Sunday, January 31, 2010

Time for a great mystery/thriller!

The 13th Hour pushes the envelope of the suspense genre into the realm of
what I would describe as a metaphysical thriller. Nick, the protagonist, starts off accused of the murder of his wife, and his chances aren't looking too good, even though he knows he isn't guilty. A mysterious stranger appears, and gives him a watch that has the capability of taking him backwards in time, in one-hour increments, in order to find out what really happened, and (hopefully) improve the outcome. Each chapter represents one of those hours, during which he learns something new--generally, not to trust what you believed before
(or after?)--when all of a sudden, time's up, and he's even further back, with a different outlook on the course of events.

It's not the kind of plot you want to say too much about to people who haven't had the fun of reading it yet, but I would say that the recursive storytelling reminded me of the movie Memento (I never read the story it was based on) more than anything. The mechanics in The 13th Hour are external, rather than internal, but the style of revealing information, and then revealing it to be otherwise, is very similar in its cleverness. I also think people who enjoy the "what is going on, anyway?" storytelling of Lost, and maybe this new
Flashforward TV show, would also enjoy The 13th Hour. I was unsure how the ending would be handled, but with no spoilers, I'll say that I found it satisfying, when I was worried that it could easily fall flat.


This book is FANTASTIC, a smart and heady thrill ride full of engrossing action. Nick Quinn's wife has been murdered, and he's been accused of the
crime. A mysterious stranger gives him an odd talisman that allows him to move back in time one hour at a time, which he does to try to save his wife. But each change has a consequence, and soon it's more than his wife's life and his own freedom at stake. Fans of The Time Travelers Wife, Memento or The Butterfly Effect will gravitate to this book, as should all thriller fans.


Friday, January 29, 2010

Fellow Bookseller Turned Author!

Tattered Cover has taken a special interest in A Common Pornography because we know Kevin--he's the events coordinator at our "sister" store in Portland, Powell's. He's written quite a bit in the past (LIT, Hobart, McSweeney's, Night Train
just to name a few journals and web sites, as well as two short story collections of his own) and is the editor of Portland Noir. He's also the publisher of Future Tense Books. But this book is different--this is personal, about his family and his life as a young man that he calls "a memory experiment". Written in short vignettes primarily, this book is brutally honest and gritty. He glosses over nothing--abuse, drugs, sex, relationships of all sorts. He's not the sort to change much of anything to protect the innocent because frankly, none of them are that innocent. This book is bold and brave and extremely difficult to put down.


Thursday, January 28, 2010

No Mercy for Mystery Lovers

Lori Armstrong may just be the best mystery writer that you don't know about yet. She's
got one series already (The Julie Collins series) and has been nominated for several
awards, but so far she's flown below the popularity radar. No longer, at least if I can
help it. No Mercy is the first book in the series featuring former Army sniper Mercy
Gunderson who is one tough-n-tough woman who nevertheless fiercely loves her family. She
is on medical leave back at their South Dakota ranch trying to keep things together after
the body of a local teen is found on her land--and others begin to show up as well.
Armstrong worked in the weapons industry for several years before becoming a full time
writer, and is a 4th generation South Dakotan herself, so she's made Mercy very nuanced
and believable. She's the kind of woman you want in your corner, and I guarantee after
reading this first book, you'll be eagerly waiting for the next to spend more time with
her. The author's love of the ranch lands of the west comes through crystal clear as
well with her ability to vividly set a scene. You do NOT want to miss this book!

Also, don't miss Lori's signing at our Highlands Ranch store on Tuesday, Feb 2 at 7:30.

Check out her website:
and her blog:

See you at the signing!


Thank You, J.D. Salinger

Although I have been a voracious reader since I was a young child, and although I was an English major in college, I missed out on many of the classics. I don't know quite how it happened. Perhaps I went through high school and college at a time when my teachers and professors were sick of teaching the same old books year after year, and opted for something off the normal track. For example, instead of "Great Expectations", we read "Little Dorritt".

