Random Thoughts at Mid-Year

Hard to believe that 2013 is already half way in the books, but in one more flip of the calendar that’s exactly where we will find ourselves.  It’s been a much busier year than I anticipated coming into it, but that’s not all bad.  

1.     I wondered what retirement would be like, not really expecting it to live up to my hopes – and, frankly, it’s somewhere between what I hoped for and the daily work grind that preceded it.  It seems that much of my free time goes toward helping out family members where I can, especially when it means they would have to take off work to get something done.  Throw in regularly scheduled tutoring hours I spend with a grandson, and I hardly know where the days go sometimes – but that’s a good thing.  

2.     I do wish I had the energy to tackle a few longterm projects that I have in mind, such as learning the finer points of French and dabbling in Spanish a bit more.  Same with taking some formal classes in subject areas like Civil War history, American and World Literature, and enjoying more road trips (music, history, and baseball related), but I’m not giving up on any of that yet.  Just need to get more settled in to the newness of all this, I think.

3.     Much of the first six retirement-months have been taken up dealing with insurance companies, Medicare sign-up, simplifying our investment strategy, and the like.  Thankfully, that’s all pretty much done now –  but what a chore it all turned out to be, and much more time-consuming and stressful than I ever imagined it could be.

4.     I see that Jane Austen is probably the frontrunner to replace Charles Darwin on the British ten pound note when the next change is made.  The Brits have been using historical figures on their banknotes for over 40 years, but only two women have managed to make the cut during that entire period – and one of those has already been retired, so I think this is a great idea.  I would guess that the tenner is probably one of the most heavily used banknotes in the country, so Ms. Austen’s face would be virtually everywhere.

5.     Here’s a rather neat site (Placing Literature) that lets you “map scenes from novels.”  With a lot of user-help, the site is slowly accumulating maps that place scenes from novels into real maps that can be used for exploring a new city – or even your own. From what I can tell, there are something like 2,000 locations mapped now, and the database will continue to grow as word gets out.  Sounds like great fun…and perfect for some of you guys, I’m willing to bet.  (Houston, fourth largest city in the U.S. has only one map entry…I need to have some fun with this thing.)

6.     As you can see from the sidebar here, in addition to book news and reviews, I often write posts on libraries, bookstores, publishers, and authors.  I admit, that some of the posts are about outrageous failings on the parts of some of those institutions, especially libraries and bookstores (but, hey, that’s half the fun).  Every so often I get some negative feedback but no one has ever denied the truth of something I’ve posted (well, at least with the exception of one Brit who wanted to sue me all the way from England because of something a commenter posted on Book Chase).  But here’s the curious bit.  In the last week, I have had five different public libraries/library systems quit following my “tweets” on Twitter.  No big deal, I know, but I have to wonder which of my posts was the one that finally pushed them over the edge.  I’ll probably never know.

7.     My goal, coming into 2013, was to read and review 135 books this year, but it doesn’t look as if I’m going to make it because I’m going to finish June with only 62 books read and 57 of them reviewed.  I think I see my problem, though.  Now that I’m not commuting to work, I’m unable to work recorded books into my daily schedule.  Even though I only “read” five of those last year (and fifteen in 2011), they are the difference between reaching my goal and not reaching it.  I’m planning to travel a bit in the second half of July, however, and might be able to make up some lost ground on the trip. 

8.  Question: if new print books do ultimately become rare (and expensive) whose fault will it be?  Are readers really rushing to convert to e-books and e-readers, or are they being pushed in that direction by publishers who see electronic reading as the most cost efficient way for them to publish?  I’ve tried e-books, and have even owned a dedicated e-reader for several years – Sony’s very first model, in fact, but I just can’t make the transition comfortably.  For some reason, I find it difficult to concentrate when reading an e-book and often have to re-read whole pages after my mind has drifted.   Maybe it’s because I’m always being tempted to check my email or twitter account…

So much for thinking.

