Friday, December 30, 2016

Titles by Genre

A couple of posts ago, I listed Biographies, Memoirs, and Historical Fiction for 2016.  I've got the rest of the genres for you now; they are listed randomly.  And heeeeeeeeere they are!

Scifi (1)-
Sylvain Neuvel - Sleeping Giants

Historical Fiction (1)(missed this on my last list)-
Ashley Warlick - The Arrangement

Fiction and Literature (24)-
Juliet Blackwell - Letters from Paris
Jodi Picoult - Great Small Things
Wally Lamb - I'll Take You There
Christine Z. Mason - Weighing the Truth
Isabel Allende - The Japanese Lover
Ivan Doig - Last Bus to Wisdom
Emily St. John Mandel - Station Eleven
Emmi Itaranta - Memory of Water
Paulette Boudreaux - Mulberry
John Hart - Redemption Road
Joyce Maynard - Under the Influence
Caroline Kepnes - You
Fredrik Backman - A Man Called Ove
Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney - The Nest
Anne Enright - The Green Road
Philip Michaels - Love Me Times Two
Elena Ferrante - My Brilliant Friend
Yaa Gyasi - Homegoing
Allen Eskens - The Life We Bury
Constance Leisure - Amour Provence
Ann Patchett - Commonwealth
Rae Meadows - I Will Send Rain
Karma Brown - The Choices We Make
Sarah Jio - Blackberry Winter

Mis(ery) Lit (2)(yes, this is its own genre)-
Rachael Herron - The Ones Who Matter Most
Rachael Herron - Splinters of Light

Mystery/Thriller/Suspense (14)-
Daniel Silva - The Black Widow
Philip Margolin - Violent Crimes
Barry Eisler - The God's Eye View
Walter Mosely - Devil in a Blue Dress
Harlan Coben - Fool Me Once
Cara Black - Murder on the Rue de Champs
Jeffrey Archer - Cometh the Hour
T.J. Reilly - Ladies Invited
Walter Mosely - Charcoal Joe
Harlan Coben - Home
M.P. Cooley - Ice Shear
Barry Eisler - Livia Lone
Melodie Johnson Howe - Hold A Scorpion
Jeffrey Archer - This Was A Man

Children's (1)-
Nick Bruel - Bad Kitty vs. Uncle Murray

Middle Grade (2)-
C. Lee McKenzie -Sign of the Green Dragon
Patrick Ness - A Monster Calls

Short Stories (1)-
JoJo Moyes - Paris for One

Women's Fiction (2)(this is NOT my designation)-
Julia Park Tracey - Veronika Layne Gets the Scoop
Alessandra Harris - Blaming the Wind

Romance (5)-
Elisabeth Barrett - Christmas in Tahoe (novella)
Marina Adair - A Taste of Sugar
Jennifer Skully/Bella Andre - Fearless in Love
Aria Glazki - Mending Heartstrings
Kate Allure - Bed & Breakfast & Bondage (novella)

Urban Fantasy/Paranornal (3)-
Angela Wallace - Elemental Magic
Elizabeth Hunter - The Scribe
Killian McRae - 12.21.12: The Vessel

Current Fictional Events (1)(just made this genre up)-
Ann Bridges - Rare Mettle

Young Adult (2)-
Hannah Jayne - Twisted
Megan Abbott - You Will Know Me

YA Fantasy (2)-
Alina Sayre - The Illuminator Rising
J.K. Rowling - Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (play script)




Thursday, December 29, 2016

I know this is a bit morbid.  But Off the Shelf posted a list of 12 authors, with their most well-known books, who passed away in 2016.  We always hear about the movie and TV celebrities, and rightfully so.  But we rarely hear much about authors.

Here's the list:

Umberto Eco - The Name of the Rose (know it but don't think I read it)
Gloria Dunn - Geek Love
Pat Conroy - The Prince of Tides (My Losing Season, Beach Music, and South of Broad are in my top 24 all-time - The Prince of Tides was not one of my favorites - but still good)
Gloria Naylor - The Women of Brewster Place
Anna Dewdney - llama llama red pajama (a children's picture book)
James Alan McPherson - Elbow Room
Jim Harrison - Legends of the Fall (this was a movie, but I don't think I saw it)
Natalie Babbitt - Tuck Everlasting (have heard of it but never read it)
Harper Lee - To Kill a Mockingbird (I finally read it just in the last couple of years)
Elie Weisel - Night (I read this one, and Weisel also won the Pulitzer Peace Prize)
William Trevor - The Story of Lucy Gault
Lois Duncan - I Know What You Did Last Summer

SELF-PUBLISHING
This could be interesting for you budding authors out there.  An imprint of Simon & Schuster, called Archway Publishing, has put out a self-publishing guide.  Click on the link to get more info.
free publishing guide 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

This is a list of 17 biography/memoir/historical fiction out of 77 books for 2016.  That might be my highest percentage yet.  And 7 of the authors are local (L).  Here they are:

Biography:
Kate Larson - Rosemary:  The Hidden Kennedy Daughter - Books, Inc. 4th Tuesday Book Club
Jean Sasson - Princess:  A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia (growing up as a female royal in 1960s Saudi house
Adam Henig (L) - Under One Roof - the desegregation of major league baseball Spring Training in the early 60s
Marty Brounstein (L) - Two Among the Righteous Few - non-Jews hiding Jews in WWII
David McCullough - The Wright Brothers - great biography

Memoir:
Ruchi Rai (L) - A Conscious Peace - thoughts following a serious accident
Kate Walter - Looking for a Kiss - the ups and downs of finding love in NYC
Lucy Feltham (L) - Alphabet Britain - this one's not available for sale yet
Toni Pacini - Alabama Blue - a very rough childhood (emphasize "rough")
Nate Jackson - Fantasy Man - 2nd memoir by the ex-NFLer/ex-San Jose resident
Hassan El-Tayyab (L) - Composing Temple Sunrise - finding meaning at Burning Man
Kelly Corrigan (L) - Glitter and Glue - Kelly and her mom
Paul Kalanithi - When Breath becomes Air - published posthumously
Margaret Zhao (L)/Kathleen Martens - Really Enough - the fall of the privileged in Communist China

Historical Fiction:
Ruta Sepetys - Salt to the Sea - YA
Ruta Sepetys - Between Shades of Gray - YA

Don't Know What to Call This:
Tony Schwartz/Donald Trump - The Art of the Deal - written by Tony in Donald's voice in 1987

FOLLETT UPDATE:
I have recently discovered what Follett's next book is about - It's a sequel to Pillars of the Earth and World without End!  How great is that? It's called A Column of Fire, and it comes out next September.  It takes place in 16th century England.  Because of attempts on Queen Elizabeth I's life, this chronicles the beginning of the secret service.  CAN'T WAIT!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Recap of the RBC for 2016

Last week we had our 12th, and last, RBC meeting for the year.  Once again, we had a variety of genres, which our members continue to want. We even had a special event that took us to a different venue - the 1st and only time, to date, that we have done that.  Here is the list, in order, and the genre their books represented:

January - The Angels' Share, Rayme Waters (literary fiction)
February - The Right Wrong Thing, Ellen Kirschman (police fiction)
March - Murder on the Champ du Mars, Cara Black (mystery/suspense/thriller)
April - The Language of Flowers, Vanessa Diffenbaugh (literary fiction, top 12 all-time)
May - A Taste of Sugar, Marina Adair (romance)
June - Mulberry, Paulette Boudreaux (literary fiction)
July - The Goodbye Year, Toni Piccinini (memoir)
August - The Ones Who Matter Most, Rachael Herron (literary fiction, mis lit)
September - Ice Shear, M.P. Cooley (mystery/suspense/thriller)
October - Under One Roof, Adam Henig (history, biography)
November - Alabama Blue, Toni Pacini (memoir)
December - Mending Heartstrings, Alia Glazki (romance)

As I'm looking over the list, we actually don't have as many different genres as I thought we had.  Besides memoir(2), literary fiction(4), and mystery(3), we had 2 romances and 1 history/biography.  I guess 5 genres is not bad.

