Thursday, August 29, 2013

Comfort reading

So, things have been pretty quiet around here for the past couple of weeks.  It's not, for once, because I've been slacking off.  Nope, I've been pretty darn sick.  (And yet, how awesome is it that I've found a cartoon about flu that is also a literary pun?)  And while I've certainly spent a significant portion of the past two weeks flat on my back in bed, there's also been the necessity of getting back up and working.  So, basically it's been bed and work for a while. 

At one point, I had the crazy thought that I could catch up on my reviewing.  Yeah, not so much.  I haven't had a lot of mental energy.  These are the first words I've written, and even this insipidness is a challenge.  So what have I been doing with myself?  Watching The View and Dr. Phil?  Nah.  I've been reading.  More specifically, I've been comfort reading.

I wasn't kidding about not having a lot of mental energy.  I've got some amazing fall literary fiction in my hands that I can't wait to read.  But I'm waiting.  I just can't handle the literary fiction right now.  I can't handle anything too challenging.  Mostly, I've been seeking the light and entertaining, the diverting, and feel-good or funny fiction is a bonus.  (Though I've made a couple of missteps along the way into darker territory.)  And I've been comfort reading in volume.  I've read 17 books in the past 12 days.  For those who are wondering, here's exactly what I've been reading:

The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde - I love Jasper Fforde!  He makes me happy when all else
fails.  I read this novel sometime before it was published last year.  But the sequel will be out in a few months, and I got the audiobook cheap, so I decided to revisit book one of this YA series before reading...

The Song of the Quarkbeast by Jasper Fforde - See above.  Jasper Fforde is awesome, whether
writing for kids or adults, and frankly, I don't see a whole lot of difference in his whimsical tales for either audience.  Also, I love that Twitter will auto-fill the word "quarkbeast."  Jasper FForde is wildly inventive, endlessly clever, and always, always funny.  I love him.

Don't Look Now by Michelle Gagnon - This is the second book in the trilogy that began with the awesome Don't Turn Around, a book that I absolutely could not put down last year.  Don't Look Now suffers a bit from being the middle book in a trilogy, but it leaves me hungering for next years conclusion.  (Michelle lives in my neighborhood in San Francisco and is a friend.  I am planning on getting her very drunk sometime in the next few months and tricking her into giving me the unpublished MS.) 

The Cure by Douglas E. Richards - Now, if you were sick and had a book
called The Cure on your kindle, you'd read it, right?  Sadly, the forthcoming The Cure was not the cure for what ailed me.  I'd describe it as a science fiction novel masquerading as a thriller.  I really have nothing good to say about it, which is unfortunate.  His earlier novels, Wired and Amped, were highly recommended by mutual friend Boyd Morrison, who's opinion I trust.  This latest, alas, is a real miss.  And a real mess.  Made me feel sicker.  Ugh.

Covet by Tracey Garvis Graves - Did anyone read her (originally self-published) mega-hit novel On the Island?  Man, that was a guilty pleasure!  Everything about that earlier story was extraordinary.  I mean, a young man and older woman marooned on a deserted island?  Extraordinary circumstances.  Her follow-up, Covet, is exactly the opposite.  It's as common a story as they come.  More than a decade into a once happy marriage, a husband ignores his wife and she finds someone else to pay her attention.  That scenario simply couldn't top or even equal the deserted island tale, but the characters grew on me.  It was sort of Desperate Housewife-ish, which the author acknowledges.  It passed the time.

A Bad Day for Romance by Sophie Littlefield - Hmmm, it's been a nearly unprecedented length of
time since I've mentioned Sophie on the blog.  How odd.  This was a bittersweet read for me.  Bittersweet is that it was just as awesome as all of the other Stella Hardesty novels, but it is also supposedly the last.  If that's the case, both Stella and Sophie have ended the series on a high note.  It was fantastic, with all the terrific character-based humor I've come to expect.

Song of Spider-Man: The Inside Story of the Most Controversial Musical in Broadway History by Glen Berger - Oh, that title is so true!  Like millions of theater lovers, I followed this musical's disastrous path to the Great White Way avidly.  It was like watching a train wreck, but you couldn't look away.  This non-fiction work from the most inside of insiders was absolutely fascinating!  Definitely as drama-filled as anything you will ever see on a stage!

