Tour’s Books Blog

July 5, 2017

On Leaving PBS

Filed under: Editorial,Observations and Comments — toursbooks @ 6:50 pm
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After nearly a year of long of difficult self-debate, I finally decided to drop membership in PBS (PaperBack Swap).  This past year I found my myself more absent than there thanks to the eye surgeries, at the same time others things began happening.  I left the games early letting players know I’d be back after I could see with both eyes again.  It took almost 3 months.  But over those 3 months, I’d stop in a do a short hello or something ……… and found fewer and fewer games.

Life is taking a toll on the older members as they cope with personal and family illness.  Many leave for the ease of ebooks and the fact getting to the post office, especially in winter can be tough on the elderly.  The ranks of hostesses have thinned a lot, so there are fewer games.  So I went back and looked at my game log.  I’d played in well over 1,000 games.   I had been blaming my blurred sight on the slowdown before the surgery, but no such problem existed after Jan this year.  Aside from a brief explosion of fun games in March, I was playing in maybe one or two kind of boring games at a time.  Five years ago I averaged 10-15 games.  Two years ago 4-6 games.  Now it was 0-3.

I loved spinning my stories of my groundhogs and their insanity that were just fun and entertaining episodes.  I liked the players – with one exception – but rarely ‘won’ a book I wanted, sending the books to family or other gamers who did want one of the books I won with my compliments.  My membership was expiring in August, but with games taking longer to complete despite fewer players, I looked at the cycle time and realized I had to stop playing with the game I was in.  I no longer had time for another.

At the end of the game, I announced my departure.  I received multiple offers of free membership, but at $20 a year, the cost was not what was driving my decision, the lack of books was.  PBS book listings fell from 4 million+ to under 2 million in 2 years.  Many of my friends and PBS members had gone digital.  There was a drought of books that were new releases, my wish list was getting no offers, even mass-market paperbacks were scarce.  Finally, there was the mass cancellation of series and author contracts by publishers as they ruthlessly downsized.  The market for printed books was getting smaller and hardcovers insanely expensive.  I’d troll through Amazon listings and come away empty handed.  The games had few new book titles and even fewer authors.  I found myself reading more and more ebooks as they were cheap, good, and simply not in print at any reasonable price.  In short, I’d hit the perfect storm.  In the end, to stop the angst among game players, and my second guessing myself, and I simply closed my account a left a short “Goodbye”.

Authors had discovered that daunting as self-publishing is, they are no longer at the mercy of layers of people from agents to editors to printing schedules and distributors.  They could cut out all that overhead, write a good book and make more money per book than they did using traditional publishers.  They have to shoulder more of the promotional aspects, find editors, proofreaders, and copy editors, but all those people were laid off by publishing houses and now working freelance themselves.  I know one of my good friends will be leaving when her paid membership expires in December and she was a hostess.  She wisely transferred her virtual box to another hostess a few months back.  She will simply fade away as she has been doing and others did before her.  I didn’t have that option as my characters had become such ‘real’ personalities and were wanted in the games as much for their stories as for the fact I was one of the few with new release books.  It was just more drama than I expected.

I check on them as I had to open an account for my SIL and I’m slowly teaching her the basics of listing, the whole acceptance and order processing procedure, making lists, and looking for books.  So I can ‘ghost’ the site and make sure all is well.  Unfortunately, Games is just getting quieter and quieter with fewer and fewer players and fewer hostesses.  Summer is always slump-time, but so many of our players are MIA and more seem to just slip away.  PBS is dying slowly, but games, which attracted 70+ players 5 years ago, now can’t get 20.  Life has changed that much.

I have not gone happily or willingly into ebooks.  I swear there are claw marks on the door as I cling to print books, my preferred format.  But just looking at my Amazon account I realized so much of what I buy there, and I but a lot of different things, have nothing to do with books.  Of the books I buy, maybe 60-70% are hardcover.  The rest is a mix of mostly trade paperbacks and a small handful on mmpb’s.  But overall the number has diminished to a trickle while ebooks have surged thanks to promotions by authors, sales at Amazon, and Book Bub, and new release special pricing when you’re on an author’s mailing list.

So now I am free of PBS – with mixed feelings as I really miss the game players and telling my stories.  But – it was time.  Where will my 1,000+ books go?  Those I don’t keep – and I already have hundreds of ‘keepers’ – ok over 1,000 – so making the cut to ‘keeper’ status is hard, will go to FOL sales and the food pantry.  The action thrillers to my brother and his wife can take care of their new account, so in a way, I will still be feeding PBS books.  My SIL has zero interest in games and hates looking at LCD screens for long, so she’ll just exchange books and that’s it.

So the blog will go on with more ebooks showing up and fewer print.  I read as much or more than ever, it’s just different.

