Monday, March 30, 2015

I Read 44 (out of 72) New Authors in 2014

Everybody knows that I have national authors that I automatically read whenever they come out with a new book.  A few of them are:  Harlan Coben, Daniel Silva, Ken Follett, Jodi Picoult, Tom Rob Smith, Greg Iles, David Baldacci (at least the Will Robie series), Richard North Patterson, and some more.  And I did, in fact, read books by all of these authors in 2014.  But on top of those, there were 44 authors that I read for the 1st time. Some of them were debut authors, and others I just hadn't read before.  The following list is in chronological order.  If they are local authors, I will let you know.  If you want to know how I rated them, you can go to my 1/1/15 post.  Here we go.

Louise Penny - Still Life
Marian Szczepanski - Playing St. Barbara
Tim Myers - Glad to Be a Dad (local)
Jennifer Ryan - Saved by the Rancher (local)
Tara Conklin - The House Girl
Betty Auchard - The Home for the Friendless (local)
C. Lee McKenzie - The Princess of Las Pulgas (local)
Liane Moriarty - The Husband's Secret
Mike Degregorio - The Ditch Kids (local)
T.T. Monday (local) - The Set-Up Man
Maggie Shipstead - Astonish Me
Shelly King - The Moment of Everything (local)
Kate White - Eyes on You
Cristina Henriquez - The Book of Unknown Americans
Mary Kay Andrews - Save the Date
Jonathan Tropper - This Is Where I Leave You
Betsy Franco - Naked (local)
Alina Sayre - The Illuminator's Gift (local)
Joseph Finder - Suspicion
Sophie Littlefield - House of glass (local)
Rachael Herron - Pack up the Moon (local)
Megan Abbott - The Fever
Gigi Pandian - The Artifact (local)
Suzy Vitello - The Moment Before
Laurie R. King - The Beekeeper's Apprentice (local)
Daniel James Brown - The Boys in the Boat
Yvonne Ventresca -Pandemic
Natalie Baszile - Queen Sugar (local)
Elizabeth Strout - The Burgess Boys
Ann Gelder - Bigfoot and the Baby (local)
BJ Novak - One More Thing
Christine Z. Mason - Boundaries: A Love Story (local)
Pamela Little - The Resting Place
Elizabeth G. Kretchmer - The Damnable Legacy of a Minister's Wife
Carole Bumpus - A Cup of Redemption (local)
Joshua Safran - Free Spirit: Growing up on the Road and off the Grid (local)
Anthony Doerr - All the Light We Cannot See
Stuart Rojstaczer - The Mathematician's Shiva
Eben Alexander - Proof of Heaven
Kate Allure - Playing Doctor (local)
Ann Packer - Songs without Words (local)
Chris Colfer - The Wishing Spell
Laila El-Sissi - Out from the Shadow of Men (local)
Linda Gunther - Ten Steps from the Hotel Inglaterra

Friday, March 27, 2015

Back-to-Back YA Books for Book Club - and A Review of Every Day by David Levithan

So, this past Tuesday night we had C. Lee McKenzie, author of the excellent YA (young adult) novel, The Princess of Las Pulgas, at Recycle Books.  Well, it just so happens that the April Los Gatos Library Evening Book Club (April 21) book next month is also a YA. This one is called Every Day, by David Levithan, and I just finished it.  It's actually very interesting.  Every day, "A" wakes up in a different 16-year old body.  This has been going on since "birth."  He lives in the body of his host/hostess for the entire day, "accessing" the memories of the body in order to get through the day without arousing suspicion. At midnight, even though he is always asleep, he leaves the body and heads into the next one (sorta like Cinderella) And then, on one particular day, he ends up in the body of Justin.  No biggie, right?  Wrong.  He ends up spending the day with Justin's girlfriend, Rhiannon.  And everything changes.

This is a very cleverly written book.  In fact, I'm pretty impressed with the concept and how Levithan carried it to a somewhat logical conclusion, with a few surprises thrown in.  I have to say that it took me a good 1/3 of the book to really get into it.  But once I was hooked, I had a hard time putting it down.  There were chills, tears, audible exclamations, and some very good writing.  Here are a couple of descriptions that I thought were particularly visual:

"Austen likes to hold my hand and swing it like we're walking down the yellow brick road."