The Returned by Jason Mott - This book had a slew of starred reviews in the trades, and had a ton of buzz at BEA.  It's even being turned into a television series.  I wanted to read it before Tuesday's publication date.  It's an excellent, thought-provoking novel of ideas and emotion.  Probably both too smart and to heavy for sick-bed reading.  I cried a lot.  It's well worth checking out.

Dangerous Curves Ahead by Sugar Jamison  - In an effort not to think so much, I turned to chick-lit.  I have a weakness for chick-lit about zaftig Jewish girls.  There's quite a lot of it out there.  This one was fairly contrived and ridiculous.  She digs him, he digs her; the obstacles along their path to true happiness were pure contrivance.  Still, it was a quick and somewhat steamy diversion.  I've read worse.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein - This was another misstep from the all-fluff comfort reading.  I've been hearing nothing but wonderful things about this YA WWII drama since it was published last year.  I've thought about reading it time and time again, but it was receiving a galley of the sequel, Rose Under Fire, that finally inspired me to do so.  First, let me say that I don't even know why this book is classified as YA.  It seemed wholly adult to me.  It's an intense wartime tale, and very sad as books about Nazi torture tend to be.  But what a terrific look at women's contribution to the war effort!  Excellent, but I definitely need a break before tackling book two.  Not fluffy.

Six Years by Harlan Coben - It is shocking to me that as many thrillers as I read, I've never before read a Harlan Coben novel.  I am unlikely to suddenly start reading his long-running series.  However, his most recent novel, Six Years, was a stand alone.  I completely enjoyed this intro to his work.  It was fast-paced, well-plotted, well-written, and had an appealing everyman protagonist.  I shall look forward to seeking out more of his stand alone titles.

The Last Girlfriend on Earth by Simon Rich - This book has been on my radar for months, but I just wasn't sure about it.  But picking it up for $1.99 as part of the Kindle Daily Deal was a no-brainer.  I also picked up the audiobook for cheap, which was a good call on my part.  I often avoid author-read audiobooks, but occasionally they're excellent.  I can't imagine anyone who could do a better job reading Rich's material.  And collectively these stories are hysterical!  I couldn't contain my inappropriate laughter in public places as I was listening to it.  Rich's humor is absurd, whimsical, weird, and sublime.  And look, this one may become a television show, too.

Wayward by Blake Crouch - It was receiving this galley of book two in Crouch's Wayward Pines Trilogy that had finally inspired me to read book one, Pines, a couple of weeks ago.  I really loved it!  It was an absolute page-turner, and book two did not disappoint.  It picked up right where the first had left off, and again I'm waiting a year for the conclusion.  BTW, this too has been picked up for television, by M. Night Shamalan with a starry cast.  I could see both Wayward Pines and The Returned working quite well on television, and I'm looking forward to both adaptations.

The Bookstore by Deborah Meyler - This novel concerns 23-year-old Esme, a British woman in New York to pursue her Ph.D. in art history at Columbia.  Early in the novel she discovers that the one night she and her new boyfriend failed to take precautions has led to an accidental pregnancy.  This leads to all the turmoil and conflict one might expect, and also to a part-time job at a second-hand bookstore.  I'm not very interested in pregnancy or babies, but I've spent a ridiculous amount of time shooting the breeze in used bookstores.  I loved the environment and community Meyler depicted.  And I was pleased by this smarter than average example of women's fiction.

Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child - I've had this audiobook in my library for quite a while now.  It's been nearly 20 years (!) since I first read this awesome debut by this duo who have become two of my favorite authors.  I've been wanting to revisit this novel for ages, but it's always so hard to rationalize these rereads.  But not when you feel really cruddy and are allowed to indulge in anything that might possibly make you feel better.  And it did make me feel better!  After all these years, the characters introduced in Relic have become old friends, but it was really fantastic revisiting their origins.  Pendergast was not yet fully developed into the quirky character he would later become, although I did smile near the end when he said, "It's a bad habit, but one I find hard to break."  And his dynamic with D'Agosta was very different in this first outing.  None of that, "My dear Vincent..." stuff.  I'll be honest, I liked this milder Pendergast.  Relic is still a terrific science thriller and a really accomplished debut novel.  I read it in just a few hours and for those hours I was happy.  I also have the audiobook of Reliquary on deck.  Something tells me I won't be able to wait long before I listen to it.

