The Drone Eats with Me: A Gaza Diary

It is difficult to read Atef Abu Saif’s The Drone Eats with Me: A Gaza Diary and simultaneously keep oneself divorced from the politics that caused the situation to happen in the first place.  But that is exactly what Saif, who hardly addresses the cause of the 2014 war that Israel waged in the Gaza Strip, asks his readers to do.  Doing so allows the fifty-one days of war he describes in his 2014 diary to be experienced strictly through the eyes of those helplessly caught up in the middle of it all with no place to hide.  And that makes The Drone Eats with Me a very effective war memoir.
(But for the sake of context, here are some basic facts as I understand them.  In July of 2014, three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped to Gaza by Hamas and brutally murdered there. Then, in response to the Hamas rocket attacks that followed Israeli airstrikes, all-out war began.  Fifty-one days later, over 2,000 people were dead – about 1,500 of them civilians – and over 17,000 homes had been destroyed.) 
Atef Abu Saif
Atef Abu Saif, a respected Arab author of five novels, was born in the Jabalia Refugee Camp in the Gaza Strip in 1973.  In 2014, when the fighting erupted, he lived in Gaza with his wife, two young sons, and baby daughter.  For the duration of the fighting he, and every other citizen of Gaza, only had to look out their windows to judge how the war was going from one day to the next.  But as Saif makes clear in his daily diary entries, that was not the same as understanding why particular buildings and houses became targets of Israeli drone, tank, or naval rockets and others did not.  Without that knowledge, civilians were forced to admit to themselves that no safe structure existed anywhere in the Gaza Strip – and that sheer chance was going to determine if they and their families would survive one more day or not.
Amidst all the chaos and death, however, Saif and his fellow citizens show a remarkable durability and a determination to live life as close to normal as possible. They settle into daily routines that give their lives some semblance of structure despite what is happening around them.  But it is still war, and it is still unpredictable.  Toward the end of the fighting (although he did not know how close the end was when he made the entry), Saif said:
“You need a little luck to get you through war.  All wars are unpredictable.  You have to learn to live with that unpredictability, subject yourself to its mechanisms, get a feel for it.  But on top of this you also need luck.  The dead are not military personnel…Most of them are your fellow citizens…You have not made it this far because you are smarter than them or because you took the right precautions.”

There are no good wars, and with The Drone Easts with Me, Atef Abu Saif reminds us of the utter horror of being trapped inside one with no place to hide.

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

Barnes & Noble Preparing to Offer Booze and Better Food in Stores

Would you be more likely to make Barnes & Noble bookstores a regular stop if you could have a nice dinner, including your choice of beer, wine, or a mixed drink, as part of your visit? Well, Barnes & Noble seems to be counting on just that.

According to Fortune magazine, four Barnes & Noble “concept stores” offering that opportunity are set to open some time during 2017:

The first store will open in Eastchester, N.Y., about 30 miles north of New York City, in October and have amenities like a fire pit and bocce court. The three other stores will be in the Galleria Edina in Edina, Minn.; the Palladio at Broadstone mall in Folsom, Calif.; and One Loudoun, a mixed-use community in Loudoun County, Va.

The company’s Nook business has been a drain on its profits and growth strategy almost since the beginning. That has not stopped B&N, however, from straying farther and farther from its core business of selling…you know…books ever since. As regular customers of B&N know from their own eyes, less and less floorspace is devoted to books all the time – and more and more to things like puzzles, superhero figurines, vinyl record albums, and the infamous Nook.

Will this latest decision help? Only time will tell, but it looks like Barnes & Noble is already preparing to move the concept well beyond the initial four locations if it does. I noticed that one of my two local B&N stores (in The Woodlands, Texas) applied for a liquor license about 90 days ago, for instance.

Bookstores sure aren’t what they used to be, are they?

