Saturday, December 30, 2017

Books of 2017

Here they are:

A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles - 4.0
Feels Like the First Time, James Grippando - 2.75
here there be dragons, Jeff Rosenplot - 3.25
A Killing at Cotton Hill, Terry Shames - 3.0
If You Are There, Susan Sherman - 2.75
Murder in the Abstract, Susan Shea - 3.0
Everything We Keep, Kerry Lonsdale - 3.25
The Slow Waltz of Turtles, Katherine Pancol - 3.0
West Coast Holiday Series, #3, Elisabeth Barrett - 3.5
Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance - 3.25
Dark Matter, Blake Crouch - 3.25
The Invoice, Jonas Karlsson - 2.25
It Started with a Kiss, Marina Adair - 3.5
An Ember in the Ashes, Sabaa Tahir - 3.75
Felony Murder Rule, Sheldon Siegel - 3.0
The Orphan's Tale, Pam Jenoff - 3.875
Orphan X, Gregg Hurwitz - 3.0
Under the Painted Sky, Stacy Lee - 3.0
Irresistible in Love, Jennifer Skully and Bella Andre - 3.75
At the Edge of the Orchard, Tracy Chevalier - 3.25
The Weight of Him, Ethel Rohan - 3.25
Hellhound Angel, Nikki Avila - 2.25
The Marriage Lie, Kimberly Belle - 3.75
The Cherry Harvest, Lucy Sanna - 3.25
Your Perfect Life, Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke - 3.25
The Mother's Promise, Sally Hepworth - 3.75
The Atomic Weight of Love, Elizabeth Church - 3.25
The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Society, Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows - 3.75
Kissing Frogs, Rich Amooi - 3.0
The Last Breath, Kimberly Belle - 3.25
VietnamEazy, Trami Nguyen Cron - 3.0
Kit's Mine, Ann Bridges - 2.5
The Oath, Stephen Robert Stein - 3.0
The Secrets of Midwives, Sally Hepworth - 3.75
Mississippi Blood, Greg Iles - 3.25
The Fifth Reflection, Ellen Kirschman - 3.0
Death of an Assassin, Ann Marie Ackermann - 2.0
Thirteen Reasons Why, Jay Asher - 3.25
Zero Sum, Barry Eisler - 3.0
Magpie Murders, Anthony Horowitz - 2.75
The Marriage Pact, Michelle Richmond - 3.5
Thunder Bay, Mike Degregorio - 2.0
Totlandia, Fall, Book 1, Josie Brown - 2.5
Watch Me Disappear, Janelle Brown - 3.5
Maddy's Game, Michael Lund - 2.25
A Small Indiscretion, Jan Ellison - 2.75
Don't Let Go, Harlan Coben - 3.5
Everything We Left Behind, Kerry Lonsdale - 3.25
Dark Associations, Marie Sutro - 3.5
House of Spies, Daniel Silva - 3.25
Own It, Elisabeth Barrett - 3.25
Health Care Unhinged, Liz Helms - 3.0
Love and Other Consolation Prizes, Jamie Ford - 3.25
The Things We Keep, Sally Hepworth - 3.75
The School of Essential Ingredients, Erica Bauermeister - 3.25
Not Guilty, C. Lee McKenzie (read and edited)
Soulless, Gail Carriger - 3.0
It Happens All the Time, Amy Hatvany - 3.25
The Dating Bender, Christina Julian - 2.5
The Illuminated Kingdom, Alina Sayre (read and edited)
Manhattan Beach, Jennifer Egan - 3.0
Slow Medicine, Dr. Victoria Sweet - 2.75
Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng - 2.75
Sourdough, Robin Sloan - 3.25
Before the Rain Falls, Camille Di Maio - 3.5
The Last Watchman of Old Cairo, Michael David Lukas - 3.25
Bed & Breakfast & Bondage 2, Kate Allure - 3.25
In This Moment, Karma Brown - 3.5
A Torch Against the Night, Sabaa Tahir - 3.25
Close Enough to Touch, Colleen Oakley - 4.0
The Alice Network, Kate Quinn - 3.75
Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng - 3.5

DNF (did not finish):

In This Grave Hour, Jacqueline Winspear
Selection Day, Aravind Adega
This Is How It Always Is, Laurie Frankel
A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Recap of the RBC for 2017

We actually had 15 authors come to the RBC this year (yes, I know there are only 12 months in a year).  We've got so many authors who either volunteer to come or say yes to our request, that it's hard to keep to just one per month.  Here's what we had this year:

January -       The Oracle of Stamboul, Michael David Lukas (literary fiction)*
February -     The Scribe, Elizabeth Hunter (fantasy)
March -         A Killing at Cotton Hill, Terry Shames (mystery)
April -           If You Were There, Susan Sherman (historical fiction)
May -            Mother, Daughter, Me, Katie Hafner (memoir)
June -            The Illuminated Kingdom, Alina Sayre (middle grade fantasy)
July -             Here There Be Dragons, Jeff Rosenplot (dark fiction)
July -             Kissing Frogs, Rich Amooi (romantic comedy)
August -        Pure & Sinful, Killian McRae (paranormal)
September -   Everything We Keep, Kerry Lonsdale (literary fiction)
October -       VietnamEazy, Trami Nguyen Cron (literary fiction)
October -       Circumstantial Evidence, Sheldon Siegel (mystery)
November -   The Weight of Him, Ethel Rohan (literary fiction)
December -   Soulless, Gail Carriger (steampunk)
December -   Own It, Elisabeth Barrett (romance)

Last year we had 5 different genres.  This year it was 11!  It's true that we had 3 more authors/books in 2017 than 2016.  But, still, 11 out of 15 demonstrates a pretty darn good variety of genres.  That is definitely one of the best aspects of the RBC, IMHO.

We tried something different this year.  We actually had a book exchange.  Have you ever been to one of those?  I've been to several at Kepler's.  And they are really cool.  Everybody brings one of their favorite books to give away.  Each person gives a brief synopsis of his/her book.  Then everybody draws a number.  #1 picks a book. It can be stolen by somebody who follows that person.  But it can only be stolen once.  If you lose your 1st choice, you get to go again.  Your 2nd choice can't be stolen.  Anyway, obviously everybody ends up with a book.  Bottom line?  It was a pretty big flop.  We only had a handful of people there.  We probably won't do it again.  But we are definitely not opposed to trying new things.  If anybody has any ideas for other RBC-related events, feel free to chime in.

And, finally, here are the authors scheduled for 2018, so far:

January 14 -   Dating Bender, Christina Julian (romance)
January 24 -   Dark Associations, Marie Sutro (mystery)
February 21 - Sweet Spot, Amy Ettinger  (ice cream memoir)
March 14 -     Freedom Child, Chandra Lee Ingram (literary fiction)
March 28 -     Underground River, Martha Conway (historical fiction)
March 28 -     The Last Billable Hour, Susan Wolfe (murder mystery)
April 25 -       The McGlincy Killings, Tobin Gilman (non-fiction murder mystery)
May 23 -        Silver Lies, Ann Parker (historical mystery)

*Michael was our very 1st author when we started back in January, 2014, at Village House of Books in Los Gatos.  We moved to Recycle Books (hence, the RBC - Recycle Book Club) in Campbell in September of 2014.  So we decided to have Michael at our 3-year anniversary of the book club.  And just like the 1st time, all of our members liked The Oracle of Stamboul a whole lot.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Do You Want to Win a Book from My Top 11? Here's How to Do It - and Other Miscellaneous Items

All you have to do for the contest is make a comment on this post or the top 11 post from 4 days ago (some of you have already done that, so you're already "registered").  The comment can be anything from one word (e.g. "In," "Yes," "OK," etc.) to a review of one of the books on the list to a rant on what could I have been thinking!  On January 1, I will draw names.  You 3 winners can pick any book from the list, and I will mail it to you.  Easy, am I right?

