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  • Nicole Hill 4:00 pm on 2014/12/10 Permalink
    Tags: , , b.j. novak, , , , , edgar cantero, , , , how to build a girl, how to win at gifting, , one more thing, , , , , ,   

    9 Books to Buy Your Secret Santa 

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    Secret Santa booksBecause the holidays weren’t difficult enough, man invented the Secret Santa exchange, that age-old pastime in which you must procure gifts for good friends, curmudgeonly coworkers, and casual acquaintances alike. It can be tricky to pick up something you know will be a hit. But it can be done, with the safest bet of all: a good book. Here are a few 2014 releases that are so universally crowd-pleasing, they’ll be treasured by anyone and everyone on your Nice List.

    Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel
    By now, it may actually be illegal not to adore this finalist for the National Book Award. It’s rare that apocalyptic fiction can be called “glittering,” but Station Eleven‘s story of a pandemic and the interconnected lives it touches, from a traveling Shakespeare troupe to survivors at an airport outpost, is so seamlessly spun, few other words do it justice.

    As You Wish, by Cary Elwes
    You know what else is probably illegal? Not having seen (and readThe Princess Bride. Elwes (Westley himself) takes you behind the scenes of the filming of this beloved adaptation of William Goldman’s equally beloved book. From dealing with a tardy R.O.U.S to giant-sized flatulence, here’s an account (with additional commentary from other members of the cast and crew) that every fan of twue wuv will need.

    The Walled City, by Ryan Graudin
    In The Walled City, there are three rules: run fast, trust no one, and always carry your knife. So begins one of the most refreshing takes on the YA dystopia trend. Three teens narrate the story in alternating chapters, each trying to claw their way out of this dark, damp, and dangerous ruin of a city, Hak Nam, brimming with criminals and unfortunates. What’s even more frightening? It’s based on a real place. If that doesn’t get your giftee’s heart racing, you might want to check their pulse.

    We Are All Completely Fine, by Daryl Gregory
    Ever wonder what happens to all the characters who survive horribly traumatic supernatural terrors? They end up in a support group, like any other cluster of damaged people. As Gregory unpacks each character’s backstory—from the man called the Monster Detective to the guy who’ll never take off his sunglasses—in this slim little number, he simultaneously untangles and entangles their mysteries and their troubles. It’s clear pretty early on that the monsters these people fear can’t all be referred to in the past tense.

    The Supernatural Enhancements, by Edgar Cantero
    Bringing home the trophy for the year’s book that should most quickly be made into a Wes Anderson film is Cantero’s twisted yet hysterical gothic ghost story. Few good things happen to young men who inherit estates from mysterious, distant relatives, and that’s exactly where we pick up with A. He’s just crossed the pond to take possession of Axton House with his mute (but cleverest of them all) companion, Niamh. There are secret societies and ghosts and intrigue, but what makes this story stand out is its unusual mode of storytelling: modern epistolary, with journals, notes, security footage, audio recordings, and the odd cipher or two.

    Yes Please, by Amy Poehler
    America’s best-friend-in-chief has written a book! This is one of the happiest times since Tina Fey bestowed Bossypants on the world. Poehler groupies and mere casual viewers of Parks & Recreation alike will want to read the skinny on Poehler’s life, from her childhood outside of Boston to her tenure on Saturday Night Live (including that rapping-while-pregnant Sarah Palin bit) to her lessons on motherhood.

    So, Anyway…, by John Cleese
    Now for something completely different. Well, not quite, but when your read is written by one of the founders of Monty Python, you know you’re not getting just any old memoir. This is a comedic bildungsroman, chronicling the rise of one of the finest employees of the Ministry of Silly Walks comedy has ever seen. It would be daft to give your Secret Santa anything less than this, or a shrubbery.

    How to Build a Girl, by Caitlin Moran
    In 2011, Moran taught us How to Be a Woman. Now she’s back with her first foray into the world of YA, a coming-of-age story that tells us how to build a girl. In Joanna Morrigan lies a teenager relatable to all: so displeased with her awkward, clunky self that she reinvents herself into Dolly Wilde, a hard-charging rock journalist who takes the early 90s music scene by storm, for better or for worse. It’s frank, hilarious, and a total must-read.

