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. - https://vimeo.com/229927140?ref.

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




Sunday, September 24, 2017

A New Book Club At Recycle! AND A Movie Festival Based On A Local Author's YA


Big news at Recycle Bookstore in Campbell:  They are starting a YA book club that's geared for 14 and up.  Here's the info:

Recycle’s Young Adult Book Club
And I Darken by Kiersten White
October 17th    7 - 8 pm
Who: YOU! Ages 14 and older! It’s not only for teens!
What: Recycle’s very first Young Adult Book Club! 
Where: Here! At our store!
When: Every 3rd Tuesday of the month!  First meeting is October 17th  7-8pm
Why:  Let your inner bookworm have fun with other bookworms!
How: Do you sign up? In store or email us at YArecyclebooks@gmail.com

For your convenience we will carry copies of the monthly pick in store. Or ask for a copy to be reserved while at the meet-up!

More Questions? Just email us at YArecyclebooks@gmail.com



And on top of that, local author Betsy Franco has written a YA that has been turned into a movie.  Here are those details:

I'm thrilled to announce that the feature film METAMORPHOSIS, JUNIOR YEAR, based on my YA novel, is showing at the Mill Valley Film Festival! The festival calls it "modern mythology for a new generation."

GET TICKETS HEREhttp://bit.ly/2ffHdST
Oct. 8, 2017    12:30 p.m. Sequoia 1 Theatre
Oct. 15, 2017             1:30 Lark Theatre

SYNOPSIS Metamorphosis: Junior Year is a film about becoming. Created by Palo Alto High School students in collaboration with James Franco and based on a Young Adult novel by Betsy Franco, this coming-of-age tale takes on the myriad themes which define youth: identity, sex, purpose, drugs, self-image. Haunted by the disappearance of his sister and plagued by his parent’s expectations, young artist Ovid uses mythology and drawings to understand the world around him while his friends become our window into current high school life—from potheads to poets and shoplifters to singers. 
Friendship, drama, betrayal, and redemption abound as we see how these teenagers relate to one another and the environment around them. Their transformations take on new resonance as we remember that growth is essential to all living things. Animated interludes add whimsy and originality to this modern mythology for a new generation. 

WORKSHOP FOR TEENS
There will be a screenwriting workshop afterwards for teens! https://www.mvff.com/behind-the-screens

October 8, 2017          2:30-5:00




Friday, September 22, 2017

Own It, by Elisabeth Barrett - A Romance for the RBC

I don't think it will come as a great surprise to you that I'm a romance fan.  But I have to admit that I limit myself to local romance authors.  I mean, I've got Marina Adair, Jasmine Haynes/Jennifer Skully, Bella Andre, and Elisabeth Barrett in my own backyard, so to speak.  That's not to mention all of the authors I read who don't strictly write in the romance genre, but who still have romance in their books.  This could be contemporary fiction or fantasy, and everything around and in-between.

In this case, it's another Barrett book that I want to talk to you about. Elisabeth comes to the RBC on December 13.  Her book is #1 in the It Factor series.  I can tell you one thing for sure:  I WILL be reading the next book in the series.  Here's what Own It is about:

Aidan Phelan has finally gained control over Wolfshead, his family's craft brewery and distillery, but there's one catch - his curvy firecracker of an ex-wife has also inherited a share.  It was Aidan's stubborn pride that destroyed their marriage to begin with, and now he has a daily reminder of that failure strutting around in sexy heels and pencil skirts.  But he has bigger problems - namely establishing himself as CEO by successfully launching Wolfshead's new whiskey without his family driving him insane.
Emma Crandall is shocked when she finds out she's part-owner of Aidan's family business, the company that drove a wedge between the two of them.  Aidan offers to buy her out, but she's not biting.  She's just started up a freelance marketing consulting business, and working with Wolfshead could open the door to bigger and better clients.  Besides, it's high time she proved to herself that she can handle her arrogant ex, even if he is big, bearded, and hot as hell.
Forced to work together, Aidan and Emma must confront their darkest fears and deepest desires.  But owning Wolfshead comes with a price neither of them anticipated...their hearts.

There were definitely a number of things about Own It that I liked:

1.  The whole idea of exes (if you watch Nashville on CMT, there is a musical duo called The Exes - good show) maybe getting back together is cool.  You don't see that too often.
2.  I like the literary device of having the characters talking to themselves in their heads.  Those lead to a lot of laughs for me.
3.  Now, this might come as a surprise to you.  But romances sometimes, maybe, could have sex in them.  I'm just saying that it's a possibility in this one.  But there is a scene in the book in which the the exes are cooking together that I found very sensual...without any sex at all!  Go figure.
4.  Elisabeth uses baristas to make a comparison that I not only thought was terrific, but I have even mentioned it to real-life baristas.  I will let you read it for yourself.
5.  I haven't mentioned any emotional connection with the characters yet.  I guess I didn't have any of that in this book...yeah, right.  The last 15 pages were a combination of chills, tears, and BLUBBERING!  Yep, I actually blubbered.  Fortunately, I was in the privacy of my own restaurant booth (sorry, Garrett patrons).

Do you still need proof that I'm a big Elisabeth Barrett fan?  Then check out a few of my earlier reviews:

Elisabeth Barrett Finally Has a Book in Print - And It's a Real Doozy

Novella #2 for Elisabeth Barrett's West Coast Holiday Series


Well, this one fits right in.  And when all is said and done, I do love me a good romance!










Tuesday, September 19, 2017

A Whole Lotta Stuff

Here is a bunch of news bites:

1.  Books, Inc. Mt. View moved a couple of doors down to 317 Castro St. as of Sept. 1.

2.  Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is being made into a movie with George Takei as executive director.  In the meantime, Jamie Ford's 3rd novel has just hit the stores.  It's called Love and Other Consolation Prizes.  I'm 60 pages into it.  I'm a big fan of his books.

3.  Walter Isaacson of Steve Jobs fame is coming to Kepler's on 10/25 at 7:30 to talk about his new book on Da Vinci.

4.  Andy Weir, author of The Martian, has a new book called Artemis.  He will be coming to Kepler's on 11/20, also at 7:30.

5.  Season 3 of Queen Sugar on the OWN begins this month.

6.  C. Lee McKenzie's 'Double Negative' is listed in the Readers Choice Awards for YA and Middle Grade Books! Show her some book luv by casting YOUR vote (scroll to page 12/16)!

7.  Harlan Coben's 10-episode British TV show The Five is now on Netflix.

8.  On the front page of the Mercury News today, September 19, is a great article about independent book stores and the brick-and-mortar Amazon threat.

9.  A whole bunch of authors have recently lined up for the RBC, including 3 who are coming late afternoon on weekends.  And who will also join any RBC members who are interested in having dinner with them.  If you want to see the whole list, email me at lloydrrussell@gmail.com.

10.  Interfaith Event About A Story of Courage
and Compassion
With Speaker and Author Marty Brounstein
____________________________
Saturday evening, October 7, 2017 - 7:00
______________________________________________
Sr. Pastors Rajiv Pathik and Jennifer Murdock and their respective congregations of Good Samaritan United Methodist Church in Cupertino and Los Gatos United Methodist Church are pleased to co-host this special event with Marty Brounstein, author of Two Among the Righteous Few: A Story of Courage in the Holocaust. He brings a true interfaith story of courage, compassion, and rescue about a Christian couple in the Netherlands named Frans and Mien Wijnakker who, despite much risk and danger, saved the lives of over two dozen Jews during the Holocaust and World War II. Marty also has a meaningful personal connection to this story and its heroes, which he reveals in his engaging storytelling presentation.
Now into its 7th year, Marty has been on an unexpected journey of sharing this special story in a variety of venues in his home base of the Bay Area plus in over a dozen other cities around the country.
Book signing follows the presentation. The event is open to the community.
Come hear this inspirational story!
LOCATION:
Los Gatos United Methodist Church 111 Church Street
Los Gatos, CA 95030
(408) 354-4730

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 - wordafterwordbooks.com

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, Amazon.com 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.
WW2.KQED.ORG

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 - www.shellyking.com/wp4 - 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.












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?