Saturday, December 9, 2017

Review of A Torch Against the Night, Sequel to An Ember in the Ashes, by Sabaa Tahir

Back on March 15 of this year, I wrote a review of An Ember in the Ashes, book 1 of a fantasy series written by Sabaa Tahir.  I liked it so much (3.75/4) that I went out and bought #2, A Torch Against the Night, the next day!  It only took me 8.5 months before I finally got to the sequel.  I can't tell you why it took so long.  But it is what it is.

Okay, so did #2 measure up?  Not exactly.  It was still good, but not as good as the original.  As I'm sure you remember(!), I just went through this with Jamie Ford's latest, Love and Other Consolation Prizes.  I liked it, but I liked Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet and Songs of Willow Frost better.  It's really unfair because a 3.25/4 (my rating for this one and for LaOCP) is a darn good rating.  It's just not a 3.75.  Let me tell you why by comparing it to the 5 very positive bullet points that I listed for #1:

1.  #1 had 2 main protagonists, and the chapters flipped back and forth. #2 had 3 main protagonists, which I thought was fine.  I looked forward to all 3 perspectives.
2.  There was a lot of suspense in #1.  This one was also suspenseful. And there was a very big surprise about 3/4 of the way through.  That was cool.
3.  I really got into the romances and almost romances from #1.  In #2, not so much.
4.  This was the crusher.  I only got emotional a few times.  It's not that I didn't care, because I did.  It's just that I wasn't as invested in the characters as I hoped to be based on my reactions in #1.
5.  It was still well-written.  But, for me, it just didn't flow quite as smoothly as #1.

I'm going to add a #6.  And this is going to sound really dumb:

6.  There was too much senseless violence.

You're probably thinking "Huh?"  It's really hard to explain.  Remember when I said in #1 that there was a scene so heinous that I had to stop reading for a little bit?  Well, that happened a lot in this book.  I never stopped reading, though, because I think I became a little inured to it. Go figure.

I want to emphasize that A Torch Against the Night is a very good book. If you read An Ember in the Ashes, then you will want to read ATAtN. Several people that I know and trust liked this one as well as the first one.  It definitely could just be me.  As the professor in my poli sci class said in response to a student who prefaced his comment by saying that he could be wrong, "We'll concede that possibility."






Monday, December 4, 2017

#3 for Karma Brown...and Another Winnah!

Karma Brown has written 3 books:  Come Away with Me (review on 10/31/15), The Choices We Make (9/19/16), and the latest, In This Moment.  The only other author who has written 3 out of 3 terrific books that I can think of (this might be a blog post some day) is Sally Hepworth.  And to be honest with you, I'm kind of blown away by how both of them keep doing it book after book.  So, yes, In This Moment follows in the literary footsteps of Karma's 1st two.  If you read CAWM and TCWM, then I know you will read this one and really not even need my review.  If you haven't, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING ON?  For you Doubting Thomas-es/Tina-s, here's what it's about:

Meg Pepper has a fulfilling career and a happy family.  Most days she's able to keep it all together and glide through life. But then, in one unalterable moment, everything changes.
After school pick-up one day, she stops her car to wave a teenage boy across the street...just as another car comes hurtling down the road and slams into him.
Meg can't help but blame herself for her role in this horrific disaster.  Full of remorse, she throws herself into helping the boy's family as he rehabs from his injuries.  But the more Meg tries to absolve herself, the more she alienates her own family - and the more she finds herself being drawn to the boy's father.
Soon Meg's picture-perfect life is unraveling before her eyes. As the painful secrets she's been burying bubble dangerously close to the surface, she will have to decide:  Can she forgive herself, or will she risk losing everything she holds dear to her heart? 

There were a lot of things about In This Moment (along with her other 2) that I really liked.  For one, she is a really good writer.  But, at the same time, she's very readable.  Those 2 attributes don't always mesh.  For another, it's edge-of-the-seat drama even though it's not a mystery. How does she do that?  But what really stands out in this book is how many times there were circumstances, people, or places that I could relate to:

1.  The accident itself is similar to one that happened to somebody I casually know.  His son crossed the street in front of his high school and got hit.  Tragically, he was killed.
2.  There is an accident from Meg's teenage years that occurred when high school kids were drinking and driving.  One of the passengers was killed.  Another casual acquaintance of mine experienced that with her daughter.  Fortunately, her daughter was injured but was not the one who died.
3.  There is a situation in which Meg was very close to a mother, Emma, while their kids were growing up.  And then she wasn't.  That happened to Joni.  Fortunately, Joni and her friend got back together and, today, couldn't be closer.  I'll let you read about what happens with Meg and Emma.
4.  When Meg's daughter was 6 or 7, she was heartbroken because she wasn't invited to a birthday party by a girl in her class.  Our son, Josh, had that same situation at about the same age.  When he asked the birthday boy why he wasn't invited, he was told that he could invite his 4 best friends...and Josh was #5.  And our youngest child, Lauren, also found herself excluded from a birthday party at roughly the same age. When she questioned the birthday girl, she was told that she couldn't invite her because it was a very expensive party.  Lauren told the girl that her mother should have had a different kind of party.
5.  Brookline, Massachusetts is mentioned.  Our older daughter (middle child), Meredith, lived in Brookline for a year right after she graduated from a college in Northern California.  In fact, she moved to Boston 5 days before 9/11!

That's a lot of connections, don't you think?  Did that make me like, and emotionally connect with, the book more than I otherwise would have? Maybe.  Does that matter?  Nope.  Karma's 1st 2 books did not have storylines that were part of my personal experiences.  But they were books that I still loved.  People, just read her stuff.  I don't care which one you start with because you will read all 3 in a very short period of time.  And they are all standalones.  Would I steer you wrong? Debatable...but not this time!




Wednesday, November 29, 2017

It's Time for Some Announcements!

1.  Here's an announcement from RBC member and author, Kate Allure, regarding a couple of upcoming romance writers events:

The Silicon Valley Romance Writers of America is holding two multi-author holiday book signings at Barnes & Noble in San Jose. The first is at the Blossom Hill Store ~ Sun. December 3rd 12-3pm (5353 Almaden Expressway), with the authors: Marina Adair, Elisabeth Barrett, Gayle Parness, Noelle Greene, Nadine Mutas, and Marilyn Vix. The second is at the Stevens Creek Store ~ Sat. December 9th 12-3pm (3600 Stevens Creek Blvd), with these authors: Jenny Andersen, Heatherly Bell, Ava Bradley, Linda S. Gunther, Claire McEwen, and Sonja Rouillard/Kate Allure. It's also a fundraiser for SVRWA and 10% of sales of anything purchased go back to the chapter if you use our Voucher #: Bookfair ID 12259180. Plus we'll have members there wrapping presents for donations. So come out and meet some authors and do some holiday shopping at the same time! 

1.  Books, Inc. has a warehouse sale on 12/9 from 9-4.  Thousands of books will be available from 30-90% off.  The warehouse is located at 1501 Vermont Street in San Francisco.

2.  I know you're excited about John Hart's next book.  It's called The Hush, and it comes out on 2/27/18.  Get in line behind me.

3.  Michael David Lukas, author of The Oracle of Stamboul, and RBC author, has a new book coming out in March, 2018,  It's called The Last Watchman of Old Cairo.  And it's darn good.   Michael has agreed to come to the RBC next Fall.  Can't wait.

4.  This was recently posted by Kerry Lonsdale:
Last month, I had a wonderful dinner with my editors and agent where they presented me with the Diamond Quill Award, commemorating over one million readers across my three titles: Everything We Keep, All the Breaking Waves, and Everything We Left Behind. Considering the number of books on the market, for an author to reach several thousand readers, let alone, several hundred, is quite an achievement. But one million in such a short timeframe? Wow. Just wow. I owe it to you, my friend. Thank YOU for reading my stories.

5.  Here is the most current RBC/book signing schedule:    

Sunday, December 3, 9:30-12:30 - Book Signing - Maddy’s Game (contemporary fiction), Mike Lund

Saturday, December 9, RBC, 5:00 - Soulless (paranormal, steampunk), Gail Carriger

Wednesday, December 13,  RBC - Own It (romance), Elisabeth Barrett

Sunday, December 17, 9:30-12:30 - Book Signing - The Illuminated Kingdom (Book 4 of The Voyages of the Legend - Middle-Grade, YA Fantasy), Alina Sayre

Sunday, January 14, 9:30-12:30 - Book Signing - The Druid’s Gift (fantasy romance), Dante Silva & Vanessa Mozes

*   Sunday, January 14, RBC, 4:30 - The Dating Bender (romantic comedy), Christina Julian

Wednesday, January 24, RBC - Dark Associations (psychological thriller), Marie Sutro

Wednesday, February 21, RBC - Sweet Spot (ice cream memoir), Amy Ettinger

*   Wednesday, March 14, RBC - Freedom Child (literary fiction), Chandra Lee Ingram

