Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Recommendations for 2008

Don't worry.  There are only 2 more years after this one!  But I do have a small amount of good news.  I've got some different authors for 2008.  So, there's Douglas Preston, Sheldon Siegel, Lee Child, Jeffrey Archer, and Billie Letts.  And I'm listing 24 out of 73, just under a 1/3 (I got through Algebra 2 in high school!).

W.E.B. Griffin - The Shooters - Presidential Agent #4
Khaled Hosseini - A Thousand Splendid Suns - his 1st book since The Kite
     Runner - and almost as good as the 1st (haven't read the 3rd yet)
Deborah Wolf - When I'm Not Myself - her 2nd, and last (rats!)
Alex Berenson - The Ghost War - John Wells #2
Jodi Picoult - Change of Heart
Douglas Preston - Blasphemy - he has written at least 12 books by himself
     and about 20 books with Lincoln Child - Blasphemy is the only one I
     have read - don't know why
Joel Rosenberg - Dead Heat - The Last Jihad #5
Sheldon Siegel - Special Circumstances - #1 in the Mike Daley/Rosie
     Fernandez Series - 7 books in series (so far) - I read 6 this year alone -
     very entertaining and one of my favorite local authors - good guy
Lee Child - Killing Floor - #1 in the Jack Reacher series - I read 3 or 4
     and then stopped - don't know why redux
Harlan Coben - Hold Tight
Jeffrey Archer - Prisoner of Birth - another very good book, as usual -
     currently reading a great series (have read 1-3, not #4 yet)
Sheldon Siegel - Incriminating Evidence - #2
Billie Letts - Made in the USA - unfortunately, Billie passed away just
     a month ago - a major literary loss - this book is her #4 - absolutely
     loved Opening Soon, The Honk and Holler - favorite book of year
     10 or 11 years ago
Sheldon Siegel - Criminal Intent - #3
W.E.B. Griffin - Death and Honor - #4 in the Honor Bound series
Daniel Silva - Moscow Rules - Gabriel Allon #8
Sheldon Siegel - #4
Jodi Picoult - Salem Falls
Sheldon Siegel - The Confession - #5
Nicholas Sparks - The Lucky One - everybody needs a tearjerker on
Vince Flynn - Extreme Measures - Mitch Rapp #11
David Baldacci - Divine Justice - The Camel Club #4
Sheldon Siegel - Judgment Day - #6
Steve Berry - The Charlemagne Pursuit - Cotton Malone #4
Jodi Picoult - Perfect Match

I have no doubt that 2009 and 2010 will be way different than 2006-08 (actually, I have no idea if that's true or not).  The important thing is that I've read a ton of books that I have enjoyed and want to  recommend.  That's worth something...isn't it?

Monday, September 29, 2014

Greg Iles - Never A Misstep

I have just finished Greg Iles' latest, Natchez Burning.  It's the 1st in a trilogy and his 1st book in 5 years.  He had a serious car accident in March of 2011.  In fact, a couple of his doctors were sure he wasn't going to make it.  Well, he did.  But it did delay publication of his latest novel by a couple of years.  Did the accident affect his ability to write in any way?  Heck, no.  This guy is golden.  When people ask me (yes...some people actually do ask me) who are my favorite thriller/mystery/suspense writers, I always give them 2 names 1st - Harlan Coben and Greg Iles.

I have a lot to say about Natchez Burning.  In fact, it's going to take me a couple of posts to say it.  So, let me start by telling you what both Stephen King and Jodi Picoult have to say about this book:

"Natchez Burning is extraordinarily entertaining and fiendishly suspenseful.  I defy you to start it and fine a way to put it down; as long as it is, I wished it were longer.  There's a bonus: you'll finish knowing a great deal about the Deep South's painful struggle toward racial equality, and the bloody road between Then and Now.  Only a southern man could have written this book, and thank God Greg Iles was there to do the job.  This is an amazing work of popular fiction." - SK

"I don't know how Iles did it, but every single page of Natchez Burning is a cliff-hanger that will keep you devouring just one more chapter before you put it down to eat, work, or go to bed.  A mystery rooted in the real-life racial divides of the Deep South, this ambitious, unique novel is the perfect marriage of a history lesson and a thriller.  Greg? You owe me some sleep!" - JP

And what is the book/trilogy about?  Let's let Goodreads tell us.

"#1 New York Times bestselling novelist Greg Iles returns with his most eagerly anticipated book yet, and his first in five years – Natchez Burning, the first installment in an epic trilogy that weaves crimes, lies, and secret past and present into a mesmerizing thriller featuring Southern mayor and former prosecutor Penn Cage."

Let me add that this blends the South in the '60's with the South in modern times (2005). I've personally been around a long time.  I was a teenager in the '60's when racial inequality was a very hot national topic.  In fact, the Black Panthers, led by Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver, started in the '60's in the Bay Area, where I have lived all of my life. Now, here it is 40 years later (when the book takes place) and 50 years later for us reading it now.  And race crimes committed back then are still very hard to read.  You know it's fiction, but it really isn't.  And, in fact, a number of the crimes written about in this book came from real-life situations.  The book makes you cringe a bunch.  But Iles has combined a thriller with historical fiction to create a story that is, as King and Picoult said, extremely hard to put down.

I will give you some personal observations in Part II (does that look official?).

