Sunday, September 17, 2017

Here's a Novel about Surfing from a Real Surfer

Mike Degregorio is a long-time surfer.  Here's what the back of his book says about the writing of Thunder Bay:

Degregorio wrote "Thunder Bay" in the early 1990's and it went out of print around Y2k.  It's a big wave story based on real life characters, Native American omens and oversized egos.  It is now edited and revised and after twenty years, re-released in print and Ebook form.

Those of you who know me understand VERY CLEARLY that I have never tried (and will never try) surfing.  So it was very interesting to me to read Mike's novel and learn some stuff about surfing (please don't test me on what I learned...I beg you!).

Let me mention some of the highlights of the book for me:

1.  As a surfing troglodyte, I really appreciated the glossary.
2.  His descriptions of what it must be like to ride a big wave were very visual - e.g. "A swell, like a bull sensing the weight of a cowboy on its back, began to heave upward."
3.  His non-suring descriptions are also pretty darn good - "The cool salt breeze flowed into the freshly cleaned room like soda and ice blending with fine scotch."  And I don't even drink!
4.  How about this description? - "Every wave is different, like people with individual personalities."
5.  And this one - "The topping of raw butterfish resembled a large blob of recently chewed Bazooka Joe bubble gum." (I definitely remember that gum when I was kid, back in the Dark Ages.)

This may indeed by the first, last, and only book I ever read about surfing.  But if so, I'm glad it was Mike's book I read.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

A Review (sort of) and Other Information

1.  At my 50th high school reunion earlier this month, I got to reconnect with Harvey, a very good buddy of mine back in the day.  He told me something that I just didn't remember.  He said that I used to read Go, Dog. Go!, by P.D. Eastman, to his younger sisters.  Even though my memory is pretty weak, I believe Harvey.  So what did I do?  I bought the book, of course.  (Don't worry.  I won't include this in my year-end list!)  I was very happy to see that it was an easy read.  Here's the cover:

2.  Word after Word Bookstore in Truckee, CA now has a website -

3.  Green Apple Books in San Francisco is celebrating it's 50th anniversary September 9 and 10.  Go on their website to get the details.

4.  Amazon Books opened last week in Santana Row (San Jose, CA).  They have 3500 unique titles, and all the books must have a rating of 4.8/5 or higher.  They have 9 bookstores total.  The1st one opened in Seattle in November of 2015.  And the 2nd Bay Area store will be coming to Walnut Creek's Broadway Plaza.  I also learned these stats:

In 2009, there were 1651 independent bookstores.
At the end of 2016, there were 2321 independent bookstores.
In 1995, the number was approx. 7000.
In 2000, there were about 4000.

Twenty years after the online retail giant helped lay waste to the brick and mortar book industry, is opening a ... brick and mortar bookstore. Q: Do you prefer book shopping online or in real life?

Amazon is opening brick and mortar bookstores across the US, with San Jose the latest location.

5.  Shelly King, author of The Moment of Everything (and one of our very 1st RBC authors) will be conducting writing classes at her home in Felton.  Here are the dates:

9/30 - 9-5
10/14 - 9-1
10/28 - 9-1
11/11 - 9-1

You can go to her website - - for more information.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

A Few Notes and One Big Question

I've got a few items of interest for you, along with one big question. First, a few notes:

From Dean Koontz:  "I’ve always believed that the characters in a novel are more important than any other element. If they don’t earn our empathy and compel our attention, the most urgent subject matter and the most whiz-bang story will fall flat."
We've talked a few times about character vs. plot.  One of the must successful authors of our time tells us what he thinks.

Author Martha Conway gave us this little  gem:  "Buy a book on IndieBound.  And they will buy it from the closest bookstore to you and send it to you from there"

Stephen King's Mr. Mercedes debuted on August 9 on DirectTV and DirectTV Now.

You all (some) know that The Glass Castle is in my top 12 all-time.  It was on the bestseller list for 7 years!  Well, now it's a movie, starring Woody Harrelson, Naomi Watts, and Brie Larson.  It opened on August 11.  I thought it was very well done (3.75/4)

Marina Adair's Summer in the Vineyard, starring Rachel Leigh Cook, aired on The Hallmark channel August 12.  I'm sure you can On Demand it.  This is her 2nd book that's been made into a TV movie.  Pretty darn impressive.

BIG QUESTION:  My buddy Phil brought this up yesterday.  And it's something that I never really gave any thought to.  What do we think of the endings of the books we read?  I have to say that the endings that made the biggest impression on me are the ones that I did NOT like.  There are 2 that come to mind.  

