Saturday, August 19, 2017

A Few Notes and One Big Question

I've got a few items of interest for you, along with one big question. First, a few notes:

From Dean Koontz:  "I’ve always believed that the characters in a novel are more important than any other element. If they don’t earn our empathy and compel our attention, the most urgent subject matter and the most whiz-bang story will fall flat."
We've talked a few times about character vs. plot.  One of the must successful authors of our time tells us what he thinks.

Author Martha Conway gave us this little  gem:  "Buy a book on IndieBound.  And they will buy it from the closest bookstore to you and send it to you from there"

Stephen King's Mr. Mercedes debuted on August 9 on DirectTV and DirectTV Now.

You all (some) know that The Glass Castle is in my top 12 all-time.  It was on the bestseller list for 7 years!  Well, now it's a movie, starring Woody Harrelson, Naomi Watts, and Brie Larson.  It opened on August 11.  I thought it was very well done (3.75/4)

Marina Adair's Summer in the Vineyard, starring Rachel Leigh Cook, aired on The Hallmark channel August 12.  I'm sure you can On Demand it.  This is her 2nd book that's been made into a TV movie.  Pretty darn impressive.

BIG QUESTION:  My buddy Phil brought this up yesterday.  And it's something that I never really gave any thought to.  What do we think of the endings of the books we read?  I have to say that the endings that made the biggest impression on me are the ones that I did NOT like.  There are 2 that come to mind.  

1.  The Firm, John Grisham.  I thought the ending was so messed up that I never read another one of his novels!  (except for 1 novella)
2.  Bel Canto, Ann Patchett.  I still loved this book (it sits on my rec table at Recycle Books on Sunday mornings).  But I definitely felt like she took the easy way out.

I know there are many others where I either loved or didn't love the ending.  But these are the 2 that come to mind.  So, which book endings stand out for you? 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Harlan Coben's 30th Novel Is Coming Out September 26 - Don't Miss Don't Let Go

I think that Gillian Flynn said it best:  "Harlan Coben is simply one of the all-time greats."  This is a true statement.  Even though he writes a book a year, every book is just so darn good.  Don't Let Go continues the streak.  As I may have told you once (or multiple times) before, I always get an ARC of Coben's books.  I do have to say that I'm a little disappointed in myself for not reading it THE MINUTE I GOT IT IN THE MAIL!  But at least I finally kicked myself in the tush and then devoured it.  How about a blurb?

Suburban New Jersey detective Napoleon "Nap" Dumas hasn't been the same since senior year of high school, when his twin brother, Leo, and Leo's girlfriend, Diana, were found dead on the railroad tracks - and Maura, the girl Nap considered the love of his life broke up with him and disappeared without explanation.  For fifteen years, Nap has been searching, both for Maura and for the real reason behind his brother's death. And now, it looks as though he may finally find what he's been looking for.
   When Maura's fingerprints turn up in the rental car of a suspected murderer, Nap embarks on a quest for answers that only leads to more questions - about the woman he loved, about the childhood friends he thought he knew, about the abandoned military base near where he grew up, and mostly about Leo and Diana - whose deaths are darker and far more sinister than Nap ever dared imagine.

There's always so much to say about Coben's books.  I'll try not to overwhelm you.  But here are just a few (yeah, right) "observations."

1.    He grabs you immediately.  In this one, he actually grabbed me in the Author's Note!  I kid you not.
2.    I had a number of out-loud reactions, including "Holy Mackerel" on just page 10!  And I even had a few non-verbal, eyebrow-raising moments.
3.    I always love his pop culture references.   (There's one about Charlie Brown and Lucy that you're going to enjoy.)
4.    Let's not forget that no matter how suspenseful the book gets, he's still going to mix in some humor.  (I know I've told you that in person he's like a stand-up comedian.)
5.    He's got a Groucho Marx quote (look him up you young whippersnappers) that is just right on.  I realized that the best quotes come from either Groucho or Mark Twain.  Think about it.
6.    Coben's storylines are always so unique and creative.  I know this will shock you, but I did NOT figure out the ending!
7.    His descriptions are so right on.  Pay attention to the one he gives of pick-up basketball.  If you've played this informal version (I have, many times), you will be nodding your head as you read how Coben describes it.
8.    We all know that Coben writes a series about Myron Bolitar (and Winn), but his other books are standalones.  Nap could definitely support a series.
9.    His descriptions are very visual without being overwrought (pretty good word, yes?).
10.  Have I told you yet that he can really write?  No?  Look at these:
"'I'd like that,' I say.  I'd also like to have my kidney removed with a grapefruit spoon."
"...I find a 'no-tell motel' that promises all the glamour and amenities of a herpes sore, which in this case is a logical metaphor on several levels."