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Recommendations from 2007 (I've got to stop coming up with such exciting titles for these posts)

So, as I went through the 2007 list (66 books), I realized something that I didn't think of for 2006.  I've got a bunch of authors who I'm reading over and over again - just like last year.  And here's why:  I hadn't started the blog yet (Jan. 2011) or handling author events at Village House of Books (Oct. 2013).  At this stage of my reading life, I was pretty much focused on murder mysteries and suspense novels.  That's changed dramatically over the last year, especially.  But for 2007, there are a bunch of repeaters. Here are the 28 that I would recommend.  And, again, they are in the order that I read them.

Brian Haig - The Man in the Middle - this is the 6th book in the Sean Drummond
     series - a military JAG (Judge Advocate General), with a bunch of humor -
     very fun
W.E.B. Griffin - The Hunters - #3 in the Presidential Agent series
Barry Eisler - Hard Rain - #2 in the John Rain series
Jeannette Walls - The Glass Castle - 1 of my top 12 ALL-TIME
Steve Berry - The Alexandria Link - #2 in the Cotton Malone series
Christopher Reich, "The John Grisham of Wall Street" - The Devil's Banker
Barry Eisler - Rain Storm - #3
Harlan Coben - The Woods
J.K. Rowling - Harry Potter #6 - really liked this series - #4 the least
Barry Eisler - Killing Rain - #4
Christopher Reich - The Runner - WWII-based - still has an accountant as hero
David Rosenfelt - Play Dead - New Jersey-based Andy Carpenter #6 - also lots
     of humor (like Haig) and also attorney-based
Jodi Picoult - The Tenth Circle
Lute Olson - Seasons of My Life - autobiography of the former University of
     Arizona basketball coach - it was given to me by my son, a UofA graduate -
     wouldn't have read it otherwise, but very good
Barry Eisler - The Last Assassin - #5
Sara Gruen - Water for Elephants - the book actually lived up to its press -
     enjoyed the scenes with the old guy more so than the circus scenes -
     the movie, unfortunately, focused on the circus
Barry Eisler - Requiem for an Assassin - #6
Daniel Silva - The Secret Service - #7
J.K. Rowling - Harry Potter - #7
Christopher Reich - The First Billion
Christopher Reich - Numbered Account
Jodi Picoult - Nineteen Minutes
Nicholas Sparks - The Choice (remember? I love his sappy stuff)
Ken Follett - World without End - Pillars of the Earth sequel - it's in my 2nd 12
Vince Flynn - Protect and Defend - Mitch Rapp #10
David Baldacci - Stone Cold - The Camel Club #3
Greg Iles - Third Degree (only 1 this year!)
Steve Berry - Venetian Betrayal - Cotton Malone #3

I haven't looked at 2008, but I bet that it's got a similar mix to 2006 & 2007.  We shall see.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Hampton Sides Comes to Books, Inc. in Mt. View

Monday night, I went to Books, inc. in Mt. View to see Hampton Sides.  This is a very interesting author.  He averages 1 book every 4-5 years.  My only exposure to him was about 20 years ago.  I read his book, Ghost Soldiers, which is the true story of Americans who were part of the Bataan Death March, and who ended up in a Japanese prison camp in the Philippines.  This is about not only the march, but also their imprisonment.  It's a fascinating book, but I had never read any others by Sides.  Now, he's got a new one called In the Kingdom of Ice, The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette. This story begins in 1879. at a time when U.S. explorers were treated as heroes, and their exploits were chronicled throughout the country.

Sides did a 45-minute slide show, which was much better than him reading from his book (a scenario more typical for author events).  Of course, his book leant itself to a slide show.  We learned that Wrangel Island, which is in the Arctic Ocean, and a place that Sides visited, is the last place on earth where there are still wooly mammoths.  Cool, eh? We also learned that it took Sides 4 years to write Kingdom and included visits to France, Germany, and Siberia, among other locations, for research.  And, at a time when publishers are cutting back on author tours, Sides is actually scheduled to make 32 stops, with Monday night being #19.  It was a very good crowd, probably around 35-40.

Based on how good Ghost Soldiers was, I will be reading this one at some point (get in line, Sides - the TBR pile is extremely daunting).

(I was actually that close to him because I wanted to be the 1st one to get my book signed.  Joni sat in the back.  She didn't want to be a teacher's pet, unlike me!)

Monday, September 22, 2014

Recommendations from 2006

Many (some? a few? one?) of you know that I've been writing my blog since January 2011.  And you also know (maybe) that I started rating books at that time.  But what you probably didn't know is that I started to keep track of books and pages read way back in 2006.  I thought it would be fun to go back to the years before 2011 and give you a list of the books that I really liked.  I can't remember them all well enough to rate each one individually, but I can certainly list the ones that I enjoyed the most.  I read 76 books and 28,185 pages in 2006.  And here are the 27 listed in the order that I read them (with a little side note here and there):

