Not Your Fairy Godmother

The story Edmund Gordon tells in his superb new biography The Invention of Angela Carter isn’t the traditional once-upon-a-time kind, but it has a heroine as unforgettable as the ones in fairy tales.

Angela Carter was born on May 7th 1940 in Eastbourne, on the southern shore of England, the place to which her mother and older brother had been evacuated some months earlier. A few weeks later British forces were expelled from Dunkirk in France and retreated across the channel, making people realize that it had been a silly idea to flee the capital by moving closer to the front, and the family returned to London. Carter grew up there in relatively privileged circumstances, though she was oppressed by the generally stultifying atmosphere of post-war austerity and the smothering attentions of her overprotective mother. As she came of age, she developed a fierce independence; in the words of critic Joan Acocella, “she rebelled, went on a diet, and changed from a fat, obliging girl to a skinny, rude girl. She slouched around in short skirts and fishnet stockings, smoking and saying offensive things.”

For a young woman in those days the easiest escape was into marriage, and so at 20 she found an obliging partner who gave her little other than the last name under which she later made herself famous. It was during their troubled relationship that she started writing in earnest, but it was only when she abandoned him to travel to Japan that her artistic life really began. Drawing on English folklore, personal domestic experience, continental philosophy, a newly radical feminism, South American magical realism, and a touch of genius all her own, she produced a kind of fiction that no one had before ... continued

Serendipitous Discovery: Tracy Rees and Amy Snow

One of the great pleasures of wandering into a brick and mortar bookstore is leisurely browsing through the books on offer. Picking up something that catches your eye, reading the back or cover flap description, and deciding to take a chance on the unknown. You can guess that it might fit your interests, but you’re still tossing the dice. And every once in a while, one of your whim purchases turns out to be an entirely satisfying delight, the one you start telling all your friends about because it is just that good.

This is what happened to me last summer. A cover on the new paperback table caught my eye one evening, Amy Snow. I read the back copy. Historical fiction, England, orphans, and a mysterious trail of letters. Sold. I think I read it in two days, if that. And I was utterly charmed by the characters, the hints of Austen and Dickens, the good-heartedness of the story. It truly hit that sweet spot of being light, happy escape reading while still having lovely literary prose.

So I started talking about it, as did my co-workers. I don’t think there were many days through the fall and winter that that I didn’t mention Amy Snow to at least one browser, looking for a good new read. We ordered them in by the handful, and before I knew it, Amy Snow had become one of our top sellers of the year ... continued

March 2017 eNewsletter

"Let us read and let us dance—two amusements that will never do any harm to the world."

In March, we march forward, we spring forward another hour, and we have March Madness.

Growing up as the only girl in a highly involved sports family, I learned to enjoy football in the fall and basketball in the late winter. Basketball was always my favorite. Since I was born in North Carolina, I will always be rooting for Duke, Chapel Hill, and Wake Forest. Kentucky, U-Michigan, and Kansas are always fun to watch, and I can't help but jump up and cheer for the Cinderella story teams like Seton Hall, Butler, VCU and Wichita State. One of my favorite moments every year is when they play One Shining Moment by Luther Vandross at the end of the NCAA tournament and recap the best moments. I have never missed it! 

In our own backyard, we have Gonzaga starting strong. They just recently experienced their first loss. To keep it all in perspective I've recently enjoyed two books for basketball fans: The Legends Club: Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Valvano, and an Epic College Basketball Rivalry by John Feinstein and Glory Hounds: How a Small Northwest School Reshaped College Basketball. And Itself by Bud Withers. If you read them, catch me in the store and let me know what you think. I know I'll be sad when college hoops are over.

As much as I'd like to, I can't spend all my time on basketball this month because we have a busy March schedule at the store. In addition to our weekly Wednesday Storybook Corners, we'll welcome local author Michael Medved to talk about his book The American Miracle, pick a winner for our short story contest, sell books at the Mercer Island Women's Club luncheon featuring author Kelli Estes, host local author James Osborne, sell books at Laura Kastner's event with Parent Edge, celebrate the one-year anniversary of our Cookbook Book Club featuring Short Stacks, present Leif Whittaker, author of My Old Man and the Mountain, and Lauren Goldstein, author of Our Short History, read The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend for our Open Book Club, and sell books at Aljoya for their event with author J.A. Jance. See the store calendar in this newsletter or check our website for more details.

