Sunday, December 30, 2012

3 Last Reviews of the Year

I have my last 3 reviews of the year (I guess you already saw that in the title of this post!).  The 1st is French Lessons, by Ellen Sussman.  Ellen is a local author, and this is her 2nd book.  The 1st one, On a Night Like This, is one I will be reading in the next few months.

French Lessons takes place in Paris.  The story revolves around 3 tutors at a language school - 2 men and 1 woman.  Each tutor gets his or her own story.  And each tutor has a private session with a member of the opposite gender.  As you might expect, there is a lot of sexual (sex?) tension with each tutor and student.  All 3 stories take place on the same day.  So, not only do you have the individual stories for all 6 players in this drama, but you also have the intermingled relationship among the tutors themselves.  I don't want to give away any of the story lines, but each one is interesting on its own.

I liked this book a lot.  It's very well written and is a solid 3.0.  I really got into each of the 3 stories as well as the relationship among the tutors.  I also agree with Lolly Winston who wrote:  "...Book clubs:  bust out your calendars.  This novel's going on your list."  As you might imagine, there are moral and ethical questions that arise for each of the 3 tutors and their students.  In fact, I would enjoy being a part of a book club discussion about this book.  Can somebody let me know if that happens?

The 2nd book is Prosper In Love, by Deborah Michel, another local author (I love getting to know all of these locals).  The star of this book is Lynn Prosper.  She is a low-level museum curator living with her husband, Jamie, in the Los Angeles area.  Lynn and Jamie have been married for 2.5 years and appear to be the ideal married couple - until an old college classmate of Lynn's, F.X. (Francis Xavier), makes an entrance.  Between F.X.'s meddling and Lynn's constant battle with trying to satisfy Jamie's aristocratic family, things become a little less idyllic.  Throw in divorce lawyers and an affair or 2, and you can see that things get a bit complicated.  Do Lynn and Jamie weather the storm?  The answer it yourself!

I liked Prosper in Love but didn't love it.  Unfortunately for Deborah, I have read 4 of my top 6 for the entire year just since November 26 (and although it didn't make my top 11, Ellen Sussman's French Lessons, which I have also read since November 26, is still in my top 25).  It's just not fair for Prosper In Love to have to match up with the 4 listed below.  Believe me, earlier in the year Deborah's book would have gotten more play.  In the meantime, read it.  You'll like it.

Follett - Winter of the World - #1
Zadoorian - The Leisure Seeker - #6
Waters - The Angels' Share - #3
Moehringer - The Tender Bar - #4

The 3rd, and last, review of the year is book 1 (of 5) of a children's series.  It's called the Secret Series, and it's written by Pseudonymous Bosch (a pseudonym perhaps?).  When we were down in LA a couple of months ago, Jason gave this to me to read.  His daughter, Hannah, who is 9, reads the series.  After I finished it, I realized that this is perfect for that age group.  It's extremely clever with a fun premise and some mystery.  Although it's written for young readers, it does not talk down to them.  The author (who doesn't let anyone know his real name) uses adult words but will often define them.  He does it in an interesting and contextual way and within the flow of the story.  I won't be reading any more of them, but I strongly recommend the series for 8-12 year olds.

That's it.  I'm done with 2012.  On Tuesday morning, I will be posting all 71 books from 2012, along with ratings and a top 11.  Plus, there will be a special literary community service award.  AND, if you post your top book of the year, you will enter a drawing that nets the winner his or her choice of any one book on my list.  How can you ignore that offer?  

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Can You Believe It? - Another Winner! (Plus One That's Not So Good)

I have finished my last book before the end of the year.  I've got 5 reviews that I need to post by Monday.  Here are 2 - one is in my top 11 for the year (either a 3.5 or a 4.0), and the other is one of my least favorites.  Let's do the good one 1st.

J.R. Moehringer - The Tender Bar.  The author is a pulitzer prize-winning feature writer who was working at the Los Angeles Times when he received his award.  This book is a memoir of Moehringer's childhood/adolescence/young adulthood in Manhasset, Long Island.  The book centers on a local bar with a legendary owner in a hard-drinking town.  Moehringer starts going there when he's just a child (in the daytime only) and continues to frequent it frequently through the years.  The people that inhabit the bar are true characters, and the bar is a character on its own.

You all know that non-fiction is not my favorite (I only read 3 this year), and I typically like memoirs even less.  But I'm glad I read this one.  After being a regular customer of Recycle Bookstore, in Campbell, for a couple of years now, Stacey, the store manager, handed The Tender Bar to me a little over a month ago.  She's never done that before.  She obviously strongly suspected that I would like it.  Boy, was she right.

There is so much that goes on with Moehringer growing up, that it's really hard to isolate specific incidents.  Let me just mention a few highlights from the book.

1.  The 1st time he goes into the bar is page 63.  Moehringer does a great job of building up to that, since the scenes in the bar are really the focus of the book.
2.  Page 175 is the 1st time he goes into the bar as a legal drinker.  Again, this is a big milestone.
3.  He is a very good writer.  When he is a young boy, and watching an adult league softball game, Moehringer says that one of the players has a "cummerbund of blubber."  That's good stuff.
4.  Besides being very funny, he also has a number of poignant moments.  In fact, I set a personal record.  I actually cried 3 times - on the same page!  Are you kidding me?  That's crazy.

I have one small criticism.  After he graduates from college, which is page 221 of 368, the book slows down a little bit.  It's not dramatic, but it's noticeable.  This is all that prevented me from giving it a 4.0 instead of the 3.5 that I ended up rating it.  Let's face it, a 3.5 is darn good.  If you get a chance, read this book.  It was published in 2005.  He also spent 2 years collaborating with Andre Agassi on the latter's memoir, Open, and I know that he just came out with an historical novel based on the life of the bank robber, Willie Sutton.  It's called, appropriately enough, Sutton.  I know I will read it along with  anything else he writes, fiction or non-fiction.

That's the good news.  The less than good news is a book called The Tree of Forgetfulness, by Pam Durban.  The book is based on a true story about a racist hate crime in South Carolina that took place in 1926.  The book goes back and forth between the year the crime took place and 1943, when the protagonist is in the hospital, in a coma, dying.

How did I get a hold of this book you ask (you didn't ask?)?  Actually, it was sent to me by a publicist associated with Rayme Waters.  She sent me 2 books - Tree, that was published earlier this year, and an ARC that's due out in March.  I don't really have any criticism of this one; I just didn't much care for it.  I think the publicist had the mistaken notion that I like books that are complex and intellectual, when, in fact, I prefer books that are easy to read and comprehend.

CONFESSION:  Since I never look at the flap/summary of a book before reading it, I didn't realize that The Tree of Forgetfulness is a true story until I was finished.  That might have made a little bit of a difference to me if I had known that ahead of time.

NEW PUBLISHER:  My rep from HarperCollins, Danielle Plafsky, who has been sending me ARC's for a year now, has moved on to Random House, the Knopf imprint.  So, it looks like I will now be reading ARC's from both Random House/Knopf and HarperCollins.  This is in addition to the publicist, Lizzie McQuillen, who has been sending me ARC's periodically for authors she represents; and, now, the publicist that came from Rayme.  I love this insider stuff.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

A list of 27 books that I feel fortunate to have read in 2012

I can't believe the run of really good, even excellent, books that I have read of late.  When I post all my reads of 2012, with ratings, there will be a huge amount of 3's, 3.5's, and 4's.  This is definitely the best year yet for outstanding books.  Just since October 16 I've had top reads:

Joan Swan - Fever
Ken Follett - Winter of the World (one of my top 10 of all time)
Michael Zadoorian - The Leisure Seeker
Rayme Waters - The Angels' Share
J.R. Moehringer - The Tender Bar (review coming)

And this is not to mention these excellent books from earlier in the year:

Michael David Lukas - Oracle of Stamboul
Jodi Picoult - Lone Wolf
Jeffrey Archer - Sins of the Father
David Baldacci - The Innocent
Adina Senft - The Hidden Life
Chad Harbach - The Art of Fielding
Keith Raffel - A Fine and Dangerous Season

And don't even get me started on the old standbys:

Harlen Coben - Stay Close
Tom Rob Smith - Agent 6
Vince Flynn - Kill Shot
Steve Berry - The Columbus Affair
Alex Berenson - The Shadow Patrol
Sam Eastland - Archive 17
Daniel Silva - The Fallen Angel
W.E.B. Griffin - Covert Warriors
Dean Koontz - 77 Shadow Street

And how about these fine new finds:

Philip Kerr - Prague Fatale
William Landay - Defending Jacob
Steve Hamilton - The Lock Artist
Gillian Flynn - Gone Girl
Elisabeth Barrett - Deep Autumn Heat
Ellen Sussman - French Lessons (review coming)

That's 27 out of 70.  That's a lot of top-notch reading.  I can also assure you that there are many others of the remaining 43 that I would recommend - some fairly highly.  And I couldn't be more pleased that over 25% of these top books are from local authors.  This is the most satisfying part of the whole thing.  Wait until you see the final list.  It will blow you away.  I will post that on January 1.

