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.












Saturday, August 5, 2017

A Review of Watch Me Disappear, by Janelle Brown

I finished this book just in time for Janelle's appearance at Kepler's on Monday night.  This is a very good book, and I'm definitely looking forward to hearing what she has to say.  Let's blurb it, shall we?

It's been a year since Billie Flanagan - a beautiful, charismatic Berkeley mom with an enviable life - went on a solo hike in Desolation Wilderness and vanished from the trail.  Her body was never found, just a shattered cellphone and a solitary hiking boot.  Her husband and teenage daughter have been coping with Billie's death the best they can:  Jonathan drinks as he works on a loving memoir about his marriage; Olive grows remote, from both her father and her friends at the all-girls school she attends.
But then Olive starts having strange visions of her mother, still alive.  Jonathan worries about Olive's emotional stability, until he starts unearthing secrets from Billie's past that bring into question everything he thought he understood about his wife. Who was the woman he knew as Billie Flanagan?
Together, Olive and Jonathan embark on a quest for the truth - about Billie, but also about themselves, learning, in the process, about all the ways that love can distort what we choose to see.

First of all, Watch Me Disappear crosses a number of genres:  literary fiction, contemporary fiction, mystery, suspense, and even "memoir." That, by itself, is impressive.  It's also extremely well-written.  Just a few examples for you:

"...the row of anorexic cypress trees tilting toward the ground."
"...they shimmer across her existence like layers of cellophane..."
Olive in an MRI machine, "...she felt like a hot dog in a movie theater's warming tray."
"Understanding spreads through her, as sticky and smothering as pancake syrup."

I'm sure I have now made my point about Janelle's writing.  But what else did I like about this book?  Funny you should ask.  Here's a list:

1.  I liked the book in 3 voices.  When that is done well, it's extremely effective.  And, as we've seen/read countless times, it's not that easy to do.
2.  I enjoyed the memoir chapters written by Jonathan.
3.  I liked how suspenseful the book got late.  And how I didn't figure out the ending (no surprise there).  In fact, the book makes me think of Gone Girl in the way the female protagonist, Billie, seems to be pulling all the strings (or is she? hmmm).
4.  At the risk of being called a "homer," I liked the fact that the book takes place in the Bay Area, with a number of scenes happening in my old stomping grounds.
5.  I liked how I connected to the book.  It wasn't my usual teared-up connection.  It was more like how I connected to Gone Girl.  I was definitely engrossed, but in a different way than my usual.  I did have an "Uh oh," a "Unh,' and an "Ah."  That's good enough.

Finally (and this will shock you...not!), I related personally to a number of references (okay, this is the part where you can stop reading):
a.  There is a scene at Six Flags Park where Olive briefly goes missing. That happened to us at Disney World when Lauren (32 now) was a young girl.  She ended up going down in one elevator.  And we went down in the other.  We found her as soon as we reached the next level.
b.  Somebody mentions a "rumpus room."  That's what we called the basement party room when I was a kid.  They haven't called it that in quite a few decades.
c.  The Claremont Hotel in Oakland was mentioned.  That's where I'm going tonight for my 50th high school reunion!
d.  There's a reference to People's Park in Berkeley.  I know that I have already mentioned in another post that I was in Sproul Plaza when Dan Siegel "encouraged" the students to storm People's Park.  So I won't mention it again.

I do have one complaint for Ms. Brown.  Since I liked this one so much, that means I have to add her other 2 novels to my TBR pile (have I told you recently how big my TBR pile is? see below).  It's a burden.  But I will stoically suffer through it.



And this doesn't count the list of books I still have to purchase!  Do you feel bad for me?  No?



Thursday, August 3, 2017

2 VERY Popular Authors Live at Kepler's

This past Tuesday night at Kepler's, I got to see 2 literary luminaries. Michelle Richmond was there to talk about her new book, The Marriage Pact.  And Ellen Sussman was the moderator/questioner.  I've known Ellen a long time.  She was an RBC author 3 years ago.  And I have, of course, read all of her books.  Thanks to receiving an ARC of The Marriage Pact from Nicole, I have now read my 1st Richmond.  And it most certainly won't be my last.

This is Michelle's 6th novel.  It's not necessary to rehash the plot because I already posted my review on July 23.  But it was fun listening to Michelle tell us how she came up with the idea.  And that this was her 1st novel featuring a male protagonist.  As a male (antagonist?), I can tell you that she nailed it.  Very believable.

On top of having Michelle and Ellen front and center, I also got to see 3 authors that I admire very much.  And who have all been RBC authors (Michelle, are you reading/listening to this?) - Keith Raffel, Ellen Kirschman, and Shelly King.  It's always fun to run into these 3.

Thanks to Andrew and Kepler's for putting on a great event...again.  And I will see you all on Monday for Janelle Brown, author of Watch Me Disappear (review will be coming in a couple of days).

Michelle is on the left.