Havana Lost

As the Fidel Castro era slowly draws to a close, it is a bit difficult to picture (much less actually remember) the U.S. influenced decadence of pre-Castro Cuba. The country, Havana in particular, was so shamelessly exploited by U.S. businesses and criminal interests during those years that it is little wonder that Castro booted all of them from the country as soon as he could.
Libby Fischer Hellman’s new historical thriller Havana Lost, via the fictional Pacelli family, vividly recreates both pre-and-post-Castro Cuba for the reader.  As the book opens, time is running out for the mobsters running Havana’s plush casinos, and some of the bosses are beginning to hedge their bets by publicly supporting Batista, the country’s dictator, while privately shipping arms to Castro’s rebels.  Well, good luck with that. 
Francesca Pacelli’s days in Havana are numbered.  Sensing the imminent fall of the Cuban government, her mobster father is sending her back to Chicago in order to keep her safe from harm – and kidnappers.  And now, at the worst possible moment, Frankie falls passionately in love with a young Cuban she barely knows, a man who just happens to be a pro-Castro rebel.  Unfortunately for both, after her father forcibly removes her from the country, Frankie never sees her lover again.
Libby Fischer Hellman
But, as Frankie will learn decades later, Cuba is not done with the Pacelli family just yet.  Lured back into the country by the possibility of immense wealth to be had for the taking, the family will pay for its sins – past and present.  Havana Lost tells the story of three generations of a family trying to balance greed and family loyalty, but in the process, spectacularly failing at both. It is a tale of innocence lost and innocence abused, all in the name of easy money.
Thoroughly researched by its author, Havana Lost has all the makings of a first rate historical thriller. It is a genuine page-turner that allows the reader to experience Cuba-past and Cuba-present through the eyes of ordinary people forced to endure both eras.  That level of authenticity is not a surprise in a Libby Hellman novel, however (see A Bitter Veil).  In my estimation, what makes Havana Lost special is the author’s willingness to take chances with so many of the characters central to her story.  Havana Lost is filled with surprises I wish I could tell you about – but then they wouldn’t be surprises, would they?  Thriller fans, you need to read this one.

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

Library Fines Add Up to Big Bucks

Those nickels, dimes, and quarters collected as library fines  really add up fast at the Cuyahoga Falls (near Akron, Ohio) library.  But, rather amazingly, no one noticed that about $350,000 was skimmed off the top in just a six-year period by one of the library’s employees.
According to Ohio.com, Theresa Karm managed to do just that.  

Library director Kevin Rosswurm told the Akron Beacon Journal that Karm was questioned at least once in the past about the big drop in fines collected, from nearly $37,000 in 2005 to just over $11,000 in 2011.

Rosswurm said that during previous questioning, Karm seemed to adequately explain the decreased revenue and kept her job.

The library now requires two people to count money. “I think it’s a pretty secure system we have in place now,” Rosswurm said. 

Wow, doesn’t anyone there return library items on time?  How she got away with this for six years is hard to figure…

