Byte-Size Blair | March 7

We’re back with Byte-Size Blair, our weekly wrap-up of all things social media. If you’re not already following us on FacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram, give us a look.

You’ve made it through Monday! Treat yourself with these fun links.

  1. We were blown away by this art exhibit called “The Impact of a Book”
  2. The invitations are in and you’re invited! If you live near Wilmington, join us for The Dark of the Island Launch Party on March 19th.
  3. Relax with these scrumptious tea and biscuit combinations.
  4. So many books and so little time. We know the feeling.
  5. March 2nd was Dr. Seuss’s birthday but we believe in celebrating this artist all year round.

Tomorrow is the publication date for The Dark of the Island by Philip Gerard. Congratulations Philip!


Steve’s Literary Resolution

This week in our Literary Resolutions blog series, we hear from Steve Kirk, Blair’s editor, about his delayed success in completing a reading resolution.


I made my literary resolution early (mid-December) and broke it early (January 2). The previous two years, I’d read the opening and middle volumes of Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium trilogy” over the holidays and happened to finish them on New Year’s Day. So I resolved to end 2013 and begin 2014 with the final book, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. But owing to company in the house, I didn’t finish until well past my target date.Hornets

No matter. Larsson’s novels are my kind of blockbusters—brisk, complex, and transportive. Though he goes on too long about Swedish politics and over-introduces minor characters, those flaws are overwhelmed by what he does well—namely, create memorable protagonists (Mikael Blomkvist and Lizbeth Salander), intricate plots, and an exotic setting. In Hornet’s Nest, he sustains a lively 563 pages with his title character mostly confined to a hospital bed and his two heroes together only on the last couple of pages.

I admit to being flummoxed by all the Jonassons, Carlssons, Erikssons, and Goranssons. And when I began the series, I pulled up a Stockholm map on my computer and made a futile effort to follow the action as I read. But I soon learned to plunge right in and let myself be transported. By the end, whenever Mikael Blomkvist might leave Café Copacabana next to the Kvarter cinema in Hornstull, then turn on to Bergsundsstrand on his way to the tunnelbana, I was right there with him, wherever it was we happened to be going.

Stieg Larsson wrote mostly for his own entertainment. He died in 2004 at age 50 from a heart attack after climbing seven flights of stairs on a day the elevator broke down. He never saw his novels hit print; they’ve since sold well over 70 million copies. Larsson had a fourth volume in process, a fifth and sixth at least in synopsis form, and a seventh through a tenth planned. My coming holiday seasons will be the less for his passing.


Join us next week for another post in our Literary Resolutions blog series. Happy reading!

Win a Free Copy of B.O.Q.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

B.O.Q. by N.P. Simpson


by N.P. Simpson

Giveaway ends January 31, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Enter now to win one of 25 free advance reader’s copies of B.O.Q.: An NCIS Special Agent Fran Setliff Novel by N.P. Simpson.

In B.O.Q., Simpson conveys the special energy and purpose of a military base. When Ann Buckhalter, the wife of a retired Marine lieutenant colonel, is found dead in the river just downstream from Camp Lejeune’s Bachelor Officers’ Quarters (B.O.Q.), NCIS Special Agent Fran Setliff is called in to investigate her murder

But things heat up when Fran discovers that more than one person’s life has been simplified by the victim’s death. Uncovering the truth about Ann Buckhalter’s death also means uncovering all the unsavory things going on behind the camouflage curtain-racial and gender discrimination, unethical medical practices, sexual indiscretions. Solving the crime means Fran must navigate the murky waters of the military base and the colorful individuals who fill the ranks.

Enter now and find out what really happened at the B.O.Q.!

A guest blog from Blake Fontenay, author of The Politics of Barbecue

Today we celebrate the publication of The Politics of Barbecue, a “spoofy thriller” by Tennessee author Blake Fontenay. Set in Memphis, this novel moves past  landmarks such as Beale Street, Graceland, and Mud Island as an unlikely group of heroes gets a glimpse into the greed and corruption all too rampant in government. Already selected as an “Editor’s Pick from Book Expo America 2012” by Library Journal, this lighthearted romp sounds like a  perfect read for a turbulent election year, don’t you think?

Today, we’ll let Blake tell you, in his own words, exactly what inspired him to write this novel in the first place. Enjoy!


