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  • Tara Sonin 4:00 pm on 2018/02/12 Permalink
    Tags: a line in the dark, a separation, , , andrew aciman, , , bad love, , call me by your name, caroline kepnes, celeste ng, , , emma donoghue, everything I never told you, , , graham green, greer hendricks, , , , , jacqueline carey, , , jessica knoll, katie kitamura, , , , , malinda lo, my husband’s wife, , , , , , the immortalizes, , , the wife between us, , tiffany jackson, , white oleander, , you   

    Bah, Humbug: 25 Unhappy Books for Valentine’s Day 

    Love is in the air…but that doesn’t mean you have to drink the Kool-Aid. If you’re not feeling all the lovey-dovey stuff this year, that’s cool. Sometimes other people being happy is the worst. So here’s a list of tragedies, thrillers, and romances that do not end well for you to relish instead. Misery does love company, after all.

    The End of the Affair, by Graham Green
    This novel begins after an affair has already ended, but of course the question is why? Taking the reader back in time, this historical epic romance follows a vengeful man determined to bring down the woman who broke his heart…but when we learn the reason why she did, it will break ours instead.

    Kushiel’s Dart, by Jacqueline Carey
    Not a tragedy per se, but since this fantasy romance involves a special woman who feels pain as pleasure, it felt appropriate to include. Phedre has spent her life in the service of pleasure, but when she has an opportunity to use her talents for political gain, her entire world collapses and she must fight to rebuild a broken kingdom she leaves behind.

    The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
    Clare and Henry are in love, but timing is not their strong suit. Henry is a time-traveller, cursed to travel to different times in his life without warning. That’s how he met Clare, when she was a little girl…and how when, she grew up, they found one another again. In this lyrical, beautiful novel, what was the unique beginning of a love story soon becomes the unraveling of one.

    A Separation, by Katie Kitamura
    A Firestarter of a novel in which a woman’s ex-husband goes missing and she goes to search for him. The story of a marriage is never understood by anyone but the two within it…but the story of a separation is even more mired in mystery.

    Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn
    Gone Girl is where most people’s familiarity with Flynn begins and ends, but she wrote two earlier thrillers that are on the same level. Her debut, Sharp Objects, may in fact be her best, a taut psychological thriller about an unsteady reporter who returns to her hometown to write about a past tragedy there—and must face her own demons in the process.

    Big Little Lies, by Liane Moriarty
    If you haven’t watched the TV series…I won’t blame you if you want to check that out first, it’s that good. But the book is just as intriguing; the story of a group of women in a community held atop pillars of class and status, and what happens when those pillars are shattered. What begins as a series of small untruths and deceptions grows beyond the scope of what they can handle, and someone ends up dead.

    Luckiest Girl Alive, by Jessica Knoll
    A piercing portrait of a woman determined to outrun the shadows of her past, but forced to confront them. Ani FaNelli suffered a mysterious trauma during high-school and has successfully managed to reinvent herself as someone who would never be humiliated like that again. But all that effort is about to become undone when the opportunity to get even with the people who harmed her becomes too tempting to ignore.

    The Woman in the Window, by A.J. Finn
    A twisty thriller about a woman with agoraphobia (and a drinking problem) sees something in a neighboring house. She sees something devastating, something she should never have seen—and suddenly, her life is upended.

    Atonement, by Ian McEwan
    One of the most tragic stories of sisterhood and first love involves a misunderstood moment which builds to a lie, and then a war comes along and lays waste to already ruined relationships. Briony is an observant child, always in the background—and when she sees what she thinks is a man assaulting her sister, she tells an adult. But is that what she saw? And is that why she told? The past and present intertwine in a moving portrait of what happens when jealousy gets in the way of love.

    We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart
    A genre-defying story that is part thriller, part romance…and 100% captivating. A privileged family spends a summer on an exclusive island, uniting a group of friends. But secrets twist their friendships into something rotten, something dangerous…a lie that unless confronted, will leave them forever adrift.

    The Wife Between Us, by Greer Hendricks
    A co-written tragedy about a wife, her ex-husband, and the new woman he loves…in which nothing is real, or true, and each page keeps you guessing.

