Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Double Game by Dan Fesperman

Here's another fantastic read that I pulled from my pile!
In itself, it is a fun and satisfying middle-aged-man Cloak & Dagger story, but the layers of spy fiction fan geekiness push it over the top into the CAN'T MISS THIS category for fans who just can't get enough of Le Carre, Furst, Fleming et al.
Bill Cage, a 53-year-old former international journalist, current reluctant PR hack, divorce, disappointing dad, and beloved only son of former State Department employee Warfield Cage, gets the chance to live out the plots of his favorite spy novels. But when real danger strikes and he realizes how much he has to lose, is playing the game still worth it?
A mysterious note referencing favorites in the spy genre kicks it all off. Soon Bill is leaving Georgetown to revisit Cold War sites from his childhood. There are book codes, clues leading through deliciously old-world bookshops, microfilms from the KGB, and tons of references to spycraft's golden era.
Great drama, great character, and also great that even though there are some very thrilling scenes, some of the major cruxes of the story have wonderful psychological depth.
Watch for Litzi, a competent, smart femme who doesn't necessarily need to be fatale to be completely magnetic.
Perhaps best of all is the full bibliography at the end. I made a two-page wish list in my reading journal just from that.
The drink of this book: whiskey, neat. But also vodka, slivovitz, red wine...

I think readers who enjoy this might also try Pavel & I by Dan Vyleta (a spy thriller set in post-WWII Berlin, with loads of twists and turns), Restless by William Boyd (a 1970s mother-daughter story in London intertwined with mom's shenanigans as a spy in WWII) and-- a bit more of a stretch, but there's something about the deep reading, the family ties, and the layers of fiction-- The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips (a contemporary drama about a son, his conman father, and the undiscovered Shakespearean play that won't let them go). 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Snowdrops by A. D. Miller

I finally got around to reading this Man Booker 2011 shortlist title, and I'm so glad I did. I usually like Man Booker shortlisters, I often like a book set in Russia, several customers had read and recommended it, so I was a little worried about it living up to expectations. Phew-- what a relief that it completely sucked me in with its sharp writing, suspenseful storytelling, and completely evocative and atmospheric style.
This contemporary novel is told as Nick/Kolya's confession to his fiancee before their wedding. It chronicles a London lawyer's fourth and final expat year in the depraved but beautiful, captivating yet horrifying Wild Wild East of Moscow, where bribes are necessary for everything, who you know could make or break you, and people really might do the unthinkable.
Miller doles out pithy and clever descriptions as well as heartbreaking statements about midlife, ambition, and love. The emotion is powerful and fascinating.
From the beginning, we know that a corpse has been uncovered near Kolya's flat. ("Snowdrops" are, in addition to flowers, corpses that are discovered after the snow melts in Russia.) This lends a sense of suspense and lurking danger throughout the story.
But the story is not a murder mystery; it is a love story, a story of intrigue and manipulation, and a business cautionary tale.
I found this well-written and gripping, if rather bleak. Bundle up, pour yourself some cocoa with a shot of vodka, and hunker down for a read-in-one-sitting winter's indulgence.
For more about Snowdrops (and to find it at an indie bookstore near you), click here

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway

Zany, quirky, and enigmatic-- a very fun and unusual adventure.
This novel reads like a combination of Neil Gaiman, Alan Kurzweil, and Gail Carriger.
Joe Spork, a clockmaker, is in his 30s-- a quiet, kind, concentrated type of man. He runs the old clock shop his grandfather Daniel started in London. Joe worries about paying his taxes on time and treating women with more respect than his loutish friend Billy. He tries very hard to distance himself from the legacy of his dad, Mathew, a gangster who ran the secret underworld Night Market.
Joe gets snared in intrigue when Billy introduces him to client Edie Bannister, an old woman with a bad-breathed, blind pug named Bastion (who gets interior monologues from time to time). Edit has Joe work on repair jobs, including a clockwork device that is part book-- and part world-changing mechanical beehive. This is the Angelmaker, aka Apprehension Machine.
The story goes back and forth between the present-day troubles Joe has with government types and creepy religious/craftsman fundamentalists and Edie's youth (her special agent training, heroic transgender-disguised rescue, bonus baby elephant...).
There is a lot of the bizarre in the plot, and I'm sure I missed some of the twists and turns, but I enjoyed the quirky characters an over-the-top adventure. Perhaps my favorites, aside from Edie's training days above the  steampunk codebreaking train the "Ada Lovelace", were the scenes with Mercer Cradle, lawyer extraordinaire, and the smart and sexy Polly. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