Explaining why I wrote The Politics of Barbecue is about as easy as eating ribs without getting messy fingers. From as early as I can remember, I’ve loved reading and writing. That’s probably no huge shock, since my father was a newspaperman (I don’t think they were called journalists in those days) who also had published novels to his credit.

I don’t remember my dad ever pressuring me to follow in his footsteps. But he did read to my sister and me often when we were young—the Tolkien books, C. S. Lewis, anything he thought would be of interest. He also frequently took me to his workplace, the newsroom at The Tennessean in Nashville.

At that young age, working for a newspaper appealed to me more than becoming a novelist. There was something about the energy of a newsroom—finding out things before everyone else did, then telling the rest of the world—that struck a chord with me.

In elementary school, I started my own newspaper, The Cricket, which I was able to keep going with the support of neighbors and classmates. I’ll never forget the day I showed up at school without the fare money I needed to ride the city bus home, but with an armful of issues of The Cricket. I made enough sales to pay for my ride that day, which probably gave me a false sense of security about the financial future of newspapers.

Of course, I enjoyed writing creative stories at that age, too. And essays. Really, any type of writing presented a delicious challenge. Except for novels. I tried a couple of times, but getting from “Once upon a time” to “The End” just seemed too daunting. How could anyone possibly write something that long?

As I got older—and as I realized I had no future as a pro soccer player—the idea of becoming a newspaper reporter stuck with me. So I went out and did that. And I had a fun and exciting career. I got to cover nighttime launches from Cape Canaveral. Do first-person stories from the pits at NASCAR races. Experience the craziness of Daytona Beach’s Bike Week. And interview all sorts of people—regular folks, cops, lawyers, athletes, CEOs, politicians.

I gravitated toward beats that included the latter group, which eventually led to a job covering city hall for The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tennessee. When I took the job, I considered it no more than a way station in my journey of life. I thought I would spend one or two years there, then return to one of the newspapers in Florida and end my career there.

Then life happened. Before I knew it, I had spent a decade in Memphis, transitioning from my reporting job to one as an editorial writer and political columnist. I also fell in with a group that produced the Memphis Gridiron Show, an annual charity event in which local politicians and other public figures were satirized in song and skit. Pretty much by accident, I became the show’s head skit writer.

After 20-plus years of grinding out bylines, I finally decided I needed a new writing challenge. It was great to work on something a few hours, a few days, or even a few weeks and then see it in print. But I wanted something that took longer to create—and wasn’t just me parroting words other people had told me. I wanted to spin the kind of story my father had read to me when I was young. And if I’m totally honest, I wanted to do something that would make him proud as he was entering the final years of his life.

The inspiration for The Politics of Barbecue came from several sources. As a reader, I enjoy stories that have a strong sense of place. And Memphis has as great a sense of place as any town I’ve ever seen. It’s a gritty city with its share of crime, blight, and urban problems. But it also has a wonderful culture of food, music, history, and Southern hospitality. So part of my motivation was to tell outsiders about the Memphis they didn’t know.

Many people know something about Memphis’s reputation for great barbecue, but they really don’t understand the depths of passion many Memphians have for grilled meat. I remember a cookout I attended one Saturday during football season. The host and another guest got into a shouting match over whether or not it was okay to open the smoker door long enough to check on how the ribs were doing. Competitors in the city’s barbecue cooking contests are even more intense.

A story based on plans for a Barbecue Hall of Fame seemed like a natural fit. After all, Memphis has an ornamental metal museum, but not one dedicated to its signature food? And the cynical journalist in me said that no project like that could be built in Memphis—or probably anywhere else—without its fair share of political corruption.

I hope that The Politics of Barbecue both informs and entertains. It has serious themes dealing with corruption, urban problems, and the importance of civic engagement. But it’s also a story I hope will keep readers laughing and turning the pages.

Because it’s a story that reaffirms how messy life can be. Just like good barbecue.


Like what you’ve read? Blake will promote his new book while on tour across parts of Tennessee and Mississippi–check his events to see if he’ll be signing near you. Be sure to like Blake on Facebook as well.

Goodreads giveaways! (Who can resist free books? Enter to win here.)

We’re gearing up for a big fall season, and to celebrate, we thought we’d offer some of our upcoming fall and backlist titles to readers on Goodreads.