Light of the World

Dave Robicheaux and Clete Purcell – and those closest to them – have certainly earned a little downtime.  Barely having survived the gunfight that ended The Glass Rainbow, Dave and Clete were soon battling pure evilness again in the nineteenth book in the Dave Robicheaux series, Creole Belle.  Now, as Light of the World opens Dave and Clete, along with Dave’s wife Molly and daughter Alafair, are recovering on a friend’s ranch in a remote part of Montana. 
Life is good  – at least until Alafair is almost killed by an arrow while running on one of the ranches wooded trails.  Dave, not a man who believes in coincidences, immediately starts nosing around (much to the chagrin of the local sheriff) and is soon reminded that the forces of evil never take a day off.  The fight is on.  And then Clete’s daughter (introduced in Creole Belle) shows up and throws a little gasoline on the already simmering fire.
Dave and Clete, personally flawed as they are, pride themselves on representing good in the perpetual battle between good and evil.  They defend those who are incapable of defending themselves – and, because they are willing to get their own hands dirty to get the job done, they do it very well.  And when it comes to protecting their daughters, all bets are off, especially when facing someone like Asa Surette, a ghostlike psychopath who has been nursing a grudge against Alafair for years and finally is in the position to make her pay.
Alafair, however, is more than ready to defend herself, and takes a surprisingly active hand in confronting the man whose attention she feels so guilty about bringing into their lives.  Readers will decide for themselves (I found her new warrior-like persona to be a little jarring) whether the new Alafair is, perhaps, a bit of a misstep on the author’s part. 
James Lee Burke
Now twenty books long and twenty-six years old, the Dave Robicheaux series is as strong as ever.  Dave Robicheaux and Cletus Purcell have become as familiar to avid fans as members of their own families.  The men, especially Clete, may not be perfect but it is their flaws that make them so effective in fighting the human predators so common in their world.  They are willing to give as good as they get, and we love them for it.
Bottom Line:  Light of the World is a great addition to the Dave Robicheaux series and fans will want to grab it.  James Lee Burke is as good as ever – maybe even better.  Gretchen Horowitz, Clete’s recently discovered adult daughter, is great fun and one hopes that she will be around for a long time.

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

James Lee Burke Picking and Singing

I love these little glimpses into the downtime of one of my all-time favorite writers, James Lee Burke.  Both videos were shared via Facebook yesterday by Pamela, one of Mr. Burke’s daughters.  Pamela advises that she took them last week at her father’s home:

The videos feature Mr. Burke on guitar and lead vocal. The songs, both classics, include the Cajun “national anthem,” “Jolie Blon.”  (Nice peeks through the window at what appears to be a very green Montana).


The man they called “Shoe” was in way over his head.  Having been chosen from a group of immigrant day workers standing around a mall parking lot, he showed up at the construction site without the steel-toed boots he needed to protect himself.  Now, he was so deep inside a slippery, muddy trench that he could barely make his way back to solid ground after the foreman grew frustrated with his work.  Instead of helping him, the rest of the crew laughed at Shoe’s efforts to get out of the hole he stood in.  But Shoe was used to it.  That was pretty much the story of his life.
Jon Pineda’s Apology is the story of a simple man with a tragic childhood who is still hoping to make a better life for himself in the United States.  For someone who started life the way Shoe did, that should not be all that difficult, but all these years later he is still struggling to find his place in his new country.  He is grateful that his brother has taken him for the moment, but he knows he is in the way and that his sister-in-law will be happy to see him go.  Shoe will miss his brother and his nephew Mario – even his sister-in-law – but he understands why she feels that way.
Things will change sooner than any of them expect.
Tom and Teagan, nine-year-old twins, are part of Mario’s neighborhood crowd.  After Teagan suffers a devastating brain injury that forever traps her inside her childhood, she is unable to tell investigators what happened.  The few clues available to investigators, however, all point toward Shoe, and rather than admit to police that his young nephew was somehow involved in the incident, Shoe chooses silence and a long prison term.  Scarred by his own childhood, he wants to make sure that Mario gets off to a better start than he managed for himself.
Jon Pineda
Apology, because it uses a rapid-fire series of scenes and flashbacks to tell Shoe’s story, has a cinematic feel that makes a vivid impression on the reader.  This debut novel is filled with the kind of questions that do not have black or white answers.  Readers will have to decide for themselves if Shoe’s decision to sacrifice his own future on his nephew’s behalf was the right one – or whether it was even necessary.  Did it really change anything for Mario?  Was it, perhaps, the only thing Shoe could have ever done to transform his own life into a success story?  Was it worth it?
Bottom line:  Jon Pineda packs a lot into what is a relatively short debut novel.  Apology might be a tragedy, but it is likely to leave the reader feeling a little better about the human condition.  

