Yep. If it's the end of the year, then it must be time for the 2020 wrap-up: Let's begin, shall we? We'll start with books read.
Thursday, December 31, 2020
Saturday, December 19, 2020
Hello, all. I have been extremely remiss in keeping you up-to-date on the books I have recently read. And by "recently" I mean in the last 4 months! Plus I've got year-end posts coming up over the next couple of weeks. So I'm just going to give you ratings. I will also asterisk the authors that will be Zooming into our book club. If you have any interest in seeing them live, let me know, and I will send you the schedule of appearances.
In order of reading:
The Orphan Collector - Ellen Marie Wiseman - 3.625
The Swap - Robyn Harding* - 3.75
The Order - Daniel Silva - 3.5
The Party - Robyn Harding* - 3.25
Coal River - Ellen Marie Wiseman - 3.25
Dear Edward - Ann Napolitano - 3.375
A Door Between Us - Ehsaneh Sadr* - 3.25
White Collar Girl - Renee Rosen* - 3.5
The Vanishing Half - Britt Bennett - 3.25
I also read Finding Chika, by Mitch Albom, and Trading Secrets, by Rachael Eckles. Unfortunately, I failed to give them a rating at the time of reading and can't remember all of these months (weeks?) what rating I intended to give them. I did like them both, though.
My only disappointment was Lisa Wingate's The Book of Lost Friends. I absolutely loved When We Were Yours. But I couldn't get through this one. I gave it a pretty fair chance - 86 pages. But when my son-in-law, Joe, gave me a book that he highly recommended (a review will be upcoming), I jumped at the chance to put TBoLF down. And here's the crazy part...it has a 4.21 rating on Goodreads with almost 34,000 ratings! That is a very high score. I can't explain it. I guess it just is what it is.
Monday, December 7, 2020
On the Trail of Delusion, by Fred Litwin - Everything You Wanted to Know about Jim Garrison and His Take on the Assassination of JFK
Everybody knows that Jim Garrison, the DA in New Orleans from the early 60s to the early 70s, claimed that the Warren Report was inaccurate and set out to prove his theory. But what he did during his investigation is mind-boggling. Fred Litwin has done an amazing job of giving us a detailed account of the time Garrison spent trying to discredit the Warren Report. Here are just a few of the highlights:
1. He claimed that Lee Harvey Oswald, Jack Ruby, and several others were part of a homosexual ring that were responsible for the assassination.
2. He linked co-conspirators based, in part, on how close they lived to each other.
3. He ultimately said it wasn't the Oswald-Ruby group but, rather, anti-Castro Cubans who were unhappy with how the Bay of Pigs incident was handled.
4. He blamed LBJ, claiming that he benefited the most from the assassination.
5. He said the Dallas police were involved.
6. He targeted certain individuals whose lives were ruined by the attention they got. (One of them, Clay Shaw, was found innocent in 54 minutes. And it only took that long because the jurors had to queue up for the bathroom!)
7. He said that the dismissal of any further prosecution against Clay Shaw by the Supreme Court was due to a conspiracy consisting of top-level military authorities and our intelligence agencies.
8. Garrison came out with his first book in 1970, called A Heritage of Stone. He wrote several others.
9. He was interviewed by Playboy, which led to one of the biggest circulations Playboy has ever had.
10.The bulk of the book concerns the JFK assassination. But the last part explores some quirky side notes, including an explanation of how Oliver Stone, in his 1991 movie, JFK, made Garrison out to be a hero. Kevin Costner played the title role.
There were parts of the book that dragged for me a little. But the original documents and quoted passages are outstanding. In college I took a history course that only looked at original documents. And I still remember (many decades later!) how that positively affected my enjoyment of the class and the impact it had on me. That was a really neat part of the book.
Let me wrap up by saying this: If you are looking for a comprehensive tome on Jim Garrison and all of the efforts he made to tell us what really happened re JFK's assassination, complete with a whole slew of original documents and actual conversations, then I strongly recommend you pick up a copy of On the Trail of Delusion, by Fred Litwin. It's all you will need to understand Jim Garrison and his many machinations.
