Review: The New World excites, then settles into a lull

by G. Robert Frazier

Welcome to the New World, Jim Hawkins; it’s savage, untamed, and wholly unpredictable. Hawkins, the son of Robert Louis Stevenson’s more renowned Jim Hawkins of Treasure Island fame, and his companion Natty get a rude introduction to life in North America courtesy of author Andrew Motion’s The New World (Crown Publishers, $25).

the new worldPart action-adventure part literary memoir, the novel picks up on the heels of Motion’s earlier unofficial sequel, Silver, with a violent shipwreck off the coast of Texas. Jim and Natty are among the only survivors, though their true ordeal is only just beginning.

Before they are able to gather their wits about them, the pair are beset upon by a tribe of brutal Native Americans who take them prisoner while plundering the debris of the shipwreck and its lost treasures The only other survivor of the ship, Mr. Stevenson, is quickly shot to death by the Indians’ arrows, immediately upping the tension for Jim and Natty.

The death of Stevenson is symbolic in a way of how this book deviates from the more action-oriented fare of the original author. After being taken into captivity, The New World morphs into a more introspective-laden memoir, detailing Jim’s every thought and nuance during his ordeal. There is considerably less emphasis on action and more attention given to Jim’s thoughts and feelings on everything from his life with his father to life with Natty to the lives of his captors.

Motion aptly hooks the reader with his forceful prose, then allows the lulls in the action to express himself in a more lyrical voice. His love of words and their sing-song quality — he is one of the UK’s most renowned poets and was actually poet laureate for ten years – is clearly evident.

That’s all well in good, for literary readers. For those who favor the swift action of a genre story, however, the sudden shift in styles and contrast in the story’s tone is a bit of a letdown. After a bold, action-packed start, the novel segues into moody memoir and colorful description. The action only briefly reasserts itself late in the novel when Hawkins must face his Indian captors in a final showdown in the bustling port city of New Orleans.

The New World lacks the sense of fun and danger that its classic predecessor managed to instill, instead taking on a darker, more serious tone. Nor is Hawkins’ antagonist, Black Cloud, remotely as interesting as Silver in Treasure Island. His companion, Natty, is unfortunately a totally unlikable character from the start.

Overall, The New World races out of the gate, but crawls to the finish line.

Note: I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.

Theater of the Absurd: LA creatives may be penalized for tax they don’t owe

Just when you think you’ve heard everything, there’s this: In Los Angeles, if you are freelance writer or creative trying to eke out a meager living, you could be penalized for a tax you don’t owe. The penalty applies if you fail to register for an exemption from the tax by a certain date each year.

This has got to be one of the most ridiculous excuses for a city government to stick it to the masses I’ve ever read.

The full article is here.

What do you think? Should freelancers and creatives have to acquire a license to work and be penalized if they don’t? 

Bargain ebook shopping good way to discover new authors

I recently came across this interesting article about bargain ebook buyers, who they are, what they’re reading and so on.

Take a moment to read it, I’ll wait….

OK, back with me? Good.

kindle screenPersonally, I fall in the category of “see a good bargain, snatch it up, read it later.” In my case, “later” may be a ways off since I have so many print books to catch up on, and you already know I prefer print books over ebooks. But still, if I see an ebook that looks promising, and it’s at a good price, I’ll pick it up. (I especially like the free ones. Check out BookBub or Robin Reads).

One of the coolest things about ebooks is the exposure you get to new authors. I’m not afraid to try a new author here or there. I’ve got plenty of favorites, but every once in a while I want to try something new, something different. That’s one of the things I like about Blogging for Books, which sends you new books (in either digital or print formats) in exchange for honest reviews. I likely would not have read any of the authors in their stable if it weren’t for this program. I’m glad to say I’ve come across some authors I’ve enjoyed, including Andy Weir, Tom Cooper, and Peter Clines.

I used to be the same way with music. I’d always buy some obscure group at Best Buy or Media Play (anyone remember Media Play?) rather than the more popular, well-known band, because there is nothing like discovering a new favorite just by taking a risk. Hell, I bought Motley Crue and Guns n’ Roses before they were cool! I was the same way during my concert-going days. I’d always go early to catch the opening acts, even though the venue would be half empty and everyone else only seemed to care about the headliner. But, how else do you get the thrill of discovering an up and coming band that can in turn become your favorite new band if you don’t give them a try? My brother and I (and half of Nashville, mind you) were recently blown away by Vintage Trouble, the opening act for The Who at the Bridgestone Arena. So good! But if we hadn’t gone to the concert early, we may never have experienced the joy that is this band. (Although, I rather think it won’t be long before the rest of the world catches up in learning what a great band Vintage Trouble is!)

Bottom line, if you don’t like the unheard of author, close the book. But who knows? You may be reading the next best-selling author. Or, you may just find the book an enjoyable change of pace from the ordinary. You won’t know if you don’t try it. And, get this, if you like the author, you can always pass the word. Heck, you can help make or break careers, when you think about it.

(Now, getting past the covers of some books, especially those in the self-published pile, is another matter entirely. If the cover looks silly or amateurish, or the back cover copy is sloppy or poorly written, you can bet the inside of the book will be too. So, yeah, I do judge books by their cover. Don’t you?)

But, getting back to the matter of ebooks…Another encouraging aspect about the above post is that the ebook readers are serious readers looking for a good read, and they are willing to put down good money in search of that read. That’s good to know. So, even though I personally prefer print, I will make every effort when the time comes to make certain all of my stories are available in whatever format my readers are most comfortable with, including ebooks.

Do you really own your ebooks?

On another related topic, those ebooks you think you’ve been buying? They may not belong to you after all. Read this to see why, then come on back to read the rest of this post.