"She is not someone you'd go out of your way to notice if you saw her on the street, but you'd definitely notice her if she was sitting next to you in class."

Good, huh?  And you will definitely enjoy reading about all of the different bodies he ends up in:  druggies, alcoholics, bodybuilders, athletes, boys, girls, gays, lesbians, meek, boisterous - well, you get the picture.  It's definitely worth reading, be ye a young adult or (yours truly) a not-so-young adult.

PERSONAL NOTE (Did you actually think you would get away without some personal stuff in the review?):  At one point, A says:  "The story, it seems, is going wide."  Joni and I were power walking through the downtown streets of Los Gatos quite a few years ago. We came to a spot where workers were fixing a sidewalk.  There was a narrow opening, so I said to Joni "Going wide."  Which I did, right into a freshly cemented section near the curb.  The next thing I know, I am up in the air, landing half on the sidewalk and half in the street.  I was absolutely covered in wet cement.  It had to be the funniest thing anybody has ever seen.  I wish I had a video of it.  I wasn't hurt at all and couldn't stop laughing for hours.  I'm only sorry that my friends weren't there to witness it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Upcoming Events at Recycle Books

Yeah, I know that I'm getting less creative in my "mature" years.  But the title does, at least, describe what I'm going to tell you about.  We've got some really good stuff coming up, and this is a good time to let y'all (I once visited Dallas) about it.  Here they are in the order of appearance:

Sunday, March 29 - 9:30-12:30 - Gary Singh, San Jose Earthquakes:  A Seismic Soccer Legacy

Sunday, April 12 - 9:15-12:15 - Nicci Carerra, Love Caters All; Kate Allure, Playing doctor; Linda Baxter, Deadly Secret

Thursday, April 23 - 6:30-8:00 - RBC - Christine Z. Mason, Boundaries:  A Love Story

Saturday, May 2 - 11-7 - INDEPENDENT BOOKSTORE DAY - a whole bunch of authors will be rotating in and out of the store all day long - meet authors - say hi to Stacy and the Recycle staff, they're the best - come celebrate our independent bookstores - long may they live!

Tuesday, May 12 - 6:30-8:00 - RBC - John Billheimer, Dismal Mountain

Wednesday, June 24 - 6:30-8:00 - RBC - Betty Auchard, The Home for the Friendless

Tuesday, July 14 - 6:30-8:00 - RBC - A. R. Silverberry, Wyndano's Cloak

Finally, we had C. Lee McKenzie, author of the YA novel, The Princess of Las Pulgas, at Recycle last night for the RBC.  Here are a few pictures.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Another GREAT Book Swap at Kepler's

On Saturday night, March 7, I got to go to my 2nd Book Swap at Kepler's.  When I went a year ago, I swore that I wouldn't miss another one.  Just kidding.  I missed 2 in the meantime.  So I was pretty excited to be able to make this one.  As a reminder, you pay $25 and bring a book that you recommend and are willing to part with.  Then you "sell" your book to 3 different groups.  After that, the featured author (Elizabeth Rosner, in this case) speaks for a few minutes.  And then we have the white elephant-like book swap. And for most of the evening (6:30-9:00), there is food and wine.  A heckuva good time. I'll let you know when the next one is scheduled. 

Our featured author, Elizabeth Rosner

Our illustrious leader (on the left), Angela Mann

Sunday, March 15, 2015


Saturday, May 2, is Independent Bookstore day.  And Recycle Books in Campbell (next to San Jose) is inviting local authors to come to the store for 1 or 2 hours and recommend books to Recycle's customers.  They will set up a table out front for the authors to sit and schmooze (if you don't know what that means, look it up - it's a very cool word) with people coming to the bookstore.   We will be able to accommodate your availability.

