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Lit Hub Screen Grab

Katie Yee’s 11.8.19 Literary Hub piece “Here’s Why You Should Preorder All Your Books From Independent Bookstores” opens by asking “Who doesn’t love an independent bookshop?” and reminds us about charming bookstores from popular films like You’ve Got Mail, Notting Hill and Funny Face. Yee’s article (link below) directs us to Andrea Bartz’ recent Twitter on this very topic as well as Celeste Ng’s 2018 “Bookstores Are The Center of The Literary Ecosystem”, both strongly encouraging (or even admonishing) book buyers to make their purchases from independent booksellers, preordering forthcoming titles in particular, since preorder data can impact booksellers’ ordering choices and even bestseller lists. For those who shrug and point out that they simply don’t have an indie bookseller nearby (which I’m certain comprises a lot of people) there are still alternatives like Indiebound.

Booksotre 2

There was a time not so long ago when you couldn’t pass an urban shopping strip or suburban mall without a chain bookstore. At their peak (if I’ve read accurate sources), there were over 3,200 chain bookstore locations in the U.S. Now there are fewer than a thousand, those being some 600+ Barnes & Noble and 250+ Books-A-Million locations.

B. Dalton (a B&N subsidiary), Borders, its Waldenbooks subsidiary, Crown, and Hastings have vanished. The book distribution arena has also changed, with consolidation among some smaller and regional distributors, and most notably, Baker & Taylor departing the trade book business altogether. Until quite recently, there wasn’t a single independent bookstore near me. I now have one very close by, and a charming store it is. There’s another not too far away, part of a small local chain, though neither of these can boast superstore level title selections. I do have three Barnes & Noble locations reasonably close to home or work.

Support local independent booksellers? I do, and encourage you to do so too. But I won’t hiss at anyone who also shops Barnes & Noble and/or Amazon.

Bookstore 3

I don’t go along with the anti-superstore attitude. Like it or not, Barnes & Noble (under new ownership itself now) is the only standalone operation with enough muscle to pose any credible opposition to Amazon’s complete takeover of the bookselling marketplace. And while I never chase discounts, I do buy from Amazon as well, though typically oddities or OOP titles unavailable elsewhere. Friends and family members in remote rural regions rely on Amazon for books and more, and I suppose if I resided elsewhere, I would too.

I’ll continue to pester bookstore clerks with my screen-cap printouts and scribbled notes to order/preorder books, some few that they’ll be getting anyway, some others that require deep digging to locate. But I won’t feel guilty strolling the aisles at Barnes & Noble, particularly the sprawling magazine racks. And if I can only get some smaller-than-small press title or ancient used book from the behemoth in Seattle, I’ll be glad Amazon exists. Where I get my books isn’t my problem.

Where the hell to keep them all at home is the real challenge.

https://lithub.com/heres-why-you-should-preorder-all-your-books-from-independent-bookstores/

Where Do The Bad Books Go?

By Christopher Lowell 2006

Where do the bad books go? With hardcover fiction ready to top thirty bucks a pop, trade paperbacks routinely going for seventeen/eighteen dollars and so-called ‘rack sized’ or mass-market paperbacks becoming a vanishing breed, where the bad books go really ought to be the fiery furnaces of hell. Bookaholics browsing their credit card statements can get queasy, particularly if some of the bookstore and online charges were for books that kind of, well…sucked.

Of course, a bad book to me could be a cherished favorite of yours…and vice-versa.

My own cozy writing lair (which really is cozy, fortunately, now that Mid-Autumn’s pretending to be a prematurely snowy Winter) has an entire wall of floor-to-ceiling bookcases behind me and a long row of four-shelf bookcases on another wall, all of them jammed full. Only the ‘keepers’ end up on those shelves. There are lots of books bought and read that I’m just not interested in holding onto. Example: I’ve read more current events titles the past three years — things being pretty ‘eventful’ – but will be pleased to consider those books obsolete soon…one way or another. For those and others that I’ve enjoyed but simply don’t wish to keep, there’s a big carton out of sight beside my printer stand for books destined for periodic disposal.

And that’s where the bad books go.

Edson Rosas

Recently I was asked if I love every book I read, since a visitor here only sees rave reviews.  First, to be clear, I don’t think of any of my book posts as ‘book reviews’ or myself a reviewer. I’m just sharing remarks about recently read books with followers/visitors who likely have similar interests. But, it’s true: You won’t find much in the way of negative ‘reviews’ here. Karma, baby. I’ve never understood why self-appointed unpaid book ‘reviewers’ want to bad-mouth books. I’m of the ‘if you don’t have something good to say, say nothing at all’ persuasion. I’ve violated it a time or two with older postwar paperbacks, but those novels were decades old, the authors long deceased. With so many good projects to chat about, why spend time being snarky about the bad ones? (Once again, keeping in mind that my good might be your bad, and vice-versa.)

