Independent Bookstore Day Preview

Hey all you bookfreaks! Have you got plans on April 28? I certainly hope not, because you are going to need to spend your day visiting a local indie bookstore or three. It is Independent Bookstore Day!

This movement was started a few years ago to celebrate and lift up indies. Well, I think it has wildly outstretched anyone’s imagination. This year, the Ambassador for Independent Bookstore Day is Celeste Ng, the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You and Little Fires Everywhere. According to the official website, over 500 stores will participate in 48 states this year.

Stores have the opportunity to purchase exclusive Independent Bookstore Day (IBD) merchandise. Last year, this included things like an edition of Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman with an exclusive cover, a perfect bound short story by Rainbow Rowell, adult coloring books, and several other goodies. This year’s items include a darling little onesie for bebe, plushies, a $6 book of short stories, tea towels with fun quotes on them, and an amazing giclee print of the Literary Universe, which highlights some of the best scifi in the galaxy.

Last year, I went around with my friend Laura, which was fantastic. We had a blast. We visited 12 stores, and ate lunch at a wonderful African restaurant, and ran into friends, and just generally had a great time. Sure, we were exhausted by the end, but it was worth it. I think Laura came home with 12 books, and I hauled home 14. You can see the whole haul on my Instagram account.

We scoped out our tour very carefully, and tried to be strategic about it. One thing we wanted to do was visit Milkweed Books in downtown Minneapolis (the only bookstore left downtown) to talk with Peter Geye, who was there as a guest bookseller. Many of the stores will have guest booksellers, who are usually published authors, there to help you make your choice, or to make recommendations for you. Laura and I visited stores we hadn’t been to before, and got to check out one of the newest stores, our last stop, Addendum Books, which specializes in YA fiction.

In the Twin Cities, where we live, there are many indies, and several that specialize in different things. There are so many, in fact, that the local independent bookseller association, MiBA, organized a passport activity. You got your passport stamped at each store you visited. This unlocked a coupon that was already printed on the passport. If you got a certain number of stamps, you were entered in a drawing. If you got more than 10 stamps, you were entered in the Grand Prize drawing. Well guess what. I won the grand prize! I got the most giant box of books you could imagine. I was simply floored. There were 28 books from stores and publishers, along with some other goodies like pins, notebooks, a tote and more.

Once again, there will be a passport, and it is being handled by Rain Taxi. There are more prizes, and coupons, and fun at each stop. Visiting just five stores will enter you in a drawing. And don’t forget to check each place for the special IBD merchandise that is offered. Much of this is only available on this day. The selection at stores will vary, because each store orders their own merch. There are also giveaways that are exclusives to the day, such as stencils, tattoos, storybooks, posters and more.

Recently I talked to a few stores that gave me a rundown of their plans. Put these on your docket:

Magers & Quinn Booksellers:
Local Poet Lynette Reini-Grandell will be Guest Bookseller for poetry and English lit from 11am to 2pm. From 3:30 to 5pm, local 8th graders will be Guest Booksellers, giving their favorite recommendations in the children’s section. At 7pm, you’re in for an evening treat, with a reading of juvenilia. Volunteers offer to read off their best from all those old notebooks! This is an open mic event. If you’re interested in reading, you can sign up in advance or just drop in!

Subtext Books:
They will start off with coffee and donuts in the morning, guest booksellers in the afternoon, and live music from Brian Barnes in the evening, plus lots of exclusive merch and freebies.

Moon Palace Books:
They will have specials in the store and café, and round the day out with a giant poetry reading put on by Poetry Asylum (known as the Great Twin Cities Poetry Read), which will feature more than 30 poets. Start off with a free cup of coffee from 9 to 11am, 2-for-1 tap beer, cider or house wine from 3 to 6pm, and special deals from 6pm to close when you bring in receipts from other indies! Check the website for deets.

Red Balloon Bookshop:
Storytime and face painting in the morning, and a John Green hunt (like Where’s Waldo) in the afternoon! Two scavenger hunts will each last an hour, and the winner of each will get a signed copy of Turtles All the Way Down! Plus more prizes, merch and scratch-off cards.

There are other special deals going on, like a free audio book (the #1 Indie Next Pick, Tangerine by Christine Mangan), free ebooks, and many other treats that booksellers have been planning for months.

If you don’t live in an area that has independent bookstores, I honestly feel for you. But there must be something you can do, right? Possibly visit a neighboring town! It’s the perfect excuse for some bookstore tourism. In fact, this year there is an initiative which will encourage just that. A map has been created (by none other than Kevin Cannon, our favorite bookstore artist, who created previous maps, posters and individual store drawings), called the Midwest Bookstore Map. Visit bookstores on the map, and post about it, tag @Midwestbooks and the bookstore, and you could win monthly drawings or a grand prize (drawn next year on Independent Bookstore Day). That’s a whole year of possibilities! But then, a bookstore is always full of possibilities.

