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  • Jeff Somers 4:00 pm on 2019/02/11 Permalink
    Tags: , , brideshead revisited, , carry on, , , , , , , , , , , , , soon i will be invincible, , , the dresden files, , the name of the wind, the night circus, the paper magician, the shades of magic series, v.e. schwab   

    Your Reading List for the Return of The Magicians 

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    It’s official: Lev Grossman’s fantastic book series The Magicians has inspired one of the best adaptations on television. The series based on Grossman’s books has managed the trickiest of all balancing acts, both honoring its source material and going beyond it in satisfying, intriguing ways. Grossman’s books are aggressively meta, a brilliant deconstruction of fantasy books that merrily wears the deconstruction on its sleeve—the brilliance of Quentin Coldwater discovering that magic is as tedious, difficult, and dense as advanced physics or maths is balanced with the childlike joy Grossman manages to convey concerning the actual use of it, and the discovery of a very real Narnia-esque portal world. Overall it’s a childhood fantasy pushed through an adult lens, and there’s no better way to celebrate the show’s return than by diving into some other fantasy worlds.

    The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis & The Harry Potter Series, by J.K. Rowling
    Let’s get these out of the way: if you somehow haven’t read the Narnia books, which are the inspiration for Fillory and the ur-portal fantasy of a billion childhoods, or the Potter books (which, seriously, how?), you’re not only missing some of the fundamental building blocks of Grossman’s universe, you’re likely missing something fundamental from your reading life. These two series are how The Magicians came to be—even if you have read them, reading them again—or, you know, for a fifth or sixteenth time—is never a bad idea.

    Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh
    Grossman cited this stone-cold classic as one of the most important books in his life, and aside from its general greatness (seriously, read this book) it’s easy to see where it’s folded into the foundations of The Magicians, as it’s primarily a story of college grads and their fates after school. Lyrical, beautiful, sad, and somehow existing in a unique fictional universe despite being a realistic novel, there are grace notes of Waugh throughout Grossman’s books that you’ll suddenly see after you read this.

    Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
    Grossman himself recommends Clarke’s neo-classic when people ask what they should read after The Magicians. A thousand-page riff on Victorian literature and fairy tales, it’s set in a 19th century world where magic has recently returned after a long absence. A fateful rivalry develops between stuffy, bookish magician Mr. Norrell and showy upstart Jonathan Strange, with world-changing consequences. It is one of the most unusual works of fantasy you’ll ever read, filled with epic detail and a writing style that brings names like Dickens and Austen to mind. It’s a masterpiece, and nothing short of remarkable, and it is a perfect companion piece to Grossman’s books, exploring the theme of what happens when magic is discovered to be real in a totally different but complementary way that Grossman fans will appreciate.

    The Paper Magician, by Charlie N. Holmberg
    The story kicks off after young Ceony graduates from the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined and is assigned to her apprenticeship—in paper magic, about as far from her desired specialty, metal, as she can get. But just as Simon finds that the hard work and late nights required to master magic in his universe are worth it, Ceony finds that putting the work in with her charming mentor, Emery Thane, yields amazing results. But there’s forbidden magic in this world, blood magic that operates on flesh and bone, and Ceony is forced to rely on her imperfect mastery to save Thane, and possibly the world. It’s a perfect series for fans of Grossman’s books.

    The Dresden Files, by Jim Butcher
    It’s pretty simple math: while they’re different beasts in terms of tone and plot devices, the fact is that folks who love The Magicians will probably love Jim Butcher’s detective-cum-wizard Harry Dresden, who brings a hard-boiled edge to his investigations of paranormal and magical events and crimes. It’s easy to imagine someone graduating Watford and slowly evolving into Harry; although the magic systems are completely different, the tone matches up well, making this an ideal series to dive into when you need a new adventure that combines magic, sass, and plenty of great plot twists.

    Soon I Will be Invincible, by Austin Grossman
    Superheros instead of magicians, but Lev’s twin brother Austin has written one of the most fun and enjoyable comic-book subversions ever. As Doctor Impossible plots his escape from prison and questions his life choices, the league of heroes known as The Champions patrol the world against wrongdoers and struggle with their own existential crises and personal failings as they deal with the disappearance of their greatest member. It’s hilarious, and captures the tone of comic books with pitch-perfect skill while offering an augmented view of the world that will appeal to fans of The Magicians.

