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.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Victoria Sweet at Kepler's

This past Tuesday night, I went to see Victoria Sweet at Kepler's.  If you recall (and most of you won't, I fear), I wrote a review of Victoria's 1st book, God's Hotel, back on April 15, 2012.  In fact, we saw Victoria at The Booksmith in San Francisco back then.  And Joni was so impressed with the event itself, that she wrote a review of it.  You can find that post on April 30, 2012.

But I digress.  Over 5.5 years later, Victoria has now written her 2nd book.  It's called Slow Medicine.  And even though I haven't read it yet (it's near the top of my TBR pile), her conversation with Angie Coiro was fascinating.  I learned a bunch of stuff.  But maybe the most shocking tidbit centered on primary care doctors and the fact that they are expected to have a clientele of 2500 patients!  They obviously can't practice slow medicine.  The only chance of practicing slow medicine comes in the specialty disciplines.  Victoria addresses this and much more in her book.  I can't wait to read it!

Here are some pics from the event:

Victoria is on the right

Sunday, October 15, 2017

How about a debut novel where you know you will be reading all sequels?  Well, that's what we get with Marie Sutro's Dark Associations (and we even get Marie for the RBC in January!).  This is a very good book about a very rough villain - a serial killer.  Steve Alten, author of Meg (which I read) and Domain (which I didn't) says:  "Marie Sutro's debut novel, Dark Associations, may just be this generation's Silence of the Lambs.  Erotic and frightening, it keeps the reader guessing until the last pages."  Amen to that.  Here's the synopsis:

Following the discovery of her protege's mutilated corpse, SFPD Detective Kate Barnes vows to capture the infamous serial killer known as The Tower Torturer.  Famous for revisiting history's darkest forms of cruelty on his victims, the sick psychopath has emerged from the shadows after years of silence.  As young women close to Kate disappear, the killer taunts the detective, torturing his victims in various and unspeakable ways before displaying their corpses in macabre public tableaus.

In case you haven't figured it out yet, you have to know that there are some very tough scenes to read in this book.  The good news is that it's not every other page.  I don't like to give away much in the books I review.  But in this case I want to tell you that there could have been more instances of graphic descriptions of torture than were actually in the book.  It's there, but it's not everywhere.

Now let's turn to the good stuff.  Here are the features of the book that I particularly liked:

1.  There were a ton of surprises.  That's always a good thing when you're reading a mystery,  wouldn't you agree?
2.  The surprises led to a lot of head-shaking.  I guess that's another form of surprise, right?
3.  I found myself trying to guess who the serial killer was, and then disagreeing with the one the author first exposed.
4.  The suspense was a killer (sorry about that); especially when a chapter started with a young girl that we didn't know about yet.
5.  The book takes place in the Bay Area, where I have lived all my (very long) life.  But I still learned some things I didn't know.  I learned the history of Hunters Point.  I also learned that there are no cemeteries in San Francisco.  I think that's kind of  a trippy.
6.  This is very well-written.

There were also a couple of funny things that happened while I was reading Dark Associations:

1.  As I was reading a torture scene, I happened to see a guy walking down the street wearing a T-shirt that said "Super Villains."
2.  I was sitting in a public place, reading the book, and a vacuum cleaner went on.  I jumped somewhere between 3 feet and 1/4 mile.
3.  And I just have to point out that at one point, the author talks about "the 101."  I don't think I need to remind you that native Northern Californians do NOT say "the" before its freeways.  No harm done, though.

I liked Dark Associations a lot.  If you can get past a few of the serial killer-in-action scenes, the rest flows in a very smooth, interesting, and suspenseful way.  Have you read Alex Kava's Maggie O'Dell series?  If you have, and if you liked it, then by all means pick up DA.  I'm not only anxious to meet Marie in January.  But I'm also definitely looking forward to Book 2.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Some Literary News Shorts

There is always so much literary info to pass on to you.  Here is some new stuff:

1.  Victoria Johnson will be conducting some writing classes - How to Write a How-To Book.

2.  Erik Larson's Devil in the White City is being made into a movie.  And Leonardo DiCaprio will be playing the serial killer!

3.  This is a trailer for Betsy Franco's film being shown at the Mill Valley Film Festival.  It's based on her YA novel.  We've already missed the 10/8 showing.  But the 2nd (and last) one is this Sunday, the 15th. -

4.  Quvenzhane Wallis, Oscar-nominee for Beasts of the Southern Wild, is the author of 2 children's books - one is a chapter book, and the other one is a picture book.

