Thursday, June 23, 2016

Ruta Sepetys Does It Again

I reviewed Salt to the Sea, by Ruta Sepetys, on April 17.  As you already know, I really liked it a lot.  As I said at the time, it's great to have a YA book that teaches history to teenagers without making it seem like a homework assignment.  Kathleen, the owner of A Great Good Place for Books, not only recommended Salt to the Sea, but she also told me to read between shades of gray.  So I did.  This one actually is Ruta's 1st novel.  And it's also very good.

I'm going to break precedent a little bit and post a bio of the author 1st.  You'll see why when I'm done:

Born and raised in Michigan, Ruta Sepetys is the daughter of a Lithuanian refugee.  The nations of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia disappeared from maps in 1941 and did not reappear until 1990.  As this is a story seldom told, Ruta wanted to give a voice to the hundreds of thousands of people who lost their lives during Stalin's cleansing of the baltic region.  

And now the blurb on the back cover of the book:

Lithuania, June 1941:  Fifteen-year old Lina is preparing for art school and looking forward to summer.  In the dark of the night there is a knock at the door and life is forever changed. Soviet secret police arrest Lina, her mother, and her younger brother, tearing their family apart.  The three are hauled from their home and thrown into cattle cars, where they soon discover their destination:  Siberia.  Separated from her father, Lina embeds clues in her drawings and secretly passes them along, hoping they will reach her father's prison camp. In this dramatic and moving story, Lina desperately fights for her life and the lives of those around her.  But will love be enough to keep her alive?

Do any of us know this story?  I don't think so.  All we know is that Stalin killed millions.  But we don't know details.  Thanks to Ruta, and thanks to her 2 novels that I have read, we at least know a couple of chapters about WWII.  And, once again, she is teaching YAs (and OAs - yes, that's Old Adults) some history; and she's doing it in the voice of a 15-year old. Really smart.

So besides really loving these snatches of history, I also liked how she integrated flashbacks into the storyline.  They always tied into what was happening at that moment, and each flashback got closer to the present.  It's a very effective device.  And pay special attention to the cover before you start the book and then again after you finish it.  You will understand what I mean.

The only real difference between the 2 books is that Salt to the Sea is in the voices of 4 teenagers.  And between shades of gray is in the voice of 1.  This may or may not make you favor one over the other.  But either way, they are both important - regardless of your age.  And try to get both of them in the hands of your teenage children and grandchildren. They will like these books, and they might even learn something!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

2 More Author Events (and then some reviews, I promise)

I had 2 author events this weekend.  The 1st was yesterday at Happy Hollow.  Josh was asked to read his book, Little Boy Soup, at Kristi Yamaguchi's 4th annual Reader Adventures event.  Here are some pictures.

Hicklebee's employees selling Josh's book (and a bunch of others)

Josh with the 2 event organizers (the one on the right is Kristi's sister)

Josh reading his book

Josh with his 2 kids (left) and 2 nieces 

Josh with Molly, the illustrator for Little Boy Soup

Today, at Recycle Books, Paulette Boudreaux did a signing.  She is the 1st of 8 in a row on Sundays.  Paulette's book, Mulberry, is darn good.  She will be our RBC author this month. She is coming Wednesday, June 29th, at 7:00 to answer questions and sign books. Everybody is welcome.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Walter Mosley at Kepler's - Quite the Character

Walter Mosley just got the 2016 Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America. This is an award that started in 1955.  And Mosley is the 1st black author to win.  He made sure we knew that!  As I indicated in the title, he is a really interesting guy to listen to.  He was in conversation with T. Geronimo Johnson, an author in his own right, at Kepler's. Here's a recap of what he had to say:

1.  He writes every day.  If he finishes a book on Tuesday, he starts the next one on Wednesday.
2.  All of the old authors that are considered writers of classics - e.g. Shakespeare, Dickens, Twain - were actually popular writers in their time.
3.  He starts writing and that tells him in what direction he's headed.
4.  He writes about black characters in a realistic way.
5.  He spends an hour lying on the couch every day in order to "free associate."  Harlan Coben said the same thing.
6.  You probably can't tell from looking at his picture, but he said he was a hippie.  That's definitely possible since he's now 64 (since I'm 66, almost 67, I know that he was definitely in the hippie timeframe!).

