Thursday, March 27, 2014

Need Some Reading Recommendations?

Denver's Tattered Cover bookstore has got your back. Actually, most indie bookstores have your back. Go into any one of them and you're sure to find employee recommendations galore. As for the Tattered Cover, they put together a V.I.B. (Very Impressive Book) selection & it's a good place to start perusing (they also have one for "kids" books):

Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler (March 11, 2014)

Welcome to Little Wing.

It’s a place like hundreds of others, nothing special, really. But for four friendsall born and raised in this small Wisconsin townit is home. And now they are men, coming into their own, or struggling to do so.

One of them never left, still working the family farm that has been tilled for generations. But others felt the need to move on, with varying degrees of success. One trades commodities, another took to the rodeo circuit, and one of them even hit it big as a rock star. And then there’s Beth, a woman who has meant something special in each of their lives.

Now all four are brought together for a wedding. Little Wing seems even smaller than before. While lifelong bonds are still strong, there are stressesbetween the friends, between husbands and wives. There will be heartbreak, but there will also be hope, healing, even heroism as these memorable people learn the true meaning of adult friendship and love.

Seldom has the American heartland been so richly and accurately portrayed. Though the town may have changed, the one thing that hasn’t is the beauty of the Wisconsin farmland, the lure of which, in Nickolas Butler’s hands, emerges as a vibrant character in the story. Shotgun Lovesongs is that rare work of fiction that evokes a specific time and place yet movingly describes the universal human condition. It is, in short, a truly remarkable booka novel that once read will never be forgotten. [Book Description]

Why you should get it: 

The Painter by Peter Heller (May 6, 2014)

Jim Stegner has seen his share of violence and loss. Years ago he shot a man in a bar. His marriage disintegrated. He grieved the one thing he loved. In the wake of tragedy, Jim, a well-known expressionist painter, abandoned the art scene of Santa Fe to start fresh in the valleys of rural Colorado. Now he spends his days painting and fly-fishing, trying to find a way to live with the dark impulses that sometimes overtake him. He works with a lovely model. His paintings fetch excellent prices. But one afternoon, on a dirt road, Jim comes across a man beating a small horse, and a brutal encounter rips his quiet life wide open. Fleeing Colorado, chased by men set on retribution, Jim returns to New Mexico, tormented by his own relentless conscience.

A stunning, savage novel of art and violence, love and grief, The Painter is the story of a man who longs to transcend the shadows in his heart, a man intent on using the losses he has suffered to create a meaningful life. [Book description]

*Note: the publisher sent me an ARC of this title - it's next up on my 'to-be-read' pile, so *hopefully* I'll have a review for you sometime soon.

Why you should get it:
  • Publishers Weekly starred review
  • Booklist starred review
  • Tattered Cover May 2014 V.I.B. pick
  • From the author of The Dog Stars

The Swan Gondola: A Novel by Timothy Schaffert (February 6, 2014)

On the eve of the 1898 Omaha World’s Fair, Ferret Skerritt, ventriloquist by trade, con man by birth, isn’t quite sure how it will change him or his city. Omaha still has the marks of a filthy Wild West town, even as it attempts to achieve the grandeur and respectability of nearby Chicago. But when he crosses paths with the beautiful and enigmatic Cecily, his whole purpose shifts and the fair becomes the backdrop to their love affair.

One of a traveling troupe of actors that has descended on the city, Cecily works in the Midway’s Chamber of Horrors, where she loses her head hourly on a guillotine playing Marie Antoinette. And after closing, she rushes off, clinging protectively to a mysterious carpetbag, never giving Ferret a second glance. But a moonlit ride on the swan gondola, a boat on the lagoon of the New White City, changes everything, and the fair’s magic begins to take its effect.

