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[sticky post] Fashionista Piranha Book Blog

Welcome to Fashionista Piranha Book Blog, where a good book is always your best accessory!  Life is too short to waste reading bad literature, especially when there's so many good books out there. If I can keep you from reading one atrocious novel, I've done my job. But if I help you find something you'll enjoy, even better. I've achieved my goal.

I have been reading, writing and reviewing since 2008, so there's a lot to see here.  To read the latest reviews, simply scroll down; in the sidebar to the left I also have the reviews grouped chronologically.  If there's a specific title or series you have in mind, I also have the reviews indexed by the author:

Book Reviews by Author, A-H
Book Reviews by Author, I-P
Book Reviews by Author, Q-Z

Sometimes I will wander off-topic and talk about theater productions I've seen.  Usually - but not always - it'll be Shakespeare-related (most commonly the plays from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival) or a stage adaptation of a classic book.  But if I see a show and I'm super-excited about it, odds are that it'll show up on Fashionista Piranha.  Less frequently, movie adaptations of books will make a similar appearance.

I always enjoy hearing from visitors to the blog, so please feel free to leave comments or email me at fashion_piranha @ livejournal.com.  This includes you, publishers and authors!  I am always happy to discuss your projects with you; feel free to check out my review policies here and drop me a line.
Thanks for stopping by!
Suzi the Fashion Piranha
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New Releases: November 24th, 2015


BOYS IN THE TREES: A Memoir by Carly Simon
BOYS IN THE TREES reveals Carly Simon’s remarkable life, beginning with her storied childhood as the third daughter of Richard L. Simon, the co-founder of publishing giant Simon & Schuster. It was a childhood enriched by music and culture, but also one shrouded in secrets that eventually would tear her family apart. Simon captures moments of creative inspiration, the sparks of songs, and the stories behind writing "Anticipation" and "We Have No Secrets," among many others. Memoir

GRATITUDE by Oliver Sacks
No writer has succeeded in capturing the medical and human drama of illness as honestly and as eloquently as Oliver Sacks. During the last few months of his life, he wrote a set of essays in which he movingly explored his feelings about completing a life and coming to terms with his own death. “It is the fate of every human being,” Sacks writes, “to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.” Together, these four essays form an ode to the uniqueness of each human being and to gratitude for the gift of life. Essays

Rules for 50/50 Chances by Kate McGovern
Seventeen-year-old Rose Levenson has a decision to make: Does she want to know how she's going to die? Because when Rose turns eighteen, she can take the test that tells her if she carries the genetic mutation for Huntington's disease, the degenerative condition that is slowly killing her mother. With a fifty-fifty shot at inheriting her family's genetic curse, Rose is skeptical about pursuing anything that presumes she'll live to be a healthy adult --- including her dream career in ballet and the possibility of falling in love. But when she meets a boy from a similarly flawed genetic pool and gets an audition for a dance scholarship across the country, Rose begins to question her carefully laid rules. Young Adult

Warren the 13th and The All-Seeing Eye by Tania del Rio and Will Staehle
Meet Warren the 13th, a cursed 12-year-old Victorian bellhop who’s terribly unlucky...yet perpetually optimistic, hard-working, and curious. Orphan Warren’s pride and joy is his family’s hotel, but he’s been miserable ever since his evil Aunt Anaconda took over the management. Anaconda believes a mysterious treasure known as the All-Seeing Eye is hidden somewhere on the grounds, and she’ll do anything to find it. If Warren wants to preserve his family’s legacy, he’ll need to find the treasure first --- if the hotel’s many strange and wacky guests don’t beat him to it! Children’s Fiction


In the ruins of a future America, 15-year-old Ice Cream Star and her nomadic tribe live off of the detritus of a crumbled civilization. Before reaching the age of 20, they all die of a mysterious disease. When her brother begins showing signs of the disease, Ice Cream Star sets off on a bold journey to find a cure. Led by a stranger, a captured prisoner named Pasha who becomes her devoted protector and friend, Ice Cream Star plunges into the unknown, risking her freedom and ultimately her life. Dystopian Thriller

POSITIVE by David Wellington
The tattooed plus sign on Finnegan's hand marks him as a Positive. At any time, the zombie virus could explode in his body, turning him from a rational human into a ravenous monster. If he reaches his 21st birthday without an incident, he'll be cleared. Until then, he must go to a special facility for positives. But when the military caravan transporting him is attacked, Finn becomes separated. To make it to safety, he must embark on a perilous cross-country journey across an America transformed. Horror

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2013: The Small Hand and Dolly: Two Novels by Susan Hill
2012: Isle of 100,000 Graves by Jason
2011: Another little break for school...
2010: The Ghost in the Tokaido Inn by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler
2009: Going on hiatus...
2008: Coolest Package Ever From Makers of 'Coraline'!

Review: The Witches by Stacy Schiff

The Witches: Salem, 1692
by Stacy Schiff

In 1692, during the bitter cold of winter, a minister’s daughter complains that she is being tormented. The diagnosis? A witch must be afflicting her. Soon other girls are complaining of being pinched and poked. They writhe in agony and scream in horror as shades and specters swirl around them. Soon accusations begin to fly against neighbors, spouses, parents, and children. The prisons swell as witches are arrested and held for trial. In an odd twist, confessed witches are allowed to live while those who refuse to admit their guilt are hanged. As panic spreads, the accusations increase. Before a year has gone by, the madness has ended, but not before twenty people lost their lives.

The notorious Salem witch trials are brought to life once again under the vibrant pen of Stacy Schiff. I think people who typically find history books boring would be pleasantly surprised. Schiff writes this almost like a thriller, very taut and full of suspense. The account is also very straightforward, and describes the politics of the era very thoroughly so that readers can understand the jockeying for power that accompanied the trial.

What the biography does not do – and perhaps what it never could do – is enlighten the reader about the personalities of the possessed girls or the accused witches. Trial transcripts tend to be spotty and subject to distortion, as the men who recorded the events were not bound to be impartial or journalistic in their approach. New England records from the time are also curiously sparse. Women were rarely prominent in the records before and after 1692, so other than a few notes in family genealogies and church records very little is known about their lives. Since there’s no way to know what set these women off or what they thought of the events afterwards, the events always remain somewhat distant.

The great question of “Why did this happen?” is never definitively answered, either. Several explanations that have been proposed over the years are presented, and it’s possible that all of these things were contributing factors to the Salem events. My conclusion, which I assume was Schiff’s as well, is that it’s impossible to know. Too much information was never recorded, or has been lost in the centuries since the witch trials.

