Wednesday, October 29, 2014

2 Author Events - in Pictures (that might mean less words - are you excited?)

I have already been to 2 author events this week.  And I say "already" because I've got 2 more to go!  This is what I call a "dream week."  

To the matter at hand.  Monday night, I went to Books, Inc. in Palo Alto to see Christine Z. Mason, author of Boundaries:  A Love Story (our April, 2015 RBC author), and G. Elizabeth Kretchmer, author of The Damnable Legacy of a Minister's Wife.  They have been touring together.  And, interestingly enough, they have helped write each other's books and have emailed and spoken many times.  But this tour is the 1st time that the 2 authors have actually met.  Gail lives in Seattle while Chris is right here in the South Bay.  

It was an enjoyable evening.  They both read from their books and introduced each other. Gail told us all something that was very interesting.  She is the mother of 3 adopted boys, of which 2 have the same mother.  One of Gail's main protagonists, 13-year old Frankie, has a mother who was also adopted.  Obviously, Gail has a unique perspective on this subject.

You know, we talk a lot about genres (well, at least I do).  They call their books mainstream literary fiction.  I can get behind that.  Here, then, are some pictures from the evening.

G. Elizabeth Kretchmer (Gail)

Christine Z. Mason

Gail had a drawing for a book bag giveaway 

And then, last night, we had our 2nd Recycle Book Club meeting at, not surprisingly, Recycle Books.  Considering it was the 6th game of the World Series, it was a very good turnout.  Shelly King, who wrote The Moment of Everything, was our featured author. She came around 7:15 (after our group had discussed the book for about 45 minutes) and answered a bunch of questions.  Then she signed books.  It was another fun book club evening.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

MILESTONES, Upcoming Events, This and That (and, no, I didn't accidentally put "milestones" in all caps)

Hi all,

It's time for some of that very important category known as This and That.  In no particular order (except for #1):

1.  Yesterday, I reached 50,000 pageviews on my blog since I started it almost 4 years ago (Jan., 2011).  it's funny because I never looked at that number until a couple of days ago.  For some reason, I was checking out my stats earlier in the week, and that number jumped out at me.  I was kind of blown away.  Now, many (if not most...perhaps all) of my esteemed blogger colleagues have surpassed this number by multiples.  And I don't know how good that number is divided by years and months and days.  But, nonetheless, I think it's a very cool big number.

2.  There are a few upcoming author events that I intend to be at.  Just to let you know, they are -
     a.  Monday, October 27, Books, Inc., Palo Alto, 7:00 - Christine Z. Mason,
          author of Boundaries:  A Love Story, and G. Elizabeth Kretchmer, author
          of The Damnable Legacy of a Minister's Wife.  I have recently read both (I
          posted a review of Boudaries earlier this week and will post a review of Legacy
          this weekend) and liked them both a lot.
     b.  Saturday, November 1, Kepler's, 6:30 - Carole Bumpus will be launching her
          new book, A Cup of Redemption.  I am 100 pages in and also like it very much.
     c.  Wednesday, November 12, Village House of Books, 7:00 - John Lescroart will
          be coming to talk about/read from his latest, The Keeper.  I booked John many
          months ago, while I was still working at Village, and am looking forward to
          finally meeting him.  (We attended Cal Berkeley at the same time in the late

3.  HarperCollins came out with a list of 44 independent bookstores in the country that everybody should visit.  3 of them are in our area - The Booksmith, San Francisco, Dog-Eared Books, San Francisco, and Henry Miller Memorial Library, in Big Sur.  I have to admit that I haven't even heard of the last 2, although I do think The Booksmith is a neat bookstore.

4.  This coming Tuesday night, October 28, we will be having our 2nd Recycle Book Club (RBC) meeting at Recycle Books, in Campbell.  Shelly King will be coming to answer questions and sign her book, The Moment of Everything.  Our book club meets from 6:30-7:15, and then Shelly will come at 7:15 and stay until around 8:15.  Even if you're not a member of our book club, any/everybody is welcome to come and talk about the book with us or just stop by to see the author.

5.  And, finally, after 4 consecutive Sundays when I wasn't at Recycle for the Farmer's Market, I'm going tomorrow!  Hurray!  I love being there chatting about books with everybody.  If you're there, stop by.  I would love to say hello.

