Saturday, March 24, 2012


Lindsay, from Penguingroup Books, sent me an ARC (advanced reading copy) for a series and author that I had never heard of.  The author is Craig Johnson, and his book, As The Crow Flies, is the 8th in the series.  It's really tough to get into a book when you are missing so much history.  Craig does not spend a lot of time with background.  That means that I had to read #8 without really knowing anything about the existing characters.  Of course, he introduces new characters, but the main protagonist, Walt Longmire, and his buddy, Henry Standing Bear, among many others, are a complete mystery to me.

Now that I'm done complaining, let me tell you about the book.  Walt is a Wyoming sheriff.  He spends much of his time on the Cheyenne Nation reservation for various cases even though he is not Cheyenne or even Native American.  He is on the Rez (as they call it) looking for a place for his daughter, Cady, to get married (never mind that the wedding is in 2 weeks - he obviously doesn't know that weddings are planned 12-16 months ahead of time - okay, maybe that's just in the Bay Area).  Walt and Henry are scouting out an area when they see a woman fall (or was she pushed?) from a cliff.  By the time they get over to her, she's dead.  Miraculously, her baby survives the fall.  Walt ends up working with the new tribal police chief (a young, and very good looking, Iraqi war veteran named Lolo Long) to determine what happened.  The story centers on both the mystery and the wedding.

It took me quite awhile to get into the characters.  As I mentioned, not knowing anything about them, I felt a bit hamstrung.  However, having said all of that (again!), I liked it.  I thought it was well-written, and I really got into it.  By the end, I'm sure I was as anxious as Craig's long-time readers to find out who did what - and to see if Walt was actually going to find a place for Cady's wedding (spoiler alert - he did).

If you are going to read As The Crow Flies, you might want to read book #1 first.  Or, as it turns out, A&E is going to produce the series, Longmire, beginning summer of this year.  You can probably get all of the background you need by watching the first episode of that series.  I know I'm going to do that.  I also know that I will read #9 (I assume it will come out in Spring of 2013) when it is published.  This read is a good solid B.

One more thing - Henry has a truck, called Rezdawg, that is a character unto itself.  You will enjoy reading about Rezdawg's antics.

Saturday, March 17, 2012


It's now time for the second half of the list of books that started small and got really big.

6.  The Memory Keeper's Daughter - Kim Edwards.  This book has a very interesting premise.  Because of bad weather, a doctor has to deliver his wife's baby.  His nurse helps him.  It turns out that the doctor/husband delivers twins.  One of them is a Down's Syndrome baby.  He has the nurse take that baby to an institution and promise not to tell his wife that there ever was a second baby.  The big twist is that the nurse raises the baby as her own.  I liked this one.  This is another book that Lifetime made into a movie, starring Dermot Mulrooney and Emily Watson.  It was pretty good.
Letter Grade - B+

7.  The Lovely Bones - Alice Seybold.  Everybody knows about this one.  A 14-year old girl is raped and murdered.  She is watching the family from heaven and is also the book's narrator.  She sees the man who killed her and how he interacts with her family.  This was made into a big-screen movie, which I didn't see.  But the book was good.  Seybold has written 2 other books, both of which I have read.  Her first book was non-fiction, dealing with her being raped in college.  It's good.  The other was fiction written after The Lovely Bones.  It's called Almost Moon.  It was NOT good.  Between her follow-up and Sara Gruen's follow-up, it almost feels like they mailed it in - because they could.
Letter Grade - B

8.  Sarah's Key - Tatiana de Rosnay.  This book focuses on the round-up of Jews in Paris during WWII.  A 10-year old girl is taken, along with her parents, by the French authorities and turned over to the Germans.  She hides her younger brother in a cabinet and tells him that she will be back to get him.  She ends up in a camp and doesn't get back to her home until many months later.  60 years later, an American journalist is in Paris, investigating the round-up.  She ends up making a connection with the the girl and her family.  I read this because so many people told me it was an excellent book.  And they were right.  I haven't read any other de Rosnay books, but I hope to someday.
Letter Grade - A-

9.  The Art of Racing in the Rain - Garth Stein.  This is the most unlikely of all the books for me to read. The reason is that there is a dog on the cover.  I automatically avoid any books that have animals in them.  As many of you who know me can attest, I'm not a big animal lover.  So, a book with a picture of a dog is absolutely to be avoided.  Not only that, the dog is the narrator!  Are you kidding me?  Okay, Joni and I were out with friends.  He and I agree on almost all books.  They both insisted I read it.  I finally broke down.  Guess what?  It was really good.  I liked it a lot.  It was a good solid family story with some poignant moments.  I stand corrected - but I'm still avoiding books with animals as the main characters.
Letter Grade - B+

10.  The Help - Kathryn Stockett.  Yes, I know that it's on my list of Fiction for the Non-Fiction Reader. But how you can create a list of books that started small and got great big and not include The Help?  We all know everything there is to know about this book, including how it was rejected by over 60 publishers.  The book was huge and so was the movie.  I have to say that I didn't read The Help until it had already become gigantic.  And yet it lived up to the hype.  This was just a darn good book.  There's not much more to say.  Let's see what she does with her next one.  Will she be Hosseini and Patchett?  Or will she be Gruen and Seybold?  To be continued.
Letter Grade - A

Last Notice:  This is your final reminder that Harlan Coben is coming to Kepler's next Sunday at 2:00.

