Monday, March 30, 2009

We Have a Winner! April Book of the Month Contest

Congratulations to @Dr_Maggie who won our first Book of the Month contest by following our clues on Twitter. She wins a copy of "Elegance of the Hedgehog" by Muriel Barbery, which is our book of the month for April. Keep watching our blog for more about this great book. If you would like to be informed of our contests, events and other exciting things going on at The Bookmark at the U, sign up to receive our newsletter. At the top right hand corner of the page, just click on the "Enter to Win" button which will take you to our newsletter sign-up page. Just fill in your email address and check the box that says, "Book Buyer's Club," and you'll automatically be entered to win copy of May's Book of the Month (but, we're not telling you what it is yet).

Book of the Month for April - Contest Announcement

It's almost here! We are starting The Bookmark at the U "Book of the Month." Each month we will select a book that we really like, a book that has made an impression on us, and one that we think many of you would like as well. We will write about it in the blog and hope that, if you have read it, or read it during that month, you will be part of the conversation about that month's book.

But, wait! We're not going to tell you what the book for April is yet.

To kick off the Book of the Month for April, we are holding a contest where you can win a free copy of the book. All you have to do is this: follow us on Twitter and watch for clues about the book. The questions will start vague and difficult, and then begin to get specific. If you are the first person to send us a DM (Direct Message) via Twitter, with the title of the book and the author's name, you will win a free copy of the book. The first person to DM us will be based on the time and date stamped on Twitter. We do need to limit this contest to the United States and Canada, but other than that, start following us on Twitter and play along.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Exquisite Meals, Exquisite Books

On a recent trip to Las Vegas, I found myself looking for a nice place to have dinner. I wanted to sit down and enjoy a meal that was brought to my table rather than having to go to the food and feel I was eating from a trough (i.e. the Las Vegas buffet). Rather than an easy decision, this turned out to be a saga I shared with my followers on Twitter.

One upscale steakhouse turned me away for dress code violations. Apparently, you are not allowed to eat really good steak if you are wearing jeans (they were nice jeans! No holes or frayed edges). Another two restaurants turned me away because I was dining alone and they were too busy to set a table for just one person (is my money worth less because I am eating alone?). I refused to eat at another because their salads cost $30 (when in the hell did a salad start costing $30, I asked).

Ultimately, I ended up finding a table at Wolfgang Puck's Spago. They had no problem with my clothes, or the fact I was eating alone. It was some of the best service I've ever had at a restaurant anywhere in my life (my glass was never empty for more than thirty seconds). The food was amazing. It was the first time in my life that a steak (Blue Cheese Encrusted Prime Filet Mingon) actually made my eyes roll backwards. Yeah it was that good!

Now, this may seem a strange way to introduce a book, but let me finish.

I recently read a book that invited me in and sat me down at a amazing story. I often read from the buffet of the popular and trendy, so this book was like having an exquisite meal being brought to my table at Spago. I read it slowly, savoring the words, enjoying the story, examining the characters one by one. It wasn't a huge book, but I left feeling far more satisfied than if I had read ten mediocre books.

"Last Night in Montreal" by Emily St. John Mandel is all at once a mystery, a love story, a book about family, about connections and disconnections. It is a recipe for a story that comes together perfectly for a literary meal.

Lilia, whose story we follow throughout the book, is a young woman who can't stay in once place. Ever since being kidnapped by her father, away from her mother, she has been on the move from one place to another, from town to town, and city to city. Being on the move has become so ingrained in her life that she tells her lover Eli, whom we meet at the first of the book, that she dosen't "know how to stay." And then she leaves him.

The question that haunts the reader, and Eli, throughout the book is, "why did her father take her in the first place and send her into this vagabond existence?" And so, we follow Eli to Montreal, where he goes to look for Lilia after receiving a mysterious letter indicating that is where she went after leaving him. We learn about Lilia from several different characters in the book, all of whom her life has affected in on way or another; Christopher, a detective who was hired to find Lilia but became obsessed with her; Michaela, Christopher's daughter, a young woman who lost both her father and mother to Lilia; and from Lilia herself.

