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.