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

 

November 29, 2015

Making Cents – Thanks to Dear Author

Filed under: ebooks,Editorial,Observations and Comments,opinion — toursbooks @ 6:28 pm
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No, that’s not a mistake on my part. When it comes to print and ebooks, most readers have definite price limits.  I often comment of the value of both print and ebooks vs their purchase price.  I have also said numerous times that I have decidedly mixed feelings about Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited as I feel authors should receive some payment for their work – and I have no idea what, if any, royalty they get from Kindle Unlimited downloads.  While a part of me still feels that authors are shortchanged by a behemoth like Amazon, I also had to revise my opinion after reading an editorial in Dear Author.

Dear Author is primarily a romance book blog written by a team of very knowledgeable and educated women.  Anyone who knows anything about books knows the largest selling genre – by a WIDE margin – is romance.  The buyers are almost exclusively women.  Dear Author is a very popular blog with heavy traffic that is widely recognized as one of the ‘movers and shakers’ in the industry.  They have branched out some into mystery and espionage and fantasy, but the vast majority of their reviews are romance of all types.  But they also offer insights on publishing trends and industry issues.  One of their columns this month concerned Amazon Kindle Unlimited and the controversy around it – naturally much of it coming from authors themselves.

Read the column by Jane here.

Jane makes several excellent points – some I hadn’t considered and a few I did.  I had a dear friend who was a dedicated and voracious romance reader.  I used to joke that when we went into a bookstore she went looking for the steamy bodies in romance and I went looking for the dead ones in mystery.  But I read a much wider range of genres than she did as she rarely strayed from romance while I went for fantasy, non-fiction, urban fantasy, action thrillers and we’d cross at romantic suspense.  She did get me into some romance, but I could not budge her beyond romantic suspense except with a few ‘crafty cozies’ with knitting and other crafts as the unifying theme.  While I had a bigger budget thanks to the fact I held a higher position in the company, we were BOTH price conscious.  I was just more willing – and financially able – to buy something if I really wanted it.  Now on a more fixed income, I look more closely at value than I did then.  And yes, value has driven me to buy and read more ebooks.

While my friend died several years ago, no doubt leaving her sons hundreds of books to clear out, her health kept us from visiting bookstores and used bookstores for years before that.  The explosive growth of Amazon put paid to my store shopping, except by accident.  While my friend did live long enough to see the beginning of the evolution of ebooks as a major player, we were still mostly reading the books in PDF format, not as NOOK or Kindle – and nearly all were small press ebooks bought online from the publisher.  What we were BOTH pleased with was exactly the point Jane made in her editorial, the books were relative bargains.  While mass market paperbacks were rapidly climbing in price, there sat the early versions of ebooks at half or less than the cost of print.

In the last 6 years or so, the growth of ebooks has opened places like the Brooklyn Public Library to people who live in California or North Dakota or just down the street from the actual library.  For $50 a year, you have a vast library of ebooks at your command.  No doubt your local library has a similar plan, but maybe fewer titles.  Many local libraries are more willing to buy ebooks patrons request too.  And there is the beauty of ebooks.  Value and convenience rolled into one.  At 2AM the library might be closed, but you can borrow an ebook.  Or I can shop Amazon and grab something and start reading it minutes later.

And that brings us back to Kindle Unlimited and the arguments authors use against it.  Namely that their work is ‘devalued’ by making it free.  Once I read Jane’s editorial, I began rethinking my attitude about Kindle Unlimited (and I am NOT a member of that service) and how it was or was not different from the far most cost effective Brooklyn Public Library, other than you can keep the download?  Do libraries and used bookstores ‘devalue’ books?  Used bookstores have been around as long as there have been printed books.  That doesn’t stop people from buying the umpteenth reprint of Jane Eyre or King Solomon’s Mines or Tarzan.  Now the heirs of Agatha Christie might retain rights, but who has rights to Voltaire or Thoreau?  So, I must revisit my own thoughts of services like Kindle Unlimited.