'Tis the Season!

Without my usual retail holiday work, the season has kind of snuck up on me this year. Luckily, the Random Acts of Reading blog gave me a gift-giving prompt this month.
Read how I responded to, "What book do you want to give this year? What book do you want to get?" here.
What book would you love to get this year? 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Random Acts of Reading guest post: backlist

I love the book blog prompts Erin at Random Acts of Reading gives us every month. For November, we got to think about older favorites for kids. No surprise that the other bloggers' contributions had me going, "Oooh! Oooh! Oooh! I knew she was a kindred spirit!"

See the whole fabulous list and sing a variation of that song from childhood: "Read new books, but read the oll-lld; Some are silver and the others GOLD."

The post is here

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A page-turner: "12.21" by Dustin Thomason

Back in the 1990s, I studied Biology and read Michael Crichton medical thrillers for escapism... and I also met a very nice boy who had been friends with my best friend from childhood.
We all wound up in college together, and that nice boy and I took some pre-med requirements together. He went on to med school, but that wasn't all-- he also wrote a best-seller called The Rule of Four with another friend, Ian Caldwell. Yowzah! That's right, I can say I knew Dustin Thomason when.

This summer, Dusty's first solo book came out, and it's a terrific medical thriller with history, romance, and plenty of drama! 12.21 features a long-lost Mayan codex, a mysterious and devastating outbreak, and a race for a cure that kept me turning the pages. I'd write more, but I'm pretty tired from staying up late to read...

If you've been craving an edge-of-your-seat medical thriller, let me recommend 12.21 by Dustin Thomason-- a great book by a great guy. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

"Goodbye for Now" by Laurie Frankel

As an independent bookseller, I take great pride in introducing readers to books they might not have found by themselves. One of the challenges of handselling is coming up with a bookseller-to-customer-pitch that conveys exactly why I think this particular book will be the right fit for this particular reader in their current reading mood.

I’m thrilled to make reader matches for Laurie Frankel’s Goodbye for Now (on sale August 7th) because I think it’s just the kind of unexpected delight so many of my customers rely on indie booksellers to recommend. But because I love this book so much, I want it to find an audience beyond just the curious readers who come into my store. As much as I like to feel indispensable, it would feel even better to know I helped this book get the chance it deserves on bookshelves around the country.

Its gorgeous cover will definitely draw readers in, but I offer this little tutorial on “How to Handsell Goodbye for Now” in hopes that all my bookselling brothers and sisters will help a wide, receptive audience discover this wonderful novel. We all know how enthusiastic readers and word of mouth can push a book to the bestseller list! I think this has the indie-driven hit potential of The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein and Wild by Cheryl Strayed.

Here are some of the leading questions I might ask to determine whether a customer will love Goodbye for Now as much as I did:

“Are you interested in a story that sucks you in and feels like a light read but also has lots to ponder?” The writing and characters make the reading effortless, but the story has such depth that readers will want to linger.

“Did you like The Art of Racing in the Rain?” 

Because really, who didn’t? But, between us, a book about a dying dog, race cars, and a true love who dies of a brain tumor doesn’t sound like any easier a sell than a book about true love, start-ups, and ever-lasting life through technology, does it? They’re both great books! It’s all in how we set expectations and convey our enthusiasm.

