Three books that I almost missed the boat on.

The great thing about being a publishers' sales rep is that as each season of frontlist selling ends, there's a quiet reflective period before the next season begins.  There's always email, and the customer service side of working with my bookstores but I do spend a lot of that time puttering around the office with chores and projects, going through the next season's sales kits, and catching up on my reading.  

I usually like to focus on extracurricular reading (I spend the whole season collecting books that I hope to have time to get into during this less frantic period) but sometimes, as samples of the books that I just spent three months selling are published and show up on my doorstep, I will spot one or two that I somehow missed.

Luckily enough, I've found three books recently that I spent the entire summer representing but somehow, until I saw the actual finished books and started to read them, I missed out on their magic.  So here we go.

The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking #1)
by Patrick Ness
Candlewick Press | 9780763645762 | $9.99 | July 2009

The Ask and the Answer (Chaos Walking #2)
by Patrick Ness
Candlewick Press | 9780763644901 | $18.99 | Sept 2009

If you loved The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, and are ready for a new YA SF series that is just as compelling and thrilling; if you read Ender's Game and the sequels and hoped for another book with the same kind of emotional complexity and SF detail; if you like to be surprised and delighted when the novel you're reading takes a sudden turn and becomes So. Much. More. Awesome. because of the twist, you owe it to yourself to read The Knife of Never Letting Go.  And be prepared to dive into the sequel, The Ask And The Answer, immediately upon finishing Knife."

Without giving anything away, here's a little to get you started.  Todd Hewitt is a 12 (going on 13) year old boy in a settlement on a new planet - a settlement that has seen its share of disaster and disappointment since the settlers first arrived.  Todd is the last boy in the settlement - all the other boys have become men upon their 13th birthday and no longer have time to spend with mere boys.  A war with the native species of bipeds has left all the women dead, thanks to a strange virus unleashed by their enemies.  This same virus has caused all the thoughts of the men in the village to be heard by all around them - they call it The Noise. And the settlers are also able to hear the thoughts of the animals around them, as well. 

Todd and his dog Manchee discover a secret outside their settlement that sends them fleeing for their lives, and as his knowledge of the world they live upon expands, he discovers that much has been kept secret from him by the men in his village.

To describe anything at all about what lies ahead for Todd and Manchee in both The Knife of Never Letting Go and its sequel, The Ask and the Answer, would be to give away secrets that should be discovered by the reader alongside Todd.

Let me just say that I've found my new favorite books to handsell.

***

The Red Monkey Double Happiness Book   
by Joe Daly
Fantagraphics Books (Norton) | 9781606991633 | $22.99 | Aug 2009

Where has Joe Daly been hiding?  I'm pretty sure that if someone had told me about a young comics creator who was working on a series of eco-mystery comics set in Cape Town, South Africa starring a red-headed, monkey-footed comics creator with a deadpan sense of humor, wildly ethnic neighbors (who work hard to avoid being mere ethnic stereotypes), and a heavily stoned, moochy best friend, I would have jumped at the chance to read it.

Despite the over-the-top collision of elements I listed up there, what The Red Monkey Double Happiness Book really brings us is a tasty blend of cleanly detailed art straight out of Herge, hipster stoner humor and a couple of mysteries that work just as well in Cape Town as they would in the Los Angeles of Robert Towne's Chinatown or Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer stories.

Red Monkey is his second collection from Fantagraphics, the first being a 2007 book called Scrublands.

Fantagraphics is offering an exclusive 10-page excerpt from the first mystery in Red Monkey Double Happiness Book, The Leaky Cello Case.  You can download it here.

guest post: Taylor Rick: "I Like Big Books and I Cannot Lie. Big, Readable Books."

I'm excited to see guest submissions starting to roll in from more booksellers. (I really need to put together an official invitation post throwing the doors open wide to booksellers from all over.)

Today's guest entry is from Taylor Rick, a frontline bookseller and one of the buyers at Next Chapter Bookshop in Mequon, Wisconsin. If you follow the changing fortunes of independent bookstores at all, you'll recognize the name Next Chapter. It's one of the two new indie bookstores that opened after the closure earlier this spring of the four Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops in the Milwaukee area.

