Tour’s Books Blog

April 25, 2014

Meandering Around the Past and a Look Ahead

So I’m sitting here listening to Julia Migenes sing Habanera in the movie version of Carmen (Placido Domingo played Jose, and may I just say he was a handsome devil who is, even now, a good looking guy) and thinking my tastes in music are almost a bi-polar as my taste in books.  I’m not much better about movies, except for one universal truth, I try and avoid horror and the ‘deep’ stuff.  Oddly enough, I do like Shakespeare, but I’d rather break a leg than endure Death of a Salesman or Brothers Karamazov.  And forget about Ingmar Bergman, I’d really rather watch Some Like It Hot or The Magnificent Seven.

So what does all this have to do with books?  Well, books get made into movies ………… OK, SOME books get made into movie, others just lend their title to some dreadful claptrap that bears little or no resemblance to the source material – like Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan series and (shudder) what was done to One Shot by Lee Child so Tom Cruise could play 6’5″ blond, blue-eyed Jack Reacher.  Oh, just kill me now.  And occasionally, current events echo the past in an eerie fashion.  The death of 13 Sherpas on Mt Everest made me think of Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, a great book about his own tragic experience on Everest.  Short, and much criticized by others on the mountain at the time, it reads as compellingly as great fiction.  Apollo 13, a movie that was based on another real life event was also so well done, viewers were tensely waiting to see what would happen, despite knowing the ending.  In both cases, the story was history, yet we become so involved in the telling, it’s as if it were all fresh.  And that is the gift of the best non-fiction.  Not just facts, telling an enthralling story.

My mother was a history teacher and so was her best friend.  They taught in neighboring towns and both taught primarily American history II – Reconstruction to modern times.  And both would teach summer classes, sometimes extra credit ones for smaller topics.  I was driving them both to school one summer morning (so I could have the car, of course) and Anita says to Mom, “Yesterday I was talking about WWI and really selling the whole story to this one kid who just looked bored and I noticed the guys that were supposed to be painting the windows were just sitting there listening to me.  I never knew I was such a ham!”  Mom laughed and said, “The best history teachers are all hams!”

I probably heard Mom say, “How can anyone find history boring?  It’s OUR story?  It’s great!”, a hundred times, and she really meant it.  And if you get a good teacher, it is.  Unfortunately, really good teachers are rare, especially ones that want you to love their subject as much as they do.  Well, good movies and good books – memorable ones that stand the test of time – are pretty rare too.   I’ve seen Macbeth many times, everything from college productions to the Royal Shakespeare Theater.  I still like it.  The first movies I bought for my dad when I got him a VHS player (remember those?) were Some Like It Hot, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, African Queen, and Casablanca.  If I had to pick the best movie ever, yeah, Casablanca.  No fancy sets – in fact, they’re kind of cheesy.  No great special effects.  Actually, other than squibs for guns, none at all.  But a cast, story, dialogue, direction, and acting to remember.  It also makes me realize what crappy movies they make these days.

So I got to thinking about the best books I ever read and realized that the list changes over time.  Not just because something new is better, but because, in retrospect, the book I thought was so great did not hold up over time.  So from time to time, we need to revisit our lists, and update them – and actually reread the books we on our lists.  One example is Plum Island by Nelson DeMille, a book I thought terrific.  I got a copy for my brother about a year ago, and he was ‘Meh, it was ok.’  Now he and I usually have very similar tastes in the mystery/thriller genre (Except he does not deal well with characters that are neither good nor bad, and the ending is ambivalent.)  So I went back and re-read the book myself.  He was right.  It was good, not great, and had not aged as well as it should.  I also re-read Sphere of Influence by Kyle Mills and realized it had held up much better over time for an action thriller.

My other problem is separating ‘the best’ from ‘my favorites’.  Favorites tend to have a lot of humor for me.  Wiseguy PI’s, humorous assassins, off-beat romance.  No, not great books and certainly not great literature, just best friends.  And ‘Favorites’ books tend to land on my bedside table.  I like a lot of books, but not many well enough to re-read them again and again over the years.  I can admire movies like All the Kings Men and Chariots of Fire, both best picture winners, but I’d rather watch Death on the Nile with Peter Ustinov or The Great Race, with Jack Lemon chewing the scenery as Professor Fate and Natalie Wood looking great in Edith Head costumes while Tony Curtis plays ever competent, sparkling white hero.  No where near the perfection of Some Like It Hot, but it does have the best pie fight ever filmed.

