The Reason I Checked In

Marking the passage of our individual journeys around the sun is a lovely and meaningful tradition. With cake, presents, and flattering candlelight, we celebrate the passage of one more year and use fire to call for blessings for the next one to come. We surround ourselves with the people we love the most, or at least with the people who will give us the best presents. Milestone birthdays are particularly noteworthy, as we pause at the threshold of a new decade to reflect on how our perspectives change with age, how our life experiences reward and challenge us, and decide exactly what kind of stripper we want to show up at our 40th birthday party.

40th birthday party strippers come in every permutation you can imagine, but one of the most memorable ones I’ve ever seen was a large, leather-wearing, BDSM-themed dude named Larry who was hired as a surprise for a notoriously shy friend’s 40th. Larry was hilarious, expertly balancing the tightrope between birthday spankings and….um, birthday spankings. He put on a great show for all the party attendees, properly and expertly traumatizing the birthday boy so much that he swore he would celebrate his next milestone birthday in a cave by himself where nobody could applaud while a professional wearing nothing but a harness went after him with a cat-o’-nine-tails. FUN PARTY.

Fast forward. It’s been a couple of years since Larry dominated the birthday boy. A bunch of us, many of whom had been in attendance at a certain 40th birthday party, decide to take a field trip to a particular restaurant way out in the country because we’d heard that they had a great fried chicken buffet followed by an outstanding floor show that featured an Elvis impersonator. By the time the evening in question rolled around, word had spread and we had multiple cars caravaning out to a tiny town on the lake. Everyone had individual motivations for making the trek and we were evenly divided between Team Chicken and Team Elvis. Personally? I was there for both. There were so many of us that we took up about half of the tables in the place. After swarming the buffet (and it was GOOD chicken) and eating our fill, we settled in for the evening’s entertainment. The warm-up impersonators gave me time to digest and wonder if we’d be getting Young Elvis or Hawaii Elvis.

I didn’t have to wait long. Fake Patsy Cline wrapped up her act and a hybrid Young-Looking-But-White-Jumpsuit-Sized Elvis made his big entrance through the side door next to the dessert table. He was delivering a mean “Jailhouse Rock” when a wave of recognition washed over me. Elvis looked familiar, but that made no sense at all. Why on Earth would I know an Elvis impersonator? I am just not that cool. As I puzzled on the feeling, my friend sitting next to me – the one who had hired Larry Leather for her husband’s 40th birthday many moons before – grabbed my arm, moving so suddenly she knocked my empty chicken plate sideways, and said “OH MY GOD! THAT’S LARRY THE STRIPPER.”

It’s a uniquely twisted path that has the same guy taking you from a leather lap dance to “Love Me Tender”. I like a story that comes back on itself, so it makes sense that one of my favorite authors is Lyndsay Faye. There’s no author who can frame a twisted path like Lyndsay Faye, something she proves yet again in her latest book, The Paragon Hotel. The Paragon Hotel is the reading equivalent of a nonstop surprise birthday party-you think everyone’s forgotten it’s your special day, then you walk into a room full of people who can’t wait to see how you react when the stripper shows up. The book opens with speed and sparks as we meet Alice James, riding a train out of 1920s New York to get away from the guy who done her wrong. You think you’re getting a breakup story? Well, that girl’s got a gunshot wound she’s trying to hide from her nosy bunkmate. (That’s your cue. Yell Surpriiiiise! WE REHEARSED THIS.) As Alice’s train pulls into Portland, OR, and a sympathetic porter with a soft heart and a few secrets of his own gets her off the train and into hiding at Portland’s Paragon Hotel, Faye has teased more mysteries about our gun moll refugee than you think possible-that is, until you meet the residents of the Paragon Hotel.

Full disclosure: I have recommended Lyndsay Faye books before on this blog. And in person. And on Twitter. And I’ve given them as gifts. And once, on a trip to NYC, I made my friend Bryn walk with me for 1.5 miles to the Union Square Barnes & Noble because I wanted a signed copy of The Fatal Flame, a copy I knew would be there because I low-key stalk Lyndsay Faye across many social media platforms. I guess my point is I’m mostly harmless and nobody here needs to take out a restraining order, ha ha haaaaaaaaa, I’m just saying that everyone should have seen this recommendation coming from a mile away.

Lyndsay Faye’s body of work is defined by meticulous historical research that manifests in wildly interesting, unpredictable characters, and The Paragon Hotel is no exception. There aren’t any sidebar tedious dry authorial subject matter lectures. Instead, the book is filled with people in all their glorious, fickle, human fallibility. The Paragon Hotel is fresh, frank, and brutal. It demands your attention but never wastes your time. Alice’s story expands organically as she bears witness to the heartbreaks and joys of the people who took chances by taking her in while she reconciles herself to her sudden and shocking departure from New York. The Paragon is the eye at the center of multiple hurricanes, and that stormy energy drives the story in unexpected directions. Faye wants you to trust her; in return, she will respect your reading experience. The Paragon Hotel will wreck you, but it will reward you, too.