    The Shades of Magic Series, by V.E. Schwab
    If part of what appeals to you about The Magicians is the idea that magic is hidden—but could be around any corner—than Schwab’s fantastic Shades of Magic is required reading. The story spans four alternate Londons—White London, soaked in and consumed by magic, Red London, where magic is used reasonably and intelligently, Grey London (our world) where magic has been all but forgotten, and Black London, where magic has crushed the life out of everything. Its elemental magic system isn’t very similar to Grossman’s realistically arcane discipline, but the dense storytelling and joy of magic is right in line and the perfect way to prime your imagination for the TV show.

    The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern
    Dreamy, lush, and romantic, at first glance this might not seem like it has much in common with Grossman’s story. The crucial link, again, is the way magic is presented as hidden in plain view—the Night Circus is truly magical, but obscures its nature simply by performing its spells for people’s entertainment, as part of the circus act. This allows the two rival magicians traveling with it to wage a proxy war of magic right in front of amazed audiences, who never suspect what they’re actually seeing even as they rave about the trick. It’s ultimately concerned with the human heart, and is exactly the sort of book that Simon would have read and loved.

    The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss
    Rothfuss’s modern classic is very different in tone from Grossman’s work, and is set in an epic fantasy universe instead of an urban one. That said, it’s a modern classic for reasons, not the least of which is that the whole “school of magic” aspect is just one part of the story—the legendary warrior, bard, and magician Kvothe’s life story is already pretty epic by the time he sets his sights on gaining admission to the University. This is one of those stories where the destination is the journey, and not only will it serve as a great alternative flavor in stories about people learning the secrets of the universe, it will also addict you to a whole book series.

    Carry On, by Rainbow Rowell
    If it’s the meta-ness of The Magicians that you groove on, it simply doesn’t get more meta than Rowell’s first foray into fantasy literature. The story of Simon Snow, the Chosen One finishing his final year at Watford School of Magicks and his roommate (or maybe more) Baz Grimm-Pitch began life as a fictional book series modeled on Harry Potter in Rowell’s Fangirl, seen largely through a slash fan-fic being written by a character in that book. So this is the real novel based on the fan-fic based on the fictional novels in the fictional world of a totally separate novel. Got that? Doesn’t matter—it’s actually a fun, bouncy riff on the whole ‛kids in magician school’ trope that offers a wonderful accent to your Magicians meal prep.

    The post Your Reading List for the Return of <i>The Magicians</i> appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jeff Somers 7:00 pm on 2019/01/31 Permalink
    Tags: , , , ,   

    February’s Best New Thrillers 

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    The Chef, by James Patterson and Max DiLallo
    James Patterson continues to innovate and push envelopes in terms of marketing and distribution. Case in point: his newest collaboration with DiLallo was first published on Facebook Messenger. Police detective and food truck chef Caleb Rooney serves New Orleans in both capacities, but as Mardi Gras approaches, he finds himself accused of murder. (It probably doesn’t help that his food truck is called the Killer Chef.) Shortly thereafter, Rooney discovers a plot to attack New Orleans being brewed up by home-grown terrorists. Racing against time, Rooney must clear his own name while preventing a slaughter in his beloved city as it gears up for Mardi Gras—the perfect tasty backdrop for a tense thriller.

    The Border, by Don Winslow
    Don Winslow concludes his bloody, operatic trilogy delving into the chaotic war on drugs with a suitably intense final act. After losing everything but his career in the war against drug kingpin Adán Barrera, Art Keller finds himself at the top of the DEA with Barrera defeated. But the war on drugs has come home in a flood of cheap heroin that’s killing Americans at a record pace. As Keller moves to block this deadly invasion, he finds himself fighting not Mexican drug cartels, but his own bosses in Washington. Politically motivated enemies are one thing, but Keller begins to suspect the unbelievable truth—the incoming administration is actually partnered with the very cartels he’s spent his life fighting.

    Never Tell, by Lisa Gardner
    Gardner’s 10th D.D. Warren thriller opens with Warren and other police breaking down the door to Evelyn Carter’s house, where they find the pregnant teacher standing over her dead husband, gun in hand. Warren remembers Evelyn from a case 16 years before, in which she accidentally shot and killed her own father, and decides it can’t be a coincidence. But when the killing gets some publicity, trusted informant Flora Dane contacts Warren to tell her that Evelyn’s husband was an associate of her kidnapper. As the investigation pivots into the possible connections between the two men, the complications pile up, as Gardner explores how well we can truly know anyone—even our closest loved ones.

    Mission Critical, by Mark Greaney
    The Gray Man is back for an eighth adventure from Greaney, with Court Gentry receiving a sudden summons to Langley. He boards a jet in Zurich, which lands in Luxembourg to pick up a hooded prisoner and head on to England, where the CIA intends to deliver the prisoner over to MI6. Upon arrival, however, the teams are attacked by gunman, who leave behind a bloody slaughter as they race off with the prisoner. As the Gray Man pursues in a powered glider, his sometimes-lover Zoya Zakharova of Russian Intelligence barely survive an attack that leaves her handlers dead. As Gentry and Zakharova work both sides of the mystery, it becomes clear that these violent attacks are connected—but the culprits’ careful planning didn’t take the Gray Man’s skills into account.

    The Silent Patient, by Alex Michaelides
    Michaelides delivers an assured, confident debut thriller. Six years ago, artist Alicia Berenson painted a psychologically dense work based on a Greek myth, then allegedly tied her husband Gabriel to a chair and shot him in the face. Alicia hasn’t spoken a word since, spending her time in a drugged daze at the Grove, a secure forensic facility in North London. Theo Faber is the wounded, gifted psychotherapist who convinces Alicia’s doctors to let him try to get her to speak. Theo’s work with the silent patient is interspersed with excerpts Alicia’s diary leading up to the day of Gabriel’s murder. As the clues about what truly happened begin to fall into place, Theo’s personal and professional worlds blur dangerously, leading to an explosive conclusion.

    The Hiding Place, by C. J. Tudor
    Joseph Thorne returns to his home town of Arnhill with alleged plans to teach at his old school and give back to his community, but the truth is, he’s really back in response to a mysterious email that claims to know what happened to Joe’s sister in her youth, and promises it is happening again. Joe moves into a cottage where a woman recently murdered her young son and committed suicide, and begins to plot revenge on behalf of his sister Annie, who disappeared decades before. Joe deals with ghosts, loan sharks, and unfriendly locals with cynical humor and grim determination, as Annie’s ultimate fate is slowly, painfully exhumed. Tudor’s followup to buzzy thriller The Chalk Man is every bit as tense and satisfying.

    The post February’s Best New Thrillers appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jeff Somers 3:00 pm on 2019/01/31 Permalink
    Tags: , , Current Events, dave cullen, , i'll be gone in the dark, michelle mcnamara, parkland: birth of a movement,   

    February’s Best New History & Current Events Books 

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    If you’re reading this, congrats, you made it through the first month of 2019. Considering the state of the world, you deserve a reward for this feat of survival—and nothing’s better than a book. This month offers an insightful work of history about Wild Bill Hickock, the late Michelle McNamara’s powerful investigation into the Golden State Killer case, a ripped-from-the-headlines examination of the Parkland shooting, a considerations of the current state of journalism, and a look at the FBI under the Trump administration.

    Parkland: Birth of a Movement, by Dave Cullen
    In some ways the February 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was all too typical: innocent victims, a deranged killer, a media frenzy, thoughts and prayers. But something unusual happened in its aftermath: the kids who survived didn’t just go back to their lives and let the murders fade into our collective memory alongside so many earlier such tragedies. They made noise. They started a movement. Cullen, who as a journalist covered the 1999 Columbine shootings and in 2009 published an exhaustive account of what was, up to that point, the deadliest school shooting in history, was drawn to these kids and their courage, and inspired to tell their story. Here, he details not just the grim facts of the killings, but the reaction of the extraordinary youths who lived through it, and decided to fight back against a culture they felt seemed to have long ago resigned itself to mass violence as a part of life in the modern United States.

    I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer, by Michelle McNamara
    Michelle McNamara passed away in 2016 at the age of 46, but left behind a powerful legacy in the form of this book, now available in paperback. It’s the result of her years-long investigation into the serial rapist and murderer she dubbed the Golden State Killer, who, thanks in part to McNamara’s efforts o draw additional attention to the cold case, was finally captured in 2018. When she began tracing the crimes in 2011, DNA testing had already linked more than 50 sexual assaults and murders dating back to the mid-1970s to a single man.. The attacks stopped after a decade, and the killer disappeared—but McNamara, with the help of others who gathered at her website, tracked him tirelessly through the available evidence. After her unexpected passing, her team continued the work, finishing this remarkable book, which skillfully combines true-crime details with a novelist’s flare for storytelling.

    Wild Bill: The True Story of the American Frontier’s First Gunfighter, by Tom Clavin
    Wild Bill Hickok is a curious historical figure: both incredibly famous and yet largely mysterious. Clavin employs a wide net in terms of source material to track Hickock’s life from his birth in 1837, to his first jobs in law enforcement, to the development of the quick-draw gunfighting style that made him famous—and made him a target for anyone seeking to make their name as a gunslinger. The portrait that emerges is of a man who shot first and worried later, resulting in occasional collateral damage—and yet he was ultimately killed after being shot in the back, because he didn’t regard his murderer as a threat. It’s sometimes hard to believe the Old West actually existed and wasn’t just the stuff of Hollywood films, but Clavin brings it all to vivid life in this gripping account of one of its most famous inhabitants.

