Sunday, June 25, 2017

Mississippi Blood, Book 3 of Greg Iles Natchez Burning Trilogy

Well, I have finally finished Greg Iles' Natchez Burning trilogy.  #3, Mississippi Blood, is a mere 692 pages (vs 791 and 804 for 1 & 2).   But at times it felt a little long.  I reviewed book 1, Natchez Burning, in 2 parts - 9/29/14 and 10/2/14.  And it was my #1 book in 2014 - obviously a 4/4!  I reviewed book 2, The Bone Tree,  on 6/18/15.  And I gave that one a 3.25.  It was slightly boring in parts.  So what did I rate Mississippi Blood?  This one is a 3.5.  It had a different pattern than #2.  In MBlood, I thought the 1st part of the book was a bit slow.  Then the middle few hundred pages were very strong, centered on a trial.  And the last 80 pages of the book, although the climax, didn't really work that well for me.  But as I said at the end of my review of The Bone Tree, this is still a very good book.  That's how top-notch Iles is.  When he's not perfect, he's still a 3.25-3.5.  And as I also said in my review of TBTree, I will always read anything Iles puts out.

If you want to know what the story is about, you can go back to my earlier reviews.  For those of you who have been reading my posts through the years (a big thank you to my immediate family), I don't want to bore you.  And for the rest of you, it might be helpful to either read my reviews of 1 & 2, or even go on Iles' website or Goodreads and get the summaries.

Let me just do a quick list of the pluses (I've already listed the minuses):

1.  On pages 6-9, the story lists 2 newspaper articles which act to remind the reader of what went on in book 2.  That was a great way of giving us a recap.
2.  Iles is one of a fairly small amount of writers (at least in my experience) who write extremely well but are still very readable.
3.  I learned a bunch of fascinating stuff about the Korean War.
4.  There is one long scene during the trial that reminded me of Jodi Picoult's The Storyteller, which is still my favorite Picoult of all time.
5.  There is an editorial from a local paper that not only synopsizes the trial, but also puts it into historical perspective.  I was super impressed with how Iles did this.
6.  With much of the book centered on the trial, I learned a whole bunch about trial tactics.  It's a great way to learn.
7.  Lest you think that I didn't really care about Penn Cage, Tom Cage, et al, I will tell you that I certainly had some emotional moments.  I don't think I will ever read an Iles and not emotionally connect with his characters.  He's just too good.

When you read 2300 pages of a story, you are bound to have a few slow(er) moments (unless you're Follett).  But don't let that stop you from reading the Natchez Burning trilogy.  Besides a number of unforgettable characters, you will learn a lot about a lot of things, including at least a partial feeling of what it was like to be black in 1960's Mississippi (you can't know the true deal unless you were black and lived it).  Not every page is lighthearted (in fact, most definitely are not!).  But you will certainly get a small taste for how it was.




Friday, June 23, 2017

The Weight of Him by Ethel Rohan (our November RBC author)

Ethel Rohan was born and raised in Ireland.  And this book takes place in rural Ireland.  But I'm happy to say that Ethel now lives in the Bay Area and has agreed to be our RBC author in November.  I'm looking forward to having her there just to hear her speak!  Here's the blurb for The Weight of Him:

At four hundred pounds, Billy Brennan could always count on food.  From his earliest memories he loved food's colors, textures, and tastes.  The way flavors went off in his mouth. Food made everything better.  Until the day Billy's beloved son Michael ended his life.  Nothing could comfort him then.
Determined to honor Michael's memory, Billy undertakes a public weight-loss campaign to raise money for charity - his first step in an ambitious plan to bring himself, his family, and everyone in despair through their pain.  However, Billy's dramatic crusade appalls those close to him who simply want to try to go on, quietly, privately.
Despite Billy's detractors and his demons, he is determined to persist and to reignite hearts, his own most of all.  but it's only if he can confront the truth of the brokenness within and around him that he and others will be able to realize the recovery they need.

Sound good?  It is.  I liked it a lot.  Let me point out a couple of things about The Weight of Him that stood out for me:

1.  I'm a very visual reader.  But Ethel's writing is particularly visual. That's very cool.
2.  This reminds me of A Man Called Ove.  I liked Weight from the beginning.  But it gets better and better as it goes along.
3.  I had lots o' tears.  But better (worse?) than that, I had some moments of flooding.  We're talking blubbering here.
4.  Racheal Herron has 3 books in a genre called mis (short for misery) lit.  She explained it as a story in which something really bad happens at the beginning of the book.  That's certainly the case here.  Does that place this book in the mis lit category?  Seems like it...but what do I know?

