The Weird Mind of Dan Simmons on Display

I made a quick stop at my county library branch this morning to drop off three books that were due back and stumbled upon a couple of interesting new novels while there.  The branch keeps only the children’s books and a few of the more recently published fiction and nonfiction titles downstairs, but I always take a moment to scan those shelves.  And I’m really happy I did this time because I spotted a couple of novels that look really good – and I had heard of neither of them.

The most intriguing one is The Fifth Heart by Dan Simmons, a writer I’m pretty familiar with already.  I especially love his Drood, the novel in which he so spookily gets into the heads of Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins.  Simmons is skilled at blending fiction with fact in very plausible ways that will subtly twist one’s image of well known historical characters right on its ear.  Drood is absolutely magnificent, so I have high hopes for The Fifth Heart.

This time around, Simmons teams the fictional Sherlock Holmes with Henry James in an investigation of the supposed suicide of Henry Adams’s wife, Clover.  The supporting cast includes: Mark Twain, Teddy Roosevelt, and John Hay.  That’s already enough to get me intrigued about the book, but it hardly expresses the weirdness of this tale.  Let me quote a bit from the dust jacket and you’ll see what I mean:

Holmes is currently on his Great Hiatus – his three-year absence after his performance at Reichenbach Falls, during which time the people of London believe him to be dead.  Holmes has faked his own death because the great detective has used his incomparable powers of rationcination to come to the conclusion that he is a fictional character.

This leads to serious complications for James – for if his esteemed fellow investigator is merely  work of fiction, what does that make him?  And what can the master storyteller do to fight against the sinister power possibly named Moriarty that may or may not be controlling them from the shadows? 

I just hope I can keep up with this one – and that it doesn’t disappoint me.

Boy’s Life

Robert McCammon’s 1991 novel, Boy’s Life, is a very good coming-of-age novel in which young Cory Mackenson learns more about life in just a few months than many adults ever learn in a lifetime.  Because the novel is set in small-town Alabama in 1964, Cory is, of course, exposed to the racial intolerance of the era, but he is lucky in that his parents are not the stereotypical Southern bigots that exist in so many books and screenplays that have since been written about the sixties.  The “sin” of the Mackenson family is more the typical one of omission rather than one of active commission because, while the Mackensons were not themselves bigots, they accepted bigotry in their neighbors and acquaintances as the inevitable consequence of two different races living so closely together. 

In Cory’s everyday world, bullies, baseball, summer vacations from school, bicycles, and his small circle of best friends play much larger roles than race.  Well, they do anyway until very early on the morning that Cory and his father are almost sideswiped by a car coming at them from a road off the main highway.  Before the car can sink into the depths of the “bottomless” lake into which it has plunged, Cory’s father makes a desperate attempt to save its driver.  What he sees of the man behind the wheel just before the car sinks so rapidly that it almost sucks him down with it will make it almost impossible for Mr. Mackenson to sleep for months to come.
The naked driver has been brutally beaten, strangled by a copper wire, and handcuffed to the car’s steering wheel.  Cody and his father have stumbled onto a killer’s disposal of his victim, and consequences will have to be paid.  The Mackensons – and every one else in little Zephyr, Alabama – are about to live one of the most memorable years they will ever experience.
Robert McCammon

Boy’s Life very much reminds me of a Stephen King novel.  Like King often does in his own books, McCammon shows his readers the hidden evils of the world through the eyes of a child.  Cory Mackenson is an innocent, but the world will not allow him to remain innocent for much longer.  “It’s time to grow up, Cory, so let’s get on with it,” seems to be life’s message to Cory and his three friends.  And, ready or not, that’s what the boys will do.

McCammon uses a wide cast of characters to tell his Boy’s Life story.  Some of them are eccentric, some are evil, some are quite nice people, and unfortunately, a few of them are stereotypes.  Most of the more unforgettable of the author’s characters come mostly from the book’s black community (The Lady, her husband, the little boy that Cory befriends, the town handyman, etc.)

