Sunday, December 28, 2014

Still Another Local Author New to Me - Ann Packer

I met Ann Packer at Books, Inc., Palo Alto, in late November for Small Business Day. Each of the local bookstores had authors coming during the day to help customers choose books.  I didn't know that Ann was going to be there in the early afternoon, but I'm glad she was.  She's written 2 novels and 2 books of novellas/short stories.  Since I'm a novel (double meaning?) kind of guy, we talked about which of her 2 I should read.  We picked one, she signed it, and I read it.  It's Songs without Words, and it's darn good. Here's the rundown from the back of the book:

"Liz and Sarabeth were girlhood neighbors in the suburbs of northern California, brought as close as sisters by the suicide of Sarabeth's mother.  In the decades that followed, their relationship remained a source of continuity and strength.  But when Liz's adolescent daughter enters dangerous waters, the women's friendship takes a devastating turn, forcing Liz and Sarabeth to question their most deeply held beliefs about their connection."

As many of you know, I'm a big fan of a genre that goes by many names - women's fiction, chick lit, literary fiction, among others.  Bottom line is that I like books written by women about women.  Does that mean I lose my man card?  Some (maybe many!) would say that it's too late.  That I lost it long ago.  Well, gosh darn it, so be it.

Several elements of Songs without Words resonated with me immediately.

1.  Ann does a great job of setting up the story in her prologue.
2.  The story grabs you immediately.
3.  You learn on page 3 that Sarabeth's mother committed suicide.  This is like C. Lee McKenzie's The Princess of Las Pulgas (our RBC author/book for March) when we find out on page 2 that Carlie's dad died.
4.  Ann's writing reminds me a little of Meg Waite Clayton's writing.  That's obviously a good thing.

And then there were other parts of the book that I liked:

1.  The story takes place in the Bay Area.  El Cerrito is mentioned.  That is right next to Albany, where I grew up.  And Montclair in Oakland is also mentioned.  I moved from Albany to Oakland and spent lots of time in Montclair.  Recognizable geography is always fun.
2.  The book is told from the point of view of 4 people - Liz and Sarabeth, of course, along with Liz's daughter, Lauren (my younger daughter's name!), and Brody, Liz's husband. And here's the thing - I absolutely cared about all of them.
3.  Sarabeth goes to a movie theater called the Albany Twin.  This is where I saw my 1st movie with friends.  I was probably around 13.
4.  The word perspicacious is used to describe Sarabeth.  I specifically remember my father using that word with me when I was young.  He never substituted a small word when the bigger word was what he wanted to use.
5.  Jim, Sarabeth's friend, comes to pick her up.  She gets in the car, and he waits until she is buckled in before he drives away.  I do that.  I know sometimes it's a little annoying to family and friends.  But I can't help myself.

I enjoyed Songs without Words and, just like with Linda Gunther's Endangered Witness, I intend to read Ann Packer's other novel, The Dive from Clausen's Pier.  Ann, can I get you to sign it for me?

Saturday, December 27, 2014

I Finally Read Another Local Author - Linda S. Gunther.

Linda has self-published 2 novels, Ten Steps from the Hotel Inglaterra and Endangered Witness.  Linda appeared at Village House of Books this past July.  I got Ten Steps signed by her and put it in my TBR pile, where it sat...and sat...and sat.  Finally, earlier this week, I picked it up.  I don't know what took me so long.  I really liked it a lot.  In fact, I need to get a hold of Endangered Witness and get that into the TBR pile - high up.  In the meantime, I'm sure you want to know what Ten Steps is about, right?

Charlotte Sweeney, aka Charlie, is a 38-year old who, along with her business partner/boyfriend Doug, owns a consulting business in the heart of Silicon Valley.  Charlie is also an amateur, but very skilled, photographer.  She has been all over the world on photography adventures.  But she hasn't been to Havana and desperately wants to go. So she tells Doug that she's going to do that, even though it means she will only be spending a couple of days with him on a planned vacation in Hawaii.  She starts in Cancun, where she meets Enrique Ruiz, a very suave, very sophisticated, and very handsome Mexican man, by chance.  Or is it?  What follows looks like your typical vacation romance.  But, trust me, it's not.  And it's also very interesting that there are sub-plots surrounding getting into and out of Havana.  The book takes place in the early '90's. Obviously, in light of the very recent developments between the United States and Cuba, it's going to be a lot easier getting in and out in the future.

I read this at the same time that I have been watching Showtime's The Affair.  There are some parallels.  What's particularly funny about it is that you really kind of root for Charlie and Enrique to get together, even though she has a boyfriend.  And in The Affair, it's the same thing with Noah and Alison, even though both are already married.  In fact, Noah has a wife and 2 teenage kids on vacation with him.  It's wrong, but compelling at the same time.  It's a little hard to explain.

There are some very poignant moments in Ten Steps.  One of them is a brief encounter Charlie has with an 80-year old Indian man, who is on vacation with his family, including his 6-year old great-granddaughter.  It's a one-on-one that really shouldn't matter - but does.  And, in Havana, Charlie befriends a 10-year old boy who sells cigars to tourists to help support Marta, his 14-year old sister.  Marta has a baby and a Monday-Friday job in a factory, but prostitutes herself on Saturdays.  She's trying to save enough money to bribe the authorities so that she can get to the U.S.  Again, this is a side story that definitely connects.

P.S.  I loved both endings!  You'll have to read it to figure out what I mean.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

My Return to The Los Gatos Library 3rd Tuesday Book Club (plus a mini-review of our book)

In November, I got back to the 4th Tuesday Night Book Club at Books, Inc. in Palo Alto. This past week, it was Los Gatos Library's turn.  Along with the RBC, that's now 3 book clubs I belong to.  This is really cool.  Melissa, like Margie at Books, Inc., does a great job running the book club.  We met on Tuesday night, the 16th, my 1st appearance in a while.  The book is Proof of Heaven, A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife, by Eben Alexander, M.D.

This is an interesting book because it chronicles Alexander's near-death experience (NDE).  Alexander is a neurosurgeon who contracted a disease that most everybody dies from.  And if they don't die, they are severely impaired.  And, yet, he came out of a 7-day coma without any negative repercussions.  In fact, his NDE was so dramatic, that he felt he needed to write about it.  Here is what Raymond A. Moody, Jr., M.D., Ph.D., and author of Life After Life, had to say about it:

"Dr. Eben Alexander's near-death experience is the most astounding I have heard in more than four decades of studying this phenomenon."

I won't go into detail, because you can read that for yourself.  I will say, though, that the book was very clearly divided into 2 sections for me.  One was his description of what he saw and where he was during the NDE.  And the other section was when he was in a coma and how his family reacted to it and the doctors.  The 1st section was difficult for me to get into.  I was not emotionally connected to his NDE.  The other section, however, did get me emotionally involved.  I teared up a number of times when different family members came to his bedside, especially when his son came home from college and saw his dad in the hospital bed for the 1st time.

This is one of those books that will elicit different opinions from just about everybody. Even our discussion at book club got reactions that were across the board.  There was one member, a scientist, who just didn't believe it.  There was a woman, not a member, who came because she believes in the afterlife and wanted to know what Alexander saw. And many of us were in the middle.  Would I recommend Proof of Heaven?  Not really. But this is a book, more than most, where I do not feel confident deciding for others.  I think you almost have to read it to know whether or not you're glad you did.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

I Am Becoming a Middle-Grade Fantasy Fiend (I can't make every blog about my son's new publishing contract - can I?)

