Friday, January 20, 2017

Top Books - After The 27. And We've Got A New Indie Bookstore!

I've listed my top 27 (too) many times.  You all know what those books are.  BUT, I want to give you 3 more lists - 4.0, 3.75, and 3.5.  Because I still recommend all of those very highly, and they're all on my Sunday morning rec table.  So here are the 4.0s in the 6 years since I started my blog:

2011 - 0

2012 - 1
The Angels Share - Rayme Waters

2013 - 3
Minefields of the Heart (non-fiction) - Sue Diaz
Looking for Me - Beth Hoffman
Me Before You - JoJo Moyes

2014 - 0

2015 - 4
Orphan Train - Christina Baker Kline
Be Careful What You Wish For (The Clifton Chronicles #4) - Jeffrey Archer
Mightier than the Sword (The Clifton Chronicles #5) - Jeffrey Archer
Breathless in Love (The Maverick Billionaires #1) - Jennifer Skully and Bella Andre

2016 - 4
The God's Eye View - Barry Eisler
Fool Me Once - Harlan Coben
A Man Called Ove - Fredrik Backman
Cometh the Hour (The Clifton Chronicles, # 6) - Jeffrey Archer

If you add these 12 to the uppermost 27, that means that I've only read 39 total books that are 4.0 or higher.  Do you realize what a small percentage of total books read this number represents?  Pretty staggering, I would say.

NEW BOOKSTORE:  Yep, we've got a new independent bookstore in the Bay Area.  Book Passage has added a 3rd store.  This one is in Sausalito. Pretty darn cool.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017


This month is the 3-year anniversary of our book club, the RBC.  Yep, in January of 2014 we had our 1st book club meeting.  And the author on January 7, 2014 was Michael David Lukas.  The book we read back then was The Oracle of Stamboul.  Tonight, on our anniversary, we had...Michael David Lukas.  And the book?  You guessed it - The Oracle of Stamboul.  The good news is that Michael is only about a year away from the publication of book #2.  Michael, we are anxiously awaiting it.

We had a big crowd tonight, even though the weather was abysmal.  We actually had 20 people there (not counting my grandkids, Haley and Ryan, who were roaming the shelves of Recycle Books).  And of those, 15 had read the book.  The combined rating score is one of the highest we have had in our 3 years.  And big kudos to Michael David Lukas, who braved the nasty weather to drive all the way to Campbell from Berkeley.  Definitely not a pleasant drive.  Thanks Michael.

Here are a few pictures from tonight:

Monday, January 16, 2017

TODAY IS BLOGGING ANNIVERSARY #6! And (some of) You Get Free Books!

Yep, today is my 6th blogiversary (I didn't make that word up!)!  And in honor of exponentially increasing my readership (ok, there were a couple of new sign-ups in 2016), I'm running a raffle.  It's not really a contest because you don't actually have to know anything.  All you have to do is enter some comment at the bottom of this post.  It can be 1 word.  It can even be insulting.  And after 1 week, I will draw 3 names. Each of the 3 winners will have the option of picking 1 of my top 27, and I will send it to you.  I will even pay the postage!

Take a look at the list, and get your selection ready:

Top Group (12) -
Wish You Well - David Baldacci
Shogun - James Clavell
My Losing Season (non-fiction) - Pat Conroy
South of Broad - Pat Conroy
The Language of Flowers - Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Pillars of the Earth - Ken Follett
Winter of the World - Ken Follett
Roots - Alex Haley
11/22/63 - Stephen King
Lonesome Dove - Larry McMurtry
The Source - James Michener
The Glass Castle (non-fiction) - Jeanette Walls

2nd Group (13) -
Beach Music - Pat Conroy
Fall of Giants - Ken Follett
World without End - Ken Follett
The Lost Saints of Tennessee - Amy Franklin-Willis
Iron House - John Hart
The Last Child - John Hart
Saving CeeCee Honeycutt - Beth Hoffman
The Matarese Circle - Robert Ludlum
Exile - Richard North Patterson
The Storyteller - Jodi Picoult
Exodus - Leon Uris
The Plot - Irving Wallace
Ken Follett - Edge of Eternity

3rd Group (2) -
Goodnight June - Sarah Jio
Splinters of Light - Rachael Herron

P.S.  I will provide you winners with your choice of print, e, or audio.  I mean, c'mon.  How accommodating is that?

Saturday, January 14, 2017

A Book Launch for Terry Shames (at Books, Inc., in Berkeley) - An Upcoming RBC Author

Last night Joni and I trekked to Berkeley (yes, it was a Friday afternoon in rush hour traffic - but, heh,  it was my only chance to meet Terry before she comes to our RBC meeting on March 22!) for Terry Shames' launch of her new book in the Samuel Craddock mystery series.  This is book 6, An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock, AND a prequel.  When Terry was asked by a very astute audience member(!) which book would be better to start with - the prequel or #1 - she thought it over and with the help of her moderator (who I will talk about in the next paragraph), she suggested #1, A Killing at Cotton Hill.  That's probably for the best since that's the one the RBC will be reading.

