Tuesday, June 30, 2009

One of the best things about my job is that I get to open the "white box". My heart does a little leap, I get all excitable when I see it sitting next to my desk. In the white box are advanced reading copies from publishers, the books that aren't yet published, that they want us to know about. ABA (American Booksellers Association) member bookstores get these white boxes sent to them once a month and it's like a little birthday party every time.

One of the last boxes was opened in the presence of another children's bookseller, whose name is also Rene, and it was full of KID'S BOOKS! Books of all types are cool, but the YA box really thrills me- One of the best things in this box was a pink and white galley of Sarah Dessen's new book, Along for the Ride. I swooped in and pulled it out of the box, distracting Rene with clever dialogue about the other (almost as good as Sarah's) books that she might really enjoy. In my head, I was yelling, "MINE, MINE, MINE, MINE, MINE!"

Since then, many of us have shared the book and it is beginning to fray along the edges. I know there are at least two meal time mistakes coloring the pages and the cover is starting to curl. I love seeing how ARCs and bound manuscripts age as they get read and passed to the next person who would enjoy them. I often keep the ARCs I love up next to the finished copies of the book because all my memories of the story are in the reading copy.

I think Along for the Ride is Sarah Dessen's best book so far! She writes amazing stories about people who are just like us. Reading her books can let you see your life from the outside, giving you a little perspective on stuff.

She has written books about domestic abuse, teenage pregnancy, absent parents, crushes, pretty much everything you'd want to know about. In Along for the Ride, we meet Auden, her professor mother's perfect child, studious, serious, unable to sleep, wandering in the dark waiting for the next day to come and go. Auden decides to spend the summer away from her mother this year, going to live with her father, his young wife, and their new baby to see if she can separate herself from her regular, normal, life.

The moment Auden arrives in the little beach town, she begins to doubt whether this was a good idea. The baby won't stop screaming, her very young stepmother can't sleep and has no idea what to do, and her father is clueless about everything, putting his needs above all else. What is a girl to do? Well, Auden, being an insomniac and at loose ends, walks the streets of her little town all night, getting familiar with the locals, making a few friends, working at a little boutique, and getting to know Eli, another insomniac. Together, Eli and Auden prowl the town working away at their problems: Auden didn't have much of a childhood, she never learned to ride a bike, and Eli feels great guilt about the death of a friend.

Sarah's books have great characters and great plots, they deal with all kinds of relationships between teens and adults, they are funny and hopeful, and we can't recommend them highly enough. I would suggest a month's worth of Sarah Dessen books for this summer's reading. She has eight (nine?) or so books out, now, just enough to keep one occupied for a bit. Although you may want to whip through them all in a week you should savor them, read something else between, because she doesn't always write a book a year! She takes her time writing each one so it may be a while before the next comes in.

All of Sarah Dessen's books are published by Viking Books. Everything is in paperback now except for Along for the Ride which is $19.99. You adults out there who love a good story with great relationships will thoroughly enjoy Sarah's books. They make for very good Mother-Daughter book group fodder, lots of discussion points without the teenage angsty stuff that most adults seem unable to deal with.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I was getting ready to submit this post when I checked my Facebook page to find a note from my brother-in-law. Turns out that today's tide is the lowest of the year and tomorrow's will be a minus 2 (this is in Bandon, Oregon. The tides up here should be comparable, right?). This was the perfect note to read when writing about Jim Lynch's books and, when you are done reading The Highest Tide, you will feel compelled to head to the water's edge to look at stuff.

I just read Jim Lynch's new book, Border Songs and got a chance to hear him speak about it last night. I truly love the way the man writes.

Jim wrote The Highest Tide a few years ago and it quickly jumped to one of my top favorite books of all times. Funny, worrisome, a really good read, The Highest Tide is the story of a teen aged boy who discovers a giant squid washed up on the shores of Puget Sound.

When interviewed by the press about the find, he becomes known as a kind of young environmental prophet like his idol, Rachel Carson. He really isn't a prophet, just observant and worried about the changes he sees around the Sound.

The book is hysterically funny (air guitar champion of the world) and quite poignant (one of his best friends is an old woman who lives, literally, over the Sound) and a good story where the landscape is also one of the characters. When you live in a place like ours, dominated by such a body of water, you can really appreciate a book that describes the penis lengths of goeduck oysters, the quickness of tide changes, and the smell of a beach at low tide.

(A little aside: I write on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings while listening to Steve Sher's show on KUOW and today, because someone miscalculated an interview, he is re-running a show he did earlier this year with Curtis Ebbesmeyer, the author of a book called Flotsametrics (Collins, 26.95). Don't you love serendipity? I'm writing about The Highest Tide, things washing up on shores, and local guy, Curtis Ebbesmeyer, the reigning master of ocean currents, flotsam and jetsam, and the Nike shoes and rubber duckies washing up on shore, is on the radio!)

Now, in Jim's new book, Border Songs, we drive through the landscape of the border lands between Canada and Washington.

This is the story of a man who is a bit adrift in his world and is trying to find a way to anchor himself in it. The people on both sides of the border are just trying to get by in hard times. Dairy work is going south and there are small mansions springing up like mushrooms, occupied by wealthy weekend and summer folk, where little farms used to sit. Jobs are gone, drugs are plentiful, his mom's memory is sketchy, his dad's cows are sick, and so Brandon joins the Border Patrol.

Brandon is an awkward man, big and uneasy with people, and he drives back and forth along the two foot ditch that makes up the border between Canada and the US looking for illegal crossings and drugs. More comfortable with birds, many of them listed and counted up throughout the narrative, Brandon pays close attention to the world around him, constantly noting changes in color and scent, the changes in birdsong, using what he sees and notes to make art.