But, are there bad ones? Good God, yes. Lots.

Bad books usually find their way home with me because of eye-catching cover art. I’m easier to hook than a hungry fish. Good covers are often wrapped around bad books, or books that just don’t interest me once I plunge in. Cozies masquerading as something grittier (or steamier) are frequent culprits. Pretentious self-indulgent ‘literary’ fiction runs a close second.

Adult Architecture

The most painful and recent example that comes to mind wasn’t a particularly expensive mistake. I eagerly looked forward to a novel that caught my eye at multiple sites and print venues. The $16 trade pb sported handsome illustrative retro-pulp cover art and was set in a familiar hard-boiled mystery/crime fiction milieu (or so I thought). But it turned out to be something quite different, and not far in, I began to skip tedious (and shockingly frequent) expository paragraphs and intrusive stop-the-narrative backstory. Nearing halfway I was already skimming, and soon just jumped to the end to see what the resolution of the mystery was (not that I cared very much by that point). For me, that was a bad book. A really, really bad book, but made all the worse when I spotted the author’s thank you to her agent in the acknowledgements…an agent who’d recently rejected me. Let’s assume the agent considered my project a bad book. Or enlisted an intern to crank out thanks-but-no-thanks emails to unread queries…who knows? And no, I won’t mention the title or author name here. But I’ll admit – that one left me bruised (and out the sixteen bucks).

Bad books and just-not-keeper books used to be donated till I learned that they weren’t sent to literacy programs or needy libraries, but merely pulped for pennies-a-pound. Now the baddies are turned in at a used bookstore chain, with whatever I earn (no surprise) usually spent before I can escape. And ‘round here, that’s where bad books go. Hopefully into the hands of readers who don’t think they’re bad. After all, someone thought they were good, good enough to get an agent, acquisition editor and retail buyers’ approval, right? So, I like to think those ‘bad’ books became someone else’s good books. Unless, of course, I see them back on the used bookstore’s shelves a few weeks later.

(c) 2009 Holly Henry

Top photo: Christopher Lowell, 2006; Bookstore window by Edson Rosas, Above (c) 2009 Holly Henry.

One Good Deed

One Good Deed

We’ve been here before. If you’re a fan of postwar paperback originals, you’ve been probably here quite a few times, in fact. But that doesn’t mean we don’t want to be here all over again if a talented writer can make it worth the trip.

A stranger arrives in a made-up big town/small city, typically in some vaguely Midwest or southwest locale, only to wind up in trouble with the local law, corrupt power brokers and – inevitably – the resident femme fatale. It’s been a standalone mystery/crime fiction novel staple since the 1940’s. Paw through musty paperbacks in a used bookstore and you’re bound to come up with one or more. Familiarity (even occasional redundancy) doesn’t undermine this viable noir-ish story setup, any more than seascapes, still life’s and figure studies would be invalidated simply because painters frequently explore them like an artistic right of passage. Two examples of this type of story that immediately come to mind are Ross MacDonald’s Blue City from 1947 and The Long Wait, a rare non-Mike Hammer novel from Mickey Spillane in 1951. And I bet you could name some others.

Blue City MontageThe Long Wait Montage

So, there’s nothing surprising about David Baldacci giving this time-honored theme a go in his current One Good Deed, other than the fact that this NYT bestseller already knocked out nearly 40 novels (his first novel, Absolute Power, adapted to a successful film as well) before contemplating his first retro postwar setting. Based on some online reviews I’ve spotted, it caught a few of his loyal fans off-guard. Well, they better get used to it, since it sounds like One Good Deed is the first in a new series Baldacci has planned.

In 1949, Aloysius Archer steps off the bus in Poca City in ill-fitting clothes, a measly few dollars in his pocket and a three day stay prepaid at the only hotel. He’s due to meet his parole officer, find a job and start over after a three-year prison stint on trumped-up charges. But Archer (which is the handle he prefers) endured far worse as a decorated infantryman in WWII’s Italian campaign, and is a man to reckon with.