    Merchants of Truth: The Business of News and the Fight for Facts, by Jill Abramson
    Former New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson examines the rise, fall, and rise of journalism in the modern age in a book made suddenly very timely by the recently announcement of layoffs across several major media outlets, including Buzzfeed. That company is one of four Abramson follows as she traces the impact of the internet on the news, alongside with the Times, The Washington Post, and Vice. The initial assumption—that the old-school newspapers would fail while the disruptive upstarts would triumph with clickbait—didn’t quite pan out; the former managed to pivot to online subscriptions while the latter upped their game in terms of journalistic quality. Yet the price of this transformation may have been paid by us, the audience, who now have to pore over news that blurs the lines between advertising, reporting, and mere spectacle.

    The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump, by Andrew G. McCabe
    When Andrew McCabe was fired by President Donald Trump a little over a day before his scheduled retirement, it seemed to many to be a petty and unnecessary action against a man who had served his country and the FBI with distinction. In this memoir, McCabe offers a thoughtful and powerful defense of his career, and concludes that the biggest threat to the FBI and the United States isn’t an external one—it’s the president and the administration that views the nation’s top law enforcement organization as alternately a threat and a private police force. McCabe served in the FBI for decades at all levels, and brings that experience to bear in his argument.

    The post February’s Best New History & Current Events Books appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jeff Somers 7:00 pm on 2019/01/28 Permalink
    Tags: cat's eye, , , , , oryx and crake, , , the testament   

    A Definitive Ranking of the Novels of Margaret Atwood 

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    With the continuing success of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale adaptation and the unexpected announcement of a sequel novel (The Testaments, coming in September 2019), interest in Margaret Atwood’s work is at a fever pitch. And while that dystopian tale will undoubtedly be the book that defines Margaret Atwood’s life, she has written many more works of note—all of them worth exploring. If you’re a new reader looking to jump into her extensive backlist, here is how we’d rank them, from the merely very good to the absolutely essential.

    Bodily Harm (1981)
    Atwood beautifully writes this story of a journalist who travels on assignment to a Caribbean island on the brink of revolution. With lush and elegant prose, it’s a pleasure to read. So why do we place it at the bottom of Atwood’s oeuvre? Rennie, the protagonist, isn’t so much a character with agency as a vessel into which Atwood pours cruelty, making for an occasionally frustrating reading experience. This is likely purposeful, given the prevalent themes of power and emotional addiction, but if the novel is a successful experiment, Rennie’s apparent powerlessness to avoid her own worst possible fates mutes the impact.

    Life Before Man (1979)
    Once again, Atwood delivers a book that is gorgeous and affecting in its language, but peopled with characters who seem to do things only because the author’s purpose requires it. Elizabeth is the director of a museum in Toronto, her husband Nate makes useless wooden toys; they’re living by outdated and outmoded concepts of relationships and emotion, and the stress starts to show when Nate commences a new affair with Lesje, Elizabeth’s colleague. Elizabeth retaliates by seducing Lesje’s own significant other. The story of their corrosive, destructive affairs is claustrophobic, dry to the point of desiccation, and, like Bodily Harm, probably exactly what Atwood wished to achieve. It’s also depressing as heck.

    Surfacing (1972)
    Atwood’s second novel never names its narrator, a fact that underscores her bleak, featureless depression. The prose is as sharp as ever, and the other characters we encounter as the narrator searches for her missing father—the arrogant and self-impressed David; his wife Anna, who bends over backwards to support his delusions despite her unhappiness; Joe, the silent, insecure potter—form a fascinating, dysfunctional group. The mystery of what’s happened to the narrator’s father is also interesting, for all its inevitable tragedy. The blankness of the narrator makes her a bit of a closed book, even as she descends into madness and desperation while searching for her father.

    The Edible Woman (1969)
    Atwood’s debut earns points for an intriguing and affecting premise. It’s the story of Marian, who is so immersed in an orderly, consumerist life as a market researcher. Marian is involved with dull-as-paint Peter, and, scandalized by the sexual and emotional behavior of her friends, begins to disassociate, viewing her physical body as a separate entity from herself. She then begins to imbue the food she encounters with human qualities, and finds herself unable to eat—until a final act of symbolic self-cannibalism. It’s all a bit messy and overcooked, but Atwood’s deft work portraying a personality in the act of dissolving is first-rate.

