Sunday, November 29, 2015

Drinking the Devil's Acre by Duggan McDonnell - Take a Look

Drinking the Devil's Acre - A Love Letter from San Francisco and Her Cocktails, by Duggan McDonnell, was a gift from my friend Molly.  Duggan is her nephew.  It is not your average book and not something I would typically even look at.  In fact, it's a little hard to describe. The only way to do it justice is by quoting the inside cover of the book.  It's a little long, but I think it's the best way.

The Devil's Acre was a single, bar-filled block within San Francisco's infamous Barbary Coast that boasted the wickedest, wildest saloons in America.  A few short blocks away, marble-floored drinking palaces poured the high art of the cocktail.  From this, San Francisco's  electrifying nightlife was born; and now, a few generations later, the city's farm-to-glass cocktails have never tasted better.

Quench your thirst with these tales and recipes from a city devoted to drink.  Duggan McDonnell (part culinary anthropologist and part whimsical professor) masterfully weaves essays on prominent spirits, insights into San Francisco's historic love affair with amaro, and recipes for his Bartender's Secret Formulas along with 25 iconic cocktail recipes made famous by the City by the Bay, from the legendary Pisco Punch and the ingenious Mai Tai to the Gold Rush-era Sazerac and the more modern-day Lemon Drop.  An additional 45 recipes show the evolution of these classic elixirs over time, resulting in such liquor-splashed favorites as the Revolver and the Last Word.

Through the lens of the Devil's Acre, we see that San Francisco is and always will be one long, unending romp of bottles popping - a party to which the whole world is invited. 

See what I mean?  I would have never figured out how to describe this book.  So we were in Kepler's last night, and they had a table with gift-type books, including Drinking the Devil's Acre.  There was a stack of them, and one was wrapped.  It made me realize that this is the perfect gift.  It combines:

1.  History
2.  Old-timey pictures
3.  Recipes for a whole variety of cocktails
4.  Pictures of each cocktail
5.  A chronology - from 1579 (with Sir Francis Drake) to 2010

This is a super cool book - and I don't even drink!  Let me wrap this up with the inscription at the beginning of the book:

This book is dedicated to everyone everywhere who has ever enjoyed a cocktail in San Francisco.  You're always welcome to visit us again, to step inside our doors, sit on our bar stools, and imbibe away the joys of the day.

Friday, November 27, 2015

A House in the Sky - Not Your Average Memoir

I've read a few memoirs in the last couple of years.  But they've all been associated with the RBC.  In fact, since we began the book club in January of 2014, we have had the following memoirists appear at our meetings:

Katie Hafner - Mother, Daughter, Me
Nate Jackson - Slow Getting Up
Joshua Safran - Free Spirit:  Growing Up on the Road and off the Grid
Betty Auchard - The Home for the Friendless

A House in the Sky is the 1st memoir I've read in a very long time where I didn't know the author.  And I have to say that this was a tough one to read.  Amanda Lindhout was kidnapped in August, 2008 and held captive for 460 days by Islamist extremists in Somalia. It is an unbelievable story.  Do you remember The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls? Child's play!  

There is so much that goes on that I really need to avoid giving any details away.  Here's what I will say about Amanda:

1.  She shows amazing strength and resolve.
2.  She gives us insight into the minds of Islamist extremists.
3.  She vividly remembers details of her captivity (details that I'm sure she would have 
     preferred to forget!)
4.  She doesn't let this experience stop her from continuing to travel the world.
5.  She takes an incredibly sour lemon and turns it into the sweetest lemonade. 

To elaborate on #5:  Amanda founded the Global Enrichment Foundation, a non-profit that is dedicated to "development, aid, and education initiatives in Somalia and Kenya."  How's that for taking an incredibly difficult experience and turning it into something that benefits mankind.  Good for her.