    White Oleander, by Janet Fitch
    A mother and daughter’s tumultuous relationship is explored in this haunting novel about a woman jailed for murder and her daughter passed between foster homes in search of the happiness she never had at home.

    The Magicians, by Lev Grossman
    All’s well that ends well where magic is concerned…perhaps in books like Harry Potter. But this is not that story. When Quentin is suddenly spirited into a world of magic, validating a lifetime of believing he was different and special, he also finds himself at the center of a terrible battle for power that will take everything from him—including the love of magic he once had.

    Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng
    A powerful novel about a Chinese family in the 1970’s, whose lives are ripped apart when their child is found dead. Each of them with their own perspectives, and their own secrets, the entire family is gripped by the need for the truth…and the desire to run from it.

    Call Me by Your Name, by Andre Aciman
    The Oscar-nominated movie should definitely be on your viewing list, but in the meantime, read the book it’s based on! This story of an unexpected romance between two young men during a hot Italian summer is as riveting as it is erotic.

    In a Dark, Dark, Wood, by Ruth Ware
    A night of revelry and excitement and old friends…that’s what was supposed to happen when Leonora shows up to celebrate an old—and estranged—friend’s impending marriage. But what happens is the exact opposite, and it leaves Leonora wondering what the truth is, and what she may have done to cover it up.

    In the Woods, by Tana French
    Mystery writer extraordinare French’s novel about a detective who returns to the town in which he himself was the survivor of a violent crime to investigate another. But the present is often a mirror of the past, and he finds himself growing unstable in the proximity of the case.

    Wicked, by Gregory Maguire
    A tragic origin story of one of the most captivating villains of all time: the Wicked Witch of the West. Meet Elphaba, who would grow up to face off with Dorothy…before the girl with the pigtails rode a tornado into Oz. An upbringing as an outsider, with magic she does not understand, Elphaba craves acceptance, and will eventually fight for it no matter the cost.

    You, by Caroline Kepnes
    A man becomes obsessed with a woman in New York City, following her on social media in order to orchestrate the perfect relationship…and if necessary, the perfect murder.

    The Lying Game, by Ruth Ware
    Here are the rules of the lying game: no lying to your friends and ditch the lie if you get caught. In this hypnotic and fascinating portrait of friendship, four girls used to play this game until they got the rulebook thrown at them and were expelled after the mysterious deaths of one of their fathers. Now, years later, that past is coming back to haunt them, but will they play the game again to survive?

    My Husband’s Wife, by Jane Corry
    Lily loves Ed, and wants nothing more than to be a wife and a lawyer.That is, until she meets Joe: a convicted murderer, and a man she finds herself drawn to. Carla is just a kid, but she knows a liar when she spots one. Years later, their paths collide, and nothing will be the same.

    Room, by Emma Donoghue
    The harrowing journey of a mother and son living in captivity thanks to a mysterious man who kidnapped her when she was a teenager. When she sees an opportunity to free them, she risks it all in order to give her son a chance in the real world beyond their room.

    The Immortalists, by Chloe Benjamin
    The decision to hear a psychic tell them when they will die changes the lives of a group of siblings, all of whom pursue different paths—and are haunted by lives they could have lived—in this stirring tale of family and fate.

    A Line in the Dark, by Malinda Lo
    This YA psychological thriller puts two friends to the test when a third comes between them. Jess and Angie have always been best friends, but Margot’s spell takes Angie away. In a striking structural shift, the novel switches from the perspectives of the girls to court records and transcripts…when someone in their circle ends up dead.

    Allegedly, by Tiffany Jackson
    She only allegedly killed the baby. But then why did she confess? In this book that will make you forever distrust…well, practically everyone you know—Mary has been in group homes and institutions since she was convicted of murdering the baby her mother was charged with caring for. But now she is pregnant herself, and has decided to tell the truth before her own child is taken away.

    What Anti-Valentine’s Day novels would you recommend?

