Chatterbox: May’s Winner and The Next

Congratulations to Cheryl Hare of Village House of Books in Los Gatos, California. Your May ChatterBox from Doubleday is on its way!

June2016ChatterBox_IMG_3673-e1463169334554It’s time to enter the June ChatterBox giveaway from Doubleday. If you’d like to encourage your booksellers, bloggers, book lovers, and book clubbers to sign up for the monthly giveaway, here’s the link to share. And if you’d like to try to win a sample reserved just for Books & Whatnot readers which features Enchanted Islands by Allison Amend, enter the drawing below. Here’s what’s inside, with a description of each of the contents from the ChatterBox website:

  • Hardcover Copy: Learn more about Enchanted Islands by Allison Amend HERE
  • Discussion Guide: Questions to get the chatter started at your next book club
  • Neon Sunglasses: There’s nothing worse than the sun in your eyes while you’re trying to read your favorite beach book. Don’t worry! We’ve got you covered with these neon sunglasses.
  • Tropical Flower Candle: While going to a tropical island might not be a reality for everyone this summer, we can help you pretend with a tropical flower candle. Lightly scented and brightly colored, you’ll think you really are on the Galápagos Islands.
  • Luggage Tag: And if you are going to a tropical island this summer (or anywhere for that matter), we’ll help you hold onto your luggage. With a bright color that matches the cover of your new book, you’ll know which suitcase is yours.
  • Tropical Umbrella Drinking Straws: Whether you’re reading on a beach somewhere or in your own back yard, you’ll need a cold drink on a hot summer day. Raise the umbrella and give your glass some tropical flair!

Algorithms to Live By

Since I started riding the bus a few months ago, I’ve tried to use the time I would normally spend concentrating on driving on increasing my productivity instead. I read. I write. I listen to podcasts. Or I tackle my inbox.

This morning, I found myself combining a couple of tasks when I clicked from a WNYC email to the Note to Self podcast hosted by Manoush Zomorodi. In the podcast titled “6 Algorithms That Can Improve Your Life,” Zomorodi spoke with Brian Christian about some of the subjects in the book that he co-wrote with Tom Griffiths: Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions.

The two discussed ways that mathematical and scientific algorithms can actually help improve how we live.

This episode is 20 minutes. If you don’t have that kind of time, I recommend listening to the first 291 seconds–Algorithm 1: Temporal Locality–to determine if you should take the time to organize and file that stack of papers on your desk. And if you have an extra 120 seconds, listen to the next discussion–Algorithm 2: The Search/Sort Trade-off–to see if you should bother organizing your email inbox.

Here’s the entire episode if you have 1243 seconds to listen:

And if I can tack on one more marketing take-away? Those links in emails work.

Vroman’s Summer Reading Program

Vroman’s Summer Reading Program

acv-reading-bookmark-2015-(front)As I see graduation images scroll across my Facebook feed, I’m reminded that schools wrap up the academic year at different dates across the country. To explore this transition from school to summer, I’ve been visiting with some booksellers about different events they schedule specifically for summer break.

We’ll kick off this series with Vroman’s Bookstore and their summer reading program. Here’s how it works:

  1. To participate, kids stop by the store to pick up a special bookmark created just for the summer reading program.
  2. Throughout the summer, participants write on the bookmark the titles of at least 10 books that they read over the summer.
  3. They’re also asked to write up short reviews about three of the books they read.
  4. Finally, they need to attend (and check in at) one of Vroman’s events during that time. The event can be any of the regular storytimes, book clubs, or author events that Vroman’s offers, or one of the special events offered as part of the program.

acv-reading-bookmark-2015-(back)Danielle Borsch is the store manager at Vroman’s Hastings Ranch location. She was the children’s department manager during last year’s summer reading program.  “Once they show us their bookmark, turn in their reviews, and have attended an event, they get prizes,” she says. “We also try to do an end-of-summer reading party event.”

Not only does Vroman’s offer a summer reading program, it’s also themed.

“Last year, we played with the ‘Awesome Mix’ idea from Guardians of the Galaxy and had them create a book ‘playlist’ for their list of 10 books. The bookmark looked like a cassette tape,” says Borsch. “We did a Jam in Your Jammies event where the kids could bring an original or favorite short piece of writing to read aloud or perform something if they play an instrument. Singer/songwriter Emily Arrow led the group in a group sing-along storytime and talked a little about songwriting, too.”

Flash Read Mob

Flash Read Mob

Borsch says that this past year was their first attempt at the new format. In the past, they tried to require  a mix of recommended books and reader’s choice, but now participants can read whatever books they want. “Also, we used to only do the reading part, but it makes it too easy for kids to just write down titles without really having done the reading,” she adds.

To market the event, Vroman’s sends a series of e-blasts to their subscribers, features a splash in their monthly newsletter, distributes flyers at the store, and creates large displays to promote both the theme and store recommendations. “We have regular teachers who do summer school pick up packets for their whole classes every year, too,” says Borsch. “And we tell kids and parents about it throughout the summer, since you can join in anytime.”

During the “Awesome Mix” summer, Vroman’s had 250+ kids do at least part of the program, and 90 kids completed the program and received prizes: a $5 gift card to Vroman’s, advanced reading copies of published books, plus a drawing of a prize donated by a community partner, like gift certificates, free art classes, or free desserts.