COMING ATTRACTIONS:  Tonight I made my 1st visit to Bell's Books in downtown Palo Alto.  It's been in the exact same spot on Emerson Street, and in the same family, for 80 years!  In the near future, I will interview the owner and post it on my blog along with a bunch of pictures.  The place looks and smells like an old-school bookstore - and that's a high compliment.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Books, Inc. Palo Alto 4th Tuesday Evening Book Club (that's a long one!)

Last night I was in Palo Alto for the 4th Tuesday Evening Book Club.  It was the final one of the year. Because of the RBC and the Los Gatos Library Evening Book Club, I don't get to Books, Inc. more than a couple of times each year.  But it's still a heckuva book club. Margie Scott Tucker, a co-owner of the entire chain, emcees our meetings.  And she does an excellent job.

Here is the list of books for 2015.  There are only 9 because they're always off in December.  And Margie had 2 other months that she was out of town (she is a bookstore chain owner, after all).  See what you think of Margie's selections.

#1 - Painted Horses - Malcolm Brooks (started it and didn't finish it)
#2 - And the Dark Sacred Night - Julia Glass
#3 - My Brilliant Friend, Book One:  Childhood, Adolescence - Elena Ferrante
#4 - Dept. of Speculation - Jenny Offill (read it - didn't get it - 2/4)
#5 - The Goldfinch:  A Novel - Donna Tartt (read 19 pages and said "uh, uh")
#6 - H Is for Hawk - Helen MacDonald (got through 5 pages! - yep, you read that right)
#7 - The Diver's Clothes Lie Empty - Vendela Vida (read it - it was okay - 2.5/4)
#8 - Last Bus to Wisdom - Ivan Doig
#9 - Kitchens of the Great Midwest - J. Ryan Stradal (liked it - 3.25/4)

At the end of the discussion, Margie asked the members what their favorite book of the year was.  After I made a complete fool of myself (I thought she meant any book, not just the book club books - duh), the unanimous choice was Last Bus to Wisdom (which I missed).  So I immediately ordered it from Recycle Books today.

I'm going to try and get there a little more often next year.  It's worth it.

P.S.  Meg Waite Clayton, our RBC author on Feb. 3 for The Race for Paris, is a member of the club.  She doesn't get there very often, unfortunately, but she's fun when she makes it.

P.P.S.  Recognize that beauty on the far left?

Saturday, November 21, 2015

A 2-Year Report on the RBC (Recycle Book Club)

Well, on December 16, we will have our last RBC author of the year (Ann Bridges, Private Offerings).  And it will also be the end of our 2nd year.  And I have to tell you that I am as excited each month now as I was back in January of 2014 (for those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, we have a book club in which the author comes to the bookstore to answer questions and sign books).  We have had an amazing run of authors so far, and 2016 is shaping up to be another great year.  1st, let me list the authors that we've had for our book club in 2014 and 2015.  Then, I will tell you what we have coming up the 1st 4 months of 2016.  I'm sure you will agree that it is an unbelievable lineup.

For the 1st 13 months, we read either literary fiction or memoirs.  And then we decided to branch out with different genres.  So, for those books that broke our mold, I will post the genres after I list the author and book.  You will see that we have traveled a bit far afield for some of these books.  And the consensus among members is that it's a good thing.

Without further babbling:

January -     The Oracle of Stamboul - Michael David Lukas
February -   The Lost Saints of Tennessee - Amy Franklin-Willis
March -       The Angels' Share - Rayme Waters & We Are Completely Beside
                    Ourselves -Karen Joy Fowler
April -          The Gravity of Birds - Tracy Guzeman & Saving CeeCee Honeycutt -
                    Beth Hoffman (by phone from Kentucky)
May -           Slow Getting Up - Nate Jackson
June -          Mother, Daughter, Me - Katie Hafner
July -            A Fine and Dangerous Season - Keith Raffel
August -       A Wedding In Provence - Ellen Sussman
September - Blossoms and Bayonets - Jana McBurney-Lin & Hi-Dong Chai
October -      The Moment of Everything - Shelley King
November -  Free Spirit:  Growing up on the Road and off the Grid - Joshua Safran
December -  Queen Sugar - Natalie Baszile

