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Monthly Archives: July 2011

WITH THE LIGHT: Raising an Autistic Child by Keiko Tobe

With the Light

WITH THE LIGHT is a 7-volume manga series I really want to read! The books follow Hikaru’s life from birth through his teenage years. His mother knows something is different about her boy, but when he is diagnosed with autism we become exposed to real-life complications, odd social situations, looming sexual awareness and everyday disruptions to family life.

The subject matter is so hard to live with, let alone share with others, that I think it is a very important series. The manga format is engaging for teens, while the subject matter is complex and personal. I think anyone working with autistic children or their siblings should get this series. It should be in doctor’s waiting rooms and high school libraries. A must read for teachers and therapists.

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Killing Kate by Julie Kramer

Killing Kate by Julie KramerThe Riley Spartz books are exactly the kind of wonderful mid-list offering that I never would have stumbled across anywhere other than a bricks and mortar bookstore.  The bright covers drew my attention when shelving and lent themselves to being a centerpiece of any display.  And, invariably, I read the cover blurb, flipped open to the first page, and found myself hooked.  I took Riley Spartz home with me, spent a few tense hours with her, and have never failed to pick up each new title on publication day since.

These are not serious, high brow mysteries, but nor are they your grandmother’s cozies.  They manage to strike a happy medium of being witty and intensely entertaining, while having real suspense and depicting actual violence.  Protagonist Riley Spartz is an investigative reporter for a Minnesota TV station, and as such she is just as worried about ratings and sweeps as she is with finding murderers.  Her job makes her an interesting “amateur sleuth” in that she’s not actually an amateur at all.  Riley knows all the tricks on digging up dirt on people and getting the information she needs out of interviews and well-placed contacts.  But her goals are different than most murder investigators: she is more interested in telling a good story than finding justice, though both always seem to happen in the end.  The mechanics of how reporters go about building a story for their television audience are given in detail and add authenticity to the story, along with providing insight into a world most readers have never visited.  In a way, these books are a workplace dramedy, with reporters and networks in constant competition for stories and ratings numbers, not to mention budget cuts and unsympathetic bosses.  Unlike most P.I./homicide detective characters, Riley always has her plate full of concurrent ongoing investigations, and the subplots, usually involving animal mysteries, are just as intriguing without distracting from the lead story in any way.

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Bittersweet: The Story of Sugar by Peter Macinnis

BittersweetI know what you’re thinking: what is with this girl and addictive white powders?

Anyway, do you remember how one of my issues with Mark Kurlansky’s book on salt was that he made unsubstantiated declarations about how salt influenced history? Well Peter Macinnis totally avoids that issue in this book. Translation: this book is the bee’s knees!

Macinnis starts out by saying that sugar played an important part in history but – had it never been discovered – some other valuable product could just as easily taken its place in this story (XIII). The reason I love this statement is because Macinnis acknowledges just how much of a role chance plays in history: huge. Then, as kind of a warning to his readers (and to all people who study history), Macinnis makes the following statement:

It is better to look at what evil men have done, in an effort to ensure that we do not repeat it, than to look upon past evils with a sanctimonious superiority. We are different, but it is doubtful we are that much better, for few things change as little as human nature. (XIV)

What?! I know! What a punishing yet truthful statement.

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Five Minutes with Julie Kramer

Julie Kramer

Julie Kramer

Julie Kramer is a former television journalist who now writes a series of mystery novels starring investigative reporter Riley Spartz.  Her books were among our favorites to hand sell, and we are sorry not to be able to do so in person any more.  You should be sure to pick up her fourth and newest title, Killing Kate, which will be released July 26th.  (Our review will be posted early next week.)

[Booksellers Without Borders]: Why should anybody buy your book?

[Julie Kramer]: Because angels might be the next vampires or demons or zombies. And KILLING KATE deals with a killer who draws chalk outlines shaped like angels around victims. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible features angels as messengers. So what message is this angel of death delivering? After a career in television news, some of my former colleagues believe I’ve been too candid reinventing myself from journalist to novelist. “Did you have to tell them, if it bleeds, it leads?”

Besides a stay-up-late read, my books also give you an inside look at how newsrooms function amid crime and chaos. Whether the issue is which missing people get publicity or why animal stories get good play in newscasts, you’ll see the media in an a more desperate light after you read my series.

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Poindexter Makes a Friend by Mike Twohy

Poindexter Makes a FriendMy nephew thinks I bought this book for him.  While he’s somewhat correct — it really is a fun book to read to a child, so borrow one (a child, that is) if you have to — apparently I am still working on my “sharing” skills, because this one lives at my house, not his.

