Well, people, after 39 months of The Book Sage, this is the 1st blog I've ever written that has nothing to do with books. 2 nights ago, my daughter (and last of 3 children - 2 girls and a boy) got married to a great guy. Their wedding took place at the Palm Event Center in Pleasanton. Here are a few pictures from that night (and I can't absolutely swear there won't be a few more in the next couple of days!).
We have a ton of events in April, and they run the gamut in terms of content and style. They all start at 7:00, except for the VHOB Book Club meeting on the 16th. Here they are, in order:
Tuesday, April 1, VHOB Book Club - Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, by and with Beth Hoffman. This will be the 1st time that we have an author appear by phone (she lives in Kentucky). Discussion goes from 6:30-7:00, and Beth will join us at 7:00. This event is open to everybody. You can join us for the discussion or just come at 7:00 to talk to Beth.
Tuesday, April 8, poetry workshop - Erica Goss, Los Gatos Poet Laureate, will be conducting a workshop. Please go to www.ericagoss.com for more details about the workshop, or just to connect with Erica.
Wednesday, April 9, Jan Harwood - the author of Dangerous Women: A Raging Granny Mystery. Come hear our 2nd octogenarian this year (she's 1 year younger than Betty Auchard), and Jan's birthday is July 21, one day before mine (I know how much you wanted to know my birth date!).
Wednesday, April 16, Tracy Guzeman - The Gravity of Birds is our in-house VHOB Book Club event of the month. Tracy has already been to VHOB once, and you will want to see her, especially if you didn't have a chance the 1st time. And, as before, everybody is welcome for the discussion and/or the Q&A with Tracy.
Friday, April 18, Kim Yen Nguyen, PharmD - come here the amazing true story of a woman who came to America during the Vietnam War and who, ultimately, raised 3 autistic children - by herself! I think we all want to meet this remarkable woman.
Thursday, April 24, Jenn Castro - she has been to VHOB before, reading her book to children. This time, she will read to both children and adults in anticipation of Mother's Day.
Tuesday, April 29, Edward Mendez - this ex-San Jose native, who currently lives in New Mexico, has written a novel called One Calamitous Spring: A Novel of Santa Fe. Welcome back one of our own (even if it's only for 1 night).
Wednesday, April 30, Kate Mitchell - her book, Fashioning Women, "speaks to women of all ages about the conflicting messages we receive to attain the feminine ideal." Sounds fascinating, doesn't it?
We've got an unbelievable line-up for you in April. We hope to see you numerous times(!) during the month.
I don't want the heading to mislead you. I enjoyed this book. I gave it a 3/4. It is very well-written (examples to follow) and held my interest. But even though there were a number of primary characters, none of them grabbed me. I had one brief moment on page 376 (out of 394) that caused a small tear-up. Other than that, nada. Now, lest you think that I have to be bawling in order to love a book, I say nay to that (despite much empirical evidence to the contrary). 7 of my top 12 all-time came with no waterworks. To wit:
Pillars of the Earth
Winter of the World
My Losing Season
See, I can love a book without crying. The Husband's Secret didn't make me cry AND I wasn't emotionally connected to the characters. But that doesn't mean I didn't like it. I did. Here's a synopsis from Goodreads:
Imagine that your husband wrote you a letter, to be opened after his death. Imagine, too, that the letter contains his deepest, darkest secret—something with the potential to destroy not just the life you built together, but the lives of others as well. Imagine, then, that you stumble across that letter while your husband is still very much alive. . . . Cecilia Fitzpatrick has achieved it all—she’s an incredibly successful businesswoman, a pillar of her small community, and a devoted wife and mother. Her life is as orderly and spotless as her home. But that letter is about to change everything, and not just for her: Rachel and Tess barely know Cecilia—or each other—but they too are about to feel the earth-shattering repercussions of her husband’s secret.
There are many things in this book that I liked. I really liked how she started by having the 1st 3 chapters all center on different characters. It reminded me of 2 of my favorite books: Strangers (1986), by Dean Koontz, and The Plot (1967), by Irving Wallace. Both of those books took much longer than this one for the main characters to come together. But I did flash on those 2.
