Sunday, August 31, 2014

Progress Report - 2/3 of the Way through 2014

Today, Sunday, is the end of August, which is 2/3 of the way through the year.  I'm on pace to read 72 books, which is good, but only 22,000+ pages, which is several thousand pages on the light side.  Out of the 48 books I've read, 15 have been 3.5 or 4.0.  But here's the funny part; out of those 15, I have no 4.0's.  I don't think I've ever been this far into a year without at least one 4.0, usually a lot more.  I can't really explain it.  I don't think I'm getting tougher since about 30% of those read are 3.5.  But, still.  No 4.0's? Crazy.  We'll see what happens these last 4 months (the book I'm reading now, Don't Look Back, by Gregg Hurwitz, will definitely not be a 4.0...or a 3.5...or...).

Here they are, in the order that I have read them:

1.   Harlan Coben - Missing You
2.   Jamie Ford - Songs of Willow Frost
3.   Richard North Patterson - Loss of Innocence
4.   Jennifer Ryan - Saved by the Rancher
5.   Tara Conklin - The House Girl
6.   Betty Auchard - Home for the Friendless
7.   C. Lee McKenzie - The Princess of Las Pulgas
8.   Kate White - Eyes on You
9.   Jonathan Tropper - This Is Where I Leave You
10. Betsy Franco - Naked
11. Rachael Herron - Pack Up the Moon
12. Suzy Vitello - The Moment Before
13. Ellen Sussman - A Wedding in Provence
14. Daniel James Brown - The Boys in the Boat
15. Natalie Baszile - Queen Sugar

And a couple of interesting (but useless) facts about these 15 books:

1.  9 of the 15 are Bay Area authors - 2,3,4,6,7,10,11,13,15
2.  1 of the 15 is a romance - 4
3.  2 of the 15 are YA's - 7,12
4.  1 of the 15 is non-fiction - 14
5.  7 of the 15 authors have appeared at VHOB - 4,6,7,10,11,12,13
6.  2 of the 15 have been, or will be, book club authors - 13,15
7.  1 of the 15 is in my top 24 all-time - 3 (Exile)

That's it.  Of course, I will be posting all 2014 books in early January.  And stay tuned for some more made-up, random lists.

Friday, August 29, 2014

An Interesting Perspective on Non-Competition between Authors

Seth Godin is a marketing guru who puts out an article every day - some long, some as short as a sentence or 2.  Today he talks about how in every industry companies compete against each other, keep secrets, and hide what they're doing from all of their competitors (I guess that's the same as keeping secrets, isn't it?).  The exception is book world.  Here's what he had to say:

Why don't authors compete?

There's an apocryphal story of a guy who went for his final interview for a senior post at Coca-Cola. At dinner, he ordered a Pepsi. He didn't get the job.And most packaged goods companies would kill to be the only product on the shelf, to own the category in a given store.

Yet, not only do authors get along, they spend time and energy blurbing each other's books. Authors don't try to eliminate others from the shelf, in fact, they seek out the most crowded shelves they can find to place their books. They eagerly pay to read what everyone else is writing...
Can you imagine Tim Cook at Apple giving a generous, positive blurb to an Android phone?
And yet authors do it all the time.
It's one of the things I've always liked best about being a professional writer. The universal recognition that there's plenty of room for more authors, and that more reading is better than less reading, even if what's getting read isn't ours.
It's not a zero-sum game. It's an infinite game, one where we each seek to help ideas spread and lives change.
It turns out that in most industries in the connection economy, that's precisely what works. People happily tweet each other's handles to their followers and give references to others that are looking for jobs. When a business that's comfortable not having 100% market share happily recommends a competitor, they're sending a signal about trust and confidence and most of all, about feeding the community first.
The competition isn't the person next to you on the web, or the store. The competition is none-of-the-above.

