Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Best Book of the Year So Far: Kris Kleindienst

Jay, Danielle, Kris, and a man who
has hurt many many Cubs fans
over the years. Why Tony,  why?

Kris Kris Kris Kris. What can we tell you about our pal Kris Kleindienst besides the fact that it's impossible to remember how to spell her last name? Well, Kris is part owner of the historic, meteoric, anthropomorphic, ginormic, when you get there you feel euphoric...Left Bank Books in St. Louis. Who does she co-own the store with? Oh, just her husband Jay who promised he would send in a piece for this amazing theme we have going here and hasn't come through. Apparently he was too busy speaking at the new Amazon warehouse in Tennessee! Oh, wait that was Obama. Always getting them confused. 

On to Ms. Kleindienst's favorite book so far...

My favorite book this year was On Sal Mal Lane. Comparisons to Dickens are not far off, but I am put in mind more of To Kill a Mockingbird. The tale chronicles the lives of the varied assortment of families living on Sal Mal Lane, as experienced particularly through the eyes of the children there. As the tentative bonds of proximity work their magic in the lives of the residents, the civil war brewing at the boundaries begin to intrude. It is a beautiful, lushly and lovingly written account full of a sense of place and history, but brilliantly universal as well.

And Now, Another Awkward Text Conversation Between Gianna and Liz

We interrupt our round-up of the best best of 2013 so far with another text conversation gem. Gianna is house sitting for a friend right now, and that friend has a pool. I think we've already covered that she regularly sends me pictures of bugs and critters to identify. Here's today's entry:

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Best Book of the Year So Far: Emily's, Pam's, and Stacey's Picks

Stacey, Emily, and Pam are three of the Random House telephone sales reps and all are great readers. Pam has an undying love of Mariah Carey, and Stacey lets me text her to make fun of Pam's deep, deep Mariah love. Emily? She's as tall as I am and incredibly twisted. What can I say? Being a book rep makes you a bit crazy.

Here's Pam's pick:

I would have to say that so far, this year, Bad Monkey is my favorite this year. Classic Carl Hiaasen. I love the characters he creates and how he always has something to say about how we’re destroying the environment with our greed. But the monkey was truly the star of the book. Great book for the beach.

Here's Emily's pick:

The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can Eat by Edward Kelsey Moore
The story of three best friends growing up and gossiping together. I know.. cliché, right? Add in a fortune teller that is scared of her own demise, the ghost of one of their mothers that still loves her weed, and Eleanor Roosevelt among many others and you get one hell of a fun ride through their lives. Also, it is the only book so far that my book group has agreed was excellent. They even highlighted and dog-eared their copies! Trust me, that never happens.

And here's Stacey's:
Edward Kelsey Moore signing a hell of a lot of books
at the Random House warehouse. Stacey is third from the left,
Pam is the extremely short person beside her, and Emily is
the woman of above average, beautiful height just to the right
of the author. 

I also choose The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat by Edward Kelsey Moore. It’s a wonderfully witty and compassionate story of friendship among three women, as together they conquer the many ups and downs of life in a small town. It will make you laugh and cry, and ultimately fall in love with “The Supremes.” As Emily mentions, it is absolutely perfect for book groups. We had the pleasure of spending a day with Edward Kelsey Moore, and he is as delightful as the characters he created!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Best Book of the Year So Far: Scott Montgomery

We doubt you will be able to go into the MysteryPeople section at BookPeople in Austin, Texas, and walk away without a book. Actually, we know for a fact that it’s impossible to talk to Scott Montgomery about any book and not want to read it. He’s that good at what he does. He also wears a lot of cowboy type shirts, and has been seen in a hat that looks to me like a Raiders of the Lost Arc type of situation. Why wouldn’t you buy a book from a man like that?

Scott’s favorite book of 2013 so far:

Reed F. Coleman
Onion Street  (A Moe Prager Mystery) by Reed Farrel Coleman is definitely my favorite book of 2013 so far. The author
 goes back 1968 to look at his PI, Moe Prager, when he was a young man and involved in a complex mystery which included holocaust revolutionaries and the mafia (along with some of his own pals). Onion Street is one of the best-plotted books in the series; it gives a moving examination of friendship, love, youth, during a tumultuous time. This latest novel is further proof why Reed Farrel Coleman is the greatest living private eye writer.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Best Book of the Year So Far: Cody Morrison

Cody is the buyer at Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi. Square Books is a gem of a store, the cornerstone for Oxford and a destination for all book lovers. Oxford is a literary Mecca, Faulkner's home, and Square Books? It was the PW Bookstore of the Year this year. As for Cody, he's one of our favorite people (other than that he didn't name his daughter "Little Liz." I keep score).

