Thursday, May 30, 2013

If You Were Here by Alafair Burke - Her 9th, My 1st

If You Were Here is Alafair Burke’s 9th novel – but only my 1st.  In fact, I had never heard of her before getting this ARC from HarperCollins.  I have to say that I liked it quite a bit.  It’s very humbling to learn that there are a ton of authors that I don’t know who have all written a bunch of books.  I would have to read 700 books a year instead of 70 to begin to know who’s out there.

But enough about my literary inadequacy.  If You Were Here has a very intricate plot.  I’ll give you a brief synopsis.  10 years ago, McKenna Wright is a promising ADA (assistant district attorney), until she wrongly accuses a policeman, Officer Macklin, of murdering a street thug.  Her actions create enormous racial tension in NYC and ruin Macklin’s career.  This blow-up leads McKenna to leave the DA’s office, and she ultimately ends up as a journalist for NYC Magazine.  Following so far?

10 years later, McKenna comes across video footage of an old friend, Susan Hauptmann, who saves a teenage boy from being crushed in the New York subway.  Susan has been missing for most of those 10 years.  In her pursuit of Susan, McKenna prints a story about a judge for the magazine that is discredited and, once again, lands her in hot water.  She is fired from the magazine and sets out, on her own, to find out who is working so hard to make her look bad.

I’m actually doing a pretty lousy job of summing this book up.  There is so much that happens that I simply can’t do justice to the synopsis – even though I earlier bragged that I would do just that.  Besides McKenna, Susan, and Officer Macklin, there is a cast of tens, and they all have big parts.  A few of them are:

Patrick Jordan, McKenna’s husband
Joe Scanlin, the detective who handled the shooting 10 years earlier
General and Gretchen Hauptmann, Susan’s sister and father
Will Getty, the district attorney who McKenna worked for at the time of the big fiasco
Carl Buckner, a very bright and conscientious hit man
Adam Bayne, a classmate of Patrick’s and Susan’s at West Point, who goes into business with General Hauptmann
Jamie Mercado, FBI agent
Bob Vance, McKenna’s boss at NYC Magazine
And a bunch more

With as many important and well-developed characters as are in the book, you might think that the story would be hard to follow.  But it’s not.  Each character is well-defined and fits in perfectly with the story and each other.  I liked it a lot and give it a 3 out of 4.  And, by the way, this is my 11th 3 out of 34 books in 2013, plus 5-3.5’s, 1-4.0, and 1-4.5.  That is a percentage of 52.9% that are 3 or higher.  That’s pretty darn good.  I knew you would want to know. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Pulp Fiction

4 or 5 Sundays, ago, I was doing my thing in front of Recycle Bookstore, and Alfred Jan came by.  Alfred edits and writes introductions for a number of pulp fiction books from the '20's, '30's, and '40's.  We got to talking, and I told Alfred that if he brought me some information, I would post it.  Well, he did, and I am.  The following is a list of old-timey books that Alfred has worked on.  The prevailing genres are mystery and detective.  I am including the author, the publisher, and the date.

Footprints on a Brain:  The Inspector Allhoff Stories
D.L. Champion
Adventure House, 2001

Killing Time and Other Stories
Joel Townsley Rogers
Ramble House, 2007

The Surgeon of Souls and Other Tales of Terror
Robert Leslie Bellem
Black Dog Books, 2009

The Best of Spicy Mystery, Vol. 1
multiple authors
Altus Press, 2012

A Gelett Burgess Sampler:  Ethics and Aesthetics
essays and short stories by a bohemian who lived in the San Francisco Bay Area during the 1890's
Surinam Turtle Press, 2012

You can order these books through Amazon or the publishers.  Make sure you include the titles and authors (or just the titles for the last 2).  Whether or not you like this old stuff, it's pretty cool to have someone working hard to bring it all back.  Nice going, Alfred.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Another Review - I'm on a Roll!

The Barbed Crown, by William Dietrich, came to me as an ARC from HarperCollins.  It is the 6th in Dietrich's Ethan Gage series (17th overall - 12 fiction, 5 non-fiction), which I was totally unfamiliar with before getting this one.  It's an interesting premise.  Gage is an American who is very much like James West from the old TV show The Wild, Wild West.  He gets into and out of a million scrapes.  The book's blurb explains it best:

"Swashbuckling hero Ethan Gage returns to Paris to wreak vengeance on his nemesis, the cunning and fearsome Napoleon Bonaparte, and to destroy his plot to conquer England."