I don't think he sets out to be a good border guard, he spends a lot of time making frost angels and leaf bridges out in clearings in the woods, but he seems to always be right where someone is trying to cross the raspberry fields with buckets of pot or behind someone transporting illegal aliens in the trunk of a car. He eventually becomes the unlikely hero of his town which puts him smack dab in the middle of the public eye and at the top of the local drug runner's list of people to watch. All Brandon wants to do is take care of the cows, have a date with Maddie (his long-time crush who lives on the other side of the border), and make art that pleases him.

Again, Jim has given us characters we can fall a little in love with, and a view out the window we can poke our heads into, as we roll along with the Border Patrol.

(Highest Tide is a great book for teens and adults. Bloomsbury, paperback and hardcover. Border Songs is published by Knopf, hardcover only, 25.95. There is a beautiful, specially designed for Border Songs, limited edition broadside- a piece of typeset art- that can be yours with the purchase of the book from Third Place Books, Lake Forest Park. It's really cool.)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The City and the City

I spent the week during and around the big book show reading this great book by China Mieville, The City and The City. There's nothing like reading a book that is echoed by the world outside. The City and The City is a mystery set in two apparently Eastern European cities which just happen to occupy the same physical space. The people who live in Beszel, a poor, crumbling city, must walk and drive while unseeing the people who live in Ul Qoma, a glittering metropolis, who are also walking and driving down the same streets with different names, unseeing those who live in Beszel.

It was a little eerie to be sitting on the train in the subway, with Mieville's book in my hands, watching another train passing us and sliding below while the people on both trains were studiously avoiding any eye contact. Walking along the streets, skirting protuberances, crossing the street, weaving between people, missing each other by inches without meeting anyone's eyes; all way too easy to imagine two cities, two cities where you need a passport to visit the other.

I had dinner in a really packed restaurant on one of those nights at Union Square. I sat by myself along a wall lined with two people tables, with The City and The City as company. It was interesting to be reading this book, surrounded by young, hip, cell-phone connected people drinking a lot and talking at the tops of their voices, unnoticed by all except for the waiter who was part of my own private Beszel (or Ul Qoma, depending on who you talk to). So weird to see (or unsee) Manhattan in this way! It's the power of the written word, baby!

Here is a little bit about the book: The City and the City is a mystery. Tyador Borlu is a detective in Beszel's Extreme Crime department. A young woman is killed and ends up as his case. In talking to her friends and reviewing the few clues in the case, Tyador begins to suspect that she was killed one place and moved to another. This isn't good, not that murder ever is, but because she may have been killed in Ul Qoma and moved to Beszel. Tyador now must work with the Ul Qoma police force which means passports, borders, and radical politicians who either want to destroy one of the cities or the other, or meld them both into a single city.

The story is really good, the characters are well-drawn and I would love to meet them again, but the Cities are my favorite character. China Mieville has made an amazing world in these two cities, creating an entire mythology, sociology, and culture to allow the people sharing the space to live together separately. The idea of having two cities in the same place, in the same physical footprint, that you have to leave one and apply to go to the other as if you were going overseas, even while you are standing in that other city, is a brilliant one. This is a book worth reading twice. This is not a children's book, although older teens will enjoy it. (Del Rey, $26.00)

And when you have closed this book, you should give Un Lun Dun, also by China Mieville, a read. This is China's book about two kids who find a secret entrance into a city filled with broken and cast off things and people, "worthless" things thrown away by London residents. The girls are there because it was prophesied that one of them is to save Un Lun Dun from certain evil. This is another wonderful story also about two cities and how the residents of both live together. It is newly out in paperback and would be good for everyone 11 and older. (Del Rey, $9.00.)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

It has been a busy, busy month, almost exactly a month since last I posted. In that time many books have been read and passed along and many more new books have been collected and stacked in the living room (note to self: BUY BOOKSHELVES!) (another note to self: READ FASTER!).

One of the things that made the month so busy was going to the big book trade show in New York City; once a year booksellers and librarians from all around the world get together to preview new books, hear authors talk about their work, eat and drink way too much, and schmooze.

Going to the show is when I get to see all my amazing bookseller friends. I am in awe of how much they read and how much they do to bring books and people together. When we meet at dinners and on the buses back and forth to hotels and the conference center there is lot of laughter, a lot of sweet drinks and wine, and lists of books written on the backs of business cards. I love that this is where the magic happens, the only time we are all in the same place, talking about what we can't wait to tell you about.

So, some of the books on the back of those collected business cards are Shiver, the sequels to Hunger Games (Catching Fire) and Graceling (Fire), The Magician's Elephant, Leviathan, Liar, and Along for the Ride. And let me tell you, these books are definitely the ones you want on your shelves and wrapped in pretty paper for gifts come fall.

Shiver, by Maggie Stiefvater, is a book for all the Twilight fans waiting for something exceptional. When Grace was young she was bitten by the wolves living in the woods behind her house. As she grows up she finds herself fascinated by the lone yellow-eyed wolf that haunts the edge of the woods,waiting for him to show up every winter and pining for him in the summer. Sam lives in the woods during the winter watching Grace and yearning for the few months in the summer where he can be human. When Sam and Grace finally meet, they recognize each other immediately and must find a way to stay together. Shiver is one of the most romantic books I've read this spring and Sam may remind you of Edward-restrained and utterly devoted to Grace. Many men and boys will enjoy Shiver, too; it's exciting and full of danger. I already have a list of people this book goes to just as soon as it arrives in the store in August. Take our word for it: You will LOVE this book. Ages 14 and up. (Scholastic, available August '09.)

I'll fill you in on the other books mentioned above in the next posts!