21 May 2016

I went to #bea16: Adult Author Breakfast and Buzz Panel!

My last BEA post, I promise (what? I'm still excited).

I got up early Thursday to catch the shuttle to McCormick for the Adult Author Breakfast. The food was convention-standard continental breakfast - rolls, muffins, fruit, coffee that could strip the paint off a car - but the entertainment was stellar.  After several industry awards were given out, the audience got to hear from four authors.  Host Faith Salie - whose new book Approval Junkie came out in April - warmed up the room with some jokes about things she had heard about BEA in the 1980s.  Then Colson Whitehead spoke about his upcoming book, The Underground Railroad, that I have had on my must-read-when-I-get-my-hands-on-it list since it was announced - I am fully ready to have my mind fucking blown with a genre-bending, historical novel about a black woman's dangerous journey to escape the slave-holding South via an actual underground railroad (out September 2016).  Louise Penny spoke eloquently about her development of Inspector Gamache, who was modeled on her husband, Michael - there wasn't a dry eye in the room when she related Michael's struggle with dementia, one that he is losing (A Great Reckoning is out August 30).  Sebastian Junger finished up the presentations with his book Tribe, about how we as humans seek companionship and how sometimes those who have undergone a collective bonding experience, like combat veterans, find it hard to adjust to our current society that also places emphasis on individualism (out Tuesday, May 24).

Now, this is the craziest panel I attended - the BEA Adult Editors' Buzz panel on Wednesday night.  On Jenn's advice (and previous experience), Jenn, Michelle, and I were already planning to attend and then Riverhead tweeted out that they would have matching tote bags for Brit Bennett's book at the panel.  And we knew we had to get there early (we did - we sat down front on the end near a book table).

So, books.  EVERYTHING at this panel sounds amazing.

1) Another Day in the Death of America by Gary Younge, out October 25, 2016.  This is a history of a single day in America - November 23, 2013 - and chronicles the lives of the ten children who were killed on that day by guns (on average, seven children per day are killed by guns).  A necessary and heartbreaking title.
2) Darktown by Thomas Mullen, out September 13, 2016.  A historical novel set in 1948 Atlanta when the police department is ordered to hire black police officers - who are not allowed to arrest a white person, drive a squad car, or set foot inside police headquarters.  When a black woman last seen with a white man turns up dead, the two black officers suspect a cover-up by white officers.  Recommended as a Walter Mosley readalike.  (I believe this is also based in historical fact regarding the police integration - or lack thereof - in Atlanta.)
3) History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund, tentatively scheduled for release in January 2017.  A fourteen-year-old girl, who lives in what is the last vestiges of a hippie commune in northern Minnesota, becomes entangled in a family's life by becoming the babysitter to their young son.  And then shit goes sideways (basically - that's not what the rep said in the pitch, but that's what happens).
4) Little Deaths by Emma Flint, out January 17, 2017.  A true crime aficionado has written a historical whodunit set in 1960s Queens based on the real-life tale of a recently divorced mom, the murder of her two children, and the media storm that ensued during the trial.  Yes, will read, thank you.
5) The Mothers by Brit Bennett, out October 11, 2016.  Look at this gorgeous cover and matching tote bag.  The Mothers is a debut novel set in a contemporary black community in Southern California and follows grief-stricken teen Nadia and what happens after she makes a fateful decision.  This is narrated by a Greek-chorus of moms and aunties, from what I've heard, and it sounds so amazing.
6) The Nix by Nathan Hill, out August 30, 2016. A big, juicy debut with political overtones about a man who finds out that his estranged mother may not be the woman he thought she was with a hidden life.  This is set in Iowa (holla!) and Hill is an Iowan as well (double holla!).

And that's it for BEA 2016!  It was great and I really hope to go again in the future.

20 May 2016

I went to #bea16: I found some comics!

I made sure to visit "comics row" (I think that's the official term for it) - Image, Valiant, IDW, and other independent comics publishers were grouped in a row together.  Weirdly, Boom! was down on the end of a different row next to Moleskine (eh?).


I picked up some singles from Image (I had been interested in Black Science but hadn't picked it up, yet) and their "Firsts" books (which I think I'll take to the store to share once I finish reading through them).  I chatted with the Valiant rep for a bit - mostly about how much I love Faith and the upcoming trade and (squee!) ongoing series - and about some other trades.  He recommended The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage and I think I'll really like it.

When I dropped by the Boom! booth I got lucky - the creator of Goldie Vance, Hope Larson, was signing issue one of the series.  Goldie is a sixteen-year-old living with her dad at a Florida resort in the 1960s - she really wants to be a detective and so when the real resort detective has a case he can't solve Goldie steps in.  Hope says this will appeal to fans of Lumberjanes (awww, yiss) but there are 100% less lake monsters and supernatural foxes (rats).  The trade will be available in October.

And finally, I'll just leave this here.  Berkeley Breathed, y'all.  New Bloom County.  What is life, even?












19 May 2016

I went to #bea16: Middle grade and YA books!

The hottest category of books at BEA seemed to be YA/teen fantasy and middle grade.  I didn't brave the in-booth lines for Victoria Roth, Melissa de la Cruz, Leigh Bardugo, Kendare Blake, Sabaa Tahir (which was crazy), and Tahereh Mafi (which was completely bonkers, yikes).  But I did have tickets for some signings in the autograph area (and found a few surprises).

High on my list of middle grade books coming out this fall was Raina Telgemeier's Ghosts.  I loved her memoirs Smile and Sisters and the novel Drama.  Ghosts follows a tween after her family's move to the California coast for her little sister's health (she has cystic fibrosis and the coastal air will be better for her lungs) and the possibility that her new town might be haunted.  It comes out September 13, 2016 - I paged through it briefly and the colors are just gorgeous.  (There were some super-cute #goraina totebags in the Scholastic booth later on, but I didn't manage to snag one.)



