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  • Tara Sonin 4:00 pm on 2018/02/12 Permalink
    Tags: a line in the dark, a separation, , , , , , bad love, , , caroline kepnes, celeste ng, , , , everything I never told you, , , graham green, greer hendricks, , , , , , , , jessica knoll, katie kitamura, , lev grossman, , , 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.

  • Jenny Kawecki 5:00 pm on 2015/11/10 Permalink
    Tags: , , health and safety, , , lev grossman, , , ,   

    7 Fictional Schools That Are Definitely Not Up to Code 

    Fictional schools may seem wonderful and magical when you’re thinking about all the adventures your favorite students get up to, but consider them from the perspective of a concerned parent/insurance adjuster/PTSD-troubled survivor graduate—you cringed, didn’t you? And there’s no way you wouldn’t raise a red flag or two by telling future coworkers/friends there was an entire floor of your high school you weren’t allowed to visit because it was too dangerous. These schools had better hope no one ever sends a safety inspector their way, because there is no way they’re up to code.

    Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy (The Magicians, by Lev Grossman)
    Maybe Brakebills can stand to be a little harsher because it’s technically a college, but still. Turning students into geese? Forcing them to wander the Antarctic? Pushing them to the point that they hate each other and themselves? Given the depressing, hedonistic sort of lives many Brakebills graduates lead after completing their education, it seems like something (a lot of things) must be wrong here. Not to mention, there is no way welters would ever be allowed as a sport on a normal college campus.

    Watford School of Magicks (Carry On, by Rainbow Rowell)
    Watford might be one of the safer schools on this list, and it’s missing a lot of the random troubles that plague Hogwarts (hello, no dumb underage magic law), but it still has a few problems. For instance, the fact that they had to institute the Roommate’s Anathema to prevent roommates from harming each other in their rooms (but it’s perfectly okay elsewhere). Or that they let minors (Simon) walk around campus with swords. Or that the staff has no protocol for dealing with emergencies. (What’s with all the adults letting Simon and Baz deal with that dragon, while they stand by uselessly?) I have no idea why anyone lets these people be in charge of children.

    Crunchem Hall Primary School (Matilda, by Roald Dahl)
    Of course, the main problem with Crunchem Hall is its headmistress, Miss Trunchbull. She’s a bully (and a terrible educator), but her existence is made even worse by the fact that the school board essentially ignores her behavior, allowing her to torture students to her evil heart’s content. And the Chokey? As if even the bare existence of a tiny closet filled with glass and nails would be tolerated at a school that had ever, even once, had a safety inspection.

    Forks High School (Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer)
    It’s one thing, I guess, for all these private schools to be skirting safety standards, but Forks High is supposed to be a public school—shouldn’t it have to be up to code to get funding? Apparently not, because let me tell you, there are some serious flaws at Forks. Science labs where students actually sample their own blood, ignoring students who repeatedly skip far too many classes, and the sheer number of accidents that happen at the school seem to indicate a lack of attentiveness on the part of the staff that I just can’t condone. And where is Bella’s guidance counselor?

    Wayside School (Sideways Stories from Wayside School, by Louis Sachar)
    Wayside should have been shut down a long time ago for architectural issues alone. 30 floors high, with no sort of support? It’s a death trap. Add to that the fact that one of the teachers turns students into inanimate objects, the lunch food is inedible (where’s Michelle Obama when you need her?), and someone is selling toes, and you’ve got an insurance nightmare on your hands.

    Prufrock Preparatory School (The Austere Academy, by Lemony Snicket)
    There are more problems at Prufrock Prep than I can count, but let’s examine a few, shall we? First, there’s Sunny’s job as a secretary, which violates pretty much every child labor law out there. Then, there’s the Baudelaire’s living situation, which involves fungus and crustaceans and no health or cleanliness standards whatsoever. On top of that, there are the teachers, whose basic incompetence indicates they aren’t even qualified to graduate elementary school, much less teach it.

    Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry (Harry Potter, by J. K. Rowling)
    Of course, the most beloved school on this list is also probably the least capable of keeping its students from bodily harm. With the terrible hiring decisions (a literal two-faced villain, a fraud, and a seer who’s had a single authentic prophecy?), the sheer lack of adult supervision, and the constant invasions of evil, is it really a surprise that the school board wants to remove Albus Dumbledore as headmaster by the fifth book? I think not. And we haven’t even started talking about why a school has a dungeon, where that troll came from, why they chose to build beside a forest full of monsters, or the fact that second-year students are handling paralysis-causing plants with very little instruction.

  • Sarah Skilton 3:00 pm on 2015/06/23 Permalink
    Tags: , charlie n. holmberg, claudia gray, , , , , greer macallister, lev grossman,   

    The Amazing Arden and 5 More Fabulous Lady Magicians 

    I love stories about magic and magicians. (My bio offers a clue why…) One of my favorite novels is Susanna Clarke’s  Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrel (now a TV series), and one of my favorite films is The Prestige (based on the book by Christopher Priest). However, it’s rare for magician books to feature women in any capacity beyond love interest or assistant.

    Which is why it was such a treat to discover The Magician’s Lie, by Greer Macallister, earlier this year. Set during the turn of the 19th century, at the height of vaudeville, The Magician’s Lie is the story of Ada Taylor (stage name Amazing Arden), whose provocative “sawing a man in half” illusion comes back to haunt her. Part love story, part behind-the-velvet-curtain look at classic stage magic, and part murder mystery, it’s a terrific summer read.

    After finishing The Magician’s Lie, I was determined to track down more books about lady magicians, so I cast a locator spell. Here are 5 more fabulous female prestidigitators who are certain to delight and mesmerize you:

    Celia Bowen (The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern)
    An enchantingly evocative debut about Le Cirque des Reves (the Circus of Dreams), a magical traveling production that “arrives without warning” and opens only at night. Against this backdrop we follow the travails of Celia Bowen and Marco Alisdair, two rival magicians forced to play a complex game of one-upmanship by their warring supernatural guardians. So layered is Morgenstern’s prose, you’ll believe you’re actually visiting Le Cirque yourself, somewhere beyond the realm of imagination.

    Sonea (The Magicians’ Guild, by Trudi Canavan)
    It’s nice to have the Chosen One be a girl from time to time, yes? In this fantasy trilogy, Sonea is a young slum dweller in the city of Imardin, where the educated, greedy, elite members of the Magicians’ Guild periodically “purge” the unfortunate commoners they rule over. On learning she, too, has immense magical power—untapped and dangerous—she first flees the Guild, then eventually becomes an apprentice in their ranks.

    Ceony Twill (The Paper Magician Series, by Charlie N. Holmberg)
    Fans of fantasy and steampunk (circa late Victorian England) will devour this story about 19-year-old Ceony, a confident graduate of the Praff School for the Magically Inclined. Each magician has the ability to manipulate a particular type of object, but despite our heroine’s affinity for metal, Ceony is chosen to apprentice for a paper magician, which frustrates her no end. And when a mage from her instructor’s past unleashes her powers in a deadly attack, Ceony is tested to the limit. Good news: the third book in the trilogy comes out July 21!

    Julia (The Magician King, by Lev Grossman)
    In the second book of Grossman’s adult fantasy trilogy starring young magician Quentin Coldwater, Quentin’s high school friend and former crush, Julia, earns a co-lead credit. Unlike the comparatively pampered students of Brakebills magic college, “[Julia’s] magic had sharp, jagged edges on it that had never been filed down.” Having been tested by Brakebills, and having her memory of it (mostly) erased after failing the entrance exam, Julia becomes obsessed with recapturing the magic she’s lost. Self-taught as a “hedge witch,” she works herself to the bone and eventually teams up with other magical outcasts to perform ever greater (and more terrifying) feats of magic.

    Nadia Caldani (Spellcaster, by Claudia Gray)
    In this contemporary paranormal YA series with multiple POVs, heroine Nadia, who is descended from witches but hasn’t yet completed her training, casts spells by conjuring up memories of intense emotions. As a result, her “magic” is pure poetry. Having moved to the oppressively gloomy New England town of Captive’s Sound after the death of her mother, Nadia feels compelled to help her new friend Mateo, who’s cursed with knowledge of the future. Along with a third classmate, Nadia and Mateo combine their abilities to fend off Elizabeth, a complex villain determined to destroy Captive’s Sound.