Hope you can get yourself out and enjoy some time with a local indie this weekend. Or put it on your calendar next year – it is always the last Saturday in April!

Book Review: The Hazel Wood

Have I got something for you. There has been a lot of buzz in the past couple years about fairytale retellings, sure. But Melissa Albert takes it a step further yet. This is a newtelling (new-telling? New Telling?) – a wholly new world, The Hinterland, which we learn about from the character searching for the book within the book.

People. The booklove in this book! This is literally a bookfreak’s dream come true.

But I digress.

What is so arresting about this book is its immediacy. It is almost magical realism in its here-and-now-ness. We are in modern day New York City. Our MC has current problems. Her cell phone is dead. Her stepdad is a jerk. Her stepsister is a bitch (who makes her feel like “an awkward breadstick”). Okay. We’ve all been there. In bits and pieces, we get more of the story, more of her story – the midnight runs, the near misses. Her mother. The weird stuff that seems to explode around them. Why?

And her name… wait for it… is Alice.

I love it. Everything about this story felt so right on.

And while we are in modern New York City, yet… there is something, just a hair’s breath away, just over a slight border, one you cannot see, just waiting. The Hinterland. And that, my friends, is where Alice must go to find her mom. Whether the Hinterland is a place or a people, we aren’t sure.

There is unexpected help, there is unexpected danger. All around. It is endemic to the fairytale. Wait. The stories. Danger is endemic to the plurality of stories that exist in this other land.

I’m doing a bad job of explaining it, because it’s just that good. But you can get a synopsis from anywhere. What I’d like to tell you about is the beauty of the way this was put together, the intricacy of it, and the wild success of it. Albert has come up with a whole new realm, and folks, she’s going to take us there. I was excited reading this, excited like the first time-reading-Harry Potter excited. Because everything felt imaginative and whole.

As good as the storytelling is, the writing is even better. One of the things that I loved so much right away about Harry Potter was the wordplay. Albert scores hit after hit on that. Albert sings when she is putting us in Alice’s memories: the way a book is evocative of the place you first read it. The way that smells are colors and sounds are food. Waylan Jennings is whisky and a suit is an exhausted brown. This is what makes a story stick.

Things like this, one of the best list paragraphs I’ve read in a long time:

“Everyone is supposed to be a combination of nature and nurture, their true selves shaped by years of friends and fights and parents and dreams and things you did too young and things you overheard that you shouldn’t have and secrets you kept or couldn’t and regrets and victories and quiet prides, all the packed-together detritus that becomes what you call your life.

But every time we left a place, I felt the things that happened there being wiped clean, til all that was left was Ella, our fights and our talks and our winding roads.” – p130

Alice is worth our time, too. She climbs into bed with The Blind Assassin, “because if you’re not with the book you want, you might as well want the book you’re with.” She doesn’t like her stepdad because, among other things, he doesn’t read the right books. She tamps down an anger she doesn’t understand with “hippie shit” her mother teaches her, and once called, she is laser-focused on her goal.

And Alice has a friend. Finch wears an expression like armor, one that seals him off from the world and protects him from… what, exactly? He is a superfan, one of the few who has read the book Alice’s grandmother wrote, and who has a deep appreciation for story. (And he wants to go home at one point, “because that’s where my first editions are.” Don’t we love this sweet little cinnamon roll?) I was really getting a soft spot for Finch.

Let’s not forget Ella. Ella in all this is more than just the crazy mom who married up, the waitress who can beguile a rich guy. The daughter of the woman who wrote the tales of the Hinterland down. Ella has guts. Ella is bad-ass her damn self. But we don’t get much of her story.

The three of them do a kind of dance with The Hinterland, each for their own reasons. And along the way, we get bits and pieces of the stories of the Hinterland. Oh, by the way, we’re getting those in full, too. It has just been announced that Albert will be releasing two more books – one will be the actual Tales of the Hinterland (squeeee!) (presumably the book that Althea, Ella’s mother, wrote in the first place) and the other will be set in the same world, a follow-up to this one. So we have Hinterland for the next two years!

So yes, Leigh Bardugo wrote original, imaginative fairytales set in her fantasy world (The Language of Thorns was my top pick for 2017). And Lev Grossman gave us a doorway into a hidden world through an alleyway. But this is like Ravka meets Brakebills. Except that school is the least of our worries. And the world feels as real as your own backyard. So it’s not a retelling – it’s new. We get it first.

