Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Tons 'o Stuff

1.  Books Inc. is opening in The Pruneyard soon.  This is the 1st bookstore in The Pruneyard since Barnes & Noble left several years ago.

2.  Jodi Picoult's next book will be coming out on October 2.  It's called A Spark of Light and centers on reproductive rights.

3.  I've got one brand new paperback copy of The Life Intended by Kristin Harmel.  This is a 4/4 for me.  It can be yours if you comment on this blog post.  We will draw a winner in a week's time.

4.  Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple is being made into a movie starring Cate Blanchett.  It will hit the cineplexes in late 2018.

5.  Karen White's publisher is giving away her new book in paperback. The Night the Lights Went Out gets awarded based on the same conditions as #3.

6.  I've got a used hardcover copy (in good condition) of Sally Hepworth's latest (and 4th), The Family Next Door.  How do you win?  See #3 and #5.

7.  I think you all know how much I liked Michael Zadoorian's The Leisure Seeker.  And then I found out that it was going to be a movie starring Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland.  Boy was I excited to see it.  And boy was I disappointed.  2.5/4

8. Season 3 of Queen Sugar, based on the book of the same name by Natalie Baszile, will be starting on May 28/29 on the OWN.  Can't wait.

9.  The Illuminator's Gift, book 1 in Alina Sayre's 4-book The Voyages of the Legend series, will be coming out in audiobook this summer. Although the series is geared for 9-14 year olds, I loved it.  And, believe me, I am NOT in that age group!

10.  On the weekend of April 28 & 29, the 4th annual Bay Area Book Festival will be held in downtown Berkeley.

11.  We finally have another Meg Waite Clayton book hitting the bookstores.  It's called Beautiful Exiles.  It's an historical fiction that takes place in 1936 and talks about a budding relationship between journalist Martha Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway when they are together covering the Spanish Civil War.  Get set for the August 1 release.

12.  For those of us who grew up with Beezus, Ramona, and Henry Huggins, author Beverly Cleary turned 102 on 4/12/18.

13.  Saturday, April 28 is Independent Bookstore Day.  Please show support for your local bookstore.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Latest Harmel - Darn Good

You all know what I thought of Kristin Harmel's The Life Intended (just in case you inadvertently missed it(!), you can go to my post from February 3 and read all about it).  Now along comes Kristin's latest, The Room on Rue Amelie.  She completely shifts gears from contemporary fiction to historical fiction.  And, might I add, she does it seamlessly.  I happen to be a big fan of historical fiction, especially that which centers on WWII.  I have learned a bunch of history this way.  And I would even add The Alice Network to that group, even though that was geared toward WWI. But Room fits in with my other favorites extremely well.  Here's the synopsis:

When newlywed Ruby Henderson Benoit arrives in Paris in 1939 with her French husband, Marcel, she imagines strolling arm in arm along the grand boulevard, awash in the golden afternoon light.  But war is looming on the horizon, and as France falls to the Nazis, her marriage begins to splinter too.
Charlotte Dacher is eleven when the German roll into the French capital, their sinister swastika flags snapping in the breeze.  After the Jewish restrictions take effect and Jews are ordered to wear a yellow star, Charlotte can't imagine things getting much worse.  But then the mass deportations begin, and her life is forever ripped apart.
Thomas Clarke joins the Royal Air Force to protect his country, but when his beloved mother dies in a German bombing during the waning days of the Blitz, he wonders if he's really making a difference.  Then he finds himself in Paris, in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, and he discovers a new reason to keep fighting - and an unexpected road home.
When fate brings them together, Ruby, Charlotte, and Thomas must summon the courage to defy the Nazis - and to pen their own broken hearts - as they fight to survive.