Our biggest night was in April.  Normally, we get anywhere from 12-20 members for an RBC event.  And 20-22 is about all we can squeeze in at Recycle Books.  With Vanessa Diffenbaugh coming in April for her highly acclaimed book, The Language of Flowers, we thought we might need a bigger venue.  So we went down the street to Orchard Valley Coffee to see if they accommodate us.  Fortunately they said yes.  And we ended up with 45 people there!  Yep.  It was a fantastic crowd.  And Vanessa wowed 'em.  A very cool evening.

But the other 11 months were also way fun.  We got a lot of new RBC members this year and, along with our regulars, we had good crowds for our authors to meet.  I also want to give a shout-out to our October author.  Adam Henig pinch-hit for Katie Hafner (Mother Daughter Me) who was originally scheduled to appear.  She had a family situation that took her out of the mix for the time being.  Hopefully, we'll get her back in 2017.

And speaking of 2017, what does it look like?  Well, we've already got 6 booked!  Here they are with dates and genres:

January - The Oracle of Stamboul, Michael David Lukas (literary fiction)
February - The Scribe, Elizabeth Hunter (urban fantasy/paranormal)
March - A Killing at Cotton Hill, Terry Shames (mystery/suspense/thriller)
April - If You Are There, Susan Sherman (historical fiction)
June - The Illuminator's Gift, Alina Sayre (YA fantasy)
August - Pure and Sinful, Killian McRae (urban fantasy/paranormal)

Pretty good lineup so far, yes?  See you all next year.




Sunday, December 18, 2016

TWISTED - Another Very Good YA from Hannah Jayne

Before I start the actual review, I have one little comment to address to the author:  Hannah, IT'S NOT NICE TO MAKE A GROWN MAN CRY! Okay, now that I've got that off my chest, I can tell you what TWISTED is about:

Bex has always been her daddy's little girl.  After her mother left, it was just the two of them.  Sure he spoiled her with clothes and jewelry, but what father doesn't dote on his daughter?
Except Bex's dad is alleged to be a notorious serial killer. Dubbed "the Wife Collector" by the press, her father disappeared before he could stand trial.  And Bex was left to deal with the taunts and rumors.  Foster care is her one chance at starting over, starting fresh.
But Bex's old life isn't ready to let her go.  When bodies start turning up in her new hometown, the police want to use her as bait to bring her father in for questioning.  Is this Bex's one chance to reunite with her father and prove his innocence - or is she setting herself up to be a serial killer's next victim?

Although I'm clearly not the target audience for a book about teenagers(!), I want to point out that the price sticker on the back of the book says "Ages 14 and up."  Fortunately for me, I'm in the "up" category.  And you know I don't care about age anyway.  If the book is good, it's good.  And TWISTED is good.

This is a very suspenseful book that I couldn't figure out until the end; and then only when the author decided to tell me!  I really like how Hannah kept us on the hook.  Even such mundane things as opening a package (P. 60) made me nervous.  And we get a shocker very early on (P. 49) that elicited a sharp intake of breath and an uttered "Whoa."  I mean, c'mon, isn't that what a mystery/suspense/thriller should do? And that's regardless of the age of the protagonist.

Besides all of that, I like her writing (I have read other Hannah Jayne books, including Truly, Madly, Deadly and several from the Underworld Detection Agency series).  Here are a few examples of what makes Hannah such a good author:

"The man on the left had a huge mustache that seemed to ooze from his nose."
"...and ears that stuck out of his head like satellites."
"Bex tried to shake out the image, the memories, the voices, but they crawled and picked at her like fire ants on her skin."

See what I mean?  And if you want a good old-fashioned suspense, give TWISTED a try.  I'm pretty sure you will be happy you did.



P.S.  You will notice that on the cover, the "S" of TWISTED is backwards. Unfortunately, I don't know how to reproduce that on my computer keyboard!



Friday, December 16, 2016

Elisabeth Barrett Finally Has a Book in Print - And It's a Real Doozy

I have long been an Elisabeth Barrett fan.  Unfortunately (for me), her publisher only puts her works out in ebook form.  And, as all/some/none of you know, I need print.  I don't do e.  So you can imagine how excited I was to visit Barnes & Noble this past weekend and not only see Elisabeth for the 1st time in a couple of years, but also to see a print book in front of her on the table!  What is this book you ask?  It's called West Coast Holiday Series.  It consists of 3 novellas:  Christmas in Tahoe, New Year's in Napa, and Rendezvous in Point Reyes.  Have I read the 3 stories?  Nope.  But I have read the 1st one.  And I liked it so much that I'm reviewing it all by its lonesome.  Will I do the same for #2 and #3? Don't know.  Haven't read them yet.  1 step (novella) at a time.

Do you really need a blurb for a romance?  Sure:

At first glance, Chase Deckert and Ann Smith seem to have nothing in common.  He's a snowboarding instructor living a low-key life in Tahoe, and she's an actuary who spends most of her free time working in Silicon Valley.  But as the holiday weekend unfolds, they learn more about each other - and themselves - than they ever imagined.  All it takes is one long, steamy Christmas to help them realize they're meant to be together.

Okay, we all know that in romances the guy and girl end up together (does that happen here?  Read it and find out for yourself).  However, what leads up to the happily-ever-after varies greatly from one author to the next.  And Elisabeth has done herself proud with Christmas in Tahoe. Not only did I have many tears and chills; and not only did I have one time when I couldn't read because my eyes were too blurry from the moisture; and not only did I cry from a simple job offer that one of the protagonists received (at least I had enough dignity(!) and self-esteem to be SHOCKED that I cried over that one); I also had a few revelations:

1.  A romance, IMHO, has to have chapters told from the perspective of both protagonists.  I think this is critical and better enables both genders to enjoy the genre.  That is the case with CiT.
2.  If there is going to be fairly graphic sex, then that has to come AFTER the reader has made an emotional connection with the characters. Otherwise it's just sex (not altogether a bad thing, mind you).  And I'm here to say that the emotional connection here was made 1st.
3.  The story moves so much faster in a novella than in a novel.  Right now, you must be saying "Duh!" or something akin to that.  In my defense, though, I read very few short stories and novellas.  So this actually did slap me upside the head.  Once I figured it out, I have to say I kind of liked the speed and movement of the story.

Say what you will, but these are pretty significant discoveries for me.

Okay, finally, I've got just a couple of random, useless observations that resonated with me but may (and probably will) mean nothing to you:

1.  We natives call the old Nimitz Freeway 880, not THE 880 (like they do in SoCal).  That shows that Elisabeth is either a Bay Area native or has been here long enough to know the difference.
2.  Chase and Ann stop at Ikeda in Auburn on the way back from Tahoe. They eat pie.  So what, you ask/say?  Well, if you haven't had pie at Ikeda then you don't get to ask that question.  Their pies are delicious.
3.  Elisabeth talks a lot about the work culture in Silicon Valley, since the 2 protagonists either have worked there or are currently working there.  I have been working in Silicon Valley for 40 years.  I think she's got it down.
4.  I didn't see any errors in spelling, punctuation, or grammar.  That's amazing.  And I loved it!

If you don't know Silicon Valley or Tahoe, it doesn't matter.  This is a very good story.  It happens to be a romance.  But more important than that, it's just flat-out good.  I am very confident that #2 and #3 will follow suit. But even if they don't, it was worth the price of the book to read Christmas in Tahoe.






Sunday, December 11, 2016

A Review and a Meet-Up with the RWA (Romance Writers of America) at B&N, Stevens Creek

The last time I read a Killian McRae book (and the only other one I have read, to date) was back in Spring of 2015.  Well, I just finished my 2nd McRae.  And let me say that my #2 is way different than Pure and Sinful. May 15, 2015, is when I reviewed P&S.

