Monday, March 31, 2008

Corporate Musings

I find it interesting that the possible downfall of Borders is effecting the industry this much. I put some thought into the time I spent working at the big boxes (6 years total between 2 chains) and I think there are some overall practices that are sorely in need of change. 

As I said, I have worked in two chains (not in the most recent years) one that is almost nonexistent these days thanks to having been bought out, and another that is still going strong. The sad thing is, when the first chain's purchaser shut our store down, we were turning a bigger profit than we had in years. So you can't really say that closing our particular store had anything to do with losses. Overall, the profits we were making may not have cancelled out the dip in sales from the years before I started there, but for three straight years, we were doing great. Chances are pretty good that this trend would continue. 

I think the reason for our success was our team. We were a smaller store with a great GM who allowed us to do some things that were not exactly what the big corporation wanted us to be doing. Why? Because it worked for our store and we could show that we were turning a profit. 

This is problem number one with these companies, the idea that what works in one store can work in all of the stores and so a set-in-stone plan is implemented with management staff that can't make any decision to do otherwise. 

This is problem number two, hiring practices within the big companies are such that they want people who can manage people. They don't want managers who think outside the box, they want mindless automatons who have attended the PC courses on managing employees. They don't have to have any knowledge of books and so they, in turn, do not hire people who necessarily have any knowledge of books. You can, as I did, point out to these people that there are better, more effective ways of doing necessary work and they will override you at every opportunity, and probably reprimand you (as they did me) for not following said corporate plan.

This is problem number three, there is no benefit to being an employee at any of these corporations. Your chances of being promoted within these companies are sadly minimal. Who wants to work for the rest of their lives at minimum wage with the promise of a yearly 25 cent raise? The maximum raise at the companies I worked for, by the way, was 75 cents. No one ever got that raise. The management were told to find a reason, any reason, to dock the raise down. This does not promote happy or loyal employees. Are they going to do the best job they can to sell your product? No. 

This is problem four, happy employees would increase sales. Unhappy employees are only going to do what is necessary to keep their jobs. I was an overachiever with way too much responsibility and it got to be way more than I could handle. When an employee sees that their hard work does not pay off and that Joe Blow off the street who barely knows his alphabet gets paid the same amount, this isn't a good working environment. And, when stores keep the bare minimum staff on hand, nothing gets done. 

This is problem five, sales = hours. What this means, if you are lucky enough never to have had to work retail, is that the more you sell, the more corporate will allot to payroll. If you have a management team member (which is necessary at all times) this eats up a big chunk of payroll. Then, you have the experienced employee who has put in some years and now makes more than the beginner who started at Christmas and managed to hang onto their position, and that takes up a slightly smaller chunk of payroll. What's left goes to the inexperienced new guy who hasn't been trained properly who takes up the least amount of payroll. The more experienced person then has to make up for the less experienced person and can't get anything done. It's also drilled in your head that customer service comes first. No matter how often you may get berated for not finishing the necessary 4 hours of shelving and display work you had in the 30 minutes that was alloted to you in the first place, customer service always comes first, so you damn well better drop what you are doing and help them. 

This is problem six, sales = hours and poor sales = minimal staff which in turn = pissy employees who are trying to get as much squeezed into their time as they can and still help customers. More employees on hand would = more time for people to be able to devote to those necessary day-to-day tasks such as shelving the book the customer needs an employee to help them find because it never made it out of the back room in the first place. More time to finish necessary tasks = less berating from less than understanding idiotic management which = happier employees. Happier employees who are able to finish these tasks have more time to help customers, are in a much better mood and by logic = happy customers who buy more stuff! Happy customers who buy more stuff = more profits.

Seems pretty logical, right? Never gonna happen. These things will not change. What will happen is that customers will continue to shop these stores for absolute necessities - that book their kid waited until Friday to tell mom they needed for the Monday before - and will go elsewhere to browse. I don't blame them. I was good at my job, I liked at one point, but by the end I was miserable and it showed. You can't work with blinders on if you have any knowledge of the runnings of a store and the industry that you work in. 

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Coming 4/1

New releases hitting shelves this week:

Bound by Sally Gunning - something of a follow-up to Widow's War. Great historical fiction.
Infection by Scott Sigler - gory fun when everything goes to hell in a handbasket thanks to a strange infection plaguing the States.
The Death Dealer by Heather Graham - follow-up to The Dead Room
Winter Study by Nevada Barr - the 14th Anna Pigeon mystery!
Wit's End by Karen Joy Fowler - new title from author of The Jane Austen Book Club.
Small Favor by Jim Butcher - latest in the Dresden Files series.
Sepulchre by Kate Mosse - interesting premise, I haven't read this yet, but am really looking forward to it in spite of some of the reviews.
Losing You by Nicci French - latest thriller from this husband and wife team. This one is going in my must read pile!
Codex 632 by Jose Rodrigues dos Santos - internationally bestselling thriller about a conspiracy regarding Columbus's discovery of America
The Forgery of Venus by Michael Gruber - another historical thriller from the author of Book of Air and Shadows

Probably already on shelves but official release date is 4/1:
These Boots Were Made for Stomping - three stories about magic shoes - Julie Kenner, Jade Lee, and Marianne Mancusi
Ravenous by Ray Garton - WEREWOLF ATTACK!
Rogue by Rachel Vincent - I know this one is already out, but if you haven't bought, go today!
Empress by Karen Miller - first in her Godspeaker trilogy

On DVD (slim pickings this week):
Sweeney Todd

Reviews at Bookbitch this week:
These Boots Were Made for Stomping
The Death Dealer
How NOT to Write a Novel

Friday, March 28, 2008

Another Must Read From My Collection!

Season of the Witch, by Natasha Mostert, was one of those books that really caught my attention right off the bat. I think I was in Borders when I first came across it, but I held off on buying. Maybe a week later, with the book still rolling around in my head demanding purchase, I found it at the Boulder Bookstore. I say found, but by then the impulse to buy it was way too strong to resist and I am just glad BBS had it in stock!

