Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Results Are In. And The Winner Is...

Thank you, everybody, for your comments and votes.  Here's how it shaped up:

Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng

A Column of Fire, Ken Follett

Sourdough, Robin Sloan
A Torch Against the Night, Saaba Tahir
In This Moment, Karma Brown
Before the Rain Falls, Camille Di Maio

Lucky Boy, Shanthi Sekaran
Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
What She Left Behind, Ellen Marie Wiseman
A Walk Across the Sun, Corban Addison
Things You Won't Say, Sarah Pekkanen
The Winter Sea, Susanna Kearsley
Best Kept Secret, Amy Hatvany
Safe with me, Amy Hatvany
Close Enough to Touch, Colleen Oakley
Violets of March, Sarah Jio
Sweet Spot, Amy Ettinger

There were 2 that got +1 vote and -1 vote:
Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Seders
The Woman in Cabin 10, Ruth Ware

I will probably hold off on LFE for a couple of books.  As you know, I just finished Everything I Never Told you by Ng, and I was a bit disappointed. I'm saving Follett for a weekend away in early December.  That leaves the 2-vote group.  I just got done with Sourdough and started Before the Rain Falls.  I'll go for Torch and In This Moment after that.  And then it's on to the singles.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

A couple of short reviews

I've got 2 short reviews for you.  And both books are by big-name authors:  Daniel Silva and Jennifer Egan.  Silva first.

House of Spies -
This is the 17th book in the Gabriel Allon series.  And I have enjoyed every one.  This one maybe a little bit less than the others.  It still got a 3.25/4, but normally I'm giving his books 3.5 or higher.  In fact, a good friend of mine said HoS might be the last one he reads in this series.  I'm definitely not there yet.  Will I ever be?  Probably not.  Having said that, my favorite Silva of all time is his very 1st book - The Unlikely Spy.  And that wasn't even an Allon.  It wasn't until book 4 that he started the series.  Just a couple of quick notes:

1.  I still got hit with surprises and emotions.
2.  I'm always happy to see Gabriel gather his work family for a mission, especially Eli.  And let's not forget Ari.
3.  Silva mixes in a little humor, which is very much appreciated since the topics in his books are so serious.
4.  He always creates a complicated/intricate plot that is still easy to follow.
5.  Make sure you read the Author's Note at the end of the book.  It's depressing, but important.

Manhattan Beach -
This is Egan's 6th book, and my 1st.  A Visit from the Goon Squad, as you probably know, won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award.  So you can imagine how skeptical I was starting this one. Why did I read it?  Good question.  It's the Books Inc. 4th Tuesday Night Book Club selection.  I haven't been in a few months and thought I would give it a try.  In fact, there are at least 2 occasions when I started a book for that book club and said "Uh, uh."  Fortunately that wasn't the case this time.

Since this is 1 of 2 reviews in this post (which means 4 pictures), I will put the synopsis of MB at the very end.  That way you can more easily ignore it, or not.  Some observations about Manhattan Beach:

1.  It was definitely better than I thought it would be.  I rated it a 3/4.
2.  It was page 53 where I realized I was beginning to connect.  And then page 54 where I had my 1st emotional reaction (followed by several more).
3.  The writing is good.  Just a couple of examples -
"In the dry docks, ships were held in place by hundreds of filament ropes, like Gulliver tied to the beach."
"When she took a sip, it crackled down her throat - sweet but with a tinge of bitterness, like a barely perceptible pin inside a cushion."
4.  And a final random thought - late in the book, Clinton Avenue in Manhattan is mentioned.  Have you ever eaten at the Clinton Street Bakery?  Best breakfast anywhere.

Anna Kerrigan, nearly twelve years old, accompanies her father to visit Dexter Styles, a man who, she gleans, is crucial to the survival of her family.  She is mesmerized by the sea beyond the house and by some charged mystery between the two men.
Years later, her father has disappeared and the country is at war.  Anna works at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, where women are allowed to hold jobs that once belonged to men, now soldiers abroad.  She becomes the first female diver, the most dangerous and exclusive of occupations, repairing the ships that will help America win the war.  One evening at a nightclub, she meets Dexter Styles again and begins to understand the complexity of her father's life, the reasons he might have vanished.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

