Welcome to BEA

I attend blogger conferences a lot and people find that concept very confusing. They find Book Expo America, aka BEA, to be a little less confusing but still not something that makes a ton of sense. So I thought I would pass on a little bit of insight for those of you outside the book world to have an idea of just what happened to all of us last week. 

This was only my second BEA. I am by no means an expert. But at least it wasn’t the flailing confusion that I had the first time. Now I kind of get it. 

The short version is that BEA is a trade show for the book world. Publishers, authors, agents, booksellers, librarians, and reviewers all come together to see what’s happening. That kind of makes it sound very kumbaya. It’s really less singing and more lines. 

It’s kind of like Disneyland… except at the end of the line someone hands you a book and then you get in another line.

BEA takes place in the Javits Center in NYC. It’s 3 blocks long. And you feel it. Everyone talks about the books they got while they’re at BEA, then they talk about how much their feet hurt.

When you come inside, there are massive banners for books hanging from the glass ceiling.

Good morning #BEA15 looking beautiful as usual! Time to rep some awesome books! #kdpg #bookcon #bea

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Then you get to the floor, which looks like this:

Back at #bea2015 #Bea15 aimlessly wandering.

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Except that it just looks like that forever and ever and ever and why bother bringing a fitbit because you know you’ll walk 85 bajillion steps?

Seriously, it’s impossible to give you an idea of its size

The view from above. #bea15

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This picture shows you aisles 700 to 1900 or so. And even then you can barely see 700. You definitely can’t see all the way to the end. Plus the aisles kept going in the other direction into the 3000’s. And, of course, you always need one thing on one end and then have to go back to the other end for the next thing.

So what is it that we’re all doing here? 

Some of us are taking meetings and doing business. Some of us are trying to find contacts or build relationships. And some of us are here for the books. 

You see, the publishers all have booths on the floor. Some are big, some are small. But many of them have books. And they know that there will be many people at BEA who put books into the hands of readers by reviewing or selling or lending. They want those people to see their books. So you’ll see a lot of this:

Just one of our lines for giveaways this week #books #bea15

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Sometimes these piles are just there for the taking. Sometimes they require a line. 

Now the nice thing is that the line usually comes with a signing at the end. So you and the author can say hi. Sometimes these books are in the publisher booths. Sometimes they are in the “autographing area.” The Autographing Area makes me feel as though I’m about to be led up a ramp and zapped.

Part 2 autograph area #BEA2015 #bea15

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The drill becomes familiar. First line.

Oh good, now I know where I am! #BEA15

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(Good lines had signs and people keeping everything in order. Props to them. Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster all seemed to do pretty well. But the Macmillan line signs, pictured above, were by far my favorite.)

Then sign.

Ernest Cline signing a copy of Armada at #BEA15

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This continues throughout the day. Some of us intersperse this with other stuff. Some devote themselves solely to books. This all requires a tote bag. I brought my favorite one with me.

As you can see, my tote already has a few books in it. I tend to go light. I like e-galleys on my Kindle and save just the good stuff for hard copies. Others don’t.

And for some people it gets kind of out of control.

Gotta admit I'm jelly they got all these #books at #BEA15 and I've got like 5 ???? #booklover #booksonbooks

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That is why the roller bags are here. So that people who cannot possibly carry all their books around have something to put them in and a way to get them back to their hotel. There are lots of them.

The sea of roller bags. #bea15

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I am not a roller bag person. I am strictly a one tote bag person. And I prefer that that tote bag not be full. 

There is also a shipping area because sometimes you have too many books for your suitcase and you have to mail them home. 

I did go home with one small roller bag which was about half full of books. So it wasn’t a small haul. Less than 20, but not by a lot. 

It is really easy to get so caught up in everything that you don’t eat. It is easier because the cafeteria in the Javits is less than stellar and there’s really no decent food for several blocks. (Pro tip: I did snag a gyro from a place in the lower level called The Agape Cafe or something? And it was a pretty great gyro piled ridiculously high with lettuce, tomato, onion, and tzatziki and I’m pretty sure it was cheaper than a hot dog and fries. Also it was really delicious. And I’m kind of sad that I finally figured out Javits Center food the last day I’ll be there.)

For two days I walked back and forth across the floor. I said hi to the handful of people I knew. I took only one selfie with an author because we weren’t in line and I mean COME ON she’s a legend.