Season is modern gothic fiction at it's absolute best! At it's heart, it's a mystery, but it has some major paranormal and philosophical elements as well. In Season, Gabriel Blackstone, a highly talented remote viewer is asked to use his powers to help track down a missing person. Gabriel was once part of a group called Eyestorm but was unable to work with the group and struck out on his own. One of his former colleagues, Cecily Franck, contacts Gabriel and requests his help in finding her missing stepson. Through the use of his ability, Gabriel is able to relive the final minutes of the man's life and comes to believe that the man was murdered. His investigation leads him to Minnaloushe and Morrighan Monk, two beautiful and charming sisters with some big secrets. 

Season of the Witch is one of those amazing books that you have to tell everyone about! I love gothic fiction and have been especially enjoying the recent resurgence in popularity. Titles like Thirteenth Tale, Ghost Writer, and The Historian have been among my favorites in recent years. Mostert fits comfortably in with them even though she has much more of a paranormal twist to her tale than the others do. 

In addition to Season, Mostert is also author of Windwalker, another gothic tale that I highly recommend. The Midnight Side and The Other Side of Silence are both out of print, but can sometimes be found through used bookstores. I was able to find Midnight Side and have it sitting in my TBR pile. Mostert has just completed work on her upcoming release Dragonfly. I haven't heard anything about it just yet, but it's already on my must buy list!  

Thursday, March 27, 2008

It's Been a Marathon Reading Week

It's been a crazy busy week for me what with all the books I have to review. See, I haven't quite made it to the point where most publishers will just send me stuff (one of the perks of being a well-known and recognized reviewer). Nope, I have to request most of the titles that I am interested in, and they may or may not come. So, when I do get them, I have to review them. Good thing is that since I pick them, I usually like them. It's pretty rare that I get a real clunker. Trying to get my name out there, you know.

So far this week I have read Heather Graham's slightly paranormal romantic thriller The Death Dealer, Scott Sigler's sci-fi horror gross-out The Infected, the magic shoes chick-lit romance collection These Boots Were Made for Stomping, the amazingly fantastic and utterly infectious Rogue by Rachel Vincent, and the new historical novel Bound by Sally Gunning (something of a follow-up to Widow's War).

This morning I started reading Empress by Karen Miller. I loved her Kingmaker, Kingbreaker duo, The Innocent Mage and The Awakened Mage and I hope this one moves fast 'cause I need to get my review done tonight, yikes! I also have Mittelmark and Newman's How Not to Write a Novel. And, I have real work to do on top of that.

Yep, it's been a busy, busy week, but you'll hear no complaints from me. I mean, I've finished 6 books in as many days. How freaking cool is that, even if my sleep is suffering! I have to say, they've all been pretty damn good, too.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Rachel Vincent's Rogue Out Now!

I literally just finished reading the second book in Rachel Vincent's fantastic werecat series (following Stray). The book is officially on shelves now and I highly suggest that you run out and pick up a copy asap (along with book 1 if you haven't read that one).

Stray was a booksense pick upon release last July (which means your friendly indy booksellers voted it one of the best releases of the month!). In Stray readers are introduced to Faythe, an average college girl with a not so average secret, she's a werecat. Check out my review at bookbitch.com for a more.

Here's the back cover description of Rogue from Rachel Vincent's site.

Okay, so cats don't always land on their feet

I know that better than most. Since rejoining the Pride, I've made big decisions and even bigger mistakes: the kind paid for with innocent lives. As the first and only female enforcer, I have plenty to prove to my father, the Pride, and myself. And with murdered toms turning up in our territory, I'm working harder than ever , though I always find the energy for a little after-hours recreation with Marc, my partner both on and off duty.

But not all my mistakes are behind me. We're beginning to suspect that the dead are connected to a rash of missing human women, and that they can all be laid at my feet--two or four, take your pick. And one horrible indiscretion may yet cost me more than I can bear...

Happy reading!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

What a Great Idea!

Those who know me, know that I have never been a romance fan. Admittedly, I am a prude and can't seriously read anything with that much sex in it! I just can't do it. I have, however, found that there are some that I really enjoy.

Last year, as part of a job interview process, I was introduced to Dorchester's new Shomi line and their first title, Wired, by Liz Maverick. It was a great book - a sort of Matrixy action/adventure story about time travel - fun in every way you can imagine. Next up was Moongazer by Marianne Mancusi (who I absolutely adore now) and Driven by Eve Kenin. 

It's romance for the next generation and romance for the atypical romance reader. I thought this was a fantastic idea. I mean, I completely understand the perception a lot of non-romance readers have about this section (I did work 6 years in retail book sales). This is a great way for people like me to gain introduction to a slew of fantastic authors, like Mancusi and Maverick. And actually, the once atypical romance reader has become more of the typical romance reader these days, if you ask me. Romance and mystery are two of the most innovative genres out there, and their rabidly loyal fans always seem to be open for something new and different. It's easy to insert other genre elements into both mystery and romance titles giving readers a wide array of books to choose from. In romance alone, there are regency (which I don't read), contemporary (aka chick-litty romance), paranormal (this is the big one these days), futuristic (not sure why this one is sectioned out the way it is, but it is), and romantic suspense. Now, I personally rather enjoy contemporary romance and apparently the paranormal, futuristic, and suspense stuff, too. Imagine my surprise.  

Colby Hodge's Twist is just one of this year's seven Shomi titles - a post-apocalyptic, time traveling, alien vampire tale (it works! I read it in one night). Also coming this year are new titles by all three of last year's mavens. Check them out at the Shomi site. 

I should also mention Dorchester's other new release that has me really excited, and that is the upcoming collection, These Boots Were Made for Stomping. It's three great stories all in one book. In Julie Kenner's "A Step in the Right Direction," a push-over who lives in the pages of her comic books gains superhuman powers with the purchase a new pair of shoes. In Jade Lee's "Kung Fu Shoes," a mild mannered teacher kicks some serious butt when her new shoes endow her with moves any black-belt would be jealous of. Finally, in Marianne Mancusi's "Karma Kitty Goes to Comic Con," a comic book creator morphs into her own character when she slides on a special pair of golden boots. Stomping will be followed by another installment, These Boots Were Made for Strutting, featuring three different authors next month. 

