Saturday, December 16, 2017

My 2nd 4/4 of 2017! - Close Enough to Touch, by Colleen Oakley

I have read a lot of very good books this year.  When I actually do a count, I imagine I will have at least 2 dozen books with a rating of 3.5 or higher.  But I was surprised to learn today that I only had one 4/4, prior to Colleen Oakley's Close Enough to Touch (btw, it's A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles).  This is so darn good.  I'm going to blurb you right away:

Jubilee Jenkins has a rare condition:  she's allergic to human touch.  After a nearly fatal accident, she became reclusive, living in the confines of her home for nine years.  But after her mother dies, Jubilee is forced to face the world - and the people in it - that she's been hiding from.
Jubilee finds safe haven at her local library where she gets a job.  It's there she meets Eric Keegan, a divorced man who recently moved to town with his brilliant, troubled, adopted son.  Eric is struggling to figure out how to be the dad - and man - he wants so desperately to be.  Jubilee is unlike anyone he has ever met, yet he can't understand why she keeps him at arm's length.  So Eric sets out to convince Jubilee to open herself and her heart to everything life can offer, setting into motion the most unlikely love story of the year.

I don't really know how to begin this review.  I've got so much to talk about.  But I will give it a try.  Here goes:

1.  It's been a long time since I've had a takeaway from a book.  Well, I got one here.  There is a scene between Eric and his daughter, Ellie, in which Eric had no idea what Ellie was thinking.  He is flabbergasted when she tells him.  What's the takeaway you ask?  It's that you can't always know what somebody is thinking unless they decide to let you in on it.  So don't judge at least until you know what's going through the other person's mind.  I had a takeaway from another book about not judging someone unless you have experienced what they have gone through.  This one is an adjunct of that.
2.  As the blurb says in the last sentence, this is a fantastic love story. Does the guy get the girl, or vice versa?  You'll have to read it to find out. I will tell you, though, that the ending reminded me of Stephen King's 11/22/63 (and I'm sure you remember what I thought of that book!). Both King and Oakley had a chance to take the easy way out...and didn't.
3.  The key relationship is between Eric and Jubilee, obviously.  But Jubilee has other relationships that grabbed me nearly as hard as the one she has with Eric (I'm not telling you anything more than that).  And Eric has significant moments with his two kids.  This book is NOT a one-trick pony.
4.  Wow did I get hit with tons of emotional moments.  But here's the funny part.  It didn't start really affecting me until about halfway through the book.  And from that point on...BOOM!  It's a little bit like A Man Called Ove.  It just grew and grew on me.  I liked CEtT a lot from the get-go.  But it took a while before I started getting gobsmacked.  (P.S. There is a moment where I think my heart melted a little bit.  We'll discuss it after you've read the book.)  So, if you are soft-hearted, like me, and prone to emotional upheavals, like me, then be prepared for chills, OMGs, Holy Mackerels, and lots and lots of tears.  Don't say I didn't warn you.  But you will still thank me when you finish.
5 & 6.  I have just made an important decision.  I'm going to give you a Part II for this blog.  I want to give you some examples of Colleen's excellent writing.  And I also want to tell you about several parts of the book that resonated with me on a personal level (besides the takeaway, that is).  Stay tuned.


Saturday, December 9, 2017

Review of A Torch Against the Night, Sequel to An Ember in the Ashes, by Sabaa Tahir

Back on March 15 of this year, I wrote a review of An Ember in the Ashes, book 1 of a fantasy series written by Sabaa Tahir.  I liked it so much (3.75/4) that I went out and bought #2, A Torch Against the Night, the next day!  It only took me 8.5 months before I finally got to the sequel.  I can't tell you why it took so long.  But it is what it is.

