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?
" 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.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Not Your Typical Novella!

You know that I'm a fan of Kate Allure.  I reviewed Playing Doctor on 12/15/14 and Lawyer Up on 7/26/15.  And they were positive reviews. Now we have Kate's latest.  It's a novella called Bed & Breakfast & Bondage (yep, you read that right).  BBB is tied into Marina Adair's St. Helena Vineyard  Series Kindle World, which was made into a movie - Autumn in the Vineyard - on the Hallmark channel (it aired a couple of weeks ago).  And Kate is one of several authors who were asked to write novellas tied to the movie.

So what is Bed & Breakfast & Bondage about?  Do you really need to ask?  Well, despite the somewhat obvious subject matter, it's actually very good and not so predictable.  It's about a woman who comes to the wine country to open a combination bed and breakfast AND a BDSM dungeon (just think 50 Shades of Gray).  Catriona (Cat) Fern Morrison migrates from Los Angeles, where she was very involved in acting (and enjoying) the role of a submissive to a man named Master Lynch.  He loaned her money to build the facility in St. Helena and definitely has a hold on her.  In fact, if she doesn't make timely payments on the loan, he has the right to take over management of the B&B.

Mason Steele is a plumber who is working for Cat.  He becomes very involved in helping her get the place ready for inspection so that she can get open and start making payments to Lynch.  I don't think I'm giving anything away when I tell you that Cat and Mason are attracted to each other.  After all, this is a (erotic) romance.

I am not opposed to romances, erotic or otherwise.  I mean it is my job as a blogger to read all different genres (was that convincing?).  And, of course, I have read many romances over the last 5 1/2 years.  Some of the authors even cross over from straight romance to erotic romance and back again (hello, Jasmine Haynes).  But as I have said many times (ad nauseum, perhaps?), a good book is a good book, regardless of the genre.  And Kate Allure is a very good author.  So what did I like about BBB:

1.  Well-written.
2.  Very sexy but with strong characters.
3.  Suspenseful where I was even worried about the bad guy.
4.  Very sexy...did I say that already?

If you're in the mood for a novella, and you like (very) sexy romances, give Bed & Breakfast & Bondage a read.  It's fun and entertaining.

1.  I saw Barry Eisler last night at Kepler's.  He launched his 11th book, Livia Lone.  But equally as important, his next (and 9th) John Rain comes out in May.  I will be one of the first in line for that one.
2.  Stephen King has his 1st children's book coming out in November. It's called Charlie the Choo Choo and is based on his Dark Towers series. You might want to screen it before you give it to your young'uns.

Monday, October 24, 2016

A Local Author, A Memoir, and Burning Man - All in One

Composing Temple Sunrise is the memoir of local author, Hassan El-Tayyab.  And it's funny how I even found out about it.  I learned of Hassan through one of my favorite bloggers, Kathy, of BermudaOnion. She had an interview with Hassan on her blog (since then, I have run across another blogger who also interviewed him).  So Kathy must live in the Bay Area, right?  Nope.  She's in the Midwest.  Regardless of the source, I now have connected with Hassan and have read his memoir. Let me give you the subtitle of the book:  "Overcoming Writer's Block at Burning Man."  This is obviously not your typical memoir.

Here is what author Steven T. Jones had to say:

Going to Burning Man for the first time can be a powerful, life-changing experience.  That's particularly true when someone is involved with building a major art installation, and even more so when that person is wrestling with personal demons and searching for a new life path.  And so it was in 2009 when struggling teacher-turned-musician Hassan El-Tayyab found himself in a strange warehouse in a new city, buzzing with preparations to bring Fishbug to the playa in a few weeks...

One of the things I really liked about this book (which I've mentioned about a few other books) is that each chapter starts with a quote.  And just to give you an idea about who the quoters are, here are the 1st 5: Martin Luther King, Alexander Graham Bell, Bob Dylan, JFK, and Miles Davis.  Eclectic much? Oh, and we've got Charles Darwin, Benjamin Franklin, and Herbie Hancock too!

I also liked that I learned what Burning Man is all about.  I have heard of BM (don't snicker) for years but really knew nothing about it.  Now I do.

