A Nice Jacket (tie is optional)

In a recent blog, Lisa confessed to judging books by their covers. Now it is my turn to enter the confessional. Please don’t judge me.

I’m a browser.

Sure, I read reviews and get excited by their eloquent descriptions. Inevitably, in a state of rapture I’ll put a reviewed book on hold, sometime later I’ll be notified of its arrival, and sure as shootin’ I’ll have no memory of placing the hold and no interest in the book. It’s either not a genre I read or the description sounds depressing or the colors on the jacket clash. Perhaps at the time an epic intergenerational romance between a potato bug and a budgie tickled a particular nerve, but now it just seems so overdone.

So yes, I browse. And typically I look for authors that are new to me rather than tried-and-true scribes who would all but guarantee an enjoyable reading experience. My selection process is rather complicated and technical, but I’ll try to boil it down:

 The books I select must have appealing jackets.
With quirky artwork. And a nice font.

Thus I end up with some unusual reading material, things that I would not necessarily choose from a review, and have the added bonus that the book is in hand and can be read immediately (before I forget why I was attracted).

It’s always interesting in the line of duty to rediscover a book that I’d found through browsing but had since forgotten. Here are a few titles that I read in the mists of yesteryear and recently rediscovered on the shelf.

The Scheme for Full Employment by Magnus Mills Scheme for full employment
How do they create full employment in the UK? By building factories that make parts for the vans that drive between the factories to deliver the parts that the vans need as they wear out delivering parts for the vans. Got it? This system works perfectly until the company’s employees break into two different ideological groups and mess things up.

IntoxicatedIntoxicated by John Barlow
In 1860’s England an entrepreneurial hunchback midget engages the help of a businessman to create an exciting new elixir using rhubarb and coca leaf. The process of coming up with the perfect formula for Rhubarilla is described in great detail, shedding some light on a practice that is taken for granted in our modern industrial world.

The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl by Tim Pratt Rangergirl
Marzi is the night manager of a coffeehouse, but her true love is cartooning. Specifically, she creates The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl, a neo-western cowpunk adventure. More and more, Marzi starts seeing the world through Rangergirl’s eyes. One day she finds a secret door in the coffeehouse that leads to … well, a strange and dangerous place created by Marzi’s mind. Both the “real” world and the world behind the door are in grave danger, and Rangergirl is the only one who can save the day.

gaudeamusGaudeamus by John Barnes
Author John Barnes writes a story in which the main character, science fiction author John Barnes, is approached by an old friend who spins a wild tale of telepathy pills, Native Americans dressed in clown suits, and an enigmatic technology called Gaudeamus. Strangely enough, Barnes is already deeply involved with a Web cartoon called Gaudeamus that makes references to his friend’s adventures. Gaudeamus the book mixes bits of autobiographical material from Barnes’ life into a fantastical plot to create a unique reading experience.

Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi agent to the stars
Many books and movies speculate on what would happen when humans and an alien race meet for the first time. Agent to the Stars is a first-contact story where the peaceful aliens, gelatinous blobs who communicate through foul odors, are savvy enough to know that earthlings will find them unpleasant. So, before revealing themselves to the entire human race, they hire an up-and-coming Hollywood agent to create a positive image for their people.

So there you have it: a collection of admittedly weird books that I never would have discovered without walking the library’s aisles. If this is not your typical method of book selection, give it a try. Perhaps you’ll soon discover your own version of foul-smelling gelatinous blobs that will burrow their way into your heart.

Looking for Love (In All the Right Places)

I have exciting news—August is Read a Romance Month! As a confessed romance reader, I am thrilled to discover that there’s a whole month dedicated to the genre that has been my favorite for more than two decades.

Fawkes and Codex from The Guild demonstrate the traditional romance cover technique

Fawkes and Codex from The Guild demonstrate the traditional romance cover technique

Why read romance? As with any genre, each reader has his or her own reasons for choosing to read a romantic novel:

  • It’s fun!
  • Pure escapism at its best.
  • Happy endings abound.
  • Drama: either in love triangles, star-crossed lovers, or fighting the forces of evil side-by-side.
  • Rom-coms: they’re not just for movies, who doesn’t want to laugh?

For me, it’s always the promise of a happy ending that draws me in. I’m especially fond of characters who start out, for whatever reason, disliking each other and eventually make it to a happy life together. It always warms my heart when two unhappy people can find someone who understands them and together they find a way to make life happy once again.

I’m sure I already know what you’re picturing: a total bodice-ripper, maybe even complete with a shirtless Fabio in a torrid—or even sordid—embrace with a scantily-clad woman with long, flowing hair and ecstasy between them. If you’re like me and enjoy romances with the couple rounding third base on the cover but don’t want to announce it to the world, you can always download the eBook and read it in privacy on your e-reading device. While there are still many of these types of book scattered throughout publishing, today’s romance novels aren’t always so obvious.