By now, a number of you know that I made a deal with Hannah, an 11-year old family friend, at Thanksgiving.  If she reads book 1 of Alina Sayre's The Voyages of the Legend (The Illuminator's Gift), then I would read book 1 of Chris Colfer's (yes, that Chris Colfer, with 2.49M followers!) The Land of Stories (The Wishing Spell).  Both series are middle-grade fantasies.  The trigger was when Hannah started The Illuminator's Gift.  And she did.  So, I finished what I was reading and started on The Wishing Spell.  I mean, after all, I didn't want to look like a flake.  My book-reading, family friend-loving reputation was at stake!  Bottom line?  The book was really good.

A very quick story line, because the plot is mostly secondary.  Conner and Alex, 12-year old boy and girl twins (soon thereafter turned 13), get a fairy tale book from their grandmother.  One thing leads to another (as these things often do), and they both end up falling into the book, which acts as a portal to a fairy tale land.  And they encounter every imaginable fairy tale character - from Cinderella to Little Red Riding Hood to Goldilocks to the Evil Queen and her Huntsman and on and on.  And many of these fairy tale icons are not as we all remember them.  That's all I'm going to say about that.

Let me now say this:  The Wishing Spell is extremely clever.  Not only are the multiple story lines so creative, there are a whole mess of laugh-out-loud lines; countless, in fact. Here are just a few of Colfer's bon mots:

1.  The first "person" they meet is a talking, walking frog.  When he offers Alex and Conner tea, he asks them:  "Do either of you take flies with your tea?"  Conner replies:  "No thanks.  Trying to quit."
2.  Alex and Conner are walking through the forest (one of many) and talking about their situation.  Conner says:  "I wonder if there's a support group for people like us?  You know, people who accidentally travel into other dimensions and whatnot."
3.  When Alex and Conner are taken by the witch in the Hansel and Gretel gingerbread house, Alex convinces the witch that Conner gets one wish before she eats them. Conner says:  "I wish you would become a vegetarian!" C'mon, that's funny.
4.  Red Riding Hood (known as Red) says to Conner:  "So, tell me, what's new with you?" Conner says:  "Same old, same old."  I'm laughing all over again.

There were many parts of The Wishing Spell that I related to other books and even movies.  A few examples:

1.  When Alex puts her fingertips into the book to see what will happen, it reminded me of Field of Dreams (maybe my favorite movie of all time!), when James Earl Jones puts his hand and arm into the corn in centerfield to see what would happen.
2.  Of course, the kids going through a portal brings to mind C.S. Lewis' classic series, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  In fact, I love the quote from Lewis right at the beginning of this book:  "Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again."
3.  Toward the end of the book (don't worry - it's not a spoiler alert), Goldilocks slaps Red Riding Hood and says:  "Now we're even."  Remember in Major League, after the Indians win the pennant?  They are celebrating, and Corbin Bernson slugs Charlie Sheen because of something Sheen had done to Bernson.  Then they start hugging and celebrating again.

Bottom line is that Colfer combines a lot of the present-day with classic fairy tales.  The result is a very entertaining book.  As you know, I try to read book 1 of the most popular series.  And then I'm done.  I read The Hunger Games and really liked it.  But didn't read 2 or 3.  That was my intention here too.  However, I have offered Hannah another deal.  If she reads book 2 of The Voyages of the Legend (The Illuminator's Test), then I will read book 2 of The Land of Stories (The Enchantress Returns).  Seems fair, right?


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Balcony7's Newest Author - My Son, Josh!

I have said many many times that one of the great advantages of writing a blog is that I can basically say whatever I want.  It's up to you readers whether or not you want to read what I wrote.  Well, this time, I've got to say I'm a little more excited to post than usual. That's because I'm here to announce that my son, Josh, has just been signed by Southern California publisher, Balcony7 Media & Publishing, for his children's book, Little Boy Soup.  I could include a link to the Balcony7 website.  But, instead, I am including the entire intro below.  It's not like I'm making you read it.  Not really.  I have also added Jasmine Bingham's (Balcony7's VP/author) Facebook post from today.

I know this is just a tad self-serving.  But, hey, it's not all the time that a family member becomes a published author.  In this case, Josh is #2.  My wife, Joni, co-authored a book called The Everything Baby Shower Book, 2nd edition, back in 2008.  Pretty cool, huh?

I have very talented daughters, and I'm equally proud of all 3 of my kids (and Joni, too). But, after all, this is a book blog!

“My day job at Silicon Valley Creates lets me play the role of ultimate matchmaker: with my fingers on the pulse of trends and opportunities in SV, I help raise visibility for the arts and increase participation. At home, I’m a dad who’s always read to his kids, and I wanted to write a book that filled a void for me—one that would allow me and my son to read and play at the same time, especially in the bath, which is one of my little boy’s favorite times with his dad. So I wrote Little Boy Soup. It brings all our favorite toys into story time.”

Little Boy Soup is Joshua Russell’s debut work, written for dads (or moms) and their sons, to turn bath time into play time through the concept of mixing favorite toys and your favorite little boy into a tub full of fun. Mark Spring 2016 to add this new title to your favorite bathtime books list.
Russell’s Silicon Valley roots are deep with over seventeen years in marketing, strategic communications and community based programming. He is currently the Executive Vice President of Silicon Valley Creates, a nonprofit organization whose mission is building community through arts and creativity. Before that, Russell was a professional blogger, having managed three separate blogs for two years, focusing on the San Francisco 49’ers, the Golden State Warriors, and the Oakland A’s.
Russell is a graduate of Leadership San Jose’s 2008 Class and is the former Board President of the San Jose Leadership Council. He currently serves on the board of the Silicon Valley Chamber Foundation as well as the Artspiration Steering Committee for the Santa Clara County Office of Education. Russell also serves on the Advisory Boards of City Lights Theater Company, Silicon Valley Reads and CreaTV San Jose. In addition, he is founder and past chair of genARTS Silicon Valley and past co-chair of the San Jose Arts Marketing Roundtable. He is also the former president of the Ad Club of Silicon Valley and was a co-founder of the Chamber’s young professional program (TYP) and of First Fest.

A graduate of the University of Arizona, with a major in Media Arts and a minor in Theatre, Joshua Russell currently lives in Campbell, California, with his wife, Jennifer and two children Haley (9) and Ryan (6). He has other children’s books in various stages of production, including Little Girl Soup and other whimsical stories.

Excited to be working with Balcony 7 Media and Publishing new author Joshua Russell. He's got an adorable series of bathtime books: Little Boy Soup, followed by Little Girl Soup. Click this image and read more. He's also an arts maven in Silicon Valley. A great talent and asset for Balcony 7 and young readers. Welcome Aboard, Joshua!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Playing Doctor - No, I Didn't Make Up That Title

As you all know, I really like to read different genres.  So, when Kate Allure, through LinkedIn, asked me to read an ARC of her 1st book, Playing Doctor, how could I say no? And how did I know it was it going to be a very hot romance?  Just lucky...I mean, us bloggers have responsibilities, don't you think?