3.5 out of 5 stars

To read more about The Witches, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2013: The Iron Traitor (Iron Fey #6/Call of the Forgotten #2) by Julie Kagawa
2012: Bibliomat: Book Vending Machine
2011: Another little break for school!
2010: The Virgin Widow by Anne O'Brien
2009: Doodle of the Day: Twilight
2008: Babylonne by Catherine Jinks

New Releases: November 17th, 2015


YOUNG ELIZABETH: The Making of the Queen by Kate Williams
We can hardly imagine a Britain without Elizabeth II on the throne. It seems to be the job she was born for. And yet, for much of her early life, the young princess did not know the role that her future would hold. Kate Williams reveals how the 25-year-old young queen carved out a lasting role for herself amid the changes of the 20th century. Her monarchy would be a very different one to that of her parents and grandparents, and its continuing popularity in the 21st century owes much to the intelligence and elusive personality of this remarkable woman. Biography

BEATLEBONE by Kevin Barry
It is 1978, and John Lennon has escaped New York City to try to find the island off the west coast of Ireland he bought nine years prior. Leaving behind domesticity, his approaching 40s, his inability to create and his memories of his parents, he sets off to find calm in the comfortable silence of isolation. But when he puts himself in the hands of a shape-shifting driver full of Irish charm and dark whimsy, what ensues can only be termed a magical mystery tour. Fiction

YOUNG ORSON: The Years of Luck and Genius on the Path to Citizen Kane by Patrick McGilligan
In the history of American popular culture, there is no more dramatic story --- no swifter or loftier ascent to the pinnacle of success and no more tragic downfall --- than that of Orson Welles. In this biography, Patrick McGilligan brings young Orson into focus as never before. He chronicles Welles’ early life growing up in Wisconsin and Illinois as the son of an alcoholic industrialist and a radical suffragist and classical musician, and the magical early years of his career, including his marriage and affairs, his influential friendships and his artistic collaborations. Biography


THE ART OF THE ENGLISH MURDER: From Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes to Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcock by Lucy Worsley
Murder --- a dark, shameful deed, the last resort of the desperate or a vile tool of the greedy. And a very strange, very English obsession. But where did this fixation develop? And what does it tell us about ourselves? From Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes to the cosy crimes of the Golden Age, renowned historian Lucy Worsley explores the evolution of the traditional English murder --- and reveals why we are so fascinated by this sinister subject. History / True Crime

Deep below the University, there is a dark place. Few people know of it: a broken web of ancient passageways and abandoned rooms. A young woman lives there, tucked among the sprawling tunnels of the Underthing, snug in the heart of this forgotten place. Her name is Auri, and she is full of mysteries. THE SLOW REGARD OF SILENT THINGS is a brief, bittersweet glimpse of Auri’s life, a small adventure all her own. Fantasy

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2014: News: R. A. Montgomery dies at 78
2013: Far Far Away by Tom McNeal
2012: A Needle in the Right Hand of God by R. Howard Bloch
2011: Another little break for school…
2010: Nightshade by Andrea Cremer
2009: Doodle of the Day: Twilight
2008: Monarchy Mania Giveaway Winners

New Releases: November 12th, 2015


ALEX HALEY: And the Books That Changed a Nation by Robert J. Norrell
It is difficult to think of two 20th-century books by one author that have had as much influence on American culture when they were published as Alex Haley's monumental bestsellers, THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MALCOLM X (1965) and ROOTS (1976). They changed the way white and black America viewed each other and the country's history. This first biography of Haley follows him from his childhood in relative privilege in deeply segregated small-town Tennessee to fame and fortune in high-powered New York City. Biography

ALONE ON THE WALL by Alex Honnold, with David Roberts
A 30-year-old climbing phenomenon, Alex Honnold pushes the limits of free soloing beyond anything previously attempted, as he climbs without a rope, without a partner, and without any gear to attach himself to the wall. If he falls, he dies. In ALONE ON THE WALL, Honnold recounts the seven most astonishing achievements thus far in his meteoric career, including free-soloing Sendero Luminoso in Mexico and climbing the Fitz Traverse in Patagonia. Each chapter narrates the drama of one climb, along with reflective and introspective passages that get at what makes Honnold tick. Memoir

SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard
Ancient Rome was an imposing city even by modern standards, a sprawling imperial metropolis of more than a million inhabitants that served as the seat of power for an empire that spanned from Spain to Syria. Yet how did all this emerge from what was once an insignificant village in central Italy? In SPQR, world-renowned classicist Mary Beard narrates the unprecedented rise of a civilization that even 2,000 years later still shapes many of our most fundamental assumptions about power, citizenship, responsibility, political violence, empire, luxury and beauty. History

THE WHITE ROAD: Journey into an Obsession by Edmund de Waal
Edmund de Waal gives us an intimate narrative history of his lifelong obsession with porcelain, or "white gold." A potter who has been working with porcelain for more than 40 years, de Waal describes how he set out on five journeys to places where porcelain was dreamed about, refined, collected and coveted --- and that would help him understand the clay's mysterious allure. His search eventually takes him around the globe and reveals more than a history of cups and figurines; rather, he is forced to confront some of the darkest moments of 20th-century history. History / Memoir

A WILD SWAN: And Other Tales written by Michael Cunningham, with illustrations by Yuko Shimizu
A poisoned apple and a monkey's paw with the power to change fate; a girl whose extraordinarily long hair causes catastrophe; a man with one human arm and one swan's wing; and a house deep in the forest, constructed of gumdrops and gingerbread, vanilla frosting and boiled sugar. In A WILD SWAN, the people and the talismans of lands far, far away --- the mythic figures of our childhoods and the source of so much of our wonder --- are transformed by Michael Cunningham into stories of sublime revelation. Short Stories


EMPIRE OF COTTON: A Global History by Sven Beckert
Cotton is so ubiquitous as to be almost invisible, yet understanding its history is key to understanding the origins of modern capitalism. Sven Beckert’s rich, fascinating book tells the story of how, in a remarkably brief period, European entrepreneurs and powerful statesmen recast the world’s most significant manufacturing industry, combining imperial expansion and slave labor with new machines and wage workers to change the world. History

EMPIRE’S CROSSROADS: A History of the Caribbean from Columbus to the Present Day by Carrie Gibson
Ever since Christopher Columbus stepped off the Santa Maria onto what is today San Salvador, in the Bahamas, and announced that he had arrived in the Orient, the Caribbean has been a stage for projected fantasies and competition between world powers. In EMPIRE'S CROSSROADS, British American historian Carrie Gibson traces the story of this coveted area from the northern rim of South America up to Cuba, and from discovery through colonialism to today. History

I STAND CORRECTED: How Teaching Western Manners in China Became Its Own Unforgettable Lesson by Eden Collinsworth
In I STAND CORRECTED, Eden Collinsworth tells the entertaining and insightful story of the year she spent living among the Chinese while writing a book featuring advice on such topics as the non-negotiable issue of personal hygiene, the rules of the handshake, and making sense of foreigners. Scrutinizing the kind of etiquette that has guided her own business career, Collinsworth creates a counterpart that explains Chinese practices and reveals much about our own Western culture. Memoir

LIVES IN RUINS: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble by Marilyn Johnson
Pompeii, Machu Picchu, the Valley of the Kings, the Parthenon --- the names of these legendary archaeological sites conjure up romance and mystery. The news is full of archaeology: treasures found and treasures lost. Where are the archaeologists behind these stories? What kind of work do they actually do, and why does it matter? Marilyn Johnson’s LIVES IN RUINS is an absorbing and entertaining look at the lives of contemporary archaeologists as they sweat under the sun for clues to the puzzle of our past. Anthropology

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2014: The Crown (Joanna Stafford #1) by Nancy Bilyeau
2013: Black Spring by Alison Croggon
2012: The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman
2011: Dark Moon of Avalon by Anna Elliott
2010: Fashion Victims by Michael Roberts
2009: Giveaway: Sorrow Wood by Raymond L. Atkins – WINNERS
2008: Romeo’s Ex: Rosaline’s Story by Fiedler

Review: Soundless by Richelle Mead

by Richelle Mead

Once upon a time, a small village became isolated at the top of a mountain. The residents lost their hearing, and the frequent avalanches and blocked roads prevented them from leaving. In exchange for the precious metals the villagers mine from the heart of the mountain, food and supplies are sent up a cable from the kingdom of Beiguo, far below. But now blindness spreads through the village, and the miners can no longer meet the quota set by the linekeeper. As the deliveries shrink, a young woman named Fei fears for her village. One night, she is awakened from a nightmare and realizes that her hearing has been restored. Though she struggles to cope with the strange new sensations of sound, Fei knows that this gift may help her achieve what no one has attempted in living memory: descending the mountain to find help for her people.