As I said earlier, this is a very good coming-of-age novel, but that is not to say that it could not have been a better one without so much emphasis on the supernatural aspects of the story.  Boy’s Life was written for the horror market of its day, and that made a lot of sense in 1991.  If written today, this might be a very different  – and even better – novel.

In Which A Car Wreck Teaches Me More About Honesty and Corporate Ethics Than I Really Wanted to Know

Well here we are at the last Sunday of June already, the start of a new week – one that I hope will be a whole lot better for me than the one we just finished.  

I was in an auto accident Monday about noon in which the car I was driving and the one that hit me were both totaled.  A third vehicle that was parked in the intersection had some very minor bumper damage to it.  The driver who hit me was speeding through a red light about three or four seconds after it had changed, and since there is a slight curve at the intersection I never saw him until he was about twenty feet from me.  Anyway, as I said, both cars were totaled.  

Big problem.  I was driving a loaner car from the dealership at which I had just dropped off my wife’s car for some work.  That loaner was a 2015 Acura with 980 miles on it…and it is totaled.  The car that hit me was a two-year-old Nissan Altima…and it is totaled.  The third vehicle has about a thousand dollars worth of paint damage to its bumper.  

And then comes the topper.  The driver of the truck told me at the scene of the accident that he could not tell which color the light was in the direction from which the speeding car came through the intersection.  All he knew was that his own light was still red, but that does not mean necessarily that the opposite side was still green.  We agreed, and that’s what he told the investigating officer.  The other driver, of course, claims his light was green.  The officer declined to find fault since no witnesses remained at the scene to tell what they had seen.

Now I find out that both the truck and the Nissan are covered by the same insurance company.  And, get this…the driver of the truck has somehow decided that he could see the light on the opposite side and that it was green when I was hit by the Nissan driver.  Meaning…you guessed it…that my insurance company will be left holding the bag on this one.  Meaning, also, that I will be out-of-pocket several thousand dollars because the damage to the three vehicles involved exceeds my coverage for a single accident.

I am cynical by nature, and always have been.  But this whole thing really leaves a bitter taste in my mouth because I believe that if the other two drivers had had separate insurance carriers, the truck driver would have never changed his story.  Call me naive, but this really blindsided me.  Never saw it coming.

So now I’m left with a horrible screeching sound in both ears (as a result of the noise level reached when three airbags in my car detonated), daily headaches, doctors to see, and the knowledge that my auto insurance rate is about to skyrocket…if the policy is not canceled outright on me when it comes time for renewal.  

Yes, this is almost certain to be a better week than the last one.

New Fonts for E-books…Can Page Numbering Be Far Behind?

For the last four or five years, I have consistently read more e-books than in the year before.  Too, I have migrated all the way from one of the original Sony Readers, to an upgraded Sony Reader, to a Kindle Paperwhite, and even to a Kindle Fire in the last few years.  So it’s not like I’m even remotely close to being anti e-book.

But that doesn’t mean that I love everything about reading e-books. For instance, I have never liked the generic font used in e-books, and I absolutely hate it when an e-book does not have real page numbers.  Who wants to be bothered with “position” numbers, percentages of completion, and estimated reading time remaining?  Well, for one, not me.

So it’s good to see that positive changes are on the horizon.  According to this Wall Street Journal article, for instance, the font issue is well in hand:

The upgrades aren’t just aesthetic. Typography can affect how fast you read. Some fonts propel the eye forward; others cause fatigue. Using eye-tracking tests, Amazon determined that its new font, Bookerly, allows readers to progress 2% faster than its previous default, the clunky but well-performing workhorse font Caecilia.

Bookerly has received positive reviews but the typography world is even more excited about something else Amazon is releasing at the same time: new software that dictates how text appears on the page. This is the company’s first crack at introducing hyphenation—splitting a word in two to fit more characters on a line and eliminate the wide spaces that occur when there are too few words on a full-justified line. 

These may seem like little things, but if e-books are ever to approach the readability comfort level of books on paper, this is a really big deal.  

Now let’s outlaw the publication of e-books that do not include real page numbering…come on, I know you guys can do it.