5.  23 books that are being made into movies in the next 6 months; with another 40 in development -
Read in full

6.  3 upcoming author events at Keplers of particular note:
     1.  Victoria Sweet - Slow Medicine - Tuesday, October 17 (I will be there)
     2.  Anthony Horowitz - Never Say Die - Wednesday, October 18
     3.  Robin Sloan - Sourdough - Tuesday, October 24 (ditto)

7.  Katy Butler, author of The Lost Art of Dying, is in conversation with cardiologist Haider Warraich, discussing palliative care and end of life among the aging.  They will be appearing at The Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on 10/24, from 5:30-7:15, and at Book Passage in Corte Madera on 10/26, from 7-8:30.

8.  Hicklebee's has a number of book clubs.  But they just started a new one.  It's YA for adults.  And it takes place the 2nd Thursday of every month.  Author Penny Peevyhouse will be running the club.  You missed the 1st one, which was tonight (October 12).  What a cool idea.  And as an adult (sort of), I know I enjoy YAs.  Maybe I'll get to one of the meetings!

Stay tuned for the next batch of literary news items.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Litquake Author Event at Books, Inc. Opera Plaza, San Francisco

This past Saturday I got to attend a Litquake author event at Books, Inc., Opera Plaza, San Francisco (yes, I know that I said this in the title).  The circumstances for getting there were rather fortuitous.  Joni and I had plans to visit my cousin Alvin, who lives in Opera Plaza.  Then I found out about this Litquake event that was co-sponsored by the Women's National Book Association (more on them in a minute).  They were starting up at 2:00.  That was perfect timing to have a leisurely lunch with Alvin before heading right into the bookstore.  So why was I so anxious to attend?  Well, 1 of the 5 panelists, Martha Conway, is coming to the RBC in March.  It was the perfect opportunity to meet her.  On top of that, her friend and fellow author, Susan Wolfe, who is coming to the RBC with Martha, was in the audience.  So I got to meet her too.  Pretty cool, don't you think?  Here they are, with Martha on the right.

Okay, so besides meeting Martha and Susan, the 3 of us listened to a great discussion.  It was titled Discovery and Redemption:  Authors Discuss Their Sources.  The panel consisted of 5 authors:  From left to right:  Alice Anderson, Donia Bijon, Sylvia Brownrigg, Martha, and Achy Obejas.

The moderator was a well-known author, Anita Amirezzvani:

Each of the authors read from their books and answered questions from the moderator and the audience:

There was a very good-sized crowd there.  I would estimate around 60. (It didn't quite match up to the author that came the night before. Books, Inc. employees estimated that there were probably around 1200 people who came to hear Hillary Clinton speak!)

So back to the WNBA.  The Women's National Book Association has been around since 1917.  It was born out of the suffragette movement.  And it came into existence before women even had the right to vote!  Trippy. The San Francisco chapter was started in 1968.  The president, Brenda Knight, and the vice-president, Nina Lesowitz, were both there.  Here is a picture of Brenda:

Thanks, again, to Books, Inc. for another excellent event.  And I was definitely glad that I had an opportunity to meet Brenda and Nina and learn about the WNBA.  A very interesting day, indeed.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Boy Does Sally Hepworth Know How To Write!

I finished my 1st Sally Hepworth, The Mother's Promise, on 5/14.  Then I read The Secrets of Midwives and finished that one on 6/14.  And now I just finished my 3rd, The Things We Keep, a couple of days ago.  What's my point?  She is such a good writer.  Really.  And I love the story lines. Not only do they deal with real-live issues.  But they also teach me stuff. And you all are painfully aware that I have a lot of empty space for learning!  But enough of my prattle.  Here's the back-cover-of-the-book blurb:

Anna Forster is only thirty-eight years old, but her mind is slowly slipping away from her.  Armed only with her keen wit and sharp-eyed determination, she knows that her family is doing what they believe to be best when they take her to Rosalind House, an assisted-living facility.  But Anna has a secret:  she does not plan on staying.  She also knows there's just one other resident who is her age:  Luke.  What she does not expect is the love that blossoms between her and Luke even as she resists her new life.  As her disease steals more and more of her memory, Anna fights to hold on to what she knows, including her relationship with Luke.
Eve Bennett, suddenly thrust into the role of single mother to her bright and vivacious seven-year-old daughter, finds herself putting her culinary training to use at Rosalind House.  When she meets Anna and Luke, she is moved by the bond the pair has forged.  But when a tragic incident leads Anna's and Luke's families to separate them, Eve begins to question what she is willing to risk to help them.  Eve has her own secrets, and her own desperate circumstances that raise the stakes even higher.

