Miss Frost’s Primer for the Unrepentant Goth

Greetings, dear reader, and a happy autumn to you. The leaves have just begun to turn, the coffee has been ritually spiced, and the skeletons are awakening. Goths of all stripes are dusting off their cool-weather clothes and preparing for the month-long festival of all things dark and spooky that is October.

Now is the perfect time to curl up beside the (metaphorical) fire with a tale of brooding heroes, creeping dread, and strange phenomena. But which tale should you read? There are thousands of deliciously devilish books at your disposal, but every bookworm has different tastes, and no one list of spooky literature addresses them all. How is a goth to find the story that speaks best to their wicked heart?

Thus, I humbly present Miss Frost’s Primer for the Unrepentant Goth.

This October, I will be publishing a series of posts highlighting titles from various genres that will appeal to gothic readers, each along a particular theme. The planned installments are as follows:

  • Vol. I: The Classics
  • Vol. II: Vampires
  • Vol. III: That 19th Century Aesthetic
  • Vol. IV: Under the Hill
  • Vol. V: For Creepy Kids
  • Vol. VI: For Brooding Teenagers

Some titles (especially YA with adult appeal) will appear in more than one installment, but each category will have unique choices tailored for that sub-genre.

The first post will be up October 1st and the rest will be spaced out throughout the month. Happy Halloween and good reading, friends!

 

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A Book Like Summer

The weather is warm, school is officially over, and the season of lounging in the backyard with a good book and a glass of lemonade is upon us. Summer is a great time for fun, flirty stories that make you feel as bright and happy as a day at the beach. Below you’ll find some of my favorites for 2017!

All cover photos courtesy Goodreads

Geekerella by Ashley Poston

I am 1) not big on contemporary romance and 2) eternally skeptical of books about fandom, but Geekerella charmed the (Star Wars-patterned) pants right off of me. Our heroine is a geeky, grouchy orphan named Elle who is trying to survive her last year stuck with a cold and controlling stepmother and two stepsisters who wandered out of Mean Girls. The one thing keeping Elle afloat is her love of Starfield — a cult TV show that calls back to all your faves — which is about to get a film reboot. To her horror, the lead role is given to Darien Freeman, the star of an uber-popular soap opera, aka the last person on Earth who should be allowed to play her beloved Federation Prince Carmindor — except that Darien is secretly a superfan who’s wanted this role his whole life, and no one can ever, ever know or his sexy romance star image will be destroyed.

This novel has a bit of everything — believable romance, wacky escapades, unlikely meetings, drama, and a punk rock lesbian fashion designer as the fairy godmother — but the part that makes it really shine is how much it deeply, genuinely understands what fandom means to people. If you have every really loved a piece of media and found community with other fans, you WILL cry ugly tears at least a few times while you read this. Bring tissues.

Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy

There was some controversy when the (badly written) blurb for this title was initially released, and even after it was fixed, there was still a lot of vitriol floating around review sites. Ignore all of that and listen to your Auntie Tori: this book is for bisexual girls who don’t feel queer enough. It is my fave, my baby, my precious candle in the dark. Beyond that, it is everything that people love about Murphy’s writing all wrapped up in a very attractive cover. Do you want a coming-of-age drama about family, identity, privilege, and the South? Here you go.

The story follows the titular Ramona, a tall, gangly, blue-haired girl from the coastal South who lives in a trailer with her single dad and her adoring, recently pregnant sister. Ramona has always been attracted to girls, so she is very, very unsure of herself and where she stands when a (male) childhood friend moves back to town and her feelings for him become somewhat more than friendly. Cue all. The. Bi. Feelings. To make everything harder, Ramona finds out she’s really good at swimming — maybe good enough for college scholarships. But if she leaves, who will take care of her family? How can she choose between them and her future?

I cried a lot reading this one because it made me feel seen and validated, and even if you’re not bi or queer yourself, I’d recommend giving it a read for the raw, real emotions and relationships. Plus, the gorgeous Southern coast is so vividly alive that it feels like you’re really visiting.