NEXT TIME:  More reviews, I promise.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Interview #6 - Michael David Lukas

As you know from my 4/29/12 review of Michael David Lukas' Oracle of Stamboul, I loved this book.  Like so many other local authors, I found Michael at Barnes & Noble in The Pruneyard (REMINDER:  closing December 31!).  It was a Tuesday afternoon, which is always my day for going into the store to see what new books have come out (they actually do come out on Tuesdays).  And Michael was sitting at that same table near the front door that Jasmine Haynes, Adina Senft, Hannah Jayne, and A.R. Silverberry (with Mrs. Silverberry) sat at on earlier occasions.  As was my custom, I read and blogged about the book and was very pleasantly surprised at how much I liked it.  Something well-written enough for me to quote passages is usually the kiss of death for my enjoyment quotient.  I'm not looking for poorly written books, but I'm not normally crazy for books that are literary (the word "literature" gives me the shakes).  Well, this was and I was.

Since Michael is just a lad (early '30's maybe?), you wouldn't think that he would have much of a story to tell.  But you would be wrong.  Michael took an advanced writing class in college in which he worked on everything from poetry to fiction.  This is what got him started.  He got a Master of Fine Arts and was awarded a Fulbright scholarship.  He matriculated to Tunisia (the country, not a small school in the midwest) for additional schooling.  While there, he came up with the idea of writing a book.  But what was he going to write about?

Serendipity plays a big part in everybody's life.  So too for Michael.  He found himself stranded in Istanbul without a passport.  While there, he walked into an antique store and found a picture of a little girl leaning against a pedestal.  Seeing that picture gave him the idea for Oracle of Stamboul.  I, for one, am very glad he saw that picture and, ultimately, wrote this book.

You know how it seems that everything happens so quickly?  Well, not in Michael's case.  It took him 7 years to write Oracle!  When it was finally ready to shop, he put out a query letter to 25-30 agents.  As luck (and skill) would have it, he was accepted by the agent that was his first choice.  Things happen for a reason, right?  His agent contacted a number of publishers and got so much interest that there was actually an auction to see which publisher would get the rights to publish the book.  And it took less than a week for that to happen (okay, this part happened quickly).  How cool is that!  His book was bought by HarperCollins in February of 2010 and was published in February of 2011.

What's next?  Michael is working on his 2nd novel now.  If he goes through the same process as the 1st one, then it will be awhile before it hits the stores.  I know I will be one of the 1st to buy it (maybe the author will even sign it for me, if I ask him nicely).  Stay tuned for an update.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Musings of a Book Blogger

As I approach the 2-year anniversary of my first Book Sage post, January 16, 2011 (thank you Steve S.), I find myself thinking back on the last couple of years.  What have I gained from this experience?  What could I do to make the blog better and more useful?  I can (and will) wax philosophical on the first question.  I will  need you to give me honest (even brutal) feedback on the second.  Please do not spare my feelings.  As most of you know, I can take the blows.  Besides the enormous self-satisfaction I get from writing the blog (this is always about me), I do, in fact, want the blog to provide a service.  If I'm missing out in some direction, I want to know that.  If you simply don't like the typical subject matter of the blog or think my writing style belongs in grade school, feel free to shout that out too.  Whatever personal relationship I have with you will (most likely!) not be affected by your frank comments.  Onward to question #1.

What have I gained from this experience? Here's a top 10 list:

1.  Even though I didn't think it was possible, I have even a greater love of books than I did back in December of 2010.
2.  I have met nearly 2 dozen local authors.  I value these relationships whether I'm in touch with them on a regular basis or hardly at all.  In fact, I have had the good fortune to interview 10 of them, from which I have posted 5 of those interviews, with the other 5 coming in the next couple of months.
3.  Due to one of those interviews (Meg Waite Clayton), I have joined 2 book clubs.  I never thought I would ever do that.  And from those, I have read either good (The Wedding Plot, Rules of Civility, The Night Circus) or outstanding (The Pleasure Seeker) books.
4.  I have read books in genres that I have never read before.  Some of these are:  erotic romance (notice this was first), young fantasy, paranormal, and urban fantasy.
5.  I have, and have had, an opportunity to read ARC's (advanced reading copies) of authors that I have never read before (and even a couple from authors that I read regularly - James Grippando and Harlen Coben) from publishers (PenguinGroup Books and HarperCollins) and publicists (Lizzie McQuillen and, just recently, Mary Bizbee-Beek).
6.  Many of my friends and family have written guest blogs, thus giving you readers a break from my writing as well as providing fresh perspectives on different aspects of book world (what created your love of books? what do you like about the ereader? who are your favorite literary characters? among many others).
7.  I have attended launch parties, book signings, holiday get-togethers.  I can't get enough of these events.  
8.  I have established relationships with local bookstores (Books, Inc. in Palo Alto and Recycle Books in Campbell).
9.  I have had the pure joy of recommending a book that someone reads and really likes or, even, loves.  That is such a cool feeling.
10.But the #1 benefit of writing this blog if, in fact, it's happening, is contributing to more people reading more often.  That was my stated goal in my first post and will always be what makes me the happiest.

As for the 2nd question, feel free to weigh in.  I meant it that I want to hear how this blog can be better.  The list of 10 above is all about me.  Please let me have feedback that is about you.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Back-to-Back Gems

I usually don't rate books until early January when I recap the year just finished.  However, if I were to rate The Leisure Seeker now, I would give it a 3.5 (out of 4).  Guess what?  Rayme Waters' The Angels' Share is a 4!  It is really outstanding.  Although it is way different than 11/22/63 (King) or Winter of the World (Follett), it gets the same 4 that they are getting.  I don't care if this is Rayme's first book or if she is not well-known nationally, it is excellent.  Let me give you a rundown.

The book begins with Cinnamon Monday, who is in her early 20's, beaten senseless by her drug-addled boyfriend.  She somehow stumbles/walks/crawls to a neighboring vineyard farmhouse.  At the end of the first chapter, as she is passing out, she hears a man's voice and feels his hands on her wrist and neck.  I'm telling you, this book grabs you from the first paragraph and never lets up.

The 2nd paragraph talks about Cinnamon as a young girl, growing up in Northern California (in fact, the whole book takes place in Northern California).  Each chapter rotates between childhood and young adulthood.  I love that in a book, especially when it's done well.  And it's done remarkably well here.

As you might imagine, Cinnamon does not have an easy life.  Her childhood reminds me a lot of Jeanette Walls' The Glass Castle.  Of course, that was non-fiction (and made it into Volume I of Fiction for the Non-Fiction Reader), but there are some similarities between Jeanette and Cinnamon.  The other book it reminds me of, although this one hasn't made any of the 4 volumes of FFTNFR, is Ann Patchett's The Patron Saint of Liars.  I think we can all agree that Ann Patchett is well-known for her writing.  Bel Canto is generally considered her best work, but her other 5 have also been highly touted.  Well, I've got news for you - Rayme's book, in my humble (but accurate) opinion, is comparable to Patchett's books.  Both Rayme and Patchett write really well and have truly fascinating heroines.  As an example of Rayme's writing, here is one small passage:  "He kissed me again, the two of us in sync like divers sharing a respirator far below the surface."  It doesn't get much more visual than that.

I'm sure you're all wondering if I got emotionally involved in The Angels' Share.  Heck yes.  I was caught up in Cinammon's life from the beginning.  But about 2/3 of the way through, she makes a connection that had me tearing up every couple of pages.  Are you shocked?  Of course not.  But I still cried more often than usual - even for me.

Do I think this book is for everybody?  The answer to that question is that it is already on my list of books for Volume V of FFTNFR.  I'm not sure when I will post that new list, but you can count on The Angels' Share being on it.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Leisure Seeker by Michael Zadoorian - I LOVE THIS BOOK!!!!! (yes, Josh, I know I'm not supposed to use all caps in the title)

The Leisure Seeker, by Michael Zadoorian, is an excellent book.  It was written in 2009, and I only read it because it is the December selection for the Los Gatos Library Book Club (which I'm only attending because Books, Inc. doesn't have a 4th Tuesday Book Club meeting this month).  I had certainly never heard of the book or the author prior to this.  Kudos to Melissa Maglio for picking it.

The story line is easy to articulate.  It's about a couple, married nearly 60 years and in their early 80's, who decide to take a road trip.  Actually, the wife, Ella, decides.  Her husband, John, has a fairly advanced form of dementia and spends only a small part of the time lucid.  Ella, herself, has cancer and has refused chemo and radiation treatments, despite the entreaties of their 57-year old daughter, their 49-year old son, and her doctor.

This is no ordinary road trip.  They are driving from their home outside Detroit all the way to Disneyland, CA (not Disney World, FLA) on the old Route 66.  As hard as it is for Ella to travel with John, his driving is fine.  Ella has decided that nobody is going to tell her whether she can do this or not.  In fact, they basically leave clandestinely so that she doesn't have to deal with her kids.

