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Monday, June 26, 2017

RA for All Roadshow Hits ALA: Read N Rave Panel

Today from 10:30-11:30 I was a part of Rebecca Vnuk’s Booklist Read N Rave panel.  For all of the titles that were Raved and by whom, you can go to this post from Booklist Reader. Together we gave you some great books.

Each panelist had 10 minutes to Rave to the audience about the books from the conference which we are most excited about. Below are nine titles and that I Raved with way more information about them than I gave in my 10 minutes.

My nine titles break down nicely into three distinct categories. 5 books getting a full rave, 3 teasers on upcoming titles which I will be reviewing in Booklist, and 1 book that is already out, but I am still talking about it. I wanted to talk about it so much, I orchestrated a giveaway with the publisher so the book would be on the floor and therefore eligible to be Raved.

Also, in true Becky fashion, all 9 of my books are dark and have complicated protagonists [yes even the NF as I will explain], but you know what, some of us love that. Give me steadily building dread, oppressive atmosphere, and total devastation over rainbows and sparkles any day. Don’t judge me and I won’t judge you. Besides, we’ve all got our quirks.

Enough preamble, let’s do this.

Five Books That I Gave the Full Rave Treatment:


The City of Brass


Hardcover528 pages
Expected publication: November 14th 2017 by Harper Voyager

The City of Brass is a debut, historical, epic fantasy novel. I was drawn to this title because- well look at the gorgeous cover, but also because it was offered as a good choice for fans of The Golem and the Jinni, and as that link shows, I love that book. 

The set up-- Nahri is a young woman, con artist, making her living on the crowded streets of 18th Century Cairo by providing “magic” to her rich customers-- fortune telling, healing, etc... Except one day, while performing an “exorcism” she accidentally summons a djinn warrior. And so begins a story you think you know-- disadvantaged young adult stumbles into a magical world where they have so much more power than they ever knew and are the key to saving that fantasy world.  

That’s what I thought at least, but what followed was a spellbinding story, with beautiful prose, adventure, magic, political intrigue, and even some romance. Yes, it has the requisite world building, and the frame, based on the mythology and fairy tales of the djinn from Arab culture [which by the way was well research and authentic; I checked into it], but it was a story that simply grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. Seriously, watch out if you start it, it is not a short book, but you may not be able to stop reading it. Clear your schedules.

Yes you can suggest this for fans of "Arabian Nights”-esque stories like Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson, but if you limit your hand selling of this title to those readers only, you will miss a lot of readers who will LOVE this book. 

This is a book for people who want to get caught up in a detailed fantasy world based in established fairy tales, like those who loved Uprooted by Novik. 

But beyond the fairy tale frame, The City of Brass will also bring readers back to other magical titles that caught them up in their webs and held them breathlessly captive while reading, and then longing for more after they finished, like Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and The Night Circus [which as a side note, is still one of the most popular posts on my blog- itaccessed multiple times each month.]

The only reason you wouldnpick this book up is because it appears to be the first in a series and waiting for another book would make you angry. 

Three Words That Describe This Book: Captivating, Fairy Tale Frame, Great Characters 

My Absolute Darling

Hardcover432 pages
Expected publication: August 29th 2017 by Riverhead Books 

Keeping with the debut theme and also with a very strong sense of place, but decidedly NOT fantasy in any way is My Absolute Darling. In fact, I was given this book as the answer to this questions I asked PRH rep Robert, Whats the darkest book you are going to have at ALA?” He brought the question to the entire team.

So t everyone at PRH I say, “Touché. Job well done.” Let me start with a warning here-- this book is DARK, like seriously, realistically dark. But, it is also beautiful.

Here is the quick set up, Turtle is 14 and lives with her survivalist father in Northern CA. Her mother is dead. Her father, may love her, but he is brutal. I cannot stress this enough. There is physical and emotional abuse here. Turtle spends much of her time roaming the miles of unspoiled wilderness of the woods, creeks, and islands near her home. She knows no other way of life. She lives under the rules and oppressive world views of her father. Her only interactions with people are in school, and well, you know how middle school can be, so that’s not the best either.

But, when Turtle befriends Jacob, a high school boy who lives a fairly normal life, she begins to see that she has a choice to live differently. Thus begins Turtle’s journey. Using the survival skills her father has been teaching her for her entire life, Turtle goes on a journey to save herself. It is gripping, dangerous, and harrowing. The story is suspenseful as we are intimately engaged in Turtle’s struggle. But she is 14, so all her choices are not the ones we would make.

This book is as close as you are going to get to a horror novel without ANY supernatural interference [like a super intense horror novel],  but what sets it apart from other brutal stories of terrible childhoods is the beauty of the writing. The passages describing the natural world are worth the price of admission. And, Turtle is an inspiration.

I will admit right now, this book is not for everyone. There are many trigger warning here, and Tallent pulls no punches. He does not use metaphors when it comes to the brutality and terror of Turtle’s life. However, if you are a reader that can move past that, I promise you that at its core, this is a beautiful and inspirational story that will stay with you for years to come.