Okay, so did #2 measure up?  Not exactly.  It was still good, but not as good as the original.  As I'm sure you remember(!), I just went through this with Jamie Ford's latest, Love and Other Consolation Prizes.  I liked it, but I liked Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet and Songs of Willow Frost better.  It's really unfair because a 3.25/4 (my rating for this one and for LaOCP) is a darn good rating.  It's just not a 3.75.  Let me tell you why by comparing it to the 5 very positive bullet points that I listed for #1:

1.  #1 had 2 main protagonists, and the chapters flipped back and forth. #2 had 3 main protagonists, which I thought was fine.  I looked forward to all 3 perspectives.
2.  There was a lot of suspense in #1.  This one was also suspenseful. And there was a very big surprise about 3/4 of the way through.  That was cool.
3.  I really got into the romances and almost romances from #1.  In #2, not so much.
4.  This was the crusher.  I only got emotional a few times.  It's not that I didn't care, because I did.  It's just that I wasn't as invested in the characters as I hoped to be based on my reactions in #1.
5.  It was still well-written.  But, for me, it just didn't flow quite as smoothly as #1.

I'm going to add a #6.  And this is going to sound really dumb:

6.  There was too much senseless violence.

You're probably thinking "Huh?"  It's really hard to explain.  Remember when I said in #1 that there was a scene so heinous that I had to stop reading for a little bit?  Well, that happened a lot in this book.  I never stopped reading, though, because I think I became a little inured to it. Go figure.

I want to emphasize that A Torch Against the Night is a very good book. If you read An Ember in the Ashes, then you will want to read ATAtN. Several people that I know and trust liked this one as well as the first one.  It definitely could just be me.  As the professor in my poli sci class said in response to a student who prefaced his comment by saying that he could be wrong, "We'll concede that possibility."

Monday, December 4, 2017

#3 for Karma Brown...and Another Winnah!

Karma Brown has written 3 books:  Come Away with Me (review on 10/31/15), The Choices We Make (9/19/16), and the latest, In This Moment.  The only other author who has written 3 out of 3 terrific books that I can think of (this might be a blog post some day) is Sally Hepworth.  And to be honest with you, I'm kind of blown away by how both of them keep doing it book after book.  So, yes, In This Moment follows in the literary footsteps of Karma's 1st two.  If you read CAWM and TCWM, then I know you will read this one and really not even need my review.  If you haven't, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING ON?  For you Doubting Thomas-es/Tina-s, here's what it's about:

Meg Pepper has a fulfilling career and a happy family.  Most days she's able to keep it all together and glide through life. But then, in one unalterable moment, everything changes.
After school pick-up one day, she stops her car to wave a teenage boy across the street...just as another car comes hurtling down the road and slams into him.
Meg can't help but blame herself for her role in this horrific disaster.  Full of remorse, she throws herself into helping the boy's family as he rehabs from his injuries.  But the more Meg tries to absolve herself, the more she alienates her own family - and the more she finds herself being drawn to the boy's father.
Soon Meg's picture-perfect life is unraveling before her eyes. As the painful secrets she's been burying bubble dangerously close to the surface, she will have to decide:  Can she forgive herself, or will she risk losing everything she holds dear to her heart? 

There were a lot of things about In This Moment (along with her other 2) that I really liked.  For one, she is a really good writer.  But, at the same time, she's very readable.  Those 2 attributes don't always mesh.  For another, it's edge-of-the-seat drama even though it's not a mystery. How does she do that?  But what really stands out in this book is how many times there were circumstances, people, or places that I could relate to:

1.  The accident itself is similar to one that happened to somebody I casually know.  His son crossed the street in front of his high school and got hit.  Tragically, he was killed.
2.  There is an accident from Meg's teenage years that occurred when high school kids were drinking and driving.  One of the passengers was killed.  Another casual acquaintance of mine experienced that with her daughter.  Fortunately, her daughter was injured but was not the one who died.
3.  There is a situation in which Meg was very close to a mother, Emma, while their kids were growing up.  And then she wasn't.  That happened to Joni.  Fortunately, Joni and her friend got back together and, today, couldn't be closer.  I'll let you read about what happens with Meg and Emma.
4.  When Meg's daughter was 6 or 7, she was heartbroken because she wasn't invited to a birthday party by a girl in her class.  Our son, Josh, had that same situation at about the same age.  When he asked the birthday boy why he wasn't invited, he was told that he could invite his 4 best friends...and Josh was #5.  And our youngest child, Lauren, also found herself excluded from a birthday party at roughly the same age. When she questioned the birthday girl, she was told that she couldn't invite her because it was a very expensive party.  Lauren told the girl that her mother should have had a different kind of party.
5.  Brookline, Massachusetts is mentioned.  Our older daughter (middle child), Meredith, lived in Brookline for a year right after she graduated from a college in Northern California.  In fact, she moved to Boston 5 days before 9/11!