I got to meet one of my literary idols at BEA - Ann Martin.  ANN freaking MARTIN.  She of the BSC and so many other books. I almost cried on her.  Ann (I'm just going to call her Ann) was there promoting her reboot of the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series that follows Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's niece, Missy Piggle-Wiggle.  So I got to tell her how much I loved the BSC, and Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, AND that my nickname was "Missy" until college.  My Venn diagram is basically a circle for this book. *muppet-arms* Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Whatever Cure will be out on September 6, 2016.  (When Ann asked if I wanted it inscribed, I just blubbered that I couldn't decide if I would like it inscribed to my nieces, who are ten, or to myself, because she's ANN MARTIN and I lurrrve her - so she just wrote "Happy Reading!" *dies*)

I used my front-of-the-line pass at the Marissa Meyer signing (which meant I got to be about number 25 in line because a lot of us saved our passes for that one). This one was important to me because not only do I love the Lunar Chronicles series, I wanted to tell her how much teens and parents at my store love her books.  The heroines of the Lunar Chronicles are all smart and strong girls - they're mechanics and farmers and hackers first and fairy-tale heroines second and everyone loves to read about them and root for them.  So much.  Marissa was signing ARCs of her new standalone, Heartless, which is a backstory for the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland, and that will publish on November 8, 2016.  (Gorgeous ARC production)

I lucked into this next book.  Shannon Hale tweeted about Squirrel Girl ARCs so I pottered on over to the Disney booth to ask if they were doing a galley drop.  It turns out that's what Shannon and Dean Hale would be signing that day!  So I hopped in the line (there were about 20-25 people already there) which led to the weirdest signing line wait.  The people who got in line behind me immediately started complaining about the wait (eh? it wasn't bad or long, so I don't know who peed in their Wheaties that morning), then they started complaining they didn't know what the line was for, and then after I explained 1) who Shannon Hale was and 2) what Squirrel Girl was they said it sounded dumb and then stayed in the line.  WTF? I got busy reading American Gods on my nook before I tried to strangle them.  (Also, at the same time, there was a thriller writer at a small press hawking her book to those of us in the signing line and a self-help publisher trying to interest us in a book about conflict resolution in marriage...probably not much overlap with Squirrel Girl fans.)  But then I got to the front of the line and geeked out with Dean Hale about the issue of SG where she convinces Galactus not to eat the Earth and *high-fived* and got super-cute squirrel ears.  The Unbeatable Squirrel-Girl: Squirrel Meets World is scheduled to publish on February 7, 2017 (*sad trombone*) but it looks adorable and I can't wait to read it.

And this last one was truly a surprise - on Friday, I was taking a break to have a bit of caffeine intake and a scone and people-watch when I saw a few familiar faces heading to a little out-of-the-way table in the autograph area.  Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton and a rep with a stack of books. Eeek, I thought I had missed their signing.  So I quick gathered up my stuff and scampered on over to the table to be nosy - turns out that they were finishing their signing and had moved out of the booth area because of someone else's signing (Leigh Bardugo's?) being sort of nuts.  So I got completely lucky and got a signed copy of Tiny Pretty Things (and a pin!) and got to chat with two awesome authors that I tweet with online (spoiler: they liked my twitter handle).  The next book in their series, Shiny Broken Pieces, publishes on July 6, 2016.

Next post: comics!

18 May 2016

I went to #bea16: Books that found me there

So one of the crazier things about BEA - that I knew in theory but was still unprepared for the magnitude - was the number of books that I hadn't heard of that either crossed my path or were shoved into my hands by reps and publicists.

Books.  They just find me, you know?

My first surprise came in the form of a Shirley Jackson biography I practically stumbled over while asking about Bolshoi Confidential at Liveright.  Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin is scheduled to come out in September 2016.  From the blurb, it seems to be more of a biography of the work and how Jackson uses domestic horror (which may be why she doesn't seem to be in the "canon" unlike Hawthorne and Poe).  I love me some Shirley Jackson, so this is going in the stack.  (Interestingly enough, Ruth Franklin wrote the forward to Penguin Classics 2013 re-release of Jackson's The Road Through the Wall.)


Another biography that found me was Victoria the Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire by Julia Baird.  I happened to be wandering past the Penguin Random House booth when the galley drop happened - the rep thrust it at me with the line "This has never-before-seen information about Victoria's private life."  I have no idea how she knew I liked Victorian history - the last time we talked was during the George Saunders signing - but I was like SOLD.  This is going to be a good, juicy biography for those cold winter months.  It releases November 29, 2016.  (This better have a glossy photo insert in the finished copies.)


Another book I nearly stumbled over was Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies by Ross King.  Monet painted the Water Lilies near the end of his life when his sight was failing and he had suffered personal disappointments (World War I was fast approaching, too).  They are beautiful canvases - I had seen the Monets at the Art Institute a few days before so this was clearly meant to be.  I always mean to read more art history and just never get around to it.  This will be out from Bloomsbury on September 6, 2016.  (This is also one I hope that will have a nice photo insert.)



When I stopped by the Graywolf booth on day one, Marisa told me I had to come back the next day for Belle Boggs's signing of The Art of Waiting: On Fertility, Medicine, and Motherhood.  I had completely missed this on my galley schedule (it was there - I went back and checked and I just hadn't noticed).  I loved Bogg's writing in Orion and this is a collection/expansion on her writing about (what the subtitle says) fertility and motherhood.  Even though I'm unlikely to sprog anytime soon (for both personal and practical reasons), I am interested in the experiences of women who want children and experience heartbreak and hardship during their journey.  Also, this is Graywolf and they've never steered me wrong on a book.  This will publish on September 6, 2016.  (Boggs was putting pressed four-leaf clovers in the books as she signed them which was an unexpectedly sweet gesture during a crazy book conference.)