Fei won’t make this journey alone; she’ll be accompanied by Li Wei. Once, they were sweethearts; but when Fei was offered the chance to work as an artist, recording the history of the village instead of toiling in the mines, she took it. Her choice meant a marriage between herself and Li Wei would be forbidden, but long-buried feelings are awakened during the arduous journey down the mountain.

A grand adventure and two hearts sharing an unbreakable bond – this is the stuff great tales are made of, and Fei’s story lives up to expectations. From the first page, as she helps her sister chronicle the history of the village, Fei’s compassionate and protective nature is revealed. It’s clear her life is privileged, as the village goes; artists don’t suffer the brutal labor of working the mines, and as the most talented painter in her generation she’s guaranteed the best of everything the village can offer. It would be so easy for her to turn a blind eye to problems, but she doesn’t. Instead, Fei takes on the burden of the village, and by drawing strength from her loved ones she finds courage and strength to do the impossible. It’s impossible not to admire and believe in her.

Fei couldn’t even begin her journey without Li Wei. He is passionate and strong, a young revolutionary in the making. The strength of his conviction that change must come to the village breaks through Fei’s reluctance to move against the status quo. His physical strength combined with her new hearing is the only reason they survive the struggle down the mountain’s cliffs. It’s a great partnership. Their sacrifice becomes all the more admirable because it would be so easy for the two heroes to abandon the village and stay in Beiguo, where they are free to marry and be together.

My favorite moments weren’t the romance, though. Instead, I appreciated the little moments as Fei experiences sound for the first time. I can’t imagine what it would be like to suddenly gain a new sense, a foreign new way of interacting with the world around me. With Fei, I think Mead does a good job of describing what that process would be like. Fei’s initial shock at sound, her inability to articulate the experience to others, and the way the new stimuli overwhelm her all felt extremely realistic. I also found the idea of an entire village of deaf people intriguing, and enjoyed how they communicated without speaking.

Throughout the book, the existence of a race of magical creatures called pixius is mentioned as an old folktale. In a classic deus ex machine, they appear at the end of the book to help save the day. There were short descriptions of the legendary creatures but there’s was no other indication of otherworldliness in the story. No magic, no other mythical beasts. I guess that’s not entirely true – Fei’s experienced unusual, possibly prophetic dreams throughout the book – but the pixius presence is still so sudden and strange that it’s jarring.

But no matter. I still loved this book. Soundless has just the right balance of adventure and romance, realism and fantasy. Once I started the book, I just couldn’t put it down.

4.5 out of 5 stars

To read more about Soundless, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2013: My Extreme Nerd-On for Reading Rainbow and LeVar Burton
2012: Iago by David Snodin
2011: Uzumaki: Spiral into Horror Vol. 1 by Junji Ito
2010: Writer’s Block: A Real Eye Opener
2009: Giveaway: Sorrow Wood by Raymond L. Atkins – WINNERS
2008: News: Twilight Fans Turn Into Violent Mob

Chronicle Books Spring Preview

Chronicle Books Spring Preview
San Francisco, CA

Recently I had the pleasure of attending Chronicle Books’ spring preview. Booksellers were invited to the publisher’s headquarters in San Francisco for a sneak peek at upcoming 2016 children’s titles. Seriously cool, right?

The first title they talked about was Let’s Play by Herve Tullet. He’s the artist behind interactive books like Press Here and Mix It Up. Each book is very clever and fun. Children are given instructions like “Press this dot”, and when they follow and turn the page, they see the result of their efforts – the dot has moved or changed color or some other surprise. Let’s Play follows a dot through an exploration of emotions.

Next up was Are We There Yet? by Nina Laden and Adam McCauley. Straightforward premise: as a mother drives her kid to their destination, he constantly asks “Are we there yet?” The richness of the book comes from the illustrations, which feature some pretty wild locations and backgrounds that readers will want to explore, even if the kid in the car can only focus on where he’s going. There’s no narrative text to distract from exploring the worlds in the book. This would be a great one for kids who like to make up their own stories.

Tell Me a Tattoo Story was easily my favorite book presented by Chronicle. Alison McGhee and Eliza Wheeler created a beautiful celebration of a son getting to know his family history by asking his father about the tattoos on his body. The illustrations are stunning, the story simple and sweet. I can easily think of several parents who would love to have this book. It’s exactly the sort of book that would appeal to Millennial parents.

TELL ME A TATTOO STORY is an upcoming children"s book about a father telling his son the story behind each of his tattoos. Absolutely sweet and I can already think of at least five people who would love sharing this book with their kids.  Thank you #ChronicleBooks for a sneak peek today!
Tell Me a Tattoo Story

Sometimes all I want from a picture book is colorful, bright graphics and a cute story. That’s exactly the description of Mamasaurus, a “lost mother” book starring dinosaurs. Stephan Lomp’s art is so appealing, and you can never have too many dinosaurs. I’m quite excited about this one.

For those of us who need a reason to laugh at American presidential campaigns – and by the time this book comes out next spring, there will be many of us craving a break - President Squid answers the call. Aaron Reynolds and Sara Varon have created a sea creature determined to run for President. He boasts of his many qualifications for office. This is another great read-aloud book for kids, and of course it’ll be very relevant in 2016.

One of the intriguing chapter books showcased was Once Was a Time, a story about time travel and friendship. A scientist unlocks the secret of time travel during World War II, but to protect the knowledge from the Germans it is entrusted to his daughter Charlotte, who escapes into the future. Charlotte becomes determined to reunite with her best friend Kitty, wherever she may be in her new timeline. An interesting premise, no?

When I was a kid, fandom wasn’t quite as rampant as it is now. I mean, we got obsessed with things but I don’t think it was the industry that it is today. It’s just so much easier for fans to connect and communicate with each other now. I mention this only because fandom plays such a critical role in Gena/Finn, a story told through text messages, blog posts, e-mails, and journal entries. It connects two young women who are obsessed with a TV show, but their initial friendship quickly deepens as they find connection in a digital age.

The last book was Flora and the Peacocks, and it was extra-special because the author, Molly Idle, was at the preview to share it with us. She showed up some of her art (more of it was hanging in a display, which was REALLY cool) and talked about her work. The book just looks stunning. Like her previous Flora books, this is a wordless story featuring a little girl who loves to dance and two avian companions. Flora must successfully navigate jealousy and make a friendship with three succeed.

A sneak peek at the art for FLORA  AND THE PEACOCKS by Molly Idle.  Thank you #ChronicleBooks for displaying it 😍

After the preview we were able to browse the rest of Chronicle’s current frontlist books, which is always fun. There are a lot of cute books coming up this holiday season! The original art from several spring books was on display. I love looking at the art up close, so that you can see the illustrator’s technique really clearly. As we prepared to leave, we were handed a goodie bag containing several ARCs, including some from the presentation, in a cool Chronicle Books reusable bag.

All of these books will be hitting store shelves in March and April. I can’t wait!

