Friday, October 20, 2017

Victoria Sweet at Kepler's

This past Tuesday night, I went to see Victoria Sweet at Kepler's.  If you recall (and most of you won't, I fear), I wrote a review of Victoria's 1st book, God's Hotel, back on April 15, 2012.  In fact, we saw Victoria at The Booksmith in San Francisco back then.  And Joni was so impressed with the event itself, that she wrote a review of it.  You can find that post on April 30, 2012.

But I digress.  Over 5.5 years later, Victoria has now written her 2nd book.  It's called Slow Medicine.  And even though I haven't read it yet (it's near the top of my TBR pile), her conversation with Angie Coiro was fascinating.  I learned a bunch of stuff.  But maybe the most shocking tidbit centered on primary care doctors and the fact that they are expected to have a clientele of 2500 patients!  They obviously can't practice slow medicine.  The only chance of practicing slow medicine comes in the specialty disciplines.  Victoria addresses this and much more in her book.  I can't wait to read it!

Here are some pics from the event:

Victoria is on the right

Sunday, October 15, 2017

How about a debut novel where you know you will be reading all sequels?  Well, that's what we get with Marie Sutro's Dark Associations (and we even get Marie for the RBC in January!).  This is a very good book about a very rough villain - a serial killer.  Steve Alten, author of Meg (which I read) and Domain (which I didn't) says:  "Marie Sutro's debut novel, Dark Associations, may just be this generation's Silence of the Lambs.  Erotic and frightening, it keeps the reader guessing until the last pages."  Amen to that.  Here's the synopsis:

Following the discovery of her protege's mutilated corpse, SFPD Detective Kate Barnes vows to capture the infamous serial killer known as The Tower Torturer.  Famous for revisiting history's darkest forms of cruelty on his victims, the sick psychopath has emerged from the shadows after years of silence.  As young women close to Kate disappear, the killer taunts the detective, torturing his victims in various and unspeakable ways before displaying their corpses in macabre public tableaus.

In case you haven't figured it out yet, you have to know that there are some very tough scenes to read in this book.  The good news is that it's not every other page.  I don't like to give away much in the books I review.  But in this case I want to tell you that there could have been more instances of graphic descriptions of torture than were actually in the book.  It's there, but it's not everywhere.

Now let's turn to the good stuff.  Here are the features of the book that I particularly liked:

1.  There were a ton of surprises.  That's always a good thing when you're reading a mystery,  wouldn't you agree?
2.  The surprises led to a lot of head-shaking.  I guess that's another form of surprise, right?
3.  I found myself trying to guess who the serial killer was, and then disagreeing with the one the author first exposed.
4.  The suspense was a killer (sorry about that); especially when a chapter started with a young girl that we didn't know about yet.
5.  The book takes place in the Bay Area, where I have lived all my (very long) life.  But I still learned some things I didn't know.  I learned the history of Hunters Point.  I also learned that there are no cemeteries in San Francisco.  I think that's kind of  a trippy.
6.  This is very well-written.

There were also a couple of funny things that happened while I was reading Dark Associations:

1.  As I was reading a torture scene, I happened to see a guy walking down the street wearing a T-shirt that said "Super Villains."
2.  I was sitting in a public place, reading the book, and a vacuum cleaner went on.  I jumped somewhere between 3 feet and 1/4 mile.
3.  And I just have to point out that at one point, the author talks about "the 101."  I don't think I need to remind you that native Northern Californians do NOT say "the" before its freeways.  No harm done, though.

I liked Dark Associations a lot.  If you can get past a few of the serial killer-in-action scenes, the rest flows in a very smooth, interesting, and suspenseful way.  Have you read Alex Kava's Maggie O'Dell series?  If you have, and if you liked it, then by all means pick up DA.  I'm not only anxious to meet Marie in January.  But I'm also definitely looking forward to Book 2.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Some Literary News Shorts

There is always so much literary info to pass on to you.  Here is some new stuff:

1.  Victoria Johnson will be conducting some writing classes - How to Write a How-To Book.

2.  Erik Larson's Devil in the White City is being made into a movie.  And Leonardo DiCaprio will be playing the serial killer!

