Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Morning's Reading List

As usually happens on a Sunday morning, I've lolled about in comfy clothes (if-not-quite-pajamas) drinking coffee and reading through the slew of publisher's emails (looking at potential ARCs, reading lists, and award winners/runners up).

This morning we have a list of Sherlockian calibre mysteries from Simon & Schuster as well as a few titles coming out in January from HarperCollins:

First, the list of fictional sleuths that Simon & Schuster says passes literary muster:

  1. A is for Alibi, Sue Grafton
  2. Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie
  3. Queen of the Flowers, Kerry Greenwood
  4. The Black Echo, Michael Connelly
  5. One for the Money, Janet Evanovich
What strikes me most about the list is that each of these stories, while fun, is terribly predictable. Don't get me wrong, I love nice light reading (I also appreciate the machinations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle). I loved Agatha Christie as a child, because she was formulaic and I could follow the plot easily, even when she introduced unknowns in the form of a "plot twist." 

I know lots of people who are fans of Sue Grafton and Janet Evanovich, but I'm really not one of them. The stories and writing are perfectly fine, but neither tends to hook me. Again, formulaic.

I like Michael Connelly's later books. The Black Echo just didn't challenge my brain in the way that Doyle's writing did -- of course, that could be the difference between reading Doyle as a teenager and Connelly as an adult.

And, in all honesty, I've never paid much attention to Greenwood. Perhaps because of the style of book cover or the time period in which the stories take place - I've always lumped her in with Jacqueline Winspear, whose writing I've never really enjoyed. (not really fair of me, I know, but it is what it is).

That said, the collectibility factor for four of the five titles cannot be denied:
  1. A is for Alibi, Sue Grafton: first editions list in the $2,000 to $7,000 range (signed) and up to $1,000 (unsigned). In fact, all early titles of her alphabet series are highly collectible. I remember, when I worked at the library we had a first edition (with library marks and all) and it was stolen shortly after one of the interns realized (and commented publicly on) how valuable it was. 
  2. Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie. First editions of this title are a bit rare, as it was published in 1934. But the Crime Club published editions every 10 years or so, so you may find publication dates from the 1940s and 50s. Of course any first editions you find of Christie's work will be collectible - We're talking anywhere from $1,000 to $100,000 for signed copies, easily. Unsigned titles (first editions) still garner values in the $1,000-$5,000 range depending on the condition. There's a nice collection of titles for sale over at
  3. Queen of the Flowers, Kerry Greenwood: First published as a paperback, first editions of this title aren't all that valuable. Other titles, however,  are listing over at AbeBooks in the $100 - $200 range.
  4. The Black Echo, Michael Connelly: The true first edition (Headline, London, 1992) of this title is quite rare. It had a small initial run. Unsigned copies are listing for $2,000 to $3,000. The first US edition (Little, Brown, New York, 1992) lists for up to $1,000.
  5. One for the Money, Janet Evanovich: Signed first editions (Scribner, New York, 1994) list from $200 to $700. Unsigned first editions list from $80 to $180.

And from HarperCollins, some upcoming titles that may be good reads, if not collectible:

Debut Fiction:

God Loves Haiti, Dimitri Elias Léger

A native of Haiti, Dimitry Elias Léger makes his remarkable debut with this story of romance, politics, and religion that traces the fates of three lovers in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and the challenges they face readjusting to life after an earthquake devastates their city.

Lots of positive reviews from other authors, including Junot Diaz and Gary Schteyngart.


The Teenage Brain, Frances Jensen

“In The Teenage Brain, neurologist Frances Jensen has brilliantly translated academic science and clinical studies into easily understandable chapters to highlight the many changes in connections and plasticity of the brain. The book is a ‘must read’ for parents, teachers, school nurses, and many others who live with or interact with teens...a new framework for readers to approach parenting or teaching with more science and more evidence-based, practical advice.” 
           — S. Jean Emans, MD. Chief, Division of Adolescent/Young Adult Medicine, Boston Children's Hospital; Professor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School


Driving the King, Ravi Howard

The war is over, the soldiers are returning, and Nat King Cole is back in his hometown of Montgomery, Alabama, for a rare performance. His childhood friend, Nat Weary, plans to propose to his sweetheart, and the singer will honor their moment with a special song. While the world has changed, segregated Jim Crow Montgomery remains the same. When a white man attacks Cole with a pipe, Weary leaps from the audience to defend him—an act that will lead to a ten-year prison sentence.