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January 5, 2016

PaperBack Swap – Update 2016 – Does ‘The End’ Draw Nigh?

Come February 15 it will be the first anniversary of the annual membership fee and bizarre ‘caste system’ that PBS so ham-handedly introduced last year.  To say the change from free to paid membership was handled poorly is not giving the still seething outrage among many members its full due.  There must be a thousand faceless voodoo dolls with ‘PBS Librarian’ getting pins stuck in it every day.  Others have composed dance routines to celebrate its almost inevitable demise.  How can a simple book swapping site elicit such strong and long lasting emotion?   Let me explain.

Once upon a time, there was an idea to start book swapping site where people could join for free and list books available for trade so they could then get books in return.  The initial programming and server maintenance and updating were handled well and the forums where members could chat about books, current affairs, make offers on large lots of books like a flea market booth, sell their excess credits ……. it was all there.  The Founders were proud of their creation and called their members a ‘Community’.  Much of the data input and maintenance was done by volunteers who keep everything from pictures of book covers to ISBN’s updated.  The funding came to PBS by members buying postage and credits that had small fees attached, members donating credits and money, or buying special ‘elite’ level programs that gave them larger wish lists, or even buying books through PBS or PBS links to Amazon, which returned promotional fees to PBS.

As ebooks gradually began eating into the print book business, the volume of books traded per year began dropping.  Naturally, the fees that PBS had been collecting on postage and other sales dropped as well.  On Super Bowl Sunday 2015 PBS members got a nasty shock.  If they actually planned to USE all those credits they had accumulated in good faith, they had to buy a membership.  Now the annual fee was not high, but along with the fee came a weird caste system that allowed only PAID members to use forums and the private messaging system and trade books freely as before.  Now the middle-class member paid less per yer, got a finite number of ‘free trades’ after which PBS assessed their standard $0.50/trade fee.  Unless you bought PBS postage, then you earned another ‘free’ trade – except you paid the $0.50 fee when you bought the postage.  Now the lowest caste could not communicate with members unless they were actively involved in a trade with that member.  AND every trade they made to get a book with all those credits now had a FEE assessed/trade and the ‘fee’ had to be paid in PBS money.  To get PBS money you ……. well had to pay ANOTHER FEE.  So credits were essentially devalued like Frequent Flyer points where that first class seat to Hawaii suddenly went from 120,000 miles to 180,000 just as you hit 110,000 and would get them in 2 months.

For those who recall their Greek mythology, this might be likened to the ‘Sisyphus effect’ – standing in water with constant thirst yet never reaching it, and having food to feed your starving body just out of reach.  It’s hardly unique to PBS, but given the tight-knit community they fostered – and even bragged about – it was seen not just as a badly managed business decision, but as a personal betrayal.  Here, the very sense of community they built ended up turning on them because they committed the one unforgivable sin – betrayal.  And what was worse – they effectively retroactively DEVALUED the credits of members.

Unlike airlines and hotels, PBS does not provide a necessary function in life.  They don’t take from the east coast to the west in hours.  They don’t give you a room with clean sheets and a nice bath and room service.  You don’t even have much in the way of competition other than Bookmooch.  The other sites are the equivalent of mom-and-pop motels.  PBS is the ‘big dog, but they are middlemen, facilitators.  Had they taken a more businesslike approach and treated members as customers, not a community of co-equals, the relationship would have withstood the change far better.  Certainly, the ebook effect would still be eroding member numbers and books traded as more and more go digital, but their demise and the lingering hard feelings would not have spun so totally out of control.

When a frequent flyer.stayer plan gets changed, we get annoyed and members do take to social media to strike back at loyalty programs that suddenly change terms because thousands and thousands of frequent flyer/stayer plans get disrupted, miles get lost, points are dropped and the ‘cost’ of those rewards get higher and harder to obtain.  But the nice things about airlines and hotels is the fact we have CHOICES.  And while we are ‘loyal customers’ giving them nice profits, we don’t actually feel like we are partners in the business who had their senior partners stab them in the back.  There never was that sense of ‘community’, just rewards for being loyal.  And if we get annoyed enough, we change to a different provider.

Airlines and hotels usually handle the backlash – something they KNOW they will get – like a business.  That is, professionally.  They realize there will be outrage at the changes and a small number of customers will be lost, but their most important customers, the business ‘road warriors, are the ones they want to keep.  Not the occasional flyer/stayer.  The hotels and airlines even had ‘elite’ levels that automatic perks that the occasional traveler envied, but didn’t begrudge.  They always had the ‘status’ based on usage, or because the paid all that extra money for First Class.  (You could buy membership lounge privileges for a fee.)

