The Compulsive Reader

Friday, July 11, 2014

Scan Blog Tour: Walter Jury Talks Influences and Inspiration

Welcome to the SCAN blog tour! Scan is a new science-fiction novel by Walter Jury and Sarah Fine. Today, co-author Walter Jury will be talking about his influences for Scan! Here's Walter!
"SCAN is definitely inspired by my love for action (can you tell?) and for strong characters being tested to their limits in a coming of age story.

In terms of action and storytelling, I didn't want to tell a dystopian story, but I think that the best of the recent dystopian genre influenced me. From the HUNGER GAMES and DIVERGENT trilogies, I took away the possibility of creating a dynamic and explosive world that didn't need any supernatural elements—they remained grounded in reality but still kept the twists and turns of a more hyper-real thriller. The books of Patrick Lee and David Morrell are also influential in my work. I love FIRST BLOOD, the book and the film, as it's a classic man-on-the-run story, but has a very strong protagonist whose suppressed voice is something the audience can root for being heard. Likewise, RUNNER by Patrick Lee is a spectacular man-on-the-run story with a grounded sci-fi bend. Patrick is able to keep the focus on characters and keep the suspension of disbelief to truly minuscule levels—no small task in a blockbuster action story. 
For films, I would call ENEMY OF THE STATE, THE FUGITIVE, and the BOURNE series as influences. BOURNE provides opportunities for the hero to use his skills in highly inventive ways—ways that he doesn't even know are possible. Our protagonist, Tate, faces a back story where he doesn't understand why he is being trained with such unwavering discipline for so many different skill sets. ENEMY OF THE STATE and THE FUGITIVE both combine a fast-paced action heavy energy with problem-solving mystery elements that really push their respective protagonists to the limit. In both films, the protagonists are basically at the end of the line by the time they are able to find resolution. Without providing any spoilers, we can say that Tate is certainly challenged throughout and to the very end of our journey with him."
About Scan:

Tate and his father don’t exactly get along. As Tate sees it, his father has unreasonably high expectations for Tate to be the best—at everything. Tate finally learns what he’s being prepared for when he steals one of his dad’s odd tech inventions and mercenaries ambush his school, killing his father and sending Tate on the run from aliens who look just like humans.

All Tate knows—like how to make weapons out of oranges and lighter fluid—may not be enough to save him as he’s plunged into a secret interspecies conflict that’s been going on for centuries. Aided only by his girlfriend and his estranged mother, with powerful enemies closing in on all sides, Tate races to puzzle out the secret behind his father’s invention and why so many are willing to kill for it.

About co-authors Walter Jury and Sarah Fine:

Walter Jury was born in London and has a background in the film industry. He is a big enthusiast of Jamba Juice’s Protein Berry Workout smoothie, only with soy, never whey. Sarah Fine was born on the West Coast, raised in the Midwest, and is now firmly entrenched on the East Coast, where she lives with her husband and two children. She is the author of several young adult books, and when she's not writing, she’s working as a child psychologist.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Riverman by Aaron Starmer

Alistair is the type of person who can keep secrets. He’s observant and quiet. Smart. When his neighbor Fiona Loomis asks him to write her biography, he reluctantly agrees. Fiona tells him a story of portals and fantastic worlds, where kids can slip away and be the rulers of their own kingdoms. But Fiona also tells Alistair about the Riverman, who is stealing kids’ souls and making them disappear in the real world. At first Alistair thinks Fiona is crazy…but what if her story is a cry for help? Or, more impossibly, what if it’s true?

The Riverman is a sharply written, imaginative novel of friendship and trust. Alistair is a thoughtful and sensitive kid, and his observations about family, friends, and neighbors are keen for someone his age. Starmer has a knack for description, and the neighborhood setting that Alistair and Fiona inhabit is just as wonderfully described as the many realms of Aquavania. As Alistair’s story unfolds and Fiona reveals more and more Aquavania, Alistair is torn between the dangers of reality and the inexorable pull of fantasy. Determining which is which isn’t easy, especially as he begins to discover that it doesn’t exactly matter if Fiona is crazy or not—the questions she forces him to face are just as important either way. The Riverman is a creepy, compelling, and fantastically written mystery.