Actually, this is 3 stories in one book.  And all of them involve doctors.  In one story, the doctor is a woman, and in the other 2, the men are the doctors.  All 3 involve women who take control of their (sex) lives.  These are strong women who determine their own romantic fates.  But here's the interesting thing about all 3 stories - they are romances, and there are erotic love scenes.  But I wouldn't call them erotic romances.  I would say that they are somewhere in between.  Let's call them semi-erotic or half-erotic romances.

Another literary decision Kate made that I liked centers on the length of the stories.  I felt that they all ran their course.  They are approximately 100, 65, and 80 pages.  Just right. None of them, I believe, could have carried an entire book.  Despite that, I still cried 32 pages into the 3rd story; said "uh, oh," on page 60 of the 3rd story; and both smiled and cried at the end of the 3rd story.  I enjoyed all of the stories, but it's pretty interesting that only the 3rd one got emotional reactions from me.  Huh.  I never realized that until I wrote this paragraph.

You all know, of course, that I'm a big fan of Jasmine Haynes, who is my only true erotic romance author.  And I'm sure you remember my post of Jasmine's Past Midnight from 11/19/11.  As erotic as the book was, it still taught me a lesson on being a better husband to my wife of 45 years (at that time, I was married 40 years and had dated Joni for 5). And in this case, again, the erotic sex doesn't detract from the message.

Kate's book comes out this coming January 6.  I liked it a lot and recommend it.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Review of The Mathematician's Shiva - The RBC book for January

I'm going to make this easy for you.  We don't even need Goodreads for a synopsis.  In Stuart Rojstaczer's The Mathematician's Shiva, the world's most famous female mathematician, Rachela Karnokovitch, dies at the age of 71.  Her 50-year old son, Sasha, along with a whole host of quirky characters, sits shiva for 7 days following her funeral. (Do you know what sitting shiva means?  Did you see the movie or read the book This Is Where I Leave You?  If you did one or the other, then you know what it is.  If not, do a quick search for a detailed explanation).

Right off the bat I can tell you that I enjoyed reading something very different from anything else I've read.  Really, the whole story revolves around the decades-long quest of mathematicians around the world to solve one particular math problem.  And many of these mathematicians come to Rachela's house over the ensuing 7 days to, ostensibly, pay their respects.  But, actually, they want to see if Rachela solved the mystery math problem and, if so, how they can get their hands on the answer.

Besides Sasha, there are a host of other family members:  Sasha's dad, divorced from Rachela; his uncle, Rachela's brother, who reunited with his sister after many years of being separated; Bruce, his uncle's son, who is a big shot producer in Hollywood; Anna, the ballerina, who was unofficially adopted by Rachela when Anna was 21; and (NON-SPOILER ALERT), a very big human surprise package.  And then there are the mathematicians themselves.  You have to read about them to believe them.  Stuart has created a whole bevy (isn't that a bunch of quail?) of interesting, and very atypical, characters.

I enjoyed this book a lot.  And I'm definitely looking forward to having Stuart come to the Recycle Book Club meeting on January 13.  If you have a chance to read it, and want to come hear Stuart talk about The Mathematician's Shiva, then stop on by on January 13. Our club members meet from 6:30-7:00 to talk about the book.  And Stuart will come at 7:00 to answer questions and sign.  It's super fun to get the back story.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


I'm running out of clever ways to announce a post with a bunch of miscellaneous snippets in it.  That's assuming, of course, that any of the other titles have been clever!  Debatable, to be sure.  Regardless (I was just reminded by Grammarly that irregardless is not a word), here are a few bullet points of (potential) interest:

1.  Alina Sayre, author of the fantasy, middle-grade series, The Voyages of the Legend, came to Recycle this past Sunday morning to sell, sign, and promote her 2 books, The Illuminator's Gift and The Illuminator's Test.  It was a great morning.  And Alina will be coming to Recycle for the RBC on January 21.  We're going to have a bunch of 9-14 year olds at a regular book club meeting.  I'll meet with the kids from 6:30-7:00, and then Alina will come to answer questions and sign more books.

2.  Saturday, November 29, was Small Business Day.  I was able to get to Books, Inc. in Palo Alto.  Typically, authors come for part of the day and help sell books.  I didn't have any idea who was going to be there.  It turns out that it was Ann Packer.   I had never met her and hadn't read any of her books.  She's written 2 novels (plus some short story collections).  After a lot of discussion with her, I finally picked Songs without Words.  I finished it today and liked it a lot (review to follow).

3.   Last Tuesday night, the 2nd, Natalie Baszile, author of Queen Sugar, came to Recycle Books for our December RBC meeting.  She was terrific.  But equally important, everybody loved her book.  If you want to see my review, I posted it on August 28.  It's definitely one of my favorite books of 2014.

4.  An up and coming publisher in Southern California, Balcony 7, is starting to get a lot of notice.  Randy Morkved, the owner, is being very aggressive about adding authors.  In fact, he's already signed 3 from our very own area:  Tyler Draa and Ann Bridges and ____________.  (An announcement will be made about #3 early next week).  An online magazine, Forward This Week, just wrote an article called The Best in the West, the Indie Alternative to NYC.  Here's the link:

5.  I was at Recycle Books a couple of Sundays ago and was approached by Helene Morley.  She is in charge of the Camden Literature Group, which is part of the Camden Senior Group.  Why did she approach me, you wonder?  Well, she asked if I would let everybody know that they're looking for new members.  They've got a couple of members who have moved and a couple who have, unfortunately, passed away.  The only requirement is that you must be at least 50 years old (except she said that this is not even an absolute must).  They've got some great books lined up for the 1st part of next year, including Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen, and God's Hotel (I reviewed this one on 4/15/12) by Victoria Sweet.  If you are interested in looking into this book group, you can leave me a message, and I will privately give you Helene's phone number.

C'est tout, people. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Guy Kawasaki and Peg Fitzpatrick - Social Media Experts

Thursday night, Joni and I went to Kepler's to see Guy Kawasaki and Peg Fitzpatrick talk about their new book, The Art of Social Media.  Basically, the book gives very practical advice on how to take advantage of social media.  Since I'm trying to build my business, The Corporate Chef, as well as my blog,, I thought I would benefit from seeing these gurus in person.  And I was right.  Not only did I pick up the book (personalized and signed, of course, by both authors), but I also got tips on how best to use social media.  I'm definitely looking forward to reading it.  Here are a couple of tidbits that came out of their discussion (they mostly answered questions - and there were plenty of them):

1.  Guy started with Apple in 1983 and built up his brand over a 20-year period before he began concentrating on social media 10 years ago.  He has 10 million followers.  And that is NOT a misprint.
2.  Peg has a more traditional marketing background.  She started working with social media in earnest about 5 years ago.  She has a mere 700,000 followers.  It's only chump change compared to Guy, but she is, otherwise, probably one of the most followed people out there.
3.  Facebook has 1.2 billion members, but only about 10% will see a post.  Google+ and LinkedIn have only 300-400 million (only!) members, but everybody sees those posts. So, actually, it's better to have followers on Google+ or LinkedIn.
4.  LinkedIn is the most serious social media platform.  Because people on LinkedIn tend to be looking or posting for jobs (I actually belong to 2 book groups on LinkedIn, in addition to the main site), everybody uses their actual names.  Because of that, there is more self-policing.
5.  Guy's last book, APE (Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur), How to Publish a Book, was self-published.  Why did he go with a traditional publisher for The Art of Social Media? Guy said he got an offer from Penguin that he simply couldn't refuse.  This is true even though authors get about 15% of the cover price from traditional publishers vs. 70% from self-published books.
6.  Guy and Peg were introduced by Praveen, the owner of Kepler's.