I waited in zero celebrity lines. And there are lots. Off the top of my head I can recall Jesse Eisenberg, Nathan Lane, Julianne Moore, Mindy Kaling, Felicia Day, Gloria Steinem, Bernadette Peters, etc. And those are just the non-book celebrities. The book celebrities are ridiculous. 

The funny thing is that the book world is so wide that I didn’t recognize the vast majority of names I saw. It’s a great opportunity to dig through the listings and explore new possibilities and try new things. Almost every book I got is by an author I haven’t read before. That’s exciting. There are picture books and middle grade and young adult and nonfiction of all kinds and fiction of all kinds and cookbooks and coffee table books and literally every possible book. It’s a big world.

I was lucky to attend BEA this year as a member of Book Riot, where I’ve been a ridiculously happy member of the crew for a year now. Last time I went was back in the day of Red Letter Reads, a tiny site with tiny numbers that no one had heard of. This year people knew who we were. It was weird and kind of exhilarating. 

But it wasn’t nearly as wonderful as getting to meet many of my fellow Rioters in person. 

Good morning from the Rioters who are in NYC this week! #BEA15

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Getting to hang with them was a huge highlight of BEA. I know from years of blog experience that you can become fast friends without ever meeting, and this was yet another confirmation. They are good people and my favorite.

I also got to spend a bunch of time with JoLee and her sister Paige who run the book blog Intellectual Recreation and who I have known for more years than I should admit publicly if I want to keep the belief going that I am 27. We roomed together, ate much food together, talked about curly hair together, and walked many blocks together. 

I obviously didn’t have this post all mapped out because we took zero selfies together. Bad blogger.

BEA is in many ways more work than a blogger conference, but it’s also less. I got home and went out a few minutes later (even though my feet were so sore by this point that I just started pretending they weren’t there). Blogger conferences usually take me a few days to recover from the forced extroversion. But BEA lets you be as much of a hermit as you’d like, though you’re still surrounded by people. It’s not a place where people are chatty and constantly introducing themselves, although plenty of conversations happen. It’s not a place where you’re afraid to ditch your friends and go wait in a line by yourself that no one else wants to wait in. And happily, for many of us, we have no qualms about our book choices.

I went home with this

Hey-o! #BEA2015

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And I really don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed or like I can’t tell people. I’m really excited to read it. 

People walked around with high fantasy, YA, indie books, etc. Just people who love reading and that’s that. Also people who love tote bags. Because so many tote bags. 

Next year BEA will be in Chicago and I will definitely be there. It’ll be an adventure to leave the Javits, but I’m really hopeful that there will be better food and maybe, just maybe, less walking. A girl can dream.

Summer Reading Picks

affiliate links pic Summer Reading PicksIt’s time for summer reading lists. They’re popping up everywhere. I’m pulling from (mostly) the last couple years to find the best options for your airplane seat or beach chair. Not everyone wants the same beach read so I’m dividing these up into Light, Medium, and Heavy fare. 

First off, the sad news. You’ll have to wait until late-Summer and Fall for a bunch of great picks. Upcoming memoirs and essays from Mindy Kaling Summer Reading Picks and Jenny Lawson Summer Reading Picks aren’t out until August/September. Sad face. Same goes for upcoming nerd fodder in Felicia Day’s memoir Summer Reading Picks (out in August) and the new novel from Ready Player One Summer Reading Picks author Ernest Cline, Armada Summer Reading Picks, which is out in mid-July. Get your pre-order game on accordingly. 

summer picks Summer Reading Picks

Light Reads

 Summer Reading Picks Summer Reading PicksCrazy Rich Asians Summer Reading Picks is a perfect pick for this category, fluffy and indulgent, perfect for people who secretly read gossip magazines or celebrity websites but only with guilt. The sequel is out in June, China Rich Girlfriend Summer Reading Picks, and author Kevin Kwan follows the same kind of formula (family clashes, relationship drama, ridiculous wealth, all with maximum melodrama and a humorous, light touch) moving the setting from Singapore to mainland China. He keeps many of the main characters, but I was relieved that I didn’t need a refresh on who was who, the book picks right up and you’ll be fine if you have only vague recollections of Nicholas, Rachel, Astrid, and the rest. Another pick on the rich and famous: The Royal We Summer Reading Picks by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan. American girl falls for English prince, paparazzi, drama, and hilarity ensue.

Want scares? Go for The Deep Summer Reading Picks by Nick Cutter. It takes the everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink approach to scares and has kind of a Stephen King-slash-Michael Crichton feel. Speaking of King, his thriller Mr. Mercedes Summer Reading Picks is really, really good and makes you wonder why King went for horror when he does crime so well. (King has a new novel, Finders Keepers Summer Reading Picks, coming out this summer but I haven’t read it yet.) 