PBS had some ‘road warriors’, people who shipped hundreds of books a year and sat with high credit balances.  PBS assumed, wrongly, they would just suck up the fees to keep the service – except they forgot something.  Their choices were divisive and members saw clearly that what had been equals were no longer.  That ‘community’ was betrayed and divided into classes.  It certainly did not help their case to publish a newsletter that had a cover story that sounded like it was written by some high school drama student who thought all those ‘mean members’ has no idea how much they HURT with their complaints and acrimonious emails.  If ever a company needed to hire someone to show them how to manage a customer crisis, this was it, but no, they carried on like a ‘Dear Diary’ entry – missing only the little heart shaped dots above the ‘i’ – but including of ‘!!!!!!!!!!!’ so we couldn’t miss their terrible suffering.  I had to just stop taking the whole thing seriously as a business and just say, ‘Fine, I’ll deal with the games because I enjoy them and to hell with the rest of the teen angst revisited.’  (I was afraid of getting pimples!!!!!!!  <——– See, lots of ‘!!!!!!’ so you know it’s IMPORTANT!)

Well, Armageddon nears.  Since mid-Summer, the rate of books shipped per week has slowly but surely dropped as people like me who were rolled from Gold Key to automatic Standard membership decided not to renew, or members grew weary of the lack of offers and stopped even going to the website.  It’s called abandoned accounts.  But the big hit will happen those first two weeks in February.  That’s when the bulk of paid members first joined.  It sits there like a big, black cloud on the horizon.  PBS tried getting members to lure friends into joining by offering ‘PBS money’ or some equivalent of pocket change in cash that would cover the cost of a coffee a Starbucks.  The offer was loudly and humorously mocked off the PBS forums.

I have already been told several game moderators will not be renewing their membership using the ‘ebook excuse’, which may, or may not, be true.  We’ve lost a number of game hostesses that way too.  I also know publishers are reducing the number and depth of discounts on mass market books, and I see that every month as the number of books I pre-order drops, so the number of print books is dropping too.

Another hit is the lack of discounts for online shoppers for mass market books.  Now Amazon does offer ‘best price’ guarantee, so should you pre-order a book and the price drops between the pre-order and the release date, you get the lowest price.  Books-a-million does NOT.  Also, their discount offers are less frequent, aimed more at in-store shoppers (which means selling existing stock on hand) rather than online shoppers (many using pre-order).  Plus they avoid all the cost associated with shipping.  Not ONCE this holiday season did I get a ‘big deal’ offer of 30% off as I have in the past.  20% was the highest any offer went.  Hardcover and trade size paperbacks still have good deals associated with them Amazon, better than BAM even with their discounts.  Hardcovers are often being sold for less than the ebook price.  All of this means there are simply now fewer books to trade on sites like PBS.

Now let’s look at one last nail in the coffin that is online book swapping – the cost of an ereader.  Amazon Fire has a $50 ereader with very limited storage capacity (so if you buy that extra storage disk, you find YOU CAN’T STORE BOOKS THERE) which means using the Cloud to read your books, but it’s cheap and even has a web browser built-in.  Mine is getting returned, it just wasn’t right for me, but they do offer good value if you get free – RELIABLE – wi-fi.  SO now you have a $20 fee to exchange used books with HOPE of maybe getting a book you want back, the cost of wrapping and mailing that book, and the time all this takes running headlong into a $50 ereader with a colored hi-def screen and web browsing capability. hummmmmmmmmmmmmmm

The final sad sign of the death of PBS is the School Donations program.  Since 2012 PBS has run an annual drive to get new children’s books into the hands of schools with a large portion of under-privileged students and tiny book budgets.  They are located everywhere from Indian reservations to the inner city.  I’d donate a hundred or more credits every year, plus additional cash to defray costs, none of which was tax deductible.  I never cared as getting books to kids is important to me.  PBS supplied anywhere from 16 to 24 schools a year.  Ths year they managed to complete 6 and they have 5 more active in need of cash.  Those 5 extra all have the credits, because people don’t care about them if they plan to leave.  Cash?  That’s different and even though the total cash needed is small, just a few hundred per school, they can’t seem to get it.  Over 100,000 members and not ever 1,000 are giving a dollar each.  In 2014 they completed 18 schools.  The signs are clear.  The good will toward PBS has scraped rock bottom.  The resentment lingers and even programs like this suffer.  There is no ebook phenomenon here, just members saying a very loud, “SCREW YOU!” to PBS.  I’m pretty sure the PBS powers that be are doing a sad little ‘Dear Diary’ entry about this too, complete with a frowny face and tear splatters.