What I loved most about this book was the language that Mandel used to tell Lilia's story. It left you both empty and full, warm and cold, lonely, yet surrounded by empathetic characters. By the time I reached the end of the story I felt both happy and sad for Lilia, for Eli, for Micheala, and for Christopher. I wanted for all of them to have found more but knew the book would have been less fulfilling if they had.

In the end, "Last Night in Montreal" was like that Raspberry Chocolate Chip Souffle that ended my dinner at Spago- a perfect ending that was both bitter and sweet and left me hoping that one day I would be able to come back once again and enjoy another meal from this author.

"Last Night in Montreal" by Emily St. John Mandel will be available in bookstores in June 2009 and is now available for pre-orders.

Friday, March 6, 2009

A Favorite... Small Publisher?

I've always been fascinated by stories, by books. I guess that's why I'm in the book business. Just the natural evolution of my career path. I've never not known a life without books. Both my parents were teachers, both were readers, both loved the written word.

When I had the chance to start working in bookstores, more than 15 years ago now, I leaped, headfirst, into that shallow pool of income, for the love of books. Certainly not for the love of a big paycheck.

Over the years I have come to find favorites in genres and authors. While I'll read any book I can, I naturally gravitate toward mysteries. My first memorable favorite author was Robert Heinlein (back in my science fiction days). I think it's natural for most readers to favor a genre or author, reading more heavily from those than from anything or anyone else.

In the last couple of years, I have come across another favorite. This falls into a category of books where you don't generally find readers picking favorites. This category crosses multiple genres and encompasses many different authors. But, having said that, I have found a favorite small publishing house- Unbridled Books.

Why, you ask, would I have a favorite small publisher? It is simply this. I have never read a book from Unbridled that I didn't like. That is saying a lot. Unbridled seems to have a knack for picking great authors who write great books.

I was first introduced to Unbridled by Caitlin Hamilton Summie, Unbridled's marketing director, when she presented her picks for great books for the 2007 fall season. I was particularly taken by her description of The Pirates Daughter by Margaret Cezair-Thompson, which convinced me to read it. I loved it.

I have since read The Lamentations of Julius Marantz by Marc Estrin, Hick by Andrea Portes, Abbeville by Jack Fuller, and more. I am currently reading, and thoroughly enjoying, Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel and Shimmer by Eric Barnes with The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire by C. M. Mayo and Madewell Brown by Rick Collignon sitting at the top of my "to be read" pile.

While there are many other publishers whose books and authors I enjoy, I find it hard to say that I have enjoyed every book I've read that they've published. But to this point, Unbridled, in terms of my other great passion, baseball, is batting a thousand.

So, here's to Unbridled Books, a publisher who has yet to disappoint me.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Buzz Is About Little Bee

How do I tell you about a book, when the book jacket itself says:
"We don't want to tell you what happens in this book.
It is a truly special story and we don't want to spoil it."
Little Bee by Chris Cleave is the story of two women whose lives collide one horrible day on a beach in Nigeria, then again, two years later on another horrible day just outside London. To tell you much more than this would go beyond the warning on the book jacket and would spoil the story.

But, I will say this: The story, told alternately in the voices of Nigerian refugee Little Bee and magazine editor Sarah O'Rourke, give us a view of a world where man's brutal inhumanity to man is only a plane flight away from where we comfortably live. It is a beautifully told story of contrasting events, both shocking and humorous, that show us our lives are only as bad as we perceive them to be. And, finally, how acts of kindness both small and large, bind us together with ties that are difficult to escape.

I've heard a lot of buzz about this book lately from booksellers around the United States, and the excitement it justified.

While telling you too much about Little Bee would ruin it, I can tell you that reading it will give you a different perspective on our world, our nations and ourselves.

Hear author Chris Cleave talk about Little Bee (titled, The Other Hand, in the U.K.).