Another thing I liked was some of her comparisons. Here are 2 that Liane gave:
1. Describing her connection with her adult son - "By then, she and Rob had developed a relationship that was perfectly nice, but it was like that dreadful carob chocolate. As soon as you tasted it, you knew that it was just a wrong, sad imitation."
2. Describing her social anxiety - "She'd made a few friends on the outskirts of the inner social circle, but she couldn't do it again. Not now. She didn't have the strength. It was like someone had cheerfully suggested she run a marathon when she's just dragged herself out of bed after suffering from the flu."
Nice writing, huh?
I liked how she handled a serious accident late in the book. Instead of skipping around to another character for the next chapter, which is how the whole book is structured, she went right into the results of the accident. I thought that was a smart decision.
I liked that she surprised me in several spots. This was especially true of a confession that comes a little before the half-way mark. Overall, it was certainly less predictable than many books I've read.
And I liked that she came up with a very unique concept. As you can see from the Goodreads blurb, it basically tells the story of how one secret can affect so many lives. It takes good writing to make that work. And she pulled it off.
But there were a couple of things I didn't much like. One was that I got a little tired of some of the characters going through the same angst over and over. It was a little bit same-old, same-old for me. And I thought the epilogue was a bit dumb - but just a bit. Most importantly, as mentioned above (and ad nauseum throughout my blog posts), I didn't care enough about any of the characters.
The positives definitely outweighed the negatives. The book came highly recommended to me, and I think I might have created unrealistic expectations for myself. But for all of that, it was still a solid read, and I would recommend it.
Tuesday night I went to the Los Gatos Library's 3rd Tuesday Night Book Club meeting. I try to go as often as I can because I really enjoy it. Melissa Maglio does a great job of leading the discussion and even democratically selects the book choices by involving the members of the club (unlike a certain despot who runs the VHOB Book Club!). Tuesday night was particularly cool because we not only discussed Blossoms and Bayonets, by Jana McBurney-Lin and Hi-Dong Chai (affectionately called Uncle Chai), but both of them were there. It was only 2 weeks ago (almost), March 8, that I posted a review of the book - and, I might add, liked it a lot.
Jana wrote the book, with Hi-Dong's input. You see, Hi-Dong was actually the subject of the book, even though the book is technically a novel. It seems like more of a hybrid genre to me. It's quite a bit of non-fiction because Hi-Dong's family in the book was his real family. And it's certainly historical fiction because we learned a lot about Korea during WWII. So I would say it's somewhere in between. I'll call it historical fiction/non-fiction. What the heck. I get to make stuff up.
Here are few pictures from last night. I'll caption each one.
Hi-Dong Chai (Uncle Chai) and Jana McBurney-Lin
Los Gatos Library 3rd Tuesday Night Book Club members
Jana (left), Melissa Maglio (our illustrious leader)(right), book club member (center)
Uncle Chai (obviously)
UPCOMING EVENT: On Friday, September 19, Jana and Uncle Chai will be appearing at VHOB as the September VHOB Book Club authors. You will all be fascinated by the discussion and the Q&A with the 2 of them.
Harlan Coben's Missing You is coming out today. I got it from the publisher as an ARC and posted a review of it back on January 25. Below you will find the review. And in a 1st, Kepler's will be talking with Harlan from his home in New Jersey in a live streaming event next Tuesday night, March 25, at 7:00. If you haven't seen him before, try and get there. He is extremely funny and very entertaining. If you have seen him before (I've seen him twice), then you know how much fun he is.
There may be better authors than Harlan Coben. But there is nobody better at murder mysteries/thrillers (Greg Iles is a close 2nd). I just finished Coben's 25th novel, and I've read all but 2 (and those are his 2 YA novels featuring Myron Bolitar's nephew, Mickey). I've enjoyed every single one of them, without exception. But this one is right near the top. Here is Goodread's thumbnail sketch of Missing You, due out March 18.