On Sunday March 19th, I'll continue marching forward by walking in the Mercer Island Half Marathon with Victor and a handful of friends as an Island Book team. Let me know if you want to join us! March, March, March forward.


Laurie Raisys

... continued

What's Indie Next

Are you familiar with the Indie Next list? You may or may not know the name, but if you’ve visited our store at any point in last half-dozen years, you’ve seen what’s on it. Every month we set up a display of the recent Indie Next titles. These are the new releases that are most discussed, recommended, and loved by independent booksellers across the country. The American Booksellers Association compiles submissions (including ours!) and puts the list together. Whichever books are most favored each month make the cut–you can’t buy or lobby your way onto it. Real books chosen by real readers, in other words, a kind of Staff Picks collection for the whole country.

Take the February list as an example. Among other titles, it includes:

  • Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, a multi-generational family saga
  • Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, an inimitable tragicomic historical extravaganza by one of the most inventive language artists working today
  • Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney, a love letter to city life narrated by an 85-year-old former career girl
  • The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney, a sizzling thriller that inspires veteran booksellers to text each other shock-faced emojis at all hours of the night
  • The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak, a nostalgic, funny look at video games and teen romance in the 1980s

Those are all novels that one or more of us at Island Books read and enjoyed thoroughly ... continued

Revolutionary Reading: Haitian History

Do you have reading fixations? Themes or topics that you return to over and over again? Maybe you can’t get enough of cozy mysteries set in snowy small towns, or perhaps you devour every presidential biography you can get your hands on. My own obsessions are legion. For example, I’m a sucker for anything, fictional or non-, that’s set in the dreamy, labyrinthine streets of a decaying imperial city. I also can’t help hate-reading every new anti-Stratfordian author with an ax to grind, the ones who claim that Shakespeare didn’t write the plays that bear his name.

Those are long-established fixations, and while it would be fascinating to know which books first triggered them, at this point I have no recollection whatsoever. This month, though, I may have caught myself at the beginning of another long reading road. Without intending to, I’ve found another topic that seems worthy of exploration for years to come.

My introduction to this potential new preoccupation came last month, when one of my staff picks was a novel, Dance on the Volcano by Marie Vieux-Chauvet ... continued

Miriam and Marni Text About The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney

The challenge of finding a decent apartment in a good neighborhood at a reasonable price is enough to scare anyone, but that’s only the beginning of the premise of J.P. Delaney’s new much-hyped thriller, The Girl Before. Every year the publishing industry looks for “the next Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train,” and The Girl Before is the first book in 2017 that’s getting that hype. It’s already filling the prerequisites: “girl” in the title, optioned by Universal with Ron Howard on board to direct, and adoring blurbs from the biggest names in the thriller genre (Lee Child’s quote graces all the promotional material: “Dazzling, startling, and above all cunning–a pitch-perfect novel of psychological suspense.”)

The Girl Before jumps between two narrators: Jane, in the present, and Emma, the “girl before.” Both find the solution to their housing problem in the modern and minimalistic London house designed and built by famous architect Edward Monkford. The rent is affordable but there is a catch: the tenant must complete a rigorous questionnaire and agree to abide by strict rules of living, then receive the architect’s approval. The first line of Monkford’s questionnaire is: “Please make a list of every possession you consider essential to your life.” ... continued

February 2017 eNewsletter

"The only important thing in a book is the meaning that it has for you."
—W. Somerset Maugham

February has come quickly this year. Over the past weekend, James and I attended the 12th annual American Bookseller Association's Winter Institute in Minneapolis. From new booksellers to publishing veterans, the world of independent bookselling comes together every year for roundtables, advanced bookselling education, and a plethora of authors, networking, and special events. It was a rich, educational and moving experience, with inspiring speakers including Roxane Gay, Ann Patchett, Lesley Stahl, and Kim Scott Doles.