On Friday I went to the Book Club Speed Dating event.  This was really cool - you got assigned a table and publicists went around and rapid-fire pitched books that would be good for book clubs.  I picked up several things (mysteries/thrillers) I thought might work for the book club at the store but what really caught my eye were the books from Other Press.  The two reps there - Mona (she of the French accent) and Christie [Edit: Other Press got me her name - I'm so sorry I didn't get your card!] - just sold the heck out of their three books.  The first one, Among the Living by Jonathan Rabb, they unfortunately didn't have any spare copies to give out but it does sound interesting (a Holocaust survivor joins the established Jewish community in Savannah, GA, in the 1940s and attempts to make a "normal" life) - out October 4, 2016.  Then they pitched the novel The Honeymoon by Dinitia Smith.  This is out now (May 3) so you can pick this up immediately.  Smith chose for her topic George Eliot's late-life marriage to John Walter Cross in 1880, who was twenty years her junior (Eliot lived with George Henry Lewes, but they were never able to marry, until his death in 1878).  Smith set her novel during the honeymoon Eliot and Cross took in Venice and examines Eliot's thoughts about aging and grief.  This might as well have "MELISSA'S WHEELHOUSE" stamped on the cover.

And then Mona pitched Constellation by Adrien Bosc (translated by Willard Wood).  This is a historical novel about the famous 1949 crash of the maiden voyage of the Constellation airplane (among the thirty-eight passengers was Edith Piaf's lover, the boxer Marcel Cerdan).  Bosc tries to piece together why the plane crashed (could it have been avoided?) and the lives of all its passengers.  I almost crawled over the table to rip it out of her hands.  My father was a systems engineer with Rockwell so I grew up hearing about engineering and aviation history + debut novel + novel in translation = I need it in my eyeballs now.  WHEELHOUSE.  This also won the Grand Prix du roman de l’academie francaise.  (I was prepared to throw elbows for this one.)  Constellation released on May 10, so if you are into this you can get it immediately.

Now, this next one I wasn't able to get at BEA.  They didn't have galleys available but I got on the galley list with the publisher.  I was walking past the Norton booth when I did a one-eighty and made a beeline to a poster.  They have a book about Zika virus coming out in July.  My epidemiology senses were tingling.  Yes, yes, yes I will read a book about this - it's by Donald McNeil so I'm thinking it will have good reporting.  Norton also put out one of my favorites in the genre - Spillover by David Quammen (the Norton rep and I geeked out over it) - so I have high hopes.



Those were my surprise book finds at BEA (the adult ones anyway, I'll have one when I do the kids' books).  I was talking with Michelle and Jenn about things we were surprised we didn't find and Michelle mentioned a lack of science fiction.  I have to agree.  We saw a lot of fantasy (particularly for the YA audience) but we didn't see a lot of hard-core SF.  There was the new Cronin zombie book and Blake Crouch's book but nothing like Ann Leckie's Imperial Radch or a William Gibson or an Andy Weir.  Maybe we missed it?

16 May 2016

I went to #bea16: Books on my radar (adults)

Before driving off to Chicago for a week of books and more books, I knew that I would have to plan out what books I wanted to look for.

I hadn't the foggiest idea how to go about that.  Edelweiss still had (has) a tab for "BEA 2015" so that went nowhere.  An article listed out the top ten galleys at BEA, but I knew there were more than ten galleys in the whole of the show (come on, I've seen the haul videos).  Conveniently, roommate Jenn came to the rescue with a link to the Library Journal Galley and Signing Guide.  I was at least able to make a schedule of where I needed to be when if there was something I was looking for.

At the very top of my list was Bolshoi Confidential by Simon Morrison, out from Liveright (Norton) in October 2016.  For some reason I thought this was a novel initially but heck no, it's an exposĂ© of the Russian ballet company the Bolshoi culminating in the 2011 acid attack on the artistic director.  Of course I have to read this.  It was the first galley I picked up (I got caught in a scrum at the junction of the Hachette and Scholastic booths immediately after the exhibit hall opened on Wednesday so after extracting myself I headed for the relatively calmer waters of the literary presses).  When "balletbookworm" is on your business cards, no one can argue with that.



Along the same lines, I stopped by Overlook Press to pick up Florence Foster Jenkins: The Life of the World's Worst Opera Singer by Darryl W. Bullock, out June 7, 2016.  My voice teacher used to bring up how popular Florence Foster Jenkins was as a singer even though she was a dreadful because she was an entertainer.  This book sounds so fascinating - a batty socialite who bankrolls her own opera career which is a critical bomb but plays to packed houses?  Yes, please.  There is apparently a competing title about Florence coming out a bit later that's the tie-in for a movie adaptation starring Meryl Streep (say what?) but this is the book I was looking for.



Graywolf Press is high on my list of publishers who consistently put out amazing fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.  Eula Biss's On Immunity, Maggie Nelson's The Argonauts, A. Igoni Barrett's Blackass.  Sleeping on Jupiter by Anuradha Roy, out September 6, 2016, is going to be their next big hit, in my opinion.  It was longlisted for the Booker last year and won the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature.  The novel concerns a trip taken by three elderly women to a religious seaside town and their interactions with a young documentary filmmaker, Nomi.  The action takes place over five days and I've recently been interested in novels that have compressed timelines.



When Eimear McBride's novel A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing won the Bailey's Prize in 2014 I immediately hopped on the library online catalog I placed it on hold.  It was such a mind-bending book, with an interesting change in the voice as the narrator grew from infant to young woman.  Crown had galleys of her next book, The Lesser Bohemians, out September 2016, available on Friday.  Oh, I can't wait to read it and the rep said this voice is just as good - this one is a coming of age novel that follows a young Irish woman who arrives in mid-1990s London for drama school and falls for an older actor.  I have high hopes for this.