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

Urbana Free Library Discards Wrong Books

Urbana Free Library (When it had a lot more books)

In a monumental screw-up…I mean “miscommunication…” the Urbana Free Library (Illinois) recently discarded a whole lot of the wrong books.  Don’t you just hate when that happens, Deb Lissak?

According to the Chicago Sun-Times:

“There was a miscommunication,” said Deb Lissak, director of the library for the past six years, who had told her staff to flag all non-fiction books more than 10 years old and consider them for removal.

“I said clearly mark the ones you want to keep, and they said we thought you wanted to get rid of the lot,” she said.

Link to Sun-Times story

Life Sentences

Some childhood events are so remarkable (or horrific) that they dramatically impact the self-image of the adult the child will become.  But what most forget is that, whatever the experience, they were children when the events happened, and they experienced the events through the eyes and perceptions of children.  So what happens when what they remember is not the way it really happened? Whose fault is it?  Cassandra Fallows is about to find out.
Cassandra grew up in one of Baltimore’s more racially mixed neighborhoods where her best friends Donna, Tisha, and Fatima, were all black.  Calliope Jenkins, another little girl, also black, tried to make her way into their inner circle but was only grudgingly accepted every now and then.  Now the girls have largely gone their separate ways and Cassandra has not seen any of them for years.  This, however, has not kept her from using her childhood memories to earn her living.
Cassandra’s two memoirs have, in fact, earned her a very nice living and she has every reason to believe that the royalty checks will keep coming for a long time.  Her frank willingness to expose herself – and anyone who has ever impacted her life – to public scrutiny has made the books long-term bestsellers.  Then, perhaps overconfident, Cassandra decided to turn her pen toward her first novel, with, at best, mediocre results. 
Laura Lippman
Now she and her publisher agree that Cassandra needs a new memoir, one with a fresh hook – and Cassandra believes that the little girl who wanted to be part of her crowd all those years ago can provide the very hook she needs.  Calliope Jenkins spent seven years in jail for contempt of court, accused of killing her infant son but refusing, the whole time, to answer a single question regarding the whereabouts of the boy.  Eventually, the court was forced to release her even though the mystery was never solved. 
Cassandra, believing she has found her next bestseller, is back in Baltimore where she hopes to shake things up enough to get at the truth of what happened to the baby boy.  But if she thinks it will be easy, she is in for a big surprise.  None of her old friends are happy to see her, Calliope Jenkins is nowhere to be found, and what Cassandra is about to learn about herself might just turn her two bestselling memoirs into works of fiction.
Bottom Line:  Life Sentences, based on a real life incident in Baltimore, is an interesting mystery but, as usual in a Laura Lippman novel, the real fun comes from immersing oneself in the relationships between the book’s intriguing characters.  Lippman fans will not be disappointed in this 2009 novel.  

Completing Book Covers with Human Bodies

I can’t believe that the Corpus Libris photo essay project is almost five years old and I’m just finding out about it.  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, though, because that’s pretty much my usual timing on things like this.

Anyway, I’m going to post a few examples of the work, both created by the blog creators and solicited by them, to give you guys an idea of what’s going on over there.  Lots of these photos are really good, so go to the Corpus Libris site, check out the pictures, and pass the word.  I’m hoping to try this myself…you might want to do the same.

If any of you get creative, share them over at Corpus Libris so that they can be added to the collection.