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

Unlike literally every person I know, I have not read Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, — yes, I know, I’m getting to it, but there are so many galleys — so this was my first Albertalli book, and I adored it. This is the epitome of the cute, feel-good summer romance that will please even the most anti-romance of readers (like me) and will probably make them giggle a little, too.

The story follows Molly, who has had twenty-six unrequited crushes and zero boyfriends. Mostly because she has never, ever told a boy how she feels. Her twin sister, Cassie, desperately wants to help her nab a boyfriend who will make her as happy as Cassie’s new girlfriend makes her feel, but that isn’t going to be easy when Molly’s insecurities about her body and her own shyness keep getting in the way. Enter hipster Will and nerdy Reid. Suddenly, Molly has not one but two boys who seems to like her as much as she likes them, yet somehow that doesn’t make anything simpler…

Meanwhile, it’s summer of 2015 and her two moms are getting married right heckin’ now before anyone repeals anything. I thought I was going to die of how cute and happy their subplot was.

If you want body positivity, diverse characters, a YA story with a loving and understanding family, and love interests that aren’t another example of Why Straight Boys Are the Worst, this should be on your list.

Grendel’s Guide to Love and War by A. E. Kaplan

You don’t have to be as big of a Beowulf nerd as I am to enjoy the heck out of this weird, wild comedy about family feuds, escalating prank wars, and artisanal pig farms, but you’ll enjoy the many punny names a lot more if you are.

Tom Grendel just wants the obnoxious parties next door to stop before they trigger his father’s PTSD any more than they already have, but he’s going to have to go through Rex and his beefy pal Wolf first. Which would be less awkward if Tom didn’t have a crush on Willow, Rex’s sister. Or if his increasingly dramatic pranks didn’t seem to make the party-goers more determined to be the loudest thing in the retirement community of Lake Heorot.

I laughed a lot while reading this one. The romance did not leave a lasting impression on me, but then again, the romance is really not the point of the novel. It’s a lot more about the complicated ties of family and community, the weight left behind by memories and grief, and why cranky old ladies whose tranquil neighborhoods have been disturbed by Kids Not Getting Off Their Lawns are the most terrifying creatures in North America.

The Edge of the Abyss by Emily Skrutskie

Finally, finally, it is here. The sequel to my absolute favorite science-fiction novel of 2016. Cas and Swift are back in action. This title puts the “adventure” in summer with high stakes, heated romance, and my favorite thing to think about at the beach: ravenous sea monsters.

Set once more in the dangerous waters of the Neo-Pacific, we rejoin Cas and the pirate crew she has only recently decided to join as they stumble upon something far worse than enemy ships — a plague of rogue Reckoners, giant ship-eating monsters that are only meant to exist under the strict control of a trainer like Cas. As the seas turn deadly and a new ecological crisis looms, what can a ragtag crew of pirates do against the worst threat mankind’s genetic engineering has ever conceived?

Meanwhile, Cas and Swift struggle to get their act together. Get ready for a hideously delightful amount of hate sex while these nerds work out their issues from the first book, The Abyss Surrounds Us.

The Crown’s Fate by Evelyn Skye

Speaking of sequels, if you want to take a break from the oppressive summer heat and take a trip to snowy Russia in the 1800s, it’s time to pick up the follow-up to Skye’s bestselling first novel, The Crown’s Game.

After the events of the first book, there is a lot to resolve. One of our main characters is presumed dead and the other has become literally shackled to the role of Imperial Enchanter. Revolution looms and threatens the future of our young tsar-to-be, Pasha. And, of course, magic is never as safe as it seems to be, especially with dark forces wandering the world and using it to their own ends.

The love triangle we know and love from the first book is back with a vengeance in the sequel even as loyalties shift and characters change. Just as passionate as ever, you’ll swoon and sigh as our three heroes deal with the consequences of their actions in The Crown’s Game and try to forge the best path forward, even if that path won’t let all of them survive.

My (Six Month) Absence and Creative Fatigue

Hey readers, however many of you there may be!

