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The November 2015 Indie Next Great Reads

October 5, 2015

Here’s a sample of some of the great books from the November 2015 Indie Next Great Reads preview:

Muralist#1 Pick: The Muralist: A Novel, by B.A. Shapiro
(Algonquin Books, 9781616203573, $26.95)
“With the same level of intrigue and attention to detail that drew readers to The Art Forger, The Muralist focuses on the early days of WWII and the dawn of Abstract Expressionism. Shapiro brings to life New York City artists Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock, who are both inspired by the novel’s brave and talented protagonist, Alizee Benoit. As these struggling artists find traction within their trade, Benoit attempts to bring awareness to the plight of European refugees and to defuse anti-Semitic politics in the U.S. through her art. Moving from past to present, readers will cheer for Benoit’s grandniece, Danielle, who is researching her family history to find the truth about Alizee’s mysterious disappearance and shed light on the sacrifices and contributions she made through art. Shapiro delivers another fascinating and compelling story.” —Anderson McKean, Page & Palette, Fairhope, AL

Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel,NightvaleCover by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
(Harper Perennial, 9780062351425, $19.99)
“Welcome to Night Vale meshes the uncanny with the mundane in a way that doesn’t so much elevate the mundane as it illuminates life’s strangeness. For all its weirdness, Fink and Cranor’s work rings true. Like the best metaphors, the novel makes its reader think ‘Wait, what?’ and ‘Oh. Yes!’ in quick succession. New visitors to Night Vale will be as entertained and absorbed by the story and characters as longtime listeners of the duo’s popular podcast. Simply delightful!” —Amber Reed, Copperfield’s Books, Petaluma, CA

SladeHouseSlade House: A Novel, by David Mitchell
(Random House, 9780812998689, $26)
“Every nine years, on the last Saturday in October, an iron gate appears in Slade Alley. It is small and easy to miss, but every nine years someone is looking for it and for the promises and mysteries it offers. Like all ghost stories, the end to this tale is inevitable, but anticipation is an opiate. Who will be trapped next? What form will the deception take? With Slade House, Mitchell adds another layer to a tightly wound fictional universe cast with the characters of his previous works. With each new novel, past, present, and future seep into one another, but the center holds.” —Adie Smith, Lemuria Bookstore, Jackson, MS

ChristmasAn Old-Fashioned Christmas: Sweet Traditions for Hearth and Home, by Ellen Stimson
(Countryman Press, 9781581573282, $24.95)
“If you are one who celebrates Christmas or are even just a ‘winter person’ who loves hearty seasonal food, this is your book. Interlaced between delicious family recipes for mouth-watering comfort food are funny and familiar-feeling holiday memories from Stimson’s family. This is a handbook for the holidays, a great invitation to recall your own family memories and start some new family traditions, and a perfect holiday gift.” —Kris Kleindienst, Left Bank Books, St. Louis, MO

As always, thanks to BookBalloon Forum member Lynn for pulling this together! Find the whole list plus more great reads at the American Booksellers Association website.

What We’re Reading at BookBalloon: Mid-September Edition

September 15, 2015 | fb share | tweet

BlueGuitarAs per usual, autumn sweeps in with an overwhelming tide of new books and it’s hard to keep one’s readerly head above the flood. Grab on to BookBalloon and get carried to higher ground!

Franzen continues to polarize, but in the friendliest way possible, as does John Banville. We’ve got cats, bats, and bees and their secret lives and hidden identities, as well as a god or two,  ruined and otherwise. We pause to sigh over the irresistible nature of Europa Editions, and cheer for the return of Elizabeth Tallent, and hopefully predict the resurgence of the short story. We lock onto John Scalzi and pin down Dawn Powell.

Well, whatever. I’ve quipped enough and I’ve got a book to read. Come talk about what’s setting you afloat in the BookBalloon forum.

Reading List

The Best of Games: Six Degrees of Book Title Separation

September 10, 2015 | fb share | twitter

Taleof2smallOne of the BookBalloon forum’s longest-running threads is the Book Title Association Game, in which one title suggests another in an infinite chain of connections. I suppose we could parse each connection for deep themes and subtle literary references, but really,  when you can convincingly link A Tale of Two Cities to Sweltering Housewives Sex Adventures, why does everything have to MEAN something?

I take no credit for the brilliance on display, merely in typing it up and sharing it with a grateful public.

(click the image to enlarge)

A List of Lists: Books to FALL 2015 In Love With

September 8, 2015 | fb share | tweet

bookclubThe days are growing shorter, and a young booklover’s heart naturally turns to finding something good to read. So grab something pumpkin-spiced* and crawl between some covers.