This guy gets it.

One day, Lyndsay Faye is going to write a novel about Elvis, birthday party strippers, and an out-of-the-way country restaurant famous for its fried chicken, and I am going to slam the pre-order button so hard it’ll rocket me into a new decade. Join me! I’ll save a piece of cake for you.


Action Items

If reading this book puts you in a Pacific Northwest frame of mind, let the experts at Powell’s Books in Portland assist you.

If reading this book puts you in a Lyndsay Faye state of mind, start with Gods of Gotham and keep going.

The Reason It’s Out Of Order

There are many things for which I am 100% trash: Videos of cussing parrots. Generously poured glasses of red wine, particularly ones I am not personally buying. James Bond movies. I always show up for these things, sometimes even wearing something other than Old Navy sweats and my Echo and the Bunnymen t-shirt. In my reading life, I also have cherished, unproblematic faves that never fail me: Any book related to, set in, or about the Victorian Era/Gilded Age. The month of November. The mystery and crime genre.

Why is November, the calendar’s turkiest month, on this list? I have two really good reasons. November contains the Thanksgiving holiday, which is when I pull M.F.K. Fisher’s marvelous The Gastronomical Me off the shelf for the annual ReReadMFKFisherFest, which runs the entire fourth week of November. And delightfully, November is the month during which author Charles Finch reliably and thoughtfully publishes a new Charles Lenox book. Introduced in 2007, the series features amateur gentleman detective Charles Lenox running around Victorian London, solving mysteries and fighting crime. Let’s review this against my Literary Trash list:
Victorian Era: CHECK
Mystery/Crime: CHECK

See how perfect? It’s been a match made in my little book heaven…until this year. This year, in some marketing meeting that I clearly was not invited to, it was decided that the eleventh Charles Lenox book, The Woman in the Water, would not come out until…. February. What the hell? Those of you keeping score at home have already noted that February is not November. Sure, the success of the Lenox series is now driving bigger, more complex launches, requiring more time and effort for a successful publication, but you know what that sounds like? It sounds like “not my problem”. I had plans the first weekend of November that included shutting myself in a room to binge read. I was probably going to order some pizza, too. For delivery. I’m not saying that Charles Finch’s publisher is responsible for spoiling my big plans and the resulting devastation and heartbreak but it’s very clear that Charles Finch’s publisher is 100% responsible. I see you, Minotaur Books/St. Martin’s.



Today’s Agenda: Why These Two Things Are Not The Same Thing And Are Different


After recovering from the shock of finding that The Woman in the Water would not arrive as expected in NOVEMBER, I put up my red Pout Warning Flag and placed my usual all-the-formats order under protest. I don’t feel like it’s too much to ask that people I don’t know write the exact kind of books I like to read and publish them at the same time at a rate of one per year? But apparently, it is. It is now up to me to fill my Victorian void with other, non-Finch-originated books. I’ve already gotten started, even though it’s not November because I am an overachiever when it comes to poutreading.

The Scarlet Sisters: Sex, Suffrage, and Scandal in the Gilded Age The Scarlet Sisters, by historian Myra MacPherson, tells the story of Gilded Age personalities Tennessee Claflin and Victoria Woodhull. Born to petty criminal parents, the sisters rose above their poverty-stricken, chaotic Ohio childhoods to prominent places in New York City’s social reform circles alongside the likes of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Flamboyant and outspoken, these women made their reputation as free thinkers,  boldly expressing radical views on everything from spiritualism to suffrage to free love. (I bought this book at The Strand, the magnificent Oz of a bookstore in New York City, because I thought buying a book in New York about New Yorkers who flourished in New York during my favorite historical era was really cool, which of course proves that I have no idea what being cool is.)

Victoria and Tennessee had remarkable media savvy. Using their newsletter Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly to promote provocative and controversial content, they created an audience that flocked to see Victoria lecture about current events and social issues, packing halls in New York and Boston. The sisters went from local notoriety to national headlines when they became embroiled in the Beecher-Tilton Scandal, one of the biggest news stories of the Gilded Age. In 1872, disgusted with what she saw as revolting hypocrisy, Victoria revealed in the Weekly that the famous (married) Reverend Henry Ward Beecher had committed adultery with one of his (married) parishioners. In an icky twist, Reverend Beecher had personally  performed the wedding ceremony for the lady in question. (EWWWWWW. This was some quality scandal. But EWWWWW.) The resulting arrests, trials, and Congregationalist Church hearings shocked the nation and dominated the national news for over two years.