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2014: The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger
2013: Limit Vol. 5 by Keiko Suenobu
2012: A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
2011: Call Me Irresistible by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
2010: Loving Frank by Nancy Horan
2009: Giveaway: Sorrow Wood by Raymond L. Atkins – WINNERS
2008: News and Discussion Question: Rare Books For Sale

New Releases: November 3rd, 2015


ALONG THE INFINITE SEA by Beatriz Williams
When Pepper Schuyler fixes up a beautiful and rare vintage Mercedes and sells it at auction, she thinks she's finally found a way to take care of herself and the baby she carries, the result of an affair with a married, legendary politician. But the car's new owner turns out to have secrets of her own, and as the glamorous and mysterious Annabelle Dommerich takes pregnant Pepper under her wing, the startling provenance of this car comes to light: a Nazi husband, a Jewish lover, a flight from Europe and a love so profound it transcends decades. The two women must come together to face down the shadows of their complicated pasts. Historical Fiction

AMAZING FANTASTIC INCREDIBLE: A Marvelous Memoir by Stan Lee, Peter David and Colleen Doran
In this gorgeously illustrated, full-color graphic memoir, Stan Lee --- comic book legend and co-creator of Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Avengers, the Incredible Hulk, and a legion of other Marvel superheroes --- shares his iconic legacy and the story of how modern comics came to be. Moving from his impoverished childhood in Manhattan to his early days writing comics, through his military training films during World War II and the rise of the Marvel empire in the 1960s to the current resurgence in movies, AMAZING FANTASTIC INCREDIBLE documents the life of a man and the legacy of an industry and career. Graphic Novel / Memoir

Fourteen-year-old Juan Diego, who was born and grew up in Mexico, has a 13-year-old sister. Her name is Lupe, and she is a mind reader. Regarding what has happened as opposed to what will, Lupe is usually right about the past; without your telling her, she knows all the worst things that have happened to you. What might a teen girl be driven to do if she thought she could change the future? As an older man, Juan Diego will take a trip to the Philippines, but what travels with him are his dreams and memories; he is most alive in his childhood and early adolescence in Mexico. Fiction

THE BAZAAR OF BAD DREAMS: Stories by Stephen King
Since his first collection, NIGHTSHIFT, published 35 years ago, Stephen King has dazzled readers with his genius as a writer of short fiction. In this new collection, he assembles, for the first time, recent stories that have never been published in a book. He introduces each with a passage about its origins or his motivations for writing it. There are thrilling connections between stories: themes of morality, the afterlife, guilt, what we would do differently if we could see into the future or correct the mistakes of the past. Horror / Short Stories

THE COMEDIANS: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels, and the History of American Comedy by Kliph Nesteroff
In THE COMEDIANS, comedy historian Kliph Nesteroff brings to life a century of American comedy with real-life characters, forgotten stars, mainstream heroes and counterculture iconoclasts. Based on over 200 original interviews and extensive archival research, Nesteroff’s groundbreaking work is a narrative exploration of the way comedians have reflected, shaped and changed American culture over the past 100 years. History

THE GOLD EATERS by Ronald Wright
Kidnapped at sea by conquistadors seeking the golden land of Peru, a young Inca boy named Waman is the everyman thrown into extraordinary circumstances. Forced to become Francisco Pizarro's translator, he finds himself caught up in one of history's great clashes of civilizations: the Spanish invasion of the Incan Empire of the 1530s. To survive, he must not only learn political gamesmanship but also discover who he truly is, and in what country and culture he belongs. Only then can he be reunited with the love of his life and begin the search for his shattered family. Historical Fiction

THE GROWNUP by Gillian Flynn
A canny young woman is struggling to survive by perpetrating various levels of mostly harmless fraud. On a rainy April morning, she is reading auras at Spiritual Palms when Susan Burke walks in. A keen observer of human behavior, our unnamed narrator immediately diagnoses Susan as an unhappy woman eager to give her lovely life a drama injection. However, when the "psychic" visits the eerie Victorian home that has been the source of Susan’s terror and grief, she realizes she may not have to pretend to believe in ghosts anymore. Thriller

THE MURALIST by B. A. Shapiro
When Alizée Benoit, a young American painter working for the Works Progress Administration (WPA), vanishes in New York City in 1940, no one knows what happened to her. Not her Jewish family living in German-occupied France. Not her arts patron and political compatriot, Eleanor Roosevelt. Not her close-knit group of friends and fellow WPA painters. And, some 70 years later, not her great-niece, Danielle Abrams, who, while working at Christie’s auction house, uncovers enigmatic paintings hidden behind works by those now-famous Abstract Expressionist artists. Do they hold answers to the questions surrounding her missing aunt? Mystery


SEVERED: A History of Heads Lost and Heads Found by Frances Larson
From the Western collectors whose demand for shrunken heads spurred massacres to Second World War soldiers who sent the remains of the Japanese home to their girlfriends, from Madame Tussaud modeling the guillotined head of Robespierre to Damien Hirst photographing decapitated heads in city morgues, from grave-robbing phrenologists to skull-obsessed scientists, Frances Larson explores our macabre fixation with severed heads. History

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2014: Think Like a Freak by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner
2013: The Rape of the Nile by Brian Fagan
2012: My Country Vs. Me by Wen Ho Lee and Helen Zia
2011: The Borden Tragedy by Rick Geary
2010: Discussion Question + Happy Halloween!
2009: Totally Off-Topic: Steepster.com
2008: Bread & Chocolate by Philippa Gregory

New Releases: October 27th, 2015


AFTER ALICE by Gregory Maguire
Ada, a friend of Alice’s mentioned briefly in ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND, is off to visit her friend, but arrives a moment too late --- and tumbles down the rabbit hole herself. Ada brings to Wonderland her own imperfect apprehension of cause and effect as she embarks on an odyssey to find Alice and see her safely home from this surreal world below the world. If Eurydice can ever be returned to the arms of Orpheus, or Lazarus can be raised from the tomb, perhaps Alice can be returned to life. Fantasy

BRAVE ENOUGH by Cheryl Strayed
Around the world, thousands of people have found inspiration in the words of Cheryl Strayed, who in her three prior books and in her "Dear Sugar" columns has shared the twists and trials of her remarkable life. BRAVE ENOUGH gathers, each on a single page, more than 100 of Strayed's indelible quotes and thoughts --- "mini instruction manuals for the soul" that urge us toward the incredible capacity for love, compassion, forgiveness and endurance that is within us all. Self-Help

HUNGER MAKES ME A MODERN GIRL: A Memoir by Carrie Brownstein
HUNGER MAKES ME A MODERN GIRL is an intimate and revealing narrative of Carrie Brownstein’s escape from a turbulent family life into a world where music was the means toward self-invention, community and rescue. Along the way, Brownstein chronicles the excitement and contradictions within the era’s flourishing and fiercely independent music subculture, including experiences that sowed the seeds for the observational satire of the popular television series “Portlandia” years later. Memoir

MY LIFE ON THE ROAD by Gloria Steinem
Gloria Steinem had an itinerant childhood. When she was a young girl, her father would pack the family in the car every fall and drive across country searching for adventure and trying to make a living. And so began a lifetime of travel, of activism and leadership, of listening to people whose voices and ideas would inspire change and revolution. MY LIFE ON THE ROAD is the story of Gloria’s growth and also the growth of a revolutionary movement for equality --- and the story of how surprising encounters on the road shaped both. Memoir

