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  • Joel Cunningham 10:30 pm on 2014/12/10 Permalink
    Tags: , fan fiction, , , , , , Uncategorized,   

    6 Fictional Books We Wish We Could Read 

    Rainbow Rowell's FangirlWe’ve all had the experience of falling into a fictional world and finding ourselves unable to climb back out—and it seems that’s a problem for the writers who create those worlds, too. Today, Rainbow Rowell (she of Eleanor & Park, the best ’80s teen movie never to be transported through time and published as a novel) announced her next book, Carry On, about the adventures of a boy wizard named Simon Snow. It sounds like a total left turn from her romance wheelhouse, unless you read her 2013 book Fangirl, about Cath, a young writer obsessed with a fictional Harry Potter-esque character named…Simon Snow.

    Fangirl included substantial excerpts from the imaginary Simon Snow novels, not to mention Cath’s rather racier fan fiction, including a love affair between Simon and Draco Malfoy stand-in (and vampire) Baz. Cath’s mega-popular work of fan fiction was called Carry On, which I’d say provides a pretty substantial hint as to what we can expect from Rowell’s new book.

    Rowell isn’t the first author to turn a fictional book into reality. Catherynne M. Valente imagined a whimsical children’s tale within the pages of her twisty adult fantasy Palimpsest, and later turned it into an Andre Norton Award–winning standalone, The Girl Who Circumvented Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. And J.K. Rowling has turned the practice into a cottage industry, pulling Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Quidditch Through the Ages, and The Tales of Beedle the Bard from the shelves of the Hogwarts library into our world.

    I fully support this practice. There’s nothing worse than reading about a really fantastic book you’ll never get to experience, because it doesn’t exist. Here are 6 more fictional books I’m dying to read.

    Hogwarts: A History, by Bathilda Bagshot (from the Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling)
    Hermione quoted from this one so often, I feel like I’ve read it already, but I’d cast a few Unforgivable Curses for a chance to read the complete text of this history of Harry Potter’s alma mater. The story of the school’s founding (and the rivalry between Godric Gryffindor and Salazar Slytherin) could be a series unto itself.

    The Amazing Amy books, by Rand and Marybeth-Elliot, Ph.d (from Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn)
    No spoilers, but anyone who has read Gone Girl will wonder how a character as…complicated as the missing Amy could ever inspire a series of whimsical children’s picture books. I’d love to read them and see the authors’ (married psychiatrists, and Amy’s parents!) twisted psychology at work.

    Dying Earth, by Martin Silenus (from Hyperion, by Dan Simmons)
    In Simmons’ epic Hyperion books, Earth is but a memory, destroyed by a scientific experiment gone terribly wrong. The poet Martin Silenus, one of the last people to leave the dying planet, wrote a tortured epic about its waning days, which went on to sell billions of copies. Billions! Must be a hell of a good poem.

    The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, by Hawthrone Abendsen (from The Man in the High Castle, by Philip K. Dick)
    In The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick imagines a world in which the Allies lost World War II and the U.S. is controlled by Germany and Japan. Within this alternate history exists another book, a pulp novel called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, about a different end to the war—one in which the Axis powers lost. Are you confused yet? Welcome to the mind of Philip K. Dick. I’d devour the complete Grasshopper, if only because, in Dick’s alternate U.S., reading it has been made a crime, and I’m a sucker for supporting banned books.

    The Princess Bride, by S. Morgenstern (from The Princess Bride, by William Goldman)
    Sure, we can read William Goldman’s abridged “good parts” version of S. Morgenstern’s story of heroes, sword fights, romance, and Rodents of Unusual Size, but I’d like a peek at the whole thing. It’s like when I listen to an audiobook and they cut out the footnotes. Maybe I want to read the boring parts!

    The Shadow of the Wind, by Julián Carax (from The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón)
    In Zafón’s fantastical, metafictional work, a young boy is tasked with protecting the title volume from nefarious forces trying to erase all of the fictional author’s work from the face of the earth. Throughout, we get hints of what secrets lie within its pages, but it would be fascinating to read it at a remove (though once you know the twist of Zafón’s book, it’s arguable that’s actually impossible).

    What fictional book do you wish you could read?