It’s hard to read The Scarlet Sisters without drawing a direct line from Gilded Age shenanigans to today’s hashtag culture, with the only real difference being the cycle of news has gone from weeks to hours. On today’s treadmill of disposable outrage, Victoria and Tennessee would already have retired from the lecture circuit and leveraged their Q score to start a sister real-estate competition show on HGTV (”Sell It Under Protest!”) Eventually, wearied and worn out from the relentless attention brought about by their involvement in the Beecher-Tilton Scandal, the sisters left America for England in search of quieter lives. In full rejection of the free love philosophy that defined their identities as fiery independent thinkers in New York, the sisters married conventional, successful men of the British upper class….men not unlike the clever and charming Charles Lenox. (Just because he’s fictional doesn’t mean he’s not #victorianhusbandgoals.)

I learned a whole lot of new Gilded Age stuff courtesy The Scarlet Sisters. For instance, ‘spiritualist’ was a legit career path in 1870. All you needed was a high-profile Greek philosopher ghost willing to talk to you from the beyond and a regular trance schedule. Of course, I would not have to cram all this new knowledge into my head if Charles Finch would just publish The Woman in the Water as expected, but I am nothing if not understanding, flexible, and moderately bitter.

Meet you back here in February.

Action Items
Gone Before Christmas, a stand-alone Lenox short story, was published in October. I’m saving it until November but if you want it now, knock yourself out.

The Reason To Keep It Down

As comforting and motivating as I find words to be, and as much time as I devote to pursuing reading the written word, I’m not much of an inspirational quotes person. I attribute this to a zero attention span combined with near-lethal distractibility. I’ll come across a really amazing quote, something that makes my soul soar, something that speaks to me in that immediate moment, and in the next instant I’ve completely abandoned whatever existential state I was in that made the quote stick out to me in the first place. As quickly as a turn of the page, I’ve moved on to a brand new existential state, one probably sponsored by Shiny Things, Inc. (“Shiny Things! When regular things aren’t shiny enough.”) I’m also likely to misinterpret inspirational quotes because without context I am lost. For instance, take this Émile Zola quote that pops up on the regular on the Inspirational Quotes circuit:

If you ask me what I came into this life to do, I will tell you: I came to live out loud.

Émile Zola was a French novelist who was a key figure in the politics and culture of Napoleon III’s Second Empire. He wrote plays as well as novels. He was friends with and influenced the work of the painter Paul Cézanne. He worked as a journalist to expose anti-Semitism and corruption in the French army, which contributed to the collapse of the government. HE WAS VERY AWESOME AND BUSY OKAY. This quote sums up his philosophy of engaging, enmeshing, and embracing life in a Big Fucking Way. Do you know what he wasn’t referring to when he coined the phrase ‘live out loud’? The tendency of some of us to narrate, in full earshot of anyone unlucky enough to hear it, every aggravating bit of minutiae that happens over the course of any given day. This includes but is not limited to intense one-sided conversations with inanimate objects, gentle suggestions to other drivers on how to sharpen their driving skills, and self-coaching galvanizing speeches.
Émile Zola: By some of us, you mean you
Me: Maybe
Zola: I noticed—
Me: One sec, I gotta tell this refrigerator something

I’m not sure when I gave up on trying to function as a person who doesn’t talk to her general vicinity nonstop, but I know where it all germinated: I talk to books while I am reading them. (I also might say “hello” to my books when I pass by my bookshelves, but that is a facet of crazy I don’t have the strength to explore today.) (It’s because I don’t want them to be lonely.) Most times, when I’m reading, it’s just an occasional restrained murmur, or perhaps a grunt of admiration for a particularly well-constructed sentence. There are a couple of reads, though, that stand out for the passionate verbalization they inspired in me. I could not read these books within earshot of any other people because I was soooo annoying with the not shutting up.

Into The Wild (Jon Krakauer) Mountain climber and journalist Jon Krakauer writes gripping books about things like fundamentalist Mormons (Under The Banner of Heaven), American military heroes (Where Men Win Glory), and Artic exploration (In The Land Of White Death).  I love Jon Krakauer books. I love Jon Krakauer. I keep a backpack packed and ready to go at all times just in case Jon Krakauer shows up and offers to take me away from all this with some spontaneous mountain climbing. Jon Krakauer’s book Into The Wild, the story of how Chris McCandless died in the Alaska backcountry, is a great book that drove me nuts because the main character drove me nuts. There was not a single life decision that Chris McCandless made that I did not judge, loudly, out loud, while I was reading Into The Wild. Y’ALL I WAS NOT NICE AT ALL. Chris’s story was just heartbreak in excruciatingly slow motion and I wanted to reach through the pages and shake some sense into him. My appalling lack of empathy endured for the whole book; I simply could not appreciate Chris’s perspective and that just made me yell more loudly at the book. Yes, I know. I have no soul. This probably means that Jon Krakauer is going to break our mountain climbing date.
Zola: Did you see the movie
Me: No, I was afraid I would yell at it
Zola: We all appreciate your restraint

