A Veritable Smorgasbord

November 28, 2012

Here at The King’s English, booksellers have been gathering and devouring the new fall books like squirrels gorging on nuts in preparation for winter. In the process we’ve gathered some wonderfully hearty treats for you and those you love, whether what piques your interest is fine fiction or picture books, espionage, humor or history.

Well-written fiction for the middle reader that steers clear of young-adult content is rare, and an author that is as smart and funny as Rebecca Stead is rarer still. Stead’s new novel, Liar & Spy, one of our booksellers first recommendations this season, was an instant New York Times bestseller. Like the dazzling Newbery Medal book When You Reach Me, Liar & Spy will keep readers guessing until the end. Creepy, gritty, edgy, disgusting, and fascinating—all words that describe book two of Ilsa Bick’s Ashes trilogy, Shadows. Bick is laying the groundwork for book three, drawing a picture of a dark and scary world in which readers will not find redemption or resolution (at least not until later) but will be engrossed (or is it grossed out?) by this fast-paced monster-filled novel. Daniel Handler, who also writes under the pseudonym Lemony Snicket, has collaborated with acclaimed artist and designer Maira Kalman, to create an extraordinary book about an ordinary event: Why We Broke Up. In her new novel for middle readers, The Great Unexpectedby Sharon Creech, Lizzie and Naomi struggle to figure out their own relationship and how they fit into their families, into their community and Finn, a mysterious and charming boy, drops out of a tree and into their lives, while Mrs. Kavanaugh, who lives in the south of Ireland and loves a good murder, looks for revenge. Creech alternates these two seemingly disparate stories, throwing in a Dingle-Dangle Man, a crooked bridge, three mysterious trunks, and several rooks. Our list of picks for the middle readers and young adults wraps up with The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann, Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, and What Came From the Stars by Gary D. Schmidt.

And if amazing picture books are what you are in search of, look no further than This Is Not My Hat, by Jon Klassen. Visual humor swims to the fore as the bestselling Klassen follows his fabulous first book, I Want My Hat Back, with another seriously funny tale. We did not think that Doreen Rappaport could ever write a better picture book than Martin’s Big Words until we read Helen’s Big World! In 48 pages, the reader receives an unforgettable picture of this American icon as the authors mix Keller quotes with biography and compelling artwork. Helen Keller’s lifelong courage and tenacity are celebrated in this amazing book. In this gentle and joyous board book with an environmental theme, Hug Time by Patrick McDonnell, Jules proves a hug is the simplest–but kindest–gift we can give. The Christmas Quiet Book, written by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Renata Liwska is a lovely little book that celebrates the hushed moments of a season that too often shouts. Like its bestselling companions The Quiet Book and The Loud Book, The Christmas Quiet Book is especially notable for its warm and lovely illustrations. (Plush toys available!)

And for the fiction-lover in your life, be prepared for treats beyond your wildest expectations. We are not exaggerating… Starting with a joyride of a read, Mrs. Queen Takes the Train follow the Queen, yes, of England, in current day, as she slips out of her royal residence in a hoodie and embarks on a truly entertaining excursion, bringing the reader along. And there’s a good reason The Round House, a novel by Louise Erdrich, won the National Book Award this year. Like all of Erdrich’s novels, The Round House taps into the history, the mythology, the collective wisdom of past generations, yet she is as concerned with the past’s connection to the present as she is with the tale’s action, and her lyrical investigations of life involve much more than immediate reality. Combine the ebullient erudition of Lawrence Norfolk’s Lempiere’s Dictionary with the sensory engagement and passion for food of John Lancaster’s infamous A Debt to Pleasure, stir in a soupçon of myth and history, and sprinkle liberally with the romance and narrative verve of The Night Circus and you’ll have some idea of Norfolk’s new confection of a novel, John Saturnall’s Feast. And Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan is a terrific read and a great reminder that books are here to stay…forever! Kevin Powers, a veteran of Iraq, has etched a powerful picture of reality in his new novel The Yellow Birds, and created a compelling awareness of what our military men and women have been subjected to for the past decade. And there are plenty of great novels published earlier in the year, including Canada by Richard Ford, Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, and The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin, and new in paperback fiction including The Marriage Plot, Salvage the Bones, What It Is Like to Go to War, American Dervish, To Be Sung Underwater, We the Animals AND State of Wonder. A plethora of delights!