I was starstruck after waiting in line for 30 minutes to have Ann Patchett sign my book and congratulate me on buying an independent bookstore, then waltzed over to get my picture taken with Andrew McCarthy (think Pretty in Pink) whose new young adult novel, Just Fly Away, arrives in March, and delighted to bump into Joshilyn Jackson (The Opposite of Everyone) on my way out. It was exciting to hear about all the incredible books coming out this year and we will be sure to have them all on hand for you when they arrive.

The travel time allowed some rare time for reflection. I spent some time thinking about what we need more of, both inside of Island Books and beyond our doors. We have a board in the store where we post a question each month. “What is your favorite quote?” is up for February. Right now my favorite quote is “Kindness Matters!” I don’t know who said it first, but it's important now more than ever and that's what I've been thinking we all need a little more of lately.

It was this time last year when I read an article on gratitude that inspired me to cut out dozens of paper hearts and write special notes for everyone in my family. I left them on their doors every morning and planned to do it every day in February, but somehow my resolve petered out. This year I'm taking up the challenge again and have new notes ready to give it a go again this year. Raisys family, watch out.

In the spirit of community, gratitude, and kindness, we are proud to participate in the 6th annual Mercer Island Youth and Family Services Shop, Dine and Stay Local event. You can shop all day on Wednesday, February 8th and 20% of our profits will be donated to MIYFS. To celebrate we will offer drinks and treats for those shopping after 5pm. I hope you can join us.

Have a happy and love-filled Valentines Day!

Laurie Raisys

... continued

What to Read Now

At this time each year there’s always a great slate of books to talk about. For example, early January is when the list of PNBA Book Award winners is released. This year’s lineup is stellar, as always--[a] little something there for every reader, and any one of those books is worth a blog post all its own, I promise ...

This was also the week that the finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Awards were announced. The consortium of professional reviewers gives prizes for the previous year’s best fiction, biography, autobiography, criticism, general non-fiction, and poetry, so there are 30 finalists in all ... You could work your way through every book on the NBCC list without finding a dud, and you’d probably finish right on time for next year’s announcement. If this were any other January, I’d be spending my time convincing you to do just that.

It’s not an ordinary January, though, and there are other books I feel pressed to share: continued

A Q&A With Will Schwalbe, Author of Books for Living

Anyone can recommend a book, but it’s rare that someone can fully articulate its lifelong impact. Will Schwalbe has the rarest of written voices–both intimate and universal–and with deep care and reflection he offers readers the most personal and heartfelt parts of himself in his latest, Books for Living. This memoir of sorts is not a list of Will’s favorite books, but instead an explanation of how certain books and authors taught him timeless lessons about our deepest longings. The night after I finished the chapter on Stuart Little and searching, I was so inspired I started reading it aloud to my children. Will’s voice leaps off the page and fills the room as only the most lively of conversations can. I can’t stop thinking about this book and wanting to read every title he mentions, if only to keep the conversation going with him.

You can come and meet Will in person at Island Books on Saturday, January 28th at 5pm. In anticipation of his appearance at the store, we’ve asked him some questions here. Click through to learn more about him.

But be warned: further interaction might send you home with more book recommendations than you can carry ... continued

Share Your Story: A Contest

More than one person approached us last week, wondering if it wasn’t time for us to sponsor a short story contest. Yes, we thought, that’s a thing we do. How long has it been? Six months? Eighteen months?

Come to find out, it’s been 48. We’re a mite overdue. So we hereby announce the opening of our Quadrennial Short Story Contest. What do you need to know to enter? Not much. Here’s the short version:

  • There are prizes!
  • The deadline is March 12, 2017.
  • Stories should be 1000 words or fewer.

Same basic deal as last time around. If you want to read the winning entries from that contest, you can hop over to the blog post that announced them. Well worth doing, we think. Oh, there is one new wrinkle: we have a celebrity judge! Mark Holtzen, author of the bestselling picture book A Ticket to the Pennant and the middle-grade novel The Pig War, will be sifting through the submissions and making the ultimate decision. So you can bribe us all you like, but the process will remain corruption-free.

If you want further details ... continued


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