So suffice it to say, I never HAD to read JD Salinger in school. I got the chance to read them on my own. A friend in high school handed me "The Catcher in the Rye" during summer break. Reading the book was revelatory for me. I had often felt that books could affect me, in my ways of looking at the world, in my own ways of thinking. But never before I had thought that a book could really change the world. It may have been my youth, it may have been the fact that I was reading a book that felt so grown-up, so edgy, and not doing it because someone in school told me to, but because a friend had handed me the book, saying "Joe, you've got to read this." (Is this why I work in a bookstore now? The thrill of handselling, of passing on this same feeling?)

A few years later I was visiting a friend at a college in Iowa and had nothing to do while he went to class. I decided to wait in the lobby outside his classroom, in the science building. On a table in this sterile building was a copy of "Franny and Zooey". I started reading it, and finished the book before my friend's class was over. Here it was again, that same thrill. The same language as before, the feverish way I roared through the book, the story ringing in my ears as I finished.

Honestly, I probably should re-read both of these books. But part of me wants to keep alive that initial feeling I had after reading each of them.

Thank you, J.D. Salinger, for contributing to my love of reading & of handselling!


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

This family saga was a great read--almost an American Thornbirds--it also reminded me of Barbara Taylor Bradford's Woman of Substance. It takes place in east Texas spanning almost the whole of the last century. Strong female protagonist--great friendships that last whole lifetimes.


Shelf Starter: The Postmistress

The Postmistress

Many of us at Tattered Cover are anxiously awaiting this book, coming out Feb 9, 2010. Here's the first few paragraphs, courtesy of Shelf Awareness.

Shelf Starter: The Postmistress

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Happiness Project

Rubin, not an unhappy person generally speaking, decided that she would nevertheless like to be happier. So she did A LOT of research on theories of happiness, from the ancient Greeks to the founding fathers to Dr. Drew. Armed with all this, she created The Happiness Project, which involved coming up with specifically defined resolutions for each month, with the trick that each month added resolutions without taking any away, so the project became broader in scope each month. The monthly resolutions have an overall theme i.e.: January--Boost Energy, April--Lighten Up, September--Pursue a Passion, etc. Then there are 4 or 5 resolutions to go with each theme. Everyone's H.P. will of course be different, but Rubin details her resolutions and experiences to show us how it works in a general sense. She's honest about herself, honest about what was easy, what was hard and what turned out to be just impossible for her.

This book is very inspiring and ambitious and definitely worth a read. I may not start a full blown project of my own, but I certainly learned a few things that I want to try. After all, who doesn't want to be happier?

She also started a now wildly popular blog as part of this project, which offers more tips and stories from folks all over the place that are trying this idea out for themselves.


Gretchen Rubin had an epiphany one rainy afternoon in the unlikeliest of places: a city bus. "The days are long, but the years are short," she realized. "Time is passing, and I'm not focusing enough on the things that really matter." In that moment, she decided to dedicate a year to her happiness project.
In this lively and compelling account of that year, Rubin carves out her place alongside the authors of bestselling memoirs such as Julie and Julia, The Year of Living Biblically, and Eat, Pray, Love. With humor and insight, she chronicles her adventures during the twelve months she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific research, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier.Rubin didn't have the option to uproot herself, nor did she really want to; instead she focused on improving her life as it was. Each month she tackled a new set of resolutions: give proofs of love, ask for help, find more fun, keep a gratitude notebook, forget about results. She immersed herself in principles set forth by all manner of experts, from Epicurus to Thoreau to Oprah to Martin Seligman to the Dalai Lama to see what worked for her and what didn't. Her conclusions are sometimes surprising?she finds that money can buy happiness, when spent wisely; that novelty and challenge are powerful sources of happiness; that "treating" yourself can make you feel worse; that venting bad feelings doesn't relieve them; that the very smallest of changes can make the biggest difference?and they range from the practical to the profound. Written with charm and wit, The Happiness Project is illuminating yet entertaining,
thought-provoking yet compulsively readable. Gretchen Rubin's passion for her subject jumps off the page, and reading just a few chapters of this book will inspire you to start your own happiness project.
--Cathy Langer, Lead Buyer for Tattered Cover

Check out the author's website:
or the project's website:
And some pics from her signing at Tattered Cover Highlands Ranch:

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Announcing the NEW TC VIB Alice I Have Been

Alice I Have Been

We all know and love the classic tale, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. I know that, time after time, I would lose myself in the story, fascinated and frightened by the strange and unpredictable characters Alice encountered, wishing that I could be Alice and experience Wonderland. I went so far as to make myself an outfit and wear it to school (in high school, no less) still yearning for an escape. My taste in books had perhaps matured but the surrealism of Alice's story remained seductive.