Monday, March 24, 2008

Ooh, gross!

I've been anxiously awaiting Scott Sigler's Infected ever since I first learned of it's publication, and the circumstances behind it. 

Sigler, author of two previous novels, Earthcore and Ancestor, is the kind of author you just have to admire, if not downright adore. Stubborn as can be, Sigler refused to take rejection sitting down, and thank GOD. When he couldn't get published, he began offering his books as weekly podcasts, soon after, developing a hard-core fan base. The industry finally took notice and like David Wellington, another web-based author with the same sort of idea, Sigler was snatched up by Random House and now has a major multi-book deal.

Infected is a story about "biological possession" (Sigler's own words). People all over the country are showing strange symptoms that include severe paranoia and extreme violent tendencies. The CIA and the CDC are working together to find the cause of this strange outbreak before it gets too widespread. Meanwhile, ex-football star Perry Dawsey has just become infected. The reader is treated to a totally grossed-out play-by-play as the infection spreads and I have to tell you I have not been so creeped out since The Hot Zone. Sigler's use of graphic description and really believable science make this an exceptional read. I have buggy skin just thinking about the book! 

Similar titles brought to mind by this book are, as mentioned, Preston's non-fiction account of marburg and ebola outbreaks in The Hot Zone and, believe it or not, Tess Gerritsen's Gravity (the last of her medical thrillers). Oddly enough, Infected seems to have been at least partially inspired by the totally weird Morgellon's disease. 

So, if you're in the mood for an incredibly yucky and wonderfully gory sci-fi/horror/thriller, I highly recommend you run out and get Infected when it hits shelves on April 1. This book junkie is thoroughly enjoying every agonizing minute of it!

Check out Sigler's site - with links to free audio versions of previous titles and news on upcoming projects, including sequels to Infected - at www.scottsigler.com

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Hitting Shelves 3/25

New releases this week include:

No One Heard Her Scream by Jordan Dane - a thrilling debut with follow-up titles coming in April and May.
The Born Queen by Greg Keyes - the final installment in the Kingdom of Thorn and Bone series. Fantastic epic fantasy.
Twisted by Andrea Kane
Lost Souls by Lisa Jackson
Genghis: Lords of the Bow by Conn Iggulden - follow-up to last year's Genghis: Birth of an Empire
Buckingham Palace Gardens by Anne Perry (a Thomas Pitt mystery)
Compulsion  by Jonathan Kellerman
Personal Demon by Kelley Armstrong - a women of otherworld book

The Mist based on the Stephen King novella
The Kiterunner
Wristcutters, A Love Story

New reviews up at www.bookbitch.com:
No One Heard Her Scream - Jordan Dane
The Born Queen - Greg Keyes
The Treatment - Mo Hayder
Stray - Rachel Vincent

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Movies of the week

Being busy with work lately, I haven't really been watching as many movies as usual. Trying to change that, though. This week I watched two of 2007's Horrorfest films and Neil Marshall's new film Doomsday.

Doomsday first. Marshall, writer and director of both Dog Soldiers (love it! Best werewolf movie ever!) and The Descent, serves up a horrific and wickedly amusing post-apocalyptic nod to Mad Max and Escape From New York with his latest release. The reaper virus spread throughout Scotland killing thousands in just a matter of weeks. The government's solution was to wall off the country, locking the door and throwing away the key forever. Until, that is, the virus appears in London. In a desperate attempt to find a cure, a group is sent across the wall to try and track down a doctor that had been studying the virus twenty some-odd years before. Satellite footage from three years prior shows that there are in fact survivors living in Scotland, but don't quite prepare the group for what they will be facing. 

The similarities between Doomsday and Escape From NY are more than a little apparent especially once you consider the fact that Eden, the main character, was inspired by Snake Bliskin. Of course, the film also brings to mind the more recent 28 Days Later, but only in that the country has been decimated by a virus - there are no zombies, there really isn't much focus on the virus itself, either. Instead, it's fight scene after fight scene with shaky camera action and lots of gratuitous violence and gore. Fun times! It won't win any awards, but it's a good way to spend your $9!

My first of the Horrorfest films are Dario Piana's The Deaths of Ian Stone and Mark Young's Tooth and Nail

Ian Stone, starring no one you would recognize, unless you watched UK's Hex or the second season of Dexter (lucky you) oh wait, and that guy who gets killed in the remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and again in Cloverfield, is about a guy who keeps getting killed! Seriously, it's about a guy who gets killed everyday by these weird creatures. When he wakes up, he's smack dab in the middle of yet another new existence, usually worse than the one he just left behind. I won't tell you why, that would give too much away. Overall, it's a pretty good film. Surprising considering how disappointing most of 2006's were. If you haven't seen a movie called The Nines, starring Ryan Reynolds, I recommend you watch it. The two are strikingly similar in some ways - though not too much so. Deaths just made me think of it so I thought I would mention it. 

Anyway, Tooth and Nail another post-apocalyptic piece with some people you may recognize. Michael Madsen and Vinnie Jones (aka Bullet Tooth Tony) both make appearances as some really heinous cannibals. And Rider Strong seems to be taking over as the new King of horror films. Yes, that's right the hot sidekick on Boy Meets World is all grown up. You saw him in Cabin Fever looking a little too ... well, dorky for my taste, but that was the point, wasn't it. In Tooth and Nail he stars as one of America's survivors holed up in an abandoned hospital. When the world ran out of oil everything went to hell in a handbasket and the few people remaining are fighting to eke out an existence and keep themselves fed. Also joining Strong are cheesy Robert Carradine (look at his picture, you'll recognize him) and Michael Kelly who previously fought zombies as, CJ, the asshole security guard in the remake of Dawn of the Dead - he essentially plays the same character here, but I like him! 

Overall, the movie is ok, again much better than last year's movies, and an interesting plot. The whole kicking-ass part in the end was a little hokey, though. Oh, and Strong also appears in another of '07's HF films, Borderland.  

Friday, March 21, 2008

Shutter - To See or Not to See

I'm still working through the multitude of Asian horror films that are out there and I thought, with the American remake now out in theaters, that this would be a good time to talk about Shutter.