Saturday, November 7, 2020
Sometimes all it takes for a book to reel me in is a great concept. And Jared Knott's Tiny Blunders/Big Disasters definitely has that. This book has it all:
Monday, October 26, 2020
Hi all. Wanted to let you know that I will be working at Recycle Bookstore in downtown Campbell starting this weekend. My shifts will be Friday from 4:30-8:30 and Sunday from 10-6. Come by and say hello. And, if you are interested, I will be happy to recommend some books to buy - both used and new. Recycle is loaded with great books. And if you haven't had an opportunity to see Recycle, I'm pretty sure you will enjoy your visit. It's at 275 E. Campbell Avenue (408-370-3514). See you there!
Wednesday, October 21, 2020
Let me start this review by saying that not only is Let’s Talk a well-written and interesting book, it’s also an important one. The cover reads: LET’S TALK…ABOUT MAKING YOUR LIFE EXCITING, EASIER, AND INTERESTING. Art reinforces this goal repeatedly throughout the book. He does it in such a way that it’s a frequent reminder but doesn’t beat you over the head.
What did I like about this book, you ask? Everything, is the answer. Let me list the Top 10 reasons (not in any specific order):
1. It's very readable. Self-help books can tend to be dry. Let's Talk is definitely not.
2. There is quite a lot of humor. For example, on the first page of the book he says "I'm a trial
lawyer - no, wait! Don't close the book! There are bits like this periodically thrown in.
3. There are meaningful quotes at the beginning of each chapter. They set the stage for what
follows. And what I found particularly effective was how he quoted such a wide variety of
people - from Buddha to John Lasseter to Cicero to Jack Nicklaus…and the list goes on.
4. I like that his goal is to create dialogue instead of preaching to us. He does this, in part, by
reminding us on several occasions that we can click on his website - RiosTalks.com.
5. He makes a lot of cultural references that are just flat-out fun. At one point, he says that
the one wine lunch and happy hour go together like “mac and cheese, Batman and Robin,
rum and coke, chips and salsa, and Scooby and Shaggy.” Are you kidding me? Scooby
and Shaggy? How cool is that?
6. There are 15 chapters in Let’s Talk. But Art identifies the 2 that are the most important -
Gratitude and Kindness. I couldn’t agree more.
7. I really connected with his chapter on Power Vision. This is another name for The Law of
Attraction. If you are not familiar with this concept, first introduced to us by Esther and
Jerry Hicks, take a look. I think you will find that it just might resonate with you, too.
8. Art gives us 3 takeaways at the end of each chapter, which act as a great summary of what
we just read. But don’t make the mistake of avoiding the content of the chapters. You will
need that in order to receive the most impact.
9. Chapter 13 - Two Ears, One Mouth - hit me hard. It’s about listening. When my wife and I
have been with people, we always compare notes to see if they asked the second
question. Think about how many ask the first question in such a way that they don’t really
care about the answer. They are probably more Two Mouths, One Ear than the reverse.
It's so important to listen, not just talk. But, sometimes, that’s hard to find.
10. In the Kindness chapter, Art gives us 20 ways to show kindness. I STRONGLY urge you
and me and everybody to pay close attention to this list. We all need to be reminded of
how important this is to us, our families and friends, and the world at large.
In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I think this is a terrific book. I am anxiously awaiting
#2. I will be at the front of the line to pick up my copy. Do yourself a favor and get your hands on Let’s Talk. This is a book that actually makes a difference.
Monday, September 14, 2020
First of all, I've got some news reports for you. I will follow that up with 3 very short reviews.
1. Warner Brothers has purchased the rights to The Alice Network. We know that buying the rights doesn't always mean that the project will come to the big or little screen. But it sure is a good story, and it would be great to see it produced.
2. Reese Witherspoon's production company is bringing Where the Crawdads Sing to the big screen. This is one of the few books I've read in recent years that has gotten a thumbs up from everybody I know who has read it.