This one, on the other hand, is called 12.21.12, The Vessel.  And NOT coincidentally, this is the date that the Mayans said would be the end of the world.  Kind of a Y2K sort of thing.  It's a combo of a lot of different genres.  Here is the back cover blurb:

The only way to save the future is to decode the past.  The only way to decode the past is to save the future.
Archaeologist Sheppard Smyth has staked his career and the honorable memory of his wife and partner on proving his widely panned theory: Cleopatra VII, last sovereign pharaoh of Egypt, was not a victim of suicide as history suggests, but of a well-concealed murder.  When a statue of the doomed queen is unearthed in a pre-Columbian excavation site in Mexico, Shep rushes to investigate and, hopefully, find the proof that's evaded him for so long.  Working to unlock the mysteries he finds, Shep is about to learn much more than he ever bargained for.  Suddenly thrust into the heated rivalry between sexy and enigmatic antiquities thief Victoria Kent and the infamous Russian mafioso Dmitri Kronastia, Shep finds himself a common pawn played by forces working to seek out a quest older than the pyramids and cloaked in the Mayan doomsday prophecy of 12.21.12.

I can't tell you any more because it will give away the twists and turns of the story.  But suffice it to say that there are elements of paranormal, fantasy, scifi, and Roman mythology. And if that's not enough variety for you, how about a little romance thrown in.

I enjoy Killian's cultural references along with her humor and a certain amount of snark.  Cases in point:

1.  "...an archaeological version of 'one of these things is not like the other.'"  To me that sounds like it  came from Sesame Street!
2.  "Though he had near-native fluency in English, whenever Hector got overly excited or nervous, he began to babble like a third-grader trying to explain Tolstoy."  You can see that, right?
3.  "'Potatoes, potahtoes', he murmured."  For those of you who don't know (which, I'm sure, is most of you), this is in reference to a song written by George Gershwin in 1937 by the name of "Let's Call The Whole Thing Off."  Nowadays, it's used to indicate that there's no real difference between 2 choices.  Another very cool cultural reference from Killian.

Cool cover, yes?


Over Saturday and Sunday, I had a chance to stop in at Barnes & Noble on Stevens Creek and visit with 8 authors.  I enjoyed getting reacquainted with 5 of them - Kate Allure, Elisabeth Barrett, Marina Adair, Linda Gunther, and Hannah Jayne - and meeting 3 new ones - Allyson Charles, Gayle Parness, Victoria De La O.  I always enjoy these events, especially when I can see some of my favorite authors!

From left to right:  Kate Allure, Allyson Charles, Elisabeth Barrett, Marina Adair, Linda Gunther

And, again:  Hananah Jayne, Gayle Parness, Victoria De La O

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Japanese Lover - My 1st Isabel Allende

My good friend, Diane, highly recommended The Japanese Lover, by Isabel Allende.  I decided to read it for 2 reasons:  1)  Because Diane recommended it; and 2) Because Isabel lives in Northern California (Marin County), and I always shamelessly hope to convince a local author to come to an RBC meeting.  It's unlikely, but it did work with Vanessa Diffenbaugh.  I'm just sayin'...  And in one sentence, I will tell you what the book is about:  The 70-year love affair of a man and woman who could not, for societal and cultural reasons, ever publicly be together.

So now that I've given you the reasons why I read it, what did I think about my 1st Allende?  The short answer is that I liked it.  I gave it a 3/4. I would have rated it a little higher except there were a couple of things that bothered me a bit.  Let me first list the stuff that I liked.

1.  It's extremely well-written.  It's literary, but still very readable.
2.  I like that much of the story takes place in a retirement community, and that one of the main protagonists is in her early 80s.  I will concede that this could have something to do with my advancing age!
3.  Piggybacking onto #2, there is an 8-page explanation (60-67) of what it's like to grow old.  I really appreciated how this particular character described it.  In fact, I would even say that this is a takeaway for me.
4.  I like how the author gives a detailed explanation of the Japanese internment camps during WWII.  Of course I've seen it before in literature (Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet comes 1st to mind), but this is in greater detail.  As heinous as it actually was, and as much head-shaking as I did while reading it, I still appreciated learning more about this significant piece of American history.
5.  I definitely had my share of chills and tears, with a little laughter thrown in.  I did make the emotional connection to the characters.
6.  I always like books where there are personal letters from the past involved (e.g. Goodnight June and Letters from Paris).

What did I have an issue with?
1.  Those personal letters jump around in timeframe.  It was a little confusing for me (could it be me?  Nah.  Maybe?)
2.  There is a character that is referred to several times throughout the book.  But he gets a big part near the end, from 45 years earlier, that was distracting for me.
3.  I thought there were quite a few paragraphs that ran on too long. Don't get me wrong; they were well-written, and I wasn't bored.  But I have a hard time maintaining focus when I see a long paragraph.  I have to admit that this one is on me.

My objections to the book probably only accounted for maybe a 1/4 point in the rating.  Not a big deal.  It's still very worthwhile reading.   And for you literati, you will probably appreciate it a tad more than I did.



Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Top Books of 2016

So why am I listing my top books of 2016 in early December?  Good question.  It turns out that the Los Gatos Library Evening Book Club is meeting this month on December 20 and will be talking about their favorite books of the year.  But I have to miss the meeting!  Rats.  So I figured I would go ahead and make my list.  Maybe Melissa will share this with the group...and maybe she won't.  Either way it's an end-of-year list I'm going to put together.

This year I've got 24 out of 75 books at 3.5/4 or higher.  That's almost a 1/3!  It's obviously been a very good year.  And heeeeeeeere they are:

4.0+-
Rachael Herron - Splinters of Light

4.0-
Barry Eisler - The God's Eye View
Harlan Coben - Fool Me Once
Fredrik Backman - A Man Called Ove
Jeffrey Archer - Cometh The Hour (#6, The Clifton Chronicles)

3.75-
John Hart - Redemption Road
Rachael Herron - The Ones Who Matter Most
Daniel Silva - The Black Widow
Karma Brown - The Choices We Make
Jeffrey Archer - This Was A Man (#7, The Clifton Chronicles)

3.625-
Allen Eskins - The Life We Bury

3.5-
Paulette Boudreaux - Mulberry
Ruta Sepetys - Salt to the Sea
Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney - The Nest
Jennifer Skully/Bella Andre - Fearless in Love (#3, The Maverick Billionaires)
Yaa Gyasi - Homegoing
Harlan Coben - Home
David McCullough - The Wright Brothers (non-fiction)
Sarah Jio - Blackberry Winter
Juliet Blackwell - Letters from Paris
Jodi Picoult - Small Great Things
Barry Eisler - Livia Lone
JoJo Moyes - Paris for One (short stories)
Kelly Corrigan - Glitter and Glue (memoir)

P.S.  There are another 22 books that are either 3.0 or 3.25.  That's 46 out of 75 - over 60%!  As I said up top, it's been a very good year for reading.




Saturday, December 3, 2016

New Authors (for me) in 2016 - Yes, I know that it's only early December

To avoid having all of my end-of-year lists at the end of the year, I'm going to space them out over the course of December.  The 1st one is all of the authors that I have read this year for the 1st time.  I have tried to genre-ize them as best I can.

