Monday, April 29, 2013

Marina Adair Has A Formula - And It Works!

On February 2 of this year, I wrote a review of Marina Adair's Kissing Under The Mistletoe.  I gave it a 3.0, thought it was solid entertainment.  Now she's back with her 2nd book in the St. Helena Vineyards Series (also a 3.0, also solid).  Marina has a formula that works.  The DeLuca's are a big wine-growing family in St. Helena.  In book 1, a woman leaves a bad relationship and comes to St. Helena.  She ends up with the oldest of the DeLuca boys.  In book 2, Summer in Napa, guess what happens?  Give up?  That's right.  A woman leaves a bad relationship, comes to St. Helena, and...yeah, I'm not going to tell you.  Suffice it to say that there are similarities in the 2 books.

Lexi Moreau and her husband own a restaurant in New York.  They're struggling to make a go of it, but this is Lexi's dream, and she intends to make it work.  Then, Lexi walks in on her husband and the sous chef (she's a she) discussing more than the next day's menu.  Lexi, heartbroken, comes back to St. Helena, her hometown.  Her grandmother has a bakery, and Lexi is going to convert it into a bistro.

What she doesn't count on is her grandmother fixing her up with countless (not really, but a lot of) dates.  To stop the onslaught, Marco DeLuca, who is her husband's best friend and who Lexi knows very well (platonically) from their high school days, offers to act as her boyfriend (platonically).  Need I go on?

Here's the deal.  It doesn't matter that you know what's going to happen.  And I've said this before.  It's a romance.  They're supposed to get together for crying out loud.  What matters is that you care about Lexi and Marco.  You boo Lexi's husband.  You cringe when the woman obsessed with Marco is scorned and seeks revenge.  These things are okay.  I have read many books (I just finished one over the weekend) where you don't know what's going to happen - and you don't really care.  I definitely cared about these 2.

Besides the romance, there are other elements of the book that I really enjoyed.  Lexi's grandmother and her semi-elderly, nosy, meddlesome friends are a hoot.  In the 1st book, the female protagonist has a 5-year old daughter who is absolutely adorable.  In this one, Marco has a dog called Wingman (great name, don't you think?), who gets quite a bit of story time.  And even though you all know I'm not a dog person, I enjoyed Wingman's antics.  Finally, Marina has the ability to take a romance and inject a lot of humor without diminishing the story.  I got a bunch of chuckles from Summer in Napa.

I like my mysteries and my ex-CIA, ex-Mossad guys; my Mitch Rapp's, my Gabriel Allon's, and my Jack Reacher's.  I like my historical fiction - Ken Follett, Jeffrey Archer, and John Jakes.  I even like a little fantasy (A.R. Silverberry and Terry Brooks) and some religious fiction (Joel Rosenberg and Adina Senft).  And I like my romances.  Marina Adair doesn't have to take a backseat to any romance writer.  In fact, her books have substance, great characters, and a good story.  Marina, keep on keepin on.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Another New Author For Me - And Another Good One

HarperCollins gets ARC's to us bloggers by sending us a few fiction and non-fiction choices every quarter.  We can take none, one, or a few.  I always try to take 1 or 2.  I'm not sure why I chose The Golem and the Jinni - but I'm glad I did.  This book was written by Helene Wecker, who has lived in a bunch of places including, currently, the Bay Area.  I didn't know that until after I read the book, but I'm glad because, first of all, I really liked the book and, second of all, as everybody knows, I love to support local authors (I'm up to 28 now!).

This story takes place in New York City in 1899.  It concentrates on 2 immigrant communities.  One of the communities is Syrian.  This makes sense since a jinn is the equivalent of an Arab genie; a spirit that is specifically mentioned in the Koran.  In fact, the jinn, along with humans and angels, make up the 3 conscious, thinking creations of God.  A jinn can assume human or animal form and can, and often does, exercise supernatural influence over people.

The other community is Jewish.  This also makes sense because a golem is an animated being made entirely from inanimate materials; in this case, clay.  The creator imbues (good one, eh?) the creature with human features and makes it wholly subordinate to its master.

Now, as the title would suggest, the golem and the jinni actually meet and form a relationship (I didn't say a physical relationship - get your mind out of the gutter!).  And here's the very cool thing about the book.  I loved them together.  Being who and what they are, you would expect them to be "eccentric."  And eccentric they are.  But they seem like real people with real human characteristics and, in some cases, emotions.  In fact, there are parts of the book where other characters are either practicing magic or are subject to magic - and those seemed much less real to me!  Helene has made her magical creatures so real that they make others look unreal.  That doesn't seem like an easy thing to accomplish.  Nicely done, Helene.