“Are you in the mood for a contemporary novel with romance, a Seattle setting, and technology?” 

Our store is located near Microsoft, Google, Adobe, and many other tech companies. Frankel captures the start-up culture and programmer/user/sales dynamic so perfectly, many of our readers will connect through their life experience.

“Did you like Set This House in Order?” 

Matt Ruff’s Set This House in Order is one of Queen Anne Books’ backlist stars and one of our favorite book club recommendations. Like that novel, Goodbye for Now appeals to both men and women and uses technology in the plot to delve deeply into emotions.

“Can you imagine a book that reads kind of like a mix between John Irving and Mary Shelley/ William Gibson and Jodi Picoult, but has its own distinct heart and voice? Sound good? It is.” 

Goodbye For Now has the charm, quirk, and sad sweetness of The World According to Garp matched with the science-has-its-consequences drama of Frankenstein. Like Gibson’s novels, it convincingly ponders the impacts of technology in near future, and like Picoult’s, it raises ethical questions that pack a punch, all while giving you characters you don’t want to let go. How are those for mash-ups? Pretty darn amazing, I think.

To sum it all up, I’m very excited to sell Goodbye for Now, and I hope others are, too! 

Booksellers, publicists, reviewers, readers, bloggers: if you want to talk to me about it, let me know; it would be my pleasure. 

For your further Frankel edification:
Laurie Frankel's author site, complete with a hilarious book trailer. (Watch for fingerpuppets of Einstein talking about an Adam Sandler movie, Virginia Woolf going into the drink, and more.)
My recommendation of Goodbye for Now for Queen Anne Books.
My recommendation of Laurie's first novel, The Atlas of Love, for Queen Anne Books.
The shortlist for the 2011 PNBA Book Awards, which includes The Atlas of Love.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Riff on a recipe

My awesome sister-in-law Elizabeth Tigani has a great wellness website, DishingWell.com. She recently posted one of her favorite summer recipes, gluten-free lemon spaghetti with kale. It sounded so good, I had to try it. But you know me: I always do my own thing with recipes!
The original from DishingWell has (as you'd expect) gluten free spaghetti and kale, as well as lemon zest and parmesan. I eat gluten, Jordy doesn't care for spaghetti much, I didn't have kale, we're vegan (so no parmesan), I can't have pasta without garlic, and I was too lazy to juice AND zest lemon. So here's my gluten-full, vegan, protein-rich variation:

Garlic Lemon Basil Capellini with Broccolli Rabe, Spinach, and Navy Beans

Boil a big pot of salted water.

Chop 4 cloves of garlic. Wash about 6 sprigs of fresh basil. Cut one lemon into sixths and remove the seeds. (Just wait-- you'll see how lazy I am!)

Put small pieces of broccoli rabe in a colander. Put your colander over the boiling water pot and cover with the lid to steam/ boil for about 5 minutes. Add handfuls of spinach to colander. Steam for another minute. Take colander out of pot and set aside in your clean sink.

If you're pressed for time, rinse and drain a can of navy beans. (If you have time, soak and cook to rehydrate some-- it's healthier!)

Boil your capellini. (Takes about 2 minutes).

When your capellini's done, strain in colander WITH THE BROCCOLI RABE AND SPINACH IN IT. Yeah, heck, why not?!? Why dirty a bowl?!?

Put your empty pot back on the stovetop. Add a glug of olive oil. Put your garlic and a few shakes of chili pepper flakes in the oil; sautee. (It's totally fine to use a packet from delivery pizza. I used one.) Then add your beans. Then dump your colander o' goodies (pasta, spinach, broccoli rabe) into the pan. Turn off heat.

Rip up the basil and toss it in the pot. Squeeze your lemon wedges into the pot. Add a little more olive oil, a sprinkle of salt, maybe a grind of fresh black pepper to taste. Put the lid on the pot and shake it around to mix or be civilized and use a utensil to stir.