You can see that it's an interesting story.  But there's so much more to it than that.  Ella is so cool.  The voice that Kadoorian gives her is the voice that I want to have when I reach that age.  She's not anybody's doddering old woman.  She swears, she packs heat, and, yet, waxes philosophical.  She is an amazing character.  Here are a few examples of what she says:

"This is why RV's are the cat's ass."  (they've had the same RV for 30 years)

"Anyone who never met a man he didn't like just isn't trying hard enough."  (on why she doesn't like Will Rogers)

"Does a feeling of movement soothe a new baby in the same way it soothes an old woman?  It doesn't seem like it should, but somehow this makes sense to me.  New to the earth and not long for it somehow don't seem so different these days."  (explaining to a young mother why it helps to put the baby in the car if he can't sleep)

"You worry about parents, siblings, spouses dying, yet no one prepares you for your friends dying.  Every time you flip through your address book, you are reminded of it - she's gone, he's gone, they're both gone.  Names and numbers and addresses are scratched out.  Page after page of gone, gone, gone. The sense of loss that you feel isn't just for the person.  It is the death of your youth, the death of fun, of warm conversations and too many drinks, of long weekends, of shared pains and victories and jealousies, of secrets that you couldn't tell anyone else, of memories that only you two shared.  It's the death of your monthly pinochle game.
"Know this:  even if you're like us and still doddering around above ground, someone out there from your past is probably pretty sure that you're dead by now."  (thinking about her friends while lying in bed)

I know that's a long passage, but I haven't seen writing this good (including 11/22/63 and Winter of the World) since Michael David Lukas's Oracle of Stamboul.  It's just outstanding.  I have spent much of the book crying and laughing - often simultaneously.

I think anybody would like this book but maybe less so if you're a yung'un.  Those of us who are of a certain age, I think, will appreciate it a bit more.  If you are the right demographic (i.e. old), then get a hold of this book.  You will NOT be disappointed.

P.S.  The ending is special.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Michael Palmer Gives Us #18!

18 novels is a lot of novels.  #18, Political Suicide, will hit the bookstores December 11.  I just finished the ARC (advanced reading copy).  And, like all of his others, I liked it.  And I would recommend it.  This one is the 2nd straight book with the same protagonist - Dr. Lou Welcome.  Lou, a few years back, temporarily lost his medical license due to substance abuse.  With the help of a mentor, Lou has recovered and is, himself, working part-time at the Physician Wellness Office (PWO) in Washington D.C., helping other doctors in the same situation that he was in.  His full-time job is as an emergency room doctor in a local hospital.

The plot for this novel revolves around a doctor, Gary McHugh, who is under the care of the PWO.  He is having an affair with the wife of a prominent senator.  When the senator is murdered in his own home, at the same time that McHugh goes on a bender, blacks out, and crashes his car near the senator's house, it's pretty obvious to the police that McHugh is the guilty party.  In fact, they don't even make any effort to investigate whether it might have been someone else.

Lou sees Gary and believes him when he says that he didn't do it.  But how is he going to prove it?  He attempts to do this with the help of Cap Duncan, his mentor and an ex-prize fighter, Sarah Cooper, an attorney from the firm representing McHugh, and Papa Steve, a soldier who was best friends with the slain senator.  If you factor in Emily, Lou's 13-year old daughter, Edith Harmon, a blind woman who runs a small-town newspaper, and Officer Judy, a local policewoman who seems more interested in romance than police work, there are a lot of interesting characters.  Palmer always does a good job of surrounding the main protagonist with compelling supporting actors.

The other thing that Palmer does is include some kind of medical mystery in his books.  Until the last few, they always centered on doctors and hospitals in Boston.  The last three, while maintaining the interesting medical plot, have come from Washington D.C.  I don't know why he changed the venue, but I'm fine with it.

In this case, there is a special forces military group called Mantis.  These guys are tougher than the Navy Seals (you won't believe their initiation rites!).  There are about 700 members of Mantis, and they're led (and controlled) by a Colonel Wyatt Brody.  It doesn't seem that this group would have anything to do with medicine.  But wait.  When Brody did his doctoral thesis, many years earlier, the subject was about the elimination of fear through drinking a certain concoction.  Do you see where this is going?

I've said this before.  I like Michael Palmer.  I've read all 18 of his novels and have enjoyed each one.  They are guaranteed to entertain.  I think that's all anybody can ask of an author.  As the old Alka Seltzer commercial says:  "Try it, you'll like it."

Monday, December 3, 2012

Review (Finally!) of Follett's Latest

Well, I've been posting progress reports on Follett's newest book, Winter of the World, for the last couple of weeks.  And, earlier this week, I actually posted that I had finished the book, and that it was one of my top 10 all-time.  That's really a big deal.  I believe that I've read a lot of books in my day, and the top 10 is the elite of the elite.  In fact, I know that I've given you my top 3 all-time - Pillars of the Earth (Follett), The Source (James Michener), and Shogun (James Clavell) - but I think I will give you the other 7 sometime in the near future (hint: it will probably include 11/22/63 along with, of course, Winter of the World).

So let me give you the basics of this book.  The multiple stories pick up in 1933 (book 1 - Fall of Giants - went from 1911-1924).  There are 5 families that the trilogy focuses on - American, German, English, Russian, and Welsh.  They are all featured, of course, in each book.  And they are also interrelated.

Although I loved the book (as you all know by now), there are 2 elements of it that really stand out for me.  The 1st is the whole advent of the Nazi regime.  Since the book starts out in 1933, we get the full impact and process by which the Nazis came to power.  It feels so realistic that, at times, it's very tough to read.  Being Jewish, I'm used to equating the Nazis with the German Jews.  But this book (along with In the Garden of Beasts, by Eric Larson) gives you the whole picture.  There are many atrocities committed by the Nazis on its regular citizenry.  Winter of the World makes you feel how the German people felt - both positive and negative.  It's pretty chilling and runs throughout most of the book (until the end of WWII).

The other particularly affecting part is a description of the attack on Pearl Harbor.  I felt that I was there.  Of course the definition of historical fiction is placing fictitious characters in real historical settings.  But, obviously, some authors do it better than others:  John Jakes, Jeff and Michael Shaara, James Clavell, James Michener.  Ken Follett does it as well as anybody.

I'm always blown away how some (quite a few, in fact) authors can make me care so much about the characters.  In a book like this, where there are 5 families and a lot of people attached to each family, there are just that many more people to care about.  In case you haven't figured it out yet, I STRONGLY recommend this book.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Recap - Part III (and last)

Here are the non-review blogs from the last 2 years:

Fiction for the Non-Fiction Reader:
Volume I - 02/19/11
Volume II - 02/18/12
Volume III - 04/07/12
Volume IV - 07/16/12

02/05/11 - Macho Man and Chick Lit

02/13/11 - B-Listers

03/06/11 - Open-Ended Series

03/11/11 - Closed-Ended Series

04/05/11 - More Series

04/24/11 - One (Two or Three) and Done

05/28/11 - Non-Fiction Reads

06/11/11 - 1st-Time (for me) Authors

06/18/11 - Author Emails

10/16/11 - 1st-Time Authors

12/03/11 - Random House Holiday Gift Books

01/01/12 - Books of 2011 with Ratings - Top 6

03/10/12 - Books That Started Small and Got Big - 1st 5

03/17/12 - Books That Started Small and Got Big - 2nd 5

05/26/12 - Author Event at Haley's School

10/21/12 - Book Clubs

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Past Blogs - Part 2

Okay, here are the reviews from 2012.

01/07 - Regis Phlbin
01/18 - Michael Palmer
02/03 - James Thompson
02/06 - Brad Taylor
02/10 - Lisa Gardner
02/15 - Harlan Coben
02/22 - Dean Koontz, W.E.B. Griffin, Tami Hoag, Tom Rob Smith
03/14 - Craig Johnson
04/07 - Jan Wallentin, Philip Kerr
04/15 - Victoria Sweet (L)
04/21 - Suzanne Collins
04/29 - Michael David Lukas (L)
05/06 - Abraham Verghese (Jeff Barnett did the review)
05/12 - Meg Gardiner
06/06 - Jeffrey Archer, Richard North Patterson, Alex Berenson
06/16 - Ben Coes
07/01 - David Baldacci, William Landay, Steve Hamilton
07/04 - Beth Gutcheon, James Grippando, Robert Balmanno (L)
07/28 - Sam Eastland, Robert Harris, Philip Margolin
08/02 - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
08/05 - Steve Berry
08/10 - Daniel Silva, Chad Harbach, Christopher Buckley
08/12 - Alex Kava, Keith Raffel (L), Ann Lamott (L)
08/17 - Jasmine Haynes (L), Adina Senft (L), Hannah Jayne (L)
08/26 - E.L. James, Steven King
09/05 - Attica Locke
09/09 - David Rosenfelt, James Swain
09/16 - Erin Morgenstern
09/21 - Julie Dart (McNulty)(L)
09/23 - Keith Raffel (L)
09/29 - W.E.B. Griffin, Mitch Albom
10/04 - Jennifer Weiner
10/10 - Gillian Flynn, Amir Towles
10/16 - Sheldon Siegel (L)
10/25 - Barbara Kingsolver
10/29 - Joan Swan (L)
11/01 - Elisabeth Barrett (L)
11/04 - Dean Koontz, John Agee, Raymond Chandler
11/17 - Jeffrey Eugenides, Cassie Alexander (L)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Recap Of Prior 121 Blogs - Part 1

What does this mean, you ask?  Well, since some of you might be readers that didn't start reading my blog back in January of 2011 when I first started it, I have decided to give you lists of dates and names from my previous blogs.  The next 2 posts will have the dates in which I've reviewed books and the names of the authors for each of those dates.  It's a little bit cumbersome, but I don't know how else to do it (I'm sure tech-savvy individuals know better ways of doing this).  The 3rd blog of recaps will be special lists (e.g. Fiction for the Non-Fiction Reader) and special events (e.g. Haley's school author event).  After that, I will be done with the recap.  And for those of you who have been reading my blog since the beginning lo these many years (2) ago, I say:  "Sorry about that."

