30 May 2016

Approval Junkie: Adventures in Caring Too Much by Faith Salie

Summary from Goodreads:
From comedian and journalist Faith Salie, of NPR's Wait Wait…Don't Tell Me! and CBS News Sunday Morning, a collection of daring, funny essays chronicling the author's adventures during her lifelong quest for approval

Faith Salie has done it all in the name of validation. Whether it’s trying to impress her parents with a perfect GPA, undergoing an exorsism in the hopes of saving her toxic marriage, or maintaining the BMI of “a flapper with a touch of dysentery,” Salie is the ultimate approval seeker—an “approval junkie,” if you will.

In “Miss Aphrodite,” she recounts her strategy for winning the high school beauty pageant. (“Not to brag or anything, but no one stood a chance against my emaciated, spastic resolve.”) “What I Wore to My Divorce” describes Salie’s struggle to pick the perfect outfit to wear to the courthouse to divorce her “wasband.” (“I envisioned a look that said, ‘Yo, THIS is what you’ll be missing…even though you’ve introduced your new girlfriend to our mutual friends, and she’s a decade younger than I am and is also a fit model.”) In "Ovary Achiever," she shares tips on how to ace your egg retrieval. (“Thank your fertility doctor when she announces you have ‘amazing ovaries.’ Try to be humble about it [‘Oh,these old things?’].”) And in “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me About Batman’s Nipples” she reveals the secrets behind Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! (“I study for this show like Tracy Flick on Adderall”).

With thoughtful irreverence, Salie reflects on why she tries so hard to please others, and herself, highlighting a phenomenon that many people—especially women—experience at home and in the workplace. Equal parts laugh-out loud funny and poignant, Approval Junkie is one woman’s journey to realizing that seeking approval from others is more than just getting them to like you—it's challenging yourself to achieve, and survive, more than you ever thought you could.

I really like Faith on Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me so I was expecting Approval Junkie to be funny (and she got the room laughing at the Adult Author Breakfast at BEA) but I wasn't expecting this to be so poignant.  Chapters on saying "I love you" first, or what she went through fertility-wise to have her kids, or about the books her father gave her son, these were all very moving.  I think a lot of us can identify with that drive to get approval by "being the winner", by trying to be what is expected in middle America.  Even as you're laughing about how she talks about her "wasband," you are also identifying with her on some level about a relationship you had that didn't go the way you wanted and in hindsight should have been avoided.  Definitely a good summer read for those of us in the mid-life era.

29 May 2016

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger

Summary from Goodreads:
Sebastian Junger, the bestselling author of War and The Perfect Storm, takes a critical look at post-traumatic stress disorder and the many challenges today’s returning veterans face in modern society.

There are ancient tribal human behaviors-loyalty, inter-reliance, cooperation-that flare up in communities during times of turmoil and suffering. These are the very same behaviors that typify good soldiering and foster a sense of belonging among troops, whether they’re fighting on the front lines or engaged in non-combat activities away from the action. Drawing from history, psychology, and anthropology, bestselling author Sebastian Junger shows us just how at odds the structure of modern society is with our tribal instincts, arguing that the difficulties many veterans face upon returning home from war do not stem entirely from the trauma they’ve suffered, but also from the individualist societies they must reintegrate into.

A 2011 study by the Canadian Forces and Statistics Canada reveals that 78 percent of military suicides from 1972 to the end of 2006 involved veterans. Though these numbers present an implicit call to action, the government is only just taking steps now to address the problems veterans face when they return home. But can the government ever truly eliminate the challenges faced by returning veterans? Or is the problem deeper, woven into the very fabric of our modern existence? Perhaps our circumstances are not so bleak, and simply understanding that beneath our modern guises we all belong to one tribe or another would help us face not just the problems of our nation but of our individual lives as well.

Well-researched and compellingly written, this timely look at how veterans react to coming home will reconceive our approach to veteran’s affairs and help us to repair our current social dynamic.

Tribe is not a book I would have usually picked up on my own, but this was dropped in my lap (almost literally) at the Adult Author Breakfast at BEA.

I've never read Junger before but this is a very thoughtful and thought-provoking short book about community, social contract, and belonging and how that seems to be a major detrimental lack in modern Western society. He doesn't have a lot of answers but surfaces a lot of trends and ideas to digest.  If you're looking for a Father's Day gift, this might be an idea.  For myself, I think I"ll bump Junger up on my list of authors to check out.

28 May 2016

Sweetest Scoundrel by Elizabeth Hoyt (Maiden Lane #9)

Summary from Goodreads:

Prim, proper, and thrifty, Eve Dinwoody is all business when it comes to protecting her brother's investment. But when she agrees to control the purse strings of London's premier pleasure garden, Harte's Folly, she finds herself butting heads with an infuriating scoundrel who can't be controlled.


Bawdy and bold, Asa Makepeace doesn't have time for a penny-pinching prude like Eve. As the garden's larger-than-life owner, he's already dealing with self-centered sopranos and temperamental tenors. He's not about to let an aristocratic woman boss him around . . . no matter how enticing she is.