It’s about a young pig named Poindexter who is shy around his relatives and other kids in the neighborhood, preferring to read to the stuffed animals in his room instead of joining the kids outside.  This reminds me so much of my nephew, who gathers his stuffed animals around him during bedtime stories, saying, “Come here, friends!”  (Although he also loves running around outside, but I digress.)  Poindexter is perfectly happy with this arrangement, but how is a well-adjusted, well-read young pig to make friends with other animals that are not stuffed?  He finds solace in the local library, where he sits and reads but also helps the librarian push the book cart and reshelve books.  I was a very happy aunt indeed when I pointed to the picture and asked where Poindexter was going, and my nephew immediately responded, “Library!”

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The Uncanny Valley: Tales from a Lost Town by Gregory Miller

The Uncanny ValleyThe premise of The Uncanny Valley is that a radio station in central Pennsylvania launched a campaign to compile stories and personal accounts from small town citizens that showcase the culture of their hometowns.  Supposedly, thirty-three entries came from the same unheard-of town called Uncanny Valley, which may or may not have ever existed on a map, and the tales they tell are singular and incredible.  Those stories are collected in this book, written in thirty-three individual voices belonging to the residents of this ethereal town.

It would be easy to categorize this as a collection of ghost stories, except that so many of them are about living, breathing people who stay that way, albeit usually with some kind of transformation.  Rather, this is a series of distinctly peculiar tales that add on one another to create a composite view of a remarkable town and its denizens.  In bite-sized installments, none of the stories more than a few pages long, we are taken on a journey through the strange and wondrous annals of the Uncanny Valley.  The fictional small town setting serves as a microcosm, within which rules we live by are bent at will and nothing is more certain than uncertainty.

Miller manages his large cast of characters adeptly, successfully transitioning between old and young, male and female, corporeal and not.  Their personal tales are deftly interwoven, giving credence to their existence as neighbors, family, and friends.  It’s fun to see characters who gave testimony earlier in the book appear in the third person walking in and out of their friends’ accounts.  Frankly, I was waiting for some historical or character discrepancy to surface, but was pleasantly surprised to find consistency throughout.

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Posted by on July 14, 2011 in Book Reviews, Horror

 

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Guest Review: The Long Goodbye by Meghan O’Rourke

Jamie YatesToday we are excited to be joined by our first guest reviewer, fellow bookseller-in-exile Jamie Yates.  Not only does Jamie run his own review blog, Chicago Ex-Patriate, he is also associate editor and contributor to the newly-launched Instafiction.org, which features a new short story each weekday.  Plus, he’s fun to be around.

If you are a bookseller (past or present) or book blogger who would like to contribute a guest review, please contact us!

Le.Review: The Long Goodbye by Meghan O’Rourke (published April 2011)

by Jamie Yates

In my career as a bookseller, I had a tendency to disdain memoirs. Let me make a distinction—I’m not lumping biographies into this category, but rather clarifying a much needed division between the two. I generally enjoy biographies, even though supposedly “journalistic” accounts are sometimes revisionist histories, but that’s another topic altogether. Memoirs, however, are sometimes unabashedly biased or skewed towards an almost pornographic/voyeuristic look into private lives. Are you a long forgotten 1980s/1990s television co-star with a former co-dependency? Are you a non-famous person who endured unspeakable personal atrocities? If so, then your chances of selling a memoir to a publishing house are probably pretty high. I’m not trying to sound cold or unfeeling towards these sub-genres, but after awhile, there are only so many (likely ghostwritten) accounts that one can handle. The troubling subjects are explored with the stated goal of continuing the healing process, or reaching out to others with the same afflictions. Noble, yes, but after awhile, readers can become desensitized when so many similar titles have been released.

However, in my last days of corporate book selling, I excitedly came across a galley of The Long Goodbye, a memoir by poet/critic Meghan O’Rourke, a former editor with The New Yorker and The Paris Review, and The Long Goodbye by Meghan O'Rourkea current contributor to Slate magazine. My admiration for her writing stems back to 2010. When everyone in the literary community (myself included) was eagerly reading Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, O’Rourke wrote a stunning essay exploring the role of female authors in the goal of writing “The Great American Novel.” She wondered whether Freedom would have been as highly received had it been written by a woman, and almost immediately after, she was the recipient of several critiques herself, as well as a briefly altered Wikipedia page (“Despite her Yale education and privileged life, she believes she is at a great disadvantage as a writer because she is a not a (yawn) white male”). These attacks were utterly unfounded, and that single example of her writing hooked me. Her arguments were precise, but not attacking; rather, the overall atmosphere was that of someone seeking an honest, open discussion about an aspect of the literary community that needed to be out in the open. Plus, while I’m still a huge fan of Mr. Franzen, I agreed with her statements, and was bewildered that people would take her words as personal attacks. I made immediate mental notes to read more of her bibliography. While my hope was to catch up on her poetry, I found myself beginning to read more of her work with The Long Goodbye, an account of her mother’s cancer and imminent death, and their many personal implications.

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