  • Dahlia Adler 7:00 pm on 2014/12/04 Permalink
    Tags: alison cherry, , c. desir, , , complicit, , , , , sophomore superstars, , Uncategorized, , YA novelists,   

    8 Great YA Sophomore Standalones of 2014 

    Jessica Verdi's The Summer I Wasn't MeThe sophomore slump can be one of the greatest curses of any writer, and the stronger your debut, the scarier the expectations. Many an author has been felled by the pressure to write a great second novel, and yet, for whatever reason, when it came to YA standalones, this was The Year of the Sophomore. I don’t think I read a single follow-up this year that I didn’t like as much or better than that author’s already strong first offering, and I dare you to read the following books and disagree.

    I’ll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson
    Probably the most anticipated sophomore novel in the history of ever. I have to admit I was terrified when I opened this one up. Like so many other YA readers, I absolutely loved the gorgeous and poetic The Sky is Everywhere, and three years is a whole lotta time to build up expectations. But Nelson delivers something every bit as beautiful and then some in this nonlinear dual-POV book about familial relationships, art, pain, envy, and love.

    Life by Committee, by Corey Ann Haydu
    Haydu has rapidly become my favorite uncomfortable writer; you know when opening one of her books that it will not be easy on either your mind or your heart. But you also know it won’t simply be a read, but rather a thoughtful experience. Just as Haydu’s phenomenal debut, OCD Love Story, penetrated my brain by putting my anxiety in perspective, her sophomore novel, about a girl who has been isolated by her peers and gets sucked into the questionable online forum she turns to for advice, constantly makes me think about the approval we solicit from strangers, and why. It also kept me up waaaay past my bedtime.

    For Real, by Alison Cherry
    From the very first paragraph of Cherry’s sophomore novel, it’s impossible not to wonder, “Is this even by the same author as Red?” Where Cherry’s 2013 debut was charming satire with a younger-reader bent, For Real reads older, edgier, and straight-up fun. The story of two sisters who embark upon an Amazing Race–type reality show in order to get revenge on one’s boyfriend is sweet, funny, inspiring, and eminently likable. It may not be “unputdownable” in the thriller sense, but it certainly was in the “No desire to do anything else until I’m done reading” sense.

    Perfectly Good White Boy, by Carrie Mesrobian
    Mesrobian’s debut, Sex & Violence, was a Morris Award nominee, and her followup just as seamlessly nails not only a teen male voice, but a teen male experience. This thoughtful, honest, fearless depiction of a boy in his final year of high school, who’s sitting on his decision to join the marines upon graduation, is a rare character-driven novel with deeply quiet power.

    Bleed Like Me, by C. Desir
    Desir is that most divisive sort of YA author, the kind who writes about the sort of things you wish teens didn’t experience, but must acknowledge they do. What struck me the most when reading Bleed Like Me was that while adult me could clearly see the toxicity of the central couple, and the way they fed each other’s self-destructiveness, I also felt how teen me would’ve experienced that exact same pull. It is simultaneously terrifying and a relief that books like this exist. They are necessary.

    Complicit, by Stephanie Kuehn
    Creep. Tastic. It’s hard to top the second-book pressure of an author who literally won the award for best debut (Kuehn’s Charm & Strange took home the 2013 Morris Award), but man, does she deliver. It’s hard to say much about this dark, twisty psychological thriller without spoiling, but I will say this: no matter what you figure out along the way and when, the ending is still going to rip your heart out.

    My Best Friend, Maybe, by Caela Carter
    In a year when conversation about diversity was at the forefront of the YA conversation, this is a book it pained me to see get lost in the shuffle. Yes, the main character herself is a straight, cisgender white girl, but this is the story of how she reunites with the best friend she didn’t know was a lesbian, falls for that friend’s adopted Haitian brother, and examines her Christian faith in the process. There’s so much character nuance here, it was the first time I remember reading a book feeling like I had to keep turning the pages just to observe the character development.

    The Summer I Wasn’t Me, by Jessica Verdi
    When I saw the premise for Verdi’s debut, My Life After Now, was about a girl contracting HIV, I immediately feared that no future premises would live up to it. Then I saw that her sophomore novel was about a girl going to de-gayification camp, and I felt a strange rush of relief. For me, this actually exceeded the debut (though I definitely recommend both), and had me in tears both happy and sad the whole way through.

    What’s your favorite amazing sophomore novel?