Never Go Back by Lee Child -  I've been in the mood for a Reacher novel.  I was just getting ready
to raid the audio library when Random House sent over a galley of next weeks release.  Thank you, Random House, for your awesome timing!  Never Go Back is as predictably enjoyable of all Child's other novels.  Reacher is a fascinating character.  Does this latest novel shed new light on the character?  Possibly it does.  But even if it doesn't, he's so endlessly fascinating by virtue of his otherness.  And it is, of course, intricately plotted, with excellent action sequences, and lots and lots of sudden violence.

What's on deck for tomorrow?  I'm not sure yet.  Very likely more comfort reading.  Or maybe I'll take another swing at the forthcoming Alice Hoffman novel.  Hopefully, I'll get my brain back soon.  I've got upcoming novels by Jhumpa Lahiri, Dara Horn, Paul Harding, Lorrie Moore, and so many more waiting to be read.  And, ugh, the reviews not written.  My head spins--but that could be the flu. 

Anyway, readers, hold on a few more days.  I've already written reviews for two awesome books being released next week, and I've got some great video to share soon.  I'll be back up to speed any day now.  Meanwhile, I've discovered that comfort reading is a good thing.  I should indulge a little more often.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

“Sometimes you can tell the truth better through stories.”

The Truth
by Michael Palin

The quote above is one of more than a dozen that wrestle with the nature of truth in this second novel by writer, globe-hopper, and former-Python, Michael Palin. At the heart of this struggle is Keith Mabbut. Keith was once a crusading investigative journalist, but the hard realities of life have turned him into more of a paid corporate hack. Having just wrapped his latest commissioned work, he’s finally about to indulge in a passion project, his first novel. He queries Tess, a lady friend:
’Do you prefer fact or fiction?’
‘Oh, fiction every time. I hate facts.’
‘Facts are just facts.’ She shrugged dismissively. ‘They don’t amount to a row of beans. If you want the truth, read Jane Austen.’
Tess has a point, but hers is one of many views that are examined in this morality play. Interrupting Keith’s well-laid plans is his agent with the best offer he’s received in years. It’s a commission to write a book about the reclusive activist Hamish Melville. For decades, Melville has been a tireless defender of the environment and a crusader on behalf of indigenous peoples. And he’s ducked the press entirely, creating quite the aura of mystery:
“I’m not interested in talking about myself. I’m interested in what I can do, in the time left to me, to prevent a little of the damage we seem hell bent on inflicting on this long-suffering planet. I’m not the story.”
After some internal wrangling, Keith does accept the assignment, along with the punishing six-month deadline. Now all he has to do is unearth a man that no one can find. This leads Keith on a journey far from his comfortable London existence. Eyes are opened. Much is learned. And, indeed, a book is produced. But when the manuscript is submitted at last, the nature of “the truth” again comes into question. Whose truth? And how many of the parties involved have their own agendas that have nothing to do with the truth?

Palin, himself, is a writer who has delved into both fact and fiction—with fact winning out a majority
of the time. The man has exhaustively documented his travels to the remotest corners of the world, and it’s clear that his personal experience has colored the tale he’s chosen to tell. And he tells his tale well in the clear, clean, elegant prose that seems to come so naturally to the British.

The Truth is more character-driven than plot-driven, but as the novel moved towards its inevitable conclusion, I found myself turning pages faster. I had gotten caught up in the story and was hungry for the revelations that finally came. As the character at the center of this study, Keith Mabbut makes a fine protagonist. He’s likeable, idealistic, kind-hearted, and yet still somewhat foolish and flawed. His personal life is in a fair amount of disarray. At the age of 56, he’s got a lot to learn and he knows it.

I remember reading Palin’s debut, Hemingway’s Chair, 15 years ago and anticipating some Python-esque comic novel. That gentle story couldn’t have been further from what I was expecting. This time my expectations were more in line. The Truth also features a certain gentleness and civility—and yes, of course, some humor—but there’s nothing over-the-top or wacky about the tale. It may not be the novel one would expect from a comic genius, but it looks with clear-eyed affection at the human condition. Says one character of the events depicted:
“It would be an interesting cautionary tale. And I trust you enough to know that you would tell it honestly, but charitably, too. Everyone, no matter how admirable they appear to be, is simply human. Prone to all the imperfections, temptations and mendacities that go with the territory.”
Ain’t it the truth.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

VIDEO: Andrew Sean Greer on The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells

I know, I know, enough already!  I keep going on about this book.  What can I say?  I love it.  I read it way back in January, and I've been spreading the word ever since.  I can't resist sharing good books.