Here, then, are my blogs from 2011 that posted reviews. An "L" after the name signifies a local author (there may be others in the group that are local that I don't know are local).

02/11 - Garth Stein, John Robison
03/25 - San Bourne, Taylor Stevens
05/12 - Ann Patchett, David Baldacci, Lisa See, Anna Quindlan
06/30 - David Baldacci, Paul McEuen, Ann Patchett, Sara Gran, George Pelicanos
07/20 - David Ignatius, Alice La Plante (L), George Pelecanos
08/07 - Bobbi O'Keefe, Daniel Silva, Peri O'Shaughnessy, William Martin
08/11 - John Hart
08/20 - W.E.B. Griffin
08/27 - A.R. Silverberry (L)
09/03 - John Hart
10/09 - John Hart, Andrew Britton, Hannah Tinti, Michael Lavigne
10/29 - Nicholas Sparks, Jeffrey Archer, Brad Thor
11/13 - Barry Eisler (L), David Baldacci, Tatiana de Rosnay
11/19 - Jasmine Haynes (L)
11/25 - Brad Taylor
11/28 - Adina Senft (L)
12/10 - Hannah Jayne (L)
12/18 - Meg Waite Clayton (L)
12/24 - Juliet Blackwell (L)

In a couple of days, I will post the same information for 2012.  I know you can't wait.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Author Interview #5 - Adina Senft (I've Run Out Of Clever Comments)

What makes these interviews so interesting is the varied backgrounds of each of them.  Adina Senft belonged to a plain house church from the ages of 12 through 38.  It's not Amish but holds very similar beliefs that she was able to draw on for her current Amish trilogy.  So far, 2 of the 3 have been published.  Book 1 is The Wounded Heart, and book 2 is The Hidden Life.  Book 3, The Tempted Soul, will come out next March.  If you have read my reviews of her 1st 2 books in the series, you will know that I enjoyed book 1 but really loved book 2.  I'm looking forward to #3.

I met Adina at Barnes & Noble in The Pruneyard.  She was, like so many other local authors, sitting at a table near the front door.  She wasn't alone.  She was sitting with Jasmine Haynes.  I don't know if you can put 2 people together who write more different material.  Adina writes about the Amish, and Jasmine writes erotic romance.  Come on, when are you going to see that happen again?  But they are friends and decided to present together.  Maybe I shouldn't have read The Wounded Heart right after reading Past Midnight!  Okay, just kidding.

Adina started writing at the age of 8 and actually wrote her 1st book at 13.  She became a published author in 2003 when Harlequin signed her up, and she wrote 7 romance books for them.  She began writing women's fiction and was picked up by FaithWords, a division of Hachette.  These days, Adina is also self-publishing young adult steampunk novels (these are novels that have elements of science fiction or fantasy but that take place in eras where steam is still the main source of power) under the name Shelley Adina.

Writing is only one of her "jobs."  She also copy edits, teaches in an MFA (master of fine arts) program, and costumes (that may not be a verb!).  Her writing job takes up a lot of her time.  She tries to write from 1-4 every day.  Her goal is 2000 words in a day but not less than 1000.  She writes 7 days a week and only one book at a time.  Writing may be a job for her, but her love of the craft certainly comes through in her writing.

I have one complaint about the handling of Adina's books.  When I went looking for one of her books, I was directed to the religious fiction section of the bookstore.  To me, I hate to see her work pigeonholed like that.  I believe it belongs in the literature/fiction section.  There's a lot more than religion at work here.  Sorry, Adina, that their classification is so limiting.  She tells me that it's because her books are bought by the religion buyer for the chain, not the fiction buyer, but I think it's mis-categorized.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

2 More Reviews - And Then Back To The Author Interviews

I just read Jeffrey Eugenides' latest, The Marriage Plot.  I didn't particularly like his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Middlesex.  I didn't get what the fuss was all about (although we all know about my resistance to intellectual literature).  But I liked The Marriage Plot a lot.  If it wasn't the 4th Tuesday Book Club selection at Books, Inc. (for November), I'm sure I would have avoided it.  I'm actually glad it was - and I didn't.

The book focuses on 3 main characters and begins on their collective college graduation day at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island in 1983.  Leonard Bankhead and Mitchell Grammaticus both revolve around Madeleine Hanna.  All 3 characters are deeply interesting, and each gets sections in the book that are strictly from his or her perspective.  And, of course, much of the book links at least 2, and sometimes all 3, together.

This book reminds me of Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver.  Both authors really know how to write.  They both mix dialogue with long sections of description.  And both border on the literary.  It's not usually my thing, but, in each case, I have enjoyed the book.  I hope this doesn't mean my standards are shifting.  Will I have to start wearing tweed jackets with elbow patches?  Oh, wait, I've also recently read Fifty Shades of Gray and The Hunger Games.  I'm okay.

The other book I read is #3 of the 7 new authors I met at Barnes & Noble back in early October.  This one is Nightshifted, by Cassie Alexander.  This one I liked but did not love.  If you remember, the first one, Joan Swan's Fever, I loved.  The 2nd one, Deep Autumn Heat, by Elisabeth Barrett, I liked a lot.  This one I simply liked.

This has similarities to Hannah Jayne's Underworld Detective Agency.  That series takes place many floors below a police station.  This one takes place many floors below a county hospital.  And, like Hannah's protagonist, Sophie Lawson, the heroine in this book, Edie Spence, is human and oftentimes deals with non-humans - werewolves, zombies, and such.  The 3 main differences are, 1st, Hannah uses much more humor than Cassie does.  That may not matter to many, but it's a big plus for me.  2nd, Sophie is a much more sympathetic character than Edie.  I just liked Sophie better and, therefore, cared more about what happened to her.  And, 3rd, Hannah's books are lighter.  Even though there's a lot of action, it's still kept light in large part because of the humor and Sophie's great sidekick, Nina.  Nightshifted is just too dark for me.

Even though there are flaws, I am recommending Nightshifted.  It's well-written and held my interest.  I expect that there are a lot of people who will like it more than I did.  I also want everybody to know that Cassie is having a launch party for her 2nd book, Moonshifted, at Inklings in Capitola on Tuesday, November 27.  Since I have my 4th Tuesday Book Club meeting that night, I won't be able to make it.  But I would certainly encourage you to go.  Book launches are really fun (remember that I went to Victoria Sweet's book launch for God's Hotel).  It's from 4-8, and then you can eat at Cafe Cruz in Soquel or Laili's in Santa Cruz.

Now back to my author interviews.

HUMANITARIAN NOTE:  Although I didn't love Nightshifted, I certainly love Cassie's commitment to humanity.  Cassie is a registered nurse and has taken a leave of absence from her job to go to New York and help.  She's now been there over a week.  From her regular blogs, she's working a ton and getting very little R&R or even sleep.  Well done, Cassie!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Interview #4 - Sheldon Siegel (do I never run out of snappy headings?)

Sheldon Siegel writes one of my favorite series - the attorneys/legal partners/ex-spouses Mike Daley and Rosie Fernandez.  He has written 7 and is working on #8.  They are all enormously entertaining.  As a bonus, they take place in San Francisco (work) and Marin County (home).

If you have been reading my blog (and you 3 know who you are), you'll know that I just reviewed Sheldon's latest book, The Terrorist Next Door, on October 16.  It's his first book that strays from Mike and Rosie.  In fact, it takes place in Chicago with a brand new protagonist, Detective David Gold.  I liked it a lot, as you will see if you check out the review.

