If You Liked The Tournament of Mysteries, You Might Also Like…

I am a total book nerd, and I love lists. So, when I was told Half Price Books was having a Tournament of Mysteries as part of Mystery Madness, I set out to read all the books on the bracket, in order to vote for the right book with each pairing. Now that I have read all the mystery books in the tournament, I solve the mystery of what I’m going to read next. Here’s a list of similar books for myself and other book nerds like me who never want Mystery Madness to end.

SherlockIf you liked Sherlock Holmes: The Novels, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:

AndThenThereWereNoneIf you liked And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie:

NameOfTheRoseIf you liked The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco:

Continue reading

Behind the Book: The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

Editor’s Note from Kristen Beverly, HPB Buyer:

I was on a phone call with booksellers from across the country when someone said, “Have any of you read The Astonishing Color of After? I just read the first 50 pages and it’s phenomenal. You haaave to read it!” So, I went home that night, picked it up and thus began my love affair with this book. I was so enraptured by Emily X.R. Pan’s writing that I read the entire thing in two mind-blowing days. The story starts out with the main character’s mother appearing to her as a red bird. I had the opportunity to meet Emily earlier this year at a bookseller’s conference. The first thing I asked her was, “Where exactly did the inspiration for that red bird come from?” Apparently, I’m not the only one who wondered. Here’s the scoop from Emily herself – the story behind the book.

astonishing-cover-debut-novelPeople like to ask me why the mother in my story turns into a bird. “Why this giant red bird, of all things?”

It’s a tricky question for me to answer, because I’m not totally certain of it myself. But I’ll try to make my best guess. To do that, I first need to tell you a bit about my story development process:

It’s like I’m sitting in a boat, out in the middle of the ocean, scanning the surface of the sea for pieces of wreckage that drift past. Those pieces might be characters, concepts, settings, plot twists — any tiny component of a story that has flitted into my consciousness at some point and then decided to stay.

That ocean is my brain. And sometimes it takes years for me to realize that a few specific pieces that have been floating around totally separately could actually come together in the most perfect and interesting way — and that’s when I finally sit down and begin writing the story.

So back to that bird. I’d always known that I wanted to write a story of a person transforming into a bird. I wasn’t sure of the circumstances. I just knew: At some point a human being was going to become a bird.

I started writing The Astonishing Color of After back in 2010. It had a different title, and a different cast of characters, and it definitely had no bird. I tried rewriting that story many different ways, in many different voices and even in different age categories. And it was literally years later that it occurred to me that instead of having the mother die by pneumonia and just be plain old dead…she could turn into a bird.

Not long after I started toying with that idea in my head, I lost my aunt to suicide. I couldn’t stop thinking about her death and its impact on my family. I couldn’t stop thinking about how easily that could’ve been my own mother, who struggles with many of the same things my aunt battled.

A long time after that, I sat down to rewrite the novel from scratch yet again, and the opening pages poured out. I knew that this was the story I had been trying to puzzle together all along.

At first, I couldn’t figure out the importance of the red bird. But later I realized why she was so crucial in this story. My Buddhist family taught me that after death comes a transition—whether that’s reincarnation, or a journey to a different place, or something else. That transition might take up to 49 days, and the spirit of the person might stay near us before the transition occurs. So the bird, I realized, was my way of clearly visualizing a spirit being stuck in that limbo.

When the book begins, the bird is still here in our human world, still tangible. She seems like she’s free. But she’s not. She’s waiting. The bird’s freedom comes only when the main character, her daughter Leigh, has figured out some very important things.



Emily X.R. Pan is a debut young adult author who currently lives in Brooklyn, New York. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @exrpan. Her debut YA novel The Astonishing Color of After is available in Half Price Books stores and online at HPB.com while supplies last.


All Things Printed & Recorded: Revolutions in Recorded Sound

EDITOR’S NOTE: This year in our HPB calendar, we’re celebrating all things printed and recorded—and played, solved, watched, etc. In other words, all the cool stuff we buy and sell in our stores. For April, weve got some grooRecord.pngvy info on the history of sound recording. 


  • Thomas Edison’s phonograph, using a rotating cylinder wrapped in tinfoil, was the first machine to play back recorded sound. The first recording was Edison himself reciting the opening lines to “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”
  • Columbia Records introduced the 12-inch, 331/3 rpm long play record in 1948. Lighter and less brittle than its predecessors, the vinyl LP would come to dominate the recorded music market. Musicians took advantage of the LP’s extended playing time to create album-length artistic statements.

Sgt Pepper and Thriller

1877  Thomas Edison invents the phonograph.
1889  Emile Berliner’s gramophone, which uses discs instead of cylinders, debuts.
1949  RCA Victor introduces the 45 rpm single a year after Columbia debuts its 331/3 LP.
1957  Stereo records appear.
2007  Vinyl, long considered obsolete, resurges in popularity.

old victrola

Want to dive deeper? Check out these great products!

slate_film-512 High Fidelity
book Dust & Grooves: Adventures in Record Collecting, Eilon Paz
book Vinyl: The Analogue Record in the Digital Age, Dominik Bartmanski & Ian Woodward book The Vinyl Detective: The Run-Out Groove, Andrew Cartmel
book Sound Recording: The Life Story of a Technology, David L. Morton, Jr.
book Chasing Sound: Technology, Culture and the Art of Studio Recording from Edison to the LP, Susan Schmidt Horning
book Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music, Greg Milner
book Old Records Never Die: One Mans Quest for His Vinyl and His Past, Eric Spitznagel

If You Liked Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore, You Might Also Like…

midnight at the bright ideas bookstoreWhen I found out the HPB Book Club would be reading Matthew Sullivan’s dark and twisty debut mystery novel, Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore, as part of our Mystery Madness promotion, I was thrilled. I mean, mystery is my favorite genre. Add the fact that the mystery takes place in a bookstore and all the clues come from books, and you have a book that every bibliophile will love.