A Review of Celeste Ng's Everything I Never Told You

Do you remember what I said about Book #4 of Alina Sayre's series The Voyages of the Legend?  To refresh your memory, I said I was sad to write the review because it meant that the series was over.  Well, today I am, again, a little sad about writing a review.  This time, unfortunately, it's for the wrong reason.  As you know, I just purchased Celeste Ng's 2nd book, Little Fires Everywhere, last week at the Penguin Random House event in Lafayette.  And, so far, it's the most popular book in my TBR pile, according to your votes.  That prompted me to read her 1st book, Everything I Never Told You.  I have to say I was pretty disappointed.  I had 4 problems with the book.  But I will get to that in a minute.  First, le blurb:

"Lydia is dead.  But they don't know this yet."  So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio.  Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue.  But when Lydia's body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos.  A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.

I don't want to give you the impression that I didn't like it.  I did...somewhat.  But not nearly as much as I hoped to.  Initially I thought that maybe my expectations were too high.  But then I realized that I have started many books with high expectations and have seen those fulfilled, or even exceeded.  So I don't think that's it.  Without further ado, here are the problems I had:

1.  I made almost no emotional connection with any of the characters. People, that is almost unheard of.  I have seen the same preview for an upcoming movie called Wonder (based on the book) that makes me cry every time.  I have even been accused (unfairly, I say...or is it?) of tearing up at a Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode!  But in EINTY, I had one time late in the book where I got a little chill and a tiny amount of emotion. That was it!
2.  The book was a bit tedious for me.  It's only 292 pages, and I was able to get through it pretty quickly (4 days).  But it still dragged.  I was about half-way through when I started thinking about my next book (either Sourdough, by Robin Sloan, or Before the Rain Falls, by Camille Di Maio).  That should NOT be happening.
3.  We know in the very 1st sentence that Lydia is dead.  So, as you might expect, there is a lot of past-to-present-to-past-to... going on.  And I don't feel it flowed that well.  I mean not everything can be done as artfully as NBC's This Is Us.
4.  This one was probably the roughest for me.  And it's not really fair. But we all know that there is nothing more subjective than opinions about books.  What is it, you ask?  The author overuses similes, IMHO.  It got to be so frequent that they actually jumped off the page and smacked me.  Here's one example:  "It was sedate and docile, like a middle-aged mare.  It buzzed gently, like a watchful chaperone..."  The other issue I had was that the similes themselves didn't really resonate with me.  They seemed very mundane and not all that visual.  A number of years ago, I read a book by Christopher Reich, an author that at the time I liked a lot.  However, he used "Just then" so often that it greatly affected my enjoyment of the book.  In fact, I even wrote to tell him.  He thanked me (but I don't think he really meant it).  P.S.  His next book greatly reduced the "Just then"s.  Was I that powerful?  Not likely.

Let me wrap this up with a couple of observations:
1.  The ratings for EINTY are 3.78/5 (Goodreads) and 3.94/5 (Amazon). Obviously a lot of people really liked it.  I would understand if you not only disagree with me but even rise up in mob form and try to get me dis-reviewer-ed.
2.  The book is only a 2.75/4.  But I'm not sorry I read it.  I can definitely see how others would like it  more than I did.  AND it's not going to prevent me from putting her 2nd book high on my TBR list, subject to the final vote.
3.  There is a reference to The Jackie Gleason Show (remember that the book takes place in the 70s).  That reminded me of The Honeymooners, which I actually watched (I'm very old).  And that reminded me of a trivia question I had last week on my triviatoday.com website:  Who is the only original cast member that is still alive?  It's Joyce Randolph, 93, who played Art Carney's wife (okay, that was random, even for me).

Let the verbal backlash begin!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017


I need help, people.  I've got a TBR (to be read) pile of 35 books.  They are (very obviously) listed below.  I need to know which ones I should read next.  The titles with RBC after them are books I will definitely be reading because the authors are coming to Recycle for our book club. But they are down the road.  So you can still move them up the pile.

ACTION ITEM:  Please tell me what you would read if you were in my place.  You can pick anywhere from 1-35 books.  I will tally the votes and read them in the order that you guys vote for 'em.  THANK YOU IN ADVANCE!  You've got 7 days to weigh in.

