Designed by Gary Glass

2014 San Diego Comic-Con Report

July 29, 2014

As most of the regular BookBalloonists know, every year since 2008 I’ve attended San Diego Comic-Con.  This year I had actually planned to give the con a miss, as I wanted to save the money for various reasons.

But fortune favors the nerdy, and I managed to luck into a badge for Sunday. Granted, it was one  day only, but a day of Comic-Con is better than no Comic-Con at all.

The only downside was having to get up at zero-dark-thirty on Sunday morning to catch the Gold Line Metrolink from Pasadena down to Union Station, and from there catch the 6:15 Amtrak to San Diego, and from there take the trolley to the Convention Center. (I know this sounds complicated, but I’ll take this over trying to find a parking spot by Comic-Con any day.) Upon arriving at the Convention Center with all its banners and signs for various shows and movies, and seeing the crowds of nerds and cosplayers, I felt that peculiar sense of homecoming that I get at the Con. I’m where I belong. I’m with my people. Here, I don’t have to explain myself. Everyone gets it.

I acquired my pass and made a beeline for room 29A. The best part of this impromptu trip was that I would get to attend “The Cross-Generational Appeal of Doctor Who” – I’m not that into Doctor Who myself (mostly I just can’t spare the time to get hooked on the show) but one of my best friends, E. Gerry Hoard, was on the panel (basically to prove that Doctor Who isn’t just for the Tumblr crowd).

I wanted to get a good seat, so I camped out in the panel that had the room before the Doctor Who one. Sitting through panels that you’re not that interested in is inevitable at the con, and not always a bad thing. Sometimes you learn about something new and interesting; on the other hand, over the years I’ve sat through the Bones panel about three times and still have no desire to watch the show. This panel, something about Nintendo, was very boring, but I’m glad I camped out as the line for the Doctor Who one was huge (the show had no official panel this year and the Whovians were starved for anything Who related). The panel my friend was on made the time well worth it. It was great to see the enthusiasm for the show span such a large age range (the youngest panelist was 11, my friend is in his early 70s). Gerry was thrilled; he’s been going to the Con for a long while and this was his first time on a panel. I was so happy for him.

After the panel I zipped down to the exhibitor floor for some shopping. My first stop was William Wu Books, which specializes in pulp sci-fi/fantasy/horror books, movie-related books, and signed works by authors like Bradbury, Ellison, etc.. I was inordinately thrilled that Bill recognized and remembered me from  my previous visits. We had a nice chat and I ended up getting Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone: 13 New Stories From the Supernatural Especially Written for Young People and The Stunt Man by Paul Brodeur, source material for the Richard Rush film.  I then headed over to the Fantagraphics booth, where I picked up one of their EC artists books, Judgment Day and Other Stories by Joe Orlando.

After those two stops I prowled the floor, fighting my way through the crowds (Sunday is traditionally the most crowded day on the exhibitor floor as there are fewer panels to attend and the vendors often have good deals to reduce their inventory). I got a couple things for my son but other than that didn’t do much more shopping, as I wanted to stay on a budget.

At 3 p.m. I popped upstairs again, this time to attend the Browncoats Meet-Up, a gathering of Firefly/Serenity fans. Unfortunately there were no surprise celebrity guests (there have been in the past, so hope springs eternal) but the panel was still enjoyable, with interesting news about the upcoming Firefly online game. After that it was one last trip to the floor, and then I said goodbye to the Con until next year, and headed for the train station so I could make sure I got a spot on the 6:45 (the line for the train back home is always terrible). The one downside of this trip was that I didn’t get a chance for a nice dinner in San Diego – I ended up grabbing a bento box at the Ralph’s market and eating that in line for the train. And the cherry on the sundae of the day was on the train ride home. I struck up conversation with my seat mate, mentioned that I was a writer, and he went ahead and right then and there, bought one of my books on his smartphone.

It was a long day, but worth it. I credit my first attendance at Comic-Con in 2008 with a change in how I feel about the things I enjoy. Up until then, I spent most of my life apologizing for my tastes in books, movies, music, and TV. But after that first visit and the feeling of welcome I felt there, I’ve stopped apologizing. That alone makes it worth the long trip, the crowds, and so on. Fortune willing, I’ll be back next year.