3. Kerry Lonsdale's book, Side Trip, has a pretty unique surprise in it. She is going to have a meeting designed to give readers a chance to ask questions...and they/we WILL have questions! The event is called Kerry's Tiki Bar, and is scheduled for October 1, 4:00PST. You can go on her website to get the link.
And now 3 mini-reviews:
1. The Dutch House, by Ann Patchett. I have liked a lot of Patchett's books (especially Bel Canto) but haven't been crazy about the most recent ones. TDH has gotten a ton of high ratings. I liked it well enough but didn't love it. Interestingly enough, Joni and I started listening to the audiobook (narrated by Tom Hanks) quite a few months ago. We liked it but turned it in because we wanted to listen to Ronan Farrow's Catch and Kill (which we couldn't get through). We never went back to the audiobook, but I decided to read it based on some glowing reviews from friends of mine. The best I can say is that I'm not sorry I read it.
2. Charming Falls Apart, by Angela Terry. This is a debut novel for Angela. And I liked it a lot. I definitely recommend it and look forward to her next one, whenever that hits the circuit.
3. The Light in the Hallway, by Amanda Prowse. This is an author that I had never heard of until recently. And she's written almost 30 novels and novellas! I discovered her on a FB book group page. I saw several members raving about her books. I went back and forth with them and finally decided I would read one of her books and make up my own mind. I picked this one based on recommendations and Goodreads ratings. Anyway, although this was a very long-winded explanation, the bottom line is that I definitely liked it. I would probably read others by her but don't feel the need to run out and do that.
Sunday, September 6, 2020
Back in 2018, I read my 1st Katherine Center book. It was How to Walk Away, and I loved it. Then why did it take me so long to read another one? Beats me. But I finally did. It's called What You Wish for, and it's darn good. This one hit me differently than a lot of other books do. I was rolling along, enjoying HtWA. I wasn't as emotionally connected as I like to be with the books I read. But I was certainly engaged and glad I picked it. And then...BOOM! It hit me like a ton of bricks. The last 65 pages I almost couldn't stop crying. It definitely crept up on me. So I guess I was emotionally connected after all! Here's what the book is about:
Samantha Casey is a school librarian who loves her job, the kids, and her school family with passion and a joy for living. But she wasn't always that way. Duncan Carpenter is the new school principal who lives by rules and regulations, guided by the knowledge that bad things can happen. But he wasn't always that way. And Sam knows it. Because she knew him before - at another school, in a different life. Back then, she loved him, but she was invisible. To him. To everyone. Even to herself. She escaped to a new school, a new job, a new chance at living. But then Duncan, of all people, gets hired as the new principal there. Although it feels like the worst thing that could possibly happen to Sam, it feels like the best thing that could possibly happen to the school. Until the opposite turns out to be true. The lovable Duncan she had known is now a suit-and-tie-wearing, rule-enforcing tough guy so hell-bent on protecting the school that he's willing to destroy it. As the school community spirals into chaos, and danger from all corners looms large, Sam and Duncan must find their way to who they really are, what it means to be brave, and how to take a chance on love - which is the riskiest move of all.
Katherine not only tell a good story, she also writes well. Here are a couple of examples of great visuals:
"I could not disguise the bizarre feeling of joy that had just appeared inside my body - like a million tiny, carbonated bubbles. I felt positively fizzy."
"I'd try to give in just enough to satisfy the urge without actually doing it. Like biting the corner of a chocolate bar."
She even has a scene in which Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove is mentioned. That's in my Top-12 All-Time. Obviously a fun reference for me.
I waited a couple of years to read my 2nd Center. But the 3rd will be making its appearance much sooner. I've already ordered Things You Save in a Fire. I daresay that even with the mountain-high books in my TBR pile, I will get TYSiaF near the top pretty quickly. And there are 5 more after that! It's a daunting proposition...but a good problem to have.