Swinging 60’s London is the scene of Funny Girl Summer Reading Picks, from author Nick Hornby, who’s written plenty of smart and super readable novels. Following a small town girl who becomes a famous TV comedienne, it’s good for fans of zippy dialogue and quick wit. 

If you want twisty and turny, don’t overlook YA. The genre is busting with plot-heavy novels that you can read at breakneck pace. I have a bunch of great picks here. Tiny Pretty Things Summer Reading Picks is basically Mean Girls meets Center Stage. Elite ballerinas, sabotage, betrayal, all that fun stuff. Authors Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton are great writers, so the book feels like more than a soapy romp, there are real characters and real stakes.

 Summer Reading Picks Summer Reading PicksWant realistic teenage struggle and romance? If you’ve run out of John Green books, you should try Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda Summer Reading Picks for lots of heart, great characters, excellent dialogue, and a pageturning love story. Simon hasn’t come out yet, but he’s fallen in love with a boy online whose identity he doesn’t know. When he’s threatened with blackmail, it all gets kind of crazy. One of the best high school coming-of-age novels I’ve read. For another YA with strong characters and a realistic feel, try The Distance Between Lost and Found by Kathryn Holmes (which has some religion and survivalism thrown in to boot) and Guy In Real Life (which has geeks and video games). 

 Summer Reading Picks Summer Reading PicksIf you prefer more sci-fi flavor, try The Cage by Megan Shepherd. A group of teens wake up to find themselves in an impossible place where there are empty buildings and strange black windows. It isn’t long until they realize they’re being held captive and that someone (or something) is watching. The first in a new series. Another great choice is The Leveller, set in the near-future in a world with virtual reality. Protagonist Nixy makes bank by finding kids in the virtual world and delivering them to their parents for bounty. She gets the job of her life when she’s sent to rescue the son of the billionaire developer who created the game who doesn’t want to be found. 

 Summer Reading Picks Summer Reading PicksThe Cost of All Things by Maggie Lehrman is pitched as We Were Liars meets Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and it’s actually a pretty decent comparison. (Usually these X Meets Y pitches are sketchy at best.) It takes place in a world a lot like our own, except for the existence of hekamists (basically, witches) who can do magic but are outlawed from practicing it. So of course there’s a black market for their services, and plenty of their spells are cast on people without their knowledge. It gets really complicated and really messy, a great plot concept that’s pretty well executed.

Medium Reads

There are plenty of big books from the last year or so that you may not have caught up with yet. Now’s the perfect time.

 Summer Reading Picks Summer Reading PicksThough it came out last summer, still building buzz and going strong is Everything I Never Told You, a family drama with a mystery feel that would be great for your book club. Author Celeste Ng mines the family-secrets-in-the-suburbs genre but subverts it by focusing on the family that doesn’t really fit in, Chinese immigrant James Lee, his white wife Marilyn, and their three children. They are much more than they appear on the surface and the book’s slow reveals are fascinating.  

For a feel-good memoir with plenty of heart, go for Yes, Please by Amy Poehler. It was one of the big books at the end of 2014 and if you didn’t catch it then you should definitely catch it now. 

Riding a very long train of buzz still leftover from Fall 2014 is Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, which really is as good as everyone says it is. With its mix of graphic novel geekdom and high Shakespeare with apocalypse thrown in for good measure, it’s appeals to a really broad readership. Along

 Summer Reading Picks Summer Reading PicksGirl on the Train by Paula Hawkins is the big-buzz book of early 2015. If you haven’t read it yet, summer vacation is a good time to catch up. It falls in the Medium section rather than Light because it has the dark plot and unlikable characters that are kind of in vogue now with the successes of Gone Girl and The Dinner. While not as good as those two (they are pretty killer in the genre) it’s a tightly plotted book. If you don’t like books about bad people, skip it. Because the whole premise is that the main character, who is descending ever deeper into self-destructive alcoholism, has potentially witnessed a crime while on a bender. 

Now, let’s move on from what everybody’s reading to talk about what more people should be reading.