Isn't that cool?  I never thought about it this way, but he certainly seems to have nailed it.  If you want to start getting Seth's articles, you can go to his website - - and sign on.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Queen Sugar by Natalie Baszile - One of the Best Books of 2014

It's an interesting(?) story how I came to read Queen Sugar.  Stacy at Recycle Books gave me an ARC (advanced reading copy) of the book probably 6 or 7 months ago.  And it sat in my TBR (to be read) pile all that time.  In fact, somehow it slipped to the bottom - the very bottom - of about 12 books.  Sunday, I was looking at the TBR pile for my next book.  For some reason, Queen Sugar caught my eye.  And I grabbed it.  Here's the funny part (is the suspense killing you?).  Kepler's is having its next Book Swap on Saturday night, September 13.  And Natalie is the featured author.  That should be the necessary motivation, right?  But, wait.  I will be out of town that weekend.  I won't even see her!  That's it.  I still can't figure out why I grabbed it.  Boy, am I glad I did.  In fact, when I was only a quarter of the way through it, I knew I wanted Natalie and her book for a future Recycle Book Club meeting (she lives in San Francisco).  Thankfully, she agreed. She's coming sometime in December.  I'll keep you all posted on the date.  And whether you come to see her or not, please read the book.

Mr./Ms. Goodreads tells us what it's about:

Why exactly Charley Bordelon’s late father left her eight hundred sprawling acres of sugarcane land in rural Louisiana is as mysterious as it was generous. Recognizing this as a chance to start over, Charley and her eleven-year-old daughter, Micah, say good-bye to Los Angeles.
They arrive just in time for growing season but no amount of planning can prepare Charley for a Louisiana that’s mired in the past: as her judgmental but big-hearted grandmother tells her, cane farming is always going to be a white man’s business. As the sweltering summer unfolds, Charley must balance the overwhelming challenges of her farm with the demands of a homesick daughter, a bitter and troubled brother, and the startling desires of her own heart.
Penguin has a rich tradition of publishing strong Southern debut fiction—from Sue Monk Kidd to Kathryn Stockett to Beth Hoffman. In Queen Sugar, we now have a debut from the African American point of view. Stirring in its storytelling of one woman against the odds and initimate in its exploration of the complexities of contemporary southern life, Queen Sugar is an unforgettable tale of endurance and hope.

I have a lot to say about this book, but I'm afraid I'm going to lose you (yes, I know I could have eliminated the whole 1st paragraph).  So, I will resort to some bullet-pointing.  Here are just a few of the things about the book that I liked:

1.  I was oftentimes surprised.  I had a lot of raised eyebrows, OMG's, and "oof's."
2.  Charley's brother, Ralph Angel, is complex and not always easy to pin a label on.
3.  I learned a ton about the sugar cane industry without being the least bored.  In fact, it was fascinating stuff.
4.  Like Beth Hoffman's female protagonist in Looking for Me, Charley doesn't need a man to make the story more enjoyable or to move it along (I'm not telling you whether she ends up with one or not).
5.  Charley's family seems like anybody's/everybody's family.  I was only conscious of race when it came up in context.
6.  There are many great secondary characters in addition to Charley, Micah (her daughter), Ralph Angel, and Miss Honey (her grandmother).
7.  The book is very well-written.  There is a scene on page 118 where Charley literally eats dirt.  A reader can practically taste what Charley tastes.
8.  I didn't cry as often as I sometimes do.  Yet, there are many emotional moments, some of them subtle (y'all know how subtle I am!).  And there are a number of scenes that, although they don't produce tears, are still just so darn satisfying.

Was I succinct enough for you?  Did you get through my list?  Good.  Just read the dang book.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Moment of Everything - A Very Good Debut Novel for Shelly King

Folks, we're only 8 days away from the publication date of Shelly King's The Moment of Everything, as well as her launch that same evening at 7:00 at Books, Inc. in Mt. View. After reviewing books for my blog for over 3.5 years, I am still blown away by the tremendous amount of excellent authors we have in the Bay Area; not to mention all of the debut novels I have read and enjoyed.  In this case, not only did I thoroughly enjoy Shelly's book, we're even going to feature her and The Moment of Everything at our Recycle Book Club meeting, in downtown Campbell, on October 28.  Does that tell you how much I liked the book?  Do you want to know what it's about?  Of course you do. Here is our old pal Goodreads to give us a rundown:

Maggie Dupr├Ęs, recently "involuntarily separated from payroll" at a Silicon Valley start-up, is whiling away her days in The Dragonfly's Used Books, a Mountain View institution, waiting for the Next Big Thing to come along.
When the opportunity arises for her to network at a Bay Area book club, she jumps at the chance -- even if it means having to read Lady Chatterley's Lover, a book she hasn't encountered since college, in an evening. But the edition she finds at the bookstore is no Penguin ClassicsChatterley -- it's an ancient hardcover with notes in the margins between two besotted lovers of long ago. What Maggie finds in her search for the lovers and their fate, and what she learns about herself in the process, will surprise and move readers. 

