Nomad Books: Edmonton’s Bookstore on Two Wheels

I can’t imagine there’s a whole lot of profit in it, but one Edmonton couple has found a cheap way to turn their love of books and people into the city’s only two-wheeled bookstore.  According to CBC News Edmonton, Yvonne and Jared Epp came up with the idea when they returned to the city after a four-year absence:

“I had been collecting and trading books for a while and then had wanted to start selling some of my own, and was thinking about how to do that without too much expense going into it,” Jared said during an interview with CBC Radio’s Edmonton AM.
“And we thought, ‘Why don’t we just sell books on the trailer and kind of cruise around downtown and sell books that way?’ We thought, ‘Let’s do it, let’s see what happens.'”
Yvonne & Jared Epp


           They say the project is less about pushing a profit, and more about making personal connections.

“That’s kind of our main goal, I mean it would be nice to make money from it, that would be awesome, but we’re prepared not to,” Yvonne said with a laugh. 

“By the time we pay for the insurance and the business license, we have a long way to go before we break even, but it’s worth it.” 

Kind of a cool idea, isn’t it?  And who knows?  Maybe someday the Epps will have a whole fleet of little two-wheeled bookstores roaming the streets of Edmonton that will return a nice little profit to them.  Avid readers tend to be big dreamers, and I wish these guys well in pursuing theirs.

In the Country We Love: My Family Divided

Diane Guerrero is one of those actresses who so often seem to come out of nowhere to claim a recurring roll in what turns out to be an important television series (in Guerrero’s case, the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black).  But as is usually the case, nothing could be farther from the truth about Guerrero’s rise to stardom than how quickly she seems to have achieved it.  Her story is all the more remarkable because when Guerrero was just fourteen years old, she came home from school one afternoon to find that her Colombian parents, both of whom were in the country illegally, had been arrested and were being held for deportation back to Colombia.  Rather astonishingly, the fourteen-year-old American born citizen slipped through the bureaucratic cracks of immigration officials, and was forced to turn to family and friends for immediate survival.  Guerrero’s new memoir, In the Country We Love: My Family Divided, tells her story.
Diane Guerrero spent her childhood in Boston along with a brother ten years older than her and their parents.  But there was a big difference between the little girl and the rest of her family: she was a natural-born United States citizen and the others (all born in Colombia) were in this country illegally.   By the afternoon on which her parents were snatched from her, her brother had already been deported, and Diane was no stranger to the possibility that the same could happen to her parents.  Still, when it finally did happen, neither Diane nor her parents were emotionally prepared for what they were about to face. 
Diane Guerrero 
Because she was such a bright and musically talented high school student, Guerrero was accepted into one of Boston’s prestigious high schools for the performing arts where she prepared herself for a stage and film career.  It was not easy, but despite setbacks and the poor personal decisions she sometimes made, Guerrero managed to maintain contact with her parents (they split after being deported) and was finally able to overcome her feelings of having been abandoned by them.  She still dreams of finding a way to return them legally to the United States, “the country they love.”

In the Country We Love puts faces and names to three of the supposedly eleven million illegal immigrants currently living in the United States.  As such, it packs a strong emotional punch.  Unfortunately, the extremely one-sided pro-immigration argument presented in the book’s final twenty or so pages somewhat blunts that impact by ignoring the broader picture of an open border policy that allows almost unlimited illegal immigration into this country.  Guerrero’s approach comes across as both heavy-handed and close-minded, making it way too easy for her critics to counter her pro-immigration arguments  – and that’s a shame.    

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

The Annual "Worst Book I Ever Read" Award

Thankfully, it only happens to me once or twice a year – but it seldom skips a whole year.  That book comes along.  You know…the one that you force yourself to finish because you can’t believe it’s really as bad as it seems, or you just know the author is going to bail the whole thing out by coming up with the kind of spectacular ending that excuses everything that came before it.  And. It. Doesn’t. Happen.

Well, someone seems to have inadvertently created the perfect booby prize for that kind of book.  Most book bloggers do an end-of-year statistical compilation anyway, so what better time to award the annual “Worst Book I Ever Read Award”?  

That should put a crapper…eh, capper…on the year in rather memorable fashion, especially if friends aren’t important to you.  

Memorial Day 2016

Enjoy the extended weekend with friends and family, but please do take a moment to consider the true meaning of Memorial Day.

(And if you see a soldier, marine, sailor, airman, etc. out there somewhere today or tomorrow, say hello and thank them for what they are doing for all of us.  They will appreciate it, and you will be happy that you did.)

How Tom Rachman "Mourned His Sister Through the Books She Left Behind"

Tom Rachman

A Washington Post article titled “How I Mourned My Sister Through the Books She Left Behind” caught my eye this morning – and it started me on some serious thinking about what we leave behind us upon our deaths.  What physical objects, especially books, will our survivors associate with us for the rest of their own lives…and so on?  

