers have come to expect that the central character of a literary-style debut novel will be of the same sex as that novel’s author.  Juliann Garey, however, has chosen the opposite approach for her debut.  Greyson Todd, the protagonist of Too Bright to Hear, Too Loud to See is a Hollywood studio executive whose clients swept the 1974 Oscars.  He is also a man who will walk away from it all just ten years later when his bipolar disorder finally becomes more than he can handle. 
Perhaps more interesting, his entire story occurs during the time it takes to administer twelve 30-second sessions of electroshock therapy to Greyson.  During the administration of, and recover from, those 30-second sessions, Greyson flashes back to events he experienced during his childhood, during his marriage and career, and to the ten years – beginning in 1984 – after he walked away from his family, having abandoned himself to the disease that still defines him. 
Juliann Garey
As the novel’s narratives jumps back and forth in ten-year spurts, it becomes clear that, for decades, Greyson had only been postponing the inevitable.  We learn what it was like for him to watch his father be destroyed by the very same illness, and how little guilt he felt as he silently slipped out of the lives of his wife and little girl one night.  Tellingly, because he felt he was doing his daughter a favor by disappearing from her life, Greyson felt worse about abandoning his job than about leaving the child fatherless. 
That Greyson is able to wander the world (Bangkok, Rome, Santiago, the Negev, Uganda) for most of a decade before finally crashing into ruin in New York City, is an achievement in itself.  But, when he finally does crash, he does it big time.  Despite the horrifying course of “treatment” endured by Greyson (hit-and-miss drug therapy, in addition to the ghastly electroshocks), the novel’s most effective comic moments tend to occur inside the mental hospital – and there are several charming and memorable ones. 
Too Bright to Hear, Too Loud to See is more than a novel about depression and nervous breakdowns; it is a book about the tragedy of losing one’s most precious memories, second chances granted or not granted, and the luck of the draw.  Greyson Todd’s decision to get out of his little girl’s life may well have been the best gift he ever gave her.  Would she return the favor by giving him a second chance?  The greater question might be, should she?
(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

Series Fiction: James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux

I have enjoyed “series fiction” for as long as I have been reading, particularly series that focus on crime detectives – be they “official” or “private,” male or female, American, Japanese, or anything in between.    And, it seems that the longer the series, the more I enjoy them.  There is something very special about watching a character evolve and go through the same aging process that I, as a reader, am experiencing in the real world.

So it makes perfect sense that many of my favorite authors write exactly the kind of stuff I love most: James Lee Burke, Elizabeth George, Sue Grafton, Ruth Rendell, John Harvey, Dennis Lehane, Ian Rankin, Sara Paretsky, Robert B. Parker, and Denise Mina.  I knew I could depend on them to provide me with a new chapter in their hero’s life story each and every year, regular as clockwork.  Some of them are still doing that, others have killed off their hero (or themselves died), and a few have gone in others directions.  Some lost interest in the old storyline and started entirely new series or decided to spin secondary characters into series of their own.  Others have simply slowed the pace down by going longer than a year between series books.

James Lee Burke is still Old Dependable.  He somehow manages a new Dave Robicheaux novel almost every year while steadily adding to his shorter Hackberry Holland and Billy Bob Holland series.  I really like the Holland clan, but it is a new Dave Robicheaux novel that still gets me most excited about Burke’s writing.  It all started twenty-five years ago with 1987’s The Neon Rain in which I was introduced to Dave, the first popular-fiction Cajun hero I ever ran across.  Has there ever been another, for that matter?  As someone of Cajun heritage, I have always taken the jokes, the name-calling, and prejudice pretty much in stride, but I have to admit that it was rather gratifying to finally run across a heroic cajun (even though, at times, Dave is more anti-hero than hero).  I was hooked – and still am.

Dave is, or has been, many things: recovering alcoholic, oil field trash, Viet Nam veteran, homicide cop in one of the dirtiest police forces in the country, jazz fan, racetrack regular, fisherman supreme, and defender of the weak.  The man has almost as many flaws as the bad guys he chases, and that’s why he gets the job done – he does whatever it takes.  We’ve almost lost Dave to the bad guys a time or two (see 2010’s The Glass Rainbow), but he’s still with us.  Thanks for that, Mr. Burke.