"An indelible portrait of prejudice and promise, friendship and loyalty, Driving the King by Ravi Howard is a daring look at race and class in pre-Civil Rights America, played out in the lives of two remarkable men: Nat King Cole and his driver, Nat Weary."

The story is told from Weary's POV.

One Amazon reviewer compares it to James McBride's The Good Lord Bird.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Bone Clocks, Afterworlds, and other literary adventures...

Thanks to the move and spending all of our free time fixing up the house, we have not visited a bookstore in over TWO months. Unimaginable, I know, but true.

That streak was broken this weekend when, needing a break (like you do), we followed the path of least resistance to the Barnes & Noble, where I managed to do a little damage to my pocketbook.

Top on my list was (of course) David Mitchell's Bone Clocks (which I sat down and started reading before we ever left the store). Although, I have to say, I had a hard time finding a copy that wasn't mangled. All but a couple of books had pages that were folded, torn, or just out of shape - like they used that title as a doorstop. Which might explain why they were hidden in the back of a display (that, or someone there really doesn't like David Mitchell).

Next was Tana French's new title, The Secret Place (although I have yet to read her last book, so it goes in the 'To be read at a later date' pile).

Scott Westerfeld is on the top of my YA list with his latest, Afterworlds.

And then, I'm a little embarrassed to say, I bought the new John Twelve Hawks book, Spark. His writing is very reminiscent of Dan Brown's, not stellar, but there's something wonderfully escapist about his stories - sort of like going to see a Die Hard movie. The action is unrealistic, but MAN is it entertaining (you know, if you like that sort of thing, which clearly I do).

Now, of course, the problem is finding space on the bookshelves.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

This Week's Geocentric Reading List

The folks over at Brooklyn Magazine are at it once again. A couple of weeks ago they came up with a Literary Map of Brooklyn to give readers the best understanding of the neighborhoods that make up that borough. Now they've turned their literary spotlight to the states:
...we had seen other maps pairing books with states, but those maps tend to signify the fame level of the books rather than their literary merit; they also tend to be dominated by white men, most of them dead. And Margaret Mitchell. 
We wanted to come up with a list that was more than just a general reflection of a place, but rather paid attention to the specifics, even at the risk of the exclusion of the whole. No one book, after all, can completely capture the spirit of something so unwieldy as a state.
You can visit their Website for the full list of 53 books (yes, 53, New York got divided into State and City with NYC getting it's own title) - none of which, they say, are Gone with the Wind (thank you very much).

Some titles are are more evident than others (Into the Wild / Alaska, Lonesome Dove / Texas, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas / Nevada, The Descendants / Hawaii). Others, I can't help but think there might have been a better choice out there somewhere in the literary sphere (is Stephen King's Carrie really representative of Maine, or Truman Capote's In Cold Blood / Kansas - both well written, don't get me wrong), but those are personal preferences, and honestly, I've not read enough to be able to identify better titles. I just can't help but think they might be out there.

If you're looking for a themed reading list, this is a good one that will keep you busy for the next year (or two).

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Fall, Small Presses, and Limited Editions

Hi all,

The move went well (Tracy and I bought a house last month) and the unpacking seems endless, but books are starting to find their way back to their shelves (albeit slowly). And as they do, it feels more and more like home. North Carolina weather is slowly giving way to fall and our new yard has plenty of trees to enjoy once the colors begin to change. Lots of trees also means lots of birds, which our cat is truly loving.

The fall semester is half way over. Midterms next week and then fall break, when I hope to regroup and start blogging more regularly (but first I have to get through 40 college papers written from the perspective of 19 year old geniuses - something we all claimed to be at one point).

At any rate, to tide you over, I thought I would point you to some of the small press offerings of late:

Enders Game, Orson Scott Card (Centipede Press)
Limited to 300 copies
Signed by Card, Brandon Mull (preface), & David Ho (illustrator)
Cloth bound in slipcase: $295

The Drowning Girl, Caitlín R. Kiernan (Centipede Press)
Limited to 300 copies
Signed by Kiernan, Elizabeth Hand (introduction), Matthew Jaffe (illustrator), Michael Zulli (illustrator)
Cloth bound, ribbon marker, slip-cased: $250

Max Ernst, Artist Portfolio (Centipede Press)
Ships in November
Currently no information, so keep your eyes peeled.