Library Renamed in Tribute to Church Shooting Victim

St. Andrews Regional Library

In beautiful tribute to one of the nine victims of the horrible South Carolina church murders, the library that Cynthia Graham Hurd managed before her death is being renamed in her honor.  It will now be known as the Cynthia Graham Hurd St. Andrews Regional Library.

According to this article in The Guardian:

The motion was passed unanimously, according to the Post and Courier, which reported that Hurd’s family and friends had filled the front row of the council’s chambers as the resolution was read out.
Her brother, the former North Carolina senator Malcolm Graham, has described Hurd as “a librarian’s librarian”, who “enjoyed working with the kids, but she also realised her job extended beyond the walls of the library”. She had worked in the Charleston county library system for 31 years.


Hurd’s wake is due to be held on Friday, with her funeral on Saturday. The library service said that all 16 of Charleston’s public library branches will close on Saturday, in her honour and to allow staff to attend the funeral services.

Texas Vigilante

Texas Vigilante is Bill Crider’s sequel to his rousing western novel Outrage at Blanco.  What makes both of the novels unusual is not that they feature a fearless gunfighter or villains so nasty that they would make a Jack Palance movie character turn and run for his life.  No, what makes Outrage at Blanco and Texas Vigilante special is that the gunfighter they feature is a woman – a woman who has had all she can take and who is now willing to take the law into her own hands when and as necessary.  Ellie Traine has a gun and she is not afraid to use it.

Ellie is working hard to make a go of the small ranch she inherited at the close of Outrage at Blanco.  Reconciled to widowhood, she has carved out a new life for herself in the little Texas town in which her husband was so brutally murdered just months earlier.  With the help of hired hands, including a young couple and their little girl, the ranch, while not exactly thriving, is doing well enough to provide Ellie with both a home and a purpose in life.
Bill Crider
But, as they say, no good deed goes unpunished.  Ellie is about to learn that the young couple working for her knocked on her door for a good reason.  Lane Tolbert is desperately trying to hide his family from his brother-in-law, and Ellie’s little ranch in the middle of nowhere seems like as good a place as any to do that.  His wife’s brother is a violent prison inmate who believes that his sister turned him in to authorities.  He has vowed revenge, and because Lane knows very well that the man is capable of anything, he fears that his brother-in-law will slaughter them all.
And now, in a bloodbath that claims the lives of several prison guards, Angel has escaped and he’s looking for Lane, Sue, and especially for their little girl.  He has big plans for the family and he knows exactly how to hurt them the most.  Once again, the only thing standing between pure evilness and those incapable of taking care of themselves alone is a woman called Ellie.  And Ellie Traine is not going to back down – now or ever again.

To say only that Texas Vigilante is a violent, action packed western novel would not do it credit because it is much more than that.  Bill Crider has created a memorable character in Ellie Traine, and it’s kind of a shame that there is not a third Ellie Traine western.  Read this one, western fans, because Ellie Traine is a hoot. 

Who Are These People?

A Process Opposite to That of Reading “Fifty Shades of Grey”

When I see a headline like “Fifty Shades of Grey sequel breaks sales records,” my first thought is always “who are you people?”  And even after a bit of consideration, I can only attribute the popularity of this kind of poorly written tripe to: 

  • the number of people who chase every hot trend and want to appear to be part of whatever is “cool”, people for whom product quality is not even a consideration, 
  • the timeless popularity and appeal of soft core pornography (be it poorly written or not),
  • the possibility that the reading skill level of the world’s general population is now so bad that many people (when they even bother to pick up a book) can only handle the simplest prose and are unable to recognize poor writing when they see it, 
  • the overall dumbing down of societies around the world stemming from television shows like “E!” and others that make instant celebrities of trash like the Kardashians, Paris Hilton, and all those clowns on “Jersey Shore,” and
  • to the internet, the best mass marketing tool to come around in human history.
That headline is one I grabbed from The Guardian, by the way:

“We’ve had magnificent support from across the trade,” said Susan Sandon, managing director of Cornerstone. “The excitement and enthusiasm that Grey’s publication has generated is totally irresistible and I am delighted with these early results.”
James’s previous novels, Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed – which tell the story of Christian and Ana’s relationship from her perspective – have sold more than 125m copies around the world to date.
…who ARE you people?