England and Other Stories

I am one of those who believe (and have often said) that writing a good short story is more difficult than writing a good novel because a short story writer has to create believable characters and plots wholly within the limited number of pages he allows himself to get the job done.  He has to capture the engagement and imagination of his readers, and he has to do it quickly.  That is why it is always such a welcome event when a favorite novelist of mine decides to join the ranks of short story writers, or in the unusual case of Graham Swift, returns to that genre after an absence of almost thirty years. 
Swift’s England and Other Stories is a remarkable collection of twenty-five stories about people who, regardless of their age, have reached a point in their lives where regret and self-doubt are something they confront every day.  These are people living in fear that their lives may never again be as good as they were at some point in the past.  Not only do they fear that possibility, they feel sure that it is the truth.
What makes this collection a bit unusual is that none of the stories have been previously published elsewhere.  These are all new stories (written, I’m guessing, within the amount of time it would normally have taken Swift to produce his next novel), and taken as a whole they present the diversity of a country that is all too often confined to its stereotypes in the minds of foreigners.  There are stories about newlyweds, about elderly couples who have been together for decades, about men and women grieving their lost spouses, about grown children still trying to figure out exactly who their parents were, about cheating spouses, about minorities who self-identify as “English” despite how others perceive them, and even about lesbian lovers who are key workers in a sperm bank.  And that is far from all.
Graham Swift
Among my favorites is “Yorkshire,” in which an elderly couple (71 and 72 years old) sleep across the hall from each other for the first time after the man has been accused by his adult daughter of unspeakable crimes committed against her when she was a child.  In just a few pages, Swift engulfs the reader in the pain and anguish that fill those two bedrooms but leaves it up to his readers to judge the truth of the woman’s charges.  Another favorite is “Fusilli,” which tells of the man who receives a phone call from his soldier son while shopping in his local grocery store. He marvels at the technology that makes such a thing possible, all the while feeling uneasy about their conversation. 
Do read these stories in the order they are presented because, layer by layer, they add up to a cohesive picture of England as she is today, one in which it is easily imagined that characters from the various stories just might one day cross paths and enjoy each other’s company – or not.  They seem that real.

"Browser" the Cat Is Being Booted from His Library Home

Here’s a rather disheartening news story for you on this late Sunday afternoon because of what it says about the petty, vindictive nature of some idiots…eh, people.  I just ran across this short story from Fox News about a Texas library that has evicted the library cat that’s been living in the building for the past five years – all because some twit was not allowed to bring her puppy to work and decided to get even with the poor cat.  Geez people.

White Settlement Mayor Ron White told the paper that he blames the gray cat’s eviction on pettiness at City Hall because a city employee wasn’t allowed to bring a puppy to work.
“We’ve had that cat five years, and there’s never been a question,” White said.
Lawmakers took up the cat’s fate at a June 14 City Council meeting under an agenda item listed only as “consider relocation of Library Facility cat Browser.”

[…]

“This cat has been loved by people of all ages for six years,” Lillian Blackburn, president of the Friends of the White Settlement Public Library, told the Star-Telegram. “I don’t have any animals but this cat is so gentle and so lovable and he brings so much comfort to so many people, it seems a shame to take him away.”

White is hoping the council will reconsider its action at a July 12 meeting, two days before Brower’s eviction date, according to the paper. 

I have to believe that Browser is going to get a reprieve at that July 12 city council meeting.  Surely the two idiots who voted to boot the cat will come to their senses – one way or the other – by then.  Right?

Movies for Readers: American Pastoral

This week’s “Movie for Readers” is yet another one based on the great novels from the now-retired pen of Philip Roth: American Pastoral.  The novel, written in 1997, is actually part of what became known as Roth’s “American Trilogy”(the other two books are I Married a Communist and The Human Stain) and it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

The film stars – and is directed by – Ewan McGregor, an interesting choice for this particular role, Dakota Fanning, and Jennifer Connelly.  It is set to open on October 21, 2016.  For those unfamiliar with the book, it is the story of a very successful man who suddenly finds his life and his family being destroyed by his daughter’s political associations.  When she goes on the run, he struggles to figure out the truth of what happened and tries to find her.

Movies for Readers No. 27

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 Ulander 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 Ulander’s 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.

Would you shop at an Amazon brick and mortar bookstore?

Amazon Books – Seattle

Would you shop at an Amazon brick and mortar bookstore if there were one within convenient driving distance of you?  It appears that the people of Portland, Oregon, are about to get the chance to make that decision.  If any city in the country might actually shun an Amazon bookstore, it’s probably Portland, a city that prides itself on supporting independent retailers and is home to perhaps the largest independent bookstore in the world, Powell’s.  (The new store is said to be slated for a Portland suburb called Tigard, Oregon.)

Personally, I would have to take a look at it out of curiosity, if for no other reason – and I’m sure that I’d grab a couple of dozen photos for use here on Book Chase.  But I have a fundamental problem with the idea of Amazon going wholesale into the brick and mortar bookstore business.  I understand that Amazon has every legal right to open up physical bookstores anywhere its management wants to place them.  But, let’s face it, Amazon has already pretty much had the impact on used bookstores that Wal-Mart has had on small downtowns all across this country – they are now largely boarded up.  Are we, as consumers – and an economy – really better off as a result?