    One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories, by B.J. Novak
    B.J. Novak was funny on The Office, and now he’s hysterical in his debut short-story collection. The humor is offbeat and sometimes absurdist, but the tone is intensely human and warm. In bite-sized nuggets of story we meet Sophia, the sex robot with an unrequited love; Wikipedia Brown, a detective for our time; and Sisqo, attending the roast of Nelson Mandela. Bonus: If your gift recipient has little ones, be sure to consider Novak’s other 2014 offering, the riotous The Book With No Pictures.

    What’s your favorite go-to book for gift-giving?

  • Melissa Albert 3:30 pm on 2014/09/16 Permalink
    Tags: , , amy zhang, , , , how to build a girl, , , , , , ,   

    5 Reasons September Is an Amazing Month for YA 

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    September 2014 YA

    I know, I know, EVERY month is an amazing month for YA, but this one is especially bursting with red-letter release days, of heart-wracking love stories, a backstage pass into YA heaven, a gripping meditation on bullying and suicide, and one book that will have you snort laughing in public then reading every other line out loud to anyone who comes near you. Here is your sexy, hilarious, heartbreaking, brilliant month in new young adult reads:

    I’ll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson
    Twins Jude and Noah were once as close as could be, she a fearless surfer girl, he a passionate artist who sees in technicolor—and is falling helplessly in love with the boy next door. But their mother’s sudden death rips them apart, leaving Jude a shuttered shell of herself and Noah in denial of both his sexuality and his art. Three years later, a new mentor and a damaged boy enter Jude’s life, blowing open her creativity and loosening the latches on her self-hatred. You’ll hold your breath at the beauty of her journey back to Noah and herself.

    Afterworlds, by Scott Westerfeld
    Teenaged Darcy Patel writes a paranormal romance novel in a 30-day haze of inspired speed-writing, and rapidly finds first an agent then a publisher. The story of her entrance into the New York publishing world—rewrites, overpriced apartments, first love, meeting her idols, figuring out how to write the elusive sequel, hanging out with a thinly veiled fictional version of John Green—is told in alternating chapters with her novel, which opens with a crackerjack scene of terrorism and semi-death at an airport, and jumps between the real world and an eerie Afterworld from there. It bursts with cleverness and a free-fall love of writing (and reading) that will send you straight back to the languishing manuscript draft on your own laptop.

    How to Build a Girl, by Caitlin Moran
    Johanna Morrigan is an overweight, sex-obsessed virgin living in a British council estate with four siblings, a wrung-out mum, and an expansive alcoholic dad. Her journey from unkissed schoolgirl to Dolly Wilde, a hard-drinking, sexually dynamic rock journalist is the funniest ride you’ll take all year. Based loosely on Moran’s teenaged self, Johanna/Dolly is the funniest, most smashingly shameless heroine you’ll ever meet. Every page of this book is filled with hilarious lines you’ll want to read out loud, and you’ll be recommending it to everyone before you’ve gotten halfway through.

    Falling Into Place, by Amy Zhang
    Author Zhang is herself a high-school student, and her gorgeous debut novel takes an utterly fresh look at the strangling effects of bullying—from the perspective of the bully. Liz is her school’s queen bee, the kind of girl who can explode someone’s reputation between lunch and English without breaking a sweat…but that ability has all but killed off her will to live. When she drives her car into a tree on an icy road, it’s an event carefully engineered to look like an accident. The book jumps around between the days before and after the crash, as her life goes to shreds, then her body battles to cling to it. It’s sad without being maudlin, and life-affirming without being treacly. Readers still riding high off the month of If I Stay should pick this up posthaste.

    100 Sideways Miles, by Andrew Smith
    Finn Easton is an epileptic kid whose novelist father wrote him into a controversial sci-fi book, one that Finn’s not sure he’ll ever really escape. Cade Hernandez is his foul-mouthed, magical best friend. Julia Bishop is the complicated dream girl who moves to town and becomes Finn’s first love. In trying to get out of the book, and become more than just an epileptic his parents can’t set free, Finn visits with ghosts, buys condoms, tries to untangle his feelings toward Julia, and finally hits the road, becoming, unexpectedly, a hero. He measures time in miles and strives for self-understanding, and his story unfolds at a mellow pace that makes every incident feel gilded with emotional importance. And he’s funny: Smith does teen boy dialogue better than anyone.

    What new releases are you reading this month?