Creole Belle

James Lee Burke does something better than any crime fiction writer around today: he creates believable, self-contained worlds in which the outlandish things that happen to his good guys seem entirely plausible.  And, boy do crazy things happen to Dave Robicheaux, Clete Purcell, and those closest to them.  But in Burke’s little corners of southwest Louisiana and remote Montana, it all makes a certain kind of sense.
As Creole Belle begins, Dave is still hospitalized, slowly recovering from the near-death experience he and Clete experienced at the end of the previous series novel, The Glass Rainbow.  In the hospital, Dave, who is often surrounded by visitors from his past (be they long dead or not), is surprised by a visit – and the gift of an iPod with some special songs on it – from Tee Jolie Melton, a young woman he knows.  There are just two problems: Tee Jolie disappeared several weeks earlier, not to be seen since, and no one can hear the special iPod songs but Dave.
Even when he finally leaves the hospital, Dave continues to get phone calls from Tee Jolie in the middle of the night.  Sensing that something is terribly wrong, he and Clete start asking questions.  When Tee Jolie’s sister is found encased in a huge block of ice floating in the warmish waters of the Gulf of Mexico, it all suddenly becomes too real.  Someone badly wants Dave and Clete to back off and will do anything it takes to kill their investigation – and them.
James Lee Burke
James Lee Burke, at age 76, is still very much in peak writing form.  His Robicheaux novels, in particular, are as good as ever, and Burke has even added an intriguing new character to the mix here who will be one of the key characters in his soon to be released Light of the World.  In Burke’s view, the fight between good and evil is not a black and white one.  He focuses, instead, on all the gray areas where the bad guys sometimes show a tiny sliver of a heart and the good guys are forced to use bad-guy tactics in the name of justice.  Dave Robicheaux and Clete Purcell pride themselves on protecting those incapable of protecting themselves – and if the system cannot do it, they do whateverit takes to get the job done.
Bottom Line: Read this book.  Read this series.  Read James Lee Burke.

Book Trailer of the Week: Havana Lost

Here’s another of my favorite recent book trailers.  This time around the trailer is one promoting Libby Fischer Hellman’s new title Havana Lost.

I particularly like the way the trailer’s photos, and especially, its soundtrack capture the Cuban atmosphere.  I think, in fact, that I’ve just discovered the perfect music by which to read this one.

(24th Book Trailer of the week in a continuing series of unusual and memorable book trailers spotted by Book Chase)

The Longest Road

Two major life-changing events happened to Philip Caputo in 2010: he turned 70 and his father died.  The two events, especially because they occurred so close together, left Caputo speculating about his own old age and how many years might remain to him.  Realizing that he was approaching a now-or-never age, the author, accompanied by his wife, set out on a road trip he first contemplated during a 1996 visit to a remote Alaskan village.  The result is The Longest Road: Overland in Search of America, from Key West to the Artic Ocean.
During that first visit to Alaska, Caputo was struck by the idea that Eskimo children in the most remote portions of that vast state pledged allegiance to the same American flag that the children of Cuban immigrants saluted some 6,000 miles away in Key West, Florida.  How could that be?  What was the glue that held a country as large as the United States together?  Caputo and his wife, towing a vintage little Airstream trailer behind them, set off from Key West in 2011 to answer those questions for themselves.
As they make their northwestward trek across the country, Caputo gathers many different opinions about the state of the country and why people think that it still works.  Not surprisingly, most of what the author hears from his new road-buddies is not particularly deep or insightful – but it does reflect the basic, good common sense of most Americans, people that, no matter what region they live in, still have more in common than not.  The system, Caputo decides, may be more politically strained right now than it has been in decades but it still manages to hold America together.
Philip Caputo
Frankly, however, Caputo’s stated goal of explaining America’s unity does not make for a very intriguing travel book.  Fans of the genre are likely to become a bit bored by both the repetitiveness of Caputo’s questions and the responses he solicits from those he meets along the road.  More interesting are the author’s struggles with the Airstream, his other assorted problems along the road (including the difficulty of finding gasoline when he needs it), and the supreme effort he and his wife make to remain civil to each other despite their cramped quarters.  These are the things of which such an epic road trip are really made. 
Bottom Line: interesting travel book that does not quite achieve its stated goal (see the book’s subtitle) – but still worth a look, especially for fans of Caputo’s writing.

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

Confession Time

Over the course of my lifetime, I have read most of William Shakespeare’s place without obtaining much more than a very basic understanding of any of them.  

There, I’ve said it out loud.