The Boys in the Boat

About the only thing that most of us remember about the Berlin 1936 Olympics games today is the amazing performance that track star Jesse Owens, much to Adolph Hitler’s chagrin, turned in for the United States.  Now, Daniel James Brown has written a book, The Boys in the Boat that might just change that – at least for a while.  Brown’s book is subtitled: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Games.  It has been almost eighty years since these young rowers won gold and their story is understandably a largely forgotten one.  Well, it is time to fix that.
By the time they arrived in Berlin, the men, all of them University of Washington students, had already accomplished more than they ever had a right to dream of accomplishing.  The 1930s was still a time when rowing was considered to be a rich man’s sport, a sport firmly established on the East Coast and dominated by the elite universities there.  Rowers were most often sons of the upper classes.  Their fathers were doctors, lawyers, politicians, and multi-millionaires.  No way should a rowing team from the West, one composed of the sons of farmers, loggers, shipbuilders, and other blue-collar workers be able to compete consistently with the boys of the East.
Coaches at the University of Washington and at the University of California were determined to change both the perception of their skill levels and the results of direct competition with their East Coast rivals.  As the 1936 Olympics approached, they had accomplished both goals in spades.  Not only did they start dominating the East Coast competitions, they so thoroughly dominated them that they convinced that region’s sports writers that they would continue to do so for years to come. 
The University of Washington and the University of California were lucky to have each other.  Their head coaches were intimately familiar with each other’s reputation, style, and tactics and the competitive rivalry that developed between their rowing teams was good for both schools.  In fact, if they had not had each other, neither school is likely to have accomplished what it did.  The schools were also very lucky that both had a head coach destined to make the National Rowing Hall of Fame: Washington’s Al Ulbrickson and California’s “Ky” Ebright.  And, as it turned out, rowing coaches across the U.S (and, eventually, elsewhere) were lucky to have George Yeoman Pocock, builder of the fastest racing boats in the world, come along when he did.
Daniel James Brown

Pocock, a Brit who found his way from Canada to the University of Washington campus, was far more than just a boat builder.  Even though he provided his boats to other schools and racing teams, Pocock became Coach Ulbrickson’s right hand man, someone whose observations and suggestions the coach depended upon and of which he took full advantage.  What happened at the 1936 games almost certainly would not have happened without Pocock’s help.

 In The Boys in the Boat, the author, with particular help from the daughter of rower Joe Rantz, delves deeply into the personalities and make-up of the members of the medal-winning team.  At times, in fact, the novel is so personal and so well researched that it reads more like a novel than a nonfiction sporting history.  It is an unforgettable piece of writing that I recommend to readers of all types.  You most certainly do not have to be a sports fan or someone who reads little other than history to enjoy The Boys in the Boat.  Please don’t miss this one. 

How Does James Patterson Do It?

How does something like this ever happen?

This is simply an observation about the extraordinary presence that James Patterson has carved out for himself in the world of publishing and bookselling.  I don’t know a single thing about the man’s personal life other that he seems to be giving away a lot of money these days, and that’s a good thing.  But from this picture I snapped at my local Barnes & Noble this morning, I can see how he affords to do that.

No, what gets me is that of all the books in this special B&N display, I think that Patterson actually wrote two of them – despite the fact that his name is the single most notable feature on most of the covers displayed.  (Throw out that stray “Archie” that someone has misplaced.)  

What a sweet deal this guy is getting: his very name has become a brand now and he can sell it to aspiring authors willing to do a lot of grunt work for a piece of the James Patterson pie.  And now, the biggest of the surviving bookstore chains is bending over backwards to push all these “co-written” books of his.  I understand B&N’s motivation…gotta sell books in order to survive…but I am really tired of seeing James Patterson, supposed author, everywhere I look.

Rant over.