His writing is another plus for me.  It's not meant to be overly literary. It's written well but in a way that we can all understand and relate to it. A couple of examples:

When Hassan was asked to play some music, he said "It felt like being called on in math class without having done any homework."  I think we've all been there and know what that feels like.

"A cloud of dust rolled in behind him like we were in an old western movie."  Pretty visual, don't you think?

I liked how he overcame a cleft palate and a rough childhood.

And, finally, I'm happy to report some chills, tears, smiles, and even an "Unh."

This is definitely a book that will keep you engaged.


Jeff has written a book that all of us can benefit from reading.  Here's the back cover:

As parents, we often forget what it is like to be our kids age.  We struggle between their need for the here and now versus our desire to teach self-control and the realization of better things in the future.  We see their increasing cravings of independence flipped against our nurturing instinct and guidance to view and care about the world around them.
This funny, yet discussion provoking book shows kids the balance between urges and broader issues compelling awareness to help them (and us as parents) achieve balance so we're not classified in the extreme.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Juliet Blackwell and Letters from Paris

Almost 5 years ago I met Juliet Blackwell at an "M" Is For Mystery event. Of course, M went out of business a short while later.  But I ended up reading book 1 in Juliet's series Haunted House Renovation.  Juliet now has about 20 books to her credit.  And I had still only read the 1 book...until a few days ago.  I'm not 100% sure why I decided to read Letters from Paris at this particular moment.  In fact, the book spent almost no time in my TBR pile.  I think it was a combination of good reviews from fellow bloggers and the fact that Juliet is another Bay Area author.  But boy am I glad I grabbed it.  I was thinking about giving you a synopsis in my own words.  But I just can't do it justice.  So here is what the back cover has to say:

After surviving the accident that took her mother's life, Claire Broussard has worked hard to escape her small Louisiana hometown.  But these days she feels something is lacking.  Abruptly leaving her lucrative job in Chicago, Claire returns home to care for her ailing grandmother.  There, she unearths a beautiful piece of artwork that her great-grandfather sent home from Paris after World War II.
At her grandmother's urging, Claire travels to Paris to track down the century-old mask-making atelier where the object, known only as "L'Inconnue" - or The Unknown Woman - was created.  Under the watchful eye of a surly mask-maker, Claire discovers a cache of letters that offers insight into the life of the Belle Epoque woman immortalized in the work of art.  As Claire explores the unknown woman's tragic fate, she begins to unravel deeply buried secrets in her own life.

Besides being a very well-written book (I'm happy to say that I seem to be making a habit of reading these kinds of books lately), it's also a very interesting story.  It goes back and forth between the present (Claire) and the late 1890's (Sabine, AKA L'Inconnue).  But what makes it unique is that Claire and the present-day people don't know Sabine's story. They don't know who she is and what is happening with her.  Only the reader gets that information.  How really cool is that?  All the current people know is that the woman known as "L'Inconnue drowned.  And they learn this through notes that were packed in the box that her great-grandfather sent as well as the letters that she finds in the atelier.  I loved this about the book.

What else did I love about this book, you ask?  Well, let me list a few things:

1.  The author's ability to give me chills and to make me cry and speak out loud.  On one occasion I even did a bit of gulping.  Yep.  and another time I said "Is it possible?" - twice! And let's not forget my "whoa" on page 319.
2.  A lot of references to Auguste Rodin and Camille Claudel, his muse. And why did that resonate?  Because Claudel was a central character in Betsy Franco's novel, Naked (I'm still trying to get her to be an RBC author), a book that sits on my rec table.
3.  Learning stuff.  In this case, I found out what Kintsugi is.  Look it up. It's worth your time.
4.  THE ENDING!  THE ENDING!  THE ENDING!  Have I made myself clear what I thought about the ending?

This is a very very good read, with some real twists.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

TCC Book Club

For those that don't know (which is just about all of you), I actually have a non-book-related day job. My company, The Corporate Chef, operates corporate cafes and catering using independent contractors.  We have been in business since 1961, and I started in 1975 (41 years - ouch).  As all of you DO know, I have a thing for books.  So I do I merge my 2 passions?  And then it came to me - I will start a book club with some of my clients.  And today was my very 1st book club meeting at my very 1st account (at Thermo Fisher Scientific - TFS - in Pleasanton). Here is a picture of one of my very favorite authors talking about one of my very favorite books.  This is Rayme Waters, and our book choice was The Angels' Share.