Oh sure, I remember the main characters of most of the plays and recognize the more common quotes we hear all the time, and can even sometimes tell you exactly what play the quotes come from.  Big deal.  My problem is that I often get confused by Shakespeare’s English, beautiful as it usually is.  

That’s why I was so intrigued by the new (I think it’s new) Sparks Notes series called “No Fear Shakespeare.”I brought this one home with me from Barnes & Noble today, in fact:

The beauty of these little books is that the original play is shown on the lefthand page and the “plain English” version is beside it on the right side of the book.  

I understand (and agree) that much, if not most, of the beauty of the work is lost in this kind of translation. but I look at the books as training wheels I can use until I finally familiarize myself with the meaning of Shakespeare’s original language and the written style of the day.  I’m hoping it will take only one or two books to get me to that point.  This could be interesting.  

Her Fearful Symmetry

As one of the central characters in Audrey Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry puts it, one of the worst things about dying is not being around “to find out what happens next.”  But, much to her surprise, when Elspeth Noblin dies of cancer at age 44, she remains very much aware of what is to come.  She, in fact, gets to influence much of it – and not just because she willed her London flat to the twin nieces she has not set eyes upon since they were babies.
The nieces, Julia and Valentina, are twenty-year-old mirror-image (literally) twins living with their parents in Chicago.  Because Elspeth had been estranged from their mother (who is Elspeths own twin sister) for their entire loves, the girls and their parents are somewhat shocked by the letter announcing their inheritance.  But there are a couple of catches: in order to claim the property, the girls must live in it for one year and their parents must not enter the apartment for that entire time.  Julia and Valentina, not a particularly ambitious pair, jump at the opportunity to live in London and, with the reluctant approval of their parents, accept their deceased aunt’s proposition.
When they arrive in London, Julia and Valentina are somewhat surprised that their new flat borders London’s famous Highgate Cemetery, the final home to Karl Marx and George Eliot, among others.  But, despite the seeming reluctance of their neighbors to make contact with them, the girls manage to navigate their way around the city quite nicely on their own, determined to make the most of their unexpected windfall.  Soon enough, however, they begin to suspect that they are not the only residents of their new apartment.  Their dead aunt apparently has some secrets to share with them.
Audrey Niffenegger
Make no mistake: Her Fearful Symmetry is a ghost story.  For that matter, despite its lack of blood and guts, it is a superb horror novel.  But it is Niffenegger’s way with fictional characters that transforms the novel into such a memorable reading experience.  Julia and Valentina do eventually meet the people occupying flats in their building.  Robert, their aunt’s lover is an independently wealthy man able to spend much of his time as a volunteer guide at Highgate Cemetery.  Martin is a brilliant crossword puzzle “setter” with such a terrible obsessive compulsive disorder that his wife has finally given up on him and moved back to the Netherlands.  Even the characters not as directly connected to the twins, especially Martin’s wife Marijke, are vivid and well constructed.  And best of all, the workings of Highgate Cemetery are presented in such sympathetic detail, that the cemetery itself becomes another key character in the novel.
Bottom Line:  Her Fearful Symmetry is a compelling ghost story.  It is impossible to read the novel without a growing sense of dread at the realization that, as the book begins to draw to a close, all is not likely to end well for many of Niffennegger’s characters.

On Hold

I sometimes wonder how I fed my reading habit all those years before the Harris County Library System allowed holds (book requests) to be placed online.  One thing for sure: it was a whole lot harder to get the books I wanted back then and I ended up missing out on most of them.

Nowadays, though, I work the system like a champ, seldom missing the books I want to read.  There are so many on my wish list that I can’t possibly afford them or find the space to store them, so my public library system is a real gift, one I appreciate more than ever.

For instance, these are some the books I have on hold right now.  It is likely that one or more of them will end up in my permanent collection at some point anyway.  For instance, I just removed James Lee Burke’s next Dave Robicheaux book from my hold list because I was lucky enough to receive an electronic ARC from the publisher.  I’m 400 pages into the 500+ page book already, and I am eagerly waiting to add it to my complete first edition run of the Robicheaux novels when it is published in mid-July.  