Besides the contest, I've got 5 other notes for you:

1.  How about a bookstore where you can sleep with the books?  Take a look:

What sort of dreams would you have, surrounded by more than 150,000 books? Gladstone's Library is the only library in the UK that lets you sleep among the books, with 26 guest bedrooms on site. Guests have access to the reading rooms until 10 p.m., a full five hours after they close to the public, or can bring a book back to their room with them for a bit of bedside reading. Read more or find out how to book a room here:

2.  Gail Carriger, who was an RBC author earlier this month, and who has written a bunch of books, will be teaching a class to authors in March. Here are some of the details:

March 24 9:00am | Presentation: Brand Management, Social Media & Analytics for Authors
Paid event, intended for authors only. Guests are welcome, but please follow registration instructions from the Silicon Valley RWA chapter (details pending).

You can go to Gail's website or the RWA's website for more details.

3.  I was in a movie theater a couple of days ago and saw a poster for an upcoming movie called The Leisure Seeker.  I got real excited because I loved this book.  It was written by Michael Zadoorian, and, if you haven't read TLS, I highly recommend it.  It's the story of a long-married couple in their early 80s.  The husband has Alzheimers but can still drive.  The wife wants to take one last road trip, on Route 66 starting outside of Detroit and ending up in Los Angeles.  They obviously have some adventures along the way.  The movie will star Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland. The movie looks good, but the book IS good.

4.  I'm reading Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng.  It was the #1 choice from you readers on my TBR post from November 14.  You already know that I wasn't a big fan of Celeste's 1st book, Everything I Never Told You.  Well, I definitely like this one better.  But it still isn't bowling me over.  As we all know, books (movies, TV, art) are very subjective.  But I'm not sorry I'm reading it. 

5.  And, finally, MERRY CHRISTMAS to those of you who celebrate.  I know it will be great day for you and yours.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

2017 Books by Genre

Counting the book I'm reading now (Little Fires Everywhere), I will top out at 71 this year and 22,976 pages.  Here are the books by genre (and in the order read):

Literature and Fiction (30) -
Towles, Amor - A Gentleman in Moscow
Lonsdale, Kerry - Everything We Keep
Pancol, Katherine - The Slow Waltz of Turtles
Karlsson, Jonas - The Invoice
Chevalier, Tracy - At the Edge of the Orchard
Rohan, Ethel - The Weight of Him
Belle, Kimberly - The Marriage Lie
Fenton, Liz & Steinke, Lisa - Your Perfect Life
Hepworth, Sally - The Mother's Promise
Cron, Trami - VietnamEazy
Belle, Kimberly - The Last Breath
Hepworth, Sally - The Secrets of Midwives
Richmond, Michelle - The Marriage Pact
Degregorio, Mike - Thunder Bay
Brown, Janelle - Watch Me Disappear
Lund, Mike - Maddie's Game
Ellison, Jan - A Small Indiscretion
Lonsdale, Kerry - Everything We Left Behind
Ford, Jamie - Love and Other Consolation Prizes
Hepworth, Sally - The Things We Keep
Bauermeister, Erica - The School of Essential Ingredients
Hatvany, Amy - It Happens All the Time
Egan, Jennifer - Manhattan Beach
Ng, Celeste - Everything I Never Told You
Sloan, Robin - Sourdough
Di Maio, Camille - Before the Rain Falls
Lukas, Michael David - The Last Watchman of Old Cairo
Brown, Karma - In This Moment
Oakley, Colleen - Close Enough to Touch
Ng, Celeste - Little Fires Everywhere

Mystery/Thriller/Suspense (11) -
Grippando, James - Feels Like the First Time
Shames, Terry - A Killing at Cotton Hill
Shea, Susan - Murder in the Abstract
Siegel, Sheldon - Felony Murder Rule (#2)
Hurwitz, Gregg - Orphan X
Kirschman, Ellen - The Fifth Reflection (#3)
Eisler, Barry - Zero Sum
Horowitz, Anthony - Magpie Murders
Coben, Harlan - Don't Let Go
Sutro, Marie - Dark Associations
Silva, Daniel - House of Spies (#17)

Dark Fiction (1) -
Rosenplot, Jeff - Here There Be Dragons

Historical Fiction (8) -
Sherman, Susan - If You Are There
Jenoff, Pam - The Orphan's Tale
Sanna, Lucy - The Cherry Harvest
Church, Elizabeth - The Atomic Weight of Love
Shaffer, Mary Ann & Barrows, Annie - The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Society
Stein, Robert - The Oath
Iles, Greg - Mississippi Blood (#3)
Quinn, Kate - The Alice Network

Romance (6) -
Barrett, Elisabeth - West Coast Holiday Series, (#3)
Adair, Marina - It Started with a Kiss
Skully, Jennifer & Andre, Bella - Irresistible in Love (#4)
Barrett, Elisabeth - Own It
Julian, Christina - Dating Bender
Allure, Kate - Bed & Breakfast & Bondage #2

Memoir (1) -
Vance, J.D. - Hillbilly Elegy

Scifi (1) -
Crouch, Blake - Dark Matter

Fantasy (2) -
Tahir, Sabaa - An Ember in the Ashes (#1)
Tahir, Sabaa - A Torch Against the Night (#2)

Young Adult (YA)(3) -
Lee, Stacy - Under the Painted Sky
Asher, Jay - Thirteen Reasons Why
McKenzie, C. Lee - Not Guilty

Paranormal/Urban Fantasy/Steampunk (2) -
Avila, Nikki - Hellbound Angel
Carriger, Gail - Soulless (#1)

Romantic Comedy (1) -
Amooi, Rich - Kissing Frogs

History (1) -
Ackerman, Ann Marie - Death of an Assassin

Women's Fiction (1) -
Brown, Josie - Onesies, Fall (Totlandia #1)

Healthcare (2) -
Helms, Liz - Healthcare Unhinged
Sweet, Victoria - Slow Medicine

Middle Grade Fantasy (1) -
Sayre, Alina - The Illuminated Kingdom (#4)

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Top 10 books of 2017

Even though it's only December 21, I'm ready to give you my top 10 (actually 11) now.  You might be wondering how I can post this list now when I've still got 10 days left in the year.  I've got the answer in 5 words (with 1 hyphen):  Little Fires Everywhere - Celeste Ng.  As you know, I wasn't a big fan of Celeste's 1st book, Everything I Never Told You.  But I'm reading her 2nd one because it was the #1 pick by readers in the TBR voting.  But 37 pages in tells me that I'm not going to love this one either.  And by the time I finish it, I probably won't get through another complete book before 12/31.

So without further ado, here they are, in order:

1.  A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles.  This is just flat-out one of the best-written books I have ever read.  I had to divide my review in 2 parts because there were just too many passages that I had to quote.

2.  Close Enough to Touch, Colleen Oakley.   A late 20s woman has a very rare allergy in which she can't have skin contact with another human. She hasn't even left her house in 9 years!  Then she meets a man who is a little bit older and who has a 10-year old son that he adopted when his best friend and wife died in a crash.  Great story.

3.  The Orphan's Tale, Pam Jenoff.  My top historical fiction novel of the year (and among my favorite historical fictions ever).  Before WWII, there were lots of circuses in Germany, some of them Jewish-owned. During the war, the Jewish circuses were eliminated.  In one of them, the daughter of the owners gets away and joins a non-Jewish circus. Really interesting.