Is he Pulitzer-Prize winning literary?  Probably not.  Is he literary?  Heck, yes.  But more importantly, his books are simply un-put-down-able. I know I don't have to tell you this.  But I will anyway.  READ THIS BOOK!

Monday, August 14, 2017

A Small Indiscretion, by Jan Ellison - A Bit of a Mixed Bag for Me

Let me make something very clear.  Jan Ellison is a very good writer. There is no question about that.  And I am not sorry I read A Small Indiscretion.  If you recall, I just saw her last week at Kepler's in conversation with Janelle Brown, who wrote Watch Me Disappear (which I really liked a lot).  This one didn't grab me.  I think I'm pretty much in sync with the Goodreads rating of 3.57/5 (Amazon was 4/5).  Here is the synopsis:

At nineteen, Annie Black trades a bleak future in a washed-out California town for a London winter of drinking and abandon. Twenty years later, she is a San Francisco lighting designer and happily married mother of three who has put her reckless youth behind her.  Then a photo from that distant winter in Europe arrives inexplicably in her mailbox, and an old obsession is awakened.  Past and present collide, Annie's marriage falters, and her son takes a car ride that ends with his life hanging in the balance.  Now Annie must fight for her family by untangling the mysteries of the turbulent winter that drew an invisible map of her future.

As I mentioned right away, the writing is very good:
"Denial, as any addict will tell you, is not defined as knowing something and pretending you don't; it is failing to see it at all."
"...your father and I live in separate houses, and your sisters are passed between us like a restaurant dessert."
"A column of gnats hovered above the grass.  From where I reclined, it looked like rain afraid to land."

But I also had several issues with the book:
1.  I was confused about the timeframe.  I couldn't tell if her son had one accident or two.  I got very confused between the summer before and the recent early Spring.  I'm still not sure about that.
2. And because of my confusion, there seems to be a period of time where she does not visit her son in the hospital.  Both of these concerns could easily be on me.  I concede that possibility!
3.  The book is written by Annie to her son.  Maybe it's when he's in a coma.  And maybe she never intended him to see or hear it.  But she is relating sexual situations and drinking escapades that I'm pretty sure most parents wouldn't share with their 20-year old child.
4.  Although I thought the last 50 pages wrapped up the story pretty well, I never did make an  emotional connection with any of the characters.  This could be because Annie "wrote" the whole story in memoir form.  I'm not sure if that played a part of what was missing for me.

You/we all know how un-literary I am.  My issues with A Small Indiscretion may have a lot to do with my own confusion and simple lack of understanding with the events and their chronology.  Regardless, I still feel the way I feel.  Would I read Jan's next book?  Yes I would.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

A Short(er than usual) Review of a Big-Name Author

I've got a review of a book by the Girl with the Pearl Earring author herself, Tracy Chevalier.  This one is called At the Edge of the Orchard. It's my 1st Chevalier, and it was a solid read.  Blurb-time:

1838:  James and Sadie Goodenough have settled where their wagon got stuck - in the muddy, stagnant swamps of northwest Ohio.  But the orchard they plant sows the seeds of a long battle: James loves the apples, reminders of an easier life back in Connecticut; while Sadie prefers the applejack they make, an alcoholic refuge from brutal frontier life.
1853:  Their youngest child Robert is wandering through Gold Rush California after making his way alone across the country. Haunted by the broken family he left behind, he finds some solace collecting seeds for a naturalist in the redwood and giant sequoia groves. But you can run only so far, even in America, and when Robert's past makes an unexpected appearance he must decide whether to strike out again or stake his own claim to a home at last.

Here's a quick rundown of what I liked:
1.  There are 2 sections (out of 6) that are strictly letters.  I thought that was particularly effective.
2.  A little over half-way through the book, I actually wanted to read ahead.  That rarely happens.
3.  The writing is very good.  I will give you just 1 example (I know you are all thanking me right now!):  "The words cut through the air like a knife through meat - resistant, and then gliding effortlessly."
4.  As soon as I finished Orchard, I realized that I wanted a sequel. There's probably no better endorsement for a book than that.
5.  These definitely felt like real people to me.
6.  I actually enjoyed learning a little bit about the different kinds of trees and some of their properties.  I realize that this might surprise those of you who know me.  I'm not exactly a nature kind of guy.  But what can I tell you?  She does a good job of making me want to know this stuff.