An ill-advised but understandable urge for a forbidden drink and some barroom banter with a local lounge looker are among his first mistakes. Followed by a bigger lapse in judgement when he agrees to collect a debt for Poca City’s big shot, Hank Pittleman, who owns the local bank, the town’s only industry (a hog slaughterhouse), the hotel Archer’s staying in…hell, even the cocktail lounge they’re drinking in. And the girl who’s got Archer’s head spinning. As will happen in such tales, Archer winds up in bed with Pittleman’s seductive mistress…the same night Pittleman’s murdered, his throat slit ear-to-ear. All of which finds Archer in one hell of a lot of trouble with the local law, the State Police homicide investigator who takes over, and Archer’s own parole officer…who just happens to be an intriguing woman with a mysterious past and is every bit as alluring as the Poca City bad girl he’s already mixed up with.

There’s enough small-town drama and family secrets to fill both a Grace Metalious novel and a Tennessee Williams drama here, mixed in with a puzzling murder mystery (and a few other dustups and deaths along the way), all capped off with a climactic courtroom scene, which may sound like a bit much for any one book, but then Baldacci’s a real pro and more than up to the task. I’d never read one of his novels before, but knowing he plans more Archer novels after One Good Deed, I’ll be watching for the next one. The fact is, when I stumble across some musty old paperback by a long-gone writer in a used bookstore with some other loner stepping off the bus in a made-up town’s Main Street, I’ll probably give it a try too, no matter how many times I’ve been there already.

Fifty Shades Of Grey Fedora

Fifty Shades

I enter keywords like ‘private eyes’, ‘femme fatale’, ‘female detective’ and a host of other mystery-crime fiction-noir related terms when I’m hunting up new books. So I can’t figure out why The Private Eye Writers Of America Presents: Fifty Shades Of Grey Fedora edited by Robert J. Randisi popped up for the first time just a couple weeks ago, even though it was published in 2015. I definitely never saw it on shelf in a bookstore, but then, so-called hybrid, small press and micro-publisher titles are usually rarities on retailers’ shelves, even in the independents and specialty shops.

Fifty Shades Of Grey Fedora isn’t a tie-in to the E. L. James books (love them, hate them or just be indifferent) or dealing with dominant/submissive relationships or any form of BDSM. Rather, the anthology aims to illustrate “that sex and crime not only go hand in hand” but actually provide a “sexy, bawdy spin on the art of detection and the law of attraction”.

The sex and crime connection’s a bit thin in a couple of the tales, but that’s okay. The anthology includes Sara Paretsky’s V. I. Warshawski, here reluctantly involved in a high stakes Russian technology theft after giving a high school career day presentation. John Lutz offers an unexpected and funny spin on how federal grants are mis-spent in the hallowed halls of academia. For someone with a couple of bookshelves dedicated to Max Allan Collins, his Nathan Heller tale would normally be my automatic favorite, this one blending fact and fiction as they usually do, Heller assisting pre-WWII era Cleveland Public Safety Director Eliot Ness with a deadly hit & run insurance racket. It loses out only on a technicality – I already have this story in his excellent 2011 collection, Chicago Lightning – The Collected Nathan Heller Stories. So my favorite in Randisi’s anthology was M. Ruth Myers’ “The Concrete Garter Belt”, with Myers’ Shamus Award winning Depression era Dayton, Ohio private eye Maggie Sullivan guilted into investigating a woman’s disappearance which at first leads her to a hardly rare case of workplace harassment that turns into something much more heinous. And no, there really isn’t a ‘concrete’ garter belt involved. Lets just say that the uncharacteristically fancy blue silk one P.I. Maggie Sullivan treats herself to with a recent client bonus ends up being a life-saver in a shoot out. Not unlike this Private Eye Writers of America anthology itself, I haven’t seen M. Ruth Myers’ books in stores, but my introduction to her Maggie Sullivan series character induced me to whip out the credit card and start ordering.

Maggie Sullivan Books

This was a fun bunch of stories, mixing some classic hard-boiled material with more edgy contemporary tales, some getting pretty steamy and explicit, others kind of tap-dancing around the sex and crime theme. The Riverdale Avenue Books release is a POD edition, and pretty obviously so. I hope in the four years since it came out that the publisher — helmed by well-known agent Lori Perkins and by all I’ve skimmed online doing well and well-regarded — has mastered the art of formatting text files and proofreading typo’s and punctuation a little better…yikes!

An Embarrassment Of Riches

New books waiting to be read hereabouts usually are left on one particular endtable right next to my favorite reading chair. I pass it constantly, so any library books stare back at me as a reminder to return them on time. Normally there are a few books stacked there, and should I fall behind, a couple more might pile up.

But right now, there’s an embarrassment of riches piled high on the endtable. Whether that’s because I’ve really fallen behind in my reading or simply have acquired too many books the past couple weeks (much more likely), I couldn’t say for sure. And I’m not even counting the stack of half a dozen Adventure House trade pb pulp reprints of 1940’s Spicy Detective and Spicy Mystery magazines I got just last week. All I know for sure is that there’s a lot of reading to catch up on this summer.