That's it.  I'm done rambling.  At least for the moment.  Don't get used to it.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Visit from Garth Stein to Rakestraw Books - An Educational Evening - Who Knew?

Last night, Garth Stein, author of The Art of Racing in the Rain (you can see my review 2/11/11), came to Rakestraw Books in Danville to talk about his new book, A Sudden Light.  As you all (ad nauseum) know, I go to a lot of author events.  My normal haunting grounds are Kepler's, Books, Inc. (Mt. View and Palo Alto), Book Passage (Corte Madera), and, of course, Village House of Books.  Last night was only my 3rd time at Rakestraw.  But I have to say that it was memorable.  Why would that be, you wonder? When Garth was only doing what so many other authors have done?  Namely, read from, and promote, their books?  Well, here's the difference:  Garth actually taught me something.  In fact, he taught me several somethings.  And his book is fiction.  If it were non-fiction, I guess you could say that you would expect to learn something.  Here are some very interesting facts I learned from last night:

1.  King County (where A Sudden Light takes place) is named after William Rufus King. He holds the distinction of having the shortest vice-presidential run in our history - 17 days.  And then he died.  But do you know what other distinction he holds?  He was the long-time, well-known lover of president James Buchanan.

2.  Back in the 1800's, there were a quite a few male gay relationships that went uncommented-on.  There is a rumor that Abraham Lincoln had 4 very close male friends. It was never determined if these were gay relationships or not.  But word is they well could have been.

3.  Seattle's modern-day history begins in 1851, but it wasn't until the late 1800's that it became a civilized area.  Prior to that, it was wild.

4.  Garth is a very close friend of Erik Larson (author of In the Garden of Beasts, one of my top books of 2011, and Devil in the White City).  In fact, Garth has the edge over Erik in tennis (Garth's description of his advantage was a bit more colorful than mine!).

5.  Garth is also a good friend of Jamie Ford who, of course, has written 2 books that I loved - Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet and Songs of Willow Frost.

6.  Garth looks a little bit like Todd McClellan, coach of the Sharks.

Okay, the last 3 aren't exactly historical facts, but I thought they were interesting nonetheless.

Most importantly, with a crowd of about 50 there, Garth was very engaging.  He made an appeal to support local businesses and engage in community discourse before he ever started talking about his book or himself.  He's enthusiastic and connects with the audience.  And his entire talk is off the cuff.  None of it sounds rehearsed.  All in all, a very fun evening.  And worth the 1:45 minute drive to get there! (but only 45 minutes to get home).  I'm putting A Sudden Light near the top of my TBR pile.

Monday, October 20, 2014

2010 - The Last Year for Non-Blog Recommendations

Okay, sports fans, this is it.  The demand for this final year of recs has been overwhelming!...okay, nobody really seems to care.  But, despite that, I'm still giving you the books that I recommend from the 66 I read in 2010.  And there are 24 of them, with a bunch being new authors/choices.  Here we (i.e. I) go:

W.E.B. Griffin - The Honor of Spies - #5 in the Honor Bound series - not my
     favorite series of his, but I still recommend it
Lee Child - Running Blind - #4 Jack Reacher
Alex Berenson - The Midnight House - #4 John Wells
Jodi Picoult - House Rules - 1st of 4 Picoult's for this year
Kathryn Stockett - The Help - excellent book
Harlan Coben - Caught - a re-issue of one of his early books - still darn good
Keith Thomson - Once a Spy - a real surprise for me - very cool premise
David Benioff - City of Thieves - loved this book - it's on my table at Recycle
     every Sunday - strong recommendation
Stieg Larsson - The Girl Who Played with Fire - #2 of the trilogy - as good as #1
Nelson DeMille - The Lion - #5 in the John Corey series
Sam Eastland - The Eye of the Red Tsar - #1 in the Inspector Pekkala series -
     another surprise hit for me - I've read 3 of the 5
Daniel Silva - The Rembrandt Affair - #10 Gabriel Allon - love this series
Jodi Picoult - Keeping Faith
David Rosenfelt - Dog Tags - Andy Carpenter #8
Stieg Larsson - The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest - #3, and last - people
     said it wasn't as good as #1 and #2 - I don't agree
Nicholas Sparks - Safe Haven - did you think I wasn't going to have one of
     his on my list? - too bad for you Hard-Hearted Hannah's
Sheldon Siegel - Perfect Alibi - #7 in the Mike and Rosie series
Ken Follett - Fall of Giants - #1 in the Century Trilogy - truly outstanding
     (#2, Winter of the World, is in my top 12 all-time - #3 is out now -
     haven't read it yet)
Jodi Picoult - Songs of the Humpback Whale - yep, even this one makes the
Joel Rosenberg - The Twelfth Iman - #1 in The Twelfth Iman series - loved
     his 1st series too - The Last Jihad
Harlan Coben - Play Dead
Steve Berry - The Emperor's Tomb - #6 in Cotton Malone series
Jodi Picoult - Mercy
Ann Patchett - Run - everybody knows Bel Canto, but this is one of my
     favorites from Patchett