That's a lot of connections, don't you think?  Did that make me like, and emotionally connect with, the book more than I otherwise would have? Maybe.  Does that matter?  Nope.  Karma's 1st 2 books did not have storylines that were part of my personal experiences.  But they were books that I still loved.  People, just read her stuff.  I don't care which one you start with because you will read all 3 in a very short period of time.  And they are all standalones.  Would I steer you wrong? Debatable...but not this time!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

It's Time for Some Announcements!

1.  Here's an announcement from RBC member and author, Kate Allure, regarding a couple of upcoming romance writers events:

The Silicon Valley Romance Writers of America is holding two multi-author holiday book signings at Barnes & Noble in San Jose. The first is at the Blossom Hill Store ~ Sun. December 3rd 12-3pm (5353 Almaden Expressway), with the authors: Marina Adair, Elisabeth Barrett, Gayle Parness, Noelle Greene, Nadine Mutas, and Marilyn Vix. The second is at the Stevens Creek Store ~ Sat. December 9th 12-3pm (3600 Stevens Creek Blvd), with these authors: Jenny Andersen, Heatherly Bell, Ava Bradley, Linda S. Gunther, Claire McEwen, and Sonja Rouillard/Kate Allure. It's also a fundraiser for SVRWA and 10% of sales of anything purchased go back to the chapter if you use our Voucher #: Bookfair ID 12259180. Plus we'll have members there wrapping presents for donations. So come out and meet some authors and do some holiday shopping at the same time! 

1.  Books, Inc. has a warehouse sale on 12/9 from 9-4.  Thousands of books will be available from 30-90% off.  The warehouse is located at 1501 Vermont Street in San Francisco.

2.  I know you're excited about John Hart's next book.  It's called The Hush, and it comes out on 2/27/18.  Get in line behind me.

3.  Michael David Lukas, author of The Oracle of Stamboul, and RBC author, has a new book coming out in March, 2018,  It's called The Last Watchman of Old Cairo.  And it's darn good.   Michael has agreed to come to the RBC next Fall.  Can't wait.

4.  This was recently posted by Kerry Lonsdale:
Last month, I had a wonderful dinner with my editors and agent where they presented me with the Diamond Quill Award, commemorating over one million readers across my three titles: Everything We Keep, All the Breaking Waves, and Everything We Left Behind. Considering the number of books on the market, for an author to reach several thousand readers, let alone, several hundred, is quite an achievement. But one million in such a short timeframe? Wow. Just wow. I owe it to you, my friend. Thank YOU for reading my stories.

5.  Here is the most current RBC/book signing schedule:    

Sunday, December 3, 9:30-12:30 - Book Signing - Maddy’s Game (contemporary fiction), Mike Lund

Saturday, December 9, RBC, 5:00 - Soulless (paranormal, steampunk), Gail Carriger

Wednesday, December 13,  RBC - Own It (romance), Elisabeth Barrett

Sunday, December 17, 9:30-12:30 - Book Signing - The Illuminated Kingdom (Book 4 of The Voyages of the Legend - Middle-Grade, YA Fantasy), Alina Sayre

Sunday, January 14, 9:30-12:30 - Book Signing - The Druid’s Gift (fantasy romance), Dante Silva & Vanessa Mozes

*   Sunday, January 14, RBC, 4:30 - The Dating Bender (romantic comedy), Christina Julian

