When the Flu Hits

Josie Leavitt -- February 13th, 2015

I’m not certain what’s going on in the rest of the country, but Vermont has been hit hard by the flu, one of the worst colds folks have ever seen and a stomach bug. When you have a small staff, illness can be a real problem. It’s not just an issue of having someone to actually work, but staying healthy is a challenge. Box of Tissues

Conveniently, we all waited to get sick until after the crush of the holidays. I’m sure it was because the pure adrenaline of the season kept all the bugs at bay. I got it first when we came back from annual week off. My fits of sniffling and sneezing for days was preceded by a very bad sore throat. It’s been a month, and I’m still coughing. Sandy got it next, pretty much the exact moment I felt well enough to work again. She was really sick with the flu and had a fever and chills. We had to force her to stay home. Then,  just as Sandy was rounding the corner to better health, PJ got the nasty cold that sidelined her for a few days. And now Elizabeth is deep in the heart of the worst part of the flu.

Every day now begins with the same ritual. The first one in disinfects everything at the register. The phone, the keyboard, the mouse, the credit card machine, etc. Pretty much anything that can be touched gets wiped down with an antibacterial Lysol wipe. I’m not sure what good this actually does, but it sure does make us feel like we’re taking action against the bugs. We have a ready supply of tissues and antibacterial hand sanitizer for use after we use the tissues. We are trying very hard to stay healthy, but it’s a struggle. The world of retail is practically designed to throw the maximum number of germs at you. Parents stop at the store to load up on books before they go to the pediatrician with their obviously sick kid. Adults are not as careful about their germs as they could be (not many folks over a certain age have embraced the “cough into your elbow” strategy that kids employ) and touching money and credit cards all day can is just asking to get a bug. Usually I feel like working retail builds up my immunity, but as I sit here writing this, coughing and sneezing anew, I can’t help but wonder if I’m now starting round two of the cold.

The only thing that’s good about being sick is having unfettered time to read without guilt. I used my downtime to read the new Dennis Lehane galley, World Gone By,  which I thoroughly enjoyed. I sometimes feel like adult mysteries are my guilty pleasure that I don’t indulge in that often because the kids’ books are stacking up on the bedside table. I spent all day reading and napping when I was sick and just loved it. I think we’re all so busy that it’s really hard to just take a day and not do anything, so when we’re forced by illness to slow down there’s a luxury to it, even with the irritation and discomfort of a nasty cold.

Readers: what do you choose to read when you’re home sick? Is there anything that you’re drawn to that helps you feel better?

The Blender in the Toaster Box

Kenny Brechner -- February 12th, 2015

We can probably all agree that packaging a blender in a box that is labeled as being for a toaster is not a good marketing decision. If attractively designed and reasonably priced these boxes will move off retail shelves as people who want to purchase a toaster buy them, it is true. One can easily see, however, that difficulties will ensue after the box is opened. This clear principle does not appear to commend itself uniformly to books, however, particularly for children’s fiction, where the nature of both the content and audience is very precise indeed.

Unfortunately, one often finds books whose covers are successfully designed to appeal to a set of customers other than the customers who would want to read their contents. While it will perhaps take a bit longer to determine the discrepancy than it would for the toaster purchaser who unpacks a blender, it won’t take that much longer and the result is much more insidious, because it is more far-reaching. The end result of the customer’s dissatisfaction will not result in a simple return but rather bad word-of-mouth and diminished long-term sales which negatively effect the author and the publisher, and a bad customer service experience that harms the bookstores relationship with its customers.

Here are two examples. Six Feet Over It, a delightful debut novel by Jennifer Longo. Let us look at the cover for a moment.


Here are the issues. The protagonist of the book is 15, not 23. She always wears the same pair of jeans and never wears anything else throughout the book. The book has a reader range of 11-15 and is humorous and snarky in tone, not angsty and dramatic. In short, the cover is designed to appeal to an entirely different audience in terms of both age and temperament than the story does.

Our second example is Donna Gephardt’s Death by Toilet Paper.