Here is a quote from my notes (yes, I take notes):  "Funny and well-written without the paragraphs or the descriptions being too long."  (I don't have to be grammatically correct in my note-taking!)  I appreciate humor as long as it doesn't take away from the poignancy of the book.  And, in this case, it doesn't.  Nice going, Shelly.  In fact, at one point, I even thought to myself that this is very Beth-like.  And you all know what I think of Beth Hoffman and her books.

There is a scene at the Bay Area book club mentioned in the synopsis where she is talking to the very fancy woman who runs the club and who owns the house that is hosting the event.  The woman asks Maggie what she's been doing since she lost her job at the high tech start-up.  Here is her answer.  The italics reflect what she really means in her response.  This is pretty darn clever.

"I've been doing some pro bono consulting at a small used bookstore my neighbor owns."  I've been wasting time at the Dragonfly and learning 1500 new ways to describe a man's privates.  "Sales have been soft with the downturn in the local economy."  No one gives a flying frog's butt about the Dragonfly with Apollo across the street.  "I'm working with him to improve his margin."  I'm sitting in a dusty window reading trashy novels.

It's definitely fun to read a book that takes place in a used bookstore (that syncs up nicely with our book club now taking up residence in a used bookstore).  And it's fun to be familiar with Castro Street in Mt. View, where most of the book takes place.  BUT, if you don't live in the Bay Area, or don't know downtown Mt. View, not to worry.  You will enjoy the book as much as the rest of us.

I will give you one more quote.  Lolly Winston, whose books I have very much liked, says of Shelly's book:  "Shelly King is among my all-time favorite writers.  Her prose brims with beauty and her plots always pack a well-earned punch."  That about sums it up.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The 1st Literary Fair - A Gigantic Success

Wow was yesterday (Saturday, August 23) fun!  We had about 30 local authors along with our 2 keynoters (one of whom - "whom" is awkward but correct, I think - is a Los Gatos resident).  Los Gatos Library put on the show with able assistance from Village House of Books and Friends of the Library.  The event went from 12-3 and was considered by all to be a great success.  Here is the story in pictures (with captions).

The real star of the day - Melissa Maglio, the Library's Programs and Reference Librarian.  She did an amazing job putting all of this together.  Way to go Melissa.

Author and publisher tables

The shade-sitting crowd, listening to the speakers

The 2 keynote speakers - Laurie R. King and Jay Elliot (do I have to tell you which one is which?).

Laurie kicked off the program.

Jay was our last speaker.  He told some really fascinating stories about Steve Jobs and Apple.

Linda Gunther was one of the local authors who spoke for 5 minutes each.  In fact, Linda and the next 4 authors have all appeared at VHOB.

Tim Myers

Alina Sayre

Shelley Bates, who writes as Adina Senft and Shelley Adina.

JoAn Smith

Wait.  This is no author.  This is my daughter Meredith, with her 2 girls Drew and Josie, enjoying the sunshine and the grass.


Friday, August 22, 2014

3 Events This Week (so far)

We've had 3 very good events at VHOB in the last 3 days.  On Wednesday, we had 2 events and, tonight, 1.  Here they are (were):

Wednesday, 5:30-6:15 - National best-selling author, Gregg Hurwitz, came and signed books, including his latest, Don't Look Back.

Wednesday, 6:30-8:15 - VHOB Book Club - Ellen Sussman was our author.  She and her book, A Wedding in Provence, brought in about 25 people, by far our best showing so far. How cool is that?

