Tag Archives: Book Expo America

Armchair BEA 2014: Some People Buy Shoes, I Buy Lecture Tickets.

ArmchairBEA 2014

 “Some people buy shoes, I buy lecture tickets.” ~ my Facebook status before a Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures event

We’re lucky here in Pittsburgh.  We’re an incredibly literary town, moreso than the average person might imagine. Among the literary offerings is a very popular lecture series called Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures that brings world-famous authors to town at a price that is affordable for all. This has quickly become one of my favorite ways to spend an evening.

When I heard that Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures would be hosting Colum McCann, who happens to be one of my all-time favorite writers, I bought my ticket A YEAR IN ADVANCE. Yes. An entire year. And then I upgraded my seat at the last minute, paying extra to sit in the second row (which was so worth it). And then I met him.

And then I died and went to heaven.

Melissa and Colum McCann

That was almost three months ago and I still haven’t written a coherent post about it because I am still grinning about how wonderful Colum McCann’s talk was here in Pittsburgh.  Thank God I took good notes.

I’ve been fortunate to meet several writers but I have to say that having the chance to talk with Colum McCann (even briefly) was extraordinary. And his lecture! If you ever have the opportunity to hear him, go. You won’t regret it.

Ann Patchett was another author I met through Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures. So incredibly gracious and kind. Her lecture was lovely, and when I got my books signed by her, I mentioned that I was interested in reading The Magician’s Assistant because I’m writing a novel about the AIDS epidemic.

“Oh, you want to read Borrowed Time by Paul Monette,” Ann Patchett says to me, scribbling down the title on the Post-It note with my name that marked the place for her to sign my book. “You need to read this.”

Well, when Ann Patchett gives you a book recommendation, you listen. At least I do.  (Guess what book I’m currently reading?)

(Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures has an awesome lineup for next season. James McBride, Simon Winchester, Elizabeth Gilbert, Jesmyn Ward, and Jodi Picoult are just a few of the authors who will be appearing.)

Rachel Renee Russell and daughters

Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures has author events for kids, too. (As a child, I would have been over the moon. To be my daughter’s age – 12 – and meeting my favorite writers?! Are you kidding me??!!) I’ve taken my daughter to meet Rachel Renee Russell, author of the Dork Diaries series. Ms. Russell’s daughters help her co-write and illustrate her books and they were all absolutely lovely.  (This was a crazy book-signing … they each signed every kid’s book, and there were hundreds of kids! Some people were in line for nearly 4 hours.)

I would also be remiss without mentioning Rachel Simon (The Story of Beautiful Girl) and Beth Kephart. I consider each of them friends now, but I started out as a regular fan. (OK, maybe a little bit on the groupie side.) I met Rachel in 1990 when I attended a writing conference and she was the keynote speaker. She had just published a short story collection called Little Nightmares, Little Dreams and was regularly writing columns in The Philadelphia Inquirer. I admired her writing and soaked up any bit of advice and knowledge I could get from her – and when I had the chance to take a class with her, I was thrilled.

There are other authors I’m forgetting, but I’ll leave you with this photo of me and Beth Kephart from Book Expo America in 2010 (actually, it’s the Book Blogger Convention). I look like I am ready to collapse; that day, I left my house at 3:30 a.m. to catch a train to New York City (chances are, Beth did too) and I was fading fast when this photo was taken. Beth, on the other hand, looks vibrant and radiant in her fuschia, ready to take New York by storm, as she always does.

Book Blogger Convention (38)

Now it’s your turn: which authors have taken your life by storm?


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Armchair BEA 2014: Introductions and Some Thoughts on Tomorrow’s Literature Today. Or Something.


ArmchairBEA 2014

Design by Amber of Shelf Notes

Armchair BEA is one of my favorite book blogging events, and I’m thrilled to participate this year. For those not in the know, it’s the online version of the very-real life trade show Book Expo America (BEA), the #1 book and author event in the U.S. and happening in New York City this week. Several years ago, I was fortunate to attend part of this – the BEA Bloggers Conference (back in the inaugural days of that event when it was called the Book Bloggers Con). It was an extraordinary experience, one that I hope to repeat in the future. Until then, and for this year, there’s Armchair BEA.

So, what can you expect? For the next week, I’ll be talking books. A lot. (I know, you won’t know the difference.) The amazing organizers have given us some writing prompts, and if you want to join in, by all means, feel free!