Yes, I couldn't pass up Alan Moore's Jerusalem.  This enormous, 1200-page behemoth will be out September 2016 - Liveright is publishing it as both a hardcover and a three-volume paperback set with slipcase (like 2666 and Skippy Dies) so readers can pick their poison.  If you fall asleep reading often, I wouldn't pick the hardcover.  Clearly, this isn't the final cover art.  It looks completely batshit insane and the back cover is mostly a picture of Moore's face which was on a giant banner by the escalators, too.  Getting this galley was made all the more fun in that the Norton people told me I had to promise to wear a button to get the galley - the button had a "happy penis" on it, which is clearly appropriate to the book but not much of a challenge, in my opinion (I just can't put it on my lanyard at the store, drat).  My response - hand 'em over, the book and the button both.


Last, but certainly not least, I braved one in-booth signing line at the Penguin Random House booth to get a galley of George Saunders's first-ever novel, Lincoln in the Bardo.  It comes out February 14, 2017 (2017!!!!) and I've already started reading it.  It's so, so, so good, beautiful structure and interesting concept.  Essentially, the story concerns the night after the internment of Willie Lincoln (who died of typhoid during Lincoln's presidency) and is told through a combination of quotes from historical sources and a conversation-like narrative from the spirits that inhabit the graveyard.  It is amazing.


And I'm so stoked that I stood in line and got it signed (I had a conversation with Saunders - he asked where my town was and I said near Iowa City and he said he ate at Pagliai's on the way through IC while helping his daughter move to California, eeeee!).  Once I finish reading it, it's never leaving my house again.   Ok, but seriously, mark your calendars for February 14, 2017.  You will want to read this.  (This was also that signing where people were going up to the rep opening the books for Saunders and asking if they could just have one and getting real snotty about things like tickets and waiting in line.)

And that's my highlights for adult galleys I was planning to look out for at BEA 2016.  I'll have surprises, kids/teens highlights, and more to come.

15 May 2016

I went to #bea16: Tales from a newbie

After years of seeing pictures and hearing stories about Book Expo America - the big industry trade show for publishing - I decided that I should try to go in 2016.  It would be moving back to Chicago for the first time in something like ten years meaning I could easily drive there.  So I'd just have to find a hotel and pony up the greenbacks for registration.

So I did.  Conveniently, Jenn of Jenn's Bookshelves and Michelle of That's What She Read had room for a tribute volunteer to crash on the hide-a-bed in their room.  So that's the hotel sorted.  And I used a Christmas gift to register for BEA.  My registration came out to over $300 because not only did I get the three-day pass but registered for BloggerCon (a same-site concurrent event for book bloggers) and the Adult Author Breakfast and ten ticketed signings (go big or go home, right?).  I passed on BookCon, that was going to be too many people in the convention center for my taste.

I had so much fun.  We wound up miscalculating on days and got an extra day in Chicago on Tuesday so we went to the Art Institute (I snagged some more prints for my rotating gallery).  We got real Chicago-style pizza.  We went to a party hosted by a literary agency at the Arts Building - in a beautiful interior courtyard - and another the next night at 360 Chicago at the top of the John Hancock Building hosted by Sourcebooks (that was wild).  And then we got to take the scenic route from McCormick Place to O'Hare because the freeway was completely backed up due to an accident - we got to see a part of south Chicago I'd never been in before, I'll say that much.

I bet you're still reading to hear about the books, right?  Well, I think for this post I'll stick primarily to what I saw or did at BEA.  I'll do another post highlighting books I'd been looking for at BEA and another about surprise books I hadn't expected to find.  Otherwise, this post is going to be hella long.

First off, I got to see so many of my favorite people who I only ever talk to online!  Meeting my roomies Jenn and Michelle only confirmed how awesome and lovely they are.  I kept (conveniently, because it was such a treat) running into Liberty who is always a sweetheart and also Rachel Manwill who got a tattoo at BEA (ok, not at BEA, she went to a tattoo artist elsewhere, but still, pretty rad).  I also got to chat with Rebecca, Amanda, Jeff, Yan, Clint, Jenn, Jessica, Kim, and Cassandra from my most favorite of bookternet sites, Book Riot - usually when we were all running from one place to another, of course, but I plan on seeing them all again at Book Riot Live.  I got to meet Candace (Beth Fish Reads) FINALLY! I ran across Kevin Smokler and I'm so excited for his new book, Brat Pack America, out this fall.  I finally got to meet Nathan Dunbar, who is quite a bit taller than I expected and that helped when we were tweeting in order to locate each other (congrats on the new gig), and Eric Smith, who was wearing his hat which helped me recognize him (because he didn't have a corgi on his person and that would have been weird but adorable).  And I finally, at the very end of the show, found the booksellers from Prairie Lights (my local indie), who I knew were there but hadn't come across them - I found them in the signing line for Berkeley Breathed at the Image booth because of course all the Iowa booksellers will all be there.

Second, I got to meet so many of the publicists and marketing staff that I email and tweet with about books and advance buzz and galleys.  This was really worth the price of the registration.  Getting to meet the Graywolf staff in person (Hi, Marisa!), seeing Pam Jafee from HarperCollins/Avon/whatever publisher hat she happens to be wearing at the time, meeting the Liveright people at Norton, and making friends with Mona from Other Press (and does she has a yummy French accent) - that was so, so awesome.  I sat down with the rep from Chooseco to talk about how much the kids at my store love Choose-Your-Own Adventure books.  I even managed to track down the elusive Erika Barmash - "elusive" because she had done a few huge events with Bloomsbury that week and I got lucky in that I finally wandered by the booth when she wasn't mobbed.

For my part, I should have made a Bloggess-style cutout of my Twitter avatar on a stick.  No one knows what I look like but they sure know who my cats are, particularly the stripy one napping on my knitting.

