Saturday, December 24, 2011


You may be wondering what I mean by the title.  Good question.  Since August, I have come across 5 new authors by randomly dropping in on bookstores.  I have read books for all 5 of these authors and have already blogged about 4 of them - A.R. Silverberry, Jasmine Haynes, Adina Senft, and Hannah Jayne.  Tonight I am blogging about the 5th (and final, for now) author - Juliet Blackwell.  This is good timing because starting next Tuesday, and going into January, I have a number of my longstanding favorite authors coming out with their latest books:

12/27 - W.E.B. Griffin - Presidential Agent series
             Dean Koontz
1/3     -  Tom Rob Smith - book 3
             James Grippando

And those are just the ones I know about!  On top of that, I got 3 ARC's (Advanced Reader Copies) from Lindsay Wood, a Penguin Books rep, at the "M" event.  On her name tag, she said "Are you a blogger?"  Of course I said I am.  She gave me books that are going to be published in March (1) and May (2).  I'm already reading the March book - Helsinki White by James Thompson.  The life of an avid reader who also happens to blog is never boring.

Here's something you haven't heard from me before.  Juliet's book is in a genre that I would never have read if I hadn't come across her in a bookstore (oh, wait, you've been hearing that from me since August!).  It's about Melanie (Mel) Turner who runs a construction company in the San Francisco Bay Area (SF is for the benefit of you readers who are not in Northern California - all of us natives just call it the Bay Area - like highway 880 will always be highway 17).  Mel is only managing the company because her father fell apart a year or two earlier when his wife died.  So now it's on Mel to run the show.  Their specialty is old Victorians.  And as you might not be shocked to learn, there are ghosts to be dealt with.

I know this is beginning to sound like a broken record, but I liked this book a lot.  Mel is a great protagonist, and the supplemental characters - her dad, her rockstar client, her ex-boyfriend, and a ghost, among others - had substance.  There was murder, danger, excitement, and, one of my favorites, humor.

But here's the really cool part.  I'm an East Bay guy.  I have lived in the Bay Area (notice I didn't say SF Bay Area) all of my life.  And Juliet refers to a bunch of areas that I know really well.  For example:

1.  Mel lives with her dad on Fruitvale Avernue in Oakland.  I lived not far from the other end of Fruitvale Avenue.  And, in fact, I worked for a burger joint (Doggie Diner) very close to where Mel lives.
2.  She refers to the old Oakland Army Base being closed.  When I was in the Army Reserve in the late '60's/early '70's (I was #152 in the draft and might have gone to Viet Nam if I hadn't joined the Reserves), I was stationed at the Oakland Army Base.  I had to be there one weekend every month for almost 6 years.
3.  Mel drives through the Caldecott Tunnel, which takes you from Oakland to Lafayette/Orinda/Walnut Creek/Concord/Pleasant Hill.  I lived about 2 miles from that tunnel.
4.  Mel has lunch at Absinthe in San Francisco.  Joni and I have eaten at Absinthe.  Also, Juliet refers to the executive chef at Absinthe competing on Top Chef, the Bravo TV reality chef.  We love Top Chef and clearly remember that particular season.

If Walls Could Talk is book 1 of the Haunted Home Renovation Mystery.  Book 2, Dead Bolt, is already available, and I intend to read it.  She also has written another series, The Witchcraft Mystery series, which has 3 books.  Once again, I can say to an author - "Nicely done."

Contest Winner:  Jen wins Hannah Jayne's book, Under Attack, which is book 2 in the Underworld Detection Agency series.  Thank you all for your entries.

Coming Attractions:  Next week I will be listing all the books that I've read this year with a rating (1-4 stars).  It's 70 books so I will probably divide the list into 2 blog posts.  I will be starting at 4 stars and go down from there.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


I've already told all of you that I met Meg Waite Clayton at the Kepler's event when the two Random House reps gave their holiday gift-buying book recommendations.  After talking with Meg, I vowed to myself to buy and read one of her books.  Well, the opportunity arose pretty quickly.  The Saturday after the Wednesday Kepler's event, "M" had an afternoon open-house.  The purpose was several-fold.  First, it was a holiday get-together.  Second, it was a going-away party for the outgoing owner, Ed, who recently sold his store.  Third, it was an opportunity to meet the new owner, Steve.

