Early Holiday Shopping?

I promised myself I wouldn't post anything about the holidays until after Thanksgiving, but this one was good enough to sneak through the embargo.

From today's Shelf Awareness, a link to a bookstore's blog on eight good reasons to get your holiday shopping done at their store early this year. Most apply to bookstores across the board - enjoy!

1. We have not yet started playing Christmas music.

2. That feeling of self-righteousness over starting so early translates into treating yourself to something as well.

3. You can make a list of all the things you want, so that you can hint liberally at Thanksgiving.

4. If there’s a hardcover you’ve been eyeing, you have time to read the whole thing before giving it away.

5. We have free gift wrapping. By Christmas, you’ll forget what it was you bought. Aren’t surprises great?

6. It’s much easier to stick to your budget when we aren’t serving you eggnog like we do the week before Christmas.

7. All versions of The Night Before Christmas are still in stock. You won’t have to settle for that one weird one left over on Christmas Eve.

8. You’ll bring smiles and joy and a twinkle to the eye of your favorite local, indie bookseller.

Book Review: Love Stories in This Town by Amanda Eyre Ward

Sorry for the gap in posts! Been sick and traveling, but I'm catching up now, I promise. The one perk of being home for a week was that I caught up on some reading; sadly, the loopy meds meant I only got through one book. But it was a good one, and worth it.

Love Stories in This Town (with a great title, and a great cover) is a collection of short stories, new from Amanda Eyre Ward. Ward's stories all focus on love, but not in the way you might expect: she takes her readers on a tour of heartbreak and loneliness, offering a surprisingly insightful - though depressing - take on love, life, and happiness. From the widow of a Sept 11th victim to a pregnant ballerina, a young librarian in the Midwest to the crazed housewife living in Saudi Arabia, Ward's stories draw on small, seemingly insignificant details of life to present the emotions behind every decision we make and relationship upon which we embark.

The first half of the book is a collection of unrelated short stories, while Part II turns to Lola, a heartbroken college student attending her ex-boyfriend's wedding to Miss Montana. Each subsequent story provides a snapshot of another moment in Lola's life, from her stint in Saudi Arabia with her husband on a compound to the visit of her mother-in-law and her first grandchild. The balance between the two halves is superb, and the skill with which Ward weaves the themes of the first half of the book into the Lola stories impressive.

Ward's writing is crisp, clear, and perfectly adapted in each story to the moment and character being portrayed. She alternates between the short choppy voice of a struggling widow, the youthful voice of a young librarian and the long poetic sentences of a ballerina without missing a beat, and manages to maintain her own voice and strong writing style throughout.

Bottom line: The blurb on the front of the book claims that Love Stories in This Town is impossible to put down, but I couldn't disagree more. No, this is a book to be digested in small bits, one story at a time. To rush through it would be to sacrifice the raw emotion in each page, carefully contained by the first and last pages of each story, like bookends precariously balanced on either end of wobbling tomes. Ward's collection is sharp, insightful, witty, but most of all poignant, resulting in a book that leaves the reader wanting more while simultaneously knowing that that is all there is. Bring your tissues and schedule lots of reading breaks, and you're sure to enjoy it.

PW Top Books of 2009

As I mentioned in a post the other day, this is the hey-day of "top books" lists for 2009. Right before the holiday season, so most publishers have released their titles for the year (or announced them, no less), and just in time for recommendations for gift giving... can you believe it's gift-giving time already?

But not everything is smooth going in the world of "top lists." Publisher's Weekly announced their top 10 books of 2009 last week to much criticism: all ten authors were male. (View the list here.)

PW claims that they judged the books without taking author gender into consideration, but opposing parties claim that this is just their way of covering up their blatant bias. Quite frankly, I think the whole argument makes us miss the point.

Regardless of whether or not PW took gender into consideration (and really, one would hope that as such a beacon of the industry they would review on merit, and nothing else), the real problem posed by this situation is the lack of women on the list. Not because PW is biased, however, or chauvinistic, or anything else feminist critics might have you believe, but because there are either no books qualified, or not enough books qualified that they stood out to the reviewers.

After all, we know that no "top 10" list can be comprehensive, and we know that these lists are subjective. We should be disappointed by the lack of candidates, or lack of dearth of candidates, instead of bickering about the bias of the reviewers.

The organization of Women in Letters and Literary Arts has released a response, with a list of top books by females in 2009.

Nose in a Book (Quote of the Day)

It's Sunday, which means the end of the weekend, but not necessarily the end of great reading material. Even Coolio agrees:

"I used to walk to school with my nose buried in a book." - Coolio.

Well, that's just... coolio.

Looking For a Good Book?

Amazon released its suggestions for the top books of 2009 (ranked both by editor preference and sale ranking) just this week. Although, as they claim themselves, it is nearly impossible to objectively rank books, and if it were, there is no guarantee that readers will agree, the lists often provide some interesting titles you are bound to have missed - after all, we can't keep track of everything, especially with the number of books published this fall.