  • Joel Cunningham 3:30 pm on 2014/09/04 Permalink
    Tags: , cover her face p.d. james, diana wynne jones, , , , lev grossman, , mean streak, michael ende, percy jackson's greek gods, , , , , , , the never-ending story, ,   

    What to Read Next if You Liked The Long Way Home, Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods, Mean Streak, The Secret Place, or The Magician’s Land 

    What to Read 94The Long Way Home, by Louise Penny, is the 10th volume in the best-selling mystery series featuring Armand Gamache, the (now former) head homicide inspector with the Sûreté du Québec. Penny’s mysteries offer up an addictive blend of literary prose and classic mystery tropes. The style will appeal to fans of P.D. James, the Grand Dame of British mystery writers, whose most popular books feature London Chief-Inspector Adam Dalgliesh. The 14-book series begins with the author’s evergreen 1962 debut, Cover Her Face.

    Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods, by Rick Riordan, isn’t the next novel in the popular YA adventure series, but more of a reference book that covers all of the major players in the ethereal realm, as narrated by wiseacre Percy. For this kind of thing done to perfection, Diana Wynne Jones’ The Tough Guide to Fantasyland is nigh-indispensable. Written in the form of a tourist guidebook, it smartly (and smart-aleck-ly) unpacks the cliches of the fantasy genre with razor wit. Sample entry: “APOSTROPHES: Few names in the fantasy realm are considered complete unless they are interrupted by an apostrophe somewhere in the middle.”

    Mean Streak, by Sandra Brown, is a breathless romantic thriller about a woman who is kidnapped, only to discover that her captor may have rescued her from the real danger she faces from the ones she trusts most. For another suspense yarn that manages to meld sex and Stockholm Syndrome, pick up Wild Orchids, by Karen Robards, in which a woman is held hostage but later makes the curious decision to leave her family behind and hunt down the man that imprisoned her.

    The forthcoming The Secret Place, by Tana French, continues the Dublin Murder Squad series, the landmark literary mysteries that began with In the Woods. French’s novels are known for their rich characters, ambiguous plotting, and well-crafted prose, all qualities you’ll find in spades in The Little Friend, by Donna Tartt. Sandwiched between a supernova debut like The Secret History and the Pulitzer-winning The Goldfinch, Tartt’s sophomore outing has been unjustly overshadowed as of late, but you should really give it a chance. Its palpable Southern atmosphere and young female protagonist provide a good approximation of what might happen if a murder mystery broke out in the middle of To Kill a Mockingbird.

    The Magician’s Land, by Lev Grossman, concludes a brilliant trilogy about a disenchanted young man who finds out that magic is real, and so is the fantasy world described in his favorite childhood stories—but each is both less and more fantastical (and far darker) than he ever imagined. Though ostensibly written for children, The Neverending Story, by Michael Ende, tackles similarly juicy material, probing what value there is to be found in living vicariously through stories. I love the ’80s movie as much as anyone (FIGHT AGAINST THE SADNESS, ARTAX!), but the book is leagues better.

    Have you read The Long Way Home, Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods, or Mean Streak?

  • Joel Cunningham 5:00 pm on 2014/08/22 Permalink
    Tags: , , , lev grossman, , , , , , the magician king, , the magician's trilogy,   

    The Magicians Trilogy Will Redefine Your Relationship with Fantasy 

    The Magicians

    Like a lot of kids, there were times in my childhood where I was convinced some grand mistake had been made, and I had been plopped down with the wrong parents, in the wrong world, and that someday, someone far more important and interesting would come along and claim me, so my real adventures could begin. It’s a longing that fuels so much of children’s literature, from Narnia to Oz: that something more exciting is happening just over the rainbow, and you, the chosen child, will be the one to discover it. There’s even a name for it: portal fantasy, the dream that another world exists just beyond the confines of our own, and that great discoveries await us there.

