Sundays In: Cinema-Scope

by Dave Wheeler

The People In The TreesNot-so-secretly, I’m a curmudgeon. I ignore most fads, like Angry Birds and Mad Men. I roll my eyes at things like VMAs. I don’t like going out on Saturday nights; I prefer to sit in my dark living room with a couple ounces of bourbon, wearing slippers and criticizing SNL like the cranky old queen I am, deep down inside.

Much of my (admittedly arbitrary) disdain gets directed at movies, though. I wholly identify with Freddie Mercury’s litany in the ultimate freewheeling rock song “Bicycle Race”:

Jaws was never my scene
and I don’t like Star Wars

I don’t believe in Peter Pan
Frankenstein or Superman

Faugh! The Movies — they cost so much, and they’re often so disappointing. I suppose I try to like them. I have favorite movies — Exhibit A: Mean Girls; Exhibit B: White Christmas, year-round — but, honestly, I just don’t care enough. Probably because lots of major studios themselves seem tired of The Movies.

And yet, I still consider the term “cinematic” as one of the highest praises a book can receive. Why? Because I’m contrary.

Sure, but also because it implies readers might become so absorbed in the book’s events, they might as well be watching every person, every movement, every bit of dialog playing out ten feet in front of them. In the flesh, or close to it. You know, what movies are supposed to achieve.

Lots of really good books don’t even achieve this, though. It’s a rare thing, like some undiscovered tropical bird, so when you find one, the sense of elation can be overwhelming.

This happened to me with Hanya Yanagihara’s debut novel, The People In The Trees. Like Indiana Jones, Congo, and Lost, it drives you into the most peculiar corners of the jungle so that you can witness something fascinating. Mind-bending, even.

Here, people are living two, three, and four times any reasonable human lifespan.

Yanagihara’s jungle, on a tiny Micronesian island, is alive. You can feel the thick, humid air. You can see the millions of leaves on thousands of uncharted plant species, the fur tufts on hundreds of undocumented animal species. And in this jungle, the indigenous tribe that lives there worships a trinity of sky god and sea god and turtle god, with turtles from an inland body of water sacrificed and eaten in a very special rite of passage to praise this communion. But tribe members who partake in this rite eventually fall out of the tribe’s good graces.

Dr. Norton Perina monitors all this intrigue with two scientific colleagues who seem to become more adversarial the closer he works with them. Norton himself proves to be a perfectly bitchy narrator, writing his memoirs with all the wanton indignation of a Jessica Walter character after receiving the Nobel Prize for his discoveries on the island. An international treasure, Perina, however, is compromised by allegations of child abuse later in his life.

It’s a testament to Yanagihara’s tremendous narrative powers how she infuses this anti-hero with the kind of magnificent wit and magnetic charm necessary to draw readers into his ethical faults and moral nightmares, all the while achieving the kind of spellbinding, (here it comes!) cinematic story you won’t know how to quit.

In fact, the night I turned the last page of The People In The Trees I was thoroughly spooked. Tingling hairs rose on the back of my neck — kind of the way they do any time I watch The Ring, the credits roll, and the time comes to finally shut off the TV. I wasn’t about to fall asleep, even though it was well past midnight. But I’m certain what gave me the jitters was not the vast mystery of the jungle, nor its people. No, the scientist in his laboratory was infinitely more ominous.

Sundays In: A Constellation of Convergences

by Dave Wheeler

Americanah, AdichieI’ve written before about how eerie it is to be reading a novel in which so many current events converge on the narrative. Lately, it’s been happening again.

First, I discovered that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has a new book coming out (Tuesday!), a novel called, curiously, Americanah. “What’s with the H?” I wondered. Turns out, Adichie has written an astounding and riveting story about Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman who immigrates to the United States for school, for work, for a chance at escaping the choicelessness she feels stifled by in her country of origin. Over time she becomes an “Americanah” — a mild pejorative her friends back in Lagos use for someone who absorbs American mannerisms, tastes, and ideals after living in the States for some time — a term for affectation, perhaps, akin to “hipster” around here.