I figure we all pick ‘the best’ wrong now and then.  The best picture of 1941 was How Green Was My Valley.  Sounds ok, right?  It’s competition is was tough – everything from The Maltese Falcon (my favorite) to Suspicion, a Hitchcock gem.  But the real kicker?  Passed over was the film widely regarded as “The Best Movie Ever Made” – Citizen Kane.  Yeah, we really do all get it wrong.

Same is true of books.  Winning awards may, or may not mean anything.  Barry Eisler’s brilliant John Rain series won one award.  Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series has multiple nominations and awards, some deserved, some not.  Robert Crais’ Elvis Cole and Joe Pike books are almost ALL nominated and many won a whole host of awards – and they deserved it.  And some of the lame cozies that win awards just baffle me.

Great movies, great books, and great food are very personal tastes.  My brother hates wine, he’d rather have soda.  He wants simple food, not some complicated thing.  He’ll eat Cheez Whiz.  (Yes, I just flinched writing that.)  We both like dates stuffed with Skippy peanut butter and rolled in granulated sugar, something we learned to make in Kindergarten.  We also both like Jersey wieners – hot dogs steamed then fried in deep fat till the skins are crunchy (and split a bit), get slapped on fresh bun, mustard, raw onion, and smothered in a weird meat sauce that half gravy, half God knows what (and please don’t tell me!).  Heart attack on a plate.  I like good wine and really appreciate great, but not pretentious, food.  No, I would not spend a dime on ‘molecular cuisine’.  Seriously, food is a science experiment?  GAH!  I can watch a favorite movie so many times I can do the dialogue.  And I can re-read a book till the poor thing all but falls apart.

Top of my list of rereads is Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Cruise and Bob Mayer.  It didn’t get a great review from me the first time I read it, but it just stands up to time.  Stand By Your Hit Man by Leslie Langtry hits this list too.  Part of her Bombay Assassin series, it was also one that did not impress at first, but again, has stood up to time.  Louisiana Longshot by Jana DeLeon is another funny assassin book that has created a whole fan club for its characters as well as homepage for Sinful, Louisiana, the setting for the books.  The Rook by Daniel O’Malley is there as well.  It was great on the first read and is still great.  It has some of the BEST lines ever.

“This should be a pleasant little interview. All I have to do is put on my scary face.”
“You have a scary face?” Ingrid sounded skeptical.
“Yes,” said Myfanwy indignantly. “I have a very scary face.”
Ingrid surveyed her for a moment. “You may wish to take off the cardigan then, Rook Thomas,” she advised tactfully. “The flowers on the pocket detract somewhat from your menace.” 

Seriously, how could I not love this book?  By the way, the second book is tentatively scheduled for 2015 and the proposed title is Stiletto.  It will pick up where The Rook left off.  River Road is my most re-read of the Sentinel of New Orleans series by Suzanne Johnson.  Hounded, by Kevin Hearne makes this list too.  And for paranormal romance, The Accidental Vampire and Single White Vampire, both part of the early Argeneau books by Lynsay Sands.

The most re-read mystery?  Lullaby Town by Robert Crais.  That’s followed by Janet Evanovich’s Steph Plum books 1 to 7.  After that, meh and after 13, I barely made 1 read.  And Raymond Chandler.  Yes, I have a lot of classic mysteries and I re-read them – and realize just how much we’ve dumbed down our books.

By the way, all those books make good beach reads……….. except maybe The Rook.  That one is a bit hard to put down.

So, with spring FINALLY rearing its colorful head, we can start picking our next reads.  On order and top of my TBR when they hit the door?  Sixth Grave on the Edge by Darynda Jones, the latest in her excellent and original Charley Davidson series.  Next up will be Shattered by Kevin Hearne, his latest Iron Druid book, first hard cover, and the one where his old mentor is brought back, Arch Druid Owen Kennedy.  YEAH!  Skin Deep by Jim Butcher’s latest Harry Dresden, and Hidden by Benedict Jacka, and Alex Verus are on the list too as is a new series by Seanan McGuire, Sparrow Hill Road.  It will be August before the next Spider book is out by Jennifer Estep, Promise, Promise.  Better Homes and Hauntings by Molly Harper is due in June.

On the mystery front, a new David Housewright, The Devil May Care, and a new Craig Johnson book in his Longmire series, Any Other Name will hit my hot little hands soon.  Yeah, there’s kind of a dearth of good mysteries.

Keep reading and revisit those old favorites and see if you change your mind too!