It's a Thai film about a couple, Tun and Jane, who are about to be plagued by a very angry ghost. While driving home after a night of drinking, the couple are involved in a hit-and-run accident. Of course, they are the ones who hit and then decide to run. As it turns out, there is something more than just a little hinky about their supposed victim, though. 

After the incident, Tun, a photographer, begins to notice some strange shadows in his photos. Then his friends all begin to "commit suicide." It seems, Tun has some secrets he's been keeping from Jane and now they may both be in trouble. 

It's a pretty interesting film. The effects aren't bad and the storyline has no gaping holes (happens often with translated films). The trick is the twist, and this one has a pretty good one. I am a bit leery about seeing the remake, though, because unless they've chosen to change the entire plot, I already know the surprise at the end. I'd still like to see it and compare, but I may wait until it comes out on DVD. 

Of course, I have mixed feelings about all the American remakes we've been seeing lately. I like being able to see the originals, but it's true that with the translation (and cultural differences) they can sometimes be a little confusing in their original format. Take Pulse for example. The original Japanese film did not translate well at all. I was so confused at the end that I welcomed the remake with totally open arms - I didn't "get" it and I really wanted to. It worked out well. I liked the new version, it cleared up a lot of things for me and they didn't change a thing about it. Plus, I really liked the cast of the new version, even though Jonathan Tucker bites it in the beginning. 

On the flip side, would be the Korean film, The Ghost. It's a great movie with another surprise ending and it would make a good American horror film, sure, but just watch the original. I had no trouble understanding what was going on, and again, the twist at the end was fantastic. 

Other remakes hitting the screen shortly - Tale of Two Sisters (this one will make a good remake as the original is one of the more confusing ones I've seen) and The Echo (the original Filipino film, Sigaw was fine, Jesse Bradford stars in the remake and I really like him). I'm sure there are many others, but these are the ones I know about right off hand.  

I'd like to see remakes of Japan's Premonition and Infection and possibly Korea's The Red Shoes these are the ones that I remember having that "huh?" feeling at the end.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

High Crimes, A New Leaf

As of this past Sunday, my favorite local mystery store has gone orders only. Makes me sad considering the fact that I used to have to drive to Houston for a mystery bookstore (and drive I did!). I salivated over Scottsdale's Poisoned Pen and made a trip down there, to tour ASU, with PP topping my list above even the Uni. Oh sure, there's a mystery bookstore in Denver. I've never been. Trips to Denver are few and far between for me, makes me nervous driving there. I guess I'll have to bite the bullet and head over one of these days.

Ah well. High Crimes is still in existence. I can still call Cynthia up and order all my favorite Brits' books without waiting for them to come out over here. This is where my new Mo Hayder came from. Next up are Sarah Rayne's The Death Chamber and John Harwood's The Seance, due out in the UK 4/28 and 4/3 respectively, no release dates stateside just yet, not even for Harwood, in spite of the success of The Ghost Writer. This is a highly anticipated new book, if I do say so myself, when you consider the fact that GW came out some 4 years ago! If you want one, call Cynthia, I'm sure she'll order it for you!

In today's market, it really bothers me that the big boxes are shutting down the little guy. It's true, any way you look at it. Big boxes can afford to discount things much deeper than indys can and they can keep massive quantities of stock as they are usually much larger. Big boxes are great and all if you need to go pick up one of NYT's bestsellers or a summer reading book, they're just not so great at stocking or keeping in stock smaller titles - unless of course there is a bookseller behind it.

One chain, who shall remain nameless, can't even follow the damn street date lists. It has been my experience that if you want to pick up a "new release" nine times out of ten, you'd be better off waiting about two weeks before going in to get it. Oh, they may have it. Their computer may show it in stock, but it grows roots in their stockroom and two weeks seems to be this store's turnaround period for stocking merchandise.

See, this is why it makes me sad when a specialty store who caters to my particular likes and has great author appearances, shuts down and I am left with the big man who has no signings to speak of and wouldn't even be able to order my above mentioned titles for me.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Denver Publishing Institute

It's that time of the year when students are restlessly checking the mail in hopes of hearing that they have been accepted into one of the three publishing institutes here in the states. I was one of them last year and fortunately I did get in. What am I talking about? I'm talking about the programs at Denver, Columbia, and NYU that are set up to help folk like me break into publishing. 

I had never heard of the Denver Publishing Institute until about two years ago when a friend of mine who was in the process of earning her Master's in English told me I should apply. I did some research at what turned out to be the very last minute, but got my application in on time and was accepted (THANK GOD!). 

The class is designed to give students a brief look at just about every aspect of the publishing industry. We had line editing, copy editing, and marketing workshops. We had guests from every different division you can imagine, buyers, sales reps, marketing folk, publicity folk, magazine folk, online marketing people, agents, acquisitions editors, you name it, they were there. Reps from big houses, small houses, university presses, and everything in between made appearances to tell us all about what their jobs are all about. 

It was an amazingly helpful tool for me and I already had some working knowledge of the industry to begin with. If you are interested in working in publishing, check it out. I highly recommend it. You will meet a ton of people who can help you to get where you want to be. If you know that you would like to work in publishing but aren't sure what you want to do, they can help you with that as well. The class is small, about 100 people, the people in charge are fantastic. It's a learning experience that is well worth it, take it from an '07 alum!


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Read America!

One recent survey stated that as many as 64% of Americans didn't even read one book last year. Where on Earth did this number come from? I'd really like to know. I wasn't surveyed and neither was anyone else that I know. Strange considering the fact that of all the people I do know, I can't think of many that wouldn't have read at least one book last year.

I am of the opinion that these doom and gloom statistics are not very accurate at all. In fact, I believe that more people are reading now that in years past. I could be wrong about this, but the things that I have seen as a bookseller and in general would point to an increase in reading.

We can blame it on Harry Potter and DaVinci Code. Two of the biggest pop-culture phenomena of my generation, and they were books! How amazing is that?