Rayme is at the end of the table in the white top (our TFS contact, Joyce, is to Rayme's left)

We've also got authors scheduled for both November and December at TFS:
Nov. - Rachael Herron, The Ones Who Matter Most
Dec. - Ann Bridges, Rare Mettle

And we start up at Central California Alliance for Health - CCAH - in Scotts Valley in December.  Our 1st author is Shelly King, The Moment of Everything.  All 4 of these authors have come to the RBC (I don't know if the TFS employees enjoyed today...but I know that I had a blast!).

BOOK SIGNING:  A couple of Sundays ago, Josh Russell came back to Recycle Books to sell and sign his book, Little Boy Soup.  You can pick it up at a whole bunch of bookstores, including Hicklebee's, several Barnes & Noble, several Books, Inc., and, of course, Recycle Books.  

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

I Got to See Jodi Picoult Live - for the First Time in 5.5 Years!

Jodi Picoult is one very interesting person.  I thought so 5.5 years ago, when I saw her at the Fox Theater in Redwood City, promoting her new book, Sing You Home.  And I felt the same way today. Her latest book, which came out last Tuesday, is Small Great Things.  The story is told in 3 voices:  An African-American female nurse, a Caucasian male public defender, and a VERY Caucasian father of a Skinhead.  You can probably pretty much guess what this one is about!  But she told some anecdotes from her research that were pretty jaw-dropping.

The lunchtime event at Rakestraw Books in Danville was the 1st of 2 on the day for Jodi.  Tonight she is, once again, at the Fox Theater, and once again sponsored by Kepler's.  Last time there were too many people to get my book signed.  So I figured I would go with the Rakestraw event.  It was a good call.  There were a lot of people there, but I at least got to see her and get SGT signed.

Did she have anything interesting to say?  Uh...yeah.  She told the story again of what happened when Nick Cassavetes changed the ending to My Sister's Keeper for his movie, when he swore to Jodi that he wouldn't.  If you want to get more details, you can go to my post from March 19, 2011 (just search for "Jodi Picoult").

Here are a few of the things that Jodi told us:

1.  This book, #25, is the one that actually changed her life more than any of her others!
2.  Fiction allows you to deal with issues that you don't want to deal with in real life.
3.  Jodi taught 8th grade English.
4.  She said that "The only difference between schizophrenia and writing is a paycheck."
5.  When asked (by yours truly) if she is character-driven or plot-driven, she said unhesitatingly that she is character-driven.  That's probably why I connect with most of her books (the ones, anyway, that don't center on animals).  

Michael Barnard, the owner of Rakestraw Books, introduced Jodi

Jodi is not in pain.  She just thinks the bear is so cute.

Kelly Corrigan, author of the memoir Glitter and Glue, and the person who Jodi was "in conversation" with

AUTHOR APPEARANCE:  Marty Brounstein, who I blogged about on April 30, 2016, is coming back to the area.  And if you haven't seen Marty, you should make an effort to see him.  He tells an amazing story.

Holocaust Heroes:An evening with Speaker Author Marty Brounstein
At Los Altos United Methodist Church,
Creekside Building
Wednesday, November 2, 2016 - 7:00 p.m

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Blackberry Winter - Sarah Jio

On July 24 of last year, I wrote a review of Sarah Jio's Goodnight June. You all know what I thought of that because I've been raving about it for over a year now.  And, if you recall (how can you not?), I rated the book a 4.0+.  But here's the funny part of this story - I haven't read any of her other books.  I can't really explain why.  Fortunately, that has just changed.  Last week I read my 2nd Jio.  And, once again, I turned to my Goodreads friend, Melissa, to give me some suggestions.  Since she is the one who recommended, nay insisted, that I read GJ in the 1st place, I asked her what to read next.  She gave me 2 - Blackberry Winter and Violets of March.  I picked BW because it was a little newer (by 1 year) than VoM.  Did I like it as well as GJ?  No.  Did I really like it a lot?  Yes. 3.5/4.  Here's the back cover blurb:

SEATTLE, 1933.  Vera Ray kisses her three-year-old son, Daniel, good night and reluctantly leaves for work.  She hates the night shift, but it's the only way she can earn enough to keep destitution at bay.  In the morning - even though it's the second of May - a heavy snow is falling. Vera rushes to wake Daniel, but his bed is empty.  His teddy bear lies outside in the snow.
SEATTLE, Present Day.  On the second of May, Seattle Herald reporter Claire Aldridge awakens to another late-season snowstorm.  Assigned to cover this "blackberry winter" and its predecessor decades earlier, Claire learns of Daniel's unsolved abduction and vows to unearth the truth - only to discover that she and Vera are linked in unexpected ways.

Is Blackberry Winter similar in structure to Goodnight June?  Not really. And that's a good thing because it won't prevent me from reading another one (I already have Violets of March in my TBR pile).  Plus, I just found out today that Sarah's next book, ALWAYS, is being released February 7 of next year.  That's only 119 days from now!  I am now committed to reading any new Jio's, while catching up on the old ones.

Melissa told me to get the tissues ready.  And, to be sure, there were a few tears here and there.  But not nearly as many as I expected.  I did, however, have my usual assortment of chills (some pretty major ones, too), OMGs, and raised eyebrows.  There was even a part early on where I knew what was coming and said to myself:  "I do NOT want to read about this."  What I did have an abundance of was surprises.  There were developments late in the book that I did NOT anticipate, expect, or guess.  That was really fun.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Another New Local Author for Me - and a Fantasy/Paranormal to Boot

As so often happens these days, I met Angela Wallace, a local author, through another local author.  Alina Sayre was signing books out in front of Recycle a couple of Sunday mornings ago.  And Angela came to visit Alina.  As you all (may or may not) know, I don't tell an author that I've read his/her book until after I've finished it...and liked it!  I'm just not into dissing local authors, especially since I will probably run into them someday/somewhere!    Well, I am happy to say that I read Angela's book, Elemental Magic (book 1 in the Elemental Magic series), and enjoyed it a lot.  Let's start in the usual way:

Aileen Donovan is an oceanographer with magical control over the element of water.  While her normal focus in on research and fighting poachers, she's about to go up against the stuff of legends - and that's saying something for a supernatural.
A transport ship is missing and everyone's eager to get their hands on the cargo.  No one knows what it is, but when fragments resembling coral begin to drive local residents insane, Aileen suspects a preternatural source.  Whatever is at the bottom of the ocean, a power-hungry alchemist wants it, and releases a sea dragon to eat the competition - literally.
Aileen sees this as an opportunity to win the professional recognition she desires, but keeping secrets is complicated when she's working with local Coast Guard officer Colin Benson.  Her sense of love and duty will be put to the test, and when the tide washes out, it might have been better if that lost ship had stayed lost.

I don't read a lot of fantasy or paranormal, but that doesn't mean I don't like them, cuz' I do.  I love Alina's The Voyages of the Legend fantasy series (looking forward to book 4!) and A.R. Silverberry's YA fantasy, Wyndano's Cloak.  I also enjoyed Hannah Jayne's urban fantasy, The Underworld Detection Agency.  I'm going to put Angela's Elemental Magic series in with these others.

Did I emotionally connect with the characters?  Uh, yeah; especially Aileen.  I knew immediately that I cared about her.  But none of that matters if the book is not well-written.  And this one is (thank goodness). I don't always make that emotional connection with the characters in a book (The Girl on the Train, anyone? - P.S.  I gave the movie the same 2.5/4 that I gave the book). But I CAN'T make those kinds of connections if the book is not written well.  Kudos to Angela for that.  And thanks, Angela, for the tears and worry (and raised eyebrows) that you put me through.  I won't forget you for this!

A couple of interesting notes:  1) This book is similar to book 1 of Alina's series in that the 1st half is good, and the 2nd half takes off; 2) interracial in this book means human & elemental - you don't see that definition every day!; 3) Aileen says:  "I had always thought it would hurt more if I let people get close, but it seemed I didn't actually have any control over how emotionally connected I became with people."  I think this is probably true for all of us, whether we want to admit it or not.