Ivan Doig - Last Bus to Wisdom (literary fiction)
Hilary Mandel - Station Eleven (lit. fiction)
Emmi Itaranta - Memory of Water (lit. fiction)
Julia Park Tracey - Veronika Layne Gets the Scoop (lit. fiction)
Kate Larson - Rosemary:  The Hidden Kennedy Daughter (biography)
Paulette Boudreaux - Mulberry (lit. fiction)
Ruchi Rai - A Conscious Peace (memoir)
Walter Mosley - Devil in a Blue Dress (mystery)
Kate Walter - Looking for a Kiss (memoir)
Ashley Warlick - The Arrangement (lit. fiction)
Joyce Maynard - Under the Influence (lit. fiction)
Caroline Kepnes - You (psychological thriller)
Ruta Sepetis - Salt to the Sea (historical YA)
T.J. Reilly - Ladies Invited (mystery)
Fredrik Backman - A Man Called Ove (lit. fiction)
Jean Sasson - Princess (biography/memoir)
Marty Brownstein - Two among the Righteous Few (history)
Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney - The Nest (lit. fiction)
Toni Pacini - Alabama Blue (memoir)
Anne Enright - The Green Road (lit. fiction)
Philip Michaels - Love Me Two Times (lit. fiction)
Sylvain Neuvel - Sleeping Giants (scifi)
Elena Ferrante - My Brilliant Friend (lit. fiction)
AriaGlazki - Mending Heartstrings (romance)
Yaa Gyasi - Homegoing (historical fiction)
Alessandra Harris - Blaming the Wind (lit. fiction)
Allen Eskens - The Life We Bury (lit. fiction)
Constance Leisure - Amour Provence (lit./historical fiction)
Donald Trump/Tony Schwartz - The Art of the Deal (memoir/ghostwriter)
M.P. Cooley - Ice Shear (mystery)
Rae Meadows - I Will Send Rain (lit./historical fiction)
Hassan El-Tayyab - Composing Temple Sunrise (memoir)
Patrick Ness - A Monster Calls (YA)
Angela Wallace - Elemental Magic #1 (urban fantasy)
Kelly Corrigan - Glitter and Glue (memoir)
Melody Johnson Howe - Hold A Scorpion (mystery)
Paul Kalanithi - When Breath Becomes Air (memoir)
Elizabeth Hunter - The Scribe #1 Irin Chronicles (urban fantasy)
Isabel Allende - The Japanese Lover (lit. fiction)

Thursday, December 1, 2016

A Review of The Scribe, Book 1 in the Irin Chronicles, AND an Upcoming RBC Author!

Next February the RBC will be welcoming Elizabeth Hunter, author of the Irin Chronicles.  We will be reading book 1, The Scribe.  In our 3 years of being a book club, we have only had 1 other urban fantasy/paranormal romance author.  And that was Hannah Jayne, who wrote the Underworld Detection Agency books.  We all liked book 1 in that series. And I feel very confident that our members will like The Scribe.  I sure did.  This is what our own RBC member, author Killian McRae (who recommended Elizabeth), had to say about Elizabeth's book:  The Scribe is a perfect marriage of urban fantasy with tinges of romance." Intrigued?  Here's the blurb:

Hidden at the crossroads of the world, an ancient race battles to protect humanity, even as it dies from within.
Ava Matheson came to Istanbul looking for answers, but others came looking for her.  A reckless warrior guards her steps, but will Malachi's own past blind him to the truth of who Ava might be?  While ancient forces gather around them, both Ava and Malachi search for answers.
Whispering voices.  Deadly touch.  Their passion should be impossible...or it could be the only thing that will keep them alive. 

This book has it all - drama, suspense, physical battles, tears, chills, emotion (happiness and sadness), sarcasm and humor (the one inevitably leading to the other), and, most importantly, great chemistry between the 2 main protagonists.  I have said it many times, but it bears repeating:  If the author can make you feel for the characters, which Elizabeth certainly does here, then it doesn't matter what the genre is. In The Scribe, there is a scene in which I felt Ava's grief.  Did I say "But it's only an urban fantasy?"  Of course not.  Remember when I reviewed Wally Lamb's latest, I'll Take You There (11/20)?  I said that the book felt like non-fiction to me, even though the central character is visited by ghosts.  Fantastical?  Yes.  Believable?  Also, yes.  And in The Scribe, Ava and Malachi, along with several other supporting cast members, are very believable.

Don't forget that in order to appreciate all of the elements of a book, it also has to be well-written.  Listen to this:  "Most people's inner voices were like tiny orchestras in the moments before a concert.  An odd cacophony of emotion and tone only occasionally smoothing out into a discernible voice."  Doesn't that paint a vivid picture in your mind?  It sure did mine.  And am I the only person who liked this book?  I don't think so.  On Goodreads the rating is 4.19/5.  And on Amazon it's 4.6/5. I firmly believe that you, RBC members, and other readers too, will like it as well as I did.



ONE MORE NOTE ABOUT THE SCRIBE:  Elizabeth spells out a word/sound that I have never seen in print.  And it was perfect.  The word is "Mmhmm."  Haven't you always wondered what that looks like?  Well, here it is.

ONE MORE NOTE not ABOUT THE SCRIBE:  I have just come across a very cool website that is geared for mysteries.  It's called stopyourekillingme. If you like mysteries (who doesn't, really?), then you will want to take a look at this website.


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

When Breath Becomes Air - kinda like Being Mortal...but not

My buddy Phil recommended I read When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, with a forward by Abraham Verghese.  This is a true story unlike most true stories.  To wit:

At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade's worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer.  One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live.  And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated.  When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi's transformation from a naive medical student "possessed," as he wrote, "by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life" into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality.

This is a mesmerizing account of Paul's journey to become a doctor and the unfortunate tailspin to a patient.  He died in March of 2015, after receiving his initial diagnosis 22 months earlier.  He didn't finish his book.  But we see most of what happened before and after he got his news.  And, fortunately for us, his widow, Lucy, wrote a beautiful epilogue to let us know what transpired at the end of Paul's life and how Lucy and their daughter, Elizabeth Acadia ("Cady"), are doing now.

I can write a lot about When Breath Becomes Air.  But, for the sake of readability, I think I'm going to list the elements of the book that stood out for me:

1.  The whole story of how he becomes a neuro-surgeon/scientist is fascinating.
2.  The book reminds me a lot of Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande, and you know what I thought about that book (you can see my 2-part review on 12/9/15 and 12/13/15).
3.  The book made me realize what a great loss to the medical community and, by extension, to the general public that his early death is.
4.  The explanation of brain function is done in such a way that even somebody outside the medical community (i.e. me) could understand and appreciate.
5.  Paul's emphasis on identity humanizes the medical approach to brain disfunction.
6.  I really like how he compares brain surgery with the tortoise and hare fable.
7.  Paul flat-out writes beautifully.

I know that it's tough to squeeze in books that you are not expecting to read.  But let me say that this is a small book physically and only 225 pages.  It won't take you long to get through it.  And, believe me, it's worth it.




2 PROGRAM NOTES:
1.  Barnes & Noble, on Stevens Creek in San Jose, has a 3-day author event coming up starting this Saturday, December 3.  Here is the schedule along with the list of authors and genres:

2.  Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is being turned into a movie on HBO sometime next year.  And Oprah herself will be one of the stars.  (If I already told you about this, which is a distinct possibility, I apologize!)  If you are interested, you can read my January 19, 2016 review of the book.




Sunday, November 27, 2016

Christine Z. Mason's latest - Weighing the Truth

Boundaries, A Love Story, by Christine Z. Mason, was an RBC selection last year.  And now she's got a new one, called Weighing the Truth.  This is a whole bunch different than Boundaries, I can tell you that!  Here's what it's about:

Natalya Drummond is an idealistic 32-year old attorney and the widowed mother of a small child. After visiting her death row client, Jared Hegner, at San Quentin, her life begins to unravel, as bizarre, frightening, and traumatic incidents occur.  Nat becomes convinced the client and his gang members are after her.  At the same time she embarks on an investigation of the suspicious circumstances surrounding her husband's death - a mystery she must solve before she can move on in her personal and professional life.  Has her fear clouded her perception of the truth and undermined her passionate belief in the presumption of innocence?

First of all, the thing that stood out right away for me is that Nat could easily have her own series of books (or even a TV show).  I have no idea if Christine is considering that.  But I would certainly enjoy "seeing" more of Natalya Drummond.