August 28, 2012

The Reason Why I Always Travel with Books

Filed under: Asleep at the wheel,General,Musing on life — toursbooks @ 5:51 pm

Get a bunch of business travelers together with nothing to do and invariably they will start swapping ‘war stories’ about things that happen on their trips.  Things that are entertaining only when viewed in retrospect.  Lost luggage, diverted flights, aborted take-offs, blown engines, hotel staff strikes, food and drinks spilled all over you, having Jeeps with machine guns challenge your tour bus – you name it.  I’ve had most of those happen to me (including the machine gun thing) – as have most travelers – but I do get a lot of attention when I announce, “Well, I spent the night under the craps table at the El San Juan hotel.”  Yup.  That’s an attention getter.

I’ve been traveling for years – decades.  Actually, more decades than I care to count.  Pleasure and business have taken me many places around the world, though I still have a long ‘bucket list’ of places I haven’t seen.  I made a point of hitting the ones that mattered most to me early and I’m glad I did.  Arthritis, which started young for me, has taken its toll, so climbing the Acropolis at Lindos on two different trips 20 years apart won’t be happening again.

Business trips rarely allow for much sight seeing.  Maybe a quick day trip here or there if you’re lucky.  I drove all over Wales to see Harlech and Caernfon Castes with a colleague, then taking him up thru back roads to see Mt Snowden.  Little did we know he would be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and die less than a year later.  Made me glad I did all that driving I cursed at the time.

I also got to see the temples at Nara, the oldest wooden buildings in the world, the glass works at Murano, had hot chocolate at Florian’s on St Mark’s Square, took a canal cruise in Amsterdam, and dragged two guys to the diamond district in Antwerp where I got asked by one, “Can you tell these two stones apart?”  I glanced at them, told them which was which and why – and I was dead right.  They stared at me like I was insane.  I kindly explained knowing diamonds came with estrogen.  (The sales woman had hysterics.)  Then there was Pittsburgh, Evansville, ID, and Pottstown, PA  – far more often than not.  But I have to admit, the one place the company had the devil’s own time getting me to travel to was Puerto Rico.  Yup.  They hauled my butt half way around the world and back again, but getting me from NYC to San Juan turned into a nightmare for them.

I’d spent 20 years artfully avoiding any business trip to PR, sending my guys, pleading other commitments, but my boss put his foot down and said, “You HAVE to go, you’re the only one we trust to get this done!”  I had become something of a legend for evading a trip that others fought to take – actually many were begging to go in my place and I waved them a happy good-bye.  So now that I was finally trapped,  I was traveling ‘under protest’.   As we go into our landing pattern at San Juan airport, the always calm pilot comes over the intercom and says, “Ladies and gentlemen (there were maybe 30-40 of us on a flight that carried 180+), if you look out the left side of the plane, you’ll see Hurricane Hortense.”  Let me tell you, a Cat 2 hurricane looks damn impressive from the air.

A little background on how I found myself in this mess.  I was sleep deprived from being in AZ for a week, arriving home late the night before, renting a car to drive home, getting 6 hours sleep, the rushing to toss out dirty clothes for clean ones before racing BACK to airport for the flight to San Juan. Hadn’t seen the Weather Channel or any other TV for several days, but once at the airport, I hear there was a hurricane off St Thomas. I think, “Damn, the flight will be cancelled and I’ll have to call the car service to take me home. I got up early for nothing!”  (I admit, the part that really pissed me off was getting up early.)  Nope, they board us on time on a nearly empty flight – except for business people like me. Now I shamelessly eavesdropped and these folks were saying how it was nothing, they were in and out of PR a dozen time a year and it’s all a bunch of hysteria. So on the flight I get.  (Was this my second or third mistake?)

Ours was about the last flight they allowed to land. (obviously, everyone was nuts, me included). I check into the El San Juan, where they looked at me like I was crazy (How the hell did I know about Hortense? I’d spent the last 7 days 3,000 miles away in the damn desert of AZ!), had dinner with the vendors (who were at a different hotel) had drinks at the lovely lobby bar and chatted with stranded folks trying to get to various Caribbean islands, and went to bed dead tired.

Then came a midnight call.  It had me so confused.   “Get your pillows, a blanket and comes to the casino NOW!”  I kept flipping the light switch, but the damn room light wouldn’t tun on.  I’m cursing a burnt out bulb, I grab the flashlight I always have when I travel and staggered around trying to figure what the hell I was doing.  I got semi-dressed by flashlight, packed my little clock-radio, several  books, and a super large beach towel into a backpack, grabbed 2 pillows, a blanket and staggered into the hallway that was filling with complaining guests.  In my somewhat disoriented condition, I’m wondering why the lighting looks so odd and then I realize that the emergency lights are on.  But the elevators are running so down we go, expertly herded by staff to the still fully lit casino.  Each person was given a dreadful old lounge cushion and told to find a spot on the floor to sleep.  Apparently, when the hurricane hit the island it blew out some of the windows in the rooms, so for safety reasons, all guests has to go to the casino. Even in PR, casinos have no windows, so it was the safest place, plus the governor had closed the bars and casinos at 9PM, so they weren’t losing any business.