Wednesday, January 24, RBC - Dark Associations (psychological thriller), Marie Sutro

Wednesday, February 21, RBC - Sweet Spot (ice cream memoir), Amy Ettinger

*   Wednesday, March 14, RBC - Freedom Child (literary fiction), Chandra Lee Ingram

Wednesday, March 28, RBC - The Underground River (historical fiction), Martha Conway & The Last Billable Hour (murder mystery), Susan Wolfe

Wednesday, May 23, RBC - Silver Lies (historical mystery), Ann Parker

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Robin Sloan's New One - Sourdough

Sourdough reminds me of Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities.  Or in this case, A Tale of Two Halves.  I thought the 1st half was amazing.  So much so, in fact, that I was thinking 4+/4.  And that went on for a while.  But the 2nd half took a big dip for me.  I can't really explain why.  Maybe my expectations, based on the 1st half, were simply too high.  Regardless, it just didn't measure up.  Despite all of that, I still enjoyed it.  There was a point where I was comparing Robin's writing to both Amor Towles (The Gentleman of Moscow) and Pat Conroy (every book).  Let me give you some examples:

"The sky above the Crowley parking lot was gray and drippy like the undercarriage of a car." (now that's a simile)
"Greatest among us are those who can deploy 'my friend' to total strangers in a way that is not hollow,  but somehow real and deeply felt; those who can make you, within seconds of first contact, believe it."

And Robin definitely mixes in some humor:

"...fries not merely consumed but circulated as social currency; peace offerings, seductions."
"I felt the disorientation of a generous offer that in no way lines up with anything you want to do: like a promotion to senior alligator wrestler, or an all-expenses paid trip to Gary, Indiana."
How about the dough starter called Clint Yeastwood?
And then there's the pathway through the market called the "yellow-tape road."

Of course there are sentences that make me think of programs and places that I know - e.g. Project Runway, Chez Panisse, and Scientology (are you watching Leah Remini's expose on A&E? it's amazing).

So it's not that the book wasn't well-written, because it definitely was.  It was just the story itself that disappointed me as it went along.  Let me say, though, that the ratings on Goodreads (3.82/5) and Amazon (4.4/5) definitely go counter to what I'm telling you.  I will be the 1st to admit that I might be a little too critical.  But I gotta give it to you as I see it.

Whoops.  Forgot to tell you what the book is about:

Lois Clary is a software programmer at General Dexterity, a robotics company with typical San Franciscan world-changing ambitions.  She codes all day and collapses at night, her human contact limited to the two brothers who run the neighborhood hole-in-the-wall from which she orders, and savors, dinner every evening.  Then, disaster!  Visa issues.  The brothers close up shop, and fast.  But they have one last delivery for Lois; their culture, the sourdough starter brought from afar, used to bake their bread.  She must keep it alive, they tell her - feed it daily, play it music, and please, please: learn to bake with it.
Lois is no baker, but she could use a roommate, even if it is a needy colony of microorganisms.  Soon, not only is she eating her own homemade bread, she's providing loaves daily to the General Dexterity cafeteria.  The company chef urges her to take her product to the farmers market.  A whole new world opens up.
When Lois comes before the jury that decides who sells what at Bay Area markets, she encounters a close-knit club with little appetite for new members.  Then an alternative emerges: a secret market, literally underground, that aims to fuse food and technology.  It might be perfect for the programmer-turned-baker.  But who are these people, exactly?  And who is the mysterious Mr. Marrow presiding over it all?