Addison, Corban - A Walk Across the Sun
Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi - AMERICANAH
Amooi, Rich - Mr. Crotchety
Barrett, Elisabeth - West Coast Holiday Series (Novella #3)
Bradley, Ava - Kiss Me Before Dawn
Brown, Janelle - All We Ever Wanted Was Everything
Brown, Karma - IN THIS MOMENT
Crouch, Blake - PINES
Ettinger, Amy - Sweet Spot (RBC)
Follett, Ken - A Column of Fire (#3 - Pillars of the Earth)
Hatvany, Amy - best kept secret
Hatvany, Amy - safe with me
Ingram, Chandra Lee - Freedom Child (RBC)
Jio, Sarah - The VIOLETS of MARCH
Kearsley, Susanna - THE WINTER SEA
Kondazian, Karen - THE WHIP
Martin, Silvi - The Postgirl
Moyes, JoJo - The Horse Dancer
Ng, Celeste - Little Fires Everywhere
Oakley, Colleen - CLOSE ENOUGH to TOUCH
Pekkanen, Sarah - THINGS YOU WON'T SAY
Quindlen, Anna - Miller Valley
Row, Sharon - UNSUPERVISED and loving it
Sekaran, Shanthi - LUCKY BOY
Sloan, Robin - Sourdough
Tahir, Sabaa - A TORCH AGAINST THE NIGHT (Book 2)
Waggoner, Nicole - center ring (#1 The Circus of Women Trilogy)
Ware, Ruth - THE WOMAN IN CABIN 10
Wiseman, Ellen Marie - WHAT SHE LEFT BEHIND

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Penguin's Best Fall Titles 2017

A couple of nights ago we went with some friends to Lafayette (a few miles from Oakland, for you out-of-towners) to see a Penguin Random House rep.  She gave us a list of the books they are promoting for the Fall.  All of them are available now (except for the last 2 which will be on the market in January/February).  I'm going to list them and give you their blurb.  P.S.  I have read the 1st one - A Gentleman in Moscow - and thought it was terrific.  In fact, it took me two posts to review it (January 9 & 11 of this year).  So, here they are:

1.    A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles - "From the New York Times bestselling author of Rules of Civility - a transporting novel about a man who is ordered to spend the rest of his life inside a luxury hotel"

2.    My Absolute Darling, Gabriel Tallent - "A brilliant and immersive, all-consuming read about one fourteen-year-old girl's heart-stopping fight for her own soul"

3.    Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng (I bought this one -Kathleen, the owner of A Great Good Place for Books, was doing the selling) - "From the author of EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU, a beautiful novel set in meticulously planned Shaker Heights, that traces the intertwined fates of the picture-perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives"

4.    Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman - "Smart, warm, uplifting, the story of an out-of-the-ordinary heroine whose deadpan weirdness and unconscious wit make for an irresistible journey as she realizes the only way to survive is to open her heart"

5.    The Future Is History, Masha Gessen - "Putin's bestselling biographer reveals how, in the space of a generation, Russia surrendered to a more virulent and invincible new strain of autocracy"

6.    American Kingpin, Nick Bilton - "From New York Times-bestselling author Nick Bilton comes the thrilling inside story of the rise and fall of Ross Ulbricht, aka the Dread Pirate Roberts, the founder of the online black market Silk Road"

7.    Grant, Ron Chernow - "Pulitzer Prize-winner and biographer of Alexander Hamilton and Washington, Ron Chernow returns with a sweeping and dramatic portrait of one of our most complicated generals and presidents"

8.    Beloved Dog, Maira Kalman - "With her trademark style, wit, and with great sensitivity, renowned artist and author Maira Kalman reveals why dogs bring out the best in us"

9.    The Book of Joy, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams - "Two great spiritual masters, Nobel laureates, and dear friends teach us how to live with joy even in the face of adversity"

10.  The Book of Joy Journal, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams - "This companion to The Book of Joy guides journals with inspiring quotes from the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu to help them find joy in their own lives"

11.  Under the Harrow, Flynn Berry - "A debut psychological thriller about a young woman who finds her sister brutally murdered, and the shocking incident in their past that may hold the key to finding the killer"

12.  Lucky Boy, Shanthi Sekaran - "A heart-wrenching novel about the transformative power of motherhood and the redemptive beauty of love"

13.  The Mothers, Brit Bennett - "A New York Times bestselling debut, The Mothers is a surprising story about young love, a big secret in a small community - and the things that ultimately haunt us most"