Wednesday, March 28, RBC - The Underground River (historical fiction), Martha Conway & The Last Billable Hour (murder mystery), Susan Wolfe

Wednesday, May 23, RBC - Silver Lies (historical mystery), Ann Parker

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Robin Sloan's New One - Sourdough

Sourdough reminds me of Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities.  Or in this case, A Tale of Two Halves.  I thought the 1st half was amazing.  So much so, in fact, that I was thinking 4+/4.  And that went on for a while.  But the 2nd half took a big dip for me.  I can't really explain why.  Maybe my expectations, based on the 1st half, were simply too high.  Regardless, it just didn't measure up.  Despite all of that, I still enjoyed it.  There was a point where I was comparing Robin's writing to both Amor Towles (The Gentleman of Moscow) and Pat Conroy (every book).  Let me give you some examples:

"The sky above the Crowley parking lot was gray and drippy like the undercarriage of a car." (now that's a simile)
"Greatest among us are those who can deploy 'my friend' to total strangers in a way that is not hollow,  but somehow real and deeply felt; those who can make you, within seconds of first contact, believe it."

And Robin definitely mixes in some humor:

"...fries not merely consumed but circulated as social currency; peace offerings, seductions."
"I felt the disorientation of a generous offer that in no way lines up with anything you want to do: like a promotion to senior alligator wrestler, or an all-expenses paid trip to Gary, Indiana."
How about the dough starter called Clint Yeastwood?
And then there's the pathway through the market called the "yellow-tape road."

Of course there are sentences that make me think of programs and places that I know - e.g. Project Runway, Chez Panisse, and Scientology (are you watching Leah Remini's expose on A&E? it's amazing).

So it's not that the book wasn't well-written, because it definitely was.  It was just the story itself that disappointed me as it went along.  Let me say, though, that the ratings on Goodreads (3.82/5) and Amazon (4.4/5) definitely go counter to what I'm telling you.  I will be the 1st to admit that I might be a little too critical.  But I gotta give it to you as I see it.

Whoops.  Forgot to tell you what the book is about:

Lois Clary is a software programmer at General Dexterity, a robotics company with typical San Franciscan world-changing ambitions.  She codes all day and collapses at night, her human contact limited to the two brothers who run the neighborhood hole-in-the-wall from which she orders, and savors, dinner every evening.  Then, disaster!  Visa issues.  The brothers close up shop, and fast.  But they have one last delivery for Lois; their culture, the sourdough starter brought from afar, used to bake their bread.  She must keep it alive, they tell her - feed it daily, play it music, and please, please: learn to bake with it.
Lois is no baker, but she could use a roommate, even if it is a needy colony of microorganisms.  Soon, not only is she eating her own homemade bread, she's providing loaves daily to the General Dexterity cafeteria.  The company chef urges her to take her product to the farmers market.  A whole new world opens up.
When Lois comes before the jury that decides who sells what at Bay Area markets, she encounters a close-knit club with little appetite for new members.  Then an alternative emerges: a secret market, literally underground, that aims to fuse food and technology.  It might be perfect for the programmer-turned-baker.  But who are these people, exactly?  And who is the mysterious Mr. Marrow presiding over it all?

People, I am still recommending this book.  If you agree with my assessment, then it is worth it just for the 1st half.  If, on the other hand, you don't agree with me, and you really like the 2nd half, then you will be extremely happy you read the whole thing.  I hope, for your sake, that it's "If" #2.






Friday, November 24, 2017

Another New Author for Me - and Another Big Hit

By now, you all know that I get a bunch of great recommendations from my East Coast blogger, Melissa.  Well, she recommended Before the Rain Falls, by Camille Di Maio, many months ago.  In fact, I just saw that I messaged the author back in May that I would be reading it soon.  Does May to November constitute "soon?"  I don't believe it does.  Even though I shirked my responsibility at the time, at least I'm making up for it now.  Let's start with the back cover:

After serving seventy years in prison for the murder of her sister, Eula, Della Lee has finally returned home to the Texas town of Puerto Pesar.  She's free from confinement - and ready to tell her secrets before it's too late.
She finds a willing audience in journalist Mick Anders, who is reeling after his suspension from a Boston newspaper and in town, reluctantly, to investigate a mysterious portrait of Eula that reportedly sheds tears.  He crosses paths with Dr. Paloma Vega, who's visiting Puerto Pesar with her own mission: to take care of her ailing grandmother and to rescue her rebellious younger sister before something terrible happens.  Paloma and Mick have their reasons to be in the hot, parched border town whose name translates as "Port of Regret."  But they don't anticipate how their lives will be changed forever.
Moving and engrossing, this dual story alternates between Della's dark ordeals of the 1940s and Paloma and Mick's present-day search for answers - about roots, family, love, and what is truly important in life.