W.E.B. Griffin - The Hostage - book 2 in the Presidential Agent series with Charlie Castillo.
Greg Iles - Blood Memory - the 1st of 6(!) Iles I read this year - obviously, this is when I
     became aware of him - and of the 6, 4 were murder/mystery/suspense novels, and 2
     were WWII-related - all very good
Jodi Picoult - Second Glance - I liked her then, and I like her now - 1st of 2 books from
     this year
Steve Berry - The Templar Legacy - book 1 out of 9 in the Cotton Malone series -
     suspense with history - good, fun books
Christopher Moore - Lamb - I stopped reading him a number of years ago now - but this
     was my favorite
Greg Iles - Mortal Fear
Harlan Coben - Promise Me - they're all good, Myron Bolitar or not
Jodi Picoult - Vanishing Acts
Dean Koontz - The Husband - I like all of his books, but not so much the Odd Thomas
Greg Iles - Spandau Phoenix
Daniel Silva - The Messenger - #6 of 14 in the Gabriel Allon series - probably my favorite
Greg Iles - Black Cross
Greg Iles - Turning Angel
Joel Rosenberg - The Copper Scroll - #4 of 5 in the Last Jihad series - very good -
     all with an interesting Middle East perspective
Deborah Wolf - With You and Without You - 1 of 2 that that she's written (I've read them
     both) - "women's fiction?" - perhaps
Alex Berenson - The Faithful Spy - book 1 in the John Wells series - very creative premise
     - Wells, a CIA operative, has spent 10 years undercover with Al Qaeda when book 1
Brad Meltzer - Book of Fate - I'm not a huge fan, but this is a good one
Christopher Reich - The Patriots Club - the 1st one of his that I read - really liked his
     accountant-as-hero standalones - not so much his series with Jonathan Ransom
Vince Flynn - Act of Treason - #9 in the Mitch Rapp series (#1 & #2 were prequels written
     in 2010 and 2012 respectively) - Flynn died at the ridiculously young age of 47
David Baldacci - The Collectors - #2 in the Camel Club series, which I really liked a lot
Barry Eisler - Rain Fall - #1 in the John Rain series - 1/2 Japanese-1/2 American assassin
Nicholas Sparks - Dear John - I'm a sucker for Sparks' sappy books - my 1st was The
Lolly Winston - Happiness, Sold Separately - 1 of only 2 books Lolly has written so far -
     another "women's fiction" selection
Nelson DeMille - Wild Fire - the 4th in the John Corey series - not my favorite DeMille
     books (loved Charm School) but still better than most everybody else
Lolly Winston - Good Grief
Michael Crichton - Next - the last one published while he was still alive
Greg Iles - True Evil

SERIES NOTE:  I just saw that Emily Bestler, who was Vince Flynn's only publisher, has signed a 3-book deal with author Kyle Mills to continue the Mitch Rapp series.  The next book will come out in 2015.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Recycle Book Club (formerly VHOB Book Club) Makes Its Debut at Recycle Books

I don't blog much about our book club, but Thursday night was kind of momentous.  After having 9 authors come to Village House of Books (plus one who called in from Kentucky) for the VHOB Book Club, we had our 1st book club meeting (now called Recycle Book Club) at Recycle Books in Campbell.  I guess the venue doesn't matter as much as having the author come to the meeting, but it still felt a little strange.  Here's the good news:  Besides having a great evening with Jana McBurney-Lin and Hi-Dong Chai, authors of Blossoms and Bayonets (a semi-autobiographical story of a 6-year old during the Japanese occupation of Korea in WWII) we also have gotten amazing support from Recycle's manager, Stacy, and her staff - especially Kevin, who helped me carry chairs in from the car, set them up, and then take them down (while I gallivanted off to dinner).  He was also available for anything else we needed.

We have authors lined up through January.  And Stacy already has books in stock for every one of our upcoming authors.  When you walk into the store, there is a bookshelf to the right of the cash register.  And in the top shelf is at least several copies of each book. Not only that, but on the top of the bookshelf, Stacy has our next upcoming author with a blurb about our book club (I'll get info to her on the October author, Shelly King, in the next couple of days).  Here is a list of who we've got coming up:

October 28, Tuesday - Shelly King, The Moment of Everything
November 18, Tuesday - Joshua Safran, Free Spirit:  growing up on the road and off the grid
December 2, Tuesday - Natalie Baszile, Queen Sugar
January 13, Tuesday - Stuart Rojstaczer, The Mathematician's Shiva

People, I can't tell you how much fun it is to have an author on site to answer questions and sign books.    If any of you live in the South Bay Area (San Jose, CA and environs), you might want to come to one of our meetings.  There is no time obligation associated with our book club.  You can come once, several times, all the time, or not at all.  You can come and see the author even if you haven't read the book.  If you can't make it, you can even leave a book for us to have personalized and signed by the author.  (And, get this - there is no RSVP!  How cool is that?)  We meet from 6:30-7:15 to discuss the book and come up with our questions.  And then the author is there from approximately 7:15-8:15. If you want to be on our email list, just to keep up with what's happening, feel free to let me know.  You can email me at lloydrrussell@gmail.com and let me have your email address.

For those who are hearing/reading about our book club for the 1st time, here are the authors that we have had since we began the book club in January:

January 7 -        Michael David Lukas - The Oracle of Stamboul
February 18 -    Amy Franklin-Willis - The Lost Saints of Tennesse
March 6 -          Karen Joy Fowler - We Are All Completely Besides Ourselves
                          Rayme Waters - The Angels' Share
April 1 -            Beth Hoffman (by phone) - Saving CeeCee Honeycutt
April 16 -          Tracy Guzeman - The Gravity of Birds
May 6 -             Nate Jackson - Slow Getting Up
June 19 -           Katie Hafner - Mother Daughter Me
July 30 -            Keith Raffel - A Fine and Dangerous Season
August 20 -       Ellen Sussman - A Wedding in Provence
September 18 -  Jana McBurney-Lin, Hi-Dong Chai - Blossoms and Bayonets

I've got 3 pictures of our Thursday night authors.  They were taken a few months ago when they both appeared at the Los Gatos Library 3rd Tuesday Night Book Club (of which I am a member).

