Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Past Blogs - Part 2

Okay, here are the reviews from 2012.

01/07 - Regis Phlbin
01/18 - Michael Palmer
02/03 - James Thompson
02/06 - Brad Taylor
02/10 - Lisa Gardner
02/15 - Harlan Coben
02/22 - Dean Koontz, W.E.B. Griffin, Tami Hoag, Tom Rob Smith
03/14 - Craig Johnson
04/07 - Jan Wallentin, Philip Kerr
04/15 - Victoria Sweet (L)
04/21 - Suzanne Collins
04/29 - Michael David Lukas (L)
05/06 - Abraham Verghese (Jeff Barnett did the review)
05/12 - Meg Gardiner
06/06 - Jeffrey Archer, Richard North Patterson, Alex Berenson
06/16 - Ben Coes
07/01 - David Baldacci, William Landay, Steve Hamilton
07/04 - Beth Gutcheon, James Grippando, Robert Balmanno (L)
07/28 - Sam Eastland, Robert Harris, Philip Margolin
08/02 - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
08/05 - Steve Berry
08/10 - Daniel Silva, Chad Harbach, Christopher Buckley
08/12 - Alex Kava, Keith Raffel (L), Ann Lamott (L)
08/17 - Jasmine Haynes (L), Adina Senft (L), Hannah Jayne (L)
08/26 - E.L. James, Steven King
09/05 - Attica Locke
09/09 - David Rosenfelt, James Swain
09/16 - Erin Morgenstern
09/21 - Julie Dart (McNulty)(L)
09/23 - Keith Raffel (L)
09/29 - W.E.B. Griffin, Mitch Albom
10/04 - Jennifer Weiner
10/10 - Gillian Flynn, Amir Towles
10/16 - Sheldon Siegel (L)
10/25 - Barbara Kingsolver
10/29 - Joan Swan (L)
11/01 - Elisabeth Barrett (L)
11/04 - Dean Koontz, John Agee, Raymond Chandler
11/17 - Jeffrey Eugenides, Cassie Alexander (L)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Recap Of Prior 121 Blogs - Part 1

What does this mean, you ask?  Well, since some of you might be readers that didn't start reading my blog back in January of 2011 when I first started it, I have decided to give you lists of dates and names from my previous blogs.  The next 2 posts will have the dates in which I've reviewed books and the names of the authors for each of those dates.  It's a little bit cumbersome, but I don't know how else to do it (I'm sure tech-savvy individuals know better ways of doing this).  The 3rd blog of recaps will be special lists (e.g. Fiction for the Non-Fiction Reader) and special events (e.g. Haley's school author event).  After that, I will be done with the recap.  And for those of you who have been reading my blog since the beginning lo these many years (2) ago, I say:  "Sorry about that."

Here, then, are my blogs from 2011 that posted reviews. An "L" after the name signifies a local author (there may be others in the group that are local that I don't know are local).

02/11 - Garth Stein, John Robison
03/25 - San Bourne, Taylor Stevens
05/12 - Ann Patchett, David Baldacci, Lisa See, Anna Quindlan
06/30 - David Baldacci, Paul McEuen, Ann Patchett, Sara Gran, George Pelicanos
07/20 - David Ignatius, Alice La Plante (L), George Pelecanos
08/07 - Bobbi O'Keefe, Daniel Silva, Peri O'Shaughnessy, William Martin
08/11 - John Hart
08/20 - W.E.B. Griffin
08/27 - A.R. Silverberry (L)
09/03 - John Hart
10/09 - John Hart, Andrew Britton, Hannah Tinti, Michael Lavigne
10/29 - Nicholas Sparks, Jeffrey Archer, Brad Thor
11/13 - Barry Eisler (L), David Baldacci, Tatiana de Rosnay
11/19 - Jasmine Haynes (L)
11/25 - Brad Taylor
11/28 - Adina Senft (L)
12/10 - Hannah Jayne (L)
12/18 - Meg Waite Clayton (L)
12/24 - Juliet Blackwell (L)

