For ages, whenever I was asked what kinds of books interested me, I’d say that I read just about everything except mysteries. It’s not that I ever had anything against them, but finding out whodunit wasn’t something I ever really cared about. Almost without my noticing, though, just as you’d expect from the sneakiest genre of all, mysteries have crept into my life and onto my bookshelves.

It may have started when I read the first installment of Kate Atkinson’s investigator Jackson Brodie series, Case Histories. I picked it up because I’d loved her earlier work, and I enjoyed it for the same reasons I had before, because of her wry humor, brilliant observations, and three-dimensional characters. Those elements alone made it a more than satisfying book, and it was something of a surprise to realize that the author had actually provided a tidy resolution to the homicides that were the engine of the story. Atkinson had fulfilled an expectation I didn’t know I had.

Since then I’ve been more willing to seek readerly satisfaction in the skulduggery section, and I’ve learned to appreciate what I never had before, the fine art of planting secrets in a plot so it all makes sense in the end. I’ve sampled everything from the classic crime-solving of Oliver Quade, the Human Encyclopedia to the metafictional exploits of Ivan Vladislavic’s 101 Detectives and Robert Coover’s Noir, but the writer who’s really converted me to the mystery religion is Peter Dickinson ... continued

Back in 2005, as an ambitious assistant editor at a New York publishing house, I wrote a letter to Chelsea Clinton. My job was to pursue book deals, ones that the far more senior executive editors weren’t interested in. Often this meant approaching potential authors out of the clear blue. They had to be people with a built-in platform, not necessarily writers but simply celebrities who we already knew could sell books. I spent my scant free time perusing the media for potential authors, someone to snag who would help lead to a promotion. 

One name kept coming up on my short list: Chelsea Clinton. The daughter of the biggest power couple in the world seemed to already be haunting my life. She was a patron of the ballet school where I had been a student. Chelsea graduated from the same university I attended the year before I arrived on campus, and had been in a serious relationship with the roommate of someone I had dated. Over drinks on the Upper West Side, another friend from college revealed he had once taken Chelsea to a dance, asking her on a dare and then never calling again because the spark wasn’t there. But he said she was one of the most gracious and kind people he had come across at school. I felt like I already knew her ... continued

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When I was eight years old, one of the most famous people in the world visited my hometown, and I was part of the crowd that gathered at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona to see him. His name was Edson Arantes do Nascimento, but he was better known then and now as Pelé, the greatest soccer player ever. He’d just signed a complicated contract with an American team that made him, by some reckonings, the highest paid athlete in history, and he was going to singlehandedly inspire a revolution that would turn the world’s most popular sport into America’s new favorite pastime. Didn’t quite turn out that way. The superstar still had some flair, but he was past his prime, and after a few exciting years, the revolution fizzled and the kind of football you play with your feet went back to being an afterthought in America. The North American Soccer League was fun for a while, but it didn’t add up to anything in the end, much like the inconclusive match I watched all those years ago, when Pelé‘s New York Cosmos battled the Los Angeles Aztecs to a nil-nil tie.

That’s what I thought when I was a kid, at any rate. I’ve learned a lot about soccer since then, and a little bit about the NASL, enough that I was very intrigued to run across a brand-new book called Rock ‘n’ Roll Soccer: The Short Life and Fast Times of the North American Soccer League by UK footie expert Ian Plenderleith ... continued

We were talking recently behind the counter about our back-to-school memories. Laurie recalled the pleasures of taking old grocery bags and turning them into book covers that you could decorate any way you wanted, and our bookkeeper Marilyn said that her first thought every time her kids went back to school was “Free at last!”

Me? When the days begin to shorten and the air is just slightly crisp in the mornings, I start thinking about wool skirts, tights, and leather shoes. I also half expect a reading list to come my way for the upcoming literature classes. For some reason this year the feeling is stronger than usual ... continued

At the end of August, I generously let my husband brave bedtime alone with our three kids under three. I had a good excuse–I was moderating my first open book club at the store. Nancy is our expert at leading book club, but for once she and Roger were off on a much-deserved vacation. She left big shoes to fill. I knew there would be long time regulars looking forward to seeing her so I was nervous, but also excited. 