If you’re curious, the Los Angeles Times says that the new bookstore would not look much like a traditional bookstore at all:

If Amazon’s first store is any indication, the locations in San Diego and Tigard won’t look much like regular bookstores. The Seattle store features fewer books than most retailers, with all the books’ covers facing out. There are no prices listed on the books; shoppers have to use a scanner or a smartphone app to find out how much each item costs.
The Seattle store also sells electronics, such as Amazon’s Kindle e-reader, Fire TV and earbuds.

That last bit about the Amazon store selling electronic gear such as Kindles, however, could be describing any Barnes & Noble location in the country if the word “Nook” were substituted for “Kindle.”

So would you support an Amazon bookstore if one were plopped down in your area?  It might be a tougher call than you think.

Ink and Bone

Ink and Bone is one of those books that seem to have so much going for it right up front that I couldn’t wait to get started on it.  It combines elements of several genres (mystery, thriller, crime fiction, horror, etc.) and does it in a way that takes each of the various genres seriously enough to keep the story more or less believable no matter how strange some of its paranormal elements eventually become.  But at a point just over half way through, the plot took a twist (exaggerated, I think by a slight style-change decision) that began to frustrate and confuse me.  And even though the book’s ending is a satisfying one, I still wish it had not become so unnecessarily complicated before reaching that point.
Longtime fans of Lisa Unger are likely already to be familiar with Eloise Montgomery, one of the main characters of Ink and Bone because Eloise, a psychic who works closely with a New York state detective to find missing persons, has been featured in several Unger novels and short stories preceding this one.  This time around, Eloise has been joined in The Hollows (a rather quaint upstate New York village) by her twenty-year-old granddaughter, Finley, who seems to share the same psychic skills that have so defined her grandmother’s life.  Finley’s own powers are growing noticeably without her being able to control or understand them, and the young woman has come to her grandmother for help and advice.
Lisa Unger
And, as it turns out, she is exactly where she needs to be.  Little girls and young women have been periodically disappearing (or have otherwise been abused) in The Hollows for a long time – and it is happening again.  One mother, who has been looking for her missing daughter for almost a year, and who refuses to give up hope until a body is found, has finally gotten desperate enough to place her last hopes in Eloise and Private Investigator Jones Cooper even though she is not herself a believer in Eloise’s supposed skills.  But as it turns out, Eloise is not the psychic in the house who can help her.

Ink and Bone has enough of a mystery about it to keep mystery fans turning its pages throughout, and its three main characters are easy ones with which to identify.  Too, it has enough of the elements of a pure horror novel going for it that fans of that genre are sure to remain intrigued.  Unger stumbles a bit, however, by over-complicating the plot to the degree that it becomes difficult to keep up with a multitude of side-characters and how they relate to main plot.  There are so many layers to Ink and Bone that I never did resolve some of them in my mind – and I find that to be frustrating.

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

The Jealous Kind

Thanks to a combination of selective memory, old movies and television shows, and iconic musical memories, we tend to think of the 1950s as a simpler, safer time that went by too quickly.  That’s as true for those of us who actually lived through the decade as it is for those of us who simply wish we had.  Somehow, however, I doubt that Hackberry Holland’s grandson, Aaron Holland Broussard, would agree. 
Aaron, the latest addition to James Lee Burke’s Hackberry Holland family tree series (and the main character and narrator of The Jealous Kind), sees the decade differently from the vantage of his Houston neighborhood.  And all the trouble starts relativelyinnocently fifty miles from home in the parking lot of a drive-in seafood restaurant near the Galveston beach one night when Aaron, never bashful about speaking out, intervenes in an argument between an older boy and a teenage girl he had never seen up close before that very moment.
As he probably secretly hoped he would, Aaron ends up with the girl, but he also ends up with something else that night: a vicious enemy with connections that can make him wish he had never gotten out of his car that night – Valerie or no Valerie.  Now Aaron is the target of every gangbanger on the streets any time he even approaches Valerie’s neighborhood, and it seems as if she and his best friend Saber are all that even remotely stand between him and the beating of his life.
But then there isa whole lot of Holland blood in this Broussard boy.
James Lee Burke
When he and Saber decide to carry the fight to those threatening them, they trigger a battle that will suck in even the powerful fathers of their young enemies, men at the heart of the criminal boomtowns that Houston and Galveston are fast becoming.  Aaron Broussard is about to learn things about himself and everyone he loves best that no boy should ever have to learn at his age.  He will have to find the courage to live with the type of constant fear that often cripples grown men.  Aaron calls fear like that “a pebble that never leaves your shoe,” but it turn out to be much, much more than that.
The Jealous Kind vividly captures a moment in Houston/Galveston history during which both cities were up for grabs if you were man enough to take them.  As Burke reminds us, Houston was “the murder capital of the world” then and a town called “Cut and Shoot” was just forty miles up the road (it’s still there).  Those were the days. 