MaddyFor example, I just finished reading The Haunting of Maddy Clare, by Simone St. James, which won RITA awards this summer for Best Novel with Strong Romantic Elements & Best First Book. It doesn’t look like a romance novel, does it? While the core of the book is a creepy ghost story, there are definitely romantic overtones throughout.

Sarah Piper is employed by a temp agency in 1920s London. Times are tough, and her existence is bleak. She can’t say no when the agency assigns her to assist author and ghost hunter Alistair Gellis. Alistair has always searched for evidence of ghosts: not just do they exist, he insists they do, but trying to answer questions like are they sentient or just bursts of energy. When he learns of the ghost of Maddy Clare (who is haunting the barn where she hanged herself one year ago) he can’t pass up the opportunity to gather potential evidence that could prove once and for all the existence of ghosts. His regular assistant is away, so he hires Sarah to accompany him to the English countryside.

Sarah soon learns her real role: Alistair wants her to commune with Maddy’s ghost. Sarah discovers that in life Maddy hated men and will not allow any to come near her inside the barn. Sarah isn’t brave—she’s desperate to make ends meet. So she enters the barn, knowing nothing will ever be the same.

Are you thinking she and Alistair will hook up? That would be a little obvious. And while I’m not opposed to obvious, there’s something to be said for patience. After Sarah makes contact with Maddy, Alistair’s original assistant arrives to reprise his role. Matthew Ryder served with Alistair in the Great War, and they are as close as brothers. Matthew is at first angry that Alistair wouldn’t wait for him to return before setting out to investigate Maddy. But soon they discover just how much influence Maddy has over them all. It’s going to take a lot of fortitude, and some good old-fashioned detective work, to fully understand Maddy’s story.

Author Anne Stuart, who herself writes romances, described this book as, “Compelling…a wonderful blend of romance, mystery, and pure creepiness.” With a description like that, how can you pass it up?

page 45This is just one of millions of tales where romance plays a key part in the story—even if it’s not the entire story. So what if there isn’t an embracing couple on the cover? Have no doubt you may indeed find love—and a happy ending—even in a grim and, yes, creepy book like this one.

Still not convinced? Recently I put it to our Facebook fans to play along with a little game. It’s a quick, easy, and fun way to participate in Read a Romance Month:

Take a chance. Read a romance. You just might fall in love with reading all over again.

Carol

You Must Blurb This Book!

I know I’m not supposed to judge a book by its cover. But is it OK to judge a book by the blurbs on its cover?

"More Engaging Than Any New Fiction In Years" - Chuck Palahniuk

I’m talking about those positive reviews—some subtle and others over-the-moon—by other writers plastered all over book covers these days.

A blurb from Stephen King is not guaranteed to get a book racing to the top of the bestseller list the way an Oprah Book Club selection most undoubtedly will. But it will convince a good portion of his millions of fans to read something new. (Check out the hilarious analysis of Stephen King as blurb king over at the Seattle Public Library’s book blog.)

But just because you like the books someone’s written, does that mean you’ll like the same books that person’s read? Are those gushing celebrity endorsements really helpful in deciding which books to read?

Maybe.

book coverAnn Patchett is one of my favorite authors. And so I decided a few months ago, having read all her books, that I should read books written by her friends. These are books I probably would not have read were it not for the Patchett connection: Lucy Grealy’s Autobiography of a Face, Elizabeth McCracken’s The Giant’s House, and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love. While I enjoyed these books, I didn’t love any of them the way I loved Bel Canto.

And yet I still find myself putting books on my ever-growing “to read” list based on Ann Patchett’s blurbs.  Here are a few of her blurbs that have tempted me lately:
The Outlander by Gil Adamson

book cover“The Outlander deserves to be read twice, first for the plot and the complex characters which make this a page-turner of the highest order, and then a second time, slowly, to savor the marvel of Gil Adamson’s writing. This novel is a true wonder.”

Sacrament of Lies by Elizabeth Dewberry

book cover“In Sacrament of Lies, the line between certainty and madness is as thin as a razor and equally as dangerous. Elizabeth Dewberry has given us a rare gift, a literary thriller that will keep us up all night. This book is riveting.”

Heir to the Glimmering World by Cynthia Ozick

“A cause for celebration in the world of literature. Here we have a heroine to love, a story we can’t let go of, gorgeous sentences, and ideas to wrestle with. I didn’t just read this book, I devoured it.”

Hands of My Father by Myron Uhlberg

book cover“In telling the story of his very unique childhood, Myron Uhlberg has created a book that is universal. His feelings of love and responsibility, of shame and enormous pride, can teach us all something about being a member of a family. I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t love this book.”

Tunneling to the Center of the Earth by Kevin Wilson

“Kevin Wilson’s stories show us a world that is both real and full of illusion…He forces us to look at our own lives in a new and slightly off-kilter way.”

Are there any authors whose blurbs you trust? Do blurbs make any difference in the books you choose?

Mindy