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What We’re Talking (and Talking) About

July 26, 2014

From the Man Booker long list, to choosing a good wok, to the perverse pleasures of 70s horror films, to read-aloud Shakespeare, to Duke vs. Carolina, to murder ballads and Glenn Gould, to the challenges of self-publishing, to the fake legs of Real Housewives, we’ll talk about anything in the BookBalloon Forum.

A tiny taste of what was on tap this week:

  • In Movies: Can you name a movie thriller without car chases and/or gunplay?
  • In When Google Can’t Help: Can you get out of a gym contract without car chases and/or gunplay?
  • In Grammar: “Cliché” or “clichéd”—does it really matter or are we blasé because it’s so recherché?
  • In TV: The new season of Project Runway—is it too early to start hating people?
  • In George RR Martin/TV: Game of Thrones casting news—is it too early to start hating people?
  • Gaffney_PeachoidIn Culinary Arts: Eat a peach! Or peach ice cream! Or impeach the president! It’s that kind of summer!
  • In What Are You Reading?: Novels with unlikeable characters? LIKE. Try Jane Gardam, Mary Wesley, Margot Livesey, Kate Christensen.
  • In Out of This World: Where to begin with William Gibson: Neuromancer or Pattern Recognition?
  • She, Her, It, Them, and We: play the Book Title Association Game.
  • And somewhere, somehow, someone is talking about Mapp & Lucia.

There’s so much more! Registration is quick and easy, and comes with a money-back guarantee if you’re not completely satisfied. Kidding! You’ll never get your money back because it’s absolutely free! (Pretend this is a PBS pledge drive and that you’ll feel terribly guilty until you register. No Downton Abbey DVDs, though.)

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Books We’re Loving – July 24, 2014

July 24, 2014
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Poetry Slam: North Carolina’s Poet Laureate Drama | Like Fire

July 21, 2014

magnetic_poetry“A professor of mine once kindly pointed out that the only person with every one of the skills called for in a given employment description is the person who already has the job, but there’s still the fear of overestimating one’s talents. Nobody wants to be humiliated in the course of an interview, and certainly no one wants to somehow land a job they’re unsuited for.

It happens all the time, though. Think of FEMA’s Michael Brown and the ‘heck of a job’ he did after Hurricane Katrina, or Cathie Black, New York Mayor Bloomberg’s choice for School Chancellor, who stepped down a little more than three months into her tenure when it became painfully clear that chairing Hearst Magazines didn’t quite translate into running the New York City school system. Think of George W. Bush’s friend Harriet Miers, who never made it to sit on the Supreme Court but could have. Or, if you like your incompetence scandals a little more literary, think of Valerie Macon, who was North Carolina’s Poet Laureate for all of six days…”


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Kindle Singles for Free!

July 21, 2014

Broken Voices

Amazon recently introduced a new Kindle Unlimited feature which offers designated books and music for a set fee of $9.99/month. While the selections are still somewhat obscure, the future of this feature holds all kinds of potential for avid readers and listeners. So, while any real benefits are yet to be realized, their introductory promo of a free 30 day trial does include a wide selection of free Kindle Singles.

When the Kindle Single platform first came on the scene, few big names participated. However, it’s slowly evolved into a very popular feature, both for users and writers. They’re a great way to enjoy the short story format, they’re useful in checking out unfamiliar writers before investing money into full-length books, and they’re effective PR tools for publishers and writers.

Before these Kindle Singles came along, the only venues  for short stories were complete collections, the rare major media magazine that still carried original fiction, or literary ‘zines usually released quarterly. Any of those choices require a hefty monetary investment either in book form or via subscription. Slowly, the Kindle Singles started to catch on.  No longer are all the selections obscure or amateurish fan fiction. Browsing through the catalog might surprise you. Not only is it chock full of major and edgy writers, but the genre selection has grown by leaps and bounds. Each one even has its own cover art.  As a long time short story fan, I’m especially grateful for the accessibility the Kindle Singles have brought to this art form.