It is sad.  Sad that a company was managed so badly that its own generous customer base turned Scrooge to others.  Unfortunately, that includes me.  The credits and money I normally donate – nope.  Nothing.  I do NOT trust PBS.  And there is the bottom line.  It’s the one that is rearing its ugly head as renewal dates approach.  Members no longer trust PBS to be honest about ANYTHING.  Not providing those books they promised the schools, or even being in business 6 months from now.  They broke that fragile bond last year and have done nothing to repair it.  There is no evidence of ‘We hear you’, just childish nonsense or self-righteous condescension.  They have wrapped themselves in the cloak of martyrdom – of the classic teen response of ‘You just don’t understand!’ – followed by sullen sulking and misplaced anger.  Not the way to win trust and loyalty.  And certainly NOT how you run a business that understands its customer base.  The utter lack of professionalism is just mind-boggeling.

So, is THE END nigh?  Personally, I think in 6 months, maybe sooner, maybe later, PBS will be no more.  If you’re thinking of joining or renewing, do so with the understanding that one day that ‘page inaccessible’ message will be permanent.  The membership price isn’t high, but don’t go spending a lot in mailing out books that you’ll likely get empty credits for – credits that will be lost when the site folds, because the permanent ‘page inaccessible’  day is not far off.  RIP

 

January 1, 2016

Happy New Year!

Filed under: General — toursbooks @ 5:35 pm
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I sincerely you all greeted 2016 bright-eyed and bushy tailed ready for a new adventure and clean slate. …………… Yeah, right, me too.

Anyway, may 2016 bring you good luck, good health, and many happy hours of good books ……….. and chocolate.

 

November 25, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!

Filed under: Observations and Comments — toursbooks @ 7:17 pm
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Whatever your plans are for Thanksgiving Day, may you have a safe and happy one – and not beat any of your annoying relatives senseless.  (It might be satisfying, but the food in jail is no match for home cooking!)  If you’ll be traveling, get there and back safely and with minimal hassle.

I will be binge watching football while reading Feel the Burn by G.A. Aiken.  My brother must decide if he can deal with another screaming match between his in-laws or will find a way to stay home and abandon his wife to her fate.  It’s times like these when he’s glad to be deaf in one ear.

And on Black Friday, shop online.  It will save wear and tear on your nerves!

 

 

November 15, 2015

And the World Mourns Again

Filed under: Editorial,Observations and Comments — toursbooks @ 4:00 pm
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When the Russian plane crash happened in the Sinai a few weeks back I was concerned that it signaled a new round of terrorist attacks.  I said as much to my brother after the muted, but believable ISIS claim of responsibility.  We decided maybe we both read too many spy thrillers and expected the worst.   Sometimes I hate being right.

The events in Egypt seem more removed despite the victims being tourists and the death toll being higher.  But France, especially Pais, is a place where many of us have visited.  For all our often strained relations with France, we remain allies.  There is a sense of familiarity, shared history, one we don’t share with Egypt and the Russians.  Paris is a city famous for its style and food, – called the City of Lights.  Paris is a place where many of us have strolled city center and had a cup of coffee or glass of wine at a sidewalk table.  There is a sense of kinship, of common ground in shared history and core cultural values.  The feeling, ‘It could have been us.’ is stronger.

France has the misfortune to have the largest number of citizens that have left the country to train with extremists in the Mideast, and then returned to France.  It’s a problem of growing concern throughout Europe, but France has born the brunt.  Now it has suffered a reminder that no one is ever safe from those prepared to die for a cause.

Is this the last attack?  I doubt it.  These small groups of radicalized young men (and sometimes women) exist everywhere – and the risks increase as more refugees flee the war in Syria and other countries these radicals hide within their ranks.  The group responsible for the Paris attack were not recent refugees, but largely French citizens returned from the Mideast where they trained with ISIS.  Who was responsible Egypt might never be learned.

So once again the world sits mourning, counting the dead and wounded, over 350 dead between the two countries and as many wounded – a large number critically.  I have no answers.  No brilliant insights or solutions.  I can only hope we learn that you cannot reason with the irrational and say once again ………….

October 27, 2015

Some Months ………… SIGH!

Filed under: Editorial,Musing on life — toursbooks @ 12:40 pm
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You know, some months are great!  October is one of my FAVORITE months of the year – May being my other favorite month.  Not surprisingly, I have come to HATE winter with its short, cold days and bad weather.  Still, even favorite months can have sad memories – my sister-in-law died of cancer on Oct 12, 1999.  A month later, Dad died.  That was a rough year, but over time the sadness dulls and the sheer beauty of a fall day can bring a smile.  You never stop missing people completely but as time passes and you face a beautiful, warm October day, you can say, “It was just like this the day my SIL died.”  Then you smile at all the good memories and feel a certain melancholy over how life takes things away yet gives something back.