What I didn't realize was that there would be a whole bunch of local authors who came to pay their respects.  And, what was even cooler for me, I knew some of them.  Hannah Jayne, Cara Black (who Joni and I had seen, and talked to, at the Los Gatos Library last year), Sheldon Siegel (who, as you already know ad nauseum, we had dinner with after an appearance at "M"), and Meg.  As an added bonus, I met Juliet Blackwell, whose book, If Walls Could Talk, I just finished.  I'll blog about that soon.

As another added bonus, Lindsay Wood, who is a rep for Penguin Books, was giving away ARC's (Advanced Reader Copies), which are books that are finished but haven't been published yet.  She was looking for bloggers to read them and create some buzz about them prior to publication.  I was only too happy to cooperate.  So I've got books from 3 authors that I will be reading before they hit the stores (1 in March and 2 in May).  Hopefully, I'll have more new authors to recommend after I do my reading.

As the final bonus, Joni and I had an opportunity to talk Sheldon's wife, Linda, for quite awhile.  I mean, it's always fun to see Sheldon, but, come on, to meet his wife too?  That was a real treat.  Linda, we definitely enjoyed meeting you and talking to you.

But back to Meg.  She had her latest book, The Four Ms. Bradwells, featured for sale at the "M" event.  I bought it, had it autographed by Meg, of course, and just finished reading it this week.  The story revolves around 4 women who meet in law school at the University of Michigan and become lifelong friends beginning with their first hour of class (Constitutional Law) on their first day of law school.  The story begins 30 years later, with one of the friends going through a confirmation hearing to become a Supreme Court justice.  There are a lot of flashbacks that tell the reader what led up to the situation they're in now.

This book has a couple of elements to it that do not fit my normal reading preferences.  One, the story is about women, with men being tangentially important only as they support (or not) the women.  I like women - a lot - but I'm certainly better able to relate to men (don't I, guys? buddies?).  You might think this would make the book "chick lit."  Here's why it's not, and the second reason I normally would not read this type of book - it's really well-written!  When I saw Meg at "M," she mentioned that she likes to read literary fiction.  I can now see why.  That's what she writes.  This is definitely not for the reader who likes to fly through books to add to a list (oh wait, usually that's me!).  It requires the reader to pay attention, to focus on the characters and their histories, and to take it slow.  It's thought-provoking without being pedantic.  It's literary without being stuffy.  The book flows very well and tells a very good story.  There were moments when I went back to make sure that I was clear on the connections.  That's something I do with Pat Conroy.  He's someone else who I would consider to be literary but can still tell a great story.  Meg, you're keeping some pretty good company!

I would definitely recommend The Four Ms. Bradwells for anybody that likes a good quality read that also hooks you on the characters.  I cared about those 4 women and wanted everything to work out for them.  But, most importantly, the book shows how important friends are.  If you can point to 2 or 3 people and say they are as close to you as The Four Ms. Bradwells are to each other, then you are a lucky person indeed.  No one knows that better than me.


Saturday, December 17, 2011


You are naturally wondering what the heck is Two Sisters Bar and Books.  The short answer to that question is it's a restaurant.  Then, again naturally, you would be wondering why am I blogging about a restaurant.  The answer to that question takes a little bit more explanation.  See below.  And, finally, you might want to know what expertise I have that allows me to review a restaurant.  The answer is:  I eat a lot.

Two Sisters opened in the Hayes Valley area of San Francisco a few months ago.  It is owned by Mikha, who is the daughter of our friends Marsha and John.  There are a number of elements that make this restaurant unique.  But the one that relates to a book blog is that they have a book borrowing/lending/exchanging/donating section.  Against one of their walls, they have bookshelves loaded with books.  They started with approximately 400 books of all genres and ages.  Mikha's younger sister, Mary (a friend of my daughter Lauren's from high school) bought the initial inventory.  When we were there a few weeks ago for brunch, we were told that their book ranks have swelled.  How does that work?