Cover Comments: I love this cover--the dark blues and the many tiny details in the drawings are beautiful--they just pull you in!

Book borrowed from a friend.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Middle Grade Favorites

I've had a really fun time discovering middle grade fiction this past year (click here to see my list of middle grade favorites from my first semester of grad school), and I had even more fun branching out this semester. Here are some of the favorites:

See You at Harry's by Jo Knowles

I loved this book so much, I read it twice. And then wrote a paper on it. It's that good, people. Please go pick up a copy from your nearest bookstore or library.

Harriet the Spy by Louise FitzHugh

I never read this book as a kid, and you know...I think I am okay with that. I don't know if I would have liked it. As an adult, I loved it so, so much. It felt like it was speaking to the kid that's still in me. I cried a little when I gave my copy back to the library. Must find and acquire a copy of my very own.

Smile by Raina Telgemeier

Smile was among the first books I read in my foray into graphic novels, and I liked it a lot! Very upbeat and a bit quirky, with lots of heart.

Kissing Tennessee and Other Stories from the Stardust Dance by Kathi Appelt

I am so impressed by the range and depth of these stories, which all all very loosely connected by the annual Stardust dance. Kathi Appelt is a beautiful and masterful writer, and this collection of short stories should definitely be on your reading list!

There's a Boy in the Girl's Bathroom by Louis Sachar

I do remember this one sitting on the shelves of classroom library when I was a kid. I think it grossed me out because I envisioned voyeuristic little boys when I saw it and I already had four brothers, so no thank you. My advisor strongly encouraged (i.e. directed) me to try it, and I so enjoyed it. Sachar really has a way with point of view! (But also, what is wrong with that boy's face?)

Hope is a Ferris Wheel by Robin Herrera

Of course I've already reviewed this book here, but it bears repeating: THIS BOOK IS AWESOME. I loved it so much. Funny and sad and sweet, with full characters beyond just the wonderfully smart and brave protagonist Star. It's truly quite good.

On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer

I met Marion Dane Bauer at VCFA Day Ann Arbor in April and picked up this book. It's a quick read, but it's packed with intense emotion and impossible questions. I'm in awe that Bauer was able to write about such a tragedy in so few, perfect, and powerful words. I highly encourage you to pick it up.

Ivy and Bean by Annie Barrows

Although this is more of an early-reader than a middle grade book, I'm definitely including it in my list of favorites! I loved this dynamic duo of characters and how they completely subvert expectations while having a lot of fun.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

Okay, I can't say as this is a favorite, because I found so many things about this book that I wanted to argue, but it fascinated me. It's a longer novel, which is generally all right, except it takes a while for the reader to find the plot of this novel--well over 50 pages. And even then, the desires and emotional arcs are tangled and murky until the last 50 pages or so. And yet, everything about the time period and setting is exciting to me--1899 Texas. I wanted to like this book so much, so I gave it a lot of passes, but in all honesty, it obviously reads like a book that an adult thinks a child might like to read, not what a kid would actually want to read. I suppose I like this book because I see what it could have been if it had gone through a few more rounds of revision.

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren

This is a re-read from my childhood. The style of children's books written in the early and mid-twentieth century seems to be a collection of short, episodic chapters with a unifying character, but whereas that drove me insane with Mary Poppins, Lindgren made it work with Pippi. She has charm and grit, and she's surprisingly vulnerable, and it was a lot of fun reading about her again.

The Riverman by Aaron Starmer

This book. I've picked it up again and again at work, intrigued by the cover and the premise. I finally read it (and review will be forthcoming!) and I was impressed. Halfway through, three-quarters of the way through, I had no idea what would happen and how it would end. It's very much about the collision of childhood and adulthood, and how to deal with the questions and problems one faces as they grow up.

The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes

I found this short novel about second-grader Billy Miller very charming and true. This one would be a fun read-aloud for the second grade class I subbed for this past school year. Henkes explores Billy's relationships with the people in his life, and shows how Billy's confidence grows throughout one school year.