My thoughts on any so-called decline are this: When I was growing up, there was not much to choose from in juvie and YA sections. In fact, these areas were pretty damn stagnant. Kids today have it lucky! There is a huge amount to choose from these days. Today's youth are not anxiously awaiting LJ Smith's final Night World installment (still waiting, btw). No, they have Stephanie Meyer whose sales are phenomenal, they have the Eragon books, they have so much to browse and look at with new stuff coming every week that someone my age can't help but be jealous.

No, I remember RL Stine, Christopher Pike, Babysitter's Club, Sweet Valley, and Lurlene McDaniel. LJ Smith was there later as were Richie Tankersly Cusick, Diane Hoh, and a few others. You could probably count them all on two hands. The "readers" in my school quickly moved onto adult books and never really looked back. So, I have no problem seeing how gen-x and older gen-y folk aren't readers today. But, here's where Dan Brown comes in. It is my opinion that people my age who would never before have considered themselves readers are picking up books. They are interested in what's out now, partially thanks to the controversy drummed up by DaVinci and other titles. I think the lack of selection as a kid turned them off before and now they are finally opening their eyes and seeing what a huge amount there is out there now.

Obviously I am one of the hopeful ones. I believe that all it takes is a little excitement to get someone hooked for life. Stale choices and, I might add, tired teachers teaching the same old stuff had to have played a big role in this "decline," but I think we've more than bounced back. And, I think it's just going to get better from here on out.

Monday, March 17, 2008

New Releases 3/18

Not feeling so hot this morning so I am really not on top of things but I do know that these are coming out this week:

The Dark Tide by Andrew Gross - Karen Friedman loses her husband, Charles, to a bombing in Grand Central. Months later, two men show up claiming that Charles stole $250 million. She and her children are being threatened and then Karen makes a startling discovery about Charles's death.

Atonement - very sad film but very worth all of the award nominees
I Am Legend - a pretty good flick in spite of the fact that it was more a modern remake of The Omega Man than a true adaptation of Matheson's story.
Enchanted - on my must see list
Love in the Time of Cholera - haven't seen it yet, but am very curious

I won't list them all here, but 2007's Horrorfest films are all coming out tomorrow. I'll be stocking up on popcorn for these (I just hope they're better than the previous films!).


Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Another Oldie but Goodie

Like a Charm ed. by Karin Slaughter Release date: May 2004

As far as short story collections go, this is the mystery collection to have. Each tale stands alone, but they are all linked together by a charm bracelet. It's an interesting concept that I have not since seen in any other story collection. There are 15 different authors, 16 different tales (Karin Slaughter wrote both the first and the last story in the book). 

Contributors include authors such as Laura Lippman, Lee Child, Mark Billingham, Peter Robinson, and Kelley Armstrong. Each tale, like these authors, is significantly different but all contain the bracelet in both major and minor roles. It's almost as if they are tracing the life of the bracelet from one unfortunate owner to the next.

Each short tale is packed with suspense, intrigue, mystery, violence, and all the other things that you love in these authors' books. It's also a great way to introduce yourself to new authors whose work you may not be familiar with. Even after 4 years, this book has stuck with me and I still remember the stories. 

Friday, March 14, 2008

US vs UK Readers

I picked up my copy of Mo Hayder's latest novel, Ritual, today. I am so excited that I am about to exile myself to my room with it and not emerge again until I am done.

Before I shut myself off, though, I thought that I would write about something that has baffled me for a while now, this idea that the US audience wants something different than readers in the UK out of their novels. It's true. At their last signing at High Crimes in Boulder, mother and daughter team PJ Tracy revealed that their UK publisher had requested additional pages for their last title, Snow Blind. The idea was that the action scenes should be more intense for the UK audience.

On the flip side, when picking up my book this afternoon, High Crimes owner, Cynthia Nye, said that Mo Hayder had gotten some pretty critical reviews in the US concerning her use of explicit violence. I found this to be very surprising and slightly disturbing because it is just this aspect that draws me to Hayder's work - she's unlike any author out there. My first Hayder novel was The Devil of Nanking, a book that I can't recommend highly enough. It's an intense book, probably the single most intense title I have had the pleasure of reading in the past 5 years, if not ever.

Now, Hayder's very first title, Birdman (and having not read the reviews in question, I believe the book that was targeted) had been recommended to me by a fellow bookseller way back in 2000. I am ashamed to say that although the recommendation was strong enough to make a lasting impression, it was years before I actually read it. I honestly thought that Devil was much more graphic than Birdman and am glad that Hayder seems to have taken the criticism in stride and ignored it, as she should.

Some other very graphically violent UK imports that I recommend are Minette Walters and Sara Rayne. Their use of psychological suspense coupled with an almost elegant writing style makes their books extremely appealing. Walters is a very popular author here in the states and I have not heard any criticism in regards to her work. Course, I had not heard the criticism in regards to Hayder until today.

It is my opinion that none of these authors uses violence gratuitously. It serves a purpose within the novels and elicits a very specific emotional response from readers making the reading experience more rich and intense, in my opinion. I can point out plenty of examples of titles that are published in the US that have way too much gratuitous violence that does not serve any purpose in the story other than simple shock value. I can't say that they aren't getting bad reviews either, though. All I can say is that I believe the idea that UK readers can handle and crave more intensity in their novels than their American counterparts is just silly. Course that perception is, sadly, supported by reviewers who claim that books like Birdman are violent enough to make them throw the book down without finishing it. I know the subject matter is not for everyone, but that goes without saying for just about every book out there.

I'm sure this makes me one of America's desensitized youth, but I obviously have no issue whatsoever with violence in books. It could be that I cut my teeth on horror - reading every single RL Stine and Christopher Pike novel available between the ages or 8 and 10. Cynthia says the issue with Hayder is the perception in the US that a woman should not be writing such intensely violent scenes and that demographically the US reader is thought to be over 50 and more apt to read cozies - this sounds like absolute crap to me. I know that I am the abnormal reader. (I have my own theories about reader demographics in the US and how they have come about, but that will be another blog.) I do not think American audiences have an issue with violence, though, and I hope this ridiculous perception is something that will change soon. There's absolutely nothing wrong with cozies, I read and enjoy many so-called cozy authors.