These are some of my current holds (hopefully, they won’t all arrive in the same week):

A biography of Robert Ripley (Of Believe It Or Not fame)

Hosseini has become one of my “go-to” authors.

A novel about a woman whose brother shows up at her house with a huge weight problem

I love mysteries based on classic books, authors, and book collectors.
Memoir: After her mother dies, a young British Woman goes to South Africa to learn the rest of her family history.
The author…the cover…set in a carnival?  How can I resist this one?

I will warn you that, if your system is like mine, you will not be able to renew the books because lots of people will be stacked up behind you waiting for their own turns.  And, they do sometimes arrive in bunches, forcing hard choices on you.  But, even so, if you’re not taking advantage of the service, you are doing things the hard way.


Friendship, true friendship, is a funny thing. Those outside a friendship often wonder what it is about two so seemingly different people that binds them to each other for years, decades, or even a lifetime.  Sometimes, such as in the case of Kate and Zoe, the friends share one burning passion that no one else “gets” the way that they get it – individually and together.  But even then (perhaps, especially then), how the friendship survives for so long remains a mystery.
Kate and Zoe, who met when they were both nineteen, are stars in the world of track cycling.  They are so good that, over the course of three Olympic competitions, they are Britain’s best chance at Olympic gold.  Of the two, Kate has the most natural talent and ability in the sport.  Zoe, however, has a level of drive and determination that makes her every bit Kate’s equal on the track.  Head-to-head competition between the pair more often than not ends with Zoe reaching the finish line slightly ahead of Kate.
As the 2012 Olympics approach, Zoe has become Britain’s darling of the track cycling world.  She has turned her good looks into a lucrative advertising contract, and her pretty face appears on giant billboards all over the country.  Now 32 years old, she and Kate are still competitors, training partners, and despite the odds, friends.  But things are not necessarily what they seem.  Their story complicated by the intimate history they share, and their friendship is about to be tested in ways neither girl can control.
Chris Cleave
Author Chris Cleave, in a series of flashbacks, reveals, bit by bit, the shared past that explains how (and, more importantly, why) the obsessed Zoe and the self-sacrificing Kate have managed to remain “friends” for more than a decade.  Theirs is a friendship even the coach they have shared for twelve years, a man who knows the girls as well as anyone can ever know another, finds difficult to understand. 
Gold may be anchored by the relationship of the Kate and Zoe characters but the novel’s wonderful supporting characters transform it into a truly memorable piece of writing.  In addition to their passion for track cycling, Kate and Zoe share a few other things: a coach who sometimes struggles to maintain his objectivity, a man (and fellow racer) who is the key romantic relationship in both their lives, and a little girl who loves them both.  Each will help determine whom Kate and Zoe will be when all the competition is finally over – if it ever is – and if they survive the process.
Bottom Line: Gold will appeal to those who enjoy “literary novels” as well as to readers interested in competitive cycling and sports training.  It is a well-written novel about a rather unusual topic.

Ranking States by Number of Bookstores

There’s an interesting article on the Publishers Weekly site about the total number of bookstores in each state.  I don’t know what I expected the numbers (based on 2012 data) to look like, but I am struck by what seems to me to be the low number of outlets in most states.  

Maybe that’s because I am so attuned to spotting bookstores whenever I drive that they sometimes seem to be everywhere.  Maybe it’s because I live in one of the largest cities in the U.S. and several bookstores are within 10 miles of my home.  Whatever the reason, the stats tell a slightly different story:

California, with 1,185 bookstores, has more outlets than any other state in the country – but that’s only one store for each of California’s 32,102 residents.

Texas has 1,004 bookstores, the second highest total, but that is only one for each of her 25,955 people.