Go on, get this one. But a note here: the author posted that some bookstores had put the book out early, and asked people to hold off on buying it until Jan 30. Please, booksellers, don’t skirt a Strict on Sale date. And readers, if you know a book is out early, wait to buy it. I know, it’s hard. But it could make that small difference for where – or whether – a book lands on the New York Times bestseller list, among other things. And this one is sure to land there, somewhere. Help it land higher by buying it during release week. On-sale date is January 30. Set an alert.

Because I forgot to mention, in case you can’t tell from my Bookstagram photo above, that this book is gorgeous in and of itself! I have heard the final copy does not disappoint – gold foil, embossing, just everything. The ARC is easily one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. I can’t wait to get my final copy!

Oh, and five stars on GoodReads! I don’t usually give stars, but I think that I will start doing that for all my reviews on GoodReads this year. Just as an experiment. I wrestle with anything less than five stars. But maybe it will help people decide what to read, and help authors I love. Come find me there!

Happy New Year!

 

January Readathon and 2018 Challenges

I tackled a couple of reading challenges last year. And they really helped to start my year off right. In fact, they gave me such a huge spurt of accomplishment, I made my reading goal – and knocked out some books I’d been wanting to read for a long time, several of them five star reads. All this to say, I’m here to do it again.

This year, I thought I’d do the #RockMyTBR challenge again, but with a different tack. I’m doing #BeattheBacklist, which involves a little more accountability, a little more checking in. In fact, it looks like Austine put a heckuva lot of work into this!  There is a Bookstagram challenge, teams and prizes. I’m on the Story Sorcerors team. I fell off #RockMyTBR about halfway through, so I still have quite a pile of stuff here that I need to either read or just peruse and unhaul. Continue reading

Best Books of 2017

My year got hijacked. I started off strong, reading something like 20 books in January (thanks in large part to a part-time job as a warming house attendant, which essentially meant uninterrupted reading time on most days). Then I got a job at a bookstore. Sounds ideal, right? Well, it really cut into my reading time, I can tell you that!

However, I did manage to get close to my goal of 75 books. I might even make it. At this writing, I have two days left, and I’ve read 60 books. And there’s a readathon tomorrow!

But all that aside, I did manage to read some great books this year. Books that blew me away, and that made me think, that stayed with me. And that is always the best thing. The following are the ones I most heartily recommend. Continue reading

Halloween Reads 2017

Every year since 2011 I have done a round-up this time of year of spooky and creepy reads that I have enjoyed. I have sometimes included horror recommendations from other people (like in last year’s post from Alison at Little Bookworm), but I haven’t read those because I am a chicken. This year, though, I am happy to supply several titles that seriously fit the bill. I personally know a couple of these authors, but honestly, that has no bearing on my recommendation. They are all great stories.

At the bottom you will find links to my previous years’ posts, and an apology from me for falling off the radar here for so long. First, on to the books! Continue reading

A Properly Unhaunted Place by William Alexander

As October quickly zooms by, I am hard at work trying to get my Halloween Reads post done. This title will go on that list, but I wanted to do more than a capsule review on it. It deserves its own space.

I knew it would be good, having read Will’s previous books. But it was better than good. Here we have another stellar story from the indomitable Will Alexander. Continue reading

Book Review: City of Saints & Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson

You may remember that February was my month of reading mysteries. This was one of my February reads, and one of the top books I have read yet this year. I gave it Five Stars on GoodReads. And then I had to calm down a bit because yeah, man, it was THAT good. And as for the publisher’s description, no, not Gone Girl. There was nothing unreliable about this narrator. Nothing at all. This was Girl with a Dragon Tattoo meets Life After Life. So many choices. So many unanswered questions. Continue reading

Tolkien Reading Day 2017

I hadn’t really anticipated becoming wholly consumed by Tolkien during the month of March. But that appears to be what has happened.

First, I heard about this from the bloggers over at Pages Unbound. They put out a call on Twitter for bloggers to take part in their two-week Tolkien blog fest, which would feature posts they wrote plus lots of guest posts. I was happy to write a post about how Tolkien has influenced my work, which can be seen here. And there are lots of other posts about all things Tolkien, so get on over and check them out.

Then I saw a challenge on Instagram. I do a lot of photo challenges (which, if you don’t know, are basically lists of prompts that you interpret and then share with a hashtag), and this was to be a month-long Tolkien theme under the #MiddleEarthMarch tag. I thought that sounded like loads of fun, so I was eager to participate in that. This also included a Lord of the Rings read-along, which was preceded by a read-along of The Hobbit, where we followed along on #febandbackagain.