    The post Bah, Humbug: 25 Unhappy Books for Valentine’s Day appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Ester Bloom 6:40 pm on 2016/09/13 Permalink
    Tags: , emma donoghue, , ,   

    Emma Donoghue’s The Wonder Will Make You Believe 

    As award-winning author Emma Donoghue made clear in her breakthrough novel Roomshe is a master of tight spaces: both the physically cramped confines of a single small area in which a woman and her young child are held prisoner, and the inside of a character’s mind. With her latest novel, The Wonder, set mostly in a small cottage in a rural, poverty-stricken town in 1800s Ireland, Donoghue revisits some of the literal and psychological terrain she has explored in earlier works, with fresh, surprising results.

    Room was noteworthy in part because it so ably captured a child’s point of view without being precious or twee, and, even once its premise was made clear, without piling on salacious detail for the sake of shocking readers. But the book became a hit because, at a time when much of realist literature suffered from an almost fatal self-seriousness, it refused to be cynical, slow-moving, or depressing: Donoghue rewarded readers’ investment in her characters with a thrilling escape attempt and a happy, though still complex and believable, ending.

    Here she takes up that pattern again. Donoghue’s philosophy seems to be that a story does not need to be dour to be important, and that change is always possible. Even within the most desperate situation, if there’s life, there’s hope.

    When The Wonder beginsthat there is life, or rather that it will continue, is by no means certain. English nurse Lib Wright, who trained and served under Florence Nightingale herself, has been called to examine and oversee an Irish girl named Anna O’Donnell, whose family says she has been existing without food. To an effusive local doctor and other residents of her village, who have so recently survived famines and plagues, she is perhaps a saint and certainly an inspiration. To the skeptical Lib, however, Anna’s a pious faker whose deception needs to be uncovered.

    At first, Donoghue deploys the contrasts with a heavy hand. Lib is experienced, while the countryside is provincial. Lib is fixedly secular, the countryside oppressively religious. Lib is pointed forward toward progress and science, the countryside pointed backward toward tradition and superstition. Each entity is as hostile to the other as a cat in an alley. A reader familiar with Diana Gabaldon may half expect the townspeople to start muttering curses at the “Sassenach” in their midst.

    Yet Anna herself, despite being the golden child of her neighborhood—and, as her fame spreads, of Ireland as a whole—is not a distillation of her community’s values. She is her own person, a kindhearted and quick-witted individual who enjoys riddles and the natural world, and, it transpires, Lib’s company. She is artless, and her artlessness disarms even her battle-hardened nurse.

    Anna, Lib realizes, is no Abigail Williams, a young woman intent on destruction because she has nothing to lose, using religious fervor as her tool because she has access to no other. In fact, Anna is neither Lib’s enemy nor the proper target of her investigative powers. Someone else is. But who?

    As Lib delves deeper into the mystery of how and why Anna seems to be existing without food, Anna’s health begins to fail, and Lib realizes she is racing against time as well as a power structure that may not care if one girl dies, so long as certain myths and assumptions are maintained. Lib gets an unlikely assist from a good-natured and intelligent reporter up from Dublin, who represents a more modern Ireland; he helps infuse the last quarter of the book with sexual tension as well as some real momentum.

    Superficially, The Wonder could be read as anti-Catholic, or even perhaps anti-religion in general. Lib arrives impatient with repetitive Latin ritual and with the ineffectual village priest, as well as the nun helping her watch Anna. She only becomes more impatient as Anna declines and people of faith don’t act. But Lib is not always as “right” as her name would suggest: she has a lot to learn, from her charge and about life itself. And whether or not Anna’s interpretation of scripture is misguided, it is earnest, even inspiring.

    Anna’s religiosity also seems, at least in part, to echo the philosophy of the author. Donoghue is well-acquainted with the cruelty of man and the unfairness of fate, but in her wise, humane, and lovely books, as in traditional Catholic belief, the one unforgivable sin is despair.

    The Wonder is on sale September 20, and available for pre-order now.

    The post Emma Donoghue’s The Wonder Will Make You Believe appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jeff Somers 8:00 pm on 2016/09/09 Permalink
    Tags: emma donoghue, , look who's talking, , the murder of roger akroyd   

    8 Strange Narrators in Literary History 

    Experimenting with the “voice” telling a story is a fundamental tool of the fiction-writing trade. Narrators come in a wide variety of styles, from first-person intimate, to unreliably distanced, to godlike in knowledge and perception. The way a story is told is just as important—sometimes more so—than the story itself.

