31 December 2013

Turn Around Bright Eyes: The Rituals of Love & Karaoke

Summary from Goodreads:
Turn Around Bright Eyes picks up Sheffield's story right after Love Is a Mix Tape. He is a young widower devastated by grief, trying to build a new life in a new town after his wife's death. As a writer for Rolling Stone, he naturally takes solace in music. But that's when he discovers the sublime ridiculousness of karaoke, and despite the fact that he can't carry a tune, he begins to find his voice. His karaoke obsession takes him to some strange places, whether that means singing a Frank Sinatra song in a senior-citizen community in Florida, attempting a Merle Haggard classic at a cowboy saloon in the Mojave desert, or clearing the room at an after-hours dive in Chinatown. But he finds the music leads him to the most surprising place of all--a new life and a new love.

Turn Around Bright Eyes is a story about finding the courage to start over, move on, and rock the mike. It's about falling in love and navigating your way through adult romance. It's about how you can learn the weirdest things about yourself just by butchering a Hall & Oates song at 2 A.M. under fluorescent lights in a room full of strangers. It's about how songs get tangled up in our deepest emotions, evoking memories of the past while inspiring hope for the future. But most of all, it's a book about all the strange ways music brings people together.

Sweet, funny, honest, and full of the music you love, hate and love to hate, Turn Around Bright Eyes is Rob Sheffield at his very best.

After jumping back to Sheffield's teenage years with Talking to Girls About Duran Duran he comes back to his adult life.  Love is a Mix Tape was a rip-your-heart-out-and-ugly-cry memoir about how he met his first wife and lost her suddenly to an aneurysm.  Turn Around Bright Eyes starts in that lost post-grief space and covers how music, specifically karaoke, held him together. It reads like a cross between memoir and music reporting (which is fun, because he writes for Rolling Stone). This is a very sweet and tender story, his writing about this tall, skinny white dude belting out "Crazy in Love" or "Church of the Poison Mind" in a seedy karaoke joint and telling us he really can't sing for realz but there is just something transformative about karaoke that makes him get up and do it.  (He gets a lot of props from me because I have only done karaoke a few times and, as a singer, sucked balls at it and so never wanted to try it again.) Also, I'd love to meet his second wife because she sounds awesome.

Start Here, Volume 2

Summary from Barnes and Noble:
There are so many fantastic authors and great books out there that sometimes it’s hard to know where to begin. Start Here solves that problem; it tells you how to read your way into 25 amazing authors from a wide range of genres--from classics to contemporary fiction to comics. Start Here Vol. 2 helps by showing you how to read your way into 25 amazing authors from a wide range of genres--from classics to contemporary fiction to comics.  Each chapter presents an author, explains why you might want to try them, and lays out a 3- or 4-book reading sequence designed to help you experience fully what they have to offer. It’s a fun, accessible, informative way to enrich your reading life.  Each chapter is written with expertise and passion to help you get started reading authors you’ve always wanted to try.

Includes chapters on reading your way into:
Alan Moore
Anne Carson
Charles Portis
China Mieville
Colum McCann
Daniel Woodrell
Dave Eggers
David Mitchell
Dorothy Parker
Douglas Coupland
Flannery O'Connor
George Orwell
Isaac Asimov
James Salter
Jennifer Egan
John Green
John Steinbeck
Octavia Butler
Philip Roth
Roald Dahl
Salman Rushdie
Toni Morrison
Ursula K. LeGuin
Virginia Woolf
William Faulkner

There isn't much I can say in the way of introduction but if you're looking for more ways to add books to your TBR list and want to find authors that are new-to-you, you can't go wrong with Book Riot's second offering in their Start Here series.  I definitely appreciate the Douglas Coupland chapter, since that's an author that I haven't ever read and wasn't sure where to start.  I love how each contributor has his or her own way of arranging their chapters.

Dear FTC: I was a backer for the Kickstarter (thanks Rebecca) so I received this copy of the ebook for free.

30 December 2013

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore/Ajax Penumbra 1969

Summary from Goodreads:
The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon away from life as a San Francisco web-design drone and into the aisles of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after a few days on the job, Clay discovers that the store is more curious than either its name or its gnomic owner might suggest. The customers are few, and they never seem to buy anything—instead, they “check out” large, obscure volumes from strange corners of the store. Suspicious, Clay engineers an analysis of the clientele’s behavior, seeking help from his variously talented friends. But when they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, they discover the bookstore’s secrets extend far beyond its walls. Rendered with irresistible brio and dazzling intelligence, Robin Sloan's Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is exactly what it sounds like: an establishment you have to enter and will never want to leave.