  • Chrissie Gruebel 4:59 pm on 2014/12/03 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , Uncategorized   

    A Book Nerd’s Perfect Day at the Bookstore 

    B&N bookstore shelvesIf we had our druthers, bookstores would be open 24 hours a day, like all the best diners. They’d also serve waffles like all the best diners. The maple syrup would flow like wine and be specially formulated so it never made our precious pages stick together. But let’s not use up all our druthers for the sake of this post (unless you’ve unearthed an endless supply of them, in which case, knock yourself out). For the rest of us: let’s instead agree our bookstore is open from approximately 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Let’s also agree that during this “perfect day,” at said bookstore, you have no job/kids/laundry to fold/seasons of Portlandia to watch. You’re independently wealthy, entirely free of obligation, and living the life of leisure you’ve always imagined you’d be awesome at—one that will allow you to crush 14 hours straight in a bookstore. SEE? This is why you shouldn’t use up your limited amount of druthers on waffles, and instead save them for taking care of business. Check it out.

    8:55–9:20 a.m.
    Take a few moments outside to deep breathe and mentally prep yourself for the luxury that awaits you. You will be the first customer today to cross this sacred threshold and thus, you’re bookstore royalty now. Your nose gets first dibs on all the book smells. Everything the light touches will be yours. Do a slow walk around the premises knowing this is your space for the next 13 hours and 35 minutes and none shall take it away from you.

    9:2010:30 a.m.
    Oh what joy! A coffee bar entirely for one! All the pastries are nestled in their glass case like buttery, flaky jewels. The tables and chairs are perfectly grouped, just waiting for you to take your pick. No monsters here taking up three or four chairs despite the fact that they only have one body. Grab a Wired or a Popular Mechanics or a Cosmo or even a fancy Italian fashion magazine you’ve never heard of. Grab ‘em all (those Cosmo quizzes aren’t gonna take themselves in jest)! Wave to the baristas and let the morning wash over you and your epic pile of magazines.

    10:30 a.m.Noon
    Time to get down to business, sort of. You have coffee and free reign, sort of. (Ignore any hubbub that has grown around you). Head on over to the new fiction table and read the first five pages of every book on display. Decide which of the authors would become members of your inner circle based on how much you like said pages. Only buy the ones that hook you immediately.

    Noon12:15 p.m.
    Hungry? Go for croissant part deux. Why not? They’re America’s favorite French bookstore pastry. More coffee? SURE. You need to get your strength up, because you have three solid hours of reading ahead of you.

    12:153:15 p.m.
    The good news is, it’s still early enough that you can score the most comfy chair in the joint. But first, you’ll need a book. One that’s on the short side so you can finish it in a single sitting upon the aforementioned comfy chair. May we suggest: The Ocean at the End of the Lane, The End of the AffairWe Were Liars, or Seconds? May we also suggest: a tufted leather club chair or an overstuffed loveseat just like grandma’s? Feel free to disregard all our suggestions, though. This is your perfect day.

    3:153:35 p.m.
    You have to rest your brain now from that epic binge-read. Go browse all the lovely literary merch and stationery crafted from only the finest cardstock. Touch all the bookmarks. Make a mental note of all the gifts you plan to buy other people (but will probably end up keeping) and all you things you will treat yourself to (and definitely will end up keeping).

    3:354:45 p.m.
    And speaking of treats for yourself: time to make the ultimate, most epic book list ever created. Search out your favorite authors and see which of their novels you’ve never read. Add a few classics you told your high-school English teacher you finished but never did. Explore the graphic novel/true crime/psychology/whatever-subject-matter-you-don’t-normally-choose section for a change. Take photos of the covers and collect them all in one photo album on your phone so you’ll never again have to tax your brain to remember that book you were meaning to read—because when there are so many books you’ve been meaning to read, it’s hard to keep it together. Maybe also pick up a book on strengthening your memory?

    4:455:30 p.m.
    Eat that sandwich you snuck in (you can’t live on croissants alone!) while you peruse the travel section to find new cities you’ve maybe never heard of that you can maybe one day go to. Mayotte. Cluj. Dominica. All real places…but see for yourself.

    5:305:45 p.m.
    More coffee? Don’t mind if you do.

    5:456:30 p.m.
    It’s time for your fortune to be told. Play this fun game we sorta made up:
    • Choose a song you like.
    • Say the lyrics to the chorus in your head and take a step with every word. Wander around as you do this, but don’t choose a specific direction.
    • Stop when the song is over and walk to the shelf nearest you.
    • From the left, count the books until you get to number 23. Pick it up and turn to page 45. Find the seventh line. This is your fortune.
    • Do this over and over again until it works to your satisfaction.

    6:308 p.m.
    You’ve got gorgeous notebooks and fancy pens for sale. You’ve got an entire section of cookbooks at your fingertips. Start planning your meals for the next week. Even if you hate to cook, you know you gotta eat—if only to undo the nutritional deficit you’ve entered into by eating multiple pastries* in one day.