(Side note: If you don’t have a Goodreads account, you are missing out, my friend! It’s a social media site dedicated to books and readers, so you can rate and review the books you read and watch your friends do the same. Just like Facebook or Twitter, it’s free! And the best part? There are tons of book giveaways going on every day.)

So please enjoy our latest Goodreads giveaways listed below. With any luck, you’ll take home an autographed copy of a backlist title or get a sneak peek at some of our fall titles that haven’t yet been released.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Losing My Sister by Judy Goldman

Losing My Sister

by Judy Goldman

Giveaway ends September 02, 2012.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Politics of Barbecue by Blake Fontenay

The Politics of Barbecue

by Blake Fontenay

Giveaway ends August 15, 2012.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Woody Durham by Woody Durham

Woody Durham

by Woody Durham

Giveaway ends August 30, 2012.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Murder on Music Row by Stuart Dill

Murder on Music Row

by Stuart Dill

Giveaway ends August 25, 2012.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Goodreads Book Giveaway

I've Had It Up to Here With Teenagers by Melinda Rainey Thompson

I’ve Had It Up to Here With Teenagers

by Melinda Rainey Thompson

Giveaway ends August 25, 2012.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Summer Reading from Blair: Part I

The pool is open, half of my coworkers are out of the office on holiday, and it’s hot enough to enjoy a glass or two of sweet iced tea (or perhaps something stronger) on the porch. So here are a few of our favorite books to read when you’re taking a break from the real world this summer. Enjoy!


Murder on Music Row: A Music Industry Thriller
Stuart Dill
2012 IPPY Award winner in the Mystery category

“Remember your first John Grisham? Country music veteran Dill (he served as a personal manager for Minnie Pearl, Dwight Yoakam, and other greats) doesn’t miss a beat in this debut high-adrenaline thriller full of twists and turns.”
—Library Journal, starred review

Judd Nix, a 23-year-old unpaid intern at Elite Management, welcomes the chance to become
the paid assistant of Simon Stills, one of country’s biggest managers, but he soon finds himself a witness to an assassination attempt. When a gunman takes aim at megastar Ripley Graham, Stills’s most important client and the last hope for the troubled recording industry, on stage at the Grand Ole Opry, the shooter misses and seriously wounds Stills instead. Nix and his co-worker, Megan Olsen, decide to investigate on their own, but with music executives plotting a major merger, they can’t be sure whom to trust.

Murder on Music Row leads readers through a maze of twists and turns that connect Nashville, New York, Los Angeles, and London in a behind-the-scenes look at an industry where there are no limits in the pursuit of money, power, and fame.


God Bless America: Stories
Steve Almond
2012 ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Award Honorable Mention

God Bless America is a meditation on the American dream and its discontents. In his most ambitious collection yet, Steve Almond offers a comic and forlorn portrait of these United States: our lust for fame, our racial tensions, the toll of perpetual war, and the pursuit of romantic happiness.

Each of these 13 stories is an urgent investigation of America’s soul, its particular suffering, its injustices, its possibilities for redemption. With deft slight of hand, Almond, “a writer who knows us as well as we know ourselves” (Houston Chronicle), leavens his disappointment and outrage with a persistent hope for the men and women who inhabit his worlds. God Bless America offers us an astonishing vision of our collective fate, rendered in Almond’s signature style of “precise strokes… with metaphors so original and spot-on that they read like epiphanies” (San Francisco Chronicle).

Still not sold on this book? I’ve got two reasons more:


The Iguana Tree
Michel Stone

This isn’t your typical light read for the summer. This is a book of substance. It is a universal story of loss, grief, and human dignity.

Set amid the perils of illegal border crossings, The Iguana Tree is the suspenseful saga of Lilia and Hector, who separately make their way from Mexico into the United States, seeking work in the Carolinas and a home for their infant daughter.

Michel Stone’s harrowing novel meticulously examines the obstacles each faces in pursuing a new life: manipulation, rape, and murder in the perilous commerce of border crossings; betrayal by family and friends; exploitation by corrupt officials and rapacious landowners on the U.S. side; and, finally, the inexorable workings of the U.S. justice system.

Hector and Lilia meet Americans willing to help them with legal assistance and offers of responsible employment, but their illegal entry seems certain to prove their undoing. The consequences of their decisions are devastating.