This is a must-read if there ever was one.

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

Street Books: Providing Books to Those Who Can’t Afford Them

Reading is one of the greatest pleasures of life – and no one should be deprived of the opportunity of reading books and discussing them with their fellow readers – even people living on the streets.

And a mobile library called Street Books is on the streets of Portland, Oregon, to make sure that anyone wanting a book to read has one or two of them whenever they want them.  According to OregonLive (and The Orgonian), the five-year-old organization is doing better this year than ever before:

Each summer for the past five years, the small nonprofit has delivered paperbacks to people living on the streets of Portland. Staffers pedal two custom bicycles around the city to spread books and conversation. 
But now, with the number of homeless people in Portland swelling, and with camps increasingly visible, Street Books is growing. 
This summer, its number of paid librarians has doubled, bringing the total to six. Street Books is covering more ground, too.

[…]

On a recent Thursday, as Street Books’ sixth season of distributing books was beginning, many people were just discovering the mobile library.

Rempe, who’s trained as a community psychologist, offered every passerby outside St. Francis a friendly hello and a question: “Looking for something to read?”

She explained the rules to newcomers: Take a book or two. Keep them as long as you need. Come back to the bicycle and return them when you’re done. And it’s OK if you can’t return a book. There are no fines. 

One of the coolest things about this whole project is that even though the librarians don’t worry about losing books (and make it clear that it’s OK not to return them), most patrons of the little mobile library are determined to return the books so that others can read them, too.  

As Street Books librarian Diana Rempe puts it, “People on the street are complicated, just like the people who live inside.”

Youngblood: A Novel

Matt Gallagher’s Youngblood is not the typical war novel spawned by America’s twentieth century wars.  Those typically followed the exploits of a group of American soldiers as they fought their way across enemy territory, all the while taking casualties among the characters dearest to the reader’s heart, until a final victory could be claimed. America doesn’t fight that kind of war anymore, and this is not that kind of novel.  Gallagher’s war takes place in Iraq, one of those countries in which the war is easier to win than the peace.  Gallagher, himself a veteran of the Iraq war, has much to say about what that war was like – and luckily for the rest of us he is such a fine writer/novelist that we can learn much from what he shares with us.
Lieutenant Jack Porter has been in the country long enough to feel frustrated by his mission and to begin doubting that he has the leadership skills called for by his role.  Porter, though, continues to lead daily patrols in search of the hit-and-run Iraqi insurgents who are so good at blending in with Ashuriyah’s civilian population.  The U.S. will soon be withdrawing from Iraq, in effect abandoning it to the very people the country has been fighting, and everyone knows it, including the enemy.  Now Porter’s personal mission is simply to save as many of the lives of his men as possible.  Unfortunately, snipers and those placing explosive devices in the paths of his patrols have the opposite mission: killing as many Americans as they can before the troops leave Iraq. 
Porter’s self-doubts reach a crisis stage when Sergeant Daniel Chambers, an aggressive veteran of several previous tours in Iraq, transfers into his unit.  Chambers is not the kind of soldier who much worries about what any commanding officer thinks of him or his methods, and without consulting Porter, he begins to train the men to fight the war more aggressively than their lieutenant has allowed them to fight it beforehand.  Porter, not wanting to directly challenge his new sergeant, instead starts looking for excuses to transfer Chambers out of his unit.
Matt Gallagher
Porter’s search for dirt on Chambers is the skeleton around which the author frames the rest of the novel.  At times, in fact, Youngblood reads more like a detective story than it does a war novel because when Porter hears rumors that Chambers may be guilty of past war crimes against Iraqi civilians, he begins digging into file archives, interviewing potential crime witnesses, and searching for soldiers who served under Chambers during his previous tours.  What he learns will have repercussions for Porter, Chambers, the men they command, and the Iraqi woman with whom Porter falls in love.
Matt Gallagher’s talent for recreating the atmosphere of a chaotic war-torn country like Iraq makes Youngblood a memorable novel.  He vividly portrays the mad dance for survival that the Iraqi population is involved in because of the multiple, simultaneous wars being fought in their country.  At the same time that Americans are fighting Iraqi insurgents, Iraqis are fighting other Iraqis.   A crossfire is a crossfire, and bombs don’t discriminate between their victims, meaning that women and children are no safer in their homes than men in the streets using automatic weapons and bombs to kill each other are. 