If you want to read something a little bit different from your normal genre (whatever that might be), then give Elemental Magic a try.  And if you like it, there are 6 more books in the series!  Now that's fun.


Saturday, October 8, 2016

Trump/Schwartz Part II

On August 27, I posted a review of the Art of the Deal.  This book was published in 1987 and written by Donald Trump and Tony Schwartz.  As we have learned in the last 6 months, Tony actually wrote the book.  And now, 29 years after the fact, Tony has been making the rounds, talking about Trump - then and now.  Here are a few of the magazines and newspapers he has spoken to.  Suffice it to say that he is NOT a Donald Trump fan:

(BOOK NEWS ALERT!  Ken Follett has announced that he will be releasing his next book, A Column of Fire, on September 12, 2017.  Yes, I know that's almost a year from now.  But, still, isn't it exciting news?  And it looks like it's going to be a 900-pager.  CAN'T WAIT!)    

Donald Trump's 'Art of the Deal' Ghostwriter Tony Schwartz Speaks Out | MSNBC


Published on Jul 20, 2016
Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter for Donald Trump's book "Art of the Deal", speaks out about his experience of working with the GOP nominee.
» Subscribe to MSNBC:

Trump’s Ghostwriter Explains How to Beat Him in a Debate

Donald Trump touted tonight that Vladimir Putin has an 82% approval rating. Trump has consistently complimented Putin's leadership. Putin is a dictator. Trump is obsessed with Putin's power. That should deeply frighten the American people. - Gavin Newsom 9/7/16

Tony Schwartz, Co-Author of Donald Trump's 'The Art of the Deal,' Says Trump Presidency Would Be 'Terrifying'

- ABC News

Bottom line on tonight's forum: Whatever you thought about Clinton, the breadth of Trump's ignorance and malevolence was breathtaking. - Schwartz tweet 9/7


“The Art of the Deal” made America see Trump as a charmer with an unfailing knack for business. Tony Schwartz helped create that myth—and regrets it.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

A Review of a YA Titled A Monster Calls - It's a Good One

Our esteemed RBC member, Tina, told me I should read A Monster Calls.  So I did.  I guess you would call it a middle-grade/YA book, since the protagonist is 13. But, believe me, it transcends any specific age.  But what makes this book even more interesting is how it came to be written.  Siobhan Dowd was the author of 4 books.  Unfortunately, she died very young (47) in 2007.  2 of her books came out before she passed away and 2 after.  A Monster Calls would have been her 5th book.  As the author, Patrick Ness, says:  "She had the characters, a premise, and a beginning."  Several years later, Patrick, a gifted author in his own right (he had 4 published books, prior to AMC, along with many awards), was asked if he would write Siobhan's book.  He wasn't sure about it but, ultimately, agreed.  He not only wrote a very fine book, but he also stayed true to Siobhan's vision.

Here's the story line:

The monster showed up after midnight. As they do.
But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming…
This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.
It wants the truth.

And get this - it's been made into a movie that will hit the theaters this December 23.  It stars Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, and Liam Neeson.  If the studio is putting it out at Christmas, then my guess is that they expect it to do well.

There was a lot I liked about this one.  Shall I list them?  But, of course.

1.  The descriptions are very visual.  I really liked that.
2.  I smiled a lot
3.  I teared up a fair amount.
4.  The writing is extremely good.
5.  The stories that the tree tells Conor remind me of the grandfather reading The Princess Bride to his grandson.  I love that movie, so I thought that this was very cool too.
6.  There is a very good message at the end.

This guy can really write.  Let me give you just a couple of lines:
1.  Referring to bread and cereal from a health food store, Conor thinks: "It tasted as unhappy as it looked."
2. " was like a circle had opened around him, a dead area with Conor at the center, surrounded by land mines that everyone was afraid to walk through."

This is a very fast read and, as I said, geared for youngsters (which, to me, is anybody under 50!).  But whether you are 13, 33, or 63, you will like this.  It's a solid 3.25/4 for me.