As you know, I'm a big fan of author events.  But this one had a lot more practical application for me than most.  I'm very glad I went.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Latest from James Grippando

Grippando's latest, Cane and Abe (a very clever title, as you will see when you read it), will be released January 20.  And, like his other 20 books, I liked it. I actually like his Jack Swytek books, which account for 11 of his 21, more than his stand-alones.  And the other 10 are, of course, stand-alones.  Did I like Cane and Abe?  I did.  Is he one of the authors on my B list?  He is.  This one is a very solid 2.5/4.  I think it was a 3/4 for 300 pages but faltered in the last 50.  The solved mystery didn't cut it for me.

So let's get to Goodreads' synopsis:

An explosive psychological thriller from New York Times bestselling author James Grippando in which Miami’s top prosecutor becomes a prime suspect when his wife’s disappearance may have a chilling connection to the vicious murders of beautiful women in the Florida Everglades
Unbelievable was the word for her. Samantha Vine was unbelievably beautiful. It was unbelievable that she’d married me. Even more unbelievable that she was gone . . . 
Samantha died too soon. Abe Beckham’s new wife, Angelina, feels like Samantha never left. Through it all, Abe has managed to remain a star prosecutor at the Miami State Attorney’s Office. But his personal life is a mess, and it’s about to get worse. 
When a woman’s body is discovered dumped in the Everglades, Abe is called upon to stay on top of the investigation. The FBI is tracking a killer in South Florida they call “Cutter” because his brutal methods harken back to Florida’s dark past, when machete-wielding men cut sugarcane by hand in the blazing sun.
But when the feds discover that Abe had a brief encounter with the victim after Samantha’s death, and when Angelina goes missing, the respected attorney finds himself in the hot seat. Suspicion surrounds him. His closest friends, family, professional colleagues, and the media no longer trust his motives. Was Angelina right? Was their marriage failing because he loved Samantha too much? Or was there another woman, and did Abe have a dark side that simply wanted his new but very unhappy wife gone?

As you can see, it's a pretty intricate plot.  That part was okay for me.  And I thought that most of the writing was pretty good.  Here are a couple of lines that stood out for me:

1.  Grippando is describing stacks of boxes in an attorney's office.  He says:  "It was leaning to the left, the legal aid version of the Tower of Pisa."
2.  "It was 3:00 in the afternoon, the geriatric version of happy hour..."
3.  When Abe and his wife, Angelina, are in her attorney's office, Abe asks her to leave with him.  "She looked at her lawyer, but she didn't move.  Winters had her under a sit-and-stay command worthy of the Westminster Kennel Club."

Pretty good stuff.  But then he's talking about his wife taking a 20-minute drive, and he says that she had "time aplenty" to do some plotting.  I think that's an odd construction. I'm probably just nitpicking.  But if it stands out to me, I imagine it will also stand out to others.

Do I recommend Cane and Abe?  Sure.  I recommend most books/authors from my B List.  Will I put Cane and Abe (or any other Grippando) on my table at Recycle?  That would be no.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Results Are In - The Goodreads Reader Favorites 2014

The Goodreads Awards are the only ones based on readers' input.  There were 3,317,504 votes cast.  And here are the winners in all 20 categories:

Fiction - Landline - Rainbow Rowll
Non-Fiction - The Opposite of Loneliness - Marina Keegan
Mystery/Thriller - Mr. Mercedes - Stephen King
Historical Fiction - All the Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr
YA Fiction - We Were Liars - e. lockhart
Romance - Written in My Own Heart's Blood - Diana Gabaldon
Humor - Yes Please - Amy Poehler
Science Fiction - The Martian - Andy Weir
Fantasy - The Book of Life - Deborah Harkness
Horror - Prince Lestat - Ann Rice
Memoir & Autobiography - This Star Won't Go Out - Esther Earl
History & Biography - The Romanov Sisters - Helen Rappaport
Business Book - #Girl Boss - Sophia Amoruso
Food & Cookbook - Make It Ahead - Ina Garten
Graphic Novels & Comics - Serenity:Leaves in the Wind - Zack Whedon,Georges Jeanty,Fabio Moon
Poetry - Lullabies - Lang Leav
Debut Goodreads Author - Red Rising - Pierce Brown
YA Fantasy - The Mortal Instruments:City of Heavenly Fire - Cassandra Clare
Middle Grade & Children's - The Blood of Olympus - Rick Riordan
Picture Books - The Pigeon Needs a Bath - Mo Willems

I have only read 1 of these books - All the Light We Cannot See - and I liked it a lot (review on 11/15/14).  But I have 2 others in my TBR pile, sitting among 30 others.  One is The Martian (science fiction), and the other is We Were Liars (YA Fiction).  Both of these were highly recommended to me by Kepler's staff at 2 different events I attended.  I bought them without knowing how popular they were.  I guess I'll move them up the pile(s) a bit.

NEXT UP:  I've got a few reviews coming in the next week or so:
Cane and Abe - James Grippando (hitting the stores in early January)
The Mathematician's Shiva - Stuart Rojstaczer (our RBC selection for January - the 13th)
Proof of Heaven - Eben Alexander, M.D. (the December book for the Los Gatos Library Third Tuesday Night Book Club)

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Series - Redux

It has been over 3.5 years since my last post about series.  Here's what I wrote back in 2011:

3/11 - series that I liked that have ended
4/5 - series that I like that have not ended

Are there still any series that I'm reading?  Actually, quite a few.  Some are from the 4/5/11 list, and some started after that post.  Here they are:

Ken Follett - The Century Trilogy - great series, with #3 (which I haven't read) out since September

Jeffrey Archer - The Clifton Chronicles - book 4, Be Careful what You Wish for - came out earlier this year - 1st 3 books were terrific

Terry Brooks - Landover - a fantasy series that I really like - 6 so far, with a 7th (I just found out) coming in 2015

Daniel Silva - Gabriel Allon - Silva puts one out every year, and I make sure to read it - he's at least as good, if not better, with each new one

Greg Iles - published book 1 of a new trilogy a few months ago - with his Natchez, Mississippi protagonist, Penn Cage - Natchez Burning is excellent

Sheldon Siegel - Mike Daley/Rosie Fernandez legal thrillers - he's written 7 and will have #8 in 2015

Sheldon Siegel - book #1 of the Detective David Gold (based in Chicago, Sheldon's birth city - he lives in the Bay Area now) series - 1st book is The Terrorist Next Door - really enjoyed it

Dan Brown - I haven't read #4, Inferno, yet, but it's in my TBR pile - I liked the 1st 3 a lot

James Grippando - Jack Swytek - there have been 11 so far, and they're all entertaining

David Rosenfelt - Andy Carpenter - 13 to date - always enjoy them - see Grippando above

W.E.B. Griffin - Presidential Agent, Charley Castillo - he's done 8, and I'm waiting for #9 - except that he has started a new series, Clandestine Operations, with The Assassination Option #1 - I haven't read that one yet but expect I will

Sam Eastland - Inspector Pekkala - I've only read 3 of the 5 - I have to get on that one

David Baldacci - really liked The Camel Club series - but one of his latest series, with government assassin Will Robie, is close - 3 so far

Alina Sayre - The Voyages of the Legend - fantasy series for middle graders (8-12) - book 2 is coming out in 2 days (December 1) - I've read them both - The Illuminator's Gift and The Illuminator's Test - and have loved them both

It's very possible that I've missed one or more series that I'm still reading.  We'll concede that possibility!  If you want any specific information on any of these, let me know (not that you can't find out on your own, of course).

