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Books We’re Loving

April 14, 2015
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The May 2015 Indie Next Great Reads

April 4, 2015

April showers bring great May reads. Here’s the newest list of Indie Next picks:

givenworld#1 Pick: The Light of the World: A Memoir, by Elizabeth Alexander
(Grand Central Publishing, 9781455599875, $26)
“It is hard to find the right words to do justice to this very special book. Yes, it is by one of our greatest contemporary poets, Elizabeth Alexander, who wrote ‘Praise Song for the Day’ for President Obama’s first inauguration, so the language is gorgeous. And yes, it is a memoir of losing her husband at a young age and so it is, in parts, gut-wrenchingly sad. And yes, it is an ode to an extraordinary man we come to feel we know as an artist, chef, father, friend, and lover. But, above all, it is as beautiful a love story as I have ever read, and it lifts readers up and gives us hope and makes us believe. I will urge it on everyone I know.” —Carole Horne, Harvard Book Store, Cambridge, MA

Pieces of My Mother: A Memoir, by Melissa Cistaro
(Sourcebooks, 9781492615385, $24.99)
“Cistaro’s story begins with the last days of her mother’s life, 35 years after she abandoned her children and husband with no explanation. Cistaro is still seeking the truth and the one answer that she feels she needs most desperately — why did her mother leave? What is most impressive about this memoir is the honesty with which the author details her own anxieties, and readers will relate to her and cheer her on when she makes an important, life-changing decision. This is an amazing story of forgiveness, connection, understanding, and grace.” —Lynn Riehl, Nicola’s Books, Ann Arbor, MI

The Given World: A Novel, by Marian Palaia
(Simon & Schuster, 9781476777931, $25)
“In this fresh take on stories about the devastation that war visits on those left behind as well as on those who are sent to fight, Riley resists believing her beloved older brother never emerged from the tunnels of Cu Chi. Since his body was never found, she follows this hope from the Montana plains to Vietnam and then spirals down into the back streets of 1980s San Francisco. As Palaia details Riley’s struggle to move from denial to the eventual acceptance of reality, she portrays the starry Montana nights as vividly as the streets of Saigon and the bars of Haight-Ashbury. A brilliant debut!” —Cheryl McKeon, Book Passage, San Francisco, CA

The World Is on Fire: Scrap, Treasure, and Songs of Apocalypse, by Joni Tevis
(Milkweed Editions, 9781571313478, trade paper, $16)
“Peopled by both the famous and the forgotten, The World Is on Fire is a love letter to our fears and fascinations as a species. It travels delicate and complicated terrain — faith, loss, death, and infertility are just a few of its subjects — and its intimacy is devastating but also comforting. Tevis acts as a grand conductor, allowing cultural touchpoints, history, personal narrative, and the natural world to each have their turn, then orchestrating them together into a melody that is lovely, sometimes amusing, and often haunting. These ‘songs’ stayed with me long after the last note.” —Lauren Harr, Malaprop’s Bookstore, Asheville, NC

The Daylight Marriage: A Novel, by Heidi Pitlor
(Algonquin Books, 9781616203689, $24.95)
“After being together many years and having two children, Hannah and Lovell Hall are a married couple growing apart. One night they have a terrible argument in which both accusations and personal objects are thrown. The next morning the unthinkable happens and Hannah disappears. Was this her decision or someone else’s? Did her husband take an unforgivable step? The Daylight Marriage is a kinder, gentler Gone Girl with characters readers actually might want to know, a page-turner that explores the depths of human relationships as well as the consequences of even the smallest decision.” —Sharon Nagel, Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee, WI

Read the complete list for May at the American Booksellers Association site.

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How did you write that, Sarah Park Rankin? – How did you write that?

