Thursday, December 31, 2020

Books in 2020

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.

Vanishing in the Haight - Max Tomlinson - 2.75
Stay - Allie Larkin - 3.5
The Boy from the Woods - Harlen Coben - 3.5
Button Man - Andrew Gross - 3.25
Captivating in Love - Jennifer Skully and Bella Andre - 3.75
Born Standing Up:  A Comic's Life (audiobook) - Steve Martin - 3.0
The Dreamer - Sheldon Siegel
The Sun Down Hotel - Simone St. James - 3.25
Its Not PMS, It's You - Rich Amooi - 3.5
The Things We Cannot Say - Kelly Rimmer - 3.5
Park Avenue Summer - Renee Rosen - 3.625
Last Boat out of Shanghai - Helen Zia - 3.5
Three Hours in Paris - Cara Black - 3.0
Big Lies in a Small Town - Diane Chamberlain - 3.625
Darling Rose Gold - Stephanie Wrobel - 3.25
The Second Chance Supper Club - Nicole Meier - 3.5
The Two Lila Bennetts - Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke - 3.5
Freedom Lost - Chandra Ingram
Dream Beach - Linda Gunther
Cerberus - A.J. Silverberry - 3.25
The Closer You Get - Mary Torjussen - 3.5
The Yellow Bird Sings - Jennifer Rosner - 3.5
On Safari to Stay - Mike DeGregorio
Just Another Silly Love Song - Rich Amooi - 4.0
Tell Me More - Kelly Corrigan - 3.0
Love Is A Rebellious bird - Elayne Klasson - 3.5
The First Emma - Camille di Maio - 3.75
The Plum Tree - Ellen Marie Wiseman - 3.5
The Narcissism of Small Differences - Michael Zadoorian - 3.0
Fire by Night - Alina Sayre
Stranger in the Lake - Kimberly Belle - 3.0
The Giver of Stars - JoJo Moyes - 3.625
He Could Be Another Bill Gates - Donna Levin
My Sister's Grave - Robert Dugoni - 3.5
The Book of Lost Names - Kristin Harmel - 3.75
Musical Chairs - Amy Poeppel - 3.0
Paper Wife - Laila Ibrahim - 3.25
Side Trip - Kerry Lonsdale - 3.5
Sold on a Monday - Kristina McMorris - 3.625
A Little Bit of Grace - Phoebe Fox - 3.625
Charming Falls Apart - Angela Terry - 3.25
The Dutch House - Ann Patchett - 3.0
What You Wish For - Katherine Center - 3.5
The Orphan Collector - Ellen Marie Wiseman - 3.625
The Light in the Hallway - Amanda Prowse - 3.375
Finding Chika - Mitch Albom
The Swap - Robyn Harding - 3.75
The Order - Daniel Silva - 3.5
The Party - Robyn Harding - The Order - 3.25
Coal River - Ellen Marie Wiseman - 3.25
Dear Edward - Ann Napolitano - 3.375
A Door Between Us - Ehsaneh Sadr - 3.25
Let's Talk - Art Rios - 4.0
The Good Sister - Sally Hepworth - 3.5
Between the Lines - Jodi Picoult & Samantha van Leer - 3.0
The Final Out - Sheldon Siegel
Trading Secrets - Rachael Eckles 
White Collar Girl - Renee Rosen - 3.5
The Uncanny Valley Girl - Stephen Howser
The Vanishing Half - Britt Bennett - 3.25
The Chain - Adrian McKinty - 3.5
A September to Remember - Carole Bumpus
The Story of Arthur Truluv - Elizabeth Berg - 3.5

63 books
20,346 pages

The 63 compares to 80 last year.  Part of the difference comes from not being in the car to listen to the audiobooks (where would I go?).  And part comes from being home.  Interestingly enough, it was harder to read while at home than it is to be out and about.  Tough to explain.

