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.

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


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!

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:

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)

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

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.