April 3, 2015
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Books We’re Loving

March 24, 2015
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The April 2015 Indie Next Great Reads

March 11, 2015

roseApril? Already? Well, nearly so! Time to select some spring reading from the Indie Next Great Reads list:

#1 Pick: Orhan’s Inheritance: A Novel, by Aline Ohanesian
(Algonquin Books, 9781616203740, $25.95)
“Debut author Ohanesian’s historical novel relives the nearly forgotten tragedy of the Armenian Genocide during and after WWI. Through deportations, massacres, and executions of Christian and Jewish Armenians, the Ottoman Empire and its successors eliminated 1.5 million citizens. Ohanesian’s beautifully written book shares a tale of passionate love, unspeakable horror, incredible strength, and the hidden stories that haunt a family. Highly recommended.” —Doug Robinson, Eagle Eye Book Shop, Decatur, GA

The Witch of Painted Sorrows: A Novel, by M.J. Rose
(Atria Books, 9781476778068, $25)
“Set in Belle Époque Paris, The Witch of Painted Sorrows features an American socialite fleeing from her husband in New York to the home of her courtesan grandmother in Paris. There, she uncovers family secrets, discovers both her talent as an artist and her own erotic nature, and confronts the witch La Lune, an ancestor who threatens to possess her. Rose proves herself once again to be a consummate storyteller in this provocative and entertaining novel.”

 — Fran Keilty, The Hickory Stick Bookshop, Washington Depot, CT

At the Water’s Edge: A Novel, by Sara Gruen
(Spiegel & Grau, 9780385523233, $28)
“A trio of privileged Philadelphia socialites — Maddie, her husband, Ellis, and their friend, Hank — travel to the Scottish Highlands during WWII to prove the existence of the Loch Ness Monster. There, they find themselves among villagers dealing with the atrocities of a war that they have blithely ignored, and Maddie discovers that both the world and her life are not at all what she had imagined. Full of great period detail and richly drawn settings, At the Water’s Edge is another spellbinding tale from the author of Water for Elephants.” —Jill Miner, Saturn Booksellers, Gaylord, MI

World Gone By: A Novel, by Dennis Lehane
(William Morrow, 9780060004903, $27.99)
“In the prologue of World Gone By, Lehane describes his main character but certainly captures his own abilities as well: ‘Joe Coughlin had a gift for bringing the beacons of the city into contact with her demons and making it all seem like a lark.’ This is Lehane’s great gift: creating characters with the full scope of human dimensions — our inner angels and devils, our passions and our crimes — and immersing them in the timeless trials of our world while disguising his feat as the entertainment of a ‘good read.’ Lehane is a magician, a maestro, and a master of the written word.” —J.B. Dickey, Seattle Mystery Bookshop, Seattle, WA

Read the complete list for April at the American Booksellers Association site.

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Quiz Time: The Title’s the Thing!

March 3, 2015


Borrowing from the Bard is a surefire way to a snappy title.
Which Shakespeare play provided the titles for these famous works?

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February 4, 2015

Facebook is anti-aphorism. That should do as a negative definition. I mean that endless stream of out of context, mis-attributed Wise Guy (almost never Wise Women) quotes, that are registered to elicit immediate feelings of complicit agreement–a felicitous wording of received notions and consensus.

A genuine aphorism is more than a pretty way to say what everyone thinks they know and believe.  The best aphorism is like a dagger plunged into the heart–creates immediate cognitive dissonance with our cherished notions, and invites us to unravel its author’s context and intent–that begs us to uncover its deeper meaning, a meaning that will open our minds to ideas beyond those we already hold.

Sooner murder an infant its cradle than nurse unacted desires. Blake

The true way is along a rope that is not spanned high in the air, but only just above the ground. It seems intended more to cause stumbling than to be walked upon. Kafka

What are your favorite aphorisms… not truisms, but one’s that break the ice in the frozen sea of our complacent lives?

And let’s write our own! Give no ground to enshrined Wise Guys. There’s no Nobadday to pronounce the final word… it’s just us, walking around this tree in endless circles, hoping to entertain one another before the curtain falls.