So that's the people I know...and there were A LOT of people in McCormick for BEA.  I was hearing from BEA alumni that there were fewer people present this year but that there was more space at McCormick than Javits in New York City.  This is insane to me!  There were so many people at this thing and then you stuff more of them (and more publisher/exhibitor booths since there were fewer of them this year, too) into a smaller space that is not as new...yikes!  If I go to BEA at Javits in NYC (and I'd like to, if only just to see what that's like) I'll definitely have to pack the hand sanitizer.  Eek!

I managed to catch a few panels.  I'll go into the Adult Author Breakfast and BEA Adult Editors' Buzz panels in a later post but suffice to say they had fantastic selections.  The What's New In YA? Panel was a gem - Lauren Oliver, Allyson Noel, Kendare Blake, and Melissa de la Cruz moderated by Veronica Roth.  Absolutely a scream and Kendare Blake's new book, Three Dark Crowns, sounds completely amazeballs.

I got pitched a variety of random books by authors, both on the fly and while stuck in a signing line.  A very nice lady caught Nathan and me and asked about getting her STEM book published (I wish her luck, she's got a lot of enthusiasm and STEM is big right now).  An odd person cornered me and kept trying figure out what kind of books I sold then walked off when I told him which bookstore I worked for (um, ok?).  I wound up with a postcard for some completely cracked-out sounding book about [insert slur here] shamans talking to a white lady in the desert (it's "true", apparently) - that wound up in the hotel garbage.  People will just walk down signing lines and pitch their book to anyone who can't get away.  You do you, but I would think that perhaps for the money one spends to get a pass to BEA one might be a tad more professional?  It just strikes me as odd.

The one thing that I was seemingly not prepared for, even though I'd heard stories, was how unbelievably rude attendees were to the reps and publishing staff.  I always tried to lead with a handshake, introduce myself, and then my twitter handle/blog (see above for why), and then ask politely after whatever galley or information I was trying to find.  I was registered as a bookseller so I always tried to be professional.  But the number of times I saw people try to take things that were marked "For Display Only" or "Do Not Take" or grabbed entire stacks of the same book or (and this was my favorite) tried to tell a rep in the middle of an author signing that they should just be able to "get" a galley without waiting in line....wow.  It wasn't even one type of attendee - I saw booksellers, bloggers, people with press passes, authors all doing it.  At the speed-dating event I attended (which was a pretty cool event), a woman at my table interrupted every rep during their pitch to ask how she could get free books from them.  Holy cow, so rude.  And I'll admit my eyes got a bit bigger than my brain and I grabbed stuff in passing but only if it was set out as an obvious galley drop.  (Ok, fine, I did beeline it to the galley table at the BEA Adult Editors' Buzz panel - I'll get to that in a subsequent post - but I only snagged one copy of each.)  Teen/YA Fantasy galley drops and in-booth signings were particularly insane.  I thought I was going to get murdered by a few YA bloggers because I was trying to get past the Bloomsbury booth during the run-up to the Sarah J. Maas cover reveal and all I wanted was to get to the Graywolf booth.  Yikes!  I had been hoping to snag a few titles for our kids' leads at the store but nope.

Overall, though, I had such a great time at BEA.  Most of it was exactly as I expected - which was a big, crazy industry show.  I definitely want to go again.  Unfortunately, not BloggerCon, which was a bust for me - not my blogging tribe.  But a repeat BEA trip is definitely in my future!

(And "First BEA Hoarding Compulsion" should be in the DSM-V - I took a picture of everything I came home with unpacked onto the couch and it's never going on the Internet because it makes me look completely insane.)

04 May 2016

Curtain Up: Agatha Christie: A Life in the Theatre by Julius Green

Summary from Goodreads:

Agatha Christie is revered around the world for her books and the indelible characters she created. Lesser known is her writing for the stage—an extraordinary repertoire of plays that firmly established her as the most successful female dramatist of all time. Now author Julius Green raises the curtain on Christie’s towering contribution to popular theatre, an element of her work previously disregarded by biographers and historians.

Starting with her childhood theatregoing experiences, Curtain Up uncovers Christie’s first serious attempts at playwriting, with scripts that reveal a very different style from the now familiar whodunits for which she became famous. Later in her life, she enjoyed enormous global success with her work for the stage, but her record-breaking achievements in the West End and her conquest of Broadway came at a price: she had to fight against her own fame and felt obliged to delete her adored character Hercule Poirot from stories that had originally been created around him.

Green’s revelations about Christie’s passion for the theatre are illustrated with copious extracts from hitherto unknown plays and unpublished private letters, many of which he discovered in archives on both sides of the Atlantic. The illuminating exchanges between Christie, her agents and producers include extensive correspondence with the legendary ‘Mousetrap Man’, theatrical impresario Sir Peter Saunders.

Meticulously researched and filled with groundbreaking discoveries, Curtain Up sheds new light on Agatha Christie’s artistry and adds a fascinating layer to her remarkable story.

I love Agatha Christie.  She is the Queen of locked-room mysteries.  I know a little bit about her stage plays - we did Witness for the Prosecution and And Then There Were None for drama in high school - but that's it.  So I thought Curtain Up would be an interesting read about Christie's life as a playwright (The Mousetrap is still the longest-running play in the West End).

This is not a quick read.  Green put in the work and explored every possible collection of papers and letters he could possibly get his hands on - the entire first chapter is devoted to assessing the current state of Christie dramatic scholarship (most of which is apparently shoddy).  It is heavy on the nitty-gritty of contracts and rights and management and directing and casting.  And very, very thick.

It was a little too much nitty-gritty for my personal taste.  That much insider-baseball about mid-century British West End theatre wasn't quite for me.  But if you're a theatre buff and into the minutiae of theatre history, this is a five-star read for you.  This is for the super-nerds who will love reading about how Agatha Christie might have wanted to be known primarily as a playwright but due to timing and her facility as a novelist her dramatic work is generally considered as a sideline.