In spite of her lack of theatrical experience—and her fiery clashes with Asa—Eve is determined to turn Harte's Folly into a smashing success. But the harder she tries to manage the stubborn rake, the harder it is to ignore his seductive charm and raw magnetism. There's no denying the smoldering fire between them—and trying to put it out would be the greatest folly of all.

I adore Elizabeth Hoyt's Maiden Lane series.  Each book is distinct, yet they all link together through shared characters and families.  For some reason, I didn't get to Sweetest Scoundrel when it came out last November - I had a DRC from Netgalley but I couldn't get it read before it expired and then I just had other things to read (yes, I know my diamond shoes are too tight).  However, Duke of Sin is due out in just a few days so I knew I had to get this one read - that whole "I must read romance series in order" disease is a real drag sometimes.  (I jest.)

We first met Eve Dinwoody as she was being introduced to the Ladies' Syndicate for the Foundling Home in Maiden Lane in Dearest Rogue.  It turned out that her half-brother, the Duke of Montgomery, had blackmailed another member of the Syndicate to introduce Eve so that he might have access to Lady Penelope Batten for his own reasons (which make sense only to him).  Now that Penelope's brother, the Duke of Wakefield, has forced Montgomery to leave England due to the events in Dearest Rogue, Eve has taken over the management of her brother's investment in Harte's Folly (the pleasure garden that burned to the ground in Duke of Midnight and started rebuilding in Darling Beast - I told you the books link together).  When Eve thinks that the elusive Mr. Harte has overspent his budget, she pays him an eye-opening visit.

Mr. Harte is none-other than Asa Makepeace (as in an elder brother to Temperance, Silence, and Winter who have all appeared in their own books) and Eve has roused him from a very warm bed occupied by the pleasure garden's star soprano.  The meeting does not go well.  Eve thinks he's a dilettante wasting money, Asa thinks she's a stuffy busybody with no appreciation for good theatre.  But a series of incidents - some minor, some life-threatening - cause Eve and Asa to warily join forces.

Asa and Eve are a really good couple.  Eve has to work through some childhood trauma to allow Asa to get close to her (this leads to a really well-written "no touching" scene).  Asa has to rid himself of the sizeable chip on his shoulder as regards his family - we are actually given an extended look at the Makepeace family during a party and I think that's something we've all been looking forward to since Wicked Intentions (PS: for fans of Charming Mickey, he's there!).  There are a lot of small details in this novel that are really sweet.  Her bodyguard Jean-Marie has a good story and I wonder if Hoyt might one day give us a novella about how he wooed Tess, Eve's cook who is now his wife.  Eve has a small side-business painting miniatures.  There's a sweet doggie, too, since Hoyt does pets really well.

However, I don't think this is another slam-dunk entry in the series.  It's really good but there's so much going on in Sweetest Scoundrel that it sometimes overshadows the love story.  There's all the action going on in the pleasure garden with construction, and staff turnover, and personal relationships among the performers, and weird accidents.  And there's a B-plot involving the Duke of Montgomery's blackmailing victims and his housekeeper Mrs. Crumb who is trying to recover the blackmail evidence for said victims and the possibility that the duke really hasn't left England at all.  It's too much extra plot, too much set-up for the next book (possibly the next three books if I read some of it right) so that when the resolution comes it feels rushed so that we can get a preview of the next book.

Now, given what Montgomery did in Dearest Rogue and that he has done jack-smack to make himself sympathetic to the reader, Hoyt has some work to do to rehabilitate Val in the upcoming Duke of Sin and turn him into the hero.  He's dug himself a very, very deep hole.  There are bad-boys and then there's Montgomery and I'm really looking forward to his book.

Dear FTC: I received a DRC of this book from NetGalley, but I wasn't able to get to it so I bought a copy.

26 May 2016

Your Song Changed My Life by Bob Boilen

Summary from Goodreads:
From the beloved host and creator of NPR’s All Songs Considered and Tiny Desk Concerts comes an essential oral history of modern music, told in the voices of iconic and up-and-coming musicians, including Dave Grohl, Jimmy Page, Michael Stipe, Carrie Brownstein, Smokey Robinson, and Jeff Tweedy, among others—published in association with NPR Music.

Is there a unforgettable song that changed your life?

NPR’s renowned music authority Bob Boilen posed this question to some of today’s best-loved musical legends and rising stars. In Your Song Changed My Life, Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), St. Vincent, Jónsi (Sigur Rós), Justin Vernon (Bon Iver), Cat Power, David Byrne (Talking Heads), Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters), Jeff Tweedy (Wilco), Jenny Lewis, Carrie Brownstein (Portlandia, Sleater-Kinney), Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens), Colin Meloy (The Decemberists), Trey Anastasio (Phish), Jackson Browne, Valerie June, Philip Glass, James Blake, and other artists reflect on pivotal moments that inspired their work.

For Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, it was discovering his sister’s 45 of The Byrds’ “Turn, Turn, Turn.” A young St. Vincent’s life changed the day a box of CDs literally fell off a delivery truck in front of her house. Cat Stevens was transformed when he heard John Lennon cover “Twist and Shout.” These are the momentous yet unmarked events that have shaped these and many other musical talents, and ultimately the sound of modern music.