If you’re still not sure what you want for your Aunt Sally or your 10-year-old niece, or for that plane ride you’re not looking forward to, we have a host of knowledgeable booksellers on hand who will not only recommend the right book, but also wrap it, mail it, or, if you’re doing your shopping by phone or e-mail, deliver it—the same day!

Kid’s Books and Other Adventures

June 7, 2011

by Rachel Haisley

Mid Year’s Resolution: Join the 21st century by blogging more.

Instigated by a half dozen or so customers walking into the store and explaining they needed a book for their nine year-old and a trusted bookseller wasn’t there. Many requests were made for lists of recommendations.

After a good long thinking session, several trips to Caputo’s for pastrami sandwiches (a good pastrami is a rare find) I came up with many thoughts. Many were even relevant.

Relevant thoughts to my predicament:

  • Many people trust me with their children’s reading. Wow. (Insert inflated self-importance and a little Charlie Brown dance here). This doesn’t reflect anyone at the bookstore’s competence level; it just is a reminder that many customers have preferred booksellers they ask for. Take for example, Margaret’s following of first graders. Or the ladies who come in begging for Sally.
  • I have read enough books to make substantial lists for most age groups, but once the lists are made, I’ve totally blown all the reading I did the whole year and therefore may appear kind of silly when these elementary age superreaders come back for more ideas.

The solution? Blog posts. It might be easy to overlook the bookstore’s blog, but in a technological world; full of e-readers and Internet shopping, I’d like it to be a place people visit and use as a resource.

Here we go. My goal: to somewhat regularly post thoughts on children’s and YA books for readers, parents and booksellers to give advice, thoughts and recommendations (sometimes unsolicited) when I’m not in the store, to connect with readers on the Internet and keep loyal friends/customers (actually, you’re really all friends by now) coming back for more.

Let me introduce myself formally. My name is Rachel Haisley (or Rachel 2.0. There are two of us and sometimes it’s confusing) I’m a Judge graduate at the U who spends way too much time reading books aimed at eight year-old boys. I have a deep fondness for Captain Underpants and John Scieszka. Speaking of, the new Super Diaper Baby is coming out this month, featuring an anthropomorphic puddle of urine, a superhero baby (and his superhero dog) and some very good jokes about various normal bodily functions. This series is great for boys of all ages; but sometimes not so great for parents who have really had enough of fart jokes.

But I digress. Working in the Children’s Room has shown me how interesting instilling the value of reading can be. I watch an eighth grade girl who hates reading become a reader after a few paranormal romance novels. (Shiver, Nightshade, Wings, to name a couple off the top of my head). After months of trying to get a twelve year old boy, full of energy and adventure, to read kids’ fiction, (to absolutely no avail, a very frustrating part of bookselling) it suddenly struck me how boring all these middle reader books must seem to someone like him. I handed him The Wave, an adult nonfiction book about rogue waves, surfing, and climate change. Suddenly, he was absorbed; interested in a way I’d never seen him. I remembered what Margaret told me when I first started working at TKE two years ago; that boys do really well with nonfiction, they get bored with storylines and characters. Give them something real, something interesting, gross, different, and they love it.

For the most part, I don’t care what kids read, as long as they’re reading. I figure they’ll discover the classics once they’ve outgrown potty jokes or vampires. One memorable exception to this rule was a seventh grader who read Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, an epic, beautifully crafted take on the French Revolution (12 and up. I was enthralled by it.) She came in asking for another, edgier book of the Donnelly’s, A Northern Light, a fascinating mystery taking place in the Adirondack Mountains during the beginning of the 20th century. However, this book has some graphic violence and sex. The girl in question had no idea what the book was even about, she’d just enjoyed Revolution and wanted to read the author’s other works. With a heavy sigh, I took her to the “Edgy” section of the store, where we keep young adult books that aren’t appropriate for the Children’s Room. Books are mostly relegated there for sex, violence, and language. Edgy lives by Speculative Fiction and Graphic Novels, in the corner of the Fiction Room. I like to think of it as a steppingstone for teens as they transition into reading more adult fiction.