I had a blast with the prompts, and had fun going through my books and gathering together all my Tolkien-related titles. Come to find out that I actually have a pretty good collection! I am especially happy with a special edition I picked up at a con a year or so ago for $20 – it is the green leather one in a slipcase, with runes on the cover and spine. It’s gorgeous, and a lovely addition to my library (but really, I’m a sucker for anything in a slipcase or a boxset).

On my #RockMyTBR challenge, I had already ear-marked a Tolkien title, The Silmarillion, for April. But I substituted the above titles, which was handy because I found that either I do not own The Silmarillion or I simply couldn’t find it. I just swapped my previous March title with April. And then GoodReads changed its rules so that you could count rereads as part of your challenge goal, so that helped speed me along.

Before I saw the Pages Unbound post, I honestly didn’t even realize there was going to be a Tolkien Reading Day in March. March 25 is the anniversary of the day of the defeat of Sauron, in case you are wondering. The celebration is sponsored by the Tolkien Society, and there are lots of celebrations worldwide. This worked out perfectly for me, since I read that scene in the book on the night of March 24! I was able to keep on track with my reading in the read-along, though I am sad to say that I hardly read anything else during March. But it was worth it.

I never read The Lord of the Rings until after college. So this was only maybe my third time reading the series. The last time was when the movies came out. When I was in high school, fantasy was a class for stoners and slackers. I loved English and reading, so instead, I took Shakespeare and English lit. Well, let that be a lesson to you. Don’t skip a class if it sounds interesting! Had I taken fantasy in high school, I might have been a decade ahead on my Tolkien obsession!

And now I am well and fully hooked. I have always loved the movies, and my son and I did a binge watch of the extended version DVDs over the holidays. So that set me up nicely for all the reading. Now I am looking forward to The Unfinished Tales and The Silmarillion. I have been looking around, and it sounds like this is the order which is most recommended in reading Tolkien (that is, The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, The Unfinished Tales and The Silmarillion).

I am very much looking forward to the upcoming Beren and Luthien, which is being released in May, and was edited by Christopher Tolkien and illustrated by Alan Lee. Many Tolkien fans will know that this story of star-crossed lovers was very close to Tolkien’s heart. He even had the name Luthien engraved on his wife’s headstone when she died, and then instructed that Beren should be engraved under his name (they share a headstone).

I’ve long had a wish to go to Oxford, and see his haunts. I would also love to go to New Zealand, where you can see the set for the Shire, and have lunch at the Green Dragon. So go ahead, Tolkien merch, take all my money! I don’t even care.

 

Reading Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes Series (Books 1-5)
By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I love a good mystery. I had some stacking up here, so I decided to make February my mysteries month. Most of my TBR for the month was mystery and thriller. Books I had been meaning to read for ages, most of them. And I love to curl up with a good mystery on a cold night. The more bodies, the better!

I’ve got a beautiful box set of Sherlock Holmes books (it was part of my #RockMyTBR list). I think I got it at a thrift store, because I know that I didn’t pay much for it. And I didn’t take the books out of the box for years. When I finally did, they were pristine – the spines had never even been cracked.

The books are lovely little hardcovers, small enough to fit in your hand, with gilt lettering and gold fore edges (the part of the page you see when it’s closed). The finish is an interesting wood grain, but it’s black, so hard to photograph. I love pretty books. I just can’t tell you how nice it is to sit down with a book that is lovely to hold and lovely to look at, and of course, the story has to be good, too.

Now, I knew these were good stories. But I had never actually read them. So I added them to the stack. The stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were a bit different than what I expected, though. Not so many dead bodies as misunderstandings, jilted lovers, and just plain con men. But that was okay. The writing held up, and I wanted to get past the shows I had watched (both the BBC production and the CBS show Elementary) to the real deal.

Here are the five books I read.

A Study in Scarlet/ The Sign of the Four (#1 & #2)

The first book was two stories in one. I had heard the titles before, but not the stories. I am so glad I started at the beginning, though. Here we get the complete timeline of how Watson and Sherlock met, how Watson comes to understand him and his methods, and how they grow to be close friends. We also get Watson meeting Mary! The first story is not all that memorable itself, but worth reading just for these character-building reasons. The only thing I didn’t like about it was that it included a large bit of backstory set in the American West, which took away from the mood I typically go to Sherlock for. The second story is interesting, a bit more exotic, and complex enough to hold your attention. I didn’t agree whole-heartedly with the way it was presented, as it was less than of a whodunit than a how-dunit, but that’s okay. It had lots of color, shall we say? Convicts and con men and double-crosses – much of it set in colonial India, with all that entails.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (#3)

This is an eclectic collection of stories in which many of those featured don’t actually involve crimes. I dearly love the different voices of Watson and Holmes, as they are clearly delineated. And finally by this point I was able to get away from picturing Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch in my head! This was a struggle in the first volume, let me tell you. These are all very quick and somewhat slight, but with good detail and lots of that murky London fog. There are 12 stories in all. Some of them were very curious, and I especially liked A Scandal in Bohemia (in which we meet Irene Adler!), The Red-Headed League, and the Blue Carbuncle. Just about every kind of crime you can imagine is included in here.