1.  The Firm, John Grisham.  I thought the ending was so messed up that I never read another one of his novels!  (except for 1 novella)
2.  Bel Canto, Ann Patchett.  I still loved this book (it sits on my rec table at Recycle Books on Sunday mornings).  But I definitely felt like she took the easy way out.

I know there are many others where I either loved or didn't love the ending.  But these are the 2 that come to mind.  So, which book endings stand out for you? 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Harlan Coben's 30th Novel Is Coming Out September 26 - Don't Miss Don't Let Go

I think that Gillian Flynn said it best:  "Harlan Coben is simply one of the all-time greats."  This is a true statement.  Even though he writes a book a year, every book is just so darn good.  Don't Let Go continues the streak.  As I may have told you once (or multiple times) before, I always get an ARC of Coben's books.  I do have to say that I'm a little disappointed in myself for not reading it THE MINUTE I GOT IT IN THE MAIL!  But at least I finally kicked myself in the tush and then devoured it.  How about a blurb?

Suburban New Jersey detective Napoleon "Nap" Dumas hasn't been the same since senior year of high school, when his twin brother, Leo, and Leo's girlfriend, Diana, were found dead on the railroad tracks - and Maura, the girl Nap considered the love of his life broke up with him and disappeared without explanation.  For fifteen years, Nap has been searching, both for Maura and for the real reason behind his brother's death. And now, it looks as though he may finally find what he's been looking for.
   When Maura's fingerprints turn up in the rental car of a suspected murderer, Nap embarks on a quest for answers that only leads to more questions - about the woman he loved, about the childhood friends he thought he knew, about the abandoned military base near where he grew up, and mostly about Leo and Diana - whose deaths are darker and far more sinister than Nap ever dared imagine.

There's always so much to say about Coben's books.  I'll try not to overwhelm you.  But here are just a few (yeah, right) "observations."

1.    He grabs you immediately.  In this one, he actually grabbed me in the Author's Note!  I kid you not.
2.    I had a number of out-loud reactions, including "Holy Mackerel" on just page 10!  And I even had a few non-verbal, eyebrow-raising moments.
3.    I always love his pop culture references.   (There's one about Charlie Brown and Lucy that you're going to enjoy.)
4.    Let's not forget that no matter how suspenseful the book gets, he's still going to mix in some humor.  (I know I've told you that in person he's like a stand-up comedian.)
5.    He's got a Groucho Marx quote (look him up you young whippersnappers) that is just right on.  I realized that the best quotes come from either Groucho or Mark Twain.  Think about it.
6.    Coben's storylines are always so unique and creative.  I know this will shock you, but I did NOT figure out the ending!
7.    His descriptions are so right on.  Pay attention to the one he gives of pick-up basketball.  If you've played this informal version (I have, many times), you will be nodding your head as you read how Coben describes it.
8.    We all know that Coben writes a series about Myron Bolitar (and Winn), but his other books are standalones.  Nap could definitely support a series.
9.    His descriptions are very visual without being overwrought (pretty good word, yes?).
10.  Have I told you yet that he can really write?  No?  Look at these:
"'I'd like that,' I say.  I'd also like to have my kidney removed with a grapefruit spoon."
"...I find a 'no-tell motel' that promises all the glamour and amenities of a herpes sore, which in this case is a logical metaphor on several levels."

Is he Pulitzer-Prize winning literary?  Probably not.  Is he literary?  Heck, yes.  But more importantly, his books are simply un-put-down-able. I know I don't have to tell you this.  But I will anyway.  READ THIS BOOK!

Monday, August 14, 2017

A Small Indiscretion, by Jan Ellison - A Bit of a Mixed Bag for Me

Let me make something very clear.  Jan Ellison is a very good writer. There is no question about that.  And I am not sorry I read A Small Indiscretion.  If you recall, I just saw her last week at Kepler's in conversation with Janelle Brown, who wrote Watch Me Disappear (which I really liked a lot).  This one didn't grab me.  I think I'm pretty much in sync with the Goodreads rating of 3.57/5 (Amazon was 4/5).  Here is the synopsis:

At nineteen, Annie Black trades a bleak future in a washed-out California town for a London winter of drinking and abandon. Twenty years later, she is a San Francisco lighting designer and happily married mother of three who has put her reckless youth behind her.  Then a photo from that distant winter in Europe arrives inexplicably in her mailbox, and an old obsession is awakened.  Past and present collide, Annie's marriage falters, and her son takes a car ride that ends with his life hanging in the balance.  Now Annie must fight for her family by untangling the mysteries of the turbulent winter that drew an invisible map of her future.

As I mentioned right away, the writing is very good:
"Denial, as any addict will tell you, is not defined as knowing something and pretending you don't; it is failing to see it at all."
"...your father and I live in separate houses, and your sisters are passed between us like a restaurant dessert."
"A column of gnats hovered above the grass.  From where I reclined, it looked like rain afraid to land."