A Mountain Walked, S.T. Joshi ed. (Centipede Press)
Limited to 500 copies
Signed by 20 contributors
Cloth binding, ribbon marker, slip-cased: Sold Out

Keep your eyes on the secondary market (like Abebooks) for this one.

Interworld, Neil Gaiman, Michael Reaves (Subterranean Press)
Limited to 500 copies
Lettered edition of 26 copies: Sold Out
hardback (cloth) binding: $60

There's no publishing date yet (most likely late 2014/early 2015). They're also publishing the sequel The Silver Dream.

Appointment on Sunset, Tim Powers (Charnel House)
Limited to 250 copies
Hand bound in handmade indigo paper: $150

This is a small text at 48 pages.
Charnel House also offers a lettered edition for $800

Saturday, July 26, 2014

2014 ManBooker Longlist Announced

More information at the Man Booker Website

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

In The Post: Christie & Moran

I know it's been awhile, but I am still here... still reading.

It's been a tumultuous year - which happens. Earlier in the year we dealt with another bout of Cancer in our household, this time it was my partner who was diagnosed. Appendix Cancer. (I know, no one has ever heard of Appendix Cancer). It's rare. Her case especially so - rarest of the rare Appendix Cancers. The treatment is surgery... actually, two surgeries in her case. The good news is, after 16+ weeks of recovery she's doing fine and is back to work.  But that is the main reason why I've been away from my blog so long.

Now I'm back and hope to make a more regular appearance as things, once again, normalize. 

I received two advanced readers from HarperCollins this week - both debut novels, and both of which I'm excited to read. 

The first one, How To Build a Girl is written by the UK's version of Tina Fey (or so says the jacket cover). The tag line that got me was "Imagine The Bell Jar -- written by Rizzo from Grease." Okay, hooked.

(release date: 9/23/2014)

Book description:

What do you do in your teenage years when you realize what your parents taught you wasn’t enough? You must go out and find books and poetry and pop songs and bad heroes—and build yourself.
It’s 1990. Johanna Morrigan, fourteen, has shamed herself so badly on local TV that she decides that there’s no point in being Johanna anymore and reinvents herself as Dolly Wilde—fast-talking, hard-drinking Gothic hero and full-time Lady Sex Adventurer. She will save her poverty-stricken Bohemian family by becoming a writer—like Jo in Little Women, or the Bröntes—but without the dying young bit.
By sixteen, she’s smoking cigarettes, getting drunk and working for a music paper. She’s writing pornographic letters to rock-stars, having all the kinds of sex with all kinds of men, and eviscerating bands in reviews of 600 words or less.
But what happens when Johanna realizes she’s built Dolly with a fatal flaw? Is a box full of records, a wall full of posters, and a head full of paperbacks, enough to build a girl after all?
Imagine The Bell Jar written by Rizzo from Grease. How to Build a Girl is a funny, poignant, and heartbreakingly evocative story of self-discovery and invention, as only Caitlin Moran could tell it. [HarperCollins]

The second is written by a printmaker (so, you know I'm biased - having studied printmaking myself) and is getting a lot of buzz (including a starred review from Kirkus)

Gutenberg's Apprentice by Alix Christie. 
(release date: 9/23/2014)

Book description:

Youthful, ambitious Peter Schoeffer is on the verge of professional success as a scribe in Paris when his foster father, wealthy merchant and bookseller Johann Fust, summons him home to corrupt, feud-plagued Mainz to meet “a most amazing man.”
Johann Gutenberg, a driven and caustic inventor, has devised a revolutionary—and to some, blasphemous—method of bookmaking: a machine he calls a printing press. Fust is financing Gutenberg’s workshop and he orders Peter, his adopted son, to become Gutenberg’s apprentice. Resentful at having to abandon a prestigious career as a scribe, Peter begins his education in the “darkest art.”
As his skill grows, so, too, does his admiration for Gutenberg and his dedication to their daring venture: copies of the Holy Bible. But mechanical difficulties and the crushing power of the Catholic Church threaten their work. As outside forces align against them, Peter finds himself torn between two father figures: the generous Fust, who saved him from poverty after his mother died; and the brilliant, mercurial Gutenberg, who inspires Peter to achieve his own mastery.
Caught between the genius and the merchant, the old ways and the new, Peter and the men he admires must work together to prevail against overwhelming obstacles—a battle that will change history . . . and irrevocably transform them. [HarperCollins]

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