4.  The Things We Keep, Sally Hepworth.  The 1st of 3 Hepworth books I read this year, all of them in the top 11.  This one is about a 38-year old woman with Alzheimers who ends up in a residential facility.  Some tough moments, but so well done.

5.  The Mother's Promise, Sally Hepworth.  Yep, #2.  A dying mother and a teenage daughter, also with issues.  And the 2 women who come into their lives.  If you haven't figured it out yet, Sally addresses some pretty difficult issues.

6.  The Alice Network, Kate Quinn.  I just finished this one today!  It's historical fiction with a lot of actual history in it.  It's the story of a famous female spy network during WWI in Germany-occupied France. Like The Orphan's Tale, it's a fascinating piece of history.

7.  The Marriage Lie, Kimberly Belle.  What would you do if you found out your spouse was killed in a plane crash but it was a different flight than he told you he would be on?  Hmmm.

8.  The Secrets of Midwives, Sally Hepworth.  #3.  This story revolves around 3 generations of midwives.  I liked the story a lot and enjoyed learning about midwifery.

9.  The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.  This is my 3rd, and last, historical fiction in the top 11. It also takes place in Western Europe.  It's 1946, and a writer from London wants to write about the German occupation of the island, Guernsey. She learns a lot more than she planned on.

10. An Ember in the Ashes, Sabaa Tahir.  This is my one and only fantasy. And I only had 2 the whole year.  (The 2nd one was book 2 in the series.)

11. Irresistible in Love, Jennifer Skully & Bella Andre.  This is book 4 in one of my favorite romance series of all time.  It's called The Maverick Billionaires.  Great collaboration.

I will end the year with 71 or 72 books.  And I had a bunch of good reads.  In fact, I have had (so far) 54-3.0s or higher!  Have I had a good year or what?  And these 11 are on the top of pile.  Way to go, guys.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Close Enough to Touch, Part II

I told you at the end of Part 1 that I couldn't get it all into one post. Ergo, Part II.  I just had to quote a few passages from the book to show you how well-written it is (in case you don't believe me!).  Voila:

"...and when she stands up, I see that she's thin everywhere except her hips - her body looks like a snake that's just swallowed a rodent."
"But she runs hot and cold like a bipolar faucet..."
"...I lean toward it, putting my cheek in his palm like a desperate, feral cat in need of petting."
"And then I remember Ellie's words in the hospital, stuck in my mind like a pebble in a shoe."

She's got a definition of love that you're going to love.  I won't quote it now, but you'll know it, and like it, when you read it.

So I mentioned in Part I that there were a few places in the book that I could relate to.  Here they are:

1.  Jubilee's inability to be touched reminds me a little bit of a TV show that ran from late 2007 to early 2009 called Pushing Daisies.  Even though it was on for a short time, in 2015 it was voted as the #1 show for being cancelled too soon.
2.  There is a mention of a cookie called a snickerdoodle.  I don't know if I've told you this story or not.  But when our granddaughter Haley was very young, my wife took her on Fridays.  She always got her a snickerdoodle at a local bakery.  That was all fine and good...until Haley learned to talk.  One day when Joni and Haley were walking by the bakery with Haley's parents, Haley pointed to the bakery and yelled "Snickerdoodle."  Joni got in trouble.
3.  I did a review of Rachael Herron's book, The Ones Who Matter Most, in which I talk about the different definitions of "family."  That happens in Close Enough to Touch, too.  Take a look at my review of Rachael's book to see what I'm talking about:

You Want to Know What Family Is? Read: The Ones Who Matter Most, by Rachael Herron - NOW!

4.  This is another one I may have already told you about (the memory is a bit wispy right now!).  But, first, here's a passage from the book:  "So I need to wash her off, right?  That's the only way I'm getting her clean at this point.  I take her into Dinesh's bathroom, sit her in the sink, and turn on the water.  It's freezing cold."  I did that when my now 41-year old son was 1st born.  The nurse asked me to get some water so she could show us how to bathe a newborn.  I brought in cold water.  When she put her finger in the water, she turned to me and very acerbically said:  "Would you bathe in cold water?"  Not one of my finer moments!

I think I'm finally ready to wrap it up.  PLEASE let me know if you read this excellent book.  I will be extremely anxious to hear what you think. Plus, I'm a sucker for adulation, extolment, acclaim, and even a little sycophancy (I went to the Thesaurus for these), all of which will be coming to me when you finish Close Enough to Touch.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

My 2nd 4/4 of 2017! - Close Enough to Touch, by Colleen Oakley

I have read a lot of very good books this year.  When I actually do a count, I imagine I will have at least 2 dozen books with a rating of 3.5 or higher.  But I was surprised to learn today that I only had one 4/4, prior to Colleen Oakley's Close Enough to Touch (btw, it's A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles).  This is so darn good.  I'm going to blurb you right away:

Jubilee Jenkins has a rare condition:  she's allergic to human touch.  After a nearly fatal accident, she became reclusive, living in the confines of her home for nine years.  But after her mother dies, Jubilee is forced to face the world - and the people in it - that she's been hiding from.
Jubilee finds safe haven at her local library where she gets a job.  It's there she meets Eric Keegan, a divorced man who recently moved to town with his brilliant, troubled, adopted son.  Eric is struggling to figure out how to be the dad - and man - he wants so desperately to be.  Jubilee is unlike anyone he has ever met, yet he can't understand why she keeps him at arm's length.  So Eric sets out to convince Jubilee to open herself and her heart to everything life can offer, setting into motion the most unlikely love story of the year.

I don't really know how to begin this review.  I've got so much to talk about.  But I will give it a try.  Here goes:

1.  It's been a long time since I've had a takeaway from a book.  Well, I got one here.  There is a scene between Eric and his daughter, Ellie, in which Eric had no idea what Ellie was thinking.  He is flabbergasted when she tells him.  What's the takeaway you ask?  It's that you can't always know what somebody is thinking unless they decide to let you in on it.  So don't judge at least until you know what's going through the other person's mind.  I had a takeaway from another book about not judging someone unless you have experienced what they have gone through.  This one is an adjunct of that.
2.  As the blurb says in the last sentence, this is a fantastic love story. Does the guy get the girl, or vice versa?  You'll have to read it to find out. I will tell you, though, that the ending reminded me of Stephen King's 11/22/63 (and I'm sure you remember what I thought of that book!). Both King and Oakley had a chance to take the easy way out...and didn't.
3.  The key relationship is between Eric and Jubilee, obviously.  But Jubilee has other relationships that grabbed me nearly as hard as the one she has with Eric (I'm not telling you anything more than that).  And Eric has significant moments with his two kids.  This book is NOT a one-trick pony.
4.  Wow did I get hit with tons of emotional moments.  But here's the funny part.  It didn't start really affecting me until about halfway through the book.  And from that point on...BOOM!  It's a little bit like A Man Called Ove.  It just grew and grew on me.  I liked CEtT a lot from the get-go.  But it took a while before I started getting gobsmacked.  (P.S. There is a moment where I think my heart melted a little bit.  We'll discuss it after you've read the book.)  So, if you are soft-hearted, like me, and prone to emotional upheavals, like me, then be prepared for chills, OMGs, Holy Mackerels, and lots and lots of tears.  Don't say I didn't warn you.  But you will still thank me when you finish.
5 & 6.  I have just made an important decision.  I'm going to give you a Part II for this blog.  I want to give you some examples of Colleen's excellent writing.  And I also want to tell you about several parts of the book that resonated with me on a personal level (besides the takeaway, that is).  Stay tuned.