Now, I'm not going to lie; I am very fond of Andrew Sean Greer.  I have written previously of our
original rom com meeting at Symphony Hall.  In the eleven years since, he's been nothing but delightful every time I see him.  And he has yet to write a disappointing book.  Plus, if you hand him a microphone, he is wildly entertaining.  This was proven to me yet again at his recent book launch party at the Booksmith.  Andy's reading, talk, and Q & A were so much fun that I was kicking myself for not filming them for you.

Fortunately, Andy's local to San Francisco.  He had several Bay Area signings scheduled.  I shot him a note asking if I could film his event at the Books, Inc. (Castro) and, as always, he was happy to accommodate.  I was seated right in front of him, and consequently got better film than usual.  This came out pretty well, actually.  And as it happened, much of Andy's family was present that evening.  I was sitting right next to his mom and young nephew--which will become apparent as you watch.  You'll also be introduced to Andy's twin brother.  It was fun to see him interacting with his family.  I filmed this event from start to big finish.  (I mean, it's not every author that closes a book signing with a couple of ukulele numbers!)

Incidentally, I ran into Andy (and a swarm of other local novelists) at another writer's event last week.  It's so awesome how the local lit community supports each other!  I wasn't expecting to see Andy again so soon and announced, "I'm not stalking you!"  Let me repeat that again here, Andy, because I think I'll be seeing you at Litquake in Palo Alto this weekend...

NOTE:  I am confident that either of the independent booksellers linked in this post will be delighted to sell you a signed, first edition of this wonderful novel.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

“Perception is reality.”

Big Egos
by S. G. Browne

“It used to be you were stuck with your own personality, your own identity, and any adjustments to your persona would only be as successful as your acting ability. That all changed with the introduction of Big Egos.

Not everyone wants to alter who they are, to live a life that isn’t theirs and pretend to be someone they’re not. There are plenty of men and women who are perfectly content with their lives and their struggles and the comforts of their own identities. But for those who can afford it, for those who seek the thrill of experimenting with alternate personalities and temporary identities, Big Egos offers a respite from the mundane…

On CBS is an advertisement for Big Egos, ‘Does your lifestyle not fit the person inside of you? Try someone else on for size! For $3,000, you can change who you are by purchasing a DNA-encoded cocktail of your favorite dead actor, artist, writer, musician, singer, athlete, politician, talk show host, or television star. All legally approved by their respective estates, because if there’s one thing estate holders love, it’s money. You can even purchase an officially-licensed fictional character like the Luke Skywalker, the Mary Poppins, or the Harry Potter…’”
The quote above sums up well the premise of S. G. Browne’s latest novel, Big Egos, set in the world as we know it with this one notable exception. Our first-person narrator works in quality control for Big Egos, so he’s an insider, an endorser, and a high-volume user of this product. He’s also a man in a less than satisfying relationship, and he’s experiencing serious second thoughts about having talked his best friend into his first ego trip:
“I never should have introduced Nat to the world of Big Egos. Not that I haven’t enjoyed spending time with him. We’ve spent at least one night a week over the past month going to ego parties and bar hopping, pretending to be Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I’d almost forgotten how much fun we could have together.”
That does sound like fun, doesn’t it? But there’s a dark side to this technology, and Browne’s light tale gradually becomes nefarious, heading in unexpected directions. Regardless, there are laughs to be mined from start to finish. First and foremost, Mr. Browne is a social satirist, and this set-up provides rich ground for examining contemporary culture.

Additionally, the author has great fun with the personas of the many famous characters that pass
through his pages. It’s affectionate satirizing reminiscent of the film Midnight in Paris. The following snippet even features an eminently imitable character that appeared in that film, but Mr. Browne is playing with a much broader cross-section of popular culture. Always, however, it’s the extensive literary parody that I can’t resist:
“Give me a boat,” says Hemingway. “And the open sea. Nothing else matters.”
“What about complex sentences?” says Faulkner.
As for his own writing, Browne’s use of language is smooth, unobtrusive, and peppered with amusing observations:
“Every day, Emily brings a Cinnabon with her to work, and nibbles at it and picks at it, until it’s nothing but a corpse of a cinnamon roll. A pastry victim, gutted and left for dead on her desk like breakfast roadkill.”
Character development is a lot trickier. It’s hard to get to know characters that are constantly shifting personas. His narrator is a slick operator with a distinctive voice. The rest of the cast is more superficially developed. It should be clear, by now, that this is not a character study. Browne keeps his plot moving forward at a steady pace, and Big Egos is a quick and entertaining read. Consider it required reading for all pop-culture junkies.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

“Speak of the Devil and he shall appear.”

