Posts Tagged ‘California’

Best New Books of 2014: Amy W’s Picks

December 1, 2014

I enjoy a well-balanced diet…of books. Here we have something for EVERYONE from light and fun page-turners to thought-provoking non-fiction. Don’t let 2014 end without checking out any (or all) of these awesome books!

This Dark Road to MercyThis Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash
Easter and Ruby are two young girls placed in foster care after the sudden death of their junkie mother. The girls are used to watching out for themselves. They hope to be adopted, but do not want to live with their maternal grandparents in Alaska, total strangers, living in a strange land. Their estranged father, a washed up amateur league baseball player, appears suddenly and confuses the already precarious situation. In the backdrop of the novel and adding to the tension, is the home run rivalry between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire. The scores go back and forth and the competition is of interest to everyone. This Dark Road to Mercy is a well-constructed, page-turner that artfully tells a moving story in which children are once again thrust into an adult world.  See my full review.

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast
Roz Chast, a longtime New Yorker cartoonist, documents the slow decline of her aging parents. Not only does this impact her life at the time, but spending time with them at their most vulnerable brings up old anxieties. No surprise, Chast tackles this subject with great humor and candor. I found this book to be comforting and thought provoking. The graphic memoir format really lends itself to exploring a topic I would ordinarily shy away from reading.

LandlineLandline by Rainbow Rowell
Remember back in the 80’s when you would talk on the phone for an eternity until your ear actually hurt? I do. I loved talking on the phone, not so much cell phones— and texting has its moments if you can get past all the auto-correct errors. Nothing will ever surpass the old school telephone when it comes to connecting with another person. Georgie McCool is in crisis mode. She is a writer for a sitcom that just may get a pilot. Her marriage, family, mental health and personal hygiene suffer from the effort. She needs to reconnect. Her old yellow phone becomes her lifeline to the past and the present. Told with great humor and tenderness, Landline is a delight!

All Joy and No FunAll Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior
Why, why, why is parenting so hard today? This thought has crossed my mind a lot, well, more accurately, this thought lives in my mind and it ain’t goin’ nowhere. Parenting seemed easy for my mom (it also did not hurt that I was a perfect child, am I right?). This is really the only parenting book I have ever read and boy, do I love it! It is not a book about how to parent , but a look at what parenting is about these days from a sociological and psychological perspective. So, I was right — it is hard–but now I spend a lot less time focusing on the no fun aspects of parenting. See my full review.

Thousand Dollar Tan LineThe Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas
I loved the Veronica Mars television series! This book takes place a few years after the series ends when Veronica gets really close to joining the FBI but decides to live and work in her small, California beach-side hometown, Neptune. Written by the series creator, writer and producer, Rob Thomas, stylistically the book is true to the spirit of the show and the 2014 movie. I know you are thinking, “that sounds kind of low-brow for you, a well-read librarian”. Well, it’s not. This book is not great literature, but it is perfectly entertaining and it was great to be reunited with old friends (this is the part where you remember the catchy theme song…A long time ago, we used to be friends….).

Greatest Hits: The Mistress of Spices by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

January 7, 2014

We’ve kicked off the new year with The Book-A-Day Blog’s most popular posts of 2013!
Mythical and mystical, The Mistress of Spices is reminiscent of fables, magic, realism and fairy tales. The storyDivakaruni tells is transporting, but it is her gift for metaphor that makes this novel live and breathe. You feel like you are involved with the characters; its pages as redolent as any freshly ground spice. The themes revolve around the age-old magic of spices, which are imbued with powers as complexly spiritual as India itself, the birthplace of Divakaruni and her fearless heroine, Nayan Tara (Tilo). Born ugly and unwanted in a tiny village in India, Tilo is discarded by her family for the sin of being a girl. Resentful at being treated so shabbily, young Tilo throws herself on the mercy of the mythical serpents of the oceans, who deliver her to the mystical Island of Spices. There, she is initiated into the priestly sisterhood of Spice Mistresses, sent out into the world to help others by offering magic potions of fennel, peppercorn, lotus root, etc. She works her gentle magic in a tiny, rundown shop in Oakland, California, hidden within the body of an old woman. Here, Tilo devotes herself to improving the lives of the immigrant Indians who come to buy her spices–including an abused wife, a troubled youth, a chauffeur with dreams of American wealth, and a grandfather whose insistence on Old World propriety may have cost him his relationship with a beloved granddaughter. The spices are harsh taskmasters, and Tilo’s life is limited until her rebelliousness reasserts itself, and she becomes involved in the lives of her troubled customers. Tilo is forbidden to step out of her little shop or get involved with anyone, but of course Tilo goes out and gets involved with her customers. She falls in love with Raven, the quintessential romantic hero–dashing, handsome, rich, and brooding–but Raven actually embodies nothing less than the great spirit of the American Indian. Find and reserve this book in the catalog.