Dear Daughter (Elizabeth Little) Mystery thriller Dear Daughter is the first novel by Elizabeth Little, and attention should be paid because she came out swinging. Protagonist Janie Jenkins is out to solve the murder of her mother, a murder that she was convicted of. When Janie unexpectedly scores a release from prison after serving ten years of her sentence, she immediately goes to work to find the real killer. Janie is an utterly refreshing departure from the fragile-damsel-in-distress that is so typical of crime fiction. She is instead unapologetically snarky, relentlessly bitchy, and hilariously ballsy. Maybe she is more of a damsel-causing-distress? I flat-out love Janie and I want to be her best friend. My default cheer for Janie was “Oh hell YES” with an occasional “Don’t let ‘em give you shit about your ponytail” which is a Tommy Lee Jones line from The Fugitive that I overuse because I really like the way it sounds. I didn’t limit my verbal high-fives to Janie, either–Elizabeth Little got some respectful hollabacks from me, especially for setting the book in South Dakota. That is just cool. When is the last time you read a great crime thriller set in South Dakota?  I REST MY CASE. CAN YOU HEAR ME, ELIZABETH? I CAN TALK LOUDER. I LIKED YOUR BOOK.


Louder for the chapters in the back

I have to face it: I am not going to outgrow talking out loud to books. I can compromise, though. If I’m really fired up, I promise to keep to myself.
Zola: I said other inspirational stuff too
Me: Like what
Zola: If I cannot overwhelm with my quality, I will overwhelm with my quantity.


Action Items
This is why I don’t do audio books, because it’s rude to talk over people.

The Reason To Go All In

A few weeks back, I posted a detailed cry for help in which I described how distinguished author Ben H. Winters was holding me hostage. (You can read about Ben H. Winters’ indifference to my plight here.)As a result of my signal flare, a friend crawled into my foxhole with me and picked Underground Airlines for her book club read. When I asked her what she thought of the book, she 1.heroically ignored my clapping and bouncing up and down when I asked the question because I could not WAIT to effuse about the book with someone and 2. Said she really liked it but was a bit ticked because she does not usually read trilogies. Confused, I pointed out Underground Airlines is a standalone book. She responded “Are you kidding? That is the first book in a trilogy if I ever saw one. Like we are NOT going to get the next part of that story?”

Well, hell. Upon reflection, Underground Airlines could be the first in a trilogy. For the record, I asked the internet if there are any follow-up books forthcoming. The internet said “What the hell? This book was only published in JULY. Slow your roll.” Okay, internet, CHILL, it was just a question. It’s interesting, though, that instinctive phobic reaction so many people seem to have about trilogies. I don’t have any science on this or anything. It’s just based on my experience recommending books to people only to be asked “Is that book in a trilogy? I don’t do trilogies.” It is a delicate and serious thing to open one book knowing that you are in essence opening three. It takes your book status from “in a relationship” to “it’s complicated” to “what am I, getting married here?” at warp speed.

If you are trilogy-shy, I am here to support you by cramming a trilogy recommendation into your reluctant hands. Don’t think of it as a trilogy! Think of it as…a house party where you get to hang out with some jacked up, compelling people. Think of it as a three-day weekend in an exotic place you’ve never been. Think of it as a blind date set up by someone you really, really trust and who would NEVER stick you with the book equivalent of Jon Gosselin. Think of it as your chance to find some brand new literary crushes.  Do not deny yourself the pleasure of Lyndsay Faye’s brothers Wilde, Valentine and Timothy, the heart and heartbeat of the Gods of Gotham trilogy.

The Gods of Gotham, Seven for a Secret, and The Fatal Flame tell the story of the founding of New York City’s modern Police Department, a story that Lyndsay Faye is uniquely qualified to tell. Her first book, Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings, is a Sherlock Holmes story narrated by John Watson. (It is a standalone book, YES, if I can’t talk  you into a trilogy.) That Sherlockian momentum that encompasses a diverse, lively setting, organic, intricate plots and memorable characters carries forward into the Gods of Gotham. If you read this trilogy for no other reason, do it to cast the movies in your head, because the Wilde brothers and all the New York citizens that surround them are going to get under your skin. Lyndsay Faye is a genius at characterization and she gives her characters a solid, startling setting in which to do their thing. New York City in 1845 was multiple worlds existing in parallel: Tammany Hall and tenement immigrants, abolitionists and brothel owners, the desperately poor working class and the newly wealthy industrial barons. When those streams cross, all kinds of stuff is liable to happen. Right about now, you’re expecting me to break down each of the books with a little high-level summary. TWIST! I am not going to do that. What I am going to do is tell you about MAH BOYZ.



Don’t think of it as a trilogy. Think of it as three books tied together by common characters, story arc, and setting.