We had 2 esteemed writers in the audience.  Laurie King, who is very well known for writing a series of Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes mysteries, and Ellen Kirshman.  Ellen is a 30-year police psychologist who has written a number of non-fiction books about first responders.  She has also written 2 books of fiction about a police psychologist named Dot Meyerhof.  And, most importantly, she was our RBC author back in February!  Ellen is definitely an author that I am very happy to know.

Big crowd

Clayton Moore, Kepler's event manager

Mosley is (obviously) on the right.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

1 Teaser and 1 Review

What is a "Teaser" you ask?  Well, this is a book that is not yet ready to be published.  In fact, it's currently being shopped to a publisher.  The author doesn't yet know when it will be order-able.  But I have read it and really liked it.  I'm looking forward to when I can do a full review, followed by you all buying your copy.  What's it called and what's it about?  Glad you asked.  It's called Alphabet Britain, by Lucy Feltham.  In a nutshell, what Lucy did is spend varying amounts of time with British subcultures from A-Z - literally.  We've all read novels and memoirs in which somebody has inserted themselves into a culture foreign to them for different purposes.  (One of my favorite novels is called The Faithful Spy, in which the hero, John Wells, a CIA man, goes undercover with Al Qaeda for 10 years!  Great book).  Well Lucy does it 26 times!  She writes with humor and poignancy while teaching us something about all of these subcultures that we didn't know.  Trust me on this one.

Here are the 1st 5:

Battle Re-enactors
Dog Showing

Curious?  You should be.  Stay tuned for updates.

The review is for a book called The Green Road, by Anne Enright.  This is her 9th book of fiction, to go along with one of non-fiction.  I will give you a few details, but the most important one is that it won the Man Booker Prize.  If you know me at all (and many of you who do will deny it!), I try to stay away from award-winners.  I only read this one because it's the June book for the Books, Inc. 4th Tuesday Evening Book Club.  And when I registered my concern at the last book club meeting, Margie assured me that isn't like a Pulitzer Prize winner; that it's definitely more readable.  Is that, in fact, true in this case? Wait for it...NOPE.  I generously gave it a 2/4 because it was at least readable.  And it was consistent, although not necessarily in a good way.  Here's the blurb:

Spanning thirty years, The Green Road tells the story of Rosaleen, matriarch of the Madigans, a family on the cusp of either coming together or falling irreparably apart. As they grow up, Rosaleen's four children leave the west of Ireland for lives they could have never imagined in Dublin, New York, and Mali, West Africa. In her early old age their difficult, wonderful mother announces that she’s decided to sell the house and divide the proceeds. Her adult children come back for a last Christmas, with the feeling that their childhoods are being erased, their personal history bought and sold.

Most of my notes have nothing to do with the story.  For example:

page 11, line 5B (bottom) - the expression "wide-mouth frog" is used.  That happens to be the protagonist of one of my favorite jokes of all time.  Ask me to tell it to you next time I see you.
page 21, line 15 - "Here come the waterworks" describes how the siblings talk about their sister.  This is exactly what my 3-year old granddaughter said when her 7-year old sister was getting ready to cry.
page 135 - 4B - a "nest of swifts" is referred to.  Shortly after we moved into our house in Los Gatos back in the early '80s, we were overrun by a flock of chimney swifts.  You should have seen the mess!
page 273, 9B - the siblings' mother, Rosaleen, says "What about me?"  Our aforementioned 3-year old granddaughter, when she was 2, used that exact same line when we were at the Santa Cruz aquarium.  She was too short to look into one of the pools and therefore uttered those famous words.

So you can see that my take-aways had nothing to do with the story.  Both Amazon and Goodreads had ratings of about 3.5/5.  That's definitely higher than my 2.5/5.  But, then again, lots of people like that literary stuff.  Me?  Not so much.

Monday, June 13, 2016

A Re-Post - What the Heck Is a "Summer Read?"