From the critically acclaimed author of The Coffins of Little HopeThe Swan Gondola is a transporting read, reminiscent of Water for Elephants or The Night Circus. [Book description]

Why you should get it:

The Kept by James Scott (January 7, 2014)

Set in rural New York state at the turn of the twentieth century, superb new talent James Scott makes his literary debut with The Kept—a propulsive novel reminiscent of the works of Michael Ondaatje, Cormac McCarthy, and Bonnie Jo Campbell, in which a mother and her young son embark on a quest to avenge a terrible and violent tragedy that has shattered their secluded family.
In the winter of 1897, a trio of killers descends upon an isolated farm in upstate New York. Midwife Elspeth Howell returns home to the carnage: her husband, and four of her children, murdered. Before she can discover her remaining son Caleb, alive and hiding in the kitchen pantry, another shot rings out over the snow-covered valley. Twelve-year-old Caleb must tend to his mother until she recovers enough for them to take to the frozen wilderness in search of the men responsible.
A scorching portrait of a merciless world—of guilt and lost innocence, atonement and retribution, resilience and sacrifice, pregnant obsession and primal adolescence—The Kept introduces an old-beyond-his-years protagonist as indelible and heartbreaking as Mattie Ross of True Grit or Jimmy Blevins of All the Pretty Horses, as well as a shape-shifting mother as enigmatic and mysterious as a character drawn by Russell Banks or Marilynne Robinson.  [Book description].

Why you should get it:

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

In The Post: Bland, Prose, and Updike

This week's front stoop find is a bevy of books courtesy of Kathryn over at Harper Books.

First is Updike, a literary biography by Adam Begley (due out April 8, 2014).

From the product description: "With a sharp critical sensibility that lends depth and originality to his analysis, Begley probes Updike’s best-loved works—from Pigeon Feathers to The Witches of Eastwick to the Rabbittetralogy—and reveals a surprising and deeply complex character fraught with contradictions: a kind man with a vicious wit, a gregarious charmer who was ruthlessly competitive, a private person compelled to spill his secrets on the printed page. Updike offers an admiring yet balanced look at this national treasure, a master whose writing continues to resonate like no one else’s."

Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 by Francine Prose (April 22, 2014)

(Kirkus, Booklist)

From the cover: A richly imagined and stunningly inventive literary masterpiece of love, art, and betrayal, exploring the genesis of evil, the unforeseen consequences of love, and the ultimate unreliability of storytelling itself.

Paris in the 1920s. It is a city of intoxicating ambition, passion, art, and discontent, where louche jazz venues like the Chameleon Club draw expats, artists, libertines, and parvenus looking to indulge their true selves. It is at the Chameleon where the striking Lou Villars, an extraordinary athlete and scandalous cross-dressing lesbian, finds refuge among the club's loyal denizens, including the rising photographer Gabor Tsenyi, the socialite and art patron Baroness Lily de Rossignol, and the caustic American writer Lionel Maine.
As the years pass, their fortunes—and the world itself—evolve. Lou falls in love and finds success as a race car driver. Gabor builds his reputation with vivid and imaginative photographs, including a haunting portrait of Lou and her lover, which will resonate through all their lives. As the exuberant twenties give way to darker times, Lou experiences another metamorphosis that will warp her earnest desire for love and approval into something far more sinister: collaboration with the Nazis.
Told in a kaleidoscope of voices, Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 evokes this incandescent city with brio, humor, and intimacy. A brilliant work of fiction and a mesmerizing read, it is Francine Prose's finest novel yet.

The Disease Delusion, Conquering the Causes of Chronic Illness for a Healthier, Longer, and Happier Life by Dr. Jeffrey S. Bland (April 22, 2014).
Book description: For decades, Dr. Jeffrey Bland has been on the cutting edge of Functional Medicine, which seeks to pinpoint and prevent the cause of illness, rather than treat its symptoms. Managing chronic diseases accounts for three quarters of our total healthcare costs, because we’re masking these illnesses with pills and temporary treatments, rather than addressing their underlying causes, he argues. Worse, only treating symptoms leads us down the path of further illness.
In The Disease Delusion, Dr. Bland explains what Functional Medicine is and what it can do for you. While advances in modern science have nearly doubled our lifespans in only four generations, our quality of life has not reached its full potential. Outlining the reasons why we suffer chronic diseases from asthma and diabetes to obesity, arthritis and cancer to a host of other ailments, Dr. Bland offers achievable, science-based solutions that can alleviate these common conditions and offers a roadmap for a lifetime of wellness.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Bookstore Finds

As mentioned in a previous post, my book club met at Scuppernong Books, our newest community bookstore here in Greensboro. The store, like many in our downtown, is an old converted brick building featuring hardwood floors, 20 foot ceilings, and exposed brick walls (at one time plastered with concrete).

It's the kind of store that you walk into and feel immediately at home.

After our book club meeting split up, we each lingered to peruse the shelves. Tracy found the poetry section. I wandered to the back of the store where the used books are shelved.