I would like to thank the person who recommended this book to me...but I have no recollection who that is! If you read this, please identify yourself.  I would like to thank you by name!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Another Author Event

This past Monday night at Kepler's I got to see Janelle Brown, author of Watch Me Disappear, in conversation with local author, Jan Ellison, whose debut novel is A Small Indiscretion.  I was very happy to meet both of them.  In fact, I purchased Jan's book and am reading it now.

But I digress.  You all know what I thought of WMD because I just reviewed it on the 5th.  I liked it a lot.  So I was definitely interested to hear what Janelle had to say about it.  Here are a few insights:

1.  Janelle lives in Southern California but is a Bay Area native.  Her 1st and 3rd books (WMD) take place in the Bay Area.  Her 2nd book is set in SoCal.
2.  Janelle actually had a close friend (she thought) who was the inspiration for the character Billie.
3.  She wrote parts of the book from a male perspective.  It's the 1st time she's done that.  Michelle Richmond, who(m?) I saw on August 1 (also at Kepler's) wrote from a male viewpoint for the 1st time too.  Both said it was tough.  Just as I vouched for Michelle, I am now also vouching for Janelle. She definitely got it right.
4.  Watch Me Disappear has been optioned for a movie.  We all know that this does not necessarily lead to an actual movie.  But at least the option is a start.  And, BTW, it would be a great movie.
5.   Janelle did not start out to write a suspense thriller.  It just kind of happened organically.  But it shouldn't come as a great surprise considering some of her favorite authors write suspense thrillers. Gillian Flynn and Tana French are just 2 of them.

Besides Jan's book, I also picked up 1 of Janelle's other 2 books, All We Ever Wanted Was Everything.  It's currently sitting in my teetering TBR pile.  But at least it's there!  I WILL get to it.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

A Review of Watch Me Disappear, by Janelle Brown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 3, 2017

2 VERY Popular Authors Live at Kepler's

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

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

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

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

Michelle is on the left.

Monday, July 31, 2017

My 2nd Kimberly Belle - The Last Breath

You all know what I thought of Kimberly Belle's The Marriage Lie (if you haven't seen my review, all you have to do is go back to May 4).  I thought it was totally terrific.  Well, Kimberly's The Last Breath (written before The Marriage Lie) is also very good.  I would give the edge to TML.  But it's just a matter of degrees.  It's blurb time:

Humanitarian aid worker Gia Andrews chases disasters around the globe for a living.  It's the perfect lifestyle to keep her far away from her own personal ground zero.  Sixteen years ago, Gia's father was imprisoned for brutally killing her stepmother. Now he's come home to die of cancer, and she's responsible for his care - and coming to terms with his guilt.
Gia reluctantly resumes the role of daughter to the town's most infamous murderer, a part complete with protesters on the lawn and death threats that are turning tragedy into front-page news.  Returning to life in small-town Tennessee involves rebuilding relationships that distance and turmoil have strained, though finding an emotional anchor in the attractive hometown bartender is certainly helping Gia cope.
As the past unravels before her, Gia will find herself torn between the stories that her family, their friends and neighbors, and even her long-departed stepmother have believed to be real all these years.  But in the end, the truth - and all the lies the came before - may have deadlier consequences than she could have ever anticipated....

I guess you would call The Last Breath Contemporary Fiction or Women's Fiction.  But Kimberly knows how to combine genres into her books.  In this one, we've got a female protagonist, and the story certainly centers on her.  But we've also got the mystery aspect of a 16-year-ago murder that may need to be re-examined.  And a lot of family dynamics.  And maybe even some romance.  And let's not forget humor. We even learn a little about international aid!  Kimberly does a very good job of sewing all the threads together.

Probably the biggest compliment I can pay Kimberly is that I had to force myself NOT to skip ahead to the end.  I wanted to know what happened in the worst way.  This is in direct contrast to Magpie Murders, where I actually didn't care what happened in the end.  Sorry, Anthony.  You may have tons of fans, both of your books and your TV show.  But, unfortunately for you, you're no Kimberly Belle!

I also thought that Kimberly created some great characters.  Fannie Miles and Jimmy Gardner immediately come to mind.  Even though I'm a native Northern Californian (I have never lived anywhere else), there is something very distinctive about the people from the South.  They are just inherently interesting literarily.

Plus Kimberly can write:  "Now I see there is nothing beautiful about death.  Death is not precious or priceless.  For the person close to the dying soul - a parent, a lover, a child - death is not a gift but a thief." That kind of sums it up, don't you think?