I wanted to write and explain why I’ve been completely off the radar for the last six months. Despite having read a great many books and holding a great many opinions about all of them, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to find the time and spoons to write reviews. There are many factors involved: I moved across the country (again) in December, I lost a close family member to illness just after Christmas, I started a new full-time job with a long commute, and my days off usually aren’t back-to-back anymore. Plus, the world kind of sucks right now, and I’m not the sort of person who can soldier through it without feeling weighed down.

Because of this/in addition to it, I’ve been plagued with a bout of creative fatigue. I’ve struggled with this off and on for many years, but it’s been especially rough these last few months, and my physical exhaustion and stress have been no small factor. When I do have the right combination of time, energy, and clearheadedness to put words to screen, I try to prioritize my fiction writing first and foremost, and my book reviews keep sinking further and further down the to-do list because of it.

What does that mean for the blog? Well, obviously I’ve only published one review in the last long while, and I don’t have any more on the table right now. I am trying to figure out a strategy for writing and publishing them consistently that works better for me and my schedule going forward — we’ll see how that goes. In the meantime, my Twitter feed is the best place to find my latest opinions on books, movies, and everything else. I have also recently started offering some of my art for sale through Society6 and Redbubble if you are looking for cute, queer unicorn-themed merchandise to celebrate the last few days of Pride 2017.

In any case, thank you for reading, and may we all have a great summer of fun books and fun times!

Review: Now I Rise

 

 

(This review was originally written in November 2016.)

I needed this book today.

I wrote my review for the first book in this trilogy, And I Darken, a few days before the Pulse shooting in Orlando, FL. The review went live on the book’s release date, as scheduled, and I remember looking at it and wondering how I had written so cheerfully about a book where one half of the story is about a young, gay, Muslim man, not knowing that hours later, amidst grief and anger, the compatibility of those identities would be up for national debate. Mostly, I wondered how my self-of-a-few-hours-ago had been so hopeful. People were writing beautiful, powerful books that couldn’t have been published ten years ago, or even five years ago. Things were changing. Things were better.

Then, 49 people died. I felt naive. I felt vulnerable.

I’m writing this review in late November, 2016, not quite two weeks after the most horrifying election upset in our nation’s history, and I’m writing it about a book about young, queer Muslims struggling with faith and identity while a young, angry woman — a “nasty woman,” if you will — rips down a decrepit system to reclaim her throne and save her people. It feels surreal that this book wasn’t written about this exact moment in time. As I write this review, I wonder if it will feel relevant to June of 2017, too, or if the moment will have passed. I wonder if you will get to read this review at all.

The heroes of this book stopped being children somewhere in the empty space between And I Darken and its sequel. I think that’s true of its intended audience, too. Early in the novel, Radu finds himself embroiled in the siege of Constantinople. Lada struggles to bring Wallachia to heel. Both make hard choices that would stagger an adult. Through it all, they fight to hold to their ideals and to their truth. It isn’t easy: with the world telling them one thing and their consciences telling them another, one or both of them could be led astray. It’s up to the reader to decide if, by the end of the book, they have.

Through it all, thought, neither sibling is alone. Separated from each other by distance and political alignment, they surround themselves with staunch allies. Radu has the fierce and marvelous Nazira, whom we met in And I Darken, on his right hand, and the kind and complicated Cyprian, a new addition to the series, on his left. They provide an interesting counterbalance to one another and to Radu’s shifting views, loyalties, and loves. Readers who like internal turmoil and gut-wrenching relationships will love this trio.

Lada, meanwhile, has her usual entourage of former Janissaries — assuming she can trust them. She also finds herself drawn into the political machinations of Hunyadi, a Hungarian revolutionary, and the schemes of nobles and usurpers alike. Without her brother’s skill at persuasion, Lada finds herself off balance. That’s when things get interesting.