Tuesday, September 1, 2020
We've got some books coming out next month from big name authors:
Nicholas Sparks -The Return
AND, the biggest one of all...wait for it...do you feel the tension mounting...it's...Ken Follett - The Evening and the Morning - IT'S A PREQUEL TO PILLARS OF THE EARTH! - I'm sure you all know by now that Pillars, along with The Source and Shogun, are my 3 favorite books of all time
Sunday, August 30, 2020
Yesterday was Independent Bookstore Day. And, not surprisingly, I trekked over to Recycle Bookstore in Campbell to pay homage. Here are a few pics from my visit:
Good old Recycle!
Monday, August 24, 2020
Sometimes I get so behind on my reviews that I just can't catch up. In those situations, I will once in a while write some short reviews. In this case we're talkin' REAL short.
Kimberly Belle - Stranger in the Lake - liked it but definitely liked The Marriage Lie better
JoJo Moyes - The Giver of Stars - real good - I've liked everything I have read from her
Robert Dugoni - My Sister's Grave, Tracy Crosswhite #1 - this one and The Eighth Sister are very good - but The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell is just flat-out great
Michael Zadoorian - The Narcissism of Small Differences - decent but I loved The Leisure Seeker
Amy Poeppel - Musical Chairs - definitely readable but pales in comparison to Limelight
Laila Ibrahim - Paper Wife - good book
Kerry Lonsdale - Side Trip - very good - one scene had me yelling out loud - not smart in a coffee shop!
Kristina McMorris - sold on a monday - my 1st McMorris - really well done - more to follow
Every one of these authors is coming to a virtual RBC meeting except for Zadoorian (who's already been) and Moyes.
Saturday, August 22, 2020
I learned about A Little Bit of Grace through - you guessed it - Melissa! In this case, she actually introduced me to the author via FB Messaging. So I immediately bought the book and got to it right away. The only potential problem was...what if I didn't much care for it? The fact that Melissa liked it a lot made me feel a little bit more confident that I would too. But there's no guarantee! Well, there was no need to worry. I enjoyed the heck out of ALBoG. Here's the blurb, and then I've got stuff to tell you:
Family is everything - Grace Adams McHale's mom must have said it to her a thousand times before she died. Before Grace's dad ran off with an aspiring actress half his age. Before only-child Grace found out she was unable to have children of her own. Before Brian - her childhood best friend, business partner, and finally her husband - dropped a "bombshell" on her in the form of her stunning new replacement.
Which means Grace now has...nothing.
Until she receives a letter from a woman claiming to be a relative Grace never knew she had, sending her on a journey from the childhood home she had to move back into to a Florida island to meet a total stranger who embraces her as family. There, Grace starts to uncover answers about the eccentric woman her family never mentioned: a larger-than-life octogenarian who is the keeper of a secret held for more than fifty years, and the ultimate inspiration to always be true to yourself. As Grace gets to know this woman and picks up the pieces of her own shattered life, she is forced to question whether she can find forgiveness for the unforgivable.
Let me start the actual review part of this post by saying A Little Bit of Grace is simply delightful (one of my mother-in-law's favorite words). And it sure applies in this case. That is not say there is no substance. How do I know this?...because I got a takeaway from Grace. This only happens every 50-75 books. But it happened here. Let me quote the passage: "I just mean...maybe you and Brian were together for the part of your paths that ran the same direction...until they didn't anymore. And that was going to happen regardless of anything either of you did or didn't do. You just each moved on to a different part of your map." I'm going to keep this in mind when I encounter obstacles. Thanks, Phoebe!
Here's the other thing about this book. Phoebe has come up with some of the best visuals I can remember ever reading. Here are just a few examples of many:
"His forehead wrinkled like a shar-pei's."
"...people were bursting through the door like the Kool-Aid man..."
"I couldn't have felt more awkward if I'd broken in like Goldilocks and helped myself to a comfortable bed."
