Still Life with Book Maven

Trade Publication Launches New Book Review For Consumers (via paidContent)

June 26th, 2011

paidContent recently posted an article explaining the newest venture for Bethanne, ShelfAwareness’s Enlightenment for Readers, the new newsletter offered by the popular trade publication. You can read the full article from paidContent here.

The word “discoverability,” when used in the book publishing context, tends to focus on how readers can find authors and books that are new to them. But another part of the discoverability challenge is how readers can find authors and books that are new to the world, as in recently or soon-to-be published. As brick-and-mortar bookstores close and newspaper book review sections fold, it’s harder to stumble across publishers’ latest offerings.

A new, free online newsletter for consumers, titled Shelf Awareness: Enlightenment for Readers—from the editors ofShelf Awareness—aims to introduce everyday readers to the best new books. And while that sounds like an obvious goal, the fact is that it is much easier for consumers to learn about upcoming movies and music than it is for them to learn about new books. “Movie houses put up their trailers many months in advance and show previews every time you’re at the movies,” says Jenn Risko, Publisher of Shelf Awareness. “You start seeing ads on iTunes for upcoming albums in advance and they usually release the hit song before the whole album….I’ve wished for a long time that I knew what was cool and new [in books]. This is our answer to that.”


“The reviews will be honest, but they’ll be positively honest,” says Bethanne Patrick, consumer editor of the new publication, “not because we’re against running critical or negative reviews but because we’re trying to set up the 25 best books for people to pay attention to in their local bookstore. That’s the goal behind it. We’re not reviewing everything and we’re not trying to do critical analysis.” However, reviews of exceptional books will be starred, “in recognition that it often takes a starred review for a library or bookstore to stock a title.”

Shelf Awareness: Enlightenment for Readers also aims to differentiate itself from Kirkus and PW by the backgrounds of its over 60 freelance reviewers, who include booksellers, critics, book bloggers, and librarians with “great street cred” in a variety of genres. The reviewers are paid more than the reviewers forKirkus or PW. Patrick and book review editor Marilyn Dahl will select the books to be included each week.

Further Reading – Centuries of June

June 22nd, 2011

Centuries of June, the newest novel by author Keith Donohue, is about a man named Jack who has just woken up on his bathroom floor and he’s trying to figure out exactly what happened and how he ended up there. To help him figure it out, 8 women from throughout history visit him and add their own explanation to the story, in which Jack usually represents some other disappointing man in history. Finally, the eighth visitor is his wife. Centuries of June is a funny novel that tells the story of one man through history, reiterating the old idea that history just keeps on repeating itself.

But Centuries of June isn’t the only novel that uses this technique. For this Further Reading, I’ll look at three books that use history and alternative history to tell a modern story.

Man in the Dark by Paul Auster – In this slim novel, Paul Auster uses an alternative dream world, where the United States is involved in another Civil War, to symbolize the internal struggle of main character and car accident victim August Brill. In August’s alternative US, the the World Trade Center still stands and the 2000 election results in a secession that leads to the second Civil War.

Flight by Sherman AlexieI know I’ve already talked about Flight in Further Reading, but this was too good of a connection to pass up. Previously I talked about how Sherman Alexie uses his controversial narrator Zits to explore inequalities in the world, but this time I’d like to focus on the alternative realities. Much like the protagonist of Centuries of June, Zits finds himself transported back in time to inhabit the lives of terrible men throughout history.

The Company Novels by Kage Baker - These are some of the post popular science fiction novels, especially for cross-over readers, because they incorporate rich historical and literary details. The main character of this series is Mendoza, a botanist cyborg that was born during the Spanish Inquisition. Essentially, in the future, the Company has developed a way to make humans immortal, but it results in the humans being more or less machines. Though most people in the future do not want to become immortal, they travel throughout history to find people in need (like Mendoza, who is about to be executed in Spain), people who would be willing to devote their life to service in the Company. Those cyborgs have to find and preserve valuable artifacts from the past. In Mendoza’s case, she finds plants that will eventually go extinct and preserves them for the Company. They’re richly detailed, complex and satisfying novels.

Further Reading – Vaclav & Lena by Haley Tanner

May 25th, 2011

The immigrant story: a ubiquitous part of world literature. Vaclav & Lena, the newest addition to this theme from Haley Tanner, is a delightful spin on the coming-of-age tale. Vaclav and Lena are both Russian immigrants living in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. Though Vaclav speaks English well, he meets Lena in an ESL class when they are 10 and 9 years old. Vaclav’s mother, Rasia, gives quiet, shy Lena a home away from home until she mysteriously disappears from their lives. Every night Vaclav says good night to Lena, but he does not learn the truth of her disappearance until Lena’s 17th birthday.

