Thursday, June 30, 2011


I've read a few books since my last book reviews.  Let me give you a few reports.

First, David Baldacci departed from his usual murder mystery and wrote One Summer.  It's very much like Nicholas Sparks' books.  It's corny, cliched, predictable, mushy, et al - and I really liked it (oh yeah, I really like Sparks too)!  It's probably the quintessential "beach read."  Baldacci also wrote an against-type book quite a few years ago called Wish You Well.  It's about two young children who go to live with their backwoods grandmother in West Virginia.  That book is actually one of my top 100.  I know people who loved it and others who didn't.  Go figure.  But as far as One Summer is concerned, it definitely will not go in my Chick Lit for the Macho Man column.  Then again, I've never been accused of being a macho man.

I mentioned Paul McEuen in my author email post.  I want to make another special mention of his new (and first) book, Spiral.  It's a very good read.  He's created an excellent story, and it kept me intrigued throughout.  I will definitely be reading his next one.

I read Ann Patchett's latest, State of Wonder.  I thought it was slow and slightly boring.  USA Today reviewed it and gave it a 2.5 (out of 4).  They said that the first half was slow, and the second half picked up.  I actually thought both halves were slow.  I didn't think the second half picked up at all.  It's the first of her books (I've read the other 5 novels) that I was disappointed in (yes, Roseann, Jen, and Gail, I know that you can't end a sentence with a preposition!).  If you want to read Patchett, then pick any of her other ones - Bel Canto, The Magician's Assistant, Run, The Patron Saint of Liars, or Taft.

I also read a hard-boiled detective novel (with a female protagonist) by Sara Gran.  This is her fourth book but the first one with this detective.  I was undecided about it for the first half but became a fan in the second half.  She's got a 2-book deal (I saw her at "M" a few Sundays ago) with her current publisher, so I'll look forward to reading about this detective again.  For those of you who like Raymond Chandler (that's you, Joe), who(m?) I haven't read yet, she considers him her primary influence.

And, finally, the gem of the group - The Turnaround, by George Pelecanos.  I was walking through Browser Books one day a couple of months ago.  I came to the mystery section, and there was an index card taped to a bookcase.  One of the employees had written a fairly detailed description of, and recommendation for, Pelecanos's books.  I read a couple of book jackets and decided on The Turnaround.  I absolutely loved it.  I would put it in the same category as Billie Letts' Coming Soon, Honk And Holler, Tom Rob Smith's Child 44, and David Benioff's City Of Thieves as far as first novels (for me) are concerned.  If you need/want a book, get this one.  I will be buying another of his books very soon.

That's all folks.

Saturday, June 18, 2011


I have exchanged emails with a number of authors over the years.  For the most part, it's been fun and, in a couple of cases, actually rewarding.  For those of you who have heard these stories, bummer.  These first two are the most interesting (for me).

Christopher Reich - He publishes one book each year.  Back in 2008, I was reading his latest one (#7, I believe) and noticed that he used "just then" quite a bit.  I didn't pay much attention to it and forgot about it the minute I finished the book.  One year later, his next one came out.  When I saw "just then" in the first couple of pages, I decided to start counting them.  He averaged about one for every ten pages.  For me, it really affected my enjoyment of the book.  I know that seems a bit petty, but I couldn't shake it.  I finally decided to send him an email.  I told him how much I enjoy his books, but that he seemed to be using "just then" an awful lot.  Because I'm such an "expert" in the English language (my regards to Roseann and Gail), I had the misguided notion that I was entitled to tell him about his writing flaw.  I tried to couch it in conciliatory language but probably failed there.  In any case, he (or someone) wrote back and said he didn't realize he was using it that much and would be more careful in the next one.  So, when his next book came out, last summer, I was, of course, quite interested to see what he would do.  It turns out that he only used it a couple of times the whole book.  I felt vindicated.  Whether this happened  because of the email or due to other factors I didn't really care.

P.S.  I wrote him another email after reading this last one (2010) and told him how much more I enjoyed the book without all of the "just then's" in it.  He did not write back!

Sheldon Siegel - I first sent him an email in September of 2008.  He lives in Marin County and has always answered my emails almost immediately.  Over the course of the next two years, I probably exchanged a half dozen emails with him.  Finally, last year, he came to "M" for a book signing.  It was like seeing an old friend.  There weren't many people who attended, so we got a lot of up-close face time with him.  At  the end of his presentation and signing, I told him that Rich, Joni, and I were going around the corner to eat dinner at Kingfish if he would like to join us.  He said he wouldn't mind an iced tea.  I'm sure he was hedging his bets in case he found us boring (I know, impossible).  It turned out that he had dinner with us.  We were together for over an hour.  It was very cool.  We learned a lot about him and about the book publishing industry.  Rich (who introduced Siegel's books to me) told him that Leslie was out of town and was sorry she couldn't be there.  Sheldon called her on the phone from the dinner table and spoke to her for a couple of minutes.  It was really neat.