I didn't read quite as many middle grade books this semester as last, but I've got a stack of books I'm excited about diving into for next semester! The list includes A Crooked Kind of Perfect, The Battle of Darcy Lane, The Glass Sentence, The Hidden Summer, The Great Greene Heist, and more!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie

One book I read this past semester that I had never read before (gasp) was The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie. I picked it up because (honestly), it was the first on a stack of MUST-READ books that teeters precariously in the corner of my bedroom. It was an ARC. Yes, I still have ARCs from 2007 in my to-read. This makes me feel marginally better about all of the other ARCs I keep holding on to--SOME DAY, I will read them. (Hopefully.)


The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian

When Junior decides to leave his reservation school to attend the all-white high school in a nearby town, he’s faced with tremendous backlash—from his new classmates and his reservation community. Junior has always been picked on for being different, but he’s certain that this action is the only way he can create a future for himself.

This novel/graphic novel hybrid is unexpectedly perceptive and extremely funny, even in its moments of tragedy. The unconventional structure seems messy and off-putting at first—chapters read like vignettes or short stories, Junior often goes off on tangents, and the reader doesn’t realize how the events are connected—or even chronologically placed—except in retrospect. Yet, the conversational tone and stunning insights oppression and humanity just make it all work. Alexie also uses humor in the most heartbreaking and unexpected ways to deconstruct the racism and abuse Junior faces. His use of humor and irony makes his story a little easier to read about (though not much), but it also provides an access point between Alexie and the reader, a way for the reader to develop empathy for Junior. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian should be on everyone’s reading list.

ARC provided by publisher, many years ago.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Curiosities by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yovanoff

For sporadic periods of time a few years ago, I would follow the Merry Sisters of Fate blog of short stories, written by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yovanoff. They took turns posting a new short story every week. Not only was it exciting to get little glimpses into these writers’ brains in each story, but it was impressive to see their bravery in posting these stories, raw and unedited, for the whole world to see.

The Curiosities is billed as a collection of these short stories from the Merry Sisters of Fate, but more than half could be more accurately described as vignettes. They all vary in theme, style, length, and genre, but most are speculative fiction. The authors’ introduction is open about the fact that the stories were experimental and used as learning tools to explore different writing skill sets and to teach each other about craft. The stories feature hand-written comments and notes by each of the sisters, pointing out craft lessons or just general background information. This would be an average collection of mostly average stories if not for these notes; they show awareness for form and the attempts that the authors make to learn from each other and their own mistakes in writing. Though not a craft book, The Curiosities is an interesting study in how playfulness, experimentation, and connection with other like-minded writers can be an important step in the process of learning craft.

If you’re a fan of these writers, pick up The Curiosities for an intimate look into the writing processes—in some cases you can see how short works and certain characters have evolved and made their ways into the writers’ published novels. But even if you haven’t read anything by Stiefvater, Gratton, or Yovanoff, if you are a writer, this is an interesting collection that you’ll want to wander through.

Book purchased from my indie.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Some Recent Non-YA and MG Reading

Typically, the end of one's school semester is looked upon with excitement for lazy days and light reading. In this peculiar limbo of graduate school, I've looked forward to the brief (three week) break between my second and third semesters because I could finally read "adult" books without feeling guilty. Is this my life?

While I did manage to sneak a few adult books into my school reading lists this past semester, the majority of my reading these past two weeks has been focused on catching up on all of those adults titles I've had stacked on my nightstand since January. I never thought I'd be so happy to pick up an adult book before this month. Here's what I've been reading:

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

Of course I had to pick up Rowell's first book. I mean, this is pretty self-explanatory, right? While this feels more like a rom-com in book form, it's imitable Rowell and I could not put it down. Bonus points for it being set in 1999. Also, I love Lincoln.

In the Woods, The Likeness, and Faithful Place by Tana French

The first Tana French book I read was Broken Harbor, which turns out is actually the fourth book in her Dublin Murder Squad mysteries. So naturally I had to go back and re-read these first three, which pretty much rocked my world. I'm not certain which is my favorite--it's a close tie between The Likeness and Faithful Place--but every single one of these books is dark, thoughtful, and expertly written. I tell every unsuspecting customer I find in the Mystery section at work to buy them. And I cannot wait for The Secret Place this fall! Sadly, I'll probably be down the rabbit hole of thesis-land, so I might forget. Someone remind me in December?