It's a profile, like all the others on the online dating site. But as NYPD Detective Kat Donovan focuses on the accompanying picture, she feels her whole world explode, as emotions she’s ignored for decades come crashing down on her. Staring back at her is her ex-fiancé Jeff, the man who shattered her heart—and who she hasn’t seen in 18 years. Kat feels a spark, wondering if this might be the moment when past tragedies recede and a new world opens up to her. But when she reaches out to the man in the profile, her reawakened hope quickly darkens into suspicion and then terror as an unspeakable conspiracy comes to light, in which monsters prey upon the most vulnerable. As the body count mounts and Kat's hope for a second chance with Jeff grows more and more elusive, she is consumed by an investigation that challenges her feelings about everyone she ever loved—her former fiancé, her mother, and even her father, whose cruel murder so long ago has never been fully explained. With lives on the line, including her own, Kat must venture deeper into the darkness than she ever has before, and discover if she has the strength to survive what she finds there.
I am in awe of how Coben can create books that have so many pieces to them but never seem too complicated. And that I can never figure out (I can't figure out what's going to happen in movies either). Plus, in a literary world that typically features male protagonists, with some very notable exceptions (and not counting romances), it's nice to have a nationally renowned male author feature a female lead.
I have read a lot of books in the last couple of years by debut authors, book club authors, and local authors. This has led me to miss out on some of my stand-by authors. But I never miss a Coben. And I know I've said this before. If you have a chance to see him up close and personal, don't pass up the opportunity. He's just south of a stand-up comedian. I may have told you this one before, but we saw him a couple of years ago at Book Passage in Corte Madera. He started by saying "I live just east of here - New Jersey. And when he told the story of his teenage daughter coming into the kitchen, seeing Coben's picture on a book cover, and saying "Ewwww," the entire audience cracked up. A very good author and a very entertaining speaker. Most importantly, read Missing You when it comes out in March. And if you haven't read him before, and if you start with this one, you will definitely be hooked. It's a 3.5/4 and will be in my list of top books for 2014.
I have a confession to make. I am NOT a 16-year old girl. And, yet, I absolutely loved C. Lee McKenzie's The Princess of Las Pulgas, which IS about a 16-year old girl. I have read and enjoyed several YA books in the past that had teenage female protagonists - Truly, Madly, Deadly by Hannah Jayne and Wyndano's Cloak by A.R. Silverberry (his was a fantasy to boot) come to mind. So I'm not a novice when it comes to YA's. You can add this one to my recommend list. It's absolutely terrific.
I have to give you a warning right up front. Our protagonist, Carlie, loses her dad to cancer when Carlie is 16. That leaves Carlie, her 14-year old brother, Keith, and their mom. This is not a spoiler alert because we fine out about the dad on page 2. But this may influence whether or not you want to read the book or recommend it to somebody else. This is not a fun topic, but it obviously sets the stage for the rest of the book. And if you're talking about the beginning of a book grabbing you, I don't know how much more dramatic this could be.
What follows, and this all happens early on, is that Carlie and her family have to sell their house and move from a very upper middle class California city on the ocean to a much more "modest" area inland. Carlie and Keith have to go to a new school where Carlie is an incoming junior and Keith a sophomore. Really, the book is all about the transition from a school where Carlie's biggest worry is what dress to buy for the Spring Fling prom to a school where an armed security guard checks the arriving students each morning. This obviously wouldn't be easy for anybody.
Now you have the premise. What transpires is all believable to me. I felt a ton of emotion for many of the characters and did a fair amount (okay, a whole bunch) of tearing up along the way. In fact, some of my tearing up, if we're being honest here, was a little stronger than that. I avoided tears running down my cheeks, but I did have to blow my nose a few times!
I really can't tell you too much more. You need to read it and see how it all shapes up. I will say, though, that Lee had the opportunity to make this story sappy and maudlin - and she didn't do it. It felt honest to me and, as I mentioned before, totally believable. Since I've got 48 years on her, not to mention being a different gender, means, I guess, that you don't have to be a 16-year old girl to like this book. For those of you, though, that typically read only Jack Reacher, Mitch Rapp, Gabriel Allon, John Wells, and the like, this may not be the best book for you. For everybody else, have at it. I think you will thank me.
ASIDE: When our 9-year old granddaughter, Haley, was a few months old, and for several years after that, she went with Joni to a class called Music Together. For those of you who don't know what this is, it's basically an interactive music class for kids aged 0-4. Well, there's one song about a cat that eats mice. And the verse calls the cat "sleek and fat." On page 308, Carlie sees her cat after not seeing her for a few weeks and says that she is "sleek and fat." I had to smile at that one.