I have to relate one personal story.  At one point, Fannie gives Jake a high five.  That made me think of my granddaughter, Josie, who is 5.  She somehow found herself in a Catholic church.  When everybody went up to the front of the church, she went too.  As he reached his hand down, Josie high-fived him.  It evidently broke up the congregants.  I can definitely see it in my head!

Well, I am obviously a fan of Kimberly's books.  Now all I need to read is The Ones We Trust.  I better get on it.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Magpie Murders, by Anthony Horowitz

This month I read Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz for my 4th Tuesday Evening Book Club at Books, Inc. in Palo Alto.  As I know I have mentioned before, the co-owner of the chain, Margie Scott Tucker, runs the club.  With her insights into book world, and her skill in running a book club, it's something I look forward to attending.  The other thing I enjoy about this club is that Margie picks a wide array of books.  And befitting variety, I have liked some of them more and some less.  This one was in the middle.  I gave it a 2.75/4.  I liked it okay but can't really recommend it.  Here's the synopsis:

Alan Conway is a bestselling crime writer.  His editor, Susan Ryeland, has worked with him for years, and she's intimately familiar with his detective, Atticus Pund, who solves mysteries disturbing sleepy English villages.  Alan's traditional formula pays homage to queens of classic British crime such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers.  It's proved hugely successful.  So successful that Susan must continue to put up with his troubling behavior if she wants to keep her job.
When Susan receives Alan's latest manuscript, in which Atticus Pund investigates a murder at Pye Hall, an English manor house, she has no reason to think it will be any different from the others.  There will be dead bodies, a cast of intriguing suspects, and plenty of red herrings and clues.  But the more Susan reads, the more she realizes that there's another story hidden in the pages of the manuscript - one of ambition, jealousy, and greed - and that soon it will lead to murder.

I really didn't know Horowitz before MM.  But I was in the minority at the meeting.  Not only has he written 3 other novels, but he also wrote the very popular PBS TV series, Foyle's War.  In fact, everybody was waxing very enthusiastically about TV and somewhat less about the book.  But, despite all of that, there were definitely a few positives:

1.    It's a very creative premise.
2.    I liked the wide variety of characters in the novel within the novel.
3.    The book is very well-written.
4.    There was a character in the book that very much reminded me of Lady Virginia from Archer's The Clifton Chronicles.
5.    The Amazon rating is 4/5, and the Goodreads rating is 4.03/5.  There are obviously a bunch of people who liked this book more than I did.

But here's the deal.  I just didn't care.  In fact, before the last chapter, which solves the murder, I wasn't even thinking about whodunit.  So, in summary (pretty cliche, don't you think?):
- didn't care who committed the murder
- didn't connect with any of the characters
- didn't like it nearly as much as many others

I usually feel pretty strongly about the books I recommend or don't recommend.  That's not the case here.  I'm really on the fence with this one.  My advice to you?  Make your own decision and ignore my feedback.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Another New Bookstore (for me) - Levin Books in Healdsburg (about 60 miles north of San Francisco)

Are you planning on visiting Healdsburg?  Or maybe you already live in that area.  Either way, I've got a gem of a bookstore for you.  It's called Levin & Company, and it's located at 306 Center Street, in downtown Healdsburg.  I've got some pictures for you.  Stay tuned for a Q&A with Aaron, who is a co-owner of the store.  In the meantime, their website is

Aaron is on the far right, in the T-shirt

P.S.  Joni and I bought an old Simon & Garfunkel CD for our drive home tomorrow.  They've got a large selection of CDs as well as books.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

A Review Of Michelle Richmond's Latest: The Marriage Pact. My 1st, But Definitely Not My Last!

The Marriage Pact is Michelle Richmond's 6th novel (plus 2 books of short stories).  For whatever reason, I haven't read any of her previous books.  But thanks to Andrew and Nicole (who also sent me the ARC) from Keplers, I will be going to Michelle's launch on August 1.  I have to admit that a great part of what is drawing me to the event is seeing Ellen Sussman, who is in conversation with Michelle.  I haven't seen Ellen in a long time, and I am a definite fan of both her and her books.  But whatever combo of events ultimately led me to read The Marriage Pact, I couldn't be happier.

Let's start with a very short blurb:  NEWLYWEDS ALICE AND JAKE ARE A PICTURE-PERFECT COUPLE.  When they join The Pact, an exclusive and mysterious group designed to keep marriages happy and intact, the Pact's rules seem easy to follow.  And then one of them breaks a rule...