I got to meet Robin Sloane when he was on tour for the paperback release of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore (I had a hardcover that was languishing the TBR stack).  What better than to jump-start a read?

I loved the premise but I was expecting more of a thriller at times.  Every so often I would get a hint great building tension in a scene but then the resolution would back off quite a bit.  And I think the end does fizzle a bit because of this since there isn't anything truly nefarious going on. The plot did keep moving, though, so this was a good read. It's such a geek novel - data visualization, code breaking, programming, etc.

Summary from Goodreads:
It is August 1969. The Summer of Love is a fading memory. The streets of San Francisco pulse to the 
sounds of Led Zeppelin and Marvin Gaye. And of jackhammers: A futuristic pyramid of a skyscraper is rising a few blocks from City Lights bookstore and an unprecedented subway tunnel is being built under the bay. Meanwhile, south of the city, orchards are quickly giving way to a brand-new industry built on silicon.
But young Ajax Penumbra has not arrived in San Francisco looking for free love or a glimpse of the technological future. He is seeking a book—the single surviving copy of the Techne Tycheon, a mysterious volume that has brought and lost great fortune for anyone who has owned it. The last record of the book locates it in the San Francisco of more than a century earlier, and on that scant bit of evidence, Penumbra’s university has dispatched him west to acquire it for their library. After a few weeks of rigorous hunting, Penumbra feels no closer to his goal than when he started. But late one night, after another day of dispiriting dead ends, he stumbles across a 24-hour bookstore, and the possibilities before him expand exponentially . . .

As a bonus, those of us who went to Robin's signing got a little paperback novella titled "Ajax Penumbra 1969".  It's a fun prequel but it should only be read after reading the actual novel or else you'll spoil some things for later (just be prepared for an odd perspective switch from 3rd to 2nd and back in the middle).

29 December 2013

The Encyclopedia of Early Earth

Summary from Goodreads:
A beautifully illustrated book of imaginary fables about Earth's early--and lost--history.

Before our history began, another--now forgotten--civilization thrived. The people who roamed Early Earth were much like us: curious, emotional, funny, ambitious, and vulnerable. In this series of illustrated and linked tales, Isabel Greenberg chronicles the explorations of a young man as he paddles from his home in the North Pole to the South Pole. There, he meets his true love, but their romance is ill-fated. Early Earth's unusual and finicky polarity means the lovers can never touch.

As intricate and richly imagined as the work of Chris Ware, and leavened with a dry wit that rivals Kate Beaton's in Hark! A Vagrant, Isabel Greenberg's debut will be a welcome addition to the thriving graphic novel genre.

Who likes beautifully illustrated books?  I know I do!  I took one look at Isabel Greenberg's The Encyclopedia of Early Earth and I just knew that I had to have it.  A fabulous collection of "myths" that feel derived from Native American legends that center on a Nord man and South Pole woman who cannot touch because of their opposing magnetic fields.  One would think that might be cause for a break-up, but no.  The artwork is so enjoyable, largely through a limited color palette, and I loved the typeface created for the writing/dialogue.

'Tis the Season: I got your anecdata here

Holidays are winding down.  The store is filthy from winter mess, covered with bargain bins and half-off signs, and full of customers.

The cutest customers ever were two teen sisters (maybe twins - at most only 1 year apart) who share a room because they converted the other bedroom into a library.  A library.  The whole room is filled with books.  They were in spending Christmas book-buying money (and think about the buying power when there are two of you and you can pool your money since you like similar things) and having a hoot while doing it.  So cool.

I had a customer looking for I am Malala.  To my surprise (and delight), it turned out that we had sold out on Christmas Eve and were waiting for more stock.  I may have done the "yes!" thing a little too enthusiastically.
Customer: Why are you so happy that you're out of Malala's book?
Me (oops, that probably didn't look so good): Oh, sorry, not happy that we're out but happy that it sold out.  We sold out of all the conservative-white-dude books earlier this month and got a ton of restock.  But I've been trying to get people to buy more Malala for weeks.  Nice to see that it finally kicked in.
Customer: Awesome.
And we high-fived.  And she ordered it (it'll probably come Monday anyway since we had a boatload on order).