When Tom Rachman’s sister Emily died, he found that her “library remained like a silent repository of her, and I had to dismantle it.”  And that is exactly what he would end up doing by distilling her 800-volume library into the 250 books that he believes meant the most to her during her life.  

I found books on psychology written by our parents. Books she’d started but never finished. Books with sticky notes in them — she was passionate about sticky notes. I discovered packets everywhere, in neon pink, yellow, green. Each time I found a note in a margin, it made me scour the text for why.


Many of her books I associate with her childhood bedroom in Vancouver, where she read one astonishingly thick book after another, such as the red hardcover of “War and Peace,” which bears our father’s handwriting inside: “To darling Emily, With fondest love on your 12th birthday, from Mum & Dad. x x x x”

There are books I forgot I had given, such as “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” in which I (at age 15) printed in pencil: “Dear Emily, happy 18th birthday, I got you this book because it is very funny, and overall ace.” 

Discoveries like these were just the beginning of what Emily’s books reminded Tom of from their shared lives – memories that bound her forever closer to him than would have ever been possible without the presence of the books – and notes – she left behind.

We should all be so lucky as to have a Tom or an Emily in our own lives.  

Perhaps writers are not the only ones who gain a measure of immortality from their books.  Maybe, just maybe, those of us who read them gain the same – if we are very, very lucky people.

(To read the entire  Washington Post article, please click on the red link at the beginning of this post.)


The Only Rule Is It Has to Work

Baseball is the sport that most appeals to the dreamers among us, those who lack the talent to play the game at a high level but who have such a deeply felt love of the sport that we are willing to take just about any baseball related job that comes along.  Until recently, such dreamers were limited to jobs in the front office or to positions that could never even remotely impact what was happening down on the field.  But then along came Money Ball, and everything changed.  It hasn’t been easy, but baseball’s statistical nerds are finally in position to contribute to the game in ways that used to be impossible.
Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller are two of those dreamers – and they managed to make their own dream come true by convincing the owner of a small-time professional baseball team to hand them the keys to his team for an entire season.  As Lindbergh and Miller describe them, the Sonoma Stompers, members of a four-team league known as the Pacific Association, are pretty much astride the bottom rung of the professional baseball ladder.  But that doesn’t matter.
What does matter is that the Stompers and the three teams they play over and over again are comprised of real, living and breathing baseball players – young men who grew up dominating the baseball fields of their youth, all the while believing that one day they would make it to the major leagues.  But although that hasn’t happened for any of them so far, and probably never will, they are not ready yet to call baseball a day.  And as long as they can afford to play the game for the $500 a month or so that the Stompers can offer, Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller want to help them make their dreams come true.
Lindbergh and Miller are baseball writer/editors (Lindbergh for FiveThirtyEight and Miller for Baseball Prospectus) with lots of theories about how best to play the game.  They use intricately designed spreadsheets to identify players that may have slipped through the cracks of major league baseball’s comprehensive player draft system.  They dream of using a five-man infield against players who almost never hit a fly ball, and they wonder what would happen if they ask their hitters not to swing the bat any time they jump in front on a two-ball, no strike count.  They wonder why managers insist upon saving their “closers” exclusively for ninth inning save situations instead of using them in critical situations that happen an inning or two earlier when a game is so often lost.

 Now it’s time to see what happens when theory becomes reality.  The Only Rule Is It Has to Work – and there’s only one way to find out.

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

600 Self-Deluded Writers Sign Open Letter Condemning a Political Candidate

One of the 600 Who Over Estimates the Power of His Opinion

According to this piece from The Guardian, some 600 American writers have signed an open letter condemning the political aspirations of Donald Trump.  Among them seem to be a few favorites of mine and a whole lot more of whom I’ve never heard.

But for all 600 of you, here is my open letter to you:

As I desperately look for reasons I can justify voting for either of the two most despicable candidates in recent American political history, I don’t want (or need) to hear from people whose opinion is no more valid or informed than my own.  I don’t give a damn what you think about politics, so keep it to yourself – and if you think your opinion is going to make me vote one way or another in any election, you are hugely over estimating your influence on the general public.  Keep writing, and I’ll keep reading.  Other than that…you are irrelevant.  

Especially you, Stephen King.