Oh, and by the way, Gage actually acted as an advisor to Napoleon when the latter invaded North Africa.  How he goes from Napoleon's ally to his enemy you'll have to read to find out.  That's shorthand for I'm not really sure how all of this happens since I have not read any of the other 5 Gage books.  All I do know is that Gage meddles in European history in every book.

This is a lighthearted adventure romp.  The best part about it is that Dietrich does his homework.  The descriptions of battles and politics are accurate (so I'm told).  In this one, in fact, we see how Napoleon successfully declares himself emperor.  And we also get an in depth account of the Battle of Trafalfar, with Admiral Nelson in command of the English navy (when I was in London 8-9 years ago, I saw Nelson's statue in Trafalgar Square - very cool).

The book has humor in it, which always increases my reading enjoyment.  There are also some very cool quotes from Benjamin Franklin, who Gage knows personally.  Here's one of them:  "Two can keep a secret if one of them is dead."  I'm never opposed to anything that can make me laugh.

So, did I like it?  I did.  I give it a 2.5 out of 4.  Would I recommend it?  I would.  If you want some lightweight fun, with humor, historical accuracy, and a hero who is able to extricate himself from every difficult situation he finds himself in, then go for it.

Monday, May 20, 2013

3 More Reviews - These of the Thumbnail Variety

I've got 3 reviews for you:

The Clover House - Henriette Lazaridis Power
The House at Tyneford - Natasha Solomons
Carter Beats the Devil - Glen David Gold

So that you don't have to devote a whole evening to reading this one blog post, I will only give a paragraph (or so) to each of these 3 books.  And, I will make every effort (and probably fail) to cut back on the cringe-inducing humor that I can't seem to avoid.  Here we go.

The Clover House is the 2nd of 2 books that Kathleen Zrelak, VP of Publicity, Goldberg McDuffie Communications, sent me a short while ago.  The 1st one, The Sisterhood, was really good.  I gave it a 3.5.  This one, although not quite as good, is still a solid 3.  Nothing wrong with that.  (This doesn't count as 1 of my 3 paragraphs)

The Clover House centers on a Greek-American woman, Calliope Notaris Brown, who is 30-something (remember that TV show?) and who lives in Boston in the year 2000.  She receives a phone call that her beloved Uncle Nestor, her mother's brother, has passed away in Patras, Greece.  She has to travel there because she is in her uncle's will.  Callie has her own angst at home to deal with.  She is recently engaged to Jonah but is having trouble with the commitment.  Now, she is leaving for Greece just when she really needs to be working on her relationship with Jonah.  And, when she gets to Greece, she discovers family history, especially about her mother, Clio, that changes her thinking and the lives of her Greek family.  (Sorry, one paragraph would have made it too long)

Callie has had a very rocky relationship with her mother all her life.  Now, we, the readers, get to go back to the 1930's and early 40's and see Callie's mother as a teenager and the oldest of 4 siblings.  WWII is coming to Greece, and we will get to see the defining moments in Clio's life.  What you're left with is 2 stories in 2 different time periods, going back and forth (just like The Sisterhood) and both of them compelling.  Nice job, Kathleen.  You gave me 2 good ones.  No pressure for the future, though!

The House at Tyneford was the April selection for the 4th Tuesday Book Club at Books, Inc., Palo Alto.  Unfortunately, even though Joni and I both read it, we weren't able to make the meeting.  Rats.  It was not a waste, though.  We both liked it, me more than her.  I give this one a 3 also.  We've all heard varying accounts of WWII as it relates to the Jews.  This story actually presents history that I was completely unaware of.  Elise is 19 years old in the Spring of 1938.  She lives in Vienna, and she and her family are at the center of Viennese culture.  Elise is used to attending formal parties and drinking champagne.  When her parents realize that it's no longer safe for Jews to be in Vienna, they ship Elise off to a small bayside town in England to be one servant of many in a large manor.  She has to get used to going from having servants to being one.  (I can't limit this book to one paragraph either - so sue me)

Much of the book is told by Elise as an old woman.  She chronicles her life as a servant at Tyneford House and her relationship with its master, Mr. Rivers, and his son, Kit.  The book does an excellent job, I think, of describing life in England during WWII among the privileged classes.  It also, as I mentioned earlier, gave me insight into an aspect of the Jews during the war that I just didn't know about.  Finally, it's just a well-written, well-told story.  Can't get enough of those.

SMALL SPOILER ALERT:  The ending has a feel very similar to Ann Patchett's Bel Canto.