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Authors I've Read Once - and Intend to Read Again

Thanks to a fellow blogger - Feed Your Fiction Addiction - I've got a 1st for my blog posts (you guys know that I have no original ideas of my own).  This is a list of authors that I have read once - but will definitely read again.  The only requirement for this list is that the author already has more than one published book.  There's no specific order, except that #'s 1-3 are my favorites.  And the list shows the author, the book I read, and the number of published books the author currently has.

1.    JoJo Moyes - Me Before You - 7

2.    Jonathan Tropper - This Is Where I Leave You - 8

3.    David Benioff - City of Thieves - 2

4.    Kate White - Eyes on You - 9

5.    Joseph Finder - Suspicion - 11

6.    Rachael Herron - Pack up the Moon - 8

7.    Steve Hamilton - The Lock Artist - 12

8.    Jennifer Weiner - Good in Bed - 10

9.    Helen Bryan - The Sisterhood - 3

10.  Garth Stein - The Art of Racing in the Rain - 5

11.  Nicole Mones - The Last Chinese Chef - 4

If 13 is called a baker's dozen, then what is 11 called?  10+1?  12-1?  10-ish?  In any case, hopefully you'll discover 1 or more new authors to add to your ever-increasing TBR pile.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

An Interview with Jana McBurney-Lin, author of My Half of the Sky and Blossoms and Bayonets

Had a sit-down with Jana McBurney-Lin a while back.  Here's what she had to say:

"'Your first novel reminds me of old Korea,' Korean-American Hi-Dong Chai said to me at a writer's conference.  'Will you help me tell my story?'  My first novel, My Half of the Sky (KOMENAR, 2006), took place in contemporary China, where my husband was born and raised.  (In fact, we lived in Japan and Singapore for a total of 15 years.)  I initially had plans to work on a sequel to My Half of the Sky.  However, when Dr. Chai started telling his story-of being raised in Japanese-occupied Seoul, Korea, as the son of one of the first Christian ministers in the city-I was captivated.

"At first, I helped.  I edited here.  Made suggestions there.  After two years, he came to me and said, 'I'm an engineer.  Will you write the story?'  I said it isn't my story to tell.  But I told him I would co-author it if we could turn it into fiction.  And that's what we did. Blossoms and Bayonets was published October, 2012 (Redwood)."

Here is Goodreads' synopsis:

Hi-Dong Chai and Jana McBurney-Lin, the award-winning author of My Half of the Sky, turn their hands to a remarkable story of a family and country torn apart by outside forces. The time is 1942, the place, Japanese-occupied Seoul, Korea. Fifteen-year-old He-Seung is full of fire, ready to take on these Japanese...if only he could convince his father, a Christian minister more concerned about saving his flock in a time when Emperor-worship has become mandatory. Since occupation, the Japanese have eradicated the Korean language, names, even the country's flower. Now they are seeking Korean boys as volunteers for their army. When his father is arrested by the Japanese, however, He-Seung must swallow his hatred of the enemy and volunteer for the military. Even harder, he must leave his mother and baby brother He-Dong to fend for themselves.   

I have read both of Jana's books, but I don't remember much about the 1st one because I read it quite a few years ago (I also don't remember what I had for breakfast this morning!).  But I do remember Blossoms and Bayonets.  And I liked it a lot.  In fact, this Thursday night, September 18, Jana and Hi-Dong Chai will be the Recycle Book Club's authors.  I saw them talk about the book at the Los Gatos Library 3rd Tuesday Book Club. It is fascinating stuff.  Even though I was a history major, I never knew that Japan occupied Korea during WWII.  Now I know that, and a whole bunch more.  If you want to get a history lesson that will keep you mesmerized (I'm not talking about 11th grade high school world history here), then come on by.  Jana and Hi-Dong will be at Recycle Bookstore in downtown Campbell from 7:15-8:15.  And don't worry about not reading the book ahead of time.  It's just darn interesting anyway.

What's next for Jana?  Well, all I know is that we can expect her 3rd book sometime in 2015 or 2016.  That's a good thing, people.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout (Pulitzer Prize winner for Olive Kitteredge)

This is definitely not a book I would normally pick up (especially since it's by a pulitzer prize-winning author!), unless it was highly recommended to me by somebody I usually agree with, or it was going to be a book club selection (bingo).  I was excited to get back to the Los Gatos Library Book Club on the 3rd Tuesday night of the month.  You've heard me say how much I enjoy it, and how I look forward to it.  Melissa Maglio does a great job. So, I got this month's selection (used at Recycle), and started to read it in preparation for the book club meeting on the 16th.  Just when I got to page 120 (out of 320), I found out that I can't make the meeting.  Now what do I do?  Do I dump it or keep going, just in case my conflicting event goes away?  I decided to keep going.  And now I'm done.  This is an interesting one to review.  Let's start with Goodreads.