Chronicle of a Last Summer

In Chronicle of a Last Summer, her debut novel, Yasmine El Rashidi explores three volatile periods of Egyptian history through the eyes of a single narrator who lived with her mother in the same Cairo apartment between 1984 and 2014.   The novel is divided into distinct sections recalling the young woman’s recollections of the events of the summers of 1984, 1998, and 2014.  Unfortunately, for both the narrator and for the country of Egypt, the more things changed, the more they remained the same.
In 1984, our narrator is still a little girl basking in the attention of her family and those in the neighborhood impressed by the stature of the lifestyle her businessman father is able to provide his family.  She is a confident child, one who feels secure about her place in Egyptian society, but she is smart enough to know that she does not understand everything about the world she lives in – and that the best way to learn the truth about that world is to listen quietly to the adult conversations surrounding her.  Why, for instance, does her father remain in Geneva on business for so long, and more importantly, why does the rest of the family talk about him as if he may never return to his Cairo apartment?
By 1998, the little girl is a university film student well aware that one of the truths of Egyptian society is that some of its citizens suddenly disappear, with only the luckiest of them ever to be seen again.  But even those lucky ones come home physically and mentally scarred by the experience, mere shadows of the people they were when they went missing.  In the meantime, her own father remains “in Geneva” on business, and the narrator has to be careful that the actions of her radical cousin and uncle do not convince the government that it is time she take a “business trip” of her own.
Yasmine El Rashidi
And then it is 2014, and the narrator’s Baba (father) is back.  He will never return to the family home (a place more and more in danger of collapsing from neglect), but his return to public life gives the narrator the chance to spend time with the man she only knows through family stories and a few vague, early childhood memories of her own.  Soon enough, another “revolution” behind them, the people of Egypt are faced with the reality that only the names of those in charge change, and that life for the rest of them is something to be endured until the Egyptian political cycle completes itself again.

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

The Safe House: A Documentary on the Decline of Public Libraries in the U.K.

Stephen Fry on U.K. Libraries

When I lived in London in the nineties, one of the things that most disappointed me was the city’s public libraries.  Being a bit of an Anglophile, I probably expected way too much from a country that more or less shaped my understanding and appreciation of literature, so maybe they were not as bad as the impression they made on me then.  But when I compared them to the libraries in and around Houston, they invariably suffered in the comparison, so to me they were almost without exception disappointing. 

And now, shockingly, I see that they are probably worse today than I remember them to be when I was a regular patron at two locations back then (the libraries in Richmond and Uxbridge).  I lived in the rather upscale area of Richmond/Twickenham and worked in the more industrial area of Uxbridge, and that meant that Richmond was my week-end library and Uxbridge my lunchtime library.

All that said, this trailer publicizing a new documentary called “The Safe House” on the decline of public libraries in the U.K. leaves me rather sad.

Thursday 1:17 P.M.

At first, fans of time travel novels and short stories might not know what to make of Michael Landweber’s Thursday 1:17 P.M.  After all, the novel’s narrator/hero (a teenager whom everyone calls Duck) moves neither forward nor backward in time during the entire novel.  Duck would, in fact, be perfectly happy if he could simply figure out how to get time started again, because right now he is the only thing moving in a world in which every other living thing and machine is frozen solid at 1:17 on the worst Thursday afternoon of his life.
How bad a day is Duck having?  Well, consider this: minutes earlier, he walked away from his mother’s deathbed; his father is institutionalized; and Duck has just stepped directly into the path of the speeding car that is destined to smash him into pieces.  But suddenly the clock stops ticking, and Duck finds himself staring into the eyes of the driver who is about to crush him.  So he simply steps away from the intersection. 
Thus begins one of the strangest coming-of-age novels a reader is ever likely to encounter.  Duck will be eighteen years old tomorrow – but will tomorrow ever get here, or is Duck destined to remain forever a seventeen-year-old boy grieving the loss of his mother?
Michael Landweber
Survival proves to be surprisingly easy in a world in which everything is literally frozen in in the instant during which time stopped.  Washington D.C. grocery stores are filled with food and drink that never spoils; the temperature never varies; shelter is available everywhere Duck turns (if he can just figure out when it is time to get some sleep); and everything in the nearby shopping mall is his for the taking.  All around him, people are frozen in the act of walking, falling, fighting, or making love.  Everyone but Duck is waiting for the next tick of the clock to determine their fate.  Now what?
Ironically, it a world in which time has frozen, Duck has nothing but time on his hands, time to think about his past, time to miss his parents and his friends, and time to figure out what he would do differently if only the rest of the world would catch up with him again.  But in order to do any of these things, first he has to figure out a way to get time flowing.  Can a boy really come-of-age in a world in which he lives entirely alone, or is his situation akin to the tree that falls in the forest when no one is around to hear it hit the ground? 

You’ll have to read Thursday 1:17 P.M. to find out.

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

You Can Have It All (Rolling in the Deep parody)

This song parody was apparently used to promote the New York State Reading Association conference held in Syracuse in 2012.  Based on a song called “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele, this version is called “If You Love to Read” and features real-life English teacher Sarah Ada in place of Adele. 

Everything about this video makes me smile, but I especially love the lyrics and Sarah’s voice.  Readers, “you can have it all if you like to read.”