This cover would have been well designed if the book were a book of potty humor hijinks for 7 to 10 year olds. It is a good design for that. Though the book is humorous it also has a lot of depth and deals with a serious issue: the impact of economic downsizing on a middle grader, for whom the cheap toilet paper at home is emblematic of tough changes in the family fortunes. It’s an absolutely charming book and very painful to imagine it disappointing eight-year-olds who had been expecting to experience what the cover promised.

We feature both these titles at DDG and I can say that the charm of explaining to customers that the cover misrepresents the contents and why – which must be done every time we handsell the book – fades rapidly.

There is an easy fix for this. If the illustrator, or someone else integral to the cover art process, does what the covers are asking buyers to do – read and take the book to heart – this particularly unfortunate brand of failed cover art would likely disappear.

Publishers, Let Your Digital ARCs Live Longer!

Elizabeth Bluemle -- February 11th, 2015

At Winter Institute, I shared a cab and a great long conversation with a bookseller I’d never met before, James from Half Price Books. We covered a range of bookselling topics, from used books to multiple-store ordering processes to sharing recent titles we’d loved, During that last bit,  there was at least one title the other mentioned that caused us to exclaim, “I wanted to read that, but it expired!”

I suspect we are not the only bookseller who encounter the sorrow of an expired Edelweiss or NetGalley ARC in Adobe Digital Editions. I do understand that publishers don’t want ARCs to replace book sales, and so expiration dates for some categories of readers might make sense after a certain point in the book’s release life. But booksellers have tall, tall piles and we purchase multiple copies of the books we fall in love with. It’s especially incomprehensible to me when a digital ARC expires before the book’s release date. We really do want to sell your books; why would you want to make that harder?

What is the purpose of having such short (30-day, 45-day, 60-day) expiration dates for booksellers? Giving us several months to read your titles seems like a win-win; you wouldn’t be losing sales — we aren’t your typical potential retail customers. We wouldn’t NOT buy a book because we’ve read it already. We are MORE likely to buy it if we’ve read it already. And we purchase multiple copies.

Please let your books live longer in Edelweiss and NetGalley for booksellers. Sure, we learn about great reads from our sales reps long before the release date, but we can’t always read all of the ones that catch our attention, at least not right away. They take their place in our queue. Sometimes it just takes a little while for a bookseller to catch up.

Oh! And for those of us who double our page counts by also listening to audiobooks, is there any chance you’d consider digital audio ARCs?


Out of Context

Josie Leavitt -- February 9th, 2015

Little kids are used to seeing me in one place: the bookstore. When they see me out and about running errands they get a shy smile and just look at me. It’s as if they had no idea I existed outside of the store. Really young children have been to call the store “Josie’s house,” which is adorable, but does speak to the number of hours I can be found there. I had a very funny exchange with one of my favorite three-year-olds on Saturday.

Stella and her family had been to the bookstore and gotten heaps of books. I’m off on Saturdays, so I missed her smiling face. But this day found me helping out friends who own a restaurant down the street from the store. I was working the counter during the busy lunch rush, taking orders and making coffees. Young Stella came in for lunch with her parents. She saw me at the counter and a very curious look crossed her face. It went from confusion (she kept looking back towards the bookstore) to laughter. I greeted her warmly and asked if I could take her order. Her parents and I were chuckling over Stella’s attempts to wrap her head around why I was at the cafe. “You work at the bookstore,” she said. I told her, yes, I did, but sometimes I worked here, too. “Why? How many jobs do you have?” I was just so charmed by her smiling face. I could almost hear her brain working trying to figure out why I wasn’t where she was expecting me. I said that the owners of the cafe were friends and they needed help today, so I helped them.

She came around and gave me a hug. Then she asked if I was in charge of the chocolate chip cookies. “As a matter of fact, today, I am,” I said. Her face lit up. I checked with her parents and they said she could have a cookie after lunch. Stella started pouting until I did what I do with kids who want a book: I asked her which cookie she wanted and we wrapped it up and put it in a bag which she retrieved at the end of lunch. It was the equivalent of putting a book on the special order shelf or noting it down in the wish list book.

As if seeing me out of context weren’t enough. PJ, my co-worker, came to the cafe to pick up lunch for herself and Sandy. Stella’s eyes just about popped out of her head when she saw her. “You’re here, too?” She asked. PJ said yes, Stella literally scratched her head and said quite simply, “My parents are here.” And she skipped back to her table. Every time I looked over while PJ and I were chatting, I noticed she was looking at us, taking it all in.