Shots on the Bridge

The New Orleans police department has long had the reputation of being one of the most corrupt in the United States.  If it is notactually the most corrupt department in the country, in the minds of most observers it is certainly always in the running for that title.  And in the wake of what happened on the Danziger Bridge six days after Hurricane Katrina struck the city in 2005, the NOPD proved that in their case public perception was fact because, sadly enough, the NOPD turned out to be a clear extension of the overall political corruption and ineptness that describes the history of New Orleans city government.
Hurricane Katrina struck a city without a clue.  Both the city’s mayor and its police chief failed the city terribly by not having a solid plan in place for the aftermath of the hurricane.  In fact, as Ronnie Greene points out in Shots on the Bridge, those providing emergency services to the citizens of New Orleans after the storm were left largely on their own.  And this seems particularly true of a police department that failed to set up even a central meeting place/control point from which to coordinate its efforts to control crime during what turned out to be perhaps the most chaotic period in the city’s history.
The Danziger Bridge, only seven-tenths of a mile long, allows access between two New Orleans neighborhoods separated by the city’s Industrial Canal.  And going from one neighborhood to another is all that each of the victims of the police slaughter were doing on the morning they were unfortunate enough to cross paths with a bunch of adrenalin-fueled cops who completely misread the situation on the bridge.  The policemen believed that they were responding to a scene where an unknown number of snipers had shot at least one of their own.  They were anxious to get to the bridge before more policemen could be killed or injured – and when they got there they exited their vehicles with guns blazing.
Ronnie Greene

Before the gunfire ended (and it did not end even when all the victims were helpless and on the ground), six people, traveling in opposite directions in two distinct groups, had been shot.  Two of them were dead: a middle-aged mentally challenged man who was chased off the bridge and killed while trying to understand what was happening around him, and a seventeen-year-old boy whose body was chewed up by the number of wounds it sustained.  One woman, whose arm was literally shot off, saw her daughter shot in the stomach and her husband suffer severe shrapnel-related head wounds.  All the victims were black and none of them had a weapon of any type on them.  Some of the cops were white; some were black.

Then the cover-up began, and the NOPD lived up to its embarrassing reputation as being one of the most corrupt police departments anywhere.  Read Ronnie Greene’s Shots on the Bridge for the rest of this tragic story – especially the way it was so consistently mishandled in the court system.  We can only hope that someone in the city of New Orleans learned something from the mistakes made in this case – and is now in a position to help ensure that nothing like this ever again happens there.

Folly and Glory

I began 2015 hoping finally to read some of the books that have been sitting on my bookshelves, almost untouched, for the past decade or two…or three.  So far, I have read six books from the past; 2004’s Folly and Glory is the fifth of them to be reviewed.  
Folly and Glory is the final book in Larry McMurtry’s four-book series known as “The Berrybender Narratives.”  In this one, the surviving members of the Berrybender family and their hunting party, if they can finally make it to safety, are going to have to decide what to do with the rest of their lives.  Will all of the remaining Berrybenders return to England, or will some of them decide to make permanent lives for themselves in the American West?  And if any go back, are any of their American lovers/spouses likely to accompany them? 
As Folly and Glory begins, Tasmin Berrybender and her family are under house arrest by the Mexican government in Santa Fe.  But, because they are housed in the biggest and most comfortable house in the whole town, they fail to comprehend fully what danger they are still in.  It is only when the Mexicans decide to move the whole Berrybender clan to Vera Cruz that the reality of their situation sinks in.  Now the Berrybenders and their entourage (be they British, American, or Indian) are going to have to endure another trek across the desert that will come near to starving them to death – if they do not first die of dehydration. 
Oh, and incidentally, the women in the group have caught the eye of a group of renegade slave traders determined to kidnap them for later sale at a nice profit.  And the slavers are always out there somewhere just waiting for the opportunity to grab them.
Interestingly, McMurtry alludes to the title of this final volume in at least two different sections of Folly and Glory.  Early on (page 28), he uses the words of the title to refer to the whole American experience when he says, “Had it been glory, or had it been folly, the unrelenting American push?  Were town and farm better than red men and buffalo?  Bill Clark didn’t know, but he could not but feel bittersweet about the changes he himself had helped to bring.”
And then, on the book’s final page, the author uses the same two words while discussing the personal experiences of Tasmin Berrybender, the main character and chief heroine of the series.  As McMurtry puts it, “They had begun their lovemaking far out on the prairie, where the buffalo bulls in hundreds roared in their rut.  Naked, those first few times, Tasmin had been convinced that she was now a child of nature – and there was the folly hidden under the glory; she was a daughter of privilege, English privilege, and Jim was a son of necessity – American necessity.  Such a combination might thrill, but could it endure?”