Saturday, December 9, 2017

Review of A Torch Against the Night, Sequel to An Ember in the Ashes, by Sabaa Tahir

Back on March 15 of this year, I wrote a review of An Ember in the Ashes, book 1 of a fantasy series written by Sabaa Tahir.  I liked it so much (3.75/4) that I went out and bought #2, A Torch Against the Night, the next day!  It only took me 8.5 months before I finally got to the sequel.  I can't tell you why it took so long.  But it is what it is.

Okay, so did #2 measure up?  Not exactly.  It was still good, but not as good as the original.  As I'm sure you remember(!), I just went through this with Jamie Ford's latest, Love and Other Consolation Prizes.  I liked it, but I liked Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet and Songs of Willow Frost better.  It's really unfair because a 3.25/4 (my rating for this one and for LaOCP) is a darn good rating.  It's just not a 3.75.  Let me tell you why by comparing it to the 5 very positive bullet points that I listed for #1:

1.  #1 had 2 main protagonists, and the chapters flipped back and forth. #2 had 3 main protagonists, which I thought was fine.  I looked forward to all 3 perspectives.
2.  There was a lot of suspense in #1.  This one was also suspenseful. And there was a very big surprise about 3/4 of the way through.  That was cool.
3.  I really got into the romances and almost romances from #1.  In #2, not so much.
4.  This was the crusher.  I only got emotional a few times.  It's not that I didn't care, because I did.  It's just that I wasn't as invested in the characters as I hoped to be based on my reactions in #1.
5.  It was still well-written.  But, for me, it just didn't flow quite as smoothly as #1.

I'm going to add a #6.  And this is going to sound really dumb:

6.  There was too much senseless violence.

You're probably thinking "Huh?"  It's really hard to explain.  Remember when I said in #1 that there was a scene so heinous that I had to stop reading for a little bit?  Well, that happened a lot in this book.  I never stopped reading, though, because I think I became a little inured to it. Go figure.

I want to emphasize that A Torch Against the Night is a very good book. If you read An Ember in the Ashes, then you will want to read ATAtN. Several people that I know and trust liked this one as well as the first one.  It definitely could just be me.  As the professor in my poli sci class said in response to a student who prefaced his comment by saying that he could be wrong, "We'll concede that possibility."

Monday, December 4, 2017

#3 for Karma Brown...and Another Winnah!

Karma Brown has written 3 books:  Come Away with Me (review on 10/31/15), The Choices We Make (9/19/16), and the latest, In This Moment.  The only other author who has written 3 out of 3 terrific books that I can think of (this might be a blog post some day) is Sally Hepworth.  And to be honest with you, I'm kind of blown away by how both of them keep doing it book after book.  So, yes, In This Moment follows in the literary footsteps of Karma's 1st two.  If you read CAWM and TCWM, then I know you will read this one and really not even need my review.  If you haven't, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING ON?  For you Doubting Thomas-es/Tina-s, here's what it's about:

Meg Pepper has a fulfilling career and a happy family.  Most days she's able to keep it all together and glide through life. But then, in one unalterable moment, everything changes.
After school pick-up one day, she stops her car to wave a teenage boy across the street...just as another car comes hurtling down the road and slams into him.
Meg can't help but blame herself for her role in this horrific disaster.  Full of remorse, she throws herself into helping the boy's family as he rehabs from his injuries.  But the more Meg tries to absolve herself, the more she alienates her own family - and the more she finds herself being drawn to the boy's father.
Soon Meg's picture-perfect life is unraveling before her eyes. As the painful secrets she's been burying bubble dangerously close to the surface, she will have to decide:  Can she forgive herself, or will she risk losing everything she holds dear to her heart? 

There were a lot of things about In This Moment (along with her other 2) that I really liked.  For one, she is a really good writer.  But, at the same time, she's very readable.  Those 2 attributes don't always mesh.  For another, it's edge-of-the-seat drama even though it's not a mystery. How does she do that?  But what really stands out in this book is how many times there were circumstances, people, or places that I could relate to:

1.  The accident itself is similar to one that happened to somebody I casually know.  His son crossed the street in front of his high school and got hit.  Tragically, he was killed.
2.  There is an accident from Meg's teenage years that occurred when high school kids were drinking and driving.  One of the passengers was killed.  Another casual acquaintance of mine experienced that with her daughter.  Fortunately, her daughter was injured but was not the one who died.
3.  There is a situation in which Meg was very close to a mother, Emma, while their kids were growing up.  And then she wasn't.  That happened to Joni.  Fortunately, Joni and her friend got back together and, today, couldn't be closer.  I'll let you read about what happens with Meg and Emma.
4.  When Meg's daughter was 6 or 7, she was heartbroken because she wasn't invited to a birthday party by a girl in her class.  Our son, Josh, had that same situation at about the same age.  When he asked the birthday boy why he wasn't invited, he was told that he could invite his 4 best friends...and Josh was #5.  And our youngest child, Lauren, also found herself excluded from a birthday party at roughly the same age. When she questioned the birthday girl, she was told that she couldn't invite her because it was a very expensive party.  Lauren told the girl that her mother should have had a different kind of party.
5.  Brookline, Massachusetts is mentioned.  Our older daughter (middle child), Meredith, lived in Brookline for a year right after she graduated from a college in Northern California.  In fact, she moved to Boston 5 days before 9/11!

That's a lot of connections, don't you think?  Did that make me like, and emotionally connect with, the book more than I otherwise would have? Maybe.  Does that matter?  Nope.  Karma's 1st 2 books did not have storylines that were part of my personal experiences.  But they were books that I still loved.  People, just read her stuff.  I don't care which one you start with because you will read all 3 in a very short period of time.  And they are all standalones.  Would I steer you wrong? Debatable...but not this time!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

It's Time for Some Announcements!

1.  Here's an announcement from RBC member and author, Kate Allure, regarding a couple of upcoming romance writers events:

The Silicon Valley Romance Writers of America is holding two multi-author holiday book signings at Barnes & Noble in San Jose. The first is at the Blossom Hill Store ~ Sun. December 3rd 12-3pm (5353 Almaden Expressway), with the authors: Marina Adair, Elisabeth Barrett, Gayle Parness, Noelle Greene, Nadine Mutas, and Marilyn Vix. The second is at the Stevens Creek Store ~ Sat. December 9th 12-3pm (3600 Stevens Creek Blvd), with these authors: Jenny Andersen, Heatherly Bell, Ava Bradley, Linda S. Gunther, Claire McEwen, and Sonja Rouillard/Kate Allure. It's also a fundraiser for SVRWA and 10% of sales of anything purchased go back to the chapter if you use our Voucher #: Bookfair ID 12259180. Plus we'll have members there wrapping presents for donations. So come out and meet some authors and do some holiday shopping at the same time! 

1.  Books, Inc. has a warehouse sale on 12/9 from 9-4.  Thousands of books will be available from 30-90% off.  The warehouse is located at 1501 Vermont Street in San Francisco.

2.  I know you're excited about John Hart's next book.  It's called The Hush, and it comes out on 2/27/18.  Get in line behind me.

3.  Michael David Lukas, author of The Oracle of Stamboul, and RBC author, has a new book coming out in March, 2018,  It's called The Last Watchman of Old Cairo.  And it's darn good.   Michael has agreed to come to the RBC next Fall.  Can't wait.