The Fifty Shades of Gray Party Game and expansion packs went in the post-Christmas bargain sale.  In 24 hours we hadn't sold any copies of the actual game but all the expansion packs sold.  Uh.....

And, lastly, here's your anecdata (a term borrowed off Rebecca and Jeff of BookRiot) about using bookstores to browse but buying from Amazon:
I spent the first twenty minutes of my shift yesterday looking for books on Norse language and history for a customer (male, college-age-ish).  We didn't have any language books on Old Norse since those are academic textbooks (he didn't want Norwegian or Swedish language-learning books) but I did eventually find a few books about the history of the Vikings, one of the Eddas, and Bengtsson's The Long Ships (a novel, yes, but well-researched).  I handed the books to the customer...who then took pictures of the covers and bar codes and handed them back.
Me (pretty well stunned, because no one has ever done that in front of me): Do you want me to hold these for you?
Customer: No, I'm just going to buy them on Amazon.
Then he walked out the front door.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you induce a murderous rage in a bookseller.

23 December 2013

The Isle of Youth: Stories

Summary from Goodreads:
Laura van den Berg’s gorgeous new book, The Isle of Youth, explores the lives of women mired in secrecy and deception. From a newlywed caught in an inscrutable marriage, to private eyes working a baffling case in South Florida, to a teenager who assists her magician mother and steals from the audience, the characters in these bewitching stories are at once vulnerable and dangerous, bighearted and ruthless, and they will do what it takes to survive.

Each tale is spun with elegant urgency, and the reader grows attached to the marginalized young women in these stories—women grappling with the choices they’ve made and searching for the clues to unlock their inner worlds. This is the work of a fearless writer whose stories feel both magical and mystical, earning her the title of “sorceress” from her readers. Be prepared to fall under her spell.

I don't know why Laura van den Berg hasn't shown up on my radar before except for the rather glaring reason that I had stopped reading short story collections (one of her previous collections was a Discover pick - oops).  But she just started appearing everywhere I looked on the literary web so I really didn't have an excuse not to pick up a copy of The Isle of Youth.

A lovely, haunting collection comprised largely of female protagonists who feel largely out of sync or out of place in their current role.  A newlywed whose plane crashes on the way to her honeymoon must deal with resurfaced doubts about marriage.  A young woman must care for her little brother while on the run from the cops - and her crazy, prepper father.  Another tries to piece together some part of her brother's life in Antarctica after he dies and yet another goes AWOL with French acrobats as her marriage implodes.  Van den Berg has such precise writing; perhaps not as scalpel-like as Alice Munro but very pared down.

'Tis the Season: Do you know all the capitals in the world?

We are now into the hellish part of the holiday shopping season, the part where people have the most oddball requests and we have zero time in which to fulfill them before Christmas Day.

Sometimes we just get lucky.

Dad (with two teenage girls in tow): Do you have books about Portugal?
Me (Reminder: we are in Iowa): Well....I'm pretty sure we have some travel guides right now.
One of the girls (with a voice to match all her A&F gear):  We want a book about Portugal.
Dad: Like about where the country came from.  We have a themed Christmas and they picked Portugal this year.
Me (WTF, I bet you knew about this more than three days before Christmas, and who is "they" because I want to "have a discussion" with them): Well, let's head over to the history section and see what we have.
Dad: You have a history section?
(Excuse me while my eyes roll out of my head.  So we get to history and lo, there with the books about Spain is one about Lisbon.  It's the only book about Portugal in any way.)
Me: Here you go.  This is about Lisbon, the capital of Portugal.
Dad: Wow, do you know all the capitals in the world?
Me: Probably.  At least most of them.
Other teenage girl: Do you know where we can buy things made in Portugal?

We are the whitest white people ever.  Oy.

22 December 2013

'Tis the Season: "Classics" isn't really a genre

The "Where are your classics?" question is a late-breaker this year.  I hadn't got that one until yesterday when I had three of them.

A sample conversation goes a bit like this:
Customer: Where are your classics?
Me: Well, we don't have a separate section.  Some titles are on a display, but most are in their specific subject arranged by author.  Is there a specific title or type of book you're looking for?
Customer: *blink blink blink* A classic.
Me: *headdesk*

"Classic" really isn't a genre.  If you talk to a Classics major, then you get the Greek and Roman Classics which encompass philosophy, history, and drama.  In more general terms, a classic work of literature is basically something approaching at least 100 years of age and is still read (more or less - this is one of those "definitions" that's become very elastic) and those span every conceivable genre and subject.  Plain old fiction, romance, mystery, science fiction and fantasy, mythology, western, drama, poetry, essays, history, philosophy, cooking, sporting, economics, travel, religion, and on and on and on.

All classics are not alike.  If you want something sort of crazypants and are a Lovecraft (who, depending on definition, is approaching classic author status) fan, then you're probably not going to be over the moon with Dickens.  You'd be happier with Kafka or Stevenson.  If you are easily offended, then don't read DH Lawrence.  If you're looking for something short then Eliot or Milton are not good choices.

So when the bookseller asks if you are looking for a particular book or subject that might happen to be a classic piece of writing don't just say "classic."  We do actually want to help you find something you like (or find something the recipient of your gift will like).  Put some thought into your answers to our questions.  "Anything" doesn't count as an answer.

Otherwise, we'll leave you alone in the corner to cry over the thickness of Don Quixote and War and Peace (and be assured, we have found the thickest copies we have).

21 December 2013

A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition

Summary from Goodreads:
No holiday season would be complete without watching Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, Snoopy, and the rest of the Peanuts gang give a forgotten tree a little love, recite the Christmas story, and sing "Silent Night."

For nearly fifty years, since first airing in December 1965, A Charlie Brown Christmas has been one of America's most beloved television shows and is a holiday television staple. Every year millions of fans tune in to the Emmy-winning Christmas special featuring Vince Guaraldi's iconic jazz score and Charles Schulz's Peanuts characters as they remind Charlie Brown, and all of us, of the true meaning of Christmas.

A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition is a lushly illustrated tribute to the beloved television classic that takes readers behind-the-scenes of the Peanuts holiday special. It includes the script of A Charlie Brown Christmas, more than two hundred full-color pieces of original animation art, Vince Guaraldi's original score and publication notes for the songs "Christmas Time is Here" and "Linus and Lucy," and a look at the making of the feature from producer Lee Mendelson and original animator, the late Bill Melendez. The two share their personal memories and charming reminiscences on the Christmas special and reflect on their three decades of working with Peanuts creator, Charles M. Schulz.

A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition is a delightful and fitting salute to the holiday special that never fails to deepen your love of Christmas, touch your heart, and give you hope.

There's just something about the Charlie Brown Christmas special.  It's hard not to love Charlie Brown as he despairs over his little sister's letter to Santa, Snoopy as he decorates his doghouse a la that annoying Clark Griswold-like neighbor, Lucy as she bosses everyone around (nothing new there), and Linus as he tells the story of the Nativity all the while holding his security blanket. The Peanuts gang are our old friends.

This lovely memoir/history/mini-biography originally published in 2000, shortly after Charles Schulz's death, brings together Lee Mendelson (producer) and Bill Melendez (animator - who also worked for Disney and Warner Bros) to tell the story of their good friend Sparky and how they managed to bring the Peanuts gang to life on the small screen (despite the misgivings of a few network executives who thought the whole thing would be a bust).  They talked to a few of the now-grown child actors who provided the voices of the characters and include a very nice chapter on Vince Guarini, the Grammy-winning jazz pianist who provided us with the iconic "Linus and Lucy" theme music.  Mendelson also included many pictures and animation stills as well as the sheet music for "Linus and Lucy" and "Christmastime is Here" (if you aren't me and don't already own the score) and the original script for the special.

There's even a little bonus: in the bottom corner of every right-hand page is a little still from the skating scene...flip the pages!!

A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition is a great present for the Charlie Brown enthusiast.

Dear FTC: I received a review copy of this book from !t Books, a division of HarperCollins.

20 December 2013

'Tis the Season: Hey, she's a girl...

I haven't had that many whacktacular customer encounters this season, but I had one on Monday that nearly had me in stitches (when I wasn't steamed).

