Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The 6-Month Report, Y'all + A Mini-Review

Hello, people.  Here's the mid-season report:

35 books read (4 DNF - did not finish):
4.0+ -   1 - yep - The Sweetness of Forgetting - Kristin Harmel
4.0 -     3 - 2 more by Harmel - The Room on Rue Amelie & The Life
                  Intended - she is crazy good
                  1 - I can't tell you about this one because it's in ARC form - it
                  will hopefully be published later this year
3.75 -   2
3.625 - 2 (feel free to make fun of this rating)
3.5 -     4
3.25 -   8
3.0 -   10
2.75 -   1
2.5 -     3
2.25 -   1

Local authors - 13
Fiction - 30
Non-Fiction - 5

Bardwell's Folly, a love story, by Sandra Hutchison:

Young Dori Bardwell's father was the white southern author who wrote THE book about slavery, built a replica of a plantation house in a small New England town, and then flew most of his large family into the sea. She's preoccupied with keeping food on the table, protecting her father's last, unfinished manuscript from a media baron, and figuring out whether her ex is messing with her or just trying to get her attention again.
But when her thoughtless racial joke goes viral, it launches her and a new African American friend on a journey into her Southern heritage that might just lead her right back to where she started.

I liked this a lot.  Of course it didn't hurt that a big part of the book is about books and manuscripts.  But aside from that, I got caught up in the story and made an emotional connection with Dori.  In fact, there is a scene that takes place at her work where I wrote "Not right!"  I obviously didn't like the way she was treated.  And there is another passage that lists quotes on a Twitter page that led me to comment "Ouch."  These are, of course, in addition to emotional reactions I had in several other places in the book.  So, all in all, I liked the story, the writing, and my connection to the protagonist.  I intend to get my hands (and eyes) on her other 2 books - The Awful Mess and the Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire.



One small note:  On page 50 Dori says:  "...she's always been one to stop and smell the flowers."  This brought a smile to my face because I couldn't help but think about the children's classic Ferdinand.  I can't explain, nor is there actually a medical explanation, for how my mind works sometimes.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

A Coupla More Reviews

Ya know, there just aren't that many Ken Folletts around these days.  He is, of course, the master at making the 3rd book in his trilogies (see Edge of Eternity - haven't read A Column of Fire yet) as, or almost as, good as the 1st 2.  Well, kudos to JoJo Moyes.  Still Me, the sequel to Me Before You (4/4) and After You (3.75/4), falls right into place with 1 & 2.  I gave this one a 3.75/4.  I mean, c'mon, 11.5/12?  That's crazy good.

You don't need the blurb.  It's all about Louisa, of course.  The big change from the 1st 2 is that it takes place mostly in New York.  Other than that, it's Louisa, Louisa, and more Louisa.  And she is a great character.  But what I really like about Moyes' writing is how she combines humor with poignancy with chills with cheers effortlessly.  I laughed 4 different times on page 47, got emotional on page 54, and had a big smile on page 57.  And when it came to the final scene, I put my hand over the whole page and dropped it line by line.  I did NOT want to know what happened ahead of time (unlike Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally!).

If you haven't read any of this series, I would strongly recommend that you remedy that flaw in your literary character.  If you've read 1 & 2 but not 3, you might want to get your hands on it pretty soon (if you don't want to buy a hardcover, then maybe it's available in your local library - or I can loan it to you).  I will definitely read anything that Moyes writes.




This brings me to my 2nd review.  The book is called the recipe box, and it is written by Viola Shipman.  I call this book a Melissa Special.  Can you figure out why?  Yep.  It's because it's another recommendation from my recommending guru, Melissa (clever moniker, no?).  I liked it a lot. And this time I will give you a synopsis.

Growing up in northern Michigan, Sam felt trapped by her family's orchard and pie shop, where generations before her have lived and run the business.  She left with dreams of becoming a classically trained pastry chef and making her own mark in the world.  But life as an overworked, undervalued sous chef at a reality star's New York bakery is not what Sam imagined, and she returns home to take inventory.
One beloved flour-flecked, ink-smeared family recipe at a time, Sam begins to learn about and understand the women in her life, her family's history, and her passion for food through their treasured recipe box.  As Sam discovers what matters most in her life, she opens her heart to a man she left behind but who now might be the key to her happiness.

In the last 12 months, I've read several food-related books.  And I've liked them all.  This one certainly fit right in there.  I liked the story.  I liked the recipes.  I liked the characters.  I liked the emotional connection I made with just about all of them (there were definitely some tears, chills, and even nervousness).  And I liked Viola's writing. (BTW, did you know that Viola Shipman is actually a man?  I didn't either, until I read the bio on the back flap.)  Here are a couple of examples showing how the author painted such strong visuals:

"In the near distance, the cornfields seemed to move as if they were doing the wave at a football game..."
"Sam slowed in traffic, her head bobbing left and right like one of those dogs people put in their back windows..."

The only criticism I have, and it's a pretty small one, is that especially in the first part of the book there was too much repetition of certain words.  It kind of distracted me (not a difficult feat).  But it got better as the book went along, and I ended up forgetting about it.  Do you remember the story about the Christopher Reich book I read in which the author said "Just then" about every 10th page?  It drove me nuts to the point where I felt I had to message him.  He acknowledged me politely (we all know what he told his family and friends).  This one was not nearly as bad.  And if these are not the kinds of things in books that you notice, then it will be no problem for you.

Despite my Scrooge-like, Bah Humbug comment, I liked this a lot and gave it a 3.5/4.





Friday, May 25, 2018

Tidbits

It's time for a few notes of interest (sez me):

1.  Cara Black's 18th book in the Aimee Leduc series, Murder on the Left Bank, will be coming out on June 19.

2.  The Woman in the Window (which I liked quite a bit), by A.J. Finn, is going to be a movie.  I don't know any of the details yet.

3.  Meg Waite Clayton will launch her latest book, Beautiful Exiles, on July 31 at Books, Inc. Palo Alto.  This is the story of the real-life relationship between Martha Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway, in 1936.

4.  #5 in the Maverick Billionaires, Wild in Love (which I loved), is live.  I think you all know that this is definitely one of my very favorite romance series.  And Jennifer Skully and Bella Andre are not done!  I was very excited to learn that there will be more books after this one.  That is good news indeed.

5.  The Goldfinch (which I stopped reading on Page 19!) is being made into a movie.  And Nicole Kidman will be the star.

6.  We had 2 literary superstars pass away in the last week:  Tom Wolfe at 88, and Philip Roth 85.

7.  The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein, is going to be a movie. It will star Milo Ventimiglia (from This Is Us), Amanda Seyfried, and Kevin Costner (as the voice of Enzo).  Patrick Dempsey will be the director. This is a book I never expected to read because it has a picture of a dog on the front cover.  And as you all know by now, I'm not a big pet guy. But I humbly report that I liked this a whole lot.  Thanks to Rich and Leslie, who "made" me read it.

8.  Books, Inc. in the The Pruneyard is opening tomorrow, Saturday, May 26! That is great news. Congrats to Margie and the rest of the Books, Inc. team.

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.