A diverse collection of personal experiences, both ordinary and extraordinary, Your Song Changed My Life illustrates the ways in which music is revived, restored, and revolutionized. It is also a testament to the power of music in our lives, and an inspiration for future artists and music lovers.

Amazing contributors include: Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), Carrie Brownstein (Sleater-Kinney, Portlandia, Wild Flag), Smokey Robinson, David Byrne (Talking Heads), St. Vincent, Jeff Tweedy (Wilco), James Blake, Colin Meloy (The Decemberists), Trey Anastasio (Phish), Jenny Lewis (Rilo Kiley), Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters), Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens), Sturgill Simpson, Justin Vernon (Bon Iver), Cat Power, Jackson Browne, Michael Stipe (R.E.M.), Philip Glass, Jónsi (Sigur Rós), Hozier, Regina Carter, Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes, and others), Courtney Barnett, Chris Thile (Nickel Creek, Punch Brothers), Leon Bridges, Sharon Van Etten, and many more.

This is going to be a very quick review, since the value of Your Song Changed My Life is in the reading.  I really enjoyed the combination of interview, musicology, and memoir that Boilen used to construct each chapter of the book.  He also got a nice range of artists, although I would have liked one or two beyond Phillip Glass who leaned more toward classical music (just my personal preference).  Boilen has a huge musical range - he would have to, given the sheer number of musical acts he sees every year - and he makes it all very readable.  Some of the artists' inspirations are very surprising.  Definitely a great book for any aspiring musician.

Dear FTC: I started with a DRC of this book then bought a hardcover.

25 May 2016

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye

Summary from Goodreads:

A reimagining of Jane Eyre as a gutsy, heroic serial killer, from the author whose work The New York Times described as “riveting” and The Wall Street Journal called “thrilling.”

“Young Jane Steele’s favorite book, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, mirrors her life both too little and too much…In an arresting tale of dark humor and sometimes gory imagination, Faye has produced a heroine worthy of the gothic literature canon but reminiscent of detective fiction.”
—Library Journal, Starred Review

“Reader, I murdered him.”

A sensitive orphan, Jane Steele suffers first at the hands of her spiteful aunt and predatory cousin, then at a grim school where she fights for her very life until escaping to London, leaving the corpses of her tormentors behind her. After years of hiding from the law while penning macabre “last confessions” of the recently hanged, Jane thrills at discovering an advertisement. Her aunt has died and her childhood home has a new master: Mr. Charles Thornfield, who seeks a governess.

Burning to know whether she is in fact the rightful heir, Jane takes the position incognito, and learns that Highgate House is full of marvelously strange new residents—the fascinating but caustic Mr. Thornfield, an army doctor returned from the Sikh Wars, and the gracious Sikh butler Mr. Sardar Singh, whose history with Mr. Thornfield appears far deeper and darker than they pretend. As Jane catches ominous glimpses of the pair’s violent history and falls in love with the gruffly tragic Mr. Thornfield, she faces a terrible dilemma: can she possess him—body, soul, and secrets—without revealing her own murderous past?

A satirical romance about identity, guilt, goodness, and the nature of lies, by a writer who Matthew Pearl calls “superstar-caliber” and whose previous works Gillian Flynn declared “spectacular,” Jane Steele is a brilliant and deeply absorbing book inspired by Charlotte Brontë’s classic Jane Eyre.

The first time Jane Steele was pitched to me, I was told it was Jane Eyre as a serial killer.  So I passed.  However, after reading several other reviews it's clear JE is the inspiration for the story.  The book Jane Eyre has just been published and it just so happens to be Jane Steele's favorite book with strange parallels to her life.  She's an orphan, raised by a dreadful aunt, sent to a wretched school, and eventually becomes a governess to a mysterious man with a charming young ward.

Here the similarities end.

Jane Steele is a frank, no-nonsense young woman who believes herself permanently beyond rehabilitation after she commits a series of murders.  All in the name of self-defense or in defense of another woman - she doesn't murder in cold blood - but given Victorian sensibilities taking a life seems fairly unforgiveable.  She supports herself by writing "gallows confessions" and surrounds herself with the colorful people around the theatre district.  Jane is smart and resourceful and such a great character.

Faye goes further by providing Jane with an equally memorable cast of characters.  Charles Thornfield, who is mentally scarred by what he has seen in the Sikh Wars; Sardar Singh, who provides Jane with an understanding of Sikh culture and history and a great deal so wisdom; Sahjara, Thornfield's ward who is an adorable, cheeky, and bright little girl; and Becky Clarke, the girl Jane rescues when escaping from their horrible school and who turns out to be hiding quite a surprise.  Faye's descriptions of the wretched boarding school and 1840s London cause the settings to become characters in their own right.

I listened to this on audio on the way to/from BEA - an excellent production.

(Edit: There was a bit more here where I said this was a really good book to read but apparently I erased them?  Dunno.  But I thought this was really fun and a good way to re-tell a story but do your own thing.  Plus, it's more diverse than most Victorian literature.)

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 exposé 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*)