Anyone wanting to learn what fighting an unwinnable war feels like would do well to begin with a novel like Matt Gallagher’s Youngblood.

Movies for Readers: The Dressmaker (Rosalie Ham novel)

This week’s Movie for Readers is The Dressmaker starring Kate Winslet, Liam Hemsworth, Hugo Weaving, Judy Davis, and Sarah Snook.  It is set in 1950s Australia and is based upon what is said to have been a very popular novel of the same name by Rosalie Ham first published in Australia in 2000.  The book has sold approximately 75,000 copies world wide in total since that initial release.  

Frankly, I kind of doubt that this is a book or a movie for me, but the trailer does make it appear to be a visually striking one that should appeal to a substantial audience.  The film was in theaters last September but is being released on DVD today, so it’s out there somewhere. 

Here’s the trailer to give you a better idea of what to expect from The Dressmaker:

(Movies for Readers No. 26)

The Do-Right

 THE DO-RIGHT

by 
Lisa Sandlin 

Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press
Date of Publication: October 27, 2015
# of pages: 306
Scroll down for Giveaway!

1959. Delpha Wade killed a man who was raping her. Wanted to kill the other one too, but he got away. Now, after fourteen years in prison, she’s out. It’s 1973, and nobody’s rushing to hire a parolee. Persistence and smarts land her a secretarial job with Tom Phelan, an ex-roughneck turned neophyte private eye. Together these two pry into the dark corners of Beaumont, a blue-collar, Cajun-influenced town dominated by Big Oil. A mysterious client plots mayhem against a small petrochemical company-why? Searching for a teenage boy, Phelan uncovers the weird lair of a serial killer. And Delpha — on a weekend outing — looks into the eyes of her rapist, the one who got away. The novel’s conclusion is classic noir, full of surprise, excitement, and karmic justice. Sandlin’s elegant prose, twisting through the dark thickets of human passion, allows Delpha to open her heart again to friendship, compassion, and sexuality.

PRAISE FOR THE DO-RIGHT:
“Lisa Sandlin’s The Do-Right is something akin to a rusted nail through the foot: it’s dirty, it hurts, and it’ll have you jumping up and down—or possibly just on the floor. Delpha Wade and Tom Phelan are as lovable a duo as any in noir fiction.” — Joseph Borden, Killer Nashville

“When a critic praises a writer’s original voice, what does that really mean? In the case
of Texas native Lisa Sandlin, it means dog-earing page after page in her novel The
Do-Right, to reread particularly terrific passages or, even better, share them aloud . . .
Check out The Do-Right, and see if you don’t find yourself reading passages aloud
just for the sheer pleasure of it.” – Shawna Seed, The Dallas Morning News
“Smashingly original.” — Jack Batten, Toronto Star

  PURCHASE LINKS:

  AMAZON        CINCO PUNTOS PRESS


Some books are almost like time machines.  They so vividly portray a time and a place from the reader’s past that reading them is almost like being there again.  For me, Lisa Sandlin’s The Do-Right is one of those books.  Set in 1973, in Beaumont, Texas, The Do-Right is the story of a young woman who returns to Beaumont after serving fourteen years in Gatesville prison for killing one of the two men who raped her.  Now, if she wants to avoid going back to prison, her parole officer tells her that she needs to get a job – and quickly.
Luckily for Delpha Wade, Beaumont is not nearly as large a town as it appears to be at first glance and Joe Ford, her parole officer, has a favor or two he is willing to call in on her behalf.  One of those owing Ford a favor is Tom Phelan a young man with a brand new detective agency and no one to handle all the phone calls he hopes will soon start rolling in.  After he very reluctantly agrees to interview her, and the take-charge Delpha gets an unscheduled chance to demonstrate her office skills, Tom knows that she is exactly what he needs manning his front office.  As he remarks to Delpha, “Miss Wade, you were hired when you called me Bubba.”
And the phone does start ringing.  For starters, a mother is looking for her missing high school student son, a woman wants pictures of her husband with his mistress, and someone’s sister has stolen his prosthetic leg and refuses to give it back.  It all seems fairly routine and promising for the new agency until some of the cases begin to overlap, and Tom learns the hard way just how important Delpha Wade is to his agency – and to him personally.
Lisa Sandlin presents 1973 Beaumont so much in the classic noir tradition that, despite numerous references to events of the day such as Nixon’s Watergate scandal and Hank Aaron’s pursuit of Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record, it is just as easy to envision a city of the late 1940s as it is one of the 1970s.  I, in fact, first read a segment of The Do-Right published in 2014 as “Phelan’s First Case,” one of the short stories featured in Lone Star Noir, a fine collection of noir short stories set in Texas. 
The best thing about The Do-Right, however, and what makes it so much more effective than its short story cousin is how deeply, in comparison to the short story, Sandlin develops the Delpha Wade character in the novel.  Delpha is a complex character, a woman who was determined to fight to the death the father and son who raped her despite the price she had to pay for doing so.  Now, after serving her prison sentence, she is determined to make something of the rest of her life – and she plans to help put away as many bad guys along the way as she can.