Many years later whispers and comments about the real Alice (Alice Liddell) and the possibility of a less than "pure" interest in her and other little girls on the part of the author, Charles Dodson, an Oxford Don, found their way to my ears. Dodson's photographs of little girls became the subject of concern as awareness of child sexual abuse rose in our collective consciousness. But, frankly, I didn't want to delve too deeply into the possibility of such impropriety and ruin my childhood fantasies.

When the galley for Alice I Have Been was given to me with fanfare and enthusiasm by my publisher rep, I was admittedly nervous. Certainly, it's a novel, but how much did I want to know about the real story of Alice and Charles Dodson? Well, it turned out, everything! Beginning on page one when Alice is 80, heading to America to be feted and honored, Alice I Have Been takes the reader back to Victorian Oxford and brings to life the world that Alice inhabited. It was a privileged world, and as a little girl Alice and her sisters met scholars and royalty. They were pampered and educated and exposed to many things, yet restricted by society's (and their Mother's) high expectations for proper decorum. The girls were dressed alike in layer upon layer of pantaloons and petticoats and pale dresses and polished shoes, and if one girl got dirty (usually it was Alice) they all had to change. No small feat. So when offered the opportunity to dress like a ragged gypsy and roll around in the grass, barefoot, who wouldn't?

Little, irascible, contrary, bright 7-year-old Alice tasted this bit of freedom and it was as if she had bitten the apple in the Garden of Eden. Alice I Have Been is the story of the heartbreak of Alice's life, the result of a feisty, lively imaginative little girl's desire for love and a lonely man's unfortunate choices, all made far worse by the strictures of their times.

This novel is a gem. It's for all fans of Alice, of historical fiction, and of compelling biographical stories. And book clubs will rejoice in the possibilities it will offer for discussion. It is just wonderful!

--Cathy Langer, Lead Book Buyer at Tattered Cover

This was a wonderful historical novel based on the life of Alice Liddell who inspired Lewis Carroll to write Alice in Wonderland. Benjamin did an excellent job of telling a complex story of young Alice's relationship with Caroll aka Charles Dodgson - who was a young man at Oxford when they met. But is it more than that - it is about Alice's strength through a catastrophic time in her young life, followed by love and loss. It is about a girl becoming a woman - navigating Victorian England's strict moral attitudes with little help from those around her. It is told from Alice's point of view - which maked the book a strong and fascinating read. Great for discussion and book clubs.

--Lisa, bookseller, book club leader and librarian

I'm not a Victorian England kind of person, nor am I a great fan of Alice in Wonderland or Through The Looking Glass. Nevertheless, this book, a fictionalized account of the "real" Alice, Alice Liddell, caught and held my attention in a vice grip. Benjamin's research was exhaustive, so that Alice, her sisters and the clearly disturbed Charles Dodgson (who took the pen name Lewis Carroll) become living and breathing people again. The actual photographs of Alice in the book are priceless and add a profound depth to the story--more than once I sat looking into Alice's 'gypsy' eyes and wondering what the truth was. The Liddell family in it's privileged splendor, the father's position of Dean of Christ Church making them very powerful in England, the great restrictions on and expectations of women, all set the scene for the destruction of one life by the tender age of 11. No one is completely innocent nor completely guilty in this tale that follows Alice through to her twilight years, but the taint of scandal colors the world for them all throughout their lives. It's rather haunting (especially the last few pages), and continues to linger in my mind. I highly recommend this book.