Plate and enjoy!

(Notice how you really only dirty on big cutting board, your pot, your colander, a knife, a spatula, and your dinner plates? This is why I really love this recipe. If you enjoy it with a nice bottle of rose, you don't have to have the buzz kill of lots of dishes after your lovely meal.)

I also added avocado to the leftovers one day and ate it all cold-- another delicious variation.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Just finished "Outcasts United" (kids' version)

I'm reading through boxes and boxes of galleys for the fall season, and I just found the kind of well-written narrative non-fiction for kids I've been waiting for!!! It's the young reader's edition of Outcasts United by Warren St. John, coming from Random House Sept. 11, 2012.
Inspiring and informative, the book tells the true story of Luma Mufleh, a young woman from Jordan who moved to the US for college and decided she couldn't return to her home country after graduation; even though her parents threatened to cut ties with her, she wanted to take advantage of the opportunities available to women in the United States.
But in Atlanta, Luma felt lonely and isolated. She found joy in pick-up soccer games, and decided to start a youth soccer team for the children of refugees in nearby Clarkson, GA. She recruited and coached boys for under-13, under-15, and under-17 teams-- the Fugees. With some help from the local YMCA and Tracy, a young volunteer, she not only coached and managed the three teams, she also started a tutoring program to help the boys off the field. She assisted families with everything from paperwork to groceries to introducing the kids to trick-or-treating. She literally gives one boy the shoes off her feet. She's tough, she's strong, she's caring, and she's real.
But what really got me about this book is the way the author uses the boys' personal stories to teach an overview of atrocities of the modern world. Just a handful of players' backgrounds provide a shocking tour of the world's conflicts-- Sudan, Iraq, Bosnia, Congo, Liberia... St. John gives a clear overview of the situations and the boys' heartbreaking reasons for coming to the US. It made me get out a map to appreciate the global diversity of the Fugees. Then I wanted to get out my wallet to donate to the Fugees. And finally, I wanted to get out my old soccer cleats and play some soccer, because the kick-by-kick descriptions of some of the games were that exciting!
I haven't read the original version of this book, but the kids' version is extremely satisfying. It will be a great discussion book, a fabulous gift, and a wonderful read for kids who are curious about the world, kids who like soccer, or kids who just enjoy a good story about likeable underdogs. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Treasure Island!!! Book club, here we come...

Just finished Treasure Island!!! by Sara Levine. Fast, fun, sly, and oddly and unexpectedly sweet. 
I get to lead discussion of it Saturday night at Book Mixer. Here's hoping we get a good crowd!!! 
Music pairings for this book might be songs by The Decembrists, The Pogues, and Regina Spektor. Other suggestions?
Drink pairing: definitely something with rum. Perhaps a custom cocktail called "The Dead Parrot" made with rum, nutmeg, ginger ale, and lime. Serve with a side of mac & cheese.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Speaking of picture books...

I participated in Random Acts of Reading's blogger panel again! They asked, "What children's book would you give out on World Book Night?" Tough question, especially given the fact that children's books cover such a wide age range. I went with a classic. You can check out the full post on Random House's Random Acts of Reading blog.

If you don't know the other book bloggers on the panel already, do visit their sites! Lots of great inspiration! There's Julie of Booking Mama, Heidi of YA Bibliophile, Kathy (aka BermudaOnion), Rene with Notes from the Bedside Table, and Alyson from Kid Lit Frenzy

Storytime! Read aloud with kiddos

I just finished up my monthly Queen Anne Books storytime at Twirl Cafe, a neighbor business-- a play cafe for kids and their grown-ups. (First Friday of every month at 10:30 am, if you're in the Seattle area!)