I'd like to take at least partial bragging rights for one of Taylor's picks - I was the sales rep who sold McSweeney's Books to the Schwartz stores at the time that The Children's Hospital came out, and I love that book like Taylor does. But the entire Schwartz company was always cross-pollinating the stores' staff picks, and they were huge fans of everything McSweeney's put out, so my claim is not rock solid. Either way, it's clear that Taylor is a great contributor for my3books!

I love big books. Great, big, epic stories spanning time and space. I love being thrown into a world that I know isn’t going away any time soon, where I can get lost for weeks (occasionally months) at a time. But, of course, I don’t always have the time or patience to spend weeks or months on one book, particularly if it’s not worthy of my precious time (the pile of books beside my bed is getting bigger every day, after all). So for my3books, I have three giant books that are well worth your time getting lost in, the shortest of which clocks in at 624 pages with a small typeface.

***

The Children’s Hospital
by Chris Adrian
hardcover: McSweeney's Books | 9781932416602 | $24 | 2006
paperback: Grove Press | 9780802143334 | $14.95 | 2007

The Children’s Hospital is, simply, the most beautiful book I’ve ever read.

When it came out in 2006, I was working at the Bay View branch of the Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops in Milwaukee. We led the country in sales of this hardcover book by an author no one had ever heard of, put out by a small publisher (McSweeney’s), mostly based on my handselling (not to discount the work of the four other booksellers working there with me, but this was my baby).

My sales pitch was simple: We had a mound of the books on the counter behind the front desk, and the cover was so striking people would just ask about it. I would point them in the direction of the leather chair at the front of the store and say, “Just read the first fifteen pages. It’s the most beautiful book I’ve ever read.” It sold every time.

At 624 pages, The Children’s Hospital is definitely a sizable tome. While it’s not perfect, it is astonishing nonetheless. Just read the first fifteen pages.

***

Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945
by David M. Kennedy
Oxford University Press | 9780195144031 | $24.95 | 2001

I enjoy nonfiction, specifically Depression and Vietnam-era American history, but I find even the best nonfiction is rarely as engaging as the world’s great fiction. Not so with Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945. This volume of the Oxford History of the United States chronicles America from before the stock market crash to the end of World War II and is as readable (or more so) than most fiction I’ve read.

Kennedy uses remarkable prose for a work of history, keeping us grounded with occasional asides taking us to the front lines of both the Depression and World War II, reminding us of how the lives of everyday Americans were affected. You’ll fly through the 936 pages with ease. Also of note are the many eerie similarities between the beginnings of the Great Depression and our own current recession.

[Editor's note: It also won the Pulitzer Prize for History in 2000.]

***

Anathem
by Neal Stephenson
hardcover: Morrow | 9780061474095 | $29.95 | Sept 2008
paperback: Harper | 9780061474101 | $7.99 | Sept 2009

I hate having to qualify that I’m not a fan of Science Fiction while saying that I love Neal Stephenson. He’s kind of an anti-science fiction writer in that he uses the occasional convention from the genre, but keeps everything grounded (mostly) in reality and never lets it get in the way of a good story.

Anathem is certainly no different, and, I feel, his best work to date. Mixing lots of science with a bit of speculation (the definition of Science Fiction, I suppose), the book is challenging at the start and dense throughout, but once the ball of the story starts rolling it doesn’t stop.

Stephenson’s invented a new yet familiar world in which to get lost, and once you’re hooked you’ll find yourself reading chunks of a hundred pages or more in a sitting.

Taylor Rick
Next Chapter Bookshop

***

>> To see what other books Taylor and his fellow booksellers at Next Chapter are raving about, check out their staff picks. You can also follow Next Chapter's owner, Lanora Hurley, on Twitter.

my3books: Defying Time and Space

Here's the first set of picks from independent bookseller, and new my3books contributor, Angela Sherrill.  Angela is the children's book buyer at 57th Street Books in Hyde Park, and one of the most discerning readers of YA and teen fiction I've met. The tall bookshelf above her desk looms with a literal wall of soon-to-be-published ARCs. All of the shelves at 57th Street Books are liberally garnished with shelf talkers by Angela and her fellow booksellers, but what leaps to the eye in the YA section are all the reviews written by young customers who've been recruited to read and comment on books new and old.