Haunted by the freak accident that killed their father when they were children, Jim and Bob Burgess escaped from their Maine hometown of Shirley Falls for New York City as soon as they possibly could. Jim, a sleek, successful corporate lawyer, has belittled his bighearted brother their whole lives, and Bob, a Legal Aid attorney who idolizes Jim, has always taken it in stride. But their long-standing dynamic is upended when their sister, Susan—the Burgess sibling who stayed behind—urgently calls them home. Her lonely teenage son, Zach, has gotten himself into a world of trouble, and Susan desperately needs their help. And so the Burgess brothers return to the landscape of their childhood, where the long-buried tensions that have shaped and shadowed their relationship begin to surface in unexpected ways that will change them forever.

Where do I begin?  I'll start by saying it's very well-written.  Then I'll continue by saying I got a little chill on page 312 and had a small emotional reaction on page 318.  That's it.  It reminded me of Karen Joy Fowler's We Are Completely Beside Myself.  Very well-written, but I didn't really connect with the characters.  And my 1 slightly teary response 2 pages from the end didn't even really relate to the family.  Having said all of that (blah, blah, blah, my usual), I will say that I can see why so many people liked it.  Sports fans, sometimes it's just me.

And although I didn't relate that much to the characters, there were still some parts of the book that I was able to tie into real-life experiences.  One takes place in Central Park. Bob talks about a woman who "every weekend sprayed herself gold and, wearing a leotard, tights, and toe shoes, stood on a box, struck a pose and didn't move, while tourists took pictures and kids stared and reached for the hands of their parents."  If you go to the Campbell Farmer's Market on Sunday mornings, you will often find a bronzed baseball player from head to toe, replete with uniform, cleats, and bat, standing motionless on a box.  Every now and then, he will lithely move and show some baseball stances.  It's very cool to watch.

A 2nd talks about Jim and Helen's son going to the University of Arizona.  That's where our oldest, Josh, went many years ago (he's 38 now).  And, finally, when Bob lives in Brooklyn, he talks about Prospect Park.  When we visited our daughter Lauren, and her husband Joe, back in July, Lauren and Joni took a walk to Prospect Park.  It's always fun to be able to relate to specific situations and places in a book, especially when they take place in a different part of the country.

To show you how wide a range of opinions there are about this book, Amazon has this distribution of 5- star to 1-star ratings, with an average of 3.8 (Goodreads has an average of 3.51):

5 - 481
4 - 402
3 - 279
2 - 127
1 - 76

So I'm going to say that this might be just the kind of book that you will like.  I mean, after all, 65% of the 1365 ratings gave it a 5 or 4.  I, on the other hand, probably came into the read with a negative attitude because I knew that the author is a pulitzer prize winner.  I know how surprised you are that I am capable of such childish behavior! 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Some Inside Stuff about Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory

Everybody knows either the iconic children's book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or the movie Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (and probably the remake with Johnny Depp from 2005 too).  In fact, most everybody probably knows both (or all 3).

My kids are 38, 35, and 30.  I read Charlie to them many years ago (along with a bunch of other Roald Dahl books - The Twits, The BFG, James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, The Witches).  Nobody wrote  better read-to-your-kids books than Roald Dahl.  So why am I taking a very long trip back to memory lane?  Because I just came across 10 facts about Dahl, the book, and the movie that I didn't know.  And that I suspect most of you don't know.  This is just so boss (ask your parents - or grandparents).

.The book grew out of a bedtime story Dahl made up for his first two children, Olivia and Tessa (the second of whom would go on to become the mother of the writer, presenter and model Sophie Dahl).

.The original title of the book was Charlie's Chocolate Boy. Charlie was one of ten children who found one of what was then a weekly batch of golden tickets entitling them to a tour of the factory and ended up in a chocolate boy mold by accident and being bought for a little girl as an Easter present.

.Mr. Willy Wonka was first known as Mr. Ritchie.
.And the Oompa-Loompas, right up until the very last moment, were the Whipple-Scrumpets.
.The 1971 film adaptation of the book came about because Mel Stuart's daughter Madeline brought a copy home, told him she had read it three times and that she wanted him to make it into a film. Coincidentally, his producer partner David Wolper was having a conversation with an advertising agent who had a client -- Quaker Oats -- who wanted to fund a project that could tie in with a new chocolate bar they were making. Done and done!

 .Dahl wanted Peter Sellers or Spike Milligan to play Wonka in the film. Stuart and Wolper wanted all-singing, all-dancing, all-Tony-Award-winning stage actor Joel Grey, but realised that if any of the child actors had a growth spurt during shooting they could end up towering over the five-foot-five star. And then, when Gene Wilder auditioned they knew they had found the perfect man for the part. "The role fit him tighter than Jacques Cousteau's wetsuit," says Wolper in his autobiography, Producer.

.Julie Dawn Cole, who played Veruca Salt in the film, is now a child psychotherapist. Peter Ostrum -- Charlie -- is a big animal vet in New York State.

.There are five drafts of Charlie still in existence, in the archive at the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire. It is thought that Dahl destroyed the very first one after his young nephew told him it was "rubbish."
.When it was first published in September 1964 it sold 10,000 copies in the first week. The New York Times called it "sheer joy."
.Dahl wanted a relatively unknown young artist called Maurice Sendak to illustrate the first edition. But he was too busy working on a book that the timing suggests was Where the Wild Things Are.