    Lady Oracle (1976)
    Atwood’s third novel finally sees her having a bit of fun, while retaining the incisive prose that has always defined her work. She explores themes similar to those of her first two novels, but sans the heaviness or the seriousness. Joan Foster had a miserable childhood that continues to afflict her adulthood, until she finds her calling as a writer, and uses trendy automatic writing techniques to craft a cultish bestseller. There’s a lot here: body shaming, blackmail, a sexless marriage, and an identity crises that culminates in the main character faking their death. We’re still in the early days of her impressive career, but there’s a lot to love in this book, as Atwood finally cuts loose a little.

    The Robber Bride (1993)
    This is a divisive book among Atwood acolytes. On the one hand, it’s a deft examination of female friendships and gender relationships, and it features the absolutely brilliant character Zenia, who is either a sociopathic man-eater and world-class frenemy, or a self-actualized heroine, or something else entirely. But the brilliance of the novel is also its weakest point for some: while Zenia is a breathtaking inversion of the unreliable narrator (this is a woman who fakes her own death, then shows up years later without a care and straight-facedly offers several ridiculous explanations about where she’s been), she’s also slippery and inscrutable as a result. In other words, you either buy into this one wholesale, or you bounce right off of it. (Incidentally, we bought in.)

    Hag-Seed (2016)
    The Hogarth Shakespeare series is a fascinating experiment in bringing the Bard’s work into a new era. Atwood’s retelling of The Tempest leans so hard into the meta there’s no room for anything else. Felix Phillips—her Prospero—is the Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival, until he is pushed out by a scheming, extremely clever underling. Philips lands in a job at the local correctional facility, where he concocts a byzantine revenge plot while literally putting on a production of The Tempest. It’s the sort of literary gesture only someone of Atwood’s stature could pull off. The artificiality of it all gives the affair the flavor of an intellectual experiment, but the clever bits make it well worth reading anyway.

    Cat’s Eye (1988)
    We move into the Atwood top 10 with this diamond-sharp exploration of childhood friendship, bullying, and feminism—a dark sort of proto-Mean Girls. Successful artist Elaine returns home for a retrospective of her paintings, and sinks into a reverie of her childhood and adolescence, a time when she was mercilessly bullied by a trio of girls she’d thought were her friends. As young Elaine descends into and then claws her way out of victimhood, she gains the upper hand over her chief tormentor and enjoys being just as mean, while in adulthood, she begins to see things a bit more clearly than she might like. It’s a story just about everyone can relate to in some way, balancing thematic resonance with narrative drive.

    The Heart Goes Last (2015)
    This is a quietly over-the-top novel, and as a result, it isn’t universally loved. In a dystopian future where society has lost control of law and order, a young couple grows tired of scraping by on tips and low-wage jobs, living in their car, and under threat by the gangs of criminals that rule the streets. They see an advertisement for a community where they would be guaranteed a job and a home, in exchange for spending every other month in prison while someone else occupies their house. All goes well until they begin to obsess over the “alternates” who live in the house when they’re behind bars. This is a caustic look at modern life through a dark funhouse mirror, very funny, and very smart.

    MaddAddam (2013)
    Ranking books in a series is a bit odd, especially in this case, where we’re approaching the tale out of order, so you may want to skip ahead if you aren’t caught up on Atwood’s dystopian sci-fi trilogy that begins with Oryx and Crake and continues in The Year of the Flood. MaddAddam ties those books’ parallel storylines together, as Ren, Toby, and Jimmy unite with other survivors and launch a project to rebuild civilization with the help of the Crakers, while being menaced by a criminal gang of Painball veterans. While it’s a great story that concludes the series in strong fashion, this trilogy-ender understandably lacks a bit of the surprise of the first two.

    Oryx and Crake (2003)
    See above (and four entries below). The dystopian vision Atwood crafts here is arguably darker and more horrifying than the one in The Handmaid’s Tale; the state of pre-apocalypse society is grim, dominated by violent and pornographic entertainment, where gated compounds protect the elite from the outside world. It’s a society ruled by immensely powerful biotech corporations that values technical capability above all else and casually create life in order to experiment on it. That the end of the world is triggered through pharmaceuticals isn’t an accident, and neither is the surprisingly emotional and elegiac tone of the post-apocalypse sections tat follow a man named Snowball—formerly Jimmy—who watches over the genetically engineered, near-human Crakers as he seeks to fulfill a promise to the man who destroyed the world.

