Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Booksage - Coming Attractions

I've got what I hope will be some interesting blogs coming up in the next couple of months.  Here are previews:

1.  There will be an author interview series with at least 5 local authors.  They are:
     Jasmine Haynes
     Adina Senft
     Keith Raffel
     Hannah Jayne
     J.R. Silverberry

     I will interview all of them in the month of July (except for Jasmine, who(m?) I have already inter-
     viewed, kind of accidentally) and write posts for each one.  I will ask them the obvious questions -
     How/why did you start writing?  How did you get your first book published?  What's the state of
     digital books vs. paper and cardboard?  I would love to get suggestions for questions to ask these
     authors from all of you.

     I will be asking other local authors if they would like to participate too.  If I can get more, then I will
     post those blogs as well.  The more, the merrier, I say.

2.  I will post volume IV in the Fiction for the Non-Fiction Reader series (is it presumptuous to call this
     a series?).  There are just so many good books to recommend that it's time for another list.  This will
     happen in July.

3.  There are no guest bloggers for this week, but I will continue to post their blogs on Sundays as they
     trickle in.

4.  And, finally, I am woefully behind on reviews.  I've finished 8 books in recent weeks that I have yet
     to blog about.  My bad.  I'll get on that too.

That's it.  I will be increasing my blogging action in the coming months.  That's the good news.  What's the bad news you ask?  For some of you, it's the same as the good news!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Guest blogger #7 - Roseann Rasul

Book Groups

Belonging to two book groups has changed the way I read. I am no longer alone. As I read, if I am confused, frustrated, angry, appalled, bored, shocked, annoyed, joyful, amazed…no matter what I am feeling, I know I am going to be able to air/share it with friends (Currently reading Swamplandia! and thinking “what the heck?” but know I will have an opportunity for clarifying questions) .

My love for reading has been a central part of my life and played a major role in my decision to become a high school English teacher. Passing on this love of reading and the strategies to access rich literature became my life’s work. Deciding to join with others who also loved reading was a natural transition. The first book group was formed by teachers (and a librarian) from Santa Clara and Monta Vista High Schools; the second was formed years later when a group of us moved to different work sites and wanted to keep in touch.

We have varied backgrounds, life experiences, approaches to life and bring different perspectives; each group spans two generations. Some have special appreciation for setting, plot, or character development. We all have an appreciation for the power and richness of language. We love it when a book has something for all of us (recently, The Night Journal by Elizabeth Crook and Ivan Doig’s The Whistling Season)

Some of the “worst” books generate the most intense conversations, like the critically acclaimed Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart; sometimes books we love (Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton) barely get discussed. Those with social issues (Jonathon Franzen’s Freedom) really get us going…but it is the “human” issues within that are at the heart of our discussions. Some are incredibly powerful and just stay with you (except you pass them on to others as must reads), like The Work of Wolves by Kent Meyers.

Now I no longer force myself to finish books…this transition was slow. At first I just left the bookmark wherever I had stopped and set it aside for “later.” Now I let myself say “no way…not going through this whole thing.”  Sometimes after the discussion at book group I have a new perspective and I finish the book…sometimes I toss it…yes, remove the book mark and get rid of the book!

The discussions are free flowing. Quotes fly through the air sometimes to corroborate points being made but more often to share amazing language or describe life’s truisms or a special insight into a character. But really, the discussions are the starting point for exploring our beliefs and attitudes toward life and things that happen and choices we have/make.

Obviously, I read things I would not normally read. It has been awesome to experience things I would never have tried yet loved, like The Cookbook Collector, by Allegra Goodman or The Hunger Games. My reluctance to read non-fiction has been identified: I don’t like the “and then, and then, and then” of some biographies (Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang…I quit after over 200 pages). I don’t want to know the specifics of the problems of the world (Hot, Flat and Crowded by Thomas Friedman…read 50 pages), and spare me the footnotes (The Incredible Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot).

These are special people; through the interactions over our shared reading we have made special bonds. When you discuss people’s life experiences in books, you also discuss your own life experiences. When we read The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, one member had a bouquet made for each of us with each flower’s attributes listed. We have bookmarks people have brought us from all over the world. We have friendship bracelets that you absolutely need another person to put on or take off.

I think I am leaving something out. We all genuinely like each other, oh, and did I mention that we eat and drink? Appetizers, wine, cocktails, full meals, dessert. The food sometimes is connected to the book, sometimes to the hostess’s mood that day. Seriously, we eat gourmet food. Even if you did not read the book this month…no problem. You still get to eat and drink and visit.