January -      The Mathematician's Shiva - Stuart Rojstaczer
February -     Spectrum - Alan Jacobson (suspense/mystery/thriller)
March -         The Princess of Las Pulgas - C. Lee McKenzie (YA - young adult)
April -            Boundaries:  A Love Story - Christine Z. Mason
May -            Dismal Mountain - John Billheimer (suspense/mystery/thriller)
June -           The Home for the Friendless - Betty Auchard
July -             Wyndano's Cloak - A.R. Silverberry (fantasy)
August -        From Sleepy Lagoon to the Corner of the Cats - Steve Sporleder
September -  Herb of Grace - Shelly Adina (religious fiction)
October -       Breathless in Love - Jennifer Skully and Bella Andre (romance)
November -   Under Wraps - Hannah Jayne (urban fantasy)
December 16 -   Private Offerings - Ann Bridges

January 19 -       The Angels' Share - Rayme Waters (only a couple of people read this
                           in March 2014
February 3 -       The Race for Paris - Meg Waite Clayton (historical fiction) & The Right
              16         Wrong Thing - Ellen Kirschman (suspense/mystery/thriller)
March - 29, 30, or 31         Murder on the Champ du Mars - Cara Black
April -   28          The Language of Flowers - Vanessa Diffenbaugh

I hope to see you all next year!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Another Strong Read! - The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin

I just finished my 2nd 3.5/4 out of my last 4 books.  The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is a very good book.  And to think I only read it because it's the Los Gatos Library Evening Book Club selection for December.  Funny, I've been looking at this book for a while now.  Some of my fellow bloggers have been raving about it.  But I still evidently needed a push.  Our illustrious Los Gatos Library leader, Melissa, provided it for me.  Thanks, Melissa.

I like the blurb on the back page of the book:  "A.J. Fikry's life is not at all what he expected it to be.  He lives alone, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen.  But when a mysterious package appears at the bookstore, its unexpected arrival gives Fikry the chance to make his life over - and see everything anew."

That doesn't really give much away, does it?  Good.  The 1st 1/4 and the last 1/4 of the book are solid.  The middle 1/2 is spectacular.  Don't get me wrong.  There's nothing wrong with the other half.  It just wasn't quite as good as the middle.

Zevin has done some really neat things with this book:

1.  At the beginning of each chapter, A.J. writes a letter to Maya (you'll have to read a little bit to know who Maya is - I refuse to give it away).
2.  There are tons of references to books; a number of which I have read - Bel Canto (thumbs up), The Time Traveler's Wife (thumbs sideways), The Chronicles of Narnia (thumbs way up).
3.  And there are lots of references to authors; a number of whom I have read - Kate Atkinson, Jo Nesbo, Elmore Leonard, and Cormac McCarthy.
4.  The author uses terms that I've come to know through book blogging -TBR (to be read) pile and ARCs (advanced reading copies).
5.  The book is extremely well written.  Here are a few examples:

     a.  Referring to his sister-in-law, A.J. says:  "Pregnant, she is like a very pretty
     b.  While looking at Maya, A.J. says:  "He feels drunk or at least carbonated."
     c.   In one of his letters to Maya, A.J. says:  "You know everything you need to
           know about a person from the answer to the question, What is your favorite

And for the 1st time, I'm going to quote part of an author's acknowledgement page.  I know that's a bit strange, but it's a passage I can actually relate to.  Zevin says:  "On her lunch hours from work, my mom, AeRan Zevin, used to drive me to the bookstore so I could get my favorite authors on their first day of release."  I used to do that every Tuesday at the Barnes & Noble in The Pruneyard in Campbell, CA.  It was just around the corner from my office.  And on many of those Tuesdays an author would be at a big table near the front of store.  That's how I met Jennifer Skully/Jasmine Haynes, Shelley Bates/Adina Sent, Peter Adler/A.R. Silverberry, and Hannah Schwartz/Hannah Jayne, to name just some of them. These and others have become very important to me and are authors that I still see today. (in fact, counting this coming Thursday, all 4 of those named are RBC authors.)