4.  This was recently posted by Kerry Lonsdale:
Last month, I had a wonderful dinner with my editors and agent where they presented me with the Diamond Quill Award, commemorating over one million readers across my three titles: Everything We Keep, All the Breaking Waves, and Everything We Left Behind. Considering the number of books on the market, for an author to reach several thousand readers, let alone, several hundred, is quite an achievement. But one million in such a short timeframe? Wow. Just wow. I owe it to you, my friend. Thank YOU for reading my stories.

5.  Here is the most current RBC/book signing schedule:    

Sunday, December 3, 9:30-12:30 - Book Signing - Maddy’s Game (contemporary fiction), Mike Lund

Saturday, December 9, RBC, 5:00 - Soulless (paranormal, steampunk), Gail Carriger

Wednesday, December 13,  RBC - Own It (romance), Elisabeth Barrett

Sunday, December 17, 9:30-12:30 - Book Signing - The Illuminated Kingdom (Book 4 of The Voyages of the Legend - Middle-Grade, YA Fantasy), Alina Sayre

Sunday, January 14, 9:30-12:30 - Book Signing - The Druid’s Gift (fantasy romance), Dante Silva & Vanessa Mozes

*   Sunday, January 14, RBC, 4:30 - The Dating Bender (romantic comedy), Christina Julian

Wednesday, January 24, RBC - Dark Associations (psychological thriller), Marie Sutro

Wednesday, February 21, RBC - Sweet Spot (ice cream memoir), Amy Ettinger

*   Wednesday, March 14, RBC - Freedom Child (literary fiction), Chandra Lee Ingram

Wednesday, March 28, RBC - The Underground River (historical fiction), Martha Conway & The Last Billable Hour (murder mystery), Susan Wolfe

Wednesday, May 23, RBC - Silver Lies (historical mystery), Ann Parker

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Robin Sloan's New One - Sourdough

Sourdough reminds me of Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities.  Or in this case, A Tale of Two Halves.  I thought the 1st half was amazing.  So much so, in fact, that I was thinking 4+/4.  And that went on for a while.  But the 2nd half took a big dip for me.  I can't really explain why.  Maybe my expectations, based on the 1st half, were simply too high.  Regardless, it just didn't measure up.  Despite all of that, I still enjoyed it.  There was a point where I was comparing Robin's writing to both Amor Towles (The Gentleman of Moscow) and Pat Conroy (every book).  Let me give you some examples:

"The sky above the Crowley parking lot was gray and drippy like the undercarriage of a car." (now that's a simile)
"Greatest among us are those who can deploy 'my friend' to total strangers in a way that is not hollow,  but somehow real and deeply felt; those who can make you, within seconds of first contact, believe it."

And Robin definitely mixes in some humor:

"...fries not merely consumed but circulated as social currency; peace offerings, seductions."
"I felt the disorientation of a generous offer that in no way lines up with anything you want to do: like a promotion to senior alligator wrestler, or an all-expenses paid trip to Gary, Indiana."
How about the dough starter called Clint Yeastwood?
And then there's the pathway through the market called the "yellow-tape road."

Of course there are sentences that make me think of programs and places that I know - e.g. Project Runway, Chez Panisse, and Scientology (are you watching Leah Remini's expose on A&E? it's amazing).

So it's not that the book wasn't well-written, because it definitely was.  It was just the story itself that disappointed me as it went along.  Let me say, though, that the ratings on Goodreads (3.82/5) and Amazon (4.4/5) definitely go counter to what I'm telling you.  I will be the 1st to admit that I might be a little too critical.  But I gotta give it to you as I see it.

Whoops.  Forgot to tell you what the book is about:

Lois Clary is a software programmer at General Dexterity, a robotics company with typical San Franciscan world-changing ambitions.  She codes all day and collapses at night, her human contact limited to the two brothers who run the neighborhood hole-in-the-wall from which she orders, and savors, dinner every evening.  Then, disaster!  Visa issues.  The brothers close up shop, and fast.  But they have one last delivery for Lois; their culture, the sourdough starter brought from afar, used to bake their bread.  She must keep it alive, they tell her - feed it daily, play it music, and please, please: learn to bake with it.
Lois is no baker, but she could use a roommate, even if it is a needy colony of microorganisms.  Soon, not only is she eating her own homemade bread, she's providing loaves daily to the General Dexterity cafeteria.  The company chef urges her to take her product to the farmers market.  A whole new world opens up.
When Lois comes before the jury that decides who sells what at Bay Area markets, she encounters a close-knit club with little appetite for new members.  Then an alternative emerges: a secret market, literally underground, that aims to fuse food and technology.  It might be perfect for the programmer-turned-baker.  But who are these people, exactly?  And who is the mysterious Mr. Marrow presiding over it all?

People, I am still recommending this book.  If you agree with my assessment, then it is worth it just for the 1st half.  If, on the other hand, you don't agree with me, and you really like the 2nd half, then you will be extremely happy you read the whole thing.  I hope, for your sake, that it's "If" #2.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Another New Author for Me - and Another Big Hit

By now, you all know that I get a bunch of great recommendations from my East Coast blogger, Melissa.  Well, she recommended Before the Rain Falls, by Camille Di Maio, many months ago.  In fact, I just saw that I messaged the author back in May that I would be reading it soon.  Does May to November constitute "soon?"  I don't believe it does.  Even though I shirked my responsibility at the time, at least I'm making up for it now.  Let's start with the back cover:

After serving seventy years in prison for the murder of her sister, Eula, Della Lee has finally returned home to the Texas town of Puerto Pesar.  She's free from confinement - and ready to tell her secrets before it's too late.
She finds a willing audience in journalist Mick Anders, who is reeling after his suspension from a Boston newspaper and in town, reluctantly, to investigate a mysterious portrait of Eula that reportedly sheds tears.  He crosses paths with Dr. Paloma Vega, who's visiting Puerto Pesar with her own mission: to take care of her ailing grandmother and to rescue her rebellious younger sister before something terrible happens.  Paloma and Mick have their reasons to be in the hot, parched border town whose name translates as "Port of Regret."  But they don't anticipate how their lives will be changed forever.
Moving and engrossing, this dual story alternates between Della's dark ordeals of the 1940s and Paloma and Mick's present-day search for answers - about roots, family, love, and what is truly important in life.

I am a big fan of books that go back and forth...when it's done well (like This Is Us, for example).  And this one is done very well.  I liked everything that takes place in the present but still wanted to know what happened to Della in prison.  In fact, you needed that to really overall appreciate the book.  What else did I like about Before the Rain Falls? I'm glad you asked.

1.  Truly great lead characters - Della, Paloma, and Mick
2.  Romance, which I was not expecting
3.  Several very surprising moments for me, including one real shocker
4.  A definite emotional connection to several of the main protagonists
5.  Some gut-wrenching moments
6.  Well-written (have you heard this from me before, perchance?):
"Her smile.  A smile that made him feel warm inside.  Like there was goodness in the world, and it was right in front of him." - something we've all experienced, I would venture to say
7.  A couple of passages that brought to mind other favorite books, including Goodnight June and The Storyteller
8.  References to Kerry Lonsdale (an RBC author) and Melissa Amster (see paragraph #1 above) in the acknowledgements

How much did I like Before the Rain Falls?  I've already ordered her 1st book, The Memory of Us, from Recycle Books.  I have no choice but to scoot it up the TBR pile very quickly.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Not Your Typical Novella - Redux

Back on October 26 of last year, I wrote a review of a novella by one of my favorite romance authors, Kate Allure.  The book was called Bed & Breakfast & BONDAGE (her caps, not mine).  And it was tied (get it?) into Maria Adair's A St. Helena Vineyard Kindle World.  Everything is the same for #2, except the two protagonists.  Once again, the story takes place at Cat's B&B.  This time, the leads are Damien, who is called Master Edge in the local BDSM chapter (do you think there's actually a charter that's connected to the national BDSM office? probably not, I'm thinkin') and Lyndsey, who is staying at the B&B with 3 girlfriends.

