Saturday, May 30, 2015

BIG NEWS! - New Independent Bookstore Coming!

Just got word that Books, Inc. will be opening it's 12th store next July, 2016.  It will be located in Santa Clara Square in (surprise) Santa Clara.  This is a great chain that continues to grow and provide the entire Bay Area with beautifully-run and area-customized independent book stores.  Stay tuned.

Here is the 5-month rundown of books read so far:

29 books
9,790 pages

4.0 - 2
     Orphan Train - Christine Baker Kline
     Be Careful What You Wish For - Jeffrey Archer (#4, Clifton Chronicles)
3.5 - 2
     The Stranger - Harlan Coben
     The Given Day - Dennis Lehane
3.25 - 5
     The Martian - Andy Weir
     Forward to Camelot - Susan Sloat
     Dismal Mountain - John Billheimer
     Still Alice - Lisa Genova
     The Rosie Project - Graeme Samson
3.0 - 7
     Spectrum - Alan Jacobson
     Love Caters All - Nicci Carerra
     Ordinary Light - Tracy Smith
     Ten Days in Paradise - Linda Abbott
     Every Day - David Levithan
     Pure & Sinful - Killian McRae
     Cross Roads - Wm. Paul Young

16 out of 29 are 3.0 or higher.  That might be a smaller percentage than normal.  On top of that, I also have to add 2 books that are DNF (did not finish), including The Goldfinch.  I wasn't planning on reading it, but it's the Books, Inc. 4th Tuesday Night Book Club selection for June.  I read 19 pages and said "Eh, eh."  Couldn't do it.

Be looking for reviews of The Rosie Project, Simsion, and Cash Landing, Grippando.  I'll have those soon.

Thursday, May 21, 2015


I've got a few random things (am I a wordsmith, or what?) to tell you.

1.  I saw today that JoJo Moyes' Me Before You, which I gave a 4/4 in 2013, is coming to the big screen.  Admittedly, it's not until June 3, 2016, but it's coming.  I'll be there.

2.  Tuesday night was the Los Gatos Library Evening Book Club.  Our book was Still Alice, by Lisa Genova.  I recently reviewed it and liked it a lot.  If you remember, I gave it a 3.25/4, even though I had already seen the movie.  In fact, if I hadn't seen the movie, I think the book would have been a 3.5/4.

But here's the interesting part of the story.  We had 3 women there that had never been to a meeting before.  2 of the 3 were completely silent during the 1st 50 minutes.  Then, with about 10 minutes left, 1 of those 2 said:  "It's time for me to speak up."  She proceeded to tell us that her younger sister was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimers at the age of 45 and died at 55.  It was understandably very emotional for her.  But, wait, there's more.  Her mom, who is 92, has had Alzheimers for 17 years!  This is one brave woman to come to our meeting and talk about her experiences and emotions.

3.  And speaking of the Los Gatos Library Evening Book Club, we got our books and dates for the next 3 months.  Here they are:

June 16 - March, by Geraldine Brooks
July 21 - A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki
August 18 - The Rosie Project, by Graeme Stinson

Melissa Maglio has been running this book club for 5 years.  And she does a great job.  If you've got the time, come on down.  We start at 6:30 and end at 7:30.  You don't have to RSVP.  And Melissa usually has a stack of books for the next month's selection to borrow. Lots of fun.

4.  I'm going to give you a mini-review of The Last Bookaneer by Matthew Pearl.  Since it's part of a post with multiple random thoughts, and it's #4, I obviously didn't love it.  In fact, all I could give it is a 2.5/4.  Pearl is the bestselling author of The Dante Club, along with 3 other novels (none of which I've read).  But this one came to me in an ARC, so I read it. What's it about?  Here's the Goodreads blurb:

From the author of The Dante Club, Matthew Pearl, The Last Bookaneer is the astonishing story of these literary thieves’ epic final heist. On the island of Samoa, a dying Robert Louis Stevenson labors over a new novel. The thought of one last book from the great author fires the imaginations of the bookaneers, and soon Davenport sets out for the South Pacific island. As always, Davenport is reluctantly accompanied by his assistant Fergins, who is whisked across the world for one final caper. Fergins soon discovers the supreme thrill of aiding Davenport in his quest to steal Stevenson’s manuscript and make a fortune before the new treaty ends the bookaneers’ trade forever. But Davenport is hardly the only bookaneer with a mind to pirate Stevenson’s last novel. His longtime adversary, the monstrous Belial, appears on the island, and soon Davenport, Fergins, and Belial find themselves embroiled in a conflict larger, perhaps, than literature itself.