I met with Sheldon a few months ago.  His story is pretty darn interesting.  Sheldon is an attorney.  And  he found that he had about 90 minutes each day, coming and going on the ferry, commuting between Marin County and San Francisco.  Around 1995, at the age of 37, he began to write.  It took him until 1998 to finish book one.  Along the way, in 1997, he took a writing class.  He wrote 100 pages, and his 2 teachers encouraged him to keep going.

When he finished book 1, Special Circumstances, he sent it to only one literary agent.  Folks, for those who don't know how this works, that is unheard of.  When Joni and her partner shopped their book, they sent the query letter to a string of literary agents.  That's just the way it's done.  So the one agent that Sheldon sent it to is a friend of an attorney in Sheldon's office.  Margret McBride got the manuscript on one day, read a 100 pages on the next day, and called Sheldon that evening to say yes, she would represent him.  2 weeks later, she had it sold to Bantam Books, a division of Random House.  And in the year 2000, Special Circumstances hit the bookstores.  Not bad, huh?

Sheldon has had several different publishers, but The Terrorist Next Door was originally self-published - until recently.  The book just got picked up by Poison Pen Press out of Phoenix (talk about alliteration!).  It's no longer available on Amazon but will come back out in June, 2013.  At that time, it will be for sale in hardcover, paperback, digital form, and audio.  Congrats, Sheldon.

This book took him 3 years to write.  Why did he decide to write a stand-alone?  There were 2 reasons.  The 1st being that he was just ready to try something different.  It was time.  The 2nd reason, which I learned from his website, is that he promised his mother that he would write at least one book that was based in his hometown of Chicago.  He has now honored that promise.

There is one thing in particular that Sheldon told me that was very illuminating.  He said that the 1st book was the easiest to write because there were no deadlines.  Since he didn't yet have an agent, an editor, or a publisher, nobody was putting pressure on him to finish the book.  For his 2nd book, though, he had a finish-by date.  After the 2nd one, he got more in the rhythm of writing within a timeline.

I told you that I've already written a very positive review of The Terrorist Next Door.  Well, so did The Huffington Post.  And I have a feeling that it might carry a slight amount more weight than mine does.  Go figure.  I've got it posted, in its entirety, below.

The Terrorist Next Door by Sheldon Siegel
Sheldon Siegel is the author of a series of books featuring the San Francisco based divorced legal team of Mike Daley and Rosie Fernandez. They have been at the center of the action in his last seven novels. Now Siegel has come out with a new book, The Terrorist Next Door, and Mike and Rosie are nowhere to be seen. Siegel has created a new hero, Detective David Gold, and found a new locale, Chicago, Illinois. Those two things might have changed but his talent is still the same.
This new novel by Siegel is action packed from beginning to end. A "terrorist" is striking fear in the heart of Chicago by placing bombs in cars and then detonating them with cell phones. Gold and his new partner A. C. Battle are handed the case and are under the gun to get it solved, but even as they plunge into the case with everything they have the bombs continue to go off and there are casualties involved.
The two men find a few leads but nothing substantive, and then it gets personal. Gold finds out that those he holds dear are in the line of fire so to speak. Now he must go beyond anything he has ever faced and use his skills and brainpower above and beyond what he has done in the past in order to try to save them and save the city.
The book is 75 percent action and 25 percent characters. The fact the characters are so easy to identify with is what makes the horror of the terrorism so chilling. Gold and Battle are two men locked into a war with an unknown person. Battle is the supportive one while Gold is the go to man. It also helps that Gold has a big heart and nerves of steel. A lesser man would have just given up, but Gold is relentless in his pursuit of the unknown terrorist.
I always thought I just wanted Mike Daley and Rosie Fernandez novels from Siegel. Now I am willing to go half and half with future Gold books. You only get a taste of who and what the man is in this novel. Most of the readers will want to know more.
The Terrorist Next Door is a "can't put it down" novel. Read it for the suspense, but also read it for the introduction of a new fascinating hero.
Jackie K Cooper

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Interview #3 - Jasmine Haynes (pretty clever title, eh?)

Jasmine Haynes is my one and only erotic romance writer.  As many (some?) of you know, I came across Jasmine at Barnes & Noble in The Pruneyard.  And as I've mentioned on a number of occasions (ad nauseum), I have made a commitment that, as a blogger, I was going to read and blog about the book of any author I run into.  Otherwise, I doubt I would have "voluntarily" picked an erotic romance for my recreational reading.  The rest, as they say (I've always wondered who "they" are!), is history.  I loved Past Midnight.  You can go to my blog from November 19, 2011 (8 days shy of one year ago) and read my review.  Since then, I have read only one other book by Jasmine, but I will be reading more.

When I talked to Jasmine (on 2 separate occasions), she told me that she has written 33 romance novels - a combination of erotica, mystery, and humor.  And she's now branching out into paranormal mystery. She is very prolific which probably comes from the fact that her writing career took a back seat to an accounting job that she had for many years.  Well, she's making up for lost time in grand style.

She knew she wanted to write way back when she was 6 or 7 years old.  But it wasn't until high school that she wrote her first book.  Her assignment in English class was to write 2 short stories, but she asked if she could write a book with chapters.  And so it began.

She published her 1st book only 10 years ago.  Prior to that, she sent out a query letter to a number of agents for a book that she had written and was able to secure an agent.  Unfortunately, the agent was unable to sell her book, and Jasmine and her agent parted ways.  Later, she found another agent who was successful in getting her books sold.  Liquid Silver Books bought the erotica, and HQN, a division of Harlequin Books, bought her humorous romances.  After her contract ended with Liquid Silver, Jasmine's agent sold her erotica to Berkeley Books, and that relationship lasted for quite a while - until last December.  But wait!  We're not done yet.

While Jasmine was self-publishing novellas (40,000 words vs. 90,000 words for full novels), her agent was working other angles.  She got one of Jasmine's books translated into German and is working on Japan doing the same thing.  From the success of her self-publishing, along with her agent's efforts overseas, she got a call from Berkeley Books well after her contract with them had ended.  They did what Marlon Brando did in The Godfather.  They made her an offer that she couldn't refuse.  She found herself in a position of being in the driver's seat, which doesn't happen that often in the publishing world.  Finally, she said yes.  She's under contract to provide Berkeley 2 new books.

She told me a couple of things that I thought were particularly interesting and, I think, bear repeating.  First, as far as digital self-publishing is concerned, it's very lucrative.  But there are advantages to being published in print - bigger advances, certainly, but also a different audience.  There are people who only buy their books in print - whether it's in a bookstore or on order from Amazon or B& .  By being published in print, she can appeal to a completely different audience.

The second thing she mentioned affects me personally.  I told you that I loved Past Midnight.  The story is about a husband and wife that lose their 7-year old son.  The husband spends the whole book trying to get her out of her funk by creating sexual escapades.  It's very erotic, but I was particularly moved by the story (it even made me take a look at my own marriage: am I paying enough attention to my wife? am I meeting her emotional needs?).  Jasmine said that romance readers want uplifting, not depressing, stories.  Her second book in that series, which I haven't read, deals with abuse.  She had the same problem with that one that she did with Past Midnight.  Unfortunately, she was almost through the 2nd one before she discovered that the 1st one was too dark for people.  By then, it was too late to scrap book 2.  Her 3rd one, though, was lightened considerably.  It did much better than the 1st two.  For me, that's too bad because the dark nature of the story made it more captivating for me and allowed me to get emotionally attached.  But I'm only one person.

Jasmine has twice won National Readers' Choice awards and seems to be well on her way to continuing to have one heck of a career.  Hats off to Jasmine Haynes.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

3 Miscellaneous Reviews

Why would I call 3 reviews miscellaneous, you ask?  Well, one is Raymond Chandler's first Philip Marlowe detective novel, written in 1939; one is Peter's favorite book, Terrific, by Jon Agee, which is an adult book in the guise of a children's book; and the 3rd is the latest Dean Koontz.  I don't think you can get any more different than that.

I've had Chandler's The Big Sleep sitting in my someday-to-be-read stack for at least a couple of years now.  I got the book from Lauren's boyfriend, Joe, who is a big Chandler fan.  This is a hard-boiled detective novel.  I didn't enjoy it a lot but was glad I read it.  Although the plot is not that significant, I'll give you a thumbnail.  A dying millionaire hires Marlowe to deal with the blackmailer of one of his 2 daughters.  While he's working on that, he comes face-to-face with kidnapping, pornography, and murder.  I'll quote Robert B. Parker:  "Chandler seems to have created the culminating American hero:  wised up, hopeful, thoughtful, adventurous, sentimental, cynical, and rebellious."  The only thing I would add is that since the book was written in 1939, it definitely feels different from books that have been written in more recent times - not better or worse, just different.  On top of that, there's a lot of detective lingo that I had to get used to.  Reading The Big Sleep felt like watching Dragnet, the black and white version from the '50's.