This is just 1 of the main reasons why I LOVE books.  Even 48 years later we get to learn neat facts about books that we grew up with.  Or at least had reason to be familiar with.  If my kids read this blog (I don't necessarily think that will, or does, happen!), then I know they'll think this is as cool as I do.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

An Interview with Rayme Waters - The Making of The Angels' Share

You all know by now how much I loved The Angels' Share by Rayme Waters.  How do you know that?  Because I've told you numerous times.  I gave it a 4/4 when I reviewed it, and it sits on my recommending table on Sunday mornings at Recycle Bookstore.  So, why am I telling you this? Well, a while ago I had a chance to sit down with Rayme and talk to her about how this book came to be.  It's an interesting story (I'm sure you will agree).

To begin with, it took 8 years from the idea for the book until she signed with a publisher! She spent the 1st couple of years in communication with a literary agent.  When Rayme finally sent the agent a 1st draft, the agent passed (#*!@%&$ agent).  Rayme went back to the beginning and did a re-write.  Of the 15 agents she sent a partial manuscript to, 2 or 3 said they wanted to see the whole thing.  When they got it, they also passed (see editorial comment in parentheses directly above).

(Aside - we're still on the same story, but I'm starting a new paragraph so as to lighten up this very elongated and slightly depressing process).

Rayme took another 2 years to fix the problems that were pointed out to her.  And she hit the agent trail again.  This time, she got her agent.  It was Thanksgiving of 2010. Problem solved, yes?  Uh, not so fast.  The agent spent 6 months getting turned down by publishers.  Until, finally, an editor at a major publishing company said she loved it.  She said she was going to try and sell it to her people.  Phew, that took awhile.  But...wait...The editor failed.  That publishing company did not pick it up (what's wrong with all of these people?).  End of the road?  Not even close.  Rayme's agent stuck with it and sold it to Winter Goose Publishing.  And here we are.

It's mind-boggling to me that a book that was just so good got turned down by a bunch of so-called experts in the publishing industry.  It makes me (almost) want to work for a publisher just to prevent this from happening to another deserving author.  I will admit that everybody has a right to his/her opinion.  But, c'mon.  When it's this obvious, there should not be so much aggravation.

SIDE NOTE:  Rayme told me something about her writing of this book that I found to be fascinating.  Since this is a redemption story, there obviously has to be something that the central character redempts from.  But Rayme said it was too depressing to write the book chronologically. So she wrote the ending 1st in order to convince herself that there was hope for the protagonist.

FOOTNOTE (Is that really any different from a side note?):  The angels' share means the amount of alcohol that evaporates during the maturation phase.  I did not know this until after I read the book.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

And Speaking of Daniel Silva...

Daniel Silva's 14th Gabriel Allon novel (17th overall), The Heist, is right in step with his previous 13.  As I mentioned in my review of John Lescroart's The Keeper, the plot is almost irrelevant.  When reading any good series, and this is one of my favorites, it's all about the recurring characters.  When they show up, it's always a feel-good moment.  I have to say, though, that this time I was a little disappointed about a couple of character appearances.  1st, Ari Shamron, Gabriel's boss and father figure, only shows up briefly.  I really like him a lot.  And, 2nd, Gabriel's "team" doesn't really come into play until about halfway through the book.  Maybe that's when they normally get involved, but it seems a little bit late for me.

I spent much of the book thinking that it was a bit more cliche-like than usual.  In fact, I was getting ready to give it a 3/4, whereas, last year, it was a 3.5/4, and I was singing Silva's praises on how he was getting better with each book.  But I had to change my mind because Silva is just too darn clever.  The scam that they perpetrated on the bad guys was really well-conceived.  And he really knows how to develop a plot.  Plus, his knowledge of art restoration and the backgrounds of the Masters (in this case, it was Caravaggio) are pretty mind-blowing.  So I ended up rating it a 3.5/4.  Maybe I'm just becoming soft in my old age.

You know how I always make such a big deal about having an emotional connection to the characters.  Well, in this case, there isn't much, and, more importantly, I don't need it. Yes, you heard/read me right.  I had a very quick emotional reaction to a meeting Gabriel had with Leah, his 1st wife.  And, again, when he gives his real name to someone who is helping them put one over on the evildoers.  There's another time where I did a little bit of head-shaking.  And still another situation where I said:  "What the heck happened?"  That was it.  Otherwise, I'm just reading and enjoying another episode in a long series.  And you know what?  I'm just fine with that.

ANOTHER SILVA RECOMMENDATION:  One of Silva's early works, before he started the Allon series, is called The Unlikely Spy.  This is one of my very favorite WWII stories.  This one is about the Nazi's embedding spies in England a number of years before WWII began.  And how the English found and uprooted them.  It's probably my favorite Silva, including the 14 Gabriel Allon's.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

John Lescroart's 25th Novel - The Keeper

I have just read John Lescroart's 25th novel, The Keeper, but it's only my 3rd (I think).  I can't really explain why I haven't read any more of John's books.  A few years ago, I was introduced to Dismas Hardy and Abe Glitsky.  I read a couple of books, and then I emailed John and asked him what order I should read them (for some reason I was confused - imagine that!).   John was kind enough to give me a detailed explanation of what order to read his books and why.  He was extremely generous with the time he took. He was also a real gentleman when I asked him to appear at Village House of Books. We exchanged a number of emails, and he never made me feel like I was annoying him (we all know that I was).  And, yet, I didn't read any more of his books until now.  What is wrong with me, you ask?  Many people have asked that question, and, still, nobody has an answer.  BUT, I'm making up for it.  I promise, John, that I will stay current moving forward.