Mixed into the many trials and tribulations of being a Non-American Black woman in America, Ifemelu is torn and reshaped by loves and loves lost along the way, family expectations, the shifting employment landscape available to her. Meanwhile, she discovers catharsis (and later, a slice of fame) in anonymously blogging her observations on how race operates here.

Timely doesn’t even begin to describe Adichie’s novel, how it addresses prejudice on many fronts. From local sources to national ones, immigration and immigration reform are headlining conversations. And race — oh, race — is it ever not an issue in this country? About a month ago, I attended an eye-opening panel discussion promoted by Social Outreach Seattle discussing how immigration reform and asylum affect bi-national couples within the LGBTQ community, and so reading Adichie’s novel around the same time augmented my impression of the human interest that may often be lost in the political distillation of facts and statistics.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, MarraThe news is often (and obviously) more concerned with events as they transpire than the experiences and histories of the individuals involved. When the awful tragedy in Boston occurred last month, the nation watched with bated breath for some kind of resolution. We learned the suspects were Chechen and naturalized immigrants in the States, which, sadly, can make some of us suspicious and antagonistic toward large people groups who were never involved.

Shortly after finishing Americanah, I picked up debut novelist Anthony Marra’s magnificent book A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. The novel begins in 2004 as a lackluster physician named Akhmed is secreting away the small girl Havaa on the night her father is disappeared by the current regime occupying Chechnya. The story then launches into the intertwining stories of some incredibly resilient characters over a decade’s course of dismal warfare.

I remember being a small boy in Idaho and hearing about Chechen refugees in the ’90s. Then, again in the early 2000s. Now Chechnya is back in American news, and if you’re only watching American news, you might miss the emotional and experiential truth to Chechen lives. Marra, an Oakland writer I’m planning to keep my eye on, did spend significant time in and around Chechnya studying its history before writing this novel, and it certainly shows. Not just in his attention to detail and history, but in the sincere compassion he bestows on a people and region that have been trampled, derided, and forgotten.

Everything is Perfect When You're a Liar, Oxford History of a Pleasure Seeker, MasonTwo stunning novels have dramatically colored my view of current events, and I love it when that happens. These are not books to turn to if you’re looking to escape. No, for that, I’d recommend History of a Pleasure Seeker or Everything Is Perfect When You’re a Liar. This is, instead, fiction that will bring you more fully into the world, into the very real experiences of other human beings.

Sundays In: Sunday Out

by Dave Wheeler

Well, I don’t know if any of you noticed, but spring has arrived. The crowd over in Cal Anderson Park proves that there’s nothing Seattle enjoys more than a bright, sunny — and warm! — day. Which I partook in this weekend with abandon, so you’ll have to excuse my brevity.

How To Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, HamidTale for the Time Being, Ozeki

Besides, you don’t want to spent Sunday indoors. You want to get out in the sun with a good book.

Spring really started to hit me as I noticed my pile of books waiting to be read swelled to about three times its normal size. Publishers usher lots of new books onto shelves around now, just in time for spring breaks and the inevitable summer vacations.

Mohsin Hamid’s new novel, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, one I’ve been positively giddy about, is now widely available. And we had a brilliant time hearing him read in our store this month! We also enjoyed hearing Ruth Ozeki read from her much-anticipated new novel, A Tale for the Time Being, which happens to be in my stack of yet-to-be-read books.

BooknotesThere are lots of other new books my colleagues and I loved and have plenty more to say about in our periodic review, Booknotes, which we’ll be posting excerpts from on the blog here in the weeks to come.

But for now, I don’t know why you’re still reading this. Get out of the house, swing by the bookstore for something fresh to read, and sprawl in the park for as long as you can!