Readalikes would include A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash and The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. If you don’t mind a little bit of speculative, I also think The Road by Cormac McCarthy or Never Let Me Go by Kazou Ishiguro would workAll have a disturbing tone, a character centered storyline and lyrical language.

Three Words That Describe This Book: Coming of Age, Strong Sense of Place, Heartbreakingly Beautiful


The Last Ballad: A Novel

384 pages
Expected publication: October 3rd 2017 by William Morrow
Speaking of Wiley Cash, his third book is coming out in October and it is a departure from the southern Gothic influenced psychological suspense he has written before it. Now, I know Cash is a no brainer add for public libraries at this point, but I wanted to include it today because while it is excellent you are going to need to let patrons know how it is different from his other novels.

In fact, I was considering not Raving it today because he is so popular and you don’t need me to tell you to buy it, but here is what pushed me over the edge....Wiley Cash left me a voice mail. He saw on Goodreads that I had already read The Last Ballad and given it 5 stars. He followed the links to my blog [I’m a Goodreads author], saw that I was a librarian, found my cell number [it’s listed here so libraries can contact me to hire me], and called me.

Yes that’s right, Wiley Cash was stalking me. But to be fair, he both admitted to it and apologized for it in the first seconds of the almost 2 minute voicemail he left me. Well, of course I called him back. He wanted me to know that he wrote most of this book in a library because he and his wife had moved in with her parents while they were looking for a new house. He couldn’t write there and went to the library. He is also very worried about this novel because it is so different and he really hopes people like it.

Well, after chatting for a few minutes I told him that he just won himself a spot on my limited list because he was so sweet. I also told him librarians will love his story! And, the few I have told already do.

But back to the book- The Last Ballad. This is seemingly the story, set in 1929, of one poor, uneducated, 28 year old woman- Ella May Wiggins- who works the night shift at American Mill No. 2 in North Carolina. We know from the very early pages that Ella May is not going to live for much longer because Ella May is a real person. She joined the organizer trying to unite the poor white workers; in fact, Ella May was not only fighting those in power to try to unionize the white factory workers, she was also involved in trying to make the poor white workers accept the poor black workers into the unions too.  

Despite the fact that we know she will die before the book is done, and make no mistake that darkness and sadness penetrates the book, as I read, I couldn’t stop turning the pages and hoping that somehow she would make it through. That the poverty and oppression would end-- I know it does not, it still has not, but I still hoped as I read. Such is the brilliance of Cash’s writing.

So the publisher suggests Ron Rash’ Serena, Denis Lehane’s The Given Day, and films like Norma Rae and Silkwood as read/watch alike. I agree but I would also like to add the Pulitzer Prize winning, linked story collection, Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout to the list. The Last Ballad is told in a  similar fashion to Olive Kitteridge, with Ella May only having the POV for a few of the chapters. In most of the  chapters the story is told from those who have come into contact with Ella May. Some only for a moment, but that encounter effects them greatly. This stylistic storytelling choice is what elevates this novel from a good story about an ordinary woman who made her mark on history [a popular subgenre today] to an excellent book about the fight for equality and dignity for all.

I would also suggest this to people who have enjoyed recent books like, Hillbilly Elegy or White Trash. Here we have historical fiction, well researched but fiction, on the same topic. Speaking of, Cash also told me that the finished copy of the book will include an appendix essay about the real Ella May.


This book may be set in 1929 but it shows us the roots of our current social turmoil and upheaval. It illustrates issues and concerns of right now, from racism to workers rights to police brutality to the 1% vs the 99%- all by telling the story of one forgotten woman’s life through her eyes yes, but also those around her, in one compelling, emotional, and fascinating book.


Three Words That Describe This Book: Multiple POVs, Historical but Timely, Character Centered

An American Marriage

Hardcover320 pages
Expected publication: February 6th 2018 by Algonquin Books
Jones’ last novel, Silver Sparrow is one of my all time favorites. I still regularly hand sell it to readers, and it came out 6 years ago! When I saw she finally was going to have a new book, I knew I needed to get my hands on it as early as possible. 

Like Silver Sparrow, An American Marriage is set in Atlanta and like Silver Sparrow it has a provocative setup-- Celestial and Roy are a couple in love and on the rise, but soon after they are married, Roy is convicted and sent to prison for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit-- for 12 years. How does your life and love continue from there.

Celestial turns to Andre, Roy’s best friend for help. After 5 years, Roy’s conviction is overturned and poof...he is free and ready to join his old life. But can he? Is that life still there? 

But seriously, what would you do if this happened to you? That question alone and how these characters deal with it would make this a good book. But what makes it great are the characters and the fact that Jones allows them each a chance to tell the story. She writes eloquently but through the characters. We watch their lives unfold with a truth and complication that feels real and without the melodrama that would creep in if Jodi Picoult or Nicholas Sparks told this story. And by the way, that is not a judgmental statement. Melodrama is a style of storytelling that has its place for the right reader, but this is not the kind of book that is, even though if you just knew the story line it may sound that way.