In a couple of days, I will post the same information for 2012.  I know you can't wait.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Author Interview #5 - Adina Senft (I've Run Out Of Clever Comments)

What makes these interviews so interesting is the varied backgrounds of each of them.  Adina Senft belonged to a plain house church from the ages of 12 through 38.  It's not Amish but holds very similar beliefs that she was able to draw on for her current Amish trilogy.  So far, 2 of the 3 have been published.  Book 1 is The Wounded Heart, and book 2 is The Hidden Life.  Book 3, The Tempted Soul, will come out next March.  If you have read my reviews of her 1st 2 books in the series, you will know that I enjoyed book 1 but really loved book 2.  I'm looking forward to #3.

I met Adina at Barnes & Noble in The Pruneyard.  She was, like so many other local authors, sitting at a table near the front door.  She wasn't alone.  She was sitting with Jasmine Haynes.  I don't know if you can put 2 people together who write more different material.  Adina writes about the Amish, and Jasmine writes erotic romance.  Come on, when are you going to see that happen again?  But they are friends and decided to present together.  Maybe I shouldn't have read The Wounded Heart right after reading Past Midnight!  Okay, just kidding.

Adina started writing at the age of 8 and actually wrote her 1st book at 13.  She became a published author in 2003 when Harlequin signed her up, and she wrote 7 romance books for them.  She began writing women's fiction and was picked up by FaithWords, a division of Hachette.  These days, Adina is also self-publishing young adult steampunk novels (these are novels that have elements of science fiction or fantasy but that take place in eras where steam is still the main source of power) under the name Shelley Adina.

Writing is only one of her "jobs."  She also copy edits, teaches in an MFA (master of fine arts) program, and costumes (that may not be a verb!).  Her writing job takes up a lot of her time.  She tries to write from 1-4 every day.  Her goal is 2000 words in a day but not less than 1000.  She writes 7 days a week and only one book at a time.  Writing may be a job for her, but her love of the craft certainly comes through in her writing.

I have one complaint about the handling of Adina's books.  When I went looking for one of her books, I was directed to the religious fiction section of the bookstore.  To me, I hate to see her work pigeonholed like that.  I believe it belongs in the literature/fiction section.  There's a lot more than religion at work here.  Sorry, Adina, that their classification is so limiting.  She tells me that it's because her books are bought by the religion buyer for the chain, not the fiction buyer, but I think it's mis-categorized.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

2 More Reviews - And Then Back To The Author Interviews

I just read Jeffrey Eugenides' latest, The Marriage Plot.  I didn't particularly like his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Middlesex.  I didn't get what the fuss was all about (although we all know about my resistance to intellectual literature).  But I liked The Marriage Plot a lot.  If it wasn't the 4th Tuesday Book Club selection at Books, Inc. (for November), I'm sure I would have avoided it.  I'm actually glad it was - and I didn't.

The book focuses on 3 main characters and begins on their collective college graduation day at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island in 1983.  Leonard Bankhead and Mitchell Grammaticus both revolve around Madeleine Hanna.  All 3 characters are deeply interesting, and each gets sections in the book that are strictly from his or her perspective.  And, of course, much of the book links at least 2, and sometimes all 3, together.

This book reminds me of Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver.  Both authors really know how to write.  They both mix dialogue with long sections of description.  And both border on the literary.  It's not usually my thing, but, in each case, I have enjoyed the book.  I hope this doesn't mean my standards are shifting.  Will I have to start wearing tweed jackets with elbow patches?  Oh, wait, I've also recently read Fifty Shades of Gray and The Hunger Games.  I'm okay.

The other book I read is #3 of the 7 new authors I met at Barnes & Noble back in early October.  This one is Nightshifted, by Cassie Alexander.  This one I liked but did not love.  If you remember, the first one, Joan Swan's Fever, I loved.  The 2nd one, Deep Autumn Heat, by Elisabeth Barrett, I liked a lot.  This one I simply liked.