So, not only do Amazon and other ebook companies know what you’re reading and how far you’ve read, but they can take your ebook away from you if you violate their terms of service.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think they should be allowed to do that, no matter what the terms are. Once you buy something, it’s yours. Plain and simple. Take something away from me after I’ve put real money down for it,  I’ll take you to court for theft.

In other ebook news, the city of New York is now partnering with Amazon to bring school text books to students in the form of ebooks.

Finally, if this topic has been too serious for you and you’ve made it this far, here’s something fun you can’t do with ebooks.

Do you read ebooks? Do you buy the bargain ebooks or go for more established authors? Feel free to start a discussion in the comments section.

Kyle Busch crash another wake-up call for NASCAR on safety

Kudos for NASCAR and Daytona International Speedway for their quick response to Saturday’s horrific accident involving Kyle Busch. Officials plan to begin adding soft tire barriers around all portions of the track not already protected by SAFER barriers. But, why is it we have to wait for something like this to happen before anyone does something about it?

Busch was seriously injured after his car was collected in a multi-car wreck in Saturday’s Xfinity Series at Daytona. His car careened across the infield just past pit road and slammed head-on into a concrete wall there. According to reports, he suffered a compound break of his lower right leg and a mid-foot fracture of his left foot. He’ll be out of action indefinitely while he recovers.

He was lucky. He could just as easily have been killed.

Incredulously, Daytona did not have SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) Barriers in place at this portion of the track. SAFER barriers, consisting of giant Styrofoam-like blocks, were built around race tracks to minimize the impact of cars crashing into the walls. The softer walls were introduced in 2002 and installed on most NASCAR and Indy tracks by 2005, according to ask.com.

For the most part, however, the softer walls only line the outside walls of any given race track.

Following Saturday’s crash, dozens of fellow drivers leveled harsh criticism over the lack of safer walls around the entire track. NASCAR and track president Joie Chitwood III, in turn, pledged to take immediate measures to put buffers in place on any exposed concrete walls. Temporary tire buffers should be in place prior to today’s Daytona 500 and permanent SAFER Barriers will be added after the race.

It’s great news, however overdue.

NASCAR and each of its track operators must have known that anything can happen in a race. Yes, the odds are low that anyone might hit that portion of the wall. But to play roulette with driver’s lives, is a gamble that should never be taken.

Sadly, this gamble has now cost the sport one of its best, most popular (and most hated) drivers for the foreseeable future.

NASCAR safety measures

Admittedly, NASCAR has made efforts to increase safety of its drivers, crews and even fans over the years. The SAFER Barriers are a perfect example.

Restrictor plates were added to stock cars in 1988 to help reduce horsepower. They became mandatory after driver Bobby Allison crashed and his car spiraled into the fencing around the track at Talladega Speedway.

After losing the greatest driver of this era, Dale Earnhardt, in a head-on crash at Daytona in 2001, the sport made use of the HANS device, a sort of harness fastened to the driver’s helmet,  mandatory. The safety measure is designed to keep drivers from suffering life-threatening injuries to their head and neck in the event of a sudden stop.

Roof flaps were added to NASCAR vehicles after several terrifying crashes in the 1990s in which cars rolled over multiple times on high-speed tracks like Talladega and Michigan. The flaps open and disrupt air flow when a car gets sideways and air tries to get under the vehicles and force them up and over. They were further modified in 2013.

Taking chances

Not all of the improvements have been well-received, nor widely embraced when first introduced.

Many argue the advent of restrictor plates is responsible for the multi-car wrecks at Daytona and Talladega that have become the norm, and increase the potential for serious injury. Spectators and announcers alike bide their time just watching for “the big one” to occur. And, it inevitably does.

The HANS device was actually designed in the early 1980s, but didn’t become a mandatory safety device until after Earnhardt’s death. Many drivers, including Earnhardt, derided the device as being too confining and actually stated they would rather take their chances. It took Earnhardt’s death to end any arguments to the contrary.

Now we have an obvious lack of SAFER Barriers.

Amazingly, some drivers expressed surprise after Saturday’s crash that there were no barriers on that part of the track. They were quick to criticize NASCAR for its lack of safety, but did any of them ever walk the track to see where the potential dangers lied? Did any of them petition NASCAR to add SAFER Barriers to exposed walls?  Shouldn’t drivers demand safety measures be met at all tracks before blindly hopping behind the wheel?

Driving any race car – whether it’s a stock car, Formula One car, Indy car or funny car – is inherently risky. It takes tremendous courage for drivers to suit up and go wheel to wheel with other drivers at such high speeds for hundreds of miles. The speed and the thrill of chasing the checkered flag obviously outweigh the dangers for some. (I know I can get white-knuckled just driving at 75 mph on the interstate, let alone what these drivers do.)

It takes a special sort of individual to perform at that level week after week. Unfortunately, it takes a terrible tragedy like Busch’s wreck to bring about change.

Addendum (7-7-15):

It was great to see Daytona and NASCAR follow through on their pledge to expand soft walls at Daytona this past weekend as an added safety measure. But Kyle Busch also makes a valid point about the need to eliminate infield grass areas that add peril to cars as they are skidding out of control. I hope we see this addressed soon.

Lastly, kudos to NASCAR for its safety catch fence that, for the most part, did its job in keeping Austen Dillon’s car from careening into the grand stands on the final lap of the race. Though some debris did get through and caused a few fans minor injuries, the catch fence did its job. What’s more, NASCAR’s commitment to safety in the construction and design of its vehicles also did its job Sunday as Dillon was able to walk away from what otherwise could have been a deadly accident.

Additional reading:

Earnhardt Jr. credits NASCAR for safety efforts