For those of you who read John's books, you know who Dismas and Abe are.  For the rest of you, suffice it to say that Dismas is a defense attorney, and Abe is a retired San Francisco police officer, and the action takes place in SF.  They have had many cases/adventures together.  The Keeper is the latest.  The plot is not very important.  It's like telling you the plot for a Jack Reacher novel; or a Gabriel Allon novel (a review of Daniel Silva's latest will be coming to a blog near you soon).  The premise doesn't matter. It's just the interplay between the main characters and how they go about solving a murder.

Did I enjoy The Keeper, after all this time in between?  Absolutely.  Does it matter that I missed books 3-24?  Not really.  In fact, when I first came across their names, it felt like it was only yesterday since my last Hardy/Glitsky book.  I think that's about the highest compliment I can give.

Every once in a while, I like to bullet point what I like about a book/series.  I'm going to do it again now.

1.  Abe, who is the product of a black woman and a caucasian rabbi(!), is very funny.  And I do appreciate humor.  I like Dismas, but I love Abe.
2.  It's a very well-conceived plot.
3.  There's a lot of dialogue.  Books that have at least a fair amount of dialogue definitely move faster for me.  Being the deep thinker that I am, too many long paragraphs can lose me.
4.  I was completely fooled about whodunit.  We know I'm not the greatest figure-it-outer in the world (or even in my own home), but I'm not normally THIS clueless.
5.  Even before the denouement (big French word - I guess I'm pretty cultured, non?), I had some revelatory moments.  My 1st "uh oh" was on page 156.  My 1st "aha" was on page 164.  And on page 250, I did a little reevaluation of my entire thought process.

Brad Thor, himself an accomplished writer, wrote:  "Smart, riveting, and utterly compelling...hands down the best legal thriller I have read in years and a perfect case study for why readers love the brilliant John Lescroart."

And the Associated Press said:  "A tense and intricate tale...Lescroart is a master of legal suspense."

I will add:  "Get it and read it.  You will enjoy it."  (I guess I didnt' really need the quotes, did I?)

SOUTHBAY APPEARANCE:  John Lescroart will be coming to Village House of Books #2 on Wednesday, November 12, at 7:00.  If you get a chance, come see him.  He's not only a good writer, he's also a good guy.  That's a great combination in my book.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Some Mini-Reviews (I heard your collective cries of glee when you saw the word "mini")

The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King.
Laurie has written a bunch of books, including 3 series, some standalones, and even a couple of anthologies.  But her most popular series is the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes books.  And The Beekeeper's Apprentice is the 1st one (written 20 years ago) out of 12.  I liked it.  Will I read more?  Probably not.  But that's more a function of just too many other books to read.  Would I recommend it?  I would.

Book 1 starts in 1915 with Mary, age 15, meeting Sherlock, who has retired to the English countryside and raises bees.  What follows is about 4 years, including time during WWI, where Mary becomes Sherlock's apprentice.  It's a very clever premise, and it's done well. I have to say that there were quite a few emotional moments for me.  In fact (I made a note of this), I teared up 3X in the 1st 20 pages!  Laurie does a really good job of making you care about not only Mary and Sherlock, but also about Dr. Watson, Mrs. Hudson, Sherlock's housekeeper/cook, and even Sherlock's brother, who is a policeman.

P.S.  There's a moment late in the book when Sherlock calls Mary "Russ."  I enjoyed that because some people call me "Russ."  I guess that's not so surprising since both Mary and I have the same last name.

Pandemic by Yvonne Ventresca
This is a YA I read only because C. Lee McKenzie, the master of the YA's, suggested it to me.  And it's good.  She's no C. Lee, but the book is entertaining, and I would recommend it to the YA set (as opposed to Lee's The Princess of Las Pulgas, which I would encourage any- and everybody to read - in fact, you will find Princess on my recommending table Sunday mornings at Recycle Bookstore).  The book centers on a high school girl, Lilianna, who, less than a year earlier, was molested by a beloved teacher at the school.  She has become withdrawn and has gone from model student to loner.  Now, all of a sudden, some kind of contagion attacks the school and surrounding area.  It's not really a spoiler alert to tell you that people are dying left and right, many of them very close to Lilianna.  Now, she must work closely with other kids, and a few adults, to protect their loved ones and provide a service to their community.

I'm not a big apocalyptic, lots-of-people-die kind of guy.  But within that framework, Yvonne does tell a good story, and it does center on high-schoolers.  That certainly means it should do well with the YA crowd.

The Catch by Taylor Stevens
This is an interesting one for a couple of reasons.  The Catch is Taylor's 4th book in the Vanessa Michael Munroe series.  I read the 1st one, The Informationist, several years ago.  I thought it was okay but did not intend to read any more.  Then a funny thing happened.  I signed up for Taylor's blog and ended up having a personal email relationship with her.  Mostly for that reason, I decided to give her series another try.  Her publisher, Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, sent me an ARC, and I read it (obviously).  So what did I think?  It was better than #1.  I don't know if I will read #5, but I might.

What's it about?  It's a little tough to explain.  I'll quote part of the book's jacket:  "Vanessa Michael Munroe, chameleon and information hunter, has a reputation for getting things done-often dangerous and not quite legal things-and the adrenaline-fueled work has left her with blood on her hands and a soul stained with guilt.  Having borne the burden of one death too many, Munroe has fled to Djibouti, Africa, where her only responsibility is greasing the wheels of commerce for a small maritime security company-until her boss pressures her to join his team as an armed transit guard on a ship bound for Kenya."