    *But if doing this makes you hungry, why not grab a third croissant? No one will judge you, and the damage has already been done.

    89 p.m.
    What’s that? Our perfect fake day at our perfect fake bookstore also happens to be the same day David Sedaris is going to be giving a (fake) reading? A hilarious reading of (fake) never-before-heard essays that he wants to try out before including them in his (fake) newest collection? And there’s a seat available right in front, just for you? What a dream.

    Alternate plan: Go to the humor section and read pages 25–30 in every book there that strikes your fancy. Hopefully they’ll make you laugh as hard as a suprise Sedaris performance.

    910:30 p.m.
    All the kids are gone because it’s past their bedtimes. You know what that means, right? Time to hit up that children’s section. Pick up your favorite series from back in the day, and feel free to be appalled that they’ve updated the cover art with bright colors and high-res photography of tweens looking at iPads or whatever. Then take a second and realize that whatever turns the youths onto physical books is a good thing. Relent. Sit down in a tiny chair. Read your favorite for old time’s sake and surprise yourself at how fast you can get through it. (You’re an adult now, you know all the words.)

    10:3011 p.m.
    What. A. Day. Take one last victory lap around the entire bookstore and relive every favorite moment. The reading! The touching of the merchandise! Fake David Sedaris! The croissants! Now go home and sleep, if you can. You had a lot of caffeine today. Probably a mistake.

    What would your perfect day at a bookstore look like?

  • Kathryn Williams 4:00 pm on 2014/11/20 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , Uncategorized, ,   

    Literary Astrology: Scorpio 

    Maggie Stiefvater's The Scorpio RacesScorpios—not to be confused with Serpico, who, for the record, is an Aries—are magnetic, but be careful not to get too close, because they’ll sting. Born between October 23 and November 22, Scorpios are brave, ambitious, super-focused, loyal, and mysterious. They’re also jealous, secretive, resentful, and manipulative. In other words, they’re the characters you hate to love or love to hate, which is why we’d peg these four literary personages as Scorpios.

    Becky Sharp (Vanity Fair, by William Thackeray)
    We ain’t saying she a gold digger…except we are, because Thackeray’s antiheroine, Becky Sharp, is one heck of a social climber. Super-focused and ambitious, no doubt, but loyal? Only on the outside, when seducing her marks. So, manipulative? Yes. Becky would throw just about anyone under the bus for a string of pearls. Duplicity is her middle name. Yet somehow, generations of readers find her raw social and financial aspiration alluring.

    Jo March (Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott)
    Jo says she was born in November (just like Louisa May Alcott). As a young girl, she’s incensed at being relegated to the domestic sphere rather than being allowed to fight bravely in the war alongside her father. Ambitious, passionate, and quick-tempered, in her later move to New York and her resolute pursuit of a writing career, she’s also brave for a woman of the era. Childhood friend Laurie, for one, finds her mysterious—and, disappointingly, a tad slippery. Unfortunately, in marriage, Jo’s Scorpio ways are tamed by old German whats-his-name, who is so clearly an Air sign. We will never forgive her for not ending up with Laurie, Amy be damned.

    Gale Hawthorne (The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins)
    Peeta is the tender, loving type, so why Team Gale? Because girls love a brooding, brave, and loyal love interest. Katniss’s oldest friend and “hunting partner” would lay down in traffic stage an insurrection for her, which makes it hard not to be just a tad resentful and jealous as she moons, whether for propaganda purposes or not, over Peeta. Gale becomes single-minded in his desire to bring down President Snow and the Capitol at all costs, which ends up opening a chasm between the two lovebirds—whether they’ll be able to cross it is decided in Mockingjay, no spoilers here for those who are waiting for the movie.

    Dr. Annick Swenson (State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett)
    Dr. Annick Swenson, described by one character as “a force of nature,” is a mythic, hard-ass 73-year-old endocrinologist living in the Amazonian rainforest. Brave, dedicated, mysterious? Check. Marina, the novel’s protagonist, who goes looking for Swenson, believes the doctor’s research is for a miracle fertility drug, but her mentor has been keeping some secrets. Annick comes off a bit prickly, but in her uncompromising dedication to science, she reserves her most bitter resentment for the meddling drug company and scientific codes that both enable and limit her.

    Tune in next month, when we bring the literary zodiac full circle with Sagittarius!

  • BN Editors 6:00 pm on 2014/11/06 Permalink
    Tags: a passage to india, , blame michelle huneven, , half bad, human croquet, jessica martinez, , , kss kill vanish, rogue spy, , sally green, the new yorker stories, , Uncategorized, ,   

    What to Read in November 

    novcollageEach 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!