I said in my review of the first Berrybender book that I suspected that the series had received neither the critical credit nor the general popularity it deserves.  After reading all four of the books, and spending time with one of the more memorable fictional characters I’ve ever encountered (Tasmin Berrybender), I am now more certain of that than ever.

An Observation on Stephen King and a Rant About the St. Louis Cardinals Baseball Team

I can’t seem to focus this morning while sitting around and wondering where the heck Tropical Storm Bill is and when the heavy rains are finally going to hit here (25 miles north of downtown Houston).  I did manage to squeeze in a quick run to the bank and then, on the way home, to the library to drop off three books that were due for return.  But then I wasted another significant portion of my remaining lifespan going around in circles on Facebook.  Doh!

Oh, well.  A couple of things did catch my eye there, one of which has depressed/irritated me and the other of which I hesitate to even mention.

So…hesitation aside, I saw a new picture of Stephen King this morning and I swear the man is starting to resemble some of the spooky characters out of his books and movies.  (No offense intended, as I have read most of King’s books and particularly admire his novellas.  Too, I think he is the kind of man who would probably see the humor in my observation.)  Take a look:

Now for the depressing thing I saw on Facebook this morning:

I love baseball and have loved it since I was about 10 years old.  I grew up following the Game of the Week on CBS Television when Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese were calling the games.  Consequently, I became a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Yankees, the Cards because that was Dizzy’s old team and the Yanks because they were on TV more than any other team.

Then when Houston got its own team in 1962 the Astros became my favorite team but I still had a soft spot in my heart for the Cardinals and Yankees.  So when the Astros moved to the American League a couple of years ago, I was able to start rooting wholeheartedly for two teams, the National League Cardinals and the AL Astros.  

And NOW?  Well, if the current investigation of the Cardinals for hacking into the Astros database proves true, I am done with the Cardinals…forever (see this New York Times article)

According to the Times article, one or more people in the Cardinal front office were hellbent on getting a little revenge on the Astros for hiring the Cardinal assistant GM and making him Houston’s General Manager.  And not only were they trying to get confidential information that would help them grab players before Houston could get them (the two teams were division rivals for a long time), these crooks were also leaking information about trade talk that Houston was having with other teams…all in the hopes of stopping those trades from ever happening by embarrassing the Astros.

Well, all I can say, St. Louis Cardinals, is that if this turns out to be true, you have forever lost a fan who has followed and loved you for the last 56 years.  The garbage man will be getting a whole pile of Cardinal fan gear to bury at the local landfill, that’s for sure.  Yeah, you could say that I hold grudges and seldom give second chances to backstabbers.  Stan Musial is cursing you guys from his grave right now, guys.  Shame on the lot of you.

Rant over.