Speak of the Devil
by Allison Leotta

WARNING: Spoilers for Allison Leotta’s prior novel, Discretion, below.

Readers of Allison Leotta’s Anna Curtis legal thrillers have been waiting on tenterhooks for her latest novel, Speak of the Devil. The mystery of the prior installment, Discretion, was thoroughly wrapped up, but Anna’s personal life ended on a cliff-hanger with the words, “I am going to ask him to marry me.” The End. I ask you, who does that? Torture! The good news is, Speak of the Devil picks up immediately with Anna’s proposal to her significant other, Homicide Chief Jack Bailey. I’ll let you discover what his response is on your own; you won’t have to wait long.

On the professional side of things, what should have been a routine bust on a brothel turns into a murder investigation. Anna is trying to hunt down a machete-wielding monster with ties to a massive criminal gang. Unfortunately, before long this monster with the face of a devil is trying to hunt Anna down as well.

Obviously, there’s much, much more to the tale than that, but in this case, I think that telling less is more. Each of Ms. Leotta’s novels has been more enjoyable than the last, as the plotting of her mysteries becomes defter and readers become more invested in her cast of characters. Reading Speak of the Devil, I was almost incensed by what Ms. Leotta put her protagonist through. I know that authors are supposed to torture their creations, but enough already! As for the mystery, there are some real shockers this time around, causing me to be especially circumspect in my synopsis.

The good news is that most of the supporting characters that readers have grown fond of, such as
Detective McGee and Special Agent Sam Randazzo, are again by Anna’s side, and some interesting new characters are introduced. Mysteries alluded to in prior novels are answered conclusively. In general, the author excels at creating a consistent universe, with passing references to elements of past novels helping to sell the ongoing story.

Also helping sell the story is the extensive knowledge of Anna Curtis’s world that Ms. Leotta brings to her books. Like her protagonist, she too prosecuted sex crimes as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the DC Attorney General’s office. Leotta’s experience lends weight to observations like:
“Why, she wondered, just once, couldn’t a trial go just as planned—with the witnesses saying what you expected? There was always something. In the dozens of cases she’d taken to trial, not a single one went down without some sort of surprise in the middle or immediately before. The only question was how bad the surprise would be.”
Of course, it is those surprises that make for compelling page-turners. Speak of the Devil moves quickly, and to be honest, I had a hard time putting it down. I had never heard of the street gang MS-13 before, but apparently every terrifying thing in this book is true. And just as truth is stranger than fiction, it’s scarier, too. I don’t know whether to be relieved or dismayed that I’m so uninformed about what’s going on in the streets.

I’m grateful that Speak of the Devil doesn’t have the same kind of cliff-hanger ending that Discretion did. However, there may be changes ahead for Anna. This series consistently gets better as it goes. I can’t wait to see what the next chapter brings.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

VIDEO: Allison Leotta & the booty call of interviews

It's not much of a secret that I've been friends with novelist Allison Leotta for the past few years.  I met her at Thrillerfest in New York a few months before her debut novel, Law of Attraction, was published.  (IIRC, she approached to ask me about the embroidery I was stitching on.)  Over the course of the next few days, I discovered that she was a delightful lady.  That is often enough to inspire me to sample one novel, and so once it was published I did check out Law of Attraction.  I've been a fan ever since.  Ali has been described as "the female John Grisham" in the Providence Journal, and I can't do better than that. 

So, the video above has been dubbed "the booty call of interviews."  I've been meaning to shoot a video interview with Ali for the past couple of years, and it just never happens.  We kept trying to schedule time during the most recent Thrillerfest in July, but somehow it still never happened.  Time was running out.

As it happens, Ali and I share a tradition with several friends.  On the last night of Thrillerfest we get dressed in our best and have a night out on the town before heading back to the Grand Hyatt for a long night of socializing well past closing time in the bar.  Here's a photo of the group of us at dinner earlier in the evening:

For those who are curious, in the front row from left to right is Randi Morrison, me, Allison Leotta, and Paul Kemprecos.  The second row is Graham Brown, Christi Kemprecos, and Boyd Morrison--all great friends.  Oh, and yes, that's a two-story Buddha in the background of this hip, Midtown eatery.