The book obviously revolves around the golem (who is literally days old when she meets the jinni) and the jinni (who is hundreds of years old when he meets the golem).  But there are a ton of really interesting characters besides the G and the J.  In order to avoid an oversized paragraph, I'm going to list them in bulletpoint (but in random order).

The Rabbi - who takes the golem in when she is master-less
The Rabbi's Nephew - who becomes very involved in the golem's life
The Syrian Ice Cream Seller - who was a doctor in his native country but who sells ice cream in his    
   Syrian neighborhood and can't look people in the eye
The Golem creator - who...(no hints with this guy)
The Syrian Tinsmith - who takes the jinni in and teaches him his craft
The Jewish Baker And His Wife - who run the local bakery and who hire the golem
The Syrian Coffee House Owner And His Wife - who are the social glue in their neighborhood
The Goatherd And His Daughter - who the jinni interacts with hundreds of years earlier
The Wealthy Socialite Daughter - who gets to know the jinni in a pretty intimate way (now you can put
   your mind in the gutter)
The Young Neighborhood Syrian Boy - who becomes attached to the jinni

That's a lot of people.  And they're all interesting and important to the story.  Cool, huh?

It's common practice to emphasize an author's debut novel.  I say, so what.  Vanessa Diffenbaugh's The Language of Flowers, also a debut novel, is one of my top 12 all-time.  Rayme Water's The Angels' Share got a 4 (out of 4) from me.  A good, well-written book is just that - whether it's 1st or 20th (Ken Follett) or 50th (Stephen King).  The Golem and the Jinni is a very good book, period.  I strongly recommend it.

P.S.  I loved the ending.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Recycle Bookstore - Day #2

Did my 2nd Sunday today at Recycle Bookstore.  Had great fun.  This time,  I had a sign on my table that advertised book recommending services.  It was a 50-50 success.  Everybody recommended books to me!  I think they missed the point - or maybe they didn't.  In any case, anything that leads to more book discussion/book buying works for me.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Pictures from the Salty Splashes Collection

Okay, my bad.  Here are the covers for JZ Bingham's 3 books.

A New Genre (for me) of Children's Books - Children's Illustrated Fiction

A couple of weeks back, I posted on LinkedIn's Fiction Writer's Guild, of which I am a member (I swear I know that I don't write fiction - is a blogger even an author?), that I would be happy to read any author's ARC and post a review on this blog.  Well, one of the people who responded was JZ (not Jay Z) Bingham.  And she wanted me to read, of all things, 3 children's books that she wrote, part of her Salty Splashes Collection.  I said sure.  So, last week, I got in the mail 3 beautiful, already-published, children's books.  I have read them and am ready to pass judgment; I mean, review them.

The books are called:
Dreamy Drums, Trouble in Paradise
Isle of Mystery, Eyes of the King
Gansevort, The King and His Court

I liked these books a lot.  Let me list what I liked about them:

1.  They are adventure stories, but not too scary for younger kids
2.  They rhyme in a natural, not forced, way
3.  They are actually a series and should be read in order, and you all know that I love series
4.  The characters are all animals and, oftentimes, unlikely friends (e.g. a dog and a cat)
5.  They bring in new friends each book
6.  They are kids who will be kids, so real kids can relate to them
7.  The illustrations are hand-drawn, very colorful, and super neat

I think the best part of these books is that they actually read like fiction and would appeal to a wide range of ages.  There are whole pages that are just story.  In fact, about 25% of the pages are text with no illustrations.  Many of the other pages have text within an illustrated page.  And still others have illustrations and no text.

I have to admit that I had never heard of Children's Illustrated Fiction before these 3 landed on my doorstep.  But now that I have, I'm a big fan.  This is a very cool concept and done really well.  I will definitely be reading these books to my grandkids.  Count me among JZ's fans!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Getting Ready for Tomorrow's Book Recommending at Recycle Bookstore, in Downtown Campbell

This is the flyer that Recycle Bookstore put up all around the shop advertising my hour of book recommending tomorrow from 11-12. If you're in the area taking advantage of the Campbell Farmers' Market, stop by.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Another Author Event (2nd in 3 nights) - Ellen Sussman

Last night, I went to Rakestraw Books in Danville to catch Ellen Sussman on her last local stop for her current booksigning tour (too-long a sentence, perhaps?).  Ellen is promoting her 3rd novel, The Paradise Guest House.  I didn't read her 1st one, On A Night Like This, but I really enjoyed her 2nd one, French Lessons (review, 12/30/12).