As time passes, I find a larger percentage of my reading is now ebook, around 40-50%, well up from the 10% of just a few years ago.  I read mostly on my laptop, but I did buy myself a small Kindle Fire as a Christmas gift this year.  I was unwilling to pay for an iPad or similar tablet as I wished to use it mostly to read books in bed.  In the great ebook debate, I find I am smack in the middle.  On one side are two good friends, one in California and my doctor in NJ who read almost exclusively ebooks.  On the other side sit people like my brother and sister-in-law who want ONLY print books.   All are voracious readers and all like different genres.  And there I stand squarely in the middle.  My old eyes get tired reading LCD screens, yet my friend in CA loves the fact she can scale the fonts to accommodate her vision, not exactly an option with print.  My brother and SIL like the ease of print and dislike dealing with expensive technology that breaks easily and takes time and effort to learn.  (Yes, they are rather proud Luddites.)  I read on a laptop for a totally different reason – I multitask too much for a tablet.  At the moment, I have 5 tabs open in my browser, a word processing program with 3 documents open, and an e-reader program all open at once, and that’s pretty typical.  I can’t do that on a tablet.

I did find Jane’s comments both enlightening and balanced.  Thinking of Kindle Unlimited as a ‘value based’ option, something that has a strong appeal to any voracious reader, and looking at the arguments against it by authors ………. well, Jane made very valid points.  Kudos.  I like it when someone presents an argument that makes me reassess my opinions and I was glad to revisit my evaluation of Kindle Unlimited with a different perspective.  I might not be a great romance fan, but I am certainly a voracious reader and like everyone, I want value for my money.  Kindle Unlimited might not work for me right now, but I am now willing to keep checking to see if that value pendulum swings my way.   Thank-you, Jane.

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 ………….

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.

 

 

 

July 7, 2015

Random Price Reductions and Prime Day

Filed under: General — toursbooks @ 10:41 pm
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Once again Amazon is deeply discounting print books in many genres on a short-term random basis. So take your wish list and look. There might be some really good discounts.

Examples include these to-be-released titles:

Brimstone Deception by Lisa Shearin UF is $5.99
A Red Rose Train by Seanan McGuire UF is $4.79
Grave Visions by Kaylana Price UF $5.99
Dead in the Wind by Miranda James Mystery cozy is $5.45
Dead Men Don’t Eat Cookies by Virginia Lowell is $4.79 (released today)
Fatal Reservations by Luck Burdette is $5.45 (released today)

A number of popular To-Be-Released hardcovers were also discount at 40% or more off list, including Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee due out later this month and just released The English Spy by Daniel Silva.

Several titles I ordered over the weekend have already gone up and down further, but as Prime I will get the lowest price after my order regardless.

On July 15 Amazon is holding a huge 1 day sale for Prime members only called Prime Day. Mostly non-book items will be on sale. It includes everything from patio furniture to Cameras. They claim the discounts will be even bigger than their Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals and they will be running specials every 10 minutes to encourage using tablet and cell apps for ordering.

Have fun. Reviews soon I hope. Been busy reading.

May 4, 2015

Brace Yourselves

Filed under: Editorial — toursbooks @ 3:42 pm
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There is about to be a groundhog scream heard round the world. SCREAM!   Hatchette Publishing – I spit on their name – SPIT!!!!! – have once again DELAYED THE PUBLICATION OF STILETTO, the second book in Daniel O’Malley’s Rook series till – have a seat people – JANUARY 2016!  Yes, I’m serious.  That’s A YEAR AFTER THE ORIGINAL DATE.  Amazon changed all their dates today.  So did Book Depository.

I hate Hatchette.  I really do.  I’m starting to side more and more with small press and self publishing.  These big publishers just ignore customers and do as they damn well please.

Now excuse me while I go stick pins – really BIG, very dull, pins – in my Hatchette voodoo doll.

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.

February 5, 2015

Off Track – Listening to Music

Filed under: Editorial,General — toursbooks @ 5:06 pm
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While my entertainment life centers on books, I also love good music.  Unfortunately, when I moved into a condo townhome I gave up my great 3 foot high floor speakers with 12″ woofers, a nice mid-range and a great tweeter.  I could crank those babies up and rattle the windows and get zero distortion.  Well, after moving, I ended up with listening to crappy computer speakers (except my car has a Bose), especially when traveling with a laptop.

Amazon changed all that when offered specials on Bose OE2 on ear headsets for under $80.  It was a world class no brainer.  Do they match my old speakers?  Hell NO!  But for headphones that are light weight and easy to pack for travel, they are amazing.  Well, about 2 months later they offered another kind of headphone from a company I’d never heard of, V-Moda M-80.  Same deal.  An old model on sale for under $80 and with astonishing reviews.  They looked a LOT sturdier than the lightweight Bose, so I bought them.