There are a whole bunch of elements of The Things We Keep that I liked. What are they you ask?  I'm happy to itemize them for you:

1.  Even her acknowledgments in the front of the book are interesting.
2.  As usual, she creates an immediate connection with each of the 3 main protagonists.
3.  This is a big one:  She makes you feel what advancing dementia must be like for the person afflicted.  You actually feel uncomfortable reading about how Anna describes her own decline.  For example, "Helen arrives with a cup of tea, a tray of brown eating-things in little wrappers, and her own deck chair."
4.  I had my usual assortment of chills (one time there were double chills on the same page!), jaw droppers, big surprises, and a ridiculous amount of tears, especially at the end.
5.  Her supporting cast of characters adds hugely to the story.
6.  When you read about somebody with advancing dementia, every incident feels suspenseful - in TTWK there was the grocery store, the book club, and upstairs at the residential home, among others.

Look at this description of dementia:

"Dr. Brain once told me that an Alzheimer's brain was like the snow on a mountain peak - slowly melting.  There are days when the sun is bright and chunks drop off all over the place, and there are days when the sun stays tucked behind clouds and everything remains largely intact.  Then there are days - spectacular days (his words) - when you stumble across a trail you thought had melted, and for a short while you have something back that you thought was gone forever."

I've even got a couple of personal notes for you because I know you love those!:

1.  "I want to slump, but I sit tall, as if pulled skyward by an invisible string."  I tend to slump while walking.  My acupuncturist tells me to think of a skyhook.  That works (sometimes).
2.  At one point, something happens that reminds Anna of The Bachelor. I immediately thought "Who watches that c__p?"  And then it dawned on me...I do!  I love The Bachelor(ette).  I have no defense for it.
3.  In A Conversation with Sally Hepworth at the end of the book, we learn that her biggest literary influence was Roald Dahl.  I am a huge fan of Dahl.  I used to read his books to my kids.  In fact, I remember reading The BFG to Lauren, my youngest, when the 2 older ones were already into other types of books.  But that didn't stop them from listening to The BFG.

How do we know that Sally is portraying Anna accurately?  Take a look at A Letter to the Reader at the end of the book.  I think that will convince you.  And, people, when you read one (or more) of Sally's books, please let me know.  I will gladly accept the plaudits and praise that are my due.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Barry Eisler's Newest John Rain - Zero Sum

And speaking of authors that I really like, but was a little disappointed with their latest, I've got a review of Barry Eisler's Zero Sum.  I've been a big fan of Barry's for a long time now.  I've always enjoyed his John Rain series.  And Livia Lone, which is Book 1 of a new series, I liked a lot (3.5/4).  So I started reading Zero Sum with great anticipation.  And it was pretty good.  There were definitely things I liked about it:

1.  No matter how long between books Barry goes, reading John Rain is like catching up with an old friend.
2.  He has a really good/heinous villain in Zero Sum.  There's even a scene where you feel a little sorry for this bad guy!
3.  There are elements that make me think of Lee Child and Harlan Coben.  Doesn't get much better than that!
4.  There are surprises.  I like a book that you can't figure out ahead of time (of course, that is my M.O.)
5.  It is very well-written.
(6.  At one point, Rain is comparing his actions to an army after-action report:  "What did we do well, what could we have done better, what can we learn to improve the odds next time."  This is exactly what Joni used to do after an event when she and her partner had their event-planning business!)

So if I took so many positives from this book, why was I disappointed? The answer is simple:  There was too much graphic violence.  Now, violence per se does not bother me.  The problem here is that the older John Rain (Zero Sum takes place as one of several prequels to the 1st group of books) was an assassin who used means that were designed to NOT look like a murder.  Every killing was planned to be very low-key. The killings in this book were extremely brutal.  It was just too much for me based on what I was used to.  If you don't mind that, or if you haven't read other John Rain stories, then you will be fine with Zero Sum.  Most importantly, under no circumstances will this prevent me from reading any book that Barry puts out there.