Surprisingly, the used book section had a few collectibles interspersed with a variety of reading copies.  (Tracy ended up wandering back to the used books and immediately found a poetry book, Imagine Inventing Yellow by M.C. Richards, which was signed by the author).

While I found nothing signed, I did snag a couple of China MiƩville titles that I don't yet have (The Scar and Un Lun Dun) - reading copies, both.

My big score, however, was a first edition of The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi (hard cover), a title that's been on my White Whale (aka 'must procure') list since I first saw it on a trip to Hawaii five years ago. (Not wanting to carry another item home on the plane, I opted not to buy a copy. By the time I got to the bookstore at home, they'd completely sold out). The cover has seen some wear, but the book block is tight and in Very Good condition with no markings or turned down pages.

This title is so rare, that it's hard to find similar copies for sale online - to pin down a value. At the time of this blog post, Abebooks had a total of 7 "First Edition" listings, one of which is actually a 2d printing, another is a 4th printing, and a third is the softcover edition (listing for $99, btw).

Unsigned copies list in the realm of $100 to $200+ depending on condition. (The book listing for $100 apparently had some moisture damage - if this gives you any indication how rare first/firsts are).

Signed, first edition/first printing copies list from $295 (with missing dj) to $950+

Subterranean Press did a signed, limited edition of 500 copies of this title in 2011. Numbers 1-200 comprised the Deluxe Limited Edition (housed in a slip-case), Numbers 201-500 comprised the Limited Edition (no slip-case) - I was fortunate enough to snag a Deluxe copy ( #2/500).

The Limited Edition (#201-500) lists for $125 to $250+
The Deluxe Limited Edition (#1-200) lists for $285 to $360+.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

February Book Club

It's not necessarily a stretch to call what we have a "book club," even though most months only one or two of us have read the assigned title. Admittedly, what we have is more like an excuse to get together and catch up with everyone's lives & eat food, something akin to a southern quilting circle, except none of us really sews and we do, earnestly, try to read each month's book selection. 

Not every one in our group makes every meeting, and this month's meeting was a little bitter sweet since we recently lost a long-time (& sometimes vociferous) member to gall bladder cancer, and Tracy (my spouse) is in the midst of appendix cancer treatment. So, it's been a bit rough and tumble for us the past few months.

With an emotional weariness, we decided to get back into our monthly routine, reading Patti Digh's (pronounced "dye") Life is a Verb. (If you've not heard of it or her, you really should check out her Website). Patti's work falls under the category of  self-help, although it's really just a book full of wonderful stories. She shares encounters with strangers, family members, nature... all of which illustrate a way in which we can live more intentionally. An idea that quite a few of us are finding more and more compelling as we get older.

From the book description: "In October 2003, Patti Digh’s stepfather was diagnosed with lung cancer. He died 37 days later. The timeframe made an impression on her. What emerged was a commitment to ask herself every morning: What would I be doing today if I had only 37 days left to live? The answers changed her life and led to this new kind of book. Part meditation, part how-to guide, part memoir, Life is a Verb is all heart."

We had the luxury of meeting at the back table at our local community bookstore, the newly opened Scuppernong Books, where we had the opportunity to Skype with Patti. She answered questions, talked about Life is a Verb, and read us a story from her newest book The Geography of Loss. We laughed a lot, as each of us connected with some aspect of her stories. There's something about that connection that allows you to be more open with one another.

I can't speak for others, but I left feeling both invigorated and drained (in a good way).

(full disclosure: We heart Patti so much in our family that she was the officiant at our wedding.)

Next Month's Selection: 

So, this will tell you a little about how organized and democratic our book club is: In a store, surrounded by books, we couldn't really come up with a title for next month's selection (although as I'm writing this, I can easily think of about 15). Instead, each of us will choose a different book to read, then do a little synopsis for the rest of the group... our own little symposium. Should be interesting.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Collecting Hugo and Nebula Award Winners

If you're a Sci-Fi or Fantasy fan you probably already have a head start collecting titles by your favorite author, AND you probably already know what the Hugo and Nebula awards are. But for you others who are just getting into the game, or dipping your toes into a new genre, you might be interested in collecting (and reading) some of these titles. (They did, after all, win some awards).