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyemi

I had never read a book by Oyemi before, but I saw this novel features in BookPage a few months ago, and the interview with her fascinated me. A couple of weeks later, it was my impulse buy at the fabulous Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor, MI and when I started it, I was immediately hooked. It's a literary retelling of Snow White that explores gender, identity, sexuality, and race in some really fascinating ways. I could read it again and again.

The From-Aways by C.J. Hauser

I picked this one up on the recommendation of a friend. I'll be honest, the cover doesn't immediately hook me, but I am so glad I read this! It's about two young women who move to a small town in Maine for two very different reasons; Leah is a newlywed and excited to be living in her husband's hometown and Quinn has just lost her mother and has come looking for her father. Both end up working at the local newspaper, and as they fall in love with their new home, they uncover a secret that could have massive repercussions for everyone in the town. Wonderfully depicted characters, a tangible setting, and such great emotional arcs--ignore the beach read cover and pick this one up!

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

This is pretty much required reading for all booksellers in the world, and I loved it. My friend Amy Rose said it best--this is an unapologetically charming book. I loved the book cameos and the bookstore stories, and I loved the curmudgeonly bookseller A.J. Fikry. If you ever wonder what it's like working in a small, struggling bookstore, Zevin nails it.

Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman

Full disclosure: I have not seen the TV show. I think I might possibly be the only person in the universe besides my mother, but SCHOOL. (Also, a Netflix account would be the kiss of death for me right now.) But I was fascinated to hear that the show was a fictionalized account of a true story and I picked up this memoir and within 50 pages I was utterly hooked. I devoured this book in one afternoon. Kerman is an excellent writer and her account is horrifying and sad and compelling and insightful.

Now that my adult book palate is sated, on to semester three of grad school, aka my thesis semester. I'm hoping the somewhat sporadic updates will continue, but in the meantime, thanks for the patience!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Every summer, Cady and her privileged family retreat to their private island. During her fifteenth summer, an accident leaves Cady with holes in her memory and crippling migraines. When she finally returns to the island her seventeenth summer, the island has changed, the adults are keeping secrets, her cousins won’t answer her questions, and Cady must finally confront the truth.

We Were Liars is an intelligent, twisty novel. The structure is fascinating; at a line level, Lockhart breaks up sentences with indentation and repetition, creating the effect that the reader is trying to remember with Cady just what happened two summers ago. The book is divided into five parts, and Lockhart begins with backstory, taking her time to get to the present and build a very tangible world. Lockhart also uses Italian fairy tales, and Cady’s retelling of those fairy tales, to parallel her family story and get closer and closer to the truth. As a mystery, this book is fascinating, fast-paced, and impossible to put down. However, once the reader becomes wiser to the magical realism elements and the truth of what has happened to Cady and how she copes, questions about character motivations to pop up in retrospect. Nonetheless, We Were Liars presents a unique and well-written take on a tricky trope and it will be one to talk about for a long while.

Cover Comments: I love how everything about this cover is blurred around the edges. It captures the summertime feel of the book, but also its murkier aspects. Very nice.

Book purchased at my indie.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Bookselling: A Philosophy and How I Stock Children's + YA Books

I've been asked a lot lately about my job as a bookseller and my duties as the "children's section person" (because I have no official title, but that section is mine and I do the bulk of the buying for it). Mostly, the questions all come down to: Who decides what goes on the shelf?

Unfortunately I don't have any simple, easy answers to that. This post is my attempt to explain the process as it goes down at my store. (And for the record, this post has turned out to be about three times longer than I thought it would be--so hang in there!)

First, a brief history: I started working at my indie, Great Lakes Book & Supply (GLBS), in 2011. I was hired to work on the trade book floor and behind the front counter. At any given time, I have 1-3 co-workers who work on the trade book floor with me, and another 3 employees work in our textbooks department (we are a small university town). Our summers are quiet and we do brisk business during the school year. We've been in business for over thirty years and we're in an excellent location--center of town, a block away from campus.