Holiday Recommendations from Our Staff – Children’s & Young Adult

I’m Bored
By Michael Ian Black 
Illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi 
Funny! So, so, so, so funny!
I said “I’m bored” so often as a kid. SO often. My mother should have handed me a potato. Or a flamingo. –dave 

 

 
I Need My Monster 
By Amanda Noll 
Illustrated by Howard McWilliam 
When a boy’s monster goes on a fishing vacation, he’s left without a monster under his bed. The boy does what any child would do and starts to interview replacement monsters…but will any monster fit his needs? So much fun! –Justus 

 
A Hole Is to Dig 
By Ruth Krauss 
Holidays are to stay home from work. Families are to give your extra hugs to. Gifts are for making everybody feel good. Books are for making feelings inside you. A Classic is when you, your mom, and your grandpa all love it.
This book is like a hug… You’re never too young or old to give or get one! –Jamil 

 

Bear Has a Story to Tell 
By Philip C. Stead 
Illustrated by Erin Stead
Winter is coming and the animals are all getting ready. Beat wants to share his story, but they are all too busy and soon Bear must sleep, too. However, everyone is soon eager to hear the story as soon as winter passes.
A beautiful, simple story about friendship and storytelling. I love this bear! –Tracy
Little Owl Lost 
By Chris Haughton
So there’s this little owl, and this little owl is a wee bit clumsy and falls out of his nest and gets lost. A squirrel sees the whole thing and does his very best to help the owl find his mommy. The squirrel, is, as befits his name, a wee bit squirrely and has a little trouble with the whole endeavour. The first book by Oh No, George author Chris Haughton is an adorable and silly tale for little humans or little animals everywhere. –Casey S. 

 
This Moose Belongs to Me 
By Oliver Jeffers 
In this utterly charming new book by Oliver Jeffers we meet Wilfred, a young boy who meets a moose. He names the moose Marcel and begins following his new friend to teach him the rules of being a good pet. Marcel leads Wilfred into the wild, but imagine the boy’s reaction when he learns the moose may not be his pet after all. This is an amusing, fun, and beautifully illustrated adventure. –David 

 

 

Cheerful 
By Palmer Brown
It’s finally back in print! Cheerful is a little church mouse who lives in the city with his parents, his brother Solemnity,and his sisters Faith and Hope. While his siblings are happy frolicking in the big city, Cheerful’s dream is to live in the country. This is the enchanting story of Cheerful’s journey to his place in the countryside. –Leah

 

People
By Blexbolex 
Looking for the perfect gift for your friend’s young child? Here you go! This book  contains beautiful illustrations of people doing ordinary things. It is fascinating! It is also fun. Pick it up and take a look! –Jillian

 

 

Pirates at the Plate 

By AAron Frisch

Illustrated by Mark Summers 

Any fan of baseball, pirates, or cowboys is sure to love this imaginative new picture book. What happens when the likes of Captain Hook, Blackbeard, and Long John Silver play baseball against Hopalong Cassidy, Wild Bill Hickok, and the Cisco Kid? Find out as this unusual showdown takes place in the ball yard. And don’t miss tomorrow’s game between the Vikings and the Tigers! –David

 

This Is Not My Hat 
By Jon Klassen 
We’ve all been there. We’re out and about in the world, we see a hat that we really like, and for just a moment we think about taking it. Then we see that maybe the owner of the hat is rather…gigantic, and we chicken out. But little fish doesn’t. He sees a hat, he just takes it and swims away. He doesn’t worry about consequences. I, for one, can’t see a flaw in little fish’s plans. – Rich 

 

Andrew Henry’s Meadow 
By Doris Burn
Andrew Henry loves building contraptions and inventing is his passion, but his messy creations exasperate his family. Andrew decides that the only solution is to find a place where he can build a house of his own. One by one his friends find him and he puts his talents to good use by building custom “homes” for each of his friends.
Originally published in 1965 and newly brought back into print by San Juan Publishing (hurray!) – this book is a celebration of the joy of imagination and will inspire some first-rate fort building! Kudos to one time Waldron Island resident for writing and illustrating such an enduring classic! –Laurie 

 

Safari
By Dan Kainen 
Have you ever been captivasted by the powerful movement of a wild cheetah? Ever wish you could slow it down and see every detail? Now you can with amazing new Photicular technology from Dan Kainen. ON the heels of his Scanimation hit Gallop, Kainene brings us Safari–a breathtaking moving gallery of Africa’s most stunning species. The physical act of turning pages sets a lion charging or a cheetah running. And when you’ve satisfied your curiousity with pictures, Safari includes informative essays on what you’ve witnessed. Enjoy!! –Seth

 

The Boxcar Children
By Gertrude Chandler Warner
Absolutely one of my favourite books from childhood! I loved the way the four siblings moved into the abandoned boxcar and outfitted themselves with all the comforts of home–cups & bowls, hammer & nails; even a dog! The original silhouette art is included in this special edition and truly adds to this cherished book! –Holly 

 

I Have a Dream
By Martin Luther King Jr.
Illustrated by Kadir Nelson
The grandly inspiring words of one of the greatest Americans–gorgeously illustrated to deliver the freeing, soaring impact of Martin Luther King’s vision.
This is a book for all time–and for the entire family. –Peter

 

The Little Island
By Margaret Wise Brown 
The seasons change on this little island and with them so does the island. Flowers bloom, lobsters shed their shells, pears fall from the tree, and snow falls. One summer a curious kitten visits and discovers that even a tiny little island cut off from the land is part of this big world. –Pamela 

 

Rookie Yearbook One

Edited by Tavi Gevinson 
Need a book for a teenaged girl? Look no further! Rookie Yearbook One is a comprehensive guide to the fashion world, music, women’s topics, the strange, and the super-rad. It contains interesting interviews (e.g., Joss Whedon, John Waters), handy DIYs, and does not, in anyway, shortchange the reader. Intelligently written and playfullly designed, it is the obvious choice this Christmas season. –Jillian

 

birdingA Kid’s Guide to Birding
By Lorenzo Rohani
Photos by Michael Rohani
In this terrific introduction to the birding way of life, a Seattle area father and son team introduce all the basics of good birding, from proper etiquette (don’t get too close, don’t try to touch), to identification techniques (plumage, camouflage, beaks), and tips on how to build feeders and attract birds to your own backyard. Birding is inexpensive, it can be shared with people of all ages, and it can be done anywhere. Filled with practical advice and spectacular photographs of avian beauties, this gem of a book squawks to be shared with loved ones—young and old alike! –Holly 

 

The Impossible Rescue 
By Martin W. Sandler
This truly amazing story is ideal for those who prefer their adventure tales pulled from history. Whaling was once a vital industry, but it was also rife with peril, and in September of 1897, eight whaling vessels became trapped in the ice of Point Barrow, Alaska. With more than 250 lives at stake, President McKinley ordered a rescue, and the cutter ship Bear left Seattle. This rescue would be accomplished by intrepid individuals without helicopters, GPS, or cell phones. Recounted from the diaries, letters, and historic photographs of those involved, this is a story of the impossible made possible. –Holly 

 

Moominvalley Turns Jungle 
By Tove Jansson
No they are not hippopotamuses!
The Moomins have enchanted children and grownups around the world since 1945. Until now, they have only been available in large, expensive hardbacks. No they have released on of the best stories in an affordable, kid-proof version. A highly-recommended stocking stuffer. –Leah

The Hobbit
By J.R.R. Tolkien 
Just in time for the holidays and the December 14th release of the first installment of Peter Jackson’s trilogy of films comes this delightful and inexpensive hardcover version of the timeless tale of Bilbo Baggins and his fantastic adventures in Middle Earth. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the publication of the book that would launch the career of the father of modern fantasy literature. Tolkien’s epic story of Bilbo, Gandalf, the dwarves, a dragon named Smaug, and all the rest will live on in the hearts and minds of generations of readers, and now filmgoers. This is the perfect gift for the Tolkien or avid fantasy reader in your life. Plus, it fits in your pocket! –Casey S.

 

Every Day 
By David Levithan 
For A, life has never been straightforward, but how could it be when he’s never had a body to call his own? Every day he wakes up in a different body, and after sixteen years he’s learned to live as normally as he can, never trying to change the life he’s borrowing. And that’s fine until Rhiannon walks into his life, and he falls in love. Now A is kidnapping the bodies he wakes up in, dragging them any distance across the country to spend just a few more moments with the girl who stole his heart. –Justus 

Spring Booknotes from Our Staff – Children’s & YA

Oh No, George!

by Chris Haughton (Candlewick)