Handing the girl the book, I explained she could look at it, but it was kind of scary and had a lot of very grown-up weird stuff. I told her she could look at it all she wanted, but I wouldn’t sell it to her.

I left her to peruse the book. She discovered that she really didn’t want the book, and bought something more age appropriate. Her mother stopped by the next day with cupcakes, thanking me profusely for doing something “no one at Barnes and Noble would ever do.”

Sometimes I do smart things. Other times, not so much.

I’m out. In the meantime I’m reading True Grit for my teen book club, which I shamelessly endorse. It’s 12 and up. I try to do a mix of teen and adult books to put kids out of their reading comfort zone and show them new things. We hang out in the mystery room and talk about literary themes, a novel’s relevance to real life, and sometimes school gossip. Parents are always welcome. See the website, or email me for more details. I also shamelessly endorse my summer reading group for young adults, where we do much of the same thing; only parents don’t get to join. Sorry guys.

Until next time,

Jenn’s February Favs

February 8, 2009

There are books that make you think, and books that make you feel. Then there are those that do both. Chris Cleave’s Little Bee not only does this, but does it on a level beyond anything I read in 2008. This book just about tore my heart out, and the twisting, turning, edge-of-your-seat one moment then sighing-with-relief the next ending left me staring blankly at the last page, trying to process it all. It will shift your perspectives, tickle your funny bone, light up dark corners of society, then pull you into further darkness before finding the light again.

Script and Scribble is a fascinating look at the history, evolution, and current state of handwriting. Tracing it from the earliest cave scribblings to the Palmer Method of the boomer generation to the text-message-composed novels of today, Kitty Burns Florey gives us entertaining stories, intriguing tidbits, and a chuckle-provoking examination of the ‘to loop or not to loop’ dilemma. A great read for anyone who has ever agonized over their signature, wondered what the slant on their l’s means, or deplored the state of penmanship in today’s typing world.

Spell-binding and macabre, Dan Simmons’ Drood introduces us to a never-before-seen Charles Dickens and his London, both hiding dark secrets. Wilkie Collins is an engrossing narrator, alternately adoring and dismissing his friend and mentor, unable to extricate himself from the developing web of Dickens’ strange schemes yet never fully crediting what is happening before his own eyes. A magnificent blend of literary fiction and unsettling thriller, Drood will keep you up at night.

Elegantly composed, The Rose Variations is a beautiful ode to life in all of its complexity. Reminiscent of the classics — Austen and Tolstoy in particular come to mind — it captures the epic nature of life as it evolves, no matter how mundane the details. Marisha Chamberlain follows Rose MacGregor from her first successes as an up-and-coming female composer in the late 1970s, through the trials and tribulations of lust, love, and loss as she struggles to balance her career with a life lived fully. Chamberlain’s prose is crisp, her characters fully fleshed, and the novel utterly engrossing — a lovely debut.

If you’ve read Chaim Potok or Michael Chabon, you owe it to yourself to pick up Jonathon Keats’ The Book of the Unknown. The tradition of the Lamedh-Vov (or more popularly Lamed-Vov) has always been a favorite of mine. What’s not to love about a secret order of saints responsible for keeping the world in existence? Kind of like the Qabalic version of the Justice League! Keats’ folklore-inspired tales are pitch-perfect, and utterly re-readable.

What’s in Mina’s Book Bag?

February 4, 2009

1 book, 2 books, 3 books , 4! How many books can we fit through the door?

Counting has become very big in this house that last few weeks and highlights many of the books that we read each day. I didn’t realize how many counting type books we had until we started on this theme!

Last year, we started the counting collection with Counting Colors, a big board book. I brought it over to Turkey on our vacation because I thought it crossed the language barrier and that it could be read in either language and still make sense. It is a great book because we learn colors, counting, and we hone our skills at finding all different pictures.

We progressed to Chirstopher Counting in august. It is all about a little rabbit who loves to count and counts everything he sees. It really makes counting fun and that you can count anything, except maybe the stars in the sky!