Today we started with Split! Splat! by Amy Gibson, illustrations by Steve Bjorkman. The kids (babies- 5 years) did a great job providing their own sound effects with the "rain shakers" I handed out (plastic Easter eggs partly filled with rice, taped together with packing tape). It was a fun book for the group, even if it is kind of jazzy/ silly and abstract. We talked about how rain doesn't stop our fun (a given for PNW kids), and whether anyone had ever squished through mud with bare feet. We all agreed that a bath is required after mud pies.
Then we followed up with the ever-popular Where Is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox with illustrations by Judy Horcek. The Seattle Children's Theater did this as a play not too long ago, and some in the audience knew it well. We started off with the kids identifying the animals on the cover (before I told them the title). Because one boy identified them as "baa baas," I asked everyone to help call out for the Green Sheep in sheep language every time I asked, "Where is the green sheep?" I cracked myself up with our sheep bleats-- and others seemed to enjoy our baa baas almost as much.

It was a good springtime selection. Rousing renditions of "If You're Happy and You Know It" and "The Alphabet Song" (by request) rounded out our storytime fun. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

At left, you can see all that's left of the batch of spicy sweet potato no-fry fries I made for dinner tonight. I'm still trying to figure them out, but even in this beta phase, they're pretty darn irresistible.

Here's how I did it (my almost-recipe):
Peel a sweet potato and cut it into fry-shaped pieces, just a bit bigger than McDonald's fries.
Toss with a dash of cayenne pepper, a dash of salt, and a few dashes of chili pepper.
Microwave for 1 minute 30 seconds. Stir. Microwave for another 1-3 minutes, until the fries are floppy.
Add a splash of olive oil and toss.
Lay 'em out on a cookie sheet. Bake at 400 degrees until crispy-ish, scalding fingers to flip them over once during baking.
Serve with chipotle ketchup, and all will be forgiven.
(We had these with vegan black eyed pea BBQ sandwiches and a side of garlic broccoli.)

Friday, March 9, 2012

Making Toast by Roger Rosenblatt

This week, I wrote a book report for the other blog I feed, www.onebravethingaday.com. That's the blog for the book I'm working on-- the inspirational memoir of my co-author, Linda Lewis Keeney.
Since we started writing together, Linda and I have been reading and comparing notes on books that might be good comparisons to ours. I chose Making Toast because it deals concretely yet tenderly with the after-effects of grief. One Brave Thing a Day is a lot about moving healthily through grief-- the daily mourning that comes with having a severely disabled daughter who cannot communicate; the mourning of the deaths of Linda's mother, her creative partner, and her good friend's son; and anticipatory mourning, thinking ahead to the death of her medically-fragile daughter.
Want to read my recommendation for Making Toast by Roger Rosenblatt? Getting there is as easy as clicking here. An excerpt from my  book report: "At times, reading [Making Toast] felt like attending the wake of someone I didn't know (but wished I had)." 

[grilled cheese]

Maybe it was the weather, maybe it was the accumulated stress of a month of responses to announcements about the store's sale, but I couldn't resist last night: I cooked real grilled cheese sandwiches with butter and real, milky cheddar. And it was good.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

WILD by Cheryl Strayed

How cool!  Random House's blog, Random Acts of Reading, featured my recommendation of the memoir Wild by Cheryl Strayed. What an honor to be one of the first voices out there to publicly praise this brave, fascinating book. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)

After reading and leading a discussion on A Wild Sheep Chase by Murakami (my reading journal notes: "WEIRD, but wonderful"), I needed something light. In the first chapter of Mindy Kaling's hilarious book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) she offers a Q&A. This convinced me I'd picked the right read for my mood:

"I don't know. I have a lot of books already. I wanted to finish those Girl with the Dragon Tattoo books before the movies come out.
This book will take you two days to read. Did you even see the cover? It's mostly pink. If you're reading this book every night for months, something is not right. " -page 5

This book was fluffy, funny, entertaining, but surprisingly wholesome and refreshing. Kaling's voice is smart and friendly, and she actually has some wonderful advice for young people to be themselves, work hard, and love their parents. Brava!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Mirage by Matt Ruff