I’ll try to keep this brief, because there’s a whole section on my website where you can read all about me, if you care to do so.

I’m Melissa, and I’ve been blogging since August 2008 (almost six years ago!)  In addition to book reviews, I also blog about our family’s journey with autism and cancer  (my son has Asperger’s Syndrome and my husband is a thyroid cancer survivor), offer up an occasional political opinion or a rant about some ridiculous celebrity, share a gluten-free recipe, talk about the writing process, or tell you something awesome about my newly adopted city of Pittsburgh. On the Twitter (@thefirmangroup), I do all the above when I’m not partaking in my guilty-pleasures, live-tweeting Shark Tank and Dancing With the Stars.

Originally, my blog was called The Betty and Boo Chronicles. (Betty and Boo were – and are – the blog nicknames for my kids.) I spent about a year, maybe more, considering a blog name change. I decided to use my own name because I wanted to be transparent and not hide behind an anonymous online identity. It was a way for me to begin what has become an ongoing process of marketing myself as a writer, editor, and to fully own my stories and work. Also, now that they are getting older, my kids’ stories are becoming more and more their own and not so much mine to tell.

READIN’AT is a fairly new, occasional feature on my blog where I celebrate all things literary as they relate to Pittsburgh and the region. There, I review books with a Pittsburgh connection, talk about literary events, upcoming readings, author interviews and profiles, new releases, and more.

I tend to read mostly literary fiction, memoirs, and short story collections, along with nonfiction. Favorite book read last year? The Orchardist, by Amanda Coplin. This year, so far? TransAtlantic, by Colum McCann, who is one of my favorite authors. Meeting him was one of the highlights of this year for me so far. (Oh, shit, that’s a spoiler for tomorrow’s post ….)

In addition to the blog, you can connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

What do you think of when you think of literature? Classics, contemporary, genre, or something else entirely? We are leaving this one up to you to come up with and share the literature that you want to chat about the most. Feel free to share a list of your favorites, break down your favorite genre, feature your favorite authors, and be creative about all things literature in general. 

For me, I think of literature as being not a genre, per se, but a type of writing. It’s a “know-it-when-I-see-it” thing. It’s a work that has gravitas. Staying power. Integrity. A soul. You can feel the words practically pulsating off the page. You want to consume them.

You know you are reading literature when the characters are timeless, when you can relate to them. It doesn’t matter what era the story is set in or when you are reading it; there is something about these people and their situations and the way their story is being told that is new and alive. Even though you may have heard some variation of this story before, somehow – even slightly – you are changed for knowing them and their story.

I don’t necessarily think literature needs to be relegated to a certain era or a specific class of authors. I think that’s intimidating, off-putting, and pretentious-sounding. I do wonder what current novels will be considered great literature in years to come. I think about this a lot, actually – probably more than most people, since I work for a very large library system with more than 5 million items in its collection. (And yes, believe me, I would love nothing more than to read every single one.)  It’s fascinating to me to ponder which authors and which books will stand the test of time.

When I think back to my various literature classes, usually the authors were already dead. I can only recall one class – a college course I loved called “Faulkner, O’Connor, and Morrison” – where we studied an actual living author, that being Toni Morrison.

So who are our current, modern-day authors who have written – and are still writing – work that is worthy of being called great literature?  * I’d like to give a nod to:

  • Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid’s Tale)
  • Michael Cunningham (The Hours)
  • Louise Erdrich
  • Colum McCann (Let the Great World Spin; TransAtlantic)
  • Toni Morrison
  • George Saunders (In Persuasion Nation)

* Note that there are many more worthy writers, but these are just the ones I’ve read.  There are others who I’d consider to be writing tomorrow’s classic literature today, but either I haven’t read enough of their work or perhaps I’m waiting for them to write some more.

What about you? Which authors would you consider to be writing great literature today? (Go ahead, add to my ever-growing Goodreads list!) And tell me, how do you define literature?   And definitely check out what other Armchair BEA participants had to say by visiting the Armchair BEA page! 


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The Sunday Salon: This Post is Brought To You By the Letter “B”

The Sunday Salon

OK, so this is kind of a cool thing.

As of yesterday afternoon, I had four books going at the same time and – this is from my Goodreads profile – they all begin with B.

Check this out:

(Yes, I hear you sounding the Literary Nerd Alert Alarm. And …y’know, I don’t really care.)