There is another element to the women and violence issue that I won't even go into as it is totally off the wall. Fortunately for readers like me, there doesn't seem to be any real attempt to "censor" our reading. We may be less likely to see some UK titles published here in the states right now, but some are making it through. Those that aren't, well, there are plenty of bookstores willing to order them in for you and they are well worth it.

One last item before I go and that is the fact that it seems not only UK authors fall victim to this strange perception. California author (now lives in the UK) Meg Gardiner has been published overseas for years. Gardiner's American debut comes highly recommended from Stephen King himself. Dirty Secrets Club hits shelves June 12 (and I have a copy!).

Thursday, March 13, 2008

I love it!

I love cookbooks! This is one that I just absolutely have to have. I mean, on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being can't breathe without, The Top Chef Cookbook is a definite 10!

The book comes out March 20 - 34% off on Amazon. I love Top Chef. It's my favorite reality show. Sure it has the same drama and character casting as all the others, but the product is something tangible that I can understand. I am a foodie.

The book features recipes from the first three seasons' competitors including those from both Quick Fire and Elimination challenges. Don't know what I am talking about, Top Chef season 4 is back on Bravo, Wednesdays at 8! Check it out and see if you don't become totally addicted and inspired.

But wait! There's another have to have cookbook coming out - March 28 Gordon Ramsay's Fast Food hits the shelf. I don't watch Hell's Kitchen, but I do watch Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares - the UK version. The difference? In the UK version he does nothing other than get the employees' asses in gear and offer up his own advice about how to improve the restaurant - unlike the US version where they give them $$$ to do this. Plus, he goes back to the restaurant to see if they are still holding to his advice or if they have slipped back into the mess he tried to pull them out of.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Tonight is a quickie

I am totally beat tonight so I will have to make this short. 

I wanted to take the opportunity to explain one of my little quirks here. I talked about genre labels yesterday and you may notice that I tag my own reviews a bit strangely. As a bookseller, the easiest way for me to make recommendations was to first ask the customer what they had read and enjoyed recently. Since I can't really do that here, I put a very brief header on each of the reviews - format (hardcover/trade paper/mass market) release date, and genre. 

Sometimes I will follow regular genre labels, but a lot of the time I tend to make up my own. Mystery doesn't always describe the book you are looking at. Carol Goodman is a great example. I would tag her books as literary mysteries. 

Sonnet Lover concerns an American professor who goes to Italy to search for a collection of rumored sonnets by Shakespear's lover. It's a fantastic book full of suspense and intrigue as well as romance, but there is a very heavy literary aspect that you wouldn't find in the book that I am currently reading, Don Bruns's Stuff to Die For

No, Stuff is a humorous mystery about a couple of guys who start a hauling business and find a severed finger on their very first job. 

Another one that's hard to pin down is Janet Evanovich. I consider her Stephanie Plum books to be chick-lit mysteries. Some may not agree with me, but again, it's a better description than just mystery. 

So, if you see a weird one, just know it's totally my opinion and you may not agree with it, but it's my attempt to help readers decide if it falls in a category that they may enjoy.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Genre Labels

The label topic came up quite frequently at the convention over the weekend. As a former bookseller, this topic is one that I have mixed feelings over. Most of the authors at the convention disliked the idea that their book would be labeled anything other than mystery.

The bad thing about these labels, especially with all of the new sub-genres, is that it is limiting. One example is romantic suspense. It is categorized in romance and there is a definite stigma associated with the section for a lot of readers. Most mystery readers, while they would find a plethora of books that would interest them, would never venture into the romance section and vice versa.

For those who are curious, labels and sub-genres within the mystery section include, hard-boiled, medium-boiled, cozy, police procedural, noir ... the list goes on and on. The implication is that this book is of a particular style and so if you like others in the sub-genre you'll like this one. As a bookseller, this is a very important tool. There is no possible way that I could ever have read everything we had to choose from and so if I knew that a customer liked something in particular and I knew of other authors that wrote that way, I could easily point them to some suggestions.

The latest sub-genre that has been bleeding into mystery is urban fantasy. I love this label and author Jeanne Stein agrees. It implies that there is a strong contemporary fantasy element that is blended with another genre, in a lot of cases mystery. This is, I believe, thanks in part to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It's fun and it opens up a whole new element in the genre, detectives and crime solvers who are not bound by real world constraints.

The label that probably bothers authors the most is the cozy label. I like cozies, for the most part. They're light and easy reads. In fact, I cut my teeth on cozies since they all came off my grandmother's shelf and she was censoring me in a way. Sadly, cozy authors I think get a lot of flack from non-cozy readers. They also catch it from the publishers who, for the most part, have this idea that a cozy has to be family friendly reading. In other words, most would probably get a PG, possibly PG-13 rating. Even prudish me doesn't agree with this, but I understand it.

There is no easy solution to this issue. One author spoke of a bookstore she had once visited where all fiction was shelved together. She also said that she suspected the store was no longer open. I realize that labeling is a marketing scheme but that's simply the nature of the business as it is now. You want to walk into a store and head to a section and browse books that you know you will most likely enjoy. The fact of the matter is this, most readers have a certain comfort zone and most will never venture out of this zone. I am not one of those readers and so I know that these people are probably missing out on some great books. This is where you hope the bookseller will come in and help you out. Sadly, this is not likely to be the case in many chains anymore - there are some, don't get me wrong, but we are few and far between.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

New Releases 3/11

Coming out tomorrow:

Mario Acevedo's third Felix Gomez book, The Undead Kama Sutra - I think this is my favorite in the series so far. In other news, Acevedo informed me that he is working on a YA series involving the story of Dr. Frankenstein.

Jeffrey Ford's amazing mystery, The Shadow Year in which two boys try to solve a series of peeping tom reports that seem to coincide with the disappearance of a classmate. 

Curse of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz - I was up all night laughing with this one. 

Laura Lippman's latest Tess Monoghan mystery, Another Thing to Fall - I haven't had a chance to read this one yet, but can't wait. Lippman is a master at creating suspense and at getting inside her characters' heads.

The Secret Adventures of Charlotte Bronte by Laura Joh Rowland. A departure from her series and a really interesting period mystery.  