Delpha Wade and Tom Phelan make a great team, and here’s hoping that Lisa Sandlin has more in store for them in the future.


Lisa Sandlin’s story “Phelan’s First Case” was anthologized in Lone Star Noir (Akashic) and was later re-anthologized in Akashic’s Best of the Noir compendium, USA Noir. The Do-Right, which uses the characters from that story, is her first full-length mystery. Lisa was born in Beaumont, Texas, currently lives and teaches in Omaha, Nebraska, and summers in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

GIVEAWAY! GIVEAWAY! GIVEAWAY!
SIX SIGNED COPIES OF THE BOOK
(US ONLY)
  June 6 – June 15, 2016 

Check out the other great blogs on the tour! 

6/6       All for the Love of the Word      — Review
6/7       Country Girl Bookaholic — Author Interview #1
6/8       Forgotten Winds           — Excerpt #1
6/9       My Book Fix Blog          — Review
6/11     Missus Gonzo   — Excerpt #2
6/12     Texas Book Lover          — Author Interview #2
6/13     Margie’s Must Reads    — Review
6/14     The Crazy Booksellers   — Promo
6/15     Book Chase      — Review

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Book Trailer of the Week: A Different Kind of Daughter: The Girl Who Hid from the Taliban in Plain Sight

This week’s Book Trailer highlights one of the more unusual true stories that have come out of the Middle East since all the madness started there. It is about a young woman from Pakistan by the name of Maria Toorpaki who passed herself off as a boy so that she could have some kind of a life, and in the process, became a squash champion in that mess of a country.

Maria’s memoir is called “A Different Kind of Daughter: The Girl Who Hid from the Taliban in Plain Sight” and the video material is from ABC News.

Dark Corners

A wonderful era ended for Ruth Rendell fans on May 2, 2015 when the author died as the result of a stroke she suffered a few days earlier.  Rendell produced mysteries under her real name and under the pen name Barbara Vine so regularly, for so many years, that it is still hard for fans to realize that there will be no more.  Dark Corners, published about six months after her death, is the last of them.
As the story opens, Carl Martin is a writer with one published work to his name, but that novel, Death’s Door, had not exactly made him a rich man.  Carl is living in a house recently inherited from his father, and because he has no source of income other than his writing, he decides to take on a border.  Luckily for Carl, because the house is in one of London’s trendier neighborhoods, he easily locates a border willing to pay him 1200 pounds per month for the three upstairs rooms.  That, though, would turn out to be a huge mistake, one Carl will regret for the rest of his life.
Along with the house, Carl inherited its contents, among them his father’s vast collection of homeopathic “medicines” and cure-alls – including a stash of diet pills that are as likely to kill the person taking them as they are to help her shed a few unwanted pounds.  Unfortunately for Carl (and especially for his friend Stacey), that is exactly what happens when he lets Stacey talk him into selling her fifty of the pills.  Carl’s border recognizes a good blackmail opportunity when he sees one, and after Stacey’s body is discovered, he begins to “reverse blackmail” Carl by refusing to pay his monthly rent.
Ruth Rendell
In a side plot (which will tellingly crash into Carl’s world soon enough), a one-time friend of the dead Stacey’s has taken to living in Stacey’s apartment where she will remain until being forced out by the dead woman’s family.  In her trademark fashion, Rendell explores deeply both the backgrounds of her characters and what is going on inside their heads.  She wants her readers to understand why her characters do the things they do, but seldom has an entire cast of her characters been as flawed as the one in Dark Corners.  Victims and criminals are, in fact, so much alike that the reader is hard pressed to find one to root for in this tale of blackmail, murder, and unintended consequences. 