Ellen is straight back in the corner, wearing a sleeveless white top

Friday, 7:00-7:45 - Laurie McAndish King read excerpts from her book, Lost Kidnapped Eaten Alive.  Laurie is an award-winning travel writer and has visited countries and out-of-the-way places all over  the globe.

Tomorrow is the Literary Fair from 12-3 on the Civic Center lawn in Los Gatos.  I am really excited about this event.  The Library is providing almost 30 local authors and 6 local publishers.  VHOB is providing the 2 keynote speakers.  Laurie R. King will kick off the event, at 12:10.  And Jay Elliot will be the last speaker, at 2:35.  It's going to be super fun.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Village House of Books #2 - 21 W. Main Street, Los Gatos

Village House of Books #2 opened its doors yesterday, August 20, 2014.  Here are 10 pictures of the store.

Pretty neat, don't you think?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

More Details about Gregg Hurwitz, Ellen Sussman, and the Literary Fair

People, I want to make sure everybody knows that Gregg Hurwitz's book signing at VHOB tomorrow will be at THE NEW BOOK STORE.  VHOB #2 is at 21 W. Main Street, Los Gatos.  Gregg will be there from 5:30-6:15 and will be signing his latest book, Don't Look Back, along with a couple of his older books.

Then, later that same evening, Ellen Sussman will be the VHOB Book Club author for her most recent release, A Wedding in Provence.  She'll be there from 7:15-8:15.  In fact, she will be bringing along another book club.  It will be great fun to have 25-30 people at one of our meetings.  This event will also be at THE NEW BOOK STORE.

And, finally, I wanted to give you a few more names of authors that will be at the Literary Fair on Saturday, 12-3, on the Civic Center lawn, Los Gatos.  You already know that VHOB's 2 keynote speakers are Laurie R. King and Jay Elliot.   But there will be another 29 authors that the Library is bringing in, along with 6 local publishers (do you hear that aspiring authors?).  Here's a list of those authors who have already appeared at VHOB, followed by those who are scheduled to appear between now and the end of October:

Russell Andrews
Erica Goss
C. Lee McKenzie
Tim Myers
Shelly Bates
Linda Gunther
Betty Auchard
JoAn Smith
Alina Sayre
Steve Sporleder

Anthony Fiorentino
Jana McBurney-Lin
Anthony Cirone

C'mon, everybody.  All of these authors and publishers, as well as Los Gatos Coffee Roasting Company, for food and beverages, are going to make this a humdinger (do people still use that word?) of a day.  I hope to see you there.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Litquake 2014 - Lots of Fun

Yesterday was Litquake 2014 at the JCC Palo Alto.  Joni, Rich, Leslie, and I got there at 2 and left at 6.  Here are the workshops and salons (what exactly is a salon without hair or nails?) that we attended:

2:00-2:45 - Oral Histories:  How and Why to Do Them.  Angela Zusman explained to us how important oral histories are and how her organization, along with many others, are making themselves available, around the world, to keep oral histories alive.  I strongly felt what she was talking about because all of my family members that could keep our history alive have passed away.  There's nobody left to ask questions.  It was a very interesting 45 minutes.

3:00-4:00 - Breakthrough Novelists.  I always enjoy this one because I want to know who's got their 1st novel and, therefore, might be a new author for me.  Remember last year I met Tracy Guzeman, Amy Franklin-Willis (both of whom were VHOB Book Club authors this year), and Ellen Kirschman (who had an author event at VHOB).  Last year was a very fertile year for the bookstore and me just from Litquake 2013.  This year, there were 4 featured authors - Edan Lepucki, Ann Gelder, Christina Nichol, and Stuart Rojstaczer.  Edan had an interesting story to tell about how she got on The Colbert Report.  And Ann, of course, is another VHOB Alumnus.  In fact, we had a launch party for Ann a couple of months ago.  I also made contact with Christina and Stuart later in the day, with the possibility that both of them might make appearances at VHOB.  Once again, I'm glad that I picked this "salon."  (I'm sorry.  I can't write "salon" with a straight face.)

