I want to give you the names of some authors, and their books, that were pleasant surprises for me. I either had no expectations or had my expectations exceeded. Whichever way it went, I would recommend these books. They're all very good or really good (I'm making a distinction between the two, but I'm not sure what that distinction is). Some of these authors have been in other blogs.
Billie Letts - She has written some very entertaining books: Where the Heart Is and Made in the USA. But the best one is The Honk and Holler, Opening Soon. Bob and I read it probably 5 or 6 years ago, and we both rated it as the biggest surprise of the year. We loved it.
Deborah Wolf - She's written 2 books - With You and Without You and When I'm Not Myself - These are relationship books that were very well done and appeal to both women and men. I only read her because her mother was someone that worked for Rich.
Keith Thomson - He wrote Once A Spy. It's about a 30-year old gambler with no direction who ends up on an escapade with his father, an ex-CIA guy who is in the beginning stages of Alzheimers. His next book, Twice A Spy, is coming out next month. He will also be appearing at Keplers on March 18 at 7:00.
Tom Rob Smith - I know he's been on a bunch of lists, but I bought his first book, Child 44, because I liked the cover. And it took me almost a year to pull the trigger. This is so good, about an up and coming KGB officer who gets a conscience, that I'm going to try and get it on every list. P.S. His second one, The Secret Speech, was just as good.
Lolly Winston - This is another relationship author who has written 2 very good novels: Good Grief and Happiness Sold Separately. Joni saw her at the Saratoga Library and bought me a signed book. Otherwise, I would never have read it. Then I ate up the second one.
Sam Eastland - The Eye of the Red Tsar. Yep, you guessed it. It's another novel that takes place in The Soviet Union. It was really entertaining. And he just came out with a sequel that I will be starting tomorrow. I think I found this one from a USA Today review.
David Benioff - City of Thieves. This takes place in...THE SOVIET UNION! I actually don't have a fixation with The Soviet Union. These are just really good books that happen to take place there. This one was handed to me by Tim. I don't always love his suggestions (he's much more intellectual than me - but, then again, so are most people over the age of 3), but he was right on the money with this one. After I read this one, I went right to his first novel, which was written 5 years earlier, called The 25th Hour. It was good, not great. It was made into a movie, starring Edward Norton.
Garth Stein - The Art of Racing in the Rain. But you already know about this one.
Nicole Mones - The Last Chinese Chef - I didn't expect to care for this one very much, but I did. It was a very good story about a Chinese Chef (no great surprise there) who goes back to mainland China from the US to cook in a competition. He lives with, and learns from, his elderly relatives. Mones does a good job of explaining Chinese culture, especially on the culinary side, and spends a lot of time on cooking procedures. There's also some romance that is not too overdone or sappy. She also wrote Lost in Translation that was made into a movie starring Bill Murray and directed by Sophia Coppola (who was oscar-nominated). I haven't read that one or the other one she wrote - A Cup of Light.
Christopher Reich (of "just then" fame) - Joni went to a writers' conference in Salinas a few years ago. Reich was one of the speakers. He talked about how he had something like 60 rejections before a publisher finally picked up one of his novels. She got me a signed copy of The Patriots' Club. I read it, just like Winston, because she got it for me. I really enjoyed his first 5 books, which all had a finance guy as the hero and were all standalones. His last 3, which have been about the same character, not nearly as much.
Anybody want to share their pleasant surprises?