There are a dozen more where those came from. So many that I would have had to devote an entire post to these very clever similes/metaphors/comparisons. And if I did that, you would be missing out on a whole bunch of occasions to smile and nod your head. I don't want to take that pleasure away from you! More importantly, read A Little Bit of Grace. It's just what the doctor (any doctor!) ordered.
Saturday, August 1, 2020
Sunday, July 26, 2020
Saturday, June 27, 2020
What is The Plum Tree about, you ask? Well, I'll tell you:
"Bloom where you're planted," is the advice Christine Bolz receives from her beloved Oma. But seventeen-year old domestic Christine knows there is a world waiting beyond her small German village. It's a world she's begun to glimpse through music, books - and through Isaac Bauerman, the cultured son of the wealthy Jewish family she works for.
Yet the future she and Isaac dream of sharing faces greater challenges than their difference in stations. In the fall of 1938, Germany is changing rapidly under Hitler's regime. Anti-Jewish posters are everywhere, dissenting talk is silenced, and a new law forbids Christine from returning to her job - and from having any relationship with Isaac. In the months and years that follow, Christine will confront the Gestapo's wrath and the horrors of Dachau, desperate to be with the man she loves, to survive - and finally, to speak out.
I liked a lot of things about this book:
1. It was really interesting to see how Germany's non-Jewish citizens were treated during the war. It was a real eye-opener...and it wasn't pretty.
2. Even though it wasn't the main focus of the book, we still got an up-close look at how the Germans treated their Jewish citizens. It's always a very rough read, and I certainly didn't "like" it. But it's a good reminder that this actually happened. And in today's world, we're still seeing prejudice in a lot of different forms.
3. I learned how non-Jewish German citizens were treated at Dachau. They may not have been mass murdered, but they were still dealt with brutally.
4. I, unfortunately, learned how the allied bombers killed so many innocent German citizens. Much of it seemed random and unnecessary.
5. I also learned how the different zones of Germany were dealt with after the war depending on which of the allied countries governed.
6. This book hit me emotionally in myriad ways: I shuddered, got chills, uttered OMGs, and had a fair amount of tears.
7. Aside from all of the different elements of the book, let's not forget that it's also very well-written. Here's an example: "Isaac's sudden appearance on her doorstep felt like a previously hidden clue on a treasure map, or a newly discovered fork in a familiar road. Something was about to change."
As I mentioned at the top of the post, The Plum Tree is Ellen's 1st book. Let me just say it sure doesn't read like a debut novel. I'm really glad I read it, and now I have 3 of her books under my literary belt. I will definitely be grabbing The Orphan Collector when it comes out in August. After that it's on to Coal River. Then I will be caught up and waiting (im)patiently for #6. If you haven't read any of Ellen's books...WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?!
Wednesday, June 17, 2020
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine - Gail Honeyman - Fiction
Pieces of Me - Lizbeth Meredith - Autobiography
I'll Give You the Sun - Jandy Nelson - YA
Becoming (audiobook) - Michelle Obama - Autobiography
Daisy Jones & the Six - Taylor Jenkins Reid - Historical Fiction
More Than Words - Jill Santopolo - Fiction
Fallen - Aria Glazki - Romance
The Tatooist of Auschwitz - Heather Morris - Book #1 - Historical Fiction
With Love in Sight - Christina Britton - Historical Romance
The Violets of March - Sarah Jio - Fiction
You, Me, and the Sea - Meg Donohue - Fiction
Caged - Ellison Cooper - Agent Sayer Altair, Book #1 - Mystery
Dear Wife - Kimberly Belle - Thriller
The Art of Adapting - Cassandra Dunn - Fiction
The Gifted School - Brian Holsinger - Fiction
The Lost Vintage - Ann Mah - Historical Fiction
The Fountains of Silence - Ruta Sepetys - Historical Fiction/YA
The Tenth Muse - Catherine Chung - Fiction
Saturday, June 13, 2020
The First Emma is the true story of Emma Koehler, whose tycoon husband Otto was killed in a crime-of-the-century murder by one of his two mistresses - both also named Emma - and her unlikely rise as CEO of a brewing empire during prohibition. When a chance to tell her story to a young teetotaler arises, a tale unfolds of love, war, beer, and the power of women.