There was a lot I liked about this book:

1.  There were quite a few storylines running through the book.  I liked the variety and the need to pay attention.
2.  I liked seeing the difference between an attorney in her professional role and an attorney as a victim.
3.  I liked getting the clear explanation, without being lectured to, of the rules surrounding a witness in a jury trial.
4.  I liked the twists and turns and the fact that it was not predictable.
5.  I liked that I could relate to a number of different parts of the book. The most notable was Nat's visit to the prison and being told she had to take off her bra because it had underwire.  A friend of mine had a son in prison who actually had to undergo that same requirement.  In her case, she drove to a local drugstore and purchased a different bra.  There are obviously so many things that we just don't know about unless we experience them.

Weighing the Truth is an entertaining book about a very relatable character.  Maybe we'll see more of her.  Eh, Christine?






Thursday, November 24, 2016

Archer's 7th, and Last, Clifton Chronicle Novel Is a Worthy End

You all know how much I like the Jeffrey Archer series, The Clifton Chronicles.  #7, This Was A Man, does the others justice.  It's a fitting end to an outstanding series.  I realized, as I was reading it, how invested in the characters I was.  Remember, this series started when Harry was only a boy.  And  book 7 ends about 60 years, and a total of 4 generations, later.  A lot has happened, and all of it flows smoothly from one scene, and book, to the next.

I had a lot of chills, tears, and smiles, plus a fair amount of OMG's. There are always twists in Archer's books.  And this one is no exception.  Just when you think one thing is going to happen, or one person is going to have a medical issue...BOOM, Archer throws us for a loop.  That's what makes us immediately get our hands (or ears) on Archer's novels. He's really an outstanding author.

I have recommended this series to a whole bunch of people.  And those that have listened to me have all agreed that The Clifton Chronicles is a great set of books.  Do yourself a favor and pick up book 1, Only Time Will Tell.  I feel very confident (notice I didn't say that I "guarantee") that you will quickly move on to books 2-7.  It's just that good.



P.S.  Late in the book, a crowd is gathered and is listening to Sit Down You're Rockin' the Boat, from Guys and Dolls.  I have to tell you that back on December 31, 1999, some friends and I actually put on a production of Guys and Dolls in honor of the Millennium.  And guess what part I played?  Yep,  Nicely Nicely Johnson.  I actually got to sing Sit Down You're Rockin' the Boat to a live audience!  Was I good?  Nope.  Did I have a great time?  Yep.


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

DNFs

I talk a lot about the books I've read.  I mean, after all, that's what a book blogger is supposed to do!  BUT, what about the books I didn't finish (DNFs)?  Yep, there are some of those too.  Here are the 10 books that I have said "Nope" to in the last 4 years:

2013 -
1.    The Last Stand of Daronwy - Clint Talbert

2014 -
2.    Perfume - Richard Susskind

3.    Painted Horses - Malcolm Brooks

4.    Lost Kidnapped Eaten Alive! - Laurie McAndish King

5.    Don't Look Back - Gregg Hurwitz

2015 -
6.    The Goldfinch - Donna Tartt

7.    H Is for Hawk - Helen MacDonald

2016 -
8.    My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry - Fredrik Backman

9.    For All the Tea in China - Sarah Rose

10.  Sweetbitter - Stephanie Danler

P.S.  And for those who loved The Goldfinch, I make NO apology for giving up on page 19!


2 NOTES:
1.  I just heard that The Glass Castle is going to be a movie.  So I looked it up.  It's coming out in 2017.  Brie Larson, Best Actress Academy Award winner for The Room, will play Jeanette Walls.  The cast also includes Naomi Watts and Woody Harrelson, among others.  This should be very interesting.
2.  T.J. Reilly has written 2 books in the Jack Oatmon series.  The 1st one is Ladies Invited (which I enjoyed).  And the 2nd one is A Time for Redemption.  T.J. will be launching book 2 at Book Passage in the Ferry Building in San Francisco on Thursday, December 1, from 6:00-7:30.  I wish I could be there, T.J.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Wally Lamb's New One - I'll Take You There - Is A Good One - 3.25/4

I realize that by having the rating in the title, there is no incentive to read the review!  So be it.  But at least read the blurb (it's a little bit long):

I'll Take You There tells the story of Felix Funicello, a film scholar who runs a Monday night movie club in what was once a vaudeville theater. One evening, while setting up a film in the projection booth, he's visited by the ghost of Lois Weber, a trailblazing motion picture director from Hollywood's silent film era.  Lois invites Felix to revisit - and in some cases relive - scenes from his childhood as they are projected onto the theater's movie screen.
In these magical movies, Felix reconnects with the women who are the most important in his life.  There's his daughter, Aliza, a Gen Y writer for New York Magazine who is trying to align her postmodern feminist beliefs with her lofty career ambitions; his sister, Frances, with whom he once shared a complicated bond of kindness and cruelty; and Verna, a fiery would-be contender for the 1951 Miss Rheingold competition, a beauty contest sponsored by a Brooklyn-based beer manufacturer that became a national phenomenon for two decades.  At first unnerved by these ethereal apparitions, Felix comes to look forward to his encounters with Lois, who is later joined by spirits of other celluloid muses.
Against a backdrop where politics, pop culture, family secrets, and Hollywood iconography converge, Felix gains an enlightened understanding of the women closest to him, and of the feminine ideals and realities that women, of every ear, must face.

There's obviously a bit of the fantastical in this book, since there are visits by ghosts.  But I've got news for you:  This book read like non-fiction to me.  I know that sounds crazy, and I don't know how to explain it.  All of the lengthy sections of him at various stages of childhood just seemed real to me.  And when he actually had the opportunity to relive different stages of his life, I felt I was standing right next to him.  This is in direct contrast to The Glass Castle, which always felt like fiction to me. Anyway, onward.

What else did I like about this book?  Being a huge movie fan (my wife and I go to 65-70 movies a year! - in fact, just saw #64 today), I really liked learning so much about early films and some of the original female actresses and even a female director/filmmaker.  I had never heard of Lois Weber and some of the silent movie actresses.  But based on my quick research, Lamb has depicted all of them accurately.

I also liked learning about the Rheingold Girl, based on the Brooklyn beer company.  This contest ran from 1941-1964.  I had never heard of the beer or the contest.  But it definitely existed.  And here's something else I learned:

Using photographs of pretty women to sell products had not been an advertising industry standard until the mid-1920s, when it came about as the result of a labor strike by commercial artists.  It's hard to believe, but prior to this, advertisers had relied on illustrators to draw the imagery that promoted their clients' wares.  But a desperate mail-order company preparing a spring catalog needed pictures pronto. And so, comely chorus girls were borrowed from Broadway and photographed. Their halftone images replaced the hand-drawn illustrations that had been the norm and sales improved significantly.  As a result, a new Manhattan-based industry - professional modeling - was born.

How cool is that?

Finally, I liked the relationship between Felix and his daughter, Aliza. And I liked learning history through Aliza's articles for the magazine.  

I'll Take You There is not the best book I have recently read, but it's definitely one that I would recommend.  It is available to purchase this coming Tuesday, November 22.