When I began working in 2011, the large children's section was a bit of a mess. Certain sections had been cultivated, but others had been neglected. The YA section was almost nonexistent. Sorting out the children's corner took almost two years. It was not a weekend project, but one undertaken over weeks, and required careful attention. It wasn't until last November that I finally got the configuration just about right--a sale wall, spacious picture book sections, extensive children's nonfiction sections, and designated, clearly delineated chapter book, middle grade, and YA sections. Hooray! The shelves looked a little empty, but it was perfect--room to expand.

One of the hard lessons I've had to learn as a bookseller is that what is popular in the blogosphere, among my friends, in publishing, with my fellow VCFA students, is not going to automatically be popular at my bookstore. GLBS is its own little microcosm.  It has its own quirks and trends. I can't stock everything. So I just have to do my best to understand the system and the people who shop with us. I find the trends in what people are reading in my town super fascinating. Some surprising hits in my store include the various Darren Shan horror series, Michael Grant's Gone series, and Kerstin Gier's time travel trilogy, Ruby Red, Sapphire Blue, and Emerald Green. Surprisingly enough, contemporary YA fiction continues to be a hard sell, unless it's written by John Green. Rainbow Rowell has been doing all right, but dystopian and supernatural fiction still reign supreme--my town is at least a good year behind major publishing trends.

Which brings me to my book selling philosophy:

Booksellers must be well-read, willing to talk to customers of any age, and they must be dynamic, willing to try new things. High energy levels and people skills are extremely important. A love of books is crucial, but it's not enough. That love should extend beyond adoration for book-shaped packages to include a love of good writing and an appreciation for all of the time, effort, and work that goes into creating books. Booksellers should have a compulsive need to share stories. Not having any qualms about talking to strangers is good, too.

So, to that end, here is my book purchasing process. It's messy and complex, and it's not a perfect system. It's not without bias, and maybe a lot of errors. I have no idea how any other bookseller or other store goes about this process, so if there are any booksellers reading--share your thoughts with me! Please! I'm self-taught.

What I do at the beginning of each season:

Once our book distributor, Ingram, has posted the next season's catalog of new books (Ingram Advance), I take the time to go through it, making note of new books that I know will be popular or will sell (next in series, paperback releases of hardcovers we sell), and of books that I am pretty certain will sell (new books by popular authors in the store, debuts who have been getting a ton of buzz, paperback releases of hardcovers that have been doing reasonably well, or anything that I think I can handsell).

Books that I think will make up for a lack of coverage or representation, or debuts that I think look good, go on a maybe list. I then will do my absolute best to follow up on these maybe books--whether it's talking to other bloggers or booksellers or friends from VCFA, looking up reviews (I read Publisher's Weekly magazine and BookPage regularly), or reading ARCs myself (usually provided to me on behalf of this blog). I then sort these books into lists, organized by release month.

What I do on the 15th of every month:

Time to prepare next month's ordering for submission! (This is probably one of my most favorite tasks.) I do this two weeks before the release month because we are such a small store that our ordering needs to be really precise and as accurate as possible. I can't afford to just order everything I like or hope will sell and then see how it does for a month or so and readjust. (And for the record, if this is your process, it shows when the books are on the shelves. And not in a good way. Have you ever walked into a bookstore and felt like there were so many books that you couldn't find what you wanted, or you had trouble seeing everything? It's because no one is curating the selection!)

So, I go through my next month's list of books (created from the season's catalogs) and I make decisions. Books I know will sell go on the list first, and I evaluate the sales of hardcovers before I put the paperbacks on that list. This requires going through our inventory system and checking sales history on every title. Paperbacks don't automatically go on the list, but if I only sell one hardcover (or none), they aren't automatically disqualified either. Keeping in mind the age level (MG hardcovers are a super hard sell, I'll always want to give paperbacks a chance), how well the book had been received, and if there has been a cover redesign, I'm likely to put the paperback on the order list. Also, this is where personal taste and bias sort of come into play. If a hardcover hasn't sold, it's not because it's unsale-able--it's likely that someone isn't willing to take a risk on a pricier book. If I liked the book, and I can talk someone into buying it, then having it on hand in paperback means it's a lot likelier to sell.

