Thursday, April 30, 2015

Is It Important to You to Emotionally Connect with the Characters?

This is a topic that greatly interests me.  I hope that you guys will weigh in.  The primary question is:  How important is it that you emotionally connect with the characters in a book? Does that matter to you?  Or is it more important that the book be well-written?  I think about this a lot.  Let me give you some specifics.

I have read a considerable amount of romances.  Some are better-written than others. Some of those authors are certainly more well-known than others.  I recently read a romance by local author Nicci Carerra.  She has not been recognized nationally yet.  But I got caught up in the romance (and I definitely like the way she writes).  I cared about the 2 protagonists and hoped they would end up together.  Compare that to Save the Date, by national powerhouse Mary Kay Andrews.  I read that last year.  Was it well-written?  Yes. Did I care about whether or not the 2 main characters ended up together?  Not really.  Why is one a national bestseller, and the other one is just getting off the ground?  I don't really know.

Another prime example is Wisconsin native, Linda Abbott (who I met on LinkedIn), versus Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train.  Linda has written her 1st book (and has written it well), Ten Days in Paradise.  Some might call it a beach read (even though you know I don't like that term). But did I like the book?  Heck, yes.  In fact, I liked every character, and there were a bunch of them.  I definitely got caught up in an affair similar to the one in the Showtime series, The Affair (Linda's book was 1st).  As for The Girl on the Train, it's certainly a smash hit. Did I care about any of the 5 main characters?  I didn't. Was it well-written?  Very.

Did I not like Girl because it takes place in England?  Nope.  I gave JoJo Moyes' Me Before You a 4/4.  That takes place in England.  Am I opposed to well-written books?  Nope.  3 of Pat Conroy's books are in my top 24 all-time.  And he writes as well as any author I have ever read.  It must be that I am philosophically opposed to best-sellers.  Uh, uh.  I just gave Orphan Train a 4/4.  And I love every Daniel Silva book, including the ones that he wrote before he began the Gabriel Allon series.  You already know what I think of Jeffrey Archer and Ken Follett.  It must be that I only connect with characters who make me happy.  A big ixnay on that one.  I recently told you that a character in Dennis Lehane's The Given Day committed an act so heinous that I sat stunned.  Was that happy?  That would be no.  Did I emotionally connect with the character?  You bet your bippy (check out the old Laugh-In TV show).  I detested that guy.

What the heck is it then?  Beats me.  I can't pinpoint it.  All I know is that I either connect with the characters or I don't.  I don't go into a book expecting to connect.  It either happens or it doesn't.  And it also has nothing to do with local author or out-of-the-area author.  I have recently read 2 books by local authors in which I really made no connection at all.  I don't know what it is.  All I can say is that it's really important to me to make the emotional connection.  There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason why I do connect with some and not with others.  But if I can feel it, then I'm going to enjoy it more.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

A Bunch More Stuff!

Hi people.  There's just so much going on that I have to take a break from...something...and tell you what's happening.  Here's the news:

1.  I am super excited because just yesterday I learned that Greg Iles is coming to the Bay Area this weekend to promote the 2nd book in his trilogy.  The 1st one, Natchez Burning, was my top book of 2014.  This one is The Bone Tree.  He will be in our area Thursday-Saturday, with 5 appearances.  Joni and I are going Saturday night to Towne Center Books in Pleasanton (7:00).  Can't wait.

And more exciting news (which I just learned 5 minutes ago!) is that his 1st book in the trilogy is going to be a cable series, with Toby McGuire on the production team.  I know I won't miss that one.

2.  I was thrilled to learn that since 2009, independent bookstores have grown 27%.  There are now 440 more independent bookstores today than there were 6 years ago.  Isn't that great?

3.  Susan, one of our extremely loyal RBC members, has told me about an event coming up next Tuesday night at 7:00 at the Computer History Museum in Mt. View.  It's the author of a steampunk (do you remember what that is?) graphic novel called The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace & Babbage.  The author is Sydney Padua, and he will be in conversation with Ryan Germick, a Google guy.  I've never been to the museum.  Maybe I'll try to get out there.