That's it, people.  All done.  Never again.  No more recommendations.  Yeah, right.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Another Baldacci. Ho Hum, Right? Not So Fast.

I have read somewhere between 1/2 million and 3/4 million David Baldacci books.  Okay, it's more like 25.   But a lot.  Wish You Well is in my top 12 all-time.  I absolutely loved The Camel Club series and a whole bunch of his standalones.  I'm not a big fan of the King & Maxwell series and just recently decided to can it, even though I had the latest one in my TBR pile.  Now we come to #3 in the Will Robie series.

Book 1 is The Innocent.  It's mostly about Will Robie, a 40-something assassin who is working for the government, and Julie Getty, a 15-year old runaway, who form a very unlikely partnership.  I really really liked this book.

Book 2 is The Hit.  This is Will and Jessica Reel, a fellow assassin, who are pitted against each other and end up collaborating.  I liked this one, but not nearly as much as book 1. Because I loved the relationship between Will and Julie.

Book 3 is The Target.  This is Will and Jessica AND Julie.  I'm much happier now.  I like Jessica more this time, and am very happy that Julie gets a bigger role.  In fact, just about every sequence that has Julie in it produces tears for me.  I don't know what else to say about that.  Julie is a character that I care about more than almost any other character in fiction.  Crazy, no?

The plot is basically unimportant, just like it is for most series.  But that doesn't mean that I don't have anything to say about the book (big surprise there, eh?).  Because I do. Occasionally, I like to list the parts of a book that I like.  I'm going to do that here.

1.  Lots of twists and turns.
2.  Even though you know that the main characters will come out of this okay, he makes you worry.
3.  He gives a great evaluation of the CIA infrastructure that really helped me, at least, better understand the organization.
4.  He has a couple of very significant mini-plots that are almost stories-within-stories.
5.  There's 1 sub-plot in which a foreign government plants a spy many years in advance of the denouement (ok, come on - how cool of a word is that?).  It reminds me of Silva's The Unlikely Spy and Alex Berenson's The Faithful Spy (do you, perhaps, sense a theme here?).
6.  There's a character named Lloyd Carson.  Do you know how many times I run across my name in books?  That's almost never.

I admit that #6 is a bit bogus, but the other 5 are all strong features for me.  And this book is a solid 3.5/4.  It's not quite at the level of The Camel Club, but it's getting close.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Help Village House of Books Support Breast Cancer Research - Plus Upcoming Events in October

I want to give you a reason to support Village House of Books (aside from the fact that we want ALL bookstores to succeed):  Starting tomorrow, October 16, and running through Saturday, the 18th, VHOB will donate 10% FROM ALL SALES to Breast Cancer Research.  I don't know how much more you can ask from a local bookstore.  Please pop in to either of their Los Gatos locations - 326 Village Lane and 21 W. Main Street, from 10-6 all 3 days - and buy some books.  You will not only be supporting your local bookstore, but you will also be aiding in the ongoing battle to cure breast cancer.  There is no nobler cause.

And while I have you in blog-reading mode, here are the events at VHOB for the rest of the month:

Saturday, October 25, 10:00-12:00 - Hello Kitty Reading Day, celebrating the 40th anniversary of HK

Saturday, October 25, 3:30-5:00 - meet and greet with Jenny Hurwick, author of The Adventures of Frazzle and Twitch

Saturday, October 25, 5:00-6:00 - meet and greet with Christine Z. Mason, author of Boudaries:  A Love Story (I just reviewed that on my blog - - and really liked it) and G. Elizabeth Kretchmer, author of The Damnable Legacy of a Minister's Wife.  You'll also get wine (and water for you teetotalers) and hor's d'oevres.  Very cool.