What was surprising and pleasing (and both frustrating and very coy) is that Green deliberately avoided giving away the endings to Christie's greatest plays: And Then There Were None, The Mousetrap, and Witness for the Prosecution. He wrote around them very obviously which echoed the anti-spoiler attitude taken by the plays' producers and respected by reviewers (less well-known plays, he did give some ending information away). Now, my high school performed Witness my junior year (where the drama teacher swore us all to secrecy about the ending) and And Then There Were None for my senior year. So with a little digging in my memory, I could follow the insinuations to figure out what he was getting at with revisions, etc. However, I haven't read or seen Mousetrap so that was really annoying (though, perhaps I should see if I can lay hands on a copy of the play and just read it because why not?). So it is nice Green doesn't spoil the endings, but it makes the reading a little weird.

So if you're a Christie super-fan, I recommend you pack this for your beach reading.

Dear FTC: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher back in December - it took me that long to read - and it will now be winging its way to a friend.

01 May 2016

Don't forget to Smash Your Stack in May! #readyourowndamnbooks



Don't forget to Smash Your Stack!

Since I'll be at BEA this month and have some reviews coming due, I'm going to try for 50% of my reading to be from books that I own prior to May.  Here goes!

(ETA: like a dummy, I scheduled this post for June 1, 2016.  However that happened.  *sigh*)

26 April 2016

Sex With Shakespeare: Here's Much to do With Pain, but More With Love by Jillian Keenan

Summary from Goodreads:
A provocative, moving, kinky, and often absurdly funny memoir about Shakespeare, love, obsession, and spanking

When it came to understanding love, a teenage Jillian Keenan had nothing to guide her—until a production of The Tempest sent Shakespeare’s language flowing through her blood for the first time. In Sex with Shakespeare, she tells the story of how the Bard’s plays helped her embrace her unusual sexual identity and find a love story of her own.

Four hundred years after Shakespeare’s death, Keenan’s smart and passionate memoir brings new life to his work. With fourteen of his plays as a springboard, she explores the many facets of love and sexuality—from desire and communication to fetish and fantasy. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Keenan unmasks Helena as a sexual masochist—like Jillian herself. In Macbeth, she examines criminalized sexual identities and the dark side of “privacy.” The Taming of the Shrew goes inside the secret world of bondage, domination, and sadomasochism, while King Lear exposes the ill-fated king as a possible sexual predator. Moving through the canon, Keenan makes it abundantly clear that literature is a conversation. In Sex with Shakespeare, words are love.

As Keenan wanders the world in search of connection, from desert dictatorships to urban islands to disputed territories, Shakespeare goes with her —and provokes complex, surprising, and wildly important conversations about sexuality, consent, and the secrets that simmer beneath our surfaces.

So one of my little weird obsessions is that I love Shakespeare.  I watched Branagh's Henry V when I was about 10 or 11 and I was hooked.  The only literature course I took in undergrad was Shakespeare from Dr. Miriam Gilbert, which was awesome (except for that whole "act in a scene" bit, which I was not enthused about, but I did Ophelia so I could wear my bathrobe and hand out flowers like a crazy hippie) [I only needed one class because I brought credits from high school].  So would I want a memoir by a Shakespeare scholar that specifically examines non-vanilla references in Shakespeare?  Um, HELL yes.

Keenan opens the book when she's studying abroad in Oman.  She's been running from herself - she doesn't quite understand her sexual fetish or understand how it works and so has retreated to a place that she feels is deliberately repressive.  So she can hide.

And then she describes a vision in the desert where Demetrius and Helena from A Midsummer Night's Dream have their argument from Act II, Scene 1 in front of her:

DEMETRIUS
I love thee not, therefore pursue me not.
Where is Lysander and fair Hermia?
The one I'll slay, the other slayeth me.
Thou told'st me they were stolen unto this wood;
And here am I, and wode within this wood,
Because I cannot meet my Hermia.
Hence, get thee gone, and follow me no more.

HELENA
You draw me, you hard-hearted adamant;
But yet you draw not iron, for my heart
Is true as steel: leave you your power to draw,
And I shall have no power to follow you.

DEMETRIUS
Do I entice you? do I speak you fair?
Or, rather, do I not in plainest truth
Tell you, I do not, nor I cannot love you?

HELENA
And even for that do I love you the more.
I am your spaniel; and, Demetrius,
The more you beat me, I will fawn on you:
Use me but as your spaniel, spurn me, strike me,
Neglect me, lose me; only give me leave,
Unworthy as I am, to follow you.
What worser place can I beg in your love,--
And yet a place of high respect with me,--
Than to be used as you use your dog?

DEMETRIUS
Tempt not too much the hatred of my spirit;
For I am sick when I do look on thee.

HELENA
And I am sick when I look not on you.

DEMETRIUS
You do impeach your modesty too much,
To leave the city and commit yourself
Into the hands of one that loves you not;
To trust the opportunity of night
And the ill counsel of a desert place
With the rich worth of your virginity.

HELENA
Your virtue is my privilege: for that
It is not night when I do see your face,
Therefore I think I am not in the night;
Nor doth this wood lack worlds of company,
For you in my respect are all the world:
Then how can it be said I am alone,
When all the world is here to look on me?

DEMETRIUS
I'll run from thee and hide me in the brakes,
And leave thee to the mercy of wild beasts.

HELENA
The wildest hath not such a heart as you.
Run when you will, the story shall be changed:
Apollo flies, and Daphne holds the chase;
The dove pursues the griffin; the mild hind
Makes speed to catch the tiger; bootless speed,
When cowardice pursues and valour flies.

DEMETRIUS
I will not stay thy questions; let me go:
Or, if thou follow me, do not believe
But I shall do thee mischief in the wood.

HELENA
Ay, in the temple, in the town, the field,
You do me mischief. Fie, Demetrius!
Your wrongs do set a scandal on my sex:
We cannot fight for love, as men may do;
We should be wood and were not made to woo.