One night, Lyndsey can't sleep and decides to take a walk around the grounds.  As she gets near the boundary of the property, she hears some quiet voices.  She peeks around the corner and sees a bunch of people relaxing in various states of (un)dress.  After a minute or two, the obvious head honcho tells everybody that the break is over and asks them to come back into the building (have you heard the joke about the guy in the underworld who says:  "Okay, everybody.  Break is over.  Back on your heads?" remind me to tell it to you).  Curiosity gets the better of Lyndsey, and she ends up inside the building.  And so it begins.

I basically have the same things to tell you for this one that I mentioned in #1.  It's an erotic romance with 2 strong characters.  It's very well-written, as all of Kate's books are.  And you definitely hope the protagonists can make the romance work.  #2 is a little different from #1 because the focus is almost entirely on the two mains, which definitely works for this story.  If you are not opposed to strong sexual language and activities, then you will enjoy the 2nd one in the series.  If you do have a problem with that stuff, then you can still enjoy the romance part of it.  I think we all root for a happily-ever-after story.  I won't give away the ending, but it is a romance, after all.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Results Are In. And The Winner Is...

Thank you, everybody, for your comments and votes.  Here's how it shaped up:

Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng

A Column of Fire, Ken Follett

Sourdough, Robin Sloan
A Torch Against the Night, Saaba Tahir
In This Moment, Karma Brown
Before the Rain Falls, Camille Di Maio

Lucky Boy, Shanthi Sekaran
Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
What She Left Behind, Ellen Marie Wiseman
A Walk Across the Sun, Corban Addison
Things You Won't Say, Sarah Pekkanen
The Winter Sea, Susanna Kearsley
Best Kept Secret, Amy Hatvany
Safe with me, Amy Hatvany
Close Enough to Touch, Colleen Oakley
Violets of March, Sarah Jio
Sweet Spot, Amy Ettinger

There were 2 that got +1 vote and -1 vote:
Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Seders
The Woman in Cabin 10, Ruth Ware

I will probably hold off on LFE for a couple of books.  As you know, I just finished Everything I Never Told you by Ng, and I was a bit disappointed. I'm saving Follett for a weekend away in early December.  That leaves the 2-vote group.  I just got done with Sourdough and started Before the Rain Falls.  I'll go for Torch and In This Moment after that.  And then it's on to the singles.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

A couple of short reviews

I've got 2 short reviews for you.  And both books are by big-name authors:  Daniel Silva and Jennifer Egan.  Silva first.

House of Spies -
This is the 17th book in the Gabriel Allon series.  And I have enjoyed every one.  This one maybe a little bit less than the others.  It still got a 3.25/4, but normally I'm giving his books 3.5 or higher.  In fact, a good friend of mine said HoS might be the last one he reads in this series.  I'm definitely not there yet.  Will I ever be?  Probably not.  Having said that, my favorite Silva of all time is his very 1st book - The Unlikely Spy.  And that wasn't even an Allon.  It wasn't until book 4 that he started the series.  Just a couple of quick notes:

1.  I still got hit with surprises and emotions.
2.  I'm always happy to see Gabriel gather his work family for a mission, especially Eli.  And let's not forget Ari.
3.  Silva mixes in a little humor, which is very much appreciated since the topics in his books are so serious.
4.  He always creates a complicated/intricate plot that is still easy to follow.
5.  Make sure you read the Author's Note at the end of the book.  It's depressing, but important.

Manhattan Beach -
This is Egan's 6th book, and my 1st.  A Visit from the Goon Squad, as you probably know, won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award.  So you can imagine how skeptical I was starting this one. Why did I read it?  Good question.  It's the Books Inc. 4th Tuesday Night Book Club selection.  I haven't been in a few months and thought I would give it a try.  In fact, there are at least 2 occasions when I started a book for that book club and said "Uh, uh."  Fortunately that wasn't the case this time.

Since this is 1 of 2 reviews in this post (which means 4 pictures), I will put the synopsis of MB at the very end.  That way you can more easily ignore it, or not.  Some observations about Manhattan Beach:

1.  It was definitely better than I thought it would be.  I rated it a 3/4.
2.  It was page 53 where I realized I was beginning to connect.  And then page 54 where I had my 1st emotional reaction (followed by several more).
3.  The writing is good.  Just a couple of examples -
"In the dry docks, ships were held in place by hundreds of filament ropes, like Gulliver tied to the beach."
"When she took a sip, it crackled down her throat - sweet but with a tinge of bitterness, like a barely perceptible pin inside a cushion."
4.  And a final random thought - late in the book, Clinton Avenue in Manhattan is mentioned.  Have you ever eaten at the Clinton Street Bakery?  Best breakfast anywhere.

Anna Kerrigan, nearly twelve years old, accompanies her father to visit Dexter Styles, a man who, she gleans, is crucial to the survival of her family.  She is mesmerized by the sea beyond the house and by some charged mystery between the two men.
Years later, her father has disappeared and the country is at war.  Anna works at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, where women are allowed to hold jobs that once belonged to men, now soldiers abroad.  She becomes the first female diver, the most dangerous and exclusive of occupations, repairing the ships that will help America win the war.  One evening at a nightclub, she meets Dexter Styles again and begins to understand the complexity of her father's life, the reasons he might have vanished.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

A Review of Celeste Ng's Everything I Never Told You

Do you remember what I said about Book #4 of Alina Sayre's series The Voyages of the Legend?  To refresh your memory, I said I was sad to write the review because it meant that the series was over.  Well, today I am, again, a little sad about writing a review.  This time, unfortunately, it's for the wrong reason.  As you know, I just purchased Celeste Ng's 2nd book, Little Fires Everywhere, last week at the Penguin Random House event in Lafayette.  And, so far, it's the most popular book in my TBR pile, according to your votes.  That prompted me to read her 1st book, Everything I Never Told You.  I have to say I was pretty disappointed.  I had 4 problems with the book.  But I will get to that in a minute.  First, le blurb:

"Lydia is dead.  But they don't know this yet."  So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio.  Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue.  But when Lydia's body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos.  A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.

I don't want to give you the impression that I didn't like it.  I did...somewhat.  But not nearly as much as I hoped to.  Initially I thought that maybe my expectations were too high.  But then I realized that I have started many books with high expectations and have seen those fulfilled, or even exceeded.  So I don't think that's it.  Without further ado, here are the problems I had:

1.  I made almost no emotional connection with any of the characters. People, that is almost unheard of.  I have seen the same preview for an upcoming movie called Wonder (based on the book) that makes me cry every time.  I have even been accused (unfairly, I say...or is it?) of tearing up at a Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode!  But in EINTY, I had one time late in the book where I got a little chill and a tiny amount of emotion. That was it!
2.  The book was a bit tedious for me.  It's only 292 pages, and I was able to get through it pretty quickly (4 days).  But it still dragged.  I was about half-way through when I started thinking about my next book (either Sourdough, by Robin Sloan, or Before the Rain Falls, by Camille Di Maio).  That should NOT be happening.
3.  We know in the very 1st sentence that Lydia is dead.  So, as you might expect, there is a lot of past-to-present-to-past-to... going on.  And I don't feel it flowed that well.  I mean not everything can be done as artfully as NBC's This Is Us.
4.  This one was probably the roughest for me.  And it's not really fair. But we all know that there is nothing more subjective than opinions about books.  What is it, you ask?  The author overuses similes, IMHO.  It got to be so frequent that they actually jumped off the page and smacked me.  Here's one example:  "It was sedate and docile, like a middle-aged mare.  It buzzed gently, like a watchful chaperone..."  The other issue I had was that the similes themselves didn't really resonate with me.  They seemed very mundane and not all that visual.  A number of years ago, I read a book by Christopher Reich, an author that at the time I liked a lot.  However, he used "Just then" so often that it greatly affected my enjoyment of the book.  In fact, I even wrote to tell him.  He thanked me (but I don't think he really meant it).  P.S.  His next book greatly reduced the "Just then"s.  Was I that powerful?  Not likely.