Sunday, October 27, 2:30-4:30 - a Halloween celebration with Jeff Baham, author of The Unauthorized Story of Walt Disney's Haunted Mansion, a behind-the-scenes look at the amusement park ride.  Come in costume.

Saturday, November 8, 4:00-6:00 - meet and greet with Carole Bumpus, author of A Cup of Redemption.  (Yes, I know I said October events - so, sue me!)

Lots of fun stuff coming up.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Recommendations for 2009 (and the cleverness never ends)

This is the penultimate (I love that word) year (2009) for recommendations - prior to the beginning of The Book Sage.  For this year, I've got 26 out of 60 to recommend.  In case you care, that's 43% of the total.  That kind of seems like a lot.  But here they are:

Lee Child - Die Trying - Jack Reacher #2
W.E.B. Griffin - Black Ops - Presidential Agent #5 - really like series
Richard North Patterson - Exile - this is excellent and is in my very 1st
     Fiction for the Non-Fiction Reader (FFTNFR, Vol. I)
Alex Berenson - The Silent Man - John Wells #3
Jodi Picoult - Handle with Care - just because it's Jodi
Lee Child - Trip Wire - Jack Reacher #3 - an enjoyable series, even
     though I stopped after 4 or 5
Harlen Coben - Long Lost - every one is good
Ann Patchett - The Magician's Assistant - only my 2nd one - like almost
     all of her stuff - Bel Canto is the best, except for the ending
Nicole Mones - The Last Chinese Chef - she also wrote the Lost in
     Translation, which was turned into a movie with Bill Murray and
     Scarlet Johanson
Tom Rob Smith - Child 44 - book 1 of a trilogy - also in my FFTNFR,
     Vol. I
Jodi Picoult - Plain Truth
Greg Iles - The Devil's Punchbowl - he and Coben are the best at what
     they do
Daniel Silva - The Defector - Gabriel Allon #9 - all good
David Rosenfelt - New Tricks - Andy Carpenter #7
Pat Conroy - South of Broad - 1 of my 2nd 12 all-time - the only book
     I've ever read where I felt personal loss when 1 of the central characters
Nicholas Sparks - The Last Song - you know I like the sap
Dan Brown - The Lost Symbol - still haven't read his last one - sitting in
     my TBR pile                                            
Alex Kava - Black Friday - Maggie O'Dell #7
Terry Brooks - A Princess of Landover - don't read much fantasy, but this
     is a very entertaining series - Magic Kingdom of Landover #6
Vince Flynn - Pursuit of Honor - Mitch Rapp #12
Mitch Albom - Have a Little Faith - I like some more than others - I would
     recommend about 1/2 of them -
Stieg Larsson - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - I was reluctant to start
     this series, but I was wrong - this is book 1, and the whole trilogy was
Tom Rob Smith - The Secret Speech - Child 44 trilogy #2
Steve Berry - The Paris Vendetta - Cotton Malone #5
Steve Crichton - Pirate Latitudes - his last book - came out after Crichton
     passed away
Jodi Picoult - Harvesting the Heart

ONE MORE YEAR! (I see you all cheering!)

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Boundaries, A Love Story, by Christine Z. Mason, ANOTHER Local Author

I want to start this post by saying something pretty emphatically:  I LOVE BEING A BOOK BLOGGER IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA!!!!!  Okay, now that I've calmed down a bit, I will say the same thing more quietly.  We simply have an enormous amount of talented authors here that I get to meet and read and support.  Don't get me wrong.  I still enjoy the national giants - Silva, Baldacci (I'm reading The Target, Will Robie #3, now), Picoult, Griffin, Iles, Coben, etc.  But I continually get introduced to local authors who can really write.  The latest is Christine Z. Mason.

How did I even meet Christine?  Funny you should ask.  She came to our VHOB Book Club (now Recycle Book Club) meeting in August to support Ellen Sussman.  I met her there, and we struck up an email conversation.  She offered to send me her book, and, because I'm very cheap, I jumped at the opportunity.  I am so glad I did!

I can never synopsize a book as well as Goodreads does.  Here's what they say about Boundaries, A Love Story.

