Wednesday, February 22, 2012


I've been very busy recently blogging about new authors and ARC's.  Now, I want to review four authors who I am very committed to and who (whom? I never know when to use whom) I always read.

Dean Koontz - 77 Shadow Street - as you know (assuming you are a regular follower of The Booksage - and you know who you are), one of his early books, Lightning, made my Fiction for the Non-Fiction Reader, Volume II.  The most recent one, like all of the past 40 or so, is not in that category.  Nonetheless, I liked it.  It's a very creative story about an old victorian house that is now multi-tenanted.  There is a very eclectic mix of tenants that have to deal with history that keeps repeating itself every 30 years.  The evil they face is "unearthly," as one reviewer put it, and is pretty scary.  I wouldn't necessarily put it at the top of your bedside queue, but I would definitely have it, at least, in the queue.  Sometimes you need something other than a typical murder mystery or terrorist plot.

W.E.B. Griffin came out with book 7 in the Presidential Agent series.  Not every Griffin fan is convinced that this series is his best work.  I would have to say that both The Corps and The Brotherhood of War series are better.  Nonetheless, it's still very entertaining.  He may be selling his readers a bit short because these last few have been much thinner than the earlier ones.  But as I said last January when I finished #6, I still think it's a good series.  I would recommend it if you like military operations, even if it's not in a wartime setting.

Tami Hoag's latest is very good.  It's called Down the Darkest Road and is the 3rd in a series.  The protagonists are a teacher-turned-child advocate, an ex-FBI profiler, and a local detective, all who live in the same idyllic California town.  Tami's books typically center on serial killers, and this one is certainly no exception.  She's a very good writer, and her stories are almost always page-turners.  This one was among the best.  Like many series, you can read #3 without reading #1 or #2, but they're all good.  In this case, I would recommend reading #1 and #2 first.  It's only 3 books for crying out loud.  They are, in order:

Secrets to the Grave
Deeper than the Dead
Down the Darkest Road

Finally, the piece de resistance (my keyboard doesn't have the accent ague to put over the "e" in "piece" - I imagine French computers have it) is Tom Rob Smith's newest book, Agent 6.  This is his 3rd book in the Leo Demidov series and, in fact, only his 3rd book overall.  Of course we all know that Child 44, book #1, is on the Fiction for the Non-Fiction Reader list.  However, his 2nd could just as easily be on that list, and the 3rd on Volume II's list.  This guy can really write.  Not only are his stories completely gripping, but they are also extremely well-written.  I would compare him to Pat Conroy.  Both of these authors make every word count.  I think it's very difficult to write books that are so engrossing but still can be classified as (almost) literature.  I've always equated literature with hard-to-read.  Not so with Smith.  I may have mentioned in another post that of all the people that I personally know who have read Child 44, all but one have loved it.  That's a pretty good percentage.

NEXT BLOG:  A list of books that started out small and turned out big

Saturday, February 18, 2012


One year ago tomorrow, I wrote a list of 13 fiction books (not counting Larsson's trilogy) that I thought even the non-fiction reader would like.  A year later, it's time for volume II.  This list includes books that I've come across this year as well as books from 40 and 50 years ago - and everything in between.  Without further ado, here they are.  And as Brook Burke and Tom Bergeron say on Dancing with the Stars, these are in no particular order.

John Hart - The Last Child - a 13-year old boy tries to find out what happened to his twin sister, who was kidnapped a year earlier - amazing - a 4-star book (out of 4)

John Hart (yes, you read this right) - Iron House - a story about 2 brothers who are orphans and how they are separated and then come together - another 4 - I concede that I might be prejudiced when it comes to Hart (although I only gave 3 stars to his other 2 books, Down River and King of Lies)

Greg Iles - Black Cross - he mostly writes murder mysteries, many of them taking place in Natchez, Mississippi, where Iles is from - this is one of 2 books that he wrote about WWII (the other one is Spandau Phoenix), and they're both great - Black Cross is about an American doctor and a Jewish assassin who have to stop the Nazis from using poison gas

Joel Rosenberg - The Last Jihad - this is book 1 of a series about the Middle East, Israel and Palestine in particular - this guy actually writes a story about an attack on American soil and war in Iraq before either of those things happened - he wrote a total of 5 books in this series and 2 for a new series centered on Iran and nuclear weapons - he always writes about events in the Middle East before the events take place  - if you want to know more about the current state of affairs in the Middle East, check out his blog