4.  We've got our lineup ready for Independent Bookstore Day, this coming Saturday (May 2) from 11-7 at Recycle Books.  Here are the very talented authors who will be there:

11:00-1:00 - Betty Auchard (our June RBC author)
                     Christine Z. Mason (our April RBC author)
1:00-2:00   - Nicci Carerra
                     Kate Allure
                     Joy Brighton
1:30-3:30   - Jenn Castro
3:00-4:00   - Steve Sporleder
4:00-5:00   - C. Lee McKenzie
                     A.R. Silverberry (Peter Adler)
Ann Bridges is going to try and get there, if she can.

5.  Our 2nd event at Recycle this weekend is on Sunday.  Cassandra Mei-Fong Lee wrote and
illustrated a children's book - The Sun Dance.  She will be out in front of the store during the Farmer's Market, from about 9:30-12:30.  Come meet her and get a signed book.

6.  Last Thursday night, we had our April RBC meeting.  Christine Z. Mason, author of Boundaries: A Love Story, came to Recycle to talk about her book.  We had a good turnout and a lot of discussion!

7.  And, finally, tonight I had the chance to attend Books, Inc. 4th Tuesday Night Book Club. Never mind that very few people liked the book (Dep't. of Speculation by Jenny Offill).  It was great fun, and Margie Scott Tucker, who co-owns the Books, Inc. chain (with her husband), always does such a great job.

Margie is the one standing up in the back

That's it. 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

1st 20 Books of 2015

With the 1st 20 books of 2015, I've got a total of 11 that are 3.0 and up.  Here they are:

4.0 -
Christina Baker Kline - Orphan Train
Jeffrey Archer - Be Careful What You Wish For (#4 in Clifton Chronicles series)

3.5 -
Harlan Coben - The Stranger
Dennis Lehane - The Given Day

3.25 -
Andy Weir - The Martian
Susan Sloat - Forward to Camelot

3.0 -
Alan Jacobson - Spectrum
Nicci Carerra - Love Caters All
Tracy Smith - Ordinary Light
Linda Abbott - Ten Days in Paradise
David Leviathan - Every Day

I also have:
2.75 - 1
2.5 -   4
2.25 - 1
2.0 -   3

COMMENT:  I had no 4.0's in 2014 and already have 2 in 2015.  And so far I'm over 50% with 3.0's and up.  It looks like it's going to be a good year!

Friday, April 17, 2015

James Patterson - Champion of Independent Bookstores

Back on February 21, 2014, I told you all that I'm done picking on James Patterson.  It was in that blog post that I reported James Patterson's $1M pledge to independent bookstores, including Bookshop Santa Cruz, Book Passage Corte Madera, and Hicklebee's.  That was his 1st round of grants.  Well, he's at it again.  In fact, he has just posted his 3rd round of grants.  And both the 2nd and 3rd phases include a bunch of Northern California bookstores.  People, this is really good stuff.  Take a look at the lists.

James Patterson's Bookseller Pledge | The Official James...
Bookmark & Share: Saving Bookstores, Saving Lives In 2014, James gave away over a million dollars to bookstores across the country.

Monday, April 13, 2015

News Shorts

As hard as it is to believe(!), I don't always have deep insightful things to say.  I know, I know.  You're stunned.  Well, here are some quick notes:

1.  Rumor has it that there will be a new bookstore opening at The Pruneyard.  But we can't seem to find out what, who, or when.  All we've got down in the South Bay is Recycle in Campbell and San Jose, Village House of the Books in Los Gatos, Books, Inc. in Mt. View and Palo Alto, and Kepler's in Menlo Park.  Even if you add Bookshop Santa Cruz, that's still only 7.  We'll keep our fingers crossed.