Timothy and Valentine Wilde are themselves the embodiment of 1845 New York City. Valentine Wilde is the older brother and the political animal, an enthusiastic member of the party machine and a powerful local celebrity. Valentine doesn’t see corruption – he sees opportunity. He sees favors granted, favors denied or favors wrangled. He delights in the maneuvering and the gladhandling that was necessary to rise in the party ranks. I am in awe of Valentine. He’s scary smart and subversive and sort of amoral. Also, his name is Valentine. He gives me the vapors. If I had gone to high school with Valentine Wilde, I would have spent endless hours figuring out how to get him to notice me. MORE EYELINER? BIGGER HAIR? TELL ME.

My breathless crush on Valentine in no way decreases my mellower-but-still intense crush on the younger brother and main character of the trilogy, Timothy Wilde. Timothy is an idealist, disgusted by the push-or-be-pushed vibe that defines almost every interaction in New York. Where Valentine Wilde is the sweeping energy and breakneck pace of the city, Timothy Wilde is its humanity. He’s noble, he’s stubborn, and he’s the perfect candidate for a position with the brand new Police Department: politically protected by his influential brother but himself disinterested in politics, he just wants to solve some crime and make things a little safer for people who otherwise can’t fend for themselves. Throw in his unrequited love for the beautiful and unattainable Mercy Underhill and omg I have the vapors AGAIN. OVER HERE, TIMOTHY. I’M VERY SENSITIVE. I’LL HOLD YOUR HAND AND WALK ON THE BEACH IN THE RAIN.

Come for the characters, stay for the plots, move in for the fun. Jump in! The water’s fine! However much you enjoy them, though–remember, the Wilde brothers are mine. I’ll share, but if you try to take my men, someone better hold my earrings because we are going to throw down.


Action Items
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If you already subscribe, thank you! I will forever be grateful (and baffled) for your willingness to endure my nonsense.

The Reason It’s An Emergency

Have you seen me? I will save you some time. No, you have not seen me, because I have recently been taken hostage. Not that any of you have noticed my crisis literary situation. What, exactly, does it take to create a sense of urgency here? I need to be rescued before it’s too late. Since nobody understands how dangerous this situation is, I am taking matters into my own hands and executing a really flashy rescue operation. Like, Kiefer Sutherland combined with Agent Carter levels of flashy. FLASHY.

Why is all this necessary? Well, a few weeks ago, I obtained the book The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters. I bought it accidentally (and lest you think I am repeating myself, I am. I also told this story here. Pipe down. This is MY rescue operation and it requires exposition.) The Last Policeman, as I soon discovered, is both a science fiction book and the first book in a trilogy. Seriously, I was pissed. I don’t SciFi and I didn’t have time to indulge my book OCD with a trilogy because I am very busy and important. I figured I had a hateread on my hands because I always know everything. Like Grace Kelly pumping her own gas, I decided to rise to the occasion, plaster a smile on my face and read it.

I could not put down The Last Policeman. I hid from people so I could finish it uninterrupted. Subsequently, I picked up the next book in the trilogy…then the third book…and I was through the looking glass, people. It is Bookreason’s policy to never negotiate with novelists, but I have no choice. I’m never getting out of here otherwise. Here is a rundown of my Ben H. Winters takeover.

The Last Policeman  The gateway book. Police officer Henry Palace is promoted to detective in his small New Hampshire town at the same time it’s determined an asteroid is on a direct collision path with Earth.

Countdown City The asteroid gets closer. There’s less time on everyone’s clock. Henry Palace agrees to help a friend search for her missing husband.

World Of Trouble Time has almost run out. Henry Palace attempts to hold on to his only family by trying to save his headstrong, reckless sister from herself.

One of the enjoyable, almost comfortable aspects of reading a series – crime series in particular – is getting to know a particular set of characters as they navigate through different circumstances. The settings for the character roster change; the behavior of the characters does not. There is always a definite cast of folks you expect popping up in each book. The wise, world-weary mentor, the hot mess best friend, the crazy but insightful neighbor…you get the idea. Ben H. Winters, however, does not. Ben H. Winters gives no fucks about making you feel comfortable or familiar with recurring characters in The Last Policeman series. Instead, he threads this series together by asking the same question of the main character over and over: How do you live your life when the apocalypse is no longer abstract, but has a precise date and time? Henry Palace is left to navigate his new world in surprising, subtle, subversive ways. These books just flat refuse to be predictable.

After finishing  The Last Policeman series, I figured I was done with Ben H. Winters and moved on to my next book. Turns out it wasn’t my decision any more. Not even reading Elena Ferrante (My Brilliant Friend, for the record) could knock World Of Trouble out of my head. I had checked into the Hotel Ben-ifornia. I can check out anytime I like, but I can’t never leave.