I mentioned how visual Ethel's writing is.  Here are a few examples:

1.  "A cold feeling came over Billy's lungs, as if someone had cut away the front panel of his chest."
2.  Referring to a drink, she says "Pink bubbles popped like ungranted wishes."
3.  Talking with his younger son about dying, Billy says "We get reminders about dying, so we don't forget to make the most of living."

I'm definitely recommending The Weight of Him.  And if you happen to be anywhere near Campbell, CA on Wednesday night, November 15, around 7:00, come by and say hello to Ethel.






Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Oath, by Stephen Robert Stein - I've Got a Lot to Say (Surprised?)

The Oath, by Stephen Robert Stein, is a book that definitely needs to be talked about.  And in order to avoid having you fall asleep on me, I'm going to give you a very short recap.  Then I'm going straight to bullet points - things that I liked and things that I didn't like as much.  The book is a 3/4 for me.  So, obviously, I thought it was good overall.  But I believe it could have been much higher.  Here we go.

The book is mostly about WWII and the concentration camps.  There are quite a few characters that take center stage.  But the biggest amount of time is spent on 2 doctors - 1 French Jewish and 1 German Nazi, and their connection.  Please be advised that if you cannot stomach reading about the goings-on in the concentration camps, then I would strongly advise you to consider skipping this book.  It's not an easy read.

Likes:
1.  Like most historical fictions, I learned a lot of stuff about WWII.  For example, did you know that the Jews were considered dangerous to Germany in part because they were prominent in the Communist Party? In every book I read about WWII, I learn some new things.  This book is no exception.
2.  The book starts with an incident in 1974.  Then it goes back 30+ years and slowly comes forward again.  You have that 1st chapter in your mind all the way through the book.
3.  As hard as it was to read, I did feel like I was learning something about life in the concentration camps.  I always prefer to know more, rather than less.  But it's still tough stuff.  I actually don't know if I had any relatives in the camps.  But most of my ancestors came from Eastern Europe.  So it's certainly possible.
4.  I liked the story being told in different voices.
5.  Hypothermia was a condition that is discussed a lot in this book.  I found that to be interesting.
6.  It was also interesting to me to learn about the privations the German citizens endured due to the Allied bombing.  Especially at the end of the war.  We Americans don't really think much about how they suffered.
7.  Although this has nothing to do with the contents of the book, I think it's very cool that the author's 1st book comes after he retires.
8.  His writing is good.  Here's an example in which he describes a medical conference:  "Immense and imposing, it loomed as a storehouse holding acres of exhibits and displays set to trap the wandering doctor with the newest devices - much like the Sirens of The Odyssey with their beautiful voices snared the unsuspecting sailor."

Less-than-Likes:
1.  There is a quote at the beginning of each chapter which I couldn't figure out the source for.  I have a niggling feeling that it's either obvious or was explained and I missed it.
2.  I had a hard time keeping track of everybody's ages.  And since the dates of each chapter tended to go back and forth a bit, it made it that much harder for me to figure out.
3.  I was oftentimes confused (are you seeing a pattern here?) about who was who.  I would recommend that you start writing down names, ages, and dates from the get-go.  That will help you as the book moves along.

Obviously the Likes outweighed the Less-than-Likes by an almost 3-1 margin.  I might have liked it more if I had taken the advice I'm giving you now.  Make some notes.  You'll be glad you did.







Monday, June 19, 2017

Miscellaneous Redux

I've got 2 books-to-movies/tv notes for you, along with an upcoming book that I know you will be interested in.  And I've added a couple of questions to involve you, my faithful(?) readers.  Finally, have you heard of Little Free Libraries?  If you haven't, you're about to.

1.  Stephen King fans:  His book Dark Tower 1 is hitting the big screen August 9.  It stars Matthew McConaughey and Idris Elba.

2.  Queen Sugar fans:  Season 2 of the TV series on Oprah's network, OWN, is starting this coming Tuesday, June 20.  And, wonder of wonders, episode 2 is the next night!  If you watched Season 1, then I know you are as excited as I am.  And if you haven't, I would suggest that you do a quick catch-up (binge watch?) from Season 1 and slide right into Season 2.  It's a very good show.