I can’t overemphasize how much I appreciate White’s nuance when it comes to issues of faith, sexuality, morality, and the price of hard choices. Nazira and Radu must each come to terms with their queerness through the lens of their religion, and while Radu may always struggle, I found myself tearing up every time Nazira spoke of her love for her partner, Fatima. My heart ached as Constantinople came under siege, with fanatics of all stripes killing each other for dubious gains, and while the ordinary Christians and Muslims in the cast sought out what little peace and hope they could find. The conflict feels utterly futile, and it’s supposed to: we see the human cost of the war, and like Radu, readers will wonder why people do this to each other. It might be all too relevant.

I needed this book today, yes, but I think you’re going to need it even more in June of 2017. If you’re still here, if you’re still reading, then I give you nothing but my love.

“But what about our sons?”

The morning after the election, I took the bus to work. It was a surreal morning. California was, as always, sunny and pleasant. Students were out on Stanford campus with “free hugs” signs. A gaggle of doctors, nurses, and construction workers were playing a pick-up game of soccer on the hospital lawn. There was tension under the brave faces, though. I heard strangers talking election results in hushed voices.

That tension escalated to real fear when I slipped into the bookstore where I work. The radio show we host every week was in the middle of a fearful discussion of the election results. People wanted to know how this happened, why it happened, and what we might expect in the future. The talk turned to the children. What do we tell them? How do we protect them? And how should we let our girls know that they can still be anything when the most appallingly lewd, woman-hating candidate in American history just snagged the win?

Someone in the crowd got up then and asked, “What about our sons? How do we raise young men who are better than this? How do we teach them to respect women?”

Well, as a children’s bookseller, I’ve got an answer for you:

Make your boys read about heroes who are not like them.

I can’t tell you how many well-meaning parents walk into the store and want books about girls for their daughters, but won’t even consider them for their sons. Self-proclaimed progressives wrinkle their noses and tell me their kid wouldn’t read that in a tone that says, “Well, what do you want me to do about it?”

I want you to be a parent.

You need to step up your game. When it comes to books you consider “trashy” or “immature,” I can’t get you to shut up about how you want to force your child to read “more suitable” literature. Why are you silent when your son refuses to pick up a book about anyone who is not exactly like himself? Do you think your daughter isn’t going to be reading about white boys and their dogs for most of her education? You want your child to learn empathy without ever asking them to empathize. That isn’t going to work.

Make you son read a book with a girl hero. Make them read a book with a black hero. Make them read a book with a gay hero. Make them read even if they don’t want to.

If you don’t know where to start, why not stop in at your local bookstore or library and ask? I promise you, we’ve got hundreds of adventure-packed titles that don’t feature straight white boys as the lead characters. Here’s a sample:

  • Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger
  • Hunters of Chaos by Crystal Velasquez
  • Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
  • The Hero and the Crown or The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
  • Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce
  • Princeless by Jeremy Whitley
  • Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older
  • The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
  • Huntress by Malinda Lo
  • Willful Machines by Tim Florian
  • Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace

Now go put your money where your mouth is and raise kids who care.

Review: A Shadow Bright and Burning

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Review:

As soon as I read the name “Henrietta Howell,” I knew I was going to like this book. The novel as a whole is a lot like that name — frank, charming, and old-fashioned, with a big heart and a lot of whimsy. Oh, and there are Lovecraftian horrors. Big, angry horrors.

If you’d told me someone could mash up the flavor of Howl’s Moving Castle with Stranger Things, I’d have been skeptical, but Cluess won me over. It turns out eldritch abominations go really well with the stiff-upper-lip facade of Victorian society under siege, if you do it right. You can feel the darkness seeping into the world from the first scenes in the gloomy north of England, and it follows our heroine, Henrietta, into the heights of London society after her gift of magic is discovered. Still, it doesn’t stifle the wonder or elegance in the novel. The household of sorcerers Henrietta goes to live in has little shades of Hogwarts and Baker Street with better manners. The characters she meets there are faceted and interesting, and more so than in some books, you’re actually convinced that they have their own agendas that have nothing to do with the heroine’s journey. I look forward to seeing how they play out in future installments.

I wanted to add a paragraph about Cluess’s prose, but it doesn’t draw too much attention to itself in the best way possible. The characters and story are too dynamic to need it. Once you start reading, you’re in. No rhetorical bells and whistles required.