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Latest list of authors I'm in contact with - 15 months later

The last time I posted this list was August of last year.  Of course, every list (this is #3, I believe) has additions and subtractions.  For this one, I have lost 14 and have added...(drum roll, please) 41!  This is NOT a misprint.  However, I did have a built-in meeter/greeter - my job at VHOB.  I was in charge of author events for about 10 or 11 months.  So, obviously, I had an opportunity to meet a lot of authors.  AND, since January, we have had our book club.  1st, it was the VHOB Book Club.  Then, in September, we moved it Recycle Books.  And, let's remember, the author comes to our book club meetings.  Well, regardless of the reasons, I've got a bunch of new authors for the list.  Here's the latest group:

Adair, Marina
Auchard, Betty
Barrett, Elisabeth
Baszile, Natalie
Billheimer, John
Black, Cara
Browne, S.G.
Bumpus, Carole
Castro, Jenn
Clayton, Meg Waite
Dart, Julie
DeGregorio, Mike
DePaul, Virna
Ford, Jamie
Franco, Betsy
Franklin-Willis, Amy
Gelder, Ann
Goodson, William
Goss, Erica
Gunther, Linda
Guzeman, Tracy
Hafner, Katie
Haynes, Jasmine
Herron, Rachael
Hillerman, Anne
Hoffman, Beth
Horn, J.D.
Jackson, Nate
Jacobson, Alan
Jayne, Hannah
Johnson, Victoria
King, Laurie R.
King, Shelly
Kirschman, Ellen
Kramer, Bryan
Kretschmer, G. Elizabeth
Lavigne, Michael
Lescroart, John
Littlefield, Sophie
Lukas, Michael David
Mason, Christine Z.
McBurney-Lin, Jana
McKenzie, C. Lee
Myers, Tim
Packer, Ann
Pandian, Gigi
Pastrone, Lauri
Piccinini, Toni
Raffel, Keith
Rojstaczer, Stuart
Safran, Joshua
Sayre, Alina (Amalia Hillmann, illustrator)
Szczepanski, Marian
Senft, Adina
Siegel, Sheldon
Silverberry, A.R.
Sloan, Robin
Smith, JoAn
Sporleder, Steve
Sussman, Ellen
Swan, Joan
Taylor, Nick
Vitello, Suzi
Waters, Rayme
Wecker, Helene

65!!! (If I forgot anybody, I apologize.  Please let me know, and I'll revise the list.)  I can't begin to tell you how exciting it is to know these authors/people.  Now, I just hope that I can keep in touch with all of them - and more.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The FOURTH TUESDAY BOOK CLUB at Books, Inc. in Palo Alto - Glad to Be Back!

Well, last night was the 1st time I've been to Books, Inc., Palo Alto, for the FOURTH TUESDAY BOOK CLUB in quite a while.  I went regularly for close to a year, but have been MIA for probably 8 or 9 months, maybe even more.  It was great to be back.  Margie Scott Tucker, a co-owner of the Books, Inc. chain (there are 11 locations) leads the discussion.  She does a great job.  Everybody goes around the room and gives their synopsis/opinion of the book, and then Margie asks questions.  But, unlike some book clubs (sorry RBC people), the questions are very well thought out and produce a lot of discussion.   And I really like how everybody participates and nobody dominates (I don't do that, Margie, do I?).  Tuesday night was no exception.  Our book was All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr.  As you know from my review of November 15, I liked it a lot. Most of us there tonight did.

When you have someone like Margie directing you - and when one of your book club members is Meg Waite Clayton, the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, who has written 4 books, with a 5th coming out next August - then you're bound to have some interesting facts presented to you.  Here are a few:

1.  It took Anthony Doerr 10 years to write this book.
2.  This is his 5th book, but only his 2nd novel.  2 of the others are short story collections, and the 5th is a memoir.
3.  Both Margie and Meg said it was unusual for a book of this length (530 pages) to have such short chapters.
4.  Our resident experts are seeing an editorial trend for novels to go back and forth in time.  The way Doerr did it bothered some of our book club members a bit.
5.  The Art of Fielding (which I liked and reviewed on August 10, 2012), by Chad Harbach, took 15 years to write.

Are some of these factoids random?  Sure.  But that's what makes them so interesting. Us book groupies love these insider details.

So, I was really glad to be there, and have already ordered the book for the January meeting - Painted Horses, by Malcolm Brooks.  See you all then.

Everybody in this group is important.  But Margie is standing on the far right, and Meg is next to her.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Alina Sayre's The Illuminator's Test, #2 in the Series

As I got ready to start The Illuminator's Test, book 2 in Alina Sayre's fantasy series, The Voyages of the Legend, I had a pretty unusual feeling come over me - I realized that I was really excited to read it!  It felt like I was picking up the next Gabriel Allon (Silva) or Will Robie (Baldacci) or Harry Clifton (Archer).  And then I started reading.  And you know what?  I felt like I was settling in with people that I knew.  How great is that?

Of course the next question is:  Did I like it?  And the answer is:  A lot!  #2 had a similar arc to #1.  That is, I really liked the 1st part and loved the 2nd part.  In this case, the transition happened at about the half-way point.  In #1, it was a 2/3-1/3 split.  But I am not complaining.  I think Alina needed the 1st half to get to the 2nd half (this is not as ridiculous as it sounds).  The 1st book got them to Rhynlyr, and the 2nd book needed a half to set up their new situation and surroundings.  Once that was done, then BOOM!  It takes off.

As I mentioned in the review of #1 (posted on June 2 of this year), The Illuminator's Gift, I'm not much into fantasy (with Terry Brooks' 6-book Landover series being an exception) - and I'm old!  So, nobody (including me) would expect that I would like a fantasy series where the main protagonist is 12 (now 13) - and a girl!  Go figure.  The fact is that I like this series a lot and am eagerly looking forward to #3 (Alina, when is that one coming out?).

Let me tell you what I like about The Illuminator's Test.  It will take me a while.

1.  It's very well-written.  You gotta have that.
2.  Because all of the main characters are together, you get to see right away what happens just by starting the next chapter.
3.  Alina has a glossary of names, with pronunciations (which you have to have in a fantasy), in the back of the book.
4.  There are a bunch of illustrations in this one.  In #1, the only illustration was on the cover.  This time, Amalia Hillmann has got illustrations sprinkled throughout the book.  I like it.
5.  #2 really moves the story forward.  Instead of being just another episode, it actually has our heroes/heroines transitioning from one geographical location to another.
6.  It's fun to get a history of the One Kingdom, with it's supreme leader and his right-hand-ers.
7.  Oh, and let's not forget that I shed a few on pages...oh, never mind.  There are too many to list.  I will say, though, that very near the end I cried and laughed at the same time, which had waterworks rolling down my cheeks.  No big deal, right?  Uh, did I forget to mention that I was walking on the treadmill in the gym at the time?  I believe there might have been a curious look or 2 thrown my way!