  • Lauren Passell 7:00 pm on 2014/09/12 Permalink
    Tags: , , how to build a girl, , , ,   

    15 Lines from Caitlin Moran’s How to Build a Girl That Will Make You Want to Read It Yesterday 

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    I just finished reading/underlining Caitlin Moran’s first foray into the YA world, How to Build a Girl. I underlined so much, in fact, that it would have been easier on my wrists to just underline the parts I didn’t like. Set in 1990, the book follows Johanna Morrigan, self-described “freaky fat teenager,” who has decided to reinvent herself by stripping away all that she is and creating a new person, a person she calls Dolly Wilde, the person she believes she was meant to be. In her attempt to become her own polar opposite (which includes having sex, drinking and smoking, rocking eyeliner, listening to rock, and becoming a music reviewer), she find that building a girl from the ground up is hard, and she grows up into—well, maybe not the person she thought she was supposed to be. But the person she was actually supposed to be, yes. I had high expectations for this thing, and my high expectations were exceeded. How to Build a Girl is a raunchy, hilarious ride. You’re welcome for bringing you these 15 amazing quotations from its pages. And the rest of the book is so enjoyable, you’re going to want to buy a copy of your own so you can underline and dog-ear pages and make little tears mid-page and fold a small arrow to your favorite parts (when you don’t have a pen) in your own copy. Then you’ll have to come back and tell me what your favorite lines were. Here are mine:

    “I am angry I haven’t been kissed. I think I would be really good at it. When I start kissing, the world is going to know about it. my kissing is going to change everything. I’m going to be the Beatles of kissing.” –p.21

    “Wolverhampton, in 1990, looks like something bad happened to it. ‘Something bad did happen to it,’ Dad explains as we go down Cleveland Street. ‘Thatcher.’ My father has a very personal and visceral loathing of Margaret Thatcher. Growing up, my understanding is that, at some point in the past, she bested my father in a fight that he only just escaped from—and that next time they meet it will be a fight to the death. A bit like Gandalf and the Balrog.” –p.21

    “Today, like every other day, I’m going to go to bed still a fat virgin who writes her diary in a series of imaginary letters to sexy Gilbert Blythe from Anne of Green Gables.” –p.27

    “I want everyone—men, women, Minotaurs; I read a lot of Greek mythology, and I’m out for whatever I can get—to want to have absolute, total sex with me, right in my sex places, in the most sexual way possible. Sexually. This is my most urgent mission. My hormones are rioting like a zoo on fire. There’s a mandrill with its head ablaze unlocking other animal’s cages and screaming, “OH MY GOD—FREAK OUT!” I’m in the middle of a sexmergency.” –p.28

    “When Bill Murray says $*@! like this, people completely lose it. I wish I was Bill Murray. I hope everything I’ve read about evolution is wrong, and I eventually evolve into him. It’s one of only three plans I have.” –p.48

    “I am a very pale, round-faced girl with a monobrow, and eyes that are too small, and lank hair the color of dead mice, and I am not beautiful at all. And I am fat—a solid, pale fatness that makes me look like a cheap white fridge-freezer that someone’s wheeled onto the stage and then painted a worried-looking child’s face on it, due to a terrible unkindness.” –p.53

    “‘We’re like Shaggy and Scooby-Doo,’ I continue. ‘Best friends forever.’ To clarify this point, I do what, as I know now,  you should never do if you’re a freaky fat teenage girl on a live TV show, in the grips of your first ever wave of utter existential self-loathing, and being watched, ultracritically, by everyone in your hometown. Without explaining why, I break into a very impassioned impression of Scooby-Doo. ‘Ri ruv my rog!’ I say again. ‘Revveryrody ruvs my rog!’ I take a breath. I can feel what I’m going to do next. ‘Scooby Dooby Doooooo!’ I conclude,  howling. I am giving this impression everything. ’Scoooooby Dooooby Dooooooo!’” –p. 55

    “On the wall above my bed, I start Blue-Tacking up things I think will be useful in this task—a list of attributes I would wish to gift myself, now that I’m starting again. It will be like those scenes in detective shows where they pin up all the clues on the wall and then stare at it while music wells, until—suddenly! They know who the murderer is, and grab their coat, and run out of the room. I am going to put every clue I have about how to be a better me on this well, and I will stare at it whilst listening to The Best of the Hollies, until—suddenly! I will know who I am, grab my coat, and run out of the room to have sex.” —p.65

    “All my life, I’ve thought that if I couldn’t say anything boys found interesting, I might as well shut up. But now I realize there was that whole other, invisible half of the world—girls—that I could speak to instead. A whole other half equally silent and frustrated, just waiting to be given the smallest starting signal—the tiniest starter culture—and they would explode into words, and song, and action, and relieved, euphoric cries of ‘Me too, I feel this too!’ The news has hit Britain: they’re making new kinds of girls in America. Girls who don’t give a $*@!. Girls who dare. Girls who do it because other girls do it. Girls who would like a girl like you.” –p.98