    Still, most narrators are more or less conventional. They may be sarcastic, or disturbed, or duplicitous, but they’re usually recognizably human. Except when they aren’t, as they certainly aren’t in these eight books, which feature some of the most unconventional narrators you’ll encounter.

    Nutshell, by Ian McEwan
    A pregnant woman embarks on an affair with her brother-in-law, a man who is handsome, charming, and ruthless where her husband is portly, afflicted, and soft. They plot the husband’s murder, unaware that they are being eavesdropped on…by the unborn, near-term baby in her womb. The whole story is narrated by the urbane and world-weary voice of the unborn baby, who has been absorbing the podcasts and television programs his mother watches, forming opinions on the wine and food she consumes, and growing increasingly alarmed about the plot to murder his father. McEwan has crafted a immensely readable story that’s both a thriller and an oddity—but a delightful one.

    A Night in the Lonesome October, by Roger Zelazny
    Zelazny’s final novel was also one of his personal favorites, a breathtaking exercise that combines Victorian-era characters with a Lovecraftian mythos, all narrated by a dog named Snuff. What sets Snuff apart from the many other dog narrators in literary history is that he’s not so much a dog as a Familiar—a spirit in animal form who assists a player in the “Great Game” (a struggle to either close off or open wide the doors that would allow the Great Old Ones to enter our world and destroy humanity). Snuff is Familiar to none other than Jack the Ripper, and each chapter is a day in the month of October, with the ritual that will decide the fate of the universe coming, naturally, on Halloween.

    Feersum Endjinn, by Iain Banks
    Three-fourths of Banks’ novel is narrated by three distinct but conventional narrators, until we get to the sections narrated by Bascule the Teller, a young man who can contact and communicate with the spirits of the dead within the “crypt,” a system of uploaded personalities that can be reincarnated, physically or digitally. Bascule speaks and writes in a personal shorthand reminiscent of “textspeak.” The most famous example is: “Woak up. Got dresd. Had brekfast. Spoke wif Ergates thi ant who sed itz juss been wurk wurk wurk 4 u lately master Bascule, Y dont u ½ a holiday? & I agreed & that woz how we decided we otter go 2 c Mr Zoliparia in thi I-ball ov thi gargoyle Rosbrith.” Bascule always narrates in this style; what’s most surprising is how quickly you get used to it.

    Room, by Emma Donoghue
    Room is narrated by five-year old Jack, an unconventional choice, though not completely unheard of. What elevates Jack into the realm of the truly unconventional narrator is his limited experience: having been born and raised in the tiny room he and his mother are confined to by her kidnapper, Jack’s perspective is often alien in the way he describes environments and events. Jack’s belief that Room encompasses the entire universe, fostered by his mother as a sort of protective coating keeping him safe from their miserable reality, is disorienting and affecting, even if you know the story going in.

    My Name is Red, by Orhan Pamuk
    Pamuk’s novel is set in the Ottoman Empire in 1591, where the sultan has commissioned a book to commemorate his reign and life. One of the miniaturists hired to illuminate it in the European style is murdered, and the book becomes a mystery—albeit one narrated by the strangest collection of beings and objects in literature. A coin, a dog, the corpse of the murdered man, and, yes, the color Red all narrate what they witnessed, and slowly the mystery coalesces into a solution. Any story narrated by a color would be odd enough to make this list, but Pamuk’s classic doubles down on strange narrators multiple times. It’s the reigning heavyweight champ of strange narrators.

    The Murder of Roger Akroyd, by Agatha Christie
    Christie’s classic mystery novel remains controversial among fans of the whodunnit for one simple reason (and be warned if you plan to read it; this remains a spoiler nearly a century after the book’s publication, which tells you all you need to know about its quality): the narrator turns out to be the murderer himself. How Christie cleverly manages to make Dr. James Sheppard seem like a perfectly reliable, slightly befuddled narrator relating Hercule Poirot’s investigation without breaking any rules is a masterclass in misdirection.