I have so much to say about TMP that I could fill 3 posts.  So the best thing for me to do is make a list.  Bear with me.  I will try to make it short enough that your eyes don't glaze over.  But it will definitely be long enough for you to grab this sucker as soon as it goes live (this coming Tuesday, the 25th).

1.    I learned a lot of statistics and data about marriages.  Here is an example:  "...married people live longer than single people."  (That is VERY good news for me.)
2.    I also read a number of aphorisms about marriage that made sense to me.  A couple of examples:  "A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person."  And, "Don't smother each other, nothing grows in the shade."
3.    There are a whole bunch of crazy rules to follow when you sign the Pact.  But I have to say that, at least in part, they made sense to me.  In other words, I found the premise of the book to be somewhat believable.
4.    The 1st chapter grabs you immediately.  And you get context for it a little over half-way through the book.
5.    Even though the book is pretty intense and very suspenseful , with many a nerve-wracking moment, there is still some  humor.  Take a look at what Groucho Marx had to say about marriage:  "Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who wants to live in an institution?"
6.    Scientology anyone?
7.    I really like how Michelle describes mundane, everyday activities and paints a very visual picture.  "I put my duffel in the trunk, get into the driver's seat, and lean over to unlock the passenger-side door." And, again:  "Alice slipped a camisole over her head...pulling on her navy blue tights, shimmying them under her skirt." 
8.    I had my usual array of emotions.  But they were a little different this time.  On one occasion, I actually smiled in anticipation of what I thought was coming next.  Another time I had a frown.  I even uttered an "Oh, boy."  But I still had some tears and some chills.
9.    There is a section about 3/4 of the way through that I felt overdid the punishments for rules violations...until I read the end.  Then it all made sense.
10.  Michelle shows that she has her finger on the pulse of humanity. Ergo:  "The good and the bad are unavoidable, and at some point they strike us all.  The news is the news.  But the delivery of the news, the gestures, the words, the empathy and understanding-that's the gray area where the messenger has the power to make things a little easier or a lot more difficult."  Words to live by, yes?
11.  And I just love the writing:
"His suit strains at the chest and shoulders, as if he started lifting weights after he went to the tailor."
Another time, when Jake finds himself tied down to a table, he says, "I feel like a frog strapped down in a high school biology class, waiting to be dissected."

And I certainly can't pass up an opportunity to tell you a few things that I personally related to:

1.  Isobel, one of Jake's teenage clients, orders a burrito without beans. I, too, am a beanless burrito person.
2.  There is an incident that takes place at Sproul Plaza, on the Cal campus.  I went to Cal and certainly know Sproul Plaza.  In fact, I was in the Plaza when Dan Siegel incited (a legal determination) the students to storm People's Park on May 15, 1969.  P.S.  I was a wuss and didn't go to PP.
3.  Jake is describing something that he does regularly and says, "That's what I do."  Believe it or not, when I fall back on habit, Joni will ask me, "Is that what you do?"  I can't argue with her on that.

As you can see, I liked The Marriage Pact a lot.  I hope you will give it a try.


Friday, July 21, 2017

Daniel Silva - In Person!

My favorite live author event of all time was seeing Ken Follett quite a few years ago.  I mean, this guy is a literary god.  In the next group just below him is Daniel Silva.  I've seen him once before, also a number of years ago.  But when I had a chance to see him at the JCC in Palo Alto this week, I couldn't pass it up.  Silva has written 20 books, and I've read all but the latest.  His very 1st one, The Unlikely Spy, is still my favorite. And that one sits on my rec table on Sunday mornings.  He wrote 2 more after TUS and then started writing about Gabriel Allon.  And his latest in that series is number 17.  I will be getting to it in the very near future.

Let me give you a few highlights from the event:

1.  Gabriel Allon will be coming to TV in the next couple of years.  MGM actually bought a TV network just to be able to air this series.  Pretty cool, don't you think?
2.  Silva calls his books "dark beach reads."
3.  He writes the story and plot first, then the location.
4.  Gabriel Allon is a creation of Silva's imagination and is not based on any real people.
5.  He mentioned 2 TV shows that he watches that Joni and I also watch - Billions and The Affair.
6.  Silva was in conversation with Anne Elise Kornblut, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist.
7.  Finally, his wife is Jamie Gangel, who is a CNN Special Correspondent. She insisted that Trump would lose the election.  And Silva was equally insistent that he would win.  We see who was right.

Silva and Kornblut

Signing books

Do you think Silva has a lot of fans much?