 Summer Reading Picks Summer Reading PicksIf you haven’t yet jumped on the Rainbow Rowell train, now is a great time. Landline, her most recent novel, is one of my favorites of hers. Some may put Rowell books automatically in the Light Reads category, but I don’t. She isn’t afraid to put her characters in situations where there isn’t an easy solution and they aren’t their best selves. If you’ve been married (especially with kids) chances are you’ll find a lot that’s familiar in the story of Georgie McCool and her troubled marriage. Of course it’s not all difficult and sad. Georgie is a comedy writer, she’s funny even when she’s in the midst of a crisis, and it’s fun to tag along with her. The twist of magical realism in the book works astonishingly well, allowing Georgie to have conversations with her husband… except she’s calling back in time to speak to a younger version of him. Rowell makes her characters work for happiness, she doesn’t just bestow it on them, and it’s one of the things I love about her.

If you’re looking for something fast-paced with complex subject matter try Hyacinth Girls by Lauren Frankel. Rebecca is raising Callie, the daughter of her best friend, after her mother died. When Callie is accused of bullying at school, Rebecca thinks back to her own tumultuous teenage years and is determined to prove Callie’s innocence. But after she does, Callie starts being targeted and Rebecca worries that it will all end in the same tragedies she lived through. 

For suspense-driven horror that’s more than cheap frights, be sure to read Bird Box by Josh Malerman, the single most terrifying book I’ve ever read in absolutely the best way. It really is suspense and not horror, but it’s just so expertly done and ultimately unrelenting that it starts to feel like horror. I’m not going to tell you anything about it. But I know a lot of people who have read this book and the results are almost entirely very, very enthusiastically positive.  A good matching book would be Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes, part police-procedural, part trippy horror, set in gritty Detroit. 

 Summer Reading Picks Summer Reading PicksPolice procedural fans probably already know that Richard Price put out a new novel this year even though it’s officially “Richard Price writing as Harry Brandt.” Long story. Anyway. The Whites is, like many of Price’s novels, gritty and gut-wrenching and perfect. Price doesn’t write pulpy procedurals where the hot young FBI agent and the hot young psychiatrist consulting on the case fall in love. His books zero in on the blue collar life of cops and the lives of the criminals they chase. The Whites is all about revenge and has two parallel plot lines that come together so well that only a top caliber novelist could pull it off. You get intimately acquainted with the rhythms of detective Billy Graves’ life, but you also race through the story to solve a string of murders targeting murderers who managed to avoid prison time for their crimes. Seriously satisfying, one of my best books of the year for sure. 

 Summer Reading Picks Summer Reading PicksFor a crime novel that’s less procedural and more of an old school feel (think Agatha Christie or Sherlock Holmes) try The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino. There’s a lot of fantastic crime fiction in Japan, but this one has a throwback style complete with an eccentric physicist who advises his detective friend on cases and a plot that’s so meticulously constructed that you have no idea how complex it is until the last page. I was in awe of this book. I listened to it and physically gasped at the end. I wanted to applaud the author. And read all his other books. (Only 2 more are currently translated into English. Let’s fix that.) Just don’t read this one on a plane. I made that mistake and when it was over all I wanted to do was talk about it or meditate on it and instead I was just stuck on a plane (which is basically the worst). 

If spy novels are more your speed, I can definitely recommend The Distance by Helen Giltrow. It’s not your normal spy novel, but it has that same kind of breakneck pace and shadowy secret figures. After reading this, I suspected it would appeal to the John Le Carre and Tom Clancy crowd so I gave it to my Mom, who gave it a very positive review. Karla “gets things done” for powerful people. But her newest job for a mysterious client is to kill a target in an experimental and impenetrable prison colony. There are layers and layers of intrigue, and a plot that left me in awe. 

 Summer Reading Picks Summer Reading PicksSlow down a little for Eden West, a moderately paced but mesmerizing book about a teenage boy who’s been brought up in a religious commune. At first they seem unusual and mostly harmless, with antiquated social orders and a live-off-the-land heartiness. But as Jacob grows up he sees more and more that troubles him and starts to question everything he’s ever known. Especially when the world becomes much more real when he encounters a girl from the outside on one of his border patrolling trips. Author Pete Hautmann does so well with this book because he treats Jacob’s beliefs with respect and understands the struggle and compromise that comes with religion and community. 

 Summer Reading PicksFor more of the drama that comes with community, read The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez, about a group of immigrants who live in the same apartment complex. They come from different countries, they have vastly different backgrounds, but they all have the same dreams and they come together for better of for worse in this book. At the center of the story is Maribel, a teenager whose parents have brought her to the US to be treated for a traumatic brain injury. Mayor, the boy across the hall, sees in her a 

Heavy Reads

While summer reads for many people mean light or fast reads, there are those of us who like something meaty and difficult to contrast with our relaxed surroundings. For you guys, I have some bigger reads. 