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The March 2015 Indie Next Great Reads

February 4, 2015

Here’s a peek at the March Indie Next Great Reads List:

The Fifth Gospel#1 Pick: The Fifth Gospel: A Novel, by Ian Caldwell
(Simon & Schuster, 9781451694147, $25.99)
“One of the great mysteries of the Catholic Church, The Shroud of Turin, has inspired one of the great writers of our time to create this masterful thriller. Two brothers — Alex, a Greek Catholic priest, and Simon, a Roman Catholic priest — are drawn into the intrigue surrounding the Shroud and the origins of the Church following the murder of their friend Ugo, an eccentric curator obsessed with the Shroud who was preparing a major exhibit in the Vatican Gallery. Alex and Simon are dedicated brothers and priests, yet as different in temperament and faith as they are similar in conviction and loyalty. Caldwell unveils much about the world behind the Vatican walls, even as the intricate plot builds to a climax. A spectacular achievement!” —Luisa Smith, Book Passage, Corte Madera, CA

The Buried Giant: A Novel, by Kazuo Ishiguro
(Knopf, 9780307271037, $26.95)
“Ishiguro’s new novel is a work of wonder, transport, and beauty. A recurrent theme in his earlier books, always shown with great originality, is the matter of what happens after we have lost our way. In The Buried Giant, Ishiguro explores losing direction, memory, and certainty, as the primary characters cling to remnants of codes of behavior and belief. Which is the way through the forest? Where might our son be? And where is the dragon, and who shall seek to slay her? Set in the time just after King Arthur’s reign, Ishiguro’s tale, with striking, fable-like rhythm and narrative, shows how losing and finding our way runs long, deep, and to the core of things.” —Rick Simonson, The Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, WA

Where the Dead Pause, and the Japanese Say Goodbye: A Journey, by Marie Mitsuki Mockett
(W.W. Norton, 9780393063011, $26.95)
“Mockett’s journey begins in the wake of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, near the site of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, and encompasses a nation’s grieving as well as her own. Through her beautiful descriptions of traditions, rituals, conversations, and quiet moments, she shows the nuances of a people picking up and moving on. By seeking out the cultural context of her subject’s very human reactions and emotions, Mockett walks a fine line that globalization has tried to erase entirely, and our understanding of the events and their aftermath is richer for it.” —Rachel Cass, Harvard Book Store, Cambridge, MA

Read the complete list for March at the American Booksellers Association site.

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Kill Your Darlings: What We’re Talking About

January 23, 2015

2014 is in the rear-view mirror, and 2015 well underway. Are you ready to abandon those resolutions? How about making a new one? Resolve to sign up for the BookBalloon Forum and join the conversation! It’s free, painless, and will transform you into the person you’ve always known you could be. Well, I don’t know your life! You WILL find hilarious and well-informed folks, and probably spend too much money on books, and finally find a place to trot out that William Vollmann joke you thought up in 2006. This time next year, you’ll be resolving to spend less time here. And once again, I predict failure. But you’ll feel so good about it! Just see (discussion topic titles are helpfully set in bold type):