I guess fall is a metaphor for the eternal cycle of life – and reminds us IT’S FOOTBALL SEASON!  Yes, I am one of THOSE people, the ones that watch college and pro football.  Why I became the football fan and not my brother, who could care less, I’m not sure.  But I am.  I’m not insane enough to sit in an open stadium in freezing weather like the folks in Green Bay, but I do watch TV and cruise from game to game if one threatens to be a blowout.  I started my last entry for the blog 3 weeks ago and, well, ahem, yes, I got distracted and was just a teeny bit late getting it done.

I am in an NCAA Football game (Doing a very mediocre job this year, though I won last year) and an NFL Fantasy game on my bookswap site (currently #1 in overall place).  I am also in a fantasy baseball game there – and somehow have managed to be the 4th highest overall scorer despite missing 4 weeks of sheer guesswork on winner selection and bonus questions and missing bonus picks for Divisional Winners prior to the season.  Plus I have no clue about what the hell I’m doing.  I must confess, I have NEVER willingly watched baseball.  Since my dad died in 1999, I haven’t SEEN A SINGLE GAME.  It’s BORING.  OK, Mets fans may quibble with me right now, but come on, I’d fall over snoring at one of those things.  Strangely, I seem to do well at guessing and apparently my ability to research stats pays off in bonus points.  (I did have to research ERA and how they are calculated for one game, so I guess there is a small learning advantage too though I promptly forgot everything I learned – BECAUSE IT WAS BORING!)  In a bizarre quirk of fate (Trust me, it was NOT skill or knowledge!), I actually WON the baseball game last year.  I’m sure there is some kind of lesson there but damned if I know what it is.

Baseball is the only game that makes golf look good – sort of – though that’s another sport that is likely more fun to play than watch.  I play golf.  OK, I play MINI-golf at places called Pirate’s Cove (your choice, Bluebeard or Blackbeard course) and Congo River (Stanley or Livingston course).  That’s the limit of my attention span.  And I played softball as a kid.  It’s one of the reasons I have come to know endodontists, oral surgeons, and family dentists so much better than I ever wanted to.  (HINT: Do NOT catch balls using your face to trap them.  It never works out well for your face.  Especially your teeth.)

So that’s why the last entry in my blog took so long.  My TV had been off for so many months I didn’t realize all my phone and internet trouble was the cable itself.  I got a new modem, but still had issues – the color on my TV was waaaaay off in pre-season.  I had to get my cable company in to run a new cable to the house because the signal was so low it affected the phone, computer and TV ……. but I made sure it was done BEFORE the regular season started.  I would like to remind you I AM in FIRST place in the football game – a game I WON last year.

So October makes me recall more than Mr October (AKA Reggie Jackson) and the heartbreak of the NY Giants losing like amateurs.  Again.   I also can revisit the caps, root canals, extractions, implants and other exciting things that are fall memories.  And today I get to see my favorite oral surgeon.  And here’s another hint – the really hard peanut?  Spit it out.  Yeah, not a nut.   Yup, October can be hell – especially on the old checkbook.

September 11, 2015

9-11

Filed under: Editorial,General — toursbooks @ 4:11 pm
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I remember 9-11-2001.  It was a day like today.  Sunny, blue skies, mild temperatures.  I saw the Twin Towers on my way into work.  I did most days when the air was clear.  I had arrived home on a night fight the weekend before and we had a rare southern approach to Newark and we saw the Towers all lit up and I turned to the young woman sitting next to me and said, “It looks like home.”  Little did I know, I’d never experience that again.

I was sitting at my desk working on a report on the computer when one of my engineers walked in with the oddest look on his face and said, “A plane flew into the Twin Towers.”

I thought it was a bad joke.  “I just saw them.  They were fine.”  I started checking the internet and there it was.  I went up to the roof and there were maybe 10 people there, all wearing the same expression of disbelief and fear.  Many had friends, spouses, family who were First Responders or worked in the Towers.

I just stood silently and watched.  No one seemed to want to say anything, even me.  There were no words.  From where I stood north and west of Manhattan, the two towers seemed to overlap slightly, their windows like mirrors in the bright sun and a mushroom cloud of dust and smoke above.  Then the first tower collapsed and a city I grew up seeing nearly every day disappeared in a cloud of dust.

It was one of the strangest days of my life.  The shock and the immediate aftermath as we all realized it was no tragic accident, but a deliberate act of terrorism, left us speechless.  I sent my guys home.  The phone lines were so overloaded, they couldn’t even call out.  I stayed for awhile, but the company finally closed the plant – a first for anything but a county declared state of emergency.  Those still there of the nearly 4,000 people headed home, many worried about family in NYC.