 Summer Reading Picks Summer Reading PicksThere are several recent releases that fit the bill. Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins, a companion novel to Life After Life, is out now. Either one would be a hefty summer read. The books follow 2 siblings in a large family. Ursula lives and dies and lives and dies and lives again in Life After Life, getting a little farther and doing a little better and being a little different each time. It’s an interesting conceit that lets you explore characters in significant depth while seeing them in drastically different circumstances. A God in Ruins is a more traditional novel that follows Ursula’s brother Teddy, focusing mostly on his time as a pilot in WWII, his marriage and daughter, and eventually his grandchildren. The book flashes forward and backward through Teddy’s life, saving key bits of insight to be revealed after you thought you understood everything. Atkinson is a wily writer but also a wise one. It is the kind of heavy novel that’s all about humanity and family and love and war and what it all means. 

 Summer Reading Picks Summer Reading PicksThere is also the final novel from Kent Haruf out in bookstores. Haruf writes quiet, meditative novels set in the mountain west. Our Souls at Night is the kind of book that has only a small amount of plot. It is grounded firmly in realism and exploring its characters. Addie is a widow and Louis is a widower. They are older, parents of adult children, and have known each other for many years. They forge a new relationship, something between friendship and romance, creating real intimacy and (of course) setting the neighbors talking. Much of the book is the conversations of these two, their thoughts, their dreams, their regrets. It is spare, delicate, rich with emotion, and best read in the quiet evening air. 

 Summer Reading Picks Summer Reading PicksI know someone who took Missoula, the new nonfiction book by powerhouse Jon Krakauer, on vacation because it was the only way she would be able to get through it. There’s something to be said for taking this difficult book to a place that is soothing so it’s a little easier to deal with. Missoula follows several young women in a Montana college town. Each of these women is raped by someone who is an acquaintance or a close friend, and each of them struggles with what to do. As these crimes turn into a problem that takes over the community, Krakauer examines how we respond to rape in our society, especially the myths that abound about how victims respond to rape and the complex issues around non-stranger rape. 

If you haven’t yet tackled the big doorstop of 2013, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, and the big doorstop of 2015, A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, you now have no excuses. If you love big books but can’t fit them into your busy life, use your vacation. (And preferably your e-reader because they really are heavy.)

If I had a vacation, I’d probably think about finally reading Redeployment by Phil Klay, the highly praised book of connected stories about soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and what happens to them when they return. War books are tough for me, and I tend to put them off, if you’re in the same boat you may want to pick it up. 

So that’s the list! It should have something for pretty much everyone. I’d love to hear your suggestions for what you’re taking with you to read this summer.

Let’s Get Excited About April Books!!

I know I get excited about books EVERY month, but I can’t help it and each month is a new round of enthusiasm. It just is! I’m sure other hardcore readers get it, that every month of new releases is another wealth of treasures to enjoy. As usual, links are Amazon affiliate links that help support the blog and don’t cost you anything.

But enough already because OMG NEW TONI MORRISON!!

If you didn’t read the absolutely incredible piece on the venerable Ms. Morrison in the NYT Magazine last weekend, you must do so right now. 

 Lets Get Excited About April Books!! But let’s talk about her new book, God Help the Child Lets Get Excited About April Books!!. Because it’s by someone with as much of a reputation as Toni Morrison, it’s going to be reviewed everywhere and those reviews will be all over the map. I’ll leave it to you to make up your own mind, but I will try to talk you into reading it. 

I’m one of those people who had to read Song of Solomon in school. At least, I think I did. I don’t remember ever talking about it in class, but I remember the experience of reading it so clearly. It was one of those books that changed what I realized books were capable of doing. It’s still probably my favorite of her novels. I have gone back and forth on her more recent work. But I liked her last novel, A Mercy, even if I didn’t adore it. For me, God Help the Child felt like a real Toni Morrison novel. It had that sense of timelessness even though it’s set in a specific time. It had that tinge of allegory and fable and surrealism that keeps the next step in the plot always hovering beyond your vision and leaving you unsure of what is possible and impossible. 

It explores child abuse mostly, through several lenses and a few points of view. It’s also about self-actualization, about skin color, about healing, about many things. While child abuse is at its center, it is not described in detail, so those of you who struggle with the topic don’t necessarily need any kind of trigger warning. It is about the repercussions more than the acts. 