Thursday, November 17, 2016

Top 24 (Actually 27) All-Time

It's been over a year since I posted my top reads of all-time.  And we've got a few new readers that have come on board in the last 14 months. I've added 1 book since that last post (9/25/15) and now have a total of 27.  We've got 12-4.5s, 13-4.25s, and 2-4.0+.  And, PLEASE, let me know what you think:

4.5-
Baldacci, David - Wish You Well
Clavell, James - Shogun
Conroy, Pat - My Losing Season (non-fiction)
Conroy, Pat - South of Broad
Diffenbaugh, Vanessa - The Language of Flowers
Follett, Ken - Pillars of the Earth
Follett, Ken - Winter of the World (#2, The Century Trilogy)
Haley, Alex - Roots
King, Steven - 11/22/63
McMurtry, Larry - Lonesome Dove
Michener, James - The Source
Walls, Jeanette - The Glass Castle (non-fiction)

4.25-
Conroy, Pat - Beach Music
Follett, Ken - Fall of Giants (#1, The Century Trilogy)
Follett, Ken - World without End (sequel to Pillars)
Follett, Ken - Edge of Eternity (#3, The Century Trilogy)
Franklin-Willis, Amy - The Lost Saints of Tennessee
Hart, John - Iron House
Hart, John - The Last Child
Hoffman, Beth - Saving CeeCee Honeycutt
Ludlum, Robert - The Matarese Circle
Patterson, Richard North - Exile
Picoult, Jodi - The Storyteller
Uris, Leon - Exodus
Wallace, Irving - The Plot

4.0+-
Herron, Rachael - Splinters of Light
Jio, Sarah - Goodnight June

A NEW AUTHOR:  You all know Los Gatos librarian and fearless leader of Los Gatos Library Tuesday Evening Book Club, Melissa Maglio.  Well now Melissa IS A PUBLISHED AUTHOR!  In the latest version of Chicken Soup for the Soul - Angels and Miracles - Melissa's article, Spiritual Healing, in the Faith in Action section, is completely terrific.  Melissa writes beautifully.



Tuesday, November 15, 2016

A Pretty Short Review

On Monday, the 7th, I posted a blog (or blogged a post?) about Melodie Johnson Howe.  She's the one who was a movie actress for 10 years in her early 20s to early 30s.  And then she walked away from acting and became an author.  The book she was promoting at Kepler's is called Hold A Scorpion, which is the 2nd novel in the Diana Poole series. Here's the blurb:

Diana Poole's last movie was a flop, but she earned enough money to fix up her Malibu house.  One afternoon standing outside it, she sees a woman across the highway waving at her.  Diana doesn't recognize her. Still waving, the woman walks into the oncoming cars and is killed instantly.  Why would anyone do that?
The next night, while still horrified by the accident, Diana is held at gunpoint by a man demanding the dead woman's scorpion.  What kind of scorpion?  A live one?  A pendant?  Diana searches the accident scene and finds a diamond-encrusted object in the shape of a scorpion. Breathless, she remembers her movie star mother showing it to her the last time Diana saw her alive.
Did the woman who was waving at her want to see it?  Why did the gunman want the scorpion?  Did her mother really die of natural causes? Could it have been murder?  With the diamond-encrusted object as her only clue, Diana goes on a heart-pounding journey determined to find answers.
But asking too many questions in the wrong kind of crowd can be dangerous to Diana and to those she loves.  Especially when there is an unpredictable killer waiting for her.

This book was just okay.  In Melodie's conversation with Keith Raffel, she indicated that her influences are old-timey hard-boiled detective story writers, like Raymond Chandler and Ross McDonald.  A few years ago, I read a Chandler and didn't much care for it.  I can see his influence on Melodie's writing. She, obviously, has brought her story into the present, but you can still feel that the
book is hearkening back to another time, as far as writing style is concerned.  It's not my favorite.  I'm giving it a 2.25/4.  HOWEVER, I also have to say that because it's a fast and easy read, I would consider taking on another Diana Poole mystery (that's big of me, wouldn't you say?)



BY-THE-BY:  I have had 3 DNFs (Did Not Finish) this year.  In case you're interested, they are:
1.  My Grandmother Told Me To Tell You That She's Sorry, by Fredrik Backman.  This is the same F. Backman that wrote A Man Called Ove that I rated a 4/4.  Tough to explain.  I made it to 125.
2.  For All The Tea In China, Sarah Rose.  This was for the November Los Gatos Library Tuesday Night Book Club.  25 pages and I was done.
3.  Sweetbitter, Stephanie Danler.  This one was for the November Books Inc. 4th Tuesday Book Club.  I got through 108 pages on this one.
November was obviously not a good month for me, right? WRONG.  I read 2-3.5/4 - Paris for One, by Juliet Blackwell, and Glitter and Glue, by Kelly Corrigan - and 1-3.25/4 - I'll Take You There, by Wally Lamb. Overall, I say it's been a good month so far.




Friday, November 11, 2016

A Bunch of Stuff

1.  I have a favor to ask.  Lucy Feltham has written a very good book, called Alphabet Britain.  But in order to get it published, she has to greatly increase her social network platform.  Translated for us Baby Boomers, that means she has to get a bunch of "Follows" on Twitter and "Likes" on Facebook.  Here are the links.  Please take a moment to Follow and Like.  If Lucy can get the book published, I am sure that all of you will enjoy it (plus, we can probably get her to be an RBC author!).


2.  Greg Iles' 3rd book in his Natchez Burning trilogy, Mississippi Blood, hits bookstores March 17, 2017.  Can't wait!

3.  4 days I go I hit the 100,000 pageview mark!  (I started the blog in January, 2011.)  Thank you readers for allowing me to get to this landmark.  I am definitely overwhelmed.

4.  This is the complete list from our latest round of reader recs:
The Source, James Michener
Shogun, James Clavell
The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
Lawrence of Arabia, T.E. Lawrence
The Haj, Leon Uris
Winter's Bone, Daniel Woodrell
The Color Purple, Alice Walker
She's Come Undone, Wally Lamb
Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden
The Life Intended, Kristin Harmel
A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini
Hanna House, Nomi Eve
Eleanor and Park, Rainbow Rowell
The Rent Collector, Camron Wright
Take Me with You, Catherine Ryan Hyde
Our Souls at Night, Kent Haruf
God's Hotel, Victoria Sweet
The Secret Chord, Geraldine Brooks
An Inconvenient Wife, Megan Chance
Rules of Civility, Amor Towles
The Rope Walk, Carrie Brown
Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, Alexandra Fuller
Water from My Heart, Charles Martin
The Anatomy Lesson, Philip Roth
Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee
When the Emperor Was Divine, Julie Otsuka
A More Obedient Wife, Natalie Wexler
When She Woke, Hillary Jordan
The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Wendy Welch
My Promised Land, Ari Shavit
Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, Robin Sloan
An Invisible Thread, Laura Schroff

With the new recs, that gives us 2 for Shogun (Clavell), 2 for Memoirs of a Geisha (Golden), and 7 for Pillars of the Earth (Follett).  Add to that the 2 we got for Les Miserables (Hugo) and Beach Music (Conroy) on the 1st list, and we have a total of 5 that got multiple votes.  Thanks, everybody.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Kelly Corrigan's Glitter and Glue Is A Memoir That Your Are Going to Want to Read

Do you remember The Ones Who Matter Most by Rachael Herron? Although that was fiction, it showed us another way to define Family. Kelly's memoir, Glitter and Glue, shows us different ways to define Motherhood.  But instead of talking about that, I want to quote a few passages from G&G.  Kelly's writing is so good that I'm going to eliminate my usual banter and just let you enjoy the words - not only for the writing, but also for what they say.

1.  This passage is talking about the family of Ellen Tanner, who had passed away a number of months earlier:  So now I've met all of Ellen Tanner's people.  The newish husband.  The young children, the nearly grown son, the father.  If this family were a poker hand, you'd fold. Without that middle card, you're drawing to an inside straight, and that almost never works out.

2.  And it occurs to me that maybe the reason my mother was so exhausted all the time wasn't because she was doing so much but because she was feeling so much.

3.  It's easy to love kids who make you feel competent.  God help the ones who lock themselves in their rooms, who let go first, who make you pine for some sign of validation and then hate yourself for chasing the affections of a child.

4.  Referring to her mother, she says: This is the first time, here in Australia, that my life has looked and sounded and moved like hers, from bed to kitchen to car and back, and consequently she is everywhere, like a movie playing across the walls and furniture from hidden projectors.

And I'll close with this one:

5.  I remember a lecture from one of my lit classes about a theory called "Reader Response," which basically says: More often than not, it's the readers - not the writers - who determine what a book means.  The idea is that readers don't come blank to books.  Consciously and not, we bring all the biases that come with our nationality, gender, race, class, age.  Then you layer onto that the status of our health, employment, relationships, not to mention our particular relationship to each book - who gave it to us, where we read it, what books we've already read - and, as my professor put it, "That massive array of spices has as much to do with the flavor of the soup as whatever the cook intended."