A novel about abandonment and passion, chronicling an imprudent but profound love, a maelstrom of family secrets, and a tragedy . . . This East Coast-West Coast tale tracks the conflicts between individual desire and societal expectations, weaving together the secrets, tragedies, and clandestine affairs of two families, one living in Maine, the other in California.

This book started right out making me feel at home.  On page 6, the characters talk about Boston University, where my youngest, Lauren, went to school (and found her husband, Joe), and Boalt Hall, the law school on the University of California, Berkeley campus. Although I didn't go to law school there (I went to Santa Clara University - are you surprised?  Shocked, even?), I did do my undergraduate there (I majored in history - not too useful in the job market, methinks).  It was fun to see those references.  Later in the book, there's even a mention of Solano Avenue, in Berkeley, which is right around the corner from where I grew up in Albany (from ages 5 to 14).  I don't need to be able to relate to geographical landmarks to enjoy a book, but I don't dislike that either.

I like the title of this book a lot; because it's about 1st cousins who start spending time together when he's 22, and she's only 16.  And it actually is about their love story.  Of course the title speaks for itself.  But this is about a lot more than just the 2 main characters, Kaia and Mark.  It's also about Mark's parents and Kaia's parents and their "interactions."  There are a couple of ancillary people, like Chandi, Kaia's dad's girlfriend, and Sig, Kaia's best friend, both in the Bay Area.  But, really, it's the 2 central figures and their 4 parents.

You know, I would think some plots are easier to write than others.  Christine writes about a very sensitive theme.  And she does it in such a way that it's not creepy.  In fact, she paints some pictures that do have creepy elements to them.  But they do not extend to Mark and Kaia.  That relationship seems very natural.  I applaud her for that.

Here's another news flash.  Boundaries is a 439-page book.  I did not tear up until page 384.  So, obviously, I didn't emotionally connect with the characters.  WRONG!  I actually teared up quite a bit in the last 55 pages.  But even prior to that, I was very caught up with all of the principals.  In this case (don't get used to it!), the tearing up did not reflect my emotional commitment.  Why is that?  Beats me. It just is what it is.  The only thing I can figure out is that some books take longer to build up to the waterworks than others!

The last piece of the book that I would like to mention is that I thoroughly enjoyed how Christine spoke in different voices.  Every time she did that, I was able to put myself in the shoes/person of the speaker.  And with all of the stuff that was going down, it gave me greater insight into what happened in each case.  Again, bravo, Christine.

Did I like Boundaries, A Love Story?  I most certainly did.  Would I recommend it? Absolutely.  Is there anybody I would suggest not read it?  Definitely not.  Pick it up and enjoy the high-end product of another Bay Area artist.  They're all over the place, and Christine is one more to add to the group.  We are blessed, people.

PERSONAL NOTE:  There is a ton of excessive drinking in this book by various parents. My parents were like that.  They never were officially classified "alcoholics," but I have no doubt that is exactly what they were.  I think that might be why I quit drinking in my early '30's.  So, the point of this little personal note is that I had more trouble reading about the drinking than I did any of the other goings-on. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Local Authors' Fair

Hi, all you local authors.  Fellow local author, and grand dame, Betty Auchard, sent this to me a week ago.  So I'm sending it to all of you.  Uh, notice that the deadline is either today or Sunday (probably today).  Sorry for my flakiness in getting this sent out.

An announcement from the San Jose Library.

Do you know a local author? have you assisted that person with any aspect of research for their book?  We are planning an Author's Fair at King Library, in November - coming up soon.

We would love to have your suggestions with contact information for local authors, having very recent publications, whose works are of:
•    general interest (non academic)
•    either fiction or nonfiction and
•    either written in English or have been translated into English

The authors that you recommend should also be very comfortable speaking about their works in English.

Please forward suggestions of authors, the title of their works and their contact information to …, Erik Berman by the end of next week - Friday, October 12th.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Some Pics from Recycle Bookstore

I've got 3 pictures to show you.  The 1st is The Book Sage cabinet at Recycle Books in Campbell.  On the top is our Recycle Book Club selection for October (Tuesday, 10/28). All of the other shelves contain the books that I recommend on Sunday mornings during the Farmer's Market.