As a bookseller, I’m excited about this one. It’s exactly the kind of historical fantasy I want to hand off to new readers, and whims of the market permitting, this one is going to be a hit. It’s been a while since something’s come along that charms me as much as Diana Wynne Jones and scares me as much as Neil Gaiman.

 

Review: Girl in Pieces

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Review:

Kathleen Glasgow’s debut is one of the hardest books I’ve read, and at the same time, one of the easiest. It falls firmly on the “Adult” side of “Young Adult” literature, ironically because of its unflinching focus on issues that affect millions of real teenagers: self-harm, mental illness, suicide, addiction, homelessness, and physical and sexual abuse. Parents will balk at the content, but the sad truth is that most teens are probably not strangers to these topics.

The story follows 17-year-old Charlotte “Charlie” Davis as she struggles with recovery from a failed suicide attempt. Homeless and fleeing an abusive mother, she finds herself in a rehabilitation center, only to be thrown out into the cold when her insurance stops paying for treatment. Soon she finds herself on a bus to Tuscon, Arizona, to meet up with a high school friend and to try to start life fresh. Once there, Charlie struggles to make ends meet and finds herself spiraling dangerously toward old habits.

Glasgow’s gorgeous, poetic prose drew me into the story immediately and carried the narrative like a tune. It was legitimately hard to put down: I think I devoured more pages on my meal breaks than food until I finished it. I don’t know how long she spent working on the manuscript, but it paid off — and, like all the best writing, the final product seems effortless.

While lyrical writing charms me, the book’s strongest appeal is its characters. Charlie was vulnerable and raw, but the first-person perspective didn’t diminish the secondary characters. Glasgow adds depth and nuance to people who are far too easy to pigeonhole in stereotypes: an ex-rockstar addict, a troubled goth girl, a haunted artist, a cocky patient from rehab. The settings themselves have their own vibrant personality, too, from a freezing Minnesota winter to a grungy cafe to a Day of the Dead celebration in Tucson.

This one is going to leave a mark in the genre, not for its unflinching presentation of the darker sides of life, but for its unrelenting movement forward. Failure, hurt, and heartbreak don’t vanish from the pages as you move toward the end of the book, but the message is upbeat: “you can survive this.” At the end of the day, the core of Girl In Pieces is hope.

Review: The Obelisk Gate

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  • Release Date: August 16th, 2016
  • Author: N.K. Jemisin
  • Website: http://nkjemisin.com/
  • ISBN: 9780316229265

Review:

When a customer comes to me for a science-fiction recommendation, the first thing I pull from the shelf is N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season. “It’s like Between the World and Me written as an apocalyptic revenge saga,” I say with a grin, probably for the seventh time that day. It’s no secret that I’m a little in love with this book. Set in a world where bizarre extinction events happen every  couple of centuries, it begins with an earthquake that may have literally split the continent in two. The story follows Essun, a powerful orogene — a person with the ability to control (and cause) seismic events — after she discovers that her young son was murdered by her husband, who has fled with their daughter as the aftershocks of the earthquake begin to hit.

With The Obelisk Gate, Jemisin maintains her position as one of the most talented sci-fi/fantasy writers in the field. The Obelisk Gate is the middle installment in the trilogy and it picks up right where the first book left off (which is too big of a spoiler to reveal, so I won’t.) Unlike the first book, which carried readers to all corners of this strange world, the sequel stays fairly stationary. Indeed, in a lot of ways, The Obelisk Gate is a bridge book: compared to the kinetic years-spanning narrative of The Fifth Season, the sequel is a breather, giving the story and the readers a chance to process what has been learned while feeding in new twists of its own.

The most notable addition is the introduction of a new perspective character: Essun’s daughter, Nassun. Nassun begins the novel on the road with her father, who has just murdered her baby brother — and might murder her, too, if he realizes she is an orogene. Jemisin does a powerful and heartbreaking job of depicting the fear, trauma, and toxic coping mechanisms that emerge from cycles of abuse. I’m almost hesitant to see how it all plays out in Book 3.