You were wondering about the beach blanket, right?  Well, having spent a lot of time in tropical areas, I smartly wrapped the old lounge pad COMPLETELY in the heavy terrycloth.  Even smarter, I parked myself under a craps table where I could prop myself up against the leg and read and maybe cat nap.  I also used my little clock radio to try and get a local weather report – which I did.  Too bad I don’t speak Spanish.

BUT – I had my books!  So knowing I wasn’t actually going to sleep, despite my state of exhaustion, I did read.  Except for one problem.  In any crowd, there will ALWAYS be one problem.  Keep in mind, the bars were CLOSED and had been for hours, but we all know some people will still find a way to get drunk, and despite 4+ hours in a room with sandwiches, water, cold drinks, and juice, this one guy managed to stay that way. He was loud, abusive to the hotel security staff, almost started 2 fights, and generally behaved like a world class a-hole. While I found the ‘floor show’ mildly diverting, I did have the urge to pick up a chair and beat him to death with it. I was not alone, but the staff managed to keep relative peace – despite the outraged mother who confronted the idiot for screaming obscenities near her small children.  Since he was like 6’4″ and maybe early 60’s and she was about 5’6″ and mid-30’s, my money was on her because man had she had it.

Then there were the whiners, there always are, but I figured the last thing staff needed was a hard time. They couldn’t be with family, were stuck taking care of idiot tourists and hapless business travelers and had to stay pleasant at 3AM when they were as tired and fed up as we were, and probably a lot more worried about what was happening at home. So I got to spend a memorable night under a craps table in the El San Juan Hotel during a hurricane, mostly watching two guys play cards and listening to the loud drunk yelling about ‘being illegally detained’, while reading.

Finally, around 6AM we were allowed back to our rooms.  At 7 AM, the phone rings.  It’s my boss.  The man who forced me to go to this stupid island was checking to see if I was OK.  Peachy, I was just peachy.  And so damn thrilled at be being woken up AGAIN!  If he’d been in walking distance, he would have died at my hands in about 90 seconds.  He, however, was safely back on the mainland because HIS FLIGHT WAS CANCELLED!

Hortense wasn’t a really awful storm at Cat 2, but parts of Puerto Rice that are normally desert like, got over 20 inches of rain and catastrophic flooding.  Even San Juan was badly flooded and we were pretty much confined to the hotel by security, like a lock down, due to looting and things like that.  The airport stayed closed for 2 days.  We ate pretty much the same buffet food breakfast, lunch, and dinner, though at dinner we usually had something like baked ziti added.  I figured the staff was doing the best they could.  The rooms had no lights, so housekeeping left us votive candles. and even made the beds and left fresh towels.  We did have flushing toilets and hot water.  Taking a shower by the light of 2 flickering votive candles sounds a lot more romantic when you read about it than it is in real life.  With no power, I sat out on one of the verandas and ……. yes, read a book.  Actually, I read several books and the ones I finished got snapped up by fellow guests grateful for the diversion.  It’s not like we had TV.

The bars reopened late the next day and by then, many of us sort of bonded a bit and exchanged ‘why the hell I’m stuck here’ stories that ranged from ex-pats trying to reach their Caribbean homes to a guy who had been called to testify at a trial on Anguilla.  It was a pleasant evening at beautiful bar and I tipped all the staff generously.  They deserved it.  The whiners left little or nothing, apparently unable or unwilling to understand 5* service just wasn’t possible when hurricanes hit.  I did, however, manage a laugh at them.  One of the women who did a lot of whining was on my floor in an oceanfront suite.  She came up to me in the hallway and asked if I was bitten by bugs.  I politely smiled and said no.  And that, dear friends, is why Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy tells you to always travel with a towel – or in my case, an oversized, heavy beach towel.  Fleas.  Somehow, the dear whiner picked up the fleas from the old lounge pads and managed to bring them back to the room in her jammies.  Ah, poetic justice.