Monday, October 3, 2016

FFTNFR Volume IX - Yep, It's That Time Again

It's only been 7 months since Volume VIII.  I know it seems like it was only yesterday.  But here's the thing - I've read too many good books since VIII to keep waiting.  So here we go with 14 more!

1.    Redemption Road, John Hart.  This is John's 5th book and his 1st one in 5 years.  Imagine a teenage boy waiting with a gun to kill a cop being released from prison; a detective trying to recover from a brutal murder that she was a part of; and, oh yes, a serial killer.

2.    A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman.  You probably already know about this book.  It's Swedish, and it's gotten a ton of press.  I liked it more and more as it went along.  At the end, I was singing its praises. Oh, yeah, it's about a 59-year old guy who lost his wife a couple of years earlier and wants to kill himself.  But he can't because his neighbors keep showing up.  Loved all of the quirky characters.

3.    Cometh the Hour, Jeffrey Archer.  All I need to say is that it's #6. One more to go - October 25.  I'm already depressed!

4.    The Ones Who Matter Most, Rachael Herron.  This book is NOT on the list because Rachael was our RBC author for August.  This is just a darn good book.  It gives us a unique way to look at family.

5.    The Black Widow, Daniel Silva.  #16 in the Gabriel Allon series.  And as I said in my review, each one of his books is as good as the one before, if not better.  He is a true master of his craft.  When I started blogging and meeting local authors 6 years ago, I had to give up a lot of my series...but not this one!

6.    Mulberry, Paulette Boudreaux.  This is a story about a black family in rural Mississippi in the 1960's.  See where this is going?  Nope, you're wrong.  It's actually about the 11-year old who has to take care of her 3 younger brothers when her mother has to spend months at a hospital with the new baby; and when the father is incapable of watching over his family.

7.    The Choices We Make, Karma Brown.  I really liked Karma's 1st book, Come Away with Me.  But this one I liked even more.  It's all about a woman who simply can't get pregnant.  Her best friend since 5th grade, who already has 2 children, volunteers to act as a surrogate, but with her own eggs and the father's sperm.  Interesting premise, yes?

8.    Looking for Me, Beth Hoffman.  I've already got Beth's other book, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, in Volume V.  This one belongs there too.  A furniture store owner, with a missing brother, follows a lead about his possible reappearance in her Kentucky hometown.

9.    Salt to the Sea, Ruta Sepetys.  This is one of the very few YAs that I have on any of my lists.  At the end of WWII, when Germany knows that it has lost the war, many of its citizens head for the ports to leave the country.  The story is told in the voices of 4 teenagers.  This is truly a great way to teach history to teenagers.

10.  The Nest.  Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney.  It's all about 4 adult siblings and the fate of a longstanding inheritance.

11.   Homecoming, Yaa Gyasi.  An epic story of 2 half-sisters in 18th century Ghana and their generations that follow.  The story ends in the present.

12.   The Life We Bury, Allen Eskens.  A college student with a paper to write, a brother with special needs, and an interview with a convicted murderer dying in a rest home.

13.   The Wright Brothers, David McCullough.  Do I need to tell you what this one is about?  The surprise is that I actually made an emotional connection to the brothers.  I did not expect that.  It was really interesting to see what happened in the years following the famous 1903 flight.

14.  Splinters of Light, Rachael Herron.  I just finished this a few days ago.  And it was absolutely fantastic.  It puts us in the head of a mid-40s-year old who has learned (early in the book) that she has EOAD (Early Onset Alzheimers Disease).  She has a 16-year old daughter and a twin sister, and the 3 of them all get their own moments to give voice to their roiling emotions.

That does it.  14 more books that brings the total to (drum roll, please) - 110!  That should hold me/us for a while...won't it?

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Did You Like Still Alice? Yes? Well, Then, You're Going to Love Splinters of Light

Wow!  The last time I read a book this good was back in July of last year! It was Goodnight June, and you all know what I thought about that one. Now I'm adding Splinters of Light by Rachael Herron to that rarified air. This is the 3rd of 3 books that Rachael has written in the mis lit genre (remember? that's where something tragic happens).  I really liked the 1st 2 - Pack Up the Moon and The Ones Who Matter Most - a lot.  But this one stands out.