But that’s just the thing: like I did when I finished The Fifth Season, I nearly chucked The Obelisk Gate across the room because I was so frustrated that Book 3 won’t be out for another year or so. This trilogy knows how to leave you hungry.

Bookseller FAQ (That We Wish Weren’t So Frequent)

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Image Credit: wikimedia.org

Hey, all. This is your friendly neighborhood bookseller. I’ve been working at one of the oldest independent bookstores on the West Coast for about two years now, and I love my job fiercely. There is nothing quite as wonderful as sharing the books you love with people and getting paid for it. As retail jobs go, it is the cream of the crop — but, as with any job, it does have its bumps and quirks. One of them is the lack of understanding of how bookstores operate (or how retail stores operate.) And why would there be understanding? Bookselling can be a mysterious process even to those of us on the inside, with new technologies and trends changing the landscape every day. But, over time, some frequent questions pop up that are easy to answer, and I’ve tried to collect some here.

If I sound a little snarky in some of my answers, don’t take it to heart. Booksellers love book lovers, and unless you get rude or belligerent with us, most of the time we’re happy to share what we know. My sarcasm is just an inborn trait.

Q: Do people really still buy physical books?

Yes. E-Books are an exciting new technology in a lot of ways, especially in the field of self-publishing (we’ll get to that in a minute), but the very fact that you’ve stepped into a bookstore indicates that there’s something about the printed word that still has appeal. Maybe you don’t like the glare of a screen or the fact that your digital books can disappear at any time on the whim of a corporation that might not even have incentive to carry them in three years. Maybe, like many book lovers, you like the tactile experience of flipping through pages and smelling that old paper smell. Maybe you just like having them. The fact is, e-books just aren’t as universal as a paperback — you can store a whole library on a Kindle, sure, but you can’t lend your favorite e-book to your best friend or wrap one up for your niece’s birthday. Print is a long way from dead.

Q: Why does this book cost so much more than at Amazon?

Short answer? We don’t exploit labor and ruin communities to make a quick buck.

Long answer? Bookstores, publishers, and authors all have to make money to stay afloat and get books to you in the first place. A bookstore pays overhead costs that Amazon doesn’t have to consider. You’ll be familiar with a lot of them from your own home: rent, utilities, taxes, health insurance, vital “furniture” like cash registers and computers, and (of course) the cost of buying and shipping the books themselves so we have something to sell you. The hard-working booksellers who make sure the store looks great and that you have the best possible shopping experience also have to, you know, eat. Those costs are true all the way up the chain to the distributors, the publisher, and the authors themselves, who would also really, really like to eat this week.

Amazon, on the other hand, is just a giant warehouse of stuff that they’re selling to customers at a loss. Wait, so how do they stay afloat if they actually lose money on books? Well, it helps that — financially — they don’t actually care about books.  It also helps that they employ abusive labor practices  and destroy local economies to cut costs.

So what’s up with their prices? Is it all from cutting corners in the rest of their business model? Yes and no. Amazon can charge you, the customer, less for a book because they don’t pay the publisher as much as a bookstore would for the same product. Why? Amazon maintains a stranglehold on publishers by holding site advertising hostage in exchange for obscene discounts on the books. It’s dirty and it’s cheap, and it’s slowly killing the industry.

Basically, buying your books at a bookstore versus at Amazon is like the difference between buying an omelette at a nice cafe versus ordering an Egg McMuffin. The price difference has nothing to do with the eggs.

Q: Okay, but why should I buy my book here instead of online? What’s my incentive?

Aside from taking a stand against the insidious corporate takeover of our democracy, buying locally also promotes healthy economic ecosystems in your community. The taxes you pay when you buy a book at your neighborhood store go into the roads, schools, hospitals, and public services that you use every day. The employees are your neighbors, and supporting their place of business means we can support your place of business with our wages. Lots of bookstores offer community services and partner with libraries and schools to get your kids excited about reading and learning.