--Jackie, bookseller and blogger

Check out the author's website:

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Another Best of 2009 List

Well 2009 is most definitely over and I've finally recovered enough from the holiday season here at the store to get a chance to reflect on 2009. It was a great year for books. 2009 really reminded me that I am a very lucky person to get to work around books everyday, to think about them, read them, write about them...and get paid to do it! I looked over all the books I read last year and whittled it down to 13 favorite reads. Here they are, in no particular order:

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood

Although it definitely didn't come out in 2009, it did get the movie re-release. And a well-deserved one at that. Isherwood originally published this novel in 1964. It has not lost any of its punch. Written in spare, hard-hitting prose, this book took my breath away. I did see the movie, and think it stands on its own right next to this most excellent book.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Numerous co-workers told me to read this book. They told me I wouldn't be able to put it down. They told me I would think about it and crave the as-of-yet unpublished sequel. I hemmed and I hawed and finally I gave in. They were right. Although we shelve this book in Science Fiction, it is more than just fantasy. Rothfuss created a world I was reluctant to leave. I urge all of you to read this, even if you think fantasy isn't your thing. Rivetting prose, characters written with depth, humor and compassion, and a universal coming-of-age story combine to make one memorable book.

Little Bee by Chris Cleave

This is another book that took my breath away. The story of an African girl and a British woman trying to make sense of the nightmare their lives have become. If you haven't read it, I don't want to give anything away. Read it, and you'll not soon forget it. There are scenes in this imminently readable book that haunt me to this day. And when I finished it, I couldn't read fiction for weeks.

Goat Song by Brad Kessler

After reading "Little Bee", I switched to non-fiction for a while. And this was the first book I read. It nearly sp
oiled me on non-fiction. Brad Kessler's memoir of becoming a goatherder and cheesmonger is written so wonderfully it's easy to forget it's a true story. The prose is beautiful and so rich you can feel the wind in your hair and taste the grass. If Kessler makes cheese half as good as he wrote this book, it must be the best cheese in the world! I loved this book and urge you to read it!

Cleaving by Julie Powell

I wrote a lot about this book this year. I loved it. Julie Powell writes so honestly and candidly about her life it's a little off-putting. I heard from some people that she's too honest, that there's too much sex, that it's not the Julie they liked from "Julie & Julia". Maybe that's why I liked it! She seems more grown up in this book, and her writing? Fantastic! I read this book in a few days and felt a little sad when it was over. She really brought alive the butcher shop she apprenticed in: I could smell that cold scent of blood, picture the cuts of meat in the case and how so recently they'd been on the animal on the stainless steel table in the back. Well-done, Julie Powell!

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

I hate to admit it, but this is the first book I've read by Mr. Foer. I feel bad saying it, but I just never got around to reading his first two novels. It won't be long, though, after reading this unforgettable piece of non-fiction. A meditation on the plight of the animals that become our food, a challenge to not only the reader (the eater) but the animal food industry, this book I can easily say as changed my life. A must-read for those who eat meat, or for those who've read "Omnivore's Dilemma", "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" or anything else in this new genre of books. In "Eating Animals", Foer has managed to turn his personal struggle with meat eating into something universal.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

This book is a fun, interesting tale of magicians in the modern world. I enjoyed this book. Quentin discovers that magic is real, and that he is a magician, when he is selected to attend Brakebills College, a hidden upstate New York college for magic. Of course you're thinking, didn't we already read about this? There are funny Harry Potter references the characters make, but this is no Harry Potter. Not only is magic real in this book, this book is set in reality: adult language, drinking, drugs and sex are present in the lives of the characters of this book as they come of age. The action moves to Fillory, a land believed to be made-up, but in fact, very real. There, Quentin and his friends face evil in a war they don't quite understand. This book is about growing up, about trying to find happiness in yourself and where you are rather than always looking ahead to the next best thing. Lev Grossman's writing is compelling and fun. His characters are memorable, and the imagery is fantastic.