So, that's a lot of stuff to like about The Illuminator's Gift, right?  I know that Alina's 2 books are set up for middle graders (8-12).  But take it from a "mature" reader - it's well-worth it for all ages (and genders).

P.S.  Right after I finished The Illuminator's Test, I started reading the latest from the nationally prominent author, Phillip Margolin (it's called Woman with a Gun and is not out yet).  I was struck by how different the quality of the writing was from Alina's book.  Phillip, I'm sorry to say, but your writing doesn't even begin to measure up to Alina's.

P.P.S.  The official pub date is 12/1.  At that time, you will be able to buy the ebook and print versions of both books on Amazon.  Shortly after that, the paper books will be in a couple of the local bookstores.  I'll let you know about specific locations and dates.

UPCOMING EVENTS FOR ALINA AT RECYCLE:  On December 7, Alina will be joining me out in front of Recycle Books during the Farmer's Market.  She will be there from 10:15-12:15, selling and signing both of her books - the new one, The Illuminator's Test, and the 1st one, The Illuminator's Gift.  Come say hello and pick up her books as gifts for your kids/nieces/nephews/grandkids, etc.

And on January 21, The RBC will have a middle-grade night with Alina.  We will structure our book club meeting like we do with all of our meetings - i.e. the kids will come to Recycle at 6:30 to talk about the book.  And, then, at 7:00, Alina will come to answer questions and sign books.  I've already got my 9-year old granddaughter, Haley, committed to the event.  And I have asked her to let her friends know.  Doesn't this sound like a bunch of fun?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

A Couple of Recent Author Events

I've had a chance to go to a couple of author events this month (not counting having the very engaging and inspirational Joshua Safran at our Recycle Book Club meeting this past Tuesday night).  The 1st was the launch of Keith Raffel's 5th book, Temple Mount.  It was held at Keith's home base bookstore, Kepler's.  And, not surprisingly, there was a large crowd.  On top of that, Ellen Sussman interviewed Keith.  For me, it was a real treat to have 2 of my favorite authors together in one place.

The 2nd event was last week at Village House of Books.  John Lescroart has written around 25 books, 15 of them with Dismas Hardy and Abe Glitsky.  I booked John about 6 months ago!  And, even though I don't work at VHOB any more, I was excited to meet him.  And John didn't disappoint.  He's got a long history of writing and gave us a lot of it. Interestingly enough, his career took off with book #4, The 13th Juror, which was about a battered woman.  The timing happened to coincide with the OJ trial.  Nothing like a little serendipity to help launch a career!  

EDITORIAL COMMENT:  People, if you are not in the habit of going to author events, you may want to re-think that.  They are so much fun.  And I really believe that the authors appreciate the crowds they draw.  Think about it.  Just about every good-sized city has at least one bookstore that has author events.  Now, I'm done.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Phillip Margolin's Latest - Woman with a Gun - Release Date - December 2, 2014

I just finished an ARC of Phillip Margolin's latest book, Woman with a Gun.  As it says in the title of this post, it will be released on December 2, a mere 11 days from today.  I have read all of Margolin's books (I think Woman is #20), and I always enjoy them.  They are like comfort food to me.  You're not going to find any of them on The Finest Books of the Year list.  Not even from a lowly blogger like me.  Then again, if you want a burger, you're not going to a 3-star Michelin restaurant for it.  But that doesn't mean you don't enjoy a burger now and again.  That's how I feel about Margolin's books.

Back on February 13, 2011, in only my 2nd month of blogging, I posted a blog about "B-Listers."  These are authors that I like reading, but that would never get a 4/4 from me. And usually not even a 3.5/4 (with a couple of exceptions).  These are 2.5/4 or 3/4. Phillip Margolin was 1 of 20 on that list.  Well, I got in trouble with 1 publisher for putting their author on.  And I guess I can understand why they subsequently dropped me from their list of the bloggers who get ARC's for review.  But that doesn't change the fact that this is how I feel, and that I owe it to you readers to give you my honest evaluation of any book that I read.

Another long-winded diatribe from yours truly.  Let me now get to the new one.

Master of mystery Phillip Margolin transcends his traditional territory in this new and different book, a haunting thriller inspired by an unforgettable photograph

Visiting an art museum displaying a retrospective of acclaimed photographer Kathy Moran’s work, aspiring novelist Stacey Kim is stunned by the photo at the center of the show—the famous “Woman with a Gun,” which won a Pulitzer Prize and launched the photographer’s career. Shot from behind, the enigmatic black and white image is a picture of a woman in a wedding dress, standing on the shore at night, facing the sea. Behind her back, she holds a six-shooter.

The image captures Stacey’s imagination, raising a host of compelling questions. Has the woman killed her husband on their wedding night? Is she going to commit suicide? Is she waiting for someone she plans to kill? Obsessed with finding answers, Stacey discovers that the woman in the photograph is Megan Cahill, suspected of killing her husband, millionaire Raymond Cahill, with the six-shooter on their wedding night. But the murder was never solved.

Drawn deeper into the case, Stacey finds that everyone involved has a different opinion of Megan’s culpability. But the one person who may know the whole story—Kathy Moran—isn’t talking. Stacey must find a way to get to the reclusive photographer or the truth may never see the light of day.

There's really not much to add.  He does a good job of keeping you guessing.  I liked that. He also has a couple of major coincidences on back-to-back pages that I didn't like.  As I said, he's a good solid B-Lister.  You won't be sorry that you read it.  You also won't be calling the Pulitzer Prize people (although I'm sure you already know that I run in the other direction when I see a book that has the PP sticker on it).  Just enjoy the darn thing. Read it before FREE SPIRIT: growing up on the road and off the grid and after All the Light We Cannot See - or vice versa.  It's a nice tweener.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

What Led to Anthony Doerr Writing: All the Light We Cannot See

I came across this on a website called On The Shelf.  In light of posting this review only 5 days ago, I thought it would be kind of cool to hear how Anthony came to write this book - in his own words, yet.  I know how disappointed you all must be that my words will be limited in this post!  But I'm pretty sure you'll get over it - very quickly.  

Mr. Doerr:
I first saw Saint-Malo while I was on book tour in France. It’s a ghostly, imperious walled city in Brittany, surrounded by emerald green sea on all four sides. It was night, and after dinner I went for a stroll on top of the ramparts, peering into the third-floor windows of houses, the low-tide beaches glimmering in moonlight, the town glowing. I felt as if I was walking through a city plucked from the imagination of Italo Calvino, a place that was part fairy-tale castle, part M. C. Escher drawing, part mist and ocean wind and lamplight. You walk its cobbled lanes, you smell the tides, you hear the echoes of your footsteps, and you think: this city has survived for well over a thousand years. But Saint-Malo was almost entirely destroyed by American artillery in 1944, in the final months of World War II, and was painstakingly put back together, block by granite block, in the late 1940s and early 1950s. That a place could so thoroughly hide its own incineration, and that my own country was responsible for that incineration, fascinated me.