It's been 3 years and 8 days (June 5, 2013) since I posted my take on "summer reads."  I read through my earlier post carefully because I wanted to see if I feel differently now than I did back then.  The answer is a resounding "NO!"  Please take a look and weigh in.  Since I think I'm in the minority, I would love to hear from those of you who disagree with me - and why.  This discussion could be a good one.

Okay, I'm confused (not an unusual state of affairs, I fear).  What the heck is a "summer read?"  Is that a book that you read between June 21 and September 20?  Does that mean if you start a book on September 21 it's now a "fall read?"  What about a book that you start before September 21 but finish after September 20?  I know people who read only a little until summer begins.  My daughter-in-law, Jen, is a school teacher.  She definitely reads during the school year but hits it hard during summer break.  Does that mean that every book she reads during the school hiatus is automatically a "summer read?"

Now that I've been a bit ridiculous, let's look at what most people would consider a "summer read."  I'm talking about books that have uncomplicated, easy-flowing story lines. Maybe the vocabulary is simple.  Maybe there's a lot of dialogue and very little description. Maybe they are books that you can concentrate on in noisy, public places, like beaches or lakes or cruise ships or cafes.  Or maybe not.

Come on, people.  Does anybody read a different type of book in the summer than they do the rest of the year?  I sure don't.  And I don't know anybody who makes that distinction.  I think that most people read what they want to read, regardless of what time of year it is. Yet, right about now, as school is getting out and the weather is warming up, we see the words "summer read" everywhere.  I don't buy it. 

So far since January 1, I have read 6 romances.  And it's only June 4!  I have also read a book written by the mother of a 3-term Iraqi war veteran (Minefields of the Heart) - pretty heavy stuff.  And an excellent, very well-written, deeply emotional redemption story about a young woman who copes with multiple foster homes and a really lousy childhood by studying the meaning of flowers (The Language of Flowers).  Did I consider the time of year before I started any of these books?  I did not.  Does anybody else that I know do that? They do not.  Is it just me (possibly), or are there other people out there that don't make a seasonal distinction when selecting a book?  Let's hear what you have to say.  If I'm wrong, let me have it.  I can take the blows.

EXCEPTION TO THE RULE:  I have to give high school and college students a pass from my diatribe/screed.  It certainly makes sense that a 9-month-per-year student, if he or she reads at all during the summer, is going to read lighter fare.  But students are the only exception.

MEA CULPA:  For those of you who have publicly referred to "summer reads," please accept my apology for being critical.  Your approach is more the norm.  I don't agree with it, but, at the same time, I do think you're espousing the party line.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Shameless Promotion of Josh's Picture Book, Little Boy Soup

Here's the best thing about writing a blog - I GET TO WRITE ANYTHING I WANT!  Of course you, the reader, can also choose not to read what I write.  Fair enough.

But to the matter at hand.  My son, Josh, has written a picture book called Little Boy Soup. It's based on Josh giving his son baths when he was very young (Ryan just turned 8 today). The book is hardcover and has been put out by Balcony 7, a publisher in Southern California.

And why are there 3 different pictures of Little Boy Soup shown below?  This is the shameless promotion part of the blog.  If you are familiar with Recycle Books in Campbell, then you will understand what I'm doing.  In fact, Stacy, the store manager, has placed the book in 3 different spots in the store.  To wit:

on top of the counter next to the manager's desk

on top of the very long bookshelf in the middle of the children's section

on top of my shelf in the back left corner of the store

I know you've been waiting to see a picture of this fantastic author and his son!  Here it is.

Even though Josh is my son, I have to say, totally unapologetically and completely honestly(!), that Little Boy Soup is great for the pre-schoolers in your life.

P.S.  You're going to LOVE the illustrations by Amalia Hillmann.  And she will be illustrating Josh's next book too - Little Girl Tea.  Stay tuned.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Another Author Event - Mid-Week with a Bunch of Wine

On Wednesday afternoon, June 8, I went to a wine bar in Pleasanton (and I don't even drink wine!) to see J. Ryan Stradal, author of Kitchens of the Great Midwest.  I read this book late last year for the Books, Inc. Palo Alto Tuesday Evening Book Club.  And I posted a review on 10/26/15.  I gave it a 3.25/4.  It's a good book.