    The Penelopiad (2005)
    Atwood’s other literary reimagining is more successful than Hag-Seed. Giving Odysseus’ wife Penelope—and her 12 maids—a voice in their ultimately tragic fate is a genius move, and the book fits perfectly within Atwood’s thematic body of work. It’s narrated by Penelope, speaking from Hades in the modern day. She tells her side of the story of her relationship with Odysseus, and her chapters alternate with chapters from the maids’ points of view; the maids haunt Odysseus and Penelope in Hades, and why wouldn’t they—they’re the ones who executed by Odysseus for doing exactly as they were told, and attempted to help Penelope avoid being forced into marriage after her husband was presumed dead. Lively, sharp, and still blisteringly current, this  twist on an ancient story redefines it utterly.

    Alias Grace (1996)
    In this historical mystery (based on a true story of a 19th century woman accused of murdering her employer and his housekeeper and mistress), Atwood plays with reader expectations and point-of-view so masterfully. the book can be enjoyed on many levels: as mystery, as romance, as history viewed through a feminist lens. In the end, Atwood plays that trick of giving you all the information but denying you a concrete conclusion—you simply don’t know, by the end, what truths lie at the heart of Grace, nor what really happened to her, nor what she did. But it doesn’t matter, because the what and when was never the point. This is a story about the shifting of identity—those thrust upon us, those we choose for ourselves—depending on who ‛s telling the tale, and who’s listening.

    The Blind Assassin (2000)
    This Booker Prize-winner is Atwood’s most structurally complex work. It’s a book about a book, which in turn contains a third book. That’s an oversimplification, of course; it’s one of those slow-building tales that allows you to think you know what’s going on until it becomes obvious you don’t, as the reveals begin landing and you realize you’ve been woefully, terribly wrong about everything. As it begins, it is 1945, and a woman named Laura is dead, possibly by her own hand.Decades later, her sister Iris recalls the childhood they shared, and of the dark events that have befallen their family. Woven into this history is the text of a lurid sci-fi novel (ostensibly penned by Laura) about a killer on a far-distant planet. At the heart of these nesting narratives is the relationship between Laura and Iris, and how it is shaped by both the men who abuse and ruin them, and the lies they tell in order to keep their heads above water. The end result is one of Atwood’s most challenging, spectacular successes.

    The Year of the Flood (2009)
    Oryx and Crake ends on an organic note that feels final, which made the appearance of a sequel seem surprising—at first. But then, so much of Atwood’s most explicitly speculative universe was left unexplored at the end of one book that the second feels, in retrospect, inevitable. Atwood’s return trip into the apocalypse focuses on the poor of the rapidly-declining future, exploring religion, friendship, and catastrophe with a sure-handedness and comfort the belies the fact that this world was already familiar to Atwood when she started. The Year of the Flood crystallizes the themes she shaped in the first book, taking the kinds of chances only possible in a sequel. As a result, it also packs more of an emotional punch than the concluding volume, and shoots to near the very top of her impressive bibliography.

    The Handmaid’s Tale (1985)
    Deservedly, Atwood’s greatest work is also her most famous. Its feminist themes and exploration of a truly misogynistic society are horrifyingly relevant some three decades after it was first published. The secret is that Atwood doesn’t paint a simplistic picture of a society in which women have been reclassified as more or less breeding property; she explores how both sexes support and contribute to a horrifying vision of oppression. Yes, it is clearly the men who have reshaped the world in order to strip women of all political, economic, and legal power, but the women of the Republic of Gilead are often willing, cruel participants in the subjugation of the Handmaids who are forced to bear their children. In crafting this bleak future, Atwood doesn’t forget the fundamentals, either; it’s a story peopled with characters you care about, and stakes that devastate.

    Our hopes for The Testaments are high. Where do you think it’ll land on this ranking?

    The post A Definitive Ranking of the Novels of Margaret Atwood appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jeff Somers 6:00 pm on 2019/01/24 Permalink
    Tags: , limetown, podcast to page, sawbones, the adventure zone, welcome to night vale, you must remember this   

    13 Books Based on or Inspired by Podcasts 

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    In the past decade, podcasts have gone from background noise to a major part of the pop-culture soundscape. More people are listening to them, and every media company is producing them (not to mention companies like, say, Barnes & Noble). Podcasts are making their presence felt in the book world too, with a growing number of them being revamped into print formats—and inspiring writers who are podcast addicts themselves.

    Give your ears a rest with these 13 books either adapted from or inspired by podcasts.