In the next few days I will list my new authors and ratings that are 3.5 or higher.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Some Quick Ratings

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 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

Tiny Blunders/Big Disasters, by Jared Knott - You Have to Read It to Believe It

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:

1.  Something for everybody - politics, the military, science, medicine, and loads of history, including one story from 2500B.C.!                             2.  Tremendous research 
3.  Tons of near misses 
4.  Great introduction
5.  Cool pictures (and not too many of them to take away from the stories)
(On a personal note, the 82nd Airborne is mentioned a couple of times. That was my brother's unit.  In fact, he was in a plane on the ground during the Bay of Pigs incident.  The battle ended before he could be sent.)

The book has 30 sections.  But this is misleading because many of the sections have multiple examples of how a tiny blunder led to a big disaster.  I'm going to just give you a couple of them to whet your appetite. These stories, along with so many others, just made my jaw drop.  To whit:

1.  We've all heard how the security guard, Frank Wills, came across evidence that exposed the burglaries at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in 1972.  And, of course, Nixon ultimately resigned because of the fallout.  But do you know how Wills found out what had happened (you're not going to believe this!)?  The burglars put tape in the door from the garage leading to a staircase so they wouldn't get locked out.  But, guess what?  They placed the tape across the lock horizontally instead of vertically.  Wills could see the tape.  Are you kidding me?  And, on top of that, the local police were called but were not available.  So plainclothes detectives, who were shabbily dressed, were sent, and the lookouts on the roof didn't think anything of it because they were not in uniform.  Wow!

2.  We all know that WW1 started because Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungry was assassinated.  Did you know that the driver of the car that held the assassin took a wrong turn?  That's what put the assassin in a position to shoot Ferdinand.

3.  It is commonly held that WWII started in 1937 in a confrontation between Japan and China.  What you may not know is that one of the Japanese soldiers left the battlefield to go to the bathroom and got lost in the woods on the way back.  The Japanese assumed that the Chinese had taken this soldier and demanded to be allowed to search for him. The Chinese said no.  This was the start of the second Sino-Japanese War.

And, by the way, Mrs. O'Leary's cow did NOT start the Great Chicago Fire.

You will also be able to read about great sibling rivalries and their consequences on world history; and the time zone that prevented a military victory; and the assassination that took place because a bodyguard and U.S General did not attend a theater production (guess who?); and a Civil War battle that could have changed the outcome if orders had not been dropped in a field; and...

I have to stop here, even though I don't want to.  Every section (and every sub-section) is just so darn interesting.  You will be mesmerized by Tiny Blunders/Big Disasters or my name isn't The Book Sage!


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's Talk, by Art Rios - A Very Important Book

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 -

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

Some Mini-Reviews & and Some News Items

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

Another Top-Notch Book from Katherine Center

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

New Books in September - along with a HUGE Surprise!

We've got some books coming out next month from big name authors:

Nicholas Sparks -The Return 

Yaa - Gyase - Transcendent Kingdom (her 1st book, Homegoing, was really good                                                                                                                                                                     

                                  Jodi Picoult - The Book of Two Ways  

                                                                                                                                            AND, the biggest one of all...wait for you feel the tension'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

Independent Bookstore Day

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!

                They've always got racks of books out in front of the store.

                                        Their front windows are very enticing.

These are my bookshelves, where there are RBC selections and my personal recommendations!

                Racks in the front of the store, this one with children's books.

                                                           And these with current bestsellers.

                                                    Part of their back wall, with literary fiction.

        Here is part of their fantasy section.  Pretty cool, eh?

                                                                How about their mystery section?

This is a section where you know the genre but don't know the book.

                           Do you want to buy a book bag or T-shirt?  Here they are.

                                                          There's Paul, ringing up a sale.

      And, finally, Lauren, buying back books (Tuesday-Saturday, 11-5).



Monday, August 24, 2020

A bunch of mini-mini-mini--reviews

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

A Little Bit of Grace, by Phoebe Fox - A VERY Fun Read

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

Autographed Literary Masterpiece

Prior to the shutdown, we had an RBC meeting with author Stephen Houser. He asked all of us what our favorite books were. I said my 3 favorites are Shogun, Pillars of the Earth, and The Source. Shortly after that, Stephen presented me with a copy of The Source autographed by James Michener himself! Here are pictures of the cover and the inscription and signature from Michener to somebody named Carola, in 1967. This is the most prized literary possession I have. Thank you Stephen!