This has similarities to Hannah Jayne's Underworld Detective Agency.  That series takes place many floors below a police station.  This one takes place many floors below a county hospital.  And, like Hannah's protagonist, Sophie Lawson, the heroine in this book, Edie Spence, is human and oftentimes deals with non-humans - werewolves, zombies, and such.  The 3 main differences are, 1st, Hannah uses much more humor than Cassie does.  That may not matter to many, but it's a big plus for me.  2nd, Sophie is a much more sympathetic character than Edie.  I just liked Sophie better and, therefore, cared more about what happened to her.  And, 3rd, Hannah's books are lighter.  Even though there's a lot of action, it's still kept light in large part because of the humor and Sophie's great sidekick, Nina.  Nightshifted is just too dark for me.

Even though there are flaws, I am recommending Nightshifted.  It's well-written and held my interest.  I expect that there are a lot of people who will like it more than I did.  I also want everybody to know that Cassie is having a launch party for her 2nd book, Moonshifted, at Inklings in Capitola on Tuesday, November 27.  Since I have my 4th Tuesday Book Club meeting that night, I won't be able to make it.  But I would certainly encourage you to go.  Book launches are really fun (remember that I went to Victoria Sweet's book launch for God's Hotel).  It's from 4-8, and then you can eat at Cafe Cruz in Soquel or Laili's in Santa Cruz.

Now back to my author interviews.

HUMANITARIAN NOTE:  Although I didn't love Nightshifted, I certainly love Cassie's commitment to humanity.  Cassie is a registered nurse and has taken a leave of absence from her job to go to New York and help.  She's now been there over a week.  From her regular blogs, she's working a ton and getting very little R&R or even sleep.  Well done, Cassie!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Interview #4 - Sheldon Siegel (do I never run out of snappy headings?)

Sheldon Siegel writes one of my favorite series - the attorneys/legal partners/ex-spouses Mike Daley and Rosie Fernandez.  He has written 7 and is working on #8.  They are all enormously entertaining.  As a bonus, they take place in San Francisco (work) and Marin County (home).

If you have been reading my blog (and you 3 know who you are), you'll know that I just reviewed Sheldon's latest book, The Terrorist Next Door, on October 16.  It's his first book that strays from Mike and Rosie.  In fact, it takes place in Chicago with a brand new protagonist, Detective David Gold.  I liked it a lot, as you will see if you check out the review.

I met with Sheldon a few months ago.  His story is pretty darn interesting.  Sheldon is an attorney.  And  he found that he had about 90 minutes each day, coming and going on the ferry, commuting between Marin County and San Francisco.  Around 1995, at the age of 37, he began to write.  It took him until 1998 to finish book one.  Along the way, in 1997, he took a writing class.  He wrote 100 pages, and his 2 teachers encouraged him to keep going.

When he finished book 1, Special Circumstances, he sent it to only one literary agent.  Folks, for those who don't know how this works, that is unheard of.  When Joni and her partner shopped their book, they sent the query letter to a string of literary agents.  That's just the way it's done.  So the one agent that Sheldon sent it to is a friend of an attorney in Sheldon's office.  Margret McBride got the manuscript on one day, read a 100 pages on the next day, and called Sheldon that evening to say yes, she would represent him.  2 weeks later, she had it sold to Bantam Books, a division of Random House.  And in the year 2000, Special Circumstances hit the bookstores.  Not bad, huh?

Sheldon has had several different publishers, but The Terrorist Next Door was originally self-published - until recently.  The book just got picked up by Poison Pen Press out of Phoenix (talk about alliteration!).  It's no longer available on Amazon but will come back out in June, 2013.  At that time, it will be for sale in hardcover, paperback, digital form, and audio.  Congrats, Sheldon.

This book took him 3 years to write.  Why did he decide to write a stand-alone?  There were 2 reasons.  The 1st being that he was just ready to try something different.  It was time.  The 2nd reason, which I learned from his website, is that he promised his mother that he would write at least one book that was based in his hometown of Chicago.  He has now honored that promise.