The customer rankings can provide some insight into buying habits too: mass market mysteries seem to dominate the list.

Even if you don't buy on Amazon (get it at your local store in a continued celebration of National Bookstore Day!), the lists are fun to peruse.

Weekend Reading

I'm off to a wedding in Massachusetts this weekend (where it will be 27 degrees tonight; when did winter get here?). In the bag to take along:

The Wizard of Oz (ebook via the Classics App)

What are you reading for the weekend?

Tomorrow is National Bookstore Day

Saturday, Nov 7th marks the first annual National Bookstore Day. The goal is to drive both new and returning customers back to brick-and-mortar stores (at least for a day). It's not too late for bookstores to participate, or for customers to start planning their bookstore excursions for the weekend!

For more information National Bookstore Day, visit the Publisher's Weekly site here.

To locate an independent bookstore near you, visit Indiebound or Delocator.

Book Apps vs Game Apps

A recent report has declared game apps the bestselling apps for the iPhone and iPod from Aug 2008 to Aug 2009 - not all that surprising, really. But the same report also claims that in the last four months, book apps have prevailed over the evergreen game apps as the number one app category for both devices.

The full article, which I came across through today's Shelf Awareness link, was featured in this morning's Telegraph, and is worth the read.

The most interesting bit, I found, was the possible threat to Amazon's market share that successful iPhone/iPod apps could pose. Any thoughts?

I myself just got an iPod as an early birthday gift (THANK YOU) and it's already loaded down with audiobooks, e-book apps and reader apps... I could see how this multi-functional device could easily pose a threat to the uni-tasker Kindle (especially given that the Kindle is only compatible with Amazon products).

Book Review: In Tongues of the Dead by Brad Kelln

It is impossible to read Brad Kelln's novel, In Tongues of the Dead, and not immediately begin to draw comparisons between it and The Da Vinci Code. Both center around a little-known (or little-understood, as is the case in Brown's work) aspect of Biblical history and the controversies and coverups caused by these supposed "myths." While this is not necessarily a bad thing, those of you who know my snobbish literary ways know that to me Dan Brown (while valuable to the publishing community) is not exactly the role model for well-written fiction.

In Tongues of the Dead is based on the myth of the Nephilim, children of angel and woman, who have been forsaken by God. Their secrets are supposedly recorded in the Voynich manuscript, written in a language that no one can decipher... except Matthew (annoying called "Little Matthew" throughout the story), an autistic elementary school foster kid. The only catch is that the Vatican wants the kid, and the manuscript. But then, so do a bunch of other people. And therein lies the bulk of the plot.

Though Kelln's book is a page-turner, no doubt, it falls short of its goal with flat writing and even flatter characters. Transparent in every way, Kelln's writing constantly tells instead of shows, that Creative Writing 101 faux-pas we've all spent our writing lives trying to avoid. The characters do not develop as the story unfolds; what is more, they are introduced and then left to disappear for chapters on end, making a miraculous re-appearance later on in the story. Even worse than flat characters, though, is that all of the characters-even the children-speak in the same voice. Presumably this is how the author speaks ("Little Matthew" and "Little Wyatt" invokes images of resentful nieces and nephews politely tolerating cheek-pinching to the age of 16); this is not how children, priests, cardinals, assassins, psychologists and nurses speak.

Sadly, what could have been an entertaing story is seemingly lost in the author's mind: the story is inconsistent, often confusing and there are several bits left unexplained or forgotten about. The ending almost-kind-of-sort-of wraps up all of the various strings of the one plot line, but even there it falls short: relationships are left undefined, characters have disappeared and relics start magically appearing in unexplained places.

Bottom line: Overall, if you are a fan of Church-cult fiction such as The Da Vinci Code, et al, In Tongues of the Dead might be of interest to you. To be sure, it is a quick read, and not a particularly challenging one, so it could be a great distraction for an evening lost in a book. But if you're looking for believable characters, a comprehensive plotline or something a bit more substantial, I'd take a pass.


Thanks to ECW Press' Shelf Monkey program for supplying a review copy of this title.

Shelf Discovery Challenge!

I've decided to participate in my first-ever blog challenge!

The challenge: Booking Mama's Shelf Discovery Challenge

From the contents of Shelf Discovery (see below), choose 6 books to read between now and April. Then read them. Then write about them.

The book - Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading

Based on a column from Jezebel.com, author Lizzie Skurnick revisits our favorite middle- and high- school reads, from Ramona Quimby to the daring Judy Blume. These are more than mere stories, she urges us to consider, bringing into light the life lessons learned in each.

My picks - 3 re-reads, 4 new reads (yeah, yeah, that's more than 6)

1) From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (first read)

2) The Secret Garden and/or A Little Princess (re-reads)

3) Flowers in the Attic (seen the movie, but first read)

4) Jacob Have I Loved (first read)

5) Little House on the Prairie (re-read)

6) Forever (first read)