About a week ago, the Mercury News ran an article called Bay Area's used bookstores: A dog-eared guide. The author of the article listed 10 used bookstores in the Bay Area that are worth visiting. I was happy, nay thrilled, to see Recycle's 2 stores (on The Alameda in San Jose and on Campbell Avenue in Campbell, which is where I roost on Sunday mornings) on the list. Here are the 10.
BookBuyers. Named Best Bookstore of 2013 by the Mountain View Voice. 317 Castro
St., Mountain View, 650-968-7323, www.bookbuyers.com. 2)
Dark Carnival. A sci-fi/fantasy paradise. 3086 Claremont Ave., Berkeley,
510-654-7323, www.darkcarnival.com. 3)
Know Knew Books. Only open a few months, it's the opposite of the dusty/musty
bookstore. Open, airy and vintage jewelry too. 366 State St., Los Altos,
650-326-9355, www.knowknewbooks.com. 4)
Moe's Books. Berkeley's famous Telegraph Avenue store was recently honored with
a historic plaque for its 55 years in business. 2476 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley,
510-849-2087, www.moesbooks.com. 5) B
Street Books. Lew Cohen opened the shop five years ago after 30 years as a
private investigator. 301 South B St., San Mateo, 650-343-2800, www.bstreetbooks.com. 6) The Book Shop. A
downtown Hayward institution, The Book Shop has been in business since 1960.
1007 B St., Hayward, 510-538-3943, www.haywardbookshop.com. 7)
Recycle Books. More than 100,000 titles are in stock at the two South Bay
locations. The bookstore cats are faves with customers. 1066 The Alameda, San
Jose, 408-286-6275, and 275 E. Campbell Ave., Campbell, 408-370-3514. http://recyclebookstore.com. 8) Kayo
Books. Vintage paperbacks from the 1940s to 1970s with the suggestive slogan,
"Is that a paperback in your pocket, or are you just happy to see
me?" 814 Post St., San Francisco, 415-749-0554, www.kayobooks.com. 9) Swan's Fine Books.
1381 Locust St., Walnut Creek. Another new shop, this store was opened in May
2013 by Laurelle Swan, formerly in the software sales industry. 925-935-1190, http://swansfinebooks.com. 10) Spectator
Books. Books are shelved to the rafters in this labyrinthine store. 4163
Piedmont Ave., Oakland, 510-653-7300, www.spectatorbooks.com
Remember when I said I would have this list about a week ago? Well, I meant it when I said it.
I've got 14 series to list here. But I'm not going to go into great detail about them (and, for some, no detail at all). The 1st batch consists of the series that I read one and said "No thank you." (total # of books in series in parentheses)
1. Alan Bradley - Flavia de Luce (6)
2. F. Paul Wilson - Repairman Jack (15)
3. Gregory McGuire - Wicked (6)
4. George R.R. Martin - Game of Thrones (6)
The following group I liked, at least for a time, but then I didn't like - or stopped for some other reason.
1. Clive Cussler - Dirk Pitt (22) - I loved this series with Dirk Pitt and Al Giordino, until Dirk came across twin children that he didn't know he had - and they became part of the action
2. Alex Kava - Maggie O'Dell (11) - I really liked this series about an FBI profiler - the stories about serial killers were spooky but riveting - and then Kava wrote one very bad book and followed that with one only slightly better - I was done
3. Lee Child - Jack Reacher (20) - I have no reason for stopping this series - I read about 4 of them and liked every one - and then I stopped - no clue as to why
4. Jim Butcher - The Dresden Files (20) - I read, I think, 3 - that was enough
5. Alexander McCall Smith - The 1st Ladies Detective Agency (15) - I enjoyed this series for a while but never loved it - I probably read about 5 or 6, and that was plenty
6. Dean Koontz - Odd Thomas (11) - At one time, I wanted to read every Koontz book, and I pretty much have - but I was never crazy about Odd Thomas and finally stopped after maybe 4 of them
7. Joel Rosenberg - The Twelfth Imam (3) - I was crazy about The Last Jihad series and enjoyed book 1 of this series - I can't figure out why I stopped after book 1 - it might be nothing more dramatic than I couldn't seem to fit it in
8. John Lescroart - Dismas Hardy (15) - I read a couple of these - in fact, I once emailed John to ask him in what order I should read all of them - he was great, emailed me back with a detailed explanation - normally I like to support authors who take the time to communicate with me - I guess in this case I just didn't like them well enough
9. Randy Wayne White - Doc Ford (20) - I read 3 but was never a big fan - it was easy to stop
10.James Swain - Tony Valentine (8) - I like this series and read 5 or 6 - he went a considerable period of time without writing any more - and when he picked back up, I didn't
That's it. I am now done with all posts about series - forever (or until I start with them again - whichever comes 1st).
Thank you to everybody who rendered an opinion on my rating system question. Here's what I'm going to do:
1. I will give a rating to all books written by national or out-of-the-area authors.
2. I will not give a rating to books written by local authors.
3. I will rate all books that I post on Amazon or Goodreads (as Janice said, you have to do that).
4. I will give all books a rating on my January 1 year-end post.
As several of you said, there's always the risk of hurting an author's feelings. If it's somebody I don't know, then I don't have to face them. But if it's someone local, then I will run across them at various times. What if I give a local author a 3.5 on one book and then a 2.5 or 3 on the next? It makes sense that one book might be better than another (at least in my eyes), but how will that make the author feel?
I recently read Anna Quindlen's latest book. I gave it a 2.5. And, yet, I really liked her others. Anna, I imagine, couldn't care less about what I think of her books, but maybe that's not the case with a Bay Area author. So, that's it. I will still review every book honestly, local author or not. But there's no compelling reason to put a rating on it. I know that it's easier for my readers to go straight to the rating and not always have to read the whole review. In fact, I do that myself quite a bit. But in the interests of making sure that I'm not hurting feelings, I will adopt this new system immediately. I hope this works for all of you.
I just finished Betty Auchard's The Home for the Friendless today. Just in time for Betty's appearance tonight at VHOB. It wasn't really necessary for me to even start the book by tonight, let alone finish it. We have had many authors whose books I hadn't (and still haven't) read by the time they appeared at the bookstore. In this case, though, once I started it, I wanted to keep reading. And when I was sure I wouldn't finish in time, the book grabbed me so much that I couldn't put it down.
What's it about? Well, it's the non-fiction account of Betty's childhood. I won't say that her experiences were Glass Castle-like. But they weren't that far off, either. Betty is the oldest of 3 children born to Bassle and Waneta Peal. The book follows the lives of the family members from the time of the Great Depression through the 1st few years after WWII. They lived in numerous houses and apartments along the way, including a 2-year stint where the 3 kids lived without their parents in a home for children called The Home for the Friendless. It's a pretty crazy ride Betty had.
But throughout the telling of her story, and even with all of the hardships, Betty makes sure that we know about the good times. She has a lot of relatives, and many of them came through for her. Bassle and Waneta loved their children, even if they didn't always know how to show it. They tried to do their best. Some of the incidents that Betty relates to us may be hard for many of us to imagine. After all, I know that my mother never walked out on my father (although she might have thought about it) and made it necessary for my brother and me to live in a home. Or even with our relatives. And I also know that my parents didn't divorce 3 times and remarry each time. But Betty's did.
Betty tells her story with poignancy and humor and great insight. But she's never looking for pity. When Betty and her family move to a suburb of Denver, and Betty is able to go to the same high school for 3 years, she blossoms. And so does the book. The initial 250 pages (of 350) take the reader through one difficult period of time after another. It's tough reading but very compelling. The last 100 pages, though, took off like they were on a launching pad. It's nice to see what Betty can do when her home life is stable. She has always had a wide variety of artistic talents - acting, singing, playing instruments, and drawing. But it is particularly gratifying to the reader when she actually has an outlet for these pursuits. I'll let you get the specifics from reading the book.
I enjoyed this book a lot and have already moved her other book - Dancing in my Nightgown: The Rhythms of Widowhood - far up my TBR pile.
PERSONAL ANECDOTE: There's one scene in which Betty makes friends with 2 girls named Joanne (although one spells her name without the "e") in her school orchestra. She calls one Piano Joanne and the other one Violin Joann. My mother's name was Roslyn (yes, Roslyn Russell, but not THAT Roslyn Russell), and her cousin's name was Rosalind. They called my mom Roslyn and her cousin Little Roslyn.