I’m holding off on Phillip Kerr’s final Bernie Gunther novel, Metropolis and James Ellroy’s This Storm till I can really hunker down with them. Those two are books to be savored. Fingers crossed: Unless something intervenes, I’m on schedule for a four-day getaway next weekend. Sure, I could spend it swimming, canoeing and hiking. But an easy chair, a fireplace and either Kerr or Ellroy sounds good too. Maybe I’ll flip a coin.

Knowing that I have a couple more books reserved at a nearby bookstore and due in this or next week, and one or more backordered from the online behemoth, I can only hope that old endtable is sturdier than it looks.

  • Robert J. Randisi’s Fifty Shades Of Grey Fedora – A Private Eye Writers Of America anthology
  • Jump Cut by Libby Fisher Hellman
  • Ka-Chow: Dan Turner In Pictures by Robert Leslie Bellem and Adolphe Barreiax
  • Hollywood Detective with Dan Turner, Queenie Starr, Betty Blake and more
  • Metropolis by Phillip Kerr, the final Bernie Gunther novel completed before the author’s untimely death.
  • The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova, author of the great The Historian and The Swan Thieves
  • Speakeasy by Alisa Smith
  • This Storm by James Ellroy, the second entry in his new L.A. Quartet (Perfidia being the first)
  • Where Monsters Hide by M. William Phelps, a rare true-crime book (rare for me, that is)
  • The Moneypenny Diaries by Kate Westbrook
  • The Best Of Spicy Mystery – Volume 1
  • Westside by W. M. Akers

I’m nearly through Fifty Shades Of Grey Fedora as I write this, but will surely be done with it by the time this appears, so more about the one shortly.

Renee Rosen’s Guilty Pleasures

Park Avenue Summer

I stumbled onto my first Renee Rosen novel a few years ago and have been hooked since. Just finished her latest, Park Avenue Summer, a few weeks ago.

Rosen’s Dollface from 2013 is where I started, her first novel, I think. No surprise that it caught my eye, being set in Prohibition era Chicago, and telling Vera Abramowitz’ story in which romance with a suave bootlegger goes bad once he’s in the clink and she has to take over. Writer Rosen’s from Ohio but relocated to Chicago, seems to have acquired a very genuine feel for the city, and obviously does her homework on each period she writes about. That first book set a tone for the subsequent novels: A young woman navigating her way through an overwhelmingly male dominated world in eras when things were evolving, but only a bit. A very little bit.

Dollface

I missed her second novel from 2014 but kept up with the next three: White Collar Girl  from 2015, about young Jordan Walsh struggling to make it as a reporter in the boys club newsroom of the Chicago Tribune back in 1955. Next came Windy City Blues in 2017, once again set in Chicago and merging 1950’s-60’s fact and fiction with a young Jewish girl in the vibrant R&B music scene and tumultuous race relations while at Chicago’s legendary Chess Records.

White Collar Girl

Rosen’s latest, Park Avenue Summer, left her adopted home town for mid-1960’s New York City, where aspiring photographer Alice Weiss takes a job as Helen Gurley Brown’s secretary just as the iconic editor and author of the then-scandalous Sex And The Single Girl was about to turn the publishing world on its ear with the relaunch of Cosmopolitan magazine. I saw one review calling this novel “Mad Men Meets The Devil Wears Prada”, and that’s not an entirely bad description, at least as far as describing the milieu goes.

I’m calling Rosen’s novels ‘guilty pleasures’, but not to suggest that they’re lighthearted fluff. Far from it. Her novels have been a treat, helped locales and era come vibrantly alive for me, and each has been a pleasant diversion from the mysteries and crime fiction I normally devour. Three in a row all situated in 1950’s-60’s settings? That’s just a bonus for me. I don’t know where Renee Rosen is headed next: Back to Chicago, and if so, in what decade? Wherever and whenever it is, I can guarantee I’ll be going along for the trip.

Windy City Blues

 

Independent Bookstore Day

Indie Bookstores Montage copy

We all have our favorite indie bookstores. I have (and have had) too many to count, much less depict here. Quimby’s, Barbara’s, 57th Street Books, Seminary Co-Op Bookstore, Centuries & Sleuths, Unabridged Books, Women & Children First, Chicago Comics…well, it’d just keep going.