John Agee's Terrific looks and feels like a children's book.  But there is a definite message to it.  Eugene wins a trip to Bermuda.  The ship he's on sinks, and everybody is picked up except for Eugene.  He ends up on a deserted island with a parrot who has a broken wing.  The Parrot draws a schematic of a boat in the sand and convinces Eugene to build the boat so that they can escape from the island.  Eugene builds the boat, and they set sail (using Eugene's coat as a sail).  They are capsized by a fishing trawler and taken to port.

Why is this Peter's favorite book?  And why is it called Terrific?  Eugene is extremely negative.  Everything that happens to Eugene leads him to say "Terrific," followed by whining.  For example, when he wins the trip, he says:  "Terrific, I'll probably get a really nasty sunburn."  And when he lands on the deserted island (deserted except for the parrot, of course), he says:  "Terrific, now I'll get eaten by cannibals."  This goes on all the way through the book - until the end when the trawler calls the parrot by name, Lenny, and says the parrot is dumb.  Then Eugene defends the parrot.  As the trawler heads back out to sea, Lenny stays behind to be with Eugene.  It's a darn good message.  It reminds me of Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree.  That was the first children's book I ever bought - about 2 years before my oldest, Josh, was born (36 years ago!).  That book also had a message.  I'm definitely in favor of messages in the books I read.

Last, and certainly least, is Dean Koontz's latest Odd Thomas novel - Odd Apocalypse.  Koontz has written 62 books of fiction (and one non-fiction book about his dog - you know I didn't read that one!).  I have read 60 of them (I read the 1st 3 of his 5 books in his Frankenstein series and then gave up).  Many of them are very good, and some (Lightning, Strangers, Watchers) are really good.  In fact, Lightning is on one of my Fiction for the Non-Fiction Reader Lists (Volume II - February 18, 2012).   But I don't care much for the Odd Thomas series.  Odd Apocalypse is #5.  I don't know if I can do #6.  If you want to know what this series is about, you'll have to go to his website.  I just don't care enough to give it the time.  Sorry.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Elisabeth Barrett's Romance: Deep Autumn Heat

Book 2 of the new cache of local authors is Deep Autumn Heat, by Elisabeth Barrett.  This is similar to Joan Swan’s Fever in several ways:

  1. Both books have covers that show an extremely handsome man with no shirt on and with six-pack abs.
  2. Both books have titles that match the covers.
  3. Both books are romances with strong, independent women and he-man men.
  4. Both books have a number of sex scenes that are fairly graphic but not worthy of erotic romance.

In Deep Autumn Heat, Sebastian Grayson (nickname “Seb”), is a famous New York chef who is growing in popularity and who is an equally notorious womanizer.  He is about to have his own cooking show on TV and is looking for a site (maybe Boston) for a 2nd restaurant.  He comes from a small town, Star Harbor, in Cape Cod and visits once a year to hang out with his brothers.  2 of them (the sheriff and a federal agent) live in Star Harbor, and the 4th brother, Seb’s twin, is in San Francisco.  

Lexie Meyers owns Star Harbor’s diner.  She is a fiercely independent woman who escaped from an abusive relationship in Berkeley, CA (right next door to Albany, CA, where I grew up – I knew that you would all want to know that) and came across country to start a new life.  So, you can imagine that she is just a tad distrustful of men.  And, now, along comes a man who exudes trouble.  Since he considers himself God’s gift to women, he doesn’t know how to handle a woman who doesn’t fling herself at him.  Never mind that she is not pursuing him (oh, the shock of it all), she even seems to be resisting his attempts to woo (I know, a word from the ‘50’s) her. 

This seems like a typical romance, right?  Wrong!  There are 2 sub-plots centered on Lexie.  One of them involves the guy she left behind (or did she?) on the West Coast.  And the other revolves around a series of threatening notes that Lexie has been receiving at the diner (there’s a 3rd one, regarding drugs, that gets a small, but significant, part).  She thinks it’s a rival from a neighboring town who wants Lexie’s world- (ok, local-) famous recipe for her coconut cake.  That’s obviously a bit too simplistic.  Both of these storylines ring true and add a little balance to the burgeoning (you have to admit that “burgeoning” is a cool word) romance/heat between Seb and Lexie.

I enjoyed this a lot.  I thought it was well-written and definitely held my interest throughout.  Most importantly, I really cared about the characters – not only the 2 main ones but also the numerous best-supporting bit players.  I already have her 2nd one, Blaze of Winter (Elisabeth was kind enough to give me both of them – signed! – at the authors’ event) and will be reading that one as soon as can get to it.  Again, here’s another local author worth reading.

Monday, October 29, 2012

My First Joan Swan - A Bonanza!

A few weeks back, I went to an author’s event at Barnes & Noble in The Pruneyard.  I got wind of it through Hannah Jayne, who sent out an evite.  There were 10 local authors there, including 3 that I had already read:  Hannah Jayne, Jasmine Haynes, and Adina Senft (in fact, I have read 2 books each from these 3 and will read more).  I have this rule that if I come across any author in my local travels, I will read at least one of his/her books and blog about it.  So, at just one event, I obligated myself to read 7 new authors.  This is the first 1.

Fever by Joan Swan.  I loved this book!  Of all of the local authors that I have read (I’m now up to 13 authors and 26 books), there have been 4 other books that I absolutely loved:

Oracle of Stamboul – Michael David Lukas (historical fantasy)
Wyndano’s Cloak – R. A. Silverberry (Peter Adler) (YA fantasy)
The Hidden Life – Adina Senft (Shelley Bates) (book 2 of Amish trilogy)
Past Midnight – Jasmine Haynes (Jennifer Skully) (erotic romance)

Let me make it clear that I have very much liked the other 21 books and all 13 authors (I don’t count Robert Berramo, whose post-apocalyptic novel, The Shadow Patrol, only lasted 60 pages before I gave up on it – despite my aforementioned commitment to local authors).  But there’s just something about these 5 that grabbed me and wouldn’t let go.  So, on to Fever.  Teague Creek is in prison for a heinous crime.  He comes to the hospital for a routine medical procedure and, along with another prisoner, escapes by taking Dr. Alyssa Foster, who administers the procedure, as a hostage.  The irony is that Alyssa is only there because she is substituting for the regular technician.  In fact, Teague has a connection with the technician who’s supposed to be there, even though he has never met her.

What follows is the chasing of Teague by the police and by a shadowy, shady (a small amount of alliteration) federal agency.   Of course, the Stockholm Syndrome sets in.  For those who haven’t heard that expression before (me being 1 of them), that’s when a captive forms an emotional attachment to her (most often) captor (think of Bel Canto by Ann Patchett).

I thought the writing was great, the story was captivating, and the relationship between Teague and Alyssa was electric.  I guess you would call this book a romance.  There are sex/lovemaking scenes that are semi-, but not super-, graphic.  But the strength of the book is how much Joan makes you care about Teague and Alyssa and how much you are rooting for Teague to get away and take Alyssa with him.  I reiterate:  I loved this book!


Thursday, October 25, 2012

My Latest ARC - Barbara Kingsolver

Barbara Kingsolver’s 8th novel, Flight Behavior, is my 1st.  Somehow, I have avoided reading her.  Why am I reading her now?  Isn’t it obvious?  It’s an ARC, from HarperCollins.  They presented us bloggers with very few choices due to the holiday season.  In fact, this was the only fiction option (and you all know that non-fiction is not my preferred reading).  So what did I think?  I have to say that I really liked it.  She is an excellent writer – one of those authors that borders on writing “literature” (like Pat Conroy or Ken Follett).  Despite that(!), it was definitely readable for the likes of someone like me.

The story takes place in a small town in the Appalachians.  As you might guess, the family at the center of the story comes across as a bit backwoods.  Dellarobia Turnbow, age 29, is a stay-at-home mother of a 6-year old boy and a 1½-year old girl.  She and her husband, Cub, got married because she got pregnant (they lost that baby).  Cub occasionally works, and his parents, Bear and Hester, control everything that Dellarobia and Cub do.  It’s a pretty unsatisfying life for Dellarobia.

And then one day, when Dellarobia climbs the nearby mountain on her way to a tryst, she comes across what looks like a miracle.  There are large brown clumps in the trees and a fiery orange flame (I guess all flames are orange) in the distance.  Because she has left her glasses at home (I guess you can’t bring glasses to a tryst), she doesn’t realize that what she’s looking at is a colony of monarch butterflies.  Thus starts a rebirth for Dellarobia.  She becomes an instant celebrity in town and, subsequently, well-known nationally.  What follows is all about how her life changes.  That’s all I’m going to tell you about the story line.

This book would be great for book clubs.  It has a ton of elements in it:  Nature, science, relationships and all of their sub-plots.  It has humor, in the form of Dellarobia’s best friend, Dovey (I don’t make these names up).  And it’s got what appears to be accurate information about the possible extinction of a species.  In fact, the only small complaint I have is that it’s a little bit too technical at times  (fortunately, it’s not Tom Clancy, whose Sum of All Fears left me pining for a romance novel with Fabio on the cover!).  But this does not diminish the quality or enjoyment of the book. 