It’s a short novel, and some will surely feel like it doesn’t do enough. I was pleased with its length. But you can make your own decision. And you should. It’s out Tuesday the 21st, so go get a copy. 

 

Next up: let’s get excited about Fifteen Dogs Lets Get Excited About April Books!! by André Alexis. 

 Lets Get Excited About April Books!! Lets Get Excited About April Books!!I know what you’re thinking: why should you be excited about a book you’ve never heard of from an author whose name isn’t familiar? Yeah, so it’s not a new Toni Morrison release. But you’ve already got that. And actually I think this novel has a bit of a kinship with a Morrison book. They both share that feeling that the story is almost more fable than novel. 

It’s rare that I read a book and think, “I don’t know anyone who won’t like this.” This is one of those books. I’m probably wrong. Surely someone will not like it. But they’ll be the exception.

My efforts to explain the book may not convince you. I know that the plot had me feeling unsure of whether this was something I wanted to read. Just do it. It’s one of these books that has something meaningful to say about life and being human, and yet it also has a plot that moves at stunning speed and characters you are legitimately connected to.

It’s also about dogs. Did I mention that? There are also gods. But mostly dogs. Dogs that, through a trick of fate, suddenly get the intelligence of a human while still having the needs and instincts of a canine. I want to tell you everything about this book, it is that kind of book, where you want all your friends to read it. In fact, skip reading it. Just have your book club and all your friends read it. Then you will feel much better when it’s over and you can talk about it obsessively with everyone.

You will love it. And you will seriously consider naming your next dog Majnoun. It’s out now.

 

That’s an awful lot to be excited about. But there’s still more.

 Lets Get Excited About April Books!! Lets Get Excited About April Books!!There’s Attica Locke’s third novel. If you don’t know her, you totally should. She writes the kind of books John Grisham wanted to write and never quite wrote and then stopped writing and started writing drivel instead. Her books are dark, full of intrigue, packed with corruption, and all that good stuff. (Locke just happens to be on the writing staff for Empire. If you need her bona fides.) Her third book, Pleasantville Lets Get Excited About April Books!!, goes back to the protagonist of her first novel, the excellent Black Water Rising. You don’t need to read that one first. You can read her books in any order. And you should. She’s one of my favorite thriller writers. Out Tuesday April 21st.

 Lets Get Excited About April Books!! Lets Get Excited About April Books!!And there’s Heidi Julavits’ new unconventional memoir, The Folded Clock Lets Get Excited About April Books!!, a diary of one year in her life given in non-chronological order. I have been kind of obsessed with Julavits since I read this book and listened to two episodes of Selected Shorts reading excerpts from last year’s Women in Clothes, which she co-edited and which I am C-R-A-Z-Y crazy about and must acquire immediately. The Folded Clock does require you to try not to hate Julavits a bit, since she is writing about her life as a professional writer who lives in New York City except when she’s summering in Maine or when she’s on a trip to Italy. That kind of thing. But there are bits of this book so funny that you really wish she was your best friend and that she’d invite you to the house in Maine. Out now.

 Lets Get Excited About April Books!! Lets Get Excited About April Books!!And there’s Oye What I’m Gonna Tell You Lets Get Excited About April Books!!, a book of short stories by Cecilia Rodriguez Milanes mostly about Cuban-American young women and the generational conflict that comes in immigrant families. Milanes hooked me pretty early, with stories that end even though you want at least 5 more pages. It’s a great collection and I loved the way each character’s journey felt so different and yet they all felt connected. Out on Tuesday the 21st. 

Okay. I think that’s enough excitement for one month.

But in May we can totally get excited again.

Intro to Romance

affiliate links pic Intro to RomanceI’ve always thought of myself as someone who will read anything, as long as it speaks to me somehow. But that wasn’t really true until recently. There was one genre that I would not touch because I deemed it lesser: Romance.

I had never read a single Romance novel, so I didn’t have any actual evidence. I just knew the covers looked silly, the plots sounded boring, I’d always been told they weren’t worth my time, and I never bothered to see if my impressions were born out in fact. 

As years passed, I started to realize that more and more of my friends read romance novels. People I liked and respected. And as I got more involved with the book world, I found more and more people I admired who admitted proudly that they were Romance readers. 

The honest truth is that most of us have opinions about Romance that have much more to do with the industry a few decades ago than they do now. (I found this article really fascinating now that I’m a little more in the know.) 

Eventually I decided the time had come. I needed to tackle Romance for myself and see what it was all about. 