Best New Books of 2013: Melissa O’s Picks

December 12, 2013

Here it is! My favorite blog post of the year. It is difficult to narrow down my favorite books of the year to only five, but here is a sample from all over the library. As you can see, I have wide ranging interests, so you never know what I might stumble across to share with you!

The Good Nurse by Charles Graeber
This book combines the suspense of a crime drama, the anxiety many of us feel about going into the hospital, and a serial killer into a frightening edge-of-your-seat tale! This is the true story of Charles Cullen, a registered nurse who was implicated in the deaths of as many as 300 patients during his career and was finally arrested in 2003. The most terrifying aspect of the story is how he managed to be so successful as a serial killer.  For more information read a review of this book or check out the author’s website.

Nobody by Jennifer Barnes
Have you ever felt invisible, overlooked, or unimportant? Of course, it is all in your head. But what if it wasn’t? What if you COULDN’T be noticed? Meet Claire, a Nobody who does not know she is one. Until the day someone tries to kill her.  But how can he notice her when no one else does? And why would anyone care enough to want to assassinate her? With a nice mix of Sci-Fi, action, and romance this is a fun read.

Suspect by Robert Crais
This is a must read for any mystery, action thriller, or dog lover! A new favorite, this book grabbed me from the first pages as it brings together two damaged souls: a cop and a former war dog. Both are recovering from devastating injuries. Both have lost their partner. Can Scott and Maggie help each other heal? And will they ever be able to protect and serve again? You cannot help but root for this duo as they fight to solve the mystery of Scott’s partner’s death.

The Elite by Kiera Cass
The second book in Cass’s dystopian series (after The Selection) immerses you in political intrigue, romance, and … reality TV? Torn between two loves, America Singer is vying for the hand of Prince Maxom even as she is drawn back to her first love. But this prince doesn’t woo his princess in the way you would expect. He selects his bride through a televised competition. Think “The Dating Game” meets “The Real Housewives!” A fun read and I am looking forward to the next installment.

Frozen In Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of WWII by Mitchell Zuckoff
Two stories are woven together in this suspenseful retelling of a tragic and heroic rescue effort from WWII.  The book begins with the November 5, 1942 crash of a US cargo plane in Greenland. The rescue effort saw another plane crash, and the vanishing of a Grumman Duck amphibious plane. The modern day quest for those lost men and the retelling of the months long rescue is a riveting tale. What made it more special is describing the book to my grandfather, an Army lieutenant throughout war, and having him recall hearing about these lost men over 70 years ago.

The Mistress of Spices by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

June 7, 2013

Mythical and mystical, The Mistress of Spices is reminiscent of fables, magic, realism and fairy tales. The story Divakaruni tells is transporting, but it is her gift for metaphor that makes this novel live and breathe. You feel like you are involved with the characters; its pages as redolent as any freshly ground spice. The themes revolve around the age-old magic of spices, which are imbued with powers as complexly spiritual as India itself, the birthplace of Divakaruni and her fearless heroine, Nayan Tara (Tilo).