Last week, sitting out on a deck in the Santa Cruz Mountains drinking wines paired with each course, solving the problems of the world with my friends, I find myself thinking, wow, no wonder I love reading!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Guest Blogger #6 - Paul C.

We’ve all been asked the fun little question, “If you could invite 3 famous people to dinner, living or dead, who would you choose?”  And, sure, we’ve all got our go to list that indeed would make for an interesting evening.  Modifying this little question with a variation on the theme of books, we’re going to look at 3 great novel characters I’d like to “invite to dinner.”  My selection process was pretty simple; did the character 1) provoke strong emotion like laughter out loud, empathy/sympathy, sorrow or even anger, 2) have character traits that were almost superhuman yet carried out with reserve and self deprecation, or 3) endure some tribulation beyond the scope of most of our daily lives?
So, in no particular rank, here are 3 characters that I’ve absolutely enjoyed reading, and, if only possible, would be thrilled to climb through the fiction time portal and meet them in their world. 

#1 Special Agent Aloyius Pendergast (Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston; Relic, The Cabinet of Curiosities, Diogenes Trilogy, and Helen Trilogy) 

Agent Pendergrast, perpetually dressed in black, is an eccentric, suave, and sophisticated FBI agent.  Though based out of the FBI's New Orleans office, Aloyius often travels out of state and country to lend his almost supernatural competence and powers of investigation to cases that interest him.  Agent Pendergast came to life in the 1995 novel Relic, and since then, he's starred in 11 more, with my personal favorite being The Cabinet of Curiosities in 2002.  Aloyius studied anthropology at Harvard University and received a dual PhD in Classics and Philosophy from Oxford University in England and is rumored to have an IQ approaching 180.  Though a polyglot with an appreciation for the finer things in life when it comes to cuisine, wine, clothes and cars (he's got an awesome Rolls Royce Wraith and chauffeur), Aloyius remains a polite, southern gentleman at heart. 
Here’s a typical Agent Pendergast response to a rather wealthy criminal who is holding a gun to his head and is seconds away from pulling the trigger; ”What is it the Arab sages call death?  The destroyer of all earthly pleasures.  And how true it is: old age, sickness, and at last death comes to us all.  Some console themselves with religion, others through denial, others through philosophy or mere stoicism.  But to you, who had always been able to buy everything, death must have seemed a dreadful injustice.”  Aloyius meets all of the three selection criteria I mentioned in the opening and is a sure thing to entertain.

#2 Owen Meany (John Irving; A Prayer for Owen Meany)

Owen is a dwarfish boy with a strange voice who accidentally kills his best friend's mom with a baseball and believes--accurately--that he is an instrument of God, to be redeemed by martyrdom.  Owen's portrayal of baby Jesus in a Christmas pageant, and his glimpsing a tombstone with his death date while enacting A Christmas Carol, are top notch comedic performances.  Owen has delivered many colorful bits of "life logic.”  One of my favorites is, "When someone you love dies, and you're not expecting it, you don't lose her all at once; you lose her in pieces over a long time -- the way the mail stops coming, and her scent fades from the pillows and even from the clothes in her closet and drawers.  Gradually, you accumulate the parts of her that are gone.  Just when the day comes -- when there's a particular missing part that overwhelms you with the feeling that she's gone, forever -- there comes another day, and another specifically missing part.”  Owen is simply a timeless classic from the genius of John Irving.

#3  Edward, a stoneage family patriarch (Roy Lewis; Evolution Man, Or How I Ate My Father) 
This hilarious tale of an “upwardly mobile Pleistocene cave family," offers highly-revised accounts of the invention of fire, the origins of courtship, art, and language, and much more.  The clan is led by patriarch Edward, who has invented fire which he calls "portable volcano,” and is pushing, pushing, pushing for mankind to evolve at a faster rate.  The fire innovation leads to BBQing and thus a major dietary alteration, a tool to show the large carnivores of the day who is boss; thus chasing them from prime cave real estate, and, most of all, providing leisure time for arts, education, and general stone couch potato time.  One insightful Edwardism that would unnerve even the modest creationist; ". . . flint tools, fire, inter-horde marriage, these are just the tip of the glacier towards evolution.  To every other species beware! Either submit or you shall disappear from the surface of the earth.  We will be master here; we will outfight, outthink, outmanoeuvre, outpropagate, and outevolve you!  That is our policy and there is no other."  100% guarantee you will laugh out loud at least once while reading this little piece of magic.