So, the moderator is a well-known mystery author in her own right. Susan Shea has written 3 books in the Dani O'Rourke series.  And in May she will be coming out with her 4th book, which will begin a new series. Maybe we will be able to talk her into coming down to our book club sometime in the future. What do you think, Susan?

Here are some pictures from the event:

  Terry is on the left and Susan on the right.  Yep, that cake has a knife in the middle of it.  And, yep, the red is supposed to be blood.

P.S.  This was our 1st time at Books, Inc. in Berkeley.  It's located on Shattuck, a couple blocks North of University Avenue.  Being an East Bay native, and a Cal graduate, it felt extremely familiar.  Berkeley has a vibe that is unlike any other part of the Bay Area.  It was really fun to be there.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

A Gentleman in Moscow - Amor Towles, Part 2 (Do my clever titles never cease?)

Now I'm ready to get into the specifics of this book.  Let me start by giving you the inside flap synopsis:

When, in 1922, the thirty-year old Count (Alexander Rostov) is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, he is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin.  An indomitable man of erudition and wit, Rostov must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel's doors.
Unexpectedly, the Count's reduced circumstances provide him entry to a much larger world of emotional discovery as he forges friendships with the hotel's other denizens, including a willful actress, a shrewd Kremlinite, a gregarious American, and a temperamental chef.  But when fate suddenly puts the life of a young girl in his hands, he must draw on all his ingenuity to protect the future she so deserves.

First of all, I really like the fact that the book takes place in Moscow, shortly after the revolution.  It's always fun to get a feel for a different time AND a different country.

Secondly, the book has a whole bunch of memorable characters.  I would even use the word indelible.  In fact, I can honestly say that Alexander Rostov is one of the most memorable literary figures that I have ever come across.  I daresay (really?) that I will remember him long after I have forgotten most of the other "memorable literary figures" I have come across.

Thirdly, and you know this doesn't happen often, I got a takeaway from this book.  It's interesting that those can happen from all different genres.  I mean, who would expect that it could come from an erotic romance (I only read that one because it was written by a local author - I swear!), a regular(?) romance, and now a work of literary fiction?  Here it is:

No doubt there have been moments when your life has taken a bit of a leap forward; and no doubt you look back upon those moments with self-assurance and pride.  But was there really no third party deserving of even a modicum of credit?  Some mentor, family friend, or schoolmate who gave timely advice, made an introduction, or put in a complimentary word?  How true is that, people?

Fourthly, there are just a bunch more passages that absolutely struck me as genius.  But I just can't take up any more of your reading time to quote them...or can I?  Okay, one more:

Surely, the span of time between the placing of an order and the arrival of appetizers is one of the most perilous in all human interaction. What young lovers have not found themselves at this juncture in a silence so sudden, so seemingly insurmountable that it threatens to cast doubt upon their chemistry as a couple?  What husband and wife have not found themselves suddenly unnerved by the fear that they might not ever have something urgent, impassioned, or surprising to say to each other again? So it is with good reason that most of us meet this dangerous interstice with a sense of foreboding.

That's really it...except for this one:  The fourth-floor hallway was empty and still.  Behind the closed doors slept the practical and predictable, the cautious and comfortable.

Fifthly, I had my usual assortment of cultural references and random mind wanderings:
1.  Towles uses the word expunged.  I couldn't help but think of the Steve Martin/Queen Latifah movie, Bringing Down The House.  The movie wasn't very good, but there is a scene where Martin uses the word in a very distinctive and emphatic way.
2.  Towles says "In short, Fatima knew a flower's fragrance, color, and purpose better than a bee."  Of course, this made me think of The Language of Flowers, one of my top 12 all-time.
3.  The Count and his American diplomat friend are talking about Socrates.  So, don't ask me why, I thought of the movie Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.  Do you remember that one of the characters pronounces Socrates name like So-crates (with a long a)?  I thought of that and just cracked up.

That's it.  I mean, there's more.  But I'm not doing Part 3.  If you want something literary, but that also has memorable characters, an exotic locale, and a very good story, then A Gentleman of Moscow is for you.

Monday, January 9, 2017

A Gentleman in Moscow - Amor Towles, Part 1

There's only been 1 time where I have divided a review into 2 parts (Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande - 12/9 & 12/13/15).  Now there will be a 2nd time.  A Gentleman in Moscow is a really difficult book to review. On the one hand, it is as well-written a book as I have ever read. Literally every word is perfect.  And the way he combines 2 or 3  or 4 elements into 1 sentence is crazy-good.  On the other hand, it is so well-written that it is the antithesis of a page-turner.  You have to read every word. Anybody who has followed my reviews for any length of time (my 6-year anniversary comes up 1 week from today!) knows that I am the poster child for non/un-literary books.  In fact, prior to AGiM, the closest to literary I ever get was Pat Conroy.  He was and is probably the epitome of the combination of great writing and readability.

