Saturday, May 19, 2018

Some More Mini-Reviews

Well, once again I find myself behind on reviews.  And in order to catch up, I've got a couple of quick takes on nationally popular books/authors.

First, there is John Hart's latest, The Hush.  Those of you who have followed my blog for a while (I understand your reluctance to identify yourselves!) know that, as Julia Roberts said in Pretty Woman, I am a "big, huge" fan of his books.  I think his last 3 were 4.0, 4.0, 3.75 (and I liked his 1st 2 too).  So I was obviously very excited about reading The Hush.  How was it?  Beats the heck out of me.  I just didn't get it.  I don't know what John was thinking.  The story didn't make a lot of sense to me.  There was tons of description that put me off immediately and that showed up throughout the book.  And then there was some metaphysical stuff that I just couldn't wrap my arms around.  For me it didn't connect with the rest of the book.  Or maybe I just didn't care. Regardless, I'm giving it a 2.25/4.  And only because I like John personally (he always responds to FB messages) and because I recognize what a good writer he is.  Otherwise, uh, uh.



P.S.  John's ratings for his last 4 books on Goodreads out of a max 5:
The Last Child - 4.11
The Iron House - 4.09
Redemption Road - 4.08
The Hush - 3.64
It's obviously not just me.

My other short review is of A.J. Finn's The Woman in the Window.  I liked this one much better - 3.25/4.  It came very highly rated from friends that I trust.  It was a little Girl on the Train for me in that it was very well-written, but I didn't emotionally connect with the characters.  In fact, it was very similar to Gone Girl because I didn't really get engaged until about half-way through.  However, that was all compensated for (at least to some degree) by the fact that it was suspenseful and had a real shocker toward the end.  We all know I'm not that adept (a classic understatement) at figuring out what's going to happen in a book.  But I think this one shocked everybody.  So it was good.




Thursday, April 26, 2018

HOLY MACKEREL - WHAT A BOOK!

It's been a year and a half since I last gave a book a 4.0+.  It was Rachael Herron's Splinters of Light. And before that it was July of 2015 when I gave my first 4.0+.  That one was Goodnight June, by Sarah Jio.  I've also got 12-4.5s and 13-4.25s (the link is on the bottom of this post, in case you want/care to see those).  Well, I've got another 4.0+, which now makes a total of 28 all-time favorites.  This one shouldn't be a big surprise because I've just read 2 other books by this author, and they were both 4/4!  But it was a surprise to me because it was published in 2012, before the other 2 hit the bookshelves.  In case you haven't figured it out yet, it's Kristin Harmel.  And it's called The Sweetness of Forgetting.  I just absolutely loved this book.

Are you ready for the blurb?  Well, I'm not giving it to you.  Why, you ask?  Have I become (even more) curmudgeonly in my advancing age? Maybe.  But that's not the reason I'm holding off this time.  There are so many different elements to this book that I want you to experience them the way I did - cold turkey.  It just so happens that I never read the synopsis of a book before I read it.  I want to be surprised.  But as you also know, I usually post the recap in my reviews.  And I certainly can't prevent you from checking it out before you start reading.  In this case, I hope you would consider trusting me that the less you know beforehand, the greater the impact will be.

So is that the end of the review?  One in which I have told you nothing? Okay, I will throw you a bone or two.  Here are a few hints as to what you will read about in Sweetness:

1.    Family-owned bakery (with recipes)
2.    Alzheimers
3.    Germany-occupied France in WWII
4.    Divorce
5.    True Love
6.    Romance (different from true love)
7.    4 generations
8.    Emotional lock-down
9.    Religious collaboration
10.  Discovery - of all kinds

This doesn't take into account the enormous amount of tears (real ones, not baby ones), chills, head-shaking, shoulder-slumping, eye-opening, expletive-yelling, and even some laughing, that I exhibited throughout. It also doesn't factor in just how gosh-darn well the book is written. Some of the passages are flat-out amazing.

