I'm not sure what a difference a year makes, but 2014 has been a completely different story when it comes to Indie Next Picks and Boswell. Last year, it seemed that it was pretty common for three of the twenty titles featured in the monthly flier we got from the American Booksellers Association to be upcoming events. Once we got up to six! This year, we've been lucky to have one. It's a function of having different readers on staff, and more new booksellers that haven't yet gotten into the recommendation groove.
The books are chosen by booksellers, with the picks curated by the trade association, with the top title featured on the front of the flier and the top 20 described in a flier inside. There is also a selection of reprint titles included. I only pay attention to this because one, I'm competitive, and two, I've used the flier as a marketing device for upcoming events. But there's been another obstacle in promoting upcoming events on fliers--a good percentage of the events that we have had have been so early in the flier's cycle that most people got the fliers after the events were over.
There are only two books featured on the July Indie Next list that we even got reads on, Queen of the Tearling and The String Diaries. This was a similar situation to June, where we had reads on The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair. That month had two author events featured, Joël Dicker and David Downing, but both they typified my 2014 dilemma--for the June Indie Next list, the featured authors had events on May 16 and June 3 respectively. Now in some ways, I'm happy about that, as I sometimes feel like books are featured too early. I must remind myself that I can't have it both ways!
So here's the #1 Pick: The Queen of the Tearling: A Novel, by Erika Johansen (Harper, 9780062290366, $26.99)
“The Queen of the Tearling is a brilliant tale, brilliantly told. It has everything — magic, high adventure, mystery, and romance. Kelsea Raleigh Glynn, who was raised in exile, must reclaim her mother’s throne and learn to be a ruler despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles: the Red Queen, a powerful monarch in a neighboring kingdom; the Caden, a group of assassins tasked to destroy Kelsea; and her own Uncle Thomas, Regent of Tearling, who will do anything to stay in power. Kelsea must earn the trust and loyalty of her subjects and those who would protect her, and learn to use the Tearling sapphire, a jewel of immense power. This is the book everyone will be reading and recommending this summer!” —Jerry Brown, The Bookstore, Radcliff, KY
We have our own great recommendation of Queen of the Tearling, from Pam. "19-year old Kelsea, raised in isolation, is on her way back home to ascend her throne, trailed by many who wish her killed. Her only protection is the loyal Queen’s guard, headed by stoic Lazarus, as well as the Tearling Sapphire, a powerful, magical jewel. Kelsea was educated during her exile, but kept in the dark about the state of her kingdom and the devil’s bargain her ineffectual mother, the Queen, made with the neighboring Mortmesne. Upon her arrival, a rash decision brings down the wrath of the powerful Sorceress, the Red Queen of Mortmesne. Set in world with discordant elements of a medieval past and dystopian future, I really enjoyed this novel featuring a young but determined female character who doesn’t know whom she can trust. It is filled with political intrigue, magic, adventure, and a very useful map." --Pam Stilp
Similarly, we have recommendations on The String Diaries from Jason and Jen. Here's the official one being used on the Indie Next List.
The String Diaries: A Novel, by Stephen Lloyd Jones (Mulholland Books, 9780316254465, $26)
“Usually when we have the eerie feeling that something or someone dark and gruesome is following us, it’s just our vivid imaginations running amuck. But in The String Diaries it’s a very real monstrous being who is following Hannah and her family, and it’s been following them for nearly two hundred years as attested to in diaries passed to Hannah from her mother. The worst part is its ability to look like anyone — even someone Hannah loves. Prepare to grit your teeth and shudder. Yes, it’s that good!” —Linda Bond, Auntie’s Bookstore, Spokane, WA
I always listen to the recommendations of Arsen Kashkashian at Boulder Book Shop. His pick this month is Last Night at the Blue Angel: A Novel, by Rebecca Rotert (William Morrow, 9780062315281, $25.99)
“The life of a sultry jazz singer in 1965 Chicago is beautifully evoked in this touching novel. Rotert alternates her narrative between Naomi, the singer, detailing how she got to Chicago in the 1950s, and the singer’s somewhat neglected 10-year-old daughter, Sophia. Sophia finds a paternal figure in Naomi’s most enduring suitor, the photographer Jim. Their makeshift family, along with a runaway nun, a transvestite, and a Polish émigré, try forge an existence while chasing stardom, but Naomi’s past keeps dragging them down. Rotert’s vivid descriptions of the tawdry jazz clubs and the deserted buildings that Jim photographs bring a sense of immediacy to this tale.” —Arsen Kashkashian, Boulder Book Store, Boulder, CO
And finally, one bookseller recommends the other in Cathy Langer's review of Lisa Howorth's Flying Shoes. If you think this is rigged, just think that book sections are filled with novelists reviewing other novelists, social scientists judging other social science works, and literary critics judging books of criticism, so why shouldn't booksellers review booksellers? The novel has been getting great reviews elsewhere too, and had this wonderful profile in The New York Times, where she talks about how the novel is inspired by true incidents in her family. It is also a lovely portrait of a bookseller, how she wound up moving to Oxford, meeting her husband, and starting Square Books, "an event often credited as the turning point in Oxford’s transition from backwater to literary hub."
Here's the Indie Next recommendation: Flying Shoes: A Novel, by Lisa Howorth (Bloomsbury, 9781620403013, $26)
“Howorth’s debut novel is a Southern feast for the mind. As the mystery of the brutal death of a nine-year-old boy unfolds, the reader meets unforgettable characters, most notably Mary Byrd Thornton, a feisty, flawed, and often foul-mouthed wife and mother and the stepsister of the murdered child, who very reluctantly revisits the event after 30 years. Flying Shoes artfully steers the reader through some of the idiosyncrasies of life in a Southern town and deals with social and racial issues with the honesty and humor that only an insider can offer.” —Cathy Langer, Tattered Cover Book Store, Denver, CO
What We’re Reading This Week
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