Today, in the day of Kindles, air books, e-readers, and Smartphones, why carry books?  Obviously, when this happened none of those existed, but without a way to recharge and functioning cell towers and wi-fi signals, you can’t get far with electronics when you’re days without electric.  A good book – well all I needed was enough light to see.  Hey, reading is VERY useful and has lots hints about avoiding pests like fleas.  heheheheheheheheh And you thought Hitchhiker’s Guide was just humor!  LOL  While ‘the whiner’ was showing off her bites, I just smiled pleasantly and nodded now and then in sympathy.  Don’t know what happened to the drunk, but never saw him in the bar – or anywhere else.  The books I finished moved on to other Caribbean islands  or back home to the mainland with my fellow travelers.  I FINALLY got a flight out, to a different airport.  As I told the guy at the ticket counter, “I don’t care if you get me to Kansas, I can always get home from there, even if I have to drive.”  And thank heavens for car service.

Here at home, we got hit last fall by a Cat 1 storm that caused epic flooding and then a month later that weird 19″ snow in Oct that took down tons of trees, and both times we had folks in town without power for 7-10 days.  They had no cell phones, internet, water pumps for their wells – so no water (and that means no flushing toilets), nothing.  The town opened various centers where folks could shower, recharge electronics and such.  That’s the great thing about books, you never have to plug them in, and those new LED reading lights work after dark and take just 1 battery, so it’s easy to have spares.  Even now, when not having a computer with internet access makes me edgy, when my ISP goes down, I just grab a book.  Yeah, I have a Kindle, and yes, my laptop has many ebooks on it, but even the most energy saving laptop or smartphone will die within hours.   Better to save them for communication and entertain yourself with a book.  You never know when you’ll find yourself spending the night under the craps table during a hurricane!

July 8, 2011

Who Knew? And a strong recommended read

Filed under: Asleep at the wheel,General — toursbooks @ 4:21 pm

You know, in the great scheme of things, a broken wrist isn’t exactly some huge event, but wow, can it screw with your life.  After my emergency room treatment and twice having the wrist set and two hard casts put on, I figure, “OK, now in six weeks all will be well.”  HA!  Man plans and the gods laugh.

While still in a hard cast, the wrist broke again 10 days later.  It was – and remains – an ‘unstable fracture’.  So the orthopedic doctor sent me to a hand surgeon.  Saw him on a Wednesday and Thursday morning, 2 weeks after I broke the damn thing,  at some totally ungodly hour, I had a plate and screws put in my wrist to stabilize the fracture.  Let’s just say the whole thing had more drama than I’d care for, including recovery room issues and a whole lot of blood soaking everything, but a week later I was in a splint style ‘soft cast’.  I also learned that despite the plate and screws, the break was located in such a way that it wasn’t fully stabilized.  Oh good, all this for partial success.  The incision got infected – or I had some massive allergic reaction (2 doctors, 2 very different opinions) and I enjoyed a 10 days or so of complete misery and antibiotics.

Now I am willing to admit I am not the world’s best patient.  OK, so I’m in the bottom 20%.  I have a high pain threshold and a very low bullshit and attitude threshold.  I figure I endured two rounds of closed reduction setting, surgery, that infection/allergic reaction, and multiple visits to 2 different orthopedists, the family doctor, and 2 different hospitals, enough x-rays to glow in the dark, more attitude than enough and I was entitled to be better NOW!  Patience is not one of my virtues and frankly, turning a 20 minute shower into a 90 minute tour de force of wrapping, taping, bagging, taping, and then unwrapping and cutting tape to keep the lower arm dry, and then attempting to things like wash my hair one handed, got really old, really fast. Frustration was a constant companion.  Did I mention my complete lack of patience?

I am a klutz.  Well, obviously.  That’s how I ended up tripping in my own house and breaking the damn wrist to begin with!  Thing is, I am also ferociously independent.  Having to rely on others to drive me places drove me nuts.  Finally having enough control over my left hand, even with the splint, I was allowed to drive (ME: When can I drive?  DR: (Strange look)  Anytime you want.  ME:  I drive a stick shift.  DR:  (long pause followed by sarcastic)  Of course you do.  (eyeroll – then goes thru the motions of driving a shift and thinking about it.)  You should be able to drive since your right hand is OK and your left fingers can hold the wheel steady, but take it easy. [There is a notable lack of enthusiasm in this.]) it was HUGE.  Until the car battery died.  In a parking lot.  (Thank heavens I DIDN’T buy the ice cream!)  It was entitled.  It was really old.   The timing, however, sucked.  (I had a grey haired, pony-tail wearing biker guy in hysterics when I started swearing at the car when I managed to get it started 3 minutes after calling for a tow.  At least I made someone’s day.)  That was taken care of, but it kind of piled on the whole ‘fed-up with this crap’ thing I have going.