    Nicole: The Walled City, by Ryan Graudin
    Hands down one of the most skillful thrillers of the year, The Walled City is part YA, part suspense, part mystery, part race against the clock, and a whole heaping helping of dystopia. Told from the perspective of three teenagers trapped in the aforementioned city, Hak Nam, a shady enclave of excess and iniquity, this story never stops its breakneck pace from the moment you crack the cover.

    Ginni: The New Yorker Stories, by Ann Beattie
    Leo Tolstoy wrote, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” That’s never more apparent than in Ann Beattie’s spot-on short stories depicting relationships and domesticity in modern American life. For decades, Beattie has been a celebrated contributor of short stories to The New Yorker with an uncanny knack for capturing people at their most vulnerable, most narcissistic, and most unwittingly transparent moments. Beautifully and sparely written, these stories are a perfect retreat from family drama around the holidays. Beattie’s narratives remind you that people are flawed, fickle, and little in their love, but they’re all that we have.

    Ester: Half Bad, by Sally Green
    In this heady English YA thriller, Nathan’s magical community treats him like he’s an infection waiting to spread, and he begins to live up to their expectations—until he breaks free, determined to face down his own destiny, no matter the cost. The adrenaline of reading will keep you warm throughout November and the family dysfunction will prepare you well for Thanksgiving.

    Lauren: Blame, by Michelle Huneven 
    Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, Chicago Tribune Favorite Fiction of the Year, blahblahblah, this book won so many words it’s boring to talk about. And it deserved each and every accolade. Blame is the portrait of Patsy MacLemoore, a 28-year-old teacher with a wild streak who accidentally runs over two people when she’s black-out drunk. The story spans the following decades of her life as she puts together the pieces of what happened, attempts to rise above her guilt, strives to love herself and others, and deals with the final curveball life throws her at the end. It’s a portrait of one deeply flawed character, as well as the deeply flawed characters around her. It’s a roller coaster that comes around full circle, but when you return, everyone and everything is different, and you are, too.

    Dell: A Passage to India, by E.M. Forster
    Because it’s a lot like looking into Jared Leto’s eyes (or, I suppose, the sun), I’m rereading Forster’s classic novel, A Passage to India. It’s the time of year when I celebrate my 3 favorite Fs: Food, Family, and Fiction, and Forster’s complex portrait of Dr. Aziz and Adela in tense colonized India is a masterful example of the latter.

    Melissa: Human Croquet, by Kate Atkinson
    I’m powerless to resist a book with this in the description: “As Isobel investigates the strange history of her family, her neighbors, and her village, she occasionally gets caught in Shakespearean time warps.” But that doesn’t even begin to describe Atkinson’s deeply weird sophomore novel. It’s a rangy, sad, magical-realistic look at teenaged Isobel Fairfax and the enchanted pocket her house is built on, where things get lost then resurface without warning—shoes and people and whole other times. Atkinson’s character studies are astonishing, and her writing crackles with magic. If you loved her Life After Life, you must read this immediately.

    Joel: The Peripheral, by William Gibson
    Tech visionary William Gibson’s 1984 novel Neuromancer looks pretty prescient these days, having more or less accurately envisioned how this thing called the Internet would change our lives. Which makes the prospect of his first far-future novel in nearly two decades an even more tantalizing prospect: Are we looking through a window into life a few decades from now?

    Dahlia: Kiss Kill Vanish, by Jessica Martinez
    An honest-to-goodness rare YA suspense thriller, filled with twists and turns, skillful character and relationship development, and gorgeous writing. Unlike anything else from this author, or from YA this year.

    Sara: Rogue Spy, by Joanna Bourne
    I have been waiting for this book since, literally, the moment I finished Bourne’s last historical romance set during the Napoleonic wars. There are spies, romance, mortal peril, and bringing the whole series together, Bourne’s writing, which is so luscious and has such a distinct voice I just want to wrap myself in it and stay there for a month. Don’t come looking for me November 4—I ‘ve already voted and this is what I’m doing all day.

    Paul: Metrophage, by Richard Kadrey
    The first novel by Kadrey, this vastly underappreciated cyberpunk novel is being reissued after being out of print for more than two decades. Fans of cyberpunk classics like Gibson’s Neuromancer and Sterling’s Islands in the Net will find this dystopian romp through late 21st-century Los Angeles to be both visionary and visceral. A cult classic unearthed.

    What are you reading in November?

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