I think it’s good for kids to see shop staffers in other places, even if it rocks their little worlds. And I must say, Stella’s reaction to me working behind the counter was tame compared to adult customers who came in for lunch, saw me and then leaned in and whispered, “Are things bad over there, that you’ve taken a second job?” I just burst out laughing when I heard this and said I was just helping my friends out. But I’m sure the small-town rumor mill will be rocking with this info and I’ll spend much of next week assuring folks that things are just dandy at the store.

A Dynamic Author Visit

Josie Leavitt -- February 6th, 2015

Earlier this week, we hosted Kate Messner at our local school and at the bookstore for her new book, All the Answers. To say that Kate puts on a great event is an IMG_4141understatement. She is a force of organization to reckoned with, and seems to possess boundless energy, even at the end of a long day. One very shy girl joined the event while her mother shopped and by the time she had to leave, she was beaming and happily clutching a copy of the new book.

I went back through my emails to see when Kate started planning for her book tour and was astounded to see the first email went out last May!  She’s been planning ever since, and making my life as a bookseller so much easier. She created an email that I mailed to my local schools in May and then the schools and Kate hammered out the details of the visit. One of the really great things about working with Kate is she really tries hard to get indies as much business as possible, by setting up local book sales through independent stores. She also created her own order form that the schools could copy and give to all students. This form was part of the letter. Really, the only thing we had to do was coordinate the book orders and advertise the store event.

Once we got about a month out from the visit, Kate was tweeting and posting on Facebook about the event. She even created a Facebook event that we could share. I mean really, she made it so easy for us. We had a good turnout for the event and Kate’s calm was great. She started the event and people just started to lean forward in their seats. Kids quieted down and were rapt the entire time she was speaking. Kate used to be a teacher and it’s clear she understands kids and how to get them engaged in a presentation. Listening to her speak about her writer’s notebooks made all of us practically start twitching to jot things down. One of the things I love about author visits is how they can inspire kids to start writing. To hear her talk about the evolution of this book and how it all came from one thought that she jotted down in her notebook more than two years ago was a gift of a moment. Kate made writing a book sound so doable that all these kids left thinking about becoming writers.

The other thing that was wonderful about Kate was she book-talked three books by toteother authors  that she loved and was inspired by. That kind of generosity was not lost on me.She spoke with passion about Bigger than a Breadbox, The Red Pencil, and The Case for Loving. Kids were just as enthused by those books as they were by Kate’s. And, she gave us enough notice about this that we had plenty of time to get in those books so we could sell them. She even had giveaways. I left the day energized by the success of the event and vowed that I would try to be half as organized as Kate for my next event. Finally, Kate tweeted about the bookstore when she got home, with a photo no less!



The Ultimate Binge Read?

Kenny Brechner -- February 5th, 2015

Waiting for books to come out, either the next in a series or an overdue book by a favorite author, may build, or at least strain, our character. Good for us, I’m sure, but binge reading is much more fun. Let us therefore leave the soul-testing labor of locating the Holy Grail to Sir Gawain today and turn our attention to the shallower quest of finding the perfect binge read.

Binge reads can center on a single series of  books all of which are already out, or on the works of a single author. One could go on a binge genre read too, of course, but we are seeking the perfect binge read and an astute observer once rightly defined it as “a finite number of great books.” Genre binging is clearly too open-ended and voluminous to meet our definition. Our first task, then,  is to determine whether the discovery of a single already completed series rates higher than the discovery of a newly beloved author with an established backlist.

From the standpoint of both a bookseller and a reader there is a great deal of satisfaction to be found in a single series that ends well. It should be noted, that even the very best of series written by a living author can be undone by unlooked for and unhappy additions. The classic Earthsea trilogy is a good example. The original trilogy could launch one off on a great binge read only to leave you to crash and burn in the pages of Tehanu, that ill-considered fourth book. Even when later books are only lesser than their predecessors, as opposed to abominable, as in books five and six of Chrestomanci, it still removes the series from being the perfect binge read.