What did I like about The Room on Rue Amelie, you ask?  A whole mess a' stuff.  To wit:

1.  I loved learning all about the escape lines out of Paris.  In this book, these were largely for downed pilots to get back across the channel. Fascinating.
2.  I loved that the 1st chapter starts with an older couple in the present (2002) and then goes right to 1938 Paris.  And that the rest of the book, except for the last 5 pages, takes place just prior to, and all during, the war.  My initial reaction to the couple in chapter 1 was that they were going to be one of my favorite literary couples ever.
3.  I loved the emotional connection I got to make with the characters immediately.  And how that did not abate all the way through the end. In fact there might have been a tear or two in a few (dozen) places throughout the book.
4.  I loved the progression of dates from December of 1938 to August of 1944.  I am in awe of how Kristin (and other authors) seem to know almost instinctively how much time should lapse from one chapter to the next.  Kristin did it masterfully, as far as I was concerned.  I remember making comments to myself like "Wow.  6 months have elapsed."  Or "They are still in the same month."  Very cool.
5.  I loved how she somehow slipped in a few chuckle-inducing moments.  Not an easy thing to do with a piece of history that is so serious.
6.  I loved how I accidentally thought I figured out on page 284 (out of 383) who the old couple was.  And then it turned out I was right.  You all know that I usually can't figure out anything until the author chooses to tell me.
7.  And I loved/unloved how my self-revelation led me to be very worried over the last 100+ pages about other main characters.  I had much foreboding.
(8.  I loved how distraught I was as certain circumstances unfolded, leading to a whole bunch of expletives.

So, I guess if you've got nothing to do and want to learn a little bit about Germany-occupied France during WWII, you can pick up The Room on Rue Amelie...I'm pulling your leg.  Pick this sucker up immediately.  You will transition from swearing at me to singing my (limited) virtues. Seriously.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

A Bunch of Books Read and a Bunch of Ratings

Does anybody care why it's been 47 days since my last review and 30 days since my last post?...didn't think so.  Suffice it to say that it's been nothing more dramatic than simply too busy with my "real" job.  So, having said that, what I'm going to do is simply list the nationally known books I've read since my 2/3/18 review of The Life Intended, along with a rating and a couple of lines for each.  These are in the order read:

1.  before i go, Colleen Oakley (women's fiction).  I read this because I LOVED  her Close Enough to Touch.  This one is also very good.  3.5/4

2.  The Women in the Castle, Jessica Shattuck (historical fiction).  I saw Jessica live at Rakestraw Books with Chloe Benjamin.  I decided to read Jessica's 1st because it looked more interesting.  It was.  3.5/4

3.  The Immortalists, Chloe Benjamin (contemporary fiction).  She is obviously the other author I saw at Rakestraw.  This is good too.  I didn't go gaga for it.  But it's still solid.  3/4.

4.  THE HATE U GIVE, Angie Thomas (young adult).  This was recommended by an RBC member, Diana.  She said it was must read. She was right.  3.625/4

5.  The Night Trade, Barry Eisler (thriller).  This is book 2 in Barry's Livia Lone series.  I liked #1 a little better (Livia Lone, 3.5/4).  But I will read anything Barry writes.  3.25/4

6.  The Love Goddess' Cooking School, Melissa Senate (women's fiction). This is the other book (along with The Life Intended) that my blogging guru, Melissa, sent me.  And she was right on.  This was also so good. 3.75/4

7.  How to Stop Time, Matt Haig (fiction/fantasy).  I read this because I went to see Matt at Rakestraw (methinks there is a pattern developing here).  Michael B., the owner of Rakestraw, told me when I was at Chloe and Jessica's event that I needed to come back for Matt.  So I did.  He is definitely very engaging in person.  And the book was good.  3.25/4

8.  The French Girl, Lexie Elliott (mystery).  I got this as an ARC from Berkeley, Penguin Random House.  It's a debut novel, and I liked it. 3.25/4