It’s part mystery, part story of immigration, part tale of love and friendship, but a completely wonderful addition to the canon of immigration literature. All of the novels in this Further Reading offer their own unique take.

Little Bee by Chris CleaveLittle Bee has such a memorable book jacket description that it would be a shame to write a different one: “We don’t want to tell you much about this book. It is a truly special story and we don’t want to spoil it. Nevertheless, you need to know something, so we will just say this: it is extremely funny, but the African beach scene is horrific. The story starts there, but the book doesn’t. And it’s what happens afterward that is most important. Once you read it, you’ll want to tell everyone about it. When you do, please don’t tell them what happens either. The magic is in how it unfolds.” So don’t let me spoil it for you, just know that it fits very well into this Further Reading theme.

Leche by R. Zamora LinmarkThis is a reverse-immigration story. The main character Vince returns to the Phillipines after living in the US for 13 years and is re-introduced to his birthplace by a quirky cast of characters. The story is humorous and satirical, but still has heart and depth.

Some Dream for Fools by Faïza GuèneFaïza Guène has been hailed as one of the best new voices in French literature. She writes about Algerian immigrants in France and as a French-born woman of Algerian descent, Guène has an impressive insight to the culture of immigration. Though the translation of Some Dream for Fools is not always fluid and seems to be overly literal, Ahlème’s perspective wry perspective is worth the read.

Further Reading – Caleb’s Crossing

May 4th, 2011

Geraldine Brooks’s most recent novel, Caleb’s Crossing does what Brooks does best: takes a very specific time period and cast of characters and breathes life into them. In this novel, the narrator is young Bethia in the mid-1600′s Martha’s Vineyard who befriends the local Native American chieftain’s son Caleb. As Bethia’s Puritan world clashes with the Wampanoag way of life, Bethia’s father begins tutoring Caleb. When he eventually goes to Cambridge, Bethia follows as an indentured servant and watches as Caleb achieves something that she can only dream of: a college education.

Caleb’s Crossing is about many things, from the culture clash of seventeenth century Martha’s Vineyard, to Bethia’s desire to be as educated as any man, to Caleb’s journey to be the first Native American to graduate from Harvard. There is no doubt that Geraldine Brooks is an excellent storyteller, capable of filling any historical shoes, but for this Further Reading, I wanted to focus on books that are written by contemporary Native Americans about Native American life.

Though the Native American “culture” is often talked about, the reality is that Native American covers a multitude of cultures and communities throughout North and South America. This post features two novels by well-known Native American authors and hopefully one collection that will introduce you to a wide range of different Native American storytellers from different parts of the US.

Ceremony and The Turquoise Ledge: A Memoir by Leslie Marmon Silko – Ceremony is perhaps Leslie Marmon Silko’s most well-known and most critically acclaimed novel and for good reason. The story is about Tayo, a Vietnam veteran of mixed Native American ancestry who numbs the pain associated with his service with alcohol. Though I originally wanted to include only fiction for this Further Reading, I decided that I couldn’t pass up a mention of The Turquoise Ledge, Silko’s most recently published book, which is a memoir detailing the influence traditional Native American storytelling has had on her writing and life. It’s very much worth the read and written in a style reminiscent of Silko’s fiction.

Flight by Sherman Alexie – Sherman Alexie is probably one of the other most well-known Native American authors in the US, but Flight is probably his least-known and least-liked book. Despite the fact that it was poorly received, Flight remains one of my favorite Alexie novels, though it probably could have been a little bit longer. Flight is about a young boy named Zits, who in a fit of frustration decides to blow up a bank. When he detonates the bomb, however, he does not die; instead he inhabits the body of famous men throughout history. Zits is not necessarily a likable character, but you feel for him and everything he has gone through, and his insights are well worth it.

Trickster – Edited by Matt Dembicki – In Trickster, Native American writers and storytellers are partnered with comic artists to create a collection of short comics based on traditional folklore. What is wonderful about this collection is that the writers of the stories are from all different Native American communities and cultures, showing different perspectives on a common theme throughout Native American folklore: the trickster.

Further Reading – Where She Went by Gayle Forman

April 27th, 2011

Where She Went by Gayle Forman is one of the most highly anticipated Young Adult publications this year. The sequel to the acclaimed If I Stay was never supposed to happen, but author Gayle Forman couldn’t get the characters Mia and Adam out of her head. The first book, narrated by Mia after she is in a fatal car accident with her family, deals with the emotional and psychological trauma of losing her family. In Where She Went, Adam must come to terms with his own grief.