Firstly, a little information on what exactly the Hugos and Nebulas are, courtesy of our friend Wikipedia... (I know, but... just read, it'll be okay):
"The Hugo Awards are a set of awards given annually for the best science fiction or fantasy works and achievements of the previous year. The awards are named after Hugo Gernsback, the founder of the pioneering science fiction magazine Amazing Stories, and were officially named the Science Fiction Achievement Awards until 1992. Organized and overseen by the World Science Fiction Society, the awards are given each year at the annualWorld Science Fiction Convention as the central focus of the event. They were first given in 1953, at the 11th World Science Fiction Convention, and have been awarded every year since 1955." [excerpted from Wikipedia] Nominees are usually announced in March / April. Awards are handed out at the World Science Fiction Convention each year in August / September. 
"The Nebula Awards annually recognize the best works of science fiction or fantasy published in the U.S. during the previous year. The awards are organized and awarded by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), a nonprofit association of professional science fiction and fantasy writers." [excerpted from Wikipedia] Nominees are usually announced in February. Awards are handed out each year at the Nebula Weekend Conference in May.
AbeBooks has a great list of all the previous winners here, including the 19 titles/authors that won both awards (which might be a good place to start, if you're considering a Hugo/Nebula collection):

And to give you an idea about collectibility: if, say,  you're lucky enough to own a first printing of Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card (Tor, 1985), then you may just have a collectible worth $500 to $2,500 (assuming it's in Fine condition). If you have a first edition (even a later printing) of Frank Herbert's Dune (Chilton, 1965), you may have a collectible valued anywhere from $400 (in Good condition) to $15,000 (signed, in Fine condition) - seriously.

Those Sci-Fi nerds aren't so nerdy now, are they?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

YA Cover Design Trends

I was reading book reviews over on Amazon & Goodreads (like you do) in hopes of finding a good young adult book for a friend, and came across a review for Asylum by Madeleine Roux. The synopsis statement for which said, "NOT for fans of Miss Peregrines' Home for Peculiar Children." And they seemed rather adamant about it (giving the title 1 star, in a sea of mostly 4 star reviews). 

Admittedly, the covers are kind of similar  - sharing some design elements (black and white image of a ghostly girl, handwritten font, filigree embellishments), so I could see why someone might think they were similar in content. (Although, as I look at the covers, not having read either book, the Miss Peregrine design conveys a sense of 'hauntingly playful' whereas the design for Asylum leans toward the scary/disturbing).

Miss Peregrine's Home
for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Asylum by Madeleine Roux

This got me thinking about cover design and how good designs convey the theme of the book. Which then lead me to seek out other covers that shared similar design elements.

Such as the... dreamy or otherworldly lone figure standing in a swirl of clothing / smoke / mist with a rather ambiguous background (and usually displaying a title that makes use of lots of tendrils):

Theme: Romance, fantasy (most likely having to do with witches, vampires, or werewolves), possibly historical (depending on the clothing worn); there are dark elements to overcome.

... or the cropped head/face theme...

Theme: Possible romance elements, definitely fantasy (angels, magic), possible dystopian elements. Things are not quite right.

... or the in-your-face close up of some young (usually) woman as she either steals a glance or is intensely distracted:

Theme: Coming of age, usually in an alternate timeline / society, elements of fantasy or dystopian themes. There's usually a bit of romance but it takes a back seat to the main character finding his or her true nature / strength / identity / belief system.

or, you know, some combination of those elements.

It's not that book jacket designers are hard up for ideas - it's that these designs sell. If you're looking for a certain kind of story - you first look to the cover for clues. How many of us can say we've honestly NOT picked up a book because the cover drew us to it?

As a design geek, I'm constantly judging books by their cover. A really good design will get me to pick up the book and start reading it. A really good story will get me to actually buy the book.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

B&N Announces 2013 Great New Writers Awards Finalists

According to Shelf Awareness, Barnes & Noble has announced their 2013 finalists for their Discover Great New Writers Awards. Winners receive $10,000 plus a year of promotion from B&N. 2d place receives a cash prize of $5,000. 3d place receives a cash prize of $2,500.

Fiction:We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo (Little, Brown)
Bobcat & Other Stories by Rebecca Lee (Algonquin Books)
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra (Hogarth)
Nonfiction:Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala (Knopf)
With or Without You by Domenica Ruta (Spiegel & Grau)
Son of a Gun by Justin St. Germain (Random House)

Winners will be announced March 5, 2014.

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