10-YEAR ANNIVERSARY PARTY:  This coming Wednesday is the 10th anniversary of Kathleen's ownership of A Great Good Place for Books, located in the Montclair shopping district in Oakland.  Saturday, November 28, will be an all-day celebration.  If you haven't been to GGP yet, take some time to get out there on the 28th (or some other time).  It's a very cool bookstore.  It's similar to what Gabrielle Zevin makes us visualize with her description of Island Books in The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.

ANOTHER LOCAL AUTHOR GETS A LITERARY NOMINATION:  I just found out today that, like A.R. Silverberry, Ellen Kirshman has been nominated for a USA Best Books award for her latest Dot Meyerhof (police psychologist) novel The Right Wrong Thing.  Congrats, Ellen, and good luck.  We'll be pulling for you. 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Big News for Our Own Local Author

Peter Adler, writing as A.R. Silverberry, has just received a big literary honor.  Peter has written one of my favorite fantasies, Wyndano's Cloak.  In fact, Peter was our RBC author this past July.  Well, Peter's 2nd book, The Stream, is the one that is a USA Best Book Award finalist in his category.  Take a look at Peter's latest post.

Hi Everyone!

Thrilling News! My second novel, The Stream, was honored as an Award-Winning Finalist in the 2015 USA Best Book Awards, in the category of Visionary Fiction. This marks the fifth honor bestowed on The Stream., sponsor of the contest, is a premier online magazine covering books from all sections of the publishing industry: mainstream, independent, and self-published. What made this award so sweet was that Random House, Tarcher/Penguin, HarperOne, WW Norton, Harper Collins, William Morrow, Crown Business, McGraw-Hill, John Wiley & Sons, American Cancer Society, The White House Historical Association, were among the houses honored in the contest! I’m still pinching myself!

Congratulations to all the Winners and Finalists!

In other news, I'm happy to report that book one of my sic-fi fantasy trilogy is in the hands of my beta readers. If all goes well, it’s one more draft, and then the book is off to my editors! I'll keep you posted about how it's progressing. My plan is to submit to agents for traditional publishing. Thousands of folks trying to squeeze through THAT door, but you never know!

Have a Happy Holiday!

A.R. Silverberry

P.S. Here's the link to my blog post, which includes links to a press release and the USA Book News pages for the contest:

Blog Post:

A REAL BILLIONAIRE:  You all know how much I enjoyed book 1 of the billionaire series, Breathless in Love (book 2, Reckless in Love, just came out this week), by Jennifer Skully and Bella Andre.  Well now we have a real live literary billionaire.  J.K. Rowling is the 1st person EVER to become a billionaire by writing.  Is that so cool?

Friday, November 13, 2015

3rd Annual King Library Author Fair

Hi all.  This Sunday, from 2:00-5:00, is the 3rd Annual King Library Author Fair.  It's at Martin Luther King Library at 150 E. San Fernando Ave. in San Jose.  It's on the corner of San Fernando and 4th St.There will be over 30 authors there, representing 8 genres.  Here's the info along with the links.

Author Fair 2015
SundayNovember 152-5pm
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library, Room 225/255
150 East San Fernando Street, San Jose

Sunday, November 8, 2015

W.E.B. Griffin #43! (43 books from the same author - isn't that crazy?)

Not only is this my 43nd Griffin, it's also book #1 of a new series.  It's my 1st Griffin since early last year.  And, after reading Top Secret, #1 in the Clandestine Operations series, I'm sorry I waited so long.  I just flat-out enjoy all of his military-based books (I read one in his police series, and it didn't grab me - but I still count it among the 43!).