If you’re looking for a book that humanizes the agony and elation of illegally entering the United States without politics, this is for you.

“Michel Stone’s first novel, The Iguana Tree, is an astonishing achievement, a daring but plausible leap into a world unnoted by most of us yet close around us daily. This story is at once a page-turner and a moving, psychologically genuine drama.”
—Rosa Shand, author of The Gravity of Sunlight, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year


Hank Hung the Moon . . . And Warmed Our Cold, Cold Hearts
Rheta Grimsley Johnson

“Part whimsical memoir, part cultural anthology, Hank Hung the Moon is a celebration of the music, the man, the era, the lore, and the magic of the South’s most beloved songster. If I were stranded on a desert island with only one book that captured everything I know and love about the South, this would be the one.”
—Cassandra King (Conroy), author of The Sunday Wife

The dark story of America’s Pulitzer Prize–winning hillbilly singer has been told often and well, but always with sad country fiddles wailing. This latest Hank Williams paean will make readers laugh as well as cry. Hank hung the moon and left his fans behind to admire it. He transformed the musical landscape, as well as the heavens, with his genius. And that’s a good thing.

More a musical memoir than a biography, Hank Hung the Moon is the author’s evocative personal stories of ’50s and ’60s musical staples—elementary-school rhythm bands, British Invasion rock concerts, and tearjerker movie musicals. It was a simpler time when Hank roamed the earth. The book celebrates a world of 78 rpm records and five-cent Cokes. Hank provides the soundtrack and wisdom for this Last Picture Show of a book.

A Cajun girl learns to understand English by listening to Hank on the radio. A Hank impersonator works by day at a prison but by night makes good use of his college degree in country music. Hank’s lost daughter, Jett, devotes her life to embracing the father she never knew. A newly minted recording artist buys a belt from Hank himself at a Nashville store that country’s first superstar bought to pacify a nagging wife.

Finally, here are stories readers haven’t heard a thousand times before about people—some famous, some not—who loved Hank. This lively little book uses Hank as a metaphor for life. Readers will tap their toes and demand an encore.


Murder on the Outer Banks
Joe C. Ellis

The perfect beach read!

Newly hired deputy Marla Easton and Sheriff Dugan Walton are amazed at the performance of Dr. Sylvester Hopkins in a local 5K footrace. At age 65, Hopkins posts a world-class time of 17:35, two minutes faster than he has run in the past few years. Walton suspects Hopkins has concocted some new performance-enhancing drug.

A trail of bodies from Frisco to Nags Head, North Carolina, leads Deputy Easton and Sheriff Walton to the discovery of the Methuselah serum—a new drug designed by Hopkins that reverses aging in human cells. A nefarious triumvirate of pharmaceutical CEOs known as “the Medical Mafia” wants the formula at any price. So do the FBI and the president of the United States. But Sheriff Walton believes that he and Deputy Easton have been divinely chosen to guard the formula and serum, and they take their mission seriously—much like the angels posted in Eden to guard the Tree of Life. Their mission turns perilous when Deputy Easton’s seven-year-old son, Gabe, is kidnapped.


Well, that’s all for today. Want to know what else we’re reading? Check our our staff picks on Pinterest. And share your favorite summer reads with us in the comments section.

Happy reading!

Music for your new year: “Murder on Music Row” soundtrack

Happy new year, blog readers! If you dove into 2012 headfirst–like we did–you might already need a break! So here’s a playlist to keep you entertained while you’re back at the grind.

Thanks to the folks at ParcBench and inspired by Murder on Music Row: A Music Industry Thriller, by Stuart Dill, this mix includes classic country tunes that are perfect for a murder-mystery-readin’ kind of day. And while there isn’t a Ripley Graham single in the mix, this playlist might just make you want to dance on your desk and slap your grandmaw.

“Pretty Polly” by the Patty Loveless & Ralph Stanley

“Folsom Prison Blues” by Johnny Cash

“L.A. County” by Lyle Lovett

“Pardon Me, I’ve Got Someone To Kill” by Johnny Paycheck

“The Cold Hard Facts of Life” by Porter Wagoner

“I Just Can’t Let You Say Goodbye” by Willie Nelson

“Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town” by Kenny Rogers

“The Thunder Rolls” by Tanya Tucker

“Delia’s Gone” by Johnny Cash

“Psycho” by Jack Kittel