    Lev Grossman was definitely that child. The fiction book critic for Time, he has devoted his life to exploring invented worlds, and fantasy has been his passion since his childhood, which was filled with the works of Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Ursula K. LeGuin. But the older he got, the more he couldn’t help but notice that he never did discover that promised door into another world. The back of his wardrobe (a closet, really) remained unfailingly solid and impenetrable. And so he channeled that disappointment into a most unusual fantasy trilogy, a series of books  (including The Magicians, The Magician King, and the newly released The Magician’s Land) in which the characters do get to visit a world of wonder and magic, only to discover they can never quite shake off the weight of the mundane lives they’ve left behind.

    The first book’s initial buzz was built on the back of its apparent existence as a reaction to the allure of the Harry Potter franchise. Grossman’s proxy is Quentin Coldwater, a spoiled, somewhat insufferable rich kid living in New York City. Like Harry, Quentin has spent his whole life dreaming of being whisked away from his unsatisfying life into a world of fantastical magic, preferably to the land of Fillory, a quasi-Narnian realm full of legendary weapons, questing beasts, and talking bunnies that he grew up reading about in a series of popular (though sadly for us, fictional) books. His real life has fallen so short of the one he feels he deserves, in fact, that he hardly seems surprised when, on the eve of his high school graduation, he is recruited (via the mysterious delivery of a hitherto unknown sixth Fillory book) to take the rigorous entrance exam to attend Brakebills, the Upstate New York version of Hogwarts. Finally, he thinks, I will get what I deserve.

    Real life does have a way of falling short of fantasy, however. Quentin quickly discovers that attending a school for magicians is filled with as much tedium as the days he spent in prep school with stuck-up rich kids. Contrary to popular belief, magic isn’t all waving wands and shouting funny words; it’s difficult, and tricky, and intricate, and kind of dull. You’ve probably dreamed of soaring across the Quidditch pitch on a Nimbus 2000, but no one will ever dream of playing Welters, the Brakebills version of a magical sport, which is basically a very slow-paced game of 3-D chess, except not as action-packed. The quirky house competitions of the Potter series are replaced by hormone-fueled backbiting between social cliques; it’s Hogwarts meets The Secret History.

    Later on (and here there be spoilers, though I won’t give too much away), Quentin and a few of his Brakebills graduates even figure out a way to travel to Fillory itself. And though Fillory is admittedly pretty great (there’s a gleaming castle that rotates on dwarven gears! A grove of clock trees! All the talking animals you could ever want!), it’s also a far grimmer spot than described in the books, and the Fillorian analogues for the Pevensie children of Narnia didn’t get away clean, either (life makes monsters of us all).

    This could all be viewed as deeply cynical. Quentin gets what every kid dreams of, finds out that even casting spells gets pretty boring after a while, and proceeds to Holden Caulfield himself through an experience many would kill for. But like any good fantasy, this trilogy is also about the journey, and Quentin does a lot of growing up over the course of three books. The series only gets better as it goes, as Grossman gets a better handle on his characters and figures out how to fit the Important Points he is making into a highly addictive plot. The Magician King is more ambitious than book one by half, bringing in a new point-of-view character, Julia, one of Quentin’s prep school classmates who didn’t make the cut at Brakebills and had to discover magic the hard (often brutal) way. Julia both embodies and subverts genre tropes, and her deeply troubling, risky storyline reveals Grossman’s commitment to follow his thesis—that we are, ultimately, the sum of the choices we make—to its logical conclusion. By the end of The Magician’s Land, Quentin and his fellow Kings and Queens of Fillory have changed the world, but not without being profoundly changed (and damaged) themselves, and that maturation is something we all must face eventually, even if it usually doesn’t involve a ride on a hippogriff or a standoff with a giant talking turtle.

    In the end, any accusations of cynicism seem unfounded. Grossman’s intent goes far beyond letting the air out of our collective modern myths. This isn’t a story about how life is terrible here, there and back again, but how sometimes the answer isn’t finding an escape from your problems, but growing up and figuring out how to deal. And while it takes Quentin most of three books to do that, it took me a lot longer than three books to figure myself out. In fact, I’m pretty sure George R.R. Martin will finish his story before I’ve got a handle on mine.

    Have you read The Magicians Trilogy?

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