Born ugly and unwanted in a tiny village in India, Tilo is discarded by her family for the sin of being a girl. Resentful at being treated so shabbily, young Tilo throws herself on the mercy of the mythical serpents of the oceans, who deliver her to the mystical Island of Spices. There, she is initiated into the priestly sisterhood of Spice Mistresses, sent out into the world to help others by offering magic potions of fennel, peppercorn, lotus root, etc. She works her gentle magic in a tiny, rundown shop in Oakland, California, hidden within the body of an old woman. Here, Tilo devotes herself to improving the lives of the immigrant Indians who come to buy her spices–including an abused wife, a troubled youth, a chauffeur with dreams of American wealth, and a grandfather whose insistence on Old World propriety may have cost him his relationship with a beloved granddaughter. The spices are harsh taskmasters, and Tilo’s life is limited until her rebelliousness reasserts itself, and she becomes involved in the lives of her troubled customers.

Tilo is forbidden to step out of her little shop or get involved with anyone, but of course Tilo goes out and gets involved with her customers. She falls in love with Raven, the quintessential romantic hero–dashing, handsome, rich, and brooding–but Raven actually embodies nothing less than the great spirit of the American Indian.

Find and reserve this book in the catalog.

Greatest Hits: The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams

January 8, 2013

Join us the next five days and kick off the new year with The Book-A-Day Blog’s most popular posts of 2012!

The Dirty Streets of HeavenTad Williams is a well known Fantasy & Science Fiction writer (see The Dragonbone Chair & City of Golden Shadow), but this novel is set in a modern, real world setting (a fictional city in Northern California). Our narrator and main character is Bobby Dollar, a wise-cracking angel who lives on Earth and is an advocate for souls of the recently departed. In Williams’ world, when a person dies there is a trial and an angel and a demon each advocate for the soul to go to Heaven or Hell based on that person’s actions during life. The judge is one of the much higher levels of angels, and all of this naturally occurs outside of our perceived reality. It’s a pretty straight forward system – until one day when a soul goes missing before it can be assigned to Heaven, Hell or Purgatory for all eternity.

Bobby is not like any other angel I’ve ever read about – he drinks, curses and indulges his carnal desires when on Earth, and while he’s good at his job, his behavior means that he’s not exactly held in high esteem by his superiors up in Heaven. Then there’s the opposition: in addition to the demon advocates, Bobby is soon also mixed up with the likes of a higher level demoness known as the Countess of Cold Hands. She and her hellish companions make life – or is it afterlife? – very difficult for Bobby, who just wants to find out where the missing souls (yes, there have been more since that first one) have disappeared to. To make matters worse, a very powerful demon lord believes that Bobby has stolen something from him and has sent an ancient and practically unstoppable monster after him.

This novel is filled with action as Bobby races to find out what’s happened to the missing souls, evades the ancient monstrosity that’s hunting him, falls in lust with the Countess, and tries to avoid getting his friends – fellow angels on Earth – hurt. He’s also periodically “called upstairs” to be questioned by angels much higher than him on the celestial ladder. Even though Bobby is assured by everyone in Heaven that “God loves you,” he gets the distinct feeling that his superiors aren’t telling him everything they know.

Williams’ world building is first rate and he really made me feel like I was right there with Bobby, both in the Bay area and up in Heaven. Tad has also created some wonderfully relatable and highly entertaining characters for Bobby Dollar to interact with and play off of, with tons of memorable dialogue. I’d recommend this book for those who like paranormal detectives, especially the Harry Dresden series by Jim Butcher, as well as anyone who liked Piers Anthony’s Incarnations of Immortality series, starting with On a Pale Horse.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams

November 5, 2012

Tad Williams is a well known Fantasy & Science Fiction writer (see The Dragonbone Chair & City of Golden Shadow), but this novel is set in a modern, real world setting (a fictional city in Northern California). Our narrator and main character is Bobby Dollar, a wise-cracking angel who lives on Earth and is an advocate for souls of the recently departed. In Williams’ world, when a person dies there is a trial and an angel and a demon each advocate for the soul to go to Heaven or Hell based on that person’s actions during life. The judge is one of the much higher levels of angels, and all of this naturally occurs outside of our perceived reality. It’s a pretty straight forward system – until one day when a soul goes missing before it can be assigned to Heaven, Hell or Purgatory for all eternity.