That day 2,753 people died.  Since then, 3,700+ survivors and first responders died, mostly of cancer from inhaling the dust.  Just   2 weeks ago, the woman in the famous ‘Dust Lady‘ photo died at the age of 42 from cancer.  Thousands of our service men and women have died in the Mid-East, more have been forever injured.  The toll extends well beyond those who died at the Pentagon, Twin Towers and in a field in Pennsylvania bringing down Flight 93.

It was day that altered the course of many lives, even for those far removed from the event.  But was also a day when people, many ordinary working people, stepped up and helped.  I know I’ve shown this link before, but it’s worth watching again.  Boatlift 9-11 narrated by Tom Hanks.

Lest we forget.

September 7, 2015

Introducing Readers to New Old Authors and Different Genres

There is something fundamentally very satisfying about getting readers out of a rut. People who ‘only read romance’, ‘only read fantasy’, ‘only read mystery’. I should know. I fall into ruts myself. But I tend to explore more simply because I always did.  Even though both my parents worked, we never had a lot of money for extras.  I might not have worn the latest fashion, but I could always buy books.  My mother was surprisingly liberal in her in what she’d let me read.  She herself was a devout fan of Earl Stanley Gardner, Victoria Holt, Agatha Christie, and Daphne du Maurier.  She read most of the other mysteries as well, but not all.  And lots, and lots of non-fiction history.  Well, she was a history teacher, so that was inevitable.

Somewhere early in my grade school years,  many classic mystery authors from the 20’s 30’s and 40’s were republished, not just the famous ones  like Hammett and Chandler, but many of the so-called ‘pulp fiction’ mystery writers – Phoebe Atwood Taylor, Ngaio Marsh, Clayton Rawson,  Earl Der Biggers, and many more.  Also Edgar Rice Burroughs’ books were fashionable again, so his Tarzan, John Carter of Mars (Barsoom series), and Pellucidar books were reprinted.  And Mary Renault’s brilliant 3 book series based on the legend of Theseus came out.  I read them all and many more while also reading things like The Longest Day and Thomas Costain’s history of the Plantagenets, biographies of various Russian Czars and Napoleon ……… and tons of books on archeology.  Yes, I once thought I wanted to do that for a living.  Luckily sanity prevailed when I decided I wanted a paying job instead.  But if you ever want to get your pre-teens interested in ancient history, try Leonard Cottrell’s books on Egyptian, Greek, and Minoan history and archeology.

My wildly eclectic taste in reading means I can often encourage people to try new things.  I kept a lending library at work and people would ask for suggestions.  I had books shelved by genre for mystery/thriller fans, si-fi/fantasy fans, romance fans, historical Fic Fans could all check their interests.  I had people I didn’t know ask what they should read and I’d ask who they liked reading and make suggestions.  I had everyone from hourlies to Directors using those books and every 6 moths or so I clear them out and gave them to a man who took them to a veterans home.

On paperback swap I’ve gotten a number of people to try new genres and authors.  Several blame me for their ever expanding wishlists and growing piles on books.  My doctor complains I get her off on tangents.  I was so proud I was actually able to get her to read Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time!  And what’s more, she enjoyed it!!!!!  She did not go easily into the mystery genre.  I lured her in using Jana Deleon’s Miss Fortune books, Leslie Langtry’s Bombay Assassins and Merry Wrath books,  and moved her up to Donna Andrews’ Meg Langslow series.  (BUWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!)

OK, I cheated.  I did name what I consider on of the BEST mysteries ever written (as does the Crime Writers of America and many other groups that publish a top 100 list), and I played to her love of history, but lets face it, if you’re going to get people into a genre, you hit them with a sure win.  Tey is a great writer and her plotting, pacing, and research are dead on.  But back then, writers were much better than they are today.  Read early Ellery Queen, even Hammett or Sayers and you’ll find the vocabulary is far more extensive than you’ll find in their modern equivalent.  It is also utterly devoid of the swear words that we all take for granted these days.

I’ve gotten cozy fans into romantic suspense and some of the better paranormal romance and UF.  I’ve watched Amish romance lovers start adding humorous erotica to their wish lists.  I’ve hooked folks on humorous mystery and mystery lovers on some of the better romance and hardcore police procedural and PI lovers on historical mysteries.  When someone likes what I suggest, I am pleased, and when they don’t I always say, “Don’t force yourself.”  There are too many authors and books to try and we don’t all like the same ones.

I like assassin books that my brother would hate.  He likes some non-fiction I’d be bored to tears with.  We both read many mysteries and I’ve slowly gotten my SIL, a talented artist, into mysteries as well.  Of course all these variations play merry hell with my wish list on PBS, where I’m sure some psychologist is convinced I have some sort of multiple personality disorder with a strong violent streak and a bizarre preoccupation with shifters and vampires.