This book reminded me more of The Mothers by Britt Bennett. Both are character- centered novels that deal with serious issues in an honest way [The Mothers takes on abortion] set in African American communities. But as I said above about The City of Brass, you do the biggest disservice to your patrons if you only suggest “black books” as readalikes because this a book about characters, issues and relationships, period.


To that end I would also highly suggest Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka or The Round House by Louise Erdrich- neither of which is a “black book.”


Three Words That Describe This Book: Multiple POVs, Character Centered, Honest

Paperbacks from Hell: A History of Horror Fiction from the '70s and '80s
Paperback256 pages
Expected publication: September 19th 2017 by Quirk Books

Paperbacks From Hell: A History of Horror Fiction From The 70s and 80s is exactly what the title says it is, but it is also so much more. 

Like Hendrix’s fiction, this nonfiction book has the snarky humor, but you can also not deny his true, undead love for these books.

Broken up into categories based on subgenre [similar to ones I use in my book], Hendrix looks at the best paperback books and authors from this era in chapters on, for example vampires, demonic possession, and deadly animals. Yes he provides the crazy covers but he also gives biographies of authors from the still well known to the barely known ever. There are discussions of the books, their appeal and summaries. There is a huge index. It is exhaustive. But it is so fun to read.

Anyone who has ever read a horror paperback will find something here to enjoy. Like Hendrix, who openly shares his younger self’s obsession with these books, books he only first opened because of their covers, many of us have read a book or two [or in my case a hundred] found within these pages and we loved it! The affection Hendrix has for the topic-- the “trashy” books that turned him into a critically acclaimed novelist-- bleeds through [pun intended]. In fact, after you read this book, you too will accept that these books are no less worthy because they blatantly intended to scare readers- or at least that’s what Hendrix [and I] hopes.

This book pairs nicely with Stephen King’s 1980s nonfiction masterpiece advocating for the importance and the universal appeal of horror- Danse Macabre, a book all of your libraries own. Of course any of the hundreds of books mentioned within the pages of Paperbacks from Hell could be sought out by your patrons.

Three Words That Describe This Book: Fun, Books About Books, Eye-Opening

Three Titles I Teased About Upcoming Raves:

In the Fall, I will have full reviews of these three books in Booklist. I didn’t want to waste my limited Rave time talking about them, since you can read my “Raves” in the magazine soon, but just a quick heads up about why you need to pre-order these titles ASAP.

Creatures of Will and Temper by Molly Tanzer [November 2017]. John Joseph Adams Books from HMH. From the imprint’s landing page:
Led by John Joseph Adams, the acclaimed short fiction editor and series editor of The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, John Joseph Adams Books is dedicated to publishing best-selling and award-winning science fiction and fantasy from a diverse range of voices, both new and established—fiction that is literary and accessible, sometimes experimental, and always full of a sense of wonder.
In this one fencing, demons, and upper crust Victorian society collide. I am very excited to dive into this one after the conference. Horror authors in particular have been buzzing about it already.

Strange Weather by Joe Hill is coming out in October. It is a collection of 4 novellas. So already we have two reasons to love this book-- Joe Hill and novellas.  As I mentioned back in April, novellas are hot right now, and Joe Hill well, he is great. Just preorder it. My full review will be in the August 1st issue of Booklist which is the Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror Spotlight issues.

Speaking of that issue, I will also have a review of The New Annotated Frankenstein and an interview with the editor, Leslie Klinger. You may think this book is the least “sexy” of the ones I mentioned today, but you are wrong. I will let you read the review and interview to see why, but for now, you need to know that this is a book to order because 2018 marks the 200th Anniversary of this novel, written by a teenage girl, which birthed both the horror and science fiction genres. For more information, visit Arizona State University’s Frankenstein Bicentennial Project.

One Title That is Already Out and I Have Already Raved:

In The Valley of the Sun by Andy Davidson is a book that I loved. You can read my full review but here are my-- Three Words That Describe This Book: lyrical, haunting, atmospheric.

I wanted to Rave this book even though it came out in early June because it is THAT good, but its is from from a smaller press so I want to make sure I give it all the attention it deserves. The rules to mention something in this presentation were that the book much be on the exhibit floor. So.....I talked to Skyhorse and they have not only put the book out on the floor, but they also made 25 hardcover copies available to folks who came to this program. I handed out tickets, and the first 25 who turned them in at booth 3131 got a copy...for FREE!

Buy this book. It is amazing. You will thank me later.

And now, time for a breath. [Exhales]

Of course I did not say all of this in my ten minutes during the program. This post has a lot more detail. Also you can go to Booklist Reader for a list of all of the titles.


Finally, I “Raved 15 more titles that were at the conference in this post on Friday. So in total that’s 24 titles coming soon that I think are worth your time.

I will be back tomorrow with more ALA Annual wrap up posts including wrap ups by others.

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