2.  I saw this past weekend that Child 44 is being made into a movie.  For those that don't remember, Child 44, by Tom Rob Smith, is in my Volume 1 of Fiction for the Non-Fiction Reader (FFTNFR).  I loved this book, (#1 of a trilogy).  We'll see how it translates to the big screen.

3.  Our next Recycle Book Club (RBC) event is Thursday, April 23.  We will be discussing Boundaries: A Love Story from 6:30-7:15, and then the author, Christine Z. Mason, will be stopping by to answer questions and sign books.  This book is likely to bring on a lot of discussion!

Our next 3 authors/books are :
Tuesday, May 12 - Dismal Mountain by John Billheimer (mystery)
Wednesday, June 24 - The Home for the Friendless by Betty Auchard (memoir)
Tuesday, July 14 - Wyndano's Cloak by A.R. Silverberry (young adult fantasy)

4.  This past Sunday morning, we had 3 romance authors out in front of Recycle.  It was interesting because all 3 are members of the Romance Writers of America (RWA), Silicon Valley Chapter.  Linda Baxter (on the left) writes romantic suspense.  Kate Allure (in the middle) writes erotic romance.  And Nicci Carerra (on the right) writes romance romance.  It was fun having them there.

5.  Finally, I was next door to the 3 romance authors on Sunday.  I also had a great morning.  I sold 3 books (The Given Day, Dennis Lehane, based on my recent review; Boundaries: A Love Story, Christine Z. Mason, for RBC; and South of Broad, Pat Conroy) and had numerous conversations with book lovers. Oh, and did I mention that it was a gorgeous morning in downtown Campbell?  It was.  

Saturday, April 11, 2015

My 1st Dennis Lehane - and It's a Good One

Remember when I made a deal with family friend Hannah to read the YA fantasy, The Wishing Spell (Hannah had to read The Illuminator's Gift, by Alina Sayre)? Well, I did it again.  This time it was with Bonnie, who came to my table at Recycle.  We got to talking, and we agreed that she would read Michener's The Source (1 of my top 3 all-time, with Pillars of the Earth and Shogun), and I would read Dennis Lehane's The Given Day.  We had 3 months, which is coming up the end of April.  I made it.  And she was right.  This is a really good book.

The story takes place in 1918-19.  There are 2 main characters - Danny Coughlin, who is a Boston policeman, and the son of Thomas Coughlin, a very well-respected captain in the Boston Police Department; and Luther Laurence, a black man who, when we 1st meet him, is living in Ohio.  The 702-page book (a true historical fiction epic) goes back and forth between the 2.  Except that there are several sections about Babe Ruth, including the 1st 26 pages, when Babe happens upon a baseball game in Ohio that he gets involved in. This part was extremely cool.

I would have to say that Lehane (who I have never read before, even though he's written books that have become popular movies - Gone, Baby, Gone, Mystic River, and Shutter Island) has created indelible characters, both positive and negative.  In fact, one of the negative ones, who is a BPD lieutenant, is literally one of the most loathsome characters I have ever read.  And I don't say that lightly.  He did something that simply stunned me. Now, that's indelible.

And what's one of the highest compliments I can give Lehane?  He reminds me of Greg Iles.  The Given Day is very similar to Iles' Natchez Burning - in scope and impact.  And you all know that Iles is one of my very favorite authors.  And that I gave Natchez Burning a 3.75/4!  This one would have been a 3.75, but it dragged a little bit in a couple of places. Still, a solid 3.5/4.

Besides having such well-developed characters - Danny Coughlin, Luther Laurence, Babe Ruth, Thomas Coughlin, Eddie McKenna, Nora, Tessa, and more - I had an amazing reaction to one scene between Danny and his dad.  I chuckled, shed tears, and got chills at the same time.  And although I don't consider myself to be particularly perceptive and self-aware, I swear that I was conscious of all 3 emotions.  You know how an author will say that she saw love and hate in his eyes?  Well, I always thought that it was kind of impossible. Maybe now I'll be a little less critical (maybe!).