There is one thing in particular that Sheldon told me that was very illuminating.  He said that the 1st book was the easiest to write because there were no deadlines.  Since he didn't yet have an agent, an editor, or a publisher, nobody was putting pressure on him to finish the book.  For his 2nd book, though, he had a finish-by date.  After the 2nd one, he got more in the rhythm of writing within a timeline.

I told you that I've already written a very positive review of The Terrorist Next Door.  Well, so did The Huffington Post.  And I have a feeling that it might carry a slight amount more weight than mine does.  Go figure.  I've got it posted, in its entirety, below.

The Terrorist Next Door by Sheldon Siegel
Sheldon Siegel is the author of a series of books featuring the San Francisco based divorced legal team of Mike Daley and Rosie Fernandez. They have been at the center of the action in his last seven novels. Now Siegel has come out with a new book, The Terrorist Next Door, and Mike and Rosie are nowhere to be seen. Siegel has created a new hero, Detective David Gold, and found a new locale, Chicago, Illinois. Those two things might have changed but his talent is still the same.
This new novel by Siegel is action packed from beginning to end. A "terrorist" is striking fear in the heart of Chicago by placing bombs in cars and then detonating them with cell phones. Gold and his new partner A. C. Battle are handed the case and are under the gun to get it solved, but even as they plunge into the case with everything they have the bombs continue to go off and there are casualties involved.
The two men find a few leads but nothing substantive, and then it gets personal. Gold finds out that those he holds dear are in the line of fire so to speak. Now he must go beyond anything he has ever faced and use his skills and brainpower above and beyond what he has done in the past in order to try to save them and save the city.
The book is 75 percent action and 25 percent characters. The fact the characters are so easy to identify with is what makes the horror of the terrorism so chilling. Gold and Battle are two men locked into a war with an unknown person. Battle is the supportive one while Gold is the go to man. It also helps that Gold has a big heart and nerves of steel. A lesser man would have just given up, but Gold is relentless in his pursuit of the unknown terrorist.
I always thought I just wanted Mike Daley and Rosie Fernandez novels from Siegel. Now I am willing to go half and half with future Gold books. You only get a taste of who and what the man is in this novel. Most of the readers will want to know more.
The Terrorist Next Door is a "can't put it down" novel. Read it for the suspense, but also read it for the introduction of a new fascinating hero.
Jackie K Cooper

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Interview #3 - Jasmine Haynes (pretty clever title, eh?)

Jasmine Haynes is my one and only erotic romance writer.  As many (some?) of you know, I came across Jasmine at Barnes & Noble in The Pruneyard.  And as I've mentioned on a number of occasions (ad nauseum), I have made a commitment that, as a blogger, I was going to read and blog about the book of any author I run into.  Otherwise, I doubt I would have "voluntarily" picked an erotic romance for my recreational reading.  The rest, as they say (I've always wondered who "they" are!), is history.  I loved Past Midnight.  You can go to my blog from November 19, 2011 (8 days shy of one year ago) and read my review.  Since then, I have read only one other book by Jasmine, but I will be reading more.

When I talked to Jasmine (on 2 separate occasions), she told me that she has written 33 romance novels - a combination of erotica, mystery, and humor.  And she's now branching out into paranormal mystery. She is very prolific which probably comes from the fact that her writing career took a back seat to an accounting job that she had for many years.  Well, she's making up for lost time in grand style.

She knew she wanted to write way back when she was 6 or 7 years old.  But it wasn't until high school that she wrote her first book.  Her assignment in English class was to write 2 short stories, but she asked if she could write a book with chapters.  And so it began.

She published her 1st book only 10 years ago.  Prior to that, she sent out a query letter to a number of agents for a book that she had written and was able to secure an agent.  Unfortunately, the agent was unable to sell her book, and Jasmine and her agent parted ways.  Later, she found another agent who was successful in getting her books sold.  Liquid Silver Books bought the erotica, and HQN, a division of Harlequin Books, bought her humorous romances.  After her contract ended with Liquid Silver, Jasmine's agent sold her erotica to Berkeley Books, and that relationship lasted for quite a while - until last December.  But wait!  We're not done yet.