Thursday, July 13, 2017

A Variety of Stuff, Including Another Milestone for Page Views

Here is a bunch of stuff:

1.  I've already told you that Kerry Lonsdale is our RBC author for September with her book Everything We Keep.  And I've already told you that her 2nd book in the series, Everything We Left Behind, came out July 4.  And I've also told you that the 3rd book in the series, Everything We Give, will be hitting the bookshelves summer of 2018.  What I have NOT told you is that we will be getting a standalone from Kerry in the summer of 2019.  Keep 'em comin', Kerry.

2.  The Readers Perch ( is a YA blog written, not surprisingly, by a YA.  If you're looking at books for (pre)teenagers, visit her blog.  But what I wanted to mention here is that in her last post, she talks about 2 websites that you can go on and subscribe for YA book boxes.  They are FairyLoot and OwlCrate.  Take a gander.  They are very cool.

3.  Why am I giving you all of these facts about chocolate?  I have a good reason.  On National Chocolate Day, Meg Waite Clayton, local author extraordinaire, listed these facts on her blog.  That's enough of a literary connection for me.  (Plus, it's really interesting info.)  

1. Cocoa beans are seeds of the Theobroma Cacao tree. As you might imagine, it means “food of the gods.”

2. In WWII, chocolate rations were packaged to be poison-gas proof. Because that's when you REALLY need chocolate. (Alas, a fact I discovered after The Race for Paris was published, so not used.) It was also fortified with flour, to keep it from melting too much, which you probably know if you read my latest. :-)
3. The French celebrate April Fool’s Day with Poisson d’Avril--chocolate-shaped fish. (Or maybe I'm pulling your leg.)
4. The smell of chocolate in a bookstore makes folks 22% more likely to buy books, and 40% more likely to buy romance or cook books.
5. There was a Nazi plot to assassinate Winston Churchill with exploding chocolate. No, really...
6. Hershey's Kisses are named for the sound the machine makes dropping the chocolate onto the conveyor belt.
7. Thank the ancient Maya -- they started the whole eating-chocolate thing.

4.  This week I hit 150,000 total page views on my blog.  Thank you for your continued support.  I really appreciate it.

5.  Recycle Books celebrated it's 50th anniversary 2 Sundays ago.  Sal Pizarro ran a story in his column on July 8.  If you can't click on the link, then go online to the Mercury News and find the article.  It's very cool.

Fifty years of books, memories and cats at Recycle Bookstore

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

2 More Author Events - Back-to-Back! Way Cool!

Tonight Joni and I got to go to Ellen Kirschman's launch of her 3rd Dot Meyerhof novel, at Books, Inc. Palo Alto.  We try never to miss one of Ellen's launches.  She's just so darn engaging.  If she can keep me awake for a solid hour, in the evening, then, believe me, she is exceptionally engaging!

She told us a bunch of interesting things, too:
1.  Dot is named after her mother, and Meyerhof after her grandmother.
2.  She wrote 3 non-fictions before she started the DM series.  She said that fiction is way harder to write than non-.
3.  Police officers are 2x more likely to commit suicide than to be killed in the line of duty.
4.  The cover of her latest book, The Fifth Reflection, shows a camera. This is an homage to her husband, Steve, who is a professional photographer.
5.  There are 75,000 (yes, thousand) people world-wide who are on a child pornography site at any one time.  Is that completely whacko?
6.  The title of the book refers to the 5th of 5 daily Buddhist practices.
7.  My favorite moment of the night was when Ellen said that when she wrote her dissertation, it was a cross between Sigmund Freud and Mickey Spillane.

Great night!

Ellen is in conversation with Ann Gelder, author of Bigfoot and the Baby

And, then, last night, at Recycle Bookstore, Rich Amooi came to the RBC. Rich was our 1st romantic comedy author.  He was a big hit with our members.

The person on the left, closest to the camera, is Silvi Martin, Rich's wife, and a published author in her own right.

Monday, July 10, 2017


Many of you have heard of TH1RTEEN R3ASONS WHY by now because it's a show on Netflix.  I happen not to be a Netflix subscriber.  So I found out about it the old-fashioned way - as a book recommendation from a friend.  And for those of you who have not heard about it; or who live in the same cave as me; here is the back-of-the-book synopsis:

Clay Jensen doesn't want anything to do with the tapes Hannah Baker made.  Hannah is dead.  Her secrets should be buried with her.
Then Hannah's voice tells Clay that his name is on her tapes - and that he is, in some way, responsible for her death.
All through the night, Clay keeps listening.  He follows Hannah's recorded words throughout his small town...
...and what he discovers changes his life forever. 

