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 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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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.


Action Items
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.