Dave Robicheaux’s story is a fascinating one best experienced in the order it was published.  Catching up will require some time and energy, but it is well worth the effort.  You will thank me, especially if you read the books in this order:

  1. The Neon Rain (1987)
  2. Heaven’s Prisoners (1988)
  3. Black Cherry Blues (1989)
  4. A Morning for Flamingos (1990)
  5. A Stained White Radiance (1992)
  6. In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead (1993)
  7. Dixie City Jam (1994)
  8. Burning Angel (1995)
  9. Cadillac Jukebox (1998)
  10. Sunset Limited (1999)
  11. Purple Cane Road (2000)
  12. Jolie Blon’s Bounce (2002)
  13. Last Car to Elysian Fields (2003)
  14. Crusader’s Cross (2005)
  15. Pegasus Descending (2006)
  16. The Tin Roof Blowdown (2007)
  17. Swan Peak (2008)
  18. The Glass Rainbow (2010)
  19. Creole Belle (2012)
So there you have it – 19 James Robicheaux books in roughly 25 years.  It doesn’t get much more consistent than that.  Throw in the three Hackberry Holland novels and the four novels in the Billy Bob Holland series and Burke is right on that one-a-year pace that his loyal fans hope for.

Daddy Love

Joyce Carol Oates has an astounding way of getting inside the heads of sexual predators and their victims.  Hers is such a talent, in fact, that her darkest novels (and, with Oates, dark is a relative term because almost all of her novels can be called dark) are a challenge to a reader’s emotional sensitivities.  And, the author’s latest, Daddy Love, in which a five-year-old is violently snatched from his mother in a shopping center parking lot, is even more disturbing than most.
As Diane and Robbie walk through the mall parking lot, they play a game designed to teach the little boy to pay attention to his surroundings.  His mother is subtly guiding Robbie back to their car while asking him to help by telling her which way to turn and whether they are going in the right direction.  But the truth is that Diane is finding it difficult to remember exactly where she parked and, because she is so distracted by her own confusion, she never notices the man preparing to knock her down and steal away with her son.  Later, despite having been severely injured during her stunned efforts to save her son, Diane finds that she will second-guess herself for the rest of her life.
Their marriage will be so severely stressed by the loss of their only child that Diane and Whit Whitcomb will barely manage to stay together.  Through it all, Diane, even though battling physical and emotional trauma that will scar her forever, refuses to believe that Robbie will not one day come home.  Years later, she is still waiting for the magical phone call announcing that her son has been recovered from his abductor.
Robbie’s kidnapper is Chester Cash, a serial child-abductor who insists that his victims call him Daddy Love.  Cash, a part-time preacher and full-time ladies man, is brilliantly evil.  He disguises his contempt for women so well that he easily manipulates a string of lonely and insecure ones to do his dirty work – from cleaning his pig sty of a house, to doing his laundry, to giving him their money – all the while, playing mind-games with his young victims that turn them into willing victims for years at a time. 
(Credit: Star Black)
Cash’s usual routine of rape and torture, followed by rewards for pleasing him, works until Robbie begins to comprehend why Daddy Love’s earlier victims have all disappeared.  He figures out that around age twelve, which Robbie is fast approaching, Cash will no longer find him sexually appealing.  If he is going to survive, Robbie has to make his escape soon because he is running out of time.
The most horrifying aspect of Daddy Love is the novel’s portrayal of the effectiveness of brainwashing suffered by young victims at the hands of sexual perverts.  Robbie, because he becomes so dependent on Daddy Love for his physical and emotional wellbeing, never makes a break for freedom or cries for help despite having ample opportunity to do so.  He simply cannot imagine a life without Daddy Love.  Oates, by telling Daddy Love’s story from both his and Robbie’s viewpoints, shows how a child’s innocence is so easily and completely overwhelmed by an adult evil enough to want to do so.
Not easy to read, and even harder to forget, Daddy Love is a reminder of the shadow world that threatens our children…a world parents cannot afford to ignore.
(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