    Before I Go to Sleep, by S.J. Watson
    A literary version of the film MementoBefore I Go to Sleep is narrated by Christine, a woman who suffers from anterograde amnesia, which causes her to forget everything that has happened to her during the day as soon as she falls asleep. Every morning she awakes next to a strange man—only to discover a journal that informs her that he is Ben, her husband of more than 20 years. Encouraged by her therapist to keep a journal that Ben doesn’t know about, her entries become increasingly ominous once she reads a warning to herself: “Don’t trust Ben.”  The presence of a narrator who forgets everything makes this one of the most interesting books out there.

    Collector Collector, by Tibor Fischer
    Put simply, the narrator of this novel is an ancient Sumerian bowl that collects Collectors. Holding within itself thousands of years of human history and experience, the bowl acquires new Collectors and communicates with them, offering advice and learning. But the book’s main pleasure (which one critic quipped was by far the best novel ever written by a bowl) is the observations the bowl makes about the humans around it. The bowl reminds us that we never think twice about being our truest selves in front of our inanimate possessions.

    The post 8 Strange Narrators in Literary History appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jeff Somers 9:00 pm on 2015/11/09 Permalink
    Tags: , close quarters, emma donoghue, , hubert selby jr.,   

    5 “Bottle Novels” That Go Places While Staying in One Spot 

    Entertaining the entire world is a lot harder—and more expensive—than you might think, and over the decades the Entertainment Industrial Complex has developed strategies for mitigating those costs. In television, one of the great cost-cutting techniques is the “bottle episode,” an episode set in a single location and involving a limited cast. This allows it to be shot on the cheap, avoiding expensive setups in different locations. The bottle plot is often great for focusing on characters: the writers confine everyone in a single pressure cooker location, set the timer, and see what happens. You can use the same technique in literature, where there are no budgets but the same rules apply. Here are five bottle novels (or very nearly) that show how it can be done.

    Room, by Emma Donoghue
    A great deal of this extraordinary novel (recently adapted into an award-worthy film starring Brie Larson) is set in a single room, and it’s powerful stuff. Told from the perspective of five-year-old Jack, the book is about Jack and his Ma, imprisoned in a sealed-off room by a kidnapper known as Old Nick. Ma has gone to great lengths to not only keep Jack healthy and safe, but to protect him from his horrifying situation by treating the room as if it were the entire universe—Jack has no concept of an outside world. Although the book eventually ventures outside, the intense focus on “Room” as Jack’s whole concept of existence makes this one a clear qualifier.

    Trophy, by Michael Griffith
    When Vada helps his friend Yancey move a stuffed bear—Yancey’s latest hunting trophy—into his house, it tips and crushes Vada beneath it, and from that point forward, the entire story takes place in that room, while Vada is crushed to death beneath the awful, enormous trophy. The real story takes place in Vada’s head, as the omniscient narrator takes us through his lackluster life, his petty desires and many frustrations, often addressing the reader directly in a voice that is equal parts sarcastic, hilarious, and perceptive. With a lot to say about the absurdities of modern life, Trophy is the ultimate bottle novel, not only taking place in a single room, but unfolding over the course of just a few minutes.

    The Yellow Arrow, by Victor Pelevin
    This little-known novel by Russian writer Pelevin is eerily similar to the recent film Snowpiecer, in that it’s set entirely on board a speeding train known as the Yellow Arrow—a train with no apparent beginning or end, racing toward a damaged bridge, the traversing of which will certainly kill everyone on board. A story ready-made for interpretation, its cast of characters includes thieves, survivors determined to escape before the end, and those who embrace their odd existence and form a religion based on the train’s engines. A finely tuned observation of modern Russian society that has plenty to say about universal human traits, The Yellow Arrow never once escapes the confines of the train.