For this reason Fablehaven, The Amulet of Samarkand, and Chaos Walking exemplify great binge reading, because they end cleanly and strongly. Such series are close to perfect but not quite. They are still subject to both waiting for future series by their authors and or possible disappointment with their authors’ backlist.

Given that the most perfect binge read would be “a finite number of great books,” I submit to you that the most perfect binge read is the lifework of a deceased novelist who produced a manageable body of work of uniform excellence. I submit that an example of the ultimate binge read is the complete works of Jane Austen.

One can easily form the wrong opinion of unread classics. Once the mistake is revealed the results can be truly sublime. In the case of Austen she had the foresight to write the perfect number of great novels, just enough to provide complete satisfaction. One is not left in want of any more or any less. Even the original misperception of the character of her novels is rendered amusing and ironic to the binge reader, who encounters similar foibles in the lead characters of the novels themselves.

Agree? Disagree? What do you deem to be the greatest binge read ever?

Diversity: One Thing YOU Can Do Now

Elizabeth Bluemle -- February 3rd, 2015

Before I get into my blog post, of course I need to jump and shout for the books that took home medals and honors at the ALA Youth Media Awards yesterday! Congratulations, all of you wonderful, talented writers and artists!! I was in the audience for the awards announcements in Chicago and was overjoyed to see many of my own personal favorites celebrated. Since everyone in the children’s literature blogoverse is likely to be writing about the awards, I will not, except to say that I was gratified to see a more diverse list of winners across the award spectrum than we have perhaps ever seen before. Thank you, dedicated ALA committees!


I was fortunate enough to attend the Day of Diversity sponsored collaboratively by ALSC (the Association for Library Service to Children) and the CBC (Children’s Book Council). I can only imagine the amount of time and effort that went into planning this event! Thank you, ALSC and CBC, for taking this important step toward action for children and children’s books. The event was the first of its kind for these organizations, and as such there was a limited number of attendees. It felt like a kickoff to what I hope can turn into a two- or three-day conference for hundreds of participants.

(Note: I will recap the presentations in a future post. For those who would like to read up on the day sooner, Debbie Reese did a nice job of presenting the day and her own perspective here, Zetta Elliott posted some of her thoughts here, Edi Campbell posted here, and Sarah Park Dahlen has posted here. Now that everyone is returning from ALA, you can also use a search engine and type in ALA, CBC, and “Day of Diversity” — several blog posts should crop up this week.) If you’re impatient to get to the “what one thing can I do now?” part of this post, it’s at the end.

Every attendee brought a different perspective and range of experiences to this conference. The speakers were eloquent and moving, and the moderators were fabulous. There were some deeply personal stories told and some grim statistics and urgent pleas shared that I will carry with me always.

What I appreciated most was the focus on action, not just talk. This conversation—about the appalling lack of diversity in children’s books and its severe life- and culture-altering consequences—has been going on for decades, and yet little has changed even as the urgency has grown. In fact, some numbers (for both literacy achievement and for diverse representation of ALL of our nation’s people in children’s books) have gotten *worse* over the past several years. With so much conversation happening in the mainstream, especially over the past couple of years, especially with the advent of movements like #WeNeedDiverseBooks and other social media efforts, how can that be?

It can be because the power structure itself, the race and class make-up of the decision makers and gatekeepers, hasn’t changed much at all. It is not inclusive, not by a long shot, not yet. There are hard conversations to be had and radical shifts to be made.

We all know by experience that large-scale social change can grind all too slowly. So what can we do now, each one of us, right now, to create change in our own communities and spheres of influence? ”Moving Into Action” panel moderator Satia Orange challenged us at the end of the day: What will you personally do to create change? What will you do by the end of this week? by February 28? and by the end of August 2015? “Do something dramatic!” she said. People were invited to come to the guest microphone and share something specific that they will do to make change happen.

This challenge is such a good one! Specific, concrete steps are the ones that stick and end up leading to long-term, big-picture goals.

So, what can one person do?

Here are a few possibilities, ideas that came out of discussions during the day. I invite you to choose one, just one, to do this week. And one (maybe the same one, expanded, or a different one) to do in February. And then inspire yourself to plan a little bigger to begin by August.