Exit DEMETRIUS

I'll follow thee and make a heaven of hell,
To die upon the hand I love so well.

It's this conversation that piques Keenan's interest in re-examining Shakespeare - given the specific language in this scene, what if Demetrius and Helena have a S/M or S/d relationship of a sort?  The idea turns a problematic scene where a woman is often interpreted as a nutjob into one of power dynamics where Helena comes from a place of strength (for Keenan's specific textual reasoning, you'll need to read the book).  Now, before you get all pearl-clutch-ey about Shakespeare and sexual dynamics and how BDSM is a modern thing, there are actually Elizabethan references to fetishes and S/M-like practices (again, you'll need to read the book to get the references).  [And besides, as much as the Victorians tried to scrub up Shakespeare into squeaky-clean entertainment, he is all about sex and it's good and bad manifestations because people.  See also: the Sonnets.]  From here Keenan jumps back to show us her introduction to Shakespeare and her realization that she has a spanking fetish.  Each chapter is aligned with a play - The Tempest, Taming of the Shrew, Macbeth, The Winter's Tale, Cymbeline (which is only of the only Shakespeare plays I haven't seen or read) and so on - that has textual relevancy to the chapter subject. I loved the chapter on Twelfth Night where she discusses interviews with young women at the university in Oman using the Shakespeare plays they are studying as a way to discuss love, sex, and marriage.

This book is so readable and so interesting.  The chapters describing Keenan's search to find the right words to describe her specific fetish to her fiancĂ©, and perhaps also to herself, just had me hoping she would get her own love story. Underlying a lot of the anxiety is the utter lack of resources for young people who have non-normative/non-vanilla desires; there is a great need for safe spaces to ask questions and explore without judgement. Keenan was able to use her love for Shakespeare and her work as a Shakespeare scholar to find inspiration and guidance within the words of Shakespeare's characters.

Now, I was hoping for a wee bit more Shakespeare criticism, but that's just me.  Had this been a book where Keenan took each play and broke down all the non-hetero/vanilla codes I would have been the happiest of happy little text nerds. But this is first and foremost a memoir. Keenan has story to tell and she tells it very well.  Even if the "vision scenes" with the play characters seem a bit odd at first, they do go quite a way toward explaining a concept or feeling.  (PS: Jillian, if you ever write that textual analysis I will read the crap out of it.)

Sex With Shakespeare is out today, April 26, wherever books are sold in the US.

Dear FTC: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher.

25 April 2016

Smash Your Stack! A #readyourowndamnbooks challenge!

Holla, holla, holla, fellow book-loving readers.

Do you acquire books faster than you can read them?
Is your e-reader full to bursting with unread goodness?
Are library sales and online deals your kryptonite?
Is your to-be-read pile ready to morph into Mt. TBR?

Well, Andi and I have a challenge for you.


During the month of May, we are challenging readers to Smash Your Stack!  This reading challenge is super, duper simple.

1.  Determine what percentage of your reading in May will come from books you already own before May starts in some format.  For example, try for 50% of your books read to be ones you already own if you have a boatload of advances/reviews to finish.  Or go really hardcore and say that 100% of books you read in May and read like 20 off your stack or list.  You do you.  Any format, any genre.
2.  Make a blog or social media post about your goal percentage.
3.  Post the URL using the Mr. Linky Andi has set up.  (There might be a prize or two we'll draw for at the end of May....*grin*)
4.  Read like the wind, Bullseye!
5.  Keep track of your titles and whether you owned the book prior to May so you can make an end-of-challenge post.

And that's it!!  Get those stacks ready for May 1!  Andi and I will be joining you and Smashing Our Stacks, too.

21 April 2016

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer

Summary from Goodreads:
To save precious centuries-old Arabic texts from Al Qaeda, a band of librarians in Timbuktu pulls off a brazen heist worthy of Ocean’s Eleven.

In the 1980s, a young adventurer and collector for a government library, Abdel Kader Haidara, journeyed across the Sahara Desert and along the Niger River, tracking down and salvaging tens of thousands of ancient Islamic and secular manuscripts that had fallen into obscurity. The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu tells the incredible story of how Haidara, a mild-mannered archivist and historian from the legendary city of Timbuktu, later became one of the world’s greatest and most brazen smugglers.

In 2012, thousands of Al Qaeda militants from northwest Africa seized control of most of Mali, including Timbuktu. They imposed Sharia law, chopped off the hands of accused thieves, stoned to death unmarried couples, and threatened to destroy the great manuscripts. As the militants tightened their control over Timbuktu, Haidara organized a dangerous operation to sneak all 350,000 volumes out of the city to the safety of southern Mali.

Over the past twenty years, journalist Joshua Hammer visited Timbuktu numerous times and is uniquely qualified to tell the story of Haidara’s heroic and ultimately successful effort to outwit Al Qaeda and preserve Mali’s—and the world’s—literary patrimony. Hammer explores the city’s manuscript heritage and offers never-before-reported details about the militants’ march into northwest Africa. But above all, The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu is an inspiring account of the victory of art and literature over extremism.

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu is a book that arrived at precisely the right time.  After watching footage of Palmyra being destroyed or reading about the looting of museums during the Iraq invasion, we needed a book about someone saving their history.  Joshua Hammer has delivered a riveting story about the massive undertaking to save more than 350,000 manuscripts in Mali spearheaded by one man: Abdel Kader Haidara.  But the eventual evacuation of the manuscripts from Al Qaeda-held Timbuktu comes late in the story - to get there we have to understand the regions history and that of Haidara himself.