PACIFIC: Silicon Chips and Surfboards, Coral Reefs and Atom Bombs, Brutal Dictators, Fading Empires, and the Coming Collision of the World's Superpowers by Simon Winchester
As the Mediterranean shaped the classical world, and the Atlantic connected Europe to the New World, the Pacific Ocean defines our tomorrow. With China on the rise, so, too, are the American cities of the West coast. Today, the Pacific is ascendant. Its geological history has long transformed us --- tremendous earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis --- but its human history, from a Western perspective, is quite young, beginning with Magellan’s 16th-century circumnavigation. It is a natural wonder whose most fascinating history is currently being made. History

THE WITCHES: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff
It began in 1692 when a minister's daughter began to scream and convulse. It ended less than a year later, but not before 19 men and women had been hanged and an elderly man crushed to death. The panic spread quickly, involving the most educated men and prominent politicians in the colony. Neighbors accused neighbors, parents and children each other. Aside from suffrage, the Salem Witch Trials represent the only moment when women played the central role in American history. In curious ways, the trials would shape the future republic. History


KILL MY MOTHER: A Graphic Novel by Jules Feiffer
Adding to a legendary career that includes a Pulitzer Prize, an Academy Award, Obie Awards, and Lifetime Achievement Awards from the National Cartoonist Society and the Writers Guild of America, Jules Feiffer now presents his first noir graphic novel. KILL MY MOTHER, a loving homage to the pulp-inspired films and comic strips of his youth, centers on five formidable women from two unrelated families, linked fatefully and fatally by a has-been, hard-drinking private detective. Graphic Novels

LOST OCEAN: An Inky Adventure & Coloring Book by Johanna Basford
With LOST OCEAN, Johanna Basford invites color-inners of all ages to discover an enchanting underwater world hidden in the depths of the sea. Through intricate pen and ink illustrations to complete, color and embellish, readers will meet shoals of exotic fish, curious octopi and delicately penned seahorses. Visit coral reefs and barnacle-studded shipwrecks, discover intricate shells and pirate treasure. Coloring Books

THE SEA AND CIVILIZATION: A Maritime History of the World by Lincoln Paine
THE SEA AND CIVILIZATION is a monumental retelling of world history through the lens of maritime enterprise, revealing how people first came into contact with one another by ocean and river, lake and stream, and how goods, languages, religions and entire cultures spread across and along the world’s waterways, bringing together civilizations and defining what makes us most human. History

WHEN BOOKS WENT TO WAR: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II by Molly Guptill Manning
When America entered World War II, we faced an enemy that had banned and burned over 100 million books and caused fearful citizens to hide or destroy many more. The War Department and the publishing industry stepped in with an extraordinary program: 120 million small, lightweight paperbacks, for troops to carry in their pockets and their rucksacks, in every theater of war. Comprising 1,200 different titles of every imaginable type, these paperbacks were beloved by the troops and are still fondly remembered today. History

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2014: Author Event: Jeff Baham and The Unauthorized Story of Walt Disney's Haunted Mansion
2013: Limit Vol. 4 by Keiko Suenobu
2012: Angel's Coffin by You Higuri
2011: Author Event: Philippa Greogry
2010: The Age of Comfort by Joan DeJean
2009: Guardian of the Flame (Seven Wonders #3) by T. L. Higley
2008: Book Group Expo 2008: Day Two
The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut's Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt
by Kara Cooney

Hatshepsut is a fascinating historical figure, a woman who ruled Egypt for many years. Initially taking the throne as a regent for her step-son, she was able to maintain her position and eventually surpassed the male heir. Hatshepsut proved to be more than merely competent; under her rule, Egypt successfully reopened long-lost trade routes and enjoyed unprecedented wealth. Yet this pharaoh remains relatively unknown, surpassed in the modern imagination by later rulers like Cleopatra.

An observation raised by Cooney in the introduction immediately caught my attention: we often hear of female rulers from the ancient world due to the gossip spread by their enemies. Thus, we hear of Cleopatra's famous seductions and the excesses of her wealth, or the heretic Nefertiti who helped her husband turn Egypt to monotheism. By contrast, Hatshepsut's success left her enemies with little to criticize. Her successors erased her name from monuments decades after her death, but the pharaoh was forgotten rather than demonized like her fellow female rulers.

This is an interesting lens through which to view Hatshepsut's reign. There is truth to the claim, as Cooney reveals in the main body of her biography. Hatshepsut was an effective leader of her people. Her massive building projects would not have been possible without great wealth and power, and Cooney spends pages pouring over the evidence of Hatshepsut's reign as it is shown on the walls of her temple. The carved hieroglyphics and images reveal a woman who allied closely with the god Amen, first as his priestess and then as his daughter. She was a deeply religious king with a keen understanding of Egyptian theology, and she used this knowledge to shore up her legitimacy.

Another idea that was worth pondering was a suggestion that Hatshepsut's images were destroyed after her death by Thutmose III not because he hated his aunt, as has been suggested in the past, but because another powerful woman (possibly the daughter of Hatshepsut) looked to the dead pharaoh and saw an example to imitate. I've always thought it curious that Thutmose III waited many years into his reign to destroy Hatshepsut's images, and it seemed unlikely that he would have acted out of spite or malice toward her after so many years had passed. But to stop a challenge to his sucession? His actions make perfect sense in that context.

Unfortunately, Thutmose's actions did destroy much of the evidence of Hatshepsut's reign. While some of her images escaped erasure, most did not. As a result, little is known about her daily life or the events of her reign. Cooney gathers all the architectural evidence about life in the 18th dynasty to paint a reasonable portrait of how Hatshepsut's life may have been, but her story is woefully lacking in specifics. Until a secret treasure trove of papyrus from Hatshepsut's reign is discovered hidden in Egypt, Cooney's biography is as comprehensive as any on this enigmatic female king can be.

4 out of 5 stars

To read more about The Woman Who Would Be King, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2014: The Fire Wish (Jinni Wars #1) by Amber Lough
2013: World Book Night 2014: Titles Announced
2012: The Secret Life of Frida Kahlo by F. G. Haghenbeck
2011: Rin-Ne Vol. 1 by Rumiko Takahashi
2010: News: Updating Covers of Classic Kids' Books
2009: 10 Comic Book Series You Need To Read, Part Two
2008: Book Group Expo, Day One
Horror and Hilarity with Christopher Moore and S. G. Browne
San Francisco Litquake 2015

A couple of weeks ago I had a bit of a treat, thanks to Litquake. Christopher Moore and S. G. Browne sat in conversation to discuss “Horror and Hilarity”, topics both men are quite familiar with. Browne’s novel Breathers looks at the undead in a fresh new light while Moore’s A Dirty Job and Secondhand Souls examines death with compassion and humor. Present to moderate and lead the discussion was journalist Zack Ruskin.

Like an idiot, I didn’t take notes during the talk, so now that I’m here in front of my laptop I can’t remember anything the men said. It doesn’t help that I’ve seen them both before – Moore many times and S. G. Browne earlier this year when we hosted him at VHOB – so even if I think I’m remembering something clever I’m not sure if they said it at Litquake or earlier. This is why my husband is the journalist; I’m terrible at it.

One thing that did stand out to me was that both men ended up talking a lot about craft, which was a pleasant surprise. Both men described their general writing routine, their sources of inspiration, how they wrap their head around a character, and challenges they’ve faced in getting their ideas onto paper. They agreed that they found editors extremely helpful, but don’t necessarily follow every single suggestion they’re given when revising a novel.