When the young boy goes out, he leaves his dog George home alone and asks him to be good. But when George sees his favorite food is he able to resist? When George spots the cat will he give him chase? Will George dig in the dirt? When the boy comes home and finds George has not been good he takes George for a walk, and George is again faced with the same temptations. Can he be good this time? The bright, child-like art of this funny picture book will have kids smiling as George tries his best to meet the challenge to be good. –Holly

Magritte’s Marvelous Hat

by D.B. Johnson (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

For those who love the paintings of René Magritte this lovely and surreal new picture book is certain to please. “Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see,” the famous artist is quoted as saying, and that is certainly true for this imaginative tale of a painting dog who buys a wondrous new bowler hat. Two sets of special see-through pages create simple magic, and the major art of the main character’s celebrated namesake figures prominently throughout with a humorous canine twist. Take a look! –David

The Book of Perfectly Perilous Math

by Sean Connolly (Workman)

Can you survive Pizza Peril and not lose your new job? Or death by Zombies on The Rope Bridge? You can with a bit of thinking and some advice from your old pal Euclid. This collection of math word problems will entertain and engage as adventurers use math skills to escape dire situations. Plenty of space is provided to work out the problem (and hints on what skills are needed too). The solution isn’t merely laid out at the end of the chapter but worked out in a math lab that translates the principles involved into a hands-on experiment. Fun math tips and tricks are peppered throughout the book too. Make friends with your inner math nerd! –Holly

A Greyhound of a Girl

by Roddy Doyle (Amulet)

Roddy Doyle is a writer who never disappoints me. Doyle’s story is of twelve-year-old Mary O’Hara, her mother Scarlett, her Granny, and a mysterious woman Mary meets named Tansey. Tansey, in fact, turns out to be the ghost of Mary’s Great Grandmother. The story is full of humor and sentiment that touches one’s heart. Doyle writes dialogue like no other, sharp and humorous. His characters grab life and embrace it with all their being. I loved this book and you will too. Read it to the family. -Greg

Grave Mercy

by Robin LaFevers (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

In the 1400s, Brittany was still its own country, constantly fighting off France’s relentless advances. In Robin LaFevers’s fearless new fantasy, all that stands between Brittany’s freedom and its subjugation is a gaggle of nuns at a convent. But these women are not what they seem; sworn handmaidens of the god of death, they are highly trained assassins. On her first mission, seventeen-year-old Ismae is sent to bring a traitor to justice, but what seems a simple kill is just the first snowfall of an avalanche of betrayal and treachery. Fans of Graceling and The Hunger Games will lose themselves in LaFevers’s gorgeous mythology. –Leighanne

The Great Cake Mystery

by Alexander McCall Smith (Anchor)

Great detectives are born, as is the case with Precious Ramotswe, founder of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, the highly popular adult mystery series. In her very first case, after a piece of cake and other food goes missing at her school one of Precious’s classmates is accused of thievery. But Precious is not convinced of who the thief is and vows to uncover the true culprit. Young readers will be introduced to the clever mind and good heart of this beloved character while being introduced to the landscape and culture of Africa. –Holly

Booknotes, the newsletter of The Elliott Bay Book Company, is written entirely by bookstore staff. It represents a sampling of recently published books that we have enjoyed reading. We appreciate every opportunity to assist in finding books to meet your interests.

Spring Booknotes from our Staff – Memoir and Essay

The Lifespan of a Fact
by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal (Norton)

Is it acceptable for a writer of non-fiction to alter the facts of an article in order to make it more readable? After an essay written by John D’Agata had been accepted for publication by The Believer magazine, it was handed over to one of their fact checkers, Jim Fingal. This book is the correspondence between the two men over a period of seven years. It includes the original essay plus their correspondence, which is often terse, passive-aggressive, and amusing. The book itself is short (a mere 123 pages) and worthy of long table-pounding, fist-pumping discussions on the ethics of journalism. –Jillian

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The Guardians: An Elegy
by Sarah Manguso (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

The life of Harris—close friend to writer and poet Sarah Manguso—could read like so many faceless deaths of the mentally ill: after years of suffering from schizophrenic breakdowns for much of his adult life, Harris finally surrendered in a violent, public way. In The Guardians, Manguso pulls her beloved friend from the obscurity of “an unidentified white man” with this personal and moving elegy. Writing with the distinct gifts of a poet, she introduces us to her friend as she knew him and illustrates the oftentimes inadequate ways we have of expressing love and the “insufficiency of explanation.” –Molly