You’re also helping authors. Most professional authors make less than $10k from their work every year, and that number is only getting worse as publishers scramble to stay alive while also paying their quarterly blood tithes to Amazon. Career authors with modest sales are dying out in the mad rush for bestsellers. Buying a physical book at a local bookstore puts the most money into your favorite writer’s bank account and sends a message to their publisher that they are valuable enough to keep around. You wouldn’t have any books at all without them, so why not make sure they can make a living from their work?

Can’t afford the extra $10? That’s okay. Booksellers aren’t going to flail you alive for buying what you can afford. Times are tough for us, too, and we get it. Personally, I go to my library if there’s a book I want that I can’t afford — it helps them get funding, it improves my community, and it signals to publishers that my favorite books are in demand. If you want to support authors on a budget, the library is the place to go.

Wherever you decide to buy your books, a bit of etiquette advice: don’t tell us you’re getting it at Amazon instead. It’s rude.

Q: I don’t have the title or the author, but I think it’s blue, and it’s really popular…?

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

Q: I’ve self-published a book and I want you to carry it. Can I bring excerpts/copies/fliers/promotional DVDs for your whole staff?

No. God, no.

Look, we love writers. Why would we be in the business of selling books if we didn’t? At my store, we’ve been lucky enough to host launch events and signings for really fantastic local authors who have seen great success. We are all about the writing community.

But.

We have a certain expectation of professionalism from writers, which self-published authors are often…lacking. When you come into the store and try to pawn copies of your vanity press memoir off on the cashier, that is a red flag. When you insist that your book is very popular on Amazon but don’t know if it’s available from Ingram, that is a red flag. When you send a spam-y email to every bookstore in the area written entirely in Comic Sans, that is a red flag. If you’re disorganized, rude, or just out of touch with how bookstores operate, it telegraphs, “Don’t take me seriously, because I’m not taking myself or my business seriously.”

There are other factors to consider, too. If we do decide to carry your book, how are we getting it? A lot of authors come in and expect to be able to drop off a box of paperbacks, but not all stores sell on consignment. Most of us get our books through a third-party distributor like Ingram, Baker & Taylor, or (until recently) Partners. Is your book available there? Is it returnable if it doesn’t sell? Do you offer a discount of 40% or better to bookstores? These are all factors. Most of the time, we can’t bring in books that don’t meet these criteria.

Understand what you are asking when you want us to carry your book. We already have hundreds of thousands of traditionally published titles. These books have been through a rigorous vetting process and have the backing of a respected publisher — and, more importantly, a professional marketing team. Bookstores do a lot of the legwork of promoting new books, but we rely on national campaigns to bring readers into the store in the first place. Your Facebook post with 50 “likes” just isn’t in the same league.

The fact is, self-published books are a hard sell. Exceptions happen — The Martian by Andy Weir and Old Man’s War by John Scalzi are both runaway successes, and both were originally self-published online before being picked up by a traditional publisher — but they are still in their early days. For now, if you want to be taken seriously and want your work to reach an audience, traditional publishing is the way to go. Be patient. Do research. Learn how to query agents and then do so. If your book is all it’s cracked up to be, you’ll make it work.

Q: How do you resist buying all of these wonderful books that surround you every day?

We don’t. Someday, they’ll make a spin-off of Hoarders just for booksellers. It’ll run for a decade and have special episodes about relapsed book junkies making shelves out of hardcovers and sleeping on a pile of paperbacks.

Q: It might be about WWII…?

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

Q: Wow! How do you know a little bit about every book in the store? Have you read them all?

Ha. Hahaha. No.

Any given genre is going to have a dozen really, really popular books, and odds are you’re asking for one of them. Book trends come in waves. We usually have time to learn about all the bestsellers before the next batch rolls out, so if you ask any given bookseller about, say, the top literary title on a display table, they can probably give you a summary and a little information about how popular it’s been. We all have our specialties, too. Part of the job is listening to each other gush about hot new titles.

Also, to be honest, sometimes I just skim the blurb on the back and make a snap judgment. When you work in a bookstore long enough, you really can start to judge them by their covers.

