Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A Review of Ann Patchett's latest, Commonwealth, which hits bookstores on September 13

Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett, is the 7th novel of hers that I've read.  The 1st 5:

The Patron Saints of Liars
The Magician's Assistant
Bel Canto

I really liked a lot.  In fact, Bel Canto is on my rec table.  It was also where I 1st learned about the Stockholm Syndrome.  But then I read #6, State of Wonder, and was pretty disappointed.  And now with #7 I'm disappointed again - maybe slightly less so than with SoW.

The front flap of the book gives a pretty long synopsis.  But I'm only going to quote the 1st paragraph:

On Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating's christening party uninvited.  Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny's mother, Beverly - thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.

It's not that Patchett can't write.  She most definitely can.  To wit (I love that phrase):

"Frank felt a little ping, like someone had just shot her in the neck with a rubber band."
"...she was the cable on which he had pulled himself hand over hand back into his work."
"Franny was left with a dining room that looked like Bacchus had thrown a bash."

I had several problems with the story:
1.  It took about 1/2 the book to get into a rhythm for me.  And then it lost focus the last 1/4.
2.  There were too many characters and too much jumping around.
3.  The characters appeared in different parts of the book at different ages.  I got it each time it happened, but I don't think it did much for the story.
4.  I had none/zero/no emotional connections to any of them - 2 sets of parents, 6 kids, and countless step-children, cousins, etc.  How often does that happen? - especially when I tear up during ATT commercials!

For me, it's a 2.5/4.

HOWEVER, I will also praise Patchett for being the co-owner of a private bookstore in her hometown of Nashville, TN.  When she and her partner opened Parnassus Books back in November, 2011, it was at a time when independent bookstores (and even some chains - see Borders) were dropping fast.  With her high profile, Ann Patchett helped reverse the trend.  And now independent bookstores are thriving.  Brava!

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Ramblings of a Scattered Mind - AKA Miscellaneous Musings

It's time for a bunch of random announcements.  There is no sequence to these thoughts except for how they came to mind.  But, By George, they're important!

1.  Natalie Baszile's book, Queen Sugar, is finally coming to the small screen.  As I've mentioned before, Oprah Winfrey's network, OWN, is converting Natalie's book into a series.  I think it's supposed to start September 6 and 7.  Check the TV guide for exact times/days. Remember that the director of Selma, Ava DuVernay, is directing Queen Sugar.  I can't wait.

2.  Local  author Meg Waite Clayton's best-selling and award-winning book, The Race for Paris, is now available in paperback.  Meg was not only our RBC author last year, but I also reviewed Meg's book last August 19 and rated it very highly.  It's an important piece of WWII history.

3.  Our next 2 RBC authors are Rachael Herron, The Ones Who Matter Most, on Tuesday, August 30.  And M.P. Cooley, Ice Shear, on Wednesday, September 28.  Everybody is welcome.  No RSVP is necessary.

4.  We've got 4 upcoming Sunday book signings lined up from 9:30-12:30:
Sept. 11 - Alina Sayre, The Voyages of the Legend (3 books)
Sept. 18 - Marian Lindner, San Francisco
Sept. 25 - Rare Mettle, Ann Bridges
Oct.  16 - Marianne Bickett, Art a la Cart trilogy

5.  Back in the 1st year or 2 of the blog (started in Jan., 2011), I had a couple of months where there were a number of guest bloggers.  The only condition imposed on them was that the blog
needed to have something to do with books.  Not too tough.  Well, the time has come again.  Be ready for some new guest bloggers.

6.  I reviewed an ARC of Fantasy Man, by Nate Jackson, on 8/9.  I have since learned that it will be published on  9/20.

7.  Two Sundays ago, Alfred Jan came to Recycle Books and showed off the books of old-time (30s & 40s) detective stories that he has edited. He also has written introductions, forwards, and afterwords.  As you can see from his bio, this is NOT his day job.

"A practicing optometrist, Alfred Jan collects and writes about pulp magazines.  In 2001, he co-edited with Bill Blackbeard Footprints on a Brain:  The Inspector Allhoff Stories by D. L. Champion (Adventure House).  Later, for Black Dog Books, he edited Death's Detour (2002) and Gallows Heritage (2003), The Surgeon of Souls Collection Volumes 1 and 2, written by Robert Leslie Bellem. He currently writes for Blood 'N' Thunder, a magazine for pulp and old movie fans.  Alfred has a Masters degree in Philosophy specializing in Aesthetics, and has published freelance art criticism."

Here are a few pictures from Alfred's morning at Recycle:

That's it for now.  I will now attempt to be un-scattered.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Myron and Win Are Back!

Just finished an ARC of Harlan Coben's latest Myron Bolitar book - Home. It's #11, and the title fits how I feel about Myron and the gang.  When I got the ARC a month or so ago, I was looking forward to reading it.  I always enjoy this series.  But I didn't realize how much until I finally picked it up.  And then I was a little miffed at myself for not reading it immediately!  It's just so much darn fun.