There are so many places in the book where I had a strong reaction.  At one point I said " oh man oh man."  And I appreciate that Lehane gave a detailed explanation about unionization and labor strikes, which both play a big part in this book.  I have to say that I really didn't understand much about all of that.  And because it's 1918, there are a lot of stories woven around the infiltration of Bolsheviks and anarchists, immediately following the Russian Revolution.  It's just flat-out a well-developed, interesting book.  There's nothing like really good historical fiction.  You don't have to make any deals with anybody to read The Given Day.  Just pick the sucker up.

ANECDOTE:  There was one word in the book that cracked me up.  It was "clopping." What's funny about that?  Well, Lehane was, of course, referring to a horse.  But back in 1999, 10 friends, along with Joni and me, performed the musical Guys and Dolls to usher in the millennium (we won't discuss the quality of our performance!).  We did 2 shows on New Year's Eve and welcomed the year 2000.  Well, early on during rehearsals, we were reading our lines, and there's a scene where Nathan Detroit talks to long-time girlfriend, Adelaide, about "eloping."  David, who played Nathan, thought it said "clopping."  We all laugh about that to this day.

Friday, April 10, 2015

My TBR (to be read) Pile

I have been telling you about my TBR pile for years now.  Well, for the 1st time, I'm going to actually list the books in my current TBR pile.  I will also tell you how I came to have each of these books.  AND, if anybody has any recommendations of what I should read next (I'll be ready by Monday or Tuesday), please let me know.  BTW, these are listed in the order I pulled them out of the box!

Ben Coes - Independence Day - an ARC that I got from the publisher - another in
     Dewey Andreas series - I read the 1st one a few years back and liked it
C. Lee McKenzie - Sudden Secrets - a YA that Lee gave me when she came to
     Recycle Books as our March RBC author (for The Princess of Las Pulgas)
Wm. Paul Young (author of The Shack) - Cross Roads - recommended (and loaned)
     by Steve
Nelson DeMille - The Panther - picked this up at Recycle - big fan of DeMille, and his
     John Corey series
Michelle Alexander - The New Jim Crow - highly recommended by John
Steve Berry - The King's Deception - got this one at Recycle too - I really like
     Cotton Malone
John Billheimer - Contrary Blues - our RBC author for May - this is not the book
     club book, but I bought it anyway to get a head start on John's writing
Sophie Littlefield - Garden of Stones - already read House of Glass and got this one
     (signed) live at one of Sophie's appearances
Gigi Pandian - Pirate Vishnu - I got this the same way (and same night) that I got
     Sophie's book - this is book 2 (Artifact is #1) in the Jaya Jones series
Suzanne Burdon - Almost Invincible - no idea who recommended this one! (not surprising)
Lisa Genova - Still Alice - got this at the last Kepler's book swap - loved the movie
Stacy Robinson - Surface  - see Suzanne Burdon (my bad)
Peter B. Miller, Celine, and Jennifer Harrison, Perverse Wonderland - I was given both of
     these books at last summer's Literary Faire by the authors (and autographed) - they're
     still sitting in the pile
Ken Follett - Edge of Eternity - no comments necessary - I've already read the 1st 2 - I will
     get to this soon (it is 1100 pages, after all)
Alan Jacobson - No Way Out - Alan was our RBC author in February for Spectrum - but I
     got this one so that I could have another book to read (and, of course, get another book
Guy Kawasaki and Peg Fitzpatrick - The Art of Social Media - went to Kepler's to see them
Alexis Landau - The Empire of the Senses - got this as an ARC from Pantheon Books
Brendan Reilly, M.D. - One Doctor - this one was recommended by somebody who called
      me to see if I could book an appearance for Brendan when he came to town - so I
      bought it
Matthew Pearl (author of The Dante Club) - The Last Bookaneer - my latest TBR member -
      an ARC from Penguin Press, an imprint of Penguinrandomhouse