Underground Airlines What if the United States never fought the Civil War? What if slavery were legal today, right now? This book imagines that grim alternate outcome in an America hard divided by a Mason-Dixon line that’s a border with checkpoints. Underground Airlines is a gut punch. Ben H. Winter’s worldbuilding is frighteningly specific, laying out a whole history that begins with the Lincoln administration, Supreme Court rulings that cement slavery into the identity of the U.S., and a present-day culture of complacency, enforcement, and protest. The Underground Airline is the escape route out of states where slavery is legal, and the story centers around a US Marshals agent,Victor, whose job it is to track down and return escaped slaves. The reason Victor has this job, and how he goes about doing it, makes for a riveting, thoughtful, revolutionary look at the soul-killing compromises we as humans accept to make the unthinkable normal.

Bedbugs After I finished Underground Airlines, I grabbed Bedbugs. Because at this point, I have Stockholm Syndrome, and if it’s not a Ben H. Winters book I don’t know how to read it. The moral of the Bedbugs story is, if you find an amazingly great apartment in Brooklyn, it’s only because those Rosemary’s Baby people couldn’t afford Manhattan anymore and had to set up in an outer borough. It’s a trap, people. Settle for the 1BR basement place that smells like cabbage. You will be better off. This book is seriously creepy and a perfect read for Halloween season. Also, if you don’t like bug stuff, stay the hell away from this book. I don’t like bug stuff, but Ben H. Winters doesn’t care. I had to read it anyway. Because that is how it goes when you’re a literary hostage.


You know what, y’all? He’s not really that sorry.


Using all my copies of Ben H. Winters books, I have managed to spell out S O S so when the search planes fly over, they’ll be able to spot me. I’ve also managed to untie my hands so I can tap out a signal on the window in hopes someone will hear me (which is an actual thing that happens in one of the books listed here. EASTER EGG, BITCHES)


Action Items
Read Underground Airlines. Seriously. Like right now.

The Reason For Blowing Smoke

I’m in the mood to spill some dirt today. I’m going to blow my own whistle – a statement which, in hindsight, carries way more innuendo than is appropriate for a book blog, but whatever. Let’s fire up this drum circle and share some secrets. This is a big one, so get ready:

BookReasons is not my real name.

That’s right-pseudonym isn’t just a word that let me kill it back in that 5th-grade spelling bee. It’s the literary equivalent of a secret identity. It’s authorial intrigue. It’s a title page bob and weave, a misdirection, an invisibility cloak. Writing and publishing under a name not your own is a practice as old as the written word.
Socrates: I had to publish all my fanfic under a pseudonym
Me: You wrote fanfic?
Socrates: A graphic novel AU where Zeus is a building code inspector
Me: Ruler of Olympus? That Zeus?
Socrates: Zeus is a little volatile
Me: I’ve heard
Socrates: So I figured, pseudonym was the best way to go
Me: Better than being turned into a bull
Socrates: HAHAHA Zeus is so unstable

Literary history is littered with works published under fake names. There are a lot of great reasons authors go deep undercover. Spreading salacious, mostly-true gossip (Benjamin Franklin as Alice Addertongue), safely discussing controversial topics (Benjamin Franklin as Polly Baker), or to create an author persona that gives a work legitimacy (Benjamin Franklin as Richard Saunders). For female authors, using an overtly male name provided an avenue to publication otherwise denied to women. Stephen King published under a pseudonym in the 1980s as a workaround to an industry restriction to publishing more than one book a year. My personal queen of all things pseudonym? J.K. Rowling.

J.K. Rowling actually doubled down in the pseudonym game. When she first published the Harry Potter books, the prevailing wisdom dictated that her target audience of tween boys would be more apt to purchase a book by a male author, so instead of her full oh-so-girly name, her ambiguous initials went on the book. (Can I please have a medal for suppressing my rant on the “EW GIRLS HAVE COOTIES” assumption that motivated this whole thing? Preferably a shiny medal made out of chocolate? Or just some onion dip. Ship it to me.) After concluding the Harry Potter series (TAKE THAT, VOLDEMORT) she decided to publish her next books under yet another pseudonym, Robert Galbraith, to avoid saddling the new books with the weight and expectations of the Harry Potter baggage.

One of the delightful things about reading J.K. Rowling is the strength her joy in the elements of language give her books. Her pure etymological nerdiness gives her work a nuanced, crafted essence that is both specific and grounded. It’s an incredibly deliberate approach to word choice that is completely transparent. It makes her narrative style arresting. Her work is sticky— the words make the sentences interlock so solidly that it’s almost impossible to stop reading once you’ve started. There is lift and momentum that goes beyond the charm of the story, and that is a style that screams “J.K. was here”.