    Welcome to Night Vale, by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
    Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink’s podcast mega-hit resembles a small town news program, but Night Vale is no normal small town. It’s a place where the weird and the horrifying are neighbors—think of it like Stephen King’s Castle Rock, but stranger. That’s a brilliant concept for a podcast, and the this-week’s-news nature of the show also means it translates awfully well to the page—the co-authors simply need think up a story oddball enough to sustain a narrative and slot it into the Night Vale milieu. The first such adaptation was Welcome to Night Vale, released in 2015. It explores the town and fleshes out a few familiar characters from the show while offering an intriguing standalone mystery about the Man in the Tan jacket, who litters the town with scraps of paper that read “King City,” and the story of a teenage boy struggling with his ability to shape-shift after the onset of adolescence. The best podcast fiction offers a sense of a boundless universe to explore, and that certainly describes this novel, which received a followup in 2017, It Devours! (more Night Vale books are planned).

    Alice Isn’t Dead, by Joseph Fink
    Speaking of Joseph Fink, he is one of the most successful folks in the podcast-to-book game (and soon the podcast-to-book-to-television game). This story, based on the podcast of the same name, follows Keisha, a long-haul truck driver on a cross-country search for clues regarding the disappearance of her wife, who she refuses to believe is dead even after the funeral. The journey leads her into a complex web of dark conspiracies and stomach-churning terror. Fink was inspired by his experiences living in and out of his van while driving around the country performing live episodes of Welcome to Night Vale; taken as a travelogue of these weird United States, it’s by turns haunting, touching, and downright terrifying, with a particularly memorable villain—a slouching bag of distended flesh known as the Hungry Man—who will stalk your nightmares.

    Earthcore, by Scott Sigler
    Sigler was one of the first authors to see the potential in fiction podcasts. He originally released Earthcore as an early ebook, but when his publisher went belly-up, Sigler decided to try to find a new audience for it in the form of a podcast. It worked: the show eventually gathered an audience of about 10,000 weekly listeners, which he leveraged into a traditional print publication deal. The story unfolds around a massive platinum deposit discovered three miles underground in Utah. The material is worth a fortune, but retrieving it requires cutting-edge technology, and no small amount of courage. The team that sets out to claim the prize discovers much more than precious metals underground—there’s a reason it has gone unclaimed all these years. Something has been waiting in the heat and darkness. Sci-fi horror is a perfect fit for the intimate podcast experience, and genre readers love a good scare, so naturally, and Sigler’s debut was one of the earliest success stories for the podcast-to-print model.

    Heaven, by Mur Lafferty
    Mur Lafferty is a well-known podcaster in genre circles, a voice behind shows like Geek Fu Action Grip, I Should be Writing, and Escape Pod. Not only has she turned I Should be Writing into a book on the craft of writing, she’s also blazed the podcast-fiction trail with her Afterlife series, which began as a podcast and found its own afterlife in print. The premise is simple: two friends die, go to Christian heaven, and quickly get very bored. They set off to investigate the afterlives offered by other religions, species, and time periods, leading them into a mystery that makes them wonder if their search isn’t as random as they first thought. It also makes them wonder a little about that whole “free will” business.

    Risk!: True Stories People Never Thought They’d Dare to Share, edited by Kevin Allison
    Not all podcast books are fictional. Kevin Allison’s Risk! focuses on first-person stories with an element of, yes, risk—stories that involve personal danger, poor decisions, emotional courage, and unexpected consequences. With a mix of celebrities (Marc Maron, Aisha Tyler, and Paul F. Tompkins have contributed to the podcast, and share essays here) and the non-famous, the stories deal in sex, violence, and money, always with a scent of danger and the fundamental belief that all experiences, even bad ones, are worthwhile once examined. Surprisingly intimate and insightful, these true stories benefit from the editing and polishing that comes with print publication, turning them from affecting experiences into great literature.

    The Moth Presents: All These Wonders, edited by Catherine Burns
    The Moth dates back to 1997, when it began as a live storytelling event focused on unscripted, unadorned live performances. Recordings of shows were turned into a podcast in 2009, and later a syndicated radio show as well. A print collection followed in 2013, and this second one in 2017. It brings together 45 of the best stories from the group’s history while attempting to retain that spirit of intimate, in-person storytelling—and largely succeeds. Stories can be told in a variety of ways, after all. The range of subjects, emotional palates, and styles perfectly represents the wide variety offered by the live shows, making this something more than just a short fiction anthology.

    Yes We (Still) Can, by Dan Pfeiffer
    The podiverse is about more than storytelling. Pod Save America, hosted by Tommy Vietor, Jon Lovett, Jon Favreau and former White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer, features the trio pontificating on the political goings-on in the new and often confusing reality of Washington, D.C. While Yes We (Still) Can isn’t a direct lift from the podcast, it shares a spirit of progressive determination to make sense of the current state of American government. As on the podcast, Pfeiffer draws heavily on his in-the-room-when-it-happened experiences working for Obama on the campaign trail and within the administration as he analyzes the ongoing fallout from the 2016 presidential election.