For comparison purposes (and mainly to illustrate just how clever and well done this video is) I’m including the original Adele video on which it’s based: 

In Other Words

Jhumpa Lahiri, it seems, has always been suspended between very different cultures.  The daughter of Indians from West Bengal who had migrated to England, Lahiri moved with her family to the United States at the age of two and grew up in Kingston, Rhode Island.  Although the family spoke Bengali at home and her mother made sure that she understood her cultural heritage, Lahiri could not help but consider herself to be American.  English may not have been her first language, but even as a little girl she often found herself asked by strangers to ensure that her parents understood the finer points of any conversation they were engaged in because her parents spoke with heavy Indian accents and her English was flawlessly spoken (a presumption that still irritates Lahiri to this day).
Lahiri’s debut short story collection, Interpreter of Maladies, was published in 1999 and has been followed by a second story collection and two well-received novels.  In Other Words may be only her fifth book, but Lahiri’s writing awards are already numerous, including an O. Henry Award, a PEN/Hemingway Award, a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a National Humanities Medal. 
And then she fell hopelessly in love with the Italian language she had before only flirted with from afar.  So taken with the sound and construction of Italian that she and her family relocated to Rome so that she could completely immerse herself in it, Lahiri decided even to write in no other language.  In Other Words is the result of that decision.  The author, understanding the limitations of writing in a language as foreign to her as Italian is, did not even trust herself to interpret the work back into English for fear of being tempted into “improving” the English version (the book was translated instead by Ann Golstein, an experienced translator who has worked with, among others, Primo Levi and Elena Ferrante).  As she puts it, Lahiri is “a writer who doesn’t belong completely to any language.”
Jhumpa Lahiri
In Other Words – which is part autobiography, part memoir – includes both the original Italian version (the left-hand pages) and the translated English version (the right-hand pages) of Lahiri’s manuscript.  The 233-page book is comprised of an “author’s note,” twenty-three short reflections on her relationship to language and self-identity, and an “afterword.”  Lahiri tells the reader that because she wrote In Other Words in Italian it is inherently different from her earlier work.  “The themes, ultimately, are unchanged: identity, alienation, belonging.  But the wrapping, the contents, the body and soul are transfigured,” she tells us.  
In the end, though, despite all that she has achieved in her study of Italian, Lahiri feels a little “insecure” and “embarrassed” by what her efforts have produced.  She realizes now that for her, Italian will always be a work-in-progress and that she will always remain a foreigner to the language.  But it has been three years since she has read or written much in any language other than Italian, and Lahiri believes that this has led her to a new “creative path” that she would have otherwise never have found.

All in all, not bad for “a writer who doesn’t belong completely to any language.”

East Jesus

Chris Manno
Genre: Contemporary Literary Fiction
Publisher: White Bird Publications
Date of Publication: March 8, 2016
Number of Pages: 314
Scroll down for Giveaway!

In the summer of 1969, a small town in west Texas prepares to send one of their finest young men off to fight a faraway, controversial war. A parallel battle of domestic violence erupts at home as a younger generation struggles to reconcile older notions of right and wrong and even fractured family ties with the inevitable price that the fighting demands. 

Much like today’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Vietnam war is little understood by those left behind, but the lessons of strength, commitment and duty are timeless, then and now. East Jesus, the story of that national struggle today as well as back in 1969, is a plangent, soulful journey lived through the eyes of a wide-ranging, colorful array of characters, with a conclusion readers will never forget.

There’s more.  “East Jesus,” said one editor, “is a message of hope for our children.” Too often, teenagers who’ve survived a young lifetime of domestic violence believe “this is the hell I was born into, this is the hell I must accept for life.” East Jesus turns that notion on its ear: though there’s a price to pay, there’s a better way that rises above the violence.
The novel is peopled by strong characters, particularly women, in a salt-of-the-earth, small town, west Texas community. The price of a far away, unpopular war always comes due in small town America, then (set in 1969) as well as now (Iraq and Afghanistan). But the lesson of hope, sacrifice and redemption is timeless.
To read East Jesus is to live that story, to transcend the fighting at home and abroad, and to embrace the hope and faith in what’s right above all else.

Experience East Jesus, live the story–you’ll never forget it.


In East Jesus, a new novel that atmospherically reminds of Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show, Chris Manno tells one of those all too common coming-of-age stories from hell that make you cringe when you hear them.  The one he tells us here takes place way out somewhere past East Jesus, in a little town more properly known as Conroy, Texas.  Conroy is one of those self-contained and isolated little communities where sometimes it it is hard to tell one day from another and where time seems to stand still.

Travis, who attends the local high school and hits the town’s same one or two hot spots with his buddies every weekend, lives in a small trailer with his mother, his trucker father, his aunt, and his sister Bean, a little girl who despite her inability to speak is one of the most charismatic characters readers are likely to encounter again any time soon.  Travis’s problem, though, is not the size of the trailer or the town he lives in: it’s Jesse, his father.  Jesse is not the kind of man who would ever cut a son of his any slack – and he has the fists and the ruthlessness to make Travis pay dearly anytime he fails to please his old man.