People, I am still recommending this book.  If you agree with my assessment, then it is worth it just for the 1st half.  If, on the other hand, you don't agree with me, and you really like the 2nd half, then you will be extremely happy you read the whole thing.  I hope, for your sake, that it's "If" #2.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Another New Author for Me - and Another Big Hit

By now, you all know that I get a bunch of great recommendations from my East Coast blogger, Melissa.  Well, she recommended Before the Rain Falls, by Camille Di Maio, many months ago.  In fact, I just saw that I messaged the author back in May that I would be reading it soon.  Does May to November constitute "soon?"  I don't believe it does.  Even though I shirked my responsibility at the time, at least I'm making up for it now.  Let's start with the back cover:

After serving seventy years in prison for the murder of her sister, Eula, Della Lee has finally returned home to the Texas town of Puerto Pesar.  She's free from confinement - and ready to tell her secrets before it's too late.
She finds a willing audience in journalist Mick Anders, who is reeling after his suspension from a Boston newspaper and in town, reluctantly, to investigate a mysterious portrait of Eula that reportedly sheds tears.  He crosses paths with Dr. Paloma Vega, who's visiting Puerto Pesar with her own mission: to take care of her ailing grandmother and to rescue her rebellious younger sister before something terrible happens.  Paloma and Mick have their reasons to be in the hot, parched border town whose name translates as "Port of Regret."  But they don't anticipate how their lives will be changed forever.
Moving and engrossing, this dual story alternates between Della's dark ordeals of the 1940s and Paloma and Mick's present-day search for answers - about roots, family, love, and what is truly important in life.

I am a big fan of books that go back and forth...when it's done well (like This Is Us, for example).  And this one is done very well.  I liked everything that takes place in the present but still wanted to know what happened to Della in prison.  In fact, you needed that to really overall appreciate the book.  What else did I like about Before the Rain Falls? I'm glad you asked.

1.  Truly great lead characters - Della, Paloma, and Mick
2.  Romance, which I was not expecting
3.  Several very surprising moments for me, including one real shocker
4.  A definite emotional connection to several of the main protagonists
5.  Some gut-wrenching moments
6.  Well-written (have you heard this from me before, perchance?):
"Her smile.  A smile that made him feel warm inside.  Like there was goodness in the world, and it was right in front of him." - something we've all experienced, I would venture to say
7.  A couple of passages that brought to mind other favorite books, including Goodnight June and The Storyteller
8.  References to Kerry Lonsdale (an RBC author) and Melissa Amster (see paragraph #1 above) in the acknowledgements

How much did I like Before the Rain Falls?  I've already ordered her 1st book, The Memory of Us, from Recycle Books.  I have no choice but to scoot it up the TBR pile very quickly.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Not Your Typical Novella - Redux

Back on October 26 of last year, I wrote a review of a novella by one of my favorite romance authors, Kate Allure.  The book was called Bed & Breakfast & BONDAGE (her caps, not mine).  And it was tied (get it?) into Maria Adair's A St. Helena Vineyard Kindle World.  Everything is the same for #2, except the two protagonists.  Once again, the story takes place at Cat's B&B.  This time, the leads are Damien, who is called Master Edge in the local BDSM chapter (do you think there's actually a charter that's connected to the national BDSM office? probably not, I'm thinkin') and Lyndsey, who is staying at the B&B with 3 girlfriends.

One night, Lyndsey can't sleep and decides to take a walk around the grounds.  As she gets near the boundary of the property, she hears some quiet voices.  She peeks around the corner and sees a bunch of people relaxing in various states of (un)dress.  After a minute or two, the obvious head honcho tells everybody that the break is over and asks them to come back into the building (have you heard the joke about the guy in the underworld who says:  "Okay, everybody.  Break is over.  Back on your heads?" remind me to tell it to you).  Curiosity gets the better of Lyndsey, and she ends up inside the building.  And so it begins.

I basically have the same things to tell you for this one that I mentioned in #1.  It's an erotic romance with 2 strong characters.  It's very well-written, as all of Kate's books are.  And you definitely hope the protagonists can make the romance work.  #2 is a little different from #1 because the focus is almost entirely on the two mains, which definitely works for this story.  If you are not opposed to strong sexual language and activities, then you will enjoy the 2nd one in the series.  If you do have a problem with that stuff, then you can still enjoy the romance part of it.  I think we all root for a happily-ever-after story.  I won't give away the ending, but it is a romance, after all.