Telegraph Avenue

I do not “read” a lot of audio books, maybe six or seven a year, but I have long believed that the “reader” of an audio book is the most influential factor in determining whether the experience will be an enjoyable one – or not.  No matter the author or the quality of the writing, an audiobook’s narrator still has the ultimate power to make it or break it.  I have, in fact, on a few occasions, junked an audio book in favor of a printed copy because I had grown bored with the voice droning on and on for what started to seem like forever (remember, some audio books total more than 20 CDs and require close to 25 hours listening time). 
This being the case, audio book publishers should be lining up at the door of Clarke Peters because, as he proves with Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue, this man is good.  Peters has such a way of breathing life into characters, varying voices and accents, and making it all sound so alive, that I hated to see the book end – despite it being almost 19 hours long.
Telegraph Avenueis as much about a place, the Brokeland neighborhood between Berkeley and Oakland, as it is about the people who live there.  It is the summer of 2004, and things are about to change for the book’s central characters.  Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe, one of them black, the other white, are best friends and business partners who run Brokeland Records, one of a dying breed of record shops that still specialize in reselling classic vinyl record albums from the past.  The record store, being as much a neighborhood hangout as a business, attracts a regular crowd of hipsters, amateur philosophers, local politicians, and old men who remember when the building was home to the best barbershop around.   But now, the business, already on shaky financial ground, is being threatened by a former NFL great who hopes to open one of his Dogpile megastores just up the street from Brokeland Records – an event that the record shop cannot hope to survive.
Clarke Peters Doing His Magic
Brokeland Records is not a business that will ever make its owners rich, so Archy and Nat depend on their wives, Gwen and Aviva, to help make ends meet.  The women are midwives in a respected, and successful, partnership of their own that they call Berkeley Birth Partners.  Gwen and Aviva love what they do and have no shortage of clients, but they are suffering a professional crisis of their own and the future of Berkeley Birth Partners is in jeopardy.
Telegraph Avenueis a big book, one filled with numerous supporting characters with stories of their own.  Among them are Archy’s father, a former blaxploitation film star on the hustle; Titus Joyner, the son Archy did not know existed before he showed up on Archy’s doorstep; Julius Jaffe, Nat’s sometimes gay, sometimes not-gay son; Gibson Goode, ex-NFL superstar quarterback and “fifth-richest black man in America; and a famous jazz musician whose wake is held in the record shop, open casket and all.  There is a lot going on here, so much that readers might be distracted from the main storyline at times, but it is one hell of a story – especially if you let Clarke Peters read it to you.

Death’s Door

I have read as often, and as quickly, as I can for more than five decades now, but I realize that I am only scratching the surface of what is being published every year.  Keeping up is an impossible task – I know that.  How could I not when writers like James R. Benn come along every month or so to remind me how much good stuff is slipping through the cracks while I’m looking the other way?
Death’s Door is Benn’s seventh Billy Boyle WWII detective novel – seventh, and I am just now discovering the series and its author.  Thankfully, Death’s Door does work very well as a standalone for first-timers like me, although I imagine that readers of A Mortal Terror, the book immediately preceding this one, will have a big head start on those who have not read it.
Because Lieutenant Billy Boyle was a Boston cop when the war started, he is often called upon to solve crimes involving U.S. military personnel within the European Theater of Operations.  It does not hurt that he is the nephew of General Dwight D. Eisenhower and serves at Ike’s direction.  But this time around, Billy has a personal stake in the investigation.  His lover, British spy Diana Seaton, has been captured by the Germans and imprisoned in Rome’s infamous Regina Coeli prison.  Although Billy fears that she may have already been tortured and killed, he is determined to rescue her – or die trying.
As the book opens, Billy and his partner, Kaz (Lieutenant Piotr Augustus Kazimierz of the Polish Army in Exile), are desperately trying to get to the Vatican to begin their investigation of the murder of an American monsignor.  Because Regina Coeli is within walking distance of the Vatican, the murder investigation also gives Billy the perfect opportunity to rescue Diana if she is still alive.  The problem is that he has been given a direct order to stay away from the prison so as not to risk exposing the underground rescue efforts being conducted within Vatican walls. 
James R. Benn
Death’s Door is a good mystery, but it works even better as a piece of historical fiction.  The Vatican’s efforts to save the lives of Jews during WWII has often been criticized, and is a “gray area” of the war’s history even today.  Author Benn places Billy and Kaz inside a highly politicized environment in which little is what it first seems to be.  Some within the Vatican are pro-Allies, others pro-Nazi, and a few are really and truly neutral.  Unfortunately, it is not always easy to tell which are which. 
Complicating matters, the Vatican is officially a tiny piece of neutral territory surrounded by German-occupied Rome and the Pope fears anything that might give the Germans the excuse they need to enter the Vatican and remove him to “protective custody” somewhere in Germany.  Disguised as an Irish priest, Billy comes precariously close to giving the Germans that very excuse.
Part thriller, part mystery, part historical novel, Death’s Door is quite a well-written package.  Fans of those genres should not miss this one.
(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

Book Trailer of the Week – "My Ideal Bookshelf"

In addition to my book, music, and sports addictions, I have to confess to being somewhat of a political junkie.  So this is a big night for me – sort of the Super Bowl of my whole political season.  Maybe even bigger, because this “Super Bowl” comes around every two years instead of every January.

Already, I am being distracted by all the “talking heads” on the news channels, but before I disappear for the long evening ahead, I want to share the latest in my “Book Trailer of the Week” series.  This one is a very clever way to publicize a new coffee table book called My Ideal Bookshelf.  The book is a collection of the “ideal bookshelves” of 100 cultural figures consisting of the books they most love and have been influenced by over their lifetimes.

So, take a look at the book trailer and, if you like what you see, keep in mind that you can order up a unique painting of your own:

Painting an Ideal Bookshelf from Jane Mount on Vimeo.

14th Book Trailer of the week in a continuing series of unusual and memorable book trailers spotted by Book Chase