Sometimes, I am completely immersed in the writing and publishing history of a book. I know what prompted the author to write it, the writing life cycle, the publication date, what color the cover will be, who designed the cover, and the name of the FedEx driver who is delivering the books to the bookstore. Other times, I see a book, decide it looks interesting and pick it up. Honestly, there is no middle ground. I either do a full belly-flop into fangirl or I’m a magpie reacting to something shiny. Whatever my mood, it’s a win for me, because I’m going home with a book. I bought Robert Galbraith’s (WINK WINK) first book, Cuckoo’s Calling, specifically because I like the word “cuckoo”. Seriously. That’s it. I am a cheap date.
Socrates: In my fanfic AU sometimes Zeus is impulsive
Me: That’s not really AU though
Socrates: No he’s all “Let’s have tuna for lunch” or whatever LOL
Me: Not afraid of controversy I see

Cuckoo’s Calling is the first book in a series about struggling London private detective Cormoran Strike, an Afghanistan war veteran and amputee. Living paycheck to paycheck on menial jobs, Strike is swamped with debt and is reduced to living in the back room of his small office. As the book begins, Strike accidentally hires a Girl Friday, a temp assistant sent to Strike’s office by mistake by her employment agency. Already charmed by the bird imagery in the title and the main character’s name, I laughed out loud when I saw the assistant’s name was Robin. I liked the clever little aviary triangle and I stopped reading to flip to the author page to introduce myself to Robert Galbraith and found…not much. I thought that was interesting because the book didn’t read like a first-time novel, but whatever. It was marvelous to have a word nerd author to read.



Cuckoo in its natural habitat


One of my favorite proverbs is “Blood will out”. A person’s nature, good or bad, can’t be disguised. You can morph it, package it, and give it a misleading name, but the proof is in the pudding (bonus proverb for you!) It took all of three months for the world to figure out that J.K. Rowling and Robert Galbraith were one and the same. I was a little disappointed I did not figure it out, but hey, that’s how J.K. wanted it to go down. Lucky for me, I don’t have any already-famous novels out there, so I can stay deep undercover.
Socrates: You can’t put lipstick on a pig
Me: Huh?
Socrates: That’s my favorite proverb
Me: You had lipstick and pigs in ancient Greece?
Socrates: Yeah and it was a bitch to get the pigs to sit still for makeovers
Me: Ancient Greece is weird


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I did not come close to winning my 5th-grade spelling bee. I bit it in the fourth round on “thoroughbred”.


image courtesy wikihow

The Reason I’m ImPoesing

When it comes to looking for new reading material, I’m both lazy and impatient, so one of my favorite hacks is culling titles from award lists. I mean, if something was nominated for an award, it’s probably good, and I didn’t have to go to all the effort of looking at a whole bunch of books and making a decision. Those poor suckers on the award committees had to do all that work. My favorite awards list is the Edgar Awards, named for Edgar Allen Poe and presented yearly by the Mystery Writers of America. The Edgar Awards recognize mystery and crime fiction/non-fiction writing and they know how to pick ‘em. I’m always finding great books on the Edgar lists. Feel free to check them out yourself, or if you are even lazier than I am, pick from my list of Edgar Award authors below. Stop complaining–there are only two. Jeez.


You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

I have a recurring dream about elevators. I’m in a giant, casino-hotel-sized building and I get on the elevator to go to a high floor. After I press the button, the elevator starts to move, but instead of going up, it goes sideways or diagonally or backward. The elevator walls are glass, so I can look out and view the odd angles the elevator is traveling, but I don’t have any way to change direction or arrest momentum because the elevator buttons don’t work. That slippery feeling of witnessing your own powerlessness is perfectly captured in Megan Abbott’s new book, You Will Know Me. Set in the suburban world of competitive gymnastics, the book introduces the Knox family: father Eric, mother Katie, 10-year-old son Drew, and the otherworldly-gifted gymnastics dynamo, 14-year-old daughter Devon. Like a weird dream that takes place in an ordinary setting, Abbott’s writing builds tension in banal places, driving this murder mystery story from perceptions and points of view. You Will Know Me is ultimately Katie’s story, showcasing the choices the mother of an extraordinarily talented child will make in extraordinary circumstances. When your family’s status quo includes a future Olympics on the horizon, how does that distort the prism through which a mother views her world? I loved this book—once I opened it, I could not put it down. I am definitely going to be giving the gymnasts in Rio serious side-eye because I never knew gymnastics could be this murdery.

policeman_winner-cover_Layout 1

The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

I grabbed The Last Policeman after gleaning “New Hampshire rookie detective” from the summary I skimmed. Imagine my surprise when I found I’d purchased science fiction. Science fiction is my third-rail genre, y’all. The Last Policeman’s premise is not so much apocalyptic as pre-apocalyptic. An asteroid is on a direct flight to collide with and destroy Earth in six months – how, then, does one spend the time on the countdown clock? Personally, I’d have some sort of epic French-onion-dip consumption plan, but main character Detective Hank Palace is a better person than I am. Trying to live out his lifelong dream of being a professional policeman in an increasingly chaotic world, Palace is nobly fighting an uphill battle. Winters poses intriguing (and uncomfortable) questions about how much our humanity is tied to infrastructure and technology. Does Hank Palace’s loyalty to an old-fashioned sense of personal honor have a place in a society no longer constrained by any fear of accountability? I loved that push and pull in this book. The Last Policeman is the first book in a trilogy, and I’ve read the second one, Countdown City, and I’ve got the third one, World Of Trouble, on deck, so yes-I am reading science fiction now, apparently. (I assume the series stopped at three because that asteroid finally lands). Final score: Science Fiction 3, Bookreasons 1.