What I am hoping will happen is that this blog post will open up a discussion about the book.  Maybe we can do an online something (I am not too tech-savvy).  Or maybe we can exchange comments.  But even if none of that happens, I do hope you will read The Sweetness of Forgetting.  I can't begin to tell you how glad I am that I did.



Here's that link I was telling you about:  

Top 24 (Actually 27) All-Time



Wednesday, April 25, 2018

3 Winners

Okay, people.  We have our 3 winners.  Once again, here are the books that you can choose from:

The Life Intended, Kristin Harmel (new paperback)
The Night the Lights Went Out, Karen White (new paperback - sent by publisher)
the family next door, Sally Hepworth (used hardcover)

Here is the order in which the 3 names were picked:

Kate Vocke
Julie Holden
Sandy Antle

Kate, you will have 1st pick, etc.  Assuming that you 3 don't want your addresses announced to the world, email me at lloydrrussell@gmail.com so that I can get these mailed out.

Congratulations, all.  I haven't read Karen's book.  But I can definitely vouch for Harmel and Hepworth.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Tons 'o Stuff

1.  Books Inc. is opening in The Pruneyard soon.  This is the 1st bookstore in The Pruneyard since Barnes & Noble left several years ago.

2.  Jodi Picoult's next book will be coming out on October 2.  It's called A Spark of Light and centers on reproductive rights.

3.  I've got one brand new paperback copy of The Life Intended by Kristin Harmel.  This is a 4/4 for me.  It can be yours if you comment on this blog post.  We will draw a winner in a week's time.

4.  Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple is being made into a movie starring Cate Blanchett.  It will hit the cineplexes in late 2018.

5.  Karen White's publisher is giving away her new book in paperback. The Night the Lights Went Out gets awarded based on the same conditions as #3.

6.  I've got a used hardcover copy (in good condition) of Sally Hepworth's latest (and 4th), The Family Next Door.  How do you win?  See #3 and #5.

7.  I think you all know how much I liked Michael Zadoorian's The Leisure Seeker.  And then I found out that it was going to be a movie starring Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland.  Boy was I excited to see it.  And boy was I disappointed.  2.5/4

8. Season 3 of Queen Sugar, based on the book of the same name by Natalie Baszile, will be starting on May 28/29 on the OWN.  Can't wait.

9.  The Illuminator's Gift, book 1 in Alina Sayre's 4-book The Voyages of the Legend series, will be coming out in audiobook this summer. Although the series is geared for 9-14 year olds, I loved it.  And, believe me, I am NOT in that age group!

10.  On the weekend of April 28 & 29, the 4th annual Bay Area Book Festival will be held in downtown Berkeley.

11.  We finally have another Meg Waite Clayton book hitting the bookstores.  It's called Beautiful Exiles.  It's an historical fiction that takes place in 1936 and talks about a budding relationship between journalist Martha Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway when they are together covering the Spanish Civil War.  Get set for the August 1 release.

12.  For those of us who grew up with Beezus, Ramona, and Henry Huggins, author Beverly Cleary turned 102 on 4/12/18.

13.  Saturday, April 28 is Independent Bookstore Day.  Please show support for your local bookstore.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Latest Harmel - Darn Good

You all know what I thought of Kristin Harmel's The Life Intended (just in case you inadvertently missed it(!), you can go to my post from February 3 and read all about it).  Now along comes Kristin's latest, The Room on Rue Amelie.  She completely shifts gears from contemporary fiction to historical fiction.  And, might I add, she does it seamlessly.  I happen to be a big fan of historical fiction, especially that which centers on WWII.  I have learned a bunch of history this way.  And I would even add The Alice Network to that group, even though that was geared toward WWI. But Room fits in with my other favorites extremely well.  Here's the synopsis:

When newlywed Ruby Henderson Benoit arrives in Paris in 1939 with her French husband, Marcel, she imagines strolling arm in arm along the grand boulevard, awash in the golden afternoon light.  But war is looming on the horizon, and as France falls to the Nazis, her marriage begins to splinter too.
Charlotte Dacher is eleven when the German roll into the French capital, their sinister swastika flags snapping in the breeze.  After the Jewish restrictions take effect and Jews are ordered to wear a yellow star, Charlotte can't imagine things getting much worse.  But then the mass deportations begin, and her life is forever ripped apart.
Thomas Clarke joins the Royal Air Force to protect his country, but when his beloved mother dies in a German bombing during the waning days of the Blitz, he wonders if he's really making a difference.  Then he finds himself in Paris, in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, and he discovers a new reason to keep fighting - and an unexpected road home.
When fate brings them together, Ruby, Charlotte, and Thomas must summon the courage to defy the Nazis - and to pen their own broken hearts - as they fight to survive.

What did I like about The Room on Rue Amelie, you ask?  A whole mess a' stuff.  To wit:

1.  I loved learning all about the escape lines out of Paris.  In this book, these were largely for downed pilots to get back across the channel. Fascinating.
2.  I loved that the 1st chapter starts with an older couple in the present (2002) and then goes right to 1938 Paris.  And that the rest of the book, except for the last 5 pages, takes place just prior to, and all during, the war.  My initial reaction to the couple in chapter 1 was that they were going to be one of my favorite literary couples ever.
3.  I loved the emotional connection I got to make with the characters immediately.  And how that did not abate all the way through the end. In fact there might have been a tear or two in a few (dozen) places throughout the book.
4.  I loved the progression of dates from December of 1938 to August of 1944.  I am in awe of how Kristin (and other authors) seem to know almost instinctively how much time should lapse from one chapter to the next.  Kristin did it masterfully, as far as I was concerned.  I remember making comments to myself like "Wow.  6 months have elapsed."  Or "They are still in the same month."  Very cool.
5.  I loved how she somehow slipped in a few chuckle-inducing moments.  Not an easy thing to do with a piece of history that is so serious.
6.  I loved how I accidentally thought I figured out on page 284 (out of 383) who the old couple was.  And then it turned out I was right.  You all know that I usually can't figure out anything until the author chooses to tell me.
7.  And I loved/unloved how my self-revelation led me to be very worried over the last 100+ pages about other main characters.  I had much foreboding.
(8.  I loved how distraught I was as certain circumstances unfolded, leading to a whole bunch of expletives.

So, I guess if you've got nothing to do and want to learn a little bit about Germany-occupied France during WWII, you can pick up The Room on Rue Amelie...I'm pulling your leg.  Pick this sucker up immediately.  You will transition from swearing at me to singing my (limited) virtues. Seriously.







Thursday, March 22, 2018

A Bunch of Books Read and a Bunch of Ratings

Does anybody care why it's been 47 days since my last review and 30 days since my last post?...didn't think so.  Suffice it to say that it's been nothing more dramatic than simply too busy with my "real" job.  So, having said that, what I'm going to do is simply list the nationally known books I've read since my 2/3/18 review of The Life Intended, along with a rating and a couple of lines for each.  These are in the order read:

1.  before i go, Colleen Oakley (women's fiction).  I read this because I LOVED  her Close Enough to Touch.  This one is also very good.  3.5/4

2.  The Women in the Castle, Jessica Shattuck (historical fiction).  I saw Jessica live at Rakestraw Books with Chloe Benjamin.  I decided to read Jessica's 1st because it looked more interesting.  It was.  3.5/4

3.  The Immortalists, Chloe Benjamin (contemporary fiction).  She is obviously the other author I saw at Rakestraw.  This is good too.  I didn't go gaga for it.  But it's still solid.  3/4.