The Queen of Patpong

With the publication of The Hot Countries in October 2015, Timothy Hallinan’s Poke Rafferty series will be seven books long.  The Queen of Patpong, which is the fourth Rafferty book, is one that I particularly like because it fills in Rose’s backstory so completely that it is easy to see how she became the strong woman that she is today.
Rose, a former Thai bar girl, by this point in the series is married to Poke and they are living rather comfortably and happily with Miaow, the little homeless girl they plucked off the streets and adopted as their own.  As the book begins, Poke, who originally came to Thailand to write travel books, is already aware of much of Rose’s past but even he does not know how truly horrific her story is.
All of that suddenly changes, though, when a man Rose thought (and prayed) was long dead stops by her restaurant table to pay his compliments.  Before that conversation ends, Rose has stabbed the man in the hand, Poke has been manhandled and humiliated, and the whole restaurant is in an uproar.  But that’s only a taste of what the intruder has in mind for Rose, Poke, and Miaow.  He has big plans for the family, and if he succeeds in carrying out those plans none of them will be around to talk about it when he’s all done.
Timothy Hallinan
Poke’s search for Horner (Rose’s nemesis) will take him to Patpong Road, the very heart of one of the most wide-open red-light districts in the world.  This is a section of Bangkok both he and Rose know well.  Rose, like so many young Thai women before her, escaped the dangers of life in her home village by signing on to work in one of the infamous bars in the district.  And despite not having a real comprehension of the lifestyle she was signing on for, the statuesque Rose was such an eye catcher that, by the time she left the life, she could legitimately be called “The Queen of Patpong.” 
Rose Rafferty’s story is typical of those of the thousands of young Asian women who get trapped in Thailand’s sex trade every year, and make no mistake about it, this industry is both as well organized and as corrupt as any crime syndicate in the world. Timothy Hallinan has done his research, and what he describes here is both fascinating and disturbing.  Sadly, because it is sometimes the only means of escape from an even worse fate planned for them by their own families, there is no shortage of young women willing to try their luck on Patpong Road. 

The Queen of Patpong, however, is much more than a primer on Thailand’s sex trade.  It is also a very fine thriller about three or four characters readers have come to know – and love – over the length of the series.  And I have to tell you…the ending of The Queen of Patpong is one of the most satisfying of its type I have experienced in a long, long time.

One Library Adds Books to Meals on Wheels

I’ve actually wondered about why this wasn’t being done, so it’s great to see that at least one library is making it work.  It’s such a simple idea really: deliver requested library books at the same time that Meals on Wheels are delivered to those no longer able to do those things for themselves.

According to Colorado’s Summit Daily, the Summit County Library system is making that happen for patrons who receive three or more meals once a week:
“It’s a little bit of everything,” said Barb Arbuckle, with the Summit County Library’s South Branch. “Some go online and place their own holds. One of the patrons we’ve known forever, so we know what she likes.” 
Volunteers collect the books from the library and deliver them to the Summit County Community and Senior Center. Arbuckle added that the library proposed the idea to Mountain Meals on Wheels when they were looking for ways to provide books to people who may not be able to get to the library easily. She added that a library card is not required for seniors to receive the reading materials. 
Once all books are requested and collected, volunteers with Meals on Wheels deliver meals as usual, with a book. Once the seniors are done reading, they return them the same way.

You can read the entire article at this link. 

Food Store Creates Children’s Library in Memory of Former Employee

Carly Ferro

One more story from the “Readers Are Special” file that I keep here at Book Chase…

According to the (Vermont) Rutland Herald, a group of Carly Ferro’s friends and co-workers have created, in her memory, a children’s library in the grocery store in which she used to work:

Carly Ferro was 17 when she was killed by an out-of-control vehicle speeding along Cleveland Avenue in September 2012 while leaving work at Rutland Discount Food. On Thursday morning several of her co-workers were at the store to dedicate a room they designed and built a children’s library in memory of Ferro at the store.

(I’m not sure about that rather dubious second sentence, but I think you get the gist of the quote.”

“You could hear Carly’s laughter throughout the store,” Taylor said. “She’d be stocking candy and eating candy and laughing. She always said, ‘Be kinder than necessary.’ She was truly an unbelievable teen. She was our shining star.”

And to continue Ferro’s spirit, Taylor decided to develop the library.

So a large purple tub sat in store for a few months, and the books kept coming. And in a few months there were 1,000 books.

Add to that a shelf stocked with hundreds of black-and-white composition books and pencils, neighborhood children can write and draw and take out a book.

The driver of the speeding vehicle that killed Carly and injured several other people has been convicted of manslaughter and will be sentenced on June 16.  The timing of this article about what has been done on behalf of one of his victims must be making him very nervous…hope so, anyway.

By Sorrow’s River

I began 2015 hoping finally to read some of the books that have been sitting on my bookshelves, almost untouched, for the past decade or two…or three.  So far, I have read six books from the past; 2003’s By Sorrow’s River is the fourth of them to be reviewed.  