That visit was an early step in a decade-long journey toward assembling the novel that is All the Light We Cannot See. Along the way it became a book about radio: How did the Reich use radio to hammer a warped nationalism into the minds of Germany’s poor? And how did brave souls use radio to resist German occupation, not just in Vichy France but throughout Europe? I also wanted to conjure a time when it was a miracle to hear the voice of a distant stranger in our homes, in our ears.

Ultimately, the novel became a project of humanism. I longed to tell a war story that felt new, and to do that I needed the reader to invest as completely in Werner (the German orphan boy) as she does in Marie-Laure (the blind French heroine). In the war stories I read growing up, French resistance heroes were dashing, sinewy types who constructed machine guns from paper clips. And German soldiers were evil blond torturers, marching in coal scuttle helmets alongside barbed wire. I wondered if things might have been more nuanced than that. Could I tell a story about how a promising boy got sucked into the Hitler Youth and made bad decisions that led to terrible, unforgivable consequences, yet still render him an empathetic character? And could I braid his story with the narrative of a disabled girl who in so many ways was more capable than the adults around her? My attempt in this novel is to suggest the humanity of both Werner and Marie-Laure, to propose more complicated portraits of heroes and villains; to hint at, as World War II fades from the memories of its last survivors and becomes history, all the light we cannot see.

RECYCLE BOOKS EVENT:  Don't forget that Sunday, November 30, from 9:30-12:30 (during Campbell's Farmer's Market), Lauri Pastrone will be at Recycle Books selling and signing (and wrapping?) her cookbook, Share.  It's in the store, if you want to take a look at it beforehand.  It's a beautiful cookbook with all of the proceeds going to Women for Women International (wfwi).  And it really will make a perfect holiday gift.  If you buy it before the 30th, or if you have already bought it, you can still come by on that Sunday, and Lauri will personalize it for you.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See - Pretty Darn Good

There are many reasons why I pick certain books to read.  It could be because I know the author; or it's come highly recommended; or I'm going to see an author at a local bookstore; or it's an author that I always read.  Another main reason is that it's for a book club.  That's the case here.  Books, Inc. Palo Alto, has a 4th Tuesday Book Club (this month it's November 25) that I used to go to a lot but haven't been able to attend for many months.  Well, I'm happy to say that I can actually get to the November meeting, and All the Light We Cannot See is this month's selection.  I don't think I would have picked it otherwise.  Did I like it?  I really did.  But it didn't start out that way.

For quite a while, I was the victim of what I like to call Literary Staccato.  This is a syndrome in which the writing kind of smacks you in the face.  Here's an example from early in the book:

"When she opens the bedroom window, the noise of the airplanes becomes louder. Otherwise, the night is dreadfully silent:   no engines, no voices, no clatter.  No sirens. No footfalls on the cobbles.  Not even gulls.  Just a high tide, one block away and six stories below, lapping at the base of the city walls."

See what I mean?  It's like boom, boom, boom.  The sentences, or fragments thereof, aggressively come at you.  It's a little hard to explain, but that's what I felt.  Finally, though, I got in the rhythm of it.  Once I did, I was able to focus on the story.  And here's what it's about:

Marie Laure lives with her father in Paris within walking distance of the Museum of Natural History where he works as the master of the locks (there are thousands of locks in the museum). When she is six, she goes blind, and her father builds her a model of their neighborhood, every house, every manhole, so she can memorize it with her fingers and navigate the real streets with her feet and cane. When the Germans occupy Paris, father and daughter flee to Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast, where Marie-Laure's agoraphobic great uncle lives in a tall, narrow house by the sea wall.

In another world in Germany, an orphan boy, Werner, grows up with his younger sister, Jutta, both enchanted by a crude radio Werner finds. He becomes a master at building and fixing radios, a talent that wins him a place at an elite and brutal military academy and, ultimately, makes him a highly specialized tracker of the Resistance. Werner travels through the heart of Hitler Youth to the far-flung outskirts of Russia, and finally into Saint-Malo, where his path converges with Marie-Laure.

There are a lot of things I just can't tell you because it will give too much of it away. Here's what I can tell you:  The 2 protagonists, who are young children when the book starts - one in France and one in Germany - are both very likable characters.  You really do care about them and hope that everything goes well for each one.  

I can tell you that I really liked how Doerr sets up his timetable.  He starts in 1944 and then goes back to 1940.  Each time he goes to 1944, he picks up where he left off.  And every time he goes back to 1940, it gets closer to 1944, until...

I can tell you that the book reminded me of Irving Wallace's The Plot - how the book tells a story of several characters who move toward each other.  There are also shades of Romeo and Juliet and Sleepless in Seattle (how often do you see those 2 in the same sentence?).  I can also tell you that something happens late in the book that made me feel the way I did at the end of Pat Conroy's South of Broad.  That's all I'm going to say about that!  (If you want to know what I'm talking about, you can go to my post from October 13 of this year and scroll down a bit.)  And, finally, I can tell you that there is a scene in the book that reminded me of Audrey Hepburn in Wait Until Dark.  Intrigued?  I hope so.

Because there is so much I can't tell you, I look forward to hearing back from some of you if/when you read it.  I would enjoy a dialogue about the book.  And I am definitely excited about the book club meeting later this month at Books, Inc.  See you...somewhere?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

FREE SPIRIT: growing up on the road and off the grid - Long Title, Excellent Book

I'm going to start this review by talking about the very beginning of the book and the very end of the book.  To begin with - on page one I issued a very loud "Holy Mackerel!" When you think of The Glass Castle (one of my top 12 all-time), you certainly think about a dysfunctional family.  Well, when you read FREE SPIRIT, you might think that Jeanette Walls had a normal childhood.  Really.

As for the end of the book, literally the last 10 pages, Joshua Safran has given us an epilogue that truly means something.  Many books, both fiction and non-, have epilogues. And, oftentimes, they neatly wrap up the book.  In this case, I was absolutely fascinated by what Josh says in these 10 pages.  It not only talks about Josh today, but it also tells us how he transitioned from then to now.  I'm having a little bit of trouble saying what I mean, but, trust me, you will be blown away by the book and maybe even more blown away by the epilogue.

Between the beginning and end, there is, of course, a whole bunch of stuff about Josh's childhood.  And I have to admit being a little bit smug that my own son, Josh, did not go through what Josh Safran went through (I think that's true - you'll have to ask my Josh for verification).  It's amazing that Josh Safran got through it and became the family man and crusader for women's rights that he is today.

You want a Goodreads plot?  Fugetaboutit.  This is a book you just have to read.  There are no spoiler alerts here.  But I want to point out, and then emphasize, that this is a very well-written book.  Because of the nature of the story, maybe Josh could have gotten away with less skilled prose.  But, instead, his writing is excellent.  A couple of examples:

In his 1st experience with a popsicle, or any food that is not all-natural, he says:  "No, the genuine artificial article, glowing in unnatural colors and brimming with ingredients like FD&C Yellow No. 5 and enough preservatives to embalm a mammoth."

When Josh's mom, Claudia, gets a phone call that Leopoldo (her husband) is in jail, Josh says:  "The phone went limp in my mother's hand.  She rolled her head back and exhaled like she was giving birth to a nightmare."