With all this in mind, I will do an occasional entry that lists some favorite books or series, their genre, and why I like them.  Many will be older books, not ones showing up in my reviews.

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey – I’ve read this book several times in my life and marveled at how brilliantly Tey wove an historical mystery into the life the of a (then) modern police detective.  It’s short, especially my today’s standards, yet the spare plot is complex and beautifully woven by prose I can only wish modern authors had.  A Classic and deserving of the frequent first place or top 5 best mysteries of all time.  An absolute must read for even a casual mystery fan.

Dance Hall of the Dead, A Thief of Time, Skinwalkers by Tony Hillerman – Many authors have tried their hand at creating authentic ethnic characters and cultures, but few have equaled Tony Hillerman and his Navajo mysteries with two very different lead characters, the ‘modern’ Lt Joe Leaphorn, and the traditional Sgt. Jim Chee.  Both had separate series and later, several books had the two characters together.  All are steeped in an atmosphere so rich and textured you can almost feel it.  Hillerman was respectful and accurate in his portrayal of the Navajo and was honored by them for his authenticity.  His later books grew weaker as cancer took its toll on him, but the three named here are possibly 3 of the best he wrote.  Each has Navajo religious and cultural traditions woven into the fabric of what is modern police procedural and the struggle to maintain a culture against a rising tide of the modern world, its comforts, and its seemingly endless opportunities.  An education and a great mystery all in one.

The Maltese Falcon by Dashielle Hammett is often considered the first great hard-boiled PI novel.  Most people know it from the movie starring Humphry Bogart, so the novel’s Sam Spade will be a shock to some.  Tall, blond, built, a little sly, full of mischief, but still tough, conniving, and shrewd.  In many ways, Sam Spade is an anti-hero.  He’s not the dazzling problem solver like Sherlock Holmes, or Dr Fell, or Ellery Queen.  He quips, fights, insults, schmoozes, and dances with the devil, and has very flexible ethics, but maintains a code he lives by – and was the prototype for Jake Gittes in Chinatown played by Jack Nicolson.  Like most detective fiction of its time, it was classified as ‘pulp fiction’ – largely because many books were serialized in pulp magazines for mysteries.  He is also a one-off.  Sam Spade was not a series, just a single novel by Hammett.  Read it.  And while you’re at it, read his The Thin Man and The Glass Key books too, but remember,  The Thin Man is NOT the hero!

Raymond Chandler took the hard-boiled PI genre and gave it its second most famous archetype, Phillip Marlowe.  (Curious footnote: Humphry Bogart was the only actor who play BOTH Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe, one of the main reasons his syle influenced Jack Nickerson’s Jake Gittes character in Chinatown.)  The Big Sleep, Farewell, My Lovely, and The Lady in the Lake are three most famous and given his very limited output, that’s amazing 50% of his published novels.  Brisk, spare prose and quick, snappy dialog are the hallmarks of his style.  Razor sharp without spare words, lightning quick, yet conveying all needed nuance and character.  Marlowe is a study in the flawed hero, but the mysteries all carry the theme of justice will be served, one way of another.

“Last night I deamt I went to Manderley again.”  Possibly one of the most famous opening lines of a novel since “Call me Ismael.”  And for a novel a lot more entertaining than Moby Dick!  Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier became the archetype for modern romantic suspense.  It twisted the mind and played with reality as seen and narrated by the nameless lead character who is the second wife of wealthy Max de Winter.  The book’s title and overwhelming central character is the dead Rebecca, his first wife.  A psychological suspense thriller, it is crafted using traditions laid down by the Bröntes, yet departs those simpler plots for a more taut and twisted tale that pulls the reader into life of a young wife struggling to fit into her wealthy husband’s much more refined and established life while being constantly told how lacking she compared to Rebecca by Mrs Danvers, Max’s head housekeeper.

And speaking of psychological suspense that goes off the charts, I would be remiss to not include Thomas Harris and possibly two of the scariest suspense novels ever written, Red Dragon and its more famous sequel, The Silence of the Lambs.  I read them both and I can tell you without any shame that I slept with the lights on for over a week after reading them.  Twisted, brilliant, almost unputdownable, and utterly terrifying.  You literally find yourself holding your breath in places and almost afraid to turn a page.  The characters are so damn believable, the story so well done, and the intensity so extreme, these are not for the faint of heart.  Anthony Hopkins did such a brilliant job with Lecter that I will forever see the character and here Hopkins’ voice.  The sheer believability of the characters is what makes these books scary beyond words.  A stunning tour de force in psychological terror.  Not for everyone, and certainly not something I’d read twice, they remain some of the most intense thrillers ever written.