Back when I was a teen (about 3 years after the dinosaur died), I used over the ear top of the line Bose headphones to listen to my music.  The sound quality was astonishing and talk about noise cancelling – yeesh.  They also had the ability to adjust the internal speaker so you could make it could like you were walking around a concert hall, emphasizing different elements of the music.  That’s no longer an option, but the headphones are also smaller, lighter, and far less expensive.

The thing about headphones is, the apparent quality depends on the kind of music you listen to.  Some are better suited to classical, big band and classic rock, while others are better for hip hop, rap, and tech.  None are great at everything.  So after using both sets awhile, I decided to do a listening comparison.  I used YouTube and Amazon Cloud for digital music.  My first selection was a YouTube video of Itzhak Perlman and John Williams doing a live version of Por Una Cabeza by Gardel, the famous tango from Scent of Woman.  Perlman might have been crippled by polio, by he and his Stradivarius danced that song beautifully and with obvious enjoyment.  The recording, which I also have, is different from the live version and I do prefer the live one on YouTube.  The second choice was pure classical and an old favorite, again with Perlman on the violin and Yo Yo Ma on the cello, Seji Ozawa conducting the Boston Symphony in Dvorak’s Humoresque, No. 7.  Both ran between 3 and 4 minutes, so it was easy to switch headphones and listen to each again before moving to Sinatra, Callas, and Springsteen.

I did it twice to make sure I was right, but Bose won that one.  It was just crisper and cleaner and the sound brighter.  V-Moda handled the kettle drums in the Humoresque better, the original recording on YouTube was not clean there.  Then I tried Callas singing the Habanera from Carmen – again on YouTube, it was a recital video.  Both sets of headphones did fine on this one, but it was an older recording that lacks the nuance of more modern digital and remastered ones.  Still, her voice was pitch perfect.

I also listened to Pavorati doing Mes Amies from Daughter of the Regiment.  Now this one I did two way, the same recording (a live stage performance) is on YouTube and on my Amazon Cloud.  It is the famous 9 high C aria that garnered him a record standing ovation at the Met and recorded in his prime.  Once again I did the swap, and one again the age of the recording seemed to play into what I heard, which was amazing, but not as well done as more modern recording methods.  Both Bose and V-Moda seemed fine on YouTube and off the mp3.

Now I did a change of pace, Springsteen off the Amazon cloud mp3.  I listened to No Surrender, Thunder Road, and Blood Brothers.  I did each one, switched head phones, and repeated it.  Again, I felt the Bose headphones had a crisper sound, while V-Moda seemed to be dulled, or maybe muffled, not as sharp and clean, but more complex.

I moved to Sinatra.  Again I used my Amazon mp3 app and played some downloads, Witchcraft, My Kind of Town (off YouTube and mp3, but different recordings), and Nice ‘n’ Easy.  Once again, I felt the Bose headphones had an edge.

Now remember, at my age, my ears less than perfect and certainly my right ear has issues thanks to a car accident, and your impressions may vary, but I was surprised to find I came down on the side of the Bose headphones for sound quality.  I felt V-Moda’s M-80 had better construction – but there was a catch – the headphones were tight and heavier and certainly not flexible enough for a larger head – say my brother’s.  They were fine for me and my SIL, but didn’t fit him.  The Bose were lighter. sat on the ear with less pressure, less sturdy and durable, and easier to fit a range of head sizes.  Both sets come with carry cases, Bose if soft-sided nylon and the ear pieces pivot to lay flat, the wire to the headphones with the jack is permanently attached.  The V-Moda is a larger, molded hard case, the ear pieces do not pivot, and the wire from the headset set to the jack is removable and replaceable.  It is also able to add a microphone so you can use the headset for video calls and such on the internet.  The microphone would be a separate purchase and well worth it for internet calls.

So there you go.  My suggestion is, if you’re paying anywhere near the original asking price – almost $300 for each set – even at a discount, go and pick the pair that suits you best.  Remember the comfort factor if you listen a lot or watch movies and use them for sound (both beat the built-in laptop speakers my whole orders of magnitude!), they’ll be on your ears for over an hour, so that’s a BIG DEAL.

Now, I apologize for not publishing in January, but I’ve been battling tendinitis in my shoulder and it’s been painful to type for any length of time.  I started this entry over 3 weeks ago.  I’ve also read a bunch of books which I hope to briefly review soon.  There were some good ones – and a couple of stinkers.

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