Each of her 4 adventures runs along the same themes (like most series) and takes place somewhere in Africa.  BookPage says:  "If you are a fan of Jack Reacher, Lisbeth Salander, or Nina Zero (don't know her), you need to check out Vanessa Michael Munroe."  I'll leave it to you whether this sounds like something you want to read.  I can't highly recommend it, but I definitely think that a fair amount of you will like it.


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Shelly Kings's Launch Last Night Was A HUGE Success

Yesterday, September 2, was the official publication date for Shelly King's The Moment of Everything.  And she launched her book at Books, Inc. in Mt. View.  It was a great night. Shelly was very well-prepared.  She read short excerpts from a few different sections combined with a slide show, in which she gave us some old (and new) pictures that tied into her story.  It was not only fun, but it was also educational.  Let the pictures tell the tale.

This is, obviously, the front of the store on Castro Street.

There were people standing in other parts of the store, too.  The total was around 75.

This is Shelly chatting with fans before her presentation.

And this is Shelly signing books after her presentation (I was next).

Ann Gelder and Rayme Waters (l-r), VHOB alumni, were there to support Shelly.  Rayme was a VHOB Book Club author (with Karen Joy Fowler), and Ann had a launch for her book, Bigfoot and the Baby.

And Keith Raffel, a writing partner of Shelly's, and another VHOB alumnus, was there, too.  He also was a VHOB Book Club author.

During Shelly's presentation, she invited everybody to join her at Scratch, right down the street from Books, Inc., to continue the party.  And it was her treat!  Unfortunately, I couldn't stay.  Rats.

Upcoming Event:  I saw last night that Hampton Sides will be at Books, Inc., Mt. View, on Monday night, September 22.  He is presenting his new book, In the Kingdom of Ice:  The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jennette.  I don't know anything about this book, but I read an earlier one of his called The Ghost Soldiers.  It's about the march to Bataan during WWII. It was chilling but excellent.  I'm going to make every effort to be there.  The event starts at 7:00.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Running My Stuff (also known as Miscellaneous)

Just a few things to mention (don't groan - this won't take long):

1.  You all know how much I love local authors.  I read 'em, blog about 'em, meet 'em, support 'em, and, more often than not, sincerely extol their literary virtues (plus, I really like all of them personally).  Having said that, I think I'm going to take a little break and head for the national biggies.  I've got used copies (thank you, Recycle) of the latest from Daniel Silva, Greg Iles (his 1st in about 5 years, due to a serious accident), Robert Harris, David Baldacci (2 - Will Robie and Maxwell and King), and Nelson DeMille.  Plus, I haven't read Khaled Hosseini's And the Mountains Echoed or Dan Brown's Inferno.  Since I'm not working at Village House of Books anymore, it gives me an opportunity to read some other things.  In case any of you are worried about me giving up on the locals, that will definitely NOT be happening.  

2.  I came across a very interesting article about how some smaller publishers are letting us common folk determine which books they will be publishing.  It's called crowdsourcing, and it appears to be a pretty new phenomenon.  Here's the link.  I would recommend that you at least skim it.

3.  I'm very disappointed to say that I couldn't finish my 1st Gregg Hurwitz novel.  He appeared at Village House of Books for a signing, and I bought his latest, Don't Look Back, and got it signed.  It's his 10th book, and I thought I would finally add another well-known author to my arsenal.  Alas, at page 119, I stamped it DNF (did not finish).  I can't explain it.  All I can tell you is that I was getting ready to go to the gym, where I can read to my heart's content for 45 minutes to an hour.  In fact, I actually look forward to going (insert any words/phrases of disbelief) so that I can read guilt-free and take my mind off the actual exercise.  And when I thought about reading more of Gregg's book, I, all of a sudden, didn't want to go.  Not good.  I know that Gregg doesn't need me to read or like his books.  But I'm never happy to write those 3 letters in my notebook.  (I ended up taking Silva's latest Gabriel Allon adventure, The Heist, with me - and read 40 pages - it got me through the workout.)

4.  And speaking of Silva, a friend of mine, Bob asked me about a good historical fiction for a plane ride.  I came up with 2 right off the top.  One of them is a very early Silva called The Unlikely Spy.  It's about how the Nazis embedded spies in England in the mid-'30's, and how the English went about uprooting them during WWII.  If you're looking for something in the historical fiction genre, I highly recommend this one.  (Coincidentally, Bob's wife, Ann, had just started reading The Unlikely Spy, a fact which I didn't know when I recommended it.)

5.  By now, you all know that the VHOB Book Club is now the Recycle Book Club.  And that our book club has moved to Recycle Bookstore in Campbell.  There are 2 things I want to tell you about that:

     1.  Here's the schedule for the upcoming authors:
          September 18 - Jana McBurney-Lin and Hi-Dong Chai - Blossoms and Bayonets
          October 28 - Shelly King - The Moment of Everything
          November 18 - Joshua Safran - Free Spirit:  Growing up on the Road and off the
          December (exact date TBD) - Natalie Baszile - Queen Sugar

     2.  If you want to have your name on the email list, so that you can get notices
          regarding the bookclub, let me know, and I'll add you on.

See, I told you I wouldn't take too long.