Okay, people, listen up. Betty Auchard, who grew up in an "unconventional" family during The Depression and WWII, will be at VHOB tomorrow night (Wed.) at 7:00. She will be talking about her book, The Home for the Friendless, mostly but will also touch on her other book, Dancing in My Nightgown: The Rhythms of Widowhood. Home is really terrific (I haven't read Dancing). I would even call it The Glass Castle Light! I, for one, am very anxious to see her tomorrow night. Come on down. I guarantee that you won't be disappointed.
I need some feedback. I am seriously considering abandoning my rating system. I've been doing it the same way for over 3 years, since the inception of The Book Sage, but I feel like it has run its course. In the past, I have been lax in reviewing every book. If I eliminate the rating system, then I will need to be diligent about 1 review per book. But I think my opinion of a book will be evident from the review itself.
Here's the 2nd part of the conundrum. When I do my January 1 list of all books read the previous year, I can do 1 of 3 things:
1. Post the rating for every book, with the top books in order, as I do every year.
2. Still post the top books of the year, in order, without ratings.
3. Post all of the books, in order, without ratings.
I NEED YOUR HELP. I have no idea whether you readers like the rating system or not. Please let me know your thoughts.
The Book Sage
P.S. I will be posting the list of series that I started and stopped tomorrow.
I know the title of this blog is a little long, but I thought it was important to have the whole thing in there to pique your interest.
First of all, the subject matter of this book is too serious for my normal snark. So I will dispense with it - for this one time only! The book talks about Seoul, Korea in 1942. The country is under the control of the Japanese and has been since 1910. But, now, during the war, the Japanese have done away with the Korean language, Korean names, and even Korea's national flower. On top of that, the country's teenage boys, 16 and up, are being given a strong "suggestion" to join the Japanese army. It's a very tumultuous time for Korea's citizens.
Blossoms and Bayonets is based on the life of the co-author, Hi-Dong Chai, who is a young boy during the war. It's a gripping story and is made even more so by the fact that many of the characters in the book, including himself and his family, are real people. I learned so many things from this book. As little as I know that I know, I was still blown-away by how much less than even that I knew (make sense?). Here are some of the details I learned from that time period:
1. The Koreans hated the Japanese for the occupation of their country.
2. After the war, the country was divided into North and South because the United States allowed The Soviet Union to take over the Northern half. This happened because the U.S. was desperate for some help, and the Soviet Union offered to give that help in exchange for the Northern half of Korea. It just so happened that the deal was made one day before Japan surrendered.
3. Christianity was just beginning to show up in Korea. The unofficial religion at the time, as imposed by Japan, was emperor-worship.
4. Japan's intention was to take over the world.
5. At the beginning of each chapter, there is a short quote or report from the Japanese or the U.S. or historians about what was happening during that particular period of time (from 2/23/42-11/1/45). I learned a ton from these chapter beginnings.
This book is not just about war and suffering. There are many typical family moments, especially between the middle boy and the younger boy (the older son is out of the area), who are 15 and 6 at the beginning of the story. In fact, I appreciated that the 15-year old is not always nice to the 6-year old. That seemed normal to me. But it is fascinating to see how a traditional Korean family operated, trying to maintain their customs in the middle of a war and an occupation.
There are also some emotional moments. Like when the middle son connects with a neighborhood girl. And then reconnects with her after the war. And there's a scene at the end that was a real tearjerker. I also very much liked the relationship that both sons had with best friends. The relationships in this book are what largely make the book work. Do you remember in my last post when I said that there are moments in many of the books I read where I nod or yell out loud, among other reactions? Well, in this one, very late in the book, I actually said out loud: "Hmmm." I like when a book gets an involuntary reaction from me.
Hi-Dong Chai was asked: "This book is about Korea. How can Americans - and those of other cultures - relate?" Here is his answer:
"Though this story is set in Korea, it's all about the universal experiences of human suffering, and triumph over adversity. No matter where you live or what your background is, these are things that we can all relate to, understand, and be inspired by. Americans will also be reminded to be grateful to live in a country which is beautiful, powerful, and free."
Good words to live by.
POSTSCRIPT: I asked Jana what the Japanese thought of this book. She said that she has many Japanese friends and acquaintances, and that modern-day Japanese do not relate to the imperialist Japanese period of WWII.