The book is not all shock & awe and gloom & doom.  There is a segment where a Canadian border agent tries to get Josh's last name.  This is a scene right out of the famous Abbott and Costello routine, Who's on First."  Very well done.

Besides a few humorous moments, there are also (not surprisingly) some very poignant ones.  Josh realizes that with so much dysfunction, there has to be a few spots where his readers can take a breath.  I give him strong kudos for that.

And, finally, because some of this book takes place in the Bay Area, I get to relate to people and places that Josh talks about.  One is the Hare Krishnas (look them up).  They were big at Cal Berkeley when I was there in the late '60's-early '70's.  Josh encountered them in the late '70's, when they were still prominent in the Bay Area.  And Josh mentions Gilman Avenue, in Berkeley.  I grew up in Albany, a couple of blocks from Gilman.  I was on that street all the time.  Very cool.

That's it.  Read this book.  You will thank me - and curse me - for it.

PERSONAL APPEARANCE:  Josh will be coming to Recycle Books in Campbell next Tuesday night, November 18, for the RBC (Recycle Book Club) meeting.  Our book club will be getting together at 6:30 to talk about the book and get some questions ready for Josh.  Then Josh will arrive at 7:15 and stay for about an hour, answering those (and many more) questions and signing books.  Whether you have read the book or not, you are welcome to come to our meeting or just stop by when Josh is there.  I guarantee you a fascinating experience.

Monday, November 10, 2014

5 Upcoming Events at 2 Independent Bookstores

I know, not a very exciting title.  But the 5 events are definitely going to be exciting.  Here they are in the order that they take place:

1.  Wednesday, November 12, at Village House of Books, 21 W. Main Street, LG - national best-selling author, John Lescroart, who has written over 20 books, will be coming at 7:00 to talk about his latest Dismas Hardy/Abe Glitsky novel, The Seeker.  I liked it a lot (I reviewed it on September 6, 2014).  Then he will sign books, of course.

2.* Tuesday, November 18, at Recycle Books, 275 E. Campbell Avenue, Campbell - the RBC has its November meeting.  Our discussion takes place from 6:30-7:15, and then the author, Joshua Safran, will be there from 7:15-8:15 to answer questions and sign books. He has written a memoir called Free Spirit:  growing up on the road and off the grid.  And let me tell you, this is a crazy childhood that Josh lived through.  The book, which I will review in a day or 2, is really really good.  Not only that, Josh is an attorney who supports battered and abused women.  He will have some interesting stories to tell about some of his experiences as an adult too.  Remember:  You don't have to be an RBC member in order to come to our meetings.  And you can come just to see Josh if you want.

3.  Sunday, November 30, at Recycle Books, 9:30-12:30 - Lauri Pastrone, the editor and driving force behind the cookbook, Share, will be out in front of the store signing her book. It's a great idea for the holidays, and she has even offered to wrap any book that is being given as a gift.  You can go into Recycle any time and take a look at this cookbook.  All the money from sales goes to Women for Women International, an organization designed to give women from war-torn countries a skill that will allow them to be self-sufficient.  You will be fascinated talking to Lauri.

4.  Saturday, December 13, at Village House of Books, 6:30-8:00 - Alina Sayre, who wrote The Illuminator's Gift, a middle grade fantasy, will be launching her sequel, The Illuminator's Test.  Alina will not only be reading from her new book, but there will also be fun activities for kids of all ages, just like she had the 1st time.  And if you want to read a review of Alina's 1st book, I've got one from June 2 of this year.  I liked her 1st book a lot.

5.  Sunday, January 25, at Recycle Books, 9:30-12:30 - Julie Dart has written a children's book called Ellie Stands up to the Bully.  It's been out for a while, but this will be the official launch.  And get this - for every book Julie sells, she will donate 1 copy to the Campbell schools.  How neat is that?

*(I always liked that asterisk thing) - there's a link on the homepage of this blog that allows you to see all of the upcoming authors for the Recycle Book Club.  BUT, because I don't want you to have to take the extra step of clicking on a link, here are the December-April book club authors:

Tuesday, December 2 - Queen Sugar - Natalie Baszile
Tuesday, January 13 - The Mathematician's Shiva - Stuart Rojstaczer
Wednesday, February 18 - Spectrum - Alan Jacobson
Tuesday, March 24 - The Princess of Las Pulgas - C. Lee McKenzie
Wednesday, April 22 - Boundaries:  A Love Story - Christine Z. Mason

There are copies of all 6 books at Recycle Books right now.  And, in fact, Christine has added some signed hardcover copies of Boundaries:  A Love Story that are the same price as the (unsigned) paperbacks.  You don't get that kind of deal very often.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A Launch Party AND a Review - Carole Bumpus, A Cup of Redemption

Carole Bumpus unveiled her debut novel, A Cup of Redemption, last Saturday night at Kepler's.  I was pleased to be there.  And you can see some pictures at the end of the review.  But, first, let me tell you what A Cup of Redemption is about and what I thought of it.

Here is the Goodreads blurb:

Like the braiding of three strands of brioche, the lives of three women Sophie Zabel Sullivan, Marcelle Pourrette Zabel, and Kate Barrington become inextricably intertwined as each struggles to resolve issues from past wars that have profoundly impacted their lives. Sophie believed her childhood nightmares were safely behind her once she married and moved to the U.S. from France until she is called to her mother, Marcelle s, deathbed to honor one final request: Search for my father! Search for Pourrette! Born on the last day of World War I, Marcelle, whose life epitomizes the human cost of war, never knew her father, yet carried the Pourrette name, along with the shame of illegitimacy, as did her two oldest sons born during World War II. Enlisting the expertise of a friend and family therapist, Sophie encourages Kate to join her in France to help find her grandfather scour the stain of illegitimacy from her family s name. Unbeknownst to Sophie, Kate s 34-year-old illegitimate daughter, given up for adoption during the Vietnam War, has recently reappeared. Kate, struggling with her own shame and guilt, pushes aside her feelings to join Sophie in France. Rising out of the collateral damage wrought by war, A Cup of Redemption is a touching story about love, loss, and the search for identity."

I liked Cup.  It's different from just about anything else I have read.  I have to admit that I made an immediate connection to Marcelle, who the reader finds out is dead in the 1st 4 lines of the book.  After I read the stories about her with Sophie and Kate, I felt a little bit of loss.  Crazy.  

The story is mostly about Sophie looking for answers to a lot of questions about her parents and her siblings.  But Kate's self-exploration plays a big part too.  There are a ton of characters, and it would have been confusing - except that Carole has a List of Characters at the front of the book with 26 names on it.  It's important to refer to that list on a regular basis so as not to say "Now, who's that again?"  Or even "Who's that?"  Most books don't need that list, but this one does.

Carole's writing is very good.  In describing Kate's 1st meeting with her husband, he says to her:  "Even from far away, I can hear your smile."  That's pretty darn romantic.  And when Kate talks about her children, she says:  "Two of her own children hadn't launched well and kept returning as if on bungee cords."  That's quite a visual.  

Again, keep your eye on the List of Characters, and you will enjoy this book.  Another strong debut novel from another local author.  As I've said many times before, the Bay Area is loaded with good solid authors.  

And some pictures from the launch:

A very nice spread of French food (with wine) before the formal part of the event began

Just a part of the large crowd

Carole being introduced by Nicole, from Kepler's