Dark Corners is not destined to become my favorite Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine novel.  Nor is it, in my estimation, one of her better books, but because it is her last it will always have a place somewhere on my shelves and in my memory.

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams

I have long believed that Stephen King’s short stories and novellas, taken as a group, are even more powerful and more memorable than the author’s more famous novels.  King’s new story collection, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, makes me more certain than ever that this is the case.  A few of the twenty stories in the collection were familiar to me because they (or some version of them) have been previously published.  But as King says in his (very short) Author’s Note, “…that doesn’t mean they were done then, or even that they’re done now.  Until a writer either retires or dies, the work is not finished; it can always use another polish and a few more revisions.”
As it turns out, two of my favorites from The Bazaar of Bad Dreams are stories I remembered reading before  – and not coincidentally, they involve two of my favorite things: baseball and reading.  The first, “Ur,” is a story about the Kindle from Hell.  This little pink e-reader literally opens up whole new worlds to anyone who dares read from it, worlds in which authors whose careers were tragically cut short by early death manage to live long lives and produce books never dreamed of in the reader’s own world.  Who would not love to discover a dozen never-read books from their favorite authors from the past?  But this is a Stephen King story, so there’s a catch…as usual.
“Blockade Billy” tells of a no-name baseball catcher one major league team has to turn to when it loses its last regular catcher on the final day of Spring Training.  This kid is so unknown that no one even knows what he looks like – only that he is somewhere in Podunk, Nebraska, and that he is both available and expendable.  When the kid starts to tear up the league (both as a hitter and as a physical threat to the opposition), one of the team’s coaches notices that something is not quite right with the kid.  That’s an understatement, Coach.
Stephen King
And then there’s “Drunken Fireworks,” the story about two families who every Fourth of July for several years produce competing fireworks displays from the opposite sides of a narrow lake.  The problem is that year after year, the wealthy family from out-of-town easily outshines the efforts of the poor family on the town side of the lake.  The battle escalates every year, but the results are always the same – until Alden McCausland finds a Canadian fireworks supplier with Chinese connections.  Then it’s “welcome to the show.”

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams has something for every kind of Stephen King fan.  There are traditional monster-filled horror stories, more serious looks at human nature, one of the saddest dystopian stories imaginable, and even a poem or two.  There are no stinkers in this collection, and I suspect that each of the twenty offerings is going to be someone’s favorite.

New Nonfiction Book Coming from Pat Conroy in October

Pat Conroy

I have a huge smile on my face right now and I’m fidgeting in my chair.  And it’s all because I just stumbled upon some very unexpected news:

Pat Conroy, who died of pancreatic cancer this past March 4, will continue to speak to his readers and fans for a little while longer.

According to publisher Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, a new nonfiction book is coming October 25, on what would have been the eve of Pat’s 71st birthday.

The book will include letters, interviews and magazine articles, the release said. There will be tributes from Conroy’s friends and an introduction by Conroy’s widow, novelist Cassandra King.
The selections include Conroy’s thoughts on his favorite reads, exercise and the loss of friends.
Before he died in March, Conroy had also submitted fewer than 200 pages of a new novel, “Storms of Aquarius,” the release said. The book is about four friends coming of age during the Vietnam War.

And there’s more good news involving a new Pat Conroy Literary Festival, the first of which will be held in Beaufort, South Carolina, from October 20 to 23.  (The only thing I find odd about the timing of the festival is that it ends two days before the new book is to be published…and that seems a little counterproductive and frustrating to attendees.)

Please do click on this link because it includes links to a whole lot more new information (and tribute information) involving Mr. Conroy.  The man was especially beloved in his home state of South Carolina, of course, but he had admirers around the world and this news is going to be greeted with joy everywhere it is heard.