Dreamers of the Day the latest release from Mary Doria Russell. 

August Rush
No Country For Old Men
Dan in Real Life
Sci-Fi mini series, The Tin Man

Saturday, March 8, 2008

More News from LCC

It's day three of Left Coast Crime and only one day to go. Since I didn't talk about yesterday's panels yesterday, I will today - in brief.

My first panel of the day (I slept late and didn't attend the actual first set of the day) was called Dicks with Baggage; The Modern PI. It was pretty interesting. There are a certain set of guidelines that originated with the classic PI novel that are still followed today in regards to characterization and motivation. Most authors today have put a more modern twist on this whether the character be a woman, someone who is more technologically savvy, or some other approach. Panelists including Lori Armstrong, Parnell Hall, James Mitchell, and Anthony Bidulka.

My second panel of the day was Sex and Violence. Panelists Tasha Alexander, Marcus Sakey, Bill Cameron, David Corbett and Eric Stone. This was a pretty funny panel. It seemed that the authors all agreed that there can never be too much of either sex or violence in a book, and no real line that shouldn't be crossed, as long as it had a purpose in the story. Questions were posed in an attempt to make David Corbett blush and the winner was the man who suggested that Tasha Alexander read the sex scene from Corbett's book aloud to the audience - she read one paragraph and that was certainly enough to do it.

Next up was Shaken, Stirred, and Blended: Sleuths That Cross Genre Lines. Jeanne Stein, Lee Killough, Kat Richardson, and Margaret Lucke discussed their mysteries, each of which have a paranormal twist to them. Urban fantasy was more than mentioned and they tried to pin down a definition, but really couldn't. Stein described it as urban, contemporary, gritty, and without a happy ending. Sounds good to me - I bought both her and Richardson's books, btw. Stein also thanks Joss Whedon for breaking the previous perception of vampires!

The Good Old Days: Writing About the Past was a pretty interesting panel. Stephanie Barron and Lauren Haney were joined on this panel by debut novelists Sharon Rowse, Brian Thornton, and Geri Westerson. Each author talked about the event, or events, or footnotes that inspired their books.

Finally Laura Caldwell, Jeff Buick, Teresa Schwegal and CJ Lyons were on the Thrills and Chills ITW panel. Buick moderated, but joined in on some of the discussion. Each of the ladies talked about how their careers influenced their books and their methods for writing and for developing their characters.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Day Two at LCC - Buying Mania

Rather than go into the panels I attended today, let me take the opportunity to express exactly the extent of my book addiction. Panel discussions will return tomorrow.

I really tried to behave this weekend. My ticket to LCC was not cheap, but I had decided that there was no way I could miss out on a mystery convention right here in Denver. There are over 100 authors at the convention and if I could afford to, I probably would have purchased at least one book by each.

As it is, I went into this with books by about 20 authors. I have not read all of these books, but I have read most of them. Some were accumulations from my days as a bookseller; books I intended to get to eventually and are still sitting in the ever growing TBR pile. I blame this on my first days in college when I feared that I would run out of things to read with no income as a freshman. Not so, my mom - oh great mom that she is - would tell me on bad days to relax and go buy myself some books, her treat. Somehow, the fear stuck, though, and I tend to buy madly when I have the funds.

Yesterday I bought 4 books. #1 I had been looking into buying for a while, #2 was the first book in a series that I had read a later installment of, #3 the author presented her series in an intriguing way and I wanted to check it out, and #4 was a paranormal mystery that I was curious about and thought my sisters would like. #5 was a gift for Mike. Not too bad.

Today, all constraint seemed to have flown out the window. I bought Jeanne Stein's The Becoming, first book in her vampire bounty hunter series, same reason as the above paranormal mystery, I like the genre and I bought an extra for my sisters. I also bought both of Marcus Sakey's books. He was on the Sex and Violence panel and, well, need I really say more? His books, by the way, have gotten glowing reviews by other bookbitch reviewers, including Stacy herself. I also bought Bill Cameron's debut, Lost Dog. Hm, he was on the same panel as Sakey... I bought Blood Ties by Lori Armstrong, again after hearing her speak, this time on the Dicks with Baggage, Modern PI panel. Finally, I bought CJ Lyons's debut medical thriller, Lifelines.

With my sisters' copies, that's 13 books in 2 days - mixed hardcovers, mass markets, and trades btw. I have cut myself off. I have a bagful of books that I already own that I will get signed tomorrow, but I swear I will not be buying anything else. I promise.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Day One at Left Coast Crime

I'll preface this by saying I am beat and I still have work to do tonight so you'll have to forgive me for not going into too much detail in regards to the panel discussions. As some of you know, today kick-started this year's annual Left Coast Crime convention which is in Denver this year. Being so close, I felt that it was time to get my feet wet and finally attend one. Here's a recap of the day and the four panels I attended.

First up was Sidekicks, The Good the Bad and the Ugly where authors Priscilla Royal, James Calder, Karen Olson and Maria Hudgins discussed the role of the sidekick in a mystery and the various forms he/she can take.

Second panel of the day was Cozymania. Leslie Caine, Rita Larkin, Terri Thayer and Deb Baker talked about their respective series, how and why they got started writing, and what it means to be cozy. Interestingly enough, Larkin pointed out that the term came about thanks to Agatha Christie herself.

The third panel was called Dying is Easy, Comedy is Hard. Mario Acevedo acted as moderator (and drew names for the devil duck!) while jokesters Marc Lecard, George Getz, and Jess Loury talked about the use of humor in mysteries.

Last but not least was the psychological thriller panel called Mind Games and Manhunts. Robert Greer, Christine Jorgensen, Peter May, and Laura Benedict all talked about the distinctions between mysteries and thrillers.

So far I've gotten to meet Toni McGee Causey, author of the amazingly hilarious Bobbie Faye's Very (very, very, very) Bad Day, Laura Benedict whose debut thriller Isabella Moon made my toes curl, quirky Mario Acevedo, and the very sweet and amusing Simon Wood.