To start, I did one very important thing: I asked for recommendations from people I trusted. Many romance authors write several novels and you can often start in the middle of a series so what I needed was which authors I should try first to get a feel for things. Many thanks to Amanda for helping me get started.

Here’s what happened on my adventures.

 Intro to Romance Intro to RomanceRomance Novel #1: First Time in Forever by Sarah Morgan. Contemporary Romance

Luckily Morgan was just starting a new series, Puffin Island, so the timing was right for me to try the first book. The book is published by HQN, a Harlequin imprint that publishes all subgenres of Romance. This was actually my least favorite of all the books I tried, it did what I expected, it relied heavily on familiar tropes and plot twists. And yet. I was relaxed when I read it. I wasn’t rushed. I wasn’t worried. I just went with it and let the book take me along. It was pleasant, it was nice, and I found the male lead attractive even if he seemed too perfect. What’s wrong with perfect? What’s wrong with happy endings? Especially since my life these days feels pretty far from the kind of perfect you find in this book.

 Intro to Romance Intro to RomanceRomance Novel #2: Shoulda Been a Cowboy by Maisey Yates. Contemporary Romance

Another HQN book and another book at the beginning of a series, and actually a novella rather than a novel, I admit my expectations for this book were low. My first try had been pretty predictable, and this book had the word “cowboy” in the title so I was kind of worried. But there weren’t actually any real cowboys in this book. There was a ranch that the characters visited a couple of times, but no horses, no lassos, no rodeos. Not only that, I realized I like Maisey Yates. She’s got a sense of humor that’s zippy and fun, the dialogue between her characters was strong and witty. The backstory she set up between “bad boy” Jake and “nice girl” Cassie gave them real emotional depth and set up legitimate obstacles for the plot to move forward. They felt like real people, not the perfect people I’d found in First Time in Forever, who seemed to have plenty of money, plenty of options, plenty of everything. These lives were complicated, the choices weren’t easy, and the things that made life hard weren’t things that only seemed that way in their heads. I liked it. I requested Yates’ next two books in the Copper Ridge series. 

By this point if you’re not a Romance reader you’re probably wondering: yes, but what about the sex? The funny thing is that there’s not that much more than you see in a lot of mass market fiction. Characters think about it more, they pay attention to what people look like and what they do, but it actually feels pretty natural a lot of the time. It was not what I’d long been told Romance was, and a lot of the scenes were better written and sexier than many other sex scenes I’ve read in non-Romance books. (Honestly? There’s a reason there’s a Bad Sex Award for literature.)

 Intro to Romance Intro to RomanceRomance #3: Love in the Time of Scandal by Caroline Linden. 

This one was a big change and I worried it might be the point where I abandoned ship. I don’t read a lot of historical fiction, and this was a novel with a swooning woman and a rakish man on the cover in period garb. Plus it’s the third in a series so I thought I may feel confused. Turns out, I dug it. It had the biggest plot of the bunch, with intrigue to spare and a subplot that’s left unresolved that I assume will be addressed in the next novel in the series. There was blackmail, marriages of convenience, violence, inheritance, all that stuff. And, being a romance novel, there was a secret erotic serial novel that the characters read on the sly. There was more exposition than usual, revealing the plot of the previous book in large chunks here and there, but it was a minor annoyance. It turned out, I kind of liked the way the historical romance subverted most of the expectations of propriety that you get in most novels written or set at the same time. I liked it for many of the same reasons I like Sarah Waters’ historical novels like Tipping the Velvet.

 Intro to Romance Intro to RomanceSpecial bonus: The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan.

I actually read this book before my foray into Romance but realized after the fact that it’s totally a Romance even if it’s not marketed as one. It skews more “chick lit” but it’s a distinction without much of a difference here. Bex meets dashing Prince Nicholas, known to his friends as Nick, while off doing a semester study abroad at Oxford. They go from will-they-won’t-they to secret lovers to dealing with the paparazzi over the course of the book. The authors, also known as the Fug Girls, are whip smart and make Bex and Nick both feel real. Mostly, though, they excel at the media frenzy (which is how they make their living, after all). If you’re looking for a little princess wish fulfillment with plenty of real life drama, it’s a great and speedy pick. 

You know that saying, Don’t judge a book by its cover? I get that now more than I ever did before. Because I never picked up these books because of their covers (among other reasons) but I’ve learned my lesson, even if it took me an awfully long time to learn it.