I want to give you 1 example of Kingsolver’s clever writing.  She was talking about how 1 of their dogs urinated in different parts of the pasture to mark his territory.  She said it was the dog’s version of post-it notes.  That’s good stuff.

Flight Behavior is definitely a book I would recommend.  Although the protagonist is a woman, I don’t think the book is geared to women.  As a man (okay, not the most macho of men), the book definitely appealed to me.  Unless you just want books that are shoot-em-ups (i.e. CIA, special forces, police, etc.), this is one you should enjoy.

PERSONAL NOTE:  There is a very important revelation late in the book that I actually figured out before it was revealed.  This is big news.  I haven’t figured out a significant plot point in a book since I was 10 years old (I think it was 1 of the Dr. Doolittle books).  But I have to say, first, that I figured it out only a ½ page before it was disclosed. And, second, anybody else would have gotten it a lot sooner than I did!  

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Book Clubs - I'm A Fan

I have been avoiding book clubs all of my adult, book-reading life.  I just wasn't crazy about the idea of meeting at somebody's home once a month and having to read books that were picked by people who might have very different taste from mine (i.e. books that I couldn't get through).  I was also concerned about having 1 or 2 people who dominated the discussion, with no restrictions or parameters.  I had simply heard too many horror stories.  I'm sure you're all dying to know why I changed my mind.  Actually, I didn't.

How so, you say?  Well, here's what happened.  I was interviewing Meg Waite Clayton (her interview will be coming up) at Town and Country in Palo Alto.  We were at Peet's, which is a couple of doors down from Books, Inc.  At the end of the interview, she mentioned that Books, Inc. meets once a month (the 4th Tuesday of the month) to discuss the latest in books.  I figured I would give that a try.  So on the 4th Tuesday of August, Joni and I went to Books, Inc. to check it out.  Well, unfortunately, I had misunderstood Meg (hopefully a hearing, not a comprehension, problem!).  I thought it was a general discussion of several books.  It turns out that they read and discuss 1 book, like all (most?) book clubs do.  The difference with other book clubs is that, first, Margie Scott, one of the owners of Books, Inc., picks the book; and, second, Margie also moderates.  This way, no one person can dominate.  Although we couldn't participate in the discussion that night, we hung around and very much enjoyed the process.  We decided to read the book picked for September, The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern, and come back for the next meeting.

How was it, you ask?  It was a blast.  There were about a dozen people there, and I thought everybody spoke in turn and thoughtfully.  And Margie did a great job of asking questions and knowing when to cut off the discussion and move on.  We enjoyed it a bunch.  We are unavailable in October (thanks to Memphis at the Center for Performing Arts), so we started getting ready for November (The Wedding Plot, by Jeffrey Euginedes of Middlesex fame).  I figured we'll just take October off.  But wait, what is this?  Here comes an email from the Los Gatos Library saying, among other things, that they also have a monthly book club.  I can't (won't) do 2 book clubs in a month, but since I couldn't go to Books, Inc. in October, and since I did have time to go to the Los Gatos Library book club, I figured, what the heck.  So it was Tuesday night of this week.  Although the librarian in charge, Melissa, is a young girl (I'm guessing late '20's, maybe early '30's), she did a very good job.  The book was Rules of Civility by Amor Towles (I've already blogged about this one).  There were 10 of us, I think, and there might have been more if not for the presidential debate.  Like at Books, Inc., everybody contributed, and nobody dominated.  And just like Margie at Books, Inc., Melissa did a good job of moving the discussion along.  I enjoyed this one too.  Who knows when I'll get back there.  If I can't make Books, Inc., or if LG picks a book that I've already read, then I won't hesitate to go again.

This post is not designed to rag on home-style book clubs.  I've spoken to many people who enjoy them (I've also spoken to many people who have left them).  I'm just saying that they're not for me.  If anybody is interested in either the Books, Inc. or the Los Gatos Library book clubs, let me know.  I will be happy to give you all of the pertinent information.

P.S.  The Los Gatos Library hands out loaner books at the meetings for the following month's selection.    Books, Inc., of course, is trying to sell books.

P.P.S.  (I've always that 2nd P. is kinda dumb)  Both book clubs last about an hour.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Local Author Makes Good - Again! - Sheldon Siegel Writes His First Stand-Alone

The Terrorist Next Door is Sheldon Siegel's 8th book, but the first one that does not center on Mike Daley and Rosie Fernandez.  I enjoyed Sheldon's first 7 books immensely.  Mike and Rosie are law partners and ex-spouses.  Although they're divorced, they work together and raise a daughter together, even while living apart.  The books all take place in San Francisco (although they both live in Marin County) and combine murder mysteries with courtroom drama.  They are enormously entertaining.

So, naturally, I started reading Terrorist with a bit of skepticism.  I wasn't worried that Sheldon couldn't write a good book that didn't have Mike and Rosie in it.  It was more a concern that I wouldn't enjoy a book that didn't have Mike and Rosie in it.  Well, I'm happy to say that my fears were unfounded.  I immediately got into the new protagonists, Detectives David Gold and A.C. Battle, and the new venue,  Chicago.

SIDE NOTE:  What you might not know about Sheldon is that he grew up in Chicago.  I learned this a couple of years ago when I was fortunate enough to have dinner with him (along with Joni and Rich).  We had gone to see him promote one of his books at "M" is for Mystery in San Mateo.  When the book signing was done, Sheldon accepted an invitation to have dinner with the 3 of us at Kingfish, a very good restaurant a block from the bookstore.  It was there that we learned about his roots and his still- passionate love for the Bears, White Sox, Bulls, and Black Hawks.  It was a great evening, and he's a great guy.

But I digress (big time).  The book starts with Gold getting a medal from the mayor for stopping a terrorist attack at the Art Institute.  Unfortunately, Gold's partner at the time, Paul Liszewski, was killed during the attack.  The alleged perpetrator, Hassan al-Shahid, is now in jail.  During the ceremony, a car bomb goes off on a street near where Gold is receiving his honor.  Although nobody is killed, Gold immediately gets a text message that says:  "It isn't over."  Thus begins the cat-and-mouse game between Gold and the bomber, who claims he wants al-Shahid released from prison.  Along the way, tthere are more fire bombings and a fair amount of deaths.

I really enjoy a book that does not follow a standard script.  Many of the terrorist-themed novels, although I like a lot of them, take place with stereotypical Middle Eastern antagonists.  This one definitely does not.  I can't tell you why because, just like Gone Girl, I don't want to give anything away.  But trust me when I tell you that this is a very clever, very creative, and very well-written book.  Whether you read Sheldon's Mike and Rosie books or not, you will enjoy this.  It stands alone (get it? - stand-alone?).

NEXT-UP:  Hurray!  Sheldon's next book, The Felony Murder Rule, goes back to Mike and Rosie.  But I have to say that I will not be disappointed if we get another David Gold thriller.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Author Interview #2 - Keith Raffel

This is very good timing because I recently blogged about Keith's 4th book - A Fine and Dangerous Season.  You can go to the blog and see that review which I posted on September 25.  This book is Keith's 2nd digital-only book.  The first 2 are in print and were published by Midnight Ink.  There were several reasons why he went digital:

1.  Books can be published immediately - for print, it takes 12 months after the book is completed.
2.  Feedback on the book is monthly.
3.  Royalties for print is twice each year - for digital, it's monthly.

Compared to many other authors that I interviewed, Keith started writing well after he was firmly entrenched in his career.  He started by taking a writing class through UC Berkeley extension.  It took him 8 years to write book 1.  His books, in order, are:

Dot Dead
Smasher (which has been optioned as a possible movie)
Drop by Drop
A Fine and Dangerous Season

I have read them all, and I have to thank Sabrina and David for that.  They came across Keith in a bookstore when he was promoting Dot Dead.  They had him autograph it for me and then presented it to me as a gift.  I would like to think that I would have come across him somewhere on my own, but who knows?  I'm glad that they did that because I have enjoyed all of the books and have watched him improve his craft with each new offering.

Here are a couple of fun facts about Keith:

1.  He has lived in Palo Alto since he was 8.
2.  One year, he acted as a judge for the Edgars (the mystery writers' awards) and read 450 books - in one year!  That's crazy.
3.  He was 1 of 72 people who sat on a committee geared to overhauling Kepler's.  That process has finally been completed.  In fact, this coming Tuesday, the 16th, is when Kepler's will re-open by having an author's event.

If you want to know more about Keith, you can go to his website -  And if you're looking for one of his books to try, I would go with A Fine and Dangerous Season.  It's really good with an extremely clever story line.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

2 Book Reviews, Including Gone Girl (are you happy, Laur?)

My review of Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn, is going to be very short.  It's not because I didn't like it, but, rather, because I can't take a chance of giving any of the story away.  I had been told by Donna that she loved the book, and that it really picked up about half-way through.  Phil agreed but not as wholeheartedly.  They're both right.  As you know, the only reason I read it was because of the guilt (administered publicly, I might add) that I got from Lauren.  She "pointed out" that as a book blogger, I "perhaps" needed to overcome my own prejudices and read something that a lot of my own readers had read and liked - and that many others were planning to read.  To show how much attention I (have to!) pay to comments, I agreed.  So here we are.