Sometime a bit past midnight I realized that another year was about to pass with no interview.  I was determined.  I was, as you'll hear, 84% of the way through her forthcoming novel, Speak of the Devil, and was very caught up in the story.  I'd been sort of harassing her about torturing her protagonist all weekend.  So, throwing caution to the wind, Ali and I set our cocktails aside and filmed the very casual conversation above.  The, uh, scotch might explain my filming in the first moments of the video, but it settles down reasonably quickly.

I hope you enjoy this interview.  We were having fun.  Ali is as poised as can be and I sound incoherent, but it was late, okay?  Ali's third Anna Curtis legal thriller goes on sale this Tuesday, August 6th.  I can't recommend this series enough--and friendship has nothing to do with it.  My review of Speak of the Devil will be posted to this blog early next week.

NOTE:  OMG, the Kindle edition of Ali's debut novel, Law of Attraction is still on sale for $2.99!  Grab this bargain by clicking on the link in the novel's title ASAP. It's too good a deal to last.

Friday, August 2, 2013

“It became one of those stories, never told honestly.”

& Sons
by David Gilbert

I think I was about 7% into David Gilbert’s sophomore novel, & Sons, when I started emailing friends that it was brilliant. That was a pretty snap judgment, but by the time I made it to 100% I knew my instincts about this novel were dead on. Now I’m going to use Mr. Gilbert’s words more than my own in this review, as it quickly became apparent that he is the most delightful sort of prose stylist—smart, sophisticated, inventive. Here, for instance, is how he introduces a character:
“Richard was handsome in the style of generations of handsome men who marry and pass along their handsome genes like pieces of family silver, in a pinch pawnable. Whatever former hard living had colored his face with almost exotic damage, like a psychological tan. He. Had. Lived.”
The novel opens at the funeral of Charles Topping and is primarily narrated by his youngest son, Philip, whose life is in something of a crisis. An extramarital affair has caused the dissolution of his marriage, as well as the loss of his teaching job. Attending the funeral is Charlie’s oldest friend, the legendary, reclusive novelist A.N. (Andrew) Dyer, about whom it is written:
“…his last novel, The Spared Man, was published roughly ten years ago and most of that was cribbed from something he had abandoned 20 years before—since then nothing new from the celebrated author of Ampersand and Here Live Angry Dogs and Brutal Men and a dozen other books, not even a decent letter of length. It seemed a vital piece had gone loose in his brain and he could feel the bit rattling around, a temporal gear that had slipped its carriage and no longer stamped thoughts into proper words and sentences. He was, in effect, broken.”
Upon hearing that Philip is renting a room at a depressing residence hotel, Andrew extends an invitation to stay at his large Upper East Side apartment with himself and his teenage son, Andy. The two families have always been close:
“It seemed that no matter where we were, the Dyers and Toppings were within shouting distance—New York, Southampton, Hobe Sound—brought together by mothers who took the obligation of our fathers’ friendship more seriously than our fathers ever did. I think that these women hoped that the continuation of this history might provide the missing words from these heavily redacted men, as if we might fill in a full and pleasing account of their life together.”
Women are very much secondary in this novel. It is about the complicated and sometimes fraught
relationships of men. And more than anything else, as the novel’s title would suggest, it’s about fathers and sons. The other central characters in this tale are Andrew’s two adult sons, Richard and Jamie, half-brothers to young Andy, as well as Richard’s teenage son, Emmett. This is a family drama, but along the way there is more than a hint of satire of both the publishing and film industries. Much hay is made of the literary trappings.

And then, just when you think you know the story you’re reading, Mr. Gilbert throws in a real shocker from out of left field. As I reader I was like, “Wha…?” But that’s okay, it was a bold choice. It wasn’t the only time that Mr. Gilbert surprised me in the course of this tale. & Sons is wonderfully character-driven, but much happens within its 448 pages. He does not stint on story.

As I read, I reflected that for whatever reason, there are few novels that examine, in depth, the internal lives and relationships of men. Mr. Gilbert has a great sensitivity for nuance, and has created some endearingly flawed and fallible characters. This novel was truly a joy to read and one which it’s a pleasure to recommend.

NOTE: Check out the unusually fun book trailer below.  Brooke Shields gets top billing, but the stalkerish fan featured is the author.  And San Francisco readers, please note the Mr. Gilbert will be reading and speaking at the Book Passage's Ferry Building location on Wednesday, August 7, 2013 at 6:00pm.  See you there!