The rules are that there really are no hard and fast rules.  People can come in and take a book.  They can read it in the restaurant or take it home - oftentimes both.  Mikha hopes that if a book is taken, it will be returned or replaced by another one.  But she certainly does not have any lending library cards.  It's all on the honor system.  How cool is that?  As it turns out, more books have been brought in than have gone out.  That's how the bookshelves stay full.

On top of this fantastic feature, they also have a book club that meets monthly.  And they intend to have local authors appear.  You all know how much I love author events.  And based on my recent posts, you also know I have had great success this year in coming across Bay Area authors that I have thoroughly enjoyed.  Any bookstore (even if it is primarily a restaurant) that promotes authors has a fan in me, no matter what the food is like.

Speaking of food, let me say that what Joni and I had with Marsha and John a few Sunday brunches ago was excellent.  Plus, the atmosphere is very warm and inviting.  Somebody more sensitive than I might even call it nurturing!  It has a great neighborhood presence and has been well-received by the locals - rightfully so.  I would recommend that you go to Two Sisters Bar and Books for the food and drink (they have an eclectic and constantly-changing bar menu).  And while you're there, pick up a book.  I guarantee that you will find books there that you won't see anywhere else.

Happy eating (and reading).

Saturday, December 10, 2011


There's one more connection with Hannah that I learned about tonight.  Not only is Hannah's brother and sister-in-law close friends with my son, Josh, and my daughter-in-law, Jen, it also turns out that Jen and Hannah went to school together.  Hannah was one year older than Jen, but they both were in cheer at the same time (I think).  It's definitely a small world.

There's also something I forgot to mention when I did the blog about Recycle Bookstore in Campbell (and San Jose).  If you go to one of their stores and they're out of the book you want, they will call their other store.  If that store has it, they will bring it over to the first one.  That way, you still get the benefit of the great deals they offer but don't have to go cross-county to get it.

Speaking of great deals at Recycle, Joni and I went over there today to get some books for our grandkids.  We struck gold.  We got a ton of used books (Recycle, get it?) for an unbelievably low price.  Thank you Recycle.


This is now getting to be a common refrain for me.  Several weeks ago I walked into Barnes & Noble in the Pruneyard, and, lo and behold, there was another new author (for me) sitting at a table near the door.  As has become my practice, I gave her my Booksage card, told her I would read her book, and then blog about it.  The only decision I had to make was do I buy book 2, which Hannah Jayne was promoting, or book 1?  I decided on book 1.  So I got it signed and undertook to read another book in still another genre that I would have never picked up on my own.  I keep expecting that I'm going to get a dud from this random method of book selection - but not this time!  I enjoyed it a lot.  It's called Under Wraps and is the first book in Hannah's The Underworld Detection Agency Chronicles.

The UDA is located 37 floors below the San Francisco police station.  Sophie Lawson works for the UDA and shares her workload with a vampire and a witch, among others.  Her handsome boss, Pete Sampson, is a werewolf.  Every night before she leaves, Sophie chains Pete up so that he can't wreak havoc out in the city.  Sophie's clientele includes "minotaurs, gargoyles, Kholog demons, and trolls."  She also encounters fairies who you definitely don't want to mess with.

Sophie, herself, is a "norm," with her only paranormal gift being that she is immune to magic.  When a very handsome police detective from up above comes knocking down below, they end up working a murder spree together.  He, of course, is also a "norm," although there's more that meets the eye with him too.

Hannah has developed a very interesting set of characters, with Sophie as the main protagonist, along with an engaging murder mystery and a ton of humor.  In fact, I laughed out loud on a number of occasions.  Would I read book 2 and beyond?  I'll get to that in a minute.