Now, thanks to the Kindle Unlimited Free Trial, is a perfect time to check out the Kindle Singles. It won’t cost you a dime, you can pick and choose among a diverse amount of authors and genre, and you can create “playlists” of short stories very much like you make music playlists (just designate a Collection on your Kindle for Singles). These short stories make for excellent reading material while waiting in the doctor’s office, while getting your hair done at the beauty salon, for medium long car rides, etc.

Check out some of these short stories for free (during the promo), and you just might see why they’re becoming so popular:

The Secret Dead by S. J. Parris – “Naples, 1566. During a sweltering summer, eighteen-year-old Giordano Bruno takes his final vows at San Domenico Maggiore and is admitted to the Dominican Order – despite doubts over his tendency to ask difficult questions. Assisting in the infirmary, Bruno witnesses an illicit autopsy performed on the body of a young woman. Her corpse reveals a dark secret, and Bruno suspects that hers may not have been an accidental death. “

Injured Reserves by DC Bourone – “recounted in stunning detail a very bloody war battle. How could this subject matter read like poetry?… I was mesmerized.” – S.M. Johnson

Glitch: A Short Story by Hugh Howey – A short story about a futuristic, extreme fighting robot who becomes sentient and refuses to fight anymore. The abrupt ending suggests the beginning of a new, hit series by the author of Wool.

Jackie Old: A tale of the future told in the past by Armistead Maupin – “What if presidential widow Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis had lived long enough to become a reclusive eccentric like her first cousin “Little Edie” Beale of “Grey Gardens” fame? In this “lost comic gem” — published for the first time in thirty-four years – the author of the legendary Tales of the City series speculates wildly on Jackie O’s future in the distant, almost unimaginable year of 1999.”

Mayflower:The Voyage from Hell by Kevin Jackson – “130 hardy souls were confined in a space no bigger than a tennis court, braving the ‘Northern’ crossing, without any firm idea of what awaited them in the New World. A riveting account of the sailing that changed the world.”

Printer’s Devil Court by Susan Hill – “A mysterious manuscript lands on the desk of the step-son of the late Dr Hugh Meredith, a country doctor with a prosperous and peaceful practice in a small English town. From the written account he has left behind, however, we learn that Meredith was haunted by events that took place years before, during his training as a junior doctor near London’s Fleet Street, in a neighbourhood virtually unchanged since Dickens’s times.”

I Murdered My Library by Linda Grant – “What happens when you begin to build a library in childhood and then find you have too many books? From a small collection held together by a pair of plaster of Paris horse-head bookends to books piled on stairs, and in front of each other on shelves, books cease to furnish a room and begin to overwhelm it. At the end of 2013, novelist Linda Grant moved from a rambling maisonette over four floors to a two bedroom flat with a tiny corridor-shaped study. The trauma of getting rid of thousands of books raises the question of what purpose personal libraries serve.”

The Khmer Kill: A Dox Short Story by Barry Eisler – “For former Marine sniper Dox, a long-range hit in Cambodia was supposed to be just business as usual. But when you find yourself mixed up with rogue intelligence operations, gorgeous bar girls, and the world’s worst human-trafficking heart of darkness, business is anything but usual. And making it personal is the most dangerous business of all.”

The Rover by Drew Magary – “Something has landed in Armie Puglian’s yard. Something not from here. What is it? What’s it looking for? And what happens when Armie decides to keep it?”

An Unexpected Twist by Andy Borowitz – “about a blockage in his colon that nearly killed him. This funny book has a sneaky emotional gravity. At the time of his illness he’d been married only a few months, and his small book becomes a rather large love story.”

Anyone can submit original work to Kindle Singles.

Visit our forum and share your favorite short story links.

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BookBalloon Links for July 21, 2014

July 21, 2014


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Favorite audiobooks: Does the narrator make a difference?