Here's Cody's pick:

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

Every few years there comes along a debut novel that just steals my heart because the work is so transcendent and such an unexpected joy to read. I'm thinking of Tea Obreht with The Tiger's Wife or Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything is Illuminated for example. Well, now it's Anthony Marra with his remarkable A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. Set in contemporary Chechnya against a back drop of war and insurgency, it is a testament to Marra's skill that the novel is heartbreaking but ultimately uplifting. It even made me want to read up on Chechen history and that's something that I never thought I would say. Do yourself a favor and check out this splendid new writer of whom Ann Patchett says, "If this is where Anthony Marra begins his career, I can't imagine how far he will go."

Friday, July 26, 2013

Best Book of the Year So Far: Emily Bruce

Well, I just love Emily. She can hand sell any book to anyone and is probably the smartest person I know in the book business. I know, if she's so smart why isn't she in a different business (ha ha ha....sad). Emily is a children's sales rep for Random House who is credited/blamed for getting me a job at Random House back in 2001. Emily is a rule breaker who refused to follow our simple directions of choosing one book (who in this business can't do that?); rebel until the end, she has chosen four.

Here are four of Emily's favorite books of 2013 so far:

When Gianna asked me to pick my favorite book of 2013 (so far), I thought it would be easy. I was wrong. As I started looking at the list of books I’ve read this year, I kept changing my mind…so I’m writing about a few and maybe she’ll decide I’m cool enough to include more than one:

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell – I will admit I picked up this book because of the cover. It’s set in 1986 and it’s about two teenagers who wind up falling in love. They’re both outcasts at school and they become friends over comic books and music. Eleanor’s home life is a mess and through her relationship with Park, she winds up finding her own voice. I loved the author’s writing style so much that I immediately picked up her previous book, The Attachments, and can’t wait for her next book, Fangirl. Eleanor and Park is shelved in the young adult/teen sections in bookstores but don’t let that deter you – it’s a great read, especially for anyone who wasn’t part of the cool kid group in high school (and nicely pairs with Stargirl, one of my all-time favorite books).

Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen – I read everything Carl Hiaasen writes – adult books, kids books – anything. Gianna might say I like him so much because he is good lookin’ (he is) but I also like him because his books are hilarious. His characters are colorful and his books perfectly capture the nuttiness that is the state of Florida – and bonus: the good guys always win in the end. I could tell you about the plot of this book – a cop with a human arm in his freezer, a wacko voodoo witch, real estate hijinks and of course, an incredibly bad monkey - but really, if you want a wickedly funny read, Bad Monkey is the book for you…and then go check out his kids books (Hoot, Flush, Scat and Chomp) where the kids always outsmart the adults.

Never Go Back by Lee Child – This doesn’t come out until September but there are plenty of Lee Child books available now to hold you over – and here is the good news: you don’t have to read them in any order. Pick one up and I’ll bet you’ll pick up another and another – if you like page turners, you can’t go wrong with Lee Child’s books. They all center on a character named Jack Reacher – a former military police officer who doesn’t have a home and travels around the United States with only a toothbrush, passport and his ATM card. He always seems to find himself in interesting situations – and those situations usually wind up with me staying up until the wee hours of the morning because I can’t put the book down. At a sales conference years ago, someone said “Jack Reacher is the man every man wants to be – and the man every woman wants to be next to” – and I couldn’t agree more…and I can’t wait for the next one.

Wonder – So technically, I didn’t read Wonder this year but I think it’s a book everyone should read (and if you’re making a list, please add Stargirl and All Over But the Shoutin’ to that must-read list). It’s a hard book to describe but I read it almost two years ago and I think about it almost every day – and I’ve been known to tear up when talking about it (awkward). Auggie, the main character, is born with a facial deformity and until now, he’s been home schooled. The book begins as he’s starting 5th grade in a new school – you’ll hold your breath, hoping for the best, watching him navigate friendships and bullies. It’s simply a beautiful story that will make you feel better about the world – and will remind you how a little kindness can go a long way.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Best Book of the Year So Far: Danny's and Sarah's Pick

Sarah is one of the buyers at Changing Hands (see: Tempe, hot, dust storms, reptile haven), and Danny is a receiver in the store. They both agree that American Dream Machine by Matthew Specktor is the best book they've read thus far this year. Sarah put us on to Danny's blog, Some Damn Fool's Opinions, where he reviews books and movies and shares his musings. Trust us: this is a blog to explore. In the meantime, though, we're using his blog post for American Dream Machine here.