This 2nd pic shows the books that are on the top shelf in the bookcase.  The 2 standing up on the far left are by the March RBC author, C. Lee McKenzie (Tuesday, 3/24).  She will be stopping by to talk about her YA (young adult) book, The Princess of Las Pulgas. To the right of that one is Free Spirit:  Growing up on the Road and off the Grid, by Joshua Safran.  He will be coming in November (Tuesday, 11/18).  Right next to that one is The Mathematician's Shiva, by Stuart Rojstaczer.  We will see him in January (Tuesday, 1/13).  And, finally, on the far right is Queen Sugar, by Natalie Baszile.  We will have the pleasure of her company in December (Tuesday, 12/2).  February will be a mystery/thriller writer, but we haven't picked/booked one yet.

And, finally, in the 3rd picture we have a close-up of Shelly King's The Moment of Everything.  We will be seeing Shelly 3 weeks from tomorrow night.  Even if you don't intend to come to the RBC meeting (although I know you want to!), you will still enjoy Shelly's book.  It's a very good read.

Yes, I see that it's too dark

FOOTNOTE (is that better then P.S.?):  In the 1st 2 pictures, you will notice a big book standing next to The Moment of Everything.  That is Lauri Pastrone's Share cookbook.  If you haven't already heard/seen me talk about this, it's a fantastic story.  The book consists of recipes from celebrities, famous chefs, and women in war-torn countries.  The proceeds from the book go to supporting these women through Women for Women International.  It's a great cause and doesn't require anything more than buying an excellent cookbook.  Recycle has got a bunch of them in the store.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

2 (relatively) Short Reviews

This week I read 2 books in only 4 days.  That's fast for me.  HOWEVER, 1 is a collection of 64 essays that are supposed to be funny and clever and whimsical and poignant - I guess.  The book is called One More Thing, Stories and Other Stories.  The author is B.J. Novak, who was one of the cast members on The Office.  He was also a writer, director, and executive producer on the show.  You know, I'm not that into short stories and essays.  And some of these are only a line or 2 long.  So, we're just going to chalk it up to it not being my thing.  If I had to rate it, I would give it a 2/4.

P.S.  Right when I started reading it, but after Lauren left it for me before she returned to New York, I found out that B.J. will be coming to Rakestraw Books on October 10 and the JCC San Francisco on October 11.  Initially I was very excited to see him and was making plans to get to 1 of the events.  Now, I'm not so sure.

The 2nd book I read this week is a different story.  It's a middle grade book by JZ Bingham called Piranhas Like S'mores.  If you remember (and, really, how or why could/would you?), I reviewed JZ's Salty Splashes collection of Children's Illustrated Fiction (this is actually a genre) on April 16, 2013.  I really liked those, and I really like this. It's a fast read because it's for middle graders.  That doesn't mean that it isn't a good story with a good message and some very poignant moments.  But it doesn't overplay the sentimentality.

The book is about 2 cousins, a boy and a girl, who go to the same school and are in the same class.  The story is told by 11-year old Klyde (there's a story behind the spelling) and centers on him, his very smart 10-year old cousin, Bonney (it took me a 1/4 of the book to get the Bonny and Clyde reference - duh!), and their friend Seldon.  And it's mostly about an aquarium, piranhas, and a science fair.  But there is still stuff with parents and pets, along with a few mishaps.  I really like the way JZ hones in on the angst that middle graders go through (as best I can remember!) while still maintaining the child in them.

Another thing I enjoyed was the language.  There is tons of slang, such as "ginormous" and "sick" (which, here, is a good thing).  Klyde makes reference to "Madden football" and also says "...but I'll bet you ten Benjamins he did these drawings when he was younger than me (a reference to "this Picasso dude")."  He also compares a dessert to " angel's all-you-can-eat dessert buffet."  The author even throws in a detailed description of the filter system on an aquarium.  I like that she gives her middle grade readers something to learn.

And, finally, we come to my favorite part of any book - the part where I shed a few.  That happens twice in the final 10 pages.  I would have still liked it without the waterworks, but I so do love to emotionally connect with my characters - whether they're 31, 51, 81, or only 11.  Mission accomplished.  And you're going to love the final line in the book and the picture that accompanies the last page.  I can't give those details away, but you'll know what I mean when you see them.