Why didn't I much care for it?  I'm not sure.  I recognize that Pearl writes well.  And I automatically like any story about books and authors.  And, moreover (really?), a lot of the book is about Robert Louis Stevenson in Samoa, which is all true.  In fact, his book, A Footnote to History, is actually non-fiction about Samoa and is referenced in The Bookaneer.  But having said all of that, my response is "So what?"  None of it really mattered to me.  In fact, on page 59, I considered stopping and registering it as a DNF (did not finish).  I ended up plowing ahead and was not sorry that I did.  If you have liked other Pearl books, then I guess I would recommend that you read this one.  Otherwise, I'm pretty sure this is my first/last one.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Wm. Paul Young's 2nd Book (the 1st was The Shack) - Cross Roads

I don't know if I would have picked up Cross Roads.  It's really not my kind of book.  And I didn't read The Shack (which sold 18 million copies!).  But it was loaned to me, so I read it. Here is the Goodreads blurb.

Anthony Spencer is egotistical, proud of being a self-made business success at the peak of his game, even though the cost of winning was painfully high. A cerebral hemorrhage leaves Tony comatose in a hospital ICU. He 'awakens' to find himself in a surreal world, a 'living' landscape that mirrors dimensions of his earthly life, from the beautiful to the corrupt. It is here that he has vivid interactions with others he assumes are projections of his own subconscious, but whose directions he follows nonetheless with the possibility that they might lead to authenticity and perhaps, redemption. The adventure draws Tony into deep relational entanglements where he is able to 'see' through the literal eyes and experiences of others, but is "blind" to the consequences of hiding his personal agenda and loss that emerge to war against the processes of healing and trust. Will this unexpected coalescing of events cause Tony to examine his life and realize he built a house of cards on the poisoned grounds of a broken heart? Will he also have the courage to make a critical choice that can undo a major injustice he set in motion before falling into a coma?

I'm not sure what to say about this book.  It's a bit existential for me in a number of places. And I would even consider it a little too intellectual and high falutin'.  But having said that, I liked a lot of it.  I especially liked the parts where he's in various bodies in the real world. The people he's inhabiting know he's in there.  And they can talk to him and hear him (even though nobody else can).  Those situations produced a lot of humor and a fair amount of poignancy.  But when he's in the other realm, talking to Jesus and the Holy Ghost ("Grandmother"), then I didn't like it nearly as much.  I understand the religious basis for a redemption story but am not a big fan of religion as the controlling factor in a storyline (was that too blasphemous?).  But in another bit of irony, I liked when he encounters many of his faults in that other realm, who are embodied in people that he has to face.  I'm obviously confused by it all!

Have I shed any light on this book?  Or how I feel about it?  No?  Don't worry, it's me, not you.  I definitely liked some parts of it more than others.  Did I like the religious elements? Not so much.  Was there a fair amount of emotional manipulation?  Perhaps.  I still gave it a 3/4.  It doesn't measure up to Goodreads (3.92/5) or Amazon (4.5/5), but it's still a decent rating.  I don't know if the same can be said for this review!

DIFFENBAUGH ON TOUR:  I already told you that Vanessa has a new book coming out on August 18.  But I found out over the weekend that she will be coming to A Great Good Place for Books on Thursday night, August 20.  I WILL BE THERE!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Author Events Future and Past - + A Really Cool WWII Book

Let me be the 1st (or at least one of the 1st) to tell you about an upcoming novel and author event.  Meg Waite Clayton, national bestselling author, and one of our most well-known Bay Area authors, is coming out with her 5th book on August 11.  It's called The Race for Paris, and here is the plot straight from Meg's website (

Two journalists, denied access to press camps and the front, join forces with a military photographer and race toward Paris, to record its liberation from the Nazis and thereby make history. Inspired by women who defied military regulations and gender barriers, and indeed risked their lives to report from the Normandy front, this novel was more than 15 years in the making—a labor of passion, love, and pure literary stubbornness. I cannot wait to share it with you!

Doesn't that sound interesting?  Well, if you live in the Bay Area, you're going to want to come to Kepler's on the night of August 11 for the official launch.  I'm giving you almost 3 months notice.  Get it on the calendar.  If you haven't seen Meg in person before, I can guarantee that you will enjoy it.  She's a very accomplished and thoughtful speaker - and one heckuva an author.  Now you have no excuse for claiming you didn't know about it!

How cool is this cover?