It was a treat to see an author that, unexpectedly, makes a local appearance after I have already read the book.  And, as usual, I learned some interesting facts about the author. Such as:

1.  It is Ryan's debut novel.
2.  The book takes place in Minnesota, and Ryan comes from Minnesota.  But he has lived in LA for the past 16 years.
3.  His protagonist is a female.  And he has 2 long-time female friends who acted as the prototypes for his lead character.
4.  Ryan intended Kitchens of the Great Midwest to be a mother-daughter story, not a food novel.
5.  The 1st draft of Ryan's new book was turned into his agent just 2 days ago.

Interesting guy, fun venue.  And I always enjoy events put on by Towne Center Books. Judy and her crew (Clare, in this case) do a great job.

This is NOT J. Ryan Stradal.  This is Clare.

1.  Yesterday, June 9, Balcony 7 Publishing released Little Boy Soup by my son, Joshua Russell.  Being a bibliophile, it's particularly exciting to see him as a published author (P.S.  his mother is pretty proud, too!)
2.  One of my favorite local authors, Alina Sayre, releases her 3rd book in the Voyages of the Legend series today.  It's called The Illuminator Rising.  It is a very worthy follow-up to books 1 and 2.  You can go to my May 4 post to read a review.  Although I am approximately 55 years (ouch) beyond the target date for this YA fantasy, middle-grade oriented series, I enjoyed it immensely.  

Monday, June 6, 2016

Just finished Archer's The Clifton Chronicles #6 - 1 More to Go (supposedly)

You know that when I'm reading a series, I don't have much of a review from one book to the next.  I mean, after all, every book is the same thing.  WRONG!  I actually have a fair amount to say about Cometh the Hour.  As you all know, I read 4 and 5 last year and gave both of them 4/4.  Well, I am here to say that CtH also gets a 4/4.  I can't believe how Archer can make us care so much about almost all of these characters.  And in this one, a very precocious 10-year old provides us with a bunch of humor.  It's very funny to have a character, even a young one, speak in American colloquialisms when the author is most decidedly British.  But Archer carries it off.

I think the best way to review this is to quote my notes.  And these are my exact written words, in the order that I wrote them:

1.    Great scene with Today (that's The Today Show)
2.    Tears
3.    LOVE the characters maybe more than Silva - 1 of my favorites EVER
4.    big gasp, more into it than I expected
5.    Maisie - I nodded my head
6.    Very nervous
7.    reunion - loved it - totally fooled
8.    OMG! twist
9.    glad they're on to Karin
10.  like all the characters, even the bad ones
11.  Noooo! Are you kidding me?
12.  cool twist
13.  love Emma stories
14.  chills/tears
15.  many tears
16.  chills/tears - rolling down my cheeks onto my shirt
17.  Jessica - a crack-up
18.  American humor w/Jessica nice change of pace
19.  "Holy Mackerel!" "Whoa" "Wow"
20.  great idea - underline last 2 words of paragraph so you know where you are after you look up (this refers to a big speech given by one of the main characters)

That's it.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Got to See John Hart - LIVE!

You all know what a big fan of John Hart I am.  I won't bore you with a bunch of repetition. But you know how much I like his stuff.  Well, as I've mentioned on this blog before, John was scheduled to come to The Book Passage in Corte Madera at 1:00PM on June 4.  It's now 9:54PM on June 4.  So he has come and gone.  And it was great to see him.  Besides being such an outstanding author, he is a very interesting guy.  Here are a whole bunch of things I learned today.