It’s simply coincidental that the bookish stars aligned this way. Be Different: Adventures of a Free-Range Aspergerian is the audio book I turned to yesterday after a few DNFs that I couldn’t get into (Atonement by Ian McEwan; Tracks by Louise Erdrich, the latter of which I think is a matter of not being the right format – audio – for that novel). I have much respect and admiration for John Elder Robison, and this memoir is one of the best books about autism and Asperger’s that I’ve ever read. I’ll be recommending this to others, I’m sure.

Blown Sideways Through LifeBlown Sideways Through Life, Claudia Shear’s memoir-turned-one-woman-show about the 64 jobs she’s had (and, mostly, been fired from) was recommended to me by my friend Keith. I can understand why he thought I would like this one – which I did, somewhat, to a degree. I think there’s a timing issue with this book, though; while it’s easy to relate to someone who has worked menial jobs in his or her life, it’s more difficult in this economy to muster up sympathy for someone who casts any job aside, much less 64 of them. Now, mind you, this was written in 1995, which was a whole different world back then.

Best of the Best American Poetry: 25th Anniversary Edition is a bedtime reading book. It’s on my night table, for those evenings when I am too tired to read more than a poem.  This collection is perfect for that purpose because, frankly, most of the poems are forgettable.

Borrowed TimeBorrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir is the book that I’ll be spending the most time with this weekend. I just started it last night, and it is so well written, so gorgeous, and so very sad. Ann Patchett recommended this to me (yes, that Ann Patchett!) and … well, when Ann Patchett gives you a book recommendation, you kind of tend to listen. I’m glad I did.

(That is a whole ‘nuther post.)

Book Expo America and the BEA Bloggers Conference

So, while everything may have aligned perfectly in my reading life, that isn’t the case for two other “B” words this week – which would be Book Expo America (BEA) and, of course, the BEA Bloggers Conference. I had been quietly crunching the numbers, trying every which way to make this possible, but it wasn’t in the cards this year … again.

ArmchairBEA 2014

Design by Amber of Shelf Notes.

I’ll miss seeing all my book blogger friends, of course, but I CANNOT WAIT to participate in Armchair BEA again.  If you haven’t signed up, this is shaping up to be the best year ever. I’m hoping to use part of this long weekend to prep my posts for this week.

To be honest, I’m trying to stay somewhat unplugged during this long weekend, with the exception of writing/scheduling some posts and catching up on blogs. I’ve been overwhelmed and overextended. I have over-promised and under-delivered, not so much on the work front (I don’t think) but in other areas.

My remedy is to spend as much time on the deck (where I am, currently, in the warm sun, writing this) with words, both my own and those of other people’s. I went to church this morning for the first time in months. I need to take a walk or two. A friend from out of town will be in the city, and tomorrow we may visit the art museum (there’s a new photography exhibit).

So, yes, there are many words beginning with “B” this weekend. Books. Blogging. Armchair BEA. (OK, close enough.)

And at least one more, that has nothing to do with any of those.


In memory and in honor of all who served, thank you doesn’t seem like enough.

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Today, We Have Apricots (and a daily newspaper that still cares about books)


Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots

On my most recent milestone-to-me birthday, a tweet led to another tweet – which led to my talking books with columnist/associate editor/books editor/wearer of many hats Tony Norman of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

As I wrote in April, (“breaking news of the bookish kind,” 4/5/2013), the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is unusual among metropolitan daily newspapers in its more than ample coverage to things literary. This is a newspaper that sent its book editor to Book Expo America (BEA), and published not one but two follow up articles on the event. As a writer, an editor, a book blogger, an avid reader, and a Pittsburgher, I like living in city that has that kind of commitment and passion for books. That’s impressive to me.

Tony’s books column regularly includes a round-up of recently published local (with Pittsburgh ties) books, including self-published and small press works. Book reviews appear on Sundays and Wednesdays. 

Today is Wednesday. And today, I’m grateful to be among the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s freelance book reviewers and thrilled to share with you my Post-Gazette review of Jessica Soffer’s debut novel, “Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots.” 

I hope you’ll take a look at it and let me know your thoughts – either here or on the P-G’s Facebook page link in the article.

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Armchair BEA 2013: Show Us Your Swag

Armchair BEA 2013

Logo design by Sarah of Puss Reboots

Hands down, the best part about going to the actual BEA (Book Expo America) is getting to spend time with so many authors, bloggers, publishers, editors, and PR folks all under one big roof.