Ellen is very comfortable in front of a group and really enjoys her bookstore events.  She spoke a little about how the book came to be, read a few pages, and then took questions.  The hour went by very quickly.  I'm looking forward to reading The Paradise Guest House - I just don't know when!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Author Event - Amanda Coplin, The Orchardist

Went to Kepler's tonight to see Amanda Coplin, author of The Orchardist. I have been hearing some great buzz about her book, which came out in 2012. When I had the opportunity to see her, I decided to do that. I bought her book and had it autographed (and, of course, gave her my Book Sage card). Now, I just have to read The Orchardist.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Virna DePaul's Shades of Passion - Very Solid Sequel to Shades of Desire

Let me start by saying that back on January 13 I gave Virna DePaul's Shades of Desire a 3.0 (out of 4), even though I was leaning toward a 3.5.  And the reason was a few spots where I thought the writing was a little confusing.  Well, that certainly didn't happen in Shades of Passion.  I thought the writing was better throughout.  This is a solid 3.5.  Nice job, Virna!

Shades of Passion is another book from Harlequin's romantic suspense imprint (HQN).  I know I've said this before, but I really like this genre of book.  There's heavy romance (if you catch my drift), but it's always wrapped up in a suspenseful story line.  Way to go, Harlequin (this must be my cheerleading day)!

This story centers around a different SIG member, Simon Granger, than the one we saw in Desire.  If you recall, SIG is the state equivalent of the FBI.  The SIG aids local police forces (in this case, SFPD) when there's a conflict of interest or in particularly complex cases.  And also, if you recall, Shades of Desire was about Liam "Mac" McKenzie.  Mac still makes an occasional appearance in this story, but it's a bit part.  Moving right along...

Dr. Nina Whitaker is a psychiatrist who was instrumental in instituting a program back in South Carolina designed to help the police deal more humanely and effectively with the mentally ill.  Due to the unfortunate death of a young woman under Nina's care, along with a tragedy from 20 years earlier in her own family, Nina decides to leave her practice behind and move cross-country.  Even though she now deals only with geriatric dementia patients, her new boss, Karen, convinces Nina to help propose the same program with the SFPD that she put into effect in South Carolina.  This puts her in direct contact with Simon.  In fact, she is assigned to shadow Simon.  And the sparks fly.

But wait.  Things don't go that smoothly for Simon and Nina (you can't be surprised!).  There are several people in the book that have axes to grind - and grind away they do.  I recently saw a movie, Safe Haven, based on a Nicholas Sparks' book.  Julianne Hough travels from one coast to the other to get away from an abusive boyfriend (she also colors her hair - that should fool him!).  She falls for Josh Duhamel, and they live happily ever after - or do they?  Obviously, the boyfriend is not content to stay on his coast.  I tell you this because it's exactly what is meant by romantic suspense.  I liked Sparks' version, and I like DePaul's version.

There's one more element of the book that I want to mention.  There's a lot of discussion about mental illness and how the police deal with it, especially when it relates to a tense law-breaking situation.  It certainly seems like Virna has done extensive research on the topic.  I'm hoping that I will have an opportunity at some point, since she is a local author, to talk to her about that.  I thought that this was a particularly impressive showcasing of the disease as it relates to the police.  Is it accurate?  Beats me.  But it sure does seem to be.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Email Notifications

Hello all you Book Sage readers.  You can now put your email address in the Get Automatic Email Notifications on the side bar.  You no longer have to guess as to when I have posted a new blog.  How lucky do you all feel right now?

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Book Recommender Gets a Head Start

Recycle Bookstore has put 7 of my top 12 all-time favorites on 2 shelves near the cash register.  I'm still 9 days away from my 1st gig, and this only makes me that much more excited.

For the full list, you can go to my post from March 21, just 16 days ago.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Book Sage Becomes The Book Recommender

I've just made a deal with Recycle Bookstore in Campbell, and I couldn't be happier.  For 3 consecutive Sunday mornings, starting April 14, I will be taking up residence in the store from 11-12, recommending books to Recycle's customers.  The Farmers' Market goes from 9-1, and there should be a ton of people coming into the store.  I will be setting up a table and providing recommendations to anybody who is looking for suggestions on books to read or buy.  This is one of my dreams come true.

As passionate as I am about books and everything to do with books, I have always derived extra pleasure in recommending books to friends and family.  And when they let me know that they liked my recommendation, I get a little electrical jolt of satisfaction.  It's actually a visceral reaction for me.  I feel it in the gut.  Now, I'll actually have an opportunity to do this for total strangers.  The risk of disappointment if they don't like the book is greater, but the reward if they do will more than make up for it.

This 3-week experiment will end on Sunday, April 28.  If it goes well, then I will continue doing it on a weekly basis.  If it doesn't, then I will still have greatly enjoyed my 3 hours in the store.  And lest you think I'm doing this for altruistic reasons, I will be getting compensation - no, not money, but, hopefully, increased readership for my blog.  That would be enormously satisfying.