Reading Recap: May Highlights

May felt like a huge month for book releases, swelling my TBR list well past its breaking point (not that it wasn't well past its breaking point already...). As usual, I didn't get to read everything I'd hoped to, but here were a few of my favorites from the past month:

Red Moon, by Benjamin Percy: A big, literary novel about werewolves lycans. What's not to love? Percy has combined beautiful, descriptive writing with alternate history in a way that somehow makes it seem perfectly reasonable that Andersoon Cooper would interview lycan revolutionaries on MSNBC. Red Moon is a promising start to what I believe is meant to be a trilogy (yes? I hope?). Once I started, I couldn't put it down.

The World's Strongest Librarian, by Josh Hanagarne: I'm kind of in love with this book. It takes a certain amount of skill to write a memoir about libraries, Tourette's, and the Mormon faith, and lucky for all of us, Hanagarne has that skill. If you love books, libraries, or just well-executed, thoughtful memoirs that don't read like a pity party for the author, this book is for you.

The Beautiful and Damnedby F. Scott Fitzgerald: I've been on a Zelda kick lately with Z: A Novel of Zelda and Call Me Zelda, not to mention the Gatsby movie release this month, so it seemed as good a time as any for Emily and I to pick up a new-to-us Fitzgerald. Though I struggled to get through the middle of this novel, it was packed with Fitzgerald's quintessentially gorgeous sentences, which made even the slow parts worth it.

We Live in Waterby  Jess Walter: Jess Walter's Beautiful Ruins was one of my favorite reads in April, and We Live in Water only further cemented his newfound place on my list of favorite authors. This story collection is short and poignant, weighing in on the everyday and the unusual with equal attention, bringing readers' eyes to situations we might otherwise choose to neglect. Powerful, haunting, and a host of other descriptive adjectives can be applied here. Full review to follow in the coming months.

On Sale Today: Good Kings, Bad Kings by Susan Nussbaum

Susan Nussbaum's gutsy debut, Good Kings Bad Kings, hits bookshelves today--and you don't want to miss it. The winner of Barbara Kingsolver's 2012 PEN/Bellweather prize for fiction centers on the residents and staff of the ILLC, a state-run institutions for disabled youth. The residents range from 10-year olds with aggression disorders to wheelchair-bound 18-year olds incapable of dressing themselves; the staff range from drivers with good intentions and little understanding of mental illness to doctors with medical training and an eye for dollar signs to nurses with little training, less patience, and even less compassion.

Nussbaum masters the voices of each of these incredibly diverse perspectives, resulting in a novel that is at once as heartwarming as it is heartbreaking, challenging readers to reconsider what it means to be disabled in a world that turns its back on those less able than our standards demand.


Good Kings Bad Kings | Susan Nussbaum | Algonquin | Hardcover | May 2013 | 336 pages | Buy from an independent near you

Book Expo: My Highlights

I've only attended BEA as an exhibitor in the past, which meant floor walk-arounds every few hours and limited planning around show events, panels and/or author signings (although, in case John is reading this, my boss was always awesome about letting me sneak away for the really important author signings MARY ROACH I MEAN MARY ROACH as long as it didn't leave the booth empty).

This year, though, I get to make my own show plan, which is... hard. There are some definite gaps in my current schedule, and some significant overlaps. I'm sure I won't make it to everything listed below, but here's what I have my eye on...

Friday, May 31st (Unfortunately, I can only make it Fri-Sat):

Bill Bryson (9:30AM,  #2739): Um, it's Bill freaking Bryson. Need I explain? A 9:30AM start time, of course, means I actually wake up in time to schlep all the way across town to Javits by 9:30AM).

Great 2013 Fall Fiction (10:00-10:30AM, Downtown Stage): My editor at Shelf Awareness, Marilyn Dahl, is presenting. And I've never met her in person. Hi, Marilyn!

Peter Mattei (11:00AM, #2839): When I worked at BEA, our booth was always next to Other Press, and they always have fascinating, interesting, thoughtful titles on display. I've since read several Other Press titles a year, and Mattei's The Deep Whatsis, a novel about Brooklyn hipsters, advertising agency absurdity (hello, world!), and corporate behavior is already on my Nook. Why not meet the author?

Backlist to the Future (Also 11:00AM, 1E09): How will e-Releasing Out-of-Print Works Change Reading and Publishing? This just sounds interesting.

Brandon Sanderson (3:00PM, #1557): After Sanderson took over the last three Wheel of Time books, I started to explore some of his other works -- and love them. The fantasy fan-girl in me is thrilled to meet him again (I met him once before at a signing, but we were literally #492 in a line of 500 fans, so I think the man was a touch exhausted--but still wonderful). He's signing his newest work and I'm intrigued.