Conroy is a typical West Texas town of its day.  People there still believe that America will always win her wars, and they are proud to see their sons go to battle on the country’s behalf.  But things are changing so drastically by 1969 that even the patriotic citizens of Conroy are wondering whether their government can be trusted with something as precious as the lives of their sons.  Travis decides that for him the answer to that question is a most definite “no.”  But small towns like Conroy do share a number of natural blessings – although, to be sure, some of those blessings, like the one where everyone in town knows pretty much everything about everyone else in town, are mixed blessings at best.  On the one hand, that makes for a nice, multi-generational support group for Travis when it comes to dealing with his father’s threats; on the other, it means that Jesse knows pretty much everything Travis gets up to – and intends to make him pay the price accordingly.

East Jesus is one of those books that can come out of nowhere to surprise you with the punch it packs.  Coming of age is harder for some than for others, and it’s hardest of all for boys like Travis with fathers who see their sons’ maturation more as a personal threat than a passing of the torch to the next generation.  As Travis put it to himself late one night when he spotted a shooting star overhead, “…even a star wish seemed too lame to mend Shirl’s broken heart, save Buster’s lost brother, protect the Bean, stop the Heart O’Darkness, mangle Lester in a flaming wreck, and still have enough power left to get me and Buster laid.”

No, it will take more than wishing on a star to fix all of Travis’s problems. Travis, though, is up to the challenge – something his old man is about to learn the hard way.

Chris Manno matriculated from Springfield, Virginia and graduated from VMI in 1977 with a degree in English. He was commissioned in the Air Force and after completing flight training, spent seven years as a squadron pilot in the Pacific at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa and Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii. He was hired by American Airlines as a pilot in 1985 and was promoted to captain in 1991. He flies today as a Boeing 737 captain on routes all over North America and the Caribbean. He earned a doctorate in residence at Texas Christian University and currently teaches writing at Texas Wesleyan University in addition to flying a full schedule at American Airlines. He lives in Fort Worth.

Each winner gets an author signed copy of East Jesus PLUS 
a free download of Chris’s cartoon book #RudeLateNightCartoons 

  May 10 – May 19, 2016
5/10   Texas Book Lover  – Guest Post #1

5/11   Missus Gonzo  – Review

5/12   Country Girl Bookaholic  – Promo

5/13   Forgotten Winds  — Review

5/14   StoreyBook Reviews     – Excerpt      

5/15   A Novel Reality            – Author Interview #1     

5/16   Book Chase      – Review      

5/17   All for the Love of the Word     – Guest Post #2     

5/18   My Book Fix Blog – Author Interview #2                                      

5/19   Hall Ways BlogReview


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Reading in Rehab

My Makeshift Hospital Desk Top

I’m still here at the rehab center following my May 6 accident.  The doctors, therapists, and nurses are supposed to meet around noon today to agree upon a target date for my release (which could be as soon as tomorrow evening), so things are finally looking up. It always helps to have a target end-date in sight.

Needless to say, it’s been another of those long stretches during -which books are more important to me than ever – and that is despite the fact that, because of the steady diet of pain pills, I am having more trouble than usual concentrating on my reading.  I am very lucky right now if I can get through ten pages before falling into one of my countless 2-minute naps.  

I have, though, managed to finish up a couple of books that I started before the fall: Anna Quindlen’s Miller’s Valley and John Elder Robison’s Look Me in the Eye (it helps that both are excellent).  I even managed to write and post a review of the Robison book from here despite my problem staying conscious – and I spent way too long on a review of the Quindlen book yesterday that had to be junked because it read to me like something from a drunken haze when I began editing it. But even that one is about half finished now, so my time hasn’t been completely unproductive.

I’m also working on a handful of other books in between physical therapy sessions as my reading mood changes throughout the day.  Those include: an ARC of Yasmine El Rashidi’s Chronicle of a Last Summer (a coming-of-age novel about a young Egyptian woman over the period 1984-2014), the Dave Eggers 2012 novel A Hologram for the King that is now the basis for a new Tom Hanks movie of the same name, and three electronic review copies that I’ve been reading for a while.  Those three are very different from one another; one is a baseball book about the comprehensive use of statistics to manage major league games, one is a prison novel, and the other is a “time travel” novel in which time actually freezes (rather than allowing itself to be traveled) for all but the novel’s narrator.  Without all of this to keep me busy and amused, I would probably have lost my marbles at least a week ago.

So there you have it, the exciting life of a man with a broken hip and no place to go.