When Forman writes, she perfectly embodies her characters. Their voices are wholly unique and so well-written you feel as if you know them personally. The best part is, they act and sound just like real teenagers and young adults do. There are a lot of YA books published recently that also feature narrators that will remind you of the teenagers you know in the real world.

If I Stay by Gayle Forman – It would be impossible to write a list about well-written teenage protagonists without including the prequel to Where She Went, If I Stay. Mia’s story is tragic, but Mia herself is never a tragic character. The story is really about Mia and her relationships with her family, friends and boyfriend.

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by AS King – Has there ever been a teen narrator as candid and realistic as Vera Dietz? What I loved best about this novel though was the relationship between Vera and her father. Parents often get a bad rap in Young Adult relationships, or they’re perfect, or they’re disturbingly absent. The father-daughter relationship in Please Ignore Vera Dietz is the most realistic one I’ve come across recently.

All You Get is Me by Yvonne Printz – Young Adult novels often tackle “Issues”, but not all of them do it well. All You Get is Me is one that succeeds, by tackling young love and undocumented workers in the same breath.

Further Reading – The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure

April 20th, 2011

In The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little  House on the Prairie by Wendly McClure, McClure tries to find what is left of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life in the modern world. What results is a trip through butter churning, road trips and various Laura Ingalls Wilder memorials, museums and festivals across the Midwest.

The Wilder Life is part memoir, part biography, part history, part review of all Ingalls-Wilder historical sites, McClure gives a fresh perspective (and extensive bibliography) on the life of the Ingalls Wilder families and what they have left behind in our modern world.

The Wilder Life is not about rejecting the modern world, but finding some remnants of the past in our fast-paced life. The following memoirs all do a variation of just that, some to different extremes and different ends, but all with the same goal: to slow down life and recapture the simplicity, real or imagined, of the past.

And I Shall Have Some Peace There: Trading in the Fast Lane for My Own Dirt Road by Margaret Roach – When Margaret Roach leaves her position at Martha Stewart Living and decides to move out to her vacation home in the country permanently, it’s not exactly as peaceful as she thought. And I Shall Have Some Peace There is a candid memoir about what country living is actually like.

Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology by Eric Brende – This is probably the most extreme book on this list. Eric Brende, after attending MIT and becoming increasingly frustrated with his reliance on technology, decides to live an entire year without any electronics at all. He and his wife join a Mennonite-like community that relies on the most basic forms of technology to thrive.

Confessions of a Counterfeit Country Girl by Susan McCorkindale – Like Margaret Roach, Susan McCorkindale leaves her stressful Manhattan job to move to the Virginia countryside and become cattle farmers. Though McCorkindale seems to spend a lot of time bemoaning the lack of Starbucks, her memoir is an exploration of culture shock.

Further Reading – Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell

April 13th, 2011

Sarah Vowell has long been making us think about history and how we learn it. Often there are opposing perspectives that don’t always put the winners in such a positive light. In her latest, Unfamiliar Fishes, Vowell tackles the topic of the year of 1898, when the United States “acquired” much of its territory that lasted into the 20th century, such as Cuba, Guam, the Phillipines, Puerto Rico and Hawaii. Suddenly, the US was a super power, taking that role, many would argue, from Spain. Vowell focuses on “the Americanization of Hawaii”.

We love Sarah Vowell for her perspective and you should definitely be reading her back list, but what other books show history from a new and exciting perspective that you hadn’t thought of before? This Further Reading explores the history books that you wished you had read in high school.

The Basque History of the World by Mark KurlanskyMuch of the world knows of the Basque people because of ETA, the terrorist organization that has been committing terrorist attacks in Spain since after WWII. However, that is a very small number of extremists speaking for a very rich and beautiful culture in northern Spain and southern France.  Mark Kurlansky takes a look at the Basque people and how their history relates to world history. The Basque culture is one of the oldest remaining cultures in the world. Their language is an anomaly. This book takes parts of world history and puts a very plausible Basque spin on them.

Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories by Simon WinchesterIf The Basque History of the World takes world history and defines it through the eyes of the Basque culture, Winchester does the same thing but with the Atlantic Ocean. Described as a “biography” of the Atlantic Ocean, this book posits that the Atlantic Ocean is the new Mediterranean Sea, or the new center of civilization.

Wicked River: The Mississippi When it Last Ran Wild by Lee Sandlin – The Mississippi River is a tamed river, for now. But, as Sandlin’s book shows, the great river was once wild and its history is thoroughly intertwined with the United States’s.