Rising Industry Insiders (3:30, 1E16): This is subtitled "What Those New to the Publishing Industry Think About Its Future: Students from the NYU M.S. In Publishing Program Speak Out," which officially gives it the loooooongest subtitle of all of the events I've seen. Not sure what to expect from a panel like this, but I'm a junky for talk of the "future of publishing."

Saturday, June 1st:

J. Courtney Sullivan (10:00, #2739): Sullivan's Maine was a huge hit last year, and while I liked it, I didn't fall as head-over-heels in love as the rest of the blogosphere seemed to. That said, I'm still more than excited about her newest, The Engagements, out this summer. (Note: This one's not listed in the BEA listing of events, but Sullivan mentions it on her own website, so I hope I got the details right...)

Neil Gaiman (10:00, 1E12/1E13): I'm not sure if I'll be brave enough for the crowds anticipated at this one, but "Why Fiction is Dangerous" might be the greatest title for a talk ever. Plus... Neil Gaiman.

Chuck Wendig (1:00, #2938): This leaves a bit of a gap in the middle of the day, but perhaps that's ok. I follow Wendig on Twitter and have both Blackbirds and Blue Blazes on my Nook waiting for me to pick them up. Plus, Booth 2938 is the Osprey Group booth, and that's where I used to work, so, nostalgia.

Book Expo, I Am Coming For You.

Book Expo is less than a week away, friends (a whole week for me, though, who could only get Friday off my reg'lar job, so won't be arriving in NYC until Thursday). I'm going to shiver my little butt off at Javits, wish I'd worn more comfortable shoes, and generally bask in the love of books that will surround me for two days. I'm going to get lots of tote bags and even more books. I'm going to talk about books, about publishing, about how the literary world is changing. I'll even get to attend a few panels, which I was never able to do as an exhibitor.

So... who else is going? What are you most excited about? What booths are your must-visits, and which panels are you attending?

World's Strongest Librarian Giveaway Winner

Congratulations to Amy of Sunlit Pages, who won last week's giveaway of The World's Strongest Librarian. Many thanks to Gotham Books for providing the giveaway copy.

If you haven't already, read my review of this fabulous memoir and get yourself a copy soon!

Book Review (& Giveaway!): World's Strongest Librarian, by Josh Hanagarne

There are two kinds of memoirs in the world: Those that should not be written, and all the other ones. Those that should not be written include all of the memoirs written by people who think their life experiences are somehow unique or important or different when they really aren't, or those who do, in fact, have unique and important and different life experiences but have no idea how to tell people about them in a way that is itself unique, important and different.

Josh Hanagarne's memoir, The World's Strongest Librarian, is neither of these things. It is one of the other ones. It is the kind of memoir that should be written, the kind that needed to be written, and now, the kind that needs to be read. After all, how many books out there are about a 6'7" weight-lifting librarian with Tourette Syndrome struggling with his faith after being brought up in the Mormon church? And how many of those (of which I'd argue there are none, but to be honest, I haven't actually looked) are actually well-written and entertaining and emotional and heartwrenching and otherwise wonderful?

Yeah, that's what I thought.

Which is all a long-winded way of saying READ THIS BOOK. If you love books and their power to shape lives, read this book. If you love libraries and believe in their continued importance in this world (that means not you, Mr. Rosenblum), read this book. If you like interesting people with incredible stories to tell, read this book. If you like memoirs that deal with all of the good bits of love and family and faith and passion and wellness without glossing over the sometimes-heartbreakingly-bad bits, read this book.

"The public library contains multitudes," Hanagarne writes, "And each person contains multitudes as well. Each of us is a library of thoughts, memories, experiences, and odors."

Suffice it to say that Hanagarne's particular library of thoughts, memories, experiences and odors is a fascinating one. Read this book.

If you'd like a chance to read this book sooner than later, today's your lucky day! I'm hosting a giveaway of one copy of The World's Strongest Librarian (Sorry, US and Canadian readers only). Enter by leaving a comment, with additional entries for following. Contest runs through Friday, and I will pick and announce a winner on Saturday after I run 13.1 miles at 7AM in the morning oh god why am I doing this to myself again.

(This is my first time using Rafflecopter, so please bear with me!)

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Also follow Josh on Twitter (@joshhanagarne) and/or on his blog, The World's Strongest Librarian.


Note: I received an e-galley of this title via NetGalley for review, and the publisher, Gotham Books, will be providing the copy to the winner of the giveaway.

The World's Strongest Librarian | Josh Hanagarne | Gotham | Hardcover | 288 pages | May 2013 | Buy from an independent near you

Thoughts: The Secret History, by Donna Tartt

I'm way behind the times on this one, I know. It's been on my radar for years, and on my shelf since before Borders went out of business. It has moved with me from place to place, aging on the shelf while I waited for the right time to pick it up.