I'm not sure what got me on a nostalgia track.  But I actually remember where I was when I first started reading Coben and Bolitar.  We were on vacation in Lake Tahoe in the late 1990s.  And we were visiting a shopping center in Tahoe City.  Joni was at her favorite women's clothing store, Fine 'n Funky, in The Boatworks shopping center.  As interested as I am in Joni's clothing (I am, actually, her final arbiter for daily wardrobe choice - I'm just sayin'), I decided to saunter on over to a nice little bookstore across the aisle.  And since it was about 15 years before I started my blog, I was still mostly reading mysteries/suspense/thrillers. I asked the young guy working there if he had any suggestions, and he recommended Coben's 1st book, Deal Breaker.  And there you have it. Since then, I have eagerly read every Coben book (except for the 3 where his nephew, Mickey, is the protagonist).  Counting Home, that makes 26!

Plots are not that critical when you're talking about the Myron Bolitar series.  But I'll give you a quick synopsis anyway:

A decade ago, kidnappers grabbed two boys from wealthy families and demanded ransom, then went silent.  No trace of the boys ever surfaced.  For ten years, their families have been left with nothing but painful memories and a quiet desperation for the day that has finally, miraculously arrived. Myron Bolitar and his friend Win believe they have located one of the boys, now a teenager.  Where has he been for ten years and what does he know about the day, more than half a life ago, when he was taken?  And most critically: What can he tell Myron and Win about the fate of his missing friend?  Drawing on his singular talent, Harlan Coben delivers an explosive and deeply moving thriller about friendship, family, and the meaning of home.

When you read a Bolitar, you are guaranteed a whole bunch of things:

1.  An emotional connection with Myron, Win, Esperanza, Big Cyndi, and Al & Ellen Bolitar (Myron's parents)
2.  Very interesting 2nd string characters:  Nephew Mickey, his girlfriend Ema, Myron's fiancee Terese, Win's cousin Brooke, and some bad guys
3.  Extremely clever dialogue
4.  Laugh-out-loud humor, oftentimes to the point of tears, along with many chuckles and smiles
5.  Very relatable writing
6.  Lots of references to pop culture and current events
7.  Great relationships - Myron with Win, parents, Esperanza/Big Cyndi, Terese
8.  And lots of twists and turns and surprises

I also had my usual assortment of personal connections:

1.  The High Line in Manhattan, which we walked a couple of times while visiting Lauren and Joe
2.  A reference to having a Jacuzzi, which is my uncle (he married my mom's sister) and his family business
3.  A reference to the Stockholm Syndrome, which was the main theme of Ann Patchett's Bel Canto, which I really liked (p.s. I'm reading the ARC of Ann's next book, Commonwealth, and it's only fair)
4.  A character named Chick, which was the name of my uncle - Chick (Giacondo) Jacuzzi

As I mentioned, this is book 11, and Coben has done something in Home that he hasn't done in any of his other Bolitars.  He has chapters with Win being the narrator.  See what you think about that.  I actually liked it.

Home hits the air and print waves 1 month from today, on September 20.  If you've never read Coben or Myron Bolitar before, you will still really like this one.  If you've read all of the other 10 Bolitar books in the series (or at least some/most of them), then you will LOVE this one. These are people that I feel I personally know.  How much better does it get than that?

Monday, August 15, 2016

Recycle Book Club (RBC) Schedule

This is now the official schedule for the RBC.  Take a look.

Tuesday, August 30 - The Ones Who Matter Most, Rachael Herron

Wednesday, September 28 - Ice Shear, M.P. Cooley

Wednesday, October 26 - Mother Daughter Me, Katie Hafner

Wednesday, November 16 - Alabama Blue, Toni Pacini

Wednesday, December 14 - Mending Heartstrings, Aria Glazki

Wednesday, January 25 - The Oracle of Stamboul, Michael David Lukas

Wednesday, February 22 - The Scribe (book 1 of the Irin Chronicles), Elizabeth Hunter

Sunday, August 14, 2016

3.5s and Higher for the First Half of 2016 (plus 6 weeks)

I forgot to give a mid-year report on my highest rated books so far in 2016.  I'm only 45 days past the mid-year mark.  Could be worse.  Anyway, here are my 3.5s, 3.625s, 3.75s, and 4.0s through today.

Eisler, Barry - The God's Eye View
Coben, Harlan - Fool Me Once
Backman, Fredrik - A Man Called Ove
Archer, Jeffrey - Cometh the Hour (book 6 of The Clifton Chronicles)

Hart, John - Redemption Road
Herron, Rachael - The Ones Who Matter Most

Eskens, Allen - The Life We Bury

Boudreaux, Paulette - Mulberry
Sepetys, Ruta - Salt to the Sea
Sweeney, Cynthia D'Aprix - The Nest
Skully, Jennifer & Andre, Bella - Fearless in Love (book 3 of the The Maverick Billionaires)
Gyasi, Yaa - The Homegoing

I've also had 15 3.0s and 3.25s.  So that's a total of 27 books 3.0 or higher out of 46.  I've read a bunch of good stuff so far this year.