The ideas below are all things one person can do. Really.

1) Adopt a classroom and send the children a book (or books, if you can afford it) every month to enrich and diversify their collection. For ideas on titles, check out The Brown Bookshelf, the CBC Resource Page of book lists, the book lists created for Pat Mora’s Día de los Niños programs, my own World Full of Color diversity database, SLJ’s list of culturally diverse books, Debbie Reese’s recommended lists (one of which is here) and any number of great lists that can be found online. This idea was shared by Crazy QuiltEdi blogger Edi Campbell. It’s so simple and so helpful an idea that it knocked my socks off. Just about anyone reading this post can do this, and spread the word. Gather friends together to sponsor an underserved school! Each friend adopts one classroom and donates a book a month. 

2) Buy a book by an author of color featuring a main protagonist of color. This is pretty simple, folks. And I would add that if you do that at your local bookstore, they will be more likely to continue to stock their shelves with diverse books.

3) Go further and shift your reading habits. Early in the year, I had thought it would be interesting to try reversing the dismal national publishing statistics; that is, I would read 90% books featuring main characters of color and only 10% featuring white people. Unfortunately, that’s unrealistic for several reasons including the lack of books to fill that 90%, as well as my bookseller’s need to read to read a lot of what’s on publishers’ lists to make buying decisions. So what I came up with, what my experiment will be for 2015, is to Read 50/50. I think it’s very possible to alternate in this way, and I invite anyone interested to join me. Thanks to Zetta Elliott, I also just read Ebony Elizabeth Thomas’s Dark Fantastic blog post and learned about NCTE’s 2015 National African American Read In, a month-long reading invitational. Share your reading plan with friends. Share your passion!

4) Help a teacher by alerting her or him to Perspectives for a Diverse America‘s K-12 Literacy-Based Anti-Bias Curriculum. Common Core teaching plans often limit themselves to Appendix B titles, but don’t need to. Link them to Appendix D, a resource for diverse titles and Common Core applications.

5) Partner up. Ask your local hospital to consider including library card applications in the take-home bags at hospitals. If the hospital doesn’t already work with Reach Out and Read, a program that helps distribute free books to families, tell them about it. Same with any pediatricians you know.

6) Chat with a librarian. One librarian at the Day of Diversity mentioned that their system gives kids a “side card” that allows them to check out paperback books even when they have overdue books and can’t use their regular cards. That way, children aren’t ever punished by withholding reading. Talk with your local librarian and invite her or him to consider such a program.

7) Make books your birthday gifts. For adults as well as children, give people the pleasure of a book that you love, and branch out with the choices. Find beautiful books written by authors of color, books that offer mirrors or windows into the lives of main characters of color. Surprise someone with a glorious book!

I’ve got plans for the bookstore, as well, and will continue to blog about our efforts and diversity in publishing and children’s books here at ShelfTalker.

What are your ideas for grassroots diversifying?

The Help of Friends

Josie Leavitt -- February 2nd, 2015

It doesn’t happen all the time, but when I draw a total blank for a customer’s request, I’m grateful to the members of children’s bookselling world for bailing me out. There are two internet listservs that are only for children’s books: the ABC and the NECBA. (I should add, I’m sure there are more, but these are the only two I have access to.) The ABC is part of the American Booksellers Association and NECBA is the children’s book group of the New England Independent Booksellers Association. Having access to other children’s booksellers makes such a difference in my work life.

Bookstores can be very solitary places to work. The only immediate colleagues you have are the life-saving-equipment-250x250staff at your store. But sometimes, everyone draws a blank on a certain title or we just can’t think of books about a certain time period. Yes, there are ways to look these things up, but often they can lead on wild goose chases that are maddening. Sunday afternoon a new teacher came in and was looking for fiction books for her fifth and sixth grade about westward expansion. Admittedly, this is not a topic I’m well versed in. I stumbled along in the middle grade section looking for covers with wagons and western images. I realized this did not make me look all that competent. She was not looking to buy anything that day, she was planning for a unit in six weeks. So I regrouped. I told the teacher honestly, “This subject is not my strong suit, but I can ask my bookseller friends and see what they suggest.”