Join me in welcoming Angela to the chorus of bookseller voices on my3books.


The classic reference: A Wrinkle in Time
by Madeline L’Engle
Square Fish | 9780312367541| $6.99 | 1962

Enough has been written on L’Engle’s beloved, honored, and banned work that I’m sure my contribution to this pulsating dialogue of essays, opinions and debate is neither new nor noteworthy.

I can attest that teens, when not distracted by glitzy book jackets, are still finding L’Engle’s work valuable. 57th Street Books' Teen Critic Jennifer G., upon reviewing the 2008 publication of Joys of Love wrote, “... like all of Ms. L’Engle’s other books, [Joys of Love] is incredible.” Agreed.

***

The debut novel: First Light
by Rebecca Stead
Yearling Books | 9780440422228 | $6.99 |2008

I read this book after discovering Stead’s upcoming book [see below] and had to go back for more. This book is now my “go to” recommendation for fans of The City of Ember by Jeanne Duprau. Solid and engaging in its own right, I can’t stop comparing the two underground worlds and the survival dilemmas they present. The glacial setting and ingenuity of the young female protagonist in First Light also reminds me of the chills and suspense I felt when reading Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George. This book as delightfully made it’s way onto the 2010 Caudill nomination list, which means we’ll soon have the opinions of young readers!

***

The buzz book: When You Reach Me
by Rebecca Stead
Wendy Lamb Books/Random House | 9780385737425 | $15.99 | July 2009

As a wonderfully intriguing story of the life and times of a 6th grade girl unfolds, mysterious time travel elements unravel in an intricate and beautifully threaded plot. Relationship complexities beyond what is normally expected in children’s literature bring immense wisdom to this most engaging and thoughtful story. To top it off, Stead's superbly careful writing makes this one you'll want to share with every reader you know.

Miranda, our young guide in Stead’s fascinating story, is gently obsessed with A Wrinkle in Time. I expect When You Reach Me to be loved and honored (but hopefully not banned), just as its classic reference, because it is truly an incredible book.

If you’re still not convinced this one’s a winner, check out Elizabeth Bird’s School Library Journal review.

In short, my expectations for this one are high. It’s sure to be one of best books of the year and I can’t wait for it to hit my display table in July. I won’t be holding my breath to see how it does on it’s own, I’ll be sending it out the door in the hands of customers 11 & up. I’ll especially be looking out for mothers musing about fond memories of A Wrinkle In Time, young boys lauding the genius of Louis Sachar’s Holes and all appreciators of Ingrid Law’s Savvy.

Angela K Sherrill
57th Street Books, Chicago

kidsboooks[at]semcoop[dot]com

my3books links: Jake-The-Girl from A Great Good Place for Books

Jake-The-Girl sends word that she's posted a response to the "my3books" concept yesterday at her blog, and included her own "my3books" take on Great YA Dystopian Science Fiction.

I'm a reader of science fiction, too, so I was happy to click through and check out her list.  I can already tell that she's my kind of bookseller - her 3 picks included two books I already own and one that I had completely missed but I must now own.

I'm posting a preview of Jake's post here, and recommend that you head on over to her blog to read the whole thing.

Her three picks, with excerpts:

Little Brother
by Cory Doctorow
Tor Books | 9780765319852 | $17.95 | April 2008

"This is a frighteningly real look at the not-so-distant future of technology, seen through the eyes of a school-skipping, video-game-playing techno-geek."

***

The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins
Scholastic | 9780439023481 | $17.99 | Sept 2008

"Readers of this blog know that this is my favorite book of all time ... This book is full of non-stop action. It is an emotional rollercoaster. It is the best book EVER."

***

Skinned
by Robin Wasserman
Simon Pulse | 9781416974499 | $9.99 | Aug 2009

"Most dystopian science fiction is action-packed and full of technical jargon. This one isn't. It's more of a moral and ethical look at the future of medicine, and how far we will eventually go to keep our loved ones in our lives."