    “‘You got Lupin to make a you a sandwich?’ she asks, looking extremely riled. ‘To be fair, I’ve made him millions, over the years,’ I say. ‘I thought he’d enjoy learning a new skill. And I’m on deadline! I’m starving!’ ‘He’s just taken half his thumb off on the cheese grater,’ she says. I cock my head. That wailing sound from the kitchen does—yes—sound exactly like an eight-year-old boy who’s grated his thumb off. That’s exactly the pitch.” –p. 113

    “The thing is, when you start smoking, you think you’ve bought a fun baby dragon. You think you’ve charmed a fabulous beast, as your toy, that will impress all that see it. And then, twenty years later, you wake up with your lungs full of cinder and shite, and the bed on fire, and you realize the dragon grew up—and burned your &*$%ing house down.” –p.133

    “As I’ve not been kissed before, I’m not really sure how you activate this function on a man. I think of all the kissing I’ve seen. I know that saying, ‘You may now kiss the bride!’ has a 100 percent success rate—but that seems inappropriate here. Leia got Han to kiss her before they swung across a chasm in a spaceship on a rope together—but that’s going to take a lot more infrastructure that I have available.” –p.195

    “It is a million times easier to be cynical and wield a sword, than it is to be open-hearted and stand there, holding a balloon and a birthday cake, with the infinite potential to look foolish… When cynicism becomes the default language, playfulness and invention become impossible. Cynicism scours through a culture like bleach, wiping out millions of small, seedling ideas… Cynicism means you presume everything will end in disappointment. And this, ultimately, is why anyone becomes cynical. Because they are fearful their innocence will be used against them—that when they run around gleefully trying to cram the whole world in their mouth, someone will try to poison them. Cynicism is, ultimately, fear. Cynicism makes contact with your skin, and a thick black carapace begins to grow—like insect armor. This armor will protect your heart from disappointment—but it leaves you unable to walk. You cannot dance in this armor. Cynicism keeps you pinned to the spot, in the same posture, forever.” –p.245

    “And so you go out into your world, and try and find the things that will be useful to you. Your weapons. Your tools. Your charms. You find a record, or a poem, or a picture of a girl that you pin to the wall and go, ‘Her. I’ll try and be her. I’ll try and be her—but here.’ You observe the way others walk, and talk, and you steal little bits of them—you collage yourself out of whatever you can get your hands on. You are like the robot Johnny 5 in Short Circuit, crying, ‘More input! More input for Johnny 5!’ as you rifle through books and watch films and sit in front of the television, trying to guess which of these things that you are watching—Alex Carrington Colby walking down a marble staircase; Anne of Green Gables holding her shoddy suitcase; Cathy wailing on the moors; Courtney Love wailing in her petticoat; Dorothy Parker gunning people down; Grace Jones singing ‘Slave to the Rhythm’—you will need when you get out there. What will be useful. What will be, eventually, you.” –p.297

    “I’ve eaten drugs off a hanky, had sex with a medically inadvisable penis, confused the Smashing Pumpkins, blew off a threesome with a quote from Blade Runner, and tried to kiss my hero whilst being serenaded by singing gibbons. And, like all the best quests, in the end, I did it all for a girl: me.” –p. 316

    Are you excited to read Moran’s first YA book?

  • BN Editors 3:40 pm on 2014/09/03 Permalink
    Tags: blake j. harris, bring on the heat, , console wars, , , , hawai/i/ one summer, how to build a girl, jennifer longo, katie rose, lovers at the chameleon club paris 1932, , six feet over it, , , ,   

    What to Read in September 

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    WTRseptcollageEach month we ask a panel of our bloggers to suggest a book based on what they’re reading right now. Here’s what we think you should read this month!

    Joel: Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo and the Battle that Defined a Generation, by Blake J. Harris
    A must-read historical narrative for any ’90s kid who still bears the scars of schoolyard battles that pitted Mario against Sonic and the SNES against the upstart Genesis (even though the Nintendo kids knew in their hearts that Sega was always cooler). Bonus points if you know the difference between “Mode 7″ and “Blast Processing.”