Look Me in the Eye

John Elder Robison is eight years older than his brother Augusten Burroughs, but it was from Burroughs’s 2002 Running with Scissors that the world first learned of the extraordinarily troubled family in which the brothers were brought up. Encouraged by Burroughs to share his own memories of being raised by an alcoholic father and a mentally unstable mother, Robison did so in 2008 with Look Me in the Eye, a memoir in which he gives an insider’s account of what it is like to suffer from a form of autism called Asperger’s syndrome.

Robison was already forty years old by the time he learned that he was, as he puts it, an Aspergian. Common symptoms of the syndrome include the inability to look someone in the eye when speaking to them, being unable to participate in a conversation at all if anything else catches their attention while they are speaking, non-appropriate facial expressions or body language in social situations, failure to develop peer relationships with other children, and occasional “rare gifts” like “truly extraordinary insight into complex problems.” Robison was somewhat shocked to learn that there were other people out there like him – so many of them, in fact, that the rest of the world even had a name for them.

John Elder Robinson

John Robison, from the time he was a child, liked other children and badly wanted to be part of the gang. But rather than being made a part of any neighborhood gang, Robison most often found himself on the outside looking in, always the last to be chosen for team sports and games – if chosen at all. Unable to respond socially appropriately when given half a chance to become part of the action, he made other children so uneasy that they wanted nothing to do with him. Robison, though, is one of the luckier Aspergians, and has the kind of offsetting talents that others of us can only dream about. Not only was he the developer of the exploding, laser-firing guitars that helped to make the band KISS famous, he was instrumental in the production of the early electronic game modules that made Milton Bradley for a time the most recognizable toy company name to children all over the world.

Look Me in the Eye is fascinating because of the insights offered into an autism variation that until recent years has drawn little attention. What makes the book truly exceptional, however, is that these insights are coming from someone who has experienced the syndrome first hand, a man with a surprising storytelling ability and a well-defined sense of humor that contribute one memorable and entertaining story after another. I found myself telling some of Robison’s stories to friends even before I finished reading the entire book because I was anxious to recommend it to others as quickly as I could. Look Me in the Eye is simply not to be missed.

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

Wasp Stings and Broken Hips

Although it’s only been a few days, it feels like an eternity since I’ve posted anything “live” to Book Chase.  Unfortunately, there’s a good reason for my absence: a hospital stay now in its ninth day.

Last Friday (May 6…can’t even blame it on being a Friday the 13th) I was sweeping my driveway when an agresssive swarm of wasps decided I was too close for comfort – theirs.  After being stung once, I wheeled around and started running in the other direction, forgetting that I was still carrying the broom…which I decided to trip over.  One broken hip and one surgery later, I’m now in my fifth day of rehab aimed at getting the leg strong enough to make it safe for me to go home.  

Just wanted to check in and say hello…trying to read here but the pain meds keep me too sleepy to concentrate for long stretches of time, so I’m kind of disappointed in the few number of pages being consumed during my rehab downtime.  I’ve posted a couple of reviews that were pre-scheduled and I have one more coming on May 19 (I hope).  I’m learning that the Blogger software and an iPad do not play well together, though, so everything may have a different look to it for a while.

More later…I hope.

How to Be a Texan: The Manual

Andrea Valdez
Illustrated by Abi Daniel

Genre: Texas Customs / Social Life / Humor
Date of Publication: May 3, 2016

# of pages: 208, 58 B&W Illustrations

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There are certain things every Texan should know how to do and say, whether your Lone Star roots reach all the way back to the 1836 Republic or you were just transplanted here yesterday. Some of these may be second nature to you, but others . . . well, maybe it wouldn’t hurt to have a few handy hints if, say, branding the herd or hosting a tamalada aren’t your usual pastimes. That’s where How to Be a Texan can help.
In a friendly, lighthearted style, Andrea Valdez offers illustrated, easy-to-follow steps for dozens of authentic Texas activities and sayings. In no time, you’ll be talking like a Texan and dressing the part; hunting, fishing, and ranching; cooking your favorite Texas dishes; and dancing cumbia and two-step. You’ll learn how to take a proper bluebonnet photo and build a Día de los Muertos altar, and you’ll have a bucket list of all the places Texans should visit in their lifetime. Not only will you know how to do all these things, you’ll finish the book with a whole new appreciation for what it means to be a Texan and even more pride in saying “I’m from Texas” anywhere you wander in the world.