P.S.  I last emailed him in April to check on the progress of his latest book.  He said that he was almost done with it but that it wouldn't hit bookstores until 2012.  Again, he wrote back within the same day.

Those are the two most dramatic exchanges, but there are a couple of others to tell you about too.  A few years ago, I emailed John Lescroart and asked him in what order I should read his books.  He sent me a big 3-paragraph answer, with great detail.  I really appreciated that (I've only read a couple of his books, which is not due to his writing, but I'll know which one to read next when I get back to him).

Just this week I exchanged emails with an author who has just published his first book.  The book is called Spiral and is written by Paul McEuen.  I went to a book signing at "M" and the bookseller there, Lisa, said she likes to try new authors.  She highly recommended Paul's book.  It was really good.  So about half-way through, I emailed him one night and told him how much I was enjoying the book and how I came to be reading it.  I asked him if he was planning to come to the Bay Area for any author events.  He emailed back the next morning and said he lived in SF/Berkeley for 10 years and always comes back once a year to visit.  He expected to be here in August and would see about setting up an author event.  I told him that when he comes back, and even if he doesn't have an event, that I would be happy to come where he is and meet him for lunch, coffee, or a handshake.  I tried (I don't know how successfully) to assure him that I was not a stalker (not too tough) or a reprobate (much tougher).  He emailed back right away and correctly, I thought, gave a vague, don't-commit-me-to-this, gesture.  When I eventually do meet him, it will feel more like a reunion than a first-time meeting - if you're into that kind of thing.

Other authors that I've exchanged emails with -
David Rosenfelt
Alex Berenson
Michael Palmer
Keith Thomson

I've also sent emails to authors who have not responded.  I can't tell you who those are because I only save the ones who answered me (I don't need to save my own emails, as well-written as they might be!)  For me, emailing authors definitely elevates the whole reading experience.

Upcoming Author Events:
Daniel Silva - coming to Book Passage, Corte Madera, Saturday night, July 23, at 6:30.  If you haven't seen him, and like his books, he's a very interesting guy.  His stories about research are riveting.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


I'm going to list all of the authors that I have read for the first time starting with 1/1/10.  They will be lumped into 3 categories:  Will Read Again (and, in some cases, already have), Might Read Again, and, you guessed it, Won't Read Again.  Here we go:

Will Read Again -
Garth Stein - The Art of Racing in the Rain - loved it
John Elder Robison - Look Me in the Eye (NF) - good look at growing up with Asperger's
Sam Eastland - The Eye of the Red Tsar - already read #2 in the series - published this year
Abraham Verghese - Cutting for Stone - everybody knows about this sensation
Jo Nesbo - Norwegian - liked it a lot
Paul Sussman - The Last Secret of the Temple - already own 2 more - haven't read either one yet - will
Kathryn Stockett - The Help - who knows if she can do it again - this one was excellent
Keith Thomson - Once a Spy - have already read #2 in the series - not nearly as good as #1
David Benioff - City of Thieves - loved it - read another of his, The 25th Hour - liked it too - not as well
Peter Gruber - The Good Son - liked it but not tons - will try a second one - might stop after that
Brad Thor - The Apostle - he's already written a number of books in this series - liked it

Might Read Again -
Taylor Stevens - The Imperfectionist - first in a series - Lizbeth Salanger-like protagonist - tough call
Ruth Reichl - Garlic and Sapphires (NF) - liked it but one may have been enough
Greg Mortensen - Three Cups of Tea - I'm not a huge fan of NF - not sure if I'll do another one
Tom Rachman - The Imperfectionists - critically acclaimed - thought it was only okay
Sam Bourne - The Righteous Men - very good last 300 pages - first 250 pages so-so
John Verdon - Think of a Number - his first effort - leaning toward reading the next one
Thomas Steinbeck (John's son) - In the Shadow of the Cypress - probably a little too literary for me
Efrem Sigel - The Disappearance - another first effort - again, leaning toward reading the next one
Nick Hayhurst - The Bullpen Diaries (NF) - somewhat entertaining - one is probably enough
Sebastain Junger - War (NF) - again, written well and interesting but not a big fan of most NF

Won't Read Again -
Lisa See - Peony in Love - highly thought of by book clubs but way too slow for me
Alan Bradley - Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie - cute - once
Cara Black - Murder in the Marais - it was okay but not entertaining enough to read others

I would love to hear other opinions about my choices.  I'm sure there will be a bunch of disagreement.