Let me wrap this up with a couple of observations:
1.  The ratings for EINTY are 3.78/5 (Goodreads) and 3.94/5 (Amazon). Obviously a lot of people really liked it.  I would understand if you not only disagree with me but even rise up in mob form and try to get me dis-reviewer-ed.
2.  The book is only a 2.75/4.  But I'm not sorry I read it.  I can definitely see how others would like it  more than I did.  AND it's not going to prevent me from putting her 2nd book high on my TBR list, subject to the final vote.
3.  There is a reference to The Jackie Gleason Show (remember that the book takes place in the 70s).  That reminded me of The Honeymooners, which I actually watched (I'm very old).  And that reminded me of a trivia question I had last week on my website:  Who is the only original cast member that is still alive?  It's Joyce Randolph, 93, who played Art Carney's wife (okay, that was random, even for me).

Let the verbal backlash begin!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017


I need help, people.  I've got a TBR (to be read) pile of 35 books.  They are (very obviously) listed below.  I need to know which ones I should read next.  The titles with RBC after them are books I will definitely be reading because the authors are coming to Recycle for our book club. But they are down the road.  So you can still move them up the pile.

ACTION ITEM:  Please tell me what you would read if you were in my place.  You can pick anywhere from 1-35 books.  I will tally the votes and read them in the order that you guys vote for 'em.  THANK YOU IN ADVANCE!  You've got 7 days to weigh in.

Addison, Corban - A Walk Across the Sun
Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi - AMERICANAH
Amooi, Rich - Mr. Crotchety
Barrett, Elisabeth - West Coast Holiday Series (Novella #3)
Bradley, Ava - Kiss Me Before Dawn
Brown, Janelle - All We Ever Wanted Was Everything
Brown, Karma - IN THIS MOMENT
Crouch, Blake - PINES
Ettinger, Amy - Sweet Spot (RBC)
Follett, Ken - A Column of Fire (#3 - Pillars of the Earth)
Hatvany, Amy - best kept secret
Hatvany, Amy - safe with me
Ingram, Chandra Lee - Freedom Child (RBC)
Jio, Sarah - The VIOLETS of MARCH
Kearsley, Susanna - THE WINTER SEA
Kondazian, Karen - THE WHIP
Martin, Silvi - The Postgirl
Moyes, JoJo - The Horse Dancer
Ng, Celeste - Little Fires Everywhere
Oakley, Colleen - CLOSE ENOUGH to TOUCH
Pekkanen, Sarah - THINGS YOU WON'T SAY
Quindlen, Anna - Miller Valley
Row, Sharon - UNSUPERVISED and loving it
Sekaran, Shanthi - LUCKY BOY
Sloan, Robin - Sourdough
Tahir, Sabaa - A TORCH AGAINST THE NIGHT (Book 2)
Waggoner, Nicole - center ring (#1 The Circus of Women Trilogy)
Ware, Ruth - THE WOMAN IN CABIN 10
Wiseman, Ellen Marie - WHAT SHE LEFT BEHIND

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Penguin's Best Fall Titles 2017

A couple of nights ago we went with some friends to Lafayette (a few miles from Oakland, for you out-of-towners) to see a Penguin Random House rep.  She gave us a list of the books they are promoting for the Fall.  All of them are available now (except for the last 2 which will be on the market in January/February).  I'm going to list them and give you their blurb.  P.S.  I have read the 1st one - A Gentleman in Moscow - and thought it was terrific.  In fact, it took me two posts to review it (January 9 & 11 of this year).  So, here they are:

1.    A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles - "From the New York Times bestselling author of Rules of Civility - a transporting novel about a man who is ordered to spend the rest of his life inside a luxury hotel"

2.    My Absolute Darling, Gabriel Tallent - "A brilliant and immersive, all-consuming read about one fourteen-year-old girl's heart-stopping fight for her own soul"

3.    Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng (I bought this one -Kathleen, the owner of A Great Good Place for Books, was doing the selling) - "From the author of EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU, a beautiful novel set in meticulously planned Shaker Heights, that traces the intertwined fates of the picture-perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives"

4.    Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman - "Smart, warm, uplifting, the story of an out-of-the-ordinary heroine whose deadpan weirdness and unconscious wit make for an irresistible journey as she realizes the only way to survive is to open her heart"

5.    The Future Is History, Masha Gessen - "Putin's bestselling biographer reveals how, in the space of a generation, Russia surrendered to a more virulent and invincible new strain of autocracy"

6.    American Kingpin, Nick Bilton - "From New York Times-bestselling author Nick Bilton comes the thrilling inside story of the rise and fall of Ross Ulbricht, aka the Dread Pirate Roberts, the founder of the online black market Silk Road"

7.    Grant, Ron Chernow - "Pulitzer Prize-winner and biographer of Alexander Hamilton and Washington, Ron Chernow returns with a sweeping and dramatic portrait of one of our most complicated generals and presidents"

8.    Beloved Dog, Maira Kalman - "With her trademark style, wit, and with great sensitivity, renowned artist and author Maira Kalman reveals why dogs bring out the best in us"

9.    The Book of Joy, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams - "Two great spiritual masters, Nobel laureates, and dear friends teach us how to live with joy even in the face of adversity"

10.  The Book of Joy Journal, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams - "This companion to The Book of Joy guides journals with inspiring quotes from the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu to help them find joy in their own lives"

11.  Under the Harrow, Flynn Berry - "A debut psychological thriller about a young woman who finds her sister brutally murdered, and the shocking incident in their past that may hold the key to finding the killer"

12.  Lucky Boy, Shanthi Sekaran - "A heart-wrenching novel about the transformative power of motherhood and the redemptive beauty of love"

13.  The Mothers, Brit Bennett - "A New York Times bestselling debut, The Mothers is a surprising story about young love, a big secret in a small community - and the things that ultimately haunt us most"

14.  Hallelujah Anyway, Anne Lamott - "'Anne Lamott is my Oprah' - Chicago Tribune, from the bestselling author of Help, Thanks, Wow and Bird by Bird comes a passionate exploration of mercy, its limitless (if sometimes hidden) presence, and how to embrace it"

15.  The Wasp That Brainwashed the Caterpillar, Matt Simon - "From the man behind the popular Wired series 'Absurd Creature of the Week,' a fun, fascinating, illustrated collection of unique animals and the unbelievable evolutionary traits they use to survive the most extreme scenarios"

16.   Start Where You Are, Meera Lee Patel - "A beautifully illustrated and interactive journal that encourages readers to explore their hopes and dreams - and take steps to make them a reality"

17.  The Immortalists, Chloe Benjamin - "How would you live your life if you knew the exact day you were going to die?  After going to a psychic who predicts this, the four Gold siblings grapple with this in unique, often tragic ways over the course of five decades"

18.  How to Stop Time, Matt Haig - "Tom Hazzard looks to be 40, but is really over 400 years old, due to a rare condition where he ages slowly. This is not as great as it sounds, as Tom outlives everyone he's ever known and loved"

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Robin Sloan Comes Out with Book #2

Last Tuesday I went to Kepler's (2nd time in 8 days!) to see Robin Sloan. He has just come out with his 2nd book, Sourdough.  I'm definitely looking forward to reading it.  I really enjoyed his 1st book, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore.  In fact, if you go to my post on February 10, 2014, you can not only read my review of Mr. P., but you can also see pictures from a book signing Robin did at Recycle.  I mean, c'mon, how can you resist?