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Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?
by Jeanette Winterson (Grove)

Winterson’s semi-autobiographical novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, told the story of a young girl’s abusive childhood dominated by a fanatical, Pentecostal, adoptive mother with a special fondness for the Apocalypse. This memoir, written twenty-seven years later, fleshes out the details of those harrowing early years and leads us through the breakdowns and breakthroughs of the second chapter of her life. In her boldest stroke, Winterson, determined to vanquish the ever present shadow of her early abandonment, embarks on a quest to find her birth mother. This is a gripping, fierce, and deeply moving memoir of a woman in search of her own truth. –Laurie

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The Mountain and the Fathers
by Joe Wilkins (Counterpoint)

Joe Wilkins grew up in a water-starved stretch of eastern Montana known as the Big Dry. With his new book, he returns to the unforgiving landscape of his youth in a series of wistful vignettes culled from vivid, often violent childhood memories.  The Mountain and the Fathers is a wonderfully rendered portrait of starkly beautiful rural life and a haunting search for what it means to be a man in the American West. Wilkins is a poet; his eye for detail is clear and he writes with the narrative grace of high lonesome prairie wind. –Matthew

Booknotes, the newsletter of The Elliott Bay Book Company, is written entirely by bookstore staff. It represents a sampling of recently published books that we have enjoyed reading. We appreciate every opportunity to assist in finding books to meet your interests.

Spring Booknotes from our Staff – Fiction

By Blood
by Ellen Ullman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

In 1970s San Francisco, a neurotic middle-aged professor rents a small office as he awaits investigation for improper behavior. Discovering he can hear conversations from the psychiatrist’s office next door, he becomes obsessed with one particular patient, a young lesbian, adopted, and anguished about finding her real mother. He decides to become involved researching her possible history, falsifying papers, perpetuating the belief that she was born a Jew and relinquished at the end of the war by a woman now living in Israel. Intense and compelling, this psychological drama, haunted by stories of the Holocaust, is as atmospheric as the foggy, eccentric city in which it is set. –Erica

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Drifting House
by Krys Lee (Viking)

Postwar era Koreans and Korean Americans, living in the old country and the new, reinvent themselves in surprising ways in the face of loss, catastrophe, love, and changing families in Krys Lee’s debut short story collection, Drifting House. Alternately spooky, touching, realistic, and fantastical, Lee’s work invites readers to re-examine preconceptions of home, affection, return, and belonging, reflecting on the reach of mothers and motherland as family members move on, die, and are reborn. –Karen

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The Loss Library and Other Unfinished Stories
by Ivan Vladislavic
illus. by Sunandini Banerjee (Seagull Books)

From its base in Calcutta, India, Seagull Books has been winning increased notice for its beautiful books and commitment to literary excellence. The publication of South African writer Ivan Vladislavic’s new book stands out for reasons above and beyond; these linked pieces ruminate on stories and books, primarily on pieces not written–abandoned, set aside, let go. How the loss of these unwritten worlds is to be comprehended is made manifest in exquisite form here, with both Vladislavic’s elegiac writing and brilliant collages by designer Sunandini Banerjee. A book for those who love books–real, physical books–and where they take us. –Rick

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The Mirage
by Matt Ruff (HarperCollins)

Imagine that the United States is not a superpower but an antagonistic rogue state. Seattle author Matt Ruff takes you on an intense and brilliantly plotted journey into this new reality, a fun-house mirror world in which the United Arab States wield the political and military might, and the US is an occupied terror state responsible for the destruction of the Tigris and Euphrates World Trade Towers on 11/9/2001. A war on terror rages, and Christianity, not Islam is the religion shrouded in suspicion. Ruff has forged a mind-bending portrait of a world gripped by fear where nothing is as it seems. –Casey S.

Booknotes, the newsletter of The Elliott Bay Book Company, is written entirely by bookstore staff. It represents a sampling of recently published books that we have enjoyed reading. We appreciate every opportunity to assist in finding books to meet your interests.