3.  Local author, Adam Henig, has 2 published books:  Alex Haley's Roots:  An Author's Odyssey and Baseball Under Siege, Under One Roof: The Yankees, the Cardinals, and a Doctor's Battle to Integrate Spring Training.  He's now working on a 3rd that we will, hopefully, see sooner rather than later.  It's called Watergate's Forgotten Hero:  Frank Wills, Night Watchman.  This will be all about the unlikely person who helped expose Watergate.  I will keep you posted on timing.

4.  Have you all heard about the Little Free Libraries?  No?  Well then click on this link and take a look.  It's very cool.  Little Free Library

5.  If any of you would like to do a guest post, let me know.  It would be fun for my readers to get different perspectives than just mine.  You can email me at lloydrrussell@gmail.com and let me know what your subject would be.

6.  Bloggers:  I would love to get short lists of your favorite books.  Again, my readers know what I like.  But you all will have recommendations that will broaden everybody's reading choices.  How can that be a bad thing?

C'est tout, mes amis.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Another Excellent Sally Hepworth Novel

Back on May 17, I reviewed a mother's promise by Sally Hepworth.  And you know how much I enjoyed it.  So I decided to give another one of her books a try (she's got 3, and I've already picked up the 3rd one, the things we keep, from Recycle Books - it's in my TBR pile).  I figured that maybe I read the best one 1st.  And that would be okay.  Uh, Nope.  The Secrets of Midwives is just as good as the mother's promise.  Sally can flat-out write.  What's this one about, you ask?  Let the book's back page tell you:

Neva Bradley, a third-generation midwife, is determined to keep the details surrounding her own pregnancy - including the identity of the baby's father - hidden from her family and coworkers for as long as possible.  Her mother, Grace, finds it impossible to let this secret rest.  The more Grace prods, the tighter Neva holds to her story, and the more the lifelong differences between private, quiet Neva and open, gregarious Grace strain their relationship.  For Floss, Neva's grandmother and a retired midwife, Neva's situation thrusts her back sixty years in time to a secret that eerily mirrors her granddaughter's - one which, if revealed, will have life-changing consequences for them all.  As Neva's pregnancy progresses and speculation makes it harder and harder to conceal the truth, Floss wonders if hiding her own truth is ultimately more harmful than telling it.  Will these women reveal their secrets and deal with the inevitable consequences? Or are some secrets best kept hidden?

There's a bunch of stuff I liked about this book:

1.  The book grabbed me emotionally right away with all 3 main characters (as well as a few of the supporting cast).  I love when that happens.
2.  There was a fair amount of humor (with some good snark), which took me totally by surprise.  I am quite fond of laugh-out-loud moments.
3.  I like how the chapters rotate from Neva to Grace to Floss and back again.  It reminded me of A.R. Silverberry's Wyndano's Cloak (a YA fantasy).  The chapters rotate between 2 teenage girls.  And every time I finished a chapter, I was disappointed that it ended.  And then I would feel the same way at the end of the next chapter.  This book is similar. Each of the 3 have a good story that I wanted to find out more about. And the length of each chapter I thought was perfect.
4.  Now I have to admit that I've never been a teenage girl.  But I do have 2 daughters.  So this description of girlfriend stuff did resonate with me:  "I'd more or less given up on female friends in the seventh grade when I realized that female friendship was practically a religion. Thou shalt not sit next to another friend at lunchtime.  Thou shalt insist you wear my favorite jacket and then get mad when you spill soda on it. Thou shalt not talk to anyone currently being shunned by the group.  In contrast, hanging out with male friends felt like sliding into a pair of old jeans: comfy, predictable, unpretentious."
5.  I certainly learned a few things about midwifery.  Although I don't intend to become one anytime soon, I always appreciate the opportunity to learn something.
6.  All 3 voices are very clear.
7.  Notice that I haven't mentioned chills, tears, et al, yet.  That must mean I didn't experience any of those emotions, right?  WRONG!  There are plenty of them.  With an "Oh, God" thrown in just for the heck of it.
8.  Sally creates real drama with some of the baby deliveries.  You're really worried about the outcome in a couple of cases.  That kind of drama is not easy to convey to the reader.  She makes it look easy.
9.  The writing is crazy good.  As usual, I've got a couple of examples for you:
"But when he took her, he cradled her with the utmost care, barely moving an inch.  He reminded me of a child carrying a mug of hot coffee."
"Lil smiled and a small part of my heart, a broken part, snapped back against the whole - a perfect fit."
"Now we both smiled shyly.  My insides tickled - that feeling when you've won a race and you're just waiting for it to be announced to the crowd."