Let me give you a very brief synopsis:  Nick and Amy Dunne have been married 5 years.  The first 2 years were spent in New York.  Then, Nick gets a call from his twin sister, in North Carthage, Missouri, that their mother has contracted a deadly disease, and he needs to come home.  On the celebration of their 5th anniversary, and after 3 years in North Carthage, Amy disappears.  That's it.  That's all you're getting.

Let me just say this and move on.  The 2nd half of the book DOES justify the 1st half.  The twists and turns are truly awesome.  The 1st half was okay/decent.  I wasn't bored, but I wasn't jazzed either. The 2nd half simply takes off.  If the 1st half were anywhere near as good as the 2nd half, then I would definitely put it in Volume IV of Fiction for the Non-Fiction Reader.  As it stands now, it's a toss-up.  The bottom line is:  Read the darn thing.

The next book is called Rules of Civility by Amor Towles.  I know I've said this many times, but this is a book that I would never have read if it weren't tied to a particular book event.  Since I am not available to go to the Books, Inc. book club meeting in October (I will be at Center for the Performing Arts to see Memphis!), I decided to attend my first book club meeting (this book club thing is starting to grow on me) at the Los Gatos Library.  Rules of Civility is their choice for October.

I liked this book, but I'm not sure why it was selected.  The story revolves around Katey Kontent, a young, mid-'20's woman in New York City.  She is a native New Yorker that comes from a very modest upbringing and ends up flirting with high society.  This all takes place in the year 1938 (the book is divided into 4 sections, corresponding to the seasons).  The book actually begins with her and her husband in an art gallery, 28 years later (1966 for those who have questionable math skills), looking at a series of photographs.  2 of them depict an affluent banker that Katey knew very well during the year that the book takes place.  Seeing the pictures takes her back to that year.

Maybe after the book club meeting (October 16) I will better understand why the book was selected (I'll concede the possibility that the librarian had reasons for picking this one that I, even with my super-abundant knowledge, don't get).  As for now, I would say it's a good book and would recommend it for those who like to read about strong, independent women.  Maybe the combination of that and a depiction of New York high society in the late '30's is enough for you.  It was enough for me to like it but not necessarily enough for me to say you have to read it.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

1st Author Interview - Hannah Jayne

Hannah Jayne is the author of the Underworld Detection Agency Chronicles, which is labeled an urban fantasy.  Hannah has published 3 books in the series thus far.  She has book 4 scheduled for 2/13, book 5-10/13, and book 6-6/14.  Then that series will be done.  In the meantime, she's writing 2 young adult (YA) books that will hit the bookstores by July of next year.  And, she is writing 2 novellas about Sophie's roommate, Nina.  The 1st of those will appear in an anthology, Predator (Kensington House), on May 1, 2013.

I know you're all dying to know how I met Hannah.  This part is not much of a story.  I walked into Barnes & Noble on a Saturday, and there was Hannah manning (woman-ing? staffing?) a table near the front of the store.  I had already made a commitment to myself, and to my blog, that I would read any author that I came across, regardless of genre.  I would read at least 1 book and blog about it.  When I came across Hannah, I can't say that I was excited about reading a paranormal fantasy book with a female protagonist and, mostly, female friends (don't get me wrong - I love the female gender - but not necessarily to read about in conjunction with vampires, et al).  I'm here to say that now I'm excited I did.  I have read the first 2 books in the series and will certainly read #3 (which I own) along with #4-#6.  They are extremely entertaining with a lot of humor, believable characters (within an unbelievable context), and good plot-based mysteries - and, oh yes, vampires, fairies, werewolves (her boss), and more.

I asked Hannah how she came to be a writer.  She said it started in 2nd grade.  Her teacher gave her a creative writing assignment and returned Hannah's paper with no ugly red marks (my own daughter, Lauren, had the same experience in 2nd grade - except her teacher liked to give her students red-lined "fixers," effectively snuffing the creative juices).  This is what motivated Hannah to keep writing.

Hannah spent her first 10 years after college working in a cubicle.  At the end of that time, she quit her job and decided that she was going to write full-time.  That's a break for all of her (us) readers.  Within a 6-week period, she a) quit her job; b) experienced her house burning down (I had that happen in 1995 - definitely not fun); and c) broke up with a long-time boyfriend.  Despite all of that, she plowed on.  Her 1st book, Rebound Guy, was a romance that she self-published after being rejected 62 times!  That book didn't take off.  Then, however, she spent 4 months writing book #1, Under Wraps, of the Underworld Detection Agency Chronicles.  The book was snapped up by a publisher in 4 days!  And a career was officially born.

Every author has a different system for writing.  For Hannah, she tries to write 2000 words each day.  She starts somewhere between 6AM-7AM and stops at 5PM.  The afternoons are often taken up with business matters.  Sometimes it's easy to forget that there's more than just writing that goes into a writing career.  In any case, she does this 5 days each week.  This is a far cry from how much she wrote when she first started.  Then, it was a page a day.  She has obviously come a long way since then.

Whether I'm reading internationally known authors like Ken Follett, Jeffrey Archer, and Vince Flynn; or lesser-known authors like Hannah Jayne, I know a good, well-written book when I read it.  Hannah does not have to take a back seat to anyone.  I expect that she will be an increasingly successful author for a long time to come.  Hannah, thanks for taking the time to meet with me.  It was truly my pleasure.

PERSONAL NOTE:  Long after I met Hannah, read book #1 in the series, and blogged about it, I found out that I have a personal, 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon, connection.  It turns out that Hannah's older brother Trevor, and his wife, Joy, are good friends of my son, Josh, and his wife, Jen.  On top of that, Jen knew Hannah from high school, locally here in San Jose, where Hannah was 1 year ahead.  Neat, huh?

VIDEO LINK:  If you want to see 2 videos that promote the series, go to  They total less than 4 minutes and are a lot of fun.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Jennifer Weiner is Good In Bed

Do you remember the scene from Troop Beverly Hills when Cheech Marin says to Mary Gross:  "Annie Herman, boy yoy yoing!?"  Well, that's how I felt reading Jennifer Weiner's Good in Bed.  I loved it.  Why would I read "Chick Lit" you ask?  I was just doing my book blogger's duty.  When I asked what everybody's favorite book was, Meredith said Good in Bed.  Although I'm not averse to reading books that are geared to women (you can either call me flexible or a wuss), I had never seriously considered reading Weiner.  So when I saw Meredith's choice I thought:  "What the heck?"  I figured it would be a nice little diversion from "serious books."  I couldn't have been more wrong.  In fact, the book itself (written in 2001) is misleading.  On the cover, Janet Maslin of the New York Times says:  "This season's beach-book Queen for a Day."  Actually, I think it is too well-written to be downgraded to the beach.  This book has a lot of heart and soul and is definitely not a lightweight.  As my mother-in-law said right after the movie Election ended (while we cringed because of the language and sexual innuendo), "That was delightful!"  I feel the same way.

Cannie (Candace) Shapiro is a plus-size 28-year old pop culture reporter for the Philadelphia Examiner.  When the book opens, Cannie has just learned that her newly ex-boyfriend has written an article for Moxie magazine entitled "Loving a Larger Woman."  She is devastated, especially since it was her idea to "take a break" after being together for 3 years.  She was obviously just kidding (my son, Josh, used to trip his 2.5 year-younger sister, Meredith, and say "just kidding" - he wasn't, but Cannie was).  Even though she is referred to in the article as "C," she imagines that everybody knows that it's her.  What follows is a very heartfelt and very funny look at how Cannie handles the fallout from the article and the finality of the break-up.  It's about self-discovery and introspection.  Beach-Book my a__.

I want to emphasize how funny this book is.  There are a number of authors that make me laugh.  David Rosenfelt (Andy Carpenter series) is a very funny guy.  Brian Haig (Sean Drummond series) is also a funny guy.  Even Christopher Buckley has his humorous moments.  But I don't think I've ever laughed reading a book as much as I laughed with this one.  We've all heard expressions related to something being very obvious - such as "does a bear s__t in the woods?"  But in Good in Bed, Weiner says:  "Does the pope wear a big hat?"  I actually laughed out loud.  She also refers to the "pedicure police" at one point.  Really clever stuff.

I'm strongly recommending this book.  Will the Flynn-sters and Silva-ites like it?  Questionable.  Will most women like it?  Most assuredly.  Will men who are not just into Mitch Rapp and Gabriel Allon like it?  I say yes.  You e-readers of e-readers, download a chapter or 2.  Make up your own minds.

PERSONAL NOTE:  At the end of the book, there is a Q and A with Jennifer Weiner.  One of her answers resonated with me.  She said that her friends are like family to her.  I definitely feel that way.  If any of my friends read this, know that I'm talking about you.