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Kristin Harmel's latest, The Book of Lost Names, Does NOT Disappoint

It is no secret that I'm a huge fan of Kristin Harmel's books.  I have as many high ratings for her books than just about any other author I've read.  So, does her latest, The Book of Lost Names, measure up to the high bar she has set?  Well, if you read the title of this post, you will know that the answer is a resounding "YES!"  I love historical fiction as a genre.  Since I was a history major in college (a long, long time ago!), I have always had a deep appreciation for events from the past.  Kristin's latest told me a story that I had definitely never heard before, but loved reading about.  Here is the book jacket storyline:

   Eva Traube Abrams, a Florida librarian, is at the returns desk one morning when her eyes lock onto a photograph in a newspaper nearby. She freezes; it's an image of a book she hasn't seen in sixty-five years - one she recognizes as the Book of Lost Names.  The religious tome in the photograph, a French text thought to have been stolen by the Nazis, contains a mysterious code that researchers can't decipher.  Only Eva holds the key - but does she have the strength to revisit old memories and help reunite those parted in wartime?
   In 1942, Eva escapes Paris after the arrest of her father, a Polish Jew. Finding refuge in a mountain village in the Free Zone, she learns to create false identity documents for Jewish children fleeing to neutral Switzerland.  But erasing people comes with a price, and with the help of a Resistance forger named Remy, Eva finds a way to preserve the real names of the children too young to remember their true identities.  The record she keeps - encoded in the Book of Lost Names - becomes even more vital when her Resistance cell is betrayed and Remy disappears.
   As the Germans overrun the library where Eva and her allies have been working, she must run for her life, not knowing if she'll ever see the book again.  But she has encoded in its pages one last, vital message - and she will never stop hoping for its answer.

Here is what I liked about this book:
1.  Kristin creates so much tension in this book that I simply couldn't put it down.  And when I did, I couldn't wait to pick it back up!
2.  She intersperses a few segments in the present day (2005), which feels like a breath of fresh air.  It reminds me of Jodi Picoult's The Storyteller.
3.  I had my share of chills, tears, a few disappointments ("unnhh), and a whole bunch of excitement.
4.  And, of course, learning about an entirely new piece of WWII was fascinating as well as enlightening.

People, I don't know how many times I have to tell you to read Kristin Harmel's books.  Will you please listen to me now?  You will NOT be sorry.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Going Back in Time with Ellen Marie Wiseman's The Plum Tree

Although I may not be known for my clever bon mots, the title for this post does, in fact, have a double meaning.  The Plum Tree not only takes place during WWII, but it's also Ellen's first book!  But enough about me. Let's get to the review.  And keep in mind that Ellen, herself, set a very high bar with 2 of my favorite books from the last few years - The Life She Was Given and What She Left Behind.

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

3.25s 2019

Okay, this is it (at least until 2021!).  It's a list of the 3.25s for the year 2019.  Again I say that these are all good reads.

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

Camille di Maio is 5 for 5!

I just finished Camille di Maio's latest, The First Emma.  This is her 5th book, and I'm very happy to say I have read them all.  All 5 of her books have been at least a 3.5/4 for me.  And The First Emma might be my favorite (by a slim margin).  Those of you who read a lot, and who have large TBR piles, can relate to the satisfaction of knowing that you are going to like what you read.  That's what happens with Camille's books. By the way, her Goodreads ratings are all between 4.07/5-4.35/5.  These are very good scores.  And, before I give you some thoughts, take a look at the synopsis:

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

3-3.5s for Your Reading Pleasure

I've got 3 books that I've read in the last couple of months that are all 3.5/4.  I'm going to give you the synopsis for each in a couple of sentences.  I highly recommend all of them.

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.