    Seduction: Sex, Lies, and Stardom in Howard Hughes’ Hollywood, by Karina Longworth
    Longworth’s podcast You Must Remember This has long been a delight for cinephiles eager to “explore the sometimes hidden, sometimes forgotten stories of Hollywood’s first century.” The intersection of money, fame, and patriarchy is always fascinating (in the way looking under a rock is fascinating), and in the current cultural moment, with the #MeToo movement still going strong, it’s a great time to educate ourselves on the sordid, sexist history of Tinsel Town. Longworth’s book is like an expanded episode of the podcast, digging into the story of movie mogul Howard Hughes as seen through the lens of the women he romanced, promoted, ogled, and abused. It’s a fascinating dig into the roots of male power and misogyny in Hollywood. Smart, well-written, and plain fun, this is both timeless pop history and an ideal book for today.

    The Adventure Zone: Murder on the Rockport Limited!, by Clint McElroy, Griffin McElroy, Justin McElroy, Travis McElroy, and Carey Pietsch
    If you’ve ever laughed over a role-playing game with your friends, The Adventure Zone is for you. The podcast started out as a paternity leave filler episode of the brothers Justin, Travis, and Griffin McElroy’s comedy advice show My Brother, My Brother, and Me in which they played a game of Dungeons & Dragons with their dad Clint—and if that sounds weird, consider the fact that millions of folks watch other people play video games, so listening to smart, creative people play D&D—which is all about storytelling—is a treat. Hilarious and deeply immersed in this particular corner of geekdom, the podcast has inspired a fantastic graphic novel series co-written by the McElroys artist Carey Pietsch, which kicked off with the number one New York Times bestseller Here There be Gerblins and continues this summer with Murder on the Rockport Limited, following adventurers Taako, Magnus, and Merle in a locked train mystery caper that feels like an episode of Doctor Who in which the TARDIS’ safety features have all been disabled.

    The Sawbones Book: The Horrifying Hilarious Road to Modern Medicine, by Sydnee McElroy and Justin McElroy
    Another book birthed from the McElroy podcasting empire, Sawbones is an adaptation of the show Justin hosts with his wife, Dr. Sydnee McElroy. Each week on the show, the duo investigates (or rather,Syndney explains and Justin asks questions about) a weird facet of medical history, from trepanning as a headache cure to wearing radioactive underpants to increase virility. Needless to say, people have done a lot of misguided things in the pursuit of better health over the years, and the McElroys have the goods on all of them. The book feels like a natural extension of the podcast, presenting the best of the weirdest in medical history, brought to life via old-timey illustrations by Teylor Smirl.

    Limetown, by Zack Akers, Skip Bronkie, with Cote Smith
    Here’s a twist: Limetown the book is a prequel to the hit podcast of the same name, and might just represent the future of the thriller genre. The podcast is immensely popular, and this story drips with the same ominous atmosphere. Student journalist Lia Haddock lives in Limetown, Tennessee, a small place with a big problem—more than a hundred people, including Lia’s Uncle Emile, have disappeared. Lia digs into the mystery, and is amazed when her own parents refuse to help in any way. What she discovers on her own forces her to do a lot of growing up really, really quickly. It’s a great novel, and if it inspires you to check out the podcast, all the better.

    Waiting for the Punch, by Marc Maron and Brendan McDonald
    Even people who have no idea what a podcast is know Marc Maron, who has been slowly invading the wider pop culture by increments. This book isn’t simply a collection of transcripts from his intimate interview program WTF, in which he talks candidly with comedians and other influential figures from his garage studio; it’s a carefully edited compilation of comments, stories, and quotes from his former guests, organized into specific categories like “Addictions” or “Life Lessons.” Better than almost anyone, Maron can get people famous for specific things—acting, music, politics—to open up about a wide range of subjects beyond that thing, teasing out surprising admissions and startling revelations along the way. By organizing the rich material from the podcast just so, Maron and McDonald have made the ideal companion book.

    Sadie, by Courtney Summers
    In a plot twist, this is a book whose plot centers on a podcast and which also inspired a podcast, meaning it’s podcasts all the way down. Summers’ taut YA mystery is the story of May Beth Foster, who asks West McCray, a radio journalist, to help her track down a missing 19-year old girl named Sadie, who is determined to find the person who killed her little sister Mattie. McCray begins looking into the matter and details his journey in a true-crime podcast that alternates with the first-person account from Sadie herself. Part of the book’s promotion campaign was an actual podcast called The Girls, making this a rare case of a book that inspired a podcast.

    What’s your favorite book/podcast pairing?

    The post 13 Books Based on or Inspired by Podcasts appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

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