So who are your favorite novel characters?

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Book Review of My Last ARC

Well, I have finished my last ARC (advanced reading copy).  It's called The Last Refuge, and it's the 3rd book in a series (and his 3rd book overall) about Dewey Andreas.  Before I tell you about it, let me tell you why I don't have any more ARC's waiting to be read.  It appears that I have irritated the reps that were sending them to me.  Both were from Penguin Group (USA).  The first one simply stopped answering my emails.  I'm a little confused about that one because I gave all of her ARC's pretty good reviews.  She gave me 6 altogether.  I think she got tired of me on general principle.  I have that effect on some (okay, many) people.

The second rep was actually openly miffed.  I had just read and blogged about Meg Gardiner's book, Ransom River.  I said that she was a solid "B" author.  I also said that many of my favorite authors are "B" authors.  These are authors who aren't great, but who are solid.  I still read them whenever they come out with a new book.  I don't think there's any shame in being on the "B" list.  She didn't agree.  She was also unhappy because I contacted Meg directly to tell her about the blog posting.  Meg responded and  seemed pleasant enough in her emails.  So, the combination of telling everybody that Meg was not an "A" author coupled with my direct contact put me on the s___ list.  What can you do?  At least this gives me an opportunity to catch up on my stable of authors.  I have recently read Flynn, Picoult, RN Patterson, Archer, and Berenson.  This is a happy result.  I can't be bought by a publisher's rep - unless they make me an offer that I can't refuse.  I don't exactly see that happening.

On to Coes.  His hero is an ex-Navy Seal and ex-Delta.  He is clearly a bad-a__.  He finds himself in a position to save the great-grandson of Golda Meir, Kohl (isn't that what face make-up used to be called?), who has been captured by the Iranians right off the streets of Brooklyn.  Dewey owes his life to Kohl from an incident that occurred a year earlier and is determined to extricate Kohl from a maximum security prison in Iran.

At the same time, Iran is getting ready to place it's first nuclear bomb in Tel Aviv.  Obviously, Dewey is also involved in making sure that doesn't happen.  And, he has to do it off the grid, without the help of either Israel or the U.S.  It has been determined that there is a mole inside Israel's administration, and if either country is brought into the loop, then Iran will surely find out about it.  This would lead to early detonation.  So Dewey enlists the aid of "private contractors" whose job description is:  "Go behind the scenes and help eliminate the bad guys."

I enjoyed this book.  I was a big fan of The Wild Wild West back in the '60's.  I liked it when James West, with his trusty sidekick Artemis Gordon, took out tons of bad guys all by themselves - every week!  Dewey is a modern-day James West.  He's similar to Mitch Rapp (Flynn), John Wells (Berenson), and Gabriel Allon (Silva).  I'm cool with that.  Would I recommend it?  Yes.  Will I go back and read #1 and #2?  Probably not (too many books, too little time).  Will I read #4 and beyond?  I would say yes to that.  What more could an author ask for?  

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Guest Blogger #5 - John Gallo

Lloyd Russell Blog

This is truly the first time I have ever blogged.  In fact, I am not sure at this moment if this is going to actually become a blog…as I have no idea how to link this to the blog world.  However, I have asked our host to read, edit and post, or delete…so this may not make it past the Russell filter.

I have read through the previous guest blogs and must take a moment to agree with one contributor who noted the advantages of the world of Kindle.  While I don’t use my iPhone to read books, most all of my Kindle downloads are read on my iPad.  I understand and am somewhat sensitive to the position of those who relate to the tactile experience of the printed book - and in fact our host indicated early on that he did not believe the Kindle experience would be able to replace the bond he has with his printed and published library.  All I can say to those who are on the fence is…live dangerously and give it a try.  While the electronic experience may not be the answer for everyone…if you don’t try it – you will never know. If it hits you like it did me…you won’t go back very often.  Onward!

Until recently I was a reader of non-fiction.  Who knows why?  At some point I began to realize that I only have a limited amount of time to read left in my life (that’s truly a scary thought) and I felt that this serious perspective meant that non-fiction was the only option…every book had to have meaning and add knowledge to my faltering brain.  As a result, entertainment became second to the accumulation of knowledge (I guess I thought I could take the knowledge with me when I pass on).  I think there was a certain amount of ego engaged in the concept as well.  About a year ago I became entrapped within a stressful project and found the need to ‘escape’ from the hour-to-hour stress that I was experiencing.  Thanks to our host, I was introduced to what I was lead to believe, as the options were noted within his blog, as the best quality fiction available.  I engaged some of these options and I found them to be ‘fun reads.’  Then I began hitting a slippery slope and found that reading was becoming more ‘fun.’  To my fellow nonfiction readers…be careful – you too might slip into more fun if you try a few examples from the dark side … fiction.