I was near the front of the store, madly stickering books for the big display there when one of the merch managers came up with a customer (male, mid-50s).
Merch Manager: Well, a lot of women buy this.
And he handed the customer a copy of the new Nicholas Sparks novel.
Customer:  They do, huh?
Merch Manager: Yep.
Customer (points at me): Hey, she's a girl, why don't we ask her?
Me (immediately, and with a touch of the "oh hell no" in my voice): I wouldn't read that.
Customer: You wouldn't?
Me: Nope. Who are you shopping for?
Merch Manager: His wife.
Customer: She's in her fifties, sort of religious but not really, and she's a librarian.
Me: Does she normally like maudlin, weepy romances?
Customer: Oh, no!  No, she wouldn't like that.
Me (HA!):  Well, let me see...Ok, what sorts of things does she like to do?  Does she like outdoorsy things, like camping or sports?
Customer:  She's a girl.
Me (would like to kick him in the shins right about now): Oh now, just because you're a girl doesn't mean you can't like those things....do you think she'd like something quiet and reflective, maybe not religious per se?
Customer: Sure.
And this is how I hand-sold two volumes of Alice Munro short stories (Dear Life and Too Much Happiness - unfortunately, I was out of Hateship Friendship Loveship Courtship Marriage, which is my favorite) on the off-chance that she hadn't jumped into short fiction (he actually wasn't much help beyond the description he had already given me).  Take that, sexism.

14 December 2013

The Secret History

Summary from Goodreads:
Richard Papen arrived at Hampden College in New England and was quickly seduced by an elite group of five students, all Greek scholars, all worldly, self-assured, and, at first glance, all highly unapproachable. As Richard is drawn into their inner circle, he learns a terrifying secret that binds them to one another...a secret about an incident in the woods in the dead of night where an ancient rite was brought to brutal life...and led to a gruesome death. And that was just the beginning....

The Secret History is one of those books that opens with the climax of the action then rewinds to tell the story. You'd think that this wouldn't be compelling but let me tell you, Donna Tartt can tell a story filled with detail like no one else.

Even having read this once before and knowing how all the loose ends tie together, I was unprepared for the level of detail I'd missed on my first reading.  It will likely take a third and maybe a fourth re-read to catch them all.  The details about the twins.  About Henry, about Bunny.  About how we are given some clues to the setting - mid-1980s - but that the protagonists as seen by Richard seem to exist in some time-less void that gives off a vaguely mid-century air.  About how absolutely none of the characters - primary or secondary - are even close to being likeable characters (as Maggie Stiefvater says, they are all terrible people) yet we start to feel sympathy for them against our will.

A fabulous book to wallow in when the weather is nasty and cold.  I finished my re-read of The Secret History during a snowstorm, so now I can move on to The Goldfinch.

07 December 2013

A Sport and a Pastime

Summary from Goodreads:
Twenty-year-old Yale dropout Phillip Dean is traveling Europe aimlessly in a borrowed car with little money, until stopping for a few days in a church-quiet town near Dijon, where he meets Anne-Marie Costallat, a young shop assistant. She quickly becomes to him the real France, its beating heart and an object of pure longing. The two begin an affair both carnal and innocent.

Beautiful and haunting, A Sport and a Pastime is one of the first great American novels to speak frankly of human desire and the yearning for passion free of guilt and shame.

Firstly, thanks to Rebecca Schinsky (currently of Book Riot and late of The Booklady's Blog) for pointing me towards James Salter.  A thousand times, thank you.

Secondly, yes, Virginia, there are some people who can write good sex scenes in the literary fiction genre.  And that man is James Salter.

A Sport and a Pastime has an interesting structure.  We begin by travelling to Dijon with the narrator but when the narrator meets Phillip we really no longer stay with the narrator, we follow Phillip.  It's as if the narrator is obsessed with Phillip.  At times the interest seems fatherly, at times friendly, at times, even, romantically.  This is a very voyeuristic book as the narrator imagines/becomes omniscient during the love scenes with Phillip and Anne-Marie.  There's a lot of very frank sex talk which is interesting because it opens a window on how not only a 1960s privileged college male views sex without marriage, we are also privy to the ways in which a young French woman might view sex (although filtered through Salter's taste, but Salter-as-author seems to be very neutral, almost journalistic in tone).  Salter even plays with the reader's understanding, at one point telling us that nothing that he wrote was true.

An excellent book.  Also one of the first I've read using the Oyster subscription service.  Highly recommend that, too, for it's extensive backlist.