Bobby is not like any other angel I’ve ever read about – he drinks, curses and indulges his carnal desires when on Earth, and while he’s good at his job, his behavior means that he’s not exactly held in high esteem by his superiors up in Heaven. Then there’s the opposition: in addition to the demon advocates, Bobby is soon also mixed up with the likes of a higher level demoness known as the Countess of Cold Hands. She and her hellish companions make life – or is it afterlife? – very difficult for Bobby, who just wants to find out where the missing souls (yes, there have been more since that first one) have disappeared to. To make matters worse, a very powerful demon lord believes that Bobby has stolen something from him and has sent an ancient and practically unstoppable monster after him.

This novel is filled with action as Bobby races to find out what’s happened to the missing souls, evades the ancient monstrosity that’s hunting him, falls in lust with the Countess, and tries to avoid getting his friends – fellow angels on Earth – hurt. He’s also periodically “called upstairs” to be questioned by angels much higher than him on the celestial ladder. Even though Bobby is assured by everyone in Heaven that “God loves you,” he gets the distinct feeling that his superiors aren’t telling him everything they know.

Williams’ world building is first rate and he really made me feel like I was right there with Bobby, both in the Bay area and up in Heaven. Tad has also created some wonderfully relatable and highly entertaining characters for Bobby Dollar to interact with and play off of, with tons of memorable dialogue. I’d recommend this book for those who like paranormal detectives, especially the Harry Dresden series by Jim Butcher, as well as anyone who liked Piers Anthony’s Incarnations of Immortality series, starting with On a Pale Horse.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

May 31, 2012

In the summer of 2011, the publishing world engaged in a fierce bidding war for a debut novel. The Age of Miracles, written by Karen Thompson Walker, is a dystopian novel. Its portrait of an Earth slowing down after being knocked off its axis by a mysterious cataclysm spookily mirrored the newscasts broadcasting from Japan at the time of the auction. Japan had just been devastated by a real life natural disaster—a giant tsunami following a massive undersea earthquake.

The novel is told from the point of view of 11 year old Julia. She doesn’t have magical powers, she’s not in love with a vampire, and she’s not setting the world on fire with her archery skills. She’s simply a normal kid doing her best to survive the vicissitudes of adolescence. Julia describes her world and herself the following way:

“This was middle school, the age of miracles, the time when kids shot up three inches over the summer, when breasts bloomed from nothing, when voices dipped and dove. Our first flaws were emerging, but they were being corrected. Blurry vision could be fixed invisibly with the magic of the contact lens. Crooked teeth were pulled straight with braces … A few boys were growing tall. I knew I still looked like a child.”

Julia has the bad luck to enter her age of miracles just as Earth enters an age of winding down, exposing flaws no one knows how to correct. Thompson interweaves Julia’s observations of the “slowing” of the planet with the story of her budding romance with her schoolmate, Seth, and the unraveling of her parents’ marriage. Julia is young, but she faces her situation with a maturity many adults would envy. Walker makes her believable—and before I knew it Julia had crept into my heart.

Find and reserve this new book in our online catalog.

P.S. The book selling & publishing newsletter Shelf Awareness has dedicated an issue to The Age of Miracles.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

November 29, 2011

Based on real life events of the Dust Bowl during the 1930’s Depression, this classic American novel was an instant best seller, with about 450,000 copies sold in the first year. It also won the Pulitzer Prize and was made into an Academy Award-winning movie the year after publication. The novel was banned, it was burned, and it was decried and discussed on the radio, in the pulpit, and in the streets. But, above all, it was read. The Nobel Prize committee cited The Grapes of Wrath a “great work” and as one of the committee’s main reasons for granting the prize to Steinbeck in 1962.

In it, we’re introduced to Tom Joad, the eldest son of the family, who has just been released from prison for killing a man in a fight. While walking home he meets traveling preacher Jim Casy, who knew the Joad family years ago. The two men return to the Joad farm and home, only to find it deserted and empty. Tom finds out that the family has moved in with with his Uncle Bill not far off and when he gets there he doesn’t quite get the homecoming he expected. Instead, he discovers that his family has been forced off their Oklahoma farm by the bank and that they are planning on migrating to California – a land with plenty of jobs and plenty of food – or so the handbills proclaim.