Since I never read the blurb before starting a book, I didn't know it was a true story. It certainly felt true, and I wasn't surprised to learn that it actually is true. The story starts in 1914 and ends in 1943. There's a lot of stuff that happens in between. Trust me that Emma Koehler's story will grab you.
Camille combines a fictional love story with history. I was thoroughly caught up in both. On top of that, we get to see a real news article at the end of each chapter, giving us details from different newspapers around the country regarding Otto Koehler's death and the subsequent trial of the mistress that murdered him. Historical fiction is definitely one of my favorite genres. But it doesn't normally take place in San Antonio, Texas or deal with a female CEO of a beer company. This is another example of Camille teaching us something that we are most happy to learn about. Camille, keep 'em comin'!
Monday, June 8, 2020
The Closer You Get - Mary Torjussen:
Coworkers Ruby and Harry are in love-but they're married to other people. They decide to tell their spouses that their marriages are over and to start a new life together. Ruby has wanted to leave her controlling husband for a while, so she tells him she's leaving and waits at the hotel where she and Harry are to meet. But Harry never shows up.
Suddenly, Ruby has lost everything. Harry won't answer her calls, and she's fired from her job. She finds a cheap apartment in a rundown part of town, all the while wondering what happened to Harry.
Just as Ruby thinks she's hit rock bottom, strange and menacing things start to happen-someone is sneaking into her apartment, and someone is following her home late at night-and she is going to have to fight for her survival.
This is a thriller/mystery, pure and simple. The story is told in the voices of Ruby and Emma, Harry's wife. Great storyline.
The Two Lila Bennetts - Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke:
Lila Bennett's bad choices have finally caught up with her. And one of those decisions has split her life in two. Literally.
In one life, she's taken hostage by someone who appears to be a stranger but knows too much. As she's trapped in a concrete cell, her kidnapper forces her to face what she's done or be killed. In an alternate life, she eludes her captor but is hunted by someone who is dismantling her happiness, exposing one secret at a time.
Lila's decorated career as a criminal defense attorney, her marriage, and her life are on the line. She must make a list of those she's wronged-both in and out of the courtroom-to determine who is out to get her before it's too late. But even if she can pinpoint her assailant, will she survive? And if she does, which parts of her life are worth saving, and which parts must die? Because one thing's for certain-life as Lila Bennett knew it is over.
Here's another thriller for you. And I have to tell you that both alternate stories in TTLB are equally plausible and gripping. There's even a reference to one of my favorite John Cusack movies!
The Yellow Bird Sings - Jennifer Rosner
As Nazi soldiers round up the Jews in their town, Roza and her five-year-old daughter, Shira, flee, seeking shelter in a neighbor's barn. Hidden in the hayloft day and night, Shira struggles to stay still and quiet as music pulses through her and the farmyard outside beckons. To soothe her daughter and pass the time, Roza tells her a story about a girl in an enchanted garden:
The girl is forbidden from making a sound, so the yellow bird sings. He sings whatever the girl composes in her head: high-pitched trills of piccolo; low-throated growls of contrabassoon. Music helps the flowers bloom.
In this make-believe world, Roza can shield Shira from the horrors that surround them. But the day comes when their haven is no longer safe and Roza must make an impossible choice: whether to keep Shira by her side or give her the chance to survive apart.
Inspired by the true stories of Jewish children hidden during World War II, Jennifer Rosner's debut is a breathtaking novel about the unbreakable bond between a mother and a daughter. Beautiful and riveting, The Yellow Bird Sings is a testament to the triumph of hope-a whispered story, a bird's song-in even the darkest times.
This one, like many of the historical novels I have read about WWII, invoked a lot of emotional responses from me. In particular, I had a bunch of chills. I think I am most impressed by the fact that this is a debut novel for Jennifer.