“I think our favorite thing was adding the event requirement,” says Borsch. “We have so many regular events offered that it didn’t put us out to add a few extra fun events, and also there’s enough going on all summer that everyone should be able to attend at least one–many kids attended several. It was a way for us to promote all of the kids’ programming we offer in a new way.”

Transitioning from School to Summer

Transitioning from School to Summer

Two years ago, I gave my oldest daughter Elizabeth a shoutout for graduating from high school. I did so because I was predisposed with some baccalaureate / convocation / commencement activities and couldn’t send the newsletter.

Well, my youngest daughter Cecilia graduated this past week. I had the same activities and couldn’t send out the newsletter… I just failed to tell you about it.

Since it doesn’t seem right to celebrate Liz and not Cece, please indulge me as I present my newest graduate, Cecilia Ann Golay. She’s helping me kick off my School-to-Summer series.

Review (Plus): The Crown’s Game

Bookshelf Blurb: Two magicians are vying for the title of Imperial Enchanter despite their admiration for each other and the romantic affection that slowly grows between them. Unfortunately, there can only be one winner of The Crown’s Game and they must fight to the death… or figure out a way to best the game.

TheCrownsGame_9780062422583_8fbe0America’s Review: From the first page, the reader learns that even before Tsardom there was a need for a magician of indisputable power–one who will yield unimaginable magic within themselves–and the game would alleviate any question as to who this person was. History dictates the Tsar of Russia must have an Imperial Magician to help maintain order in the kingdom by using the elements of wind, fire and nature. There can only be one Imperial Magician to yield the power of the earth and in the event two are born of the same year, The Crown’s Game was invented to ensure the mightiest would prevail. In 1825, such a tragedy occurs: two magicians are born and they must fight to the death in The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye.

I was drawn into The Crown’s Game by the unique history given in the prelude of a magician so powerful they are to help the Tsar of Russia–and the date–1825. As the first chapter unfolds, the stage is set in a wooded area on a small Russian island where young Vika is being tested by her father, and mentor. To save herself from destruction, her father has created this test to measure her skills as a magician. Instantly, I was drawn to the wit, self-preservation and strength found in our protagonist. She exudes a toughness found in few; not a nasty mean girls attitude, but instead one that offers humility and beauty.

After meeting Vika, the reader is given a new perspective in the next chapter through, Nikolai, a young man who was orphaned and has been serving as an apprentice to a mean, vindictive woman, Galina.   Not only is Galina a self-serving woman who realizes that the talent Nikolai possesses will one day be tested, but she also knows it will be matched against her brother’s daughter/mentee in the Crown’s Game. She is Vika’s aunt.

Galina took Nikolai in to her household, but taught him to be reliant on no one and to take care of himself using only his magic. To fend for himself Nikolai finds himself on the street gambling with other young ruffians when he first encounters his best friend, Pasha, who he helps not get taken advantage of on the streets as Nikolai soon discovers Pasha’s truth–he is the heir to the Tsar.

Pasha dreams beyond the walls of his father’s kingdom and often escapes his guards to wander amongst the pheasants. He invites Nikolai along on his adventures and through the years these two become the best of friends–until the fateful day when they wander into the woods of a small island not far from the capital of St. Petersburg where they discover a girl with wild red hair surrounded by fire, creating a shield of ice to protect herself from injury. Nikolai has never confided in his friend his own abilities, but knows he has just discovered his opponent in the game for which he has been training his entire life. He also knows he is besought with the beauty and magnificence of the one person in the world who can relate to the magic that flows in his veins.

These fateful moments allow the two boys to discover this beautiful, courageous young magician. It is this moment which causes Pasha to go home and learn about the Crown’s Game all while trying to discover the identity to the young woman who has captured his heart. As Pasha sits reading about the game, the kingdom is under assault with gossip of wars and traders. Pasha’s lack of leadership prompts Pasha’s sister, Yuliana, to insist their father, the Tsar, must commence The Crown’s Game as Pasha is not a strong enough ruler without an Imperial Magician by his side.

The Crown’s Game begins and the two must battle to the death for there can only be one Imperial Magician as governed by the rules of the game. The Tsar has placed a unique twist to the game; they must complete magical feats for Pasha’s upcoming birthday in which he will become the new Tsar. As Nikolai and Vika make their moves, it is clear they must find a way to change the rules or destroy the other magician who has won their love.

In the Classroom: In the AP English classroom, students are reading, studying, reviewing and analyzing the great literary classics. In their junior and senior years, students could read War and Peace, Crime and Punishment or Anna Karenina. These are ‘heavy’ reads offering a plethora of literary traits, but also allow you to create a Russia Themed Unit. Russian History–a complicated past of Autocratic views, the Rise of Moscow, Ivan the Terrible, Romanov Dynasty, Alexander the Great, the Cold War, to modern era problems.

The Crown’s Game offers researched information about the Tsar, his kingdom and the arising problems of the 19th Century. In her Author’s Notes, Evelyn Skye, has told her readers this is historical fantasy, but also states she has done her research for times, places and events in her story. As an English teacher I have read all of the AP reads mentioned above and the fantasy offered in The Crown’s Game allows the reader to grasp more of the context of the time and place than the words offered by Tolstoy. I am comparing apples to oranges here, but if you can get both books into the hands of your readers they will enjoy the adventure found in both while walking away with a more in-depth picture of Russia. All while assigning your student a research paper based on one of the books, the history or the people. This assignment may inspire them as it did Evelyn Skye!


The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye (Balzar + Bray | 9780062422583 | May 17, 2016)