Inversely, if we stocked a hardcover because it got a ton of buzz in the publishing world/on the internet, and it didn't sell, and no one I know has liked it or read, I'm more likely to just send it back and not get the paperback. Once again, these aren't rules. I can be swayed pretty easily. I like getting and keeping books in stock. It's not that I never want a book on my shelf (except for 50 Shades), but the question I am always asking myself is: Can I find a reader for this book?

Another reason I wait until two weeks before release month to submit my list is that my initial release dates sometimes change between reading the season catalog and ordering. Not often, but it happens, and I need to get accurate information.

What I do at the end of every month:

I run through the list of books I submitted and make sure that they've been put on order. I make note of any back orders or delays, and I check any pre-orders to make sure that we've got enough for stock and for the customer. I worry. I get excited about new releases. I matchmake certain books and certain customers in my head. I get to be a dork about new books for a day. (Okay, more than a day.)

What I do at the beginning of every month:

I run reports on the YA and Adolescent (middle grade) fiction sections for sales in the previous month. I then go through each section alphabetically to assess whether or not books not in stock should be re-ordered, note how many copies of each book sold moved, and what's on the shelf that didn't move. I also use this to make sure that we have enough popular books on hand and to make sure that everything that needs to be re-ordered is. It's also a great way to make sure that I haven't dropped the ball on re-stocking or other projects, and I get a lot of display ideas while doing this. It's sort of like a monthly health check-up on the section.

What I do every day I work:

Stock check, keep track of what's sold. Straighten shelves, re-arrange displays. Brainstorm displays and update as needed (usually every 1-2 weeks). Keep track of stock levels, submit changes or requests for re-orders as needed.

I do the above process for both the YA and Adolescent sections because they are fast-moving, dynamic sections. They receive the most foot traffic and they have the highest number of sales in the children's section. In the children's corner, we also have a picture books section, a chapter book section, a Michigan kids' section, a board book section, a children's classic section, children's poetry, seasonal children's books, children's nonfiction, children's mythology, and a sale section. The sale section is pretty self-explanatory, but the other sections receive new books as we (my fantastic co-worker and I) discover new books, new editions of classics, or books we think we can sell and would make great additions to the store. Honestly, we could do a much better job at merchandising these additional sections, but there are only so many hours in a day.

I think I should also note that currently, I share the trade book floor responsibilities with one other employee. The children's corner makes up maybe 1/5 of our trade book department. Not every section in our store gets this level of attention, sadly. YA is always neck-in-neck with General Fiction for the highest number of sales at any given time, so it's easy to justify spending that much time on that section, but there are other sections I would love to devote more time to--Science Fiction, Fantasy, Biography, Poetry. We have a very expansive General fiction section, a great Classics section, and a robust Cooking section. My co-worker and I make suggestions for the buying process, but ultimately all decisions rest with our manager, who makes a lot of buying decisions for the rest of the store. I'm lucky that she takes my suggestions for the children's corner and orders pretty much everything without question--and oftentimes surprises me by ordering things that I am hesitant to ask for, like the $100 boxed set of the Harry Potter books, which is gorgeous.

I'm concluding with a compilation of questions I get asked a ton. Feel free to add your questions in the comments or email me at thecompulsivereader@gmail.com!

Q: Do you stock diverse children's literature?

A: As much as I possibly can! I created this display for #WeNeedDiverseBooks in May, which helped me highlight where our selection was lacking and lucky for me, I have great customers who are always requesting books and giving me suggestions, not to mention all of the fantastic resources I've found on the internet.

Q: Do you ever buy books that you don't like or don't support on the blog?

A: Absolutely. I think that a lot of people tend to think that I only order books I like or that booksellers only recommend their favorite books--not so. We love books, but we also are a business and we have to make money. There are a lot of books that I don't support or don't care for, but if there is a demand for them, we will carry them. There are also a lot of books that I dislike or disagree with that aren't in the store. Just like the presence of a book on a shelf doesn't imply that I love it, the absence of a book doesn't mean I hate it. (And unless you are a close friend and we're talking over a couple of drinks, I'm not likely to reveal which is which.) My job is to help the reader find books that I think they will enjoy.