The book is definitely geared for 8-12 year olds (the definition of middle-grade).  But even somebody who just went on Medicare (I'm not mentioning any names!) will enjoy it.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Part II (see how I seamlessly transitioned to the 2nd part of the review?) of Greg Iles' Natchez Burning

In part I of this review, I basically gave you a synopsis of the book, told you a little bit about Greg Iles and his accident, and quoted 2 very big name authors in their appreciation of Natchez Burning.  In this post, I want to give you some personal observations that made the book work so well for me.  Here they are, in the order that they appeared/happened.

1.    There are a ton of very interesting primary characters, both good guys - Tom and Penn Cage, Henry Sexton, Caitlin Masters, Walt Garrity, John Kaiser, and Sleepy Johnston - and bad guys - Brody Royal, Frank, Forrest, Snake, and Billy Knox, Randall Regan, Glen Morehouse, and Sonny Thorfield.  These are just the primary characters from 2005.  This doesn't count the central characters from the 1960's - Viola Turner, Pooky Wilson, Albert Norris, Jimmy Revels, Luther Davis.  And I'm telling you that there are several dozen more ancillary characters.  But here's the thing - I didn't have any trouble keeping track of who was who.  Almost at no time did I say:  "Now who's this guy/girl?"  With the state of my mind, that says a lot about this author's ability to make his characters memorable.
2.    Iles describes a particularly heinous race crime as early as page 16.  It sets the stage for a whole bunch more that follows.  As I mentioned before, it's tough to read, even 50 years after the events laid out in this book.  (Remember, it's fiction based on fact.)
3.    I got a different set of shakes/willies on page 18 when we find out that Frank Knox got a lot of his weapons in the '60's from somebody he knew at Fort Polk, Louisiana.  Why would I care, you ask?  Because I did my basic training for the Army Reserve there in 1969.  Not a fun place or experience.  Of course, it was better than being drafted during the Vietnam era! (My lottery number was 152.  I would have gone.)
4.    On page 30, we get a little dose of sympathy for one of the bad guys.  This happens periodically throughout the book.  I give Iles credit for trying to add a little grey to very clear black and white pictures.
5.    On page 63, there's a passage about Tom Cage and his nurse, Viola Turner (from the '60's).  It made me think of a Dallas episode with JR when it was a hit show back in the '70's.  How random is that?
6.    Page 87, Henry reads a letter that came from Swan, the daughter of Albert Norris.  She taught Henry how to play the piano and a whole bunch more.  Loved the letter.
7.    On 171, Penn talks about how, when he ran for mayor, he promised educational reform.  Now, 2 years later, he says that he has largely failed.  I like that Iles throws in some political stuff with Penn - since he is the Natchez mayor.
8.    On page 224, Henry spends 10 pages explaining to Penn what happened back in the '60's with the racial crimes.  After reading a 1/3 of the book, it helped to put it all in context.  In fact, on page 233, I uttered my 1st "Wow."
9.    On 273, Iles brings in a new character, and for the next 3 pages he combines drama with humor.  It was a nice little interlude.
10.  376-381, a great exchange among Penn, Caitlin, his fiancee and a newspaper editor, and Henry, the reporter who has spent decades trying to get proof of the murders that took place back in the '60's.
11.  385 - A furrowed brow AND an OMG.
12.  450 - I shed tears for a character I only just met.  That's how good Iles is.
13.  535 - Caitlin planks for 3 minutes.  Are you kidding me?  I can barely do a minute.  If you don't know what planking is, look it up.
14.  550-551 - More tears.
15.  558 - Just to further prove to you how random I am (are any of you really surprised?), there's a line at the top of the page that goes:  "Her eyes are clear and bright..."  Do you all know where you've seen those words before?  That's right.  It comes from The Zombies' hit song from 1964, She's Not There.  Pretty cool, huh?
16.  673 - John Kaiser, the FBI agent, explains how snipers shoot through glass.  Very interesting and enlightening.

Obviously, it's not important what the specific page numbers are.  And you're not going to read the book and reference what I've written above.  The whole purpose of this list is just to show you how I was engaged throughout the book.  I thought the book slowed down just a tad over the last couple of hundred pages.  But, I have to say that this could be more about my attention span (788 pages, after all) than anything that Iles did.  So, allowing for all possible factors, I'm still giving this a 3.75/4.  And, remember - it's only book 1 of a trilogy.  I expect to have many personal notes from you people thanking me for recommending Natchez Burning.