1.  John is at the tail end of a 6-week, 35-city tour.  He won't see his family for the whole 6 weeks.
2.  He is the only mystery author in the 72-year history of the Edgar awards to win for 2 straight books.
3.  His latest book, Redemption Road, is his 5th straight success story.  He also wrote 2 books prior to those that did not get published.
4.  His 1st 4 books ranked, in order, 23, 18, 10, and 9.  He's obviously getting more popular with each book.
5.  John is a lawyer.  His 1st book, King of Lies, is about a lawyer (and maybe just a bit autobiographical).  His publisher wanted his 2nd book to also be about a lawyer.  John took a stand and refused to do that.  He wasn't feeling it.  Ultimately, the publisher backed off.
6.  He doesn't outline and writes as he goes.  And, most importantly, his books are character-driven, not story-driven.  John says that he employs the Grope and Hope method of writing.
7.  He's killed off 2 brothers-in-law and a sister-in-law in his books.  He also held a naming-rights contest with the winner getting his/her name in one of his books.  The money was given to charity.
8.  The main character in The Last Child, book #3 (37 years on the NYT bestseller list), had a minor role in book #2, Down River.  John liked Johnny Merrimon so much that he made him the star of #3.
9.  Between book #4, Iron House, and book #5, Redemption Road, was a 5-year period. John spent a  whole year, and 300 pages, on a book that he sacked.  He just didn't like it. He said that he started with a story, not a character.  That obviously went counter to his preferred method (see #6 above).
10. Book #6, which MIGHT be published next July, will be a sequel to The Last Child, taking place ten years later.  He has to finish it by the end of December, and he's already written 150 pages.  He's hoping to do it.
11. Both The Last Child and Down River have been picked up as possible movies.  It looks like TLC is closer than DR.
12. John only got a $7500 advance for his 1st book.  That was the same Patricia Cornwall got and MORE THAN John Grisham and Tom Clancy!
13. John said that what he is most proud of is that he has always made the difficult choice. He gave up both lawyering and a job with Merrill Lynch in order to focus on writing.  It's was obviously a good choice, in retrospect.  But, at the time, John was taking big risks. Good for him.

Did I not tell you how interesting John Hart was?  Would I lie to you?  Maybe...but not this time!

BIG COBEN NEWS:  Harlan Coben announced this week that his next book is coming out in September.  And it's another Myron Bolitor.  How great is that news?

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Series Are the Bomb

It's been quite a while since I last wrote a post about series.  What prompted me to do it now has to do with Jeffrey Archer's Clifton Chronicles.  I'm 3/4 of the way through book 6 (of 7, they tell me).  And it's just so darn good that I decided to list my all-time favorite series in alphabetical order, by author, along with the genre.  People, if you like series, you simply can't go wrong with any/all of these.  They are just terrific.

Andre, Bella & Skully, Jennifer:  The Maverick Billionaires - romance
Archer, Jeffrey: The Clifton Chronicles - mystery/thriller/suspense
Baldacci, David (2):  The Camel Club & Will Robie - mystery/thriller/suspense
Brooks, Terry:  The Magic Kingdom of Landover - fantasy
Coben, Harlan:  Myron Bolitar - mystery/thriller/suspense
Eisler, Barry:  John Rain - mystery/thriller/suspense
Follett, Ken (2):  Pillars of the Earth & The Century Trilogy -historical fiction
Griffin, W.E.B. (3):  Brotherhood of War, The Corps & Presidential Agent - military/historical fiction
Iles, Greg:  Natchez Burning - mystery/thriller/suspense-historical fiction
Jakes, John (2):  The Kent Chronicles & North and South - historical fiction
Rowling, J.K.:  Harry Potter - fantasy
Sayre, Alina:  The Voyages of the Legend - YA fantasy
Siegel, Sheldon:  Mike Daley/Rosie Fernandez - mystery/thriller/suspense-legal fiction
Silva, Daniel:  Gabriel Allon - mystery/thriller/suspense-international fiction
Smith, Tom Rob:  Child 44 - mystery/thriller/suspense-international fiction-historical fiction

If you want details, feel free to check with me.  Otherwise, you can go on the authors' websites to find out how many books are in each series and details regarding the plotlines. Did I miss any?  Maybe.  Can you legally sue me?  I don't think so.  And a final note - start each one with the first book.  It's just better that way.

AUTHOR EVENT:  Go on and check out the Walter Mosley event on June 16. It's called a Premier Event, which means that you have to pay for it.  However, Mosley is the winner of the 2016 Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America.  I guess that's a big deal.  Thanks to Nicole's influence (i.e. push), I will be there.