3.  This is a trailer for Betsy Franco's film being shown at the Mill Valley Film Festival.  It's based on her YA novel.  We've already missed the 10/8 showing.  But the 2nd (and last) one is this Sunday, the 15th. -

4.  Quvenzhane Wallis, Oscar-nominee for Beasts of the Southern Wild, is the author of 2 children's books - one is a chapter book, and the other one is a picture book.

5.  23 books that are being made into movies in the next 6 months; with another 40 in development -
Read in full

6.  3 upcoming author events at Keplers of particular note:
     1.  Victoria Sweet - Slow Medicine - Tuesday, October 17 (I will be there)
     2.  Anthony Horowitz - Never Say Die - Wednesday, October 18
     3.  Robin Sloan - Sourdough - Tuesday, October 24 (ditto)

7.  Katy Butler, author of The Lost Art of Dying, is in conversation with cardiologist Haider Warraich, discussing palliative care and end of life among the aging.  They will be appearing at The Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on 10/24, from 5:30-7:15, and at Book Passage in Corte Madera on 10/26, from 7-8:30.

8.  Hicklebee's has a number of book clubs.  But they just started a new one.  It's YA for adults.  And it takes place the 2nd Thursday of every month.  Author Penny Peevyhouse will be running the club.  You missed the 1st one, which was tonight (October 12).  What a cool idea.  And as an adult (sort of), I know I enjoy YAs.  Maybe I'll get to one of the meetings!

Stay tuned for the next batch of literary news items.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Litquake Author Event at Books, Inc. Opera Plaza, San Francisco

This past Saturday I got to attend a Litquake author event at Books, Inc., Opera Plaza, San Francisco (yes, I know that I said this in the title).  The circumstances for getting there were rather fortuitous.  Joni and I had plans to visit my cousin Alvin, who lives in Opera Plaza.  Then I found out about this Litquake event that was co-sponsored by the Women's National Book Association (more on them in a minute).  They were starting up at 2:00.  That was perfect timing to have a leisurely lunch with Alvin before heading right into the bookstore.  So why was I so anxious to attend?  Well, 1 of the 5 panelists, Martha Conway, is coming to the RBC in March.  It was the perfect opportunity to meet her.  On top of that, her friend and fellow author, Susan Wolfe, who is coming to the RBC with Martha, was in the audience.  So I got to meet her too.  Pretty cool, don't you think?  Here they are, with Martha on the right.

Okay, so besides meeting Martha and Susan, the 3 of us listened to a great discussion.  It was titled Discovery and Redemption:  Authors Discuss Their Sources.  The panel consisted of 5 authors:  From left to right:  Alice Anderson, Donia Bijon, Sylvia Brownrigg, Martha, and Achy Obejas.

The moderator was a well-known author, Anita Amirezzvani:

Each of the authors read from their books and answered questions from the moderator and the audience:

There was a very good-sized crowd there.  I would estimate around 60. (It didn't quite match up to the author that came the night before. Books, Inc. employees estimated that there were probably around 1200 people who came to hear Hillary Clinton speak!)

So back to the WNBA.  The Women's National Book Association has been around since 1917.  It was born out of the suffragette movement.  And it came into existence before women even had the right to vote!  Trippy. The San Francisco chapter was started in 1968.  The president, Brenda Knight, and the vice-president, Nina Lesowitz, were both there.  Here is a picture of Brenda:

Thanks, again, to Books, Inc. for another excellent event.  And I was definitely glad that I had an opportunity to meet Brenda and Nina and learn about the WNBA.  A very interesting day, indeed.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Boy Does Sally Hepworth Know How To Write!