I am one of the lucky ones.  I have been a Texan since the moment I drew my first breath, and although I have at times lived all over the world, not once have I stopped thinking of myself as a Texan.  Texans are just funny that way.  That’s why I had to chuckle a bit when Andrea Valdez said in her introduction to How to Be a Texan: The Manual that an aunt of hers once said, “When people asked me where I was from, I never said America – I always said Texas.”  My initial reaction to that was, “yeah, well me, too.” Then it hit me that author Valdez was making a joke, and that I just might not be entirely normal.  
The idea for How to Be a Texan came from Valdez’s Texas Monthly magazine column that was not coincidentally titled “The Manual.”  And the resulting book, I have to admit, has something for everyone in it, be they lifelong Texans like me, recent transplants to the state, or those right now considering some kind of corporate relocation to Texas.  Want to talk like a Texan?  Valdez has you covered.  Want to look and dress like a Texan…cook like a Texan…hunt and fish like a Texan…relax like a Texan?  Valdez devotes lighthearted chapters to these skills – and to several others like them. 
In the chapter on learning to talk like a Texan, the reader picks up little tricks and tips that seem to elude even some native Texans (Texas, after all, is so big that very few native Texans have seen the entire state for themselves.)  Learn how to properly pronounce place names like Gruene, Refugio, Mexia, Bexar, and Iraan – and let’s just say that a perfect understanding of phonetics won’t help you much with these.  Learn not just how to properly use the word y’all, learn how to spell it correctly (a skill that is not as common as you might expect).  And, then there’s my favorite tip, one I’ve wondered about for a long time: when writing the brand name of Texas’s favorite “coke,” you never ever put a period after the “r” in Dr Pepper. 
Those preferring to cook, not just read about, the food Texans are most fond of will be pleased to find detailed recipes for Tex-Mex dishes such as Pork Tamales, Breakfast Tacos, Barbacoa (Google that one; I dare you), and King Ranch Chicken Casserole.  Valdez also offers recipes for some old standbys like Texas fried chicken, brisket, and Chili and Frito Pie – and for a couple of my personal weaknesses like pecan pie and the heavily Czech-influenced kolache.  Tex-Mex cuisine is dearly loved by Texans, as I can affirm.  I still remember how thrilled I was to discover a Tex-Mex restaurant in London called “The Texas Embassy” when I lived there in the nineties.  I was so happy that I didn’t even complain about paying imported beer prices for my Lone Star beer. Valdez is right: once a Texan, always a Texan.
How to Be a Texan has convinced me that I have badly neglected large geographic portions of my home state, something I’ll be fixing this summer.  Maybe I should say I’m fixing to fix that.


A native Houstonian who has worked for Texas Monthly since 2006, Valdez is the editor of She has written on a wide range of subjects, including more than forty columns on activities every Texan should be able to do, which provided the inspiration for this book. She also helped Texas Monthly launch The Daily Post and TMBBQ.comFOLLOW ON TWITTER


May 3 – May 17, 2016


Check out these other great stops on the tour!

5/3       Country Girl Bookaholic          Promo
5/4       It’s a Jenn World         Review
5/5       Blogging for the Love of Authors and Their BooksAuthor Interview #1
5/6       Forgotten Winds         Review
5/7       StoreyBook Reviews    Excerpt #1
5/8       All for the Love of the WordPage Preview #1
5/9       Book Chase     Review
5/10     Margie’s Must Reads  Guest Post
5/11     My Book Fix Blog        Author Interview #2
5/12     Books and Broomsticks           Review
5/13     The Crazy Booksellers — Page Preview #2                 
5/14     The Page Unbound      Excerpt #2  
5/15     Hall Ways Blog  — Review        
5/16     Byers Editing Reviews & Blog — Promo
5/17     Missus Gonzo               — Review

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Walking Point

Those of us who lived through the Vietnam War era were changed by the experience even if we were never part of the actual fighting in that war ravished country.  This was the war that largely changed the way Americans look at their government and how much, or how little, they trust it to tell them the truth.  The Vietnam War, in fact, divided the country so deeply that fifty years later the two sides still have not completely reconciled their differences. 
Perry Ulander managed to come out Vietnam in one piece, and in Walking Point: From the Ashes of the Vietnam War, he tells us how he did it.  The memoir begins with the stunned nineteen-year-old Ulander reading a letter from his Uncle Sam directing him to report to Chicago for his pre-induction physical.  It ends more than a year later when a very different Perry Ulander, having just completed a one-year tour of duty in Vietnam, is equally stunned to so suddenly find himself back on U.S. soil.  
Perhaps Ulander was more naïve than the average male college student of his day, but he seems to have been dangerously uninformed about “this small war” and how it could easily reach out and suck him right into the middle of it.  So, figuring that it “should have been nearly over any day,” he decides to drop out of college with two years of structural engineering study under his belt so that he can “get some on-the-job experience.”  The ever-vigilant U.S. government, of course, has other plans for men like young Ulander.  Ulander as it turns out, is smart enough to see through much of the gung-ho intimidation and brainwashing thrown at him during basic training, and almost as soon as he sets foot in Vietnam he figures out something else: the war he was trained to fight bears little resemblance to the one he is now looking at with his own eyes. 
The men around him, some of them already with more than one tour of duty behind them, consider the army’s “lifers” to be more of a threat to their well being than the North Vietnamese soldiers they are there to fight.  Experienced soldiers immediately begin to mentor the replacement soldiers joining their ranks, a practice that serves both the experienced and the newbies well.  Almost everyone he sees is out of uniform in one way or another: they wear peace symbols, non-regulation sunglasses, scarves and anti-military decorations on their uniforms and helmets.  For emotional support and stress release they look to each other – and to the easily and cheaply obtained marijuana that is always nearby.  Soldiers who do not smoke marijuana are the exception in his unit rather than the rule.