I am a big fan of books that go back and forth...when it's done well (like This Is Us, for example).  And this one is done very well.  I liked everything that takes place in the present but still wanted to know what happened to Della in prison.  In fact, you needed that to really overall appreciate the book.  What else did I like about Before the Rain Falls? I'm glad you asked.

1.  Truly great lead characters - Della, Paloma, and Mick
2.  Romance, which I was not expecting
3.  Several very surprising moments for me, including one real shocker
4.  A definite emotional connection to several of the main protagonists
5.  Some gut-wrenching moments
6.  Well-written (have you heard this from me before, perchance?):
"Her smile.  A smile that made him feel warm inside.  Like there was goodness in the world, and it was right in front of him." - something we've all experienced, I would venture to say
7.  A couple of passages that brought to mind other favorite books, including Goodnight June and The Storyteller
8.  References to Kerry Lonsdale (an RBC author) and Melissa Amster (see paragraph #1 above) in the acknowledgements

How much did I like Before the Rain Falls?  I've already ordered her 1st book, The Memory of Us, from Recycle Books.  I have no choice but to scoot it up the TBR pile very quickly.






Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Not Your Typical Novella - Redux

Back on October 26 of last year, I wrote a review of a novella by one of my favorite romance authors, Kate Allure.  The book was called Bed & Breakfast & BONDAGE (her caps, not mine).  And it was tied (get it?) into Maria Adair's A St. Helena Vineyard Kindle World.  Everything is the same for #2, except the two protagonists.  Once again, the story takes place at Cat's B&B.  This time, the leads are Damien, who is called Master Edge in the local BDSM chapter (do you think there's actually a charter that's connected to the national BDSM office? probably not, I'm thinkin') and Lyndsey, who is staying at the B&B with 3 girlfriends.

One night, Lyndsey can't sleep and decides to take a walk around the grounds.  As she gets near the boundary of the property, she hears some quiet voices.  She peeks around the corner and sees a bunch of people relaxing in various states of (un)dress.  After a minute or two, the obvious head honcho tells everybody that the break is over and asks them to come back into the building (have you heard the joke about the guy in the underworld who says:  "Okay, everybody.  Break is over.  Back on your heads?" remind me to tell it to you).  Curiosity gets the better of Lyndsey, and she ends up inside the building.  And so it begins.

I basically have the same things to tell you for this one that I mentioned in #1.  It's an erotic romance with 2 strong characters.  It's very well-written, as all of Kate's books are.  And you definitely hope the protagonists can make the romance work.  #2 is a little different from #1 because the focus is almost entirely on the two mains, which definitely works for this story.  If you are not opposed to strong sexual language and activities, then you will enjoy the 2nd one in the series.  If you do have a problem with that stuff, then you can still enjoy the romance part of it.  I think we all root for a happily-ever-after story.  I won't give away the ending, but it is a romance, after all.





Tuesday, November 14, 2017

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

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

5-
Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng

4-
A Column of Fire, Ken Follett

2-
Sourdough, Robin Sloan
A Torch Against the Night, Saaba Tahir
In This Moment, Karma Brown
Before the Rain Falls, Camille Di Maio

1-
Lucky Boy, Shanthi Sekaran
Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
What She Left Behind, Ellen Marie Wiseman
A Walk Across the Sun, Corban Addison
Things You Won't Say, Sarah Pekkanen
The Winter Sea, Susanna Kearsley
Best Kept Secret, Amy Hatvany
Safe with me, Amy Hatvany
Close Enough to Touch, Colleen Oakley
Violets of March, Sarah Jio
Sweet Spot, Amy Ettinger

0-
There were 2 that got +1 vote and -1 vote:
Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Seders
The Woman in Cabin 10, Ruth Ware

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

Saturday, November 11, 2017

A couple of short reviews

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

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

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





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

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

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



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



Thursday, November 9, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let the verbal backlash begin!




Tuesday, November 7, 2017

HELLLLLLLLLLP MEEEEEEEEEE!