At the opposite end of the spectrum sits Agatha Christie, author of many original mysteries.  Several of her books were made into movies and the BBC and actor David Suchet have made Hercule Poirot a familiar name.  It’s hard to single out her best books, but two always leap to the top – The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and Ten Little Indians (US publication title And Then There Were None).  That would be followed by Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile.  Of all of them, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is possibly one of the finest pieces of detective fiction written.  A low-key approach to crime solving that is a lesson for all mystery writers.  While Christie would eventually come to hate her little Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, here he is at his earliest and best.  In Murder on the Orient Express, he solves a crime then tells authorities that he has no solution as he believes justice was already served.  In Death on the Nile, you again have all the usual suspects gathered as he expounds how the crime was committed, but again, justice is delivered by the perpetrators themselves.  In And Then There Were None, everyone dies – or so it would seem.  Read it to learn the end.  It involves no detectives at all and is unlike any other book Christie or any other author wrote.

I’ll do another installment on historical fiction for my next entry in this occasional series.

 

 

 

May 3, 2015

Even Author’s Have to Have Fun!

Filed under: General,Musing on life,paranormal — toursbooks @ 9:18 pm
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No matter the genre, authors love having fun with their own characters – and what character is better for this than that famous privateer, Jean Lafitte.  And what better foil for the handsome Frenchman than notorious pirate – Captain Jack Sparrow.

Suzanne Johnson wrote a very short tale of Jean Lafitte’s birthday surprise in Storyland, a part of the Beyond belonging to the Fae where imaginary human characters from books, movies and TV can exist.  Read her cute entry into the Dark Fairy Tales blog.  It’s a bit like really well done fan fic, but hey, who can resist the charm of Jean Lafitte and those magnificent cheekbones of Captain Jack Sparrow?  Enjoy!

PS – Even though Pirate’s Alley was just published, her next book, Belle Chase is already finished (as of 4 months ago) and with her publisher.  I wish that damn publisher would shift their butts in gear because the expected publication date in spring 2016.  I AM NOT A PATIENT GROUNDHOG!  I might just give them all hives till they hurry up and get it out!

February 7, 2015

Big Changes at PaperBack Swap

Filed under: Editorial — toursbooks @ 11:43 pm
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Well, it was inevitable.  PBS has started charging fees to use their site and it’s not sitting well with many members.  Not because there will be fees, but but because of the cavalier way in which the staff announced it and the VERY SHORT notice (2 weeks and under) to members.  Personal opinion, the way they handled this is text book EPIC FAIL.

Why do I think this move is an EPIC FAIL?  Three reasons (four, really):

First, the notice given was much too short and annoyed even members like me who are unaffected by the changes.  Many members who had a pile of credits were selling them for $2 each, well below the PBS purchase price of $3.75.  Some traded credits to get some other member to buy them an annual membership.  (I did that as a favor for 2 members.)

Second, they introduced tiered membership.  Seriously.  It’s like we’re on the Titanic and they’re rearranging deck chairs and say, “Hey, we keep deck chairs for first class only and lock the third class passengers below decks!”  And the deck chairs for them are the forums.  Their ‘a la carte’ members, those who pay no annual fee but do pay $0.49/book they request, cannot access the formerly open to all forums.  Now make no mistake, they still pay each time they get a book, but that’s not enough.  The forums are for annual members – Limited and Standard – only.

Third, they made no provision for the credits everyone already had.  If you become an a la carte member, then you WILL pay the fee for each book you request.  So let’s say Larry was a good swapper and shipped out so many books he has 100 credits in his account.  Now previously, each credit got him a book, no fees required.  Now, should he USE those credits he earned in good faith thinking he’d get equal treatment, it will cost $0.50 each book – or $50 to use them all.  That is NOT EQUAL to previous transaction.  His credits should have been ‘grandfathered’, at least for a time, like 6 months, for fee free transactions.

Fourth, and maybe the biggest part, PBS acknowledged what we all knew anyway, the increase in ebooks and a serious increase in mail costs for media mail, has impacted the number of books swapped each year which has in turn reduced their income from printable postage fees.  It has also affected the number of titles available – which then causes even FEWER books to be swapped.  Now they make the whole thing pay-to-play and light the fuse to blow the whole thing up.  Sheer genius.

I do not question PBS’s right to do what they did.  I certainly understand how circumstances can change that necessitate fees/membership.  But I will never again trust them, donate to them, suggest a friend join PBS.  I will never again offer 100 WL in the Genre forums.  I will limit transactions to people who sends titles to me – which once again hurts people with hard to find titles who will get screwed.  I feel kind of bad about that, but I have economics to think of too, and the cost of mailing out books with less and less hope of getting one in return is now key.

To those leaving, I understand.  To those staying, I understand.  To PBS, it could have been done so much better and with far less acrimony.

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