Well, I had work to do, (You know, the stuff you get PAID to do?), so I did it.  Now mostly I sit and type technical documents, talk panicked customers thru technical problems, or answer their questions – for the 4th or 5th time, and deal with various independent labs who have their own questions and problems.  Painstaking, and usually very long, it hours of meticulous work and requires a damn good memory for facts.  After several days of slaving away earning a living, (the self-employed don’t get paid sick days) I noticed a problem.   My left hand kept turning blue.  OK, the light tinge of blue didn’t bother me, but when it looked like I was joining a band of Pict warriors or just tattooed my hand denim, I got worried.  I called the surgeon’s office and got absolutely no response.  I figure, OK, I can deal. I know it’s a problem with arterial blood flow – hey, 30 years working in pharmaceuticals you learn a lot.  If it gets bad again, I’ll go to emergency because an orthopedist doesn’t deal with this anyway, a vascular surgeon would do the work.  I cannot tell how thrilled I was at the thought of ANOTHER DOCTOR!

Back in the stupid splint I go.  The blue gets better, but most mornings, it’s a scary dark blue again.  I sleep without the splint, but started putting it back on early mornings.  It seems to help.  Then 2 days ago I roll over in bed to my right side and use my left hand to pull the sheet over – a no stress kind of thing – and all of a sudden I hear CRACK – like I just stepped on a dry twig and pain flashes thru my wrist.  Two days of icing the thing down and it feels a bit better, but it’s obviously not as strong as it was.  Come Monday, I see the surgeon – who combines relative youth, minimal people skills, and a tendency to patronize,  just the thing to annoy a Maxine clone like me.   If you never hear from me again, look for the headlines about an irate patient being arrested for attacking her doctor.

Just in case, Grave Dance by Kalayna Price is EXCELLENT and gets a rare A- from me.  Complex world building, great characters, very original story line, and the writing is so good, it’s hard to put down.  HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!   You absolutely MUST read Grave Witch first or you’ll be lost.  I’ve got a bunch of short reviews started and hopefully, next week, I’ll b able to start posting reviews again.  Unless I’m in jail.  Let’s hope for the best.

January 13, 2010

A Seasonal Special

Filed under: Asleep at the wheel — toursbooks @ 3:39 pm

It’s nearly Mardi Gras time.  That means time for me to re-read books set in New Orleans or one of the other major Mardi Gras cities.   This year, it will be Kiss and Tell by Linda Howard, a good romantic suspense novel, and then the Witches Knot series by Lauren Dane.  Triad, Thrice United and Vengeance Due are especially evocative.  So what do you plan to do to celebrate Mardi Gras?

I often find I’m moved to read books that I associate with certain places either at specific times of the year, or based on a seasonal event.  I’m not big on holiday anthologies, regardless of genre.  Instead, I like books that echo of certain locals and lifestyles.  John D. MacDonald, Carl Haaisen, Randy Wayne White, Jonothan King, and others for when I visit Florida, Tony Hillerman, Michael McGarrity, and many others for the Southwest.  Some writers just imbue their works with an intense feel of the surroundings.  So many good mysteries, carry their setting as a virtual character, not a backdrop, but an living breathing entity the seeps into the very pores of the book.  Hillerman is a master of that, so is Lawrence Block with his Matt Scudder books.  The very best fantasy writers create whole worlds – look at everything from Lord of Rings to Harry Potter.  Those worlds are as real as our own.  That’s the great thing about books, they contain more than characters, they hold entire worlds.

So grab a book and travel to a time and place of your choosing.  Me, I’ll spend a few days in the Crescent City before I move on.

December 23, 2009

Happy Holidays Everyone!

Filed under: Asleep at the wheel,General,Musing on life — toursbooks @ 5:54 pm

Between shopping, errands, and way too much reading, I haven’t had much time to do any reviews, but after Christmas I promise I get to a bunch of erotic romance I just read – brand new ebooks and some older print books from Ellora’s and Samhain.  Haven’t found anything at Loose-Id or Siren for awhile.  Too many ‘novellas’ and shorty stories at high prices and too many m/m that I’m not fond of.  Not worth it to me.  So I have read a few good ones, a few so-so ones, but no completely ghastly ones – so far.  There’s still plenty of time to find rock bottom.