A close second is all the swag (i.e. books) that is foisted upon you.

It’s actually very overwhelming. I went to the Book Bloggers Convention that was part of BEA in 2010 and 2011, and I still haven’t read or reviewed all the books that I lugged home. (And the official BEA was over by that time!)

In that same spirit of things, our friends at Armchair BEA have made sure that those of us at home this year aren’t left out of the abundance of book goodness. Many a blogger and publisher alike are hosting special Armchair BEA Giveaways today … including me.

I couldn’t keep my giveaway to just one item. Not today. My husband (who had thyroid cancer last fall) got some fantastic news health-wise this morning, so I am in a very appreciative and generous mood. This means that I am giving away TWO fantastic prizes.

1. The first is a sample edit, by me, of up to 10 pages of your manuscript. If you’re working on a novel or memoir, this is a chance to get some professional feedback. I normally charge $1.50 per page for sample edits, so this giveaway has a value of $15.00.

2. I am also giving away a very gently used hardback copy of THE SMART ONE, the new novel by Jennifer Close.

The Smart One

You can enter for a chance at both prizes, but the same person will not be selected to win both.

I’m really new to using Rafflecopter, so I don’t know how to make it all fancy and drop-downy. I believe clicking this link will take you where you need to be.

Enter here : a Rafflecopter giveaway.

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Armchair BEA 2013: Introductions

Armchair BEA 2013

Armchair BEA logo design credit: Sarah of Puss Reboots

It’s a big week in the book world.

And if it’s a big week in the book world, that means it’s also a big week in the book blogging world.

The occasion is the huge industry conference and trade show known as Book Expo America (BEA) happening in New York, where authors and agents and publishers and editors and enthusiasts are celebrating the written word in all its forms.

That also means it’s time for Armchair BEA, which is (as per the mission statement on the website), “the experience for book bloggers to participate in Book Expo America (BEA) from the comfort of their homes. This experience is created lovingly by book bloggers specifically for our peers who for whatever reason are not able to participate in the main conference in New York each year. We bring publishers, authors, and bloggers together in celebrating our love for all things literary by hosting celebrations such as sneak peeks, daily discussion topics, and sponsored giveaways.” 

I’ve been to part of BEA in the past (there is a book blogging conference as part of the festivities), but funds and timing didn’t permit such for me this year. So, bring on Armchair BEA!

We have daily themes/writing prompts to blog about, so let’s get this party underway with today’s topic: some introductory questions.

  1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you? How long have you been blogging? Why did you get into blogging?

I’m Melissa and I launched my blog, The Betty and Boo Chronicles, nearly 5 years ago. You can read the story behind the name and the decision to start blogging here. Recently, I made the leap to self-hosting because it was a logical way to combine my own writing (I’m currently at work on a novel) and my new freelancing and book editing business.

2. Where in the world are you blogging from? Tell a random fact or something special about your current location. 

Before moving to my current city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I had such a misconception about this place. I envisioned a gray, gritty, dirty town with nothing but abandoned steel mills. Now, granted, our winter weather does tend to be a little bit (OK, a lot) on the gray and gritty side. But, you know what? Pittsburgh is one of the most spectacular and beautiful cities I’ve ever seen. Vibrant, creative, and inspirational people are everywhere in Pittsburgh. We’re extremely friendly, warm, and collaborative. (We kind of thrive on that here.)  Pittsburgh is known as a sports town – and deservedly so – but it’s really much more of an artistic, cultural, and literary community than I ever could have imagined.

3. What are you currently reading, or what is your favorite book you have read so far in 2013? 

New and Selected Poems, Vol 1 Mary Oliver

I usually have a volume of poetry on my night table for times when I am in between books (i.e., just finished a book but am too tired to start something new). Right now, that happens to be New and Selected Poems, Volume 1 by Mary Oliver.

I also have Chris Bohjalian’s latest (The Lights in the Ruins) set for a July publication date that I will soon start for my freelance book reviewing job with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but before doing so I am hoping to read both The Double Bind and The Sandcastle Girls. 

Favorite book of 2013 (so far) is The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin. 

4. Tell us one non-book-related thing that everyone reading your blog may not know about you.

I need a job.


(My professional background is here with additional background and my writing portfolio here.)