I've actually run into Hannah twice now.  In addition to the first time at B&N, I also saw her last Saturday at "M" for an open house that was honoring the owner, Ed Kaufman.  Ed has sold the bookstore, and this was an opportunity for authors and patrons alike to say their good-byes.  But besides my run-ins with Hannah, I found out last night that I have another connection with her.  Joni and I were out with friends.  It turns out that she had also read Under Wraps.  One thing led to another, and I found out that Hanna's brother and his wife are very close friends of my son and his wife!  How cool is that?  I haven't even told Hannah about this yet.  I feel like we're almost related.  Okay, that was dumb.

Now, getting back to whether or not I will read book 2, let me tell you about a disagreement that I had last night with one of our friends.  At the very end of book 1, we learn that there's something about Sophie that we don't know yet.  Our friend was a bit outraged.  She doesn't like it when a book ends in a teaser for the next book.  I explained that most series do that, but she wouldn't give in.  Imagine that - someone who disagrees with me.  In any case, my response was "Bring it on!"  When I saw Hannah last Saturday, I asked her to let me know where she was going to be next so that I could see her, buy book 2, and get it signed.  I'm really looking forward to reading the next in The Underworld Detection Agency Chronicles.  Hannah actually told me that she would sign one and send it to me.  Here's the other offer she made.  She said that she would give one of my readers a signed copy for free.  So, I will take all of you who make a comment either on this blog or to me personally ( and raffle off Hannah's book.  You've got until next Saturday to get your name in.

Random House Note:  Since a week and a half ago when I saw the Random House reps at Keplers, USA Today has reviewed 2 of the books on their recommended gifts list.  One was PD James' Death Comes to Pemberley, and the other was Robert Massie's Catherine the Great.  Both of them got 4 stars out of 4.

Saturday, December 3, 2011


This past Wednesday night, Joni and I went to Kepler's to listen to Random House territory managers, Liz Willner and Jenn Ramage, talk about books to buy for the holiday season.  They are not holiday books, just books that they feel will make good gifts.  I'm going to eliminate my normal palaver and asides and simply list their suggestions by genre:

Cookbooks/Books for Foodies-
Lidia's Italy in America - Lidia Bastianich
Off the Menu - Marissa Guggiana
The Table Comes First - Adam Gopnik
Bi-Rite Market's Eat Good Food
Cooking My Way Back Home - Rosenthal
Momofuku Milk Bar - Christina Tosi
Martha's Entertaining - Martha Stewart

The Sense of an Ending - Julian Barnes
The Buddha in the Attic - Julie Otsuka (she also wrote The Emperor Was Divine)
The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern (they really loved this one - a first-time novelist)
The Cat's Table - Michael Ondaatje
IQ84 - Haruki Murakami

The Affair - Lee Child
Death Comes to Pemberley - PD James (due out 12/6)
The Leopard - Jo Nesbo (due out 12/13) - I read The Redbreast and really liked it - a Norwegian author

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? - Mindy Kaling - from The Office
Quite Enough of Calvin Trillin - Calvin Trillin

Pet Lovers (it pains me to include these)-
The Eighty-Dollar Champion - Elizabeth Letts
The Language of Flowers - Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Destiny of the Republic - Candace Millard
Hemingway's Boat - Paul Hendrickson
Blue Nights - Joan Didion
Pilgrimage - Annie Leibovitz

A Natural History of the Piano - Stuart Isacoff
Van Gogh - Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith
Catherine the Great - Robert Massie
Death in the City of Light - David King

Arts and Entertainment-
Then Again - Diane Keaton - she wrote her own book, without any "ghost" writer

They had a list that included a lot more, but these were the ones that they chose to talk about.  They were extremely informative and enthusiastic about their choices.  They were a pleasure to listen to.

An added extra for me that evening came after the event.  I was doing my usual brown-nosing and was waiting for one of the other audience members to finish talking with Liz.  When they were done, Liz turned to talk to Jenn and another audience member.  That left me alone with the woman who had been talking with Liz.  It turns out that she is a published author by the name of Meg Waite Clayton.  Meg has written 3 books and is working on a 4th.  I've never read any of Meg's books, but I certainly recognize her name.  I can't wait to read, at least, one of her books in the near future and blog about it.