Yes, I could have gone to any number of internet searches, and had she been needing a book that day, I would have. But her timeframe allowed to go to my friends on the web. Within minutes of posting my query, I got some answers. Sadly, not as many as I’d hoped for, but knowing the collective brain of children’s bookselling world (okay, mostly the world of New England) could help me made me feel better. And my customer was heartily impressed that I could just pose a question of other booksellers and get some pretty speedy answers.

Knowing that I have ready and easy access to the “collective brain” as we call it makes me a better bookseller. I can safely ask questions of people with different strengths than I have. And the beauty of this versus an internet search is booksellers are speaking about books they know and feel confident about. So I don’t have to look up reviews for books I’ve found on an internet search these titles come pre-vetted by my peers. The other great thing about this is the feeling of camaraderie with other booksellers. There is a lovely sense of having backup when I’m at a loss, and that is a lovely safety ring to grab hold of.

Dealing with Death in the Community

Josie Leavitt -- January 30th, 2015

The joy of owning a bookstore in a small town is being part of the community. Bookstores are usually the first place people turn when they have significant moments in their lives. Usually these moments are joyful: finding out about pregnancy, a child learning to read, going to school for the first time, buying a home, etc. But sometimes these moments are not happy. We’ve had a spate of sadness in our little bookstore community this week.

whensomeIt’s been a challenging time at the store. A local school lost a parent earlier this week. The ripple effect from this is enormous, which just serves to remind me just how connected we all are. A father in his early 50s died suddenly from a massive heart attack on Tuesday night. He leaves behind three lovely children and his wife, who is a teacher at the school. To lose anyone is always hard, but a father who is so connected with the school his kids attend just breaks your heart. Parents are coming in asking for books about death to help their kids understand and make sense of what happened. Older kids are shell-shocked, younger ones sometimes just ask why everyone’s so sad.

A teacher at a different school asked about books about death as several kids in her class arelifet dealing with loss. Elizabeth came up with a solid selection for younger kids. Maybe the best book out there for young kids is Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Young Children. There is something about this book that makes it easier to talk about death because it covers the life cycle of many things, so little ones can understand it. And Dog Heaven and its companion book Cat Heaven are great books for celebrating the life of a pet and easing the pain of their passing. As a bookseller, I sometimes struggle with titles for older kids who are grappling with loss. There are plenty of fiction titles that deal with loss, but I don’t have a favorite book for that age and find I’m always looking good titles, so, readers, please share some the books you use in these situations.

Every day brings a new challenge, and today, as the snow falls in my small town, I will be grateful to part of my community and will do my best to support my customers who are in need, and celebrate with those who are joyful.

Confessions of a Galley Slave

Kenny Brechner -- January 29th, 2015

Bookseller to bookseller ARC reviews – honest, direct, and informative, divorced of vested interest – are extremely useful to frontlist buyers. With NECBA’s venerable Galley Review Project having slowed down from a spate, to a stream, to a trickle, they are very hard to come by now. The primary purpose of these reviews was discovery, as it should be, of course. Discovery is the main thing, to be sure, but what of all the sequels of the great series books you discovered? Therein lies the secret shame and source of frustration for many frontlist buyers. The pressure of discovery makes it very difficult to find time to read series sequels that you were dying to read when you finished book one.

My own nightstand is telling. The Whispering Skull, The Infinite Sea, and Knightley and Son K-9, stare ominously at me. “We are out now, and you have abandoned us,” they say. The Mime Order, Half Wild, The Lost City, and The Golden Specific, emanate their own brand of opprobrium. “Be fair,” I say. “Look at your neighbor, The Buried Giant, I promised Pam Kaufman I’d read it.” They are unmoved.” You said you loved us and we are unread,” they say. It really is a dilemma; not only are there the warring promises and duties, but customers ask about Book Twos all the time, customers you handsold Book One to. They have come to share your love of Book One, why haven’t you read Book Two?

Something must be done. I’m galled to the quick, I tell you. With this in mind I did four things. First, I went on a binge read of some sequels I’ve most wanted to read. Second, I came up with a sequel-oriented layout for series sequel reviews, essentially modifying the discovery oriented layout of the NECBA reviews. Third, I posted two of them here as examples.