  • As anyone at the Salvation Army can confirm, January brings out CarnabyStreetthe purging instinct in us all. Let’s just say it can get a little fraught. I am still MOURNING the loss of the Carnaby Street sweatshirt I ineptly cut up à la Flashdance. Lopsided, but still so cool. I mean, you don’t even KNOW. But now, we mourn and/or revel in de-acquisitioning our books. What stays? What goes? What gets turned backwards like a book in a Pottery Barn catalog? OR A CARNABY STREET SWEATSHIRT? Book Shelves is the place to figure it all out.
  • See the post below for the only Best Books list you really need. Sure, there are other lists, but this one comes from the random internet people you can TRUST. There’s also talk about the best books of the 21st century. I don’t know about this. Somebody could have written a novel in, for example…2003 (no special reason), and just really feel as though writers and readers (and publishers and agents and that guy working at Borders who said he liked to read work from promising new writers) shouldn’t be held hostage by something completely ARBITRARY like calendars or being IN PRINT. I personally think we should just wait a couple more decades before we go around talking about the best this or the greatest that. Yes, I know Borders went out of business a while ago.
  • A lot of what’s happening in 2015 can be summed up as “in the wake of.” So in the wake of “in the wake of,” what are the politically complicated or sensitive works in today’s library collections? Talk about it in the Literary Loft.
  • New Books: As 2015 gathers steam, what’s hooking our tenters, literarily speaking? (Please bear with as I explain how/why this is clever: Tenterhooks fasten cloth to a tenter, or drying frame. What rises from drying cloth? STEAM. Get it? And yes, “gathers steam” is more of a transportation thing, and I’m not really sure much steam actually rises from drying cloth unless you iron it, but I don’t believe in killing your darlings, obvs. Sorry, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch.)
  • WHAT ARE YOU READING NOW? Don’t think of this as a demand, but more as a sort of collective entreaty from a DrJonesworshipful audience looking to you for advice and inspiration. Anyway, that’s the way I like to imagine it! Feel free to imagine a scenario that reassures and comforts you.
  • I can honestly say the conversation in Culinary Arts has ranged from fruitcake to flounder. Fruitcake & Flounder is also the name of my Mumford & Sons cover band, which will be on tour as soon as I finish distressing my banjo. (NOT a euphemism.)
  • You know, at this time of year it’s not hard to find discussion on the various moving picture awards and their attendant controversies and contretemps and etc., but only in the BookBalloon Movies thread can you consider such topics as the subtler Vincent Price roles. Think a delicate shaving of Prosciutto di Parma vs. an epic slab of Canned di Hormel.
  • In Music, it’s mainly the Sleater-Kinney Appreciation Society right now, and if you’re interested in something else, well, all I can say is…“That’s absolutely FINE! Totally change the subject!” I am one thousand percent sincere. You’d just better know your stuff. LIES! This is not Pitchfork! 9.3
  • The Sports thread probably gets short shrift recap-wise, even though it’s usually a busy discussion. So consider the shrift lengthened! N.B. short shrifts are definitely work-appropriate during the winter months—just pair them with leggings or heavy tights.
  • Oh, and if you think nobody’s watching during this second Golden Age of TV, you would be WRONG. Game Hall of Wolf Thrones, Baked-on Abbey, Real Mad Housemen, The Late Show with Stephen Vollmann, Broadbent (both the American and British versions), Stab the Midwife, American Wigs—we’re excited about it ALL!

Done and dusted. Cheap and cheerful. Rising up and rising down. WHAT ARE YOU READING NOW?

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They were the best of books, they were the…well really, they were just the BEST of books, weren’t they?

January 14, 2015

People here…read. We read a lot, and we talk a lot about what we read. And every year, Forum member Julie organizes and compiles BookBalloon’s best reads of the year. Join the talk in the Best Books thread in the BookBalloon Forum

These are the books we raved about, lost sleep over, overdrew our bank accounts for, and generally pushed onto friends and acquaintances and anyone who would listen. Without further ado….


(not necessarily published in 2014)

Two non-fiction books are tied! How weird is that?
Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant by Roz Chast
She Left Me the Gun: My Mother’s Life Before Me by Emma Brockes

Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys by Viv Albertine
Euphoria by Lily King
Frances and Bernard by Carlene Bauer
The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan
The UnAmericans: Stories by Molly Antopol

All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld
The Bees by Laline Paull
In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Voyage of the USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides

Honorable Mentions
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Annihilation (The Southern Reach Trilogy) by Jeff Vandermeer
Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
Clever Girl by Tessa Hadley
Evergreen by Rebecca Rasmussen
Eyrie by Tim Winton
The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
HHhH by Laurent Binet
Hothouse: The Art of Survival and the Survival of Art at America’s Most Celebrated Publishing House by Boris Kachka
I Am Pilgirm by Terry Hayes
Longbourn by Jo Baker
A Marker to Measure Drift by Alexander Maksik
The Martian by Andy Weir
No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod
Orfeo by Richard Powers
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
The Secret Place by Tana French
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler (winner for 2013)
The Weekend by Peter Cameron
The Wilds by Julia Elliot

See you in 2015!

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