    The Room, by Hubert Selby, Jr.
    Selby is known mainly for his novels Last Exit to Brooklyn and Requiem for a Dream (and the many, many spirits those novels have broken). But his most brutal novel is likely The Room, set entirely in a prison cell and exploring the inner life of a prisoner awaiting trial for a long list of horrific crimes he swears he did not commit. The unnamed protagonist engages in lengthy revenge fantasies against the police who framed him and the system that ensnared him. Despite his declarations of innocence, these dual fantasies take on such brutal, grotesque shapes the reader is forced to believe he might be capable of the crimes he’s accused of. The bottle novel structure means we cannot escape his increasingly terrible thoughts until Selby releases us, making for a powerful reading experience.

    Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett
    Most bottle novels have limited characters to suit their limited settings, but Patchett goes in the other direction, setting her story almost entirely in the large home of the vice president of an unnamed South American country as an entire party of guests is taken hostage and held captive, allowing the author to explore the relationships between them in intense detail as they struggle through a terrible situation. Although the story does leave the house eventually, the main focus is how strangers can come together and form a community in a short time—including the terrorists who instigated the whole affair. The confined setting makes it one of Patchett’s most popular, powerful books.

  • BN Editors 5:00 pm on 2015/09/09 Permalink
    Tags: emma donoghue, , ,   

    An Exclusive Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Filming of Room 

    Fans of Emma Donoghue’s unnerving novel Room know that it is the ultimate page-turner: The story of a young boy who has been raised by his mother in a small eleven-by-eleven-foot space, blissfully unaware of their captivity, or of her increasing desperation to return to an outside world he has never known. Room is by turns thrilling, affecting, and hair-raising; the sort of book that is nearly impossible to describe—or to forget.

    On October 16, Room will make its highly anticipated big-screen debut. Here author Emma Donoghue shares her five favorite moments from the filming of this movie adaptation—and an intriguing exclusive video, which offers a sneak peek behind the scenes.


    5. My first visit. The moment I first stepped onto the sound stage and saw the set for Room itself: a wooden shed, but with big square ‘blacks’ (to vary the light through the skylight) angled above it so it looked like a weird little Noah’s Ark, dwarfed by the huge space. Inside, the shed was so much more shabby and grubby than I’d imagined it, and I realized one important way the movie would be different from the book: in the novel, we only see through Jack’s eyes, but the film would have to pull off the trick of showing us how things really looked in that prison cell as well as the rose-tinted way Jack saw them.

    4. The moment Jacob [Tremblay] shouted out to warn a Grip not to trip over a wire, and I realized it was possible for a child actor to star in several films, with hordes of adults fussing over his every move, and still be a nice, ordinary kid.

    3. The wonderfully perfectionist Production Designer really wanted snow for the final scene, in which Jack and Ma emerge into a wintry world after saying goodbye to the shed in which they spent all those years. But apparently fake snow—made of potato—is hell to clean up, and would have really eaten into the budget. So no to snow. (A previous morning, when we didn’t want any, there was lots of snow that had to be hosed away with hot water.) But then on the day, Mother Nature provided: faint but visible snowflakes spiraling poignantly down on Ma and Jack as they walked hand in hand into their future.

    2. There was one strikingly handsome Assistant A.D. who seemed so competent that he was always there when you needed something…and I only realized at the Wrap Party, when two of him in matching white suits walked in, that they were a pair of twin brothers. It was a shock reveal more like a movie than real life.

    1. Paradoxically, some of my favourite parts of the film are details—actions or spoken lines—that I didn’t write. But the thing is, whenever the actors improvised something good, it was in character, and in the spirit of my script. So I’ve come to realize that it doesn’t necessarily matter how many lines get cut, and when people ask me “So what percentage of the book got changed?”, I tell them that’s the wrong question.  What matters is, has the magic survived the translation from one art form to the other? One example: there’s a scene I put in the script in which Ma and Jack are lying in the bath and she tells him the Selkie (Fisherman captures Woman from the Sea) legend. In the book it’s a key reference, not only emphasizing the timeless, archetypal element’s of Ma’s story of captivity, but gesturing towards the possibility of escape.  What made it into the finished film, instead of that conversation, was a wordless scene of Jack and Ma in the bath, splashing each other relaxedly: two people who love each other, on a tiny planet of their own, with all the time in the world. Which works even better.

    Room will be in theaters October 16. You can read the book now.

    Author photo credit: Nina Subin

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