Finally, and this will really be short, is Carter Beats the Devil.  The story centers on a magician, Charles Joseph Carter, back in the days of Harry Houdini and President Warren G. Harding.  Gold mixes in historical figures with a lot of magic.  This is the 2nd book that Stacy at Recycle has given me to read.  The 1st one, The Tender Bar, was in my top 11 last year.  This one - not so much.  I give this a 2.  It just never grabbed me.  The only really positive comment I can make is that the author, Gold, is married to Alice Sebold, she of The Lovely Bones fame.  And, by the way, Seybold's 1st book, Lucky, is a true account of a life-changing experience that she had in college.  It's a little rough in spots due to the subject matter but is a book definitely worth reading.  I recommend it.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

My Annual 136th Day Update

Did you read the title of this post?  I just made that up.  Normally, I don't do any recaps until the end of the year.  But, as I am finishing my 30th book of 2013, I decided to jump in now and list the 7 books that I have read so far that are 3.5 (out of 4) or higher.  Since I had 11-3.5's or higher for all of 2012, I'm already 7/11 of the way there in less than 5 months.  2013 is shaping up to be some year.  Here they are:

Vince Flynn - The Last Man - 3.5.  This is Flynn's 13th book in the Mitch Rapp series.  How cool is it that he's still on his game?  This one is as good as any of the others.

Virna DePaul - Shades of Passion - 3.5.  Virna has written 3 books in the same series for Harlequin's Romantic Suspense group.  I've read 2 of the 3.  The 1st one, Shades of Desire, I gave a 3.0.  This one's just a little bit better.  Lots of romance but also lots of suspense.  Great combo.

Jamie Ford - On the Corner of Bitter and Sweet - 3.5.  This is the story of the Japanese internment camps in the Western part of the United States during WWII.  This is a really good book.

W.E.B. Griffin - Empire and Honor - 3.5.  This is book 7 in the series (Griffin has 4 other military series, which I read, and 1 police series, which I don't read).  Again, like Flynn, book 7 is as good as the other 6, probably better.  Since he started writing with his son, his books have been at least as good as when he wrote solo.

Sue Diaz - Minefields of the Heart - 4.0.  Sue is one of 2 featured authors by Silicon Valley Reads (the other being Brian Castner) this year.  Her non-fiction book tells what it's like for the mother of a soldier (3 tours of duty) in Afghanistan.  She combines poignant stories with humor and hometown events.  Terrific.

Vanessa Diffenbaugh - The Language of Flowers - 4.5.  I've talked about this one ad nauseum.

Helen Bryan - The Sisterhood - 3.5.  Just finished this one last week.  Very good book about 2 old convents - one in Spain and one in South America.  The story goes back and forth between the present and the 1500's.  Enjoyed this one a lot.

As I go back through the list, I see that there's something for everybody - a mini-Fiction for the Non-Fiction Reader, if you will.  Hopefully, you'll all see something that piques your interest.  Happy Reading!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Back To Book Reviews - And I've Got A Dandy

I currently have 5 book reviews to do.  And, yet, I am putting all of them on hold to review the book I finished today - yes, today.  It's called The Sisterhood by Helen Bryan.  I loved this book.  I hovered between a 3.5 and 4 (out of 4) and finally settled on a 3.5.  But it was close.  There was a little bit of drag in the middle, enough to swing it to a 3.5.  But make no mistake.  This is a really good book.

The book rotates between the early-to-mid 1500's in Spain and the Pacific coast of South America and the year 2000 in a small town in Georgia.  It is 17 years since Menina Walker, an Hispanic, has been adopted by a well-to-do caucasian couple (these designations are important, as you will see).  At 19, she is well-assimilated into American society and, in fact, is engaged to be married to the son of a prominent family that is preparing him for a life in politics.   Circumstances change, and Menina finds herself on the way to Seville to search out a painter from the 1500's who (even if it's "whom," I'm not using it!) she has studied in school.

That's enough of that.  Except, the story revolves around 2 very old convents, one in Spain and one in South America, and a medallion and a chronicle.  There are religious overtones throughout the book but only as background.  This book is about people, mostly women, from both time periods.  And I have to say that I REALLY cared about these people, all of them (sounds a little like Mr. Hyde in the musical, Jekyll and Hyde, doesn't it?).  Although this won't shock any of you regular Book Sage readers, I cried in the year 2000, and I cried in the years 1552, 1553, 1554, et al.  And even though I didn't cry in the years 1504 and 1505, I was fascinated by, and totally engrossed in, the characters.

The book is 402 pages long.  My 1st major tear-up was on page 284.  I was completely surprised that I cared so much about any of these women.  I not only teared-up, I also got chills.  I was pretty much a blubbering mess the rest of the way, with a few pages of respite in between.