Wrapped up in the story of Haidara and his race to save the manuscripts, first from the depredations of time and later from Islamic fundamentalists during the invasion of Timbuktu, is the history of the intellectual life and literary traditions of the Sahel region in Africa (and also a bit of the musical tradition, too). It is so amazing, not just in the description of the beauty of the manuscripts as physical objects but also in how readers annotated the works over hundreds of years (the little bits about marginalia are fascinating) and how families kept private libraries of thousands of works together for centuries.  Henry Louis Gates's visit to Timbuktu for his documentary series was briefly highlighted to really hammer home the point that, contrary to what we're taught in school, many parts of Africa had rich literature cultures. I thought Hammer also gave an excellent overview of the development of political and religious unrest in Western/Saharan Africa (which has received far less attention in the media than more high-profile regions) - it can't be separated from the story of the manuscripts and did help in understanding why certain events happened as they did.

Ignore the "heist worthy of Ocean's Eleven" hyperbole.  Haidara and his colleagues and family members weren't out to obtain millions of dollars for personal gain.  They protected their cultural history at the potential cost of their very lives.  Hair-raising stakes have no need of Hollywood glamour.

Dear FTC: I read a DRC of this book via Edelweiss.

18 April 2016

Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice by Curtis Sittenfeld (The Austen Project)


Summary from Goodreads:
From the “wickedly entertaining” (USA Today) Curtis Sittenfeld, New York Times bestselling author of Prep and American Wife, comes a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. A bold literary experiment, Eligible is a brilliant, playful, and delicious saga for the twenty-first century.

This version of the Bennet family—and Mr. Darcy—is one that you have and haven’t met before: Liz is a magazine writer in her late thirties who, like her yoga instructor older sister, Jane, lives in New York City. When their father has a health scare, they return to their childhood home in Cincinnati to help—and discover that the sprawling Tudor they grew up in is crumbling and the family is in disarray.

Youngest sisters Kitty and Lydia are too busy with their CrossFit workouts and Paleo diets to get jobs. Mary, the middle sister, is earning her third online master’s degree and barely leaves her room, except for those mysterious Tuesday-night outings she won’t discuss. And Mrs. Bennet has one thing on her mind: how to marry off her daughters, especially as Jane’s fortieth birthday fast approaches.

Enter Chip Bingley, a handsome new-in-town doctor who recently appeared on the juggernaut reality TV dating show Eligible. At a Fourth of July barbecue, Chip takes an immediate interest in Jane, but Chip’s friend neurosurgeon Fitzwilliam Darcy reveals himself to Liz to be much less charming. . . .

And yet, first impressions can be deceiving.

Wonderfully tender and hilariously funny, Eligible both honors and updates Austen’s beloved tale. Tackling gender, class, courtship, and family, Sittenfeld reaffirms herself as one of the most dazzling authors writing today.

I had been having trouble with The Austen Project - current bestselling authors retelling/modernizing Jane Austen's novels.  I started with high hopes for Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid (reviewed briefly on Goodreads) and really got the "mehs" with Sense & Sensibility by Johanna Trollope (review).  I didn't even try Emma by Alexander McCall Smith.  They all seemed too pat, too tightly bound to their originals.  So what made me change my mind and read Curtis Sittenfield's retelling of Pride and Prejudice (which is my favorite novel)?

She changed the title.  To Eligible.  Just that one change made me hope that she would allow her characters to function in a twenty-first century setting rather than cram them into a nineteenth-century plot.

And this worked.  Eligible was my first read of 2016 and I enjoyed it immensely.  Sittenfeld chose to make Jane and Lizzy professional women in their late thirties - Jane is a yoga instructor, making the choice to have a baby as a single woman, and Liz is a successful journalist with a long-term (read: dead-end) affair with one Wickham (who won't leave his wife, for various and sundry weaselly reasons).  When Mr. Bennet has a heart attack, the two come home for a long visit and find that Mrs. Bennet is a border-line hoarder and compulsive shopper, the family income is dwindling, the house is falling apart, and their three younger sisters are freeloading (all of whom have college degrees).  So while the two lone responsible adults try to get the house repaired, their siblings gainfully employed, and keep their parents in good health they are trotted out to meet the two new doctors in town.  Enter, ER doctor Chip Bingley (recently the weepy bachelor on a shrill reality dating TV show called "Eligible" who failed to find a mate) and haughty-as-can-be neurosurgeon Fitzwilliam Darcy, who makes the mistake of slagging off Liz's hometown of Cincinnati.

This is genius.  Sittenfeld primed her characters with the traits and skeleton plot of Austen's Pride and Prejudice and then just let them go to find a way to a happy ending.  If a plot element from the original Regency era no longer fits in the twenty-first century, it's either changed or avoided.  For instance, the "ruination" of a young woman if she elopes.  It wouldn't have worked in this setting.  So Sittenfeld did something different for that point in the plot.  She even jettisons a prominent character from the original when he has outlived his usefulness.  The only bit that felt clunky was an Epilogue, that changes point-of-view to a different character to explain a few things. It was unnecessary.  We could have done without, leaving that character more mysterious, or maybe had that character talk to Liz (who provides most of the perspective throughout the novel, there are no other obvious shifts to another character's limited perspective).

I really enjoyed how Sittenfeld stepped out and did a real modernization of Pride and Prejudice. Twenty-first century people swear, over-expose themselves, and have sex.  So do these characters, including hate sex (I loved how that came about because it was so unexpected).  They are racists and bigots and utter garbage fires on occasion.  I loved how this version of Lizzy screws up, makes assumptions and mistakes that are really uncomfortable to read, and then apologizes and tries to do better.  The transition of Mr. Bingley from rich young man with an income to celebrity who failed to find a wife on national (international?) television was a great way to shift the setting from England's landed gentry to middle-class Americans (Mrs. Bennet only thinks she's upper class).  It's different and refreshing in the way that Bridget Jones's Diary and The Lizzy Bennet Diaries are refreshing while still telling the same story.

Eligible will be out tomorrow, April 19, in the US.

Dear FTC: I read a DRC of this novel via Edelweiss.