In my line of literary work (oh, wait, the blog is unpaid), I get a lot of recommendations. I get them from friends, people I meet at Recycle Bookstore, other bloggers, and LinkedIn book group members. Most of the time, I pass. It's not that I don't want to read new authors, it's just that I've got my own priority list (and a TBR pile currently at 36 - I'm not making that number up). BUT, when Rich and Leslie (or Donna and Phil, in the case of Me Before You by JoJo Moyes) both insist, I squeeze their recommendation into, and at the top of, the pile. That is what happened here. They both (good-naturedly) insisted that I read Tara Conklin's debut novel, The House Girl. And so I did.
Normally I give a rating at the end of my post. This time, I'm telling you right up front that The House Girl gets a 3.5. The only reason it didn't get a 4 is that it's a bit literary at times. You all know that I'm a bit of a troglodyte when it comes to prose. I like a well-written book, but I want it to flow so I don't have to concentrate too much (this is similar to the 3.5 I gave Tracy Guzeman's The Gravity of Birds). This one has wordy moments. But it's still a 3.5 because it's such a well-conceived, well-written (reparations lawsuit in 2004 for the economic effects of slavery? wow, that's creative), well-carried out story. Let Goodreads tell you what it's about.
Virginia, 1852. Seventeen-year-old Josephine Bell decides to run from the failing tobacco farm where she is a slave and nurse to her ailing mistress, the aspiring artist Lu Anne Bell. New York City, 2004. Lina Sparrow, an ambitious first-year associate in an elite law firm, is given a difficult, highly sensitive assignment that could make her career: she must find the “perfect plaintiff” to lead a historic class-action lawsuit worth trillions of dollars in reparations for descendants of American slaves. It is through her father, the renowned artist Oscar Sparrow, that Lina discovers Josephine Bell and a controversy roiling the art world: are the iconic paintings long ascribed to Lu Anne Bell really the work of her house slave, Josephine? A descendant of Josephine’s would be the perfect face for the reparations lawsuit—if Lina can find one. While following the runaway girl’s faint trail through old letters and plantation records, Lina finds herself questioning her own family history and the secrets that her father has never revealed: How did Lina’s mother die? And why will he never speak about her? Moving between antebellum Virginia and modern-day New York, this searing, suspenseful and heartbreaking tale of art and history, love and secrets, explores what it means to repair a wrong and asks whether truth is sometimes more important than justice.
Pretty interesting, right? I liked the fact that not only does the story go back and forth between 1852 and 2004; and not only does the story alternate between a female house slave in Virginia and a female lawyer (1st year) in New York City; but it also brings in the art world scene, disputed authorship of a bunch of paintings and drawings from the mid 1800's, and a very accomplished artist who is Lina's father. That's a lot of stuff happening, and Tara does a great job of developing all of the various story lines without giving any of them too much or too little attention.
I like when something happens and I have a spontaneous physical reaction. It could be a nod of the head, or an exclamation (use your imagination), a smile, a gasp, or a hmmm. The head nod came in this book (page 110). And there were other moments that I appreciated. The fact that Lina keeps track on time spent with people in billable hours, even when she's not on the clock. Or when the author has a non-central character write a series of letters that take up about 40 pages (out of 370) that are very illuminating to the plot. Or even when the author gives us reasons to question the authenticity of certain artwork.
The House Girl is unique and very well put together. I will certainly be waiting for Tara Conklin's next book. She's got a new fan.
POSSIBLE VHOB BOOK CLUB DEVELOPMENT: I have had emails with Tara about the possibility of appearing at one of our VHOB Book Club meetings via Skype. I prefer a live appearance, but she lives in the Seattle area.
We've got some fun author events coming up later this week.
Thursday night - VHOB Book Club
6:00-6:45 - discussion of Karen Joy Fowler's We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
6:45-7:30- discussion of Rayme Waters' The Angels' Share
7:30-8:30 - Q&A with Karen and Rayme and book signings - everybody is welcome
Pretty cool, eh?
Friday night - Kathleen Gonzalez, Seductive Venice. This is a tour of 90 sites in Venice connected to (Giacomo) Casanova. Kathleen will bring pictures for all of us to see. For those of you (me) that don't know when Casanova lived in and around Venice, he was born there in 1725. He died in 1798 (in Czechoslovakia).
Okay, here's Part 2 of series that have ended that I liked (kind of awkward wording, don't you think?).
Stieg Larsson and the Dragon Tattoo trilogy (only a trilogy because Larsson passed away). This is in the same category as Brown and Rowling. It's wildly popular, but it has earned its place in literary history.
John Twelve Hawks dystopian trilogy, starting with The Traveler. Hawks makes Big Brother from 1984 seem benevolent. But have you even heard of this guy and these books? I hadn't until a friend of mine told me about them. Well, other people have sure heard of him. He's sold 1.5 million books, and his books have been translated into 25 languages. Impressive.
Vince Flynn's Mitch Rapp. We all know why he stopped at 13. And it's a huge loss. The books are all very well done.
Joel Rosenberg and The Last Jihad. This is a 5-book series that ended in shocking fashion. It's all about the Middle East and is a truly captivating series. But after 5, he started a new series and has written 3 books in that one.
Brian Haig and Sean Drummond. There have been 6 books so far. I've got this series on the list because Haig hasn't published a new one in several years. Drummond is a military lawyer (JAG). He is a great combination of lawyer, murder mystery solver, and comedian. These books are terrific fun.
Christopher Reich and Jonathan Ransom. Reich has written 3 books in the series but hasn't written a 4th one. And he has just come out with a new book that is a standalone. All of Reich's early books featured an accountant as the protagonist. He was being touted as the John Grisham of the accounting world. I liked those more than the Ransom books, but I still did enjoy the series.
W.E.B. Griffin has had a total of 6 series, 5 military and 1 police (I read book 1 of that series and didn't really like it much). The 2 that have ended are The Corps (10 books) and The Brotherhood of War (9 books). I really loved all 19 of these books.
NEXT UP: Series that I didn't finish or don't currently read.
I've got 14 series (15 if you count 2 from W.E.B. Griffin) that are done (a couple might come back). So that you don't have too much to read at one time, I'm breaking this category up into 2 posts. Here are the 1st 7.
J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter. I loved all 7 of these books (I didn't like #4 quite as much as the other 6 because the 1st part of the book takes place at the quidditch tournament, and I liked them at Hogwarts the best - aren't you glad you asked?).
Larry McMurtry wrote 4 books with Lonesome Dove being 1st (1985). Did you know that there were 3 others? After LD, he did 2 prequels, Dead Man's Walk (1995) and Comanche Moon (1997), and a sequel, Streets of Laredo (1993). I enjoyed the other 3 well enough. But Lonesome Dove is in my top 12 all-time.
David Baldacci's The Camel Club. He wrote 5 books in this series. It's terrific. The protagonist is a homeless guy, Oliver Stone, who lives in a tent in the park across from The White House. Of course, Oliver is not just your average homeless guy.
Tom Rob Smith's trilogy with Child 44 as the lead. I loved this series. The main man is a young KGB officer in the 1950's who is on the fast track for advancement. However, he ends up developing a conscience. This doesn't really jibe well with the philosophy of the KGB. This series only ended a couple of years ago. He has just come out with a new book, The Farm.
John Jakes' The Kent Chronicles. This is definitely one of my favorite series ever. It's 8 books and starts in the early 1770's and goes all the way into the 2nd decade of the 20th century. The whole series begins with a young man that leaves England for the colonies prior to the American Revolution. This is historical fiction at its very best.
Ken Follett's 2-book series about England in the 1100's and 1300's. I'm cheating a little bit here because Pillars of the Earth really stands on its own. In fact, it's one of my 3 favorite books ever (with Shogun and The Source). Nevertheless, 18 years later Follett wrote a sequel. It's takes place 200 years after Pillars and is loosely based on the families from book 1. That's a series, darn it.
Harlan Coben and Myron Bolitar. There are 10 of these, but only one in recent years. For all intents and purposes, Coben is done. Myron is an All-American college basketball player who gets injured and can't play in the pros. He becomes a sports agent, and each book is a murder mystery. Plus, Myron has one of the best-ever sidekicks, Win Lockwood.
Part 2 will be coming soon to a computer near you.