David Baldacci - The Camel Club - this is also book 1 of a series - this is his best work (other than Wish You Well, which you either love - I did - or not) - the story begins with an old homeless guy who lives across the street from the White House in a tent - but there's much more to that than meets the eye - the protagonist comes with an eclectic mix of characters - very entertaining

Nelson de Mille - Word of Honor - this is his second best novel (The Charm School is in Volume I) - it's based on the My Lai massacre during the Viet Nam war (for you young people, look it up) - 13 years later, he is a very successful businessman who is brought up on charges relating to an incident when he was an officer during the Viet Nam War

Larry McMurtry - Lonesome Dove - this 1000-page book is one of the best books I've ever read - when it was done, I was disappointed - this, of course, is a western centered on two cowboys - caveat:  there is not a lot of action - it is extremely character-driven - for those who need non-stop action, this may not be the best choice

Richard North Patterson - of course Exile is in Volume I, but this is pretty darn close - it's all about abortion as it pertains to a teenager and a Supreme Court nominee - excellent in-depth look at the abortion issue

Dean Koontz - Lightning - although he's known for horror, this is one that deals in time travel - I have read all of his books, and this is my favorite - if you want more of a typical Koontz, then go for Strangers, my second favorite

Pat Conroy - Beach Music - this is my second favorite Conroy fiction (I'll address his non-fiction work, My Losing Season, at a later date), after South of Broad (in Volume I) -it goes back and forth between the present and the Holocaust, and it goes from various countries in Europe to the American South - never be afraid to try a Conroy (The Great Santini is a favorite for many)

J.K. Rowling - Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone - okay, I know that this may be considered a strange selection, but hear me out - first of all, I have read all 7 books and have really enjoyed them - they are very well-written and quite exciting - second, and most important, this book has been responsible for probably millions of people either reading for the first time or, at least, reading more frequently - how can you not check out a book that has had this much international impact? - the answer:  you can't

Leon Uris - Exodus - this is the first of 3 straight selections that were written all the way back in the '50's and '60's - Uris has written many good books - I have enjoyed almost all of them immensely - this one is the best - it's about Israel and the fight for independence - it is way good

Irving Wallace - The Plot - this is another one of my all-time favorites - it is an intricately-woven story about a plot to assassinate a world leader and the measures that 5 people take to prevent it - even today, it's one of the best books I've ever read - and the way he blends 5 different stories is fantastic

Robert Ludlum of Bourne fame (yes, they were books before they were movies) - The Matarese Circle - this is a Cold War story about the top Russian and American assassins pitted against each other - historically, it's old news, so I can't swear it will hold up in light of today's world - but it's a great read

That's my second baker's dozen.  My next list will be popular (some wildly) books that started off small (not originally mass market) and got big.  After that, I will have a list entitled Non-Fiction for the Fiction Reader - pretty clever, eh (it was not my idea).

Editor's Note:  Some of you have said that you're having trouble accessing the website.  Let me give you a sure-fire way to get in -

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


I have just finished Harlan Coben's new book - Stay Close.  It was an ARC (Advanced Reading Copy) that I got from Christine Ball of Penguingroup, and is due to hit the bookstores March 20.  What can I say? This guy is great.  I first became aware of Coben probably 20 years ago in Lake Tahoe.  I was in Tahoe City at a bookstore (yes, they have bookstores in Tahoe).  I was just browsing, and an employee there recommended Coben.  I think he had written just a couple of his early Myron Bolitar books.  I got hooked immediately and have always jumped on every one of his books.  Stay Close is my (and his) 21st book.  I have either loved or really liked every one of them.  This one is no exception.

I think I have already mentioned seeing him in person twice.  The first time was at a National Kidney Foundation luncheon in San Francisco probably 5 or 6 years ago.  He was one of about 6 authors that was featured that day.  He gave a little spiel and signed his books.  He's a very funny guy and not the least bit pretentious (it's interesting that of all the dozens of authors that I have seen, very few have been even slightly pretentious - even Ken Follett, who has the right to be pretentious).