I recommend looking into ALL of the authors I mentioned above. They were each incredibly interesting and, given the chance, I would have purchased books by each. I did limit myself. I walked out with Greywalker by Kat Richardson (she'll be speaking later this weekend) a paranormal mystery. Wine of Violence, Priscilla Royal's very first book in her medieval series. Marc Lecard's Vinnie's Head, Simon Wood's Paying the Piper, and Pari Noskin Taichert's first Sasha Solomon mystery, The Clovis Incident.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Lisa Lutz You Owe Me a Nap

Curse of the Spellmans - Lisa Lutz - Hardcover - Due out 3/11

If you aren't familiar with Lutz, she made her debut last year with the hilarious Spellman Files. In The Spellman Files readers are first introduced to Isabel Spellman and her crazy family of PIs. Isabel, Izzy, is 28 and, when the story opens, is being interrogated in regards to her younger sister's disappearance. The wacky story that follows can only be compared to Janet Evanovich and her fantastic Stephanie Plum series. 

In the second book of the series, Isabel has been arrested now for the fourth time in about a month (second really cause she doesn't count arrests two and three). As she explains her recent exploits to her lawyer we come to realize that Izzy's overly suspicious mind has gotten her into trouble once again when. She's convinced that her parent's new next door neighbor is hiding something and is determined to find out what. In fact, it seems that almost everyone around her has been acting rather suspiciously lately  - Izzy's nature won't allow her to let it be and the consequences make for some pretty amusing reading. 

I was up all night reading this book and I don't regret it one bit! Every single "I don't know what you're talking about" left me in tears I was laughing so hard. I'm sure I kept everyone in the house up as well. 

If you haven't read The Spellman Files (now out in paperback), I recommend you run out and pick it up, you won't regret it. If you love Janet E. you're guaranteed to like Lisa Lutz.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Coming 3/4/08

Here are some of the new releases hitting shelves tomorrow, 3/4:

The Killer's Wife by Bill Floyd - an amazingly intense debut thriller

The Dark Lantern by Gerri Brightwell - an interesting late Victorian era mystery

The Girl Who Stopped Swimming by Joshilyn Jackson - a southern gothic style ghost story (I haven't had a chance to read this one yet but am very much looking forward to it).

New on DVD:
Into the Wild
Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium
Hogfather - the BBC production based on Terry Pratchett's sort-of Christmas Discworld novel

Saturday, March 1, 2008

You Knew it Had to Happen

Now that the writer's strike has ended Ron Howard and Tom Hanks are scheduled to begin work on the film version of Angels and Demons. Tentative release date is Spring 2009.

In other movie news, Midnight Meat Train, the film based on Clive Barker's tale of the same name is set to be release this May. Stephanie Meyer's Twilight is set for release this Winter. June will see the release of M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening and we'll all see if he has learned from the mistake that was Lady in the Water. If anything, at least Zooey Deschanel will brighten up the screen. 

Also in June, James McAvoy stars opposite Morgan Freeman and Angelina Jolie in Wanted, the American directorial debut by Timur Bekmambetov - director of the Russian smash hit Nightwatch.

Finally, in July, Guillermo del Toro's Helloboy 2, The Dark Knight, and X-Files 2!

Random and interesting: If you care, Fred Durst makes his directorial debut with Comback starring Ice Cube ... hm. Dating advice turns to comedy in He's Just Not That Into You (hey, it stars Bradley Cooper, so I'm there). Jose Saramago's Blindness has also been adapted for the big screen and will be directed by Fernando Meirelles, the same man who brought us The Constant Gardener. Abigail Breslin and Sofia Vassilieva are in and Dakota and Elle Fanning are out, of the film adaptation of Jodi Piccoult's My Sister's Keeper. The role would have required the elder Fanning to shave her head, something she was not prepared to do for the role. And what is he thinking? Mathieu Kassovitz - Audrey Tatou's love interest in Amelie and director of the fantastic French film Crimson Rivers - starring Jean Reno and based on the book by Jean Christophe Grange - wrote and directed the upcoming Babylon A.D. starring Vin Diesel. Look, I admit that I like Vin, but he's not made the best career choices since Pitch Black. Kassovitz, on the other hand, most recently directed Gothika. We'll see what happens, right? 

An Oldie but Goodie

I first came across a review for Jinn while I was stripping mags at my very first bookstore job. The reviewer raved about this book and called it a Saving Private Ryan meets Alien. Of course I had to buy it, and in hardcover no less - on my limited college student/part-time bookseller income.

I got my book and read into the wee hours of the morning. It was fantastic. Part military horror (a sub-genre that I would personally like to see more of*) part paranormal thriller/supernatural mystery. I loved every bit of it. For years to come it would be (and still is) on my favorite book lists and bookseller recommends picks. 

This book did, however, make me realize that you can't always trust reviewers! It was clear to me after just a few pages that the reviewer in question had not read past the first chapter in which a soldier is gunned down and one of his comrades likens the damage inflicted to some sort of alien being popping out of his stomach. One line, that's it! Um, the same line is currently in the PW review posted on Amazon.

I was not disappointed, however, the book was amazing. It begins with a group of soldiers in WWII. Most of them are killed in battle and the remaining soldiers are unfortunate enough to end up getting picked up by a ship that sinks. It's been a while since I read the book (it was released in 2003) but I believe the soldiers were looking for a missing troop. Anyway, skip ahead in time and someone has discovered the sunken ship. When they raise it, they unleash a demonic force that begins to wreak havoc on Boston.  

Unfortunately, this is the only book ever to be released by the mysterious Matthew B. Delaney. It's currently on sale at amazon.com (60%) off and is available as a Kindle download. Surprisingly, after 5 years with no follow-up titles, the book is still in print. So, if you're in the mood for a great mystery/thriller/horror title that melds both history and mythology, give it a shot. Like I said, it still makes my top 10 lists. 

*A note on military horror: it's not at all something that I see much of in books (if there is more out there, let me know, please). I am much more familiar with the few films that are out there most notably Dog Soldiers - the best werewolf movie ever! Deathwatch is another pretty good one. The Bunker - don't remember much about this one so I can't tell you if it was good or not, and Below, another great one by the same director as Pitch Black