So is this like a movie trailer, where you get to see all the good scenes before you even watch the movie?  The answer is an unequivocal and resounding "NO!"  Kelly has these very well-written, insightful comments throughout the book.  And don't get me started on the emotional moments I had reading Glitter and Glue.  They were aplenty.  Just read the book, okay?

P.S.  There was one part late in the book where I blurted out:  "You better have an epilogue!"  Was I emotionally connected much?




Monday, November 7, 2016

Melodie Johnson Howe at Kepler's, with Help from Keith Raffel

I got the chance to see and meet Melodie Johnson Howe tonight at Kepler's.  She was interviewed by Keith Raffel, and Meg Waite Clayton was in the audience. As you know, Keith and Meg are 2 of my favorite local authors.  So, a good night for me.  I came for 2 main reasons - 1. Keith was doing the interviewing; 2) Nicole Hughes "suggested" that I go. I haven't read any of Melodie's books, but I picked up her new one, Hold A Scorpion, and will place it near the top of my TBR pile.

Melodie has a very interesting story to tell.  She was a Hollywood actress starting in her early 20s.  She appeared with Clint Eastwood (see below), Alan Alda, Richard Widmark, and James ("Jimmy") Caan, among others. And about 10 years later, while getting ready to audition for a TV show, she decided that she was done.  And she walked away from acting.  She had always been interested in writing, and she went ahead with that passion.  She obviously made the right choice since she was nominated for an Edgar!  Keith identified her writing as Noir, but placed in modern settings.  And, in fact, Melodie credits Raymond Chandler, Ross McDonald, Rex Stout, and other old-timey mystery writers as major influences.

It was a fun night.  And I am anxious to add another new author to my ever-expanding list.  Take a look at a few pics.

Melodie, Keith, Meg to the right; Andrew from Kepler's in the middle on theft

Melody talking with Keith

Melodie signing books (including mine!)

Meg, with Keith in the background

Melodie and Clint in Coogan's Bluff, 1968





Saturday, November 5, 2016

It's Time for the (2nd) Annual Readers' Recs

It's been a little over a year since we had our 1st Readers' Recs.  These are what you would expect them to be - recommendations of our readers' favorite books.  So why are we doing it again, you might ask? There are 3 reasons:

1.  We have new followers since September of 2015.  Maybe they would like to give us some of their favorite books of all-time.
2.  There are possibly a few readers that were followers back in September 2015 who simply were too busy to recommend (why else would they have not done it?) and have just been champing at the bit to have another go.
3.  And maybe some of those who WERE followers and DID recommend books last September have come up with some new recs.

So, here is what I wrote on 9/9/15:

You know, we all like to get book recommendations.  I know I do.  Many of my favorites have come via recs from friends and social media connections.  So what I would like to do is come up with a list of great recommendations for everybody.  If you feel up to it (aka if you care), can you give us your top 3 books all-time?  Let's see what we can put out there. Take a week and either list them on this blog post or email me directly at lloydrrussell@gmail.com.  And although I'm sure you've seen my top 3 before, here they are again:

Pillars of the Earth - Ken Follett
The Source - James Michener
Shogun - James Clavell

And P.S.  If you want to give us 1, 2, 4, or 5, feel free.

The list below, not surprisingly, is what we all came up with last year. Let's see what we get this time.

Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett - 6
Les Miserables, Victor Hugo - 2
Beach Music, Pat Conroy - 2
Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand
1984, George Orwell
Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
Shogun, James Clavell
The Source, James Michener
Will Grayson, Will Grayson, David Levithan & John Green
Hyperbole and a Half, Allie Brosh (graphic book)
Arcadia, Lauren Groff
The Wonder Boys, Michael Chabon
Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton
Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides
Drop City, T.C. Boyle
San Miguel, T.C. Boyle
The Road to Wellness, T.C. Boyle
Crimson Petal and the White, Michael Faber
The Glass Castle, Jeanette Walls
A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry
Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt
Tortilla Curtain, T.C. Boyle
East of Eden, John Steinbeck
The Bone Setter's Daughter, Amy Tan
The Red Tent, Anita Diamant
The Other Boleyn Girl, Philippa Gregory
Power of One, Bryce Courtenay
Winds of War, Herman Wouk
Clan of the Cave Bear, Jean Auel
Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden
Gates of Fire, Steven Pressfield
First Blood, David Morrell
The Boys in the Boat, Daniel James Brown
The Tin Drum, Gunther Glass
The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini
Cider House Rules, John Irving
A Child's Garden of Verses, Robert Louis Stevenson
Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
Fountainhead, Ayn Rand
Fellowship of the Ring trilogy, J.R.R. Tolkien
Shadows of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon
The Awakening, Kate Chopin
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
Collapse, Jared Diamond
All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque
Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Not Me, Michael Lavigne
11/22/63, Stephen King
The Good Earth, Pearl S. Buck
Inferno, Dan Brown
Fifty Shades of Greg, E.L. James
A Thousand Names for Joy, Byron Katie
Nothing Real Can Be Threatened, Tara Singh
The Lowland, Jhumpa Lahiri
Auto Biography of a Yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda
Prodigal Summer, Barbara Kingsolver
The Language of Flowers, Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Iron House, John Hart
Cancer Ward, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Did I Really Read A Book Of Short Stories? - Kinda

You may not know this about me.  But I am decidedly NOT a short story reader.  So why did I read Paris for One & Other Stories by JoJo Moyes? The answer is an easy one - because she earned it!  After loving Me Before You (4/4) and loving After You almost as much (3.75/4), I thought it was only fair to read anything that she puts out there.  The question then arises:  Did I like it more than I remembered?  Or did I remember it correctly?  The answer is a little of both.  Let me explain.  There are 9 stories in this book.  8 of them are between 10-14 pages.  The 9th (and the 1st in the book) is 148 pages!  And let me tell you that I absolutely LOVED it.  In fact, on page 72, I broke into a big smile and said:  "I love this story!"  (I'm not sure quotation marks were absolutely necessary.)  It was as good as most romance novels I have read.  And it was long enough that it felt like a whole book.

I will quote the blurb on the inside flap of the book for the 1st story, Paris for One:

Nell is twenty-six and has never even been on a romantic weekend away - to anywhere - before.  Traveling abroad isn't really her thing.  But when Nell's boyfriend fails to show up for their mini-vacation, she has the chance to prove everyone - including herself - wrong.  Alone in Paris, Nell finds a version of herself she never knew existed: independent and intrepid.  Could this turn out to be the most adventurous weekend of her life?

Here's the thing about romances.  In most cases, boy meets girl, boy and girl separate, boy and girl get back together.  I won't tell you what happens in Paris for One (it could be a surprise!...or not).  But the point is that it's not about what happens or how it happens.  It's about what the author makes you feel for the characters.  And how she makes you want the characters to get together and stay together.  That, my friends, is easier said than done.  But JoJo does it beautifully.

The other 8 stories together are still about 50 pages shorter than Paris for One.  Are they entertaining?  They are.  I liked some better than others, which you would expect with a bunch of short stories.  They were all still easily readable.  But this is what I have to say about this book:  BUY IT EVEN IF YOU ONLY READ THE 1ST STORY.  It is that good.




Tuesday, November 1, 2016

And Speaking of Winners, Barry Eisler Has Done It Again Too

There are a few authors that I read automatically.  There's Jodi Picoult and Daniel Silva and Harlan Coben and John Hart and maybe a couple of others.  Well, you can add Barry Eisler to that list!  I know that every book will be good.  I might like some more than others, but it's comforting to know that regardless of what the book is about, I will like it.  And Barry's latest, Livia Lone, is right up there with his best (remember what I thought of The God's Eye View?).  I've already told you what Barry had to say about this book; that he was so caught up with the character of Livia Lone that he put John Rain #9 on hold.  Now, normally, I would be disappointed with that decision.  I mean, after all, I'm a big John Rain fan.  But I have to say that I am NOT disappointed at all.  I got to read a very good book AND still have Rain9 to look forward to.