14.  Hallelujah Anyway, Anne Lamott - "'Anne Lamott is my Oprah' - Chicago Tribune, from the bestselling author of Help, Thanks, Wow and Bird by Bird comes a passionate exploration of mercy, its limitless (if sometimes hidden) presence, and how to embrace it"

15.  The Wasp That Brainwashed the Caterpillar, Matt Simon - "From the man behind the popular Wired series 'Absurd Creature of the Week,' a fun, fascinating, illustrated collection of unique animals and the unbelievable evolutionary traits they use to survive the most extreme scenarios"

16.   Start Where You Are, Meera Lee Patel - "A beautifully illustrated and interactive journal that encourages readers to explore their hopes and dreams - and take steps to make them a reality"

17.  The Immortalists, Chloe Benjamin - "How would you live your life if you knew the exact day you were going to die?  After going to a psychic who predicts this, the four Gold siblings grapple with this in unique, often tragic ways over the course of five decades"

18.  How to Stop Time, Matt Haig - "Tom Hazzard looks to be 40, but is really over 400 years old, due to a rare condition where he ages slowly. This is not as great as it sounds, as Tom outlives everyone he's ever known and loved"

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Robin Sloan Comes Out with Book #2

Last Tuesday I went to Kepler's (2nd time in 8 days!) to see Robin Sloan. He has just come out with his 2nd book, Sourdough.  I'm definitely looking forward to reading it.  I really enjoyed his 1st book, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore.  In fact, if you go to my post on February 10, 2014, you can not only read my review of Mr. P., but you can also see pictures from a book signing Robin did at Recycle.  I mean, c'mon, how can you resist?

So Sourdough is sitting very high in my TBR pile.  I WILL be getting to it in the next 2-4 books.  In the meantime, here are some pictures of Robin entertaining a crowd of about 75 people on the 24th:

P.S.  Stay tuned, RBC members.  I'm working on Robin for April.

Friday, October 27, 2017

My 1st Amy Hatvany - Pretty Good

Amy Hatvany is another author that comes from that cornucopia of authors from none other than fellow blogger Melissa.  This one wasn't a home run for me.  But I'll take a triple any day of the week.  Here is what It Happens All the Time is about:

Amber Bryant and Tyler Hicks have been best friends since they were teenagers - trusting and depending on each other through some of the darkest periods of their young lives.  And while Amber has always felt that their relationship is strictly platonic, Tyler has long harbored the secret desire that they might one day become more than friends.
Returning home for the summer after her college graduation, Amber begins spending more time with Tyler than she has in years.  Despite the fact that Amber is engaged to her college sweetheart, a flirtation begins to grow between them.  One night, fueled by alcohol and concerns about whether she's getting married too young, Amber kisses Tyler.
What happens next will change them forever.

I obviously liked IHAtT.  Here are some of the reasons:

1.  I learned a lot about what a paramedic does.  I do enjoy when books teach me something.  That might be why I'm a big fan of historical fiction (which this obviously isn't).
2.  She deals with anorexia, which is something I know a little about.
3.  I did connect with the characters and had some raised eyebrows and a few chills.
4.  The last 50 pages of the 302 were killer.
5.  This book reminded me of The Pact, which is one of my all-time favorite Picoult.
6.  I read 2 passages that reminded me of my grandchildren.  One is the side hug.  I've already told you in another review that my 12-year old granddaughter, Haley, only gives side hugs.  For the other reference, let me quote from the book:  "She was a short, skinny woman, likely in her late fifties, who wore red-framed glasses."

Okay, so about 3 months ago, our 5-year old granddaughter, Josie, got red-framed glasses with no lenses from her other grandmother.  She loves these things so much that she even sleeps with them.  And when it came time to have her kindergarten class picture taken, guess what? Yep, she wore them.  Here is her school picture and her own interpretation of what she looks like:

But I digress.  So my only criticism of It Happens All the Time is that the 1st 250 pages all happened at the same pace.  I certainly wasn't bored, but I wasn't blown away either.  I remember seeing that literary god, Ken Follett, live quite a few years ago.  He said that he has something dramatic happen every 7 pages.  I think I would have liked Amy to at least do that a few times in those 1st 250 pages.  I appreciated the last 50 but could have used some of that earlier.  Will I read more Hatvany books?  I'm definitely open to it.