Q: What's the best way to make sure that my book is carried in an independent bookstore?

A: First, all indies are different. All have different buying processes. Don't assume they are all the same, and don't assume that they should carry your book. If you are a local author, then make a point of visiting the store and getting to know it if you can. Approach the manager or ask who makes the buying decisions and if you can set up a time to chat with that person. If you have an ARC or a copy that you can show the bookstore, that's great. It's okay if you can't give your book to the store. If you can't leave a copy with them, leave them your title, name, publisher, ISBN, cover image, and contact info. Offer to be available for a book event or reading. Be humble and gracious, and don't be offended if the bookstore declines. (This isn't likely, but we have declined to order an author's book when the author has been either pushy, rude, inappropriate, or expected us to ship copies to Malaysia.)

Monday, June 16, 2014

Empress of the World by Sara Ryan

Here's a slightly older book (published 2003) that I had the pleasure of reading for the first time this past month for school. I loved it a lot, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a very good contemporary novel!

When Nicola sets out to spend her summer at an institute for academically gifted teenagers, she’s hoping to discover if archeology is her calling. What she finds instead is friendship with Isaac, Katrina, and Battle. Friends have always been like extracurricular activities to Nic—they come and go with afterschool activities and classes. Her true connection with Isaac, Katrina, and Battle is surprising and welcome, but even more unexpected to Nic is her electric romance with Battle.

Empress of the World is a smart, incisive book that really captures the rhythms of teenage relationships and interactions. Ryan writes the exchanges between the four friends well; conversations slide from silly to serious in an instant, and the mix of thoughtful expressions and stupid mistakes are so apt for these teenagers, who are free from close adult supervision for the course of the story. Nic’s romance with Battle is sweet and natural, and both girls resist the pressure to acquiesce to any label, and Ryan steers the focus of the story away from Nic’s sexual identity. Instead, Ryan explores Nic’s romance and relationship with her new friends by examining Nic’s need to deconstruct every relationship to understand how it works—her narrative is full of “field note” and analyses of her social group as a way to try to understand friendship and first love. The tendency to read into every situation and try to understand her new friends certainly gives Nic empathy, but Ryan also shows how it can hinder Nic’s relationships. Empress of the World explores the emotions of first love, mistakes, and the bonds of friendship beautifully.

Cover Comments: I'm not wild about this cover--two clasped hands. Okay. Yawn. But, it doesn't do anything to deter me from the book either, so okay. It could be better.

Book purchased from my indie.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Dark Star by Bethany Frenette

Sixteen-year-old Audrey is the daughter of Minneapolis’s resident superhero, Morning Star. Living a double life with her mom is pretty natural to her, and the only thing Audrey has to fear is a too-curious detective who might blow her mom’s cover. But when Audrey is attacked one night and her attack is linked to the murders of teenage girls across the city, she discovers that her mom isn’t just fighting criminals—she’s battling demons.

Dark Star combines superhero tropes with demon wars in an interesting way. The Minneapolis setting is a refreshing change from some of the bigger city settings of other speculative YA fiction, and there is no shortage of strong females characters in this novel. Unfortunately, Frenette’s tendency to slip into telling mode to dispense large amounts of backstory and world-building keep this book from flowing as quickly as it could. Audrey is a pretty flat character who only grows more entitled and justified by her poor decisions as the story unfolds, and her reactions are extreme and puzzling—she goes from crippling fear to blazing courage in the space of about thirty pages without any apparent catalyst. Frenette also neglects to answer pertinent questions about the story, such as, where is Audrey’s father? How is her newfound family connected to her mother? Frenette leaves these answers for later in the narrative, attempting to present them as surprise twists, when really the lack of answers just brings attention to plot gaps. Dark Star starts out very strong, but for a story that is tries to be an action-driven thriller, it could be much tighter.

Cover Comments: I don't mind this cover--I like the colors and the title font. I do think that close inspection of the girl on the cover and her facial expression will be giggle-inducing, but taken as a whole, not a bad cover.

Book purchased from my indie!