I still haven’t quite solved the problem of how to figure out which ones to pick up. For now I’m relying on recommendations and watching what other people like. The Romance genre can start to look alike from a distance, even if it’s very different close up. But I’m adding Romance to my list, along with all the other genres that I read when I feel in the mood for it. And I admit, it feels pretty good to say I really do read what works for me rather than what I think I should. That’s been my reading philosophy for a few years now and there’s really no better way.

YA Alert: Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda

I really don’t like to complain about being a book reviewer. It is pretty much the sweetest gig on earth and I still can’t quite fathom how lucky I am to get to do it. 

But if I had to complain about something, it would be the timing. There are so many books that come out, I try to screen as many titles as possible and the easiest way to do that is to get them as soon as they’re available. The problem with it is that I read a book like Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, which comes out April 7, in August. Yup, AUGUST. 

 YA Alert: Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda YA Alert: Simon vs the Homo Sapiens AgendaThe thing about a good book, though, is that it doesn’t matter how long ago I read it. As soon as I got an email asking if I’d like to join an excerpt tour for this book, I said yes without hesitation. I may have read this book months ago, but I gave it a 5-star review and I’m a bit stingy with my stars. 

I liked this book more than the big YA blockbusters like Eleanor & Park or The Fault in Our Stars. I don’t dislike those books. I like them a lot. But Simon hit me in all the feels but also made me remember exactly how it feels to be a teenager and like somebody. 

Simon is a real teenager. If you grew up in nearly any suburban high school, a lot of his life will seem familiar to you. He doesn’t have any kind of big tragic back story. But he does have a family, friends, the drama club, the usual stuff. Still, there are a few wrinkles. Simon is gay and he’s not quite ready to have to declare his sexuality openly to his entire school. He also has a secret penpal who goes by the name “Blue.” Blue is also at Simon’s school, also gay, and also not out yet. They email each other and share all their secrets in that way that sometimes it’s easier to tell the truth to someone you don’t know. They also start falling totally in love even though they don’t know each other’s identity.

There’s about 5 more plots mixed in there, including blackmail and best friend fights and interesting new people and all that stuff. It’s a tricky book to sell because it’s just a book about being a teenager, but the thing is that I adored it. Adored it completely. I didn’t actually see the author’s name before reading and I was shocked to see it wasn’t written by someone who’d actually lived the life of a gay teenage boy. (How did you do it, Becky Albertalli??)

Today I’m joining in on Simon‘s Excerpt Tour. You can see the first part (Simon’s email to Blue) from yesterday’s post at Caught Read Handed

FROM: [email protected]

TO: [email protected]

DATE: Oct 31 at 8:11 AM

SUBJECT: Re: hollow wieners

Jacques,

Sorry to disappoint. I’m not opposed to dressing up, and you make a compelling

case for it. I completely see the appeal of being someone else for the evening (or in

general). Actually, I was a bit of a one-trick pony myself when I was little. I was

always a superhero. I guess I liked to imagine myself having this complicated secret

identity. Maybe I still do. Maybe that’s the whole point of these emails.

Anyway, I’m not dressing up this year, because I’m not going out. My mom has

some kind of work party, so I’m stuck at home on chocolate duty. I’m sure you

understand that there’s nothing sadder than a sixteen-year-old boy home alone on

Halloween answering the door in full costume.

Your family sounds interesting. How did you talk your parents into buying you

dresses? I bet you were an awesome flapper. Did your parents try to ruin all your

costumes by making them weather appropriate? I remember throwing this ridiculous

tantrum one year because THE GREEN LANTERN DOES NOT WEAR A

TURTLENECK. Though, in retrospect, he actually kind of does. Sorry, Mom!

Anyway, I hope you enjoy your day off from being Jacques. And I hope everyone

likes your ninja costume (that has to be it, right? The perfect mix of simple and

badass?).

—Blue

Check out tomorrow’s stop at There Were Books Involved

Simon is out in April so you best get yourself to the library to put it on hold now before everyone finds out about it. Or you can pre-order now at Amazon YA Alert: Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda.

And here’s more on the author: Becky Albertalli is a clinical psychologist who has had the privilege of conducting therapy with dozens of smart, weird, irresistible teenagers; some of these experiences inspired her debut novel. She also served for seven years as co-leader of a support group for gender nonconforming children in Washington, DC. These days, she lives in Atlanta with her husband and two sons, and writes very nerdy contemporary young adult fiction.  Visit her at www.beckyalbertalli.com and on Twitter: @beckyalbertalli