Time was (and not so long ago) that everyone assumed the chains and superstores would bury all the indies. In fact, Barnes & Noble is the only remaining national chain, along with a small number of Books-A-Million stores. Crown, Hastings, Waldenbooks, Border’s, R. B. Dalton – all gone. But so too are Kroch’s & Brentano’s, Book World, Stuart Brent, The Stars Our Destination and so many single storefront or small regional chain booksellers. And that online behemoth does throw its weight around, perhaps more so than ever. Further, we should never ignore the muscle of Walmart, Target, Walgreens and some other general retail chains that carry a modest selection of books. Not many titles, but multiply them by thousands and thousands of stores, and that’s a lot of books being sold in those venues.

three fashion books montage

Mother Nature’s not cooperating in the Midwest today. On the way home Friday, it seemed that everyone was out mowing their lawns. The sun was still out and it was comfy in the sixties. Right now, lunchtime on Saturday the 27th, snow is falling, with a ‘Winter Storm Watch’ (though it’s Spring, and nearly May) and a forecast of 8” of thick wet stuff by 1:00 AM, depending on how the storm moves through the area. Based on how it’s been coming down, the forecast seems accurate. Not exactly a good day for bumming around, perhaps.  But I’ll be out in it shortly, and then inside at least one independent bookstore, where I’ll be sure to do my part…specifically, to buy a book!

ibd logo

Bookstores Above: Quimby’s – Wicker Park, Chicago, Chicago Comics – Boy’s Town, Chicago, Seminary Co-Op Bookstore – Hyde Park, Chicago, Main Street Newstand – Evanston, Centuries & Sleuths – Forest Park, 57th Street Books – Hyde Park, Chicago

Photos: Robert Lethery, Marie Claire France 2015; Deither Krehbiel; Carter Smith, 2006.

 

Save Me From Dangerous Men

Save Me From Dangerous Men

S.A. Lelchuk’s Nikki Griffin loves books.

She can quote classic writers to grad students, has a huge storage locker crammed so full of books that she needs straps to keep the shelves from tumbling over. She even owns a Bay Area used bookstore, the kind of place that only seems to exist in novels, where quirky patrons congregate for hours, hold literary meetings, sip complimentary coffee and (hopefully) buy something once in a while.

But it’s also a destination for abused women. Somehow word gets around about Nikki Griffin. Because she tracks dangerous men. Men who hurt the women they claim to love. And Nikki is particularly skilled at teaching them what it feels like to be hurt and helpless, and making sure that they never, ever hurt those women again.

Lelchuk’s Save Me From Dangerous Men hooked me mere sentences into the opening pages, with a tense scene that set the pace for the entire novel. That the book eventually took an unexpected turn and found Nikki Griffin embroiled in something much bigger than another threatened or abused wife or girlfriend could’ve been a disappointment in less capable hands, but the author skillfully interweaves Nikki’s day job, her poignant backstory, her ‘side business’ along with a more conventional private investigation job she accepts with misgivings, which not surprisingly, spirals into global thriller territory.

When I bought this book the week before last, one of four that I carried to the register, the cashier asked if it was for me or someone else. It seemed like an odd question. I told her it was for me, and her face immediately lit up as she told me she’d just finished it, assuring me I would like it. A lot. And she was right. I guess she just wanted to share.

There’s no setup to segue conveniently into a sequel, but I get the feeling S.A. Lelchuk’s got another Nikki Griffin novel in the works. I sure hope so. A couple online reviews I read actually griped about the author being a man writing a woman’s book and in first person POV no less. Oh, screw them. We all hear “this one’s a real page-turner” bandied about a lot, but Save Me From Dangerous Men truly is, and Lelchuk has created a very memorable, troubled, vulnerable yet lethal character who gives the notion of ‘stiletto gumshoes’ another rich layer: part bibliophile, part investigator, part vigilante, but very, very human throughout. Look for this one and check it out…I can’t imagine you’ll be disappointed.

Do Not Disturb Unless Bleeding.

busy-writing

If you’re shopping a project around (like me, again), you probably are well aware of the Manuscript Wish List site.

MSWL Masthead

A week ago the MSWL email newslteer included a cute item from The Manuscript Academy (manuscriptadacemy.com) — a downloadable/printable “Busy Writing” file, perfect for your writing room door (if you’re fortunate enough to have a dedicated writing room, of course) or wherever. As it says: “Busy Writing: Do not disturb unless bleeding and/or on fire”. Go to the Manuscript Academy’s site to download yours, and pin that darn thing up somewhere. Obviously if someone’s bleeding, you’ll want to help right away (after you hit save on your file). If they’re actually on fire, I say get some pictures first.

Manuscript Academy Masthead

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