This one starts in October, 1945, just a few months after the end of WWII.  Here's what the book itself says about Top Secret:

     "In the first weeks after World War II, James D. Cronley Jr. is recruited for a new enterprise that will eventually be transformed into something called the CIA.  For a new war has already begun, against an enemy that is bigger, smarter, and more vicious:  the Soviet Union.
      The Soviets have hit the ground running, and Cronley's job is to help frustrate them, harass them, and spy on them in any way he can.  But his first assignment might be his last.  He's got only seven days to extract a piece of information from a Soviet agent, and he's already managed to rile up his superior officers.  If he fails now, his intelligence career could be the shortest in history.
      There are enemies everywhere - and, as Cronley is about to find out, some of them wear the same uniform he does..."

Sounds good, don't you think?  Here are a few other elements/questions in this book:

1)  James (Jimmy) is only 22 years old and finds himself in charge of a secret camp in Germany that harbors ex-German soldiers.  Is it a collaboration or a detention camp?  Or both?  Is he in over his head?
2)  Have you read the Honor Bound series?  There might be a significant "visitor" from those books making an appearance in this one.
3)  Why would a Colonel's wife, quite a few years older than Jimmy, pay so much attention to him?
4)  Does Jimmy have his own love interest?

There's a lot about Griffin's books that I like.  He combines drama, complexity, intrigue, humor, history/historical figures, and just good writing.  He makes you laugh, cry, and cringe.  There's a point where you get to see Jimmy sitting next to Eisenhower who, at that time, was commander of the ETO - European Theater of Operations.  There's also a scene where Jimmy is honored, in person, by President Truman.  You all know I'm a big fan of historical fiction.  Griffin does it better than just about anybody.

Book #2, The Assassination Option, is coming out in paperback later this month, and I will be getting it immediately.  I vow never to slack off on Griffin's military books again.  Top Secret rates a 3.25/4.

POINT OF CLARIFICATION:  Griffin has been writing with his son, William E. Butterworth IV, for quite a few years now.  And, as you can see on the cover, he gets writing credit as a co-author.  Despite that, I still think of these as W.E.B. Griffin's books.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Some Miscellaneous Stuff

GOOD NEWS!  I only have 3 little links (well, 2 links plus some googling) and 1 movie update for you.  What have you all done to get such preferential treatment from me?  Don't get used to it!  I promise to be wordier next time.

1.  My Goodreads friend (and tennis buddy), Pat, sent me a link to an article that his friend, Marsha Enright, wrote about James Clavell.  Some of you may know that Shogun is in my top 3 all-time.  Plus, I read, and liked, all of his other books, too.  Marsha's article is a review of each of Clavell's books along with some background info on the author himself. Compelling stuff.

2.  Here's a biggie - Amazon just opened its 1st brick and mortar bookstore yesterday.  It's in Seattle (which makes sense, since their headquarters are in Seattle).  But how they picked the books they put into the store is kind of interesting.

Amazon opening its first real bookstore — at U-Village

3.  Nicole Hughes, one of Kepler's main event planners, is moving out of the area in a couple of months.  So the store is posting a job vacancy for Nicole's position.  I can't seem to drag the link over here.  So google "kepler's jobs."  The 1st link that comes up is "Employment/Kepler's Books." Click on that, and it goes right to the job description.  Sorry for the 2-step.

MOVIE NEWS:  Did I mention that Me Before You is being made into a movie?  I think I did (but the memory is not stellar!).  Well, I just saw a date.  It's coming out next June!  And the 2 stars are (I probably already told you this, too) Sam Claflin (Hunger Games) and Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones).  Can't wait!  The last movie I saw that was based on a book that I had recently read was This Is Where I Leave You.  I loved the book and the movie.  Can Lightning strike twice?  We'll find out next June.