I had expected a large crowd, so I didn’t bring any books with me for the authors to sign after the talk. For some reason, attendance wasn’t too heavy – perhaps there was some other Big Deal Author speaking elsewhere? - so it would have been very easy to get S. G. Browne to sign my copy of Big Egos and Moore’s autograph in my fancy copy of Lamb. Alas. Next time.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2014: Author Event: Neil Patrick Harris and Choose Your Own Autobiography
2013: World Book Night 2014: Titles Announced
2012: The Elementals by Francesca Lia Block
2011: The Red Pyramid (Kane Chronicles #1) by Rick Riordan
2010: News: Updating Covers of Classic Kids' Books
2009: 10 Comic Book Series You Need To Read, Part II
2008: The Icy Hand (Something Wickedly Weird #2) by Chris Mould

Review: Girl Waits With Gun b Amy Stewart

Girl Waits With Gun
by Amy Stewart

When local factory owner Henry Kaufman hits the Kopp sisters’ buggy with his car, middle sister Constance sends him a bill for the damages. When her note goes unanswered, Constance visits Kaufman’s factory, and he doesn’t take kindly to her appearance. Soon the Kopp’s home is being deluged with threatening letters, rocks thrown through windows, and the disturbing sounds of strange men driving by late at night. Oldest sister Norma is furious and wishes Constance would drop the complaint so that Kaufman will leave them alone; youngest sister Fleurette is excited by the drama after being raised by her paranoid mother and spinster siblings. Their brother, who lives in town with his wife, worries that his sisters can’t manage the farm on their own and wants them to live with him, but the three women are determined to hold onto their independence. When the police seem disinclined or unable to end their harassment, Constance decides to take the investigation into her own hands and find a way to prevent Kaufman from disrupting others’ lives as he has done to her family.

Girl Waits with Gun is based on a real family, whose true story Amy Stewart stumbled across while researching a previous book. The real Constance Kopp became one of the country’s first female deputies. Records of her life are scanty at best, but Stewart tried to stay as accurate to the historical record as she could. When nothing was said, she stepped in as storyteller to fill in the gaps. In doing so, Stewart creates three unforgettable, strong women united by blood and by a family secret that drove them to their reclusive lives for fifteen years.

Each sister has a distinctive personality that complements the other two. Norma inherited their mother’s paranoid tendencies, and likes to live a life that is predictable and orderly. Baby sister Fleurette, a vivacious and pretty teenager, loves to sing and dance and dress in the latest fashion. Fleurette shines with youth and a cleverness that surprises those who dismiss her as a silly kid. Constance is practical and has trouble overlooking injustice. Her headstrong determination to collect Kaufman’s debt – largely because the sisters can’t afford to repair the buggy otherwise – triggers a series of events that forces the sisters out of their seclusion and back into the world. Together, the sisters are just so much fun, and their interactions are always the best scenes in the book.

If only Constance’s crime-fighting career was as compelling as her domestic life. Her promotion to deputy doesn’t happen until the final page of the book, and her amateur attempts at sleuthing move glacially. There’s very little excitement to be had, even when Kaufman comes roaring by with his gangs shooting guns from their car doors. The middle section of the book moved at an especially slow pace. There was a lot of great stuff buried in the repetitious passages of attacks on Kopp property and Constance trying to convince the police to act against Kaufman. The secret that haunts the Kopp sisters is unveiled through flashbacks and small clues, and when it all ties together the payoff is fantastic. But other plot threads don’t add to the overall story; Constance spends a lot of time hunting down a kidnapped child for a former factory worker, but the only impact the quest has on the main plot is to reveal that Kaufman is a bad man – a fact already abundantly clear.

There’s a lot to like here – I’d read another Kopp sisters novel – but the pacing problem does keep me from loving Girl Waits With Gun unreservedly.

3 out of 5 stars

To read more about Girl Waits With Gun, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2014: Bring Up the Bodies (Wolf Hall #2) by Hilary Mantel
2013: Bunny Drop Vol. 1 by Yumi Unita
2012: Random: Rambling about Audiobooks
2011: News: Taylor Swift Donates 6000 Books to Library
2010: Intertwinted by Gena Showalter
2009: 10 Comic Book Series You Need to Read, Part II
2008: Nation by Terry Pratchett

New Releases: October 20th, 2015


CAREER OF EVIL: A Cormoran Strike Novel by Robert Galbraith
When a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman's severed leg. Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed; there are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible. With the police focusing on the one suspect Strike is increasingly sure is not the perpetrator, he and Robin take matters into their own hands, and delve into the dark and twisted worlds of the other three men. But as more horrendous acts occur, time is running out for the two of them. Mystery

THE EXPLORERS GUILD: Volume One: A PASSAGE TO SHAMBHALA by Kevin Costner and Jon Baird, illustrated by Rick Ross
The Explorers Guild is a clandestine group of adventurers who bravely journey to those places in which light gives way to shadow and reason is usurped by myth. The secrets they seek are hidden in mountain ranges and lost in deserts, buried in the ocean floor and lodged deep in polar ice. Their aim is to discover the mysteries that lie beyond the boundaries of the known world. Set against the backdrop of World War I, with Western Civilization on the edge of calamity, this first installment in The Explorers Guild series concerns the Guild's quest to find the golden city of Buddhist myth. Historical Fiction / Fantasy

HEMINGWAY IN LOVE: His Own Story by A.E. Hotchner
In June 1961, A.E. Hotchner visited an old friend in the psychiatric ward of St. Mary's Hospital. It would be the last time they spoke: a few weeks later, Ernest Hemingway was released home, where he took his own life. Their final conversation was also the final installment in a story whose telling Hemingway had spread over nearly a decade. To protect the feelings of Ernest's wife, Mary --- also a close friend --- Hotch kept the conversations to himself for decades. Now he tells the story as Hemingway told it to him. Memoir

Chronicling General Lafayette’s years in Washington’s army, Sarah Vowell reflects on the ideals of the American Revolution versus the reality of the Revolutionary War. Riding shotgun with Lafayette, Vowell swerves from the high-minded debates of Independence Hall to the frozen wasteland of Valley Forge, from bloody battlefields to the Palace of Versailles, bumping into John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Lord Cornwallis, Benjamin Franklin, Marie Antoinette, and various kings, Quakers and redcoats along the way. History

WAR OF TWO: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and the Duel that Stunned the Nation by John Sedgwick
In WAR OF TWO, John Sedgwick explores the long-standing conflict between Founding Father Alexander Hamilton and Vice President Aaron Burr. A study in contrasts from birth, they had been compatriots, colleagues and even friends. But above all they were rivals. Matching each other’s ambition and skill as lawyers in New York, they later battled for power along political fault lines that would not only decide the future of the United States, but define it. History

WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
From the creators of the wildly popular "Welcome to Night Vale" podcast comes an imaginative mystery of appearances and disappearances that is also a poignant look at the ways in which we all struggle to find ourselves...no matter where we live. Located in a nameless desert somewhere in the great American Southwest, Night Vale is a small town where ghosts, angels, aliens and government conspiracies are all commonplace parts of everyday life. It is here that the lives of two women, with two mysteries, will converge. Mystery


NOT THAT KIND OF GIRL: A Young Woman Tells You What She's "Learned" by Lena Dunham
In NOT THAT KIND OF GIRL, Lena Dunham --- the acclaimed creator, producer and star of HBO’s "Girls" --- illuminates the experiences that are part of making one’s way in the world: falling in love, feeling alone, being 10 pounds overweight despite eating only health food, having to prove yourself in a room full of men twice your age, finding true love, and most of all, having the guts to believe that your story is one that deserves to be told. Memoir