Last Tuesday night, the RBC met John Billheimer, author of Dismal Mountain.  We had a good crowd, and I think everybody enjoyed John.  Besides that, we had 4 1st-timers(!), including our June RBC author, Betty Auchard.  On Wednesday, June 24, at 7:00PM, Betty will be answering questions about her childhood memoir, The Home for the Friendless. This was one of my favorite books of 2014 (3.5/4).  And heeeeeeeere's John.

Betty is on the right side, 2nd from the door

Okay, so far I've given you author events future and past.  Now I'm giving you a picture of a very neat WWII book.  This is 1 of 40 that the government sent to overseas soldiers.  And they're all unabridged.  I got this from my cousin Richard last weekend.  He thought I would like it.  He was right.


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Still Alice - A Movie and a Darn Good Book

Thanks to Julianne Moore, everybody knows what Still Alice is about.  I won't make you read a Goodreads synopsis.  If you've been hiding in a cave for the last year, all you need to know is that Alice Howland, "...a cognitive psychology professor at Harvard and a world-renowned expert in linguistics..." is developing early-onset alzheimer's at the age of 50.  In this case, I actually saw the movie 1st.  Normally, I wouldn't read the book, but it's the Los Gatos Library Book Club selection for May.  So I sucked it up, expecting to be a bit bored.  I was anything but.

What's particularly interesting about this book is that Genova self-published it in 2007.  It didn't take long for the publishing world to swoop in.  Gallery Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, re-published it in 2009.  It has sold a million and a half copies!  Those are crazy numbers.  But despite the fact that I don't always like the "best-sellers," I really liked this one.  It was well-written and easy to read, an oftentimes unusual combination.

Did I emotionally connect with the characters?  Uh, yeah.  Especially Alice.  Page 10 is the 1st indication of a problem, and I was already feeling it.  And the writing paints a vivid picture.  This, when Alice and her youngest child (a daughter, with an older sister and brother) see each other after a time apart:

"They each hesitated before they hugged, as if they were about to practice a newly learned dance and weren't quite confident of the first step or who should lead.  Or it was an old dance, but they hadn't performed it together in so long that each felt unsure of the choreography."

On top of that, I ran the gamut of emotions.  I had big smiles, head shakes, and a certain amount of cringing.  And there were tears.  In fact, there was one scene where I actually had them rolling down my face.  The bad news is that I was on the treadmill at the gym when this happened.  The good news is that I had a towel so that I could quickly wipe away the evidence!

There were 3 different references that I could relate directly to my experiences:

1.  They mention the T.  Our younger daughter went to Boston University for 4 years, and our older daughter lived and worked there for 2.  We had lots and lots of T rides.
2.  Alice wonders how her husband would have handled the child-related activities that she was responsible for - including singing The Wheels on the Bus over and over.  My wife, Joni, sang that song to our kids and grandkids a whole bunch.
3.  As Alice's condition deepens, there is a time when her family members are talking about her like she's not there.  She speaks up and says "What about me?"  This happens to be what our 2-year old granddaughter likes to say, fortunately not for the same reason as Alice.  Josie is simply someone who will not be ignored.

The only other thing to mention here is that if you do read it, I would strongly recommend that you also read the Q&A with Genova at the end.  It is very illuminating.  And I definitely recommend this book.  I gave it a 3.25/4.  It might have been a 3.5 if I had not already seen the movie.  Either way, read this one.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Dismal Mountain, By John Billheimer - A Worthy Addition to Our RBC

2 days from now (Tuesday night, May 12), John Billheimer will be coming to Recycle Books to answer questions and sign books for our RBC.  Personally, I'm looking forward to it.  His book, Dismal Mountain, which is #3 in the Owen Allison series, is darn good.  Here's the blurb on the back of the book (sorry, Goodreads):

Failure analyst Owen Allison returns to his native West Virginia, where his mother faces cancer and construction dumping threatens a family hollow.  Owen's Aunt Lizzie, shotgun in hand, vows to stop the dump trucks.  A trucker is killed and Aunt Lizzie swears she pulled the trigger.  But Owen thinks she's hiding something.  He sets out to find the truth, putting himself in the crosshairs of a deadly conspiracy, as his mother undergoes her own ordeal.