So Sourdough is sitting very high in my TBR pile.  I WILL be getting to it in the next 2-4 books.  In the meantime, here are some pictures of Robin entertaining a crowd of about 75 people on the 24th:

P.S.  Stay tuned, RBC members.  I'm working on Robin for April.

Friday, October 27, 2017

My 1st Amy Hatvany - Pretty Good

Amy Hatvany is another author that comes from that cornucopia of authors from none other than fellow blogger Melissa.  This one wasn't a home run for me.  But I'll take a triple any day of the week.  Here is what It Happens All the Time is about:

Amber Bryant and Tyler Hicks have been best friends since they were teenagers - trusting and depending on each other through some of the darkest periods of their young lives.  And while Amber has always felt that their relationship is strictly platonic, Tyler has long harbored the secret desire that they might one day become more than friends.
Returning home for the summer after her college graduation, Amber begins spending more time with Tyler than she has in years.  Despite the fact that Amber is engaged to her college sweetheart, a flirtation begins to grow between them.  One night, fueled by alcohol and concerns about whether she's getting married too young, Amber kisses Tyler.
What happens next will change them forever.

I obviously liked IHAtT.  Here are some of the reasons:

1.  I learned a lot about what a paramedic does.  I do enjoy when books teach me something.  That might be why I'm a big fan of historical fiction (which this obviously isn't).
2.  She deals with anorexia, which is something I know a little about.
3.  I did connect with the characters and had some raised eyebrows and a few chills.
4.  The last 50 pages of the 302 were killer.
5.  This book reminded me of The Pact, which is one of my all-time favorite Picoult.
6.  I read 2 passages that reminded me of my grandchildren.  One is the side hug.  I've already told you in another review that my 12-year old granddaughter, Haley, only gives side hugs.  For the other reference, let me quote from the book:  "She was a short, skinny woman, likely in her late fifties, who wore red-framed glasses."

Okay, so about 3 months ago, our 5-year old granddaughter, Josie, got red-framed glasses with no lenses from her other grandmother.  She loves these things so much that she even sleeps with them.  And when it came time to have her kindergarten class picture taken, guess what? Yep, she wore them.  Here is her school picture and her own interpretation of what she looks like:

But I digress.  So my only criticism of It Happens All the Time is that the 1st 250 pages all happened at the same pace.  I certainly wasn't bored, but I wasn't blown away either.  I remember seeing that literary god, Ken Follett, live quite a few years ago.  He said that he has something dramatic happen every 7 pages.  I think I would have liked Amy to at least do that a few times in those 1st 250 pages.  I appreciated the last 50 but could have used some of that earlier.  Will I read more Hatvany books?  I'm definitely open to it.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Book 4 of Alina Sayre's The Voyages of the Legend

This is a review that I am NOT happy to write.  Do you know why? Because it's the 4th and final book in Alina Sayre's YA fantasy, The Voyages of the Legend.  The Illuminated Kingdom ends the story in a most satisfactory way.  But I'll get to that later.

Every good series has a right-up-front ingredient in each book:  You are very happy to see the "regulars" again.  TVotL is no exception.  In fact, I teared up on page 1!  (Pretty soon I'll be crying when I read a cover!)  I had no shortage of emotional moments.  These are people that I really care about.  And as sad as I was to see it end, it did not take away from the connection I made with so many of the characters.  Well done, Alina.

Let me tell you what, in particular, stood out for me in The Illuminated Kingdom:
1.  It's very well-written.  That's almost a prerequisite if you are going to love a book.
2.  This is, simply put, a great adventure story.
3.  I definitely enjoyed the 1st half of the book.  There was a lot going on, and I was caught up in it.
4.  The 2nd half of the book is flat-out amazing.  I could not put it down. In fact, I even took it into the bath...Whoops.  TMI?  Well, you get my point.
5.  The epilogue/ending was terrific.  Writing a series ender has to be hard.  You want it to wrap up with some kind of bow.  But you don't want it to seem forced. This ending flowed naturally.  And I appreciated how Alina did it.

So, although I am slightly depressed that I won't be taking another journey on the Legend, I'm glad that I had the opportunity to travel with Ellie, Conner, Jude, Vivian, and all the rest on their voyages.  I won't easily forget them or the series.  What's next, Alina?

Sunday, October 22, 2017

A Very Good Debut Novel

The School of Essential Ingredients, by Erica Bauermeister, was a bit of a surprise for me.  It was recommended by RBC member, Darryl.  And I gave it a shot because of her endorsement (and because it had a USED BOOK 2017 tag at Recycle!).  If the title makes you think that this book is about food, then you would be right.  But it's a whole lot more than that. Take a looksee:

Once a month on a Monday night, eight students gather in Lillian's restaurant for a cooking class.  Among them is Claire, a young woman coming to terms with her new identity as a mother; Tom, a lawyer whose life has been overturned by loss; Antonia, an Italian kitchen designer adapting to life in America; and Carl and Helen, a long-married couple whose union contains surprises the rest of the class would never suspect.
The students have come to learn the art behind Lillian's soulful dishes, but it soon becomes clear that each seeks a recipe for something beyond the kitchen.  And, one by one, they are transformed by the aromas, flavors, and textures of what they create...

You know, the timing of this review is a bit eerie.  Last night, Joni and I had dinner with some friends at Chez Panisse in Berkeley.  For those of you who live outside of the Bay Area, this restaurant, started in 1971 (and still owned) by Alice Waters, is generally credited for beginning the California Cuisine trend.  You basically call one month before you want to eat there in order to get a reservation.  This is true for the upstairs cafe, where we ate, and the much more expensive restaurant on the ground floor.  And the food is so fresh and locally sourced that you don't know what the menu for the day is going to be until the morning of!  But my point (and, yes, I do have one) is that the feeling you get when you are eating at Chez Panisse is very similar to what I imagine Lillian's restaurant felt like for the eight people who took her class.  The best word I can think of in both cases is "Magic."

As you would expect with eight different stories (even Carl and Helen each had their own story), I emotionally connected with some more than others.  But what really struck me the more I thought about it is that any eight people will have stories to tell.  Erica had to create those stories so that we, the readers, would be interested.  But are they so different than the stories for any eight random people?  I don't think so.

The writing is very good.  But more importantly, she paints pictures that pop up in front of her eyes.  There are quite a few examples of this, but I will just show you two:

Eating an apple:  "It feels like fall," she commented and bit into it.  The sharp sweet sound of the crunch filled the air like a sudden burst of applause...

It stunned him how easy it was, after all that time waiting, to slip his right hand along her back and feel his fingers fit perfectly into the curve of her waist, to feel her fingers slide along the palm of his left hand and then rest softly in place.

And, finally, let me talk about the last chapter.  Epilogues are tricky things.  You don't necessarily want everything to wrap up too neatly...but you really do.  Erica's does both.  And she does it in a way that is extremely satisfying and VERY emotional.  Well done, Erica.  I am definitely looking forward to reading the sequel, The Lost Art of Mixing.