Mina fell in love with Dr. Seuss’s Ten Apples Up On Top at Christmas time and has it just about memorized at this point. How the animals can balance so many apples up on their head and run down the lane is beyond me! The book is a contest, more or less, between three animals (lion, tiger and dog) to see who can get the most apples up on top of their heads without letting them fall.

At the moment, she is sitting in the recliner, next to bunny, and reading Ten Apples on top as the bunny “eats” her sunflower seeds.

Today’s favorite book at TKE was Ten Red Apples. It is a reprint of an older version, 1968, I believe. I just love the bright colors and graphic images that the old books used to have. This book is about an a farmer and his apple tree. All the animals on his farm, come one by one  and eat his apples! This book counts down the number from 10-1. It is a nice contrast to the others which usually count up.

We also take the counting theme into our Turkish books and read 1001 Hayvan Bulun (1001 Animals to Spot). Each page is a different animal environment and you need to find a certain number of animals hidden in each scene.

We try to balance our stories between Turkish and English and can’t wait to go to the bookstores in Turkey this summer to pick up some more!

What’s in Mina’s Book Bag?

January 29, 2009

I took Mina to Gunter Van Hagen’s Bodyworlds exhibit in the beginning of December and had no idea how much of an impact it would make on such a little one. People looked at me like I was crazy bringing Mina in there, but she absolutely LOVED it! She walked around each figure and told me what she saw, and we had to buy See Inside Your Body as well as the exhibit catalog. Both grace our table at mealtimes as we go through the different internal organs and body parts, functions, etc.

She loves to look at the exhibit catalog and compare it with the drawings in the children’s book. “This is a heart, and that is a heart! They are the SAME!” She will look at the children’s book at, let’s say, the kidneys, and then want to look at the same thing in the exhibit catalog.

As you might imagine, she now has a pretty good understanding of the skeleton, the lungs, heart, the brain and how you poop.

I had my annual hip checkup a few weeks ago. As we were driving, I was explaining to Mina that the doctor needed to take a picture of the inside of my hip. “Of mama’s skeleton, like the dinosaurs,” was Mina’s response. I was so surprised that she immediately drew a correlation from the book to the description of an x-ray!

She was very excited to see the X-Ray of my hip and told everyone about my skeleton for days later.

When the doctor came in, she got down off her chair, look up at my doctor and asked “Dr. Suess, do you have a wocket in your pocket?”

I nearly fell off the exam table because I was laughing so hard. He took it in stride and said that he left the wocket at home that day. The answer satisfied Mina. She sat back down to re-examine my x-rays again.

Best Of

December 5, 2008

Is if there weren’t enough “best” lists out there —

— here’s my contribution!

Jenn’s Randomly Compiled Favorites of 2008:

Read the rest of this entry »

Blog Action Day | Poverty Reading Roundup

October 15, 2008


  1. The quality or state of being poor or indigent; want or scarcity of means of subsistence; indigence; need.
  2. Any deficiency of elements or resources that are needed or desired, or that constitute richness; as, poverty of soil; poverty of the blood; poverty of ideas.(courtesy of Wiktionary)

A keyword search of our inventory reveals a list made up almost entirely of books about money, with Muhammad Yunus’s books headlining. In these crazy economic times, that makes a lot of sense. But really, there are all kinds of poverty, not to mention all kinds of portrayals of it. Spiritual poverty and physical poverty; poverty of choice, compassion, finances, opportunity, hope; we could go on and on. And do — I polled the staff for this, and was reminded that that’s part of the job description for bookseller. So, in honor of Blog Action Day, the economy, and curious readers everywhere, here is our Poverty Reading Roundup:

Must Reads You May Not Know: Tobacco Road, Erskine Caldwell; Nickel & Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich; A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini; Born into Brothels, Zana Briski

Children’s Lit: Out of the Dust, Karen Hesse; Breadwinner, Deborah Ellis; Esperanza Rising & Becoming Naomi Leon, Pam Munoz Ryan; What the World Eats & Material World, Peter Menzel

Classics:A Christmas Carol & Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens; Tess of the D’urbervilles, Thomas Hardy; Mansfield Park, Jane Austen; Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck