Friday, January 30, 2015

People, STOP HARASSING ME TO READ YOUR RECOMMENDATIONS! - unless it's the Orphan Train

I'm constantly getting books recommended to me.  Sometimes, the recommender gives me a pretty good push.  Such was the case with Gone Girl, This Is Where I Leave You, Me Before You, and The Language of Flowers.  And I have to say that these were all very good books.  Add Orphan Train to that distinguished group.

Leslie has been "suggesting" for months that I read Orphan Train.  But I think what finally got me started on it was a combination of 2 things - 1, I was caught up on my book club(s) reading and, 2, Janet added her push to Leslie's push.  So I read it.  And boy did I get caught up in it.  What a story and what a book.  It's actually my 1st 4/4 in over a year. Why is that?  I'll give you some reasons:

1.  The book was perfectly written.  Every descriptive paragraph (you know I'm not a big fan of too much description) was exactly the right length.
2.  I got caught up in the relationship between Molly and Vivian pretty early.  How about page 14?
3.  There were lots of emotional moments - between Vivian and Molly; between Molly and Mr. Reed, her history teacher; between Molly and Jack; between Vivian and Dutchy; and so on.  Kline does an amazing job of developing relationships.
4.  There were a couple of references that reminded me of my own family.  In one situation, Vivian, as a child, gets a snickerdoodle.  Joni had Haley every Friday for 4 years and would always go into Icing on the Cake and get her a snickerdoodle.  And Vivian talks about the Children's Aid Society and how it places orphans into homes.  Vivian says that, God willing, they would all move into good homes.  After Josh saw Braveheart, he couldn't stop quoting William Wallace:  "And God willing, a family," in his Scottish brogue.  He drove us all crazy (tough to imagine, I know!).
5.  The story goes back and forth between Vivian in her youth and Vivian in the present-day, when Molly is listening to Vivian's story.  My very favorite Jodi Picoult book is The Storyteller.  These 2 books are similar in that old women are telling their story. I liked it in The Storyteller, and I sure as heck liked it in Orphan Train.

I don't think I have to tell you what this book is about.  Most everybody by now knows the details.  What you do need to know, though, is that between 1854 and 1929, 200,000 orphans were sent by train from NYC to the Midwest.  And when Kline was doing her research, she found about 100 of those 200,000 still alive.  You can imagine how cool those interviews were.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

A Review of We Were Liars, by e. lockhart

You all know that I'm a big, huge (remember that scene from Pretty Woman at the clothing store on Rodeo Drive?) fan of good YA's.  Here are just a few that I have rated very high on this blog:

Wyndano's Cloak (fantasy) - A.R. Silverberry
One Moment Before - Suzi Vitello
The Princess of Las Pulgas - C. Lee McKenzie
The Illuminator's Gift (fantasy) - Alina Sayre

So, when the store manager at Kepler's told me that I had to read We Were Liars, by e. lockhart, I bought it and put it near the top of my TBR pile.  It took me a few months, but I finally got to it 13 days ago.  And I only needed 3 days to read it.  Unfortunately, I didn't read it so fast because I couldn't put it down.  It was fast because it was simply a quick, but not particularly satisfying, read.  Here's Goodreads' summary.  And notice how it's formatted. This is pretty much how the whole book read.  

A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

I don't really have much to say about We Were Liars.  It was just okay.  Both Goodreads' and Amazon readers liked it more than I did.  GR averaged 3.89/5 over 15,000+ reviews, and Amazon averaged 4.0/5.  For me, it was just a 2/4.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A Teenage Girl Growing Up in Egypt in the '60s and '70s.

We are very lucky to have Laila El-Sissi living right here in the South Bay Area.  Laila is the author of Out from the Shadow of Men, A Memoir.  She chronicles her life growing up in a very strict Muslim house in Egypt back in the '60s and '70s.  For us native Westerners, it's a fascinating look at what it was like for Laila and her older sister.  We simply don't have any idea the kind of inequality and inequity that young women faced in this kind of home.  In fact, if you talk to Laila about it, much has gone unchanged in the last 40-50 years.

Laila focuses on her teenage years.  There is an old Arabic proverb that goes:  "Better a shadow of a man, than a shade of a wall."  And here is a blurb from the book that says: "The Arabic proverb has long described the plight of women in Egypt.  Like the classic Pyramids of Giza, the culture of Egypt for the most part stands unchanged.  Egyptian men continue to use the banner of Islam to justify controlling women.  Laila and her sister Rawyia  find the courage and joie de vivre to risk their lives and stand up to forces seemingly as large, strong and ancient as the pyramids so they can choose their future."

Ellen Bass, author of The Courage to Heal, says:  "Some books are important.  Some books you can't put down.  Out from the Shadow of Men is both..."  I have to agree with Ellen's assessment.  This book is like the movie Selma that I recently saw.  That movie is a must-see.  And Laila's book is a must-read.  If you want to know how it was for a teenage girl to grow up in an ultra-conservative Islamic home, then Out from the Shadow of Men is for you.  Local book clubs - think about adding this one to your lists.  I think Laila might be available to attend a few of your meetings.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Now THAT Was an Author Event!

On Sunday, Julie Dart, author of Ellie Stands up to the Bully and The Night the Moon Was Hiding, camped out in front of Recycle Books from 9:30-12:30.  And let me tell you, ladies and gentleman, she is a superstar!  She sold 50 books!  Yep, you're reading that right.  I oversaw dozens of author events when I worked at Village House of Books and a few, so far, at Recycle.  We never had close to that kind of number.  How extremely cool is all of that?  And here's the very best part of the day - Julie pledged one book to Campbell Union School District for every book that she sold.  That means the school district just picked up 50 books!  Are you kidding me?  That's why I'm not exaggerating to say that Julie Dart is a superstar.

Here are a few pictures from the event.

Friday, January 23, 2015

National Readathon Day - Saturday, January 24, 2015

This post is (shockingly) not about me.  I know.  You're stunned.  Well, get over it. Tomorrow is the 1st annual National Readathon Day, initiated by Penguin Randomhouse and lionized by the National Book Foundation.  Basically, they're asking that we all read from noon-4:00 Saturday afternoon, Jan. 24.  They prefer that you do it in some kind of community setting, but anywhere you go or stay is fine.

Recycle Bookstore has joined the fray.  They will be setting chairs out in front of the store that you can just plop your fanny in and grab/bring a book/ereader/audiobook.  From 12-4 you will be able to tune out the world around you (although people watching in downtown Campbell is kind of fun).  And have you seen the weather forecast for tomorrow?  How about mid-70's?  Gee, here's a thought - grab a beer, iced tea, frappuccino (or all 3), maybe a little lunch, and revel in a period of time that begs you to do nothing but read. Boy, that's a rough gig!

Is there a catch?  Absolutely not.  Will you be bombarded by sales vendors hawking their wares?  Nope.  BUT, if you want to help stamp out literacy, there are places online you can visit to make a donation.  Check out National Readathon Day, National Book Foundation, or  You can even go on Twitter and hashtag #timetoread.  Wouldn't it be great to not only do some guilt-free reading but also to contribute to an increase in literacy?  Don't we want everybody to enjoy reading as much as we do?

Donation or not; community reading or not; let's all spend some time tomorrow between 12-4 and remember how lucky we are to be able to read and how happy it makes us feel. Enjoy your reading.

This is my Sunday morning Book Sage set-up.  Imagine sitting there tomorrow from 12-4 just reading. Well, you probably won't get my king's chair, but there will at least be a chair for you to sit in.

Monday, January 19, 2015

A Review of The Martian, by Andy Weir

This is definitely not a book that I would typically read.  But read it I did.  I would say I was swayed by peer pressure.  Not only did Angela, at Kepler's, highly recommend it.  But a number of bloggers I follow did the same.  In fact, one blogger actually picked it as her favorite book of 2014.  So what did I think?  Were the recommenders right?  Actually, they were.  Let me give you a quick synopsys, without resorting to the Goodreads blurb.

Mark Watney is part of a 6-person U.S. crew that travels to Mars.  While they are on the surface, there is a major disturbance, necessitating a quick departure.  5 of the crew members, thinking that Mark is dead, end up leaving him behind. When Houston learns that Mark is alive, they do everything in their power to get him back to Earth - in one piece.  Does it sound kind of boring?  It wasn't.

One big plus for this book is that Mark is very funny and very snarky.  I laughed a lot, which is important in this book.  A couple of examples:

For entertainment, Mark has to watch a bunch of 70s TV shows that one of the crew members leaves behind, in their hurry to get off the planet.  In one of Mark's log entries, he says, "How come Aquaman can control whales?  They're mammals!  Makes no sense."  He does that a lot.

Another time, he says, "I can't wait to have grandchildren.  'When I was younger, I had to walk to the rim of a crater.  Uphill!  In an EVA suit!  On Mars, ya little s__t!  Ya hear me? Mars!"

There are a million of them.  At one point in my notes I wrote, "LOVE SNARKY."  And, hopefully, you can deal with foul language.  There's a ton of it.  Be forewarned.

Besides the funny stuff, there were many emotional moments.  Yes, I got teary-eyed quite a few times.  But here's something a little different - there was actually a scene in which I got chills!  It takes place in the spaceship that Mark's 5 crew mates are riding in.  That's all I'm going to say about that.

The only negative - and this may be more about me than it is a commentary on the book - is that it gets pretty technical in a lot of places.  I understand it, because the author has to give plausible explanations of how everything happens.  But I can only read a book by understanding everything that is written in it.  And since I'm not exactly a science/math whiz (a gross understatement), it means that I spent a fair amount of time struggling to comprehend things that I wasn't put on this earth to understand.  For many of you, I don't think this will be a problem.

All in all, a very good book.  There's even a part in it that I could relate to.  There is the Hab, which is the structure that the crew lives in while on Mars.  Mark mentions that the Hab keeps giving and giving, helping him stay alive.  He likens it to The Giving Tree (by Shel Silverstein).  This is the 1st children's book I ever bought, in anticipation of having my own kids.  In fact, I bought it about 2 years before my 38-year old son was born. Besides it being a great book, it will always be special to me.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Recycle Book Club - and More

Well, it's been exactly 2 weeks since my last post (is that cheering I hear because I'm back?  Or because I was gone so long?  Be honest).  What have I have been doing these last 2 weeks?  Beats me.  Anyway, I've got some stuff to tell you about.

1.  This coming Saturday, Jan. 24th, is National Readathon Day.  It goes from 12-4, and it's nationwide.  At Recycle, what we're going to do is put chairs out in front of the store for anybody who wants to plop down and read.  Now that Ann has donated 20 chairs, we'll put a bunch out there.  Feel free to come and read for as long as you want (between 12-4, of course).  How often do we give ourselves permission, in the middle of the day, to just read?  Well, now you have a legitimate excuse.

2.  I ran a contest 2 weeks ago.  Anybody who made a comment on my Jan. 4 blog post was eligible to win one book from my 2014 list.  And the winner is...Bish Denham.  Go ahead and pick your book, Bish.  When you've decided which one you want, email me at and give me a mailing address.  Congratulations.

3.  We've got 2 more author events coming up this month at Recycle Books in Campbell:

a.  This coming Wed. night, the 21st, Alina Sayre, the author of the fantasy series The Voyages of the Legend will be the 1st middle-grade Recycle Book Club author.  I will meet with the kids (and any adults who happen to be there) from 6:30-7:00.  Each one will tell us how they liked the book and what rating they give it, from 1-4.  We will prepare some questions for Alina, who will show up at 7:00.  We will pepper - I mean ask - Alina questions for about 45 minutes, and then she'll sign books.  We'll be done by 8:00.  This is an experiment, but we hope that it's the 1st of many.

b.  Next Sunday, the 25th, from 9:30-12:30, Julie Dart will be out in front of Recycle during the Farmer's Market selling her book, Ellie Stands up to the Bully.  And for every book she sells, she will donate one to the Campbell School District.  Isn't that neat?

4.  This past Tuesday night, the 13th, the RBC had its monthly meeting.  Stuart Rojstaczer, author of The Mathematician's Shiva, graced the store (and its literary stacks).  He was very engaging.  And, on top of that, I found out the next day that he won the 2014 National Jewish Book Award for Outstanding Debut Fiction.  Congrats, Stuart.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Contest and Other Musings/Questions to Close out the Year

I've got a few items for discussion along with some categorization for your reading pleasure.

1)  I'm running an end-of-year contest.  Make any comment on this post, and you will be entered in a drawing.  The winner gets to pick any book from my 2014 list.

2)  Here are the books I read this year by category (I'm including the 5 that I edited or early read):

Literary Fiction - 24
Mystery/Thriller/Suspense - 19
YA (young adult) - 7
Memoir - 6
Romance - 4
Anthologies/Essays - 3
Middle Grade - 4
Fiction/Memoir - 2
Non-Fiction - 1
Fable/Coming-of-Age - 1
Legal Treatise - 1

3)  I've already mentioned that I started 5 books this year that I didn't finish.  This might be more DNF's than I ever had - collectively!  Are they books that just weren't any good? No, I don't think so.  It just may be that I've got a shorter attention span now than in past years.  I think we can all concede that possibility!  I won't give you any names.  But I will tell you that 1 is an internationally prominent author with 14 novels and 6 anthologies. And another 1 is the January book that was picked for the 4th Tuesday Night Book Club at Books, Inc. Palo Alto.  Kind of surprising.

4)  Finally, I have a question for you.  I'm ready to start my 5th year of blogging.  Help me determine if I should be blogging more?  Less?  The same?  Please be honest.  I don't want you to see a post and say:  "Not again (groan)!"  But I also don't want you to say: "Finally.  Where have you been?"  (I feel fairly confident that there won't be many of you in this category!).  Or is it like when Goldilocks falls asleep in the little bear's bed?  "Ah, just right."  I'll let everybody know what the consensus is.

That's it, people.  I'm looking forward to another year with all of you.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Complete List of Books Read in 2014

Here's the list of books that I read in 2014, with ratings.  This list excludes the 5 that I read as either editor or early reader; as well as the 5 that I did not finish.

Penny, Louise - Still Life - 312 - 2.5
Grippando, James - Black Horizon - 369 - 3.0
Szczepanski, Marian - Playing St. Barbara - 379 - 3.0
Coben, Harlan - Missing You - 399 - 3.5
Ford, Jamie - Songs of Willow Frost - 319 - 3.5
Myers, Tim - Glad to Be a Dad - 253 - 3.0 (NF)
Ryan, Jennifer - Saved by the Rancher - 433 - 3.5
Quindlen, Anna - Still Life with Bread Crumbs - 252 - 2.5
Patterson, Richard North - Loss of Innocence - 349 - 3.5
Grifin, W.E.B. - Hazardous Duty - 404 - 3.0
Conklin, Tara - The House Girl - 370 - 3.5
McBurney-Lin, Jana - Blossoms and Bayonets - 296 - 3.25
Auchard, Betty - The Home for the Friendless - 344 - 3.5
McKenzie, C. Lee - The Princess of Las Pulgas - 342 - 3.5
Moriarty, Liane - The Husband's Secret - 394 - 3.0
DiGregorio, Mike - Ditch Kids - 267 - 3.0
Auchard, Betty - Dancing in My Nightgown - 128 - 3.0
Rosenfeld, David - 308 - 3.0
Monday, T.T. - The Set Up Man - 262 - 2.5
Shipstead, Maggie - Astonish Me - 257 - 3.0
King, Shelly - The Moment of Everything - 267 - 3.0
Stevens, Taylor - The Catch - 356 - 3.0
McKenzie, C. Lee - Sliding on the Edge - 259 - 3.0
White, Kate - Eyes on You - 359 - 3.0
Henriquez, Cristina - The Book of Unknown Americans - 290 - 3.0
Andrews, Mary Kay - Save the Date - 494 - 2.5
Tropper, Jonathan - This Is Where I Leave You - 339 - 3.5
Franco, Betsy - Naked - 230 - 3.5
Sayre, Alina - The Illuminator's Gift - 259 - 3.0
Finder, Joseph - Suspicion - 387 - 3.0
Littlefield, Sophie - House of Glass - 278 - 3.0
Smith, Tom Rob - The Farm - 352 - 2.5
Herron, Rachael - Pack Up the Moon - 355 - 3.5
Eisler, Barry - Graveyard of Memories - 322 - 3.0
Abbot, Megan - The Fever - 2.5
Pandian, Gigi - The Artifact - 264 - 2.5
Vitello, Suzy - The Moment Before - 212 - 3.5
King, Laurie R. - The Beekeeper's Apprentice - 346 - 3.0
Sussman, Ellen - A Wedding in Provence - 267 - 3.5
Brown, Daniel James - The Boys in the Boat - 370 - 3.5
McKenzie, C. Lee - Double Negative - 258 - 2.5
Lescroart, John - The Keeper - 304 - 3.0
Ventresca, Yvonne - Pandemic - 334 - 2.5
Baszile, Natalie - Queen Sugar - 372 - 3.5
Silva, Daniel - The Heist - 467 - 3.0
Strout, Elizabeth - The Burgess Boys - 320 - 2.5
Gelder, Ann - Bigfoot and the Baby - 234 - 2.5
Iles, Greg - Natchez Burning - 788 - 3.75
Novak, B.J. - One More Thing - 272 - 2.0
Bingham, J.Z. - Piranhas Like S'Mores - 154 - 3.0
Mason, Christine Z. - Boundaries, A Love Story - 439 - 3.0
Baldacci, David - The Target - 418 - 3.5
Little, Pamela - The Resting Place - 143 - 2.0
Kretchmer, G. Elizabeth - The Damnable Legacy of a Minister's Wife - 413 - 3.0
Bumpus, Carole - A Cup of Redemption - 383 - 3.0
Safran, Joshua - FREE SPIRIT:  growing up on the road and off the grid - 270 - 3.5
Doerr, Anthony - All the Light We Cannot See - 530 - 3.5
Sayre, Alina - The Illuminator's Test - 151 - 3.5
Margolin, Phillip - Cane and Abe - 353 - 2.5
Rojstaczer, Stuart - The Mathematician's Shiva - 366 - 3.25
Alexander, Eben - Proof of Heaven - 171 - 2.5
Allure, Kate - Playing Doctor - 247 - 3.0
Packer, Ann - Songs without Words - 368 - 3.0
Colfer, Chris - The Wishing Spell - 438 - 3.0
El-Sissi, Laila - Out from the Shadow of Men - 302 - 2.5
Gunther, Linda - Ten Steps from the Hotel Inglaterra - 180 - 3.25

P.S.  I said that I would announce the contest today.  But it will be tomorrow instead, along with some other year-end tidbits.  I hope the suspense doesn't drive you crazy!

Friday, January 2, 2015


I read 72 books and 23,232 pages in 2014.  That's 5 books and almost 2000 pages less than the year before.  I don't know why it dropped but can't be worried about it.  Maybe it means I had a little more of a life than I did in 2013!  In any case, moving along.  Out of those 72 books, I've identified 20 that were my top books.  These all had a rating of 3.5, except for one (Natchez Burning) that was a 3.75.  This is the 1st year that I can remember where I had no 4.0's (or 4.5's).  And, yet, 28% of all books read had very high ratings.  On top of that, there were another 3-3.25's and 27-3.0's.  That's a whopping 69% that were 3.0 or higher.  I consider that a banner year.  I also had the highest number of DNF's (did not finish) - 5 - that I've ever had (more about that in another post). And, finally, I read 5 books that I either edited or was asked to read an early copy for feedback.  I counted those as books/pages read but did not rate them.

Here is a breakdown by genre.  And, let me point out and emphasize, that all books that might be considered "women's fiction" in some circles are listed here as "literary fiction." I'm not doing that gender thing!  My mother didn't raise any dummy.

Harlan Coben - Missing You
Richard North Patterson - Loss of Innocence
Greg Iles - Natchez Burning (book 1 of trilogy)
David Baldacci - The Target (book 3 in Will Robie series)
Kate White - Eyes on You

Literary Fiction:
Jamie Ford - Songs of Willow Frost
Tara Conklin - The House Girl
Anthony Doerr - All the Light We Cannot See
Jonathan Tropper - This Is Where I Leave You (quite possibly my favorite read of the year, despite "only" a 3.5 rating)
Betsy Franco - Naked
Rachael Herron - Pack Up the Moon
Ellen Sussman - A Wedding in Provence
Natalie Baszile - Queen Sugar

Jennifer Ryan - Saved by the Rancher

Betty Auchard - The Home for the Friendless
Joshua Safran - FREE SPIRIT:  growing up on the road and off the grid (November's RBC author)

YA (young adult):
C. Lee McKenzie - The Princess of Las Pulgas (upcoming March's RBC author)
Suzy Vitello - The Moment Before

Daniel James Brown - The Boys in the Boat

MG (middle-grade) Fantasy:
Alina Sayre - The Illuminator's Test

Tomorrow I will list all books read (minus the 5 early reads) in the order I read them. AND, I will announce a contest for a free book.  Whether you read print books, ebooks, or (listen to) audiobooks, happy reading in 2015.