But I also had several issues with the book:
1.  I was confused about the timeframe.  I couldn't tell if her son had one accident or two.  I got very confused between the summer before and the recent early Spring.  I'm still not sure about that.
2. And because of my confusion, there seems to be a period of time where she does not visit her son in the hospital.  Both of these concerns could easily be on me.  I concede that possibility!
3.  The book is written by Annie to her son.  Maybe it's when he's in a coma.  And maybe she never intended him to see or hear it.  But she is relating sexual situations and drinking escapades that I'm pretty sure most parents wouldn't share with their 20-year old child.
4.  Although I thought the last 50 pages wrapped up the story pretty well, I never did make an  emotional connection with any of the characters.  This could be because Annie "wrote" the whole story in memoir form.  I'm not sure if that played a part of what was missing for me.

You/we all know how un-literary I am.  My issues with A Small Indiscretion may have a lot to do with my own confusion and simple lack of understanding with the events and their chronology.  Regardless, I still feel the way I feel.  Would I read Jan's next book?  Yes I would.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

A Short(er than usual) Review of a Big-Name Author

I've got a review of a book by the Girl with the Pearl Earring author herself, Tracy Chevalier.  This one is called At the Edge of the Orchard. It's my 1st Chevalier, and it was a solid read.  Blurb-time:

1838:  James and Sadie Goodenough have settled where their wagon got stuck - in the muddy, stagnant swamps of northwest Ohio.  But the orchard they plant sows the seeds of a long battle: James loves the apples, reminders of an easier life back in Connecticut; while Sadie prefers the applejack they make, an alcoholic refuge from brutal frontier life.
1853:  Their youngest child Robert is wandering through Gold Rush California after making his way alone across the country. Haunted by the broken family he left behind, he finds some solace collecting seeds for a naturalist in the redwood and giant sequoia groves. But you can run only so far, even in America, and when Robert's past makes an unexpected appearance he must decide whether to strike out again or stake his own claim to a home at last.

Here's a quick rundown of what I liked:
1.  There are 2 sections (out of 6) that are strictly letters.  I thought that was particularly effective.
2.  A little over half-way through the book, I actually wanted to read ahead.  That rarely happens.
3.  The writing is very good.  I will give you just 1 example (I know you are all thanking me right now!):  "The words cut through the air like a knife through meat - resistant, and then gliding effortlessly."
4.  As soon as I finished Orchard, I realized that I wanted a sequel. There's probably no better endorsement for a book than that.
5.  These definitely felt like real people to me.
6.  I actually enjoyed learning a little bit about the different kinds of trees and some of their properties.  I realize that this might surprise those of you who know me.  I'm not exactly a nature kind of guy.  But what can I tell you?  She does a good job of making me want to know this stuff.

I would like to thank the person who recommended this book to me...but I have no recollection who that is! If you read this, please identify yourself.  I would like to thank you by name!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Another Author Event

This past Monday night at Kepler's I got to see Janelle Brown, author of Watch Me Disappear, in conversation with local author, Jan Ellison, whose debut novel is A Small Indiscretion.  I was very happy to meet both of them.  In fact, I purchased Jan's book and am reading it now.

But I digress.  You all know what I thought of WMD because I just reviewed it on the 5th.  I liked it a lot.  So I was definitely interested to hear what Janelle had to say about it.  Here are a few insights:

1.  Janelle lives in Southern California but is a Bay Area native.  Her 1st and 3rd books (WMD) take place in the Bay Area.  Her 2nd book is set in SoCal.
2.  Janelle actually had a close friend (she thought) who was the inspiration for the character Billie.
3.  She wrote parts of the book from a male perspective.  It's the 1st time she's done that.  Michelle Richmond, who(m?) I saw on August 1 (also at Kepler's) wrote from a male viewpoint for the 1st time too.  Both said it was tough.  Just as I vouched for Michelle, I am now also vouching for Janelle. She definitely got it right.
4.  Watch Me Disappear has been optioned for a movie.  We all know that this does not necessarily lead to an actual movie.  But at least the option is a start.  And, BTW, it would be a great movie.
5.   Janelle did not start out to write a suspense thriller.  It just kind of happened organically.  But it shouldn't come as a great surprise considering some of her favorite authors write suspense thrillers. Gillian Flynn and Tana French are just 2 of them.

Besides Jan's book, I also picked up 1 of Janelle's other 2 books, All We Ever Wanted Was Everything.  It's currently sitting in my teetering TBR pile.  But at least it's there!  I WILL get to it.