5. Which is your favorite post that you have written that you want everyone to read?

Oh, gosh. This is like choosing a favorite child. I have nearly 2,000 posts on a variety of topics, so this is impossible. The ones about The R Word, about Kristin Mitchell, about autism, about unemployment, and about Baby G (because that saga is still going on, nearly 2 years later) would probably head up my favorites list, all for different reasons.

Make sure to visit the Armchair BEA page for more introductory and daily topic posts!

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Book Review: He’s Gone, by Deb Caletti

He’s Gone
by Deb Caletti
Bantam Books Trade Paperbacks
323 pages 

It seems somehow fitting that, when the book blogging world is beginning to buzz with all things Book Expo America (BEA) related, that I’m reviewing a book by an author who would never have made it onto my radar if it wasn’t for BEA.

An explanation is probably needed.

You see, back in May 2010, I attended the Book Blogger Convention (as it was called back then, and which is part of BEA) and I happened to sit with this table of bloggers at breakfast.

We’d gotten swag bags, of course, so naturally our talk turned to the books provided to us in the bags.

Amanda (not pictured) was beyond ecstatic to see that a Deb Caletti book was included. Each of us had different titles. Amanda raved about Ms. Caletti’s writing. We all swapped books around the table. I’d never heard of Ms. Caletti before that moment, but I figured, why not. When another book blogger likes someone that much, I usually pay attention.

And then The Queen of Everything sat on my bookshelves for another 2.5 years (nearly a year of that in storage) before I picked it up again.

And I loved it.

(The Queen of Everything is a young adult novel, just so those who are purists and don’t read YA know of this in advance. But, it’s really good.)

So when I saw that TLC Book Tours was offering up Ms. Caletti’s first fiction for adults, I knew I wanted in.

And for the most part, I loved this one too. He’s Gone represents a nice segue from the young adult market into adult fiction (although I personally don’t draw any such literary distinction, as I’m one of those adults who reads YA).

There’s still the temptation to categorize Ms. Caletti’s fiction as light, but He’s Gone is not that. For starters, this novel focuses on the very real, very heavy, and very dark issue of physical and emotional abuse, as told and experienced through the eyes of Dani Keller. Married with the typical issues that befall blended families, Dani and Ian seem to have a typical life of professional success. They live somewhat comfortably on a houseboat in Seattle, drawing little attention to themselves, until one morning when Ian turns up missing following a party with Dani and his colleagues.

Unfortunately, Dani’s not too much help in the investigation, as she’s had a bit too much to drink and her memory of the night’s events is fuzzy, at best. For some in the novel, she’s an easy character to cast judgment on; her role as “the other woman,” “the homewrecker”) has lent itself to many opportunities for blame and scorn from Ian’s ex-wife and his kids. She also sees herself to blame, too – which is common for people who have been victims of domestic violence.

While she doesn’t remember the actual circumstances that led up to Ian’s disappearance, what Dani does remember is the beatings and the verbal abuse from her ex-husband Mark which had her seeing Ian as someone who could rescue her. Now, as she tries to do whatever she can to rescue Ian, Dani reflects on the reasons she initially turned toward him as she discovers who really is the missing person in their relationship.

Ms. Caletti, a National Book Award finalist, kept me turning the pages, constantly wondering did he … and maybe she did … or maybe they did …. He’s Gone is an engrossing, psychological read that has been compared by some to Gillian Flynn’s bestselling Gone Girl for the mindbending directions it takes the reader.

That being said, there were a few things about He’s Gone that left me puzzled and wondering. It’s hard to say too much without spoiling the plot – and I’m not a detective or a mystery reader so what the hell do I know? – but there were some aspects of the police investigation into Ian’s disappearance that seemed strange. Like … possibilities that could have been looked into a bit more thoroughly.

That’s all I’m sayin’.

But I was happy with the way the novel was resolved, and I’ll certainly be reading more of Ms. Caletti’s work … so that’s really all that matters, right?

Thank you very much to TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. I was provided with a copy of He’s Gone in exchange for my honest review. I did not receive any additional compensation for this post.

Read more about He’s Gone and what other bloggers thought here.

For more information about Deb Caletti and her other books, visit her website at www.debcaletti.com.

I am an Amazon.com Affiliate. Making a purchase via any of the Amazon.com links on The Betty and Boo Chronicles will result in my earning a small percentage in commission, which will be used to support the upkeep of this blog, as well as the real-life versions of Betty and Boo. Thank you! copyright 2012, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

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