Montana, Wyoming, and Vermont have only 137 bookstores between them, but they are the top three (in that order) states when measured by bookstores per capita, averaging about one store per 16,000 people.

The PW article is filled with detail and it includes a nice table that can be drilled down one level to provide some interesting insights, so please do click over to the original article.

The 9th Girl

Minneapolis detectives Sam Kovac and Nikki Liska have seen just about everything there is to see when it comes to human depravity, so much that they no longer expect to be surprised.  But, surprised is what they are about to be, although not nearly as surprised as the limo driver who suddenly crashes into a zombie in the middle of a Minneapolis freeway.
The first question Kovac and Liska have to answer is whether Zombie Doe, as she comes to be called, was already dead when she popped out of the trunk of a car and directly into the path of the speeding limousine.  But that might be the easy part.  The real question is whether the young woman is serial killer Doc Holiday’s ninth victim or the victim of some other mad killer stalking the city.  This is not the areas first exposure to Doc Holiday, the killer who has earned his name by killing eight young women already – always on, or around, a national holiday.  He has already dumped some of his victims in Minneapolis and, initially, it looks like Zombie Doe is his kill.  But soon, there are some disturbing indications that the Minneapolis police may be looking for a second killer.
Tami Hoag
The 9th Girl, the fourth of Tami Hoag’s Kovac and Liska novels, works just as well as a standalone novel as it does as continuation of the series.  Readers unfamiliar with the series characters are quickly intrigued by the touching, but sometimes complicated, relationship between Kovac (the older, more experienced male detective) and Liska (now a recently divorced mother of two boys she is raising pretty much on her own).  Kovac and Liska are as close off the job as they are on it, but when the investigation becomes eerily personal for one of them, their relationship will be tested.
Bottom Line: Tami Hoag’s books are always suspenseful and fast moving thrillers centered on well-crafted plots and believable characters.  The 9th Girl is no exception.  Readers should not be afraid to pick this one up even if it is their first exposure to the series (I have only read two of the four myself) – just be warned that you will probably be putting the three earlier books on your “To Be Read” stack as well.

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

Every Boy Should Have a Man

Prepare yourself for a world in which boy “oafs” keep “mans” as pets, a world in which a lucky male or female man is allowed to actually live in the same house as their oaf owner, and in which unlucky mans are often consumed as part of a normal, everyday meal.  Now you are ready for Preston Allen’s Every Boy Should Have a Man. 
Adult oafs normally stand something over thirteen feet tall and even their children are soon taller than man-pets.  Every oaf-year is the equivalent of four man-years so, over the course of a lifetime, an oaf is likely to have several mans as pets.  Get the picture?  Strangely, some mans can talk and some can play singing musical instruments.  “Talking mans” and “musical mans,however, are very valuable and are generally owned by only the wealthy.  The poor have to be content with ordinary, less talented, mans and their pets have to hope that they are not stolen to become the dinner of someone even poorer than their owner.
Every Boy Should Have a Man is largely the story of two oaf boys, one wealthy and one poor, and the female man they share over the years.  Their world is not a happy one.  It is a world dominated by a small wealthy class that sometimes wages war against the poorer, desperate majority of the population.  And, unfortunately for the domesticated man population, neither army is reluctant to use mans as cannon fodder.
Preston Allen
This little book (191 pages) is one that will, most obviously, make readers think about our relationship to our own pets, particularly dogs, but it also addresses numerous other issues.  It is a well considered fable that touches on things like war, religious conflict, racism, global warming, and what it means to be “civilized” all of it cloaked within a rousing adventure tale that fits comfortably into the fantasy genre.
Bottom Line: Every Boy Should Have a Man is one of those books I still find myself thinking about several weeks after I finished reading it.  I have even brought it up in conversation with friends whom I know are nonreaders because it is just so pertinent to today’s world.  The book is a little heavy-handed at times, particularly on the global warming issue, but it deserves a wide audience.  Author Preston Allen has a winner.

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)