By Sorrows River is the third book in Larry McMurtry’s four-book series known as “The Berrybender Narratives.”
By the beginning of this book, the Berrybender family and its traveling party have several fewer members than they had at the beginning of Lord Berrybender’s quest to kill as many of the wild animals populating America’s West as he possibly can.  But the old man is not ready to call it a day and, in fact, he could not do so even if he wanted to because he has placed himself and his entire party in such a dangerous position that the only choice they have is to move on to Santa Fe.
It will not be an easy journey, and if everyone is to get to Santa Fe before winter sets in, they need to start moving in that direction immediately.  But hard as they know the trek will be, they also know that those who manage to survive the journey will have a relatively safe place to spend the cold months just ahead – a refuge promising them a brief respite from the onslaught of fierce Indians who have been killing off the adventurers one-by-one for the last several months.
Despite all the suffering and brutality endured by the Berrybender group, By Sorrow’s River is really a love story – one involving a love-triangle in which the passionate Tasmin Berrybender finds herself torn between Sin Killer (her husband) and Pomp Charbonneau (son of, Sacagawea, Lewis and Clark’s famous interpreter).  By nature, Sin Killer can take only so much of civilization and “crowds” before he feels compelled to head out on his own again.  And now, because he has been away from Tasmin for so much of their marriage, she is happily giving in to her attraction to Pomp, who seems to be just the man she has been looking for all of her life.  Pomp, though, is at best a reluctant participant in the love-triangle, and if anything is to come of their relationship it will be up to Tasmin to make it happen. 

By Sorrow’s River, too, is another rousing adventure story with quirky fictional (two French hot-air balloonists, for example) characters interacting with real-life individuals from one of the most exciting periods in American history.  It is Larry McMurtry at the peak of his skills.  “The Berrybender Narratives,” all four volumes of it, deserves to be placed on the shelf right next to the author’s masterpiece, Lonesome Dove.  It is just that good.

NIU Professor"s Claim: Children’s Books Send Message That "To Be White Is To Be Better"

At the risk of sounding like some conservative radical, I have to tell you guys that I am utterly sick of the political correctness that dominates the world in which we all live today.  Everyone is “offended” about something…and everything is bound to offend someone.  It’s a lose-lose situation for all of us.

So what set me off this afternoon?  Only this professor who is on a vendetta to prove that children’s books, taken as a genre, are RACIST.  Melanie Koss has dropped this bombshell on the world all the way from Northern Illinois University where she made her argument this way:

Seventy-five percent of human main characters (in children’s picture books) were white; blacks were protagonists in 15 percent of the books while other cultures combined for less than 6 percent of lead characters.

I’m not disputing her numbers.  What I do find interesting, however, is how closely the percentages she quotes correspond to the overall racial mix in the United States today.  Will this country cease to be “racist” only when minorities are over-represented in every aspect of life to the point that the majority becomes the new minority?  And will even that shut up the professional whiners out there?

And remember this: book publishing is a For Profit industry.  No profit, no books; it’s as simple as that.  Even the NI Newsroom (the NI stands for Northern Illinois) seems to understand that the number of minority oriented books printed will be dependent on how many of them sell and actually make a little money for the publisher:

Because publishers don’t expect big profits from diverse books, few are made available. And because few are for sale, few are sold, creating an endless supply-and-demand conundrum. “If the books aren’t out there, no one can buy them,” Koss says.

 …and Ms. Koss, if no one buys the ones that are out there, why should publishers market them in the numbers that YOU might finally approve.

It’s a PC world, and it’s beginning to remind me of the fable in which the little boy cried “Wolf!” one too many times.  I’m starting to tune out the babble now.

Book Trailer of the Week: Andy Weir’s "The Martian" (movie version)

I’ve seen Andy Weir’s The Martian around for a while now but have somehow (unintentionally) managed not to read it.  Haven’t even held a copy in my hands, far as that goes…But this trailer lit a bit of a fire under me, and I’ve just placed a request for it through my county library system where I am number twelve in line.

I am so NOT a Matt Damon fan that I doubt that I’ll ever see the movie, but I’ll give Damon and crew credit for positively influencing my decision to read the novel.  Nice trailer.