Which came this year, after Emily and I read Emma together and needed to turn to something a little... I would say lighter, but that's the wrong word. Faster, perhaps? Less mundane?

And mundane The Secret History is not. Tartt has crafted a suspense of the highest brow here, following a group of exceedingly pretentious college students through their studies of Ancient Greek. She looks, in great detail, at how their lofty philosophical ideals come into play--or don't, as the case may be--in real life, peeling back the layers of the group's pretension until readers realize that, at heart, they are just like every other group of college kids in the world: partaking in copious amounts of sex, drugs and alcohol, and generally trying to reinvent who they are, where they've come from, and what they want to be when they grow up.

Except, of course, for the murder. Most college kids don't commit murder (I hope.)

Tartt reveals the cruel deed on approximately page 2 of the novel, so for those few of you who haven't read this, I haven't ruined anything. Read it anyway, I promise. And then we can talk about it. Because it is eminently discussable. There are virtually no likeable characters, if you list out their characteristics and motivations, and yet we sort of don't hate them all? Even though they are murderers? And there isn't much whodunit mystery, because we know who did it from the beginning. And I have no idea in what year--or even decade--the novel is supposed to be set, because sometimes it seems like it must be the 60s or so, but then they have a college computer. So that's confusing.

Small details aside, though, the novel is a masterpiece of suspense. The creep-level of Tartt's novel is due in large part to how believable it all is. It seems such a natural progression of events, from cover-ups to frustration to outright killing, that it is easy to forget how downright terrible the murder is in the first place. And Tartt absolutely masters the psychology of it all, how it impacts each member of the group and the group overall. It's actually hard to say which is more suspenseful, the build-up to the act itself, or the fallout from it, but that's part of what makes it so wonderfully captivating.

I know I'll be picking up Tartt's new novel, due out this fall.


For those who have read this and Tana French, does anyone else see similarities between this and The Likeness? Creepy college kids with secrets to hide, excluding themselves from normal college life in favor of the company of each other?


The Secret History | Donna Tartt | September 1992 | Vintage | Paperback | 576 pages | Buy from an independent near you

Harry Potter Readalong, All the Gifs, Book 6, and an Apology

But first, the apology! I've dropped off the face of this readalong's earth, and it's all because of Doctor Who. I started watching the series (starting from 2005) about the same time that we all started reading Book 5, and Doctor Who quickly took over my life. It was (is?) all I do when I get home from work.

I did manage to catch up on Book 6 (and by "catch up on" I mean "read all of") during last weekend's readathon, though, so here I am! I'm SO excited to have made it back to the real world (or the Harry Potter world, depending on how you choose to see it) in time for the last book. And the end of the sixth book. BECAUSE DUMBLEDORE. Even though I knew this was coming, it was still ALL THE FEELS.

Actually, I may have had even more feels this time through than in the re-reads of Books 1-5 because this was the first book I was reading for only the second time (rather than the 4th or 5th or seventy-gabillionth time, I'm looking at you, Sorceror's Stone). So while I knew what was coming, I was still fuzzy on recalling all of the other details surrounding that awful, awful moment. I'd sort of even forgotten the whole Draco-is-supposed-to-do-this bit, at least until I got to about chapter 5. But I digress. Because I had been so keen on simply finding out what was going to happen in my first (and previously only) read of the sixth book, I missed a lot, which mean I had a lot more to rediscover in this book than in the others that I've read over and over again.

I've decided that the Malfoys' storyline, while brought on entirely by their own greed and self-servance (not a word, but it'll do), is also kind of heartbreaking. Narcissa (such an obvious name choice, JK) really just wants what is best for her son, and her son really just wants what any teenage boy wants--to prove he's not a child anymore, and to impress his parents (and everyone else, while he's at it). I still hate the whole lot of them, and Draco is utterly atrocious in this book (illegal curses? Come on, Snape, even you can't turn a blind eye on that one), but at least we get to see some Malfoy heart. Such as it were. 

(Question, though--if the dementors have run off, but Lucius is in jail at Azkaban... who is guarding Azkaban? And is it really as bad as it once was if the dementors aren't there to make it terrible?)

Other things that are brilliant about this book: Luna's Quidditch commentary (though I do rather miss whats-his-face from the earlier books, as he was rather funny); Fleur's undying love for Bill and Mrs. Weasley's eventual acceptance of Fleur through the olive branch that is actually a tiara (perfect!); Harry and Ginny finally getting it on in their awkward teenagery ways. I also really love Harry's continual standing up to the Minister of Magic, proving himself Dumbledore's man through and through. Warms my heart, that does.