03 December 2013

Hyperbole and a Half

Summary from Goodreads:
This is a book I wrote. Because I wrote it, I had to figure out what to put on the back cover to explain what it is. I tried to write a long, third-person summary that would imply how great the book is and also sound vaguely authoritative--like maybe someone who isn’t me wrote it--but I soon discovered that I’m not sneaky enough to pull it off convincingly. So I decided to just make a list of things that are in the book:

Stories about things that happened to me
Stories about things that happened to other people because of me
Eight billion dollars*
Stories about dogs
The secret to eternal happiness*

*These are lies. Perhaps I have underestimated my sneakiness.

If you don't read Hyperbole and a Half on the web, you should start.  It is HILARIOUS.

Who knew that a stick-type figure could express so many emotions?  (The interpretation of how the dogs think is just a riot.)


01 December 2013

'Tis the Season: Surviving Black Friday

For the first time since starting work as a part-time bookseller, I opened on Black Friday.  It was also the first year the store opened at midnight, so I volunteered to work a 12-hour split shift.

Making dollars, yo.  It actually wasn't so bad.  I lived.  And didn't even really have any nasty customers.

Although I did kind of want to punch the ones who came up to the registers, yawned, then commented about how tired they were and how awful it was that I had to work so early in the morning.

And there was the dude who tried to convince me that the hardcover graphic novel he was holding was the same as a paperback box set advertised as 50% off (because "a graphic novel is called a trade in the business" - direct quote) and, therefore, it should also be 50% off.  Uh, no.  It's 3:30 am and I'm tired, not brain-dead, and since I put up the signs on Wednesday night I know exactly what they say.

A customer informed me that our bathroom wasn't "pretty".  It's a bathroom, not a lounge.  Go down the hall for "pretty" bathrooms.

(it was a display of John Green novels, huzzah for enthusiasm on Black Friday)

Exhausted-looking mom: I need the Richard the III book.
Me:  Ehrrrr....are you looking for the play, a historical novel, or a biography.
Exhausted-looking mom: You mean there's more than one?
(Yup.  Definitely.  After some discussion, she disclosed that it was for her son's high-school English class - process of elimination concluded that he was most likely in need of the Shakespeare play.)

Grumpy mom at the register: This book is $7 at Target. (Holds up new Wimpy Kid book)
Me: I'm sorry, we don't price match.
Grumpy mom: Never?
Me: Never.
(She bought the book - I wanted to high five her kid for whining about how he didn't want to walk alllllllllll the way back to Target and he wanted his book noooooowwwwwww)

So many customers bought JJ Abrams S that I wanted to kiss them all and tell them how much of a sensory experience they were getting or giving. (Yeah, OK, that's a little weird, but you understand.)

Customer:  I need an inspirational book for my little niece.  She's 17 and she doesn't really know what she wants to do or if she wants to go to college.  She's pretty quiet.
Me: *thinks that teenagers hate it when adults try and tell them how to plan their lives* Well, we have a self-improvement section...
(after going through section, we conclude that none would really work)
Me (has a brain wave - this was going on, like, hour 10 of work): Would you like to look at a novel? (Explains all about Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl with much enthusiasm - customer looks over the book and thinks this is a great idea.  Score!)

In my favorite encounter of probably the entire weekend (I worked Friday, Saturday, and Sunday), I helped a mom and her eighth-grade daughter for about thirty minutes.  They were looking for a book to buy that day (car ride) and ideas for later, especially series.  We went through all the YA series - nothing too violent, not too much romance....hmmmmm.  She thought Hunger Games was too scary and Twilight was "gross" (agreed, honey) and she hadn't read more than book 1 in each series; mom thought Divergent would be too scary also (+1 to mom for reading a book ahead of her kid to make an informed decision).  She hadn't read Harry Potter or Rick Riordan - interested, but not really sold on either.  After talking so much with her, it became apparent that she was a really young eighth grade....and she was wearing a GLEE t-shirt.
Me:  Do you...watch GLEE?
Kid:  YES!!!!!  I love GLEE!
Me: Who's your favorite character?
(because I had a feeling...)
Kid:  Kurt!! No, Rachel.  Ok, I like Kurt and Rachel best.
Me:  Did you know that Chris Colfer has started writing a series called Land of Stories?
Kid:  *emits sound in the frequency range of a dog whistle*  NOOOO!!!  HE DID!??!??!
And just like that she had found her book for the day - The Wishing Spell.  I don't think I could have pried it back out of her hands (good thing our scanners at the register can stretch).  Luckily for mom, there's book 2 to purchase for Christmas - I also had them interested in Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles, Cat Valente's Girl Who series, Wonder, and The One and Only Ivan.