Edan, Ann, Christina, Stuart

4:15-5:15 - Shrinks with Ink:  Psychotherapist Authors.  This is exactly what it sounds like. Greg Bellow (son of Saul), Jan Harwood (who, along with her Singing Grannies, read and performed at VHOB), and Kate Levinson all spoke about how their psychotherapy practices tied in to their books.  It was also interesting that one wrote mysteries (Jan), one wrote a memoir (Greg), and one wrote a self-help (Kate).  The moderator, who did an excellent job, was our own Ellen Kirschman, herself a police psychologist for 30 years and a VHOB author.  

Jan, Greg, Kate

5:30-6:00 - Blues, Booze & Schmooze.  We stayed for about 45 minutes to meet and greet the authors. We got a chance to spend quite a bit of time talking to Ellen Sussman, who is coming to VHOB this Wednesday night for our VHOB Book Club meeting, and to Keith Raffel, who was our July VHOB Book Club author, and who is one of my personal favorites.  This is also the time where I had the chance to meet Christina and Stuart.  I always enjoy this part of the event.  It's fun to talk to the authors in a relaxed setting.

The headliner for the event was Marcia Clark - yes, that Marcia Clark.  She is promoting her new Rachel Knight novel and was being interviewed by another author, Michelle Gagnon, from 7:00-8:00.  We didn't stay for that one.  

Other than the Marcia Clark hour, the rest of the day is free.  It's a great event and, and I will do everything I can each year to be there.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

This Coming Week at VHOB

We've got quite a week ahead of us.  So let's get to it:

Wednesday, August 20 - From 5:30-6:15, national best-selling author, Gregg Hurwitz, will be at VHOB signing his latest book, Don't Look Back.  We'll also have a few of his earlier titles available.

Wednesday, August 20 - From 6:30-7:15, the VHOB Book Club will be discussing Ellen Sussman's latest best seller, A Wedding in Provence.  And at 7:15, till approximately 8:15, Ellen will be there to answer questions and sign books.

 What an outstanding Wednesday we've got lined up, eh?

Friday, August 22 - From 7:00-roughly 8:00, Laurie McAndish King will be at VHOB talking about her new book, Lost Kidnapped Eaten Alive!  True Stories from a Curious Traveler. She will be telling us some very interesting tales from her travels to remote and off-the-beaten-track places.

Saturday, August 23 - From 12 noon-3:00, we have the 1st annual Literary Fair.  Hurray! It's sponsored by the Los Gatos Library, but VHOB has a big part.  We are providing the 2 keynote speakers:  Laurie R. King (not to be confused with Laurie McAndish King from the night before), author extraordinaire, and Jay Elliot, who was an executive VP at Apple for Steve Jobs.  Jay has written 2 books about the Apple way and ileadership.  The event will take place on the big Civic Center lawn on Main Street.  In addition to our 2 authors, the Library will be providing over 2 dozen local authors, some of whom will speak and all of whom will sign books for 3 hours.  (I'm not a big fan of "whom.")  Plus, the Los Gatos Roasting Company will be there selling food and beverages.

Folks, you are NOT going to want to miss this event.  (P.S.  There will also be a number of local publishers, for you aspiring writers/authors.)

How fantastic is next week shaping up, you ask?  Pretty darn fantastic.  I hope to see a bunch of you next week at a bunch of events.

TAKE NOTE:  VHOB #2 will NOT open for business on Monday.  It will be a little later in the week.  I'll let you know the exact new date.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Boys in the Boat. I Finally Read it. And Am I Glad I Did!

I've been (physically) looking at The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown, for a long time now.  It's displayed prominently at Village House of Books.  Every shift, every author event, I see it - usually multiple times.  Not only that, but I have had lots of people tell me how good it is.  So, I finally read it.  And it is some book.  It's easy describe but hard to explain, if that makes any sense.  Everybody by now knows the theme.  It's the story of the University of Washington crew team and its quest for gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.  Easy, right?  Not so much.  Like most good books, fiction or non-, the climax comes toward the end.  But what about the rest of it?  Let me fill you in a bit and tell you my dilemma.