So, I'm uber-excited for the last book, which I really, truly did not like the first time I read it, but given all the tings I realized I'd forgotten in the sixth book, I'm going into with an open mind (and lower expectations than the first time, because let's face it, I had set the imaginary bar pretty damn high when I read the seventh book the first time.) 



PS - In honor of my newfound Doctor Who addiction, all gifs above are Doctor Who themed. Sorry I'm not  really all that sorry about that.

Looking Ahead: May Highlights

May's a big month for book releases, with publishers prepping for summer reads and Memorial Day weekend officially kicking off beach reading (OMG I'm already packing my sunscreen). It's also the beginning of the summer movie series, which means tie-ins and related reads abound. And last (but certainly not least, thanks for reading, Mom!), May is the month of Mother's Day, which means yet another influx of books about mothers and daughters, none of which are featured below. But not because I don't love my Mom. Just because those books don't look as good as these do:

Call Me Zelda, by Erika Robuck (NAL, May 7) I read Erika's Hemingway's Girl last year and loved it, and that was before I found out she was a local-to-me author. Don't doubt for a second that I didn't jump at the chance to read her newest novel, which focuses on a fictionalized friendship between the real Zelda Fitzgerald and the imagined nurse Anna Howard. This one's perfect for fans of Z: A Novel of Zelda (St. Martin's, March 2013), and will hit shelves just in time for the May 10th release of the new Gatsby movie. Oh, and if you're in the Annapolis area, Erika will be reading and signing at the Annapolis B&N on May 10th.

Good Kings Bad Kings, by Susan Nussbaum (Algonquin, May 28): I finished this last weekend and it took me over a week to write a review for Shelf Awareness, simply because I couldn't find the words to express how wonderful this is. And heartbreaking. Telling the story of the dysfunctional and often cruel ILLC, a nursing home for juveniles with disabilities, it will make you reconsider every assumption you've ever made about what it means to be disabled--especially when you lack the resources or support that so many of us take for granted.

The World's Strongest Librarian, by Josh Hanagarne (Gotham, May 2): The title alone is enough to make me want to read this one. The publisher's blurb claims that the book "illuminates the mysteries of this little-understood disorder, as well as the very different worlds of strongman training and modern libraries." Sign. Me. Up.

Homeward Bound, by Emily Matchar (Simon & Schuster, May 7): I read Jessica Valenti's Why Have Kids? last fall, and have had my eye out for more in the same vein ever since. While this tackles overall domesticity, not parenting and motherhood specifically, it sounds like it will scratch all kinds of thinky gender-study itches. The sociology minor in me is squealing with delight.


And look, I even ended up with an entirely accidental even split between fiction and non-fiction - just like my April recap. I'm sensing a trend, here, friends.

Reading Recap: April Favorites

April was a big month of non-fiction for me, with my favorites list for the month splitting up evenly between fiction and non-fiction. I also caught up on a few big titles from last year that I can't believe I've waited this long to pick up:


How to Find Fulfilling Work and How to Change the World: These two new volumes in the School of Life series make an excellent pair, urging readers to reconsider how we want to spend our limited time on this earth. How can we be fulfilled? And how can we make a difference? What makes us happy, and what will improve others' lives? Neither offers answers, but rather presents interesting arguments, facts, figures, and examples to force readers to start asking--and answering--the right questions.

Gulp, by Mary Roach: Considering the fact that I'll read pretty much anything Mary Roach writes, there was no way I'd be missing out on this one. And Roach's recap of the Alimentary Canal -- from how we chew to how we poop -- did not disappoint. It didn't top Stiff, which is still my favorite Mary Roach book of all time, but it's a close second.

Reconstructing Amelia, by Kimberley McCreight: I'm not much for "when-x-meets-y" descriptors, but the entire time I was listening to this on audio, I kept thinking, "It's like Gossip Girl meets Gone Girl!" Seriously. Suspense, mystery, suicide, teen bullies, secret clubs, naked photos, drugs, booze, text messages and Facebook and even an anonymous newsletter--this one has it all, and I powered through it in just a few days.

Backlist Picks

Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter: This one had been buzzing in the book world since last summer, and I finally picked it up on audio. It's just as beautiful and wonderful as everyone says it is, and Eduardo Ballerini's narration is spot-on. I'm picking up Walter's new short story collection, We Live In Water, this month.

The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller: This ToB-contender didn't take home the rooster this year, but that doesn't make it any less wonderful. It's a love story based on a version of the myth of Achilles, which Miller has interpreted as a love story told through the eyes of Patroclus, Achilles' lover and best friend. It's heartbreaking and lovely and wonderful and sad and hopeful and everything you hope a retelling of a classic myth could ever be.