There were a lot of things I liked about this book:

1.  I didn't know anything about the coal industry from that part of the country (or any part of the country, for that matter).  I actually learned quite a bit.
2.  Billheimer created a whole bunch of interesting characters:  Owen, Lizzie (Owen's aunt and owner and administrator of a local hospice), Willis Grant (CEO of the company that owned the hospital), Judith (a lawyer, and Owen's ex-wife), Sister Mary (a nun at the hospital who has a history with Owen), Ruth (Owen's mom), Vern Embry (hospital accountant), Sheriff Thad Reader, Letch Valence (resident bad-guy), Guy Schamp (long-time lawyer and friend of Lizzie), Dusty Rhodes (local politician), and Maggie (an elderly patient on hospice who followed the comings and goings of the coal trucks for Owen).  And there were more.  I felt a connection to every single on of them, one way or the other.
3.  There is tons of small-town, backwoods humor that had me laughing out loud.  A couple of examples to whet your appetite for the book -

Willis Grant, talking to Vern Embry about overcharging the patients:  "Oh, it'll work.  It'll work.  Slicker than snot on a doornob...she's got about as much chance as a blind pole-vaulter on a muddy track."

After Dusty Rhodes wins the election in a landslide, Guy Schamp, the old attorney, knocks on Owen's door and with a bottle of wine in his hand says:  "It's a flinty little Merlot with a nice ironic aftertaste."

Guy Schamp telling Owen about a sheriff's race in the area sometime in the past:  "Then his opponent came up with a Polaroid of Caughlin having sexual congress with a pig...Looked like Caughlin had about as much chance as a celluloid print of The Ten Commandments at the Hell Multiplex."

All I can say is that I guess you had to be there.  The lines are very humorous in their proper context.  But regardless of whether or not you find it funny, it's a good story and definitely made me want to read more of John's books in the Owen Allison series.  And I know that Recycle Books is carrying not only Dismal Mountain in the store, but also has 2 others - #1 and #2 - Contrary Blues and Highway Robbery.  But you do NOT have to read 1 and 2 in order to enjoy 3.

REALLY EXCITING NEWS:  I just learned that Vanessa Diffenbaugh, who wrote The Language of Flowers, one of my top 12 ALL-TIME, is coming out with another book.  It's called We Never Asked For Wings, and it will be published on August 18.  I CANNOT WAIT!  (I know I'm setting myself up for disappointment.  How can it be anywhere near as good as Flowers?)

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Another Local Author and Another Entertaining Book

At the last RBC meeting, Ann Bridges, who is a member of our club, and whose book, Private Offerings, will be published by Balcony7 probably in September, brought a local author to meet me.  Her name is Killian McRae, and she has written a bunch of books. Since I hadn't read any of them, I asked her to recommend one for me.  She picked Pure & Sinful, Book One of the Pure Souls series.  You know, when I read a local author, there's a certain amount of pressure.  Some of my favorite authors in the world are local.  But there have certainly been some that I didn't enjoy so much.  What do I do in that case?  Typically, I just don't review it.  It's a bit cowardly, but I'm not in the business of hurting the feelings of people I know.  It will show up in my year-end list, but not before.

The good news is that this was certainly NOT the case for Pure & Sinful.  I really enjoyed it. Ann told me that there was a lot of snarky humor.  She undersold it.  There was a ton of snarky humor and just plain old humor.  I laughed out loud a million times.  Here are just a very few examples.  I finally had to stop listing them in my notes so that I could read the darn book.

Oh, I forgot to tell you what the book is about.  Suffice it say there is a witch, a demigod, a priest(?), an angel, and good old Lucifer.  I guess you would call it a paranormal mystery/romance/suspense?  Regardless of the genre title, I liked it a bunch.  Anyway, here are some humorous moments:

-The opening lines:  "A priest, a witch, and a demigod walk into a bar.  No joke."
-"Fact:  she was a Pure Soul, one of the trinity entrusted by the Council of Archangels to ferret out and fight the minions working on Lucifer's behalf to corrupt men's souls and spread evil and hate.  She's also heard that they moonlighted at the DMV."
-"She swung her boot point blank into his demonic assets, sending him on an impromptu one-on-one with the floor.  A sound akin to a teenage girl being told 'yes, that dress does make your butt look big,' filtered through the room..."
-"Dee turned to him, one eyebrow raised, a 'What you talking' 'bout, Willis?' expression on his face."
-"What was she thinking?  Remote control?  She didn't need no stinkin' remote control.
-"Riona turned whiter than Michael Jackson in his forties."

Every page had 1 or 2 very funny/laugh-out-loud moments.  And I loved all of the cultural references.

On top of being very clever and really side-splitting, the book is well-written.  And, somehow, she made me care about the characters, even though this is not my genre of choice.  See?  It's not about genre; it's about the author and the author's writing.  She reminds me of Hannah Jayne, and her Underworld Detection Agency.  Hannah's books aren't nearly so funny, but the characters are well-developed.  So are Killian's.  And, P.S., I loved the ending.

