Monday, December 30, 2019

Books 3.5/4 and up in 2019

Here are the books I read/listened to that I rated 3.5/4 or up.  The total is 31 out of 79, an average of 39%!  That doesn't count a bunch of 3.25s and 3.0s.  It was a darn good year.  And for all of you who recommended books that are on this list...THANK YOU!

4.0 - 6
What She Left Behind - Ellen Marie Wiseman
The Winemaker's Wife - Kristin Harmel
In Pieces - Sally Field (audiobook)
All the Devils - Barry Eisler
The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell - Robert Dugoni (audiobook)
Windy City Blues - Renee Rosen

3.75 - 7
The Life She Was Given - Ellen Marie Wiseman
The Great Alone - Kristin Hannah
Swimming for Sunlight - Allie Larkin
The Girl He Used to Know - Tracey Garvis Graves
Mending Fences - Suzanne Woods Fisher
When We Meet Again - Kristin Harmel
The Huntress - Kate Quinn

3.625 - 2
The New Girl - Daniel Silva
The Only Woman in the Room - Marie Benedict

3.5 - 15
A Column of Fire - Ken Follett
The Beautiful Stranger - Camille Di Maio
Beschert - Erin Gordon
The Killer Collective - Barry Eisler
Madam Love, Actually - Rich Amooi
The Memory of Us - Camille Di Maio
The Library of Lost and Found - Phaedra Patrick
The Last Train to London - Meg Waite Clayton
Born a Crime - Trevor Noah (audiobook)
The Lost Girls of Paris - Pam Jenoff
Good Luck with That - Kristan Higgins
Beneath a Scarlet Sky - Mark Sullivan
American Dirt - Jeanine Cummins
Just Watch Me - Jeff Lindsay
The Eighth Sister - Robert Dugoni
Why Can't I Be You - Allie Larkin

Total - 31

Friday, December 27, 2019

A Review That Took Me Way Too Long To Post

Back in May, I read Swimming for Sunlight, by Allie Larkin.  I loved it. And we already had her scheduled to come to the RBC in November.  So why haven't I written a review, you ask?  For the same reason I haven't written dozens of others!...I don't know.  But it is what it is, as they say. In any case, and even though I included it in my list of 22 books that I recommend you all read, I want to take a couple of minutes to give it its own post.  Here's the storyline:

Katie Ellis gave up everything in her divorce to gain custody of her fearful, faithful rescue dog, Bark. Anxious about her next steps, she returns to her hometown in Florida to live with her grandmother Nan.
In her youth, Nan was a mermaid performer in a roadside attraction show, swimming and dancing underwater with a close-knit cast of talented women.  Most of the mermaids have since lost touch, but Katie helps Nan search for her old friends online, sparking hopes for a reunion show and reigniting Katie's crippling fear of water.  Katie offers to design their costumes.  As the show takes shape, she struggles to balance her hopes with her anxiety, and begins to realize just how much Bark's fears are connected to her own in this charming novel about hope after loss and friendships that span generations.

Allie combines humor with many poignant moments (aka I cried a lot!). Plus her writing is excellent.  At one point, Katie's grandma wants Katie to sit with grandma's friends.  Here is Katie's reaction:
"Sitting by the pool to chat with the ladies would be like squeezing a lemon with a hand covered in paper cuts."  That doesn't leave much to the imagination, does it?

A couple of things stick out for me in this book:
1.  I loved all of the characters.  That doesn't happen too often.
2.  In most books, my biggest flowing moments are toward the end.  In SfS, it happened throughout (although I actually sobbed 38 pages from the end).

And, finally, every once in a while a get a takeaway from a book.  It's pretty rare, but when it does happen, it leaves me with something that I actually try to incorporate into my life.  In this case, it's this:  "I was going to be the person who showed up for her because friendship is a love story too."  For me, this is right on.

So, despite the fact that a dog is a central character in Swimming for Sunlight (you all know that I tend to stay away from animal-centric books, although I did like The Art of Racing in the Rain), I highly recommend this book.  And out of 11 people who read it and came to the RBC meeting, the lowest rating was a 3.75/4!  Are you kidding me? That's unheard of.  Do yourself a favor and pick this one up.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

My First Renee Rosen...But Definitely Not My Last!

Melissa strikes again.  She strongly urged me to read Windy City Blues, by Renee Rosen.  And I liked it so much that I immediately bought Park Avenue Summer.  It's sitting in my (increasingly growing) TBR pile.  But back to WCB.  This is historical fiction at its finest.  Renee gives us a story that I knew nothing about (big surprise, eh?).  It's about the record industry in Chicago in the mid-1900s.  Here is the blurb:

In the middle of the twentieth century, the music of the Mississippi delta arrived in Chicago, drawing the attention of entrepreneurs like the Chess brothers.  Their label, Chess Records, helped shape that music into the Chicago blues, the sound track for a transformative era in American history.  
But for Leeba Groski, Chess Records was just where she worked...
Leeba doesn't exactly fit in, but her passion for music is not lost on her neighbor Leonard Chess, who offers her a job at his new record company.  What begins as answering phones and filing becomes much more as Leeba comes into her own as a songwriter and befriends performers like Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Chuck Berry and Etta James.  But she also falls in love with a black blues guitarist named Red Dupree.
With their relationship unwelcome in segregated Chicago and the two of them shunned by Leeba's Orthodox Jewish family, Lee and Red soon find themselves in the middle of the civil rights movement, and they discover that in times of struggle, music can bring people together.
Sound good?  It is.  Here is what we learn from this book:
1.  How the blues came to be on a national scale
2.  How record companies recorded, distributed, and sold records (still the same today?)
3.  Details of the Civil Rights movement
4.  Details of the Orthodox Jewish religion
5.  The obstacles that a white woman and black man faced as a couple

Besides this being such a good historical fiction novel, it was also just a good novel.  I teared up multiple times (are you stunned?), dropped a jaw once or twice, and even issued a big verbal "Phew," accompanied by tears of relief.  Need I say more?  This is the first book I am (almost) insisting you read since I listened to The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell. Now that's saying a lot!