Palestine by Joe SaccoFinally, we have a comic to add to the list. Joe Sacco is an international journalist who, rather than write articles for newspapers, collects his findings in non-fiction comics, often with himself as a character. Part memoir, part wartime journalism, Sacco’s comics are unique. In Palestine, Sacco finds himself facing his own beliefs and prejudices when he interviews and interacts with Palestinian people and ends up rethinking what he knows about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Further Reading: The Free World by David Bezmozgis

March 31st, 2011

The Free World by David Bezmozgis is an impressive, sweeping first novel about three generations of Russian Jews and all the different places that life takes them. The Krasnasky family must stay in Italy for a time with other Jewish Russian refugees to receive their visas to move to Canada, the US or Australia. Samuil, Polina and their two sons Alec and Karl and their story are moving and complex.

For today’s Further Reading we want to feature other books that have a similar sweeping family saga.

The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich - Louise Erdrich has become famous for her Native American family sagas, but her 2009 Pulitzer Prize nominated novel The Plague of Doves is just a stunning example of how wonderful Erdrich’s eye is for the interactions of families. This drama doubles as a mystery, but solving the mystery is not at the core of this story, instead is the way family, race and culture all intertwine to impact our lives.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides – Like The Free World, Middlesex is a story of immigration and exile, but extends that theme to include the feeling of being a foreigner in your own body. Calliope, later known as Cal, has always felt like there was something different and wrong about his body. Middlesex is Cal telling his story, of his personal transformation from woman to man, but also of his family’s transition from Greek to American.

Brick Lane by Monica Ali – Brick Lane examines the cultural transition from small, Bangladeshi village to fast-moving London through the eyes of Nazneen, a young woman who has just married a man twenty years her senior.

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese - Cutting for Stone is another family epic that crosses time and country. Marion and Shiva Stone are twin brothers who grow up in Ethiopia among rumors of revolution.

Further Reading – Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson

March 24th, 2011

Recently released, Started Early, Took My Dog comes from acclaimed author Kate Atkinson, who wrote When Will There Be Good News. This novel follows the star of many her other novels, detective Jackson Brodie, but also follows the story of Tracy Waterhouse, who suddenly becomes the mother to a young girl after a surprising event.

Kate Atkinson is known for her mysteries with a strong sense of place. Atkinson herself is from Edinburgh and all of her novels take place in the UK. This week for Further Reading, you can find other mysteries that have a similar strong relationship with their UK setting.

Faithful Place by Tana FrenchFaithful Place, the highly anticipated new “Dublin murder squad” novel by Tana French was released last summer. French’s novels often follow different characters for each novel, which makes them seem like stand-alone stories, but the characters are often interconnected. They take place across the UK, but generally with a focus on Dublin and Irish citizens.

Slip of the Knife by Denise Mina – Paddy Meehan, the heroine of Slip of the Knife is woken up by the police one night to tell her that her exboyfriend has been murdered one of her s. My favorite quote about Denise Mina: “if you don’t read crime novels, Mina is your reason to change” (Rocky Mountain News, quoted at

The Complaints by Ian RankinWe’re cheating a little by recommending The Complaints by Ian Rankin as further reading because it isn’t out yet, but Ian Rankin is one of the best mystery writers in the UK today and we couldn’t pass up recommending him and his newest novel. “The complaints” are essentially officers who investigate other cops; needless to say, they aren’t very popular. When Malcolm Fox, an officer who investigates dirty cops, is assigned a particularly difficult case, he will go deeper into the corruption of the police force than ever before.

TGILinks – March 18, 2011

March 18th, 2011

Every Friday, we’ll post a collection of links to amuse you through this last work day! For explanations of the categories, please see our original TGILinks post!

Made By Words – Found in Books at AbeBooks – What’s the weirdest thing you ever found in a library book or used book? AbeBooks has an article that lists some bizarre objects that previous owners left behind, from thousands of dollars to a baby tooth.

Book Technology – The Future of Textbooks in a Digitized World at Law, Technology and Arts Blog – With more and more schools moving to digitized textbooks, what is the future of the textbook industry? How are

ebooks limited when it comes to textbooks? Will there be separate devices for reading textbooks? The Law, Technology and Arts blog takes a look at a lot of these questions in this article.

Literary Tangents – Wookie the Pooh by James Hance via The Jailbreak – Such a clever mash-up! These adorable drawings take the characters of Star Wars, Han Solo and Chewbaca, and turn them into Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh.

Image credit: James Hance.

Nuts and Bolts – Jo Shapcott: the book of life at The Guardian – Jo Shapcott’s book Of Mutability recently won the Costa book award and in this article, she discusses how being diagnosed with breast cancer is at the center of her new poetry.

For Every Book Lover – I Love Books Zipper Pouch by kukubee on Etsy – This adorable zipper pouch will appeal to any book lover! At only $12.00, it’s a steal.

Photo credit: kukubee