Our August book club pick was Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, and regular readers of our blog know I’ve written twice about its landmark publication (read what I wrote here and here). Between all the media coverage and my mixed feelings after reading it, I couldn’t wait to hear what everyone had to say. 

To my surprise, all but two of the people were brand new to our book club. We started with introductions, and within a few minutes it was clear this was going to be a colorful conversation. The group included a couple who had moved to Mercer Island two days prior and considered this their introduction to the community, a just-retired high school teacher who had taught To Kill a Mockingbird for 30-some years, two social activists who were friends and had already discussed the book at length, a local physician, and even one of my most beloved neighbors, a former West Mercer Elementary kindergarten teacher, all ready to join the discussion. Surprisingly, most of the participants had East Coast roots ... continued

We're trying something new, bringing you live streaming coverage of the Library of Congress National Book Festival on Saturday, September 5th. Tune in and enjoy!

Good old-fashioned science fiction–is that an oxymoron? Maybe, maybe not. SF is supposed to be as forward-thinking as possible, but it has a considerable past. It’s existed as a recognizable genre for almost one hundred years, since Hugo Gernsback popularized the term “scientifiction” to describe the contents of his magazine Amazing Stories, and its origins go back at least another century, through H.G. Wells and Jules Verne to Mary Shelley. More than a few literary historians claim that it goes all the way back to the clay tablets on which Gilgamesh was written, but you don’t have to agree with them to acknowledge that SF can qualify as old ...

[T]here are ... a number of authors who are galvanizing the traditional space epic. One of the best of these is Kim Stanley Robinson ... Newcomer Ann Leckie has a similar talent for full-bodied storytelling ... continued

In our monthly newsletter, “Counter Intelligence” is one of our consistently most popular features. That’s our clever way of saying “here are our staff picks.” Sometimes I struggle over what to endorse if I haven’t read anything I’m all that enthusiastic about, but this August I did not have that problem. I liked my picks so much I felt they deserved a longer endorsement.

The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman and Circling the Sun by Paula McLain will appeal to the same audience. Both are set in exotic places and feature strong female protagonists, women who choose to live in defiance of their communities. Today independent women are the norm, but in historical fiction a woman who can run a business, stand up to parental figures, defy society’s expectations, and marry who she wants is a notable character. The heroines in these two novels both stand out in their surroundings. Hoffman and McLain crafted characters based on real women, and their stories are unconventional and larger than life. Rachel in The Marriage of Opposites and Beryl in Circling the Sun marry due to circumstances and the necessity of escaping their childhood homes, but those unions are not the end of the story. Their loveless marriages merely set the stage for all that follows ... continued

(Our store journal keeps you posted on books we're excited about, our literary musings, and other reading-related rambles. If you like, you can sign up to receive our posts by email.)

Recently, a customer called us with a request for reading recommendations. She and some friends were planning to visit the Balkans and wanted to know if we knew of any good books that might enhance their trip to Slovenia, Croatia, and points beyond. Did we ever. Books fictional and non-, both translations from the region and books written in English about it.

It seemed useful to share the email we sent to that customer with a wider audience, first because these are cool books you should know about, and second to remind you that we do this all the time. If you’re making travel plans and want us to help you get in the right mood for wherever you’re going, you have but to ask ... continued

Paul Shoemaker will be joining us at Island Books on Thursday, Sept 17th at 7pm. Paul is the Founding President of Social Venture Partners International—a global network of thousands of social innovators, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and business and community leaders that fund and support social change agents in nearly 40 cities and 8 countries. You can watch his TEDx talk here

Paul’s new book, Can't Not Do: The Compelling Social Drive That Changes Our World, hits our shelves this week. We’re excited about his upcoming visit and recently had the chance to ask him a few questions. Read on, and if you’re as intrigued as we are, come and meet him in the store next month.


Island Books: Your book description explains that “Can’t Not Do” is a catchphrase for the urge that captures the heart of effective social change agents—explaining, in their own words, their passion and drive: “I can’t not do this.” What motivated you to write Can’t Not Do?

Paul: There are two ways to answer this question. There was an immediacy, an emotional, micro reason which opens the book. I lost a very good friend, an SVP Partner, in a tragic plane crash on Aug 9, 2013. I was headed towards writing a book already but that was a jolt, for the worst possible reason, to motivate me to get going and share what’s in the book....continued