The novel then follows the Joads, with their friend Casy, as they make the journey that so many others made across our vast country on the famed mother-road: Route 66. Steinbeck uses a literary technique of alternating chapters to great effect. Some chapters detail the progress and events in the lives of the Joads, while others provide a “slice of life” overview of different aspects of the westward journey that so many Americans made during the Dust Bowl and Great Depression. For example, early in the novel one such chapter depicts the practice of buying and selling used cars and trucks from the point of view of what we now think of as a stereotypical used car salesman. He’ll do anything to move the jalopies on his lot, including all sorts of dirty tricks to make broken down and unsafe vehicles appear road-worthy, as well as outright lying to the rubes buying them. Steinbeck’s writing style is also one of main reasons I loved this book – it is rhythmic, and lyrical and has been compared by many to The Bible. There are many Biblical parallels in the plot of the story, too.

Through every trial and tribulation that the Joads face, we appreciate even more the struggles that millions of Americans endured during the Great Depression. My one small complaint about the book is it’s ending. It seemed to me (and to some members of our book club) to be vague, anti-climactic and abrupt, although some think this was done on purpose by Steinbeck. For me, the book would have had a much stronger end, if the author had just moved Tom’s “I’ll be there” speech to the end of the novel. Henry Fonda made this scene even more memorable in the movie.

Find this classic and quintessentially American novel in our catalog.

One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

March 15, 2011

“Everyone has a story…” When an earthquake traps nine people in an Indian passport visa office in an unnamed American city, the roof collapses and the water level begins to slowly rise –  a punk teenager, an African American ex-soldier, a Muslim-American struggling with 9/11, a Chinese grandmother with secrets, two office workers on the brink of an affair and others must band together to survive.

As tensions and panic accelerate, a young graduate student suggests they each share a story, “one amazing thing” from their lives, which they have never told anyone before, to pass the time and get their minds off their perilous situation.

The tales are haunting glimpses into life-altering moments in each storyteller’s life-giving the reader glimpses of the person they are, were once, and might yet become.

Allusions to the Canterbury Tales and Scheherazade combine with this suspense-filled survival tale to make a wonderfully memorable read!  I have enjoyed everything Divakaruni has written, but this is her best yet!

I read it 3 months ago and I still can’t stop telling people about it!

Find this book in our catalog.

Blood Vines by Erica Spindler

May 11, 2010

Erica Spindler takes us far away from her usual haunts for her latest thriller. We are in the Sonoma Valley of California, in the heart of that state’s famous wineries. The skeletal and mummified remains of an infant have turned up on the property of Harlan Sommer. The discovery is about to open a 25-year-old unsolved kidnapping.  Daniel Reed , the chief homicide detective assigned to the case was only  13 years old when the abduction occurred and actually lived near by. His family was friends of the Sommers.

Alexandra Owens Clarkson lives in San Francisco,where she works and is studying for a graduate degree.  She also has an on-again, off-again relationship with her ex-husband, Tim. She remembers little about her childhood and her only known relative is her mother, Patsy Owens. Her mother is a manic-depressive who often skips her meds and spends her days painting multiple works that never seem to get finished. Even though her past is hazy, Alex occasionally experiences weird dreams that suggest some dark secrets or memories. Her world is about to come crashing down after receiving a frantic phone call from her mother. When she arrives at her mother’s house, she finds that her mother has committed suicide and a newspaper article is circled on the kitchen table.

The article is about the remains found on the winery grounds and the name of the lead detective, Daniel Reed. Now much of Alex’s childhood is about to be revealed. The body may be a half-brother that she never knew existed and Detective Reed is also a factor in the puzzle of her life. Alex may finally get some closure, but another murder intercedes.

The community of wine growers is a tight-knit community where many people know much about their neighbors, but some long buried secrets are about to surface.  Erica Spindler has set the groundwork for a another fascinating murder mystery.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.


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