Grade: A

A Hollywood story is a tricky thing to write. Especially nowadays, when the public love affair with the movie industry is long over and we view celebrities as over-privileged rich assholes who keep butting into our social and political arenas and ought to just shut up and entertain us. Monkeys. How then does a writer proceed? The easy answer is to view the industry, and the entire town, indeed as many have done, with a cynical eye. Render those Hollywood types into shallow caricatures who we can laugh at even though their lives are better than our own. But in American Dream Machine, author Matthew Specktor doesn’t take the easy route. He uses the town, and the film business, as a backdrop to tell the story of a man’s rise, fall, rise to even greater heights, spectacular fall, rise yet again, and once again fall, and how the echoes of this man’s successes and failures affected his offspring. In short, this book is a deeply personal tragedy, or series of tragedies really, that, while remaining cooly detached enough to stay hip and not delve into melodrama, isn’t afraid of deeply sentimental moments.

The novel follows the life of Beau Rosenwald-seen through the eyes of his illegitimate son Nate-and his extreme ups and downs. Beau is overweight, ugly, and obnoxious, but can talk his way through any situation. He’s a Hollywood agent who loves what he does for only the most visceral of reasons. He’s no artist, no fan of art in fact, but believes powerfully in movies and loves the challenge of the deal. American Dream Machine tells his life story, and through it, brings life to Hollywood, the film industry, and the sense of time passing. Time passing is a big theme in this novel as it has no problem skipping ahead great amounts of time yet never losing its sense of urgency. The title itself refers to the name of the talent agency that Beau opens with his friend Williams, along with a few other colleagues, and conquers Hollywood with. There is everything you expect in a novel like this, power struggles, personal and professional tragedies, the straining of the offspring of powerful men to separate themselves from their fathers, but though all this seems familiar, the novel never delves into the cliché. The material is fresh, mostly due to dead-on characterization, pitch-perfect dialogue, and a cynical love of all the characters that inhabit this world.

There is a mystery, a few mysteries in fact, moving the plot forward in this book. The mysteries involve an unexplained death, a missing person, and family trees. The beauty of these mysteries is that the novel doesn’t depend on them. They’re plot devices, yes, but it’s more that they’re character defining obsessions. The reader won’t even fully realize we’re reading a mystery until we come to the big reveal moments, and then realize we’ve been hooked all along. This will not be marketed as a mystery novel, and rightfully so as it has just about nothing in common with the Grishams and Pattersons of the world, but it seems to have the potential of a crossover hit.

Specktor’s voice is the standout star of this novel. He’s funny, he’s tragic, and most of all, he’s a story-teller. The fact that this novel spans over 40 years means naturally we’ll get to know a lot of different characters. People come and go throughout, and yet all of them feel fully realized and complicated. Time is such an important issue in this book and is dealt with masterfully. Specktor has no problem, often in the context of a single paragraph, reaching far back or forward in time. Using time this way, there is a constant uneasy sense of tragedy looming on the outskirts at all time. We know things are going to go bad, because we’re told all along that they will, so when the tragedy hits it feels like a foregone conclusion, a destiny.

This is Specktor’s third novel, by my count, and though I have yet to read his other work, he seems to be a rising star. And if word is true that this novel has been optioned for a Showtime series, then that could mean we’ll be hearing a lot more from him. To which I say, hooray.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Best Book of 2013 So Far: Bernard's Pick

Bernard Bonnet is the buyer at the Museum of Fine Art Houston, and we love him to death. When you sit down to sell, and I mean every time, even after years, it's an education about art (and sometimes politics). Also: he's French. In France one can major in bookselling. France is the most civilized country in the world for this reason. It's also extraordinarily difficult to walk out of his store without buying something; he carries everything from exhibition work to general art books, to some of the most gorgeous cookbooks I've ever seen. He also carries a few collectibles, and you can check the store out here.

Here is Bernard's pick for best book of 2013 so far:

Bad Boy: My Life On and Off the Canvas

In the early 90’s, I discovered Eric Fischl and since then, I have tracked down all the exhibition catalogues and monographs on his work. The first monograph, written by Peter Schjeldahl and published by Stewart, Tabori and Chang in 1988, was already out of print. I wanted this book badly. The rare copies I found in Paris where I was living at that time, were either too expensive or in a poor condition. I started to become obsessed with it. The book was always in my mind when I was visiting used book stores, flea markets or even general bookstores with a decent art section. At that time, before Internet, it was not very easy to find a book like that… It was my Grail. It took ten years to find my copy, in … Denton, Texas, and in a perfect shape, for nothing.