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Jeff Lindsay, of Dexter fame

A couple of times a year, unsolicited, I get books in the mail sent by publishers.  As a blogger, I usually try to read what they send.  Some have been successful (I ALWAYS love getting the latest Coben!), and others...not so much.  In this case, I got a book from Dutton written by Jeff Lindsay. This is the guy who wrote 8 books in the Dexter series, which, as you know, was a successful TV show.  What I got is Just Watch Me.  This is Book 1 about the antihero, Riley Wolfe.  And I have to say that it was pretty darn good.  Here's the blurb:

Sure, Riley Wolfe steals for the money - but mostly he steals for the challenge.
In this series debut, Riley aims for an extraordinary target:  the Crown Jewels of Iran.  Yes, these jewels are worth billions, but Riley's urge to steal them comes down to one simple fact:  it can't be done.  The collection is on tour in America, guarded by space-age electronics and two teams of heavily armed mercenaries.  No one could even think of getting past the airtight security and hope to get away alive, let alone abscond with even a single diamond.
No one except Riley Wolfe.
But this challenge may be more than even he can handle.  Aside from the impenetrable security, Riley is also pursued by a brilliant and relentless cop who has spent his career getting closer and now is barely one step behind him.
With the aid of Monique, his sometime ally and a master art forger, Riley Wolfe goes for the prize that will confirm his legend - or, more likely, leave him dead.
A mesmerizing heist novel for now, this is the book fans of Jeff Lindsay and the wildly successful Dexter Series have been waiting for.

It's not often that the main protagonist is a bad guy.  But he sure is interesting.  The story is pretty complex, but it all makes sense.  It's well written and even comes with some surprises.  I would definitely recommend it.  And I am looking forward to #2.  3.5/4

Sunday, December 1, 2019

22 Reviews!...I mean 22 titles

Can you believe that I am at least 35-40 reviews behind?  Well, it's true. And since it's not possible for me to catch up, I'm taking the chicken's way out.  I will instead list 22 books that I strongly urge you to read. These would all go on my recommend table at Recycle Books on Sunday mornings.  If they're not there yet, they will be (if the store has them).  I am listing all 22 by genre.  This might help you decide which one(s) you'll want to read.  Side note:  I've got one audiobook in this group that I might say a few words about.

Robert Dugoni - The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell (audiobook)
Jeanine Cummins - American Dirt
Erin Gordon - Beschert
Phaedra Patrick - The Library of Lost and Found
Kristin Hannah - The Great Alone
Ally Larkin - Swimming for Sunlight
Daniel Silva - the New Girl
Kristin Higgins - Good Luck with That

Historical Fiction
Marie Benedict - The Only Woman in the Room
Kristin Harmel - The Winemaker's Wife
Kristin Harmel - Until We meet Again
Kate Quinn - The Huntress
Mark Sullivan - Beneath a Scarlet Sky
Marie Ellen Wiseman - the Life She Was Given
Camille Di Maio - The Memory of Us
Meg Waite Clayton - The Last Train to London
Pam Jenoff - The Lost Girls of Paris

Barry Eisler - The Killer Collective
Barry Eisler - All the Devils

Tracy Garvis Graves - The Girl He Used to Know

Romantic Comedy
Rich Amooi - Madam Love, Actually

Religious Fiction
Suzanne Woods Fisher - Mending Fences

Now, about that audiobook, I have a funny story to tell.  A few months ago, our renowned, highly respected, and overall good guy RBC author, Sheldon Siegel, recommended I contact a friend of his, Robert Dugoni, for the RBC.  So, of course, I did.  What I didn't know when I sent the feelers out is that Robert lives in the Seattle area.  But he still said sure, that he would be in the area in early April and would be happy to come to our meeting.  So we set a date for April 2 and picked a book, The Eight Sister (he's written a bunch).  Shortly after that, I get a message from my top source for excellent books, Melissa Amster, who says that I absolutely must listen to an audiobook by none other than Robert Dugoni, called The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell.  Mind you, this is the first time Melissa has ever insisted that I listen to an audiobook, and she had no idea that I had scheduled Robert for the RBC!  Joni and I picked up a copy from the local library and proceeded to be absolutely mesmerized by the book and the narrator, who is Robert himself (award-winning, I might add).  Joni and were worried that maybe the book was better in audio form than print form.  WRONG!  We now know people who have read the print version and came away with the same opinion.  People, whatever format you use, read this book.  It is absolutely outstanding.
P.S.  I asked Robert if we could switch to Sam Hell for our RBC meeting on April 2.  He said sure.