Matt Ruff, author of Set This House in Order and Bad Monkeys, has written another page-turning, mind-reeling masterpiece-- on sale February 7, 2012
Imagine a world where the United Arab States is threatened by Christian fundamentalist terrorists, a world where a few good Homeland Security Agents have to fight corruption and conspiracies to protect all they believe in, a world where evil and mass deception threaten everything. I predict this is the novel that everyone will be talking about in 2012. 
And it’s not just provocative, it’s a darn good read! With characters I cared about, a plot that doesn’t let up, and a premise that still has me thinking, The Mirage exceeded my expectations. Now I just can’t wait for the paperback so I can recommend it to every book club.
Lucky me, Matt Ruff is doing an event at my bookstore on Tuesday February 28 at 6pm!! WOO HOO!
Also lucky me, my recommendation for The Mirage was chosen for the Indie Next list! Thanks, guys!

(Nancy, this one's for you... Can't wait to hear/read your take on it!)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Top Teen books of 2011

Here we go! I compiled a Top 10 list of books for teens for the store, but my personal list has a few differences...

I'm going to go ahead and use my commentary from the store lists when applicable, though.


Putting Makeup on Dead People by Jen Violi.  The title/subject may seem offputting, but it's one of the most beautiful (and funny) books about grief I've read. Violi nailed it.

Legend by Marie Lu. Dystopian thrills abound as June, the government's prodigy, is pitted against Day, its Enemy #1.

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray. A planeful of teen pageant contestants gets stranded on a desert island-- "Miss Congeniality" crossed with Lord of the Flies, with a healthy dose of fierce feminism.

Divergent by Veronica Roth. In this page-turner dystopian thriller set in Chicago of the future, the city is divided into five factions, with each valuing one trait above all else. Beatrice's choice to give up the gentleness of Abnegation for the power of Dauntless is riveting, and the romance made my heart race, too.

To Timbuktu by Casey Scieszka and Steven Weinberg. I'm always on the lookout for great non-fiction for teens, and this memoir (written and drawn by recent college grads) about travelling the world is fantastic: inspiring and entertaining.

Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy. I still think about Zulaikha, the rural Afghan girl in this story. Hope and perseverance make this a rewarding read.

Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma. The modern gothic atmosphere and mysterious characters make this contemporary story of two sisters so fascinating.

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson. Need a stay-up-late-then-sleep-with-the-lights on read? Jack the Ripper stalks the streets of modern London in this first of a series.

Hourglass by Myra McEntire. I thought I was done with any paranormal romance, but this was fresh and oh-so-readable. Think teens with super-powers instead of vampires/werewolves/zombies etc. More! More!

Enclave by Ann Aguirre.  A vivid post-apocalyptic world, a tougher than nails protagonist, and the battles for survival left me breathless. The surprise bonus? A character named Tegan! 

Blood Magic by Tessa Gratton. This was creepy and suspenseful, and I just couldn't stop reading, even though I wanted to shake the characters and force them to make better choices. It's my surprise compulsion title of the year.

Wherever You Go by Heather Davis. This heartfelt contemporary novel about a teen who has to grow up too fast to care for her little sister and her grandfather with Alzheimer's, all while dealing with grief from her boyfriend's death, is powerful, and thanks to some beyond-the-grave communication, wonderfully healing.

Finally, an adult book I'd recommend to teens, or to adults who are feeling in that escapist, easy-to-get-lost-in kind of mood: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Atmospheric and engrossing, this is a grown-up Harry Potter fanatic kind of book, where magic feels real. The story, about two young magicians who are raised to fight a lifelong battle in an enchanted circus on behalf of their teachers, is really just an excuse for amazing images and flights of incredible imaginative fantasy. Don't worry about how it all works; if you're in the right frame of mind, just let yourself just get swept away. There's nothing to make this inappropriate for teens (except, perhaps, for the higher hardcover price of an adult title).