While Jasmine was self-publishing novellas (40,000 words vs. 90,000 words for full novels), her agent was working other angles.  She got one of Jasmine's books translated into German and is working on Japan doing the same thing.  From the success of her self-publishing, along with her agent's efforts overseas, she got a call from Berkeley Books well after her contract with them had ended.  They did what Marlon Brando did in The Godfather.  They made her an offer that she couldn't refuse.  She found herself in a position of being in the driver's seat, which doesn't happen that often in the publishing world.  Finally, she said yes.  She's under contract to provide Berkeley 2 new books.

She told me a couple of things that I thought were particularly interesting and, I think, bear repeating.  First, as far as digital self-publishing is concerned, it's very lucrative.  But there are advantages to being published in print - bigger advances, certainly, but also a different audience.  There are people who only buy their books in print - whether it's in a bookstore or on order from Amazon or B&N.com .  By being published in print, she can appeal to a completely different audience.

The second thing she mentioned affects me personally.  I told you that I loved Past Midnight.  The story is about a husband and wife that lose their 7-year old son.  The husband spends the whole book trying to get her out of her funk by creating sexual escapades.  It's very erotic, but I was particularly moved by the story (it even made me take a look at my own marriage: am I paying enough attention to my wife? am I meeting her emotional needs?).  Jasmine said that romance readers want uplifting, not depressing, stories.  Her second book in that series, which I haven't read, deals with abuse.  She had the same problem with that one that she did with Past Midnight.  Unfortunately, she was almost through the 2nd one before she discovered that the 1st one was too dark for people.  By then, it was too late to scrap book 2.  Her 3rd one, though, was lightened considerably.  It did much better than the 1st two.  For me, that's too bad because the dark nature of the story made it more captivating for me and allowed me to get emotionally attached.  But I'm only one person.

Jasmine has twice won National Readers' Choice awards and seems to be well on her way to continuing to have one heck of a career.  Hats off to Jasmine Haynes.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

3 Miscellaneous Reviews

Why would I call 3 reviews miscellaneous, you ask?  Well, one is Raymond Chandler's first Philip Marlowe detective novel, written in 1939; one is Peter's favorite book, Terrific, by Jon Agee, which is an adult book in the guise of a children's book; and the 3rd is the latest Dean Koontz.  I don't think you can get any more different than that.

I've had Chandler's The Big Sleep sitting in my someday-to-be-read stack for at least a couple of years now.  I got the book from Lauren's boyfriend, Joe, who is a big Chandler fan.  This is a hard-boiled detective novel.  I didn't enjoy it a lot but was glad I read it.  Although the plot is not that significant, I'll give you a thumbnail.  A dying millionaire hires Marlowe to deal with the blackmailer of one of his 2 daughters.  While he's working on that, he comes face-to-face with kidnapping, pornography, and murder.  I'll quote Robert B. Parker:  "Chandler seems to have created the culminating American hero:  wised up, hopeful, thoughtful, adventurous, sentimental, cynical, and rebellious."  The only thing I would add is that since the book was written in 1939, it definitely feels different from books that have been written in more recent times - not better or worse, just different.  On top of that, there's a lot of detective lingo that I had to get used to.  Reading The Big Sleep felt like watching Dragnet, the black and white version from the '50's.

John Agee's Terrific looks and feels like a children's book.  But there is a definite message to it.  Eugene wins a trip to Bermuda.  The ship he's on sinks, and everybody is picked up except for Eugene.  He ends up on a deserted island with a parrot who has a broken wing.  The Parrot draws a schematic of a boat in the sand and convinces Eugene to build the boat so that they can escape from the island.  Eugene builds the boat, and they set sail (using Eugene's coat as a sail).  They are capsized by a fishing trawler and taken to port.