When bookseller, Lydia Smith discovers the body of one of her favorite patrons dangling at the end of a rope in the Western History section and finds a picture of herself as a 10 year-old girl in his pocket, the memories of being the sole surviving victim of a killer known as the Hammerman come flooding back, and she realizes that she can’t hide from her past forever. Sullivan expertly pieces the past and present together like a puzzle, and the finished product may surprise you.

If you liked Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore, here are a few other books you might like.

A Bed of Scorpions, by Judith Flanders
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan
Booked to Die, by John Dunning
The Body in the Library, by Agatha Christie
The Club Dumas, by Arturo Pérez-Reverte
The Bookman’s Tale, by Charlie Lovett
The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde
Quiet Neighbors, by Catriona McPherson
Unsolicited, by Julie Kaewert
Death’s Autograph, by Marianne Macdonald

I’ve already pulled Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore and The Eyre Affair from the shelves of my local HPB, but I think I may have to go back for a copy of The Club Dumas. What will your next read be?

Want to get in on the conversation? Join the HPB Book Club at hpb.com/bookclub.

Meet the Bibliomaniac: April Wakeman

We’re beyond excited that our new store in the Beechmont area of Cincinnati is joining the HPB family! In this edition of meet the bibliomaniac, we introduce you to April Wakeman, Assistant Store Manager. She joins the team all the way from HPB in Washington. Take it away, April!

April Hammer - Copy

When did you join the team?
I began my HPB career at the Concord, California store in November of 2008. Since then, I’ve worked in Bellevue and Redmond Washington, and I’m currently helping install the Beechmont store in Cincinnati, Ohio.

What is your favorite part about working at HPB?
I love the variety of work and experiences that are part of daily life at HPB. No two days are quite the same, and something new happens every single day!

Continue reading

Solve the Mystery: 6 Character Riddles

How well do you know your mysteries? Below are clues to six of my favorite mystery novel characters. I challenge you to solve them all without looking at the answers below!

Magnifying Glass.gif

1. A self-proclaimed hobo, I have no address, no credit cards and no cell phone. I don’t even have a middle name. What I do have is 13 years of military training, dozens of medals and nothing better to do with my time. Who am I?

2. My foppish, upper-class persona and classic good looks may have convinced some that I slept my way into the Yard, but my ability to hide a wealth of feeling behind my aristocratic mask has proven useful whether I’m interviewing a confessed murderer, dealing with my partner’s tortured past or watching the girl I love marry one of my closest friends. Who am I?

3. My motto is: it’s better to be lucky than good. And I need all the luck I can get with my ongoing financial disaster, two men who drive me crazy, a gun-toting grandma and a co-worker who would trade sexual favors for a bucket of chicken, not to mention the fact that my cars keep exploding. I need a Tastykake. Who am I?

Continue reading

Herstory: 50 Inspiring Kids’ Books for Women’s History Month

Women’s History Month is not only a time to reflect on the past – the accomplishments of the brilliant women who have come before us to forge new paths – but also a time to assess where we are today and inspire future generations to dream big and dare even bigger.

I want to empower my daughter using stories of fierce and persistent ladies. I’ve been on the prowl for books that provide positive role models for my daughter – books that tell the less-often told stories about women in history who have made a difference. In recent years, publishers have been filling bookshelves with some remarkable stories in children’s picture books for young readers and young adult nonfiction for tweens and teens. These women are brave pioneers. They launched rockets, flew planes, programmed computers, broke world records, stood up for injustice, played sports, solved crimes and invented gadgets.

Reap the reward of my hours of hunting with this mega list of book recommendations. Here’s my round-up of 50 books about girls and women who excel in science, math, design, athletics and business many other fields. These are ideal picks for teachers looking to build a library with STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) educational topics. And parents: You’re sure to find something on this list to add to your child’s library to celebrate women’s history not just in March, but all year-round.

1-dissent-ruth.jpg 2-she-persisted.jpg 3-shaking-things-up.jpg

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy, Illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley – This is the first picture book about the life of Justice Ginsburg. It’s elegantly simple prose, and tells the tales of her dissents from childhood to the Supreme Court. Recommended for ages 4-8.

She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World by Chelsea Clinton, Illustrated by Alexandra Boiger – This lovely piece of children’s literature, recommended for ages 4-8, covers a diverse group of women who were fearless and bold.

Shaking Things Up: 14 Young Women Who Changed the World by Susan Hood, Illustrated by Sophie Blackall, Emily Winfield Martin and more – This inspirational picture book for kids ages 4-8 is filled with 14 profiles of amazing young women, each with their own poem and illustration. Continue reading