The story centers on Joe Rantz, who grew up very poor in rural Washington and, oftentimes, family-less.  What he went through as a child reminds me of The Glass Castle - another example of truth being stranger than fiction.  I won't dwell on it except to say that he was told to leave the house at the age of 10 by his father and stepmother!  Isn't that nuts?  What he overcame to even get to U-Dub (University of Washington's nickname), and then to stay there 4 years, is an example of courage, perseverance, intellect, and pure guts.  Like The Glass Castle and even Unbroken, this story will make you shake your head countless times.

Lest you think this is a 1-man story, think again.  We learn a lot about the other 7 oarsmen and the coxswain from his boat, the Husky Clipper, Joe's girlfriend, Joyce, his freshman coach, Tom Bowles, his varsity coach, Al Ulbrickson, the resident boat builder, George Pocock, who dispenses advice to anyone who will listen (and at the beginning of each chapter), and his father, Harry.  And by the end of the book, you absolutely care about each of them.  In fact, when the author gives us a where-are-they-now bio at the end of the book, I was rapt.  They had all taken on a life of someone I cared about. Again, whether we're talking about fiction or non-, it's not that easy for an author to make you care about so many different characters.  But Brown makes that happen.

The story is great.  But for this old history major (Cal, 1972), I loved all of the facts that were thrown in.  I learned that:

1.  The 1st intercollegiate rowing championship, between Harvard and Yale, was in 1952.
2.  Robert McNamara (former secretary of defense and the subject of the excellent documentary, The Fog of War) and Gregory Peck both rowed crew for Cal.
3.  The Washington Crew found out where FDR lived when they were in New York for the nationals and walked right up to the door and knocked.  They were admitted by one of FDR's sons, himself an oarsman, who talked to them for hours.  Can you imagine that happening today?

Those, and many more like them, were fun facts to learn.  But the biggest history lesson centered on Germany and Hitler and everything the regime did to make itself look good for the world to see during the 1936 Olympics.  It's absolutely crazy how they cleaned up the city and countryside, fixed up buildings, got rid of all signs that they were abusing minorities (even though they were), and painted a picture of a docile and welcoming country.  All the while, they were preparing for war and were already in the process of eliminating any and all dissent to the government.  It was hard material to read, at times, but mesmerizing nonetheless.

And I also want you to know that there were many emotional moments for me (I know, a shocker).  If you care about Joe Rantz at all, then you will very much care about the obstacles he faced and the ultimate successes that he achieved.  What an inspirational guy!  But these are not my usual cry-for-the-sake-of-crying tears.  These are actually glad tears because of all Joe and his mates accomplished.  These are group tears, if you will.

So I obviously gave this a 4/4, right?  Not so fast.  Here's the dilemma that I referred to earlier.  There were quite a few moments that were very dry for me.  This is the exact opposite of Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson.  In that one, I loved the scenes with the serial killer (what does this say about me? - don't answer that) and was mildly bored by the descriptions of the building of the World's Fair in Chicago leading up to the event in 1893.  In Boys, I loved all of the rowing scenes and was mildly bored by some of the other parts of the book (but not the part about how Germany prepared for the Olympics - fascinating stuff, that).  The words "ponderous," "dense," and "tome" came to mind at various times.

Was it a fascinating book for the most part?  Yes.  Was it well-written?  Absolutely.  Was it worth the effort?  Undoubtedly.  Do I recommend it?  Highly.  It's still a 3.5/4.  Just be warned that it might drag a  bit.  There were definitely times when I was hoping (praying?) for some dialogue.



Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Litquake 2014 - JCC Palo Alto - Sunday, August 17

This Sunday, August 17, the JCC Palo Alto will, once again, host Litquake.  I have gone the last couple of years, and it is a terrific event.  There are over 45 authors who will participate, and all events are free - except for the 7-8 evening event, which is Marcia Clark in conversation (and promoting her new book).  And even that is only $15.

Not only are there workshops and panels from 2:00-5:15, but there's also a social hour, from 5:30-6:30, where you can meet most of the authors.  I met Amy Franklin-Willis, Tracy Guzeman, and Ellen Kirschman at last year's Litquake.  All 3 of them came to VHOB, with Amy's and Tracy's books being VHOB Book Club selections.  Which means, of course, that book club members got to meet both authors, ask them questions, and get books signed. 