9780670017133Half Wild, by Sally Green
9780670017133 – March 2105

Follow up to: Half Bad.

The Lowdown: Half Wild magnifies the themes and qualities of its predecessor in a masterful manner. Both the actions and the perceptions of its characters are subject to multiple perspectives and present an aggressive moral challenge to the reader. For example, lead character Nathan’s first person voice is completely honest, and yet the accuracy of his information and his impressions, as well as the nature of his character and his actions are dynamically unsettled.

The Bottom line: Splendid characters, unrelenting narrative tension, and intellectually engaging scenarios make Half Wild a stupendously entertaining read.

Anguish Level at Having to Wait for Book 3: High

The Core Audience:  Some series’ such as Hunger Games and Harry Potter,  elevated their content from book to book. This is not so of this superb series. It has been upper YA from the get-go and certainly stays there. It is visceral and violent, and its depiction of sexuality, though not graphic, is strong and emotive. Great stuff but not a go-to book for 10-year-olds reading above grade level.

Unexpected Bonus(es): One is always pleased to see one’s own personal activities get a shout-out, and Half Wild delivered a few.

  1. Appetite Suppressant:  Even Julia Child would have been put off by some of Nathan’s meals when he first exercises his gift.
  2. Hiking mountains: Nathan’s tendency to spend any down time he has obsessively doing strenuous hikes will be very welcome to any readers who happen to be hikers.
  3. Porridge. Those of us who make oatmeal for breakfast most mornings will find Nathan’s habit of making his own porridge every morning, even when fattier options are available, to be very bracing indeed. Thank you, Sally Green!

(Series Support Level Scale:

1= Book Two is even better than or just as good as Book One – must recruit more readers for Book One.
2= Book Two is wobbly but still worthy – must make sure readers of book one have got it.
3= Book Two has veered off course badly. It’s game over for the series.)

Half Wild Support Level  = 1

9781620408933The Mime Order, by Samantha Shannon
9781620408933  – February 2015

Follow up to: The Bone Season.

The Lowdown: The Mime Order follows Paige Mahoney’s development from Sheol 1 escapee to Syndicate Underqueen. The book succeeds in sustaining interest in its lead character throughout the story; however, the central section suffers from some contrived narrative devices. Shannon keeps using the same method over and over again to move Paige around to all the scenes she needs to have. Paige keeps running off, flouting Jaxon’s standing order not to do that. Jaxon is steamed when she gets back, but lets it go. Though Jaxon is seen to be steadily drinking more, this repeated device has the overall effect of making him seem static and inexplicably treading water. Good scenes certainly do happen in the middle section, but it feels like the author couldn’t figure out how to make them happen credibly. Once the table is fully laid, however, the final section of the book is really strong. The culminating scene, a scrimmage in which most of the syndicate aristocracy, Mime Lords, Queens, and Mollishers, duke it out in an arena to determine the next syndicate ruler, is sensationally entertaining and imaginative.  Even in this moment of triumphant spectacle I did find myself thinking that no ruling elite would have allowed a formal means of succession which involved essentially decapitating itself.

The Bottom Line: Though it wobbles a bit, the book does carry the core story forward and manages to sustain readers’ interest throughout. Big action scenes, evocative imaginative flourishes, and strong romantic currents will deliver what readers of Book One came back for. Book Three will be life and death for this series.

Anguish Level at Having to Wait for Book 3: High

The Core Audience:  Though published as adult, this is clearly a 16 and up crossover book.

Unexpected Bonus(es):

Great names for syndicate leaders:  The Pale Dreamer, the White Binder, The Hare, the Rag and Bone Man, The Wicked Lady, The Bully-Rook, and many more.

(Series Support Level Scale:

1= Book Two is even better than or just as good as Book One – must recruit more readers for Book One.
2= Book Two is wobbly but still worthy – must make sure readers of book one have got it.
3= Book Two has veered off course badly. It’s game over for the series.)


Mime Order Support Level  = 2

Fourth: I put forward right now that booksellers should find a means for producing and sharing series sequel reviews either on local regional listservs, ABC, or some other platform.