I met Fischl twice at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston … and now you know that, you can guess that, not only I have all his books but they are all signed… I am a happy fan and collector. What was going to happen next? This is the question every collector asks when he/she sees the end of the search, of the acquisitions, the end of the excitement. There is always a sort of dismay, emptiness … For my Fischl collection, the answer arrived on a routine appointment with my beloved Random House rep … Undreamed surprise: Bad Boy: My Life On and Off the Canvas by Eric Fischl was featured in the Spring 2013 catalogue … My wow was probably very loud [Actually, he squealed. It was delightful.]… I did not know he was writing his autobiography (sort of). I did not know Eric Fischl wanted to give me more than I had already, wanted to become my intimate friend.

Mr. Fischl on the left, our handsome friend Bernard on right 

I have just received the book. I have opened it, read the very funny and smart first chapter … and I have closed it. I have time to go farther since we are going on vacation together: Bad Boy is on the top of my stack. I’m so excited, impatient and at the same time already sad because I know I will finish it quickly… and I don’t want to finish it because after that, what?

I don’t know if Bad Boy is the best book of 2013, but it is my book, the book that had already its place in my library and therefore in my heart. So, of course, this is the best book of the year.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Best Books of 2013 So Far: Em's Pick

Em is a bookseller at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, Arizona. The Changing Hands booksellers are great readers because they live in Arizona and it's so hot there that planes aren't allowed to fly. And they have dust storms. And rattlesnakes. Really, if you lived in hell, wouldn't you love to at least have a great bookstore to frequent? There you go: Changing Hands.

Here's Em's pick:

Why is Written in Red the best book I’ve read this year? For one thing it’s Anne Bishop and urban fantasy – one of my favorite authors and favorite genres – colliding into one glorious book I read in a single sitting. Bishop has a knack for making you love her characters, and for sticking them in impossible situations they nevertheless manage to find their way out of. While this book may contain the urban fantasy standbys – clairvoyance, werewolves, vampires, etc. – Bishop makes them refreshingly different, and adds a few new things in besides (I won’t reveal too much, but expect to encounter Winter ice-skating on a lake, and trust me when I say you really don’t want to anger the elementals in this world). If you’ve never read Anne Bishop, strap yourself in and prepare for 400 pages of oh-my-god-this-is-the-best-thing-ever. If you have read her, I can promise she transitions from fantasy to urban fantasy with seamless grace.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Best Books of 2013 So Far: Stefan Merrill Block

Stefan Merrill Block, author of The Story of Forgetting and The Storm at the Door, was unable to limit himself to one favorite book. He was also unable to limit his list to four or five. He reminds us of us, so we let him get away with it. Plus we just adore him. 

Here are some of Stefan's favorite books of 2013 so far. Get a pen out; this is a great list. 

I keep promising myself I will devote my reading time to important old books, but how can I reach for the academic-dull spines of the Stendhal and Musil on my shelf when 2013 keeps seducing me with so many wonderful offerings? 

Some of my favorites: the new Rachel Kushner novel, The Flamethrowers, was a gutsy and brilliant treat. Sarah Bruni’s The Night Gwen Stacy Died is a great and peculiar love story; it’s perfect for fans of Joy Williams and Lorrie Moore. 

The paperback release of The Middlesteins, Jami Attenberg’s addictive book about family and obesity, gave me an excuse to read it all over again. 

On a recent road trip, I listened to the audiobook of Drinking with Men, read by the author. The drive was seven unbroken hours, and when I arrived I wouldn’t get out of the car until I got to the end of the chapter. 

I’m very braggy this week because I’ve just gotten my hands on the new Donna Tartt novel, The Goldfinch. I’m only two chapters in, but that little glimpse was enough for me to clear my evenings so that I can scarf down the rest. Kate Christensen’s new memoir, Blue Plate Special, is a deeply charming, honest, funny and beautiful book; I am a good eater, but Christensen’s lush and inventive descriptions of food are even better than the actual dishes. And the book I’ve been cheerleading for most is Eric Lundgren’s surreal, dystopian, heartbreaking debut, a philosophical mystery called The Facades, out this September.