KILLIAN'S APPEARANCE:  Killian McRae will be coming to Recycle Books on Sunday, June 7, from 9:15-12:15.  She will be right out in front of the store and will be bringing not only Pure & Sinful; and not only other books in the series; but additional books from her body of work.  Come buy a book (or 2) and get it (them) signed.  I know that that's what I will be doing!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

A Few More Things (a bunch of reviews are coming next)

Before I give you some reviews - Dismal Mountain by John Billheimer, Still Alice by Lisa Genova, and Pure & Sinful (yes, that's the title) by Killian McRae -  I first want to wrap up some loose ends.  Of course, each one is important.  But these are the last of the miscellaneous goings-on (awkward wording).

Here they are:

1.  Casandra Lee, author and illustrator of the children's book, The Sun Dance, was at Recycle this past Sunday, sharing a table with yours truly.  She sold 12 books!  We've had a lot of authors sell their books out in front of Recycle on a Sunday morning (with the Farmer's Market going on), but Casandra takes the top prize for the number of books sold (not counting Julie Dart, who actually had a book launch at the store).

2.  Independent Bookstore Day at Recycle Books went well last Saturday.  All of the authors that signed up to spend an hour or two at the store did just that.  Thanks to the whole group.  We appreciate your support of independent bookstores.  Here they are again.

11:00-1:00 - Betty Auchard
                     Christine Z. Mason
1:00-2:00   - Nicci Carerra
                     Kate Allure
                     Joy Brighton
1:30-3:30   - Jenn Castro
3:00-4:00   - Steve Sporleder
4:00-5:00   - C. Lee McKenzie
                     A.R. Silverberry (Peter Adler)

3.  A couple of Sundays ago, I had my best "selling" day since I started recommending books at Recycle.  I sold 9 books (plus one of our RBC books)!

This Is Where I Leave You - Jonathan Tropper
My Losing Season - Pat Conroy
South of Broad - Pat Conroy
Missing You - Harlan Coben
The Footprints of God - Greg Iles
Third Degree - Greg Iles
Lonesome Dove - Larry McMurtry
Child 44 - Tom Rob Smith
The Sisterhood - Helen Bryan
(and Dismal Mountain - John Billheimer

Stay tuned for some reviews (how excited are all of you?).

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Greg Iles, Live and in Person!

Well, last night we went to see Greg Iles at Towne Center Books in downtown Pleasanton. This was my 1st visit to this bookstore.  It's small but very cool.  I had a chance to talk to the owner who said she bought it in 1998.  It definitely looks like a thriving bookstore.  And one of their employees actually entertained us before Greg came by reading us opening lines from a bunch of books.  We got to guess the book.  Fun idea.

But more importantly (maybe just equally important), I was thrilled to see Iles.  He's one of my favorite authors (I've read all of his books).  In fact, he, along with Harlan Coben, are my 2 favorite mystery/suspense/thriller writers.  In this case, though, Iles is promoting the 2nd book in his trilogy about KKK action in the South during the '60s and Penn Cage's involvement 40 years later.  I reviewed book 1, Natchez Burning, on September 29 and October 2 of last year (I actually needed 2 separate posts to do it justice).  And, furthermore, it was my top book of 2014.

Iles told us a bunch of really interesting stuff, including the details of his 2011 very serious car accident.  He was in a coma for 8 days(!) and lost one leg.  But he came out of it with a different view of life.  And a commitment to live it to its fullest.

2 really cool details came out during the discussion (he didn't make a presentation or read from #2, The Bone Tree; he just chatted and did an extended Q&A; nice).  One, Tom Cage, Penn Cage's father, is patterned after his own father; and what a great character he is.  And the 2nd fun fact is that Iles is a member of the band, Rock Bottom Remainders.  His fellow band members include a few names you might have heard before:  Stephen King, Amy Tan, Dave Barry, Ridley Pearson, and Scott Turow.  Oh, yeah.  I forgot Roger McGuinn, the lead singer for The Byrds!

I have been to hundreds of author events.  Other than Ken Follett (sorry, Greg - he's a literary god), seeing Greg Iles ranks right up there among my favorites.  It was a great event, and I'm really glad I got to see/hear/meet him.

GREAT KINDLE DEAL:  I reviewed Linda Abbott's Ten Days in Paradise on April 6 of this year.  And I liked it a lot.  Well, for just one more day you can get the book online for $.99! That is one heckuva deal.  Here's the link.  This deal goes away at the end of tomorrow, Monday the 4th.  Make sure you take advantage of the big discount.  You will enjoy the book.