With that stated…allow me to suggest trying a non-fiction, rather fact filled-option entitled “In the Garden of Beasts; Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin.” One only needs to review the glossary (23% of the pages) to raise one’s appreciation of the amount of research necessary to recreate an accurate account of this family’s experience in Berlin, circa 1933-4.  Quoted conversations, diary quotes of many providing various perspectives, maps, newspaper articles…and much more is engaged to assure the reader that what they are reading relays an accurate firsthand account of what the life of the United States ambassador and his family was like in Hitler’s developing war machine…while being trapped within the US political scene.  This is not a ‘fun’ read…but rather an engaging opportunity to better our history and how it related to Germany.  Thank you Lloyd.  Good call.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Book Reviews of My Stand-By Authors

bAs you all know, I very much enjoy reading new authors - whether I run across them at Barnes & Noble in The Pruneyard or a publisher's rep sends me an ARC.  I have to tell you, though, that it is always fun to read "my authors."  These are the ones that I read whenever they come out with a new book.  I admit that it's not much of a risk to read these old stand-bys, but it's way entertaining. I have 3 that I've recently read.  Let me give you a very brief synopsis and report on them.

First, I read book 2 in the Clifton Chronicles (never mind that the only other Clifton I know is Clifton Clowers of Wolverton Mountain - if you were born after 1960, look it up) by Jeffrey Archer.  Of course, he may be most well-known for Kane and Abel.  But The Sins of the Father is his 17th novel (along with 7 books of short stories, 3 plays, 2 screenplays, and 3 prison diaries).  I have to admit that I haven't read all of Archer's books.  I read a few in the early years and then, for some reason, stopped reading him altogether for quite some time.  Recently, in the last 5 years, I have started up again.  I'm not sure why I stopped.  He's really a good writer.  His Prisoner of Birth was excellent and could possibly make the cut for Fiction for the Non-Fiction Reader (FFTNFR), Volume IV (or maybe V or VI).

The Sins of the Father picks up right where book 1, Only Time Will Tell, left off.  If truth be told, I was disappointed when I first picked up the book because it is only 339 pages.  I thought:  "How much of the story can he tell in so few pages?" (did I really need to put that thought in quotes?).  But here's the thing.  He basically recaps book 1 in the first 2 pages.  So it's actually 337 pages of new material.  That's not bad.  The read itself is very fast.  I got it done in 4 days which is quick for me.  And, not surprisingly, since it is a trilogy, book 2 ends with a cliffhanger.  I don't want to ruin it for those who haven't read book 1.  Suffice it to say that book 2 spans WWII.  One of the most interesting elements of the book is how it explores the whole issue of succession to title, including explaining the English laws on the subject.  Grab book 1.  I think you'll be hooked.

Second, the latest by Richard North Patterson (I'm not even going to make my usual crass comment about the other Patterson - you can thank me later) is called Fall from Grace.  As I have mentioned before, every one of his books is good - especially Protect and Defend and Exile (FFTNFR list-sitters).  This one takes place in Martha's Vineyard.  The protagonist, Adam Blaine, is a mid-30's man who is estranged from his father for 10 years.  When his father dies unexpectedly and under mysterious circumstances, Adam comes home as the executor of his father's will.  He, of course, tries to get to the bottom of his father's death.  There's a lot of intrigue and interesting relationships.  This is another one I got through in 4 days.  Go figure.

I have the same pattern reading Patterson as I do for Archer.  I read a bunch of early Pattersons and then stopped for a few years.  And, like Archer, I picked Patterson back up about 5 years ago.  I am enjoying his stuff immensely.  Even when they're not A List material, they're certainly solid B List, like this one.  And I will never forget seeing him in person when he was promoting Eclipse (solid, not spectacular).  He told the story about traveling to the Middle East when he was doing research for his prior book, Exile.  He and his wife actually had an audience with a rebel leader, who was being sought by the Israelis.  This was someone who moved every 24 hours to avoid assassination.  Patterson said he thought, at the time, that if the Israelis found this guy while he and his wife were in the tent, they would be collateral damage.  How cool is that?  It was definitely one of the highlights from all of the author events I've attended.

Third, and finally (let the applause begin), but certainly not least, is Alex Berenson's latest John Wells adventure, The Shadow Patrol.  This is his 6th book in the series.  The first one, The Unlikely Spy, is in Volume I of FFTNFR. I thought books 2-5 were not of the same caliber as book 1 even though I enjoyed them.  This one actually hearkens (did I really just use "hearkens?") back to the first one.  I thought it was his best since #1.  Once again, John Wells goes undercover in The Middle East.  Remember that he is Muslim so being in the center of Islam is very spiritual for him - even as he is killing lots of Muslims (terrorists, of course)!  The plot centers around the murder of several highly placed CIA muckety mucks by a suicide bomber.  This was someone who acted as a CIA agent, but, in fact, was working for the bad guys.  Wells is sent to find a mole in the CIA office and to also uncover a drug ring.  The plot is strong, and it's always fun to see how Wells blends in with the Arab population.  If you haven't read any of Berenson's books, then start with The Faithful Spy.  If you want to start with this one, you'll still be able to follow the story.

There you have it.  It's a little long-winded, but so what else is new?  I do recommend all 3.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Guest Blogger #4 - Tim Gaffney

It’s an honor to guest blog on Lloyd’s site.  A little intimidating, too.  Lloyd reads more than I do – all right he reads more than anyone I know.  All right, he reads more than anyone anyone knows.  But I like books, and bookstores.  So I’m going to call this the anti-blog:  no reviews, no recommendations, no lists.  Instead, a short anti-blog extolling the joys of aimlessly wandering around a bookstore.

It started for me when Walden Pond closed, leaving Los Gatos with no bookstore.  Barnes and Noble fortunately opened its first bookstore on Steven’s Creek Boulevard a little later.  Kristy and I would drive up on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon (yes, even back then we had no life) and aimlessly wander around.  We’d have some coffee and chocolate cake, and wander some more.  We actually looked forward to doing this.  There were days when we’d come home with four or five books – most of the time we knew nothing about them (finding out about books wasn’t as easy back then).

Barnes and Noble was a terrific find, and we spent a lot of time there.  But my favorite bookstores now are smaller, and independent.  Bookshop Santa Cruz and Book Passage in the Ferry Building are terrific.  They’re  smaller, and seem to take more care in the selection of books they have on hand.  And, very important to someone as easily seduced as I am, they tend to shelve a lot of books with the covers facing out.  I’m easily influenced by covers, so maybe that’s why I like those two bookstores so much.

So, when you don’t know what you’re looking for, how do you find it?  Glad you asked.  For me, it starts with the cover.  I know, that’s the thing they designed specifically to get me to pick the book up.  I don’t seem to care.  Give me a book with a moody, misty, foggy cover and I’ll pick it up.  I bought Snow Falling on Cedars that way, and was quite happy I did.  The cover of Lying Awake was atmospheric, and that book is one of my favorites of all time.  Oddly enough, the cover of The Samurai’s Garden was fairly straightforward, but it was enough to make me buy it, and I enjoyed being in Gail Tsukiyama’s world for several of her books.

Then comes the blurb on the back.  Again, I know – it was written to seduce me.  I’m easily seduced.  My favorite story is watching Kristy pick up Bellwether and burst out laughing.  The blurb had a line to the effect that “James came to help, bringing with him a herd of sheep”.  She couldn’t help herself; she bought it, and enjoyed it thoroughly.  I did too.

Another thing that happens in aimless wandering is a book just keeps appearing in your hand.  That happened in Bookshop Santa Cruz in the Science Fiction section.  It’s near the bathroom, so I always end up there.  I kept picking up Ysabel.  I still don’t know why, but I’m so glad I took it home.  And as a result, I enjoyed many of the worlds Guy Kay created in other books.  This is also the way Nightwatch and The Last Chinese Chef came into the house.

There are drawbacks to the aimless wandering method.  I picked up Out Stealing Horses – a moody cover and a nice blurb -- three or four times before I brought it home.  It wasn’t very good.  Others have been too bad to mention.  Some I couldn’t finish, and one I couldn’t even get through the first chapter.  But the ones that worked make the failures worth it.

All in all, the joys of aimlessly wandering around a bookstore are hard to beat.  Go there next time, instead of taking Lloyd’s recommendation.  He won’t mind.  As long as you read.