Q: Why don’t you have this brand new book in paperback?

New books are almost always released in hardcover, kept in that format for about a year, and then re-released in paperback. There are some exceptions, but 99% of the time, this is how new releases work.

Yes, Amazon probably says that people are selling the “paperback” already. They’re illegally selling advanced reader copies. Don’t buy from them. You’re stealing from the author every time you do. Careers get ruined that way.

Patience, dear reader.

Q: Could you spend 20 minutes recommending books for me so I can make an Amazon wishlist and/or buy them on my Kindle?

Get out.

Q: You probably don’t have this, but it’s historical fiction and one of the characters is blind…?

All The Light We Cannot See. Anthony Doerr. Again. Eternally.

This Day in YA

Hello, readers! I return with some fun summer reads from the New YA table. Pick your poison:

This Savage Song, Victoria Schwab

Vicious, violent sci-fi for the vampire romantic in us all. A ruthless girl with nerves like tungsten returns to her home city and her sort-of mafia, sort-of king father, ready to claim her place at his side in a world where crime breeds monsters. On the other side of the wall, a wistful boy who isn’t quite human fights for his family and the survival of the people, only to be thrown into a dangerous situation even something with claws might not get out of alive. This is a thrill ride for all of you hoping for a new twist on a genre that I didn’t think had any twists left in it. It helps that it’s be the author of A Darker Shade of Magic.

If I Was Your Girl, Meredith Russo

I’m a little late to this party — the release date was May 3rd — but I loved this, and I needed to share. Amanda Hardy is the almost-too-perfect all-American dream girl you’d expect a prom queen to be, except for one secret she’s moved to a new town to hide: she’s transgender. She thinks she can ride out high school without a fuss so long as no one knows who she used to be, but that’s until she meets handsome, clean-cut Grant and starts to wonder if she can date and keep her past to herself. There is a hate crime toward the end of the book, which is starting to feel depressingly requisite for books about queer kids, but it catches itself before it falls. A summer romance with a core of real-world social issues. A+.

And I Darken, Kiersten White

I will shut up about this book someday. Today is not that day. While you’re recovering from your Game of Thrones hangover, grab this luxuriously wicked historical thriller off the nearest independent bookshelf and lose yourself in the intrigues of the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century. It’s much gayer than expected. When I was done, I hauled ass to Wikipedia to see how much of it White made up for flavor, and she actually toned it down. She also reminded me why I minored in Medieval Studies as an undergrad: I never thought I’d have heart palpitations from reading about minor Eastern European nobility, but I did. You should, too.

The Leaving, Tara Altebrando

Eleven years ago, six kids vanished. Now, five have come back. They remember nothing. They’re not even sure their families are really their families. And what happened to child number six? The author spoke at our store a few weeks ago, and within a day my manager had added the book to her staff favorites, a bunch of us have borrowed copies, and I’m eyeing my “no new book purchases” rule with some contempt. If you like mysteries that are dancing on the near side of horror, give this one a shot.

The First Time She DrownedKerry Kletter

Cassie O’Malley hasn’t broken the surface of her life in years. Dumped in a psychiatric ward by an abusive mother, she claws her way to freedom and the promise of a new start at college when she turns 18, but life has a way of bringing all your demons back to shore. The reason I didn’t review this when it came out in March was because I couldn’t finish the advanced copy I’d been given. Not because it wasn’t good — it was very, very good — but because it was a jaw-cracking psychological punch. I don’t put many books down because they are too real and too brutal, but I put this one down. You should read it anyway.

The Star-Touched Queen, Roshani Chokshi

Pitched to me as, “a Persephone retelling set in a mythical version of India,” I’d say the description holds true. A young princess has a bad destiny, according to the stars: she is going to marry Death. And my, is that more literal than she expected. If you like Beauty and the Beast and The Wrath and the Dawn, this is a good next read. My only complaint is that Chokshi’s lyrical style isn’t as sustainable over a novel as it is in her short fiction, but it remains excellent — it’s just missing a little something.