People, this is just a terrific book.  And I suspect that I will be saying the same thing after I read the things we keep.





Thursday, June 15, 2017

More 3.25s + A Couple of Author Events + The RBC

So I reviewed years 2011-2015 for other 3.25s.  And I discovered that I had NO 3.25s until 2014.  I can't explain why I never rated a book 3.25 the 1st 3 years of blogging.  It's kind of crazy.  Regardless, here are 15 more from the 2014 and 2015 years.

Blossoms and Bayonets - Jana McBurney-Lin (historical fiction/memoir)
The Mathematician's Shiva - Stuart Rojstaczer (religious/literary fiction)
Ten Steps from the Hotel Inglaterra - Linda Gunther (literary fiction)
The Martian - Andy Weir (science fiction)
Forward to Camelot - Susan Sloat/Kevin Finn (historical/literary fiction)
Dismal Mountain - John Billmeier (mystery)
Still Alice - Lisa Genova (literary fiction)
The Rosie Project - Graeme Simsion (literary fiction)
The Bone Tree - Greg Iles (historical/literary fiction, mystery - book 2 of trilogy)
Lawyer Up - Kate Allure (graphic romance)
The English Spy - Daniel Silva (mystery/suspense)
The Race for Paris - Meg Waite Clayton (historical fiction)
Kitchens of the Great Midwest - J. Ryan Stradal (historical/culinary fiction)
Top Secret - W.E.B. Griffin (military/historical fiction)
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - Rebecca Skloot (biography)

Two author events:

1.   I've already told you about this one.  Daniel Silva will be coming to the JCC in Palo Alto on Tuesday, July 18, from 8-9:30.  He will be promoting his latest book in the Gabriel Allon series, House of Spies.  I just bought my tickets tonight.  I hope to see some of you there.

2.  This is one I just found out about.  It's Louise Penny with her next in the Inspector Gamache series.  Louise will be at Bookshop Santa Cruz on August 31 at 7:00.  I read book 1 a year or 2 ago because several people raved about it.  I finished it but decided I didn't need to read any more. As you already know,  though, it is a hugely popular series.

RBC:

This week we had our June RBC meeting.  The book is The Illuminator's Gift by Alina Sayre.  It's a middle-grade fantasy that all of us adults liked. Here is a picture of Alina:



Monday, June 12, 2017

Interview with Co-Owner of Word after Word Books

Last week I posted a bunch of pictures of Word after Word Books, the new bookstore in Truckee, CA.  Now I've got an interview with 1 of the 2 owners, Nicolle Sloane.  Here it is:

1.   How did you end up owning word after word books? I had always wanted to open a bookstore.  Another long-time local bookshop here in town was closing.  So my business partner, Andie Keith, and I joined up and wanted to make sure that Truckee wasn’t without a bookstore.  We opened Word After Word just a couple of months after the other
bookstore closed.

2.    How long have you owned word after word books? We’ve been open since Mid-February, 2017.

3.    Do you have book clubs, kids’ activities, YA groups, etc.? Yes, we do storytime and plan on putting together some great YA bookclubs. We have many teens here on staff, and they are really excited about YA books and have been a huge help in building up our YA section. And, yes, we currently support local book clubs with discounts on their bookclub books. We’re excited to start up a bookclub through our store as well. 

4.    Are you a Tahoe native? No, I am not a native Tahoe gal. I’ve lived in Ohio, Southern and Northern California, and Colorado. 

5.    Did you grow up a bibliophile? Yes. I learned to read at a very early age and was always found with my nose in a book. My parents had books in every nook and cranny in our house. I remember sitting on the floor reading really big books when I was 8 years old. I loved to read my mom’s plays. She was an actor so there were always scripts laying around the house. My dad was a journalist and a writer so we just had reading material everywhere. I’d rather read any day than watch TV.

6.    Why did you pick Truckee to open a bookstore? Andie and I both live in Truckee, and Truckee was losing a bookstore so we saw that there was a huge need to keep a bookstore in town. 

7.    How are you promoting your bookstore? Andie’s husband, Scott, owns a marketing company here in town. He’s been hugely helpful in promoting our store through different avenues.

8.    Do you have author events?  If so, how do contact the authors? Yes. We love doing events. We hope to do more in the coming months!