There are also kids' events that go from 2-5, if that is of importance to you (my youngest "kid" is 30!).  You can go online to the JCC Palo Alto and see what those events are.  

And in the meantime, here is the schedule of events for the adults: 

Workshops for Adults (2-2:45 pm)

  • Oral Histories – How and Why To Do Them
    Angela Zusman – Executive Director, Story For All; Author, Story Bridges: A Guide to Conducting Intergenerational Oral History Projects
  • Blogging from a Jewish perspective – The Nuts and Bolts
    Moderator: Cheryl Sternman Rule
  • How We Write – A Conversation About Craft
    Hilton Obenzinger (Stanford) in conversation with NY Times bestselling novelist Vikram Chandra, author of the new memoir  Geek Sublime: The Beauty of Code, the Code of Beauty


3-4 pm

  • Breakthrough Novelists
    • Ann Gelder – Bigfoot and the Baby
    • Edan Lepucki – California
    • Christina Nichol – Waiting for the Electricity
    • Stuart Rojstaczer – The Mathematician’s Shiva
  • Genre Fiction: On the Fringes?
    Moderator: Evette Davis – Woman King
  • Barbara Rose Brooker – The Viagra Diaries
  • Nick Taylor – The Set-Up Man

  • The Art of the New Yorker
    • Mark Ulriksen – Dogs Rule Nonchalantly
    • Tom Toro – New Yorker cartoonist 
    • Owen Smith – New Yorker cartoonist
  • I See You Made an Effort – Annabelle Gurwitch
    An hour-long journey into the life of comedienne, TV personality and author of I See You Made an Effort: Compliments, Indignities, and Survival Stories from the Edge of 50
  • Russian Authors
    Moderator: Boris Vladimirsky
    • Igor Yudovich - The American Way: People Who Shaped the Country
    • Mark Shapiro - About Giraffes and Hippos
  • In My Life: Memoir
  • Novella Carpenter – Going Feral
  • Arlo Crawford – A Farm Dies Once a Year
  • Kelly Corrigan – Glitter and Glue
  • Joshua Safran – Free Spirit: Growing Up On the Road and Off the Grid
  • Cultural Immersions: International tales
    Moderator: Brenda Webster – After Auschwitz: A Love Story
    • Yangsze Choo – The Ghost Bride
    • Kathryn Ma – The Year She Left Us
    • Holly Payne – Damascena: A Novel of Roses and Rumi
    • Ellen Sussman - A Wedding in Provence
    • Shrinks With Ink: Psychotherapist Authors
      Moderator: Ellen Kirschman – Burying Ben
      • Greg Bellow – Saul Bellow’s Heart: A son’s Memoir
      • Jan Harwood – Raging Granny mysteries
      • Kate Levinson – Emotional Currency: A Woman’s Guide to Building a Healthy Relationship with Money
    • Suffering and Success in Silicon Valley (co-presented by Jewish High Tech Community)
      Moderator: Greg Mathis, Jewish High Tech Community board of directorsLee Daniel Kravetz and David Feldman, authors of Supersurvivors: The Surprising Link Between Suffering and Success (June, HarperOne)
    • Redefining Mainstream: LGBT Stories
      Moderator: Aaron Shurin – MFA prof, author
      • Toby Bielawski – poet
      • Jason Friedman – Fire Year: Stories
      • Karin Kallmaker - Love by the Numbers
    If you can make it, or even part of it, you won't be disappointed.  It's a lot of fun.  I'll be going this year with Joni, Rich, and Leslie, just like the 4 of us did last year.  Can't wait!

Monday, August 11, 2014

C. Lee McKenzie's New One - Double Negative. Good News for us All

Everybody knows how much I like C. Lee McKenzie.  The 1st one I read, The Princess of Las Pulgas, was great.  The 2nd one, Sliding on the Edge, wasn't far behind.  And now we have Double Negative. And speaking of negative, if I tell you that it's my least favorite of the 3, don't take that the wrong way.  I still liked it quite a bit.  Lee is in that fairly slim category of authors for me where I like all of their work.  And in a situation like that, obviously you will have your favorites.  So now that I'm done with my mea culpa, let Goodreads give you Double Negative's storyline.