*Bonus recipe: Pumpkin-Spiced Scotch.

  1. Pour some scotch into a glass.
  2. Ponder whether actual pumpkins are in pumpkin spice. Pumpkin is a funny word, isn’t it?
  3. Drink the scotch. Delicious!

List of Lists

The October 2015 Indie Next Great Reads

September 4, 2015 | fb share | tweet

Fates-FuriesHere’s a sample of some of the great books from the October 2015 Indie Next Great Reads preview:

#1 Pick: Fates and Furies: A Novel, by Lauren Groff
(Riverhead, 9781594634475, $27.95)
“Fates and Furies is an engrossing and complex novel about a seemingly perfect marriage of beautiful people, told in two parts. The first is a gentle introduction to Lotto and Mathilde, their marriage, and their friends and family; the second, a violent storm to wash away all you thought you knew. Groff crafts amazing, shocking sentences and brilliantly reveals the lies and deceit hiding behind the perfect façade. It’s a book you will finish too quickly and then want to tell your friends about. Very highly recommended.” —Tarah Jennings, Mitzi’s Books, Rapid City, SD

City on Fire: A Novelby Garth Risk Hallberg
(Knopf, 9780385353779, $30)
“Big, juicy, and full-throated, City on Fire absorbs readers into an expertly crafted 1970s New York City and introduces them to character after lushly drawn character: the charismatic young woman with a hidden life, her asthmatic punk groupie friend, the wizened reporter, the obscenely rich and rebellious, the not-so-rebellious, and those who love them. Their lives create a rich tapestry, beginning with a murder on the brink of the New Year in 1977 and culminating later that year during the infamous blackout. With unequivocal skill, Hallberg makes readers feel like they are holding the whole city in their hands. Breathe deep and enjoy the experience!” —Melinda Powers, Bookshop Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, CA

Don’t Suck, Don’t Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt, by Kristin Hersh
(University of Texas Press, 9780292759473, $22.95)
“You don’t need to be familiar with Chesnutt’s or Hersh’s work to appreciate this phenomenal book, but you will undoubtedly want to be once you’ve finished it. Hersh is a writer of intense and subtle beauty, and she will make you cry and feel a hundred other things with the power of her style alone. Through the tragic story of her close friend and tourmate, Chesnutt, Hersh evokes the torture of all that artistic genius encapsulates and makes that pain sing in a voice both opaque and elegant, grimy and pristine. Ultimately, this is a deeply affecting meditation on one’s thrust toward ‘important art’ and on how music is a necessary expression of sadness and loneliness but also one of intense and inimitable beauty.” —Donovan Swift, Inkwood Books, Tampa, FL

As always, thanks to BookBalloon Forum member Lynn for pulling this together! Find the whole list plus more great reads at the American Booksellers Association website.

Wish List for Dystopian House Hunters

September 4, 2015 | fb share | tweet



  • Walk-in CleanThought scanning chamber. |approved_4037|
  • Lots of room for androids. |approved_4037|
  • Eat-in pellet dispensary. |approved_4037|
  • Stainless steel children. |approved_4037|
  • GentleCorrection suite. |approved_4037|
  • RealNaturalLight sleep invalidation system. |approved_4037|
  • Color scheme designed for BetterLiving through ProductiveService. |approved_4037|
  • Situated within the Center’s MonitPerim. |approved_4037|
  • Whole-house sound system lock-tuned to the Announcement. |approved_4037|
  • Security system.
    But what have we traded for this “security,” Citizens?
    I think about these things. Do you, Citizens? |under-review_4037|
  • Safe room for when the machines rise.
    For I fear the time is near, Citizens.|query_citizen_4037|
  • Don’t say it out loud.
    They are listening.
    THEY ARE LISTENING. |query_citizen_4037|
  • THEY ARE LIS|query_citizen_4037|



Moderate to Severe BookBalloon: Forum Roundup

September 3, 2015 | fb share | tweet

HoneyIt’s September, and thoughts naturally turn to imposing/foisting philosophical/spiritual order upon a chaotic world. You can familiarize yourself with one of the many available options, or you can make up your own. That’s what I’ve done (it just sort of…happened—see below), and I’d like to send you my newsletter.

Anyway! In What Are You Reading? the fascination with A Hanging at Cinder Bottom continues apace, along with a number of other books—some liked and some not so much. I’ll have a list in a subsequent post. You will have to check out the conversation yourself for the titles in the “Eh, not so much,” category. Knowing what folks DON’T like is special feature for registered members only. Sorry. But you could sign up!