This is a pretty complex storyline.  So I'm going to rely on the back flap of the book to give you the plot:

Seattle PD sex crimes detective Livia Lone knows the monsters she hunts.  Sold by her Thai parents along with her little sister, Nason; abused by the men who trafficked them; marooned in America...the only thing that kept Livia alive as a teenager was her determination to find Nason.
Livia has never stopped looking.  And she copes with her failure to protect her sister by doing everything she can to put predators in prison.
Or, when that fails, by putting them in the ground.
But when a fresh lead offers new hope of finding Nason and the men who trafficked them both, Livia will have to go beyond just being a cop. Beyond even being a vigilante.  She'll have to relive the horrors of the past.  Take on one of the most powerful men in the US government.  And uncover a conspiracy of almost unimaginable evil.
In every way, it's an unfair fight.  But Livia has two advantages: her unending love for Nason -
And a lifelong lust for vengeance.

I have to think that this is not your everyday protagonist!  Here's what else I think:

1.  A book has to be well-written to get a high rating.  And Barry writes very well.
2.  He not only writes well, he also constructs a story well.  He blends a lot of pieces into a very cohesive, easy-flowing, easy-to-follow read.
3.  Livia Lone is a great protagonist for a series.  I will be one of the 1st in line for book 2 (late 2017).
4.  I like the way the past alternates with the present; and how the past closes in on the present until...
5.  I enjoyed a quote from one of the main characters in the book, who is a Portland police officer:  "You don't just childproof your guns.  You also gun-proof your child."
6.  There are graphic descriptions of some pretty gruesome acts throughout the book.  But here's the thing - Barry also knows when NOT to be explicit.  That takes a lot of self-control, in my book.
7.  Do you want to know the 4 safety rules for using a gun?  I thought you might:
     a.  "Always assume a gun is loaded until you've checked it yourself."
     b.  "Never let the muzzle cross something you wouldn't be willing to harm."
     c.  "Finger off the trigger until you're ready to fire."
     d.  "And know your backstop-what a bullet would hit if it were to miss or go through your target."
Are these actually real?  Beats me.  Don't care.  They sure sound legit, don't you think?

Did I like Livia Lone a whole bunch?  Uh, yeah.  Please read it.





Sunday, October 30, 2016

Congrats to Jodi Picoult for Another Winner

You all know I'm a big Jodi Picoult fan.  She's written 22 adult novels, and I have read them all.  In fact, 3 of them, The Storyteller, The Pact, and My Sister's Keeper, are on my recommendation table on Sunday mornings at Recycle Books.  Now I can add a 4th.  Her latest, small great things, is darn good.  It almost took me as much time to make notes as to read the book!  Did I enjoy it more because I saw her in person a couple of weeks ago at Rakestraw Books in Danville?  I don't think so.  I'm not thinking about personal connections when I'm reading. I'm just...reading.

Instead of quoting either Goodreads or the book flap, I'm going to give you a very quick synopsis.  The book is told in the voices of 3 people:  An African-American 20-year labor and delivery nurse, Ruth; a Caucasian female public defender, Kennedy; and a white supremacist, Turk.  All I will tell you is that Turk and his wife have a baby in a hospital in Connecticut where Ruth works.  Things don't turn out so well, which brings Kennedy into the picture.  That's all you need to know.

There is so much to say about small great things.  I'm best off listing them.  And please bear with me.  I have a lot to say (you're surprised?).

1.    The name of the book comes from a Martin Luther King quote.
2.    There are several other very good quotes, including this one on page 1 - "Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are."  Think about that.
3.    There is rarely much humor in Jodi's books.  There was Leo Stein in The Storyteller, a decidedly un-funny book.  But Leo definitely made me laugh.  And here is Kennedy (and her husband, Micah), again in a very not-funny book who breaks up the drama a little bit with some humor.  I don't need to laugh to like a book.  But when you have such serious subject matter (like The Storyteller), it's not so bad to break up the tension once in a while.
4.    It's tough to read about white supremacists and their "wilding." (Look up the definition.)  It's also very disturbing to learn about all of the different white supremacist groups.  But I'm glad(?) to have the information.
5.    I actually enjoyed learning about the food handling practices inside of a McDonald's (I know...lame).
6.    I liked that there were personal histories for each of the characters in many of their sections.
7.    I liked learning the language inside of a labor and delivery department along with details of infant diseases.  It's hard to read, but I appreciate the education.
8.    Did you know that when attorneys come up to the judge's bench for a sidebar, that a noise machine is turned on so that the rest of the court can't hear what's being said?  I didn't either.
9.    I had my usual tears and chills.  But in this book I might have experienced a first.  I actually cried for 5 pages (286-290)!  Have I ever told you that my triple bypass surgery causes excessive emotional reactions!?
10.  I had my usual array of personal connections to the book.  At one point, Kennedy says "I have sweaters older than you."  I use that line all the time.  But usually I substitute "clothes" for "sweaters."  And Kennedy later says that she doesn't want to be "...flagged by CPS (Child Protection Services) for not watching my kid more closely or letting her run in socks on a slippery wooden floor."  I just fell on my caboose a couple of weeks ago for walking too fast on a wooden floor in my socks (TMI?).

And besides all of this stuff listed above, Jodi is such a good writer.  I'll give you just a few examples:

"...the shining whites of her eyes made me think of merry-go-round horses, frozen in flight."  Pretty visual, wouldn't you say?
"...love has nothing to do with what you're looking at, and everything to do with who's looking."  Whoa, deep, man.
"In a lot of ways, having a teenager isn't all that different from having a newborn.  You learn to read the reactions, because they are incapable of saying exactly what it is that's causing pain."  True that!
"What no one told me about grief is how lonely it is.  No matter who else is mourning, you're in your own little cell."  Ain't that the truth?
And, finally, this is Ruth talking about having a baby:  "I was a straight-A student; I was an overachiever.  I had never imagined that this - the most natural of all relationships - would make me feel so incompetent." All of us parents know that Ruth speaks the truth.

I could go on and on.  But, fortunately for you, I will stop.  People, this is just a very, very good book.  And don't be surprised if you find yourself with a big takeaway at the end.  I know I did.







Friday, October 28, 2016

Barry Eisler Launches #12 - With All of Them Taking Place at Kepler's

Barry Eisler has just come out with his 12th novel (to go along with 4 novellas).  And he has launched every one of them at Kepler's.  Pretty cool, don't ya think?  So, this past Tuesday night, the 25th, I went to Kepler's to hear Barry (sans notes) talk about book 1 of a new series. It's called Livia Lone.  It's about a Seattle Police Department detective who is NOT your typical detective.  I'm about 80 pages in.  And I can tell you that this is a very unique story.  I'm already looking forward to book 2 (late 2017)!

Here's what I learned:

1.  Barry's books are character-driven, not plot-driven.  In fact, Barry was actually crying a lot while writing the book.
2.  It took Barry 8-9 months to write Livia Lone.  He was so caught up with the storyline that he put his next John Rain book on hold!  Can you even imagine that?  Fortunately, the 9th John Rain will be coming out in May.
3.  Livia Lone is about human trafficking, AKA slavery.  Barry said that there are still 10s of millions of people that are victims of human trafficking.  We can all hope that books like Barry's will bring more of an awareness to this heinous practice.
4.  Barry's wife, Laura Rennert, is not only a literary agent.  She is Barry's literary agent.
5.  Barry told a funny story about one of his novellas.  A very early review criticized the book because there is a lesbian sex scene in a hotel. Barry wrote back:  "Thank you for selling 1000 more copies."

I will be doing a review of Livia Lone in the next 1-2 weeks.