I have already told you ad nauseum that I am just a few...decades...beyond the YA (young adult) target audience.  And, yet, I have read some wonderful YA books:  The Princess of Las Pulgas (C. Lee McKenzie, Salt to the Sea (Ruta Sepetys), An Ember in the Ashes (Sabaa Tahir), The Voyages of the Legend series (Alina Sayre), Wyndano's Cloak (A. R. Silverberry), and a bunch more.  Well, this might not be one of my very favorite YA's, but it's certainly a very good book (3.25/4).

This book reminds me of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society in its uniqueness.  That one, if you recall, consisted entirely of letters. This one is mostly tapes.  Clay does have some live interaction with people while he's going through the tapes.  But this is basically about the 13 tapes, hence TH1RTEEN R3ASONS WHY.  It's fun, once in a while, to read stuff that is different from everybody else's stuff.

There were definitely some moments that caught me completely off guard.  There's one incident, about 2/3 of the way through, where I audibly shouted "OMG!" and "WOW!"  There's another spot just a couple of pages before the OMG/WOW place where I teared up and totally didn't expect to do that.  I was also hit in the solar plexus about a 1/3 of the way through when Clay comes across somebody else on the tapes.  I did NOT see that coming.

And, equally important as the surprises, the unique concept, and the emotional pull, the book is also well-written.  You gotta have that.  Take a look:

"Around the opposite sex, especially back then, my tongue twisted into knots even a Boy Scout would walk away from." 
"We took our place in the stream of students heading to the party - like joining a bunch of salmon heading upstream to mate."

Kudos to Jay for writing a very clever book and writing it well.  Is it a little rough?  Of course.  Teen suicide is no joke, especially for this father of 3 adults (and grandfather of 4 pre-teens).  Can high school kids be mean, cruel, and insensitive?  We know that they can.  But despite all of that, this is very readable.  And maybe it will help kids who read it behave a little more compassionately toward their peers.  You never know when you might be the one who makes all the difference.

P.S.  My recommender told me that, initially, the author was just going to go with the tapes.  He was convinced by his editor to add Clay's present-day musings and actions.  I think it was a VERY good decision.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Fifth Reflection, #3 in Ellen Kirschman's Dot Meyerhof Series

You know, oftentimes authors will write novels that reflect their careers. We certainly know MANY lawyers who write books about...wait for it...lawyers and the law.  And a lot of these books make you feel like you are in the courtroom at the prosecutor's/defense lawyer's table with them.  But there is something about Ellen Kirschman's background that makes police psychologist Dot Meyerhof seem even more real than your average fictional character.  Ellen, of course, was a police psychologist for 30 years.  She is, in fact, still very active in that community.  But when I read her novels, I definitely feel like I am learning something. And that I'm actually inside the head of a real police psychologist. It's a pretty cool feeling.

I'll let you go to Amazon or Goodreads to get the plot for #3 in the series.  I want to focus on a few of the facts I learned.  And I'm only going to mention 3 of them because I don't want to take away from your reading of the book.  Here they are:

1.  Regarding online child pornography (sorry that this is such a bummer) - "Every month, 60,000 new images are added to these websites."  That brought out an audible "Wow" from me.
2.  (bummer #2) "Most child abductions are parental abductions. Children have more to fear from warring parents than strangers hiding in the bushes."  Did you know that?
3.  I won't quote the passage because it's too long.  But it is fascinating to learn about the role of make-up in a coroner's exam.

I could go on and on.  Really.  This felt like a tutorial, but in a very good way.  I really loved learning about the behind-the-scenes stuff.  I'm know I also got info in #1 & #2.  But it's greatly magnified in #3.

Okay, I have to move along.  But it's hard to do.  I very badly want to give you more insights into the inner workings of police departments. But I want to make sure you read the book!  So here are a couple of other observations I made from reading The Fifth Reflection:

1.  There is quite a bit of subtle humor.  And everybody knows how subtle I am.  (Yeah, right).  But the book is funny.
2.  The writing is very good.  Take a look at this description of an interview by the police:  "There's no apparent logic to Manny's interviewing technique.  His questions come fast and furious, spinning and swirling  from past to present, from California to Norway.  I feel like I'm watching Jackson Pollack create a painting."  Pretty visual, right?
3.  Child pornography and child kidnapping are not fun to read about. But Ellen makes it palatable.  Between the police procedures and the police officers' personal lives, the reader gets a good feel for how hard the job is.  And, not surprisingly, the toll it takes on the families.