I finished my 1st Sally Hepworth, The Mother's Promise, on 5/14.  Then I read The Secrets of Midwives and finished that one on 6/14.  And now I just finished my 3rd, The Things We Keep, a couple of days ago.  What's my point?  She is such a good writer.  Really.  And I love the story lines. Not only do they deal with real-live issues.  But they also teach me stuff. And you all are painfully aware that I have a lot of empty space for learning!  But enough of my prattle.  Here's the back-cover-of-the-book blurb:

Anna Forster is only thirty-eight years old, but her mind is slowly slipping away from her.  Armed only with her keen wit and sharp-eyed determination, she knows that her family is doing what they believe to be best when they take her to Rosalind House, an assisted-living facility.  But Anna has a secret:  she does not plan on staying.  She also knows there's just one other resident who is her age:  Luke.  What she does not expect is the love that blossoms between her and Luke even as she resists her new life.  As her disease steals more and more of her memory, Anna fights to hold on to what she knows, including her relationship with Luke.
Eve Bennett, suddenly thrust into the role of single mother to her bright and vivacious seven-year-old daughter, finds herself putting her culinary training to use at Rosalind House.  When she meets Anna and Luke, she is moved by the bond the pair has forged.  But when a tragic incident leads Anna's and Luke's families to separate them, Eve begins to question what she is willing to risk to help them.  Eve has her own secrets, and her own desperate circumstances that raise the stakes even higher.

There are a whole bunch of elements of The Things We Keep that I liked. What are they you ask?  I'm happy to itemize them for you:

1.  Even her acknowledgments in the front of the book are interesting.
2.  As usual, she creates an immediate connection with each of the 3 main protagonists.
3.  This is a big one:  She makes you feel what advancing dementia must be like for the person afflicted.  You actually feel uncomfortable reading about how Anna describes her own decline.  For example, "Helen arrives with a cup of tea, a tray of brown eating-things in little wrappers, and her own deck chair."
4.  I had my usual assortment of chills (one time there were double chills on the same page!), jaw droppers, big surprises, and a ridiculous amount of tears, especially at the end.
5.  Her supporting cast of characters adds hugely to the story.
6.  When you read about somebody with advancing dementia, every incident feels suspenseful - in TTWK there was the grocery store, the book club, and upstairs at the residential home, among others.

Look at this description of dementia:

"Dr. Brain once told me that an Alzheimer's brain was like the snow on a mountain peak - slowly melting.  There are days when the sun is bright and chunks drop off all over the place, and there are days when the sun stays tucked behind clouds and everything remains largely intact.  Then there are days - spectacular days (his words) - when you stumble across a trail you thought had melted, and for a short while you have something back that you thought was gone forever."

I've even got a couple of personal notes for you because I know you love those!:

1.  "I want to slump, but I sit tall, as if pulled skyward by an invisible string."  I tend to slump while walking.  My acupuncturist tells me to think of a skyhook.  That works (sometimes).
2.  At one point, something happens that reminds Anna of The Bachelor. I immediately thought "Who watches that c__p?"  And then it dawned on me...I do!  I love The Bachelor(ette).  I have no defense for it.
3.  In A Conversation with Sally Hepworth at the end of the book, we learn that her biggest literary influence was Roald Dahl.  I am a huge fan of Dahl.  I used to read his books to my kids.  In fact, I remember reading The BFG to Lauren, my youngest, when the 2 older ones were already into other types of books.  But that didn't stop them from listening to The BFG.

How do we know that Sally is portraying Anna accurately?  Take a look at A Letter to the Reader at the end of the book.  I think that will convince you.  And, people, when you read one (or more) of Sally's books, please let me know.  I will gladly accept the plaudits and praise that are my due.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Barry Eisler's Newest John Rain - Zero Sum

And speaking of authors that I really like, but was a little disappointed with their latest, I've got a review of Barry Eisler's Zero Sum.  I've been a big fan of Barry's for a long time now.  I've always enjoyed his John Rain series.  And Livia Lone, which is Book 1 of a new series, I liked a lot (3.5/4).  So I started reading Zero Sum with great anticipation.  And it was pretty good.  There were definitely things I liked about it:

1.  No matter how long between books Barry goes, reading John Rain is like catching up with an old friend.
2.  He has a really good/heinous villain in Zero Sum.  There's even a scene where you feel a little sorry for this bad guy!
3.  There are elements that make me think of Lee Child and Harlan Coben.  Doesn't get much better than that!
4.  There are surprises.  I like a book that you can't figure out ahead of time (of course, that is my M.O.)
5.  It is very well-written.
(6.  At one point, Rain is comparing his actions to an army after-action report:  "What did we do well, what could we have done better, what can we learn to improve the odds next time."  This is exactly what Joni used to do after an event when she and her partner had their event-planning business!)

So if I took so many positives from this book, why was I disappointed? The answer is simple:  There was too much graphic violence.  Now, violence per se does not bother me.  The problem here is that the older John Rain (Zero Sum takes place as one of several prequels to the 1st group of books) was an assassin who used means that were designed to NOT look like a murder.  Every killing was planned to be very low-key. The killings in this book were extremely brutal.  It was just too much for me based on what I was used to.  If you don't mind that, or if you haven't read other John Rain stories, then you will be fine with Zero Sum.  Most importantly, under no circumstances will this prevent me from reading any book that Barry puts out there.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Love and Other Consolation Prizes - Jamie Ford's Latest

You all know I'm a big Jamie Ford fan.  Both of Jamie's 1st 2 books - Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet and Songs of Willow Frost - sit on my rec table at Recycle Books on Sunday mornings.  And I would venture to say that I have never spoken to anybody who didn't like Hotel.  So I was understandably very excited when #3 came out.  And I have to say that it was good (I would expect no less from Jamie), but not quite as good as the other 2.  I'm not exactly sure why.  I think it all comes down to my emotional connection to the characters.  I had a little emotion here and there.  But it wasn't as strong as usual.  I'm making it sound like it was nowhere near as good as Hotel and Songs.  And that it is simply not the case.  I mean I still rated it a 3.25/4!  But all I'm saying is that it doesn't quite measure up.  Here is the blurb:

For twelve-year old Ernest Young, a charity student at a boarding school, the chance to go to the World's Fair feels like a gift.  But only once he's there, amid the exotic exhibits, fireworks, and Ferris wheels, does he discover that he is the one who is actually the prize.  The half-Chinese orphan is astounded to learn he will be raffled off - a "healthy boy to a good home."
The winning ticket belongs to the flamboyant madam of a high-class brothel, famous for educating her girls.  There, Ernest becomes the new houseboy and befriends Maisie, the madam's precocious daughter, and a bold scullery maid named Fahn. Their friendship and affection form the first real family Ernest has ever known - and against all odds, this new sporting life gives him the sense of home he's always desired.
But as the grande dame succumbs to an occupational hazard and their world of finery begins to crumble, all three must grapple with hope, ambition, and first love.
Fifty years later, in the shadow of Seattle's second World's Fair, Ernest struggles to help his ailing wife reconcile who she once was with who she wanted to be, while trying to keep family secrets hidden from their grown-up daughters.

There is no question about Jamie's ability to write.  Take a look:

"We all have things we don't talk about, Ernest thought.  Even though, more often than not, those are the things that make us who we are."
"...and his shoulders were covered in epaulets of pigeon droppings."  (I know...ew, right?)
"He chose his words the way a man on thin ice chooses his footing." (he's referring to men talking to women - I am NOT going there!)
"...Maisie disappeared behind a large Coromandel screen, followed by a trio of seamstresses, who attended to her like a flock of fairy godmothers."

I mean, c'mon.  Jamie Ford can really write.  And, again, I feel like I'm being a little unfair to him.  It's just that when I read 2 books that are both 3.5s, I want/expect all of that author's books to be at least 3.5 (you'll see what I'm talking about when I review my 3rd Sally Hepworth). Regardless of my (probably) unfair expectations, I still recommend Love and Other Consolation Prizes.

That is Jamie's great-grandfather