The Bad Girl by Mario Vargas Llosa

My friend, Chris, declared 2009 the Llear of Llosa. I was remiss in only reading one novel by this South American master. This book surprised me. It's fun to love such a bad character! A novel about obsession and how it consumes the main character, Ricardo Somocurcio. Llosa brings Lima, Peru, alive, as well as Paris, England and Tokyo. If this novel is any indication, Llosa is the perfect author for our newly interconnected world. I kept thinking of Gabriel Garcia Marquez when I read this book. Like Garcia Marquez, Vargas Llosa writes lushly, sensually, and with a painter's eye to detail. Just fabulous!

Salvation Army by Abdellah Taia

One of a handful of books in translation I read this year, this slim autobiographical novel about growing up gay in Morocco really is much larger than its size. Originally published in France in 2006, Taia tells a seldom-heard tale of what it means to be gay in a society at once so restrictive yet rather permissive. Add to that the difficulties of being an immigrant in a society coming to terms with the effects of immigration on its values, this book reminds me of how far we have come in the United States. A fascinating read, I am looking forward to reading more from him soon.

The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen

Although this was one of the first books I read in 2009, even now I take great pleasure in recommending this unique novel. Not only is this a great coming-of-age tale of young cartographer T.S. Spivet, and a great story of the American West, the book is a joy to look at. It's larger than your average hardcover book, and it is crammed with marginalia, with maps, drawings and a story-within-a-story that will win your heart. If you haven't checked out this book, do yourself the favor and do so. I think Reif Larsen is an author to look out for.

Birds In Fall by Brad Kessler

After reading Kessler's "Goat Song" and raving about it at work, one of my coworkers brought me her copy of his earlier novel and told me to read it already! I'd heard about this one years ago, but never got around to reading it. Shame on me. "Birds in Fall" is the story of the families of the victims of a plane crash off the coast of Nova Scotia. The families gather, at first in hope, and then in mourning. This book is sad, but it is full of the beauty of transformation through grief. I knew Kessler was a great writer, but this book really shows it. A wonderful, wonderful novel.

Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips

This British import is the most fun I've ever had learning! The Greek gods are alive (they are immortal, you know) and living in England. But their powers are waning. Some of them have had to take up jobs. Others seem to live only to hassle others. All they need is people to believe in them and perhaps their powers will return. An interesting novel on the power of faith and the dangers of religion, this book is fun!

And finally, Labor Day by Joyce Maynard.

This book was the Tattered Cover's first V.I.B. (Very Impressive Book). And it's still very impressive to me. Most definitely, the most hopeful novel I've read in a long time, Maynard's latest book is a treat. When a boy meets a bleeding man in the grocery store and convinces his mom to bring him home, no one has any idea how this will turn out. A powerful love story and an even more powerful story about forgiveness, I can't recommend this book enough.

And those are the 13 books that I read in 2009 that I loved the most. Not all of them were published in 2009, and if you haven't read them yet, each of them is worth reading in 2010.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Irresistible Henry House by Lisa Grunwald
Due in March 2010, click the link to preorder
reviewed by Jackie Blem

I am utterly captivated with this book because it's premise is SO fascinating, especially since it's based in historical fact. Apparently, from the 1920s to the 1960s, there were collegiate level home economics classes that involved rotations in a 'practice house' taking care of a real live 'practice baby'. Orphanages literally "loaned" babies to these college programs for roughly two years per baby, and several women worked weekly rotations being in charge. If you don't believe me, check out Cornell's photo gallery of some of these women and the babies. The whole program was actually quite brilliant, since it was a quiet way of teaching women high level physics, mathematics, mechanics, economics etc. under the guise of letting them earn their MRS degrees (example: one project was to dismantle and then reassemble a refrigerator). Grunwald takes us into that world, with a stern proctor named Martha, an unusually charming orphan named Henry and his 6 practice mothers. The book follows Henry from 3 months old to roughly 25 years old and shows what might have happened to a boy raised in such a way. Grunwald carefully weaves in actual psychological studies done on real "practice babies" as well as extremely clever character development of her own, generously spiced with the cultural details of the changes that happened throughout the
1950s and 60s to create a truly absorbing story. You've never read a book like this one.
I guarantee it.