"My life was going, going, gone, and I hadn't been laid yet. I couldn't go into the slammer before that happened." Hutch McQueen. 

Sixteen-year-old Hutchinson McQueen is trapped in a dysfunctional family. Shackled by poor vision and poor reading skills, he squeaks through classes with his talent for eavesdropping and memorizing what he hears. After another suspension from school and suffering through one of his mother’s violent attacks, he escapes to a friend’s house that turns out to be a meth lab. The lab is raided and Hutch lands in juvenile detention. When the court sentences him to six months in a new juvenile program, he meets a teacher with Alzheimer’s who will change his life and hers.

Here's the thing about Lee's books - you care about the characters right away.  And she starts DN with Hutch being in the principal's office, again, on the 1st page.  So right away you know that he's got problems.  And those continue through much of the book.  I think we all like redemption stories, but they have to feel realistic.  You have to care about the protagonists right away and be rooting for them, but it needs to take most of the book before he or she gets there.  That's definitely the case in DN.  

It's also really important to have the supporting cast matter.  In this case, there's Hutch's friend and fellow student Nyla.  There's Father Kerry, former bad boy turned priest.   There's Heather, Father Kerry's friend and (probably) ex-lover, and her mother, Maggie, who is showing beginning signs of Alzheimer's but who teaches Hutch some valuable lessons.  And let's not forget Hutch's mom, Dee Dee, who has a habit of just up and leaving Hutch alone for days on end.  Or his father, who tries his best but is just not cut out for single parenting (a tough assignment for anybody, I would guess).  There are more.  I don't think it's that easy to bring in a whole bunch of disparate characters and make them matter - without any of them overwhelming the main (anti-)hero or heroine. Lee does this masterfully.  My tear-o-meter definitely responded to many of them.

I also have to say that although I connected with Hutch right away, I didn't know for quite awhile whether or not I liked him.  I'm not sure how I feel about that.  Did it color my enjoyment of the book?  Maybe a little.  Hard to say.  But I do know that it didn't prevent me from tearing up on pages 106, 116, 120, 123, 125, 135, and 136, among others.  So I guess I emotionally connected to Hutch more than I thought.  Maybe I need to do some reevaluating.  Hmm, I'll think about that.

Whether you're a crier or not, Double Negative is certainly worth reading.  And while you're at it, if you haven't done this already, pick up Lee's The Princess of Las Pulgas and Sliding on the Edge.  You won't be sorry that you read any of these 3 YA novels.


Thursday, August 7, 2014

Author Date Change - Mark Your Calendars!

Hi y'all.  I wanted to let you know about a change in our author event schedule.  But it's a good change.    Joshua Safran, author of the memoir Free Spirit:  Growing up on the Road and off the Grid, was supposed to come to VHOB this coming Wednesday, August 13.  That is now off the calendar.  Instead, he will be our VHOB Book Club author for November - the 18th, to be exact.  (Don't worry.  It's the week before Thanksgiving.) Publisher's Weekly compared his memoir to the works of David Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs.  Pretty impressive company, wouldn't you say?

Josh is not only a successful author (Amazon has had 82 ratings - 76-5-star and 6-4-star - that is amazing), he's also a successful documentarian.  His movie, Crime After Crime, a chronicle of a 7-year effort to get a battered woman out of prison, has won 25 awards! Josh can seemingly do it all.
What else?  Well, he's a legal advocate for victims of domestic violence and makes appearances across the country. He is said to be quite the impassioned speaker and storyteller.  And, remember, you don't have to read the book to come see him.  He will be at the store from 7:15 to approximately 8:15.  (The VHOB Book Club will meet 1st, from 6:30-7:15, to discuss the book and get ready for the Q&A.)

Finally, if you want to read his book, we've got 4 copies in the store right now.  And, if we run out, we can get more within 1-2 days.  You're all gonna like this change.

P.S.  Do you want to learn more about Josh and his book and movie?  How about some crazy good testimonials?  You can go to his website -