So why am I making such a fuss over this one?  Because it's just so darn well done.  And why am I dividing the review into 2 parts?  Because I just have to quote several passages.  So bear with me.  I'm about 90 pages from the end, and I will give you details in Part 2.  But for this one, I'm going to give you a few examples of Towles' writing.  Take a look at what I mean by how well-written this book is:

...the Bolsheviks assembled whenever possible in whichever form for whatever reason.  In a single week, there might be committees, caucuses, colloquiums, congresses, and conventions variously coming together to establish codes, set courses of action, levy complaints, and generally clamor about the world's oldest problems in its newest nomenclauture.  (This book starts shortly after the revolution in 1917.)

...If they (ghosts) wander the halls of night, it is not from a grievance with or envy of the living.  Rather, it is because they have no desire to see the living at all.  Any more than snakes hope to see gardeners, or foxes the hounds.  They wander about at midnight because at that hour they can generally do so without being harried by the sound and fury of earthly emotions.  After all those years of striving and struggling, of hoping and praying, of shouldering expectations, stomaching opinions, navigating decorum, and making conversation, what they seek, quite simply, is a little peace and quiet.

Even as he turned the little handle (a coffee grinder) round and round, the room remained under the tenuous authority of sleep.  As yet unchallenged, somnolence continued to cast its shadow over sights and sensations, over forms and formulations, over what has been said and what must be done, lending each the unsubstantiality of its domain.

With the instincts of convicts who discover the gates of their prison open, the individual oranges rolled in every direction to maximize their chances of escape.  In a flash, Andrey had extended his arms in a grand circumference to fence them in.  But one of the oranges dodged the maitre d's reach and shot across the counter - headed straight for the absinthe!  Dropping his chopper, Emile lunged and plucked the glass from the counter in the nick of time.  The orange, which was gaining in confidence, dashed behind the fennel, jumped from the counter, thudded to the floor that separated Emile's kitchen from the rest of the world swung inward, sending the orange spinning back across the floor in the opposite direction.

Do you see what I'm talking about?  The writing is insane.  But it's so good that you have to take the time (sometimes twice) to really read the words.  All in all, I would say that it is an effort well worth taking.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Another Memoir - Another Crazy Childhood

You know that I have read some pretty unbelievable memoirs in my day(s); the most recent being Toni Pacini's Alabama Blue (an RBC author).  Well, I've got another one for you.  It's called Really Enough: A True Story of Tyranny, Courage and Comedy, by Margaret Zhao, with help from Kathleen Martens.  But this one is very different from the others I've read.  Why?  Because it takes place in China.  What makes it so different?  Margaret was a young child when her family, which was in the privileged class, took a dive thanks to Mao.  They went from the top of society to the very bottom.  In fact, they were specifically placed below the agrarian field workers.  Talk about your classic flip-flop!
You basically have to read it to believe it.

How did I find Margaret and her book?  Thanks go to Ann Bridges, local author extraordinaire and a friend of Margaret's.  In fact, Ann was our December author for our corporate book club in Pleasanton.  And she recommended Margaret, who is also in the East Bay.  Well, if she's going to be a book club author, then, obviously, I need to read her book!  And it is a jaw-dropper.

This book will cause to tear up, smile, and do a whole bunch of head-shaking.  You will marvel, in not such a good way, over what Margaret and her family had to go through.  I will just quote a couple of passages for you.  The 1st takes place in China, and the 2nd in the U.S., right after Margaret comes over.

Having no means to earn money or points to provide for the family, Father borrowed money from others.  It turned out borrowing money was often done, but paying back was seldom seen.  Especially at the New Year, people flowed to our house asking for repayment. Sometimes they were patient walking away empty handed.  Most of the time they were rude and angry, demanding money right there, right then, threatening to tear the house apart or storming away, promising to be back again soon.  Somehow, Father always happened to be absent during these visits.  So, whenever strangers walked in the direction of our house, our bodies shook in terror, and our hearts sank.  (P. 61)

The excitement of the newness turned from light to heavy with every single daily thing I had to do.  Even the simplest thing exploded into a hundred pieces like having to memorize each petal of a rose, its shape, its color, its placement on the bloom; it felt overwhelming and impossible.  Eating became which utensil, where to put the fork, how to use the fork, where to put it at the end, napkins on your lap, what is this food, how do you eat it, how does this faucet work?  I simply want to wash my hands!  Opening a door, showering, telephoning, and the machinery - washers, dryers - were all a mystery to be solved.  My mind could not stop the incessant scanning of the world around me.  The automatic dryer made me feel sad that the sun had no purpose.  It made no sense to use up electricity in sunny California, to not to hang the clothes to enjoy the benefits of the free sun.  There was no fear of frozen standing pants in this delightful place.  Soon, the threads of every common thing in my new life wove themselves into a dense and heavy blanket that day by day dropped down upon my happy spirit, suffocating me, making my limbs feel so heavy, weighing down my soul, wrapping me in self-pity.  (PP. 301-2)

There's a lot of tough reading in Really Enough.  But the end result is worth it.  Some of the things that Margaret ends up doing (and becoming) are pretty darn inspirational.  Do you want a memoir that shows you what perseverance looks like?  Then get a hold of Really Enough.  It will maybe make you reconsider how hard you (I!) think you (I) have it.