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

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

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




Sunday, November 5, 2017

Penguin's Best Fall Titles 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Robin Sloan Comes Out with Book #2

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

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







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





Friday, October 27, 2017

My 1st Amy Hatvany - Pretty Good

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

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

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

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

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


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








Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Book 4 of Alina Sayre's The Voyages of the Legend

This is a review that I am NOT happy to write.  Do you know why? Because it's the 4th and final book in Alina Sayre's YA fantasy, The Voyages of the Legend.  The Illuminated Kingdom ends the story in a most satisfactory way.  But I'll get to that later.

Every good series has a right-up-front ingredient in each book:  You are very happy to see the "regulars" again.  TVotL is no exception.  In fact, I teared up on page 1!  (Pretty soon I'll be crying when I read a cover!)  I had no shortage of emotional moments.  These are people that I really care about.  And as sad as I was to see it end, it did not take away from the connection I made with so many of the characters.  Well done, Alina.

Let me tell you what, in particular, stood out for me in The Illuminated Kingdom:
1.  It's very well-written.  That's almost a prerequisite if you are going to love a book.
2.  This is, simply put, a great adventure story.
3.  I definitely enjoyed the 1st half of the book.  There was a lot going on, and I was caught up in it.
4.  The 2nd half of the book is flat-out amazing.  I could not put it down. In fact, I even took it into the bath...Whoops.  TMI?  Well, you get my point.
5.  The epilogue/ending was terrific.  Writing a series ender has to be hard.  You want it to wrap up with some kind of bow.  But you don't want it to seem forced. This ending flowed naturally.  And I appreciated how Alina did it.

So, although I am slightly depressed that I won't be taking another journey on the Legend, I'm glad that I had the opportunity to travel with Ellie, Conner, Jude, Vivian, and all the rest on their voyages.  I won't easily forget them or the series.  What's next, Alina?








Sunday, October 22, 2017

A Very Good Debut Novel

The School of Essential Ingredients, by Erica Bauermeister, was a bit of a surprise for me.  It was recommended by RBC member, Darryl.  And I gave it a shot because of her endorsement (and because it had a USED BOOK 2017 tag at Recycle!).  If the title makes you think that this book is about food, then you would be right.  But it's a whole lot more than that. Take a looksee:

Once a month on a Monday night, eight students gather in Lillian's restaurant for a cooking class.  Among them is Claire, a young woman coming to terms with her new identity as a mother; Tom, a lawyer whose life has been overturned by loss; Antonia, an Italian kitchen designer adapting to life in America; and Carl and Helen, a long-married couple whose union contains surprises the rest of the class would never suspect.
The students have come to learn the art behind Lillian's soulful dishes, but it soon becomes clear that each seeks a recipe for something beyond the kitchen.  And, one by one, they are transformed by the aromas, flavors, and textures of what they create...

You know, the timing of this review is a bit eerie.  Last night, Joni and I had dinner with some friends at Chez Panisse in Berkeley.  For those of you who live outside of the Bay Area, this restaurant, started in 1971 (and still owned) by Alice Waters, is generally credited for beginning the California Cuisine trend.  You basically call one month before you want to eat there in order to get a reservation.  This is true for the upstairs cafe, where we ate, and the much more expensive restaurant on the ground floor.  And the food is so fresh and locally sourced that you don't know what the menu for the day is going to be until the morning of!  But my point (and, yes, I do have one) is that the feeling you get when you are eating at Chez Panisse is very similar to what I imagine Lillian's restaurant felt like for the eight people who took her class.  The best word I can think of in both cases is "Magic."

As you would expect with eight different stories (even Carl and Helen each had their own story), I emotionally connected with some more than others.  But what really struck me the more I thought about it is that any eight people will have stories to tell.  Erica had to create those stories so that we, the readers, would be interested.  But are they so different than the stories for any eight random people?  I don't think so.

The writing is very good.  But more importantly, she paints pictures that pop up in front of her eyes.  There are quite a few examples of this, but I will just show you two:

Eating an apple:  "It feels like fall," she commented and bit into it.  The sharp sweet sound of the crunch filled the air like a sudden burst of applause...

It stunned him how easy it was, after all that time waiting, to slip his right hand along her back and feel his fingers fit perfectly into the curve of her waist, to feel her fingers slide along the palm of his left hand and then rest softly in place.

And, finally, let me talk about the last chapter.  Epilogues are tricky things.  You don't necessarily want everything to wrap up too neatly...but you really do.  Erica's does both.  And she does it in a way that is extremely satisfying and VERY emotional.  Well done, Erica.  I am definitely looking forward to reading the sequel, The Lost Art of Mixing.






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.