Saturday, March 10, 2012


We all know about books by obscure (yea, even completely unknown) authors that became sensations.  Here are 5 of 10 that I have read along with my ever so insightful (hopefully not inciteful) insights.  The other 5 will be coming soon thereafter.

1.  Cutting for Stone - Abraham Verghese.  Everybody knows the premise.  A British surgeon practicing medicine in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, impregnates an Indian nun, producing twins.  Verghese had already written a couple of non-fiction before embarking on this, his first work of fiction.  Of course, the rest is history.  It won numerous independent book awards.  Joni and I saw him in San Rafael about a year ago.  There were 800 people in the auditorium.  It was nuts.  This was definitely a book popularized by book clubs (as so many of them are).  I liked it.  I thought it was well-done.  I didn't go crazy for it like so many other people did.
Letter Grade - B+

2.  Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini.  This book starts in Afghanistan and ends up in the Bay Area.  It was certainly one of the first books that gave us a flavor of what life in Afghanistan was like during the Soviet occupation (The Bookseller of Kabul, non-fiction, was another).  Hosseini, who was born in Afghanistan, was actually a practicing doctor before he began writing Kite Runner.
Letter Grade - A
P.S.  His second book, One Thousand Splendid Suns, which focused on the woman's role in Afghani society, was almost as good - Letter Grade - A-.

3.  Bel Canto - Ann Patchett.  She has written about 7 novels.  This is by far her biggest one.  I have read them all and have enjoyed them all (her latest, State of Wonder, not as much).  But this is her best one - except for the ending.  So, the premise is that terrorists take over an embassy party in a South American country.  The story works on two sets of relationships.  The first is the multiple connections between captors and captives.  And the second focuses on the various captives and how they communicate and get along despite being from different countries and different cultures.  It's a great concept.  It's very well-written and extremely engrossing.  I've had discussions with people about the ending.  Some agree with me that the ending is way too neat, and others (how dare they!) disagree.  It reminds me a little bit of John Grisham's The Firm.  I really liked the book, but the ending was so messed up that I swore I would never read him again.  I have lived by that except for a couple of novellas.  This ending was not that bad.  Luckily for Patchett(!), I have continued to read her novels.
Letter Grade - A-

4.  Water for Elephants - Sara Gruen.  We all saw Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson in the movie.  No synopsis is necessary.  But there is a major difference between the book and the movie.  In the book, the chapters alternate between the protagonist as a youth and much later as an elderly man in an assisted living facility.  And I have to tell you, I liked the chapters about the circus but really loved the chapters when he is old.  In the movie, there are small parts in the beginning and end showing him old.  Everything else was circus.  I thought that was too bad.  Gruen wrote 2 novels before Water for Elephants.  They didn't do too much for her career.  She has written 1 book since Water for Elephants.  It is called The Ape House.  I was really excited to read it.  Wow, was I disappointed.  I not only thought the story line was lame, but I also thought it was NOT well-written - at all.  DON'T READ IT!  If I had read this first, there's no way I would have read anything else by her.
Letter Grade - A-

5.  Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger.  This book is too confusing to explain.  I've not only read the book but I've seen the movie that Lifetime put out.  I still don't get it.  This guy keeps time traveling.  He meets his future wife when he's an adult, and she's a young girl.  It goes back and forth in what seemed to me to be an endless loop.  In fact, the book seemed endless.  Niffenegger is a visual artist who took 6 years to write the book.  I think she should have spent more time on her chosen career.  But what do I know.  Lots of people like this book a lot.  Perhaps I'm guilty of wanting my books to actually make sense.  She has written 1 book since Time Traveler's Wife.  I have not read it.
Letter Grade - C+

Don't forget - Harlan Coben is coming to Kepler's on Sunday, March 25, at 2:00.

Saturday, March 3, 2012


The headline says it all - almost.  Harlan Coben is coming to Kepler's on Sunday, March 25, at 2:00.  There are two reasons to see this guy.  First, he is a fantastic mystery writer.  His Myron Bolitar series, which now makes up less than half of his books, is still one of the favorite series, mystery or otherwise, for many of us.  And his stand-alones (his 21st adult novel - he has one book that has a teenage protagonist - Stay Close. hits bookstores and ereaders March 20) are equally as good.

The second reason to see him is that he is really funny.  I've mentioned this already.  He's like a stand-up comic.  His humility, which could be off-putting, seems genuine.  If you like seeing authors, even just occasionally, Coben is a MUST-SEE!.