THE SACRIFICE by Joyce Carol Oates
When a 14-year-old girl is the alleged victim of a terrible act of racial violence, the incident shocks and galvanizes her community, exacerbating the racial tension that has been simmering in this New Jersey town for decades. In THE SACRIFICE, Joyce Carol Oates explores the uneasy fault lines in a racially troubled society. In such a tense, charged atmosphere, Oates reveals that there must always be a sacrifice --- of innocence, truth, trust and, ultimately, lives. Fiction

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2014: Review: The Unauthorized Story of Walt Disney’s Haunted Mansion by Jeff Baham
2013: Limit Vol. 3 by Keiko Suenobu
2012: Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Promise, Part III by Gene Luen Yang and others
2011: Twilight of Avalon by Anna Elliott
2010: Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler
2009: 10 Comic Book Series You Need to Read (Even If You Don’t Like Comics)
2008: The Gone Away World by Nick Harkaway
Powell's Indiespensable Book Club
Volume 55: Did You Ever Have a Family

Since 2008, Powell's Books of Portland, OR has run a book club/subscription service that sends a new, autographed hardcover book in a custom slipcase to its subscribers. Each mailing is accompanied with notes on the selected book and a surprise selection of extra items.

The stunning debut novel from bestselling author Bill Clegg is a magnificently powerful story about a circle of people who find solace in the least likely of places as they cope with a horrific tragedy. On the eve of her daughter's wedding, June Reid and's life is completely devastated when a shocking disaster takes the lives of her daughter, her daughter's fiancé, her ex-husband, and her boyfriend, Luke — her entire family, all gone in a moment. And June is the only survivor.

Alone and directionless, June drives across the country, away from her small Connecticut town. In her wake, a community emerges, weaving a beautiful and surprising web of connections through shared heartbreak. From the couple running a motel on the Pacific Ocean where June eventually settles into a quiet half-life, to the wedding's caterer whose bill has been forgotten, to Luke's mother, the shattered outcast of the town and everyone touched by the tragedy is changed as truths about their near and far histories finally come to light.

Elegant and heartrending, and one of the most accomplished fiction debuts of the year, Did You Ever Have a Family is an absorbing, unforgettable tale that reveals humanity at its best through forgiveness and hope. At its core is a celebration of family — the ones we are born with and the ones we create.

A darling with booksellers, Did You Ever Have a Family? was picked as the September 2015 Indie Next Great Read and was featured on the cover of the monthly newsletter. It's a title that I've eyeballed but neglected because I've got such a looming pile of books to read as it is. It sounds like it'll be a fascinating examination of loss, so I'm glad that Powell's picked it as this month's featured title. As always, each Powell's title comes autographed and includes a little pamphlet containing an interview with the author, Bill Clegg.

TUESDAY NIGHTS IN 1980 by Molly Prentiss
An intoxicating and transcendent debut novel that follows a critic, an artist, and their shared muse as they find their way—and ultimately collide—amid the ever-evolving New York City art scene of the 1980s.
Welcome to SoHo at the onset of the eighties: a gritty, quickly gentrifying playground for artists and writers looking to make it in the big city. Among them: James Bennett, a synesthetic art critic for the New York Times whose unlikely condition enables him to describe art in profound, magical ways, and Raul Engales, an exiled Argentinian painter running from his past and the Dirty War that has enveloped his country. As the two men ascend in the downtown arts scene, dual tragedies strike, and each is faced with a loss that acutely affects his relationship to life and to art.
It is not until they are inadvertently brought together by Lucy Olliason—a small town beauty and Raul's muse—and a young orphan boy sent mysteriously from Buenos Aires that James and Raul are able to rediscover some semblance of what they've lost.
As inventive as Jennifer Egans A Visit from the Goon Squad and as sweeping as Meg Wolitzers The Interestings, Tuesday Nights in 1980 boldly renders a complex moment when the meaning and nature of art is being all but upended, and New York City as a whole is reinventing itself. In risk-taking prose that is as powerful as it is playful, Molly Prentiss deftly explores the need for beauty, community, creation, and love in an ever-changing urban landscape.

Thankfully, this book won't be released until April 2016 so I have plenty of time to read this ARC. While I'm not one of those youngsters who wishes to revive the 80s in all its neon-colored glory, the fact that this book is set in the heart of New York City's art scene makes me want to pick it up right away.

You can never go wrong including coffee in a subscription box. I can't get through a morning without the brown stuff so I know we'll use this...as soon as I get around to buying a coffee bean grinder. They're inexpensive and I've amassed several bags of whole beans so I really need one, but that purchase always gets put off again and again. But how tempting is this description? “A balanced blend of chocolate, cinnamon and hazelnuts” — yum!

Some fun new discoveries this month – books I wouldn't have picked up on my own but now that they're in my hands I want to start reading immediately. Powell's does such an awesome job with their subscription box curation.


Powell's Indiespensable subscription costs $39.95 per box. To learn more and check out books previously selected for subscribers, visit the Indiespensable page at Powell's Books.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2014: Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld
2013: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
2012: Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Promise, Part Two by Gene Luen Yang
2011: Impressionistic Whales: Christopher Moore & Flip Nicklin
2010: News: Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children (+ Discussion Question)
2009: Giveaway #12: Sorrow Wood by Raymond Atkins
2008: The Heretic’s Daughter Winners!

NCIBA 2015 Discovery Show


Last year’s NCIBA Discovery Show was one of the highlights of my time at VHOB. I loved going to the different education sessions and talking to publisher reps about upcoming titles. This year, though, it didn’t look like I would be going. The owners of VHOB had missed the previous year and wanted to make sure they attended the 2015 show, so they had already told me I’d be working at the store. But then I got hired by HB’s. It was a little late to register, but the former store manager now works at NCIBA so she added me to the list.

Thursday morning kicked off with Augusten Burroughs, the keynote speaker. I’ve enjoyed several of Burrough’s short essay collections so I was looking forward to his talk. He hadn’t prepared very much. His introductory remarks lasted all of five minutes, and then he opened the floor to questions. Crickets chirped as under-caffeinated booksellers struggled to think of questions to ask. Burroughs was only scheduled to speak for half an hour, but goodness, it felt longer. At the back of the room was a stack of autographed ARCs of his upcoming memoir Lust and Wonder. I made sure to grab one on the way out.

Most of the day was dedicated to education sessions. The first one I went to was the Small & Academic Press Rep picks. I really enjoyed this panel last year, so I was thrilled that I was able to attend again. The reps were given four categories: Timely Title, Something Out of the Ordinary, Must Have on Your Shelf, and My Fall Favorite. Many of the books weren’t quite appropriate for my bookstore, since our inventory is child-focused and the majority of the university titles were for adults. But I definitely saw some books that I wanted to read. Every Last High is a memoir written by David Kazinsky, the younger brother of the Unabomber. It talks about his family – growing up with Ted, realizing that your brother is a terrorist, and coping with the aftermath. It sounds absolutely fascinating. The book comes out in January, but the rep said he’d have ARCs at his booth so I made a mental note to hurry straight to his table.

Another series of books that intrigued me was the Object Lessons series from Bloomsbury Academic. Each small-format book focuses on a particular topic – drones, waste, hotels, refrigerators, etc – and explores it in great detail. Biographies of objects, essentially. It sounds like such a cool collection.