The first anniversary of this blog will be in February and I feel like I’ve done more with my reading this year usual.  I’ve enjoyed exploring new genres, new authors, and new-to-me authors.  The folks over on PaperbackSwap’s Mystery/Thriller virtual box have been a wonderful group and offered great ideas for new reads.  I even found readers with tastes much like my own – and an intense dislike of the too-cute-for-words cozies that are overwhelming the market.  Makes one long for another Raymond Chandler.

Christmas for me is a time for family.  We don’t vacation over the holidays, though some years have found me in places like New Zealand, Singapore or Japan.  I found vacationing over the holidays away from family wasn’t much fun.  Older and maybe a little wiser, though not much, I do spend Christmas with them these days.  There are far fewer of us now.  The older generation has died and we find ourselves in the vaguely surreal position of being the ‘older generation’ – a sobering thought.  The only time I really feel older is when my arthritis flares up – or I look too closely in the mirror!  But there it is, the circle of life.  So I will travel to Massachusettes and have a white Christmas.  I’ll do the cooking – though I no longer do the elaborate food orgies I did in my younger years when many generations gathered for Christmas.  Back then, I’d start cooking Thanksgiving week and not stop still after New Year.  I’d rather set my hair on fire than do that today!  Yes, I still enjoy cooking now and then, but not like I used to.  Life changes. Now our goal is trying to prevent going into a coma from all the goodies we consume as we play games and engage in a kind of competitive construction of a Lincoln Log village.  We have acquired thousands of logs from the ’50’s to the ’70’s, though we try and keep them as early as possible.  We let our imaginations run wild and construct buildings and stories to go around the finished buildings.  From modest beginnings, it now takes us about 20 manhours.  We takes photos, show it off and tear it all down and store the logs again for next year in 4 days.  It keeps us amused, out of serious trouble, prevents arguing (OK – mostly we just argue about the construction), and keeps me from have a football withdrawal seizure.  Why am I the only real football fan in the family????????  Then we break for pie, ice cream and old Charlie Chan movies on DVD.  Later it’s cards, Yahtzee!, or Clue.  Repeat previous day and throw in more food, chocolate and dessert.

I’m sure you have your traditions – old and new.  Visits to relatives, or sitting on a beach with palms trees and umbrella drinks, or racing down a ski slope.  Go forth and enjoy!  Make memories – large and small.  Don’t worry about that disaster, it will be one of those things that you’ll remember later and say, “Well, it couldn’t be worse than ………………”  It’s not about the gifts, it’s about enjoying your friends and family – or at least not smothering them in their sleep.  It’s about putting the cheap Christmas tree balls at the bottom of the tree so the dogs and the kids won’t break the expensive ones from when you were a kid.  It’s about wrapping gifts at 2AM and getting up again at 5AM with excited kids.  It’s about ohhhhing and ahhhing over ugly handmade gifts that are all heart and no talent.  It’s eating too much, not sleeping enough, leftovers that last for days and staying upwind of the aunt who who wears too much perfume.

So to anyone who drops by here, I wish you a Happy Holiday – for whatever holiday you might be celebrate.  Be safe and happy, I hope you enjoy your friends and family – and a good meal!

December 3, 2009

Somebody Hit the Snooz Alarm

Filed under: Asleep at the wheel,Editorial,General,opinion — toursbooks @ 2:07 pm
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I feel like I’ve been swimming in a sea of mediocre books lately.  It isn’t limited to genre either.  There are a slew of mysteries due for release in January – hardcover, of course – that I’m lusting for, but right now I’m just depressed over my inability to find an excellent read.  Over on PBS (Paperpack Swap) they mentioned a big book sale at  Oh wow, did I go nuts.  No, the books I wanted the most weren’t there – big surprise – but a lot of others were.  I went crazy twice.  Once doing mystery/thrillers and whatever paranormal books on my wish list that I could find.  Then I went back and ran amok in the fantasy section – or wizards and nonsense as my brother dubbed it years ago.  Raymond Fiest, Robert Jordan and many others.  Soon, over 30 new hardcovers cost $2-3 dollars each will add to my alarming pile of to-be-read books. (more…)

September 1, 2009

In Retrospect – Part Two: The Keeper Shelf – The Price of Cleaning

My taste in books is widely eclectic, even though it seems I review a lot of erotic romance.  I think I do it because the usual romance sites largely ignore it, other than a few authors, in favor of mainstream romance and those dreadful ‘category’ romances from Harlequin that are so very popular.  Or maybe that’s because the vast majority are quick easy reads – or so tedious I skim.  The year is far from over and the fall is a big release period for publishers looking to cash in on people’s holiday spending, but I’ve been editing my selves.