I'm not exactly sure what genre this is.  It's not religious fiction, historical fiction, a murder mystery, or a romance, although it has elements of all of these genres.  I'm just going to call it a darn fine novel with something to please any and every reader.  I do believe that this will be in Volume VI of Fiction for the Non-Fiction Reader.  It's earned its spot.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Author Event - In NYC!

My daughter, Lauren, and her friends, Katie and Jenny, went to see Cheryl Strayed, who wrote Wild, From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail in New York City.  (Cheryl is the blonde)

Any time you, the readers, attend an author's event, anywhere in the country (or world), I will be happy to post a picture and plug your event - and your author.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

2 Busy Weeks of Author Events - I Love It!

Tomorrow marks the end of a 2-week period in which I went to 6 author events.  That's right, 6!  With a total of (cue the music) 10 authors.  Here's how it went - with some pictures:

Saturday - April 20 - Inklings Books and Things, located in the Capitola Mall in (nothing gets by my readers) Capitola.  2 of my favorite local authors, Jasmine Haynes and Adina Senft, did a joint book signing (which they prefer to do).  It's a little crazy to see them together because Jasmine writes erotic romance, and Adina writes religions fiction.  They both do work in other genres, but those are their primary focal points.  It's always great to see them.

Tuesday, April 23 - JCC, San Francisco - Gillian (pronounced with a hard "G" - really?) Flynn, author of Gone Girl and 2 earlier books.  She drew a large crowd and gave a very interesting speech.  One surprising  fact that came out of this evening:  Gone Girl is expected to sell more copies than 50 Shades of Grey.  Are you kidding me?
P.S.  Gillian is the young one in the picture, but you probably guessed that.

Wednesday, April 24 - Book Passage, Corte Madera - Philip Kerr in the afternoon and Kate Atkinson at night.  I played hooky and took off a half-day from work.  That was definitely fun.  Philip writes a series about a Berlin detective, Bernie Gunther, in the 1940's (he has to deal with some nazi stuff, even though he's definitely not a nazi).  I got his 8th book, Prague Fatale, as an ARC last year and enjoyed it.  I thought it would be fun to see him promoting his 9th in the series.  For a weekday afternoon, it was a pretty good crowd - maybe 30-35 people.

Kate's crowd was way bigger than that.  She's written a number of books (Case Histories being pretty well known), but her current one, Life After Life, is getting a tremendous amount of play.  I've seen it pushed by a number of bloggers along with her publisher.  Her event was a little bit different than most because her American editor (Kate is British, as is Philip) interviewed her before turning it over to the audience for Q & A.  Then, of course she signed books, as they all, thankfully, do (I LOVE books signed in person).

Sunday, April 28 - JCC, Palo Alto - a panel discussion:  Women's Literature vs. Chick Lit, with 3 authors on the panel - Pulitzer Prize winner Jane Smiley, Ellen Sussman, author of French Lessons and the new The Paradise Guest House, and Janis Cooke Newman, author of Mary, Mrs. A. Lincoln; with  another author, Jane Ganahl, who wrote a memoir, Naked on the Page:  the Misadventures of My Unmarried Midlife, as moderator (long sentence, huh?).  This was fascinating.  It seems that any book that deals with emotions is considered chick lit.  There was a fair amount of distress over this but not necessarily much that they can do about it.  The real vitriol (how cool a word is that?) was directed to Wikipedia's latest bonehead move.  They're basically taking female authors out of the Author category and putting them in a separate category called "Female Authors."  We men sure know how to screw things up, don't we?
From bottom of the picture to top:  Ellen Sussman, Jane Smiley, Janis Cooke-Newman, and Jane Ganahl (yes, I know it's a lousy picture).

Thursday, May 2 - Rakestraw Books - Helene Wecker, The Golem and the Jinni.  HarperCollins has really been touting this 1st-time author.  Helene read a little from the book and then took questions.  Her answers to some of the questions were enlightening.  It turns out that she took 7 years to write her book.  She met her agent while she was getting an MFA (Masters of Fine Arts) from Columbia University.  They stayed in touch, and when he agreed to represent her about 5 years later, it took only a short while after that to get her publisher - at auction, no less.  Helene lives in the Bay Area and came to the event with her husband and a very cute baby.  (There's no picture of Helene because I FORGOT TO TAKE ONE! - clearly a senior moment).

So, this was a fantastic 2 weeks.  I love author events, and I particularly love author events that feature local authors (3 of the 6 events and 7 of the 10 authors).  I don't know when I will get that lucky again.  But I will certainly relish these 2 weeks.