Why is this Peter's favorite book?  And why is it called Terrific?  Eugene is extremely negative.  Everything that happens to Eugene leads him to say "Terrific," followed by whining.  For example, when he wins the trip, he says:  "Terrific, I'll probably get a really nasty sunburn."  And when he lands on the deserted island (deserted except for the parrot, of course), he says:  "Terrific, now I'll get eaten by cannibals."  This goes on all the way through the book - until the end when the trawler calls the parrot by name, Lenny, and says the parrot is dumb.  Then Eugene defends the parrot.  As the trawler heads back out to sea, Lenny stays behind to be with Eugene.  It's a darn good message.  It reminds me of Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree.  That was the first children's book I ever bought - about 2 years before my oldest, Josh, was born (36 years ago!).  That book also had a message.  I'm definitely in favor of messages in the books I read.

Last, and certainly least, is Dean Koontz's latest Odd Thomas novel - Odd Apocalypse.  Koontz has written 62 books of fiction (and one non-fiction book about his dog - you know I didn't read that one!).  I have read 60 of them (I read the 1st 3 of his 5 books in his Frankenstein series and then gave up).  Many of them are very good, and some (Lightning, Strangers, Watchers) are really good.  In fact, Lightning is on one of my Fiction for the Non-Fiction Reader Lists (Volume II - February 18, 2012).   But I don't care much for the Odd Thomas series.  Odd Apocalypse is #5.  I don't know if I can do #6.  If you want to know what this series is about, you'll have to go to his website.  I just don't care enough to give it the time.  Sorry.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Elisabeth Barrett's Romance: Deep Autumn Heat

Book 2 of the new cache of local authors is Deep Autumn Heat, by Elisabeth Barrett.  This is similar to Joan Swan’s Fever in several ways:

  1. Both books have covers that show an extremely handsome man with no shirt on and with six-pack abs.
  2. Both books have titles that match the covers.
  3. Both books are romances with strong, independent women and he-man men.
  4. Both books have a number of sex scenes that are fairly graphic but not worthy of erotic romance.

In Deep Autumn Heat, Sebastian Grayson (nickname “Seb”), is a famous New York chef who is growing in popularity and who is an equally notorious womanizer.  He is about to have his own cooking show on TV and is looking for a site (maybe Boston) for a 2nd restaurant.  He comes from a small town, Star Harbor, in Cape Cod and visits once a year to hang out with his brothers.  2 of them (the sheriff and a federal agent) live in Star Harbor, and the 4th brother, Seb’s twin, is in San Francisco.  

Lexie Meyers owns Star Harbor’s diner.  She is a fiercely independent woman who escaped from an abusive relationship in Berkeley, CA (right next door to Albany, CA, where I grew up – I knew that you would all want to know that) and came across country to start a new life.  So, you can imagine that she is just a tad distrustful of men.  And, now, along comes a man who exudes trouble.  Since he considers himself God’s gift to women, he doesn’t know how to handle a woman who doesn’t fling herself at him.  Never mind that she is not pursuing him (oh, the shock of it all), she even seems to be resisting his attempts to woo (I know, a word from the ‘50’s) her. 

This seems like a typical romance, right?  Wrong!  There are 2 sub-plots centered on Lexie.  One of them involves the guy she left behind (or did she?) on the West Coast.  And the other revolves around a series of threatening notes that Lexie has been receiving at the diner (there’s a 3rd one, regarding drugs, that gets a small, but significant, part).  She thinks it’s a rival from a neighboring town who wants Lexie’s world- (ok, local-) famous recipe for her coconut cake.  That’s obviously a bit too simplistic.  Both of these storylines ring true and add a little balance to the burgeoning (you have to admit that “burgeoning” is a cool word) romance/heat between Seb and Lexie.

I enjoyed this a lot.  I thought it was well-written and definitely held my interest throughout.  Most importantly, I really cared about the characters – not only the 2 main ones but also the numerous best-supporting bit players.  I already have her 2nd one, Blaze of Winter (Elisabeth was kind enough to give me both of them – signed! – at the authors’ event) and will be reading that one as soon as can get to it.  Again, here’s another local author worth reading.