After a lunch break, the afternoon began with a panel on using Edelweiss. Edelweiss is an industry website that helps publishers connect with bookstores to facilitate ordering and requesting author events. It also helps booksellers share thoughts on titles, both internally at a store and with the greater community. It’s a useful website, I’m told, but it’s intimidating to use. The panelists from the session were all from large bookstores or bookstore chains, so in the end their talk was not very helpful to a store like the one where I work. I could see the application potential; I just had no better idea of how to implement it at the store level than I had before the panel.

Luckily, I had no problem understanding the next panel. “Engaging Your Audience Through Social Media: A Conversation with Austin Kleon” was incredibly useful, since social media is going to be part of my job at Hicklebee’s. He talked about some of the things he does to promote his personal brand, which is interesting since Kleon’s an artist and his books encourage creativity and sharing of your creations. He also gave examples of good social media practices, and things that can hurt a brand (or at least won’t help as much as you think it might). The main point that he reiterated again and again was that social media isn’t a sales tool but a community tool. It can help define who your bookstore is and keep your name present in the community’s minds, but it very rarely leads to a spike in sales. That’s not the purpose.

I also enjoyed the Children’s Author Tea again this year. There were four speakers: Dav Pilkey, Katherine Applegate, Christian Robinson, and Rebecca Stead.

I have not been a fan of Captain Underpants. Well, that’s not fair. I’ve always found the silly names of the books a bit repellent – “The Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-A-Lot”? - so I’ve never had the urge to read one. But Dav Pilkey’s so much fun to listen to! While he talked he played video clips of him drawing, and he read part of an upcoming graphic novel to us. He also talked about his struggles in school growing up, and how that has influenced his writing. Pilkey’s an engaging, original writer and after listening to him I may need to reconsider my stance on his extremely popular series.

Following the trend of invisible friends, Katherine Applegate’s new novel Crenshaw introduces a very scientifically-minded boy named Jackson who is disturbed when the invisible friend from his childhood, long forgotten, suddenly returns. Jackson’s family is going through hard times with little money for rent or food, but that doesn’t explain why a giant cat named Crenshaw who likes purple jelly beans is here. The book sounds really interesting, and I can’t wait to read it.

There’s a charming picture book called Leo: A Ghost Story that’s just come out and has been selling pretty well since we’re leading up to Halloween. The illustrator, Christian Robinson, talked about the book illustrations and why they turned out in the style they did. His talk was a little disorganized – he usually speaks to elementary school students but he hadn’t done anything to change his talk for an older audience – but at the end, he offered to create a coat of arms for someone in the audience. One of the reps from Scholastic was having a birthday today, so she was chosen, and he drew a new coat of arms for her up on the stage. It was quite sweet.

Rebecca Stead’s talk may have been last, but in many ways it was the most poignant. She talked about her writer’s journey, which was very interesting. She had loved writing when younger but she decided to become a lawyer when she thought it wouldn’t be practical to be an author, but after her children were born she was able to return to writing. Her new book Goodbye Stranger focuses on friendships and how they evolve in middle school.

After the talks were over, we were able to pick up books at the back of the room, the newest title from each author/illustrator. So I really don’t have an excuse to not read Captain Underpants because I now own an autographed copy. The Discovery Show floor was now open, so I walked through the rows, making mental notes of where the different publishers were located and thinking about my plan of attack exploration tomorrow. I made a point of picking up some of the titles that had most excited me at the small press rep panel and carrying them out to my car.

However, I couldn’t linger too long as I had a publisher’s dinner to attend. The invitation had originally been extended to my boss, but since she was unable to go I got to represent HB’s. It was a bit of a challenge to find the place – I am terrible at navigating San Francisco – but once I arrived I was so much fun. There were four or five other booksellers from all around the Bay Area, including the head of Books Inc. (!!!) and it was such a pleasure to get to know them and learn a bit about each of their stores. The dinner was put on by Jimmy Patterson’s new imprint, and his sales manager and marketing manager were there to talk about his upcoming books, his bookstore grants, and some of the other projects Patterson’s got in the pipeline. It was actually quite interesting. I haven’t been a fan of Patterson’s writing, but I have huge respect for him as a person for both his amazing productivity (even working with cowriters I’m continually amazed by how many titles he manages to put out each year) and his dedication and support of independent bookstores. I’m happy to sell the work of an author that so many people enjoy, and learning about his new projects makes me really excited for the upcoming year.

I arrived at the show on Friday after taking care of some store business in the morning. I cased the trade show floor, stopping to introduce myself to reps and learn a little bit about their books. I had a few key topics I wanted to discuss, things that I think would do well in the store: children’s books on programming, stocking stuffer adult books like the Object Lessons books I’d seen the day before, and graphic novels. If someone had a display for those items, I usually spoke to them at greater length. But as much as I might want to discuss art criticism with the rep of several university presses, I knew I should just introduce myself, take a catalog and business card, and keep moving.

There were some good moments, though. One rep was an absolute sweetheart; when I told him that I had just started as a manager at HB’s he told me to stop by at the end of the show, because he had some books on management he’d be happy to give me. Another rep who sells “bookish items” like Edgar Allan Poe socks and decorative boxes that look like fancy books took a few minutes to talk about buying at trade shows and how it’s different from buying back at the store, and the role of reps – things I had a general idea about but could definitely use education on the particulars.

Every time I spoke to someone, I seemed to leave with a new book in my hand. I filled multiple bags as I trekked back and forth to my car. My plan had been to pass most of the ARCs on to other HB’s employees after I finished them, but after a while I began to wonder if anyone would want them since so many HB staff were already circulating the show.

At 5:00 the Annual Meeting kicked off. There was a brief report on Independent Bookstore Day (successful) and the webmaster revealed the new, improved design for the NCIBA website, but most of the meeting was a tribute to Hut Landon, the outgoing Executive Director. Everything I know about Hut indicates that he deserved all the praise he received and more, but I had not had the opportunity to work with him and had only spoken to him in passing once or twice last year. I wish I knew him better. The new director talked a bit about the plans for the future, but really, it was all about Hut and what a swell guy he is.

NCIBA closes with an Author Reception. There were thirty authors, all of whom were signing copies of their books (provided by the publisher so FREE!) and chatting with guests. I got to have a fangirl moment when I got to Judd Winick’s table; I may have been gushing when I told him that I had loved his comic strip Frumpy the Clown when I was a kid. He was so sweet. When he signed my copy of Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth he drew Frumpy in the book and noted that it was the first Frumpy he’d drawn in Hilo.

I tried to restrain myself. I really did. My car was already full of books and how many more could I conceivably read? But somehow I still ended up taking home over half of the author’s books. I just can’t help it! You start talking to someone about their book, it sounds interesting, and suddenly you’ve got to read it as soon as you get through all the other titles you’ve promised to check out.

It was a very fun and productive discovery show. I met a lot of really cool, interesting people and picked up a mighty pile of reading. I’m so glad that HB’s was able to get me in at the last minute to enjoy such a great opportunity.

The books I brought back from NCIBA

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2014: Author Event: Rick Riordan and The Blood of Olympus
2013: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
2012: Avatar, the Last Airbender: The Promise, Part One by Gene Yang and others
2011: Taking a break...
2010: News: Picture Books No Longer A Staple For Children
2009: Sorrow Wood by Raymond Atkins
2008: Discussion Question: What's New With School?


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