Walking Point is filled with memorable stories and real life characters (known only by nicknames) from a war that America would prefer to forget because of how those who survived it were ignored and mistreated when they came home. Thankfully, old soldiers like Perry Ulander are around to keep that from happening.  It is way past time that America’s Vietnam veterans are paid the respect that they deserve for fighting the ill-conceived war they were handed by their elders.  Walking Point should be taught in every high school in America.

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

One Man Likes Feet a Little too Much – Especially the Ones He Finds in Libraries

Warrenville Public Library

Apparently one Chicago-area man really, really likes the feet of smart women – and he goes to local libraries to find and fondle them.  Seriously.

According to the Chicago Tribune and the Beacon News, this has been happening for at least ten years and the man has already served some light jail time for past offenses:

Omar Carlton, 44, of the 1000 block of Fifth Avenue, is charged with felony aggravated battery in a public place. He has been arrested and charged at least five other times for touching women’s feet in suburban libraries.
Carlton is accused of putting his bare foot on top of a woman’s open-toed shoes at least four times at the Warrenville Library April 20, DuPage County State’s Attorney’s officials said in a news release. The woman allegedly felt something brush up against her feet several times while she was working in a desk cubicle at the library, according to the state’s attorney’s office.

I am not comfortable with the idea that this man is going someday to end up locked up for a very long time – or injured or killed by the boyfriend or husband of one of the women he molested for a sex offense that most people first laugh about when they hear of it. But a sex offender is a sex offender, and this guy needs to be treated like one.  If he is this bad at controlling his impulses, he may be more dangerous than he appears.  Statistics show that treatment programs for sex offenders are not particularly successful when judged by the recidivism rate of those treated, so I don’t know what the answer is.  

But, good grief.  When women aren’t safe walking around inside public libraries, this is not something to laugh about.  With the ten-year history that this man has (as detailed in the article I linked to), maybe prison is the only answer.  Sad as that is.  


Lee Smith is a wonderful storyteller, and for the last forty-five years she has been telling us stories about life in the Appalachian Mountains, a region and a people she knows like the back of her hand.  Now, in Dimestore: A Writer’s Life, Smith finally shares her own story.  I see that the book’s subtitle changed somewhere between its publication as an Advance Readers Copy and its final version, but I actually find the ARC subtitle to be the more fitting of the two (“A Memoir in Stories”) because that perfectly describes the approach Smith takes here in recounting her life for readers.
Dimestore begins with a straightforward preface in which the author remarks on the irony of being “raised to leave” the culture closest to her heart, the setting in which she would always feel most comfortable and welcome.  But, for her sake, that is exactly what Smith’s family sought to do, recognizing early on that Smith had a talent that needed to be tested outside the confines of tiny Grundy, Virginia.  A further irony is how the rest of the world finally came to appreciate the rich cultural uniqueness of her region’s people, and especially of their music and literature.  Lee Smith would know, and merge, the best of both worlds.
Lee Smith
Following the preface, Smith divides the book into short-story-like sections that provide her readers with glimpses into her life from childhood to late adulthood.  She begins appropriately with a section titled “Dimestore” that recalls the role her father’s downtown Grundy dimestore played in shaping her into both the person and the writer she is today.  As a girl she spent whole days wandering around the store, so familiar in that setting that she was largely invisible to the adults around her even when not observing them through the upstairs office window.  She says that she “spent hours and hours upstairs in that office, observing the whole floor of the dimestore through the one-way glass window and reveling in my own power – nobody can see me, but I can see everybody!”  Smith, already a budding writer, believes that this is how she “learned the position of the omniscient narrator, who sees and records everything, yet is never visible…the perfect education for a fiction writer.”
Smith goes on to tell stories about the health problems, both real and imagined, her parents suffered; her education, including visits to her Baltimore grandmother for “lady lessons;” her college girl rafting adventure down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers from Paducah, Kentucky to New Orleans; and the people she still so clearly remembers from her years in Grundy.  But fans of Smith’s fiction are likely to appreciate most the “story” titled  “A Life in Books” in which she recalls her early fascination with books, stories, and writing.  Here Smith reveals what being a writer has taught her about life and about herself.   She says that like Peter Taylor, she “writes in order to find out what she thinks,” and that no matter what she thinks she is writing about “it is all, finally, about me, often in some complicated way I won’t come to understand until years later.”

Lee Smith admits that writing is her addiction, and I, for one, and very thankful that it is.

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)