If you are interested, email me at, and we'll set something up.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

A Lyrical Memoir Written by a Poet

Tracy K. Smith has written 3 books of poetry, including Life on Mars, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2012 along with a whole slew of other awards.  She is obviously a very accomplished poet.  So how good is her 1st-non-poetry book?  Ordinary Light, A Memoir, is very well-written.  As I indicated in the title, it has a very poetic feel to it.  Or I should say that it has what I believe to be a very poetic feel to it.  Because the truth is...I'm not really into poetry.  I think the last poem I read was Casey at the Bat, in 4th grade (have I used that one before? - it sounds familiar).

Despite by reluctance to read books like this (you know how I avoid anything that is Pulitzer Prize-winning or worthy), and even though I only read it because a Penguin Randomhouse rep sent it to me, Ordinary Light did hold my interest.  Tracy recounts her life from childhood right on through early adulthood.  She tells us what it was like for a black family to grow up in Fairfield, CA (not far from Oakland and San Francisco).  And, yet, there are many times in the book where I was not aware of race unless she pointed it out.

Here's what Tracy says about being black in a white world.  And remember that this is in the '70s and '80s - in Northern California, not the South.  For those of us who are caucasian, I think this gives us some real insight into the issues that Tracy and her family dealt with.

I don't think we every truly forgot about whites, even when we were alone amongst ourselves in the thick of family.  I doubt any blacks do.  There's always a place in the mind that feels different, distinct; not worse off or envious but simply aware of an extra thing that living in a world that loathes and fears us has necessitated we develop.

But lest you think that this memoir is a pity party, it is far from that.  It celebrates family and, especially, her mother.  Tracy certainly tells us about the trials and tribulations of her childhood.  But she holds it all up as part of the growing/learning process.  Even when she talks about her mom dying (don't worry, this is not a spoiler alert; we learn about that in the 1st couple of pages), it's not about making us feel bad for her.  It's part of the whole story.  A few pages before the end, Tracy is telling us about herself and several others who lost their mothers.  But here's what she says:  "We all knew what it felt like having a dead mother."  Isn't that an interesting way of saying it?  It certainly feels different than saying that they all had "lost" their mothers.  I was really impressed with that.

Bottom line?  It's a good book, and I'm glad I read it.  But let me say this - I think Ordinary Light is going to be a big hit.  I know there are tons of people much more enlightened than me who will absolutely love it.  Watch for it, people.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Girl on the Train - 5 Dysfunctional Pro/Antagonists - What Am I Missing Here?

The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins, has gotten lots of buzz recently.  In fact, the reason I read it is because so many of my fellow bloggers were praising it.  Well, sports fans, I don't really get it.  There are 5 adults - 3 women and 2 men - who are all dysfunctional and pretty unappealing.  I didn't really care about any of them.  I certainly didn't emotionally connect with any of them.  That doesn't mean I didn't like the book.  I did - somewhat.  It just means that I don't understand all of the rave reviews.

What's it about?  Well, you know who I'm relying on to tell us:

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

There were definitely some interesting elements to both the book and Hawkins' writing:

1.  All of the events basically take place in the morning or evening.  There were no midday scenes.
2.  The 1st 100 pages went back and forth between 2 of the women.  On page 109, the 3rd woman began telling her story.  I liked having another narrator.
3.  Like many other books we've all read, the story alternates between 2 different time periods.  In this case, it's only 2012 and 2013.  And 2012 ultimately catches up to 2013.  I like the back and forth.
4.  At one point, Anna, who was Tom's mistress and then became his wife, talks about how much she enjoyed being a mistress.  It seems she liked being Tom's mistress more than she liked being his wife.

There are simply too many people (including Stacy at Recycle) who really like this book. 3.95/5 for 60,000 ratings on Goodreads and 4/5 for 6,000 ratings on Amazon.  I think you may have to decide on your own and not take my word for it (do you even listen to me anyway?).  If you read it, please let me know if you agree with me or the Mongul hordes.

PERSONAL NOTE:  There is one section that directly reminds of a situation my mom was in.  Anna is suspicious that her husband, Tom, is cheating on her.  She seems to forget that before they were married, he was cheating on his wife, Rachel, with Anna.  When my mom's niece (my 1st cousin) was complaining to my mom that she thought her husband was cheating on her (in the exact same scenario as Anna and Tom), my mom said to her: "How do you think you got him in the 1st place?"  Leave it to my mom to lay out the facts. And even as my memory seems to be slipping at breakneck speed(!), I don't think I'll forget that one.