Never Let Me Go

Where to begin with Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go?  Is this 2005 book to be considered a literary coming-of-age novel or one that falls within the confines of genre fiction?  And if we settle on genre fiction as its most suitable home, exactly which genre are we going to tag it with: science fiction, dystopian science fiction, horror?  Whatever we end up calling it, Never Let Me Go most certainly was a huge success for its author, even to being shortlisted for the 2005 Booker Prize, the 2006 Arthur C. Clarke Award, and the 2005 National Book Critics Circle Award.  Then in 2010 it was turned into a major motion picture with particular appeal, I suppose, to the young adult audience.
The book centers around three main characters that have literally known one another for their entire lives: Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth.  As the story begins, Kathy, the narrator, is telling about her role as carer to several donors who are at various stages in the process of making the four donations they expect to make during their lifetimes.  During this early part of her story, Kathy expands neither on her duties as carer nor on the nature of the donations being made by those for whom she looks after. 
Kathy has been a carer for almost twelve years now, an extraordinarily long time for someone in that role, and she is finally becoming so bored with the job that she looks forward to being relieved of it when she completes her twelfth year as a carer.   She is so good at what she does, that authorities have taken to allowing Kathy to choose which donors she wants to work with, a privilege that marks her as special to everyone who hears of it.  While this has given Kathy some relief from the boredom she must deal with, it also results in her spending all her free time speculating about what happened at Hailsham, the boarding school she, Tommy, and Ruth grew up in. 
Kazuo Ishiguro
Hailsham, you see, is no ordinary boarding school.  The instructors there are known as guardians rather than as teachers, and in addition to the regular classes, there is a very strong emphasis on art and keeping oneself healthy at all times.  The students, who all leave Hailsham during the year they turn sixteen, come to know each other extremely well over the years as they learn bit-by-bit what they are and what is expected of them.  Surprisingly, despite what they learn about their limited futures, the guardians do such a thorough job of acclimation to the concept that every single student is ready and willing to play his/her assigned role.

Kazuo Ishiguro’s approach to Never Let Me Go is not one in which he explores the ethics of human cloning or the morality of a society that would take this approach to extend the life expectancies of those who can afford to purchase replacement organs for themselves.  Rather, the author is more interested in the clones themselves and how easily they can be convinced to accept their fates.  His focus is on the humanness of Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth, and by having his readers watch these young people achieve maturity, he hammers that point home.  Never Let Me Go leaves its readers with a lot to contemplate – especially if they are willing to fill in a few of the blanks themselves.

The Crossing

Harry Bosch has a lot of time on his hands these days, and now he’s getting bored.  That is not a good combination for Bosh – and it’s especially not a good one for the bad guys out there, be they bad cops or the more common every day varieties of predators who might catch Bosh’s eye. 
It wasn’t Bosh’s idea to turn in his LAPD badge to spend his days rebuilding a vintage motorcycle, but what’s an old cop to do with his time after being forced out of the department on overblown charges stemming from a minor departmental rules violation?  Steamed as he is – and Harry has even filed a lawsuit against the department for wrongful termination – he never imagined that he might end up changing sides, working to prove the innocence of an almost certainly guilty murder suspect.  Doing that goes against every instinct Harry has about law enforcement, and it is such a repudiation of a cop’s purpose in life that he knows every policeman in the city will consider him a turncoat – and treat him like one.  He has done it to other retired cops, himself.  But when his half-brother, Mickey Haller (aka The Lincoln Lawyer), catches Harry in a weak moment, that is exactly what he agrees to do. 
Michael Connelly
More to shut Mickey up than for any other reason, Harry lets himself be talked into reviewing the case file pertaining to the vicious murder/rape Mickey’s client is charged with committing.  He figures that the case against the accused man is probably so solid that reviewing the file notes will allow him to turn down Mickey’s job offer in good faith.  But Harry still has the knack for yanking on loose thread ends to see what they lead to on the other end…and when he finds what appears to be just such a thread in the murder file, he can’t resist yanking on it.  Before he knows it, Harry is sucked into a one-man crime investigation calling for all his old skills and, not coincidentally, even a little help from inside the LAPD.  And if he’s lucky enough to survive, Harry is going to prove that he’s still one of the best investigators in Los Angeles – even if the LAPD brass don’t agree with him.
Not unexpectedly, Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller make a good team, and fans of both characters are going to love The Crossing and hope it’s not the last time the pair works together.  For Harry, it seems there is life after the LAPD, a life every bit as rewarding and dangerous as the one he knew inside the department.  For Mickey, it’s a chance to show his brother that criminal defense lawyers are not always the bad guys despite what Harry’s lifetime of law enforcement instinct tells him. 

Harry and Mickey, opposites in so many ways, spend their lives working to achieve the same thing: justice.  And this time they just might find it.

Movies for Readers: Indignation

This weeks “Movie for Readers” is Indignation, based on the 2008 novel of the same name by Philip Roth.  The novel is set in 1951 and involves the main character’s Korean War experience, but it is difficult to tell (especially from this trailer) just how closely the film follows the novel’s plot.  The book focuses on the main character’s sophomore year in college and it appears that the movie does the same. 

Hey, it’s Philip Roth, and for fans of Philip Roth that’s all we need to know.  It’s a movie for adults…and those are getting harder and harder to find.

Indignation is scheduled for a July 29, 2016 release.

(Movies for Readers No. 25)