19 total.  No sweat, right?  Wrong.  I'm sure that more will be coming into the pile than will be going out.  I'm not complaining, though.  This is a great problem to have.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Ann Packer's Launch Party at Kepler's (I know - a boring title)

Last night, Joni and I went to Ann Packer's launch party at Kepler's (hence the title of the blog!).  Ann was previously the author of 2 books of shorts stories and 2 novels - The Dive from Clausen's Pier and Songs without Words.  If you remember, I met Ann at Books, Inc. in Palo Alto on Small Business Day late last year.  After talking to her for a while, I decided to buy (and get signed) and read Songs without Words.  I blogged about it this past December 28.

So, last night, Ann's launch was for her 3rd novel, The Children's Crusade.  The format was a conversation between Ann and Anthony Marra, another local author.  And that was followed by a Q&A.  Then, of course, Ann signed books.  Here are some pictures from the event, including a couple of shots of 3 of my favorite authors - Tracy Guzeman, Meg Waite Clayton, and Ellen Sussman.

The gathering crowd shortly before the event began

On the left, Ellen Sussman, and on the right, Tracy Guzeman

Kepler's Nicole Hughes, emcee for the evening

Ann Packer and Anthony Marra

Meg Waite Clayton getting her copy of The Children's Crusade signed by Ann

Ann signing her book


Monday, April 6, 2015

One and One-Quarter Reviews

How could there be a quarter of a review, you ask?  Because one of the books made no sense to me, and I don't have much to say about it.  I'll get to that in a minute.

1st, though, is my review of a book called Ten Days in Paradise, by Linda Abbott.  Linda and I connected on LinkedIn, and she asked if I would be willing to read her book and blog about it.  I said sure, and here it is.

The book basically focuses on Ellen, a 45-year old career woman who is stuck in a loveless marriage with a very difficult teenage son (is there any other kind? - of course there is!?). She decides to get away for a 10-day vacation to an island off the coast of Florida.  And there she meets David, who is there with his wife and 3 young children, celebrating his parents' 50th anniversary with a wide array of family and friends.  Needless to say, sparks fly.

This reminds me of Showtime's The Affair, except that this book was written (2013) BEFORE that show came out.  So, if anything, Showtime copied Linda!  And just like the TV show, the reader/viewer is torn between wanting them together and realizing that it is inappropriate and, some might even say, immoral for that to happen.  But it's still hard not to root for them.

Although Ellen and David are the main characters, you still get to meet and know a bunch of others:  Especially David's parents (even David's mom, Judy, has a secret from her past - cool!) and 2 sisters, with all of their add-ons.  And I have to say that I liked all of the characters.  They each had pluses and minuses.  Sometimes you were happy with them, and others times not so much.  I like having that ambivalence.  It makes for a more interesting read.

Lest you think this was just a "nice" read for me, let me disabuse you of that notion.  I had chills and tears aplenty.  When I say I cared about all of the characters, I mean just that.  I felt an emotional connection to each and every one.  That doesn't happen all that much. But it did here.  If you're looking for a story that gets you wrapped up in who's doing and saying what to whom, then I urge you to give Ten Days in Paradise a shot.  I think you will be thanking me.

And then there was Dept. of Speculation, by Jenny Offill.  I read this because it's the 4th Tuesday Night Book Club selection at Books, Inc. in Palo Alto for April.  The New York Times Book Review called it "One of the TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR for 2014.  It's basically about a woman, her marriage, and their young son.  I think the reason it's getting so much buzz is the way in which it is written.  In fact, Amazon has a rating of 4/5, and Goodreads is 3.78/5.  I simply didn't get it.  I am very anxious to hear what Margie and our book club members have to say later this month.  Is it just me and I'm a troglodyte?  Or do others feel the way that I do?  Time will tell!  (Do you see why I called it a 1/4 of a review?)