4.  THE HATE U GIVE, Angie Thomas (young adult).  This was recommended by an RBC member, Diana.  She said it was must read. She was right.  3.625/4

5.  The Night Trade, Barry Eisler (thriller).  This is book 2 in Barry's Livia Lone series.  I liked #1 a little better (Livia Lone, 3.5/4).  But I will read anything Barry writes.  3.25/4

6.  The Love Goddess' Cooking School, Melissa Senate (women's fiction). This is the other book (along with The Life Intended) that my blogging guru, Melissa, sent me.  And she was right on.  This was also so good. 3.75/4

7.  How to Stop Time, Matt Haig (fiction/fantasy).  I read this because I went to see Matt at Rakestraw (methinks there is a pattern developing here).  Michael B., the owner of Rakestraw, told me when I was at Chloe and Jessica's event that I needed to come back for Matt.  So I did.  He is definitely very engaging in person.  And the book was good.  3.25/4

8.  The French Girl, Lexie Elliott (mystery).  I got this as an ARC from Berkeley, Penguin Random House.  It's a debut novel, and I liked it. 3.25/4

9.  The Mark of Wu, Stephen M. Gray (fiction/thriller/historical).  I got this ARC from Stephen's publicist, Stephanie Barko.  It's book 1 in a series.  For most of the book, I was pretty sure I wouldn't read #2.  But it turns out that the book grew on me.  And now I think I would.  I want to know what happens to the main characters.  2.75/4

10. Where'd You go, Bernadette, Maria Semple (contemporary fiction).  I used to go to the Los Gatos Library Tuesday Night Book Club all the time. But since our leader, Melissa, left, I haven't been there.   When I saw on an email that the club would be doing this book in March, I decided to get it and show up.  I had seen this book around a lot, and it was an excuse to finally read it.  It didn't blow me away, but I liked it well enough.  3/4

11.  the family next door, Sally Hepworth (contemporary fiction).  This is Sally's 4th, and latest.  If you recall (and why would you?), I read Sally's 1st 3 books last year and gave them all a 3.75/4.  This one was a smidge below those but still absolutely a very worthy read.  3.625/4

Hopefully, I will be able to resume some kind of normal blogging schedule.  We shall see.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

It's Time for Random Bits of VERY Interesting Information

1.  Starting May 22, PBS will be running an 8-episode series about the most popular books of all time with a whole cast of well-known authors participating.  If you want more details, just google PBS' The Great American Read 2018.

2.  The 3rd book - Still Me - in JoJo Moyes Me Before you series was released on January 30.  Goodreads rating is 4.32/5, and Amazon is 4.7/5.  As you all know, Me Before You was a 4/4 for me. And the 2nd one, After You, was still good enough to garner a 3.5/4.  I'm definitely looking forward to #3.

3.  John Hart's next book, Hush, will be released a week from today, Tuesday, February 27!  I love his novels (plus, he really does respond to your FB posts).

4.  Daniel Silva's 18th Gabriel Allon, The Other Woman, will hit the bookstores on July 17.  A friend of mine said, after reading #17, that he was probably done.  I know that I will never be done unless Silva is done.

5.  The Guernsey and Literary Potato Peel Pie Society, which I really liked, is being made into a movie.  One of the authors, Annie Barrows, is part of a 2-person screenwriting team.  The movie will hit Australia, the UK, and New Zealand in April.  I don't know when it gets to the U.S.  But I do know that Lily James, of Downton Abbey, Cinderella, and Darkest Hour fame, has the starring role.

6.  Sheldon Siegel's 9th book in the Mike and Rosie series - Serve and Protect - will be out March 8.  This is very good news indeed.  Let's not forget that Sheldon is an RBC veteran!  And I'm still waiting for him to announce the date and time of his launch (it will probably be at Book Passage in Corte Madera).

7.  I am getting ready to put together #11 in my Fiction for the Non-Fiction Reader (FFTNFR) group. #10 was on June 8 of last year.  And I have read a bunch of very good books since then.  I will probably have that ready before the month is out.  And if you are interested in what books are on the #1-#10 lists, let me know.  I will be happy to provide you links.

8.  I went to my Books, Inc. 4th Tuesday Night Book Club on January 30 and learned that Books, Inc. sold over 160 copies of The Alice Network! (I reviewed it on January 21.)

As soon as I post this, I will immediately start a new list.  There's just too much stuff happening in the literary world to not take notice of it.  I'm sure you would agree.