The second time I saw him was early last year at Book Passage in Corte Madera.  It was a Monday night, and we drove a heck of a long way to see him.  It was worth every mile.  He was absolutely charming and something of a stand-up comic.  The funniest story he told was about his teenage daughter.  His latest book was on the kitchen counter.  It just so happened that it was turned to the inside cover in the back of the book.  That, of course, is where the picture of the author typically resides.  His daughter looked at the picture and said "Dad, that is so gross," or words to that effect.  Here's a guy who, basically, has a #1 bestseller every time out, and he's telling a room full of admirers a self-effacing story.  It was very funny but, more importantly, very insightful about his character.

Perhaps you'd actually like to know what the book is about - or do you want more of my mindless prattling (before you rush to your comment button, that was a rhetorical question!)?  Okay, this book centers on a woman who, 17 years earlier, had been an exotic dancer in Atlantic City.  She is now a suburban housewife with an attorney husband, two kids, and a very nice house.  She is drawn back to AC and becomes re-involved (is that a word?) in a murder that took place 17 years ago along with a kidnapping that took place only a few weeks before.  Along the way, she encounters a police detective still working the case, a long-time female bartender at a strip club, and a photojournalist working as a fake paparazzo.  All four of them have connections to that long-ago murder.  Add in Barbie and Ken look-alikes , a very wealthy businessman looking for his son in a most unusual way, and a high-level policeman on the take, and you have quite an eclectic mix of characters.

Let's face it.  Coben is as good a murder mystery writer for the masses (as opposed to the intellectuals - Vonnegutt, Le Carre, et al) as there is out there.  Every book has an intricate plot and some kind of surprise ending.  This one is definitely right up there with his best.  In fact, I figured out the ending only at the end - after Coben handed it to me.  I admit to being a bit dense when it comes to knowing where a book is heading, but this one will be a challenge for all readers, even the sharp ones.

Get to the bookstore (brick and mortar or digital) on March 20 and snap up Stay Close.  You will not be disappointed.  I guar-own-tee it.

ON DECK:  Fiction for the Non-Fiction Reader - Volume II

Friday, February 10, 2012


I'm much happier to write this blog than I was the last one.  Christine Ball, from Penguingroup, sent me two books to read.  One is a Coben, which I will read next, and the other is the one I just finished.  It's Lisa Gardner's latest (it just came out three days ago), Catch Me.  This is Lisa's 14th book - and my first.  Of course, I new that she wrote a lot, but I had never read her.  Thanks to Christine, I'm now a fan.

Lisa's latest continues a series she writes about a Boston police department detective, D.D. Warren.  Just like James Thompson's book, Helsinki White, you don't have to read the earlier books in order to enjoy the latest.  In fact, it feels like a stand-alone.  But never mind all of that stuff.  This is a very good book.  I have read (and do read) a number of female mystery writers:

Peri O'Shaughnessy
Sara Gran
Taylor Stevens
Bobbie O'Keefe
Alex Kava
Tami Hoag

Lisa is far better than O'Shaughnessy, Gran, Stevens, O'Keefe, and Kava (although Kava has written some good ones - just not recently).  And I would say she's pretty comparable to Hoag, who is one of my favorite mystery writers, regardless of gender.

The plot is centered around a 28-year old woman who is expecting to be murdered on January 21, four days from when the story begins.  Her two best friends have been murdered each of the past two years on January 21.  They were the three musketeers, so she knows she's next.  She has moved to Boston from New Hampshire to make it tougher for the murderer to find her and has spent the past year learning all manner of self-defense disciplines.  But she still expects to be murdered on the 21st.

If this were the whole plot, it would be very interesting.  But, in fact, there are all kinds of sub-plots - pedophilia, dysfunctional families (plural), vigilantism, abusive parents, and more.  Lisa does a great job of integrating a lot of different themes into a cohesive story.  At 380 pages, it's just the right length.  I don't know if I'll be able to go back and read any of the 13 books she's already written (I'm very busy, you know!), but I will at least read all of her books moving forward.  Very nice job!  And thanks, Christine, for sending it to me.  I always appreciate anyone who introduces me to a new author, especially if I actually like the book and the author.

Postcript to the Postcript:  I enjoyed reading Lisa's Author's Note and Acknowledgements pages.  She names a number of characters in the book based on contests that she has run.  I think it is neat that she does that.  I know that those people whose names were used must enjoy the heck out of seeing them in print.  Who wouldn't like that?  In fact, one of the names used is for a dog.  This came out of a charity auction for Animal Rescue League of NH-North. Way cool - and I don't even like dogs!