Sunday, March 8, 2015

Another Local Romance Writer Makes Her Presence Known

Nicci Carrera's debut novel, Love Caters All, is a romance that I enjoyed very much.  As I've reported on a number of occasions, we have here in the Bay Area a bunch of excellent romance authors.  Some of them are:  Jennifer Ryan, Elizabeth Barrett, Joan Swan, Virna DePaul, Kate Allure, Marina Adair, Victoria Johnson, and, of course, Jasmine Haynes.  Well, add Nicci Carrera to the group.  And even though I don't think I ever read a pure romance until I started writing my blog 4 years (and 2 months) ago, I'm glad I read them now.

Is it more important to care about the characters in a romance than other genres?  I don't think so.  But I definitely cared about the characters in Love Caters All.  And not just the romantic leads.  Here's how the book describes itself:

When hard-driving CEO Rick Nordan arrives in Lobster Cove under strict orders from the family doctor to take a break, he discovers the rental house comes with a family attached, including one sexy dynamo of a caterer.  She's nothing like his ex-fiancee who wouldn't sign a pre-nup, but maybe that means she's the real deal and not a gold digger.

Maya Cruz wants life for her widowed mother to get easier by renting out her house during the summer.  But teaching Mama business means explaining Rick isn't a "guest," he's a "customer."  And the first thing Mama does is invite Rick to join their family activities.  Having Rick around wouldn't be so bad if Maya didn't find him so attractive. The last time she fell for a vacationing millionaire, she had her heart broken.

She swore off his type, and he's not looking, but this might be a recipe for love.

Okay, we've talked about this before with romances.  Does it matter that we know on page 1 or 2 that the guy gets the girl?  Or vice versa?  Of course not.  Romances, by definition, strongly "hint" at a happy ending.  Us romance readers know that going in.  But can the author still make us wonder if it will happen?  What if the "leads" have a fling and then separate?  Do we know for 100% sure that they will get back together?  It's up to the author to make us have doubts.  And Nicci does.  I loved Rick and Maya together, and I also worried that they might not have the happy ending we all want and expect.  Read it to find out what happens in Love Caters All.  And then tell me that you didn't do some laughing, crying, and even some cheering.  Because if you tell me that, I won't believe you!

COMPARISON TO MARY KAY ANDREWS:  In 2014, I got an ARC of Mary Kay Andrews' Save the Date.  This is the 1st book I've read from the nationally renowned romance author.  And I say:  "Ho Hum."  I liked it well enough (2.5/4), and it was decently written. But did I care a lot about the characters?  Not really.  She's definitely no Nicci Carrera...or Jasmine Haynes...or Joan Swan...or...

Friday, March 6, 2015

Jeffrey Archer's Clifton Chronicles #4 - HOLY TOLEDO (as Bill King used to say)!

I read the 1st 3 books in Jeffrey Archer's Clifton Chronicles each about a year apart.  It's been almost a year and a half since I read #3.  Did too much time pass for me to enjoy #4?  Hardly.  Be Careful What You Wish For is truly one of the few books that I couldn't put down.  People use this expression all the time.  But this is one time when it is really true.  I read it everywhere - and I do mean everywhere!  In fact, when nature called, I was excited.  Okay, enough of that.  Suffice it to say that I loved this book.  After having no 4/4 since late 2013, now I've got 2 - in the last 35 days!  So cool.

Book 1 starts in 1920, and book 4 ends in 1964.  And 4 ends with a real cliffhanger. Fortunately, I waited so long to read #4 that #5 is almost in the stores.  I don't think I will be waiting another year and a half to read #5!

I had my usual range of emotions while reading Careful, with one significant exception/modification - on Page 199 I actually cried.  I don't mean I teared up, my normal reaction.  I actually cried.  I did everything except sob (thank goodness for that, since I was eating lunch at The Garrett while reading page 199).  Do you remember me telling you that when I read Pat Conroy's South of Broad I felt personal loss when a central character died?  Well, that almost happened here.