I have hundreds of books, mostly hardcover, on my bookshelves.  Hundreds more piled about.  I need space, so time to edit the keepers and reference books I haven’t used in over a decade.  Cookbooks are rarely on the discard pile, but history is, along with literature and many old series – from David Eddings’ The Mallorean to Stuart Woods’ Stone Barrington novels – I have no interest in rereading.  Keeper shelves are mostly a matter of taste, and tastes change, or the reader’s wants change, and books get dated or supplanted by something even better.  I find I have to edit my keeper self, but I confess I have enough book selves (a whole wall) that I keep far too many.  I hate getting rid of books, but it MUST be done. (more…)

August 29, 2009

In Retrospect – Part One: Looking Back at Reviews

Filed under: Asleep at the wheel,Editorial,General,opinion — toursbooks @ 4:05 pm
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Like most people, or maybe unlike, I go back and revisit my ideas to see if they’ve changed.  There’s almost no way to keep personal likes and dislikes out of review.  If something makes you mad, or upset, or just violates your principals, maintaining an emotional distance just doesn’t happen.  In my work I deal with data and form my opinions based on facts, but even there two people can look at the same data and see different things.  If opinions vary when dealing with numbers and facts vary, it’s inevitable that reactions will vary even more widely when forming opinions on books – after all, a book is intended to elicit a reaction from the reader.

So I went back and revisited some of my reviews to see if I still felt the same way – positive or negative – about some of the books I’ve reviewed.  To do this, I looked primarily at those I like the best and the least.  I don’t give many A reviews and even fewer F reviews, so the lists aren’t long, but I did include a few B books that might be deserving of a second look. (more…)

August 14, 2009

The Pecuilar Morality of ‘The One’

You see it time and again in romance novels, ‘The One’, a Heart Mate, ‘Life Mate’, an inescapable destined mate – and more often than not, there can be only one.  Werewolves do it on an almost universal basis.  Dragons do it, especially shifter dragons.  Vampires do it, though it’s less universal.  Even some cats do it, though more often than not cats with just one mate are seen as the family oddball. (Nik Vorislav in Shelly Laurenston’s hysterically funny Here Kitty, Kitty)  But the morality around securing ‘the One’ seems to get a bit flexible.

The idea that a male has one true mate to exclusion of all others and is destined to monogamy with that One is remarkably attractive to women.  That makes it a very attractive trope in paranormal romance.  It might not insure they’re loved for themselves, but it does insure a faithful, caring male.  In the majority of the books I’ve read, the ‘One’ is often the only one capable of acting as breeder as well.  Occasionally, breeding is separate, but it is usually an exclusive right of the One. So now you have a male (on rare occasion a female) with a biological imperative that’s two fold, the need to secure a desirable mate and the need to procreate.  This makes the female irresistible.  It also provides the stability and emotional security for the female – the guarantee he will remain exclusively yours and value you as the prize you are.  A seductive idea with great appeal, but one that often comes at a price.  To reap the benefits, your mate must be a True Mate or Life Mate, as opposed to a mate (lower case), because otherwise it might well go the way of broken marriages in the human world. (more…)

July 19, 2009

Mental Meanderings

Filed under: Asleep at the wheel,Editorial,opinion — toursbooks @ 1:54 pm
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I regularly cruise blogs and forums on books and recently joined GoodReads.  It’s interesting to see how differently people view a book.  I made a HUGE exception to my ‘No Silhouettes Desire’ and got The Tycoon’s Rebel Bride from PaperBack Swap.  Why?  How could I be suckered in like that?  Simple – Maya Banks.  I can now plainly state that even in the able hands of one of the better writers out there this series is trite, formulaic, and unoriginal – in short, exactly what Silhouette and the Desire line readers wants.  On Good Reads it had anywhere from 5* to DNF.  I gave it 3*, mostly for the quality of the writing, not the plot or the characters.  I’m sure Ms Banks is being well paid for her trilogy, of which this is the middle book – and she should be.  Like many popular authors of full length novels, she has a living to make and these short books are perfect.  The story lines are constrained by the publisher so little innovation is possible, or welcome by readers, so they are far easier to write, yet sell well – if briefly.  Desire is and has been a hugely popular Silhouettes line for exactly that reason, so they’ve found a niche and authors and audience alike get to enjoy it.  Except for some of us who sit and wonder how anyone can read more than one of these a decade.  Naturally, the folks who DO read Silhouettes Desire line wonder how the hell I can slog my way through hundreds of pages of murder and mayhem, so to each their own I guess. (more…)

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