    Nicole: Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel
    Once you thought it was safe to go back into the dystopian water, something like Station Eleven comes along—with its viral outbreak, traveling Shakespeare troupe, and poignant portrait of apocalyptic aftermath—and guts you. You will blow through it in a matter of hours, leaving time to stock up on your doomsday supplies.

    Molly: The Drop, by Dennis Lehane
    This book went by so quickly it was finished before I even knew what was happening! Lehane’s novels (including the excellent Mystic River and Gone, Baby, Gone) tend to feature complex plots, shifty characters, and a gritty portrayal of working-class Boston life—and they also make excellent movies. The film adaptation of The Drop is coming out in mid-September; you’ll enjoy it even more having read the sharp, twisty short novel it was based on.

    Lauren: How to Build a Girl, by Caitlin Moran
    Fourteen-year-old Johanna Morrigan is fighting to grow up without straying too far from herself in Moran’s first YA novel (which reads more like a coming-of-age story), a struggle that surely resonates with all of us. It’s just that Morrigan, who shares an uncanny resemblance to Moran herself, deals with her struggle with such colossal humor, brashness, and wit that her story will have you underlining almost every single sentence in the book and insisting aloud that others take heed. I was so excited to read How to Build a Girl I thought there was almost no way it could possibly live up to my expectations. But it did. It’s sweary and dirty and rough and real and a riot. I hope boys don’t think it’s not for them. It’s for everybody.

    Melissa: The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell
    Mitchell’s sixth novel is another time-jumping, narrator-hopping doorstopper, the kind of follow-up fans of Cloud Atlas have been putting on their wish list since 2004. In its opening section teenaged runaway Holly Sykes makes a strange bargain with an old woman in exchange for a cup of tea—hasn’t she ever read a fairy tale?—and it spins out from there, telling Holly’s story through the years, sometimes from inside her head, sometimes at a distance. I kept putting it down to say, “This is SO GOOD,” then picking it up again and reading till my eyes hurt. (And when you’re done with the Mitchell, I second Nicole on St. John Mandel’s gorgeous Station Eleven.)

    Dahlia: Six Feet Over It, by Jennifer Longo
    A gorgeous YA debut about a fourteen-year-old girl whose life has been defined by grief and loss, made infinitely worse by her father’s moving the family to live and work at a cemetery. Beautifully written and full of intriguing characters and universal themes, this book shredded my heart chapter by chapter, and was totally worth the pain.

    Sara: Bring on the Heat, by Katie Rose
    It’s just about time for baseball playoffs, so it’s the perfect time for Rose’s mistaken-identity comedy about a major league pitcher and the woman he thinks is a well-connected socialite. If you like baseball and can suspend your disbelief—because this is one of those books where the whole conceit could come unraveled if the characters would *just use their words*—this is a fun diversion, especially if your team was mathematically eliminated in June.

    Ginni: Hawai’i One Summer, by Maxine Hong Kingston
    I first read Maxine Hong Kingston in college, where her novels not only shaped my understanding of Asian American literature but my identity as an Asian American woman. Now, in her newly released collection of essays, Kingston writes beautifully about her own everyday life in Hawai’i. She weaves mysticism, spiritual reflection, and dreams into her discussion of the mundane. You follow her thoughts down fantastic rabbit holes as she contemplates things like her young son’s nightmares and her high school reunion. There’s an enlightening essay on washing the dishes you absolutely have to read. Deemed a “Living Treasure of Hawai’i” and a recipient of the National Medal of Arts, Kingston’s lush, dreamy prose about island life is the perfect way to make the summer last a little longer.

    Dell: Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932: A Novel, by Francine Prose
    While the title might suggest otherwise, this novel (Prose’s 21st!) is a superlative examination of evil, told in several distinct—but not altogether reliable—voices. Specifically, a cast of challenging, unforgettable characters (including a crossdressing nightclub owner, a patroness of the arts, a rising photographer and his girlfriend, a misogynistic expat writer, and a lesbian race-car driver) channels Paris’s glittering bohemian scene of the late 1920s and early 1930s, and the much darker times that follow. It’s an engrossing, chilling, and extraordinary read.

    Paul: The Witch With No Name, by Kim Harrison
    After ten years and 12 novels, Harrison’s bestselling saga featuring witchy heroine Rachel Morgan comes to its climactic conclusion with a potentially world-changing battle that brings our lovable gray witch not only to the end of her tumultuous journey of self-discovery (and self-acceptance) but also the beginning of the rest of her life—arguably the biggest paranormal fantasy release of the year!


    What are you reading this month?

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