So what tragic event happens in SoL?  It's actually a tragic event that is in process.  I'm not giving anything away by quoting the back page:

Ten years ago, Nora Glass started writing essays about being a single mother of a six-year old daughter.  Her weekly column made her a household name, and over the years, her fans have watched Ellie grow from a toddler to a teenager.
But now Nora is facing a problem that can't be overcome.  Diagnosed with a devastating disease that will eventually take away who she is, she is scared for herself, but even more frightened about what this will mean for her sixteen-year old daughter.
Now Nora has no choice but to let go of her hard-won image as a competent, self-assured woman and turn to the one person who has always relied on her: her twin sister, Mariana.  Nora and Mariana couldn't be more different from each other, and they've always had a complicated relationship.  But the two sisters will have to summon the strength to help them all get through a future none of them could have ever imagined, while uncovering the joy and beauty that was always underneath.

You can see that this is very Still Alice-like.  And I liked that one a lot (5/14/15 review).  I gave it a 3.25/4 and might have given it a 3.5/4 if I had read the book before I saw the movie.  Either way, it was very good. It gave us a pretty good idea of what it must be like to have this kind of disease.  But here's the thing - Rachael makes it even clearer.  I really felt like I was living inside Nora's head.  And it was an extremely uncomfortable place to be.

There is so much good stuff about this book that I don't even really know that I can get it all in.  I think I'll fall back on my itemized list.  This will not only let you know what to look for.  But it will also help me get a handle on my feelings.

1.   The writing is terrific.  I felt like every word, sentence, and paragraph flowed into one another.  And the latter part of the book was extremely Pat Conroy-like.  That is to say, something literary but still easy to read.
2.   There are plenty of tears, OMGs, and Wows (including one some time after I finished the book!).  In fact, at one point I actually had to stop reading in order to get myself under control.  We all know I'm a big baby, but I normally can at least keep reading.  Not so much this time.
3.   We get a good description of the neurological testing that goes into determining whether or not somebody has an early form of dementia.
4.   Rachael gives a great definition of flirting.  It's too long to quote her, but you can find it on the bottom of 135, top of 136.
5.   I absolutely love how the narrator goes back and forth among Nora, Mariana, and Ellie.  What Rachael makes us understand is how each of them is feeling.  And for us oldies (but goodies? - not sure), it's fun to get inside the head of a 16-year old.
6.   Rachael also sprinkles in essays about Ellie's childhood from the book that Nora published and that was very successful commercially. She knows just when to give us one of those.  And they are very cool.
7.   I like the parts that both Luke and Harrison play as boyfriend and next door neighbor for Mariana and Nora.
8.   The ending may be one of my favorite endings of all time.  And I'm not just saying that.
9.   I am blown away by how Rachael can use one word and have it just explode with impact.  I won't tell you what it is (but it's on page 141, 3rd line from the bottom).
10. And, finally, how about making you feel that you are right there with Nora?
a.  "Nora didn't know when the knowledge that she wouldn't escape her diagnosis had shifted inside her, but it felt, somehow, okay.  It felt all right.  Not Ideal.  But all right."  Or
b.  "Where did the knowledge go when it left her mind?"
See what I mean?

Lest you think there is only doom and gloom in this book, you are very wrong.  Much of it is uplifting with funny and, yes, poignant moments. And I even had a couple of personal connections (you know how much I like pointing those out!):

1.   Mariana remembers taking turns reading books when they were kids.  One of those books was The Giving Tree.  I know I've told you this before, but that is the very 1st children's book I bought for my kids - and it was 2 years before my oldest (who's now 40! - can that be?) was even born!
2.   Nora, in one of her magazine articles, talks about a Thanksgiving where they ate everything with their hands, including mashed potatoes. When my 3 kids were all living at home, Joni had a "no manners" dinner where we used no silverware.  One of our dishes was mashed potatoes! And Joni scooped portions onto everybody's plate with her hands. Needless to say, that meal was a big hit.

I think I've gone on long enough.  But I obviously have a lot to say about this fantastic book.  My last comment is:  PLEASE READ SPLINTERS OF LIGHT!