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The 2016 Edgar Awards were presented in April. Check out that list, along with prior year winners and nominees, at

The Reason To Tip The Bouncer

There are a lot of books I have not read. Most of them, in fact. (That is if my math is correct. My math is very dicey because I usually forget to carry the 2, but let’s assume my calculations are close.) Like the weekend crowd hoping to get past the velvet rope, my ‘to be read’ list is perpetually in flux. I’m shallow and easily distracted by younger, shiny new books, and I feel a little guilty when something jumps in front of my eyeballs ahead of other titles on my list that are languishing on the sidewalk, waiting for me to notice them.  The guilt intensifies when I reserve a spot at the top of the list for books that technically don’t exist, the yet-to-be-published books by my favorite authors.  But this week, I don’t feel guilty at all. This week, I don’t care how long the other books have been waiting to get into the club because Lyndsay Faye’s new one, Jane Steele, is out and she gets to go to the front of the line.
Book 1: we’ve been waiting on this sidewalk forever
Book 2: And that PYT just waltzes right in
Book 1: I knew I should have worn my tube top

‘Lyndsay Faye’ is probably translated from the German “kickass pixie who writes yummy books”.  Her books are vivid, meticulously researched, flashpoint smart and explosively fun to read. Her Gods of Gotham trilogy, about the birth of the New York police force in 1845, centers on brothers Timothy and Valentine Wilde.  Timothy and Valentine are pivotal players as the fledgling, fragile police force attempts to protect the fledgling, fragile idea of equal treatment under the law for everyone in the city, not just the privileged wealthy. Lyndsay Faye’s characters are refreshingly complex and her stories are electrically entertaining, and normally I’d make you borrow my copies to read for yourself but mine are autographed by the actual Lyndsay Faye so you can look at them but only if I hold them. Since I first found Gods of Gotham, I have devoured everything Lyndsay Faye’s written and I’ve been waiting for Jane Steele forever.
Book 1: …so to be clear this is about a book she hasn’t read?
Book 2: Yup. Should call the blog NoBookReasons. BWAHAHAHAHA
Book 1: No wonder the bouncer won’t let us in

In Neanderthal times, the only way to get a just-released book was to take your 4-wheel-mastodon to the Neanderthals bookstore. If you survived the trip, it was highly likely that the new release you were so excited about was sold out. There you were, at the Bookstore Cave, with no copies of the final book in the Vampire Pterodactyl series to be had.  Now, lining up to get the Next Big Literary Thing is as easy as clicking the pre-order button in your Amazon account, and BOOM-the book shows up on release day, guaranteed. It’s almost too easy, actually. Periodically, I’ll check on my open orders to ensure I have not pre-ordered the same book twice in an anticipatory frenzy. In fact, I heard a story once about someone who ordered three copies of the fifth Harry Potter book because she forgot she’d already ordered it and no it was NOT me it was a friend ok?
Book 1: you get that it’s her that did that right
Book 2: (sings) You got three copies of Book Five and allll you need is Book Six
Book 1: Not so loud
Book 1: We are never getting in this club


Luxury model.

Considering how fickle I am, I think it’s time to admit some of the books on my TBR list are never getting past the velvet rope. I hate to think there are books I will never read, but there are other, better clubs waiting for these topics:

Anything spiders Spider histories. Non-fiction spider anthologies. Fictional spiders. This includes Charlotte’s Web, which I read once and absolutely would have skipped if I had known I was going to have to look at a picture of a spider every 5 pages. Wasn’t Wilbur worried that when he went to sleep Charlotte was going to crawl all over his face? I WAS.

Artillery manuals I know what you are thinking: “But what about your future best-selling book? Won’t it have artillery in it?” Yes! It will! I am too lazy to actually research artillery, so here is an exclusive preview of how that part of the book is handled:
“She went to the artillery store, but she could not stay because of her severe artillery allergy.”

Steig Larsson I know. You read The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and loved it and loved the movie then you read all the other ones and you loved them too. Believe me, I am jealous. I tried, twice, but I could not get through it. It’s embarrassing and I blame all the artificial sweetener I had in the 90s.

It’s time to fire up my Kindle and find my reading spot. It’s safe to assume that I am going to love Jane Steele. It’s a reimagining of Jane Eyre, with Jane as a heroine serial killer. I am SO in. I can get you in too. I know the bouncer.


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Find all things Lyndsay Faye here. In addition to the Wilde brothers trilogy, she wrote Dust And Shadow, which any Sherlock Holmes fan should snatch up immediately.