This is a good story and a good series.  If you haven't read any of the Dot Meyerhof books, what are you waiting for?  I can't think of a better way to learn about the police and police procedure, directly from an expert.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

A Mid-Year Report

I know that the title of this post is not very exciting.  But it's at least accurate.  I'm going to give you a little bit of info about the 1st 6 months of 2017.  There's no snark, no (attempted) humor, no bullet points.  Just info.

Books - 36
DNF (did not finish) - 3
Pages - 11,625

4.0 -        1 - A Gentleman in Moscow - Amor Towles
3.875 -    1 - The Orphan's Tale - Pam Jenoff
3.75 -      6
3.5 -        2
3.25 -      11
3.0 -        10
2.75 -      2
2.5 -        1
2.25 -      2

Literary Fiction -       8
Women's Fiction -     6
Mystery/Suspense -   6
Dark Fiction -            1
Historical Fiction -    7
Romance -                 3
Memoir -                   1
Science Fiction -       1
Fantasy -                   1
Paranormal -             1
Romantic Comedy - 1

That's it, folks.

COBEN NEWS:  I got an ARC in the mail today for Harlan Coben's next book.  It's called Don't Let Go.  And it's coming out September 26.  BUT I GET TO READ IT NOW!  JEALOUS?

Monday, July 3, 2017

More Miscellaneous

1.  Kepler's has 2 author events coming up in early August that they are very excited about.  Check them out.

2.  Kerry Lonsdale, who will be our RBC author in September, has her sequel, Everything We Left Behind, coming out on July 4 (that's tomorrow, folks).  AND book 3 will be next summer.

3.  Recycle Books is celebrating its 50th anniversary.  How cool is that? Go to and click on About Us.  You will get the whole story.  (They opened the same year I graduated from high school. You know what that means, right?  Yep.  I've got my 50th high school reunion this year. How could that be?)

4.  MGM TV has bought the rights to Daniel Silva's Gabriel Allon series. Silva and his wife Jamie Gangel, a TV news reporter, will executive produce.  No dates have been announced yet.

5.  I saw my 1st trailer for The Glass Castle, one of my top-12 all time. It's starring Brie Larson, Naomi Watts, and Woody Harrelson.  It comes out August 11.

6.  I also saw my 1st trailer for Stephen King's It.  It's hitting the big screen September 8.

7.  And the 3rd trailer from the literary world is American Assassin.  This is a prequel that Vince Flynn wrote for the Mitch Rapp series.  The movie version stars Michael Keaton and reaches theaters September 15.

8.  Chris Colfer is coming to the Hammer Theater, in downtown San Jose, sponsored by Hicklebees, on July 26 at 7:00.  He is promoting the 6th and final book in his Land of Stories series.

9.  Finally, I had a quirky day at Recycle Books Sunday morning.  I sold 2 copies of Lightning, by Dean Koontz.  I think I've sold 1 copy in the 4 or 5 years I've been doing this.  Slightly strange, don't you think?

COMING UP:  I've still got a bunch of reviews coming up, including Ellen Kirschman's latest in the Dot Meyerhof series - The Fifth Reflection.  And I will be giving you all a mid-year report in the next week or so.  I'm sure you can hardly wait!

Saturday, July 1, 2017

2 Big-Time Author Events This Week

I had the privilege of attending 2 events this week for authors that I have an enormous amount of respect for.  And both of them are local!  In fact, one of them is an RBC author (thank you, Cara).  And the other one (you know who you are, Barry) I keep working on/harassing!

Wednesday night Joni and I went to Books, Inc. in Mt. View to see Cara Black.  Cara is on tour for her 17th book in the Aimee Leduc series, called Murder in St. Germain.  That rivals Silva, Penney, Winspear, et al. That is impressive.

And Thursday night, we went to see Barry Eisler, who was introducing his 13th book,  Zero Sum, #9 in the John Rain series.  This launch, like the other 12, took place at Kepler's.  But there was a special treat for many of us - Keith Raffel, he of A Fine and Dangerous Season fame (and another RBC author!), introduced Barry.  Keith is also local and also very accomplished.  You can't do better than 3 for the price of 2!

Barry told us an interesting story.  His books initially were published by Putnam Sons out of New York (now a part of Penguin Books).  They insisted that Barry's books have the name Rain in them.  So there was Rain Fall, Hard Rain, Rain Storm, etc.  Well, Barry got tired of getting emails from people recommending Rain Check, Rain Coat, among others.  So when he switched from Putnam to Thomas & Mercer (the publishing arm of Amazon), he changed all the names of the Rain Series. We non-published people don't know what goes on behind the scenes unless the author tells us.

In any case, here are some pictures from these 2 events:

Keith Raffel introducing Barry