Other than that (when I was obviously coming down with some kind of illness and was more sentimental than usual!), I had raised eyebrows, tears, and exclamations (on page 11, I said out loud, "Whoa!  What?").  Did I connect with the characters?  Yeah, I would say that I definitely did.

In any series, the author has to keep it fresh.  That means, he/she has to add significant characters, while maintaining the stars from earlier books.  Archer does that very well here.  He adds several great characters, including a fish paste magnate and a banker. And, of course, we still get the Barringtons and the Cliftons.  In book 4 he develops the main protagonists even more than he did in 1-3.  That's as it should be.

And, finally, just a couple of quick notes:

- There's a scene that takes place in Bath, England.  When Lauren had a semester abroad in London (about 11 years ago), Joni and I visited her and took a day trip to bath. That was really fun.
- We've all heard about Simon Weisenthal, who led the Israeli search for Nazi war criminals on the run. Well, he makes a memorable appearance in this story.
- This is the 1st one of the series I've read since I started watching Downton Abbey.  I enjoyed comparing the book with the TV series regarding the upper class and their servants - even though the book takes place about 40 years after the latest episode of D.A.

Monday, March 2, 2015

An Inteview with Margie Scott Tucker, the Owner of Books, Inc.

This past December, I had the opportunity to meet with Margie Scott Tucker, the owner of the Books, Inc. chain.  This was especially gratifying for me because I have been a member of the 4th Tuesday Night Book Club at the Palo Alto store for a while now (even though I only got there a couple of times last year).  And Margie runs the book club.  She does a great job of leading the discussion and coming up with questions that really make you think about a book.  (And we even have national best-selling author Meg Waite Clayton as one of our book club members!)

To give you some history:  Books, Inc. traces its start to 1851.  Are you kidding me? That's why it's called the West's Oldest Independent Bookstore.  Lew Lengfeld became the owner in 1946 and changed the name to its current Books, Inc.  Lew passed away in 1996.  He left the chain to 2 of his employees, including Margie's husband, Michael.  This coincided with the big box chains invading California.  The owners ended up filing for chapter 11 and closing 10 of their 13 stores.  Books, Inc. came out of bankruptcy in 1997 and started adding stores.  #4 and #5 opened in 1998.  And it's been growing ever since. #11, and the latest, opened in 2010.  There are 6 cities (and 1 airport) represented:

San Francisco (4 - Opera Plaza, The Marina, The Castro, Laurel Village)
San Francisco Airport (Compass Books - Terminals 2 & 3)
Mt. View
Palo Alto

Margie and Michael have a very unique approach for a chain.  Even though there is a corporate office/warehouse in San Francisco, each store has a manger, with the autonomy to make his or her own decisions, as well as its own buyer.  The philosophy is that each store represents the community where it's located.  That's why you'll see different books in each store.

Books, Inc. is a big leader in book world for author events.  They average 1200 events each year (which include book club meetings and storytimes)!  And 40-50 of them are big enough to take place off-site.  Although each store has an event coordinator, Margie oversees the big stuff and works with the publishers' publicity department.  I have been to a number of events in both Palo Alto and Mt. View, and they all run very smoothly and have great attendance.

Social media is where Books, Inc. has made big strides over the last couple of years. Each store has 1 or 2 employees that know social media.  They are connected on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and Pinterest.  Did I miss any?  There seems to be a new site every couple of days.

And speaking of book clubs (6 paragraphs ago!), each store has its own.  And they run the gamut:  Adult book clubs (of course), middle-grade book clubs, Not Your Mother's Book Club, mother-daughter book clubs, baby's 1st book club, YA (young adult) book clubs, and toddler book clubs.  Many of the book clubs are organized and supervised by the store.  But plenty of others are community-oriented, with Books, Inc. stores acting as the meeting place.  How cool is all of that?

So here's the bottom line:  Books, Inc. is about community.  That's why Michael makes sure that each store is architecturally different and fits into the community in which it resides.  That's why each store is a compact 2500-4000 square feet.  That's why each store's merchandise matches the area of location.  Is there anything that Books, Inc. should be doing differently?  Not that I can see!

Here are a bunch of pictures of the Palo Alto store.  And try to tell me that you don't want to take a look in person.