Monday, February 6, 2012


This is going to be my least favorite blog post to date.  As you all know, I not only really enjoyed Brad Taylor's first book, I also really enjoyed getting to know Brad via email.  I even called him a mensch, which is no small compliment.  I fear that after this blog, he may not be so anxious to exchange emails with me.

Brad's second Pike Logan book, All Necessary Force, is not as good as the first one.  Ouch, there I've said it.  Let me begin by telling you what I liked about it.

1.  Jennifer Cahill is now a part of Pike's team.  She is a good addition as a regular character.  She brings some emotional tension to the relationship with Pike, and she also brings a humanism to certain situations that typically don't allow for such sentiment.  She's constantly questioning right and wrong.
2.  The action scenes are rough and tumble, like they were in book #1.  As a former member of Special Forces and Delta Force, his battle scenes definitely have a realistic feel to them.
3.  The characters, from the president to the Oversight Council to the other on-the-ground members of Pike's team, are well-formed and feel authentic.  You care about many of them.
4.  The plot is solid.  The story centers on terrorism using a combination of foreign-born and American-born plotters.

Now, what is it about the book that I didn't like?  It's a little harder to pinpoint the negatives than the positives.  But here goes.

1.  The story didn't always flow well from one scene to the next.
2.  Even though the action sequences felt authentic, some of the description of what was happening was  confusing.
3.  Even many of the non-battle chapters did not read clearly.

I guess what I'm saying is that I just didn't think it was as well-written as the first one.  Did I enjoy it?  Yes, for the most part (2 stars out of 4).  Will I read #3?  Most definitely.  Will I read #4 if #3 is not better than #2?  Probably not.  This is obviously only one blogger's opinion, but I'm seriously hoping that the next one will return to the quality of the first one.  If it does, then I'm in.  If it doesn't, then I could be gone.

Friday, February 3, 2012


As I've already mentioned, when I was at the "M" event in December, Lindsay Wood from Penguingroup gave me three ARC's.  I have now finished one of them - Helsinki White by James Thompson.  I enjoyed it quite a bit.  This is James' third novel about Inspector Kari Vaara but my first exposure to him.  You definitely don't have to read the first two to enjoy the third.

James' background is interesting.  He was born and raised in Kentucky.  He moved to Helsinki 13 years ago.  As he said to me, it was for a woman but was more likely Karma.  So he's writing a series that will  relate to American audiences as well as Nordic (he told me that Finland is Nordic but not Scandinavian - see how informative I can be!).  He decided to have a Finnish inspector and an American wife.  That way, he could integrate the two cultures.  I can tell you that it works pretty well.

Vaara is an inspector for the Helsinki police.  In this book, he has to deal with a rising xenophobia in Finland.  The right-wingers are militantly opposing all non-Finlandians in their country.  There are Nazis, assassinations, kidnappings, drug busts, and more - a veritable cornucopia of challenging issues for an inspector to deal with.  And on top of all that, his American wife has just given birth to their first child, which she is raising at home while putting her own career on hold.  As you can imagine, he's dealing with work and home, not an easy balance to maintain (as all of us, parents or no, can attest).  It makes for fun reading, and it doesn't matter if he's at work or at home.  Besides the inspector and his wife, there are a variety of characters and oddballs who help give the story some light moments.

There are plenty of violent moments for those who like that sort of thing (I know I do!) and some sex and sexual attraction (I know I do! - oh, wait, was that a question?).  It's a good story, and I would recommend it.  Besides this one, I have read 4 other books from that part of the world (Nordica? Nordic/Scandinavian?) - the Larsson trilogy and Jo Nesbo's Redbreast.  I think that James' Helsinki White is worthy of being included in that panoply of Arctic Circle countries that have found so much success in the U.S.

Editor's Note:  You all know how much I love book world.  Reading and blogging are two of my very favorite things to do.  But there's a third thing that I love too.  I love emailing authors.  I have begun emailing many authors.  Most of them have been giving of their time - and I try not to be too annoying.  But James Thompson is one of those who really goes out of his way to email back in a timely fashion (especially considering he's quite a few hours ahead of us).  His emails are newsy and fun to read.  His writing and his emailing have earned my loyalty.  As long as James is writing, I'm reading.