The Memories of Sherlock Holmes (#4)

I found these a bit better than the last volume, because they were more involved. So many of the stories had quotes that I had heard elsewhere – “the curious incident of the dog in the night time,” and the reference to the code word Norbury. I love seeing how these things were treated in the BBC production, and how they originally appeared. That is really why I wanted to read the books in the first place. Again, though, a lot of these stories were nebulous as to their actual endings. They were cons, or jilted love, or some such things. I liked The Musgrave Ritual (which harkens a bit towards The Hound of the Bakervilles) and The Naval Treaty best, I think. But they were all very good, and included such varied settings and issues, that it really kept me reading.

The Hound of the Baskervilles (#5)

This is a full-length story, and I really do like it when he hunkers down and make a novel out of it. I loved the setting of this – the atmospheric spookiness of the moors. It is done so well, it made me want to pick up Wuthering Heights just to keep being spooked! It’s almost like the setting is another character in this novel. It has much more to do with setting than the short stories all set in London. And the story was intriguing, full of foreboding. There are all kinds of threats, hair-raising adventures on the moor, Neolithic ruins (about which I greatly enjoyed Watson’s ruminations!), and all sorts of folks pretending to be something they are not. It keeps you hopping. I saw this as a stage play when I was really young, and while it was a professional children’s theater production, I don’t remember much of the story. I just knew there was this black baying hound off stage. It suffers some from being produced, I think. You just need to get your head on to the moors.

I’ll continue on with the series, though I don’t have any more of the volumes until The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, which is apparently the final book. I wouldn’t want to skip ahead, though. I think the character-building is one of the best things about this series. There has to be a reason why these characters have had the staying power they have – Conan Doyle takes great pains to make it just right, to make their relationships ring true, and to give each person a distinct voice.

If you like mysteries or like reading classics, you should definitely get your hands on these. There are a multitude of editions, as they are in the public domain. But it’s worth picking up a nice volume. You’ll want to keep them.

RockMyTBR Challenge

I love this challenge. I tried to do it last year, sort of. I made it maybe two months. But I didn’t have a plan, and I didn’t have a post. So here I am, holding myself accountable. Unfortunately, I am too late to link up with the intro post. This is hosted by Sarah at The YA Book Traveler and I am so glad she’s doing it again! It’s a great way to be sure your books are not languishing too long on the shelf! I tend to use my library a lot, so this helps me add to that.

Since last year didn’t go so well, I have laid out some rules for this year for myself.

My Rules for #RockMyTBR

You must make the TBR from books you already own, whether they are packed away, on your shelves or in piles on your floor does not matter.

You can put books anywhere on the TBR for the year, using whatever criteria you want to read whatever you want whenever you want.

You can switch out books for another on your TBR, but only WITHIN your TBR. If you trade a top book for a later book, you cannot trade that top book again. You must read it when you come to it.

You cannot add any newly purchased books to this TBR. This is only for books you owned at the beginning of the year.

I reserve the right to add any books from my shelves, but only in addition to the books already on the list.

These kind of fall in line with what Sarah has already outlined, but I am really going to be strict with myself. That’s why I’m letting myself trade within the TBR, but making sure to put limits on that. I figure if I have a book that I want to trade more than once, then I probably don’t want to read that book anyway, and I might as well get rid of it.

Without further ado, here is my plan for #RockMyTBR for 2017!

January – The Star-Touched Queen (also for #DAReadathon and #boutofbooks) Done!

February – Sherlock Holmes box set (four books)

 

March – Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor (have read the first one)

April – The Silmarillion by Tolkien and The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth

May – Very Good Lives by JK Rowling

June – Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

July – Game of Thrones book 1 by George RR Martin

August – Mary E Pearson Remnant Chronicles series

September – The Late Homecomer by Kao Kalia Yang

October – Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde (have read the first three but need to start over)

November – A Breathtaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

December – Potluck Supper with Meeting to Follow by Andy Sturdevant

Wish me luck!

 

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