July 19, 2014

Summer’s a great season to kick back with an audiobook. According to BookBalloon members, the choice of narrator can make or break the listening experience. Here are some of our favorite books and readers –

Howards_End_1002Cara’s favorites on LibriVox include The Prisoner of Zenda and Howards End. Her favorite readers are:

Other recommendations:

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July Review Roundup

July 18, 2014

flag bookshelf


The Night GardenerThe Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier – “It is almost as if Mr. Auxier took his  whimsy, pulled out a long sharp stick, and stabbed it repeatedly in the heart and left it to die in the snow so as to give us a sublimely horrific little novel.” ~  School Library Journal

The Mockingbird Next Door by Marja Mills – “In 2011, The New York Times reported that Harper Lee was denying that she had cooperated with Mills’s book. Mills produced a statement by Alice Lee to the contrary, and The Mockingbird Next Door makes her case. Still, the renunciation seems a sad denouement to an otherwise charmed relationship.” ~ The Boston Globe

I Kill the Mockingbird by Paul Acompora – “The trio begins creatively “hiding” copies of the book in stores and libraries; they’re not doing anything illegal, just generating some buzz…. Paul Acampora has crafted a savvy, witty and funny novel about the power of friendships, the lure of a good book and the influence of social media. Throw in lively characters like Fat Bob Nowak and one of the funniest graveside scenes ever written (R.I.P. Fat Bob), plus budding puppy love and a bookstore owner named Dobby, and you’ve got a can’t-miss middle-grade winner.” ~ BookPage

The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman – “Once it reveals the strange gravities that hold its characters together, Rachman’s second novel pays back in spades.” ~ The Guardian

Landline by Rainbow Rowell – “I was curious to see how Landline compared to Eleanor & Park. As an adult book, would it truly challenge me more?” ~ Slate

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng – “A powerhouse of a debut novel, a literary mystery crafted out of shimmering prose and precise, painful observation about racial barriers, the burden of familial expectations, and the basic human thirst for belonging.” ~ Huffington Post

Half a King by Joe Abercrombie – “There was no comparable scene where Ninefingers jumps out a window and we don’t know his fate. Instead we have a very good book that will entertain you but won’t stay with you for very long. While I can’t wait for the next installment in the series, I can only hope that Joe steps it up a notch when it comes out.” ~ Speculative Book Review

Saints and Sinners: Stories by Edna O’Brien – “Many of these new stories return to these familiar themes, but there is now the inevitable patina of age—of wisdom gained, or at least nostalgia—that well suits O’Brien’s lyrical, ruminative narrative gifts.” ~ BookPage

Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia – “The Catskills, 1982. A young girl… witnesses a murder-suicide in room 712 of the old Hotel Bellweather. Fifteen years later that tender child, Minnie — now grown into a nervous, reclusive woman — returns to the scene of the crime…. delightfully odd and endearingly old-fashioned mystery” ~ EW

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – “I’m not sure I will read a better novel this year…. Enthrallingly told, beautifully written and so emotionally plangent that some passages bring tears, it is completely unsentimental… “~ Washington Post

Dust Devil on a Quiet Street by Richard Bowes (World Fantasy Nominee) – “Bowes the author depicts a New York at once beautiful and terrible, dangerous and glorious, where mundane life is only one step away from the supernatural.” ~ Publishers Weekly

The Visitors by Sally Beauman – “The reader is quickly drawn into the sparkle and drama of a life among the elite of the colonial age and one of its greatest adventurers. Seen through the sometimes pragmatic and sometimes innocent eyes of a child, even well-known events take on new facets, but it is in revealing little-known gems of history, forgotten characters, and nameless local associates that Beauman’s skill really shines.” ~ NY Journal of Books

Have you read any of these? What are your summer recommendations? Weigh in with a comment, or post in our BookBalloon Forum forum.

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BookBalloon Links for July 16, 2014

July 16, 2014

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Books We’re Loving

July 14, 2014
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Product Search

The NYRB Reading Club

Speedboat by Renata Adler


"When Speedboat burst on the scene in the late ’70s it was like nothing readers had encountered before. It seemed to disregard the rules of the novel, but it wore its unconventionality with ease. Reading it was a pleasure of a new, unexpected kind." -- New York Review Books

John Leonard said, "Nobody writes better prose than Renata Adler." What do you think? The discussion begins May 15 in the Forum.

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