9.  The Mark of Wu, Stephen M. Gray (fiction/thriller/historical).  I got this ARC from Stephen's publicist, Stephanie Barko.  It's book 1 in a series.  For most of the book, I was pretty sure I wouldn't read #2.  But it turns out that the book grew on me.  And now I think I would.  I want to know what happens to the main characters.  2.75/4

10. Where'd You go, Bernadette, Maria Semple (contemporary fiction).  I used to go to the Los Gatos Library Tuesday Night Book Club all the time. But since our leader, Melissa, left, I haven't been there.   When I saw on an email that the club would be doing this book in March, I decided to get it and show up.  I had seen this book around a lot, and it was an excuse to finally read it.  It didn't blow me away, but I liked it well enough.  3/4

11.  the family next door, Sally Hepworth (contemporary fiction).  This is Sally's 4th, and latest.  If you recall (and why would you?), I read Sally's 1st 3 books last year and gave them all a 3.75/4.  This one was a smidge below those but still absolutely a very worthy read.  3.625/4

Hopefully, I will be able to resume some kind of normal blogging schedule.  We shall see.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

It's Time for Random Bits of VERY Interesting Information

1.  Starting May 22, PBS will be running an 8-episode series about the most popular books of all time with a whole cast of well-known authors participating.  If you want more details, just google PBS' The Great American Read 2018.

2.  The 3rd book - Still Me - in JoJo Moyes Me Before you series was released on January 30.  Goodreads rating is 4.32/5, and Amazon is 4.7/5.  As you all know, Me Before You was a 4/4 for me. And the 2nd one, After You, was still good enough to garner a 3.5/4.  I'm definitely looking forward to #3.

3.  John Hart's next book, Hush, will be released a week from today, Tuesday, February 27!  I love his novels (plus, he really does respond to your FB posts).

4.  Daniel Silva's 18th Gabriel Allon, The Other Woman, will hit the bookstores on July 17.  A friend of mine said, after reading #17, that he was probably done.  I know that I will never be done unless Silva is done.

5.  The Guernsey and Literary Potato Peel Pie Society, which I really liked, is being made into a movie.  One of the authors, Annie Barrows, is part of a 2-person screenwriting team.  The movie will hit Australia, the UK, and New Zealand in April.  I don't know when it gets to the U.S.  But I do know that Lily James, of Downton Abbey, Cinderella, and Darkest Hour fame, has the starring role.

6.  Sheldon Siegel's 9th book in the Mike and Rosie series - Serve and Protect - will be out March 8.  This is very good news indeed.  Let's not forget that Sheldon is an RBC veteran!  And I'm still waiting for him to announce the date and time of his launch (it will probably be at Book Passage in Corte Madera).

7.  I am getting ready to put together #11 in my Fiction for the Non-Fiction Reader (FFTNFR) group. #10 was on June 8 of last year.  And I have read a bunch of very good books since then.  I will probably have that ready before the month is out.  And if you are interested in what books are on the #1-#10 lists, let me know.  I will be happy to provide you links.

8.  I went to my Books, Inc. 4th Tuesday Night Book Club on January 30 and learned that Books, Inc. sold over 160 copies of The Alice Network! (I reviewed it on January 21.)

As soon as I post this, I will immediately start a new list.  There's just too much stuff happening in the literary world to not take notice of it.  I'm sure you would agree.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Another Author Event - This One A Brit

Back on January 10, I went to Rakestraw books in Danville to see both Chloe Benjamin and Jessica Shattuck.  And as we were leaving, Michael, the owner, told me to come back on February 13 to see Matt Haig.  Well, we all know what an author/bookstore owner kiss-up I am.  So, what could I do?  I showed up on 2/13 to see Matt.  Michael was right.  Matt was very entertaining.  But, more importantly, he had some very interesting things to say.  Here are a few of his bon mots:

1.  His book, How to Stop Time, was nominated for Most Romantic Novel of the year in 2017.
2.  He started by writing 8 business books in order to pay the rent.
3.  He was 1 of 17 screenwriters for the movie Paddington.
4.  The 1st paragraph he wrote in HtST ended up on page 314!
5.  He's written 14 books, including some for children.
6.  He is character-, not plot-, driven.
7.  And the best ones of all:  Actor Benedict Cumberbatch has purchased the movie rights!  And,
8.  The 1st draft of the movie has already been written, and it was by the same screenwriter who wrote Darkest Hour (Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill) and The Theory of Everything (Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking).  How cool is that?