That's it.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The August Books Inc. Tuesday Night Book Club Selection Is A Good One

I enjoyed Amour Provence, by Constance Leisure.  The novel takes place in a small, wine-growing village in Provence.  It starts in 1978 and goes until, I think, now. That was the only thing about the book that I didn't like.  The 1st 3 chapters gave us dates so we knew how many years had passed from one chapter to the next.  The last 6 chapters didn't do that.  I say either have all of them with dates or none.  Constance didn't consult me.  Her bad.  But I quibble.  That's a fairly small criticism; more of an annoyance than a rating dropper.

There really is no plot to speak of.  For most of the book, each chapter introduces us to one or more characters.  I enjoy that in a book.  From the middle on, there is some crossover. And, finally, we get a modified version of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet and Love Me Two Times kind of ending.  I'm okay with that, as long as it makes sense and isn't forced.  Constance does it well.

Even though the book mostly takes place in one village, we get a real sense of the hierarchy that existed (exists?) in that region of the world.  We learn that Arabs, especially those that came from the Maghreb (Northern Africa, West of Egypt), and from Algeria, in particular. are treated as 2nd class citizens.  The historical reason for that is because France controlled Algeria until the Algerians fought and won their independence in 1962. That meant that a lot of French living in Algeria ended up losing their land and businesses when they were expelled.  But besides the Arabs, even the French that do not come from, or belong to, a wine-growing family are treated differently.  This was evident even among the friends of Didi, who is one of the main protagonists.

Even though the book doesn't begin until 1978, we still get some WWII history about the German occupation of France through the story of Euphemie, one of the older characters (duh!).  I like the way Constance interjects Euphemie's story, in the same way that Jodi Picoult did it in The Storyteller.  Having been a history major in college (that did me a lot of good in the working world!), I really enjoy learning history through novels.  That's one of the reasons why I liked Ruta Sepetys' books so much.  It's a painless way to learn.

And since I haven't said this yet, Amour Provence is a VERY well written book.  I sometimes have trouble with books that have long paragraphs and that are pretty descriptive.  And there may have been a few moments where I had to tell myself to focus. But I can't dispute the fact that I actually enjoyed Constance's writing.  Maybe there's still hope for me!

ONE PERSONAL (and slightly inappropriate) STORY:  Although I probably shouldn't tell you this, I'm going to anyway.  Late in the book, one of the main characters is in a forest, surrounded by poplars.  Okay, so back in 1992, my father passed away.  Joni and I were at the mortuary with our BFFs Alan and Lanie.  The mortician, who was very pretty, was telling us what our coffin wood choices were.  She leaned forward, and with very pouty lips (I swear this is true), she puffed out "Pine or poplar?"  If you don't believe me, you can ask any of my 3 companions that were there that day.  And if you knew my father, you would know that he would have been pleased!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Fantasy Man, Nate Jackson's 2nd Book - The Man Can Write

Back in December of 2013, I wrote a review of Nate Jackson's 1st book, Slow Getting Up (12/17/13),  and showed pictures of Nate's appearance at the RBC (12/25/13).  Besides all of us liking his 1st book, he was great in person.

And now he's ready to release #2.  I got the ARC of Fantasy Man through the publisher, and it comes out in September.  Never mind the back flap.  Here's a quick summary in my very own words (surprised? - you should be):

Nate has been out of the NFL for 6 years.  Over the last 4 of those, he has been in a fantasy football league with his buddies.  And he starts the 2015 football season as the 2-time defending champion.  This book is about that season and that fantasy football league. BUT WAIT!  It's about a whole lot more than that.  To wit (does anybody use that expression anymore?):

1.  Nate talks about both high school and college football playing days.
2.  He discusses his connection with the Will Smith movie, Concussion, and the whole topic of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy).
3.  Nate gives us some eye-opening statistics.  I'll tell you one, even though I hate giving away spoilers.  Because of PTSD, "Twenty-two U.S. veterans commit suicide every day in this country."  Every Day!  Isn't that crazy?
4.  We get to learn about big-time fantasy football superpowers FanDuel and DraftKings - and how they are financially connected to the NFL and ESPN.  You don't want to miss that.
5.  And the one topic that Nate talks about the most is (drumroll, please) medical marijuana. Nate feels VERY strongly about using marijuana instead of all of those medicines that the players get now.    And he backs up his opinion many times throughout the book.  This, alone, is reason enough to read Fantasy Man.

There are 5 good reasons to read Nate's book listed above.  HOWEVER, THERE'S MORE. Nate's writing is terrific.  He's funny.  He elicits emotions.  And he even makes up words. How about "mandolescent" and "ear candy?"  But besides that, he is one clever writer.  Let me give you some  examples:

"Everything is right around the corner when you're going in circles."
"I have strayed from my formula.  But what is formula but lack of breast milk?"
"Personal truth becomes universal truth if you speak it."
"Seventy percent of life is knowing when to leave."

He's got a million of them.  And, don't worry.  You don't have to be a (fantasy) football fan to enjoy Fantasy Man.  This was true of Slow Getting Up too.  When we had him for book club back in December, 2013, many of our members, who are not football fans, still enjoyed the book.  I predict that this will be the case here too.  Give it a shot.