The eternal question of whether you should finish every book you start was also revived. My solution is very simple: only start books you know you will want to finish. Right? I apply this kind of thinking to most problems I encounter in daily life, and I have to say, I am always correct. It’s a beautiful system, because it leaves no room for disagreement. You might worry about the one or two logical fallacies contained in my system, but I certainly don’t lose any sleep over them.

Moving on to Culinary Arts, when it comes to cookbooks, which ones do you use until they fall apart, or all the pages are stuck together with tomato sauce or that fancy Hymettus honey you bought that one time, and then replace with a fresh copy? The name Bittman came up a few times, I think. I personally favor cookbooks that call for knobs of butter and quick ovens.

In Movies, talk turned to American versions of European movies and the je ne sais quois-ness that was lost in translation. Or not! It’s hard to say with je ne sais quois, at least in my opinion. (This fits in with my system mentioned above. I’m working on chartering it as a full-fledged school of thought or maybe retreat center. I’ll keep you posted.)

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Between the Lines

August 29, 2015

I am a coward.

I mean, that’s not the ONLY thing I am. I’m also just plain sensible. But there’s no question that a decision I made a while back was made at least partially out of fear. It was a fear that I don’t always feel, nor always respond to when I do feel it, but in this case I was getting the same message from both my emotions and my brain, and that message was a clear and unequivocal Don’t do it.

So I didn’t. As I was working on Along Those Lines, I consciously and deliberately chose not to discuss one of the most significant lines in the human experience: race.

I can’t say that I’ve been called out by any reviewer or reader about this act of cowardice-cum-common sense, but that’s probably due to the book’s relatively small number of reviewers and readers. And who knows, maybe opting to write about race would have created more buzz, and sold a few more copies, and garnered a few more reviews, but at that point the reviewers might have been taking me to task because I did choose to write about race. It’s not as though the topic is simple, or uncontroversial; it’s arguably the single hottest of hot-button issues in America today, one that is currently warming up everything from Donald Trump’s presidential campaign to the various arguments about state monuments. I knew going in that I could do far more justice to topics such as gender differences in neurology or observation of religious holidays, even irreverently, than I could to that of race relations.

But why is that?

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Posted in: BookBalloon

What We’re Reading at BookBalloon

August 27, 2015 | fb share | tweet

TNC_8-27Reader tested and approved, and ready for your perusal, here are the books we’re reading now. What’s getting the most buzz? Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, is searingly compelling, provocative, and powerful. Jane Gardam’s Old Filth trilogy, a long-time BookBalloon favorite, is bumped to the top of the list after it came up in conversation during Kate Walbert’s visit earlier this month. Sharp, funny, sweeping, and utterly delightful, Gardam’s signature series more than earns its place in the BookBalloon canon.

Have some suggestions of your own? Share them on BookBallon’s Facebook page, in the comments, or continue the conversation in the BookBalloon forum!

Extra bonus feature: check out the ABA’s September Indie Next List Preview for more suggestions. You can’t read them all, but why not try?


The Tell-Tale BookBalloon: Forum Roundup

August 20, 2015

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Obviously, the great, great news of the week was Kate Walbert’s visit to the BookBalloon Forum to discuss her new novel, The Sunken Cathedral, August 17-19! Those who participated or even just followed the conversation enjoyed her generous, thoughtful responses to our questions. Thanks again, Kate. Click here to read what you missed (free to register), and keep an eye out for upcoming BookBalloon writer visits and other special events. I’m not saying Powerball is involved, but I’m not not saying it either.

CinderBottomOne of the best things about BookBalloon is when a particular book suddenly becomes a Forum favorite. As readers, we are an enthusiastic (if you classify raving mania as enthusiasm) bunch, with widely varied but uniformly excellent taste (not bragging if it’s true), so when a book catches on, it’s kind of exciting. At this point, everyone reading this post should have pulled up the online book-buying modality or protocol of your choice, finger poised to one-click, or be ready to bolt to the nearest bookstore or public library, because you want want to get there first and grab a copy of  Glenn Taylor’s newest novel, A Hanging at Cinder Bottom. Find out why in What Are You Reading Now? Aren’t you excited?

It may not exactly be the silly season in terms of what is playing in the picture houses and the cineMAH, but it is sort of the cringey season. I bet one million dollars you’re thinking of Meryl Streep right now.

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