Here are a few pictures from the event:

  Matt Haig on the left; Michael on the right

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Book Signing with 4 Romance Authors - and "10 Reasons Why I Love You"

Happy Valentine's Day, everybody!

Since today is Valentine's Day, it seems appropriate to discuss romantic topics.  Let's start with something that I mentioned in my last post.  Do you remember (it's only been 3 days!) that there is a scene in Kristin Harmel's The Life Intended in which the protagonist comes across her deceased husband's papers?  And he had written a hundred reasons why he loved her?  Do you also remember that I said I was going to make a list of 10 reasons why I love Joni?  Well, I did it.  And I would have to say that it went over pretty darn well.  Did anybody try that?  If you did, let us know how it went.

So this past Sunday we had 4 romance authors do a book selling/signing at Recycle during Downtown Campbell's Farmers Market.  They are Jennifer Skully (Jasmine Haynes), Sonja Rouillard (Kate Allure), Jenny Anderson, and Ava Bradley.  Here are some pictures:

Jennifer Skully

Sonja Rouillard

Jenny Anderson

Ava Bradley

Sunday, February 11, 2018

A Review of the winner of the Help Me contest

As I'm sure you all recall, Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng, was the book in my TBR pile that got the most votes (5).  So I read it.  And as I'm sure you all also know, I wasn't a big fan of Celeste's 1st book, Everything I Never Told You.  So I went into this one with a tad bit of trepidation.  Well, I'm happy to report that I definitely liked LFE better than EINTY.

Here's what it's about:

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned - from the layout of the winding roads to the colors of the houses to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.
Enter Mia Warren - an enigmatic artist and single mother - who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenage daughter, Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons.  Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants:  all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair.  But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.
When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town - and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides.  Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia's past.  But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.

Let me start by telling you that this book talks about important things, like adoption, abortion, and surrogacy.  My only real criticism is that it took Celeste too long to get to these issues.  I know an author oftentimes has to lead up to what she wants to say.  But I would have enjoyed the book even more if she had started sooner.

Since I led with what disappointed me, let me now tell you what I liked about the book:

1.  There are not a bunch of clunky similes, which I didn't think was so true of her 1st one.  In fact, here's a quote from my review of book #1: "The author overuses similes, IMHO.  It got to be so frequent that they actually jumped off the page and smacked me.  This was definitely NOT the case with LFE.
2.  On page 75, the youngest Richardson, Izzy, connects with Mia.  I really enjoyed their relationship.
3.  The book is very well-written.  Here are a couple of examples:
Referring to a teenager:  "He seemed embarrassed, too, as if he had just revealed a fondness for a very uncool TV show."
"The silence seemed to stretch itself out like taffy."
4.  There is one passage about Mia's talkative work friend that I strongly agree with:  "Mia shared very little in return, but she'd learned over the year that people seldom noticed this, if you were a good listener - which meant you keep the other person talking about herself."  Have you ever noticed that most people are quite content to talk about themselves? Pay special attention to those who ask you the 2nd question.  These are the people that are interested in you.
5.  One personal note:  The book starts with a big house fire.  We had one of those back in 1996.  Reading about this one brought back tons of memories.  Not fun!

So, all in all, I enjoyed Little Fires Everywhere.  I didn't have much of an emotional reaction to it.  And the ending was not my favorite.  But I still rated it a 3.5/4.  I obviously liked it quite a bit.  So thanks to all for recommending it to me.